Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of May 5
The Connecticut Senate on Wednesday voted 22-12 to approve legislation that would allow workers in small businesses, municipalities and not-for-profit groups to join the state employee health insurance pool, the Hartford Courant reports. The bill now goes to Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) for final approval.
Supporters of the bill say it could help municipalities save money through increased purchasing power. According to the Courant, lawmakers hope the measure will save $8.6 million.
Robert Genuario, budget director for Rell's administration, said that research at the state budget office found that there would be additional expenses for the state and little or no savings for municipalities (Pazniokas, Hartford Courant, 5/7).
Also on Wednesday, the state House approved a bill that intends to make it easier for patients to receive insurance coverage for treatment in residential facilities, the Courant reports. The bill, which passed in the Senate on May 1, will be sent to Rell for final approval.
The bill would eliminate a provision that patients in need of residential treatment -- for conditions such as mental health or eating disorders -- would be required to stay in a hospital for at least three days before their insurance would cover the treatment. Residential treatment is less intensive but can cost thousands of dollars, according to the Courant.
The bill also would prohibit insurers from denying residential treatment coverage because the patient is not a child or adolescent, according to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D). Under the bill, insurers could continue to assess a patient's medical need for residential treatment and would not be required to pay for care that they deem is unnecessary. Employer-based health plans would not be affected by the bill.
If Rell signs the bill, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2009 (Levick, Hartford Courant, 5/9).
The Florida Legislature has approved a health insurance package that would allow insurers to offer "no-frills coverage" to uninsured state residents, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. About 3.8 million people in Florida are uninsured, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Under the plan, Florida residents ages 19 to 64 could purchase limited health coverage for as little as $150 per month. Insurers offering such plans would be exempt from state mandates requiring coverage for a range of items and procedures. The policies would cover preventive care and office visits but not care from specialists or long-term hospitalizations.
The final plan was a combination of Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) "Cover Florida" plan, which was supported by the state Senate, and a House proposal (Hafenbrack, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5/3).
The package also would allocate $1.5 million to establish a corporation to help businesses with fewer than 50 employees negotiate health insurance rates, as well as handle premiums and claims (South Florida Sun-Sentinel graphic, 5/3).
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) on Wednesday signed into law two measures intended to make high-deductible health insurance plans more affordable and accessible, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Under one bill (HB 977), insurers are exempt from taxes on premiums for high-deductible plans that include health savings accounts, for which they previously paid a tax of at least 2.5% (Gould Sheinin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/7). The bill also provides a $250 annual tax credit for small businesses that spend at least $250 to enroll workers in HSAs.
The second bill (SB 383) states that arrangements that include only Health Reimbursement Accounts -- set up to allow for the use of pretax dollars for health-related expenses -- do not qualify as insurance if they are not packaged with individual insurance policies. The measure also requires that HSA plans comply with any willing provider provision in current law, provided they pay any increases in premiums and cost (Atlanta Business Chronicle, 5/7).
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will follow a judge's orders to stop enrolling uninsured residents in his expanded version of FamilyCare, a state program that subsidizes health care for families, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports (AP/Chicago Tribune, 5/6).
The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in February voted 8-2 to reject, for the second time, an emergency order by Blagojevich to expand the FamilyCare program. The legislative oversight committee first rejected the expansion in November 2007. Currently, families with annual incomes up to $38,202 are eligible for the program. The committee, in voting against the plan, questioned how the state would pay for an expansion (California Healthline, 2/28).
According to the AP/Tribune, Blagojevich "expanded his FamilyCare program anyway," extending the program to families of four with annual incomes up to $83,000.
A judge last month ordered Blagojevich to stop enrolling additional residents. In a memo dated April 22, the committee directed health care workers to stop enrolling adults who earn more than $13,832 annually in the program.
According to the memo, pregnant women who earn up to $20,800 will still qualify for the program. Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services officials said the 30,000 residents who have already been enrolled in the program will continue to receive coverage.
The administration is appealing the court's ruling (AP/Chicago Tribune, 5/6).
