KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Calif. Immigrant Licensing; Calif. Offenders Mental Health Treatment

A selection of health policy stories from Massachusetts, California, Iowa, Texas, Maryland, Colorado, New Hampshire and Florida.

Stateline: Health Insurance And Death Rates
The mortality rate in Massachusetts declined substantially in the four years after the state enacted a law in 2006 mandating universal health care coverage, providing the model for the Affordable Care Act.  In a study released last week, Harvard School of Public Health professors Benjamin Sommers, Sharon Long and Katherine Baicker conclude that “health reform in Massachusetts was associated with a significant decrease in all-cause mortality.” The authors caution that their conclusions, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, may not apply to all states, and other studies have shown little correlation between having insurance and living longer (Vestal, 5/12).

Los Angeles Times: California Bill Would Ease Professional Licensing Rule For Immigrants
Denisse Rojas earned a biology degree from UC Berkeley and has set her sights on medical school. But one big obstacle stands in her way. To practice medicine in California, doctors must obtain a license from the state, and applicants are required to provide a Social Security number as proof of identity. Rojas, 25, does not have such a number. She is in the United States illegally, having been smuggled into the country from Mexico by her parents when she was 6 months old. But a group of legislators wants to help her -- to do for doctors, dentists, nurses, barbers, security guards and many others what they did last year for attorneys: grant those in the country illegally permission to practice their occupations (McGreevy, 5/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Los Angeles Plan Highlights Rift Over How To Treat Offenders With Mental-Health Issues
Local-government officials, residents, civil-rights activists and mental-health experts around the country differ on how best to handle criminal offenders with addiction and mental-health problems. Some leaders argue in favor of treatment within corrections systems, for reasons of public safety and to fulfill constitutional mandates to care for incarcerated offenders. Others say nonviolent offenders like Mr. Dumont should be redirected into community-based treatment, through so-called diversion programs. Jail-based treatment, they argue, is more expensive, less effective in remedying inmates' problems and, as Mr. Dumont notes, can encourage people to re-offend in hopes of getting help (Phillips, 5/9).

The Boston Globe: Medical Device Stirs Security Concerns
They were developed as life-saving devices, ensuring that blood is properly treated before patients receive a transfusion. Massachusetts, because of its concentration of medical facilities, has one of the nation’s highest number of the machines. But now federal officials worry the material that makes these devices dubbed blood irradiator machines so effective -- a highly radioactive powder known as cesium chloride -- could threaten public safety. … That has set the stage for an unlikely fight between the government and some in the medical industry who are reluctant to give up the relatively low-cost machines and replace them with more expensive devices that are safer but might break down more frequently (Bender, 5/12).

The Texas Tribune: Texas Cancels Medicaid Contract, Sues Xerox Over Allegedly Misspent Money
As the Texas Attorney General's office on Friday announced it filed a lawsuit against state contractor Xerox, in an effort to reclaim hundreds of millions of dollars the company allegedly erroneously doled out for medically unnecessary Medicaid A claims, the Health and Human Services Commission also notified the contractor that it plans to terminate its contract (Aaronson, 5/9).

The Des Moines Register: Integrated Health Homes Aid Iowa Kids 
Screams poured from Jeffery Flores’ mouth. Jeffery, who loves to dance and collects balls in a shoe box, was diagnosed at age 3 with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects his ability to communicate and interact with others. ... His mother is using her experiences with Jeffery in her paid position as a family support specialist to help other Woodbury County parents navigate a complex and often confusing mental health care system. Launched in July by the Iowa Department of Human Services and Magellan Health Services, the state’s contractor for Medicaid-funded services, “integrated health homes” are designed to help families manage the health care needs of 16,000 Iowa children ages 3 to 17 who are covered by Medicaid and have been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that impairs daily functioning (Butz, 5/10).

The Baltimore Sun: Tuberculosis Remains A Threat Despite City’s Eradication Efforts
Baltimore once suffered the highest rate of tuberculosis infection of any large city in the country -- 75 cases per 100,000 people in 1966. Since the 1980s, however, the city has served as a model for tuberculosis control and prevention, helping to reduce rates of the potentially deadly lung infection to historic lows. In 2013, there were just 24 cases in the city, a rate of 4 per 100,000 people. That success, though, has meant that funding for the city's tuberculosis clinic has been slashed to about half of what it was a decade ago even as TB remains a stubbornly persistent health threat. Experts say these reductions could undermine the city's efforts to prevent future tuberculosis outbreaks amid concerns of drug-resistant forms of the disease among immigrant populations (Mullin, 5/9).

The Denver Post:  Colorado Proposes Fix For High Health Insurance Premiums In Mountains 
State regulators Friday said they are seeking permission from the federal government to change Colorado's geographic rating areas for health insurance, a move that could reduce some premiums in high-cost mountain and rural areas beginning next year. Under the Affordable Care Act, the Colorado Division of Insurance divided the state into 11 geographic rating areas based on medical-care costs, which in turn determined a range of premiums on the state health exchange (5/9). 

The Associated Press:  N.H. Lawmakers Consider Competing Hospital Tax Plans 
New Hampshire's House and Senate are acting this week on competing plans to address a court ruling that found the state's tax on hospitals unconstitutional. The Senate votes Thursday on a plan to phase down a tax on hospitals that was the subject of two lawsuits. Senate President Chuck Morse says he believes the tax eventually should be phased out, but his plan would start by reducing the tax from 5.5 percent next year to 4.5 percent by 2019. It also would clarify and narrow what is taxed and eliminate the tax on the state's two rehabilitation hospitals (5/11).

Modern Healthcare:  HHS Asks Florida Research University To Return $6.5M In Grants 
The University of South Florida, a major health care research center, has been asked to return more than $6 million in federal grants because of allegations in an audit that the school sometimes exercised poor oversight and misspent the money. The Tampa-based university received $200 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and HHS from 2009 to 2011. But a performance audit by HHS' Office of the Inspector General said about $6.5 million of that was for costs that were either impermissible, improperly documented, or not directly related to the grants that paid for them (Carlson, 5/9).

The California Health Report: School Success Means Catching Vision Problems Early
Leon Rodriguez, a 3-year-old Latino boy, sat patiently in a small chair in the darkened room.  Under a massive crop of fluffy, curly hair, he trained large dark eyes on the young man holding a small camera three feet in front of him. Leon was one of approximately 40 preschoolers gathered at the Vargas Child Development Center in Sunnyvale. The children were participating in the FocusFirst vision program, which tests the vision of children aged 6 months to 5 years old. The program facilitators visit preschool settings and child care centers throughout San Jose and Silicon Valley (Flynn, 5/12).

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