KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Federal Court To Allow Calif. Case On Medicare Underpayments To Move Forward; LA County Gets New Health Department Head

American Medical News: "A recent court decision gave a group of California counties another chance to challenge what they contend are severe Medicare underpayments that jeopardize access to care across the country. The proposed class-action lawsuit led by seven California counties alleges that Medicare is underpaying California physicians by 10% to 25% in urbanizing areas because the Dept. of Health & Human Services has failed for more than a decade to adjust appropriately for certain geographical differences in the cost of providing care." Physicians from some counties in Texas, North Carolina and Minnesota "also are among those most affected. A federal trial court dismissed the case in 2009, saying the California counties did not have standing to sue on behalf of doctors. But a Sept. 29 decision by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel gave the case new life. Despite again dismissing some portions of the case, judges said the California counties could pursue their claims that the government's lack of action may violate their equal protection rights" (Sorrel, 10/18).

The Boston Globe: "Plymouth is one of a quickly shrinking group of communities that pick up the lion's share of the health insurance tab for part-time elected officials on stipends. In this coastal town, that perk of public office is costing taxpayers about $60,000 annually. While the amount is relatively small in the town's $167 million annual budget, Finance and Advisory Committee member Linda Benezra says it's time for America's Hometown to rethink that expenditure. She has penned a petition article to put an end to giving elected officials on stipends the option of enrolling in the town's insurance plan at full-time employee rates. Her proposal is set to be considered at the Oct. 25 Town Meeting" (Legere, 10/18).

The Los Angeles Times: "Two years ago Los Angeles County officials tried to recruit Dr. Mitchell Katz to run their long-troubled health department. He turned them down. Katz, head of San Francisco's public health department, had just launched Healthy San Francisco, one of the nation's first municipal universal healthcare programs, and wanted to see the project through. Last week, L.A. County supervisors came full circle, voting unanimously to offer Katz the job of running their health services department, one of the nation's largest. Katz said he plans to accept. If all goes well, his hiring will mark the end to an arduous search that yielded few strong contenders. … Katz, 50, will report to a board known for meddling and face a $270-million budget deficit as well as increased demand from millions of low-income and uninsured patients" (Hennessy-Fiske, 10/18).

Charleston Daily-Mail: "West Virginia's veterans are benefiting from a new, state-of-the-art mobile health unit designed to increase health care access in rural areas. Last July, the state received one of four mobile clinics as part of the Rural Mobile Health Care Program. The $400,000 vehicle is a specially designed, self-contained truck capable of housing preventative care and mental health screenings, routine primary care services, and influenza and pneumonia vaccinations. … While the state's main Veteran's Affairs hospital is in Clarksburg, and the state has four Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) in Braxton, Tucker, Wood and Monongalia counties, Bragg said many of the state's veterans don't utilize the VA system because of the rural nature of the state" (Hunt, 10/18).

The Houston Chronicle: "Texas is losing potential doctors because it doesn't have enough residency slots to train all the medical students the state pays to educate. The problem, expected to loom large as health care reform's influx of the newly insured strains a Texas physician workforce already in short supply, could get worse as a result of the 82nd Legislature's projected budget shortfall of as much as $21 billion. The state Legislature provides one of the sources of funding for residency training. The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the state's medical schools all have made the issue one of their top legislative priorities when lawmakers convene in January" (Ackerman, 10/17). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.