Virginia AG Works To Increase Outpatient Treatment For Mentally Ill; Iowa Hospitals Oppose Medicare Fraud Bill

News outlets report on health care developments in Virginia, the District of Columbia, California, Iowa, Maryland, Maine and Michigan.

The Virginia attorney general wants to increase access to outpatient treatment for the mentally ill, The Washington Post reports. "After the shootings at Virginia Tech by a mentally ill student in 2007, the Virginia General Assembly changed the law the next year to allow more outpatient treatment. But even fewer people were ordered into outpatient treatment in the law's first year." On Thursday, recently-elected Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II "will push for a new law that would allow doctors to order patients into outpatient treatment after they are stabilized in a hospital or institution." The Post reports that Cuccinelli said the law could result in significant savings for the state and "open up more bed space" in hospitals (Jackman, 2/4).

In a separate article, The Washington Post reports on problems at District of Columbia-funded homes for the mentally ill. "District long-term care ombudsman Gerald Kasunic recently told The Washington Post that he verified 59 cases of abuse, exploitation, poor care, financial irregularities and other problems at the facilities, dating to 2005. Kasunic ... said he forwarded the findings to the Department of Mental Health, but the agency repeatedly renewed Hill's licenses. In 2008, after three years of complaints, the city opted not to renew the licenses" (Cenziper, 2/4).

Los Angeles Times: "The California Medical Board put a doctor with a flawed disciplinary history in charge of monitoring another troubled doctor who, while under supervision, allegedly mishandled an abortion leading to a patient's death. On Tuesday, the board acknowledged it had made a mistake. ... The rules require such overseers to have clean disciplinary records" (Girion, 2/3).

The Des Moines Register reports that the state hospital association "is opposing legislation that would provide Iowans with a financial incentive to report suspected Medicaid fraud." Twenty-three states have passed similar legislation, which "is modeled after the federal government's False Claims Act. That law enables whistle-blowers to bring lawsuits against federal contractors who are overbilling or otherwise defrauding taxpayers. If the whistle-blowers prevail in court, they can collect 15 to 25 percent of the damages paid by the contractor." On their Web site, the Iowa Hospital Association "characterizes the proposal as 'damaging to hospitals.' The association says the bill 'purports to save the state money, when in reality the bill doesn't take into consideration the increased costs associated with this type of policy change'" (Kauffman, 2/4).

BusinessWeek reports that a bill pending in Maryland could allow young adults to stay on their parents' health care plan until age 30. "Current Maryland law allows dependent individuals to remain on a parent's plan until they are 25 years old. Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin wants to raise the age limit to cover dependents up to 30 years old, which he says would help graduate students, veterans returning to school and young adults who've been laid off and are seeking employment. Pennsylvania and New York allow some unmarried individuals up to age 30 to remain on their parent's plans as dependents, and New Jersey will extend a parent's insurance coverage to some unmarried dependents up to age 31" (Miller, 2/3).

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network reports that the Maine legislature is considering a ban on lifetime and annual payment caps on health insurance. "Backers of the measure claim at least 100 Maine families a year are facing financial ruin when they exceed the caps on benefits contained in their policies, and are forced to pay the difference out of pocket. Opponents claim that lifting the limits will only drive up costs and make insurance less affordable" (Higgins, 2/3).

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