KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Texas CHIP Program Faces Budget Uncertainties While Arizona Governor Restores Funds For Health Care Programs For The Poor

Dallas Morning News: "Seven years ago, state leaders working to close a $9.9 billion budget gap took a hatchet to government health insurance for children of the working poor. Thousands of children paid the price when officials tightened eligibility rules and whacked dental, vision and mental health benefits. Gradually, benefits were restored to the Children's Health Insurance Program and, this month, enrollment reached roughly the same level as in 2003. But CHIP proponents fear the program could be on the block again as lawmakers face an even bigger shortfall – maybe $15 billion – as they write the next two-year budget in their upcoming session. The new federal health care law has limited the state's ability to cut too deeply into CHIP. If state leaders again tightened eligibility rules, they would put at risk the entire $14 billion to $15 billion a year of federal Medicaid and CHIP funds that Texas receives, said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a strong supporter of the program" (Garrett, 5/7). 

KENS 5 TV / Texas Tribune: "Dr. William Jones spent years losing money on Medicaid and Medicare patients - until he stopped seeing them. … Jones is still the exception, not the rule. But his decision is becoming increasingly common. The proportion of Texas doctors accepting all new Medicaid patients has tumbled in the last decade - falling from 67 percent to 42 percent, according to a Texas Medical Association survey. Medicare acceptance took a similar spill in that study, dropping from 78 percent to 64 percent. ... With health care reform expected to place up to 1 million more Texans on state rolls in the next several years, experts predict an almost certain surge in low-income Texans seeking long-overdue doctors appointments." Because reimbursements for these programs are "well below private-payer rates," experts worry more physicians to opt out (Ramshaw, 5/6).

Arizona Daily Star: "Arizona will continue to fund its health-care programs for the poor at current levels, at least for the time being. Without comment, Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday signed legislation restoring funds that had been taken from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program. The move, designed to save money, would have dropped more than 310,000 people from the program effective Jan. 1. The new law also reauthorizes and finances the KidsCare program" (5/7).

The Chicago Tribune: "House lawmakers unanimously approved legislation Thursday that would sharply raise the standards of care and safety in Illinois' troubled nursing homes." The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate and Gov. Pat Quinn has said he "views the bill 'favorably.' The proposal would require nursing homes to increase staffing levels, meet higher standards before admitting patients with serious mental illness and segregate the most dangerous residents in secure units where they would receive more intensive monitoring and treatment." The goal of the measure is to move many mentally disabled people out of the homes and into community treatment programs (Garcia, 5/6).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Home care workers who provide services to people in Medicaid programs, such as Family Care, have voted to be represented by the Service Employees International Union. The vote could result in a minimum wage being negotiated with the state for the more than 5,000 people who independently provide home care services in Medicaid programs. The programs are designed to help people remain in their homes instead of moving to an assisted living center or nursing home" (Boulton, 5/6).

The Sun-Sentinel: "Tens of thousands of South Florida seniors are passing up as much as $3,900 a year in Medicare help paying for their prescription drugs because they are eligible but have not applied. What's more, the government changed the law this year to make it easier to qualify. So this week the Social Security Administration chief for the nation's Southeast urged seniors to fill out the form to get the 'extra help.' … The program, known as the low-income subsidy, covers all or part of what seniors pay for drug coverage, from monthly premiums of their drug plans to annual deductibles to drug co-payments" (LaMendola, 5/6).

The Los Angeles Times: "Serious questions have emerged about whether Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar has continued treating critically ill babies long after state officials said the hospital lacked the doctors to do so properly and told the facility to transfer such high-risk patients." According to state officials, the county hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, was downgraded in late 2008. "Since then, Olive View has been required to transfer babies needing a ventilator for more than four hours to a hospital that could provide a higher level of care, according to California Department of Health Care Services officials. ...  Williams said the state acted on Nov. 20, 2008, because the hospital had only one neonatologist who met state requirements and some of the doctors working in the unit were not board-certified in pediatrics. Los Angeles County officials, informed of the state's timeline of events, expressed shock Thursday, saying they became aware of the downgrade only in January. Even after that date, however, the hospital appears to have continued to treat babies who spent far more than four hours on a ventilator" (Hennessy-Fiske and Lin II, 5/7). 

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