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Blue Cross Blue Shield would undergo major changes under proposed legislation.
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office is reviewing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's plans for a joint venture involving a Medicaid coverage company.

The Detroit-based Blue Cross and Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross are purchasing AmeriHealth Mercy, which has Medicaid managed-care contracts in states including Pennsylvania, Indiana, and South Carolina.

Schuette said Friday he wants the Michigan-based Blue Cross to provide his office with documentation related to the transaction.

Blue Cross officials said they welcome the inquiry and will work with him to clarify questions about the transaction.

The joint venture could provide an opportunity for Blues insurers nationwide to expand into Medicaid coverage just as states are seeking ways to save money in the program and the ranks of Medicaid enrollees is poised to grow.

Amelia Carpenter / Michigan Radio Newsroom

University of Michigan nurses say the quality of patient care will suffer if they can’t reach an agreement in contract talks with management. Some nurses say they will leave their jobs. The two sides are debating financial issues including pay increases, health insurance and benefits in contract talks that resume today (Wednesday). The union representatives have added to an existing complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission charging management with bad faith bargaining and making one-sided changes to some nurses’ working conditions. The union says the university made an assignment change without consulting them first.

Jeff Breslin is President of the Michigan Nurses Association. He says one of the key issues in hospitals is retaining staff.

"You get the expertise – you have nurses that can walk into a situation , assess it and know what needs to be done at the drop of a hat where new nurses – they will get to that point but they need the skill, they need the experience and they need the expertise from the people who have been there to pass that on to them," Breslin said.

The university health system said in a release they do not agree patient care will be affected with the new contract.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

The state Senate has opened hearings on how Michigan will handle its responsibilities under the new federal health care law. If Michigan does nothing, the state will be placed in the federal system when the law is fully enacted in 2014.

Republican leaders expressed hope that federal courts will ultimately strike down the health care law. But Senate Insurance Committee Chair Joe Hune says Michigan needs to be ready.

"This is all because of Obamacare, which is a downright travesty that that was passed through at the federal level, but we’re in a position if we do nothing that we’ll have the federal government breathing down our neck to put something in place that we definitely do not like," said Hune. 

Senate committees were told by consumer groups, social services advocates and businesses that Michigan would be better off designing its own system than joining the federal plan or a multi-state consortium.

Legislative hearings on the state’s role in federal health care reforms could last a year.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act will mean the number of uninsured Americans would grow by 24 million by 2026.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The federal health care law is scheduled to take effect in 2014.  Health care leaders in Washtenaw County say they are not ready. 

Governor Rick Snyder

Governor Snyder has stayed pretty quiet on the subject of federal health care reforms. He is the nation’s only Republican governor who has not specifically called for repealing the law.

But he said this week that the new rules don’t pay enough attention to wellness and prevention. The governor told a group of small business owners that he will propose a health care reform plan for Michigan later this year that will focus on containing costs by encouraging people to get healthier.

Mark Coggins / Flickr

A new survey found the state of Michigan is not ready to implement the health care overhaul passed by Congress. The Affordable Health Care Act is supposed to go into effect in 2014.

Marianne Udow-Phillips  is the Director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation. She says more people will be eligible for Medicaid under the new health care act and this might overwhelm an already strained health care system:

Governor Rick Snyder is the only Republican governor in the country to decline to sign a letter outlining their goals for healthcare.

The letter included a call to reverse the new federal health care reforms.

The letter was sent by the Republican Governors Association and signed by every member of the group except for Governor Snyder. The letter calls on Congress to give states more control over the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for low-income families. But it also says reversing federal health care reforms is the top priority of Republican governors.

Governor Snyder has been circumspect on where he stands on the health care reforms.

“My role is not to be a large advocate on the national scale. My role is to be governor of Michigan," said Snyder. "We’re focused on Michigan issues.”

Governor Snyder says the state will move ahead with plans to enact the federal reforms unless they are struck down by a court.

