News Roundup: NYC Program To Help Poor, Elderly With Insurance Gets Cut; Colo. Promotes Wellness Programs For Small Businesses

The New York Times: "A program that for a decade helped New York City's poor and elderly navigate their way through insurance problems — and that became a model for a similar federal program — has become a casualty of city budget cuts, an administrator of the program said on Thursday. The $4 million program sent ombudsmen to 25 social service agencies across the city. ... Those ombudsmen were trained to help people obtain insurance, get health services and contest claims that had been denied by insurance companies and hospitals. The program helped about 10,000 people a year, said David R. Jones, president of the Community Service Society, which administered it" (Hartocollis, 7/8).

The Denver Post: "Before recent changes in state law, insurance companies were forbidden from offering incentives to small businesses that set up wellness programs for their employees. Now, stores, restaurants and other businesses with one to 300 workers can sign up for wellness programs similar to those offered for years by larger companies. … Research shows that for every $1 spent on wellness, there is a savings of about $3 on health care costs, said United Healthcare chief executive Beth Soberg" (Brown, 7/9).

The Seattle Times: "Plans by the state's Board of Pharmacy to amend controversial rules requiring pharmacies to dispense legally prescribed medications have sparked questions and outrage among those who support unfettered access to emergency contraceptives. The board wants to change the rules so that pharmacies with 'conscientious objections' to the 'Plan B' emergency contraceptive or other medication could refuse to stock or dispense the drug, and pass the customer to another pharmacy to fill the prescription" (Ostrom, 7/8)

The Salt Lake Tribune: Some Utah consumers are complaining about rising cost of health insurance premiums. "Sudden rate increases by health insurers in other states facing higher costs in part because of federal health reform prompted President Barack Obama to warn the industry not to jack up prices. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working on new regulations to determine when price increases are 'unreasonable.' Some states, like New York, have already passed legislation to block 'premium-creep.' Utah, too, will have to start flexing its regulatory muscle to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But, for now, consumers are left to trust that the state has their best interests in mind. Health insurance companies must submit premium increases to the insurance department for review, but the law gives them leeway to charge amounts the market will bear" (Stewart, 7/9).

The Oklahoman: "Premiums paid by individuals enrolled in Insure Oklahoma is adding more than $7.7 million in new money to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority's budget, agency officials told board members Thursday. The agency's revenue for this budget year, which began July 1, also includes $52 million from the health carrier access fee, a new 1 percent fee paid by insurance companies operating in the state" (Bisbee, 7/9).

Cleveland Plain Dealer: "About 1,000 HIV/AIDS patients throughout Ohio will no longer be eligible for free medication from the state, and hundreds of others will see their benefits cut because rising costs are depleting the program's funds. Once again, the economy's to blame. In December 2005, Ohio's Ryan White program provided free medication to 1,962 HIV/AIDS patients statewide. That ballooned to 4,384 patients by December 2009 and has since grown to more than 5,000, said Jay Carey, management analyst for the program. … The changes, announced last week, went into effect July 1. And the state is contacting, by phone and mail, those who will lose benefits, Carey said. It will continue to offer them services, such as help finding other sources of free medication" (Suchetka, 7/5).

The Associated Press/Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "The Massachusetts House is hoping to repeal a state law requiring drug companies report gifts to doctors. The repeal was included in an economic development bill approved by the House on Wednesday. Democratic House leaders defended the vote to repeal the ban, approved just two years ago, saying it has made it harder to attract companies to Massachusetts" (7/8).

Detroit Free Press: "Two Michigan health insurers -- both subsidiaries of large hospital systems -- have applied to sell coverage to hard-to-insure consumers in [a] new high-risk pool, a major provision of new federal reforms. Priority Health, based in Grand Rapids, a subsidiary of Spectrum Health, and the Physicians Health Plan of Mid-Michigan, a Lansing subsidiary of the Sparrow Health System, submitted bids Wednesday to run the pool. The coverage will only be available to ... people under age 65 who currently are not insured and who have been rejected for health insurance because of a chronic health problem" (Anstett, 7/8).

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