State Highlights: Mass. Lawmakers Struggle To Reach Agreement On Cost Controls

A selection of health policy stories from California, North Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, Kansas, Wisconsin and Colorado.

CommonHealth/WBUR: Mass. Gov.'s 11th Hour Proposal On Reining In High-Priced Hospitals
The House and Senate are under the gun to reach an agreement on how to lower health care costs while improving care. A conference committee aims to have a bill out on Sunday. Their deadline is Monday evening. In the meantime, several major issues are still unresolved, including what to do about hospitals that use their market clout to demand high prices that are not based on higher quality. Attorney General Martha Coakley, the state’s top insurers and several consumer groups argue that price is a critical issue. “Any meaningful health care reform legislation must include efforts to address the market power of providers and the negative impact on costs that we identified in our reports,” said Corey Welford, Coakley’s chief of staff, in a statement (Bebinger, 7/26).

San Francisco Chronicle: $100 Million OKd For Stem Cell Research
California's stem cell funding agency on Thursday approved nearly $100 million in grants for research into heart disease, cancer and spinal cord injuries, and to the cheers of dozens of patients and their supporters, it also awarded money to rare but devastating diseases with no cure. In all, eight research projects - including three from the Bay Area - were granted $151 million in state funding by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine at its annual grant review meeting in Burlingame (Allday, 6/27).

North Carolina Health News: NC Proposes Plan To Move Mentally Ill From Adult Care Homes
After 13 months of negotiation with federal officials over resolving North Carolina’s longstanding practice of housing mentally ill people in old folks’ homes, the state has a plan of action to move mentally ill residents into the community. State officials say they’re ready to take the first steps at implementation. The plan answers complaints made to the U.S. Department of Justice two years ago by Disability Rights North Carolina that alleged the state was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by housing people with mental illnesses in facilities, originally meant to house the frail elderly. The U.S. DOJ investigated the complaint, and last summer agreed North Carolina was breaking the law, and also was in violation of a Supreme Court ruling that calls for housing to integrate people with disabilities into the community (Hoban, 7/26).

California Watch: Prescription Drug Monitoring System Running Low On Funds
The state’s prescription drug monitoring program, which was dealt a major blow amid state budget cuts, is still operating but may run out of money by the end of this year, according to the attorney general's office. The program, called CURES, is used by law enforcement to track the prescribing of doctors suspected of dispensing too many addictive narcotic pain medications. Doctors also query the database to determine whether patients are "doctor shopping," or seeking potent drugs from multiple sources to feed an addiction (Jewett, 7/27).

KQED: Primary Care Efforts To Involve Patients In Decision Making
All day, every day, people make medical choices that have repercussions for common yet dangerous conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes. Although chronic disease takes a greater toll on people with lower socioeconomic status, chronically ill patients are part of every community. In California and across the country, public health officials and physicians keep searching for the best way to get patients involved in improving their health (Harris, 7/26).

Reuters: Molina Healthcare Reports 2nd-Qtr Loss, Texas Weighs
Health insurer Molina Healthcare Inc reported a second-quarter loss and warned that enrollment in its Texas health plans may decline in the third quarter as higher medical costs in the region eat into premium revenue. … The company said higher costs in Texas "had a disproportionately large impact on its overall financial results" as the region contributed about a quarter of Molina's total premium revenue in the second quarter (Siddiqui, 7/27).

Boston Globe: UMass Medical Gets $6.7 Million Federal Grant To Battle Health Disparities
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School say they will use a new $6.7 million grant to battle significant health disparities in the region by using a grassroots approach that features patients telling their stories to inspire others. The school announced Thursday that it was awarded a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a new Health Equity Intervention Research Center with scientists from UMass Boston (Lazar, 7/26).

Kansas Health Institute News: Report Questions Economic Viability Of Mid-Level Dental Providers
So-called mid-level dental providers would not be an economically viable way to extend access to oral health care in Kansas and four other states, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Dental Association, a dentist group. But the models used in the report are not comparable to the mid-level model being proposed in Kansas, said proponents of licensing Registered Dental Practitioners here. The report examined the economic viability of three mid-level models: dental health aide therapists, dental therapists and advanced dental hygiene practitioners (Cauthon, 7/26).

Modern Healthcare: Wis. Shared-Savings ACO Teams With Aetna
Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee, will collaborate with Aetna to offer commercial health insurance plans through Aurora's accountable care organization, according to an Aetna news release. The Aurora Accountable Care Network will provide Aetna plans primarily for small and midsize businesses in Wisconsin, although plans for large, self-funded employers will also be available, according to Aetna (Selvam, 7/26).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Aetna, Aurora To Begin Offering New Health Plan
Aetna Inc. will begin offering a new health plan for employers next year that is tied to Aurora Health Care's network of hospitals and doctors and that guarantees to limit future increases in premiums. Aurora is willing to guarantee that costs will increase at a slower rate than in the employer's previous two to three years, provided employees and their families get nearly all their care from the health system's doctors and hospitals. The potential savings will vary by employer, said Rick Klein, executive vice president of growth, marketing and development for Aurora (Boulton, 7/26).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): ‘Hotspotting’ Health Revolution Comes To Aurora
The Colorado community devastated by a mass killing will now become one of only four sites selected for the most promising revolution in health care: hotspotting. The movement began with a different senseless shooting in 2001 in Camden, N.J., a city that tops the country for both crime and poverty. … The Aurora experiment aims to save millions in hospital costs while also giving people better care. Volunteers, health workers and church activists will put into practice the hotspotting concept that [Dr. Jeffrey] Brenner pioneered. … The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation awarded Rutgers a $14.3 million grant in June to pilot the Camden model in four communities: Aurora; San Diego; Allentown, Pa.; and Kansas City, Mo. The goal is to find the costliest patients; save $70 million on their care in the four communities; and reinvest the savings to provide better health care (McCrimmon, 7/26).

California Healthline: Governor Signs Veteran-Benefit Bill
The governor added his approval Tuesday to that overwhelming support, signing AB 1869 by Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) into law. The legislation affects approximately 130,000 veterans who remain uninsured despite possibly being eligible for federal Veterans Affairs health benefits, according to a Senate analysis of California Health Interview Survey data compiled by UCLA. It's possible that some of the 174,000 veterans who receive Medi-Cal benefits in California might be eligible for federal veterans' benefits (Gorn, 7/27).

The New York Times' City Room: Con Ed And Union Reach Contract Agreement
The terms of the four-year accord were not announced. Con Ed had angered the union by demanding changes in pension and health care benefits and by cutting off union workers' health insurance at the beginning of the lockout, which was a defensive measure against the threat of a strike. The company reinstated health coverage after workers had been off the job for two weeks (Barron and Newcomer, 7/26).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 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.