Above The Fold 05.19.09

Hippies have replaced all the cowboys in the Tx. legislature…Electronic medical records, or else…Va. isn’t gun shy over prescription database hack…Wyeth gets sent to the principals office over drug discounts…California voters could stop cutting higher checks to politicians under prop 1…LA city council may cut over 1/5 the workforce by summer…Treasury Sec. doesn’t see bailout for state govts, but perhaps they’d like a York Peppermint Patty…

The Austin American-Statesman reports this morning that despite calls of cession from some in the state house, the conservative influence has diminished during the last legislative session. New bills have passed the house this year that would have never had a prayer in years past. Bipartisanship has bloomed in bills such as expanding children’s health insurance, spending restrictions on corporations and unions in political campaigns, reversing a major worker’s compensation decision and creating a commission to investigate wrongful criminal convictions. “Neither extreme of either party should win the House floor vote,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. “It’s really going to come from the consensus in the middle, and that’s what we’ve proven this session.” Rep. Byron Cook, a Republican from Corsicana added, “The inclusive nature of what’s going on now lends itself to a better result.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill yesterday meant to coax doctors into using electronic medical records, the Baltimore Sun reports. Under the terms of the bill, Maryland will be the first state requiring private insurance companies to offer doctors financial incentives to adopt EHRs and those doctors who do not bring them on by 2015 could face penalties. “This is where government and private health care providers can come together to really improve not only the quality of care but also, hopefully, create some costs savings as well,” O’Malley said. “Health IT is the future of health care in our country, and we want Maryland to lead the way.”

Maryland isn’t the only state pushing EHR’s, of course. But one state that might still be a little gun shy over the idea is marching forward. Despite a hacker’s theft of millions of Virginia’s prescription drug records, Senator Mark Warner is pushing for more patient records, the Associated Press reports. “One of the keys is how we ensure security and privacy,” Warner said. “Just as we see that in financial records you can never get 100 percent protection, we have a very efficiently functioning system around financial records (and) around other critical information,” said Warner, who is four months into his Senate term. “If you have a national platform that involves security and privacy, I think you take a giant step toward making sure what happened here in Virginia doesn’t happen elsewhere,” he said.

Sixteen states and the Department of Justice have sued the drug maker, Wyeth, the Wall Street Journal and other sources confirm. The suit claims that Wyeth avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in rebates to state Medicaid programs for its Protonix Oral and Protonix IV acid-reflux drugs. “By offering massive discounts to hospitals, but then hiding that information from the Medicaid program, we believe Wyeth caused Medicaid programs throughout the country to pay much more for these drugs than they should have,” said Tony West, assistant U.S. attorney general for the Civil Division, in a news release. States that joined the lawsuit include California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The New York Times reports that future pay increases for state legislators in California could be limited by voter sentiment. Proposition 1F would bar the state commission that sets salaries for the governor and state legislators from increasing salaries when there is a budget deficit, as there is now. “One-F is a no-brainer,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the state’s respected Field Poll, an independent, nonpartisan research organization. “I would go to the bank with that one.” But not everyone agrees. “It’s as American as apple pie, and deeply destructive,” said John D. Donahue, a lecturer in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard who has studied public- and private-sector compensation, because low compensation makes legislators vulnerable to special interests.

Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles’ financial woes continue as an expected $530 million budget gap threatens layoffs and furloughs, the Los Angeles Times reports. One bright spot could be an unexpected $26 million in revenue that will save the LAPD from making cuts or imposing a hiring freeze. The state workforce suffered 400 cuts earlier this month and additional cuts could be double that next month. “You’re not just laying people off, you’re shattering lives,” city traffic Officer Gordon McCullough, 53, told the council. “There are people who are one paycheck away from landing on the streets,” McCullough said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s lay people off.’ It’s hard to work to make government more efficient.”

Reuters reported yesterday that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner left the possibility of helping states and cities hit by the bad economy, but that no formal bailout was in the works. “I wouldn’t use the words ‘bailout’ or ‘federal,'” Geithner said. “I would say we’re in close consultation with people who are looking at ways to make sure these markets are working so states and municipalities can meet their needs.”

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