State Roundup: Md.'s Heath Info Exchange; LA Considers Cuts To Retiree Health Benefits; N.Y.'s Mental Health Building Boom

The Washington Post: "A Maryland health information exchange that will allow hospitals, physicians, labs and radiology centers to share patient information within the state went live last week. Three hospitals, three radiology centers, Quest Diagnostics and the Laboratory Corp. of America are already participating in the exchange." The nonprofit managing the network  "reports that all 48 Maryland hospitals have signed letters of intent to join the exchange over the coming months. ... More than 300 such exchanges are in development throughout the United States as part of a larger effort to develop national exchange standards and best practices" (Becker, 10/18).

The Los Angeles Times: "With Los Angeles facing a $320-million budget shortfall next year, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backed on Monday what he termed a 'landmark proposal' to reform 'out of control' pension costs and retiree health benefits for newly hired city police officers and firefighters. … The mayor called the plan an essential step to ensuring the long-term fiscal health of a city that has suffered a bruising series of layoffs and service cuts in the wake of the nation's protracted economic downturn. However, the plan omits more contentious reforms, such as increasing the minimum retirement age and shrinking the maximum pension payout for cops and firefighters from its current 90% of salary" (McDonnell, 10/19). 

The Charlotte Observer: "Inclusive Health received a $2.1 million federal grant to make coverage more affordable for high-risk customers in North Carolina. Inclusive Health, which operates high-risk insurance pools mandated by both the state and federal governments, is offering the subsidies on a first-come, first-served basis. This is the second year Inclusive Health has received a federal grant to provide premium subsidies. The first grant, of $1.5 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has helped 660 state residents since January, according to Executive Director Michael Keough. This year's grant will expand the program to more than 300 people who otherwise might not be able to afford health coverage" (10/19).

The Des Moines Register: "Outside experts disagree about the likelihood that Iowa could gain an exemption from the planned expansion of Medicaid or that the state could help get the federal health reform law overturned in court. David Orentlicher, an Indiana University law professor who specializes in health care issues, said the health reform law offers no wiggle room for states on the Medicaid expansion. The law says legal residents who make less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $14,000 per year for a single person, will qualify for Medicaid in 2014. ... But Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said governors could try to negotiate their way out of the Medicaid expansion" (Leys, 10/18).

The Wall Street Journal: "Several hospitals in New York City and around the state are constructing new mental-health wings or units, and a hospital affiliated with North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center is erecting a new building. Last month, the state awarded nearly $39 million in grants to 19 hospitals and clinics to pay for renovations for inpatient and outpatient care. In some cases, larger rooms are being created to allow space for standard medical equipment. While the state grants are small compared with the many millions of dollars pumped into rebuilding acute- and long-term-care hospitals, the money is the first large competitive aid to upgrade behavioral health-care facilities in recent years" (Sataline, 10/18).

The Salt Lake Tribune: "Health insurers have long declined to cover people with chronic health problems. The Affordable Care Act is trying to fix that by prohibiting insurers from rejecting people for having pre-existing conditions — now kids, and later adults. Insurers in Utah and other states responded by halting the sale of child-only plans. As a concession to the industry, and to guard against parents waiting to sign up for coverage only when their children get very ill and their costs skyrocket, federal officials told insurers they could limit enrollment to certain fixed periods. The allowance was meant to encourage insurers to re-enter the child-only market. But Utah's two biggest carriers, Intermountain Healthcare's SelectHealth and BlueCross BlueShield, have abandoned that market indefinitely" (Stewart, 10/18).

Related, earlier KHN story: HHS Issues New Guidance On Kids' Insurance Policies (Carey, 10/13).

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