The governor sent his own letter to congressional leaders, pointing out that Michigan has not cut Medicaid services to low-income families despite a budget crisis.

Eric Bridiers / US Mission Geneva

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Katherine Sebelius toured the Henry Ford Hospital today as part of the government's initiative to reduce patient care mistakes.

According to the Detroit News, Sebelius said:

"We spend way too many dollars on care that was not needed in the first place because we're trying to fix mistakes that shouldn't have happened in the first place," she said during a roundtable discussion.

I remember going into the hospital to have an operation on my left knee awhile back. Nurses put a sleeve over my right leg, and it seemed like a dozen different doctors and nurses asked me which leg was being operated on.

"Don't they know?" I thought.

Then I realized they were going through a system of checks and balances to make sure doctors cut open the correct leg.

If they cut open the wrong leg, it would have been bad, but at least I would have survived.

A 1999 Institute of Medicine study estimated that as many as 98,000 Americans die every year from preventable medical errors, and the government says that number didn't improve much in the following decade.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Health clinics based inside 3 Grand Rapids high schools will get $2.6 million over the next five years. Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids Schools, and the Michigan Department of Community Health pay for the program. The state is expected to announce grants for other school clinic programs soon.

Lisa Lowery is a primary care doctor at Spectrum Health. She shows off the health clinic’s laboratory, patient rooms, and the dental clinic. A high school senior getting his teeth cleaned gives us a thumbs up.

“It’s just not ‘oh here’s an ice pack’ cause you hurt your knee.”

The University of Michigan has announced that it's planning a new health care policy institute in the
complex that once belonged to drugmaker Pfizer Inc.

The university said Thursday the Institute for Health Care Policy and Innovation aims to inform and influence public policy and enhance efforts to improve health care services.

More than 500 researchers eventually could be part of the new institute at the North Campus Research Complex, Pfizer's former research and development center the Ann Arbor school bought in 2009
for $108 million.

The university says it will launch a national search for an institute director. It expects a $13.7 million renovation project to be completed next spring.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

Most public employees would be required to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs under a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate.

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen sponsored the measure. 

"Not all of us are all that excited all the time about doing these things," said Jansen. "In fact we know people that this impacts – in fact if you look in the mirror, it’ll impact each one of you sitting here today. But we know it’s the right thing to do – and I know that’s very subjective."

Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the state is asking too much from public employees – especially teachers.

"I heard Governor Snyder defend the $250,000 price tag for his budget director by saying 'you get what you pay for,'" Whitmer said. "Well isn’t that true for the most important people to our kid’s success as well? Why is that rationale sufficient for the governor paying taxpayer dollars, and not true for the people working every day to help our kids?"

The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees.

That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Wayne County has launched an initiative to improve health care for low-income children. The Wayne County Child Healthcare Access Program is modeled after a similar project in Kent County. It’s based on a concept called the “medical home.”

Project Director Jametta Lilly says that concept already exists for many kids covered by private insurance. But she says care is often less consistent and coordinated for kids in the Medicaid program:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

UPDATE 6:10pm  

The invitation-only crowd at Mitt Romney’s health care speech in Ann Arbor  Thursday generally liked what they heard.    The Republican presidential contender wants to repeal the federal health care law.  

 Romney painstakingly tried to draw a sharp contrast between the plan he put in place as governor of Massachusetts and the similar plan that President Obama helped create on the national level. 

Medical student Johannes Pulst-Korenberg thought Romney made some interesting points, but failed to make his case against the federal health care law. 

 “I wasn’t really convinced with how he characterized ‘Obama-care’ as a government takeover of Medicare….I don’t think it’s a government takeover of health care.”

But others in the audience liked what they heard.     Romney’s call for repealing the federal health care law replacing it with state-plans made sense to them.   Stan Watson is a member of the Washtenaw County Republican Party.  

 “I think it’s something that he had to stand up and address.  Because, as he said, it became a liability.  I think he’s bringing it back to an asset talking about health care.”  

