Health Care Reform News Around the Nation for the Week of Nov. 3
Earlier this month, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell (R) announced that she has postponed until February 2009 a mandatory switch for 345,000 low-income HUSKY beneficiaries to new insurers, the Hartford Courant reports.
HUSKY is the state's Medicaid program (Keating, Hartford Courant, 10/24).
Since July, the state Department of Social Services has been trying to switch the beneficiaries, two-thirds of whom are children.Â
However, Aetna Better Health and AmeriChoice -- two of the new insurers that would cover the HUSKY beneficiaries -- have had difficulties in setting up adequate provider networks (O'Leary, New Haven Register, 10/23).
Rell said that the delay in implementing the switch was prompted by the enrollment of an additional 8,000 HUSKY beneficiaries in the past five months, adding that the state wants to ensure "enrollees have sufficient access to medical care."
Kevin Lembo, the state health care advocate, and the New Haven Legal Assistance Association have said they would file lawsuits against the state if beneficiaries are switched to new insurers before there is an adequate network of providers (O'Leary, New Haven Register, 10/24).
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said if there were an inadequate number of providers, Rell's plan potentially could violate federal Medicaid law (AP/New Haven Register, 10/23).
A CMS spokesperson said that the plan would not be allowed to take effect if there was a less-than-adequate provider network (New Haven Register, 10/24).
Applications for New York state's Medicaid program increased by 30% between December 2007 and April, according to the New York State Department of Health, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports.
Agency spokesperson Claudia Hutton said about 39,000 people applied for the program in April, the latest month for which data are available, and the state has run out of applications.
Enrollment in the program -- excluding the state's Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus programs -- has increased by 14% since the end of 2007, the Democrat and Chronicle reports.
William Van Slyke, a spokesperson for the Healthcare Association of New York State, said that state lawmakers in August reduced health care spending by $400 million in an effort to close a widening budget deficit. "It's going to be an impossible task to keep up with that growth in demand while at the same time doing draconian cuts in Medicaid," he said (Gallagher, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 10/26).
Virginia's expected $2.5 billion shortfall for next fiscal year could mean deeper cuts to public programs that provide health care and mental health services to low-income, disabled or elderly state residents, the Washington Post reports.
For the current fiscal year, Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) was able to limit spending cuts to administrative jobs and functions related to public health care and mental health programs. Â However, further cuts needed to meet new budget constraints are expected to target health services more directly.
The Virginia Department of Social Services -- which includes public health care, mental health and other programs -- comprises about one-fourth of the state's planned $4.7 billion budget for FY 2010 and "will probably bear the brunt of the cuts" needed to address the increasing deficit, the Post reports.
Advocates and analysts have raised concerns that Medicaid services will be targeted. The state program is expected to cost $3.1 billion in FY 2010.
The state ranks 48th in the country in Medicaid spending per capita and has some of the strictest eligibility requirements.
Jill Hanken, a staff attorney at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said, "I'm not sure what else they can cut out of Medicaid," noting that the state's "eligibility rates are low" and most of the "services provided are mandatory, so there aren't too many places we can turn for savings" (Jenkins, Washington Post, 10/26).
Last week, the Washington, D.C., council member who proposed a plan that would provide health insurance to thousands of uninsured district residents said that he wants to delay the program by at least a year to allow the district to create a $20 million cash reserve amid the recent economic downturn, the Washington Post reports (Nakamura, Washington Post, 10/29).
The Healthy D.C. bill, sponsored by David Catania (I), would provide coverage for about 25,000 uninsured residents who are ineligible for Medicaid and the D.C. HealthCare Alliance. Under the program, residents with incomes lower than 200% of the federal poverty level would receive subsidies, paying monthly premiums between $20 and $100, depending on income (California Healthline, 4/7).
Catania said a cash reserve must be created to prepare for an expected decline in revenue, which would increase the number of people seeking coverage under the Alliance, a safety net for low-income residents.
Catania also has been critical of revenue estimates made by D.C. CFO Natwar Gandhi, who last month said that the district faces a $131 million revenue shortfall for fiscal year 2009. Catania said that estimate is too low because financial conditions are likely to worsen.Gandhi disagreed with Catania's estimates and argued that the $700 billion economic rescue package passed by Congress will help stabilize the economy (Washington Post, 10/29). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.