KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

State Highlights: Mass. Can’t Ban Painkiller, Judge Rules; Kan. And Health Care Compact Bill

A selection of health policy stories from Massachusetts, Kansas, Florida, Michigan, Connecticut, Maryland, Arizona, Hawaii, Missouri and Georgia.

The Washington Post: Massachusetts Cannot Ban FDA-Approved Painkiller, Judge Rules
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an effort by Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick to ban sales of a controversial new painkiller in the state, saying the governor’s move was preempted by federal law and could harm people who need the drug for pain relief. In a five-page order, U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel sided with the drug’s California-based manufacturer, Zogenix, which had argued that Patrick had no right to bar a medication that the Food and Drug Administration has deemed safe and effective (Dennis, 4/15).

Kansas Health Institute:  Governor Urged To Veto Health Care Compact Bill
Gov. Sam Brownback would be taking a political risk by signing a bill that could eventually give state officials control of Medicare and other federal health care programs, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said Tuesday. Praeger, a Republican in the final year of her third and final term, said because the bill could “jeopardize” the benefits of the nearly 450,000 Kansans enrolled in Medicare signing it could alienate senior voters (McLean, 4/15).

The Miami Herald:  Miami Lawmakers Make One More Push To Extend Health Care To Immigrant Children
A bill to extend subsidized health insurance to the state’s youngest legal immigrants has stalled in the Florida Legislature, due largely to the initial $27.5 million price tag. But Rep. José Félix Díaz, a Miami Republican says the actual price is a lot lower: between $7 million and $15 million. He’s fighting to have the measure included in the state budget (McGrory, 4/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Detroit Reaches Deal With Police, Firefighter Retirees
Other terms in Tuesday's police and firefighters pact include a voluntary employee beneficiary association plan, known as a VEBA, funded by Detroit to handle retiree health care, instead of the city. These retirees would also keep some representation on the board of their pension system, over which the city had proposed increasing independent oversight. All of the city's creditors will still have a chance to vote on the city's plan, including more than 20,000 city workers and retirees. But Judge Rhodes will have the final say on its approval (Dolan, 4/15).

The CT Mirror: Medical Fraud In CT Costs Feds Millions Of Dollars
Reporters and lawyers have become the latest front in Washington’s war against medical fraud that, in some way, is unwinnable, even as it has resulted in the prosecution of doctors and drug companies in Connecticut and across the country. Last year, James P. Ralabate, a Stratford-based general practitioner, agreed to pay $700,000 as part of an agreement with the Justice Department to settle allegations that he and his company, Primary Care Associates, engaged in fraudulent billing at several nursing homes in Connecticut. Each year, medical fraudsters steal at least $70 billion from the federal government -- probably a lot more (Radelat, 4/15).

The Washington Post: Gansler Takes Aim At Maryland’s ‘Bad Spending Habits,’ Says He Would Save The State Money
[Democratic candidate for governor Douglas] Gansler said major savings could be realized through reforms to the state’s procurement process, better management of the state Medicaid program and reduction of the non-violent prison population, among other strategies (Wagner, 4/15).

The CT Mirror: CT Legislative Panel OKs Contract With Personal Care Attendants
A legislative committee approved a controversial first contract Tuesday between the state and the union representing nearly 11,000 personal care attendants who help the elderly and disabled remain in their homes. The workers, who originally gained bargaining rights through an executive order by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, receive hourly raises ranging from 40 to 50 cents in 2014, and from 35 to 50 cents in 2015. The agreement provides funds for worker training and orientation and limited paid time off. Though rules governing the latter still must be negotiated, workers could be eligible for limited stipends -- but not full pay -- when taking scheduled time off (Phaneuf and Becker, 4/15).

Kansas Health Institute News Service:  Mental Health Task Force Report Released
A 16-member task force that spent much of the past year looking for ways to improve the state’s mental health system released its findings today. “I looked forward to reading this report and working to determine which of their recommendations we want to implement,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in a prepared statement. Included in the 38-page report are an assessment of the system’s shortcomings and more than 40 recommendations for expanding access to treatment (Ranney, 4/15).

The Associated Press:  Plan Would Change Payments For Mental Health Care
The Florida Legislature is considering a plan that would change the way the state pays to treat people who need emergency mental health care, a move critics say would gut the current system to benefit large hospital systems. Under the current system, the state Department of Children and Families contracts with 117 public and private Crisis Stabilization Units around the state to provide emergency mental health treatment, paying nearly $300 a day per bed regardless of whether they are occupied. The system, which cost the state $61.3 million last year, guarantees that the crisis units have enough beds and staff to meet peak needs, supporters say (4/15).

The Associated Press:  Arizona Bill Would Regulate Health Care Navigators
The Arizona Senate has given initial approval to a measure that would require extra licensing and background checks for health exchange navigators who help people buy coverage. The Senate gave initial approval to House Bill 2508 on Tuesday. The bill that would require navigators to get a license through the state Department of Insurance and to pass a criminal background check (4/15).

The Associated Press:  Hawaii Weighs Expanded Coverage For Infertility
Hawaii lawmakers are weighing whether insurance companies should be required to cover more treatments for infertility and to update a law that some say discriminates against unmarried women. The resolution (SCR 35) calls on the state auditor to study the social and economic effects of the proposal. "Women are starting their families later, which raises all sorts of concerns about access to procedures," said Rep. Della Au Belatti, chairwoman of the House Health committee, which advanced the resolution (Bussewitz, 4/15).

Stateline: States Battle Asthma As Numbers Grow
In a valley wedged between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, St. Louis often finds itself beset by a stationary air mass that only a severe storm of some kind can dislodge. St. Louis is also an industrial city with high humidity, so it’s no wonder it usually makes the list of worst places for asthmatics to live. But the state has also pioneered advances in addressing asthma treatment and costs (Ollove, 4/16).

Georgia Health News: State Seeking More Choice In 2015 Health 
State officials said Tuesday that they plan to increase the number of insurers and health plan options for state employees and teachers next year. The State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) has been a target of fierce criticism since Jan. 1. That’s when changes to its benefit design, plus the use of just one insurer, sparked widespread complaints about a lack of choice of insurance plans and higher health care costs. Now, though, the Department of Community Health is asking for proposals for a second statewide insurer to offer a high-deductible health plan, a Medicare Advantage plan for retirees, and a statewide HMO (Miller, 4/15).

Georgia Health Plans: Standalone Rural ERs Face A Serious Hurdle
Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to help financially ailing rural hospitals, announced last month, has drawn strong praise from legislators and health industry leaders. Deal proposed a change in licensing rules to permit a struggling rural hospital, or one that recently closed, to offer downsized services that would include an emergency department. But a drawback has emerged – one that, if unchanged, may lower the chances of these freestanding ERs being built (Miller, 4/15).

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