Milwaukee Sees Fast Rise In Costs Of Benefits; N.J. Gov. Outlines Cuts To Public Workers' Benefits; Hawaii Teachers File Suit Over Health Changes

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The cost of health benefits appears to be rising at a much faster pace in the Milwaukee area than the national average. Employers reported that the cost of health benefits increased 11% to 13% on average in the Milwaukee area this year, according to the 2010 Greater Milwaukee Employer Health Care Benefits Survey. That contrasts with a national survey released this month that found health insurance premiums for employers and employees rose an average of 3% for family coverage and 5% for single coverage this year, the smallest overall increase in more than a decade. One possible factor contributing to the larger local increases: state mandates for broader coverage. The increases have been particularly steep for small employers" (Boulton, 9/14).

The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger: "Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday outlined a series of cuts to public workers' pension and benefits he said are needed to keep the massive retirement system solvent, while unions said the plan was unfair and even illegal. Christie's bid to fix what one municipal official called a 'ticking time bomb' would raise the retirement age, rework the formula to make pensions less lucrative and require workers to pay more for health care, among other changes. The reforms ... would affect more than 780,000 current employees and retired workers in the pension systems — including judges, teachers, state workers and firefighters. Christie also proposed requiring workers to pay 30 percent of their health care premiums and increase copays" (Fleisher, 9/15).

The Associated Press: "Since 2008, New Jersey and at least 19 other states from Wyoming to Rhode Island have rolled back pension benefits or seriously considered doing do — and not just for new hires, but for current employees and people already retired. … The Pew Center on the States reported this year that in eight states, at least one-third of the future pension obligations for all public employees, including teachers, are unfunded. ... Only four states — Florida, New York, Washington and Wisconsin — had fully funded pension systems as of 2008." Among the reasons are that "states often skip paying their share into retirement funds" in tough times and many states are seeing their investments lose money. (Mulvihill and Haigh, 9/15).

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: "Hawaii public school teachers filed suit yesterday in Circuit Court to block changes in their health coverage, saying that the state's plan to do away with their health benefit trust fund is unconstitutional. … The suit ... seeks to represent more than 15,000 active and retired school teachers with health benefits in the Hawaii State Teachers Association Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association Trust. ... The teachers are objecting to the state's plan to transfer their health benefit plans from 'the financially sound' VEBA to the 'insolvent or nearly insolvent' Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund, according to the lawsuit" (Essoyan, 9/15).

Kansas Health Institute looks at a recent study in the journal Health Affairs that detailed the cost of defensive medicine and notes that health care officials in Kansas have sought to cut down those costs. "Kansas is among the states that caps the amount of non-economic damages a patient can be awarded by a jury in a malpractice case. The cap, enacted in 1988, limits awards for pain and suffering to $250,000. But that law has been challenged in the case of Miller v. Johnson and is now before the Kansas Supreme Court. The court has had the case for 16 months, but has not yet released a decision. The wait has Kansas doctors in suspense, according to Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society." If the court finds the cap unconstitutional, the result could trigger more claims and more expensive malpractice insurance premiums (Shields, 9/14).

St. Petersburg Times: "Florida's prescription drug monitoring plan likely will not launch by the Dec. 1 deadline set in the law because of a protest filed by a company that lost the bid to set up the electronic database. The protest may push back the start until January or February of next year, said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the bill creating the program. Florida is the largest of about a dozen states without a prescription drug monitoring system and has become the epicenter for abusers and dealers of drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax" (Martin, 9/14).

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "The state of Minnesota has agreed to pay $3 million and phase out the use of restraints to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of three adults with developmental disabilities who were improperly handcuffed at a state-run facility in Cambridge. … The federal class-action lawsuit stems from a 2008 report by the state's Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, which documented that staff at the state facility routinely put residents in metal hand and ankle restraints to punish them and to control their behavior. Such restraints were often used for minor behavior problems, not just for safety reasons as is required by law, investigators found" (Smith and Marcotty, 9/14). 

Times Herald-Record (Middletown, N.Y.): "Some local doctors are lauding a new state law requiring them to give all treatment options to terminally ill patients, including end-of-life care. The law, which goes into effect in six months, requires physicians to speak with patients with life expectancies of six months or less about end-of-life care, including hospice, pain management and palliative care. It seeks to ensure that patients are fully informed on all treatment options, something the law's scribe believes doesn't always happen" (Sunkin, 9/15).

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