State Round Up: Utah Struggling With State Online Health Exchange; California Cracks Down On Discount Health Plans

The Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah lawmakers this year have spared no energy trumpeting their dislike for federal health reform, passing bills asserting states' right to govern themselves. But Utah's own health care fix, an online insurance market called the Utah Health Exchange, has gotten off to a wobbly start. And legislation to repair it, sponsored by Republican House Speaker Dave Clark, came under siege last week. ...The debate left some reform advocates privately wondering if the topic has become too toxic to handle" (Stewart, 2/23).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Pension and health-care changes meant to cut public employee benefits and save the state money easily cleared the New Jersey Senate yesterday, despite objections from labor leaders. State workers and teachers are likely to have more of a say in the Assembly, however, where two leaders say they expect to offer additional proposals to address the state's massive health and retirement fund deficits. Their plans signal a possible break with the Senate on measures that had appeared to be on a fast track toward approval" (Tamari, 2/23). 

St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on Minnesota politics with an article about Kurt Zellers, a Republican and Minnesota's new House minority leader, and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty who "vetoed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill rescuing a health care program aimed at the poorest Minnesotans ... [and] said the program, known as General Assistance Medical Care, needs reforms and should be weighed in light of broader budget problems facing the state. Democrats had been moving quickly to restore the program because Pawlenty cut funding for it at the end of the 2009 legislative session to help balance the state budget. The funding that's left expires April 1, and while Pawlenty has said he wants to move those eligible into MinnesotaCare, that program is more expensive and charges a small premium." It will be up to Zellers to try to keep the House Republicans' support for the governor's action (Hoppin, 2/21).

Greenville News: "South Carolina is getting $51.5 million in federal stimulus funds to help offset the cost of prescription drugs for residents on both Medicare and Medicaid. ... Jeff Stensland, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the Medicaid program, said the additional funds will help. The department got $728 million in state funds for fiscal 2010, down from $950 million in 2009, he said" (Osby, 2/23). 

San Francisco Chronicle: "State regulators on Monday cracked down on an Arizona company that issued discount health plan cards to California consumers, accusing the firm of fraudulently claiming the products being sold were insurance and offering services that didn't exist. The state Department of Managed Health Care ordered Healthcare One LLC and its four affiliates -- Elite Healthcare, Easy Life Healthcare, Republic Healthcare and Global Healthcare -- to stop doing business in California or face a court challenge. Monday's complaint marked the 18th action the department has taken against discount health plans, which are non-insurance products that offer health care services to members at lower rates in exchange for an enrollment and a monthly fee" (Colliver, 2/23).

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer: "Gov. Ted Strickland on Monday proposed shifting $5.3 million earmarked for nursing homes to programs that will allow every eligible senior citizen to receive long-term medical care at home. The move would wipe away a waiting list of 592 people who are eligible for the state's Medicaid waiver program, called PASSPORT, and other smaller programs that provide less expensive assistance for seniors in their homes. ... The waiting list started after the Ohio Department of Aging, like other state agencies, was forced last year to cut spending to balance its budget and help the state's address its looming deficit" (Fields, 2/22).

Chattanooga Times Free Press: TennCare Director Darin Gordon "said Monday he is advising Gov. Phil Bredesen that the state use an unexpected change in federal Medicaid rules to offset about a quarter of the $500 million in new TennCare cuts the administration plans to make in its latest round of reductions. ... Tennessee is coming into the estimated $120 million in one-time funds as a result of a policy change agreed to on Friday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Mr. Gordon confirmed the change as lawmakers and doctors continued to wring their hands over the latest round of cuts as the state wrestles with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The TennCare director said he hopes to use the additional funds to 'mitigate or postpone' recently recommended caps limiting services to adult, nonpregnant enrollees on TennCare, the state's version of Medicaid" (Sher, 2/23).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.