State highlights: Rural telemedicine; two Iowa planned parenthoods closed

A selection of health policy stories from South Dakota, Washington state, Iowa, Arizona and Georgia.

The Associated Press: Rural Clinics Increasingly Turn To Telemedicine 
Fifty years in farming had given Tom Soukup a few brushes with his own mortality, but after a cow pinned him against a wall, death felt closer than ever. He lay on the muddy ground and began to pray, every gasp feeling like a stab to the chest. Although the nearest clinic was just a 10-minute drive from Soukup's South Dakota ranch, the doctor on duty did not have much experience treating such injuries. He had rarely inserted chest tubes and wanted guidance from another physician without having to consult a medical reference book. So the clinic in tiny Wagner connected by video to doctors in Sioux Falls, who talked him through the steps to stop the bleeding and drain the blood collecting inside the 72-year-old man back in March 2010. It's a system that's gaining wider use across the rural U.S., where there are often few primary care doctors and even fewer emergency rooms. Although so-called telemedicine has been around for at least two decades, the practice is fast becoming a standard feature in many small communities, even as other public services such as police and fire protection decline (Cano, 6/6).

The Associated Press: State Requires Heath Insurance Parity For Gay Spouses 
Washington state officials penned a joint letter Thursday to insurance and business companies in the state saying that health benefits must be provided to same-sex spouses if they are provided to heterosexual spouses. The joint letter, written by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz, said they are concerned about "legally married Washington residents who are negatively affected" when same-sex spouses aren't provided with equal health coverage (6/5).

The Des Moines Register: Planned Parenthood Closes Two Iowa Clinics
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is closing two small clinics in southwest Iowa, which will further limit women's options to obtain abortion pills. The agency uses a first-in-the-nation video-conferencing system to dispense the pills to women in outlying clinics. But women in the Red Oak and Creston areas will have to travel farther to obtain that service or other Planned Parenthood services, such as birth control consultations. The clinics were among at least 11 satellite clinics the agency shuttered in recent years. The agency said the Red Oak and Creston clinics were only open by appointment, and are being closed because of "a shifting need for services." Patients will be referred to remaining clinics, including seven that provide the telemedicine abortions and two that also provide surgical abortions (Leys, 6/5).

Reuters: Suit On Behalf Of Arizona Prisoners Gets Class-Action Status
A lawsuit on behalf of Arizona inmates that accuses the state of neglecting their health needs and misusing solitary confinement can proceed as a class-action case, potentially affecting conditions for all the state's 30,000 prisoners, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday. The 3-0 decision by a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an order by a federal district judge who granted class-action status last year to all Arizona prisoners in the case (Dobuzinskis, 6/5).

The Associated Press: Arizona Loses Appeal In Suit Over Inmate Care
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that about 33,000 inmates can join a lawsuit protesting the quality of health care in Arizona state prisons. In issuing the ruling, the three-judge panel of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by Arizona corrections officials that said the inmates didn't have enough in common for a lower-court judge to grant them class-action status in the case. The appeals court said the prisoners met the requirements for expanding the number of inmates covered under the suit from 13 to the entire population in state prisons (Billeaud, 6/5).

Georgia Health News: Life-Or-Death Debate: Proposal Could Hurt Georgia On Liver Transplants
Susan Honea didn't expect to live beyond her 30s. She was diagnosed at age 29 with primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic disease that slowly destroys the medium-sized bile ducts in the liver. Honea, a Hiram resident, was put on a liver transplant list last year, and she got the transplant at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital in March. "You don't realize how bad you were until you get one,'' she said. "I didn't think I would make it to my 40th birthday.'' Though she got an opportunity for a normal life, Honea fears that some other Georgians won't (Miller, 6/5).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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