State Highlights: As Nation Implements Health Law, Mass. Eyes Lowering Costs

A selection of health policy stories from California and Massachusetts.

Los Angeles Times: L.A. Sues To Block Measure To Create L.A. Health Department
Los Angeles County filed suit Tuesday to remove from the ballot a measure that would strip the city of Los Angeles from the county health department's jurisdiction and require the city to create its own department. The suit argues that the ballot measure, set to appear before voters in June, is invalid because it seeks to take away administrative decision-making authority that is the purview of the county and the city, and that it is preempted by state law (Mehta, 10/1).

WBUR: As Nation Braces For Obamacare, Mass. Tackles Health Costs
In the midst of all this Obamacare angst and government shutdown, our fair state this week kicks off the Oscars of health wonkdom, aka, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission’s Annual Health Care Cost Trends Hearing. It's a time for state health care officials and bureaucrats to conduct a little reality check with insurers, hospitals, businesses and consumers to ensure that everyone's making a good-faith effort to hold down medical costs. Stuart Altman, economist and professor of National Health Policy at Brandeis University and chair of the board of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, says the role of the commission is to keep all of the players involved in the health system accountable and sharply focused on driving down costs while improving quality (Zimmerman, 10/1).

California Healthline: Tech Leaders Target The Underserved
At Monday's opening session of the annual Health 2.0 Conference -- a health information technology meeting held this year in Santa Clara -- experts in the field said technology can be used to address some of the health disparities in California and to reach the state's underserved populations. "There are strong predictors of limited access to health care," said Urmimala Sarkar, a UC-San Francisco resident physician and researcher, "and those are exactly the same factors that produce health disparities." Lower income, geographic isolation, cultural differences and language barriers all contribute both to a decline in the quality of health care and access to it, she said (10/1).

Healthy Cal: A Long Road to Restoring Medi-Cal Dental Benefits
While Denti-Cal reinstatement is good news for patients, community clinics and federally funded health centers, there is a long road to restoring dental care to low-income people. One of those is the Aug. 14 announcement by the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) that it will begin implementing a provision of AB 97, passed in 2011, requiring a 10 percent reduction in Medi-Cal provider payments. The California Medical Association (CMA) and others filed a lawsuit to stop the cuts and a district court ruled in favor of CMA. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that. Dental providers will see those cuts start on Sept. 5 of this year. And the cuts will be retroactive to June 1, 2011. These cuts may make it difficult to find a dentist that accepts Medi-Cal, especially when 1.4 million more people will qualify for the coverage starting in January, when health care reforms kick in (Graebner, 10/1).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major 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.