Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of July 7
Connecticut officials on Monday launched a new health insurance program that is expected to expand coverage to 19,200 uninsured adults in its first year, the Hartford Courant reports.
State residents ages 19 to 65 who do not qualify for existing state health insurance programs and are not insured through an employer are eligible for the plan, called the Charter Oak Health Plan. People who pay high premiums through private insurance, such as COBRA, also are eligible.
Residents must be uninsured for at least six months to qualify for the plan (Somma, Hartford Courant, 7/1).
Monthly premiums will be between $75 and $259, with subsidies available for residents who have incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level. Copayments will be $25 for primary care office visits and $35 for specialist visits.
Preventive care visits will be fully covered by the state, and deductibles for inpatient hospital treatment, outpatient surgical and inpatient rehabilitation, and skilled nursing will range from $150 to $900 for an individual. Beneficiaries also will be required to contribute 10% of hospital bills, and annual coverage will be capped at $100,000.
No dental or vision coverage is included (Haigh, AP/Long Island Newsday, 7/1).
About 47,200 people are expected to enroll in the program in the first three years. Residents began applying for coverage under the program on Monday and benefits are expected to begin as early as Aug. 1 (Hartford Courant, 7/1).
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signed into law a bill that increases the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack, the AP/Boston Globe reports. The increase, which brings the tax to $2.51, took effect immediately.
On Monday, the bill was approved by the state House and Senate by votes of 93-52 and 26-9, respectively. The increase is expected to generate $174 million in revenue, which will be used to help offset the higher-than-expected costs of the Massachusetts health insurance law.
Opponents of the tax say the increase unfairly targets smokers who cannot quit and will hurt small businesses that sell cigarettes near the New Hampshire border, where the cigarette tax is $1.08 per pack, but could reach $1.33 in October (Leblanc, AP/Boston Globe, 7/1).
In addition, state Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei (R) said the tax increase sends the message that the state is depending on smokers to continue smoking in order to pay for Commonwealth Care (Leblanc, AP/Nashua Telegraph, 7/1).
North Carolina health care insurers must provide the same amount of coverage for certain mental conditions as they do for physical ailments under a state law that took effect on Tuesday, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.
The North Carolina General Assembly last year passed the "mental health parity" measure to require that nine common mental health conditions be covered at levels equal to physical conditions.
The law does not apply to "self-insured" employers because they are governed by federal law.
On Monday, experts said that the law likely will lead to a minor increase in health insurance rates.
In other states that have passed similar laws, mental health parity did not significantly increase costs (Romoser, Winston-Salem Journal, 7/1).
Nearly the entire staff of the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council has been fired due to a political disagreement between Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and state Senate Republicans over whether a bill to reauthorize the council should also include an extension of a malpractice insurance subsidy for physicians, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/2).
Council spokesperson Joe Martin said 38 of the 43 council employees were informed Monday afternoon that they had been terminated, leaving five members to stay on until the close of business Thursday.
A letter sent to the terminated employees states, "The General Assembly has yet to enact legislation for the reauthorization," and without that legislation, the council "has no statutory basis to perform work. Therefore, your services are no longer authorized" (Fahy/Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/2).
The state Senate on Saturday passed a bill to reauthorize the council after adding language to extend a malpractice subsidy, called the MCARE abatement program.
Rendell threatened to veto the Senate bill. Rendell has said he will not extend MCARE until the Legislature passes a bill to provide affordable health care to more than 800,000 uninsured state residents (Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/2).
Erik Arneson, spokesperson for state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R), called the termination of council employees "a political stunt" on the part of the Rendell administration, adding that there council remained open during 2003 when its authorization expired while lawmakers worked on an agreement (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/2).