KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Roundup: Calif. Hospital’s Unusual Medicare Billing; Tenn. Gastric Bypass; Mass. ACOs

The Sacramento Bee / California Watch: Medicare Billed For Exotic Illness
Redding, where the Valley meets Cascade foothills, and Victorville, in the Mojave Desert, have little in common but an unusual statistic: In each city, a hospital has reported alarming rates of a Third World nutritional disorder among its Medicare patients. Kwashiorkor – a Ghanaian word for "weaning sickness" – is a severe protein deficiency that almost exclusively afflicts impoverished children in developing countries, especially during famines, experts say. But in 2009, Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding reported that 16 percent of its Medicare patients 65 and older suffered from kwashiorkor, according to a California Watch analysis of state health data (Williams, Jewett and Doig, 2/20).

NPR: Fat State Stretched Thin: Tenn. Covers Gastric Bypass
Tennessee's state Medicaid program faces hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts in the coming months. The program, known as TennCare, won't pay for overweight patients to get counseling from dietitians, but it will pay for the morbidly obese to lose weight through surgery, such as gastric bypass. That has led some critics to complain that TennCare won't pay for an ounce of prevention but will pay for a pound of cure. ... The average price of such operations to TennCare, including facility costs, is about $20,000 (Potter, 2/21).

WBUR's CommonHealth Blog: 5 Things You Need To Understand About Looming Health Care Changes
In case you missed the news, Gov. Deval Patrick put the state on notice last week that over the next five years, he wants the entire Massachusetts health care system to shift to a new way of working. ... At the center of that shift, the buzzword of all buzzwords in the months to come, is "ACOs," or Accountable Care Organizations. We offer a rudimentary guide to ACOs here. ... But what does that mean? What is this shift going to look like? CommonHealth spoke today with Dr. Marc Bard, chief innovation officer in Navigant's health care practice and author of a forthcoming book: "Accountable Care Organizations: Your Guide to Strategy, Design and Implementation" (Goldberg, 2/21).

Related, earlier KHN story: FAQ On ACOs: Accountable Care Organizations, Explained (Gold, 1/13)

California Healthline: Physicians Are Insurance Consumers, Too
Since taking office less than two months ago, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has made it clear he wants to protect consumers from insurers -- and he made moves to get the authority to curb excessive insurance rate hikes and enforce new federal medical loss ratios. ... Now Jones' office is targeting a new type of insurance: medical malpractice (Gorn, 2/18).

The Associated Press/The Boston Globe: Vt. Braces For 'Death With Dignity' Debate
Three states permit it, and the issue has come to Vermont. Encouraged by the election of Governor Peter Shumlin, who supports it, "death with dignity" advocates have introduced a bill that would make Vermont the fourth state to allow doctors to prescribe some terminally ill patients a lethal dose of drugs they could use to end their lives (Gram, 2/22).

The Miami Herald: Jackson Seeks $1 Billion In Capital Improvements
Seeking long-term solutions to stem Jackson Health System's continuing losses, the chairman of the Public Health Trust is starting a major effort to raise $1 billion for capital improvements, perhaps from private investors in what he describes as a "public-private partnership." Chairman John Copeland formed a new capital committee, which will meet Tuesday to discuss how to raise money to fix its aging infrastructure and to build new centers that will attract paying patients (Dorschner, 2/21).

Related, earlier KHN story: Hospitals Hope To Improve Outlook By Turning For-Profit (Gold, 7/13)

The Arizona Republic: Arizona Abortion Measure Advances In House
Arizona is one step closer to making it illegal to perform abortions based on the gender or race of the fetus - a move that critics say is a solution in search of a problem. But a majority of the Arizona House of Representatives on Monday agreed that there should be safeguards against such a procedure and passed House Bill 2443 a 41-18 vote. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration (Pitzl, 2/22).

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