State News Roundup - January/February 2022

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University of Alabama Partners with Health Department to Fix Black Belt Homes 

By Hadley Hitson | Montgomery Advertiser | Feb. 21, 2022 

Alabama typically falls low on lists ranking health in the U.S., and the Black Belt region of the state has the highest level of disparities, reports the Montgomery Advertiser. These 18 counties are home to a large population of Black Alabamians who have few healthcare options and high poverty rates. To address identified environmental hazards that are a contributor to health, the University of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Health are launching a program to provide free home inspections and solutions to 150 low-income homes in the Black Belt. Inspectors look for environmental hazards such as indoor air quality, mold, pets, carbon monoxide, lead and asbestos, and the program will supply repairs for these issues up to $10,000 per household.  


California Residents' Health Conditions are Worsening After Skipping Care Due to Cost 

By Rebecca Catterson, Lucy Rabinowitz and Emily Alvarez | California Health Care Foundation | Jan. 27, 2022 

Roughly half of Californians are skipping or delaying care due to cost, according to the 2022  CHCF California Health Policy Survey. Among those who delayed care, nearly half reported their conditions worsened as a result. In addition, one-fourth had trouble paying medical bills, especially those with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. 


Colorado Launches Tax Time Enrollment Program for Health Coverage  

By Connect for Health Colorado | Feb. 7, 2022 

Colorado residents can now indicate that they are uninsured and interested in finding out if they quality for free or low-cost health coverage on their tax returns, according to Connect for Health Colorado. Residents who do so can qualify for a special enrollment period for coverage on Colorado’s marketplace or they can be connected to coverage on Colorado’s Medicaid program, as part of the state’s effort to reduce the uninsured rate. 


Saint Francis Sues Hartford HealthCare, Claims Anti-Competitive Practices 

By Dave Altimari | CT Mirror | Jan. 11, 2022 

Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center has sued Hartford HealthCare and its subsidiaries, including Hartford Hospital, reports CT Mirror. Saint Francis claims that Hartford HealthCare is trying to create a monopoly on hospital services by acquiring physician networks, particularly cardiologists, and demanding that they refer patients only to Hartford HealthCare. The lawsuit claims that as Hartford HealthCare acquired physician practices, they threatened and intimidated physicians who don’t comply with its “dictates.” The lawsuit also claims that other hospitals in the region suffer due to Hartford HealthCare’s “anticompetitive conduct.”  


Governor Signs Teacher Health Insurance Bill into Law 

By Betsy Russell | Idaho Press | Feb. 8, 2022 

Idaho’s governor signed a teacher health insurance bill into law, aiming to extend better health insurance benefits to teachers across the state, reports Idaho Press. The law creates a fund for school districts that choose to join the state’s health plan and sets a path for the state to increase its contribution for teacher health insurance premiums by approximately $4,000 per teacher, such that school  districts can expand family coverage and lower out-of-pocket costs for teachers. 


Retired Teachers Group Sues Illinois Over Looming Health Insurance Cost Changes 

By Greg Bishop | Center Square | Jan. 24, 2022 

A group of retired Illinois educators is suing the state over what they say is a diminishment of promised benefits, reports Center Square. The state is reducing what taxpayers pay for retired teachers’ healthcare by around $100 million per year, starting in July 2022. The group believes that reduced state contribution would mean increased costs for retired teachers and claims that their actuary has said that the fund would be depleted in anywhere from one to four years.  


Indiana Hospitals Among Most Expensive in the Country 

By Al Hubbard and Brian Blase | The Wall Street Journal | Feb. 4, 2022 

Indiana's nonprofit hospitals are charging prices well above the national average and producing profit margins far above other states, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial. Indiana University Health  and other large nonprofit hospitals in particular are charging far above the national average, while small, independent and rural hospitals are charging below the national average. State legislators have called for Indiana hospitals and insurers to present a plan that will reduce hospital prices to the national average within three years, otherwise they will pursue legislation to reduce prices. 


Louisiana Medicaid Expansion Associated with Reduced Travel for Care Among Minority Groups and Rural Residents  

By Dimitris Karletsos and Charles Stoecker | Health Affairs | January 2022 

Medicaid expansion in Louisiana was associated with decreased travel distance to healthcare providers, according to a study in Health Affairs. The authors studied this relationship among continuously enrolled Medicaid beneficiaries from 2015-2017, with Medicaid expansion occurring in July 2016. Distance traveled decreased across eight different types of services, ranging from −3.46 miles for general practices to −0.70 miles for specialty care. Black enrollees living in nonmetropolitan areas experienced the greatest decline in travel distance, with more than nine fewer miles traveled for primary care services. The authors argue that Medicaid expansion can be a tool to address racial and geographic disparities in healthcare access. 


Maine to Mail 125,000 Free COVID-19 Tests to Residents in Need  

By the Office of Governor Janet T. Mills | Jan. 28, 2022 

Maine’s governor announced the launch of a pilot project to mail 125,000 free COVID-19 tests directly to the homes of Maine residents most in need, according to the Office of the Governor. The state is partnering with The Rockefeller Foundation to provide 25,000 Maine households five at-home rapid tests for free. Households in rural ZIP codes and ZIP codes that are the most socially vulnerable, based the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social vulnerability index, are eligible for the free tests. 

Maine to Merge Small Group and Individuals in Marketplace 

By Edward D. Murphy | The Portland Press Herald | Feb. 17, 2022 

The state will merge the Affordable Care Act insurance markets for individuals and small groups to create more stable pricing for health coverage, reports The Portland Press Herald. State officials say that Maine will be first in the nation to combine the two markets into a subsidized reinsurance program, with the goal of promoting more stability in the market. The merger will go into effect in 2023.  


