National Attention Remains on Bullying and Harassment

The bullying and harassment of students continues to receive national attention. On May 9, 2011 a bill (S.B. 919) was introduced in Congress which would, among other things, authorize the U.S. Education Secretary to award $1 billion in competitive grants to states in FY 2012 to implement “comprehensive programs that address conditions for learning in schools.” To be eligible for a grant, a state must require all local education agencies in the state to establish policies that prevent and prohibit harassment, including bullying, in schools. [More]

Colorado Passes Health Benefits Exchange Legislation

The Colorado House and Senate have passed legislation creating a process for implementing a health benefits exchange. SB 11-200 authorizes the establishment of a quasi-public entity under a board of directors with five voting members to be appointed by the Governor, four voting members to be appointed by the legislature, and three non-voting ex officio representatives of key state agencies such as the Executive Director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (DHCPF). Initial duties of the board will include electing a chairman, establishing technical and advisory groups, [More]

Washington State Enacts ACA Legislation, Designs Medicaid Reforms

On May 11, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed six health care reform bills into law. SB 5445 establishes a health benefits exchange development board which will create a business plan and an implementation timeline for a public-private partnership to operate Washington’s exchange in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Washington is the fourth state to enact such legislation since 2010. Governor Gregoire also signed SB 5122, which reflects ACA requirements on extending private health insurance coverage to dependents under the age of 26, eliminating life-time limits on coverage, and prohibiting pre-existing condition exclusions for persons under age 19; SB 5371, creating new enrollment procedures for persons under age 19; HB 1220, permitting public access to actuarial data submitted by health insurers on premium rate increases; HB 1311, requiring all state purchased health care programs to adopt evidence-based practice guidelines; and SB 5394, promoting the development of health homes to coordinate care for individuals with chronic conditions. [More]

HHS Announces Availability of Community Transformation Grants

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on May 13 the availability of $102 million in FY 2011 funding for up to 75 Community Transformation Grants authorized by sections 4002 and 4201 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). State and local governments will be eligible to compete for these grants. The grants will be awarded through HHS’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The grants are intended to spur evidence-based intervention strategies to reduce the incidence rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The grant opportunity announcement points out that 75 percent of the $2 trillion in annual US health spending, and 70 percent of US deaths, are the result of chronic diseases in which tobacco use, obesity, poor diets, and physical inactivity are often contributing factors. Electronic applications will be due on July 15; notices of intent are due June 6. CDC will announce grant awards in late summer. Grants may be extended to a five year period, during which up to $900 million could be available. [More]

CMS Launches Pioneer ACO Project

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a draft request for applications (RFA) on May 17 for organizations seeking to participate in the Pioneer Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Model for 2011-2016. Applicants should have experience coordinating care under financial risk sharing contracts and be ready to adopt value-based and outcomes-based payment models that CMS will be field-testing with such organizations over the next five years. CMS expects through this RFA to select 30 organizations, each serving at least 15,000 Medicare beneficiaries (5,000 in rural areas). The RFA is scheduled to be published officially in the Federal Register on May 20 and the application due date is expected to be 60 days thereafter. This research project is just one of several Medicare and Medicaid ACO initiatives under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) meant to control costs by creating incentives to improve coordination of care among providers, reduce duplication of services, and avoid medical errors. [More]

Update on Health Care Law Challenges in U.S. Court of Appeal

The first hearing at the U. S. Court of Appeals level took place on Tuesday, May 10, before a three-judge panel, randomly selected by a computer program, in Richmond, Virginia. The Court actually heard arguments on two cases decided at the District Court level, with opposite outcomes as to the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the healthcare legislation. Both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times expressed opinions that the spirited questioning by the panel appeared to reflect a potential favorable decision upholding the mandate. The opponents of the mandate claimed that the law, by appearing to regulate “inactivity,” could not do so under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Findings in GA Title IV-E Report Consistent with Other State Audits

The OIG’s release of Georgia’s Title IV-E Adoption Assistance audit May 5, 2011 is the most recent in a series of audits conducted nationally on a state’s administration of Title IV-E Adoption Assistance benefits to eligible children. The audit findings are similar to those in the other eight state audits (in Tennessee, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, and Idaho) released in recent years: Title IV-E adoption assistance determinations incorrectly completed, children over age 18 being claimed, and insufficient or missing documentation to substantiate eligibility. In Georgia’s audit, 1,485 randomly selected children were reviewed for eligibility. Of the total sample, 939 children’s eligibility had either been claimed incorrectly or eligibility could not be established. The federal share owed by the State of Georgia is over $14.7 million, a significant amount for any state to have to return with state budgets continuing to decline.

House Appropriation Committee Drafts Significant Reductions to Discretionary Grants to States

On May 11, the first step to the appropriations process began with the House drafting 302(b) sub allocations, which drive the funding targets for 2012 spending levels. Overall, the House Appropriations Committee designated $1.019 trillion in discretionary funding for the 12 subcommittees, which is a $30.38 billion less than the 2011 Operating Plan level and a $121.565 billion reduction to the 2012 President's budget request. Section 302 of the Congressional Budget Act (CBA) of 1974 requires that the total budget authority and outlays be allocated to each House and Senate appropriations committee. Approval of the budget conference report signals adoption of concurrent budgets in the House and the Senate, which sets funding levels and does not require the President’s signature. [More]

Former Secretary of FL DCF To Lead ACF

George Sheldon, the former head of Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) will work in the Obama Administration as a leader of Administration of Children and Families (ACF). He will begin his career as an advisor to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Assistant Secretary David Hansell. When Hansell leaves ACF next month, Sheldon will become the acting assistant secretary. Secretary Sheldon’s career with DCF began with an appointment by Governor Charlie Crist. The child welfare community throughout Florida has praised Secretary Sheldon for running a transparent government, most notably when he set up a special Web site with information on the case of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child who had been prescribed powerful psychotropic medications and hung himself in 2009. Through the noted success of Florida’s Title IV-E waiver since 2006, Sheldon has become a strong supporter of child welfare waivers to promote innovation by making the federal allotment of foster care funds more flexible. [More]

Tracking Academic Progress of Students in Military Families

An article in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week reported that recent increased attention to military families may require enhancements in the ability to track the academic progress of students in military families who are enrolled in public schools. The article cites a March 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that recommended that the U.S. Secretary of Education, in collaboration with U.S. Secretary of Defense, determine whether to require school districts to identify military students as a distinct subgroup for reporting on their academic outcomes, such as test scores and high school graduation rates, in the same way that outcomes are tracked for other student subgroups including economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. [More]