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Human Services & Public Safety Committee

June 15 - 21, 2012

News Bulletin

Previous News Bulletin

To read periodic issue alerts addressing Human Services & Public Safety issues in the South, please visit the SLC Recent Research section.

Top News

Breaking news: No news from the Supreme Court today on ObamaCare, immigration
The Houston Chronicle
The big news is no news. The U.S. Supreme Court this morning waded into “indecency” on network TV — those wardrobe malfunctions and heat-of-the-moment curse words — but it didn’t touch the two most highly awaited decisions: The “ObamaCare” health reform law that is the first-term president’s proudest legislative achievement and the tough Arizona immigration enforcement law that has enraged Latino civil rights groups and hard-core Democratic activists. The justices will return Monday with more decisions. It’s supposed to be the final day of the court’s 2011-21012 session.

Stat of the Week

Eye diseases rising at rapid rates in U.S.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Vision problems -- many of them potentially causing severe vision loss or blindness -- are on the rise in the U.S., according to a new report. Most dramatic is the rise in diabetic retinopathy, says Jeff Todd, chief operating officer of Prevent Blindness America, which issued the report. Diabetic retinopathy involves damage to the blood vessels in the retina. It can lead to blindness. In the past 12 years, it has risen an alarming 89%, Todd tells WebMD. Nearly 8 million people ages 40 and above now have it.  The report, titled "Vision Problems in the U.S.," was released today by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute.

Health and Human Services

(AL) Need for psychiatric hospital beds surges in Alabama, nation
The Birmingham News
At Children's of Alabama, 23 of the 24 beds in the psychiatric inpatient unit were occupied on Friday.  Tom Shufflebarger, Children's chief operation officer, was surprised that even one was available. "We run at almost 100 percent capacity," he said. Across the state and nation, hospital administrators say the demand for psychiatric hospital beds is escalating, although they're not sure why. The need spans all ages, from children to the aging. Shufflebarger said Children's is experiencing more instances when a bed is not available for a child who arrives to the hospital's emergency room and needs to be admitted for psychiatric care. It's not unusual for a child to be kept in the ER until other avenues for treatment become available.

(FL) 3 of Florida's biggest insurers plan to keep elements of health reform, even if it's overturned
The Palm Beach Post
At least three of the biggest insurance companies operating in Florida say they will hang on to some popular provisions of the federal health care law even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes it down, though the state's largest carrier is holding off. The largest health insurer in Florida with 4 million members, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, plans no announcements before the court ruling, expected later this month or in early July. "Florida Blue plans to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decision is announced," said company spokesman John Herbkersman in Jacksonville. "We will be ready to discuss it then." UnitedHealth, Aetna and Humana said this week they will continue to honor some parts of the law even if it is struck down.

(FL) Should government hospitals be sold?  
The Miami Herald
The debate over the future of Florida’s government-owned hospitals will play out Wednesday in Hollywood Memorial as hospital leaders hold a legislatively mandated public meeting to discuss the “possible benefits” of the sale of the $1 billion Memorial Healthcare System. All Florida public hospitals — including Jackson Health System and the North Broward Hospital District, which operates under the name Broward Health — must go through the same process: holding public meetings, hiring a company to assess the hospitals’ value and comparing their clinical performances against other hospitals. Then each board can determine whether to sell the hospitals.

(GA) 2,000 Georgia doctors get $143M to computerize records
The Atlanta Business Chronicle
More than 2,000 Georgia physicians received $143 million in federal money to help them move from paper to electronic medical records, reports Morris News Service. The payments, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, were an inducement included in the federal health reform law, the news service reported. The goal is to better keep track of health care information to help reduce the amount taxpayers in Medicare and Medicaid programs pay for duplicate tests, Morris added. Nationally, more than $5.7 billion in payments under the program have gone to hospitals, doctors and nurses, Morris reported.

(KY) Ky. officials work to reduce use of antipsychotics in nursing homes
The Lexington Herald-Leader
At least once a week, staff at a local nursing home ombudsman agency field a question from someone concerned about residents unnecessarily being given anti-psychotic drugs. It's a trend that has gained national attention, prompting officials across the country to work toward reducing the use of anti-psychotic drugs in nursing homes by 15 percent by Dec. 31. The goal to reduce the use of anti-psychotic drugs is part of a new federal initiative to improve dementia care. In Kentucky, a number of groups have agreed to participate in the initiative, including state officials, advocacy groups and nursing home industry representatives, said Don McLeod, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

(LA) Health plan to be adding new groups
The Advocate
The state health agency is preparing to add new medical populations and expand services offered through private insurance companies that have taken over care of the poor. The changes are coming to the Bayou Health managed-care program which went statewide June 1, state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said. Greenstein said the program expansions are on a fast track with the goal of implementation by this fall. DHH’s budget is predicated on achieving an estimated $43.2 million in savings in the fiscal year that begins July 1 based on the initiatives, $12.2 million in state funds and the remainder federal match. Five private companies took over coordination of the care of some 875,000 Medicaid recipients — mainly children — along with $2.2 billion of the state’s Medicaid business beginning June 1.

