State Roundup: Vermont House Okays Single Payer; Mass. Health Plans Facing Problems; Calif. Mental Health Cuts

The Associated Press: Vt. House Passes Single-Payer Health Care Bill
Every Vermonter could sign up for state-financed health insurance under a bill passed by the House on Thursday that would put the state on a path to a single-payer health care system by the middle of this decade. "This bill takes our state one step closer to a system that ensures that all Vermonters have access to the care they deserve and contains costs," House Speaker Shap Smith said shortly after the House passed the bill 92-49 (Gram, 3/24).

Stateline's Health Beat: Commonwealth Connector Needs Repairs, Study Says
The Commonwealth Connector, Massachusetts' version of a health insurance exchange, has failed to attract many small business purchasers and individuals who are not eligible for subsidies. That's the assessment of a new report from a nonpartisan, privately funded research group in the state, the Pioneer Institute (Vestal, 3/25). 

The Boston Globe: More Opt For Low-Cost Coverage
The number of Massachusetts residents enrolled in high-deductible health insurance plans nearly doubled last year as employers and consumers looked for lower-cost options amid soaring medical prices. A report out today says people in these plans indeed spent significantly less on their medical care, compared with families with more traditional coverage, but they also cut back on preventive health care, such as cancer screenings and childhood vaccinations. Surprisingly, they did so even though most of the plans allowed people to get preventive care without paying an up-front deductible (Lazar, 3/25). 

WBUR: Many Patients Don't Get Their Wish To Die At Home
A majority of people say they want to die at home surrounded by loved ones, but more than 70 percent of us die in hospitals and other institutions. ... Even though studies show that end-of-life conversations between doctors and patients lead to a more dignified death with fewer costly interventions, these conversations are still rare. ... A Massachusetts panel last week issued recommendations to help patients receive proper end-of-life care. As a result, state Sen. Pat Jehlen plans to issue legislation that would expand hospice coverage for Medicaid recipients (Gotbaum, 3/24). 

Los Angeles Times: Pension, Healthcare Deal Reached With L.A.'s Largest City Union
Los Angeles officials Thursday unveiled what Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa termed a landmark tentative labor agreement that would greatly increase healthcare and pension contributions for thousands of municipal workers and put an end to some furloughs caused by the city's budget crisis. ... The three-year deal would save the fiscally strapped city more than $400 million, end furloughs for covered employees and avert more than 600 layoffs, officials said. ... abor leaders expressed optimism that the deal would be approved, though many individuals are sure to balk at key points — hiking retiree healthcare contributions, restricting cash overtime, eliminating some automatic raises and imposing four new unpaid holidays (McDonnell, 3/25).

California Healthline: Hits Keep Coming for Mental Health Community in California
Many counties in California have had trouble incorporating mental health care into their programs. The statewide shift that began almost two decades ago continues a rocky path with obstacles more prominent in some counties than others. ... According to a recent study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health care allocations went down $587 million in California over the past two years. ... the state wants to shift an even larger share of health services to the county level, and a big chunk of that is mental health care (Gorn, 3/24).

The Dallas Morning News: Senators' Move Could Limit Free Drugs For Low-Income Texans With AIDS
Senate budget writers took a step Thursday toward possibly restricting free drugs for about 14,000 Texans with HIV or AIDS. The Texas HIV Medication Program, which supplies life-sustaining anti-retroviral drugs to those who can't afford the medicine, will run out of money in the next two years (Garrett and Stutz, 3/24).

The Dallas Morning News: Nelson's Panel Urges $4.5 Billion Of Eased Cuts In Social Services
Mental health services would be restored. Child Protective Services would actually gain, not lose, front-line staff. Current rates would be kept, not cut, for paying foster care providers. And Medicaid fees would be cut only by 1 percent for doctors and 3 percent for hospitals, "over where reimbursement rates are today," said Sen. Jane Nelson, describing a list of recommendations her subpanel of Senate Finance approved Thursday (Garrett, 3/24).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Medicaid Smart Card Idea Raises Questions
Senate Bill 63 proposed new photo IDs with "smart card" technology for Georgia's Medicaid recipients. Supporters said the technology could combat fraudulent "card swapping" and "phantom billing" in the costly health insurance program for the poor. But the bill's origins raise questions about whether the bill represented a sweet deal for taxpayers or a potential boost for a business seeking a state contract. The system would cost more than $23 million to implement at a time when Georgia's budget is in dire straits and the potential payoff is uncertain (Teegardin and Quinn, 3/25).  

Modern Healthcare: Fla. Panel To Study State-Run Hospitals
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order that created a commission to consider whether government-run hospitals in the state are in the best interest of taxpayers and also to recommend a new model for Florida's healthcare safety net, according to a news release from Scott's office (Barr, 3/24). 

The Baltimore Sun: Deaf Woman Says Hospital Did Not Provide Interpreter, Sues
A deaf Maryland woman and her mother, who is also deaf, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, alleging that the hospital refused to provide — or pay for — a sign language interpreter when the younger woman experienced a medical emergency in late 2009 (Bishop, 3/24). 

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