KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

State Roundup: Building More Texas Medical Schools

A selection of health policy stories from Texas, California, Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas and Massachusetts.

The Texas Tribune: Report Cautions Against Rush To Build Medical Schools
Recommendations in a new draft report on Texas undergraduate medical education caution against rushing to build any new medical schools, which may irk those that are pushing to do exactly that. The report was prepared by the staff of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and posted on the agency's website on Monday in preparation for an upcoming meeting of their Task Force on Graduate Health Professions (Hamilton, 12/3).

HealthyCal: Better Mental Health Care Predicted For Healthy Families Kids With Serious Needs
Santa Cruz County mental health staff and patient advocates in California predict that many children enrolled in the state's Healthy Families Program, an insurance program for low-income families that will be phased out in 2013, should actually have better access to mental health services once they start transitioning to Medi-Cal in January. This summer the state legislature approved Governor Jerry Brown's plan to cut the Healthy Families Program, saving the state $129 million in the next two years and $71 million annually after that (Graebner, 12/4).

Modern Healthcare: Heartburn For Chicago's Northwestern Memorial
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare has suffered its first quarterly operating loss in at least four years, a nearly $24 million setback that reflects the dual challenge of flattening revenue and rising expenses faced by even the largest hospitals. Anchored by an 894-bed medical center in Streeterville, the two-hospital system lost $23.6 million in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, compared with operating income of $6.4 million a year earlier, according to new financial statements. Quarterly operating losses are rare for healthcare networks the size of Northwestern, with revenue of $1.70 billion in the year ended Aug. 3 (Barr, 12/3).

California Healthline: High Desert Hospitals Fighting For Financial Solvency
Three rural, stand-alone hospitals in the Inland Empire are in various stages of addressing daunting financial challenges. Victor Valley Community Hospital in Victorville, Colorado River Medical Center in Needles and Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree are all attempting to emerge from financial distress, but in different ways. … These hospitals play a critical role in providing care in a region that is nearly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, where long stretches of desert separate small, remote towns and communities. But they are grappling with high numbers of uninsured or underinsured patients, as well as economies of scale that larger hospital systems are not subject to (McSherry, 12/3).

Georgia Health News: Rate Review Targets Double-Digit Premium Hikes
Call it more transparency and accountability -- or simply more publicity. For the past year, health insurers' requests for premium increases of 10 percent or more have received more attention from the public and regulators. That's due to a provision in the health reform law called "rate review," wherein any insurer proposing a double-digit hike in an individual or small-group plan must submit more documentation to justify it. And ultimately, those requests are receiving more public scrutiny. Over the past year, with the new rate review rules in effect, Georgia insurance regulators say they have seen insurers' requests for premium increases becoming more moderate (Miller, 12/3).

North Carolina Health News: New UNC Program Will Turn Army Medics Into Local Practitioners
Sergeant Eric Strand spent more than a decade in the US Army Special forces as a combat medic; he completed a year's intensive training in medicine; he served three tours in Iraq where he treated wounded comrades and provided the rest of his company with primary care. But there's no way for him to use those skills in civilian life. ... For Strand, that means applying to medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill for next fall. But many of his older, married comrades don't have the resources or time to spend years in medical school and residency. So, a new program to train army medics as physician assistants at the UNC School of Medicine may just be the ticket (Hoban, 12/4).

Kansas Health Institute News: More KanCare Implementation Details Outlined
After prodding from local consumer advocates and federal overseers, Kansas officials have made public more details about how they would implement KanCare and say they plan to release more information as quickly as it becomes available. A federal decision on the state’s plan to remake its Medicaid program is expected any day and the new information is evidence of the back-and-forth in the discussion between the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback continues its push for a Jan. 1 launch of the new program. Brownback officials so far have posted six section 1915c waiver amendments on the KanCare website and also within the last several days have posted six "implementation activities" reports that outline previously undisclosed details about how they expect KanCare to work (Shields, 12/3).

WBUR: Tool Helps Mass. Patients Find Best Hospital Care
There's a new push in health care to get patients to choose where they get their care based on cost and quality. But it's difficult to find out which hospitals and doctors provide the best and most economical care, whether a test or surgery or other procedure. With that dilemma in mind, WBUR's Martha Bebinger has created a new tool to help patients find the best hospital care. Martha spoke about the tool with All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer (Bebinger, 12/3).

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