State Round Up: Texas Approves Higher Co-Pays For Retirees, California's Next Elected Insurance Commissioner To Play Critical Health Care Role

The (Springfield, Ill.) State Journal-Register: The Illinois "House voted 71-44 to borrow up to $4 billion to cover next year's payments to the five state-funded pension systems." Lawmakers also rejected a proposal to have "retired state employees paying premiums for their health-care coverage. Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park, said the state could save $100 million a year by having retirees pay premiums, noting that 92 percent of them pay nothing now." Meanwhile, a "House committee approved a $200 million cut in Medicaid spending, one of the suggestions of a group of Democratic lawmakers. Exactly where those cuts will take place is unknown. ... A couple of likely places are imposing some managed-care principals in the Medicaid program and tightening participation in All Kids. A recent audit showed significant All Kids money being spent on children of non-residents" (Finke, 5/26).

Austin American-Statesman: "Higher co-payments for doctors, drugs and hospitals, as well as other out-of-pocket expenses were approved by the board of the Employees Retirement System of Texas on Tuesday as a way to dig the health plan out of a $140 million hole. It was a painful but necessary move, board members said, to deal with the dual effects of unexpectedly higher health care costs and underfunding from the Legislature that forced ERS to eat through its reserves. The approved changes, which take effect Sept. 1, reflect the preferences of the 45,000 participants who responded to a survey earlier this year, board members said. The plan provides health insurance for about 500,000 state retirees and workers and their dependents. For more than 40 percent of the participants, their cost of the health plan amounted to less than $500 last year" (Alexander, 5/25).

The Los Angeles Times: "California's elected insurance commissioner — one of the most powerful jobs of its kind in the nation — is likely to get even more authority over the next four years as President Obama's new healthcare law takes effect. The prospect of broad new powers has drawn four major-party candidates seeking their parties' nominations in the June 8 primary election: Democrats Hector De La Torre and Dave Jones, and Republicans Brian D. Fitzgerald and Mike Villines. ... Most of the key provisions of Obama's reform program will kick in during the next insurance commissioner's four-year term. Much of the work will fall on the states and their insurance regulators" (Lifsher, 5/26).

In a separate story, a LA Times blog reports: "Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Tuesday blasted cuts to mental health services in the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget, saying they would burden the county's already overcrowded jails. Baca estimated that the Sheriff's Department currently has about 2,500 inmates with mental health problems in its jails, many of them in the Twin Towers facility in downtown Los Angeles. Critics have asserted that the number of mentally ill inmates is much higher, with many landing in Men's Central Jail, a facility less equipped for mental health care. Cutting funding to community mental health services would push the mentally ill out of clinics, onto the streets and, for many, eventually into the jails, Baca said" (Faturechi, 5/25).

UPI also reports on Baca's comments and says: "Schwarzenegger's budget, if it becomes law, will eliminate about $600 million in aid to community mental health. The cut could cost even more money in federal matching funds. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued California, charging that only half the jail inmates who need mental health treatment receive it" (5/25).

The Associated Press: "The Oklahoma Legislature overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto of an abortion bill that will require women seeking abortions to complete lengthy questionnaires beforehand about their finances, education and relationships. The Senate voted 33-15 on Tuesday to override the Democratic governor's veto. The House easily voted to override the veto on Monday. Of the eight abortion-related bills the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed this session, Henry vetoed two others. One, which would require women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before receiving an abortion, is on hold because of a legal challenge" (Murphy, 5/25). 

Health News Florida: "With Florida struggling financially, a tax-watchdog group Monday called on Gov. Charlie Crist to veto $12.7 million in 'turkey' projects that lawmakers stuffed into the health and human-services budget. Florida TaxWatch released its annual list of budget turkeys --- Tallahassee's version of pork-barrel spending --- as Crist faces a Friday deadline for issuing line-item vetoes. Counting all areas of the state budget, TaxWatch found nearly $60.6 million in turkeys in a year in which lawmakers had to cut funding for numerous programs" (Saunders, 5/25).

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