Health Care Reform News From Around the Nation: September 17
Alaska lawmakers are reviewing a bill sponsored by state Sen. Hollis French (D) that would create a universal health care system in the state, the AP/Anchorage Daily News reports.
Under the proposal, all residents would be required to obtain health coverage and the state would subsidize plans for low-income residents.
In addition, the bill would create a health care board that would determine which medical services would be covered under the subsidized program and that would certify private coverage plans that meet state requirements.
The board also would oversee the Alaska Health Fund, which would include contributions from state and federal sources, employers and employees. The contributions would fund a sliding-scale voucher system that resident could use to obtain coverage from the Alaska Health Care Clearinghouse, a "marketplace" of various certified policies, according to the Daily News.
The bill was presented at a late summer Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee hearing in an attempt to get a "jump start on the 90-day session" next year, French said (AP/Anchorage Daily News, 9/12).
Not-for-profit Harvard Pilgrim Health Care will provide coverage for beneficiaries in Maine's DirigoChoice program starting Jan. 1, 2008, state health officials announced on Thursday, the Portland Press Herald reports.
The announcement came one day after state officials announced that they would not renew a contract with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, which asked the state to extend a contract provision that minimized the risk of providing benefits under the program (Huang, Portland Press Herald, 9/7).
According to Trish Riley, director of the Governor's Office of Health Policy and Finance, the state denied Anthem's request for because it would have significantly raised program costs (Murphy, Portland Press Herald, 9/6).
Under the two-year contract with Harvard Pilgrim, benefits and the size of subsidies will not change. Dirigo Health, the agency that oversees the program, said premiums would increase next year regardless of the coverage provider.
Harvard Pilgrim's physician network will be decided over the next several weeks and require approval from the Maine Bureau of Insurance (Portland Press Herald, 9/7).
Maryland advocacy groups and lawmakers who support universal health care unveiled a new proposal on Wednesday that expand Medicaid to a portion of the state's 800,000 uninsured residents through a $1-per-pack increase to the state tobacco tax, the Washington Post reports.
The tobacco tax would raise an estimated $200 million, but the funds generated by the tax would gradually decline.
Maryland limits Medicaid coverage to individuals with annual incomes less than half of the federal poverty level.
It is "uncertain" if the state Legislature will discuss health care reform before the new session begins in January 2008 or if it will be discussed at a tentative special session this fall about the state's $1.5 billion budget deficit, the Post (Rein, Washington Post, 9/12).
Payments to Massachusetts safety net hospitals would decrease by millions of dollars under proposed reimbursement rules that are part of the state's new health insurance law, according to state projections, the Boston Globe reports.
Under the proposed rules, the state's Free Care Pool -- which was funded by insurance companies and provided reimbursements to hospitals for treating uninsured patients -- would change into the Health Safety Net Trust Fund, which will pay hospitals for treating patients who fail to obtain health insurance. The rules take effect Oct. 1.
Safety net hospitals say that few residents in low-income communities have enrolled in state-sponsored subsidized or no-cost insurance plans, and as a result, hospitals will continue to provide high levels of no-cost care while reimbursement rates decline.
In addition, the proposed rules have caused "friction between different types of hospitals" because teaching hospitals would receive higher reimbursement rates than safety net hospitals for treating uninsured patients, the Globe reports (Krasner, Boston Globe, 9/13).
Virginia Republicans and a panel appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine (D) on Wednesday released separate health care proposals, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
The proposal by the governor's Health Reform Commission, which was formed last year, focuses on four areas:
- Expanding access to care;
- Enhancing the health care work force;
- Improving quality, increasing transparency and promoting preventive care; and
- Advancing long-term care.
The commission's recommendations include expanding Medicaid eligibility and establishing a limited-benefit private insurance plan for uninsured state residents. The panel recommends about $130 million in expansions and projects (Smith, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/12).
The Republican proposal includes:
- Encouraging hospitals to open primary care clinics near emergency departments to reduce costly emergency care;
- Increasing support for community health centers; and
- Enhancing Medicaid benefits to give beneficiaries more control over their health care.
The initiatives will be pushed by Republicans in the next General Assembly (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/12). 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.