Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of August 11
On Wednesday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) announced that he will use his amendatory veto to allow children to remain insured under their parents' health plans until they turn age 26, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports.
Under the revision, parents would be allowed to keep children up to age 30 on their insurance up to age 30 if the child is a veteran. The revision is part of Blagojevich's "Rewrite to Do Right" campaign, in which he plans to rewrite about 50 bills using his amendatory veto.
Lawmakers still need to approve the changes (AP/Chicago Tribune, 8/6).
On Sunday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signed into law broad health care legislation that will raise $100 million in state funds and fees on private companies to fund the state's health insurance law, the Boston Globe reports.
The law also bans some types of gifts given to medical professionals by drug companies, such as sporting event tickets and traveling expenses, and it requires that drug and medical device makers publicly disclose gifts valued at more than $50. The law calls for the state to develop a code of conduct for the industry, which includes a $5,000 fine for every violation.
In addition, the new law:
- Authorizes $25 million to promote use of electronic medical records in physicians' offices;
- Directs the University of Massachusetts Medical School to expand and boost its primary care physician graduation numbers; and
- Gives the state more regulatory strength in reviewing health insurance rates (Allen, Boston Globe, 8/11).
Meanwhile, a new state commission report found that Massachusetts faces an estimated $13.3 billion in unfunded retiree health care costs over the next three decades, the Boston Globe reports.
Under the current retiree health care system, lawmakers set aside about $275 million annually to cover the health care expenses for the state's 50,000 retirees. Residents who retired before 1994 contribute 10% of their health insurance costs, and residents who retired after 1994 contribute 15% of their insurance costs.
According to the report, immediate action to provide additional annual funding could decrease the unfunded retiree health liability to $7.5 billion. The panel recommended the immediate adoption of a plan to increase payments for retiree health care by about $70 million in 2009 and increasing to more than $1.6 billion in 2026.
According to the report, the state must provide an additional $200 million annually over the next 20 years to cover the unfunded costs.
The commission recommended that the state use funds from its 1998 settlement with tobacco companies, beginning with $70 million in 2009 and increasing that amount to $263 million over five years.
In addition, after the state pays off its pension costs in 2026, lawmakers should allocate the estimated $1 billion that was used to pay for pensions to retiree health care, the report said.
The commission also recommended using at least half of future state budget surpluses toward retiree health coverage (Levenson, Boston Globe, 8/6).
Although Nevada officials have said they were not aware of abuses by employers hiring foreign physicians though the J-1 visa waiver program, the state received at least six complaint letters from foreign doctors, according to a report released on Thursday by the state, the Las Vegas Sun reports (Allen, Las Vegas Sun, 8/4).
The J-1 program allows foreign physicians to practice in medically underserved communities of the state. A Sun investigation of the program in September 2007 found that some foreign physicians were forced by their sponsors to work up to 100 hours per week, were being "cheated out of their salaries" and "diverted from the patients" in underserved areas that they were supposed to help (California Healthline, 2/14).
The state report reviewed the program from 2001 through 2008 and found that not much was done to address the six complaints. According to the Sun, the complaints were similar to those uncovered during the newspaper's investigation.
Since the Sun investigation, the state has worked to reform the J-1 program and its oversight (Las Vegas Sun, 8/4).
Health care costs for 18 large employers in southeastern Wisconsin's Business Health Care Group have declined by 9% over the past two years under a plan developed for the group, according to an analysis, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
The coalition comprises more than 675 businesses and was created to help reduce health care costs for employers in the state. The 18 large employers included in the analysis provide health benefits for 55,000 employees, retirees and family members.
In 2005, BHCG contracted with Humana to design a health plan exclusive for the group's members, called Humana Preferred.
According to the analysis, the employers have saved an estimated $32 million in combined health care costs over the past two years. In 2006, the employers' costs declined by 13.7%, and costs increased by 6.1% last year.
The savings mainly came from discounts Humana negotiated with hospitals and physicians, which on average were 10% lower than rates for the insurer's larger network.
However, according to the Journal Sentinel, health care costs for more than half of the small employers in BHCG have increased by 10% or more during the same period (Boulton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/5).