State Roundup: Disparity In States' Fiscal Health; Ark. Medicaid Shortfall Threatens Care

A selection of health policy news from Michigan, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kansas and California.

The Wall Street Journal: Fiscal Health Of States Shows Growing Divergence
Factors such as growing unfunded pension liabilities and burgeoning fixed costs related to programs like Medicaid are weighing down weaker states, while stronger states are benefiting from improved business conditions and strong employment growth, he said. A closer look at some specific metrics shows this fiscal disparity (Nolan, 11/13).

The Associated Press/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Blue Cross Official Stresses Urgency Of Overhaul
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan officials argued Tuesday that they will face "serious challenges" selling health insurance next year if state lawmakers don't quickly approve legislation that would transform the organization from a charitable trust to a customer-owned nonprofit. Meanwhile, critics of overhauling the state's largest insurer countered that the urgency is overblown and that moving too rapidly might be more harmful to Blue Cross' 4.4 million customers. Mark Cook, Blue Cross' vice president of governmental operations, told the House Insurance Committee that changes being ushered in by the federal Affordable Care Act make it necessary to level the playing field for the insurer and its rivals (Karoub, 11/13).

The Associated Press: Ark. Medicaid Faces Significant Cuts In Services
Arkansas would stop paying for thousands of seniors in nursing homes, eliminate an insurance program for low-income workers and cut rates for providers to fill a $138 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program, even if lawmakers support a proposal to boost funding, an official said Tuesday. Department of Human Services Director John Selig told members of the Joint Budget Committee that the cuts are needed to make up for a deficit in the state share of its Medicaid program, which serves nearly 800,000 Arkansans (DeMillo, 11/13).

The Associated Press: Health Report: Mass. Struggling With Illicit Drugs
Massachusetts continues to struggle with the use of illegal drugs including heroin, while tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the commonwealth, according to a new report by the nonprofit Massachusetts Health Council. Eastern Massachusetts appears to have been particularly hard hit by the use of illicit drugs, according to the report released Wednesday, which brings together findings from recent studies by state and federal agencies (LeBlanc, 11/13).

Reuters: Planned Parenthood Seeks Injunction Over Oklahoma Health Program
Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge on Tuesday to stop Oklahoma from blocking it from participating in a federally funded nutrition program that helps poor women and children at three clinics in the Tulsa area. The request, filed in federal court in Oklahoma City, appeared aimed at combating a move similar to those taken by conservative Republicans in more than a dozen states over the past two years to eliminate funding for health services provided by Planned Parenthood (Olafson, 11/13).

The Lund Report: Kaiser Becomes First Health Insurer To Cover Autism Treatment
Advocates scored a major victory when Kaiser Permanente announced it would provide coverage of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy for autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. … Kaiser intends to work with its medical and clinical staff to provide ABA services for members who have such a medical need, said David Northfield, spokesman. "This behavioral health treatment will complement the existing health care services we already provide to children with autism spectrum disorders, such as speech, occupational and physical therapy," he told The Lund Report. Kaiser is the first health insurer in Oregon to voluntarily cover autism but Terdal isn’t giving up the fight. He’s drafting legislation for the 2013 session that would mandate coverage of ABA therapy, and provide a licensing and credentialing process for such providers (Jorgensen, 11/13).

Kansas Health Institute News: VA Poised To Expand Telemedicine For Kansas Vets
After a successful, two-year pilot project, Veterans Administration officials today said their telemedicine partnership with the University of Kansas Medical Center is poised to expand across the state with the goal of putting mental health services within easier reach of Kansas veterans. They also said the program -- the first of its kind -- could serve as a national model, if all goes as expected. "This is the initial one. This is the trailblazer," said Dr. William Patterson, director of the VA Heartland Network, which is in Kansas and Missouri (Shields, 11/13).

California Healthline: Health Task Force Releases Draft Report
The first task has been checked off the list. Yesterday the Let's Get Healthy California task force met to go over the release of its draft report, the culmination of six months' work. The final report is slated for completion by Dec. 19. "When you look at where we are today in California, there are so many challenges we're facing [in health care]," said Pat Powers, director of the task force. "The population is aging, there are unprecedented levels of chronic disease across the state, and alarming high rates of obesity and diabetes. For the first time in a long time, the children born in this generation may not live as long as their parents." That creates a moral imperative to do something to meet all of those needs, Powers said. At the same time, the task force hopes to propose changes that not only improve care but save the state money, as well, she said (Gorn, 11/14).

The Oregonian: Oregon Health Plan Dental Clash Will Get Hearing Wednesday
A political tug of war could affect dental care for more than 600,000 members of the Oregon Health Plan, as well as about 200,000 people who could soon be joining it. Legislators adopted health reform earlier this year intended to save money by making physical, mental and dental care providers work together in networks for the health plan's low-income members. Now, however, the new coordinated care organizations are clashing with the dental plans already providing dental care to OHP members. Both sides say the good of patients and their teeth is at stake. So is a lot of money. Much like the recent flap over naturopathic doctors who felt excluded from the reforms, the dental clash points to the inherent tension in reforming how the Oregon Health Plan spends more than $3 billion a year. Of that figure, more than $100 million goes to dental care (Budnick, 11/13).

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