State Highlights: Ruling On Privatizing Fla. Prison Care Expected Soon

A selection of health policy stories from Florida, California, Illinois and Georgia.

The Associated Press: Privatized Prison Health Care Disputed
A Florida judge quoted from Sherlock Holmes and conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Thursday as he questioned the state's plan to privatize prison health care services. Circuit Judge John Cooper did not immediately rule but promised a quick decision after the second of two hearings in the case. The $58 million outsourcing plan is being challenged by two unions representing many of some 3,000 prison health care employees who stand to lose their jobs (11/30).

Modern Healthcare: Health First, Fla. Foundation Reach Settlement Ending Antitrust Lawsuit
After seven years of litigation, integrated delivery network Health First and a local charitable foundation have reached a settlement to end an antitrust lawsuit that was started by the central Florida foundation's corporate forerunner, Wuesthoff Health System. A Health First spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the terms of the settlement or the exact nature of the dispute, but a joint release from the two organizations said Health First is offering two seats on its board to members of the foundation, the Space Coast Health Foundation, as part of the deal. … Wuesthoff Health System, formerly a three-hospital system based in Rockledge, Fla., sued Health First, alleging antitrust violations in 2005, according to a spokeswoman. Health First is a three-hospital system based in Rockledge that also operates a multispecialty medical group and offers commercial and Medicare health plans. Both systems were not-for-profits at the time (Carlson, 11/29).

San Francisco Chronicle: Health Insurance Rates Could Shoot Up
California health insurers are proposing double-digit rate increases for hundreds of thousands of policyholders, drawing criticism that health insurers are padding their profits as the nation prepares to carry out the federal health care law. Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest for-profit health insurer, wants to raise rates an average of 17.5 percent for 744,000 members in February, with some Anthem policyholders seeing increases as high as 25 percent. … Other insurers are also proposing hikes (Colliver, 11/29).

The Associated Press: Uninsured Patients Sue Chicago Nonprofit Hospital
A lawsuit filed Thursday claims a nonprofit hospital in northwest Chicago failed to provide charity care to two low-income, uninsured patients, reopening a longstanding controversy in Illinois over whether hospitals are doing enough charitable work to qualify for lucrative tax exemptions. Swedish Covenant Hospital repeatedly lost one patient's financial assistance application and threatened to send her bill to a collection agency, according to the lawsuit. The hospital incorrectly told another patient she was ineligible for assistance and demanded cash from her, the complaint alleges (11/29).

California Healthline: Higher Primary Care Rate Welcome News For California
Earlier this month, CMS made it official: The federal government will pay Medi-Cal primary care physicians in California at the same rate as Medicare in 2013 and 2014. The higher rate, confirmed by CMS officials on Nov. 2, means more than just paying more to family practice, pediatrics and internal medicine physicians, said Kevin Prindiville, deputy director of the National Senior Citizens Law Center, a national legal advocacy group with an office in Oakland. … The new rate has the added benefit of saving California money, he said, since the federal government is paying for the rate change, but the state will reap the savings from lighter use of public services, from emergency departments to 911 calls, because more people will have access to preventive care (Gorn, 11/30).

Health News Florida: BayCare-United Fight Spurs Call For Less Secrecy
The contract dispute between BayCare Health System and UnitedHealthcare forced 74-year-old Mike Dellmore to choose between his doctors and his insurance plan. … It all started when BayCare Health System, a network of 10 major non-profit hospitals, notified United that it was ending their contract early because, according to the hospital system, United had failed to pay bills totaling $11 million. United denies this and says BayCare is demanding unreasonable rate increases -- more than 20 percent for employer-based plans. … Some health care experts view this as a debacle that could have been avoided (Pusateri and Gentry, 11/29).

Georgia Health News: In Georgia Medical Field, Spanish Speakers Wanted (And Needed)
Joey Krakowiak has always known he wanted to be a doctor. … While a childhood interest in the human body may commonly lead to pursuing a career in medicine, Krakowiak didn’t initially realize just how valuable his familiarity with the Spanish language would be in his chosen profession. … As Georgia's Hispanic population grows, so does the need for Spanish-speaking physicians who understand the culture. According to the 2009 and 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, 35 percent of Hispanics reported that they were not fluent in English. Yet few Hispanics, or Spanish-speakers like Krakowiak, attend medical school (Avery, 11/27).

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