HHS Secretary Tours Alaska Health Care Facilities; Judge Halts Rollback Of Ariz. Same-Sex Benefits

News outlets report on a variety of state health policy issues.

Politico Pro: Alaska Trip Spotlights Rural Challenges For HHS
Alaska has a message for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: Don't assume that health care delivery reform can work the same way in every state. That's the lesson Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) says he tried to impart to Sebelius as he toured some of the state's health and early child care centers with her last week. Sebelius went to learn first-hand about the state's health services, the Indian Health Service, and how the health law is being implemented. The visit may have had immediate benefits, too. Shortly after Sebelius's visit, the Republican governor’s office announced the state would pursue its own health exchange after several attempts to block implementation of the law (Haberkorn, 9/6).

The Arizona Republic: Court: Arizona Same-Sex Partner Entitled To Benefits
Arizona must continue to provide health-care benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian government workers, at least for the time being. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a temporary injunction from a lower court that blocked a 2009 state law eliminating health-insurance coverage for same-sex partners of state employees from taking effect. In its unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the appellate court noted that the state is not obligated to provide health-care benefits but said denying them to a specific group of employees violates the equal-protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution (Rough, 9/6).

San Francisco Chronicle: Same-Sex Partner Benefits Can’t Be Cut Off
A state can't selectively withdraw benefits from same-sex couples, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in blocking Arizona's attempt to deny health coverage to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian state employees. … The court said, however, that the cutoff had a discriminatory impact because only opposite-sex couples could restore their benefits by getting married. The ruling provides health coverage only to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian couples - the sole plaintiffs in the suit - an impact that (a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer) said promotes inequality (Egelko, 9/7).

Georgia Health News: Georgia Takes Lead In Long-Distance Medical Care
The nurse's offices at two elementary schools in South Georgia are on the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to delivering health care in rural areas of America. This fall, the students, faculty and staff returning to school in the small town of Nashville in Berrien County have access to a full range of pediatric, family practice and other medical experts from around the state. ... Federal health officials are watching the experience at the schools as part of a $200 million initiative in the Affordable Care Act to promote school-based medical care in underserved areas (King, 9/6).

The Connecticut Mirror: ECHN Terminating UnitedHealthcare Contract Oct. 15
Eastern Connecticut Health Network, the parent company of Manchester Memorial and Rockville General hospitals, announced Tuesday that it will terminate its contract with UnitedHealthcare and Oxford Health Plans as of Oct. 15.  ... The company noted that it is a not-for-profit health care provider and warned that "below-market reimbursement rates from large, out-of-state, and for-profit insurers, such as United/Oxford, limit both hospitals' abilities to remain current in today's dynamic healthcare environment." ... ECHN's statement also said that the hospital's margins are strained by Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that don't cover the cost of care  (Levin Becker, 9/6). 

California Healthline: Hard Times For Nursing Homes May Get Harder
Nursing homes in California find themselves between a rock and several hard places, some of them potentially crushing. The rock is the economic recession, a larger, harder-to-get-past obstacle than previous financial downturns. The hard places include reductions in federal and state funding for Medicare and Medicaid, a ratings downgrade for major national nursing home operators and the likelihood of even larger cutbacks if deficit-reducing politicians make more cuts to federal health programs (Lauer, 9/6).

California Healthline: Finance May Look at Continuing Costs Left by ADHC
(California) Senate members at a budget subcommittee hearing on Friday raised the notion of involving the Department of Finance in tracking the costs involved in eliminating adult day health care as a Medi-Cal benefit. The state is scheduled to end the ADHC benefit on Dec. 1 (Gorn, 9/6).

The Associated Press/San Francisco Chronicle: Bill Halting Local Circumcision Bans Goes To Brown
The Legislature has approved a bill preventing local jurisdictions from banning male circumcision, a measure written in response to ballot measure proposed in San Francisco. Supporters of the San Francisco measure tried to ban the practice for most males under age 18, but it later blocked by a judge (9/6).

The Times-Picayune: LSU Health Center Executive Retires, Gets Pension, Returns To His Old Job
The vice chancellor of Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center recently took a two-week retirement before returning to his old job on an interim basis, a move that netted him a nearly $20,000 monthly pension on top of a $211,000 annual salary.  But Ronnie Smith, 61, who has spent 27 years overseeing the health center's budget and financial affairs, said the move was made at the request of his superiors (Moller, 9/6).

The Times-Picayune: Louisiana Public Health Programs Get $300,000 Grant
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced a $300,000 grant to help support public health programs in the state, including hiring more public health workers. Much of the money was authorized as part of the federal health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 (9/6).

Modern Healthcare: FTC Lets HMA-CHP Deal Proceed
The Federal Trade Commission has cleared the purchase of Catholic Health Partners' Knoxville, Tenn., system by Health Management Associates, Naples, Fla., according to an FTC notice. The FTC’s notice of early termination means that it declined to pursue a more intense antitrust investigation of the deal under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (Galloro, 9/6).

Los Angeles Times: Ad Firm, Two Doctors Sued Over Death Of Lap-Band Patient
Relatives of a Lawndale woman who died in December after Lap-Band weight-loss surgery have sued the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising company and two doctors involved in her care. The lawsuit contends that the ad company falsely represented that the woman would receive "a higher level of care" by "top-rated surgical specialists." In fact, the lawsuit said, one of her doctors was on probation with the Medical Board of California at the time of the surgery and a second was under investigation by the agency (Pfeifer, 9/7).

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