A selection of health policy stories from New Jersey, Iowa, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Oregon, California and Pennsylvania.The Wall Street Journal: Judge Benefit Fight Moves To Ballot BoxThe [New Jersey] state Legislature endorsed a constitutional amendment Monday requiring judges to contribute more to their government benefits, sending to voters an issue that some consider a linchpin of judicial independence. In a rare midsummer voting session, lawmakers responded quickly and almost unanimously to a state Supreme Court decision last week that said judges can’t be forced to pay more for pension and health benefits, as other government workers were in a historic 2011 law (Haddon, 7/30).Des Moines Register: Majority Of Top State Employees Enroll In Health PlanThe majority of Iowa’s top-ranking state government employees enrolled in a new health care plan and will pay 20 percent of their premiums — a plan advocated earlier this month by Gov. Terry Branstad. A review of public records by The Des Moines Register shows that 32 of Iowa’s 54 department directors or division heads enrolled in the new health insurance plan. Two declined coverage by the state and 20 others were not enrolled. Branstad has been critical of state employees receiving premium-free health care coverage, saying he believes the contributions will help the state reduce costs. But on Monday, Branstad and his staff gave little indication whether he was satisfied with the participation numbers (Clayworth, 7/30).The Associated Press/ABC: Fla. Appeals Ruling Voiding ‘Docs Vs. Glocks’ LawFlorida officials are appealing a federal judge’s ruling striking down a Florida law that restricted doctors from talking with patients about gun ownership. Gov. Rick Scott announced the appeal Monday. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled earlier this month in the case known as “Docs vs. Glocks.” Cooke agreed with physicians who contended the law violates free speech rights. The state will take its case to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Scott says he believes the law is constitutional and will continue to defend it (7/30).Medpage Today: Florida Appeals Ruling On Gun Gag LawThe state of Florida is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that halts implementation of a law preventing doctors from asking patients and families about guns in the home. “This law was carefully crafted to respect the First Amendment while ensuring a patient’s constitutional right to own or possess a firearm without discrimination,” Florida governor Rick Scott (R) said in a Monday press release announcing the appeal, which was filed by the state Department of Health. … Scott signed the measure, known as the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act, on June 2, 2011. The law made it illegal for physicians to ask patients about guns in their homes; violators faced $500 fines and loss of their medical licenses. A few days after Scott signed the bill into law, medical groups filed suit to overturn it (Frieden, 7/30).The Dallas Morning News: Parkland Memorial Hospital To Temporarily Close Psych ER Parkland Memorial is temporarily shuttering its troubled psychiatric ER for renovation while suspending longer-term care for the mentally ill, according to an internal bulletin sent to employees this morning. The hospital is remodeling the existing psych ER, the scene of numerous cases of abuse and neglect during recent years, beginning Thursday to boost capacity and improve care, the newsletter said (Moffeit, 7/30).Kansas Health Institute News: KanCare Information Forums BeginRepresentatives of hospitals, doctor practices and other Medicaid providers turned out in relatively large numbers today for the beginning of a series of meetings aimed at answering questions about KanCare, Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to remake the state Medicaid program. State officials said they still hadn’t resubmitted their application for the federal waivers needed to launch the administration’s Medicaid makeover plan but intend to refile that paperwork “very soon” and meanwhile are moving forward with their desired Jan. 1 start date for the new program. Federal approval is necessary for the administration to advance its plan of moving virtually all of the state’s 383,000 Medicaid beneficiaries into fixed-cost managed care plans run by insurance companies (Shields, 7/30).Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State To Create Coordinated Care Program For Foster ChildrenThe Department of Health Services has received federal approval to create a foster care “medical home” program in southeastern Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker announced Monday. The program, scheduled to begin this fall, is designed to break down the barriers that too often delay, sometimes even prevent, important medical information from being shared when a child who has suffered abuse or neglect is removed from his or her home and placed in protective services, said Fredi-Ellen Bove, administrator of the Division of Safety and Permanence for the Department of Children and Families. It will also improve the quality of the care that these children receive by requiring timely health screenings, full medical, dental and behavior exams, she said (Boulton and Stephenson, 7/30).The Oregonian: Regence BlueCross BlueShield Defends Proposed Rate Hike At Salem HearingEscalating medical and prescription drug costs have given Regence BlueCross BlueShield executives little choice but to raise rates an average 9.6 percent for people who buy their own insurance, an executive told Oregon insurance regulators Monday. “We are simply putting our finger in the dam and hoping that the water stops flowing,” said Don Antonucci, Regence’s Oregon president, adding that the insurer is spending down reserves to limit increases. The rate hike and a new, more limited provider network for about 20,000 Portland-area members were discussed at a sparsely attended public hearing in Salem (Budnick, 7/30).California Healthline: DHCS Director Douglas Rejects Another Judicial DecisionToby Douglas, director of the Department of Health Care Services, has rejected another proposed decision by an administrative law judge over an appeal of eligibility for the Community Based Adult Services program. According to stakeholders, it is the first rejection based on eligibility criteria. Douglas earlier had rejected — or “alternated” as it’s known in the appeals system — two other proposed decisions based on the legal question of whether the department had the right to reverse face-to-face assessments of eligibility by nurses. After a Department of Social Services administrative law judge issued a proposed decision that DHCS did not have that right, Douglas disagreed, and rejected those proposed decisions (Gorn, 7/31).California Healthline: Reform Talk Moving From Rhetoric To Bottom Line In Business CommunityWith legal and political wrangling over health care reform waning, California small business owners — many uninformed and some misinformed — seem eager to learn more and get on with the process, according to a new report. The report — based on a statewide “listening tour” orchestrated by Small Business Majority and chambers of commerce around the state — indicates many business owners had “little or no interest in an ideological or partisan discussion of the law, but instead wanted a fact-based explanation of it and how its provisions will apply to their businesses” (Lauer, 7/30).Medpage Today: [Pennsylvania] State Offers Incentives To Get Docs OnlinePennsylvania is hoping an offer of free software and a new customer reward will get smaller health care providers to turn off their fax machines and to switch to secure, encrypted email to share patient information. It’s part of a national program designed to provide a halfway point for providers that can’t afford the infrastructure to connect with a health care information exchange. The state’s eHealth Collaborative is providing free implementation of Direct Messaging for small healthcare providers for 1 year if they register by Aug. 15. Also, it is paying $250 to health care information service providers for each provider they register for the Direct Messaging program (Baum, 7/30). State Roundup: High-Ranking Iowa Gov’t Employees To Pay More In Health Costs This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.