KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Fort Worth To Move Retirees Into Medicare Advantage Plans

A selection of health policy stories from Texas, California, Maryland, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois and Oklahoma.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Fort Worth To Move Medicare-Eligible Retirees Into Medicare Advantage Plans
City Council members gave administrators the go-ahead Friday to move the city's 1,500 Medicare-eligible retirees out of a self-insured health plan and into Medicare Advantage in January. The move could save the city $2 million in claims costs next year and more than $5 million by 2023, the city staff estimates. But retirees are skeptical (Nishimura, 8/17).

California Healthline: Process Begins For Medi-Cal Provider Cuts
The Department of Health Care Services this week outlined its plan to implement a state-ordered 10 percent cut to Medi-Cal providers' reimbursement rates. It will begin Sept. 5, starting with medical transportation and dental providers. The reimbursement rate for durable medical goods will drop starting Oct. 24  and the bulk of the cuts -- to physicians, pharmacists and clinics -- will begin Jan. 9, 2014, according to a document posted on the DHCS website on Wednesday (Gorn, 8/16).

Los Angeles Times: Patient-Interpreter Bill Aims To Overcome Language Barriers
According to a 2012 study prepared for the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, pediatric patients with limited-English-proficient families who speak Spanish "have a much greater risk for serious medical events during hospitalizations than patients whose families are English-proficient" ... [A bill that would make a statewide medical-interpretation program available to Medi-Cal patients] would require the state Department of Health Care Services to apply for federal money that would pay for a certified medical-interpreter program. Such a program is needed, supporters say, to prepare hospitals for the millions of limited-English speakers expected to use healthcare services over the next few years (Kumeh, 8/18).

The Washington Post: Pr. George's Mental Health Court Aims To Treat, Rather Than Jail, Defendants
More than half of all inmates in U.S. jails and prisons -- more than 1.2 million people -- reported symptoms of mental illness, according to a 2006 federal study, the most recent national study available. ... State and local court systems are adjusting to this reality, with about 300 jurisdictions setting up specialized dockets for judges who use the power of the legal system to impose mental health treatment on some of society's most troubled residents. They are people charged with assault, theft, arson, trespassing, harassment, stalking and other crimes short of homicide (McCrummen, 8/17).

Los Angeles Times: California Discourages Needy From Signing Up For Food Stamps
Liberal California discourages eligible people from signing up for food stamps at rates conservative activists elsewhere envy. Only about half of the Californians who qualify for help get it. That stands in contrast to other states, including some deeply Republican ones, that enroll 80 percent to 90 percent of those with incomes low enough to qualify. That public policy paradox -- one of the country's most liberal states is the stingiest on one of the nation's biggest benefit programs -- has several causes, some intentional, some not. It also has two clear consequences: Millions of Californians don't get help, and the state leaves hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money on the table (Halper, 8/17).

The New York Times: Firefighters' Survivor Benefits Value Some Lives Over Others
In life, firefighters from disparate states and backgrounds work side by side, fighting the same blazes on the same terrain. But in death, families say, they are sifted into different categories based on their official employment status. Whether they were full time or part time and whether they were employed by local, state or federal governments or private contractors can make a difference amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, providing some families with a financial lifeline from the government and others with barely enough to pay for a funeral (Healy, 8/18).

Baltimore Sun: Some Hospital CEOs Get Bigger Compensation Packages
Many Maryland hospital and health system CEOs received pay increases in recent years even as they complained of shrinking profit margins and warned of cutbacks unless they could increase the rates they charge. Eleven executives earning seven-figure compensation packages including salary, bonus, retirement and other pay saw their total pay rise from as little as 0.13 percent to as much as 308 percent in the fiscal year that ended in 2012, according to tax filings. Another executive earning more than $1 million saw a pay cut (Walker, 8/18).

The Associated Press: Wis. To Claim Marital Property For Medicaid Debts
Provisions buried in the new Wisconsin budget dramatically expanded the state's ability to claim dead couples' joint property, such as Green Bay Packers tickets or the family farm, to recoup Medicaid expenses -- even if the assets are protected in trusts. The language is designed to help the state recover Medicaid money spent on a number of long-term care programs, most notably Family Care, which helps keep disabled and elderly people out of costly nursing homes (Richmond, 8/18).

The Associated Press: Ill. Lawmaker Wants Care For Low-Income Stroke Patients
Low-income stroke patients on Medicaid in Illinois are offered just four sessions with a rehabilitation specialist, far too little therapy to allow them to make a strong recovery, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said in calling for a better standard of care. The Republican from Highland Park, who suffered a stroke in January 2012, told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register in an interview that he's working on legislation to change that and to promote what he calls "the stroke agenda (8/17).

The Associated Press: Oklahoma Pilot Program Seeks To Curb Health Costs; Will Involve 15K Employees
A $3.8 million pilot program is to start on Jan. 1 to see if it can lower health care costs for 15,000 Oklahoma state employees and their families. The program by MedEncentive was authorized in the 2011 legislative session and will be open to some workers taking part in the HealthChoice program. If the MedEncentive test can bring down costs, its methods could be spread to all 125,000 state employees on the HealthChoice plan (8/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Planned Parenthood Settles In Fraud Case
Planned Parenthood agreed to pay $4.3 million to settle a federal civil suit claiming that it fraudulently billed Medicaid for women's health services provided by some of its Texas clinics from 2003 to 2009. The non-profit organization, which estimates that it provides medical information and services, including abortions, to three million people in the U.S. each year, denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement announced Friday by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Texas (Koppel, 8/16).

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