Health Care Reform News From Around the Nation: Dec. 10, 2007
On Tuesday, an Illinois business coalition filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D) proposed expansion of a state-funded insurance program is unconstitutional because it has not received legislative approval, the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/5).
Blagojevich last month issued an order to expand the state's FamilyCare health insurance program, despite a vote by a legislative oversight panel to block the plan. The Blagojevich administration has told state agencies that FamilyCare is being expanded, and they already have begun signing up new beneficiaries (California Healthline, 11/20).
The Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity filed the lawsuit, which names Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Barry Maram and state Comptroller Daniel Hynes as defendants because they would carry out the governor's directive to expand FamilyCare. Blagojevich is not named as a defendant (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/5).
On Wednesday, Massachusetts officials said that nearly 300,000 formerly uninsured residents have enrolled in some form of health insurance over the past 18 months, the Boston Globe reports.
According to the Globe, the number surged to 293,000 in the last month as people rushed to enroll in a health plan before the end of the year. Under the law, most residents must obtain health coverage by the end of the year or face penalties.
Officials said that they do not know how many people remain uninsured but that they expect thousands more residents to buy coverage ahead of the deadline. The U.S. Census last year estimated that there were 657,000 uninsured Massachusetts residents, while the state estimated 395,000 residents were uninsured.
Most of the newly insured are enrolled either in the state-run MassHealth or Commonwealth Care programs. About 63,000 of the newly insured are enrolled in private insurance plans, and state officials expect that number to reach 100,000 by the end of the year (Dembner, Boston Globe, 12/6).
In other Massachusetts news, the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation released a report estimating that employers will spend $175 million more per year for workers' health coverage under the state's insurance law, the Globe reports.
The increase includes $150 million in additional costs as more employees enroll in employer plans and $24 million for new prescription drug benefits. The report concluded that the state's new health care system could face problems if health care costs are not controlled (Finucane, Boston Globe, 12/7).
Earlier in the week, the Massachusetts Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector voted to press insurers to hold premium increases to 5% in 2008 for unsubsidized health insurance plans sold in the state, the Globe reports.
Connector staff estimated that without limits, premiums for Commonwealth Choice insurance would increase between 4% and 14% next year. Some connector board members said even a 5% premium increase might be too large. The connector also instructed insurers to try to limit premium increases without shifting significant costs to plan members (Dembner, Boston Globe, 12/5).
Mississippi Medicaid Director Robert Robinson on Tuesday said the state Medicaid program will have to eliminate some services if it does not receive $168 million in additional funding for fiscal year 2009, the AP/Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. The program also needs $86 million to continue operations this year.
Lawmakers say they have less than $200 million to address more than $500 million in additional funding requests for FY 2009. In addition, Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has asked that Robinson develop a spending proposal for FY 2009 that is 2.5% less than the current budget.
Part of the Medicaid shortfall is the result of using one-time funds, including $47.6 million in Hurricane Katrina funds and $40 million from the state's health care trust fund (Byrd, AP/Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 12/5).
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's (D) universal health coverage proposal would cost the state an additional $333 million over five years, but the state would generate enough new revenue under the proposal to cover the costs, state Human Services Secretary Pam Hyde said on Tuesday, the AP/Santa Fe New Mexican reports.
According to the analysis, under the current system, the state would spend about $6.9 billion on health care in 2010 and about $9.2 billion in FY 2014. Under Richardson's proposal, health care spending in 2010 would increase by about $75 million and by $333 million over five years (Massey, AP/Santa Fe New Mexican, 12/5).
New York state Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D) on Wednesday proposed a state-run, universal health care system that likely would be paid for by new taxes, AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Caruso, AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/5).
Under the plan, all state residents would be enrolled in health insurance similar to Medicaid or Medicare, and there would be no deductibles or copayments. The system would be funded by an income tax on individuals and businesses.
The proposal would allow residents to retain private health insurance if they choose, and it would allow private, not-for-profit insurers to contract with the state to provide coverage for beneficiaries of the state plan (Crowley, Albany Times Union, 12/6). The plan would not include mandates (Ochs, Long Island Newsday, 12/6).
On Tuesday, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) announced that the state has hired the Urban Institute to prepare a report evaluating different universal health care options for the state. The report is due by May 31, 2008 (Long Island Newsday, 12/6).
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission last week submitted a plan to the federal government that would redistribute Medicaid funds for safety-net hospitals to help low-income residents purchase health insurance, the Dallas Morning News reports (Garrett, Dallas Morning News, 12/5).
Commission spokesperson Stephanie Goodman on Thursday said the state would divert $246 million from hospitals to create the Health Opportunity Pool, which would provide subsidies based on a sliding scale for residents to purchase insurance (Perotin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 12/6).
Texas HHS Commissioner Albert Hawkins said that the state's safety-net hospitals would not lose funding under the program because lawmakers approved $150 million in reimbursement increases in 2008 for hospitals that treat Medicaid beneficiaries, which would be matched by $246 million in federal funding.
According to Hawkins, the additional federal funding could be used to fund the Health Opportunity Pool without reducing the $1.5 billion in federal funds hospitals receive annually for treating a disproportionate share of uninsured, low-income patients (Dallas Morning News, 12/5).
The state Commission on Health Care Reform on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend that the state Legislature consider measures that would improve health care affordability and access, the Burlington Free Press reports.
The commission recommended measures that focus on five goals:
- Expanding affordable coverage to more state residents;
- Improving chronic disease prevention;
- Reducing the rate of increases in health care costs;
- Using health information technology to improve care; and
- Making investments to support a strong health care system.
The commission also called for faster adoption of electronic health records, a study on the implementation of an electronic prescribing system and a campaign to fight obesity (Remsen, Burlington Free Press, 12/5). 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.