(NC) Changes to bill would give more power to groups overseeing mental health services
The Winston-Salem Journal
The new language to House Bill 1075 allows a behavioral health authority to operate similarly to a hospital authority or UNC Board of Governors, including: A late change to a bill giving more power to groups that oversee behavioral-health services in the state is raising concerns among advocates because the new language allows oversight groups to gain even more authority than the initial bill did. The changes to the bill would create a new category of oversight group — a behavioral health authority. A BHA could borrow money and buy or sell property, would have no limits on executive salaries and would not be required to have any advocacy group members on its board.

(TX) Medicaid Overhaul Causing Pain for Some Pharmacists
The Texas Tribune
Not long after the state rolled pharmacies into Medicaid managed care in March — an effort to save tens of millions of dollars a year — Ronald Barrett noticed something unusual at Oak Cliff Pharmacy, his store in southern Dallas. When he entered a child’s prescription into his computer to see how much he would be reimbursed by CVS Caremark, the managed care plan’s pharmacy benefit manager, he received an error message. A phone call indicated that the child’s prescription had already been filled, at a CVS pharmacy down the road. Such stories have fueled suspicions among independent pharmacies that CVS Caremark is capitalizing on Medicaid reforms to expand its retail business at the expense of locally owned pharmacies.

(TX) New study: Tort reform has not reduced health care costs in Texas
The Austin American-Statesman
A new study found no evidence that health care costs in Texas dipped after a 2003 constitutional amendment limited payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits, despite claims made to voters by some backers of tort reform. The researchers, who include University of Texas law professor Charles Silver, examined Medicare spending in Texas counties and saw no reduction in doctors' fees for seniors and disabled patients between 2002 and 2009. A 2003 voter campaign in Texas, and some congressional backers of Texas-style tort reform in every state, however, argued that capping damage awards would not onlycurb malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs for doctors, it would lower costs for patients while boosting their access to physicians.

Public Safety

(GA) State enacts emergency rule to ban synthetic pot
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Synthetic marijuana, outlawed by state legislators in April but made available again after manufacturers altered its molecular structure, is once again illegal following an emergency ruling Tuesday by the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy. GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the board agreed to classify those altered compounds as Schedule I substances. The Georgia Controlled Substances Act grants law enforcement the authority to seize the product, popularly known as K2 or Spice, from merchants. The ruling comes one week after GBI Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry confirmed that a Fayette County teen died from drowning caused by the use of synthetic marijuana -- the first time the drug has been officially linked to a death in Georgia.

(LA) Louisiana Legislature takes steps toward reducing incarceration for nonviolent crimes
The Times-Picayune
For more than two decades, blue-ribbon commissions have debated the framework of a penal system that has made Louisiana the world leader in incarceration. Lawyers, jurists, sheriffs and other experts have produced myriad analyses and policy recommendations, usually to no avail as tough-on-crime legislators, prosecutors and judges increased penalties and made parole harder to get. But with increasingly tight state operating budgets putting a sharper focus on the number of Louisianians who are locked up -- currently 40,000 of them, at a cost of $663 million annually, without much evidence that it has led to a corresponding drop in crime -- the Louisiana Legislature this year approved several policy changes that in previous years probably would have gotten nowhere. However, with the new provisions aimed only at nonviolent offenders, and none of the new measures expressly requiring leniency, the question is whether the alterations portend a fundamental policy shift or simply mark incremental steps.

(TX) Lawmakers study consolidation of Texas parole system
The Austin American-Statesman
More than 20 years after Texas limited the responsibilities of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to approving or denying cases not supervising parole officers or parolees a new state report is sparking debate about whether to expand the agency's duties again. Such a change, if approved, would be the biggest shift in Texas' corrections system in decades — and the idea has sparked a turf war between the parole board and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs state prisons and currently supervises parole officers. Texas has more than 75,000 men and women on parole, one of the largest such systems in the United States. Although parole decisions and cases generally are not public, several examples have surfaced in the past year in which the parole board voted to impose restrictions on convicts as a condition of their release, and then a parole officer later modified or removed that condition without the parole board ever knowing about it. In other cases, restrictions were imposed on parolees by the parole division without the parole board approving.

