Health Reform News Around the Nation: Nov. 12, 2007
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and state health officials on Thursday announced that a pilot program offering some state employees time off for making lifestyle changes that improve their health will be extended to all state employees, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
The Arkansas Healthy Lifestyle program was established in 2004 by Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). Employees who participate in the voluntary program -- which focuses on increasing physical activity, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreasing or eliminating the use of tobacco products -- can earn up to three extra days off from work.
According to health officials, the program will save the state money by reducing the number of days workers miss because of illness, as well as the health care costs related to unhealthy habits (DeMillo, AP/Long Island Newsday, 11/8).
The Massachusetts Latino Health Insurance Program is seeking to expand its services to help more Boston-area Latinos and Brazilians obtain health insurance before Dec. 31, the deadline by which all residents must obtain health coverage or face tax penalties, the Boston Globe reports. The Boston University School of Public Health runs the program.
The program's goal is to help eligible Latinos and Brazilians apply for health insurance. Because undocumented immigrants are ineligible for state-subsidized and other public health insurance, they cannot be penalized for not obtaining coverage, Milagros Abreu, director of the program, said (Perez-Brennan, Boston Globe, 11/8).
Meanwhile, the call center set up to help residents seeking information about the state's new subsidized health insurance plan is facing an "overwhelming" number of calls, and the volume of calls is "expected to soar over the next eight weeks as people rush to get insurance so they can avoid a tax penalty," the Globe reports.
According to the most recent numbers available, call volume is four times higher than the state expected. The surge in calls in part is because of higher-than-expected enrollment in Commonwealth Care, the state's subsidized insurance program for residents with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level who do not have access to employer-sponsored health coverage.
The private company that runs the call center is in the process of training more operators to meet demand and help callers understand the complexity of the program (Dembner, Boston Globe, 11/5).
State House Democrats on Monday announced a series of health care proposals that would expand Medicaid coverage and create a single statewide health authority, among other measures, the Kansas City Star reports.
According to the Star, the package's "centerpiece" is a reversal of Medicaid cuts enacted in 2005 that reduced services, raised fees and eliminated coverage for about 90,600 people.
The package also would create a Health Policy Authority that would:
- Oversee all state health programs;
- Recommend ways to encourage medical professionals to open facilities in rural areas; and
- Develop plans to extend health coverage to the uninsured.
The package also includes $6 million in 2008 for smoking cessation programs and language to increase physical activity among school-aged children in an attempt to reduce childhood obesity (Wagar, Kansas City Star, 11/5).
Undocumented immigrants and some documented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for fewer than five years would not be eligible for coverage under Gov. Bill Richardson's (D) universal health coverage proposal because of Medicaid restrictions, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
Under Richardson's plan, state residents who are able to afford insurance would be required to obtain coverage, and those who meet income qualifications would be able to sign up for no-cost or low-cost state-subsidized plans similar to Medicare. Employers would be required to pay into a fund that helps subsidize coverage.
Richardson, who also is a presidential candidate, next year will ask the state Legislature to pass his health care proposal (Massey, AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/5).
Oregon legislators are now "back to square one in their quest to make health care affordable for all Oregonians" after voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have increased the state's tobacco tax to pay for health care for more than 90,000 uninsured children and about 10,000 uninsured adults, the Oregonian reports. The measure would have generated about $147 million in fiscal year 2008-09 and $208 million in FY 2009-11.
According to the Oregonian, legislators had no back-up plan for the measure, which failed by a 59%-41% vote. However, a seven-member panel is drafting legislation for 2009 that would expand coverage for the uninsured.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) and legislative leaders said there is not enough time to address the issue in February 2008 during a four-week legislative session, the Oregonian reports (Har/Cole, Oregonian, 11/8).
A new pilot project in West Virginia will offer health coverage to uninsured children who do not qualify for Medicaid or other government programs, the AP/Charleston Daily Mail reports.
Under the "Every Child Matters" program, families will pay $30 per physician visit, and an "affordability fund" will cover a portion of the cost if a family cannot pay the entire fee.
Sixteen community health center facilities across the state will participate in the program. The program is a joint project of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the West Virginia Primary Care Association (AP/Charleston Daily Mail, 11/6).
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) on Wednesday announced details of the BadgerCare Plus program, which seeks to provide every child in the state with affordable health coverage beginning Feb. 1, 2008, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
Currently, families with incomes up to $38,202 are eligible for existing state programs, and their incomes can increase to $41,300 once they are enrolled. Under BadgerCare Plus, families with incomes greater than those limits will be able to purchase basic health coverage for their children for $10 to $68.53 per month, depending on income.
The health plans do not include prescription drug coverage, and families with incomes greater than 300% of the poverty level will be required to contribute the full cost of coverage through monthly premiums and copayments. The state also plans to fund the program with savings from streamlining state programs and expanding the use of HMOs.
In addition, the state will implement several changes to make enrolling in state health programs easier, such as "fast-track enrollment," which will provide children with temporary insurance cards until their applications are complete (Boulton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/8).