News Roundup: Judge Approves $712 Million Settlement For 9/11 Emergency Workers' Health Problems; Missouri Ballot Measure On Health Overhaul Challenged

The Wall Street Journal: "A judge approved a $712 million health settlement for thousands of emergency workers who responded after the Sept. 11 attack, in spite of objections from some who complained that the deal was unfair. Some workers who say they got sick working at the Ground Zero site argued Wednesday that the settlement shortchanged those suffering from certain types of diseases. One of the key factors in how much workers get paid under the settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, depends on the type of disease the person contracted. The amounts would be higher for those with illnesses such as blood cancer, which medical experts say was more likely to have been caused by the debris following the attack. A payout to someone with blood cancer could be nearly $300,000. For those with solid tumors, which are more difficult to directly link to the debris, payouts could be as little as $6,600" (Rothfeld, 6/24).

The Associated Press/Bloomberg Business Week: "A lawsuit has been filed seeking to block an Aug. 3 vote on a Missouri ballot measure challenging the new federal health insurance law. The lawsuit contends the measure violates the state constitution because of the way in which it was passed by the Legislature and referred to ballot. ... No hearing has been scheduled. The Missouri ballot measure attempts to defy a federal health care law signed earlier this year by President Barack Obama that requires most Americans to have health insurance or face fines beginning in 2014" (Lieb, 6/23).

In a separate article, The Wall Street Journal reports: "[N.Y.] State health officials have asked the attorney general's office to investigate the actions of trustees at two hospitals and a nonprofit health network linked to an influence-peddling scandal that sent a former Queens assemblyman to prison. The Department of Health authorized the attorney general's charity bureau, which regulates not-for-profit organizations, to investigate board members at Jamaica Hospital, Brookdale University Hospital and their parent company, MediSys Health Network. Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, confirmed the office received the referral but declined to comment further. Health officials asked for the probe, as federal and state investigators are looking into the finances of MediSys, a $1 billion enterprise whose affiliates also include hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens, several nursing homes, diagnostic-and-treatment centers, federally subsidized pharmacies, and about a dozen for-profit corporations" (Gershman, 6/24). 

Kansas Health Institute: "Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger says she's all for doing away with the 'pre-existing condition exclusions' that health insurers have long used to deny coverage to those who need it most. But, she said, there's a problem. The new federal health reform law, Praeger said, assumes that if everyone is required to have coverage, health insurers will be able to cover pre-existing conditions and stay in business. … But there's nothing to stop someone – young adults, especially – from paying the relatively inexpensive tax penalty instead of buying insurance as the law mandates and then waiting until they're sick to buy insurance. … On Tuesday, [Praeger] was one of five state commissioners invited to take part in a White House meeting that included President Obama and the chiefs of 15 major health insurance companies, including Tom Bowser, chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City" (Ranney, 6/23).

The Hartford Courant: "State insurance regulators are warning people about four health insurance companies that are marketing to Connecticut residents, but aren't licensed in the state. Congressional Health Plans in Hallandale, Fla., Atlantic Prescription Services, Benefits USA and Insurance Group USA, Inc. are all unlicensed to sell insurance in Connecticut, the state Insurance Department said Tuesday. The department said it has had a couple of complaints about these companies marketing services online to Connecticut residents" (Sturdevant, 6/23).

Health News Florida: "The low annual payout limits on skimpy health plans, including the state's own 'Cover Florida' program, are supposed to go away in September under new federal rules released Tuesday afternoon. But a close reading of the rules shows some wiggle room. ... [Supporters of the plans] may find hope in one clause in the 196-page rule book. It says that the Department of Health and Human Services can grant an exemption for limited-benefit plans if the denial of the exemption would cause those enrolled to lose coverage. HHS will have to devise an appeals program to hear such cases" (Gentry, 6/23).

The Salt Lake Tribune: "Diabetics make up a sliver of the population, but they cost insurance companies the most to cover, according to new data released Wednesday. And the top drug prescribed to insured Utahns is anti-depressants, with depression another disease that is driving up health care costs. The data is part of the Utah Department of Health's All-Payer Database, a collection of medical and pharmacy claims from commercial insurance companies. Patients' names are removed, but replaced by a unique identifier so their care can be tracked. Knowing where insurance companies spend money should eventually help consumers shop for insurance plans and improve health care as researchers dig into where money is spent and whether it improves or hurts patients" (May, 6/24).

The Baltimore Sun: "Hospitals and insurers ended months of wrangling this week by agreeing to an increase in the rate hospitals can charge patients, but a state rate-setting commission will make the final decision. The Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission was set to vote on a rate increase Thursday but received a letter from insurance company and hospital representatives this week asking for a two-week delay. The commission, which sets the rates that hospitals statewide charge and what everyone must pay, will now vote July 7. The new rates would be retroactive to July 1" (Walker, 6/23).

WCBS-TV New York: "More than 100,000 New Jersey residents rely on clinics for free to low-cost reproductive health care. But some may have to close after more than $7 million in funding cuts. Gov. Chris Christie says it's a painful result of a massive budget problem. … The governor's press secretary said the funding cuts were based on an $11 million budget deficit, something the Republican governor has been talking about since taking office" (Sloan, 6/24).

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