State Roundup: Health Law Could Create Calif. Jobs; What's Driving Mass. Health Costs

A selection of health policy stories from Massachusetts, Georgia, California, Texas, Oregon, Maryland and Minnesota.

Politico Pro: Gruber: Mass. Not Sure What's Driving Costs
As Massachusetts wrestles with ambitious legislation to contain health care costs, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber raises one major problem: The state has no idea what's driving the growth in health care costs. In fact, it's not even close to figuring it out, Gruber says. "We don't know the answer, we don't know how to fix it now," said Gruber, who helped design the state's 2006 health reform and the national law. "We have to experiment and be more patient" (Millman, 5/21).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Lax Enforcement In Personal Care Homes
Deficiencies in care, living conditions and record-keeping have piled up in scores of Georgia personal care homes, with the state rarely shutting down violators or levying heavy fines, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found. An analysis of five years worth of inspections, violations and enforcement actions revealed that many frequent violators have faced nothing more than a fine of a few hundred dollars. ... About half of the state's 2,000 licensed personal care homes are in metro Atlanta, and they provide more than 12,000 beds for some of the region's most fragile residents — those who are disabled, elderly or mentally ill (Schneider and Simmons, 5/22).

Market Watch: Health Reform To Create California Jobs: Study
Health care reform will create nearly 99,000 jobs in California, according to a study released Monday. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute's report said a ripple effect will result from the $4.4 billion that will come to the state's economy via the 2010 Affordable Care Act in coming years (Britt, 5/21).

Houston Chronicle: School Programs Lead Fight Against Childhood Obesity
Inside E.A. Jones Elementary School, the battle against childhood obesity is being fought with fresh ingredients. … The classes are one component of Activate for Kids, a health and fitness pilot program developed by UnitedHealthcare and the United Health Foundation. The program, which kicked off this year in six school districts in Texas, Florida and Georgia, is among a growing number using a more holistic approach to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic (Rhor, 5/21).

Boston Globe: Harvard Pilgrim Expands Health Coverage
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, expanding a seven-year-old partnership with United HealthCare Services Inc., will use the national health insurer’s network to offer Harvard Pilgrim health coverage to employers with offices outside Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Under the joint program, called Access America, multistate businesses based in the three New England states where Harvard Pilgrim does business will be able to offer their workers at plants, sales offices, or satellite sites across the country the same Harvard Pilgrim insurance products that employees in their home offices receive (Weisman, 5/22).

Statesmen Journal (Oregon): Quick Medical Care Given Free To State Workers
Any state worker feeling poorly in the Salem area now has quick access to a free medical consultation via secure video conferencing, under a new program by Providence Health & Services. Providence Health eXpress is an innovative attempt to reduce health care costs by providing quick treatment in the workplace for routine ailments, Providence spokeswoman Patti Atkins said. … The service is available to all state workers enrolled in a Public Employees’ Benefit Board health insurance plan, even folks who are signed up with Kaiser Permanente. It’s a joint program being offered by PEBB and Providence (Thompson, 5/21).

The Baltimore Sun: Health Care Spending Rising In Maryland
Marylanders spent $44.5 billion on personal health care in 2010 as costs in the state continued to outpace the nation, according to a new report. Spending on services including hospital care, prescription drugs and long-term care increased 3.5 percent compared to 2009, according to the report by The Maryland Health Care Commission. On average a Maryland resident spent $7,698 on health care in 2010, 9 percent higher than the national average of $7,066 (Walker, 5/21).

McClatchy/The Sacramento Bee: California Sees Sharp Rise In Million-Dollar Hospital Bills
The number of Northern California hospital stays resulting in charges of $1 million or more rose sevenfold in the past decade, from 430 in 2000 to almost 3,000 during 2010, according to a Bee review of new data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. Most of those bills will be lowered significantly -- up to 80 percent -- following negotiations between hospitals and insurers. Even then, they will usually still cost more than a typical Sacramento home.

Minnesota Public Radio: Hospital Support Workers Vote On New Labor Contract
Health care workers will vote today and Wednesday on a new labor contract with eight metro-area hospitals. Union leaders representing about 3,500 nursing assistants, food service workers, clerks and maintenance and warehouse staff reached a tentative agreement with the hospitals last week (Benson, 5/22).

Georgia Health News: Pickens Vs. Murray: A Tale Of Two Counties
Murray and Pickens comprise one of five pairs of neighboring counties with markedly different health profiles, based on both Partner Up and University of Wisconsin data.  The other pairs are Pike and Upson, Glynn and Wayne, Lee and Terrell, and Houston and Twiggs. With the other four pairs, however, the reasons for the differences in health status are more obvious. … In each of the other pairs of counties, big enough differences in demographics would explain the health disparities. For Pickens and Murray, it’s not as clear cut (Toledo, 5/12).

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.