Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of June 23
On Friday, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell (R) vetoed legislation that would have allowed municipalities and small businesses to join the state's health insurance plan, the Hartford Courant reports. The bill was supported by state employees' unions and Democrats and opposed by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and state Republicans.
Rell said she vetoed the bill because the cost of expanding the pool remained undetermined.
The state's Democratic leaders said they would work to pass the legislation next year, while Rell said she would work with Democrats to pass new legislation.
Connecticut spends $1 billion annually on health care for state employees and retirees. By 2020, costs to the state are projected to increase to more than $2.4 billion annually (Keating, Hartford Courant, 6/14).
In separate announcements on Thursday, Massachusetts health officials and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts outlined new policies that will prohibit hospitals and physicians from billing the state and insurer for preventable medical errors, the Boston Globe reports.
Under the policies, 28 kinds of medical and surgical errors indentified by a national coalition will no longer be billable. The state's new rule is part of a national effort to reduce health care errors, according to the Globe.
The initiative also aims to reduce costs and encourage quality health care, according to Tom Dehner, director of the state's Medicaid program.
A 2006 Health Affairs study found that costs related to treating serious medical errors range from an estimated $700 per case for preventable bed sores, to an average of $9,000 for body-wide surgery infections.
Massachusetts officials cannot quantify their costs in part because the Department of Public Health did not begin mandating that serious medical mistakes be reported until recently.
Seventy serious medical errors were reported to officials from January to May, Jim Conway, senior vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said.
The state's new rule will go into effect as contracts with health plans are negotiated (Smith, Boston Globe, 6/19).
At the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago on Tuesday, the Michigan State Medical Society announced a proposal for a long-term initiative to increase the state's physician population and rein in medical school costs, the Detroit News reports.
Under the medical society's resolution, medical school students could sign up for paid internships in their fourth year of school after they have successfully completed their initial licensing exams, and medical school tuition costs would be frozen in students' freshman year to help them gauge the amount of loans they will need (Rogers, Detroit News, 6/18).
The Pennsylvania General Assembly has until June 30 to pass legislation that would reauthorize the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, a state council that analyzes the cost and quality of health care in the state, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Business advocates and labor unions support reauthorization of the council, which has an annual budget of $5 million. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and lobbyists for hospitals and physicians also support reauthorization of the council.
Reauthorization could be delayed if legislators do not agree on details of the legislation, such as how long to extend the council's charter and whether to expand the scope of its data gathering.
One bill being considered by the state Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee would reauthorize the council through June 30, 2018.
State Sen. Edwin Erickson (R), chair of the committee, said he favors a five-year extension because it would allow the Assembly to evaluate the council's structure and activities more often and make appropriate changes.
Meanwhile, a version under consideration in the state House calls for extending the council for seven years, changing its name to the Health Care Cost Containment and Comparison Council and requiring that an Internet database be created to allow consumers to compare prices charged by physicians for common treatments.
Physicians and hospitals have said insurers should be required to provide information about payments to providers, noting that the council uses cost statistics derived from hospital charges, which are usually higher than the actual payments doctors receive (Raffaele, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/14).
On Wednesday, a coalition of religious, labor and health care activists said West Virginia should suspend its redesigned Medicaid program because it penalizes low-income children and adults, the Charleston Gazette reports.
The "cornerstone" of the program, called Mountain Health Choices, is a two-tier benefits system, the Gazette reports. The higher tier offers benefits that are better than traditional Medicaid, but beneficiaries must sign a "personal responsibility" agreement to receive the enhanced benefits.
The agreement requires beneficiaries to see a physician, show up for appointments and avoid seeking care at emergency departments.
Beneficiaries who do not qualify for the higher tier are covered by the lower-tier "basic" plan, which provides benefits that are less than traditional Medicaid.
The Families and Children Educate the State on Medicaid coalition said that 5.5% of adults and 7.5% of children in the state's program are receiving the higher-tier benefits, while the remaining beneficiaries have "bare-bones" coverage. Coalition members also said that many beneficiaries are confused about the program's requirements.
The coalition said that the state should restore traditional Medicaid or enroll everyone in the higher-tier program.
State Health and Human Resources Secretary Martha Walker said that it is too soon to judge the new program, which has been in effect for five months (Eyre, Charleston Gazette, 6/12).