Governors Press Washington For More Help, Mass. Municipalities Seek New Authority To Cut Health Care Plan Costs

The Associated Press: The National Governors Association, meeting in Boston, pressed Washington for more help to states. The "NGA renewed its bipartisan appeal for Congress to pass stalled jobs legislation. ... [Last month,] the House and Senate failed to complete legislation that would have extended, through June 2011, important parts of the federal stimulus program enacted last year to provide unemployment insurance and help offset recession-driven cuts to education, health care and public safety. The measure offered $35.5 billion for unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and $16 billion for Medicaid, the public health care program for the poor. It also would have added an estimated $33 billion to the deficit." Although the governors are asking for Washington's help, there is a partisan divide about raising the deficit, with some Democrats arguing "that the short-term gain was worth the long-term pain. But some Republican governors were more tentative in their support, suggesting any aid should be offset by paying for it from other areas of the budget" (Sidoti, 7/12).

The Associated Press/Boston Herald: "Facing declining state aid and local tax revenues, municipal officials are clamoring for a new tool to cut costs: the ability to unilaterally change the health care plans they provide to employees, elected officials and retirees. Municipalities are pitching the idea as a way to reduce police, firefighter and teacher layoffs. Cities and towns could save $100 million in one year — and $2.5 billion in a decade — if they were allowed to adjust premiums and co-payments without union approval, said Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. State officials already enjoy the power to raise health-plan premiums shares and co-payments" (7/10).

The Providence Journal: "Beginning Aug. 15, chronically ill Rhode Islanders unable to afford health insurance will be able to apply for less expensive coverage as part of the federal health-care overhaul. The state has selected Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to administer $13 million in federal money for the unhealthy uninsured over the next three years. The nonprofit insurer will create a new 'high-risk pool' for an estimated 500 people with medical problems who have not had coverage for at least six months. The aid is intended to last only until 2014 when major reform provisions — including a prohibition on insurers denying coverage to people in poor health — extend health insurance to an additional 32 million Americans" (Salit, 7/12).

The Washington Post: The District of Columbia "now owns United Medical Center, the only hospital serving residents east of the Anacostia River, after bidding $20 million for the beleaguered facility at a five-minute foreclosure auction Friday that drew no other bidders. The move plunges the District back into the business of owning a financially struggling hospital nearly a decade after city-run D.C. General Hospital was forced to close because of similar troubles. No cash changed hands Friday, but the proceeding reduces the estimated $55 million debt that the previous owner, Specialty Hospitals of America, owes the city, Attorney General Peter Nickles said. The city took immediate possession of the 184-bed hospital, formerly Greater Southeast Community Hospital, met its $2.2 million payroll and started the process of transferring Medicaid and Medicare numbers and various licenses, officials said" (Sun, 7/10).

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