State Highlights: Rate Regulation On Calif.'s Ballot; Ga. Workers Face Premium Hike

A selection of health policy stories from California, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina, Minnesota, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

Bay Area News Group/San Jose Mercury News: Health Insurance Rate Regulation Measure Qualifies For California's November 2014 Ballot
An initiative that would bring health insurance rate regulation to California has qualified for the November 2014 ballot, setting the stage for a vigorous and costly battle between insurers and consumer groups. The measure, sponsored by Consumer Watchdog, would give the state insurance commissioner the power to deny certain premium increases if they are deemed excessive. The insurance commissioner has little control over such rate hikes now (Kleffman, 8/23).

Georgia Health News: State Employees, Teachers Face Big Premium Hike
Georgia teachers, other school personnel, state employees and retirees will face an average hike in their health insurance premiums of 9.5 percent in January, though some will get an increase of up to 30 percent, state officials said Thursday. The Department of Community Health also said at an agency board meeting that Medicaid will have budget cuts of $60 million this fiscal year and $100 million in fiscal 2014, but that it is aiming not to reduce payments to medical providers. That means Medicaid cuts will likely come from patient benefits and their utilization of health services (Miller, 8/23).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: State Workers To Pay More For Health Benefits
Some state workers face double-digit health insurance premium hikes next year as health officials try to close a two-year shortfall of $500 million in the state employee benefits program. Premiums will rise about 9.5 percent -- though that will vary widely depending on the type of plan and tier an employee chooses with some seeing spikes up to 30 percent, officials with the Georgia Department of Community Health said at a board meeting Thursday. The agency also is being asked by the governor to cut roughly $160 million over the next couple of years from its Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs as part of statewide budget cuts (Williams, 8/23).

Kansas Health Institute News: KanCare Companies Focus On Building Provider Networks
Efforts have begun in earnest to enroll doctors, hospitals and others in the provider networks being built by the three insurance companies hired by Kansas officials to run the state's Medicaid program. During an informational meeting held today in Topeka for Medicaid providers, spokesmen for each of the companies boasted of quick payments for services and their desire to enlist all of the state's current Medicaid providers in their respective plans. "We're cognizant of the fact that a health plan is nothing without its provider network," said Carolan Wishall of United Healthcare of the Midwest, one of the three managed care companies hired to implement Gov. Sam Brownback's KanCare plan (Shields, 8/23).

The Associated Press/NBC News: Required Services To Cost SC Health Plan $70M
South Carolina's insurance plan for public employees expects to spend about $70 million to provide the preventive services that federal health care law requires insurance plans to offer at no out-of-pocket cost to workers. While workers and retirees won't pay at the doctors' office, they will pay elsewhere, said Stephen Van Camp, director of employees' insurance program (Adcox, 8/23).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Group Demands Tighter Scrutiny Of Insurers
A citizens group is calling for closer scrutiny of the way the state's private insurance plans manage taxpayer dollars to provide health care for low-income and elderly Minnesotans. In a report released Thursday, the Greater Minnesota Health Care Coalition accused the nonprofit HMOs of accumulating more than $824 million in excess profit since 1995 because no one was "minding the store." The group's call for more transparency and accountability joins a string of questions directed at the health plans and Minnesota Department of Human Services from state and federal lawmakers (Crosby, 8/23).

North Carolina Health News: State Reaches Agreement With Feds On Community-Based Care
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reached a much-awaited agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to provide more services to those with serious mental illness within their own communities. Thursday's agreement follows a plan announced last month by Secretary of Health and Human Services Al Delia to develop more community-based housing for those who have been placed in adult care homes. Many of those residents might prefer to explore living options that allow more interaction with family, friends and everyday life, but until now, have had little opportunity (Sisk, 8/24).

The Boston Globe: State Signs On To Health Program For Disabled Adults
Massachusetts on Thursday became the first state to sign on to a program that will change the way it pays for the complex and costly health care of up to 110,000 adults with disabilities. At least 25 other states are considering the program, created under the federal Affordable Care Act. But disability advocates and policy analysts have expressed concern that the program is being rolled out too quickly (Conaboy, 8/24).

The Boston Globe: Baystate Franklin Medical Center Nurses To Vote On Authorizing Strike
Union nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center said Thursday that they have scheduled a strike authorization vote for Aug. 30 at the 93-bed Greenfield hospital. Contract negotiations have stalled over the issues of wages and health insurance. More than 200 hospital nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association will vote on whether to authorize a strike (Weisman, 8/24).

California Watch: Controversy Surrounds Effort To Help Addicted Doctors, Protect Patients
Five years ago, a state program to help doctors struggling with addiction was shut down after repeated audits found it failed to hold addicts accountable and fell short in protecting the public. While there is widespread support for current legislation that would replace the program, the process has been contentious (Jewett, 8/24).

California Healthline: Health For Sale As Retail Clinics Expand In California
In Los Angeles, CVS Caremark's walk-in medical clinic subsidiary, MinuteClinic, announced a new partnership with UCLA Health System last month. University physicians serve as medical directors for 11 clinics in the Los Angeles area staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The Los Angeles clinics -- all up and running -- specialize in family health care and wellness services. MinuteClinic launched its retail health business in 2000 and now operates 600 clinics nationwide. It accepts insurance, cash, checks and credit cards. Considering the expected uptick in patient demand for primary care physicians as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the RAND study authors predict more business for retail clinics (Stephens, 8/23).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.