Romney’s critics say he should apologize for creating a health care system in Massachusetts that became a template for the national health care law.

Romney told the audience in Ann Arbor on Thursday,  he will not apologize for a state system he says is working.  

 

ORIGINAL POST:   Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney says the Obama administration distrusts the free enterprise system, and the nation’s new health care law is an example of that distrust.

Romney spoke to an invitation-only audience at the University of Michigan this afternoon.

The former Massachusetts governor outlined his plan to repeal the health care law, and replace it with incentives for states to come up with their own solutions to the problem of people who are uninsured.

"Our plan was a state solution to a state problem," Romney said. "And his is a power grab by the federal government to put in place a 'one-size-fits-all' plan across the nation."

Romney said the Obama administration's health care plan is flawed.

"They fundamentally distrust free enterprise and distrust the idea that states are where the power of government resides," said Romney.

Romney said he will not apologize for the health care plan he put in place in Massachusetts, even though it might help him politically.

Romney’s biggest obstacle to winning the Republican presidential nomination is probably the health care issue.

He championed a health care plan in Massachusetts that served as a basis for the federal health care law.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized today that unless Romney can explain why his plans for health care reform are different from the president's, then he might make a better running mate for Obama in 2012 than the GOP presidential nominee.

The deadline for the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period is January 31.
user striatic / Flickr

People with pre-existing medical conditions now have the option of paying lower premiums and higher deductibles if they enroll with Michigan’s Health Insurance Program.

State officials are trying to get more people to take advantage of the program that is a precursor to national health care reforms taking effect in 2014.

Eric Schneidewind, president of the Michigan chapter of AARP, says only a few hundred people have enrolled with the program so far.

“I think it’s a new program, for one thing, and they just don’t know it exists. And so they aren’t aware of it, they haven’t taken advantage of it, and so it’s really potentially a very good deal for a person who has a chronic condition of health—bad health.”

Schneidewind hopes offering the lower premium and higher deductible will encourage thousands of people to enroll. He says hundreds-of-thousands of people in Michigan are eligible.

"I’ve run across members who have tragic stories about themselves or their children who really probably died prematurely because they couldn’t get adequate health care for a chronic condition. What I’m telling our members at AARP and elsewhere, there now is an option, it is affordable."

The health care company that runs the pool recently got federal approval for a plan to bring down rates that can still be hundreds of dollars a month. The new plan allows people with preexisting conditions to pay higher deductibles and lower premiums than were previously offered.

Michigan is one of a group of states suing the federal government to opt out of national health care reform.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Proposals to require public employees in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance costs have advanced in the state Legislature, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A Republican-led Senate committee approved the measures Wednesday on party-line votes. Republican Sen. Mark Jansen of Kent County's Gaines Township says the measures could come up for votes on the Senate floor later this month.

The legislation would affect employees with the state, local governments, public school districts, public universities and other public employers.

Republicans say the measures are needed to help public employers control costs. Democrats say health care costs should be bargained in contracts.

Local units of government could exempt themselves from the act by a two-thirds vote of its governing body.

 The legislation is Senate Bill 7 and Senate Joint Resolution C.

user dbking / Flickr

The State House failed to reject the Michigan Civil Service Commission's decision to allow state employees to enjoy domestic partner benefits.

The benefits, originally negotiated between the Granholm administration and about 70% of the public employee unions, are scheduled to go into effect October 1st. The benefits are extended to unmarried partners (gay or heterosexual) and their dependents who have lived together for more than one year.

Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber reported on yesterday's vote in the State House:

The State Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing committee tomorrow will discuss a bill forcing government workers to pay between 20% to 25% of their health care costs.

Steve Rhodes / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Earlier this month, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee approved bills that ban the practice of partial-birth abortions, a practice that is already banned by federal law. The federal law was also upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.

Supporters of SB 160 and SB 161 say a state law is necessary so local officials can assist federal authorities when enforcing the law.

These are some examples of anti-abortion bills moving in the Michigan legislature.

