A selection of health policy stories from Washington state, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, California and Colorado.
The Associated Press: Washington Lawmakers Face $1.2 Billion Shortfall
Washington's budget shortfall has grown to $1.2 billion, officials said Wednesday, as increased reliance on government services overpowered relative stability in the state's economy. The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council cited higher-than-forecast expenses in areas like Medicaid as the cause of new budget trouble. Government revenues remained stable, something Gov. Jay Inslee's budget director cited in calling the forecast relatively good news (Baker, 3/20).
MPR News: DFL's Plan To Cut Health, Human Services Spending Comes As A Surprised
With Minnesota House and Senate Democrats proposing $2 billion in new taxes to erase the budget deficit and spend more on schools, economic development and other state services, one area -- health and human services -- is getting left out. In fact, DFLers propose a spending cut. But some advocates for the poor say they can't handle any more spending reductions. Democrats in the House and Senate want to cut $150 million in spending from health and human services programs. After education, health and human services is the second-largest portion of the state's two-year budget at $11 billion in general fund spending. But it is increasing at a fast rate, and that worries DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen (Scheck, 3/21).
MPR News: Senate Committee Approves Measure On Nurse Staffing Levels
Legislation on minimum nurse staffing levels at Minnesota hospitals is moving forward at the state Capitol. A Senate committee Wednesday evening approved a measure that would direct the state health department to study the relationship between staff levels and patient health. And for the first time hospitals would have to disclose staffing information online. However the bill's chief author stripped out a provision sought by the nurses union that would set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios (Sepic, 3/20).
North Carolina Health News: Bill Would Expand Access To Midwives In N.C.
A bill making it's way through legislative committees would give certified nurse-midwives more latitude in their practices. … North Carolina is one of only six states that require that a CNM obtain this type agreement in order to practice, said Becky Bagley, director of the nurse-midwifery education program at the East Carolina University College of Nursing. Hers is the only midwifery training program in North Carolina (Hoban, 3/21).
The Associated Press: Courts Cut Fees For Lawyers For TennCare Patients
A federal appeals court has struck down a significant portion of the $2.57 million in legal fees awarded to attorneys who have represented TennCare patients in a years-long fight with the state of Tennessee. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said attorneys should not have been awarded fees on several billed items, including for such things as meetings with state lawmakers and doing work on a separate case that involved the same issues (3/20).
Georgia Health News: Struggling Rural Hospital Closing Door
Another rural hospital in southwest Georgia is closing. Stewart-Webster Hospital in Richland closed its emergency room Tuesday, and rest of the hospital will suspend operations at noon Friday. The for-profit, 25-bed "critical access" hospital is the largest employer in Richland, according to WRBL News. It follows the February closure of Calhoun Memorial in Arlington, 50 miles south of Richland. Stewart-Webster's president, Randy Stigleman, cited several factors, including high unemployment and low payments from Medicare and Medicaid, WRBL reported (Miller, 3/20).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arizona Hospice Company Settles Allegations That It Submitted False Medicare Claims
Federal prosecutors say a hospice company in Arizona has agreed to pay $12 million to settle allegations that the company submitted Medicare claims for patients who did not have a terminal prognosis of six months or less. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland said Wednesday that Hospice of Arizona L.C. and related entities had reached the settlement. The company denied the allegations (3/20).
Los Angeles Times: Bill Aims To Tighten Restrictions On Painkiller Hydrocodone
Taking aim at "America's most abused narcotic," congressional lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would place tighter restrictions on the painkiller hydrocodone, which is a key contributor to the nation's prescription drug death epidemic (Glover and Girion, 3/20).
Kaiser Health News: Grieving Doctor Regrets He Didn't Ask Depressed Patient About Gun
Dumont's patient shot himself in the head with a rifle. Dumont was stunned, and guilt-ridden. He says he always asks his depressed patients about suicide, and whether they've thought about how they'd do it. But he regrets not asking this patient specifically whether he had any guns in the house (Whitney, 3/20).
California Healthline: Settlement Called 'Less Harmful' For In-Home Support Recipients
California officials and disability rights advocates yesterday announced a settlement of a lawsuit challenging a 20 percent budget trigger cut in In-Home Supportive Services care. The settlement allows an 8 percent reduction this year and a 7 percent reduction in 2014. It also changes the cuts from permanent to temporary. The size and timing of the cuts are based, in part, on a current 3.6 percent IHSS cut established in 2009. That reduction will remain in effect, and an additional 4.4 percent cut will be added onto that this year followed by a 3.4 percent additional cut next year, bringing the totals to 8 percent this year and 7 percent next year (Gorn, 3/20).