State Roundup: Oklahoma, S.C. And Ill. Facing Tough Choices On Health Costs

States around the country are debating how to deal with health costs and tight budgets.

NPR: "State officials in Georgia are not happy about the new federal health law. The governor has joined 19 other states that have filed suit to nullify it. And the state insurance commissioner is refusing to set up a high-risk pool to sell health insurance to people with medical problems" (Silberner, 5/25).

The Associated Press/Houston Chronicle: "The Oklahoma Legislature considered several options Monday to raise revenue to help close a $1.2 billion hole in the state budget, and fell one vote short in the House in attempting to prevent a delay in funding for the health care needs of low-income residents. The House voted 67-33 for the emergency clause on a bill that institutes a 1 percent fee on paid health care claims, falling short of the 68 needed to pass it. Supporters say the measure would generate about $78 million annually, which could then be matched three to one with federal money to support health care programs" (Murphy, 5/24).

Kansas Health Institute: "The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has suspended voluntary admissions to the state's three hospitals for the mentally ill. All three facilities are full beyond licensed capacities, officials said. … It's become increasingly common for Larned State Hospital, Osawatomie State Hospital, and Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City to have four or five too many patients. Last week, however, each had at least nine too many. In recent years, SRS has been able to avoid suspending admissions by shifting referrals; patients who ordinarily would have been sent to one hospital were sent to another. That's not an option when all three hospitals are over census" (Ranney, 5/25). 

The (South Carolina) State: "The S.C. Senate must deal this week or next with a new round of House cuts aimed primarily at health care, which would eliminate breast cancer screenings for 16,000 poor S.C. women and limit poor patients to three prescription drugs a month. It's the House's way of dealing with a $21 million shortfall in court and public safety funds it does not want to cover with increased fees and fines. But $50 million in health care cuts, which some critics say has become the favorite target of Republican lawmakers, isn't a silver bullet, either, health care advocates say. Costs ignored on the front end typically have greater costs down the line. If people are not getting HIV drugs or cancer screenings, then people could die, the advocates say" (Burris, 5/25). 

Minnesota Public Radio: "The race for governor usually focuses on state-based issues like K-12 schools, the budget and taxes. But already in this campaign, federal issues, in particular federal health care, are generating attention. The main issue is a plan that would shift about 100,000 low-income Minnesotans from two state health programs into a federal program. … The shift, which requires $188 million more in state funds, would mean roughly $1.4 billion more in federal funds. Republicans balked at the idea and the two sides agreed to allow the next governor to decide the matter" (Scheck, 5/25).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Twila Brase has no idea why a magazine named her one of America's 100 most powerful people in health care, and, frankly, neither do her critics. … The 51-year-old nurse turned activist is hardly a household name. Yet in Minnesota political circles, Brase, founder of the St. Paul-based Citizens' Council on Health Care, enjoys the reputation of a self-made libertarian lightning rod, an increasingly powerful free-market contrarian who blocks more public policy than she creates. ... Brase opposes anything she thinks constricts individual freedom or invades privacy. That puts her at odds with many of the most popular concepts in modern health care: evidence-based medicine, electronic medical records, DNA databanks, doctor quality ratings" (Spencer, 5/24).

The (Springfield, Ill.) State Journal-Register: "Retired state employees would be charged premiums for health insurance under budget reforms being pushed by a group of Democratic lawmakers. ... Lawmakers must figure out how to deal with a $13 billion deficit while acknowledging there is inadequate support for tax hikes, deep spending cuts or borrowing, the three major alternatives for balancing the budget. ... Under the Democrats' plan, expected to raise $100 million a year, rates charged to retirees would be on a sliding, income-based scale." The plan would also cut "$200 million by instituting changes to Medicaid" (Finke, 5/24).

The Miami Herald: "Bill McCollum's campaign for governor recently began bashing his Republican rival [Rick Scott] for heading a hospital company that paid a record $1.7 billion fraud fine for bilking Medicare and Medicaid. But McCollum seemed to have a different perspective 12 years ago when he was a congressman and pushed legislation that, critics said, would have 'gutted' a federal whistleblower act and was designed to halt federal investigations of hospitals -- namely Columbia/HCA, which was run at one point by his new political rival, Rick Scott."

The Herald reports that, at the time, "McCollum was only quoted as defending hospitals under investigation. Months after McCollum filed the whistleblower legislation, he received $3,000 in congressional campaign contributions in a single day from Columbia/HCA executives, according published reports and the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group. Today, as the state's attorney general, McCollum fashions himself as a Medicaid fraud fighter. And he's made Scott and Columbia/HCA into a poster child of fraud" (Caputo, 5/25).

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