Health Care Reform Around the Nation: August 13
Gov. Bill Ritter (D) on Wednesday signed an executive order that will create a panel to distribute $7.5 million in health grants to rural communities over a period of six years, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reports. UnitedHealth Group will provide the grants as a charitable gift over the next six years.
Four Colorado counties do not have a primary care physician, seven do not have a physician that accepts new Medicaid beneficiaries and 14 rural counties lack a hospital, Ritter said (Barge, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 8/8).
Florida state agencies will circulate applications and enrollment information at community events and school-related activities in an effort to enroll more children in Florida's version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the AP/Florida Times-Union reports (AP/Florida Times-Union, 8/8).
An estimated 500,000 children in the state are eligible but not enrolled in the program, called KidCare. During the last legislative session, lawmakers allocated an additional $18 million to the program to increase enrollment by 33,000 children (Price, Tallahassee Democrat, 8/9).
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) on Tuesday announced a proposal that would subsidize health insurance for some small businesses and their employees, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The plan would require approval from the state Legislature.
The program would be available to state residents who have incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level and work for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Participants could choose from:
- The same health insurance plan offered to Georgia state employees;
- A lower-cost, more basic plan; or
- A high-deductible plan with a health savings account.
Businesses would not be required to participate in the program. About 380,000 of the state's 1.7 million uninsured residents would qualify, and Perdue estimates that about 30,000 would participate.
The program would be financed with $50 million in state and federal funds. Businesses and employees also would contribute to the cost (Salzer/Schneider, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/7).
University of Maryland Dental School and UnitedHealthcare on Wednesday announced a joint effort to create pediatric dental programs to improve access to dental care for low-income children, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Fewer than one in three children in Maryland's Medicaid program received any dental services in 2005, and many dentists in the state do not accept new Medicaid patients, the Sun reports. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has introduced federal legislation to increase dental services, facilitated the deal between the dental school and UnitedHealth (Anderson, Baltimore Sun, 8/9).
UnitedHealth will provide the school with $170,000 for the new initiative. The school will use the funding to:
- Train dentists in pediatric care;
- Provide a case manager to connect children with a dentist; and
- Educate pediatricians to look for signs of dental problems (Minaya, Washington Post, 8/9).
Health care coverage for about 950 Massachusetts residents who enrolled in the state-subsidized Commonwealth Care insurance program was not activated because of a computer coding error, the Boston Globe reports.
The residents had paid for policies by the July 20 deadline for coverage, but the insurance companies were not notified to add the policyholders to the rolls. Coverage was slated to begin on Aug. 1.
The state is in the process of fixing the problem, and coverage for the policies will be retroactive to Aug. 1, according to Dick Powers -- a spokesperson for the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, which oversees the subsidized insurance program (Dembner, Boston Globe, 8/7).
It is unclear whether a 2004 Missouri law that allows some health care facilities and pharmaceutical companies to redirect surplus, unused prescription drugs to other facilities has had any effect on the state's drug costs, the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
State Sen. Charlie Shields (R) in 2004 estimated that the law would save the state millions of dollars annually in drug costs.
Pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and nursing homes say the law is not working as intended. The state knows of just one organization that offers to collect drugs and distribute them to facilities that have trouble affording medications, and a phone number listed on the program's Web site is disconnected, according to the AP/Post-Dispatch (Wiese, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/6).
The New York State Legislature early next year is expected to debate whether the state's rising health insurance premiums can be better addressed through price controls or through the current system, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports.
Premiums are based on the amount of money insurers estimate they will pay out each year under the current system.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) and other supporters of a price control system say more regulation could address the problem by decreasing profits and spending by insurers.
The health insurance industry, which wants to retain the current system, maintains that the market should set premium rates (Gallagher, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 8/6).
The Republican-controlled state Assembly has proposed a health care plan that would provide tax exemptions for health savings accounts as part of an effort to reduce the cost of health insurance for state residents, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
The proposal differs sharply from a plan in the Democrat-controlled state Senate that would provide coverage for nearly all state residents.
The Assembly plan would pair HSAs with high-deductible health plans, a strategy supporters say would reduce prices by allowing consumers to shop for the least expensive, best-quality care.
Critics of the Assembly proposal maintain that high-deductible plans do not necessarily lower total health costs because patients still must pay large deductibles (Boulton/Forster, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/4).