KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Mass. Attorney General Recommends Approval Of Caritas Sale; Calif. Will Require Students To Get Whooping Cough Vaccine

The Boston Globe: "Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday recommended approval of the proposed sale of Caritas Christi Health Care to a New York private equity firm, a deal that would bring for-profit health care on a large scale to a state long dominated by nonprofit hospitals. But Coakley imposed multiple conditions aimed at protecting Caritas employees and patients and strengthening the state's health care market at a time of rising costs and declining Medicaid payments. The terms are meant to assure that the chain of six financially struggling Catholic hospitals - including flagship St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton - remains open for at least five years and fully fund pensions of about 13,000 employees and retirees. Coakley also insisted that Boston-based Caritas maintain its mental health and alcohol-abuse services and pay for continuing public oversight of its operations" (Weisman and Woolhouse, 10/7).

The Boston Herald: Jim McKenna, the Republican candidate for attorney general, criticized Coakley for helping "broker a deal to sell six Caritas Christi hospitals to a private equity firm for $495 million. Citing political contributions she received from hospital executives, McKenna called Coakley the 'Queen of Political Payback'" (Cheney, 10/6).

The Los Angeles Times: "Next fall, seventh- through 12th-grade students in California will be required under a new state law to get a whooping cough booster shot before starting school, health officials said this week. Before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 354 last week, California had been one of only 11 states that did not require middle school students to get a booster shot against whooping cough, or pertussis. The legislation had been stalled for several years amid concerns that California would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for vaccinations for children on Medi-Cal, the government insurance program for the poor. But health officials have said teens who have not been immunized have been a factor in the spread of the disease, which has infected at least 5,272 people in California so far this year" (Lin, 10/7).

The Wall Street Journal: "Lawsuits seeking compensation from cigarette makers for cancers and other illnesses are on the wane in much of the country, but in one state, Florida, tobacco litigation has never been hotter. Juries have increasingly become skeptical of suits blaming smoking injuries on tobacco companies. However, plaintiffs in Florida, aided by a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that told jurors in future cases to accept that cigarette makers had misled smokers about the dangers, have won hundreds of millions of dollars in verdict awards. About 8,000 lawsuits claiming injuries or death due to smoking are pending, more cases than the tobacco industry is facing in all other states combined" (Koppel, 10/7). 

Health News Florida: A recent Florida malpractice case "left open a larger patient-safety question: Is the board's so-called "Pause Rule" too vague? The rule, which dates to 2004, is intended to stop errors such as performing surgery on the wrong patient or performing the wrong type of procedure. Immediately before a surgery, the rule requires a medical team to 'pause and the physician(s) performing the procedure will verbally confirm the patient's identification, the intended procedure and the correct surgical/procedure site.' But even in cases where doctors pause ... questions remain about whether the rule should have more detail about the identification of patients and the responsibilities of surgical-team members in preventing errors" (Koenig, 10/7).

The Tampa Tribune: "Faced with skyrocketing healthcare costs, Tampa officials want to set up medical clinics for nearly 4,000 city employees and their dependents. The venture, which hinges on city council approval, would cost an estimated $2.6 million a year to operate but city officials say it would save taxpayers money in the long-run. Under the proposal, the city would cover operational costs such as medical supplies and would pay a company a yet-to-be-determined monthly administrative fee to run the clinics" (Wade, 10/6).

The Baltimore Sun: "Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services did not consistently implement or review treatment plans for its young charges, according to an audit released Wednesday, a failure that cost the state $3 million in Medicaid money at a time when officials were cutting programs to close budget gaps. The agency also neglected to properly document the supervision of some troubled teens, the audit by the state Department of Legislative Services found, including those in its hallmark Violence Prevention Initiative, a community program for young people most at risk of killing or being killed" (Bykowicz, 10/6).

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Pennsylvania's outpatient-surgery centers have been holding their own during tough economic times that have cut profit at competing hospitals, according to an annual financial report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. Nineteen ambulatory-surgery centers opened in the state last year, bringing the total to 262. There were only 72 of the specialized facilities in 2000. Total margins at the outpatient centers held steady at about 26 percent for fiscal 2008 and 2009, up from 24 percent in fiscal 2007. Between fiscal 2007 and 2009, total margins at general acute hospitals fell from 6.6 percent to 2.1 percent" (Burling, 10/7). 

The Dallas Morning News: "Unless lawmakers dig deep, Texas may pull back a lifeline that keeps about 15,000 people alive. The Texas HIV Medication Program, which supplies life-sustaining anti-retroviral drugs to people with HIV or AIDS who can't afford them, will run out of money in the next two years and be forced to cut off enrollment, tighten eligibility or stop covering some drugs unless the state provides an additional $23 million, officials said. Enrollment has surged to record levels because the recession stripped people of jobs and private health coverage, the state screens more people for HIV, and the drugs are highly successful at prolonging lives, said program manager Dwayne Haught of the Department of State Health Services" (Garrett, 10/6).

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