State Highlights: Calif. State Legislative Panel Considers Bill On Health Exchange Secrecy

A selection of health policy stories from California, Virginia and Massachusetts.

The Associated Press: Bill Seeks To Reduce Health Care Exchange Secrecy
A state legislative committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would require California's health insurance exchange to make more contract information publicly available, even as advocates for open government urged lawmakers to go further. The Senate Health Committee voted 9-0 to pass the legislation by Republican Sen. Bill Emmerson and Democratic Sen. Mark DeSaulnier. They introduced the bill, SB332, after a story by The Associated Press revealed the unique degree of privacy granted to Covered California, as the exchange is called (Olson, 6/19).

Los Angeles Times: CalPERS Health Premiums Will Rise An Average Of 3% In 2014
The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the country's third-largest purchaser of health benefits, said its health insurance premiums next year would increase 3%, on average, for nearly 1.3 million members. The giant pension fund said that would mark its smallest rate increase since 1998. Premiums at CalPERS rose 9.6% this year and 4.1% in 2012 (Terhune, 6/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Virginia Attorney General Presses Treasury To Release State’s Entire $115M Share Of Settlement
Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s office is pressing the federal Treasury Department to release Virginia’s remaining $105 million share of a national Medicaid fraud settlement and rescind its demand for more details on how the money will be spent. The office received an initial disbursement of $10 million Wednesday, spokesman Brian Gottstein said (6/19).

Los Angeles Times: Judge Hears Claims Of Neglect In Prison Psych Wards
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton heard that testimony as prison lawyers seek new sanctions against California over the treatment of inmates in the state's crowded prisons, an unintended consequence of Gov. Jerry Brown's failed bid earlier this year to end federal court oversight. In separate motions, prisoners' lawyers also sought orders against use of force and tear gas on mentally ill inmates, their housing in solitary confinement, alleged lack of treatment for inmates on death row, and the continued shipment of inmates at high risk of contracting valley fever to prisons infected with the deadly spores (St. John, 6/19).

Boston Globe: Panel To Assess Hospital Merger
Moving into uncharted territory Wednesday, the state’s new Health Policy Commission voted 10 to 0 to press forward with a full “cost and market impact” review of Partners HealthCare System’s agreement to acquire the 378-bed South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. The review could create a stumbling block for the first major hospital expansion bid in seven years by Boston-based Partners, the largest hospital and physicians group in Massachusetts, which seeks to take over one of the state’s last remaining independent hospitals (Weisman, 6/20).

Boston Globe: Mental Health Clinics Cited
Dozens of therapists who were unlicensed or improperly supervised routinely treated mentally ill patients at three clinics owned by a major provider of care to low-income people in Massachusetts, state records show. At an Arbour Health System clinic in Lawrence, state inspectors determined that all 23 therapists were not qualified to see patients on their own, yet were doing so without regular oversight by a licensed professional. Similar staffing violations were discovered at Arbour clinics in Malden and Fall River. ... Arbour operates five psychiatric hospitals and 11 mental health clinics in Massachusetts. Its for-profit parent, Universal Health Services, is a publicly traded company that earned more than $443 million last year and has staked its future largely on expanding in the behavioral health care market (Conaboy, 6/20).

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