KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Roundup: Fla., Texas, Minn., Ga., Conn., Mass. Officials Examine State Health Programs

Fox News: States Mull Plan To Nullify Obama Health Law
Nullification – the legal theory that says a state can prevent enforcement of federal laws within its borders -- is the latest attempt to block Obama's health-care law at the state level. And brings with it new controversies and considerable confusion. For example, supporters and opponents of nullification reference the same language in the Constitution (Kenworthy, 2/2).

Health News Florida: FL Official Sends Back $1M
Further divorcing Florida from the federal health overhaul, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said Tuesday the state will forfeit a $1 million grant that was supposed to go toward better oversight of health-insurance rates. In a short letter to a top federal health official, McCarty said he would rescind acceptance of the grant, which Florida was awarded last year to hire staff members and upgrade databases (Saunders, 2/2).

Connecticut Mirror: State Seeking Greater Coordination Between Medicare, Medicaid
In Connecticut, there are an estimated 100,000 so-called "dual eligible" patients-people who get some coverage from both Medicaid and Medicare. Many of these patients are chronically ill, seriously disabled, or both. Because of programmatic restrictions, limited provider access, and minimal financial resources, they face some of the highest hurdles to getting the specialty care they need. At the same time, though, this small group is the most expensive segment of the state's Medicaid population, representing about 20 percent of the program's patients but nearly 60 percent of its costs (Shesgreen, 2/1).

Minnesota Public Radio: Disability Groups Hit Back On Medicaid Reduction Plan
A coalition of disabled Minnesotans and their advocates on Monday blasted a proposal that would scale back the state's Medicaid benefits. Last week a group of seven health plans and hospitals floated a cost-cutting plan that they said could eliminate nearly a third of the state's $6.2 billion budget shortfall. One of their recommendations would move individuals with disabilities into managed care (Benson, 1/31).

St. Paul Pioneer Press/The Associated Press: In State Of The State Speech, Walker Targets Public Employee Benefits, Medicaid Programs
Gov. Scott Walker promised to target public employee benefits and Medicaid programs in order to deal with Wisconsin's budget shortfall, but offered few details in his first State of the State speech on Tuesday about how he will plug the $3.2 billion gap. … Walker said union workers should be forced to ... increase their share of health insurance costs up to 12 percent. ... Walker also said Medicaid, which is projected to be $174 million short in the current budget year, was unsustainable - but he didn't say what he would change (Bauer, 2/1).

The Texas Tribune: David Dewhurst: The TT Interview
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says he wants to save Texas money and improve patient care by overhauling how doctors and hospitals are paid - with carrots, not sticks. ... DEWHURST: In the summer and fall of 2008, we drafted a series of bills focusing on paying doctors and hospitals more for having electronic records and good medical outcomes, for spending time focusing on wellness, for employing incentive-based demonstration projects in the free market, in the Employees Retirement System (Ramshaw, 2/1).

Georgia Health News: Insurance Chief Vows To Reduce Red Tape
New state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens laid out a strongly pro-industry agenda in a meeting with legislators Tuesday. "My objective is to make Georgia the best place for an insurance company to do business,"' Hudgens told the House Insurance Committee. ... To meet that goal, Hudgens said he supports a lowering of the tax on premiums that insurance companies in Georgia pay to local governments and the state (Miller, 2/1).

The Arizona Republic: Arizona's Republican Lawmakers Support Cuts To State's Health Care
State senators on Tuesday reviewed the two agencies facing the biggest budget cuts, but they offered little hope that they could buffer the universities or the state's health-care system from reductions. The Senate Appropriations Committee examined a proposal from Gov. Jan Brewer to cut $170 million from the state university system, as well as a plan to save $1 billion next year by eliminating health-care coverage for 280,000 people, mostly childless adults (Pitzl, 2/2).

The Sacramento Bee: California Pays Varying Rates To Care For Disabled
The state can pay wildly varying rates, up to $250,000 a year per person, to fulfill its legal obligation to care for developmentally disabled people, despite laws meant to cap the costs of such programs. ... The public, however, can't see the final amounts paid or how they were negotiated. California distributes funding for the care of developmentally disabled people to 21 nonprofit regional centers, which aren't subject to disclosure laws regulating public agencies. The centers don't provide the care themselves, but contract with a system of vendors for a range of services – everything from homes for people with schizophrenia to day programs where clients receive therapy and skill development training. … With Gov. Jerry Brown proposing a $750 million cut to the Department of Developmental Services, state legislators are examining the opaque processes by which the rates are set (Chang, 2/2).

WBUR: Mental Health Screening Exposes Access Problems
Pediatricians have been confronted with behavioral issues for years, but they've never been given a screening tool to assess them. Now parents who see problems with their kids can identify them clearly. This questionnaire was filled out by more than 360,000 families with kids on MassHealth, the state-run insurance program for low- and moderate-income families. Almost 8 percent were told they need more evaluation (Brady-Myerov, 2/2).

Star Tribune: We're 51st? On A Health Measure? For Our Kids?!
Minnesota ranks No. 8 nationally in a new survey of child health -- but dead last in adequacy of health insurance for kids, a sign that rising co-pays and deductibles are squeezing family finances and affecting when parents take children to the doctor. While 23 percent of parents with private insurance nationally felt their out-of-pocket medical costs were sometimes or always too high, that figure jumped to 33 percent in Minnesota. The low ranking on insurance "adequacy'' is based on a 2007 federal survey of parents about the costs of their children's health plans (Olson, 2/2).

MinnPost: Problems Found With State Non-Emergency Medical Transportation System And Oversight
Minnesota's system for non-emergency medical transportation has outdated rules, and weak oversight has meant some overpayments, says a Legislative Auditor's report released today. The federal government requires states to pay for transportation of Medicaid patients to the nearest qualified provider for preventive health care services, using the least expensive type of appropriate transportation (Kimball, 2/1).

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