Kansas lawmakers last week approved a health care reform package that seeks to expand health care access, the Wichita Eagle reports.
The bill would:
- Expand SCHIP eligibility;
- Require insurance companies to offer more health plans that can be paid for on a pretax basis;
- Direct more money toward programs for low-income pregnant women and safety net clinics; and
- Extend the amount of time individuals are eligible to receive COBRA insurance in between jobs.
The package does include $1.5 million to fund a program that offers specialized training to area physicians at the Wichita Center for Graduate Medical Education, a consortium that coordinates the residency programs in Wichita and Salina for the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita (Koranda/Klepper, Wichita Eagle, 5/4).
Between 30,000 and 40,000 Massachusetts residents are offered health insurance by their employer but have incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty level and cannot afford the premiums, according to a report released Thursday by the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector, the Boston Globe reports.
According to the Massachusetts Health Insurance Law of 2006, which established a statewide individual insurance mandate, low-income residents who are not offered insurance by their employers can enroll in state-subsidized Commonwealth Care plans. The law also gives the connector authority to cover low-income residents whose employers offer coverage. The state Legislature last year directed the connector to determine how many people would fall into that group and how much it would cost to cover them.
Expanding the program to cover such people could cost more than $250 million within a few years, according to the Globe. Bob Carey of the connector board said the move would likely result in 10% of qualifying workers enrolling in the subsidized plans each year (Krasner, Boston Globe, 5/9).
The Minnesota Legislature has approved a measure that would prohibit hospitals from considering a patient's medical debt when deciding whether to treat the patient, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Under the bill, a health care provider cannot share or obtain a patient's medical debt information until after treatment. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is expected to sign the bill (Wolfe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/3).
The New Hampshire House on Wednesday voted 259-93 to approve a bill (SB 540) that aims to lower health costs for employees of small businesses, the Manchester Union Leader reports.
The bill follows a recommendation by Gov. John Lynch's (D) Citizens Health Initiative, which was charged with developing a new health insurance plan by fall 2009 that will save businesses with 50 or fewer workers an estimated 15% on health costs.
The plan -- called HealthFirst -- will be priced at 10% of the state's median wage, or approximately $262 per month. The plan would include a cap on out-of-pocket medical expenses.
According to the Union Leader, if one insurer agrees to offer the plan, then all insurers with 1,000 or more policyholders would be required to offer it as an option to all small businesses. In addition, an advisory committee of lawmakers and small employers would be required to update the plan every three years.
The bill also calls for the committee to finish the plan and make it available to residents by Oct. 1, 2009. According to the Union Leader, the bill would make it illegal for an insurer to offer a similar plan "aimed at undercutting the HealthFirst plan." The bill now goes to the state Senate, which approved an earlier version of it in March (Fahey, Manchester Union Leader, 5/7).
Washington, D.C., Council member David Catania (I) last week said he is reworking a proposal that aims to establish universal health care in the district, the Washington Post reports (Stewart, Washington Post, 5/6).
In its initial form, the $50 million Healthy DC proposal would have required all district residents to obtain health insurance. The proposal would have subsidized coverage for uninsured residents who are ineligible for Medicare, Medicaid and the city's insurance program for low-income residents, the DC HealthCare Alliance.
Uninsured residents with incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level would have received the subsidies. Residents who did not obtain health insurance by January 2010 would have been subject to a $250 fine (California Healthline, 4/1).
However, Catania last Monday said that the district could sign up eligible residents for the subsidized coverage through outreach efforts, rather than imposing the $250 fine.
The other change involves the program's funding and what entity will be administering the subsidized coverage. Catania's proposal called for the city to provide $21 million toward the program. Other funding would have come from a cigarette tax increase, as well as from the $250 fines. In addition, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield would have provided the subsidized coverage and $5 million toward the program.
The revised legislation would authorize D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty to seek a company to provide the subsidized insurance, and CareFirst could negotiate with the city again.
Catania plans to attach the proposal to the fiscal year 2009 budget, which the council is scheduled to consider on May 13 (Washington Post, 5/6).