KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Tentative Deal Raises Cigarette Taxes In NY; Many Iowa Hospitals Close Inpatient Psychiatric Units

The Boston Globe: "Harvard Medical School, which has suffered financially due in part to a sharp decline in Harvard University's legendary endowment, has successfully negotiated a deal in which Boston's major teaching hospitals will contribute $36 million to the school over three years. The hospital money is a small portion of the medical school's $580 million annual budget, but it may represent a larger turning point in the unusual relationship between the country's top medical school and its prestigious hospital partners. Harvard is one of the few US medical schools - and may be the only - that traditionally has not received significant financial support for its operations from its teaching hospitals and their physicians. ... This leaves the medical school particularly dependent on endowment income and government research funding - and vulnerable to downturns in those areas" (Kowalcyzk, 6/21). 

Burlington (Vt.) Free Press: "The Department of Mental Health and a former Vermont State Hospital patient have reached an out-of-court settlement in a case in which the patient had accused hospital staff of forcing medications on him in violation of his rights." A.J. Ruben, a lawyer with Disability Rights Vermont that represented the patient, said the complaint came after an incident in 2008 in which another patient accused the man of inappropriate behavior in a bathroom at the state psychiatric hospital in Waterbury. Ruben said the man was put in a seclusion room and when he started yelling, staff members opted to medicate him. The patient objected and felt his rights had been violated. "Michael Hartman, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, said he couldn't speak to the details of the patient's case but acknowledged the settlement focused on a complaint about involuntary medication in emergencies. The hospital admitted no wrongdoing or liability in settling the case, Hartman said" (6/19).

The New York Times: "Cigarette taxes in New York would jump by $1.60 a pack under a tentative deal reached between Gov. David A. Paterson and legislative leaders, which would give New York the nation's highest state cigarette taxes. The proposal, which officials said Mr. Paterson would include in an emergency budget bill due for a vote on Monday, would also raise wholesale taxes on other tobacco products like chewing tobacco, bringing the tax on those products closer in line with those of cigarettes. In New York City, which levies steep taxes of its own on tobacco products, a pack of cigarettes would come with a tax of $5.85, making it the nation's first city to break $5, antismoking advocates said. That would bring the overall cost of a pack of premium cigarettes above $10 in many stores in the city" (Confessore and Hakim, 6/18).

NPR: "For the past 30 years Dr. David Nichols has flown his helicopter to Tangier Island, Va., in the Chesapeake Bay to take care of its residents. For the 500 or so year-round residents, there is no hospital or pharmacy, but soon they will be able to celebrate the opening of a new medical center on the island" (Hansen, 6/20).

The Des Moines Register: "Ellsworth Municipal recently joined a growing list of Iowa hospitals closing their inpatient psychiatric units. Five other Iowa hospitals have shuttered their units in the past decade, mainly because of a lack of money, psychiatrists or both. Only 26 Iowa hospitals still have inpatient mental-health units, and leaders in the profession expect the number to continue dropping. … Demand for inpatient psychiatric care has dropped nationally, because modern medications help patients manage their illnesses outside the hospital. But experts say there is still a strong need for mental-health facilities to help patients in crisis" (Leys, 6/20).

Oregon's Statesman Journal: "Health care benefits for Oregon state workers have become the latest feature of state government to go under the budget microscope. It's part and parcel of a broader concern that state government expenses have become unsustainable, a fear that led Kulongoski to convene his 'Reset Cabinet.' In the next few weeks, the Oregon Public Employees' Benefit Board must decide how to deal with health insurance rate increases that are $34 million above a hard 5 percent increase limit set by Gov. Ted Kulongoski as part of his plan to deal with a $577 million budget shortfall" (Thompson, 6/20).

The Boston Globe: "Thousands of uninsured Massachusetts workers in low-wage jobs are ineligible for state-subsidized health coverage, but they will qualify for these low-cost plans under the new national health care overhaul - in 2014. Now, some consumer advocates, arguing that the wait is unfair and a black eye for the state, want the Patrick administration and legislators to launch a program to cover at least part of this group. Administration officials, already facing huge budget deficits, say the state can't afford the tens of millions of dollars it would cost to subsidize additional workers' insurance. The state's landmark 2006 health insurance law was a model for the national legislation passed in March and has reduced the percentage of uninsured to under 4 percent of adults. But it did little for full-time workers whose employer offers health insurance they cannot afford" (Lazar, 6/20). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.