Round-Up: Minnesota Budget News; Coverage Expansions In S.D. And Oregon; And States' Opposition To Federal Health Reform

The Minnesota House passed a bill on health care Tuesday that readies the state for implementing the federal health care overhaul and makes $170 million in cuts to mental health and other social programs, The (St. Paul, Minn.) Pioneer Press reports. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has promised to veto the bill over what he sees as a tax increase. "To pay the state's share of a Medicaid expansion to include poor Minnesotans earning less than $8,000 a year — a move that would wipe off the books a troubled deal to save the state-run General Assistance Medical Care — (bill sponsor Rep. Tom) Huntley proposed a surcharge on HMOs. The Medicaid expansion would draw an estimated $1 billion in federal matching funds into the state. Huntley said hospitals could afford the surcharge because they would be seeing an increase in payments for patients on state-run plans who would be rolled into higher-paying federal Medicaid programs." Pawlenty says that's a tax. Lawmakers also defeated an amendment to the bill that would have instituted universal health care in Minnesota, but approved one that allows health plans outside of the state to sell to Minnesotans. A separate bill that proposes $114 million in cuts is expected in the state Senate Wednesday (Hoppin, 5/4).

The (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.) Star Tribune: "Pawlenty said the budget cuts should be far steeper and the bill should drop a plan to replace the revamped General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) state program for very poor residents with a richer but costlier expansion of Medicaid. ... The bill ignited renewed interest in GAMC among hospitals because it addresses a major concern that led nearly all of them to reject participating in the program. It would let hospitals negotiate with the state to limit the number of GAMC patients they would treat when the program starts June 1. Current law would pay hospitals a lump sum to take all comers. Most hospitals said they could not afford that unknown risk" (Wolfe, 5/5).

In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe will get $300,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services to insure more children under the Children's Health Insurance Program, Indian Country Today reports. "The program provides health care services to more than 8,000 South Dakota children across the state" (5/5). 

The (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal: State officials will add 35,000 adults to the Oregon Health Plan. "The state has funding to add about 35,000 adult Oregonians to the OHP Standard plan thanks to Oregon legislation passed in 2009, said Judy Mohr Peterson, director of the Oregon Department of Human Service's Division of Medical Assistance Programs, which administers the plan. The state estimates that about 140,000 adults qualify based on their income, she said" (Guerrero-Huston, 5/5).

The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal: "Three new vendors will replace the company that provides medical care in Delaware's prisons, the state's response to five years of criticism and turmoil over the quality of inmate health care." The vendors replace St.Louis-based Correctional Medical Services. "The breakup of the single medical health care contract was a result of frustration with CMS, the subject of a 2005 investigation by The News Journal. The newspaper's series brought to light problems with high inmate death rates, especially from AIDS and suicide. It also pointed out neglect of sick inmates who were in filthy infirmaries that sometimes lacked beds" (Parra, 5/5).

The Oklahoman: A bill headed to the governor's desk that would give lawmakers "the authority to file a lawsuit against the federal government and Oklahomans could opt out of the federal health care plan." Some legislators opted "to file a lawsuit after Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat seeking his party's nomination for governor, said the state would likely lose a legal challenge on the bill" (Bisbee, 5/5).

Kansas City Star: "Missouri voters would decide whether to pass a law allowing individuals to refuse a federal health insurance mandate under legislation passed Tuesday in the Senate. ... If approved, it would bar any law or rule from compelling a person, employer or health care provider to purchase health insurance. It's meant to undermine the federal health care legislation passed in March, which will require everyone to purchase insurance beginning in 2014" (Noble, 5/4).

The New York Times: "The District of Columbia Council approved a measure on Tuesday that would allow people with certain chronic illnesses to obtain medical marijuana from a handful of dispensaries regulated by the city. The 13-member Council voted unanimously to allow doctors to recommend marijuana for people who are infected with H.I.V., as well as people with glaucoma, cancer or a 'chronic and lasting disease.' The legislation permits Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to establish up to eight dispensaries where patients could receive two ounces of marijuana a month. The measure gives the mayor the option of raising the amount to four ounces without further council action. Some doctors say marijuana helps relieve nausea, vomiting, certain AIDS symptoms and some side effects of chemotherapy. For glaucoma patients, the drug is believed to help lower eye pressure" (Southall, 5/4).

The Los Angeles Times: "Los Angeles city prosecutors began notifying 439 medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday that they must shut down by June 7, when the city's ordinance to regulate the stores takes effect. It's the first step in what could be a lengthy and expensive legal battle to regain control over pot sales.  … Los Angeles became the epicenter of the state's dispensary boom last year, following the Obama administration's announcement that it would not prosecute medical marijuana stores that adhered to state law. Although the city had a moratorium on new dispensaries, it failed to enforce the ban and hundreds opened with no oversight, triggering complaints from neighborhood activists" (Hoeffel, 5/5).

The Associated Press/Seattle Times: "New Mexico Insurance Superintendent Morris Chavez announced Tuesday he will resign, saying he and his family have been the targets of 'sad and derogatory' online comments in the wake of a contentious health insurance rate case his office recently settled. ... His resignation comes a week after the division wrapped up a rate case involving Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico and about 40,000 of the company's customers. A settlement agreement was signed ... shortly before a public hearing that had been called to give critics a chance to talk about a planned rate increase." Some people have complained that consumers were not given a chance to "voice their concerns" (Montoya Bryan, 5/4). 

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.