Health Care Reform Around the Nation: July 23
Delaware Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn is launching an effort to enroll an additional 1,000 children in Delaware's version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Wilmington News Journal reports. Currently, about 5,000 of the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 children eligible for the program are enrolled, according to the News Journal.
Denn said the state is seeking to enroll 1,000 children because that is the same number of children who could be covered using unspent federal funds for the program. Unspent SCHIP funds must be returned to the federal government.
The state Insurance Department will work with the state Department of Education to identify eligible children through the state's no-cost and reduced-cost lunch programs, as well as through labor unions, churches and community groups, Denn said (Jackson, Wilmington News Journal, 7/16).
Many Indiana lawmakers and residents were surprised to learn that federal law exempts as many as half of Indiana businesses from a state law that took effect July 1 and requires health insurers to cover policyholders' children until age 24, according to the Indianapolis Star. The measure was part of legislation that increased the state's cigarette tax to fund health programs.
Carol Cutter, chief deputy of health and legislative affairs for the Indiana Department of Insurance, said the state law applied only to employer plans that are "fully insured," meaning the employer pays premiums to an insurer.
Self-funded plans offered by employers -- meaning the employer pays its own medical expenses and often uses insurers to administer the benefits -- are regulated solely under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act and are exempt from the state law. Most labor unions' health plans are regulated through ERISA.
According to state Rep. Charlie Brown, the legislation was approved close to the end of the General Assembly's session, and legislative services did not have much time to research the provision (Lee, Indianapolis Star, 7/17).
No later than January 2008, Louisiana will launch a program that allows children in families with incomes between 200% and 300% of the federal poverty level to enroll in the state's version of SCHIP, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports. The state Legislature appropriated $7.3 million for the expansion, and an additional 9,000 children will be eligible under the expanded program.
Under the expansion, families with incomes between 200% and 300% of the poverty level will contribute to their children's premium costs on a sliding scale based on income. Families with incomes less than 200% of the poverty level will not pay premiums.
The state also will start a new marketing effort to enroll in the program an estimated 68,000 Louisiana children who are eligible for SCHIP but not enrolled, according to Fred Cerise, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals (Shuler, Baton Rouge Advocate, 7/19).
The Massachusetts Legislature in several months likely will make changes to a state law that requires all residents to obtain health coverage, state Joint Committee on Health Care Financing co-Chair Richard Moore said, the Boston Globe reports.
The joint committee last week heard testimony from health care advocates, medical providers, patients and self-employed residents about changes to the law, such as the amount employers should be required to contribute toward workers' health care. More than 75 state lawmakers have sponsored a bill to modify the law.
At the hearing, Moore said that he supports increasing the amount employers must contribute to workers' health care from 33% to 50% of the cost of insurance to avoid a $295-per-employee penalty.
According to the Globe, another proposed change to the law would limit to 10% of income the maximum amount residents would have to pay out of pocket for health insurance, which differs from the current law that bases the limit only on premiums (Dembner, Boston Globe, 7/19).
The North Carolina House on Thursday voted 111-2 to approve a bill that would require insurers in the state to provide the same level of coverage for treatment of nine mental illnesses as they do for physical illnesses, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 7/16). The illnesses include bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, anorexia nervosa and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The state Senate approved the legislation earlier this month (AP/Winston Salem-Journal, 7/13). The bill now goes to Gov. Mike Easley (D), whose position on the bill is unknown (CongressDaily, 7/16).
The Pennsylvania Senate and House on Saturday unanimously approved a bill that would require hospitals and nursing homes in the state to report patient infections in a timely manner to state authorities and take precautions to reduce infection rates, the AP/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
The bill is part of Gov. Ed Rendell's (D) "Prescription for Pennsylvania" health care agenda; a spokesperson for Rendell said the governor will sign the measure.
The bill would require some hospitals to install electronic monitoring systems to check for infections and provide incentive payments to facilities that reduce infections by 10% from the previous year, among other measures (Levy, AP/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/16).
South Carolina has received federal approval for two Medicaid pilot programs proposed by Gov. Mark Sanford (R), the Morris/Augusta Chronicle reports.
Under the first program, called Healthy Opportunity Accounts:
- Adult beneficiaries will receive $2,500 annually and children will receive $1,000 annually to use toward health care expenses;
- Beneficiaries whose medical expenses exceed those amounts will contribute to their health costs and be covered by traditional Medicaid once they reach caps on out-of-pocket payments; and
- Beneficiaries could use funds remaining in their accounts at the end of the year for education, health care or job training.
The second program, called Benchmark Plan, will allow eligible families to enroll in high-deductible health plans, similar to coverage offered to state employees.
Both programs will be tested using about 1,000 volunteer beneficiaries (Singleton, Morris/Augusta Chronicle, 7/18). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.