Commission Orders Mass General Brigham to Reduce Spending  

By Alex Kacik | Modern Healthcare | Jan. 25, 2022 

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission unanimously voted to issue a performance improvement plan to Mass General Brigham, reports Modern Healthcare. Mass General Brigham is the largest health system in the state and has spent $293 million in excess of Massachusetts’ cost growth benchmark from 2014 to 2019. The main driver of this spending growth was prices and its payer mix, rather than utilization. This is the first time the Health Policy Commission has used this power, and the system has 45 days to provide a performance improvement plan, request a waiver or apply for an extension.  


Michigan Passes Pharmacy Benefits Manager Reforms 

By Robert King | Fierce Healthcare | Feb. 23, 2022 

Michigan's governor signed a series of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) reforms into law, according to Fierce Healthcare. The legislation prohibits PBMs from preventing pharmacists from telling consumers it's less expensive to purchase drugs out-of-pocket, and will require PBMs to file transparency reports telling consumers about the backend costs and profits of their medications, among other provisions. 

New Mexico  

New Mexico Legislature Will Investigate Hospital Costs for Uninsured Patients 

By New Mexico Together for Healthcare | Feb. 18, 2022 

The New Mexico legislature will hold a hearing on uninsured patients' hospital charges following the passage of HM 36, according to NM Together for Healthcare. The legislation also asks the Human Services Department to report to the legislature on how hospitals are using public funds designated for the care of low-income, uninsured patients. 

New York 

Upstate NY Health System Finds Strong Demand for Mobile Healthcare 

By Eric Wicklund | HealthLeaders Media | Feb. 8, 2022 

A network of community health centers in upstate New York has started using a mobile medical unit to help remote patients access care, reports HealthLeaders Media. The Hudson Headwaters Health Network rolled out its first primary care van shortly before winter in 2021, with scheduled stops in three small communities, and has since added a fourth stop. The mobile unit addresses a growing problem in rural areas, where healthcare providers are scarce and health insurance rates are low. The network worked with each community to find a good location for the van, to allow visibility and easy access for patients, as well as Wi-Fi access. During the pandemic, the van has become an important resource, allowing access to testing and some vaccinations.  

NYC Hospitals Still Aren’t Sharing All Their Prices One Year After Transparency Law Took Effect 

By Caroline Lewis | Gothamist | Feb. 22, 2022 

None of the 12 hospitals analyzed in New York City and Long Island were in full compliance with federal price transparency regulations, reports the Gothamist. A recent report from Patient Right Advocate reveals that just 14 percent of the 1,000 hospitals surveyed across the U.S. were in full compliance with the regulations. While many New York City hospitals complied with certain aspects of the new federal rule mandating hospital price transparency, many have left out certain key information. Some hospitals, like Mount Sinai, left out its discounted cash prices, but included a complete list of rates it had negotiated with health plans, while others missed the mark by a lot more. Numerous hospitals in New York City have not posted the rates that they charge insurers, while some included negotiated rates for just some insurers, but left others out.  

North Carolina 

Report: North Carolina Hospitals Overbill the Poor 

By Johanna F. Still | Wilmington Biz | Jan. 26, 2022 

In North Carolina, nonprofit hospitals billed low-income patients who would otherwise be eligible for charity care at a higher rate than the national average, reports Wilmington Biz. A report by the North Carolina State Treasurer’s office shows that only 18 of the state’s 105 nonprofit hospitals reported actual dollar figures for bad debt—debt that the hospital cannot recover—incurred by patients eligible for charity care. Of those 18 hospitals, the average share of eligible charity care to bad debt is 29 percent, nearly three times the national average. In addition, hospitals attributed an estimated 12 percent to nearly 29 percent of their bad debt to patients otherwise eligible to receive charity care. Furthermore, the study’s authors cast serious doubts on the accuracy of hospitals’ reporting practices that show all patients eligible for charity care received it, as those hospitals are in counties with relatively high poverty rates. 

Report Reveals Noncompliance by North Carolina Hospitals on Price Transparency Rule 

By Nyamekye Daniel | Center Square | Feb. 10, 2022 

Just four out of 21 randomly sampled hospitals complied with hospital price transparency requirements in 2021, reports Center Square. This revelation comes from a report by Patient Rights Advocate, which randomly sampled 1,000 hospitals across the U.S. As of January 2021, hospitals are required to fully disclose online prices for services, unveiling negotiated rates between hospitals and insurers. A Wall Street Journal report showed that hundreds of hospitals, including Winston-Salem's Novant Health, were using embedded codes to block access to their pricing lists. The North Carolina Attorney General also released a report in January 2022 that reviewed 147 hospitals in the state, and found that 16 were not compliant with the requirement to provide a machine-readable list of services and prices, one was not compliant with the requirement to provide a consumer-friendly shoppable list and eight were not compliant with either requirement.  

Rhode Island 

Rhode Island Healthcare System Merger Scrapped Amid Regulatory Opposition 

By Alex Kacik | Modern Healthcare | Feb. 23, 2022 

Lifespan and Care New England Health System scrapped  merger plans amid federal and state opposition, according to Modern Healthcare. Lifespan and Care New England decided not to appeal after the Federal Trade Commission and Rhode Island Attorney General sued to block the deal last week, claiming it would increase prices, reduce quality and stifle wages. The healthcare systems are the two largest providers in Rhode Island and together they would have controlled most of the general inpatient care, outpatient surgery and inpatient behavioral healthcare in the state. 

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