KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

State Highlights: Maine’s Health Problems; Minn. Insurance Costs

A selection of health policy stories from Maine, Minnesota, Maryland, Missouri, Massachusetts, Georgia and Florida.

Stateline: Some States Lag In Using Electronic Health Records
Less than a decade ago, nine out of 10 U.S. doctors updated their patients’ records by hand and stored them in color-coded files. Today, nearly half of all office-based physicians type their clinical notes into computers and maintain electronic files that include patients’ demographic information, complaints, procedures, test results and prescribed drugs. This greater use of electronic health records is supposed to help doctors and hospitals better coordinate their patients’ care and allow them to meet the cost-containment goals in the Affordable Care Act. Nationwide, 48 percent of office-based doctors used electronic records in 2013, up from 40 percent in 2012 and 11 percent in 2006. While the doctors and hospitals in some states are forging ahead, in other states they are lagging behind (Vestal, 3/19).

Los Angeles Times: In Health Care, What Makes Maine Different? 
Many of the nation's healthiest communities are wealthy and have large numbers of college-educated residents. But northern Maine is among a handful of telling exceptions, making it an important guidepost as the country searches for ways to improve health. ... [N]orthern Maine ranks high on national measures of health, according to a yearlong review of health care data from communities around the country that The Times conducted with help from public health researchers (Levey, 3/19).

Minnesota Public Radio: Insurers, Doctors Warn Lawmakers: Don't Tinker With Insurance Rules To Aid SE Minn.
When the state's new health insurance marketplace posted premium rates last fall, southeast Minnesota stood out as the region with the highest costs and fewest coverage options. State lawmakers from Faribault to Winona want to change that. They're already hearing warnings, however, from insurers and doctors that tinkering with state rules that dictate how much insurance can cost and how distant doctors can be from their patients could drive health plans from the market and hurt care (Richert, 3/18).

The Washington Post: Number Of Staffers With Health Coverage Emerges As Issue In Race For Governor In Md.
In Maryland’s Democratic primary for governor, you’re more likely to be getting help with health insurance coverage if you work for the campaigns of Anthony Brown or Heather Mizeur than Doug Gansler. Brown, the state’s lieutenant governor, and Mizeur, a delegate from Montgomery County, both offer employer-sponsored plans to staff members on their gubernatorial campaigns. Seventeen of Brown’s 25 employees are covered, as are five of Mizeur’s 12 paid staffers, according to campaign spokesmen (Wagner, 3/18).

St. Louis Public Radio: The Doctor Shortage In Rural Missouri: Are Advanced Practice Nurses A Solution?
Lisa Schofield regards her business as an example of the future of health care in rural Missouri. ... In addition to having the second highest percentage of uninsured residents among all counties in the state, Ozark faces the usual problem of doctor access (Joiner, 3/18).

WBUR: Report: In Mass. Health Care, System Skewed So Rich Get Richer
A report released today by the Healthcare Equality and Affordability League (H.E.A.L.) -- a partnership between the for-profit Steward Health Care System and the union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East -- finds that disparities in hospital costs and financing across the state are driving “a vicious cycle” of inequality in health care. The result, according to this analysis, is that medical care is becoming less affordable for lower-and middle-income families in Massachusetts, and the disparities in hospital financing are “compromising the viability of community hospitals.” The group is calling for new, and what they call more “fair” reimbursement rates so that poorer, community hospitals (with a greater proportion of Medicare and Medicaid patients compared to the higher-cost Boston teaching hospitals) can continue to serve the lower-income patients, among other financial recommendations (Zimmerman, 3/18).

Minnesota Public Radio: Mental Health Centers Abruptly Shut In East Central Minn.; Officials Scramble To Aid Clients
State and county officials are working to find a way to find care for people with mental illness in east central Minnesota after a major mental health care provider abruptly shut its doors Monday. Riverwood Centers closed its clinics and mobile crisis services. The nonprofit was the designated mental health provider for Chisago, Isanti and Pine counties and also provided crisis services to Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties. It's not clear how many people are affected (Helal, 3/18).

