Florida Weighs Next Steps For Small Business Insurance Exchange; N.J. Considers COBRA Eligibility Expansion; Other Highlights

Health News Florida: "When Republican lawmakers created the Florida Health Choices program in 2008, they billed it as a way to deregulate the health-care market for small businesses. Two years later, Florida Health Choices has still not started offering coverage, and its leaders and lawmakers face a philosophical choice that could determine whether the program survives. Florida Health Choices would not qualify as a state insurance exchange under the federal health-reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March. As a result, backers of the Florida Health Choices program will have to decide whether to push forward with their free-market vision or go along with requirements in a federal law that is loathed by many Republicans. All states must have such an exchange by 2014 to help small businesses and individuals buy insurance coverage. But while the general thrust of the exchanges and Florida Health Choices is similar, the federal law doesn't allow for the Florida program's hands-off approach to the coverage that would be sold" (Saunders, 5/11).

NJ Today: "The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale and Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, both D-Middlesex, that would offer extended health benefits to residents left jobless as a result of their place of employment closing. The bill (S-956) would allow employees who are laid off due to a workplace closure to continue receiving employer-sponsored health benefits for up to 18 months, under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, commonly called COBRA. Those individuals – required to purchase the coverage – could then take advantage of reduced insurance premiums, made possible through subsidies provided under the federal economic stimulus act and extended by Congress" (5/11).

Stateline.org: "A funny thing happened recently when New Hampshire looked for a new way to pay for the health care of thousands of retired state and local government workers. Democrats came to agree with Republicans. Labor representatives agreed with employers. Municipalities agreed with the state. And everyone now seems satisfied that they've come up with a workable solution to a thorny problem faced by governments around the country. ... The Legislature recently endorsed the commission's findings, making New Hampshire the first state in the nation to formally support a strategy known as a 'retiree medical trust'" (Gramlich, 5/12).

Kansas Health Institute: "After four months of struggling with the issues of budgets and taxes, the Legislature finished its work today and concluded all but the ceremonial end of the 2010 session. ... The budget approved by the Legislature restored the 10 percent cut in reimbursements to the state's Medicaid providers that was ordered Jan. 1 by the governor in response to the budget shortfall." The budget also had provisions limiting tobacco use, made no new cuts in funding of mental health centers, increased premiums for the state insurance program for children in low-income families and set a new tax on nursing homes (Ranney, 5/11).

The News Journal/USA Today: "The state of Delaware missed several red-flag warnings that could have led to an earlier arrest of pediatrician Earl Bradley, accused of raping or abusing more than 103 children since 1998, a four-month analysis of the case concluded Tuesday. Widener University Law School Dean Linda Ammons, appointed in January by Democratic Gov. Jack Markell to conduct an independent review of the case, said authorities had known since the mid-1990s that there might be issues with Bradley. However, she added, authorities didn't talk to one another in ways that would have brought the situation to light. Bradley, 57, has pleaded not guilty to all charges outlined in a 471-count indictment" (Barrish, 5/12).

The Times-Picayune: "The planned state teaching hospital in New Orleans will need at least $70 million in annual state general fund support through 2016 and could top $100 million in subsequent years, according to an analysis prepared for Louisiana Health Secretary Alan Levine. Those amounts through 2016 represent about a $33 million annual increase in what the state gives the Interim LSU Public Hospital now, but is lower than previous projections of future obligations to either the new hospital or the existing Interim LSU Public Hospital" (Barrow, 5/11).

Tulsa World: "Democratic lawmakers are united in support of a hospital provider fee to offset cuts to education, health care and other areas, they said Tuesday. Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, are negotiating a budget for the next fiscal year." A shortfall of more than $1 billion is expected. "State agencies are preparing for deep cuts. ... Democrats ... say a hospital provider fee would bring in millions of dollars that could be matched with federal Medicaid dollars. Hospitals that receive Medicaid patients support the fee, said Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City" (Hoberock, 5/11).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: In Wisconsin, health plans and employers are teaming up with pharmacists in an initiative focused on reducing health care costs. "UnitedHealthcare in Wisconsin has joined a pilot project that pays pharmacists for time spent with patients to review their medications, including less costly alternatives that may be just as effective" (Boulton, 5/12).

The Business Journal of Milwaukee: Also in that state, all dollar amount and service limitations have been eliminated "for mental health and substance abuse treatment for patients who are covered by the BadgerCare Plus Benchmark Plan. The decision brings mental illness and substance use disorder to parity levels — equal to the treatment provided for medical care — for the 14,496 children and pregnant or postpartum women enrolled in the Benchmark Plan, part of the state's public Medicaid program known as BadgerCare Plus" (5/11).

South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Florida HMOs last year reversed a 10-year plunge in popularity by gaining members for the first time since 1999, and as a result saw profits jump, new state figures show. The down economy fueled the jump in membership among the 32 health maintenance organizations in Florida, as many people who lost jobs landed in Medicaid health plans and more seniors cutting their costs chose Medicare HMOs, experts said. Total HMO enrollment came in at almost 3.6 million, up 4 percent from the low set in 2008 but still down from the peak of 5 million in 1999, according to new figures from the state Office of Insurance Regulation" (LaMendola, 5/10).

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