KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

N.J. Gov. Still Undecided On Whether To Join Lawsuit Against Overhaul While Health Care Costs Roil Mass. Governor’s Race

The Philadelphia Inquirer: N.J. "Gov. Christie says he has not decided whether to sign on to a 20-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health-care law signed in March by President Obama. That makes New Jersey one of seven Republican-led states that have not joined the largely partisan fight. Interest groups on both sides of the debate are lobbying the governor, but some of his advisers say he should not join the suit. Capping property taxes and managing a difficult budget have rightly been his top priorities, they say, and New Jersey residents are more open than people in other parts of the country to health-care regulation" (Conaboy, 6/27).

The Boston Globe: "The politics of high health care costs is again roiling this year's governor's race after an appeals panel on Thursday rejected the Patrick administration's cap on premium increases sought by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for some of its customers. The issue poses a blend of political risks and opportunities for the two leading candidates at this point, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charles D. Baker, the former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim. The Patrick campaign is betting that even with last week's setback, the governor's attempt to limit insurance rate hikes is good policy and good politics. There is risk for the first-term incumbent, however, if voters perceive his efforts as election-year grandstanding. That's what Baker and the other major challenger, state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent, have repeatedly charged" (Mooney, 6/28). 

The New York Times: "One of the odder experiments in the recent history of American capitalism is unfolding [in Boulder, Colo.]: the country's first attempt at fully regulating, licensing and taxing a for-profit marijuana trade. In California, medical marijuana dispensary owners work in nonprofit collectives, but the cannabis pioneers of Colorado are free to pocket as much as they can - as long as they stay within the rules. The catch is that there are a ton of rules, and more are coming in the next few months. The authorities here were initially caught off guard when dispensary mania began last year, after President Obama announced that federal law enforcement officials wouldn't trouble users and suppliers as long as they complied with state law. In Colorado, where a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana was passed in 2000, hundreds of dispensaries popped up" (Segal, 6/25).

Texas Tribune: "The FBI is investigating whether a hacker broke into the state's confidential cancer registry, possibly holding personal information and medical records hostage. Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs says state health officials notified his office in early May that a hacker was holding the Texas Cancer Registry hostage and demanding a ransom. Suehs says preliminary investigation results from the FBI indicate the threat may be a hoax, and officials with the Department of State Health Services, which oversees the cancer registry, say they don't believe the names, dates of birth, social security numbers and personal medical information contained in it were stolen. But if the FBI determines private records were revealed, Suehs says health officials will quickly notify the people listed in the registry" (Ramshaw, 6/28).

California Watch: "The chief executives of nonprofit hospitals in California earn an average of $732,000 per year and 16 of them pulled in more than a million dollars, according to a study by the trade publication Payers & Providers. Ron Shinkman, editor of the newsletter, culled data from 2007 and 2008 tax filings of the state's nonprofit hospitals. He found that CEO compensation, in 11 cases, surpassed the charity care rendered by those hospitals. Some of those hospitals pointed out to Shinkman that the cost of charity care doesn't count the money the hospitals spend rendering care to patients on Medi-Cal, which pays rock-bottom rates." The highest pay was $7.45 million, but that included a one-time retirement payout of $5.3 million. Several executives earned more than $1.5 million. The "report adds to a growing body of research that exposes nonprofit hospital chief executives to questions of whether their compensation aligns with the mission of tax-exempt hospitals" (Jewett, 6/28).

Cape Cod (Mass.) Times: "Starting next month, adults on MassHealth and Commonwealth Care insurance no longer will be covered for the cost of filling cavities or other restorative dental work. The loss of dental benefits is the result of a $30 million cut in the state budget and could affect tens of thousands of patients on the Cape and Islands, local health officials say. Patients on the subsidized insurance programs who go to a dentist in private practice with a cavity will be asked, 'Would you like me to clean it or pull it?' said BL Hathaway, coordinator of the Tri-County Collaborative for Oral Health Excellence, a nonprofit group that advocates for better dental care on the Cape and Islands. The cost of root canals, crowns, treatment of gum disease and prosthetics will not be covered, she said" (Mccormick, 6/28).

The Arizona Republic: "[Deborah] Ferry is one of more than 12,000 adults with mental illnesses who do not qualify for Medicaid and will lose access to brand-name drugs, case managers, therapists, hospital care and transportation to their appointments when [state budget] cuts take effect Thursday. The move also affects more than 2,000 children. To be eligible for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, a person must be below the federal poverty level, earning less than $10,830 as an individual, or $22,050 as a family of four. People who are part of AHCCCS are unaffected by the change." Ferry, who says she cannot afford her drugs, and other mental health patients who did not qualify for AHCCCS had their medical bills paid through the state's general fund as part of a settlement the state made in a class-action lawsuit on mental health issues. (Newton, 6/28). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.