State Highlights: Mental Health Reforms Take Shape In Kan., Colo.

A selection of health policy stories from New York, California, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin, Florida and Georgia.

Los Angeles Times: Gov. Jerry Brown Commits To Major Medi-Cal Expansion
Brown earmarked $350 million in his spending plan to help enroll more Californians in Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program for the poor. Under the proposal, enrollment rules would be simplified to cover residents who are currently eligible but not enrolled. Those costs would be split evenly between state and federal governments. The governor's plan also calls for a separate, larger expansion of Medi-Cal that would cover a group of low-income Californians not currently eligible for the program: adults without children, earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level -- or $15,415 a year. The federal government would subsidize costs for the first three years, with the state shouldering a portion of the bill after that (Mishak, 1/10).

Los Angeles Times: Brown's Budget Proposal Has Good News For Some
California would significantly expand public health insurance under Brown's proposed budget as part of a plan to implement President Obama's health care overhaul. … Brown earmarked $350 million to help enroll more Californians in Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program for the poor. The cost would be split between the state and federal governments (1/10).

California Healthline: Budget Called A 'Godsend' For Health Care Community
California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley summed up the health care impact of yesterday's budget proposal this way: "The good news is, there are no cuts," Dooley said. "While we are not restoring anything, we are not cutting, either." That was a tremendous relief to Senate member Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chair of the Senate Committee on Health. After enduring year after year of multi-billion-dollar cuts to health programs, he said no budget news is good budget news. … Even with the lack of cuts, there were still a number of items in the proposed budget that could have a significant impact on the health care system (Gorn, 1/11).

Kansas City Star: Brownback Says Kansas Will Spend $10 Million For At-Risk Mentally Ill
Gov. Sam Brownback -- prompted in part by December's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- said his administration will spend $10 million to treat Kansas' most serious cases of mental illness. At a news conference Thursday in Kansas City, Kan., the Republican said improving treatment for the most at-risk mental health patients will be an immediate step to try to prevent tragedies like that in Newtown, Conn., where 26 students and teachers were murdered, and in [Littleton], Colo., where 12 high school students and one teacher died in a shooting rampage. "We haven't made much progress since Columbine in getting at these shocking types of cases," Brownback said. "What we're picking here is a piece I think we can move forward on" (Helling, 1/10).

Kansas Health Institute: Governor Announces New Mental Health Initiative
Gov. Sam Brownback today described the broad outline of a new mental health initiative that he said would focus on the development of regional hubs to target services toward mentally ill persons who resist treatment until a crisis forces them into a mental hospital or prison. He and other administration officials acknowledged the plan was prompted in part by the Newtown, Conn. school shooting last month that left 20 children and six adults dead after an apparently deranged and heavily armed man attacked Sandy Hook Elementary (Shields, 1/10).

Modern Healthcare: Colo. Governor Seeks To Overhaul Mental Health System
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's state of the state address included a moment of silence for the 12 people who were shot and killed in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater July 20 and a call for a "comprehensive overhaul of the state's mental health system." "We have to do a better job of identifying and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others," Hickenlooper said in his speech. "We ask you to pass legislation that will update civil commitment laws, make it easier to identify people with mental illness who are a danger to themselves and others and provide safer, more humane systems for their treatment." Last month, Hickenlooper outlined an $18.5 million five-point plan to strengthen to the state's mental health system (Robeznieks, 1/10).

Denver Post: Patrick Kennedy Calls For Mental Health Insurance Reforms In Colorado
Colorado must reform laws and insurance benefits to give patients and families access to mental illness treatment equal to what as they usually get for medical treatment, panelists at an informal "hearing" said Thursday night. The mental health community has waited more than four years since passage of a federal parity in treatment act for a final set of rules to be issued, and the time is far past due, said former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and other speakers. Telling patients to walk "down the hall" to get mental health care, if they can get it at all, is the same as telling black Americans in the 1960s to walk down the hall to the "colored" fountain, Kennedy said. "It's long past time we as a nation move into the 21st Century," Kennedy said, and ensure mental illnesses "no longer get segregated and dismissed as character issues rather than chemistry issues" (Booth, 1/10).

The New York Times: New York City To Restrict Prescription Painkillers In Public Hospitals' Emergency Rooms
Some of the most common and most powerful prescription painkillers on the market will be restricted sharply in the emergency rooms at New York City's 11 public hospitals, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday in an effort to crack down on what he called a citywide and national epidemic of prescription drug abuse (Hartocollis, 1/10).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Health Care Job Openings Dwindle
Job openings for nurses, pharmacists, radiology technologists and other jobs in health care are near historic lows, according to a report released Thursday by the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The number of openings four or five years ago ran into the double digits. "The employment picture has changed," said Judith Warmuth, vice president-workforce at the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The slow economic recovery and high unemployment rate had a part in this. But schools throughout the state responded to the nursing shortage by significantly expanding their programs. ... The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doubled the size of its undergraduate nursing program at the height of shortage in the last decade. The university graduated 100 nurses from its undergraduate program and 50 from its graduate programs last month (Boulton, 1/10).

The Associated Press: Florida Enhances Program For Disabled Children
Florida is enhancing its efforts to get severely disabled children out of nursing facilities and back home, though the head of the state agency that oversees their care said Thursday she couldn't find the conditions that are being criticized by families and federal officials. The accusations come from families of more than a dozen children who have filed a lawsuit and the Department of Justice, which also has threatened to sue the state (Kaczor, 1/10).

The Associated Press: Georgia Speaker: Guard Health Care, Change Lobbying Rules
House Speaker David Ralston has broadly endorsed the idea of extending a high-profile hospital industry tax that generates a sizable portion of revenue for state health care. In a separate matter, the Blue Ridge Republican promised during a wide-ranging interview Thursday that he will push for changes to Georgia's ethics law, including broadening the definition of who qualifies as a lobbyist to bring more people under rules that govern interactions with elected officials (1/11).

Los Angeles Times: Restored Funding For Prescription Drug-Program Monitoring Program Urged
California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris on Thursday called on Gov. Jerry Brown to restore funding to a prescription drug-monitoring program that health experts say is key to combating drug abuse and overdose deaths in the state (Girion and Glover, 1/11).

California Healthline: New Institute Hopes To Boost Primary Care Pay, Numbers In California
Calling primary care "the cornerstone for all of California's health care delivery systems" and "the foundation for every goal of health care reform," a new organization arrives in California next week hoping to give the profession a shot in the arm. The California Advanced Primary Care Institute brings together a wide spectrum of stakeholders with high hopes of reinvigorating a key part of the health care workforce in California. The state's primary care workforce will decline by about 30 percent over the next decade at the same time demand increases with millions of Californians gaining coverage through the Affordable Care Act (Lauer, 1/10).

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