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State Highlights: Ga.’s ‘Surprise’ Medical Bill Legislation Hits Snag; Mass. Commission Urges State To Up Oversight Of Hospital Rates

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Outlets report on news from Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, Kansas, California, Maine and Florida.

Georgia Health News: Proposal To End ‘Surprise’ Billing Tied Up Over Payment Formula 
The major snag is a lack of agreement on a formula to determine reimbursement rates for doctors, said Sen. Renee Unterman, the bill’s sponsor, at a legislative hearing Tuesday. Unterman, a Republican from Buford, is also a nurse and has been concerned about the problem for a long time. Surprise medical bills can come from ER doctors, anesthesiologists, radiologists, pathologists and others who are not in a patient’s insurance network — even though the hospital where they work is in the network. (Miller, 2/14)

Boston Globe: Special Panel Recommends Regulating Hospital Rate Increases
Commissioners said the Division of Insurance should have greater authority to oversee hospital-insurer contracts, including the amount hospital rates can increase each year. The controversial proposal comes after months of discussions at the commission, which was convened to study the wide variation in prices at Massachusetts hospitals. Studies have shown that price disparities contribute to higher health spending because the most expensive providers also tend to have the top reputations and attract the most patients. (Dayal McCluskey, 2/15)

The Star Tribune: Nursing Strikes Cost Allina $149 Million
Two contentious nursing strikes cost Allina Health more than $149 million last year — wiping out the year’s operating revenues for the Minneapolis-based hospital and clinic system. More than 4,000 nurses struck twice — for seven days in June and again for 37 days in the fall — after Allina demanded that they give up a union-backed health insurance plan and accept the same coverage offered other employees. (Olson, 2/14)

Georgia Health News: Flu Misery Continues Across The State 
The Department of Public Health said that through the week of Jan. 29 through Feb. 4, there had been 376 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to influenza so far this season. That’s up from 61 at the same time a year ago. The state reported last Friday that it had two confirmed flu-associated deaths this season, the same number as the same period a year ago. (Miller, 2/14)

Boston Globe: On Beacon Hill, A Fight Between Dentists, Hygienists 
Advocates for hygienists say that poor and disabled people, often minority children, struggle to find good dental care because of a shortage of dentists willing to serve them. The group is pushing for a new class of advanced hygienists, sort of nurse practitioners for the mouth, who could offer the kind of help that they say these patients aren’t getting. Traditional dentists, though, said such a role would endanger rather than help the poor by putting them in the hands of people who lack proper training and skills. (Krantz, 2/15)

Pioneer Press: Kids In Need Getting Free Sealants, Dental Care This Month 
Community Dental Care Program director Ann Copeland said it’s important for immigrant populations to see a diverse, welcoming staff. Copeland said 83 percent of their clients are on public assistance, and 8 percent are uninsured. More than half are children. Many of the refugee populations qualify for public assistance but have trouble navigating the healthcare system due to language and cultural barriers. Some are unfamiliar with modern dental hygiene, such as fluoride treatments, or don’t realize that soda contains sugars and acids that can lead to tooth decay. Legal status can also be a barrier. Some Mexican-American families are undocumented and resist applying for public assistance and making their presence known to state and county government, Copeland said. (Melo, 2/14)

The CT Mirror: With Demand Already Up, Free Clinics Anticipate More Need 
AmeriCares Free Clinics opened a new facility to treat the uninsured in Stamford last month, it didn’t take long to see what Executive Director Karen Gottlieb called the “unmet need.” And Gottlieb figures that need will grow. Like others in health care, she and her counterparts at other free clinics are watching closely as Congress and President Trump look to repeal and replace the federal health law, and change how Medicaid is funded. (Levin Becker, 2/15)

The Star Tribune: That’s A Wrap: New Gowns Make Their Way Into Local Hospitals 
Following months of study, officials with Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park have decided to adopt new hospital gowns that feature sharper colors, a different mix of fabrics and a design that aims to keep patient posteriors under wraps. The key difference: Patients tie new gowns closer to their sides, so there’s less straining with knots at the middle of their backs. In focus groups, patients told hospital officials they feel exposed with current hospital gowns. (Snowbeck, 2/15)

Houston Chronicle: CHI St. Luke’s Health Announces New Round Of Layoffs
CHI St. Luke’s Health system has or will be closing four facilities and laying off 89 workers at locations in The Woodlands and Conroe, according to a letter from the Texas Workforce Commission. The Feb. 9 letter announced the CHI St. Luke’s Health Woodlands Ambulatory Surgery Center closed on Jan. 27 and its 7 employees will be laid off effective next month. In addition The health system’s Emergency center in The Woodlands will also close on March 3 and 29 employees will lose their job. The same day the CHI St. Luke’s Health Pinecroft is closing its pharmacy, sleep lab and laboratories, also in The Woodlands, and 27 people there will be laid off. (Deam, 2/14)

Houston Chronicle: Federal Judge’s Order Hits State Hard Over Heat-Related Inmate Deaths 
A federal judge has ruled the Texas prison system and its top leaders must stand trial in a civil rights lawsuit over the heat-related death of an inmate, a sharp rebuke that focused new attention on the deaths of more than 20 other inmates in prison units that lack air-conditioning. The 83-page order by U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison – who personally visited a prison in the summer heat – cites the state’s own records documenting a heat index of about 150 degrees inside the Hutchins State Jail near Dallas where inmate Larry Gene McCollum, 58, a cab driver from Bellmead near Waco, died during a heat wave in 2011. (Banks, 2/14)

KCUR: Court Rules Missouri Corrections Officials Did Not Violate Sunshine Law In Execution Cases 
Missouri corrections officials are not required to disclose the identities of the pharmacists who supply the state’s lethal execution drugs, an appeals court ruled Tuesday. Reversing a lower court judge who had ordered the Department of Corrections to reveal their names, the Missouri Court of Appeals found that the DOC did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law by refusing to provide them. The court cited a Missouri law that gives the director of the DOC discretion to select the members of the execution team, including those who administer the lethal chemicals or gas used in executions and those who provide them with “direct support.” (Margolies, 2/14)

San Jose Mercury News: What It Takes To Open A Senior Care Franchise
People also like the security of buying into a proven concept, which franchising provides, Fagan said. While food has always been a popular franchise model, essential services like home or auto repair, air conditioning and health care are strong franchise options. The projected growth of the elderly population is also fueling strong demand for in-home care, experts say, but it’s no small task to start a franchise in the sector. (Sciacca, 2/14)

The Associated Press: No Further Penalty For Nurse Who Let Patient Go In Snowstorm
The state has lost its effort to impose a greater penalty on a nurse whose license was suspended after letting a disoriented patient leave a hospital during a snowstorm. The 61-year-old patient was found dead the next day just 380 feet from the entrance of Down East Community Hospital in Machias, leading to an investigation of nurse John Zablotny’s actions and an effort by the Maine State Board of Nurses to revoke his license for two years. (2/14)

Tampa Bay Times: Lobbyist Muscle Will Be Major Force In Medical Marijuana Fight
Lobbyists, paid to represent various interests, are normally the ones watching as state lawmakers cast votes, but their interest in pot is so great that the first House subcommittee meeting on the subject was standing-room only. Sergeant-at-arms staffers blocked the door, turning people away. At the final stop in the Department of Health’s statewide tour of public hearings, Chelsie Lyons, a Tallahassee-based activist with Minorities for Medical Marijuana called out the process that will turn Amendment 2 into a state laws and rules governing medical cannabis. (Auslen, 2/14)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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