State highlights: Calif. ballot measure updates; Va. prison health care budget shortfall

A selection of health policy stories from California, Arizona, Maine, South Dakota, Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Washington state and Missouri.

CQ Healthbeat: California Leads States In Ballot Measures That Could Influence Health Care
They'll vote on whether to upend decades-old policies and give the state insurance commissioner the power to deny health insurer requests for rate increases. Another question on the ballot could significantly increase medical malpractice award caps set in 1975 and impose the first requirements in the nation that doctors get tested for illegal drug use. California's measures stand out as the most significant health-related ballot initiatives in front of voters in the November elections. Elsewhere, Arizonans will vote on whether terminally ill people in the state can use drugs that aren't yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In Maine, voters will decide whether to spend millions to encourage the development of a genomic industry, while South Dakotans will vote on whether to join at least 33 other states that require health insurers to have a contracting process that will consider requests to participate from all interested and licensed providers (Adams, 10/20).

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Boost No On 45 Funding
California insurers have pumped more than $12 million over the last five days into a campaign to defeat Proposition 45, an initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot that would regulate health insurance rates. Blue Shield gave $2.66 million, WellPoint $6 million, Kaiser Permanente $3.73 million and Health Net $350,000, according to late filings at the secretary of state's office (Lifsher, 10/20).

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Va. Prison System Faces $45 Million Shortfall In Inmate Health Care
Virginia's prison system faces a $45 million shortfall in inmate health care through next year, even as the corrections department bears the brunt of the latest round of cuts in the two-year state budget. The shortfall emerged this year after a private company that had provided health care to inmates at 17 prisons in hard-to-serve areas ended its contract with the state at the end of September, according to Department of Corrections Director Harold W. Clarke in a presentation Monday to the House Appropriations Committee (Martz, 10/20). 

The Washington Post: Booz Allen Buys Baltimore-Based Health Division Of Genova Technologies
Booz Allen Hamilton has acquired the health care division of Genova Technologies, an Iowa-based government contractor, for an undisclosed sum. The health care group, made up of about 40 employees, is based in Baltimore. The office has already been integrated into Booz Allen, said Susan Penfield, executive vice president of Booz's health business (Jayakumar, 10/20).

The Associated Press: La. Health Dept. Seeks End To Billing Rape Victims
Sexual assault victims in Louisiana should not have to pay for their treatment in emergency rooms, the health department said Monday, announcing a proposal that would have a state victims' assistance board finance the exams (10/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Judge Blocks Cancellation Of Philadelphia Teachers Contract
A judge on Monday temporarily blocked the Philadelphia public-school system from canceling the teachers union contract and requiring educators to pay a share of their health insurance premiums starting in December. The union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, sought the injunction, claiming the five-member School Reform Commission that governs the district lacked legal authority to impose the changes. The school district said it would appeal Monday's ruling (Calvert, 10/20).

Boston Globe: Mental Health Record May Be Predictor For Baker
[Charlie] Baker's blueprint saved Massachusetts millions of dollars at a time when the state was staring at a nearly $2 billion deficit, but it left thousands of mental health patients often waiting weeks for treatments. The controversial approach became his template for rescuing financially ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care a decade later. The aftershocks of both initiatives are still being felt as the now 57-year-old Republican runs for governor, and those experiences, say Baker supporters and critics, provide a window into how he might handle similarly fraught and costly issues if elected (Lazar, 10/21).

Arizona Central-Republic: Phoenix VA Hospital Fails Outside Compliance Review
The Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system in Phoenix does not comply with U.S. standards for safety, patient care and management, according to a non-profit organization that reviews medical facilities nationwide. In findings published online, The Joint Commission says Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center failed a July inspection in 13 quality-control categories (Wagner, 10/21).

California Healthline: New Los Angeles Program Working To Divert Mentally Ill, Homeless From Jail
Court. Jail. Homelessness. Repeat. That cycle so familiar to many Californians with mental illnesses may soon be interrupted thanks to the new Third District Diversion and Alternative Sentencing Program in Los Angeles County. Designed for adults who are chronically homeless, seriously mentally ill, and who commit specific misdemeanor and low-level felony crimes, the demonstration project could help reduce recidivism by as much as two-thirds, Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said (Stephens, 10/20).

North Carolina Health News: A Rural Practice Fights To Stay Solvent
By many measures this is a pediatric practice that shouldn't exist. Ahoskie is home to 5,000 people, only 1,200 of whom are under 18. The median income of the town hovers right around the federal poverty level, and the bulk of the young residents qualify for Medicaid or the state's children's health insurance program, free school lunch, and other services. Beverly Edwards, MD, is one of only two pediatricians within a 2-hour drive of Ahoskie, and never has a shortage of patients. Despite the challenging environment, and state bureaucratic changes that have nearly bankrupted her practice, Ahoskie Pediatrics' sole doctor, Edwards says she's been living the dream (Ferris, 10/21).

The Associated Press: Texas Selects Company To Run Psychiatric Facility
Texas leaders are closer to privatizing a much maligned North Texas psychiatric facility despite concerns from mental health care advocates. The Austin American-Statesman reports state officials announced Monday that Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions has the winning bid to operate Terrell State Hospital, which employs 980 staffers and serves more than 250 patients. The state and company are negotiating the deal and a decision on whether to move forward with the privatization should be made by the year's end. State health officials said privatization might be the best way to improve the hospital, which was scrutinized following a patient death. A 62-year-old Pittsburg woman died at the facility in 2013 after being restrained for 55 hours. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shortly thereafter cut off federal funding because of poor conditions at the hospital (10/21).

Houston Chronicle: Riverside Hospital Ex-CEO, 3 Others Convicted In Medicare Fraud Case
The former president of historic Riverside Hospital -- along with his son and two other people affiliated with the facility -- were convicted in federal court Monday for their roles in a Medicare scheme to steal $158 million from the U.S. government. The convictions are a hefty blow to the hospital, which has been teetering on financial collapse. Prosecutors said the facility's psychiatric care was a "sham," and that the four convicted - ex-hospital chief Earnest Gibson III; his son Earnest Gibson IV; Regina Askew and Robert Crane - reaped taxpayer money for services that were not provided. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said the defendants treated mentally ill and disabled people "like chits to be traded and cashed out to pad their own pockets (Chiller, 10/20).

Seattle Times: Washington Insurance Commissioner, Court Bolster Mental Health Coverage
Washington residents will be able to recover some of their medical costs for certain mental health services. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is sending letters instructing insurance companies to identify and inform policyholders whose insurance claims were denied for mental-health care that they have a right to have those claims re-evaluated, provided that they were denied under a blanket or categorical exclusion. The letters from Kreidler are being sent in response to a ruling earlier this month by the state Supreme Court. The court determined that insurance companies are required to cover medically necessary neurodevelopmental therapies for patients with mental illness including autism (Stiffler, 10/20).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Home Health Workers In Missouri Fight For Higher Minimum Wage
For home health attendants and their patients, a push to raise the workers' hourly minimum wage is a no-brainer. "The people that take care of me deserve a living wage," said Kyle Auxier, of St. James, Mo., who receives five hours of care at home every day from a home health attendant. "They don't get what they deserve in my opinion. They can help someone disabled, like me, live their life normally." But the proposal for an $11 hourly pay floor for those workers in a Medicaid-funded consumer-led health program has been met with skepticism and silence from some state policy makers. Auxier has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a condition that has progressed as he's gotten older. He has had a home health care attendant each day for the last four years but said his current worker was considering leaving because she makes only $7.75 an hour (Shapiro, 10/20).


http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org 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.

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