A selection of health policy news from Georgia, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Idaho, Alaska, California, Connecticut and North Carolina.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia's AIDS Drug Program Trims Wait List To Zero
The state has eliminated a waiting list for a program that provides lifesaving medications to thousands of low-income, uninsured Georgians with HIV/AIDS more than two years after the list was first started. Established in July 2010, the wait list for Georgia's AIDS Drug Assistance Program rapidly ballooned to more than 1,600 -- at one time becoming the largest in the country. A spike in the need for the program was largely fueled by the economic downturn as people lost their jobs and health insurance. Meanwhile, the Georgia Department of Public Health ramped up efforts to get more people tested (Williams, 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 Lund Report: Regence Refuses To Publicly Share Information On Rate Hike
A proposed 9.6 percent rate increase by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon looks like it will be decided behind closed doors. That increase would impact nearly 53,000 Oregonians who purchase their own coverage starting in December. Following a public hearing held last month, Division officials have repeatedly asked Regence for more details about the increased costs from its five provider networks -- Providence Health System, Oregon Health & Science University, Legacy Health, Tuality Health and Adventist Health (Lund-Muzikant, 8/24).
Philadelphia Inquirer: With Contract Out To Bid, Prison Health Care Questioned
"Trying to see a doctor is like trying to get out," said Williams, 30, who needs a brace and a cane because his leg didn't heal properly. According to a doctor's review ordered by his attorney, Williams' injuries are "both serious and permanent." Williams is one of many who have filed suit against Corizon -- a Tennessee-based firm formerly known as Prison Health Services -- over the years. But city officials say they are satisfied with the service. And Corizon is looking to keep its multimillion-dollar contract, which recently expired, with the city (Lucey, 8/27).
The Associated Press: LSU Health Care Leader Who Clashed With Jindal Administration Removed From Hospital Oversight
After clashing with Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration over budget cuts, the LSU System's top health care leader was ousted Friday from his role overseeing the university's network of public hospitals and clinics. Fred Cerise disagreed with Jindal administration cuts that stripped hundreds of millions of dollars from the LSU safety-net health care system that cares for the poor and uninsured and repeatedly defended a hospital system the governor says needs modernizing (Deslatte, 8/24).
The Associated Press: Idaho Gets $40K For Medical Home Project
Nine health care-related organizations gave some $40,000 to a state-led effort that Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter hopes boosts the quality of care and reduces costs, especially for low-income Medicaid recipients. Contributors to Otter's Medical Home pilot project included St. Luke's Health System and Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, which gave $5,000 apiece, and Cambia Health Foundation, which gave $10,000. The two-year pilot project aims to refocus health care in Idaho from responding to acute situations to a model where patients develop a relationship with their doctors to coordinate preventative care -- before emergencies arise (8/24).
Reuters: Alaska, Concerned About Gold Miners' Health, To Test Them For Mercury
Alaska health officials, concerned about amateur miners seeking riches in a modern-day mini gold rush, plan to test prospectors in the town of Nome for mercury exposure for fear that archaic mining techniques may be inadvertently harming their bodies. The Bering Sea port town of Nome has been a magnet this summer for gold prospectors, some of them with little experience, in a boom that state officials attribute in part to publicity from Discovery Channel's reality TV show "Bering Sea Gold" and other mining shows set in Alaska (Rosen, 8/25).
California Healthline: New Attempt At Rate Regulation On Ballot
One of the most contentious health-related bills before the Legislature in the past two years was a proposal to regulate health insurance rates, AB 52 by Assembly member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles). After it failed to clear the Legislature in September last year, a consumer rights organization decided to take the baton and make it a state initiative. Almost a full year later, Consumer Watchdog has officially collected 549,380 signatures and the secretary of state on Thursday verified the measure will be on the November 2014 ballot. Voters now will decide the rate regulation question. It also means the rhetoric is likely to get more heated than it did in Sacramento at the height of the rate regulation debate (Gorn, 8/27).
The Connecticut Mirror: Wall Street Agency Poses Tougher Test For State Pensions' Health
Just as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan to bolster the state's cash-starved employee pension fund kicks in, a leading Wall Street credit-rating agency is posing a new way to test the pension system's fiscal health. Moody's Investors Service has proposed a new methodology that would offer a much grimmer assessment of public employee pension plans in Connecticut, many other states, and most municipalities (Phaneuf, 8/24).
North Carolina Health News: Mental Health Agency Managers Struggle To Cope With Deep Budget Cuts
Leaders at mental health management entities are struggling this month with the realities of more cuts to their budgets, and how to distribute them throughout their agencies' services. Local managers received the news from the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services last month that funds from the Social Services Block Grant, and from the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants would be cut for a total of almost $20 million. These cuts come on top of $20 million in additional budget cuts ordered by the General Assembly (Hoban, 8/27).
San Jose Mercury: State's Non-Profit Hospitals Under Fire Over Government Benefits
Three-fourths of California's nonprofit hospitals harvested $1.8 billion in government benefits in excess of what they returned in charity care in 2010, according to a new study. Most of California's hospitals have nonprofit status. 2010 was the most recent year for which data was publicly available, according to the recently released study from the research arm of California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. The union-backed study found that for Kaiser Permanente, 17.5 percent of net income went to charity, while 43.08 percent of net income went to charitable care at the Adventist Health System in California, which includes Loma Linda University Medical Center (Steinberg, 8/26).
Detroit Free Press: Early Patient Return Trigger Fines Up To $2.23 Million For 7 Metro Detroit Hospitals
Seven metro Detroit hospitals are among 2,000 nationwide that will begin paying the biggest federal penalties -- some as much as $2.23 million -- because too many of their heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia patients needed to be readmitted within 30 days. Forty-seven other Michigan hospitals will pay smaller fines through a provision of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act that kicks in for the first time Oct. 1. Each of the seven metro hospitals, along with many others, already has programs in place to reduce readmissions, to improve the care of patients and to avoid future penalties (Anstett, 8/27).