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State Highlights: New Calif. Health Laws Signed; Mass. Judge Considers Partners Deal

A selection of health policy stories from California, Massachusetts, New York, the District of Columbia, Minnesota and Kansas.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: California To Launch Medicaid-Funded Teledentistry
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill that would require Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for the poor, to pay for dental services delivered by teams of hygienists and dentists connected through the Internet. California is among the first states to launch such teledentistry services, which are intended to increase the options for patients in remote and underserved areas. Other states, like Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii and West Virginia, are interested in creating their own teledentistry programs but are farther behind, advocates for the projects said (Hernandez, 9/29).

California Healthline: Governor Agrees To Take $6M California Endowment Grant, Signs Many Health Bills
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a flurry of health-related bills at the end of last week including a bill to reverse the state’s position on accepting a grant to help with Medi-Cal enrollment renewals. More than eight million Californians are up for renewal in the Medi-Cal program (California’s version of Medicaid). New eligibility rules and new forms have slowed the response rate so far. The California Endowment offered the Department of Health Care Services a $6 million grant to help with the renewal effort that would be doubled by matching federal funding. The state turned down the $12 million money during May budget negotiations (Gorn, 9/29).

WBUR: Judge Wrestles With Partners Deal
Suffolk Superior Court judge Janet Sanders is wrestling with a decision that will shape the health care industry in Massachusetts for at least a decade. On the face of it, Sanders is reviewing a customary settlement in an anti-trust case. Partners HealthCare and Attorney General Martha Coakley reached an agreement to avoid a lengthy court fight. The agreement would allow Partners to acquire at least three hospitals and hire more physicians in exchange for limits on price increases and unchecked expansion through the next decade (Bebinger, 9/30).

Boston Globe: Judge Delays Decision On Partner Accord
A Superior Court judge raised serious concerns Monday about an increasingly controversial deal that would allow Partners HealthCare to acquire three community hospitals, and she moved her decision on the transaction until after the November election. Judge Janet L. Sanders scheduled the next hearing for Nov. 10, meaning Partners’ nearly three-year effort to merge with South Shore Hospital in Weymouth and its subsequent move to take over hospitals in Medford and Melrose could be delayed for months (McCluskey, 9/29).

The New York Times: Cuomo’s Ad Faults Astorino On Health Care For Older Adults
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has attacked his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, over his views on issues like abortion rights, same-sex marriage and gun control. Now Mr. Cuomo is trying to focus attention on health care for older adults. While Mr. Cuomo holds a wide lead in polls, he has not relented in airing negative commercials about Mr. Astorino, and the advertisements appear to be working: In a statewide poll conducted by Siena College from Sept. 18-23, 29 percent of likely voters had a favorable view of Mr. Astorino, compared with 30 percent who had an unfavorable view of him (Kaplan, 9/29).

The New York Times: De Blasio’s Executive Order Will Expand Living Wage Law To Thousands More
Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to sign an executive order on Tuesday significantly expanding New York City’s living wage law, covering thousands of previously exempt workers and raising the hourly wage itself, to $13.13 from $11.90, for workers who do not receive benefits. … The executive order will immediately cover employees of commercial tenants on projects that receive more than $1 million in city subsidies going forward. Workers who receive benefits such as health insurance will earn $11.50 an hour, compared with $10.30 before (Flegenheimer, 9/29).

The Washington Post: D.C. Government’s Infant-Mortality Program Eyed For Cuts As Mayor Touts New Initiative
A loss of $4 million in federal funding is threatening to curtail District services to young mothers and infants, complicating the city’s efforts to care for its youngest residents even as officials tout a new focus on reducing infant mortality. Over two decades, the city received tens of millions of dollars in funding through the federal Healthy Start program. But that program recently changed its structure, dispensing with a long-standing preference for previous grantees and instituting a more competitive funding process (DeBonis, 9/29).

Boston Globe: Charlie Baker’s Alternative Applies Sick Time Only To Larger Firms
The [Massachusetts] Republican gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Baker, wants only those companies with 50 or more employees to be required to offer paid sick time to their workers, according to the “Alternative Paid Sick Leave Initiative” he issued Monday. A ballot question in November will ask Massachusetts voters if employees at companies with 11 or more workers would be allowed to earn and use paid sick time if they miss work for a variety of reasons dealing with their health or the health of a loved one (Johnson, 9/29).

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: In Reform Effort, State Hospital Will Give Families A Seat At The Table
Facing intense criticism from parents and patient advocates, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital is preparing to give families much greater say in the treatment of mentally ill patients. The move is part of a broad series of reforms at the embattled state hospital, which has struggled with staff turnover, incidents of patient maltreatment and serious security lapses. Hundreds of parents, siblings and spouses of patients will get letters this week from the state Department of Human Services, inviting them to become members of the first-ever family advisory council at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. The council will advise the hospital, which houses about 225 of the state’s most dangerous and mentally ill patients, on everything from group therapy to patient security and room decor (Serres, 9/29).

Kansas Health Institute News Service: Democrats Call For Special Committee To Vet KanCare Contracting
The top Democrats on the KanCare Oversight Committee on Monday called for a separate committee to be appointed to study whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration contracted with three managed care organizations to privatize Medicaid. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, and Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the request was spurred by the months-old news of FBI agents interviewing Capitol denizens for information on allegations of corruption within the administration. The FBI has not confirmed the investigation, per agency policy, but some of those interviewed have told news outlets that the $3 billion KanCare contracts are at the center of the questions. Sen. Laura Kelly, left, and Rep. Jim Ward, the top Democrats on the KanCare Oversight Committee, on Monday requested that a special committee be appointed to study whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration contracted with three managed care organizations to privatize Medicaid (Marso, 9/29).

Kansas Health Institute News Service: Ruling On In-Home Medicaid Services Creates Questions For Providers, Beneficiaries
Karen Barezinsky is looking for an answer to what she says is a simple question: Are the people who run the state’s Medicaid program planning to cut the supports she and her husband use to keep her son, Ray Santin, who’s paralyzed from his neck down, out of a nursing home? “I can’t find out anything,” said Karen, 62, who lives in Scranton with her husband and son. “I leave messages with Ray’s case manager, but nobody calls me back.” Karen is worried because she’s read news stories about Gov. Sam Brownback and Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Kari Bruffett warning legislators that a recent ruling by the U.S. Department of Labor could cause reductions of in-home services for some people with disabilities and frail elders (Ranney, 9/29).

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