(TX) New 85 mph speed limit in Texas would increase deaths, experts say
The Houston Chronicle
If Texas follows through on its plan to have the nation’s highest speed limit, it’s likely to result in more traffic-related deaths, some experts say. “Research clearly demonstrates the direct conection between higher speed limits and more fatalities,” said Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. “When speed limits go up, deaths on those roads go up. When speed limits go down, deaths on those roads go down.” Because speed limits have fluctuated a fair amount over time, researchers have had ample opportunity to study the effects, he said. In Texas, transportation officials are testing a 41-mile stretch of Highway 130 between Austin and Seguin to see if it’s safe to raise the posted speed limit to 85 mph. The limit on that section of the new toll road is already 80 mph, according to TxDot.

(WV) W.Va. moves female inmates into single jail to avoid lawsuits
The Charleston Gazette
The West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority is now housing all state-sentenced female inmates at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail as part of an effort to avoid frivolous prisoner lawsuits.  Frivolous lawsuits have cost the state more than $7 million in the past three years and the majority were sexually based, acting Executive Director Joe DeLong told the Charleston Daily Mail.  Other changes include installing surveillance cameras in all sections leading to prisoner areas. Recording equipment will be installed on all intercoms and internal jail communication lines so officer-inmate communications can be monitored.

U.S. & World News

Those Already Ill Have High Stake in Health Ruling
The New York Times
No other group of Americans faces higher stakes in the impending Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act than those with pre-existing conditions. The law, once its major provisions take effect, would prohibit insurance companies from turning people away or charging them more because they are sick. In exchange, most Americans would be required to have insurance, broadening the base of paying customers with an infusion of healthy people. Those who did not buy insurance would be subject to financial penalties. The Government Accountability Office estimates that 36 million to 122 million adults under 65 have a pre-existing condition. As many as 17 million do not have insurance. Many try to buy coverage on the individual market, but in most states that is either impossible or too costly.

Advocacy group: 26,000 die prematurely without health insurance
A national health care consumer advocacy group estimates that three Americans die every hour as a result of not having health insurance. According to "Dying for Coverage," the latest report by Families USA, 72 Americans die each day, 500 Americans die every week and approximately Americans 2,175 die each month, due to lack of health insurance. Families USA has been a staunch supporter of President Obama's health care reform law. The report found that the reasons for being uninsured varied, but many of those without health insurance had coverage denied because of pre-existing conditions.  Others have been priced out of the market on the heels of a failing economy - a time when keeping their homes and feeding their families took precedence over holding on to insurance in the face of rising premiums. And some lost their benefits when employers stopped providing coverage.

Navigating the Health Care Maze
The New York Times
If the Supreme Court upholds President Obama’s federal health care law in a decision expected this month, proponents say that exchanges will be a crucial tool for extending insurance to most Americans. Debate over the law has centered on the individual mandate, the lightning-rod provision that requires most Americans to have health insurance by 2014.  But once the court decides whether the law is constitutional, the focus could shift to exchanges. The law requires every state to establish an exchange, but many are balking, complaining about everything from the expense to the perceived federal intrusion. Some, like Louisiana and Maine, are refusing. Others are deferring crucial decisions until the court rules and the November election plays out. So far, only about 15 states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges, with California and Maryland among the furthest in their planning.

What's At Stake For Medicare Beneficiaries In Supreme Court Decision
Kaiser Health News
If the Supreme Court strikes down the health law, 49 million Medicare beneficiaries could lose a variety of benefits that have already kicked in. They include: Prescription savings. Beneficiaries get discounts of 50 percent on brand-name drugs when they are in the so-called doughnut hole, or coverage gap where beneficiaries have no insurance help with the cost of their medications. The law phases out the gap by 2020. Preventive services. Beneficiaries in the traditional, government-run Medicare program receive preventive services such as mammograms and colonoscopies with no co-payment or deductible. Wellness visits. Enrollees can see their doctor once a year to assess their health status and risks for disease, and develop a personalized prevention plan, with no co-payment or deductible.

Court Challenge Could Result In Medicaid Cutbacks Instead Of Expansion
Kaiser Health News
The future of the nation’s largest health insurance program -- Medicaid -- hangs in the balance of the Supreme Court’s decision on the 2010 health law. The state-federal program which covers 60 million poor and disabled people would be greatly expanded under the health law, adding 17 million more people starting in 2014. But if the entire law is struck down, states for the first time since 2009 would be free to tighten eligibility and make it more difficult for people to apply. The law had barred such changes.

