Moody's upgraded more not-for-profit healthcare providers in the first quarter of 2005 than it downgraded, the first time that's happened since Moody's began electronically publishing healthcare rating activity in March 1999, the company said. Moody's upgraded 15 healthcare issuers mainly on the basis of improved operating performance and strengthened liquidity. The ratings agency also noted, though, that half of all upgrades and downgrades occurred in lower-rated issues-in the Baa rating category-reflecting the generally higher volatility of bond-rating assignments in the lower tiers. Moody's is forecasting continued ratings stability in 2005, said Lisa Goldstein, senior vice president, in a statement.
North Miss. revises care policies
North Mississippi Medical Center, Tupelo, said it would not complete a proposed settlement regarding its handling of uninsured patients reached with the Scruggs Law Firm, Oxford, Miss., in August 2004. North Mississippi officials said the terms of the memorandum of understanding signed last year were proving to be too onerous, with patients flocking to the hospital from all over the state for free care. The hospital instead released a more generous charity-care policy and beefed-up conflict-of-interest policies for its board and employees, among other changes. North Mississippi signed on to the relatively generous charity-care provisions in the memorandum of understanding not expecting the provisions to result in a big increase in charity-care expenses, said John Heer, president and chief executive officer at the hospital's parent, North Mississippi Health Services.
Calif. loses bid to block ratios
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Hospital Association lost a bid for a court order to temporarily block tightened nurse-to-patient ratios from taking effect in medical-surgical units in California hospitals until they can appeal an early March ruling mandating the state move to the lower ratios. It's the latest ruling in the ongoing battle between the California Nurses Association and Schwarzenegger. The governor used a legal maneuver to relax emergency room ratios as of Jan. 1 and delay for three years a tightening of medical-surgical unit ratios to one nurse for every five patients from the 1-to-6 ratio, but the move was struck down in early March. The state appeals court in Sacramento did not rule on the governor's and hospital association's underlying appeals.
Borgess Health names new head
Paul Spaude, 52, was named president and chief executive officer of Borgess Health Alliance in Kalamazoo, Mich., the system's board of trustees announced. Spaude, chief administrative officer of Aspirus, a not-for-profit healthcare system in Wausau, Wis., will replace Randall Stasik, who announced last September that he would resign as the leader of the 154-year-old healthcare ministry. Stasik left Dec. 31, 2004, after about four years as president and CEO. Spaude, a 28-year veteran of the healthcare industry, will start June 6 at Borgess, a seven-hospital system that is part of Ascension Health, the largest U.S. not-for-profit hospital system.
Calif. considers state-run system
California legislators are again considering a bill that would create a state-run, single-payer system and extend health coverage to the state's 6.3 million uninsured. The bill, reintroduced by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, passed the Senate Finance and Insurance Committee in a 7-to-4 vote. The state Senate passed a scaled-down version of the bill in 2003, but it ultimately was overshadowed by legislation requiring employers to provide health insurance for workers and their families. That employer mandate was signed into law in December 2003 but was invalidated through a voter referendum a year later. Opponents argue that the government-run system would only add to costs by creating a bigger bureaucracy and reducing competition.
Mass.' dueling coverage plans
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, and state Senate President Robert Travaglini, a Democrat, unveiled competing proposals to slash the state's number of uninsured. Romney's Commonwealth Care plan aims to expand coverage to every state resident by 2009 without additional cost to taxpayers. It would do so largely by enrolling more eligible residents in Medicaid while allowing private insurers to offer less comprehensive, and therefore less expensive, insurance plans. Travaglini's legislative proposal, which aims to cover half of the state's 530,000 uninsured by the end of 2006, would encourage insurers to offer cheaper health plans to individuals and small businesses, and would boost Medicaid payments to providers by $90 million per year. No price tag was placed on Travaglini's plan.
Mo. law would cut Medicaid
Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is expected to sign a law to cut Medicaid services for up to 125,000 people beginning July 1 and replace the state's existing $5 billion Medicaid program with a new health plan by June 30, 2008. The state House passed the bill 89-69 after earlier approval from the Senate. It would reduce income eligibility for parents to 22% of the poverty level, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. The law would create a Medicaid Reform Commission, made up of members of the state House and Senate that would have until January 2006 to recommend a "new, innovative state Medicaid healthcare delivery system." The signing may take place as early as this week but by law must occur by the end of April. A spokeswoman for the governor said the overhaul was necessary because the Medicaid program was too costly. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities accused Blunt of using misleading figures when he presented Missouri's Medicaid program as the country's second-costliest. The center said it found that Missouri spent less on Medicaid than most states and called the state's proposed Medicaid cuts among the most extreme in the nation.