State Highlights: Mo. Gov. Signs Into Law Bills On Drug Cost, Access; Ark. Expanded Medicaid Adds 25,000 To The Rolls

Outlets report on health news from Missouri, Arkansas, New York, Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Tennessee, Hawaii and North Carolina.

Associated Press:
Missouri Gov. Nixon Signs Bills On Access To Medicines

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed two bills Wednesday aimed at expanding access to cheaper types of certain medicines and ensuring patients can take whatever drug works best for them, no matter the cost. The first bill would allow pharmacists to fill prescriptions for generic biotech drugs, which are similar but not exact copies of biologic medicines produced in living cells. The second bill includes new rules for step therapy. (Ballentine, 6/8)

Arkansas Online:
Medicaid Rolls Up 25,000

The number of Arkansans approved for coverage under the state’s expanded Medicaid program increased by almost 25,000 from February through April, reaching more than 290,000, the director of the state Department of Human Services told legislators Wednesday. Director Cindy Gillespie also told members of the Health Reform Legislative Task Force that she plans to seek legislative approval to hire a “surge” of about 250 temporary caseworkers to help clear a backlog of work related to 100,000 Medicaid cases, including more than 34,000 applications for coverage that have been pending for more than 45 days. (Davis, 6/9)

The Associated Press:
NY Nonprofits Say Caregiver Staff Shortage Nears Crisis

Nonprofits that care for thousands of developmentally disabled New Yorkers say their chronic understaffing is reaching a crisis, with nearly 10 percent job vacancies last year. They say they can’t fill the jobs because of the low pay for challenging work. A survey of 136 caretaker organizations also shows 23 percent staff turnover last year, another factor forcing other employees to work 6.4 million hours of overtime. (6/8)

The Associated Press:
Edwards Tax Plan Takes Hit From Democratic Committee Chair

The proposal by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, would have raised $117 million to fill gaps in next year’s budget by cutting breaks for taxpayers who itemize deductions on their income tax returns.
Shadoin said 74 percent of individual taxpayers don’t itemize for things like home mortgage interest payments, charitable contributions and medical costs. The change would return Louisiana to where the tax break was in 2007, from allowing 100 percent of those excess itemized deductions to 57.5 percent. Supporters said state government needs the money to keep health, education and other programs from facing steep cuts in the financial year that begins July 1, when Louisiana faces a $600 million shortfall. (DeSlatte, 6/8)

The Wall Street Journal:
San Francisco’s Sugary-Drinks Warnings Delayed Pending Appeal

A federal judge has put San Francisco’s planned health warnings for soda and other sugar-added drinks on hold, granting the beverage industry an injunction pending appeal. The law was slated to go into effect July 25 and would require that billboards and other public advertisements include the language: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.” (Esterl, 6/8)

Philadelphia Inquirer:
Council Gives Initial Approval To A 1.5-Cent Beverage Tax

City Council gave its initial stamp of approval to a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks and diet beverages Wednesday night, paving the way for Philadelphia to become the first big city in the country to impose a soda tax. … If the tax gets final approval by the full Council next week, as anticipated, it could have nationwide reverberations – or at least give legislators in other cities another reason for considering it. (Nadolny and Terruso, 6/9)

California Healthline:
State Legislators Push Bill To Inform Patients Of Drug Company Discount Programs

California lawmakers are lining up in support of a bill that would require health plans to provide information about patient-assistance programs for expensive prescription drugs to enrollees who drop or lose their coverage. The programs are funded by pharmaceutical companies and offer people financial aid for brand-name drugs. They provide the aid to both the uninsured and to people with health coverage, particularly those who are struggling to afford their share of expensive specialty medications. (Feder Ostrov and Terhune, 6/9)

Baltimore Sun:
With Psychiatric Beds Full, Mentally Ill In Maryland Are Stuck In Jails

Dozens of mentally ill men and women who have been charged with crimes are languishing in jails across Maryland despite court orders to send them to state hospitals for evaluation and treatment. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which spurned a consultant’s warning four years ago, does not have enough beds or staff to treat new patients, officials say. (Dresser, 6/8)

The Sacramento Bee:
Flea Tests Positive For Plague In South Lake Tahoe Area

Fleas from an chipmunk found in the South Lake Tahoe area have tested positive for plague, according to El Dorado County public health officials. The flea sample was from one of three rodents trapped in the Fallen Leaf Campground area during routine plague surveillance May 18, according to a county Public Health Division news release. State test results confirming plague were received June 2. (Locke, 6/8)

Nashville Tennessean:
Vanderbilt Adds Transgender Surgeries To Student Insurance

Starting this year Vanderbilt University’s student insurance plan will cover transgender-related surgeries, a move school officials say will make the campus a more inclusive environment for students who previously had gone without necessary care. The change was part of a routine annual review of the university’s health care plan for students. (Tamburin, 6/8)

The Associated Press:
Direct Access To Physical Therapists Becomes Louisiana Law

Gov. John Bel Edwards has agreed to let patients have direct access to physical therapists without needing a doctor’s referral. The governor’s office said Tuesday that Edwards had signed the bill that does away with a current requirement that patients obtain a referral from a licensed doctor to see a physical therapist. The change, sponsored by Republican Sen. Fred Mills, takes effect immediately.

The Associated Press:
New Smoking Age To Take Effect In California

Andrew Rodriguez was 15 years old when he smoked his first cigarette. He knows how addictive smoking can be and hopes a new California law raising the smoking age will discourage young people from taking up the habit. “I think it’s better,” said the 21-year-old chef-in-training from Los Angeles. “I just hope they don’t raise the drinking age.” Beginning Thursday, smokers have to be at least 21 to buy tobacco products in California. (Chang, 6/8)

The Associated Press:
Homeless Shelters Struggle With Loss Of Federal Funding

David Willett lived in a tent and struggled with drug addiction before coming to Gregory House, a Honolulu shelter that has provided temporary housing for people with HIV and AIDS for more than a decade. But the shelter is among many that face steep federal funding cuts this year, and Willett and other residents worry about its future. The program’s daily meetings and supportive atmosphere has helped Willett stay away from drugs for the last two years. (Bussewitz, 6/8)

The Charlotte Observer:
Germ Killing Robots May Help Keep Hospitals Safer

You don’t expect to go into the hospital and come out sicker than before. But it happens all too often. If the patient who previously used your room was infected with one of many antibiotic-resistant bacteria, those invisible germs could be left behind to transmit illness to you. A lot depends on housekeeping. (Garloch, 6/8)

Kansas City Star:
New Stroke Treatment Saves Lives At St. Luke’s And KU Hospital

Clot retrieval is used to treat what are known as ischemic strokes, meaning those caused by a blood clot lodged in a major vessel of the brain, like a boulder in a river, and robbing the brain of oxygen. That procedure, which takes about an hour, uses a catheter snaked through a major artery, usually starting at the thigh and then up into the brain to the clot. (Adler, 6/8)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.