What's At Stake For Women If SCOTUS Overturns The Health Law
Kaiser Health News
A provision in the 2010 health care law requiring contraceptive coverage for women without copays has gotten most of the press. But much more is at stake for women if the Supreme Court overturns the health care law. Starting in 2014, the law bars insurance practices such as charging women higher premiums than men, or denying coverage for pre-existing conditions that could include pregnancy, a Caesarean-section birth or a sexual or a domestic violence assault. Even excluding maternity coverage, the National Women's Law Center found that nearly one-third of the most commonly sold insurance plans charged women aged 25 to 40 at least 30 percent more than men for the same coverage.

New Consumer Protections Depend On High Court's Ruling
Kaiser Health News
The Supreme Court's decision to uphold or strike down the health law could bolster -- or undo -- the most far-reaching changes ever legislated affecting the insurance industry and its customers. Riding on the outcome are a host of popular consumer protections, many aimed at the estimated 18 million Americans who buy their own coverage and who face greater obstacles and costs than those who get coverage through their jobs. 

Health Law Is Mixed Bag For Employers
Kaiser Health News
A decision to invalidate the entire health care law would have vastly different effects on employers, depending on their size. Businesses with more than 50 employees would no longer face penalties if they failed to make affordable coverage available to workers beginning in 2014. Small employers, which were not subject to penalties, would lose access to state-run health insurance exchanges, designed to give them cheaper, easier access to health insurance. They would also no longer be eligible for tax credits to help offset the cost of providing insurance – a benefit used by about 309,000 companies as of last November, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

College Students Bridge Chasm Between Medical Care And Poverty
Kaiser Health News
Although study after study has linked poverty to poor health -- a 2006 report in the journal Pediatrics found that children whose families cannot pay their utility bills are 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized -- the medical and social service systems have long operated in largely separate and disconnected spheres. Too often, that results in a medical revolving door, as when doctors prescribe asthma medicines for children living in mold-infested apartments, only to have them wind up in the emergency room because their housing conditions were never addressed.

Feds in Miami: Millions stolen from Medicare wound up in Cuban banking system  
The Miami Herald
In an unprecedented case, federal prosecutors have charged a Miami man with engaging in a massive money-laundering operation that moved millions stolen from the federal Medicare program into Cuban banks. Prosecutors say Oscar Sanchez, 46, was a key leader in a group that funneled $31 million in Medicare dollars into banks in Havana — the first such case that directly traces money fleeced from the beleaguered program into the Cuban banking system. Most of the money moved through an intricate web of foreign shell companies before ending up in Cuba, to avoid being detected in the United States, said investigators.

Legal Help For The Poor In 'State Of Crisis'
Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that people accused of a crime deserve the right to a defense lawyer, no matter whether they can afford to pay for one. But there's no such guarantee when it comes to civil disputes — like evictions and child custody cases — even though they have a huge impact on people's lives. For decades, federal and state governments have pitched in to help. But money pressures mean the system for funding legal aid programs for the poor is headed toward a crisis.

Report: Consumers demand drug-free meat
If you prefer your meat without antibiotics, you're not alone, according to a new study from Consumers Union – the group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine. In a nationwide survey of more than a thousand people, Consumers Union found that 86% of people said they would like to see more antibiotic-free meat on store shelves, and more than 60% said they'd be willing to pay more for it.

PTSD strikes one in eight heart attack patients
PTSD – posttraumatic stress disorder – usually is associated with military personnel traumatized by combat or people who’ve been victimized by violent crime or sexual assaults. But new study finds that one in eight patients develop PTSD after experiencing a heart attack or other major heart event. The study, published online in PLoS One, also reveals that heart patients who experience PTSD face double the risk for another heart event or dying within one to three years, compared to heart patients who do not experience PTSD.

Radiation Concerns Rise With Patients’ Exposure
The New York Times
Even in health care systems in which doctors do not bill for each test they administer, the use of diagnostic imaging like CT and PET scans has soared, as has patients’ radiation exposure, a new study has found. The study, published online on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, says that while advanced medical imaging has undoubted benefits, allowing problems to be diagnosed earlier and more accurately, its value needs to be weighed against potential harms, which include a small cancer risk from the radiation.

