State News Roundup - July/August 2021

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Colorado Hospitals Have Highest Profit Margins in Country, Translating to Increased Prices for Payers, Patients
By Martina Dolan | | Aug. 25, 2021

A report released last week by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) found that Colorado hospitals have the highest profit margins in the country, leading to increased prices for payers and patients, reports The department evaluated the Medicare Cost Report Data for Colorado’s hospitals from 2009 to 2018; however, it only included hospitals with 25 or more beds, excluding most rural hospitals. HCPF estimates that Colorado hospitals’ operating costs were $1.3 billion above the national median.


Covered CT Program Offers Affordable Healthcare for All Residents
By Kaye Paddyfote | Fox 61 News | Aug. 9, 2021

This summer, Connecticut launched a new Covered CT Program, which aims to reduce the number of residents who are uninsured by helping them afford insurance, reports Fox 61 News. The program is going to provide no-cost health coverage to up to 40,000 people in Connecticut when it’s fully implemented in 2022. In this new program, the state will pay the consumer portion of the monthly premium directly to insurance carriers and will also pay for the cost-sharing amounts that consumers normally would have to pay with a health insurance plan. Beginning in 2022, this program will also include coverage for visiting the dentist and non-emergency medical transportation to see providers. 

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Limiting Hospital Billing and Collection
By Nathaniel Arden and Michael Listano | National Law Review | Aug. 3, 2021

Connecticut recently passed a bill that expands the types of entities to which billing and collection restrictions apply, placing further limitations on collection efforts by such entities and making several changes to Connecticut’s exiting laws concerning facility fees, reports the National Law Review. Among other changes, the new law prohibits hospitals, entities that are owned by or affiliated with a hospital and collection agents that receive referrals from hospitals or such other “affiliated with” or “owned by” entities from: reporting a patient to a credit rating agency for a period of one year beginning on the date that the patient first receives a bill for healthcare provided; initiating an action to foreclose a lien on a patient’s primary residence if the lien was filed to secure payment for healthcare providers; or applying to a court for an execution against a patient’s wages or otherwise seeking to garnish a patient’s wages, to collect payment for healthcare services, if such patient is eligible for the hospital bed fund.

District of Columbia

DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority Takes Action to Achieve Social Justice and Equity in Health Insurance Coverage
By DC Health Link | July 15, 2021

The DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (DCHBX) Executive Board voted to adopt recommendations from its Social Justice and Health Disparities Working Group, in an effort to stop racism in healthcare, according to DC Health Link. These recommendations are focused on three crucial areas in order to establish practices, structures and policies that can be implemented by health plans on the exchange to (1) expand access to providers and health systems for communities of color, (2) eliminate health outcome disparities for communities of color, and (3) ensure equitable treatment for patients of color in healthcare settings and in the delivery of healthcare services. The recommendations include: requiring cultural competency training for network providers; stratifying quality measures by race, ethnicity and primary language; and providing incentives for both primary care and specialist physicians to practice in underserved areas in DC.


Illinois Governor Signs Legislation Expanding Telehealth Access
By Shepard Price | Intelligencer | July 23, 2021

A new law in Illinois aims to increase telehealth access across the state, reports the Intelligencer. The law builds upon ongoing efforts to ensure that all Illinoisans have uninterrupted telehealth access by permanently extending the payment parity requirement for mental health and substance use disorder services established by an Executive Order at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also authorizes all other telehealth services to be covered through 2027.

Illinois Governor Signs Legislation Meant to Lower Costs, Improves Access to Healthcare
By Shepard Price | My Journal Courier | Aug. 26, 2021

A new law in Illinois will advance health equity by lowering costs and improving access to care for low-income and uninsured residents, reports My Journal Courier. SB 1840 amends both the Illinois Community Benefits Act and the Hospital Uninsured Patient Discount Act to decrease the maximum amount collected by uninsured patients for services rendered by a hospital from 25 percent to 15 percent of a person’s income and lowering the cost threshold for all medically necessary healthcare services that make uninsured patients eligible for discounts from $300 to $150. Among numerous other stipulations, the legislation also requires nonprofit hospitals’ community benefits plans to describe activities the hospital is undertaking to address health equity, reduce health disparities and improve community health.

