Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of May 5
The Colorado House last Monday voted 62-3 to approve a bill (HB 1411) that would ban insurance companies from offering physicians cash incentives to switch patients to less-costly generic versions of prescription drugs, the Denver Post reports.
State Rep. Rosemary Marshall (D), sponsor of the bill, said that while the issue of monetary rewards has not yet surfaced in the state, lawmakers should address the issue now to prevent potential harm to patients, as well as debates about how the practice might save money. The bill now moves to the Senate (Fender, Denver Post, 4/29).
Last Monday, the Louisiana House voted 45-44 to reject legislation that would have expanded coverage under the state's medical malpractice laws, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports.
State Rep. Greg Cromer (R) wanted to add problems that occur when transporting or monitoring patients and failure to attend to patients' personal hygiene to the definition of malpractice.
State Rep. Walt Leger (D) said the legislation would allow nursing homes to use medical malpractice to handle "negligence situations and overburden the system" (Shuler, Baton Rouge Advocate, 4/29).
The Michigan Senate on Thursday voted 23-13 to approve "compromise" legislation that would expand access to individual health insurance policies and make them more affordable, the Detroit News reports.
One provision in the legislation would mandate that the state maintain oversight of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan rate increases. The insurer is required to accept all customers, even those with pre-existing conditions, as the state's insurer of last resort, according to the News.
The legislation also would reduce the waiting period for people with pre-existing conditions from 12 months to six months. Another provision would give the state the power to order refunds for policyholders the state deems were overcharged.
The legislation does not include a provision included in the state House's version of the bill that would create a high-risk pool and require contributions from insurers and BCBS. The pool would be administered by BCBS, according to the House bill. The Senate measure instead would require the state to conduct a study within the next year to see if the pool is necessary and how it would affect insurance rates (Rogers, Detroit News, 5/2). The House passed its legislation in October 2007.
Now, the House can approve the Senate legislation without changes or bring it to a conference committee to settle the differences between the two chambers (Anstett, Detroit Free Press, 5/2).
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) on Tuesday said that legislation being considered to overhaul the state's health care system should include health savings accounts and tax credits as a way to reduce costs for residents who purchase private health insurance, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Pawlenty proposed the measures to a legislative conference committee that is trying to resolve differences between similar versions of a health care bill approved by the state House and Senate.
Brian McClung, a spokesperson for Pawlenty, said that the tax credits would be offered to individual residents and small-business owners as an alternative to expanding public health programs, such as MinnesotaCare. Pawlenty also proposed offering HSAs to state employees (Wolfe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/30).
The Missouri state Senate last Monday voted 30-4 to approve legislation that includes a program to cover 200,000 low- and middle-income state residents, the Kansas City Star reports. The "centerpiece" of the bill is a new version of the Insure Missouri program originally proposed by Gov. Matt Blunt (R).
The measure would provide health insurance for people ages 19 to 64 with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level. To qualify, state residents could not have access to affordable employer-sponsored coverage and must have been uninsured for at least six months.
Deductibles would be based on a sliding scale with a maximum of $1,000 per year. People with incomes lower than 100% of the poverty level would not have to pay anything for the program. Employers could pay up to half of a beneficiary's deductible.
The bill also includes a wide range of initiatives intended to make consumers more aware of health care costs and to help them make informed decisions, including a tax deduction for the cost of certain high-deductible insurance policies and public reporting of preventable medical errors at hospitals.
According to the legislation, the program would cost the state at least $40 million next year, but the majority of funding for the program would come from the federal government and special hospital taxes that would be used to leverage additional federal matching funds. The bill now moves to the House (Wagar, Kansas City Star, 4/28).
The Tennessee Senate approved legislation that aims to make it harder to file frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, the Tennessean reports. The bill now moves to Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) to be signed into law.
The legislation would require attorneys to have a qualified medical expert sign off on the merits of any malpractice case within 90 days of filing suit, with fines levied on those who do not comply. The measure also would require that physicians receive 60 days' notice before a lawsuit is filed (Brooks, Tennessean, 4/25).
Enrollment in Wisconsin's new BadgerCare Plus program has "far exceeded" officials' expectations, with more than 71,000 residents enrolling in the first six weeks of the program, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Boulton/Forster, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/29).
The program consolidates and streamlines the state's existing Medicaid, Healthy Start and BadgerCare programs. The program is expected to cost $50 million over the next year-and-a-half, and the federal government will pay more than 60% of the costs (California Healthline, 2/5).
Officials had expected that an additional 26,000 to 27,000 eligible residents would enroll in the program during the first 12 to 18 months.
According to the Journal Sentinel, the high enrollment "will add to the program's cost at a time when the economy is slowing" and "could undercut the state's projection that the cost would be offset by streamlining state health programs, expanding the use" of HMOs and the premiums and copayments from beneficiaries.
Enrollment could continue to increase, but officials expect that some residents will lose coverage because of failure to contribute monthly premiums. Gov. Jim Doyle (D) acknowledged a shortfall in the budget but said there are no plans to cut the program (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/29).