KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

State Roundup: Health Law Implementation in Alaska, Calif., Mental Health Funding Challenges

Alaska Public Radio: State Working To Implement Affordable Care Act Requirements
Alaska is one of several states suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act -- President Obama’s health care overhaul. But behind the scenes, state agencies are quietly working on implementing various requirements in the law. One of those requirements is an exchange, which will work kind of like Expedia, but for health insurance plans. While the state studies its options, a bill moving through the legislature would also establish an exchange (Feidt, 2/10). 

California Healthline: State Considers Coverage Mandates
The deadline to pass legislation left over from last year has come and gone, with single payer, insurance rate regulation and the basic health plan all temporarily halted. The next big legislative push is coming up fast, as all new bills for 2012 have to be introduced by the end of next week, on Feb. 24. A number of health-related laws recently were passed by the state Senate or Assembly. Many of them call for coverage mandates by health insurance providers (Gorn, 2/13).

California Healthline: Report Looks at SHOP Exchange Viability
The first series of forums put on by Small Business Majority went to small towns and cities across California to raise the notion of a business-specific health insurance exchange -- the Small Business Health Options Program, known as SHOP. The idea is to pool small business resources and buying power -- separate from the California Health Benefit Exchange's individual market -- so business owners can get a better, more financially stable option for health insurance (Gorn, 2/10).

The Sacramento Bee: Sacramento County Aims Mental Health Effort At Hard-To-Reach Groups
While every demographic group has mental health problems, certain groups tend not to seek treatment. Now, Sacramento County is using an infusion of state cash to try to close that gap locally. ... The Sacramento effort targets groups that data show tend not to either seek or stick with treatment: Latinos; Hmong, Vietnamese and Cantonese speakers; Slavic and Russian-speaking residents; youths transitioning from adolescence to early adulthood; older adults; African Americans; American Indians; and college-age youths (Rubenstein, 2/13).

Des Moines Register: Bill Would Alter Background Check Process For Care Centers
Iowa lawmakers are considering changes to the 14-year-old law requiring criminal background checks of nursing home workers. A bill that has the support of both state regulators and the nursing home industry would streamline the background check process. Currently, applicants for nursing home jobs undergo an online background check that takes only a few seconds. If that initial check turns up no evidence of past criminal activity — felonies, serious misdemeanors, aggravated misdemeanors and a few simple misdemeanors — or abuse, the applicant can be hired on the spot (Kauffman, 2/12).

Des Moines Register: Bills This Week Likely Will Differ On Mental Health Funding
Counties currently contribute about $125 million annually toward services for people with mental illnesses or disabilities. Those contributions are scheduled to end in July 2013 under a bill the Legislature passed last year to try to force an overhaul of the system. However, many proponents said they expected this year’s reform legislation to include a renewal of the county financing (Leys, 2/12).

Houston Chronicle: Mentally Ill Inmates May Go To State Hospitals Sooner
Dozens of mentally ill inmates locked up in the Harris County Jail could soon be headed to state hospitals after a judge ordered Texas to cut long admission delays. Routinely, there have been 400 inmates, including those with schizophrenia, in county jails across Texas, although state officials say the latest count is 270. They have been waiting an average of six months for a bed in one of 10 mental hospitals (Pinkerton, 2/12).

The Associated Press/MSNBC: Texas Prison Board Approves Health Care Contract
The Texas prison board on Friday approved a $46.8 million contract to lease a handful of beds at a hospital in Huntsville as part of a first-time move to secure offender health care services outside its traditional university health providers. The contract with Huntsville Memorial Hospital comes amid reluctance from the University of Texas Medical Branch to continue a nearly two-decade-long deal to provide prisoner health care because of what it has reported as unanticipated losses of tens of millions of dollars (Graczyk, 2/10).

The Miami Herald / (South Florida) Sun Sentinel: More Doctors Charging Extra For Services That Once Were Free
Want to see your doctor without an appointment? You may have to pay a little extra. Skip an appointment, ask the doctor to fill out a life insurance form, get a printout of your medical records — all those may cost you $10, $20 or more. In South Florida's extended weak economy, medical experts say a growing number of doctors are taking a lesson from airlines and banks by charging separate fees for services that used to be free (LaMendola, 2/12).

The Miami Herald: Heart Attack Network Saves Time, Lives
When you are having a life-threatening heart attack, time matters. That’s where the STEMI Network comes in. The network – made up of a dozen South Florida hospitals and six fire rescue departments – has streamlined the process for treating major heart attacks, driving down the cardiac emergency mortality rate in Miami-Dade to less than 1 percent (McGrory, 2/12).

The Sacramento Bee: 'Model' Dental Program Proves Painful For Kids
Almost two decades ago, the state made Sacramento County the testing ground for a new model of delivering dental care to poor children. Officials envisioned a managed care system that would control costs and improve children's ability to see a dentist. Today that model persists – but state data show that the county has consistently produced one of California's worst records for care (Weiner, 2/12).

The Seattle Times: Expanded Review Looking Into Why Madigan Closed PTSD Program
The Army surgeon general is looking into why Madigan Army Medical Center closed an intensive treatment program to help soldiers cope with post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). At a congressional hearing last Wednesday, the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, said the review was included in an ongoing investigation of PTSD diagnoses at Madigan. A PTSD rating can qualify a soldier leaving the Army for medical retirement, which brings considerable financial benefits (Bernton, 2/11).

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