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Virginia Creates Reform Implementation Panel, Groups Prepare For Overhaul Changes

Virginia has created a task force to slow health costs and implement health care reform even as the state is suing to stop a key mandate in the law, The Washington Post reports. Gov. Bob McDonnell ”introduced the 24-member panel, comprised of legislators, health professionals, doctors and insurers, at a news conference Monday afternoon at the Capitol. The announcement came the same day the state Bureau of Insurance received $1 million from the federal government to improve its oversight of health insurance cost increases.” The group will be chaired by Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel and “will look at six areas: Medicaid reform, insurance market reform, delivery and payment reform, capacity, technology and purchasers perspective” (Kumar, 8/16).

The Roanoke (Va.) Times: “Virginia has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a provision of the health care act that will require individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the government. But the court fight could drag on for years. In the meantime, McDonnell said, the health care bill ‘is the law of the land.’ … McDonnell called the federal law ‘dizzying’ and said the state has work to do to prepare for its full implementation in 2014. But the governor also wants the panel to look beyond the federal law and devise state approaches to improving health care services, reducing costs and addressing work force shortage issues.” The group is expected to make recommendations by December (Sluss, 8/17).

In other health reform news, Politico reports that some Catholic groups are protesting a bus tour by the Susan B. Anthony list — an anti-abortion action group — of swing districts to protest anti-abortion Democrats who voted for the health reform bill. The Susan B. Anthony supporters stopped in Pennsylvania “to take aim” at one of those Democrats, Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper. “Catholics United, a group that aired ads thanking anti-abortion Democrats for voting ‘yes’ on health reform, protested Monday at SBA List stops in Pennsylvania cities including Erie, Meadville, Grove City and Butler” (Hunt, 8/16).

The Hill: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is complaining that rules for so-called “grandfathered” health plans in health reform will actually cause employers to drop coverage for their employees, instead of the intended opposite. America’s Health Insurance Plans is also complaining about such rules, which the Chamber says makes cost-sharing limits too tight and doesn’t allow nearly any change in policy or issuers without loss of status. In addition, they say the Department of Labor should be more specific about just when a plan will lose its “grandfathered” status (Lillis, 8/16).

Kaiser Health News/The Texas Tribune: Physician-owned hospitals in Texas are also preparing for what could be a bleak future for them under health reform. “With a ban on new facilities, expansion plans quashed and doctor ownership curtailed, 70 such hospitals in Texas are plotting their next move. Some plan to sell out to big hospital systems. Others are scouring the legislation for legal loopholes and technicalities. At least one of the state’s physician-owned hospitals has sued the federal government, challenging the constitutionality of health care reform. … [Opponents of the hospitals] allege an inherent conflict of interest in doctors referring patients to hospitals in which they have a financial interest and argue the hospitals contribute to the country’s soaring health care costs” (Ramshaw, 8/16).

Chattanooga Times Free Press: “Under the health care reform law passed by Congress in March, health insurance plans that begin on or after Sept. 23 must cover recommended preventive services and may no longer charge patients copayments or deductibles for these services when delivered by an in-network provider. Starting in January, Medicare enrollees will get certain free preventive services, including annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plans. Health officials say the expanded coverage is critical. Americans get preventive care such as cancer screenings and routine vaccinations at about half the recommended rate, mainly for financial reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” Insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee expects minimal impact, but is still “evaluating what exactly will be covered for free under the new mandates” (Bregel, 8/17).

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