KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Highlights: Mass. Contemplates Physician-Assisted ‘Suicide’

A selection of health policy news from Colorado, Oregon, California and Massachusetts.

CQ HealthBeat: States Flocking To High-Deductible Health Plans For Their Workers
High-deductible health insurance plans are catching on in states struggling to contain escalating costs among their own employees, according to a brief the National Governors Association released Thursday. Nationally, insurance industry figures show that 13.5 million workers -- public and private -- are enrolled in high-deductible plans, which have soared in popularity in recent years among private sector employers trying to cope with high costs. The idea is that health costs will decline because workers will have more of an incentive to look for the best value in health care (Norman, 10/25).

NPR: Assisted Suicide Goes to Vote In Massachusetts
Two states, Oregon and Washington, have legalized physician-assisted suicide through voter-approved ballot initiatives. Massachusetts will become the third if voters approve the so-called Death With Dignity ballot question. The measure would let terminally ill patients with six months or less to live get a lethal prescription. The outcome of that vote could change the landscape for legalized suicide nationwide (Pfeiffer, 10/25).

WBUR: On Doctor-Assisted Suicide, Stances Rooted In Intimate Experiences
[Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School] led the effort to get the Death with Dignity initiative on the state ballot, although she doesn’t like to call it assisted "suicide." ... "The typical suicide involves somebody with a normal life expectancy who chooses death over life. And in the case of assisted dying, the Death With Dignity Act, these people are already dying," [she said]. ... John Kelly, a disabilities rights activist and founder of Second Thoughts, the lead opponent of the ballot question, ... [is] severely disabled. And he says the life he lives is the kind of life this ballot question seems to suggest isn't worth living (Pfeiffer and Jolicoeur, 10/25).

Los Angeles Times: 1.2 Million Californians Lost Employer Health Benefits Since 2009
About 1.2 million Californians lost employer health benefits during the recession while enrollment surged in government insurance programs, a new study finds. The number of people getting health insurance at work has been steadily declining for years in the Golden State, but those losses accelerated from 2009 to 2011, when the Great Recession took a heavy toll on many businesses, according to the study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (10/25).

The Denver Post: Health Plan Costs Finally Slowing In Colorado, Study Shows
The unrelenting rise in health costs for businesses and employees is finally slowing in Colorado, according to a wide annual survey, although reasons behind the welcome slowdown aren't always good news. Employer-provided health insurance costs will rise 7.4 percent in Colorado in 2013, down from a 9.4 percent jump in 2012 and 14.4 percent in 2011. .... Employees are coping with recession risks and higher deductibles by putting off elective surgeries on knees or shoulders, for example, analysts said, thus keeping overall health spending down (Booth, 10/26). 

The Associated Press/The Reporter: Courts To Hand Inmate Care Back To California
The federal courts will begin handing responsibility for inmate health care back to California corrections officials today, the first step in ending a 7-year-old receivership that has cost the state billions of dollars to improve prison medical conditions. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will assume responsibility for hiring employees and preparing to open a $1 billion prison medical complex in Stockton, 50 miles south of Sacramento (Thompson, 10/26).

California Watch: Doctors Group, State Watchdog Reach Patient Care Settlement Deal
The state's managed care watchdog has reached a settlement agreement with a Los Angeles physicians group that was accused of allowing business executives to decide whether patients get requested medical care. The Department of Managed Care reached the agreement earlier this month with Accountable Health Care IPA, a firm that contracts with larger insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross and L.A. Care to manage primary care for 160,000 Los Angeles County residents (Jewett, 10/26).

The Lund Report: Southwest Community Health Center Focuses On Serving Broad Uninsured Population
A majority of patients at the Multnomah Village-based clinic come from southwest Portland, but patients travel from as far away as Troutdale or Woodburn to seek care. ... While it's unclear how much of Portland's population will still be uninsured once the Affordable Care Act takes effect, Gobil and Yoshihara estimate about seven to nine percent of people in the area will still be without insurance. Many will be undocumented immigrants (McCurdy, 10/25).

The Boston Globe: Review: Physician Addiction Programs Subject To Potential Financial Conflicts
Physician health programs in most states are designed to help doctors with substance-use and other problems get the care they need and, when appropriate, return to work while protecting patient safety. But two Harvard doctors who have been involved with the Massachusetts program say there is too little oversight of operations in programs across the country and no clear standards (Conaboy, 10/25).

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