Eight Healthcare Collaboratives Get $95 Million to Reduce Health Disparities
By KHQA Staff | ABC 20 | July 1, 2021

Illinois’ inaugural round of Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives funding has allocated state funds to eight healthcare collaboratives, reports ABC 20. The goal of this influx of funding is to reorient healthcare in the state to reduce healthcare inequities, improve health outcomes, address social determinants of health and improve underserved communities’ access to quality healthcare. This program was set up following the passage of the Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives Public Act 101-650 in March 2021 that sought to develop these collaboratives to invest in underserved communities and increase access to community-based health services.


Louisiana Special Report on Health Access Disparities
By the Louisiana Department of Health | July 27, 2021

A new report from the Louisiana Department of Health examines health access disparities in Louisiana across demographic groups and insurance plans. Data from more than 8,500 households were compiled and assessed if their health insurance met their needs and allowed them to see the providers that they need,breaking down results by gender, race, health insurance plan and location. The report found that females have better insurance coverage than males; white Louisianans have better coverage than Black Louisianans and rural children are more likely to report less access and having coverage that does not meet their needs than those in urban areas.


New Maine Law Recognizes Pharmacists as Healthcare Providers
By the University of New England | July 9, 2021

Maine’s Governor signed LD 603 into law, which defines the practice of pharmacy as a provision of healthcare services and recognizes pharmacists as healthcare providers, according to the University of New England. Proponents of the law hope that it will provide more opportunities for pharmacists to provide healthcare services and expand greater access to care for patients, particularly in underserved rural communities.

Maine Caps Insulin Costs, Expands Medicaid Dental Coverage; Fails to Rein in Drug Prices
By Joe Lawlor | The Press Herald | July 7, 2021

Healthcare advocates are celebrating legislative victories in the Maine Legislature, including a $35 cap on insulin costs and expanding Medicaid coverage for dental services to adults, reports The Press Herald. Additionally, the legislature passed bills that extend Medicaid coverage twelve months postpartum and sets the minimum wage for direct care workers, such as those who provide home-based healthcare services, to 125 percent of the minimum wage. However, Governor Mills vetoed bills aiming to reduce prescription drug costs that would have outlawed price gouging and required drug manufacturers to justify price increases.

Office of Affordable Healthcare Becomes Law in Maine
By the Associated Press | July 17, 2021

A new law enacted in Maine establishes an independent, nonpartisan agency to attempt to control healthcare spending and improve access to quality care, reports the Associated Press. The office will analyze health data and make evidence-based policy recommendations to state lawmakers.


$60 Million Allocated to Improve Health Disparities in Maryland’s Underserved Communities
By Matt Beuchlein | State of Reform | Aug. 25, 2021

In response to increasing health disparities, which cost Maryland more than $1 billion per year in direct medical costs, the Maryland Health Equity Act is allocating $60 million to address health inequities across the state, reports State of Reform. The newly formed Health Equity Resource Community (HERC) Advisory Committee, consisting of state officials and health policy experts from across the state, will decide how best to use these funds. The committee will be meeting throughout August and will begin accepting grant applications for funds as early as October.


New Minnesota Law Seeks to Reduce Maternal Mortality, Address Racial Inequities
By Bisi Onile-Ere | Fox 9 KMSP | July 7, 2021

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity got an additional $300,000 in state funding to create a model curriculum for antiracism and implicit bias training in hospitals and birthing centers statewide, reports Fox 9 KMSP. The funding comes from the recently passed Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, which includes other provisions intended to address and better understand disparities in maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. The new law was based on research indicating that more than half of maternal deaths are preventable, and that racism and bias in the healthcare system create disproportionate barriers to high-quality care. 