Minnesota Public Radio: Newborn Blood Sample Bill Clears House Hurdle
A bill that would allow the state health department to keep newborn blood samples and test results indefinitely cleared its final House committee today. The House Civil Law Committee narrowly approved the legislation on a 9 to 8 vote. Supporters say the legislation would help Minnesota rebuild its newborn screening archive. In January the health department was forced to destroy 1.1 million blood spot cards because the agency didn't have the authority to store them (Minor, 3/18).

The Atlanta Journal Constitution: Abortion Bill Passes Georgia Legislature
Legislation that would bar the state employee health insurance plan from covering abortions in most cases received final passage Tuesday from the Georgia Legislature, sending it to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. ... The bill makes no exception for rape or incest, only allowing consideration of a medical emergency involving the life of the mother (Torres, 3/18).

The Atlanta Journal Constitution: A Down-Sizing Of Rural Hospitals Seen As A Solution For Struggling Health Care Facilities
When state Rep. Sharon Cooper publicly mused in January about closing some rural hospitals because their communities are too small to support them, she may have unwittingly revived a discussion among state leaders about what to do with the facilities. Gov. Nathan Deal is set to speak at a rural caucus meeting at 12:30 p.m. today on the topic of healthcare. His office won’t comment on what he’ll say, but a meeting Department of Community Health meeting last week offers a hint. At the meeting, commissioner Clyde Reese said board members would soon be asked to approve a plan for a “step-down rural access for communities that have lost their hospitals.” That could clear the way for struggling hospitals, or even those recently shuttered, to more easily drop expensive offerings and scale back to limited services such as emergency care (Bluestein, 3/19).

Georgia Health News: A Health Care Q&A With Gov. Deal
Nathan Deal has been involved in many high-profile decisions on health care while serving as Georgia’s governor. Deal, who is running for re-election this year, has staked out his opposition to the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) and to expanding the state’s Medicaid program. He has also supported changes to the health plan covering state employees and educators, following a wave of criticism that occurred after a new benefits framework debuted Jan. 1.Georgia Health News recently emailed questions to Deal on a wide range of  major health care issues in the state. We received his reply Monday,  shortly before the scheduled close of the 2014 General Assembly (Miller, 3/18).

Georgia Health News: Senate Hopefuls Share Views On Health Care
How do the U.S. Senate candidates in Georgia differ on covering the uninsured? What are their ideas for improving health outcomes while controlling costs? What would the candidates do about decreased federal funding for Georgia hospitals? Seven candidates for the Senate seat in 2014 answer these and other health care questions in a newly released election guide from Healthcare Georgia Foundation (Miller, 3/18).

Georgia Health News: 39th Day: Votes On Medicaid, Drug Tests, Abortion
An anti-Obamacare bill that appeared dead in the Senate apparently still had a pulse late Tuesday afternoon, the 39th and penultimate day of the 2014 General Assembly session. But another bill targeting an Affordable Care Act provision passed the Senate as expected and now moves to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.That second bill, HB 990, would require legislative approval of any expansion of Medicaid in Georgia. The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton), who has argued that Georgia can’t afford Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents under expansion, as outlined by the ACA (Craig, 3/18).

The Associated Press: Assisted-Living Facilities Face New Scrutiny
The public could read anonymously posted reviews and complaints of assisted-living facilities and owners of such facilities would face higher fines for repeated serious violations under a measure passed unanimously by the [Florida] Senate on Tuesday. Senate Bill 248 also requires increased licensing for homes that handle mentally impaired residents and requires a rating system be in place for assisted-living facilities by March 2015 (Miller, 3/18).

Minn Post: Late-In-Life Care: Fragmentation And Complexity For The Chronically Ill
If this day is typical, 106 Minnesotans will die before midnight. Of those passings, 16 will be unexpected. Most of the other 90, though, will represent the sad culmination of lingering diseases (Schmickle, 3/18).

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