Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of July 14
New Georgia state laws aimed at reducing the number of uninsured by providing incentives for them to buy lower-premium health care policies are not likely to work, according to a report issued this month by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Florida Times-Union reports.
In an effort to reduce premium prices, the new Georgia plan removes premium taxes from high-deductible plans, gives tax breaks to individuals and small employers and allows insurance companies to provide financial incentives for beneficiaries who promote a healthy lifestyle.
The report states that rather than help the uninsured, the incentives will reward those already with coverage.
Judith Solomon, author of the report, said the incentives are too small to encourage people and companies to buy additional or new health care.
The group issued the report in an effort to discourage lawmakers in other states from modeling their own health care laws after Georgia (Larrabee, Florida Times-Union, 7/9).
Coverage of 26 health benefits mandated under Massachusetts' health insurance law account for 12 cents of every $1 paid for health insurance, and statewide, the mandates cost about $1.3 billion annually, according to a report released on Monday by the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, the Boston Globe reports. The report was commissioned in 2006 as part of the law.
The report reviewed studies about the mandates and estimated that most of them were cost-effective.
However, the report suggested that regulators consider removing several mandates that are not considered to be the standard of care, such as bone marrow transplants for breast cancer treatment.
The report also found that five of the coverage mandates -- maternity care, mental health, home health, pediatric preventive care and infertility services -- account for 80% of the total cost of mandated benefits. Excluding benefits mandated by federal law, the state's mandates would cost up to $687 million annually, or roughly six cents of every dollar paid for health insurance, according to the report.
The release of the report effectively lifts a moratorium imposed by the law on adding mandated health benefits.
State lawmakers already are considering proposals to expand the mandates, but insurers and small businesses contend that the report shows the mandates are driving up health costs.
The report did not include the estimated cost of mandatory prescription drug benefits, which is being phased in this year (Lazar, Boston Globe, 7/8).
In addition, on Thursday, state regulators said they expect more than a 300% increase in the number of state residents who will appeal penalties in the next year for failing to obtain health coverage under the state's health insurance law, the Boston Globe reports.
The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority has allocated $3.3 million, nearly 10% of its $39 million fiscal year 2009 budget, for the 8,000 appeals the board expects to process.
In FY 2008, the board received an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 appeals. Connector officials attribute the expected increase to the large hike in penalties -- from $219 per person this year to a maximum of $912 next year (Lazar, Boston Globe, 7/11).
Hinds County, Miss., Chancery Court Judge William Singletary recently ruled against a hospital tax proposed by Gov. Haley Barbour (R), saying that only the state Legislature has the authority to set taxes or fees paid by hospitals, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports.
The tax was originally proposed in 2006 to cover a $90 million gap in the state Medicaid budget. It would have applied to hospitals' general revenue.
Barbour had rejected criticism that the tax would hurt hospitals and noted that other options proposed by the Legislature do not offer permanent fixes to the state's budget problems.
Barbour said that as a result of Singletary's decision he would cut Medicaid spending by $34 million per month to balance the state's budget. The cuts, which would take effect Aug. 6, would decrease funding for physicians, dentists, home health agencies and hospitals.
The Legislature, whose session begins Aug. 4, could stop the cuts by raising taxes (Connolly, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 7/11).
New Jersey "faces a nasty culmination of health care crises" amid a falling economy, which likely will lead to an increase in the number of uninsured residents and place a greater burden on hospitals in the state, the Washington Post reports.
According to the Post, six hospitals in New Jersey have closed in the past 18 months and half of those remaining are operating at a loss. Some state officials say there were too many hospitals and the closings were needed to make the system more "rational and efficient," according to the Post.
However, many of the closings have been in urban areas with large minority and low-income populations.
According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, 77 hospitals provided $1.3 billion in charity care and received $716 million in state reimbursements for the care. Over the last 15 years, hospitals have absorbed $6 billion in losses related to charity care.
On June 30, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed a $32.9 billion fiscal year 2009 state budget that includes $605 million for charity care, a decrease of $111 million from last year.
Some health care professionals say that the recent increase in ambulatory care centers in the state has led many insured patients to seek care outside of hospitals.
A "wave" of undocumented immigrants "is another problem" because by law, they cannot apply for charity care, but hospitals are required by law to treat them, the Post reports.
According to the Post, "almost everyone agrees that a key underlying problem is the lack of universal health insurance" (Richburg, Washington Post, 7/7).
On Tuesday, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) signed an executive order reopening the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council one week after it was closed due to budgetary constraints, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The order allows the council's 44 employees to return to work after being laid off on July 1 (Worden, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/9). It also allows the council to continue working until Nov. 30 (Fahy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/9).
However, the long-term future of the council is "unclear," according to the Inquirer. The Legislature must approve a five-year authorization for the council (Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/9).