KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Ohio Gov.’s Evolving Stances; Conn. Social Services Woes

A selection of health policy stories from Ohio, Connecticut, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, California, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Georgia.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Style, Stances Of Ohio’s GOP Governor Evolving
[Gov. John] Kasich stirred up opponents of tax increases by pushing hikes on oil and gas drillers whose companies are fueling an economic boom in eastern Ohio’s shale country. He has riled Republicans opposed to President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul by first advocating a Medicaid expansion allowed under the law, then forcing the program change through a legislative panel against GOP lawmakers’ wishes (2/16).

The CT Mirror: DSS System Woes Burden CT’s Senior Centers, Aging Agencies
The new system for handling paperwork and centralizing calls to the state Department of Social Services was intended to make it easier for clients to get services and information. But many people who work in senior centers, town social service offices and senior housing complexes say it’s instead led to more elderly residents losing benefits, low-income clients having to pay out-of-pocket for medication while waiting for their cases to be straightened out, and more of their own time devoted to trying to fix problems caused by the new system (Becker, 2/17).

Politico: Push Continues For 20-Week Abortion Bans
New attempts to ban abortion after 20 weeks are gaining traction in the South, where Republican-led Legislatures have repeatedly adopted restrictions in recent years. Such bans, which supporters often call “fetal pain” laws, are already advancing in South Carolina and Mississippi. And a bill to prohibit abortion at a pregnancy’s midpoint is about to be introduced in Florida. It’s a repeat effort from a 2011 package of regulations in Tallahassee, and proponents say the measure has an improved chance of passage (Cunningham, 2/14).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: California Bill Would Extend Health Coverage To All Residents
In a push to cover immigrants excluded from the nation’s health reform law, a California state senator has proposed legislation that would offer health insurance for all Californians, including those living here illegally. The bill would extend state-funded Medi-Cal to low-income immigrants who, because they are in the country without permission, are now eligible only for emergency and pregnancy coverage. It would also create a marketplace similar to Covered California to offer insurance policies to higher income immigrants who lack legal status (Gorman, 2/18).

The New York Times: Writers Guild Plans Forum On Affordable Care Act
On Tuesday night, an expected crowd of 100 or so screenwriters and others will gather in Lower Manhattan at the headquarters of the Writers Guild of America East to hear thoughts about the Affordable Care Act and its place in comedy and drama. But whether any movie and television scripts that happen to be affected will have audiences laughing or crying about Obamacare still is not clear (Cieply, 2/16).

The Associated Press: Okla. Pharmacy Won’t Give Drug For Mo. Execution
An Oklahoma pharmacy has agreed not to provide Missouri with a made-to-order drug for an inmate’s execution scheduled for later this month, according to court documents filed Monday. According to the documents, The Apothecary Shoppe, of Tulsa, will not prepare or provide pentobarbital or any other drug for use in Michael Taylor’s execution (Talley 2/17).

The Associated Press: Medical Marijuana Changes Approved In Wash. House
A measure to overhaul the state's medical marijuana system cleared the House late Friday night, a move supporters say is necessary to bring it into line with the still-developing legal recreational market. House Bill 2149 passed just before midnight on a 67-29 vote. It now heads to the Senate, which is considering similar measures addressing how to reconcile the two marijuana systems (La Corte, 2/18).

The Boston Globe: Urgent Care Centers In Mass. Fill A Gap
Though not a new idea, urgent care centers have never been popular in Massachusetts. But that is changing. Since 2012, centers open nights and weekends have been expanding across the state, as health insurers have begun to usher patients toward the clinics, and away from more expensive ERs, for non-life-threatening conditions (Kowalczyk, 2/17).

North Carolina Health News: Consultants Make Top Dollar To Scrutinize N.C. Medicaid
In the wake of a consultant’s report stating that North Carolina’s Medicaid program needs to beef up its organizing, budget forecasting and administrative capabilities, health leaders have hired two more consulting firms to guide the Division of Medical Assistance, which manages the Medicaid program, through administrative changes. In two no-bid contracts that allow for individual consultants to be paid as much as $803,000 per year, two management consulting firms will advise DMA on reorganizing the finance section and assessing the program-integrity and audit sections (Hoban, 2/14).

Dallas Morning News: Custodial Care Fraud Against Medicare Persists As Funds To Fight It Ebb 
Medicare has struggled with home health care fraud for decades, because the industry has kept trying to use the federal insurance program to get paid for long-term custodial care. ... The inspector general’s office in the federal health department last year urged CMS to implement a moratorium that would stop any new Texas home health care agencies from receiving Medicare payments. The moratorium was put in place last month in Dallas and Houston. In July, the agency slapped a moratorium on new ambulance services in Houston. But anti-fraud efforts are getting pinched by budget fights in Washington (Landers, 2/15). 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: Report Faults Virginia Spending On Mental Health Care
A new report by Virginia’s inspector general says the state is spending millions of extra dollars each year to house state mental hospital patients who no longer need or qualify for state care. That means patients are occupying hospital beds that could be used for people requiring emergency or long-term psychiatric hospital care, according to the Office of the State Inspector General, which said the state lacks adequate controls over funds meant to address the problem. The report, released late Friday, estimates that Virginia spent $28.3 million for institutional care of 161 patients in fiscal 2012 who had spent an average of 266 days in state mental hospitals when they were clinically ready for discharge for care in community settings at 12 percent of the state cost (Martz, 2/18).

Georgia Health News: Panel Backs Tougher Law On Elder Abuse
A Georgia House panel Monday approved a bill that would toughen penalties for operating an unlicensed personal care home, raising a first offense to a felony from a misdemeanor. The vote came after compelling testimony from Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn, who described to the House Health and Human Services Committee two cases of abuse in unlicensed Cobb County homes. In one case, Flynn said, a woman in her 50s with dementia was kept in a garage in a “sweltering hot’’ home and was deprived of food and medicine. The owner in that case, after a plea bargain, was given just a one-day sentence, with credit for time served, Flynn said. “That really got our attention” (Miller, 2/17).

Cincinnati Enquirer: WATCHDOG: Prisoners, Ex-Cons Swell Medicaid Rolls
Landing time in an Ohio prison could also soon get you help enrolling into health care coverage under Obamacare. Ohio is among a small but growing number of states working to enroll prisoners in Medicaid when they get sick and as they are being released. The move could save the state nearly $18 million this year alone in costs of providing health care to prisoners -- money that would be shifted onto the federal government’s tab (Bernard-Kuhn, 2/17).

Related KHN coverage: Medicaid Expansion To Cover Many Former Prisoners (Gugliotta, 12/4/13).

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