Louise Knott Ahern wrote about other bills being considered in today's Lansing State Journal.

Ahern writes about bills aimed at preventing insurance companies from covering abortions unless the coverage is added as a separate rider on a policy. From the LSJ:

Within two months of being sworn in, GOP legislators introduced 11 bills backed by Right to Life.

The most sweeping change would come from two bills awaiting action in the House committee on health policy.

Introduced by Rep. Jud Gilbert of Algonac, they would prohibit insurance companies from covering abortions unless a woman adds the coverage as a rider on her policy and pays for it separately from her monthly premium...

The bills don't apply to emergency abortions in which the mother's life is at risk, nor do they ban insurance coverage outright. But abortion rights advocates fear they would essentially have that effect.

Sarah Scranton of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan says "we have looked in states that already have this and we have not been able to find one insurance provider that offered a rider for abortion coverage. Women don't plan for unplanned pregnancies. These riders don't exist."

If passed, the law could also apply to insurance plans that will be created under the federal health care law.

In 2014, health care exchanges are expected to be set up under the federal health care law. These group plans will be available to people who can't afford individual private plans. Ahern writes in a "last-minute" compromise, President Obama accepted a "clause that allows states to require the separate abortion riders for insurance plans purchased through the exchanges."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Republican congressman Mike Rogers says more than a thousand major corporations,unions and other groups have obtained waivers to the new national health care law, so they will not be immediately mandated to carry health insurance or pay a fee instead.    He says they shouldn't be the only ones with that option. 

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

The country is facing a nursing shortage, but schools in our region can’t keep up with the demand for nursing education.

As we reported in our first story, that’s partly because there are a limited number of clinical settings where student nurses can work with patients.

Now, to augment the clinical experience, some nursing programs are enlisting the help of a newfangled dummy, wired with smart technology.

Actually, calling these high tech mannequins “dummies” might be a bit insulting.

Forget those passive plastic torsos you’ve seen in CPR demonstrations. We’re talking about high fidelity mannequins, remotely operated by IT guys with headsets and laptops.

Larissa Miller runs the nursing simulation program at Lansing Community College. She can wax poetic about the virtues of the school’s simulated man.

“Our mannequin can shake,” she said, “which is great, we make him have a seizure right in the bed. He can sweat and it starts pouring down his face. He blinks, he breathes, he has pulses…”

He talks. And his female counterpart can even give birth. Miller has been a nurse for 19 years and she says the technology is exploding, "simulation is absolutely one of the fastest paced things I’ve ever watched in education," she said.

Health care students face long wait lists (Part 1)

Mar 2, 2011
Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Nursing is a hot career.

The federal government says the field will create more new jobs than any other profession this decade — almost 600,000 jobs by 2018.

But there’s a bottleneck.

Schools in our region can’t keep up with all the people who want to become nurses or other health care workers.

In the first of two stories, Changing Gears is examining some of the high tech tools schools are using to help ease the training crunch.

Governor Rick Snyder has asked the Legislature to reverse an employment panel’s decision to allow un-married state workers to claim their live-in partners on their benefits.  

The governor’s letter gives the Legislature 60 days to overturn the state Civil Service Commission’s decision. Reversing the independent Civil Service Commission will require two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate. Both are controlled by Republicans, but getting to the necessary super-majorities is not guaranteed.  

user cpstorm / Flickr

Here are a few stories that either I heard, my colleagues and friends heard, or pieces that our online friends found interesting on Michigan Radio this week.

(We want to hear about your favorites! Please add them to the comments section below)

GOP House Leader / Flickr

A federal judge in Mississippi tossed out a lawsuit aimed at challenging the health care reform law. The dismissal comes the same week a federal judge in Florida ruled that the whole law was unconstitutional.

Politico.com reports:

Ten individuals without health insurance argued that the law’s requirement to buy insurance violated their rights. One of the plaintiffs is Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. Judge Keith Starrett said the individuals didn’t prove they have proper standing to challenge the law because they didn’t prove the mandate would apply to them. The suit was thrown out on procedural grounds.

