State Roundup: Labor Activist's Work For Blue Shield Raises Conflict Concerns

A selection of health policy stories from California, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield's Union Ties Raise Concerns About Conflicts
At a time when public-sector unions across the country are fighting to hold on to generous retirement and health benefits, one of the loudest voices standing up for their rights is Dave Low. A longtime labor activist, Low carries considerable clout as executive director of the California School Employees Assn., a 215,000-member union that represents bus drivers, custodians and other school workers. He also leads a broader group of 1.5 million government employees, including firefighters, police and teachers, called Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security. But Low had another job as well until recently. He was a consultant for Blue Shield of California, which has secured lucrative health insurance contracts that cover many of the same public workers that Low represents (Terhune, 10/9).

Modern Healthcare: R.I. Mandates Flu Vaccinations For Health Workers
Flu vaccines are now mandatory for Rhode Island health care workers who have direct contact with patients in healthcare facilities in the state. The policy, proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Public Health (PDF), gained approval despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union and SEIU Healthcare No. 1199 New England, which represents health care workers in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The SEIU circulated petitions in favor of vaccinations, but opposed making them required. The Rhode Island policy would require flu vaccines for all health care workers, including nurses, volunteers and physicians. The American Nurses Association supports only mandatory policies if they meet certain criteria, spokesman Adam Sachs said. Ensuring the policy covers all workers is one of the requirements, Sachs noted (Selvam, 10/8).

MPR: 'Safety Net' Hospitals Brace For Potential Cuts
Hennepin County Medical Center and other so-called "safety net" hospitals are preparing for a decline in federal funding due to the national health care overhaul. These hospitals are typically large urban hospitals that provide a significant amount of care to people who cannot afford to pay for it. The health care overhaul is reducing federal subsidies those hospitals have relied on for more than 20 years. At the Hennepin County Medical Center about 50 men and women are wedged in cubicles, talking on headsets. The scene looks like a telemarketing boiler room, but here the employees aren't making the calls; they are taking calls from people who wish to see a doctor (Stawicki, 10/9).

Kansas Health Institute News: Health Departments Brace For Loss Of STD Funds
State health officials are raising concerns about the future of a federally funded program that helps county health departments prevent infertility in women by testing for the sexually transmitted diseases of chlamydia and gonorrhea. "There hasn't been an official announcement, but it certainly appears that the funding will be going away after January of 2014," said Jennifer VandeVelde, who runs the Kansas Infertility Prevention Project at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "The assumption is that with the Affordable Care Act everyone will have insurance so we won't need the funding we have now."… The mandatory coverage provisions in the federal health reform law are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2014 (Ranney, 10/8).

Kansas Health Institute News: Kansas Medicaid HIT Incentives Total $252 Million
Nearly $25.2 million in Medicaid incentive payments have been awarded to 463 Kansas doctors and 31 hospitals for implementing electronic health record systems in the first six months of a federal program, officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced today. … The incentive payments were made available by the federal economic stimulus law passed in 2009 for health care providers whose electronic health record systems meet certain federal standards (Ranney, 10/8).

California Healthline: Could Reform Initiative Affect Health Care?
Proposition 31 on California's November ballot has some health advocates alarmed. They say it could hinder development of health programs, especially senior care options, and make existing programs more vulnerable to large cuts. … Supporters of the measure, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, contend the measure will control government spending by requiring performance-based budgeting (Gorn, 10/9).

Crain's Detroit Business: Competition Among Health Information Exchanges Slows Development Of Michigan System
A plan intended to foster interconnected health information exchanges across the state has gone awry as companies providing the services compete for hospitals, physicians and market share. The health information exchanges -- not to be confused with the health insurance exchanges under health care reform -- are intended to help make it easier for hospitals and physicians to exchange patient information, thereby achieving lower costs and higher quality by better coordinating care and reducing service duplication. The problem is the two exchanges with the biggest market share, Okemos-based Great Lakes HIE and Grand Rapids-based Michigan Health Connect, use different information systems that cannot exchange data with providers that select other exchanges (Greene, 10/8).

MSNBC/ Philly.com: NJ Senate Approves Health Insurance Exchange, Other Measures
Legislation to create a state-run health insurance exchange was approved by the New Jersey Senate last week. ... The health insurance exchange bill would establish an online and telephone marketplace where individuals and businesses can shop for coverage, including some subsidized plans. Creating these user-friendly markets in each state is considered a key component of the national health care reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act, and its objective of extending health care coverage to millions of uninsured residents. ... Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature to create a state-run exchange, citing the imprudence of taking action before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the federal law’s constitutionality. The governor now is saying he wants to consider all his options before committing to a state exchange (Levinsky, 10/8).

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