Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of June 9
On Tuesday, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) signed into law 11 health care bills, including measures to expand coverage requirements and increase children's access to care, the AP/Denver Post reports.
One of the measures (SB 160) Ritter signed will expand eligibility for Child Health Plan Plus, the Colorado's version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, to include children in families with incomes up to 225% of the federal poverty level. The bill also will expand mental health benefits for children enrolled in the program.
A companion bill (SB 161) also signed into law will remove administrative barriers to applying for Medicaid and Child's Health Plan Plus (AP/Denver Post, 6/3). According to the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the legislation will qualify an additional 50,000 uninsured children for the programs (Torkelson, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 6/3).
The other health care bills signed into law were:
- SB 57, which will require insurers to cover children's hearing aids;
- SB 135, which will create standardized health plan identification cards to make it easier for providers to get information from insurers;
- SB 138, which will establish minimum requirements for designations or rating systems for physicians developed by health care or insurance entities;
- SB 194, which will direct the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a public health improvement plan for the state;
- SB 217, which will direct two state agencies to develop a "Centennial Care Choices" plan that could provide many state residents with basic health coverage;
- HB 1100, which will restore funds to the Colorado Responds to Children with Special Needs Program;
- HB 1385, which will establish a consumer guide to purchasing health insurance on the state Division of Insurance Web site and increase transparency of insurance brokers' commission fees; and
- HB 1410, which will require most insurance plans to cover colorectal cancer screening tests (AP/Denver Post, 6/3).
On Tuesday, Connecticut House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan (D) asked Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) to delay implementing a new health plan for uninsured adults because of concerns that it could disrupt care for children in low-income families, the Hartford Courant reports.
The administration plans to merge the new Charter Oak health plan with HUSKY, which covers 320,000 low-income children and adults who are eligible for Medicaid.
Charter Oak is expected to cover about 20,000 adults next year and about 50,000 by 2011.
The state is accepting bids for the combined program contract.
HealthNet and WellCare, two of the four HUSKY providers, left the program in April, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut withdrew from the bidding for the combined program in March, citing "concerns about inadequate state funding." Two other insurers bidding on the program do not have provider networks established in the state.
Starting July 1, HUSKY beneficiaries will have six months to transition to new HUSKY providers.
Sheldon Toubman, a Connecticut legal aid attorney, said the merger could force thousands of HUSKY beneficiaries to find new physicians for the second time in less than one year.
Rell has no plans to delay the program, according to spokesperson Chris Cooper.
Donovan said some state lawmakers would like to hold a special session next week to discuss delaying Charter Oak (Pazniokas, Hartford Courant, 6/4).
On Saturday, the state Senate sent a bill to Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) that would increase funding for state hospitals that provide care to a large number of Medicaid beneficiaries, the Chicago Tribune reports. The measure was approved unanimously by the state Legislature.
Under the bill, the state would provide $640 million annually over a period of five years to hospitals that treat Medicaid beneficiaries and an additional $130 million annually for general health care spending in the state. The measure would be financed by federal funds and taxes on state hospitals (Wiehle, Chicago Tribune, 5/31).
Louisiana's Charity Hospitals will have to begin cutting services this summer unless the state Legislature provides them with an additional $35 million, Louisiana State University officials told the state Senate Finance Committee on Monday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.
Michael Butler, interim CEO of the hospitals division, did not identify which services would be cut if the funds are not provided, but in a letter he stated that "this will certainly mean drastic reductions in the services available to those who have no other viable options."
Butler wrote that those decisions would be made shortly after July 1.
According to the Times-Picayune, Charity's $30 billion budget for next fiscal year is about $111 million under the state's constitutional limit on spending, which can only be changed by a two-thirds vote.
The system's budget is expected to increase by $89 million next year to $952 million, but the majority of those funds will be designated to "continuation costs" and to restore services in New Orleans.
According to Fred Cerise, LSU's vice president for health care, the system needs an additional $55 million next year to avoid using money from its equipment and upkeep funds.
The Times-Picayune reports that the Charity financial challenges can be attributed to "costs -- such as prisoner care, outpatient prescription drugs and doctor salaries -- that cannot be reimbursed with federal Medicaid dollars" (Moller, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/3).
Massachusetts spent $636 million in fiscal year 2007 to provide health care coverage to employees of large companies that do not offer health benefits -- a 14% increase over FY 2006, according to a recent report by the state Office of Health and Human Services, the Boston Globe reports.
According to the Globe, the report shows that although the Massachusetts health insurance law has extended health coverage to thousands of residents, "many employers still rely on state programs to provide health care benefits for their workers."
Under the state's health insurance law, employers are considered to be making a "reasonable" contribution to their employees' health care coverage if at least 25% of workers are enrolled in a company-sponsored health plan or if the company pays at least 35% of workers' premiums. Companies that do not meet the minimum contribution standards must pay $295 per employee into an insurance pool for the uninsured (Krasner, Boston Globe, 5/31).
In other news, Massachusetts businesses and most of the state's health insurers on Wednesday announced the formation of the Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage, a lobbying group that will work to control rising health care costs in the state and to prevent cost-shifting to employers, the Boston Globe reports.
The group will work to avoid increased fees for employers who do not offer health benefits for workers and to oppose raising the "reasonable" contribution standards under the Massachusetts health insurance law (Krasner, Boston Globe, 6/5).
On Thursday, the state House voted 55-53 to reject a bill (HB 17) that would have increased state taxes on cigarettes, liquor and wine to fund an expansion of Medicaid, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. The measure needed 65 votes to pass the House before the Senate could consider it.
The bill would have increased the cigarette tax by 18 cents to $1 per pack and increased the liquor and wine tax by 1%.
The tax increases would have been combined with a hospital tax -- which is supported by Gov. Haley Barbour (R), the Senate and officials of the Mississippi Hospital Association -- to address a $90 million deficit in the program (Chandler, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 5/30).
South Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) vetoes of several bills, including a measure to expand SCHIP, the AP/Raleigh News & Observer reports.
The bill provides an additional $21 million to expand the income eligibility limits for Partners for Healthy Children, the state's version of SCHIP.
Supporters of the bill said the measure will allow 88,000 additional children to enroll in the program (Davenport, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 6/4).