KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Caring For Texans Injured On-The-Job; Heroin Deaths In Md.; Pertussis In Calif.

Texas Tribune: Behind Texas Miracle, A Broken System For Broken Workers 
In formerly depressed South Texas, gas flares from the fracking boom can be seen from outer space. While Texas has a Division of Workers' Compensation, it is the only state that doesn’t require any private employer to carry workers’ compensation insurance or a private equivalent, so more than 500,000 people have no occupational benefits when they get injured at work. That means they often rely on charities or taxpayers to pay for their care (Root, 6/29).

Texas Tribune:  After Catastrophic Fall, The Fight Of One Worker’s Life 
While Texas has created more jobs than any other state over the last decade, it also leads the nation in the number of worker deaths, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The problem is particularly acute in the Texas construction industry, where 60 percent of the workforce has never received basic safety training and one in five workers reports sustaining an injury that required medical attention, according to the report “Build A Better Texas,” compiled last year by the Worker’s Defense Project and researchers from the University of Texas at Austin. About 40 percent of employers in the construction business offer workers' compensation insurance, the report found (Root, 6/30).

The Washington Post: Heroin Deaths Spike In Maryland 
Heroin-related deaths in Maryland spiked 88 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to figures released Friday by the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and intoxication overdoses of all types now outnumber homicides in the state (Svrluga, 6/27).

Baltimore Sun:  Maryland Heroin Overdose Deaths Jump
An alarming spike in heroin and other drug overdose deaths in Maryland has prompted what the state's health secretary calls an "all hands on deck" effort to investigate and treat addiction. The number of drug- and alcohol-related deaths in Maryland rose to 858 in 2013 from 799 the previous year, according to data released by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Friday. Much of the increase is due to heroin, particularly when it is laced with fentanyl, a powerful prescription painkiller used by cancer and other patients, now being illicitly manufactured in drug labs, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the department's secretary (Marbella, 6/27).

Los Angeles Times: California's Pertussis Epidemic Escalates, Health Officials Report 
California's pertussis epidemic has escalated, state health officials said Friday, with 4,558 cases reported this year as of Tuesday -- 1,100 of those in the last two weeks. "We are off to a really bad start in 2014," Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health, said during a phone call with reporters Friday (Brown, 6/27).

The New York Times: Rations Reduced As Demand Grows For Soup Kitchens 
The New York City Coalition Against Hunger has estimated that one in six city residents are “food insecure,” or living in homes where there is not enough money to put enough food on the table. In a 2013 survey, the group reported that 254 food pantries and soup kitchens had seen demand increase 10 percent, on average, over the previous year. “The hunger crisis in New York is the worst that it’s been in decades,” said Joel Berg, the group’s executive director, adding that people had already been struggling in a tough economy before their food stamps were reduced last fall, when federal cuts were made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Hu, 6/27).

The Wall Street Journal: A Place To Care For Children 
It is one of the saddest corners of the health-care field -- hospice care for children -- and it has been relatively neglected. Now, a Brooklyn health-care organization hopes to change that. MJHS, formerly known as Metropolitan Jewish Health System, plans to open what it says is the city's first residence for dying children and their families on 10 acres of property on the water in Manhattan Beach (Kusisto, 6/29).

Denver Post: Mental Health Crisis Hotline Ready To Go Statewide In August
In just a matter of weeks, the approximately 100 calls received every day at a local crisis center -- everything from people who feel suicidal to those who are grieving or stressed -- are expected to jump to about 500 daily. Metro Crisis Services, a nonprofit local hotline, won a $3 million state contract to expand its call center into the first statewide mental health crisis hotline. It's part of a larger, $20 million plan to change the way people going through a mental health crisis can access help. The plan was proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper after the Aurora theater shooting and the Newtown, Conn., school shooting (Robles, 6/28).

Denver Post: Lawmakers In 11 States Approve Low-THC Medical Marijuana Bills 
Spurred by the stories of epileptic children being treated in Colorado with cannabis oil, lawmakers across the country this year have made a dramatic change in how they talk about marijuana. Thus far, nine states have passed laws legalizing either the use of non-psychoactive marijuana extracts for medical treatment or the study of such products. The slate of states -- Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin -- reads in part like a list of states previously most resistant to changes in marijuana laws (Ingold, 6/30).

Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Online Medical Records Increase Privacy Risks 
Every year, thousands of small claims and civil court cases are filed in South Dakota to collect medical debts. Many of those cases contain an itemized list of the medical procedures for which a hospital, doctor or clinic is seeking payment, and that list is a public record. That means that once confidential medical information becomes part of a lawsuit, that information no longer is strictly confidential. The type of procedure, date or dates performed and the treatment -- which doctors would be legally liable for releasing to the public under other circumstances -- all become public and available for scrutiny once a case goes to collections (Hult, 6/30).

Santa Fe New Mexican: N.M. Paid Arizona Firm Ahead Of Provider Shake-Up
Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration shook up the state’s mental health system last June when it said an audit had revealed 15 nonprofit groups that provided treatment to the poor had overbilled Medicaid by as much as $36 million. The groups were stripped of their contracts, and a handful of companies from Arizona were brought in to replace them. But months before the audit was even complete, the Martinez administration was already paying at least one of the Arizona companies for salaries, travel and legal fees, state records show. At least one payment to the company, Agave Health Inc., was made before the audit had even begun, according to the records (Malone, 6/28).

Miami Herald: Mayo Clinic Left Out Of State Plan For More Cancer Research Dollars 
Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to spend tax dollars on boosting the national prominence of Florida’s top cancer centers came as a pleasant surprise to the Mayo Clinic. ... Mayo Jacksonville officials figured they -- and the 14,000 cancer patients seen at the Florida site -- would benefit from Scott’s plan. But Mayo, nestled in a forest of pine trees in suburban Jacksonville, has learned that being “Florida’s best-kept secret,” as its leaders like to say, has political consequences. As this year’s legislative session wore on, it became clear that Mayo would be snubbed in favor of centers that enjoy more support in Tallahassee (Mitchell, 6/29).

The News Journal:  Teledoctors Save Delaware Families Time, Miles 
Nicole Tolosa had rearranged her family's life so they could shuttle her 6-year-old son, Ezekiel, upstate for treatment and therapy for his hearing problems. ... So when Nemours doctors asked Tolosa if she wanted to try a new way of getting Ezekiel the help he needed, by conducting appointments via a webcam set up at a Nemours' office in Seaford, she leapt at the chance. ... More recently, the hospital started making those video-call connections even within its own departments, from one end of the hospital to the other (Fisher, 6/29).

Associated Press: Chiropractic College Must Accommodate Blind, Court Rules 
The Iowa Supreme Court ordered the nation's leading chiropractic college on Friday to make accommodations to allow blind students to complete degrees, in an important victory for the rights of the disabled. The court rejected Palmer College of Chiropractic's contention that eyesight is a requirement for the profession, which involves adjusting patients' spines to treat back pain. The Davenport, Iowa-based college argued that chiropractors must be able to read X-rays to deliver safe and effective adjustments and that allowing blind students to rely on assistants for that information wasn't feasible (Foley, 6/27).

Detroit Free Press: Michigan Bills That Would Ban Minors From Buying E-Cigarettes Cause Concern 
Keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors is the intent, but some fear that a package of three bills awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature could establish the vapor-making cigarette alternative as something other than a tobacco product. And that, in turn, could mean less regulation over a product for which the dangers -- or benefits -- are still not clear, they say (Erb, 6/30).

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