KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

States Roundup: Health Exchange Planning Left To Gov. In Minn.

A selection of health policy stories from around the United States.

Boston Globe: Cost-Controlled Health Coverage Gaining Ground
In just three years, a new way of paying for medical care has spread rapidly across Massachusetts, and now more than 1.2 million people are covered by plans that put providers on a budget in an effort to restrain health spending. This means that about one in five Massachusetts residents are being treated by doctors working under these new cost-conscious arrangements, a Globe survey of insurers found — even before state lawmakers begin debating legislation to address soaring health insurance premiums by, in part, encouraging such plans (Kowalczyk, 1/30).

(St. Paul) Pioneer Press: Divided GOP Has Left Health Exchange Planning To Dayton
From a drab and windowless office in downtown St. Paul, a group of nine state workers is trying this year to develop a new way for Minnesotans to buy health insurance. The bland surroundings and seemingly mundane task contrast with a hot political reality — the essence of the work going on in the Golden Rule Building is so controversial that it has divided not just Republicans and Democrats, but even Republicans themselves. The state workers are planning what's called a health exchange, a new marketplace — largely online — for individuals and small employers to purchase insurance coverage beginning late next year (Snowbeck, 1/28).

McClatchy/The Kansas City Star: Two Kansas Judges Contributed To Anti-Abortion PAC
Campaign finance records show that at least two sitting Sedgwick County, Kan., judges have made contributions to the state's leading anti-abortion political action committee — after hearing cases involving abortion-related issues.  Judges Eric Yost and Jeffrey Goering each gave $100 to the Kansans for Life PAC in 2011, according to the group's finance disclosure statement. In January 2011, Goering issued a temporary order prohibiting a Wichita doctor from using her office for abortions because her landlord believed it would create a nuisance (Helling, 1/30).

Texas Tribune: For Abortion Providers, Sonogram Law Is A Complication
This past fall, doctors were required to start performing a transvaginal sonogram at least 24 hours ahead of an abortion, a shift they say has had frustrating consequences for clinics and patients. Abortion opponents say the rationale behind the 24-hour delay is simple: Abortion should not be held to a lower standard than any other surgical procedure — where patients have a doctor's visit to learn the explicit details of their condition one day, and have the medical procedure on another (Ramshaw, 1/29).

McClatchy/The Anchorage Daily News: Alaska Medicare Clinics Are Seeing A Patient Shortage
Medicare patients flooded two new clinics targeting the older population when they opened in Anchorage last year — most other primary care doctors wouldn't take the federal insurance for seniors because they say Medicare pays too little. Recently, the demand to get into the clinics has eased, and clinic officials are beginning to wonder, what happened to the rest of the Medicare patients? (Shinohara, 1/30).

The CT Mirror: Wanted: 9,000+ Home Care Workers
The state has a massive need for more home care workers, but the lack of clear standards for the jobs makes it difficult for the work force development system to create training programs, an education and work force expert said Friday. … The state is expected to need more than 9,000 additional home care workers by 2016, and officials say meeting the demand is critical to meeting the state's goal of allowing significantly more people to receive long-term care at home or in community-based settings, rather than in institutions. By 2030, the population of Connecticut residents aged 65 and older is expected to grow by 64 percent, while the population under 65 is projected to shrink (Levin Becker, 1/27).

St. Louis Beacon: Medical Program Is A Pipeline To Rural Practice
At first, it sounds like a put-down when Dr. Angela Whitesell describes Lockwood, Mo., the place where she grew up. … Her decision to return to Lockwood, which has nearly 1,000 residents, is welcomed not only by the town but by the University of Missouri School of Medicine. For 16 years, the school has run the Rural Track Pipeline Program to boost the number of physicians serving rural parts of the state. Whitesell is an example of the program's success. So far, more than 450 medical students have taken part in the program, and many of the 108 graduates have chosen to practice medicine in rural areas of Missouri (Joiner, 1/27).

Houston Chronicle: Budget Cuts Spell Fewer Inspections At Assisted Living Facilities
The number of assisted living facilities in Texas is growing even as state budget cuts have reduced the number of inspectors, prompting concerns about the quality of care. Advocates of long-term-care residents say the cuts, which have led to less frequent inspections, are worrisome. … Industry representatives also are nervous. Annual state inspections, they say, are a good way to catch problems and fix them sooner (Lee, 1/29).

San Francisco Chronicle: Kaiser Workers Plan 1-Day Strike Tuesday
Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers are expected to walk off the job Tuesday over contract disputes involving the health maintenance organization's mental health and optical employees. … Union leaders said that while they continue to negotiate with Kaiser, the main sticking points persist. They say they're striking over proposed cuts to health and retirement benefits, and what they describe as exceptionally long wait times for patients to receive individual psychiatric care (Colliver, 1/30).

The Sacramento Bee: Urgent Care Clinics Offer ER Option
Health care providers are increasingly using alternative primary care settings, especially urgent care clinics, to capture an after-hours market and divert traffic from emergency rooms to control rising medical costs. In the Sacramento region, Sutter Health is currently opening a network of urgent care clinics that offer after-hours care, while Kaiser Permanente is performing triage treatment in its waiting rooms and beefing up its advice phone line. Mercy hospitals have started a pilot program to refer emergency room patients to a primary care doctor or clinic (Anne Gonzales, 1/29).

Boston Globe: Tufts Seeks Top Trauma Label; Rivals Want Delay
Tufts Medical Center is seeking to become a level one trauma center, an elite designation that would bring more prestige and potentially more patients to the Boston teaching hospital. But the surgery chiefs at four of Tufts’ competitors are questioning whether the city needs another top trauma center and have asked public health officials to delay their decision (Kowalczyk, 1/30).

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