KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

State Roundup: Budget Cuts In Texas, Wash. State; Ariz. Smoking, Weight Fees; Coping With Rx Drug Abuse

Houston Chronicle: Texas House Passes Bare-Bones Budget
The Texas House voted 98-49 Sunday night to slash funding for public schools, nursing homes and college financial aid in a dramatic show by Republicans elected on a limited-government message in the face of a massive budget shortfall. ... The proposal falls more than $4 billion short of covering Medicaid caseload growth. It would cut Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes and other health care providers, raising the prospect of nursing home closures. (Rep. Charlie) Geren predicted the final product will fall in between House and Senate proposals (Fikac, 4/4).

The Texas Tribune: House Budget Shrinks Spending, Slashes Services
The essentials remained the same, with an overall plan that's 12.3 percent smaller than the current budget; leaves public education and health and human services spending short of what it would take to maintain current services. ... Conservatives successfully raided family planning funds in the budget, stripping money from those programs and sending it to others, including one for autism, another for mental health services for kids and yet another for trauma care (Grissom, Hamilton, Ramsey, Ramshaw, Smith and Tan, 4/4).

ABC News: Arizona Governor Proposes Revamping Medicaid Program (includes video)
As part of a plan to revamp the state's Medicaid program, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced on Thursday that she is proposing fees for adults who lead unhealthy lives. ... Employers are taking notice of the costs of obesity and making changes. Alabama charges obese government employees $25 a month for insurance if they don't attempt to lose weight. A hospital in Tennessee won't hire anyone who's a smoker and neither will Alaska Airlines or the county of Sarasota, Fla. (Forer, 4/2).

Earlier KHN news summary: Ariz. Governor Unveils Medicaid Proposal

The Seattle Times: State Budget Cuts To Be Felt By Illegal Immigrants
As the [l]egislature looks for ways to close a $5 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers are examining millions in cuts that could reduce or eliminate services used by illegal immigrants. Lawmakers already have passed a law that effectively limits the state Basic Health Plan for the working poor to legal residents. The state estimates around 10,000 people, roughly 18 percent of those on the plan, will lose state-subsidized insurance because they cannot prove they're here legally. ... As part of a much broader budget-cutting plan, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire also has recommended eliminating a health care program for children who can't prove they're here legally (Garber, 4/3).

Georgia Health News: Families Anxious Over Stalled Assisted Living Bill
[Fred Brown and Mignon Fleishel] each have an elderly mother living in a Kennesaw assisted living facility. Both women have dementia and need help with mobility. Brown and Fleishel want their mothers to remain at DayBreak Village - where they are happy - and not be forced to live in a nursing home. A bill that would help their parents stay there has passed the state Senate, but is stuck in the House – the apparent victim in a political tug-of-war between the two chambers. Senate Bill 178 would allow Georgia assisted living facilities to hire certified medication aides to help residents in taking their prescriptions (Miller, 4/1).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Profits Flow For State Health Insurers
Minnesota's health insurers turned in a profitable year in 2010, as fewer people sought medical care and the flu bug stayed mostly at bay. Data released Friday showed that the state's eight nonprofit insurance companies - which include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Medica and HealthPartners - generated a combined operating profit margin of 1.5 percent on premium revenue of $19.3 billion last year. In 2009, that margin was 0.8 percent (Crosby, 4/1).

The Sacramento Bee: Crowd Camps Out For First Day Of Free Health Clinic At Cal Expo
It was the 639th free health clinic for Stan Brock, an outdoorsman-activist whose Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical Volunteers Corps has traversed the United States and the world since 1985. More than 450 Northern California medical professionals and hundreds of other volunteers joined Brock in helping people receive minor dental surgery, eye care, glasses and medical checkups, often for long-neglected conditions (Hecht, 4/2).

The Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times: Gov. Rick Scott's Policies Could Benefit His Family's $62M Investment
If you have a $62 million investment, representing the biggest single chunk of your $218 million in wealth, and you put it in a trust under your wife's name, does that mean you're no longer involved in the company? Florida Gov. Rick Scott says it does. Scott has aggressively pursued policies like testing state workers and welfare recipients for drugs, switching Medicaid patients to private HMOs and shrinking public health clinics (Hundley, 4/2).

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland Seeks To Tackle Prescription Drug Problem
The number of people abusing painkillers and other prescription medications in Maryland has risen sharply in recent years, and officials are looking to a new monitoring system, as well as increased awareness, to stem the tide. Similar steps are being taken across the nation as prescription painkillers, stimulants and depressants have become the most widely abused drugs behind marijuana (Cohn, 4/2).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW A Force In Pain Drug Growth
As an epidemic of narcotic painkiller abuse raged across America in 2006, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authored a critical study linking deaths from those drugs to an increase of up to 500 percent in the number of prescriptions written. In that same medical journal, two researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health took exception with those conclusions and warned against increasing regulation of the drugs. ... Fueled by a continuous infusion of money from the manufacturers of drugs such as OxyContin over more than a decade, the UW research group has been a quiet force in the effort to liberalize the way those drugs are prescribed and viewed in the United States (Fauber, 4/2).

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