State Highlights: WellPoint Deal Gets Regulator Scrutiny

A selection of health policy stories from California, Virginia, New York, Florida, Connecticut and Georgia.

The Washington Post: Ethics, Mental Health Bills Advance In Virginia General Assembly
Virginia lawmakers moved forward Monday on an ethics law overhaul and mental health legislation, two causes given urgency by recent events. The Senate passed the ethics package with only one dissenting vote, despite grumbling by some lawmakers that the legislation is poorly designed. A similar bill was approved on a preliminary vote in the House. The mental health bill passed the Senate with no opposition and was backed by the House on a preliminary vote (Weiner, 2/10). 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: Senate Approves Deeds-Backed Mental Health Bill
The painful journey that began almost three months ago for Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, continues now on the other side of the Capitol in the Virginia House of Delegates. Deeds reached a milestone in his quest for mental health reforms on Monday in the Virginia Senate. It voted 38-0 to approve legislation he sponsored in the aftermath of the Nov. 19 attack by his son that left the senator bleeding from multiple stab wounds and Austin R. “Gus” Deeds dead by his own hand. The centerpiece of Senate Bill 260 is a 24-hour limit on emergency custody orders to hold people involuntarily for psychiatric evaluation — quadrupling the current limit of six hours to prevent people from being released, as his son was, despite being found a danger to themselves or others (Nolan and Martz, 2/11).

The Wall Street Journal: Regulators Seen Taking Notice Of WellPoint Deal In New York
An agreement by WellPoint Inc. to grant some New York health-law marketplace consumers a three-week break on premiums could draw attention from regulators in other states where insurers have struggled with service issues. The New York governor's office said the agreement came after an investigation by state regulators into consumer complaints about service issues. The insurer has agreed to provide payments equivalent to three weeks of premiums for people who enrolled through the state's exchange, paid a premium for January and didn't receive care during that month, the state said. WellPoint sells plans in New York under the Empire BlueCross BlueShield brand (Mathews, 2/10).

Kaiser Health News: Pharmacists Increasingly Take On Clinical Roles
Once limited to filling and dispensing drugs, pharmacists are increasingly providing direct care to patients. Across the country, they are working with doctors to give immunizations and help patients safely manage medications. In some places, they can even write prescriptions after a physician's diagnosis. California is among the states to give pharmacists the greatest flexibility, thanks in part to a law that took effect this year. Other states, including New Mexico and North Carolina, have also allowed pharmacists to take on more clinical responsibilities (Gorman, 2/11).

The California Health Report: A Quiet Revolution In Primary Care
Amidst the furor over last year’s failed attempt to ease a shortage of primary-care physicians by letting nurse practitioners operate without direct doctor supervision, a more modest piece of California legislation is quietly taking effect. Senate Bill 493 became law on Jan 1. Pending the approval of California State Board of Pharmacy protocols later this year, it authorizes pharmacists to provide such medical services as furnishing routine vaccinations, hormonal contraception and nicotine replacement medications, as well as certain prescription drugs for travelers (Richard, 2/11).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. Care Health Plan CEO Howard Kahn To Step Down In January 2015
Howard A. Kahn, the chief executive of L.A. Care Health Plan, said he plans to leave in January after leading the large Medicaid managed-care provider for 13 years. The organization announced the move late Friday. Kahn said it was time to do something different (Terhune, 2/10).

Kaiser Health News: States Accelerate Shift Of Nursing Home Residents Into Medicaid Managed Care
(Social worker Jodie) Muenz' visit is part of a transformation of how Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, is providing long-term care to hundreds of thousands of people in Florida and a growing number of states. After two decades of shifting millions of Medicaid enrollees into managed care, most of them women and children, Florida is mandating that approach for 45,000 nursing home residents and another 40,000 who get long-term care services at home or assisted living facilities. The job of a case worker like Muenz is to make sure her clients get what they need to stay healthy – and that they live in the least-restrictive and least costly setting possible (Galewitz, 2/11).

The CT Mirror: Malloy: Let Nurse Practitioners In CT Work Independently Of Doctors
Nurse practitioners would be allowed to treat patients and prescribe medications independently under a proposal by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, a potentially significant -- and controversial -- change in the medical landscape aimed at expanding access to primary care. The ability of nurse practitioners to work independently of doctors has long been an issue of contention between the two professions, and states vary widely in how they allow nurse practitioners to practice. But the federal health law commonly known as Obamacare puts the debate in a new context: The expansion of insurance coverage to thousands more people is expected to raise the demand for primary care, at a time when the state already faces a shortage of primary care doctors and an aging physician population (Becker, 2/11).

The Miami Herald: State Lawmakers To Explore Telemedicine
The doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital use advanced communications technology to diagnose sick children in Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Helping young patients in remote parts of Florida or other states, however, is not so easy (McGrory, 2/11).

Georgia Health News: State Workers, Blue Cross Await Coverage Change 
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is gearing up to handle the transition of the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) to a co-pay system next month. Teachers, state employees and other members of the SHBP will get new ID cards, said Morgan Kendrick, president of Blue Cross, the state’s largest health insurer, in an interview with GHN. Consumers may get a rebate or credit on their previous health care transactions for this year, as a result of the switch to a co-pay system. Currently, patients are operating with a co-insurance model, where they pay a percentage of the costs of a health service (Miller, 2/10).

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.