Study Identifies Racial/Ethnic and Language Inequities in Ways Patients Obtain COVID-19 Virus Testing
By the University of Minnesota | July 13, 2021

Patients who initiated COVID-19 testing at a large safety-net health system in Minneapolis were disproportionately white and English-speaking, according to a study by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Patients who initiated testing through the emergency department, however, were disproportionately Black, Native American, non-English speaking and had one or more pre-existing conditions. In addition, the study found that testing initiated through telehealth and outpatient encounters was associated with lower rates of subsequent inpatient and intensive care unit care than testing initiated in more care-intensive settings, such as emergency departments. Researchers posit that the inequities point to structural root causes, including barriers to timely testing access, delays in care seeking, difficulty accessing telehealth services and higher rates of pre-existing conditions among patients who require higher levels of care. However, these inequities could also be partially explained by clinician and clinic variations in telehealth use.


Montanans Support Medicaid Expansion; Worry About Increasing Costs
By Darrell Ehrlick | Missoula Current | Aug. 26, 2021

A recent poll by Consumers for Quality Care reveals that Montanans are concerned about the rising cost of healthcare and broadly support Medicaid expansion, reports the Missoula Current. The research shows that 63 percent of respondents agreed that Medicaid should be permanently expanded, with over half of both Republicans and Independents agreeing. In addition, more than 1 in 4 respondents have overdue or unpaid medical bills and worry about their ability to afford medical care. Furthermore, 68 percent of respondents have struggled to pay a medical bill at some point even while they had health insurance.

New Jersey

Governor Murphy Signs Landmark Legislation to Improve New Jersey’s Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes
By the Office of the New Jersey Governor | July 29, 2021

New Jersey recently passed legislation to improve New Jersey’s maternal and infant health outcomes. The bill, S690, establishes a statewide universal newborn home visitation program within the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. The program will provide a registered nurse to conduct home visits for all mothers and newborns within two weeks of birth, as well as for families who experienced stillbirth, at no cost to the family. Home visits will feature an evidence-based evaluation of the physical, emotional and social factors affecting parents and their newborn, and will include assessments of health and physical wellness, breastfeeding support, reproductive planning, environmental assessments of the home and assessments for social determinants of health. This program is part of the state’s Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan which hopes to implement strategies to reduce maternal mortality and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes.

New Research Shows Concern Among New Jerseyans Over Rising Healthcare Costs
By New Jersey Business Magazine | Aug. 24, 2021

A recent survey of New Jersey voters by ALG Research and Bully Pulpit Interactive shows that New Jersey residents remain concerned about the rising cost of healthcare, particularly in the wake of the COVID pandemic, reports New Jersey Business Magazine. The findings reveal that 71 percent of respondents say that their healthcare costs are rising faster than income levels, and this number jumps to 80 percent among those who are struggling financially. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of all respondents have unpaid or overdue medical bills, though disparities in this data point exist – 35 percent of respondents of color say they currently have unpaid or overdue medical bills, while 43 percent of those struggling financially stated the same.

North Carolina

Costs Vary Widely for Same Procedure at Triangle Hospitals
By Ali Ingersoll and Jason deBruyn | WRAL | Aug. 2, 2021

An investigation by NC Public Radio and WRAL-TV found broad price differences for the same services, depending on insurance plan and hospital in the Triangle area. Following a Trump Administration rule that went into effect in January 2021, hospitals must now post detailed price and negotiated rate information online for 300 procedures. Across the Triangle's largest hospitals, the negotiated rate for a colonoscopy runs from $504 to $5,397. The investigation revealed that while hospitals in the Triangle are following the rules better than those in other parts of the nation, big information gaps still create blind spots for consumers who want to effectively shop for healthcare services. A separate report by Patient Advocate Rights randomly selected ten North Carolina hospitals and just one provided complete transparency as the mandate instructs. However, advocates note that even if every hospital complied fully, consumers would still need to understand the information provided to avoid surprise medical bills.


Salt Lake City Leaders Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis
By Ashely Fredde | | July 20, 2021

The Salt Lake City Council and Mayor signed a joint resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, reports The resolution commits the city to be conscious of the policies and ordinances created to ensure that inequities are not furthered and that the damage from structural racism is addressed. Additionally, Salt Lake City officials will continue to work with the county health officials to review and report public health data to determine the next steps, current tasks, make the data available online to increase transparency and utilize staff from multiple agencies to address public health barriers.
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