Weekend roundup: guns, healthcare cuts, exchanges and more

President Barack Obama used his weekend radio address to push for including an assault weapons ban in gun legislation now before Congress. Senate Democrats dropped the measure from the bill they plan to debate next month out of concern it could sink the whole package. Obama said the U.S. has changed in the three months since the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 first graders and six educators dead. He says Americans support the ban, plus limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines, increased school-security funding and a crackdown on gun trafficking.

Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature have proposed $150 million in cuts from health and human services programs, a move that alarms advocates for the poor and has prompted criticism from other Democrats. The proposed cuts are part of a $2 billion package that includes new taxes to erase a state budget deficit and more money for schools and economic development. The proposed spending cut troubles lawmakers who are in charge of crafting budgets for health services and human services, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report. They have to set spending priorities for nursing homes, hospitals, subsidized health insurance and welfare.

Maryland's House of Delegates has advanced a measure to expand Medicaid eligibility and create a funding stream for Maryland's health benefit exchange as part of the federal healthcare overhaul. The House gave the bill initial approval on Saturday. A vote is expected early this week. The measure would pay the roughly $24 million cost in fiscal 2015 by using money from an existing 2% tax on insurance plans.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Saturday that he's taking steps to ensure the state has enough qualified healthcare workers to meet demand as hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents become eligible for coverage under the new healthcare law. Quinn announced the creation of the Health Care Workforce Workgroup, headed by Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. He said the group will assess and plan for the healthcare jobs needed to serve the state's growing and increasingly aging and diverse population. The group will include representatives from the departments of veteran's affairs, aging, employment securities and human services as well as the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The group will recommend a workforce action plan by September, Quinn said.

Iowa lawmakers advanced legislation last week that would eliminate a tool used to track uninsured children. House Republicans voted to repeal the requirement on a state income tax form where parents indicate whether or not their dependent children have health insurance. The legislation's Republican supporters say health insurance has nothing to do with filing an income tax return. But critics say by eliminating the question, uninsured kids may fall through the cracks. The bill now moves to the Iowa Senate.



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