It's not the first time lawsuits challenging the health care law have been tossed. Politico writes, "about two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the health care reform law since it was passed in March. Thirteen have now been thrown out over procedural matters such as a right to bring the suit."

Keeping score

NPR's Health blog went to their "go-to overhaul scorekeeper" Julie Rover for a tally on how challenges to the health care law have fared in court. The bloggers on "Shots" wrote:

The judicial scorecard on the law has pretty much followed party lines. Two judges who found the law constitutional were appointed by Democrats. Two who found the requirement for most people to have health insurance unconstitutional were appointed by Republicans.

The several dismissals issued for the health care court challenges, like the one today, have not followed any party ties.

USGov / creative commons

Michigan Radio spoke with Democratic U.S. Senator Carl Levin about a wide range of topics on Wednesday - starting with the situation in Egypt.

Levin says Egyptians deserve a democratic government and the U.S. should support their aspirations. Levin is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee . But he says the violent turn of events in Egypt is a bad sign. Levin thinks it best if current President Hosni Mubarak oversees the transition to a new government.

"The more violent and the more sudden his departure is, seems to me, the more likely it is that what will take his place would not be sustainable," says Levin. "If the army has to move in to restore order, that’s not necessarily the best way to move to a democracy."

Thousands of anti-government  protestors clashed with supporters of President Mubarak today.

Levin also addressed this afternoon's vote in the Senate to repeal the nation's new health reform law.

It's expected the bill will not pass, since the vote will likely be along party lines, and Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate.

Levin says repeal is out of the question. He says the reform will help millions of Americans get health insurance and avoid bankruptcy because of medical bills. And repeal, he says, would cost $500 billion.

But Levin says Democrats in the Senate are willing to consider bills to improve the law.

"We are open to those kind of changes, but it’s gotta be looked at very carefully one by one as to what is being proposed and what the cost of it is," he says.

A bill has also been proposed to allow states to opt out of the new law. A vote on that bill hasn’t been scheduled.

There are also court challenges to the law, in particular, the provision that requires everyone to buy health insurance. 

(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is praising Monday’s ruling by a federal judge calling the health care reform law unconstitutional.

Michigan is among 26 states which sued to stop the law from taking effect.

Schuette says the law’s mandate that all Americans buy health insurance is an overreach by the federal government. 

"This is a big decision to protect the Constitution and to defend the rights of Michigan taxpayers."

 Schuette expects the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to step in to decide whether the federal Health Care Reform law is constitutional.

Hospital bed
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A federal judge in Florida has ruled sections of the health care reform law are unconstitutional.

  The judge specifically cited the 'Commerce Clause' in the U.S. Constitution. 

Michigan is among 26 states that took part in the lawsuit trying to dismantle the health care law. 

In what's been called a symbolic move, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a repeal of the new health care law this week (maybe tomorrow).

It's symbolic because the law isn't likely to be repealed. A vote isn't expected to come up in the Senate, and even if a repeal bill DID pass the Senate, President Obama would more than likely veto it.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, spoke with supporters of the federal health care law.

Congressman Fred Upton
Republican Conference / Flickr

Republican Congressman Fred Upton, who represents Michigan's 6th District, says his fellow GOP lawmakers will go after the new health care law piece by piece.  Upton made the comments yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

As The Associated Press reports:

That effort, says Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, will follow a vote to repeal the health care law outright. Such a vote could come early in the new year after the GOP takes control of the House. Upton is the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and he says that repealing the health care law is his top priority.

Upton says he hopes for a vote before President Obama gives this year's State of the Union address.

Battle Creek Health System
Courtesy BCHS

Patients at Battle Creek Health System are expected to have more services and physicians available to them after a deal with a larger hospital is completed.

Bronson Health Group of Kalamazoo is buying a 51% stake in the smaller BCHS.

Denise Brooks-Williams is president and CEO of the Battle Creek facility. She says the two hospital systems have common goals.

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