State highlights: Mass. health spending slows, but for how long?

A selection of health policy stories from Massachusetts, Washington state, Maryland, Michigan, California, Texas and Illinois.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Victory In Mass. Health Costs May Be Temporary 
Two years ago, Massachusetts set what was considered an ambitious goal: The state would not let that persistent monster, rising health care costs, increase faster than the economy as a whole. Today, the results of the first full year are out and there's reason for many to celebrate. The number that will go down in the history books is 2.3 percent. It's well below a state-imposed benchmark for health care cost growth of 3.6 percent, and well below the increases seen for at least a decade (Bebinger, 9/2).

The Associated Press: Health Care Spending In Massachusetts On Rise 
A new report Tuesday offered a mixed diagnosis on health care costs in Massachusetts, finding that while total spending continued to grow faster than inflation, the increase stayed well within parameters set by the state. The Center for Health Information and Analysis, created by a 2012 law that was aimed at reining in health care costs, said expenditures totaled $50.5 billion in 2013, an increase of $1.5 billion, or 2.3 percent, above the previous year. While exceeding the rate of inflation, which was 1.5 percent for the year, the increase was below a 3.6 percent benchmark established under the law. Insurance premiums paid by consumers averaged about the same as the previous year. On a per resident basis, the total paid for health care was $7,550, the report said, with spending by government programs -- including Medicaid and state-sponsored Commonwealth Care -- accounting for 60 percent of the total (Salsberg, 9/2).

Seattle Times: Seattle Children's, Regence Settle Dispute Over Insurance Networks
A nearly yearlong dispute in which Seattle Children's hospital sought to make sure its facilities and experts were included in Washington state health insurance plans was finally resolved Tuesday. Children's and Cambia Health Solutions, parent company of Regence BlueShield and BridgeSpan Health, announced that the hospital will be part of the insurers' network of health-care providers. "This is great news for Washington families who are covered by BridgeSpan, Cambia's plan on Washington's Health Benefit Exchange, because it will allow them to access Seattle Children's Hospital at the in-network rate," Sandy Melzer, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of Children's, said in a statement. The agreement covers insurance plans in the individual and small group markets for coverage that starts Jan. 1, 2015. In October, Children's called on the state to reject insurance plans for 2014 that didn't include Children's in their networks of hospitals and doctors (Stiffler, 9/2).

The Associated Press: Md. Auditors: Flaws In DDA Verification Process
Maryland's Developmental Disabilities Administration has not made much progress since last October on verifying that consumers actually received the services they're supposed to get, according to a follow-up review released Tuesday. The Maryland General Assembly's Office of Legislative Audits conducted the follow-up after an October audit found the administration's fiscal accountability and compliance rating was unsatisfactory. The state's health department, meanwhile, said the administration has made progress addressing that concern as well as others mentioned in the October audit (9/2). 

Kaiser Health News: Enrolling People In Obamacare Who Have No 'Concept Of Insurance'
Signing people up for health insurance is the easy part of Rawha Abouarabi's job ministering to immigrants and Arab Americans in this manufacturing hub along the Rouge River. But many of those she's enrolled are surprised and indignant when they go to the doctor and are asked to a pay a bill -- perhaps a copayment. They insist they've already paid their monthly insurance premium (Evans, 9/3).

California Healthline: Flurry Of Bills Approved As Session Ends
California's Legislature last week approved a laundry list of legislation at the end of its session -- including a number of health-related laws (Gorn, 9/2).

Dallas Morning News: Federal Inspectors Descend On Dallas County's Parkland Hospital
A team of government inspectors showed up early Tuesday at Parkland Memorial Hospital to begin a detailed survey that could determine the fate of the hospital's future funding. It was only a year ago that Dallas County's public hospital faced the same risk. Parkland passed that inspection, preserving its more than $400 million in annual state and federal funding. A top federal official said Tuesday that Parkland now must prove it has fixed the problems that recently placed a patient in "immediate jeopardy" of being harmed (Jacobson, 9/2).

Chicago Sun Times Post-Tribune: Illinois County Looks For Health Insurance Fix
The Porter County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to provide $2 million in income tax funds to help cover the cost of health insurance, but not before telling the County Council they will have to come up with additional funds to cover the rest of the shortfall. "This is not going to cover the rest of the year," said Commission President John Evans, R-North, adding the council "can't keep kicking the can down the road. They've got to find the money. We're not the fiscal body." Evans said 30 people are responsible for more than 50 percent of the county plan's claims, which is the risk the county takes for being self-insured. Commissioners voted earlier this month to spend $5 million in interest money from the sale of the county hospital to cover the health insurance (Lavalley, 9/2).

Chicago Tribune: Father Sues Blue Cross For Denying Nursing Care
Magazine cutouts of Michael Jackson, stylish young rockers and characters from the "Twilight" series cover the walls of Stephanie DiCara's bedroom in North Barrington, where a nurse watches closely over the ventilator that keeps the young woman alive. But if her father loses a legal battle with an insurer over the costs of her care, DiCara fears she could be forced out of the room she's decorated to match her interests. "I try not to think about it, because it stresses me out," said DiCara, speaking in bursts timed with the cycles of the ventilator. DiCara, 23, was born with a neurological disorder known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. She had quadriplegia at age 11 and lost the ability to breathe on her own in 2011. One of her biggest fears is that the ventilator's steady rhythm will stop, leaving her breathless and voiceless and dead within minutes. Her insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, does not want to pay the approximately $450,000 per year it takes to keep skilled nurses at her side 24 hours a day, arguing that someone with less training could operate the ventilator and perform the other tasks DiCara requires (Venteicher, 9/2).

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.Net.
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