KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

State Roundup: Inmates Sue Calif. Counties Over Prison Care

A selection of health policy stories from California, Oregon, Michigan, Kansas, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Los Angeles Times: California Scores Poorly On Posting Health Care Prices, Report Says
California consumers don't have easy access to prices for medical care, according to a national report card that gave the state a letter grade of D for its dismal showing. Overall, 36 states received grades of D or F in the report issued Monday by two nonprofit healthcare groups that analyzed government efforts to make pricing information widely available to consumers (Terhune, 3/18).

The Associated Press: Counties Now Facing Inmate Lawsuits
California has spent billions of dollars and endured years of federal lawsuits to improve conditions in its state prisons, but the problems it has been trying to correct are now trickling down to local governments as county jails deal with thousands of additional inmates. Law firms advocating for inmates' rights have sued or threatened lawsuits against a handful of California counties because of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to send lower-level offenders to local jails instead of state prisons as a way to comply with a federal court order (Thompson, 3/19).

The Lund Report: Shields And Holvey Want Unlawful Trade Act To Cover Insurers
Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland and Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, rolled out legislation last week that would open up the insurance industry to torts under the state's Unlawful Trade Practices Act and allow the attorney general to sue insurers for fraud. ... Shields said the special exemption allows insurance companies to act with impunity and reduces their incentive to pay out claims as warranted. If they commit fraud, they cannot be sued by the attorney general under any tort or statute (Gray, 3/19).

The Associated Press: Michigan Reveals Goals For State Autism Services
State health officials laid out long-term goals Monday designed to improve access to services for the estimated 50,000 people living with autism spectrum disorders in Michigan, including more early screening and the creation of a state resource center to provide families with information about services. The Autism Spectrum Disorders State Plan revealed by the Michigan Department of Community Health and Autism Council identifies gaps in the availability of services and makes recommendations for how to improve the lives of adults and children with autism spectrum disorders (Durkin, 3/19).

Los Angeles Times: Two Former CalPERS Officials Indicted On Fraud Charges
Three years after a major influence-peddling scandal rocked California and the nation's largest public pension fund, a federal grand jury indicted two former top officials on fraud, conspiracy and obstruction charges (Lifsher, 3/19).

The Lund Report: Troubled Oregon Counties Turn To Cigarette Tax For Public Health
Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick told the House Revenue Committee Friday that the state of Oregon trusts local governments to do a lot of things -- arrest people, put them in jail, set zoning ordinances, raise property taxes, even generate income taxes (Gray, 3/19).

Kansas Health Institute: Senate Panel Advances HIE Bill
A Senate panel voted today to advance favorably a bill that would shift regulatory power from KHIE, Inc. to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. KHIE is the entity created in 2010 to oversee the digital exchange of patient records. State officials have said they could regulate the exchange networks without requiring additional funding. The shift also has been endorsed by the KHIE, Inc. board of directors (Shields, 3/18).

Medpage Today: Mass. Health Plans Aim To Slow Rising Costs
The state -- policymakers, insurers, and providers -- is taking steps to rein in cost. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signed into law this summer a bill aimed at doing just that. Among its many provisions, the law tries to move providers away from a fee-for-service model, creates an independent Health Policy Commission, and sets a target growth rate of 3.6 percent in 2013. Patrick told attendees at the Association of Health Care Journalists' annual meeting here that the state "will crack the code on cost containment." In 2008, Blue Cross Blue Shield created an "Alternative Quality Contract" which provides a global payment to providers to care for the insurers' members (Pittman, 3/18).

California Healthline: Concern Over Mental Health Provider Shortage
Legislation introduced last week would expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists. Separate legislation looks to expand scope of practice for physician assistants, as well. The bills hope to address the dearth of primary care providers in California by allowing some mid-level health care providers to do more. With the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medi-Cal and introduction of the state exchange starting in 2014, there is expected to be a much greater need for primary care services. Some mental health providers are citing a similar access concern for mental health professionals (Gorn, 3/18).

California Healthline: Legislature Will 'Look Carefully' At UC Medical System After Report
California state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, said state legislators will look into allegations of mismanagement at University of California medical centers that have put patient safety in jeopardy. A new report from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 contends that the UC system's five medical centers are understaffed and patient care is suffering. … The report says frontline providers in hospitals and medical centers are understaffed, sometimes leading to dangerous situations threatening patient safety (Lauer, 3/18).

Medpage Today: One More Compounding Pharmacy Recalls Drugs
In a move that is reminiscent of last fall's fungal meningitis outbreak, a New Jersey compounding pharmacy is recalling all its products after fungal particles were found in bags of magnesium sulfate intravenous solution. The FDA said Med Prep Consulting of Tinton Falls, N.J., recalled all lots of all products after a Connecticut hospital observed the particles in the solution. As well, the FDA said in a release, the firm has temporarily halted production, including processing and shipping drugs, under an order from the New Jersey State Board of Pharmacy. There have been no reports of patients being infected, according to Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (Smith, 3/18).

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