Mutant bird flu would be airborne, scientists say
Here's what it takes to make a deadly virus transmissible through the air: as few as five genetic mutations, according to a new study. This research, published in the journal Science, is the second of two controversial studies to finally be released that examines how the H5N1 bird flu virus can be genetically altered and transmitted in mammals. Publication of both studies had been delayed many months due to fears that the research could be misused and become a bio-security threat. Although these particular engineered forms of H5N1 have not been found in nature, the virus has potential to mutate enough such that it could become airborne.

Outside the Region

(MIDWEST) U.S. Midwest in crosshairs of child sex trafficking fight
When it comes to child and adolescent sex-trafficking in the United States, the FBI ranks Minneapolis-St. Paul among the top 13 places in the nation. With its tangle of highways known as Spaghetti Junction, its year-round sporting events and frequent conventions, millions pass through on any given day. "There's the thought no one's going to catch you in the Midwest," says Dan Pfarr who works with teens in crisis. Many teens who wind up in the sex trade are runaways targeted by men who coerce or threaten them through physical or psychological abuse.

(NY) Obesity Ills That Won’t Budge Fuel Soda Battle by Bloomberg
The New York Times
A hospital offers Zumba and cooking classes. Farmers markets dole out $2 coupons for cantaloupe and broccoli. An adopt-a-bodega program nudges store owners to stock low-fat milk. And one apartment building even slowed down its elevator, and lined its stairwells with artwork, to entice occupants into some daily exercise. In the Bronx, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight, the message has been unmistakably clear for a long time: Slim down now. But, if anything, this battery of efforts points to how intractable the obesity problem has become in New York’s poorest borough. The number of the overweight and obese continue to grow faster in the Bronx than anywhere else in the city — nearly one in three Bronx adults is obese — leading the city’s health commissioner to call it “ground zero for the obesity epidemic problem.” So it was to the weight-burdened Bronx that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg went last week to make the case for his controversial proposal to ban supersized sodas and sugary drinks.

(OH) Ohio man was making meth inside Walmart, police say
Fox News
An Ohio man was arrested Sunday for allegedly making methamphetamine inside a Walmart store in the town of Mentor. Mentor Police Lt. Ken Zbiegien told Fox 8 News that James Richardson, 37, was spotted by store security placing ingredients in his shopping cart that are commonly used in the production of meth, the report said. According to Zbiegien, Richardson combined the ingredients in a salt shaker he had taken off a store shelve and began shaking the container. Police say Richardson was using a common method to make meth known as “shake-and-bake.” Police refer to the method as “one-pot” meth cooking.

More News

(GA) Georgia faces $400M Medicaid deficit
(GA) Report: Ga. 5th in U.S. for deaths due to lack of insurance
(GA) Georgia more lenient on water than land
(GA) Inmates to test new locks at Atlanta jail
(GA) Out-of-state health insurers invited to Georgia, none accept
(KY) Health departments across state cutting back
(KY) Judge orders Medicaid deal to continue temporarily
(KY) Kentucky advertises for Medicaid insurance proposals in Passport area
(LA) Elder unit switched to DHH
(LA) Louisiana juvenile prisons deprive children of their rights, lawsuit alleges
(LA) 3 companies vie for health pact
(LA) Gov. Bobby Jindal signs 20-week abortion ban into law
(MO) Five from Missouri sue over Medicaid cuts
(MS) Miss. to feel health care decision
(NC) N.C. adult care homes fight Medicaid cuts
(NC) State party’s resolutions include legalizing medical marijuana
(NC) State Medicaid director fired
(OK) Another setback for Oklahoma's human services agency
(SC) Haley vetoes bill on access to HPV vaccine
(SC) Veto of SC criminal record expungement bill stands
(TN) Study shows 633 Tennesseans who lacked health insurance died in 2010
(TX) How Texas plans to pay for the women’s health program
(TX) Records: Texas bought execution drugs before supply dwindled
(TX) City renewing efforts to collect red light camera citations
(TX) Better job numbers for Texas means decrease in benefits for unemployed
(TX) State paid for convict's vocational training, then denied occupational license
(TX) Health officials concerned about rise in HIV cases among Travis County youth
(TX) State outlines health funding for low-income women
(TX) State should allow for second chances (opinion)
(US) How one man swam to freedom and into fight against modern-day slavery
(US) Ethicist: Health bans and 'sin taxes' can easily backfire (opinion)
(VA) Va. board considers permanent abortion clinic regulations; critics say aim is to reduce access
(VA) Charges to be dropped in abortion-rights protest cases
(VA) Virginians to receive rebates from health insurers
(VA) Medicaid decision looms for Va. in health care debate
(WV) Report links 223 state deaths to lack of health coverage
(WV) Hundreds of W.Va. families to lose child-care subsidies

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