KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

State Roundup: Calif. Expands Uninsured Access, Gives Adult Day Care Reprieve

A selection of stories from Arizona, California, Virginia, Iowa, Georgia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Los Angeles Times: 10 Counties Expand Medical Coverage For Low-Income Residents
Nearly two years before the federal health reform law kicks in, 10 California counties have expanded medical coverage to more than 250,000 people who were previously uninsured, according to new state data (Gorman, 2/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Women Protest Anti-Abortion Bills In Va. By Locking Arms, Standing Mute Outside State Capitol
Hundreds of women locked arms and stood mute outside the Virginia State Capitol on Monday to protest a wave of anti-abortion legislation coursing through the General Assembly (2/20).

Arizona Republic: Arizona Legislature Releases Budget
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said the budget is a continuation of last year's efforts to balance the state's budget without gimmicks or borrowing. He said while the state is now in the black, it still needs to prepare for three possible looming financial cliffs: the sunset of the sales-tax increase, state costs related to the national health-care law and a double-dip recession (Ray and Pitzl, 2/20).

Des Moines Register: Wellmark Gives Up Some Tax Credits
Wellmark will give up $5 million in tax credits the state provided as incentives for its new $240 million headquarters in downtown Des Moines. The state, in return, will cut the number of jobs Iowa’s largest health insurer is required to create by 10 to 53... The agreement outlines penalties — repayment of the loan and tax credits — if Wellmark fails to maintain the promised number of workers, which it should reach by month's end, it said. Wellmark cited the recession, uncertainty over federal health care rules, and difficulty finding "qualified professionals" for failing to meet the job-creation goal (Eller, 2/20).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Drug Tests, 'Personal Growth' For Those Who Need Help
Proposed mandates requiring drug tests and "personal growth" activities for parents and others who apply for public assistance in Georgia ran into resistance Monday in the state Senate, although not enough to derail them. The bills' sponsoring lawmakers made their pitch before a packed conference room, as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony by more than a dozen people concerned about the cost of the mandates and how they would be implemented. The drug-test mandate of Senate Bill 292 would be for anyone applying for Medicaid or for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (Torres, 2/20).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Federal Government Questions Move Of Georgia Rehabilitation Services
Georgia must hold hearings across the state before it can go forward with a plan to transfer from one state agency to another services that help disabled adults, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In response to issues raised by the federal government, a Georgia council that advocates for adults with disabilities is calling on the state to retract House Bill 831. The bill, which would move the division of rehabilitation services from the Department of Labor to the Department of Human Services, was approved by a House committee Feb. 7 and is expected to go before the full House (Diamond, 2/20).

San Francisco Chronicle: Adult Day Health Care End To Cut Off Frail Seniors
Chan Soon Fong suffers from dementia, memory loss, hypertension, osteoporosis, anemia, arthritis, ulcers, a compressed lumbar spine and diabetes….She's one of thousands of elderly and disabled low-income adults who have been or are expected to be deemed ineligible to participate in a new program that will replace Adult Day Health Care this year. The transition was scheduled to take place March 1, but on Friday, state officials announced it will be delayed for another month to give the federal government, which helps fund the Medi-Cal program, more time to process the paperwork associated with the change (Lagos, 2/19).

California Healthline: Adult Day Care Transition Gets Another Month
The state's move on Friday to shift the transition date for Adult Day Health Care elimination by a month was borne of a request by CMS, according to officials from the Department of Health Care Services. Advocates say the delay may be due to the scattered nature of the state's transition so far. "It's been a royal mess," Corinne Jan of the Family Bridges ADHC in Oakland said (Gorn, 2/21).

Baltimore Sun: Maryland Hospitals Share Data On Patients Electronically
Maryland's 46 acute care hospitals can now all share information electronically on patients admitted, discharged for transferred. The "encounter level" data can be passed along in real time via the Maryland Health Information Exchange, a statewide system of secure information sharing among hospitals, doctors' offices and health organizations, according to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who announced the system recently. Some hospitals also are sharing lab and radiology reports, consult notes and other clinical data. Brown said Maryland is ahead of other states in its level of connectivity, which should help doctors' better coordinate care and improve outcomes (Cohn, 2/20).

Georgia Health News: Struggling Rural Hospital Seeks Partner
Like other small hospitals, Elbert Memorial has been struggling financially for several years. Many of the hospital's patients are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid, while an increasing number of better-insured and private-pay patients travel to Athens for their care (Cai, 2/20).

The Connecticut Mirror: After Years Of Debate, Health Care Pooling Ready To Become Reality -- For Some
The state is poised to open its employee health plan to municipalities and school districts, a controversial concept long advocated by labor unions, town officials and Democratic legislators. ... A health care "pooling" bill that would have allowed municipalities, nonprofits and small businesses to participate in the state employee plan passed the legislature in 2009, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed it (Levin Becker, 2/20).

Modern Healthcare: There Was A High Wage In Nantucket …
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius weighed in for the first time publicly this week on an ongoing battle between hospitals in Massachusetts' and those in at least 19 other states. Sebelius told the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required her to change Medicare's reimbursement of employee wages at all hospitals in Massachusetts to match the rate it pays for those at Nantucket Cottage Hospital. The wage match to a 19-bed hospital located in one of the wealthiest localities in the nation had the effect of increasing Medicare wage reimbursements for all state hospitals by $275 million annually (Daly, 2/17).

Kansas Health Institute News: Doctors Serve As Laboratory For Medical Homes In Kansas
Larry Rahn had never heard of a "patient-centered medical home," though his doctor's practice here is one of a handful certified in Kansas. Nonetheless, the 49-year-old John Deere mechanic said he had noticed something different about Dr. Jerad Widman's approach to medicine and that his health has improved in seven years under Widman's care (Cauthon, 2/21). 

KQED's State of Health blog: Law Seeks to Stop Fake Prescription Drugs
The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration last week that sixteen California clinics and physicians were sold bogus vials of the cancer drug Avastin did not surprise regulators and researchers who study the counterfeit drug trade. Indeed, it was after fake AIDS drugs were discovered in California that state legislators passed the "e-pedigree law" mandating that all prescription drugs carry an electronic tag (Varney, 2/20).

Stateline: Business Gets Its Way In Republican Oklahoma
Oklahoma, ranked as one of the most pro-life states, enacted three abortion-related measures last year, including one that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But social conservatives have made it clear they want to go further ... on the fiscal front, Tea Party conservatives ... are livid that the state even considered accepting $54 million in federal funds to create a state-based health care exchange system under the federal health care law (Prah, 2/21). 

WBUR's CommonHealth blog: Gov. Patrick Addresses Children's, Dana-Farber Controversy
There's been a lot of grumbling around the health care water cooler in Massachusetts lately about "favoritism" for Children's Hospital Boston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The grumbling is based on an exemption that would let patients with tiered or limited network plans receive care at these two high-cost, specialized hospitals without paying higher co-payments or deductibles (Bebinger, 2/17). 

Boston Globe: Health Aid Urged For Low-Wage Workers
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 (Lazar, 2/17).

California Watch: Lack Of Primary And Preventative Care Sends Thousands To Hospitals
According to new data released last week by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, there were more than 335,000 adult hospitalizations in California that could have been avoided if the patient had seen a doctor sooner. ... The latest figures are based on an analysis of 2009 hospital inpatient discharges by state-licensed facilities of 13 "prevention quality indicators," or readily treatable medical conditions such as chest pains and dehydration (Yeung, 2/20).

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