State Roundup: Md. Panel Says Hospitals Should Absorb Sequester Cuts

A selection of health policy stories from Maryland, Iowa, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Hospital Association Asks State Panel To Spare Hospitals From A Medicare Cut
The Maryland Hospital Association urged a state commission on Thursday to spare hospitals from a 2 percent Medicare cut that is part of federal budget reductions. In response to the recommendation by staff members of the Health Service Cost Review Commission to have hospitals absorb the cuts for the rest of the fiscal year, the group issued a report warning the panel about deteriorating financial health of hospitals in the state (4/25).

Baltimore Sun: Rate-Setting Commission Recommends No Increase In Hospital Charges
The state's hospitals would absorb all of the 2 percent Medicare cuts required by federal sequestration under a proposal released Thursday by the state panel that sets hospital rates. The recommendation by the staff of the Health Services Cost Review Commission would mean that state hospitals would not get rate increases for the last three months of fiscal year 2013, a decision that prompted intense criticism from medical institutions that say they already operate on slim margins. Hospitals sought a rate increase to help offset the cost of the federal budget cuts and said they will have to cut services and jobs without one (Walker, 4/25).

Los Angeles Times: Medical Board Of California Could Lose Investigative Powers
The Medical Board of California would be stripped of its power to investigate physician misconduct under a sweeping reform plan by legislators who say the agency has struggled to hold problem doctors accountable. The medical board has come under fire for failing to discipline doctors accused of harming patients, particularly those suspected of recklessly prescribing drugs (Glover and Girion, 4/25).

Des Moines Register: Senators File Fetal 'Personhood' Resolution
Twenty-one members of the Iowa Senate filed a resolution Thursday proposing a fetal "personhood" amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would give human embryos a right to life beginning at conception. ... The resolution has little chance of winning approval in the 50-member Senate, where Democrats who support legal abortion would be expected to block the initiative. Senators opposed to abortion tried last week to amend a $1.9 billion state health and human services spending bill to prohibit use of taxpayer money for certain abortions. But it failed with 23 senators in support and 24 against (Petroski, 4/26).

Los Angeles Times: Labor Groups Renew Push For Paid Sick Leave
Following recent legislative victories in New York and Portland, Ore. -- and one of the worst flu seasons in years -- advocates for paid sick leave are hoping to ride that momentum to win victories locally. Previous failures to get the Legislature to mandate paid sick leave have taught labor groups a few lessons. Among them: Focusing on passing legislation on a city-by-city basis appears to be more fruitful (Lopez, 4/26).

The Lund Report: Oregon Senate Votes To Give Nurse Anesthetists Prescriptive Powers
The Senate passed Senate Bill 136 on a 26-3 vote, which will allow certified registered nurse anesthetists to write prescriptions for up to 10 days. Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 136, said nurse anesthetists already administer medications to patients within a care setting, but cannot ensure that patients will be able to have the medication they need to combat nausea or anxiety related to surgery or anesthesia as they recover at home (Gray, 4/25).

The Lund Report: Periodontal Hygienists, Kaiser Likely To Face Arbitration Over Union Contract
Jackie Farlinger-King has worked for Kaiser Permanente as a periodontal hygienist -- treating only patients with gum disease -- since the mid-1980s, and has been a hygienist with Kaiser for 32 years. But last September, she learned that her position may be phased out. Jeffrey Carr, an organizer with the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents hygienists at Kaiser, said that's when the union learned that Kaiser Permanente Northwest intended to sunset the periodontal hygienist classification in its next contract (McCurdy, 4/26). 

Philadelphia Inquirer: Urgent-Care Centers Drawing Investor Attention
Three private equity firms have contacted Children's Hospital of Philadelphia during the last six months about partnering to open urgent-care centers, Steven Altschuler, the hospital's chief executive, said Thursday. Urgent-care centers are increasingly common, staffed by doctors and touted as a way to keep people out of emergency rooms for relatively minor ailments. … Children's turned down the invitations and is trying to get more out of its existing primary-care network while pursuing other experiments, Altschuler said (Brubaker, 4/26).

The Associated Press: Judge Rules Same-Sex Spouse Should Get Health Benefits
A federal appellate judge ruled this week the judiciary must grant health care benefits to the same-sex spouse of a federal public defender in Portland. Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson said in a ruling Wednesday that the court's administrative office discriminated against Alison "Tex" Clark when it refused to add her spouse to Clark's benefit plan. Pregerson ruled that Oregon's same-sex marriage ban -- Measure 36, enacted by voters in 2004 -- and the federal Defense of Marriage Act are both unconstitutional (Cooper, 4/25). 

California Healthline: No Diversion Of Mental Health Money
A Senate budget subcommittee last week rejected a plan to divert roughly $34 million a year for mental health services to a CalWORKs (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids) fund. The California Department of Finance wanted to redistribute realignment money so half the funds currently going to mental health services would instead be shared equally between mental health and CalWORKs starting in 2015-16 (Gorn, 4/25).

The Washington Post: Plan Coming For Unpaid Chartered Health Claims, Gray Says
Not quite a week after it was announced that D.C. Chartered Health Plan could owe tens of millions more than previously anticipated to city health-care providers, Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Thursday his administration is "developing a plan to provide relief." Chartered Health Plan is currently the city's largest Medicaid contractor, handling the care of more than 104,000 District residents (DeBonis, 4/25).

California Healthline: Autism, Dental, Mental Health Focus Of Transition Concerns
Under the first phase of the transition, 600,000 Healthy Families children were moved into Medi-Cal managed care plans. In the next transition phase, set to begin May 1, the remaining 260,000 children will be moved into managed care plans by the end of the year, according to the state's timeline. … Of the first set of beneficiaries who have transitioned, 207 families will not be able to receive autism services known as applied behavioral analysis -- or ABA therapy -- through Medi-Cal managed care plans. … The loss of coverage for ABA therapy is the first indication that services have changed because of the transition. Some state officials and children's advocates are concerned about coverage for other services, particularly mental health services and dental care (Gorn, 4/25).

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