Health Care Reform Around the Nation: July 9
State Sen. Richard Moore in a letter urged Sarah Iselin, commissioner of the state health care finance division, to issue emergency regulations to increase the required minimum contribution by employers to workers' health insurance coverage under the state's health insurance law, the Boston Globe reports. The law took effect July 1 and requires all state residents to obtain health coverage.
The state health care finance division last summer reduced from 50% to 33% the minimum amount that small businesses must contribute to the cost of workers' health coverage. Employers that do not contribute must pay an annual $295-per-employee surcharge to a state fund.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts recently changed its minimum employer contribution to health plans to 33% in response to inquiries from small-business owners who said they could not meet the 50% requirement, according to a spokesperson for the insurer.
Moore said the move by BCBS could undermine the state's attempts to reduce the number of uninsured (Krasner, Boston Globe, 7/6).
Gov. Matt Blunt (R) signed legislation that replaces the state's version of Medicaid with a program intended to shift the focus of state-funded health to prevention and early detection of diseases, the Springfield Business Journal reports.
The law establishes Mo HealthNet, a program that will set up health care homes at existing facilities and help patients develop personalized long-term health plans (Springfield Business Journal, 7/2).
Mo HealthNet also will:
- Change eligibility standards for Missouri's version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program to restore coverage for up to 13,500 children who lost coverage two years ago;
- Reinstate coverage for about 3,200 disabled workers (Wagar, Kansas City Star, 7/2);
- Restore coverage for necessary medical equipment for adults;
- Establish a program to provide pelvic exams, cervical cancer screenings and family planning services to about 80,000 uninsured, low-income women;
- Set up a pilot program to help low-income state residents pay private health insurance premiums (Young, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/3);
- Restore dental and vision coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries and extend health care to 970 former foster children ages 18 to 21; and
- Increase payments to health care providers up to the federal maximum within four years.
Critics noted the law falls short of restoring benefits to 100,000 state residents with incomes below the federal poverty level who lost coverage after 2005 budget cuts (Kansas City Star, 7/2).
The North Carolina Senate approved a bill that would require health insurers in the state to provide the same level of coverage for treatment of severe depression, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses as they do for physical conditions, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.
The bill would:
- Apply to all employers in the state except self-insured companies;
- Require full coverage for nine of the most common mental illnesses; and
- Allow insurers to place restrictions on coverage for other mental illnesses, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.
The bill now goes to the House, which has approved a version of the measure that would exempt businesses with group plans that cover 25 or fewer people (Romoser, Winston-Salem Journal, 7/4).
Gov. Don Carcieri (R) last week signed legislation that will require businesses with 25 or more employees to offer workers the opportunity to buy health insurance with pre-tax income, the Providence Journal reports.
The tax break is expected to save workers up to 40% of the premium cost, depending on the employee's tax bracket, according to the state Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner.
The state Department of Labor and Training will issue detailed regulations on the steps businesses must take to comply with the law, which will take effect in 2009 (Gudrais, Providence Journal, 7/5).