Roundup: Mass. Health Costs May Start Accelerating Again

A selection of health policy stories from Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, New York and North Carolina.

Boston Globe: Health Costs In Mass. Are Heading Upward
After several years of moderating costs, there are signs the rate of increase in Massachusetts health care prices -- and insurance premiums -- may soon start accelerating again, exceeding a heralded cost cap set by the state last year. Three factors are threatening to push residents' annual health care costs up faster than the state's overall rate of economic growth: First, health insurers in Massachusetts estimate the "medical cost trend" -- an industry measure based on the price of services and the volume of doctor visits, procedures, and tests -- will rise between 6 and 12 percent this year. That would be more than double the state's anticipated rate of economic growth (Weisman, 3/4).

MPR News: Review Raises Questions About Payment Rates To HMOs
A review of how the [Minn. Gov. Tim] Pawlenty administration set payment rates for HMOs managing care for public health programs raises questions about high profit margins for the private health plans. The audit is one of several underway and comes in response to questions from the federal government about whether the state's managed care contracts for public programs have been too generous. The report by Segal Company, an actuarial consulting firm, said the Pawlenty administration, the state's actuary and the federal government all missed opportunities to hold down payment rates (Stawicki, 3/1).

California Healthline: Geographic Regions Set At Six, But Only For Now
Floor votes in the Assembly and Senate [last week] approved the first bills of the special session on health care. The bills would eliminate pre-existing conditions as a means for denying health insurance coverage. They also would establish new geographic rating regions to help determine variable rates by area in California, one provision in the bills that recently has become contentious. The Assembly passed ABX1-2 by Assembly member Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) on a 53-25 vote. The Senate passed its version of the bill, SBX1-2 by Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), where the vote was 26-10-1. Most of the objections raised [last week] on the Senate and Assembly floors to the two bills came from Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act (Gorn, 3/1).

Los Angeles Times: Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris Urges Funding For Prescription Tracking
Calling prescription drug abuse an urgent public health problem, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is pushing lawmakers to fund an effort to identify physicians who recklessly prescribe addictive medications (Girion and Glover, 3/3).

Stateline: New York Takes The Lead On Palliative Care
The palliative care team at Mount Sinai Hospital gathers on a Thursday morning to exchange the latest information on the patients in their ward. It is a raw, unforgiving day outside, but the weather, the news, most everything beyond these walls are concerns that patients on this ward do not have the luxury to worry about. Theirs is a shrunken world measured in degrees of pain, blood pressure, heart rate, and a set of poor options -- none of which any healthy person would welcome. The simplest definition for palliative care is that it is treatment designed to reduce the pain, discomfort and stress associated with a serious disease. But it also entails eliciting from patients and families in dire circumstances their priorities and wishes to make sure the treatment conforms to those desires (Ollove, 3/4).

North Carolina Health News: Telepsychiatry Project Delivers Mental Health Care To Remote Corners Of NC
A pilot program to provide psychiatric assessments to patients in the emergency department is proving so successful that it will be rolled out statewide. … Mental health patients presenting to these rural emergency departments have long experienced excessive wait times, unnecessary involuntary commitments and admissions, extended lengths of stay and disjointed care (Ellis, 3/1).

Los Angeles Times: Motion Picture Home Ranks Among California's Best Nursing Homes
The long-term care facility operated by the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which in previous years faced criticism from nursing home advocates over quality of care issues and staffing levels, got some good news this week. U.S. News & World Report placed the fund's nursing home, which caters to entertainment industry workers and was once slated for closure, on its 2013 list of "Best Nursing Homes in California" (Verrier, 3/2).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.