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N.C. wins $18 million bonus for children's health insurance program

North Carolina will receive an $18 million bonus from the federal government for improving access to children’s health-care coverage, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Wednesday. The money was part of an award of $306 million in performance bonuses to 23 states. States qualify for bonuses based on measurements of how well they simplify enrollment and renewal, and how they ensure eligible children have easier access to coverage under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This is the fourth year the bonuses have been distributed. The money helps offset the cost of insuring the lowest-income children in each state. The bonuses were authorized by 2009 legislation. CMS is under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

N.C. Prevention Partners wins award for Red Apple Project

The non-profit N.C. Prevention Partners of Chapel Hill received a Healthy Living Innovation award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its promotion of healthy food in hospital cafeterias.

N.C. Prevention Partners was set to receive its award this morning at a Society of Public Health Education meeting in Arlington, Va.

The non-profit's Red Apple Project was funded by The Duke Endowment and supported by the N.C. Hospital Association.

N.C. Prevention Partners is known in Raleigh for its smoking prevention activities and advocacy for higher cigarette taxes.

State Medcaid paid hospitals too much, feds say

The state Medicaid program paid four hospitals $50.7 million more than needed for high-cost cases from 2004 to 2006 because it did not use an updated formula to calculate reimbursements, according to a federal report.

North Carolina was one of eight states the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General looked at to determine whether they were paying hospitals too much for high-cost cases.

All eight states failed to calculate payments to limit the cost of unusually expensive cases, according to report.

The Office of Inspector General recommended that the federal office that runs Medicaid tell states to use the most recent formulas to avoid overpaying.

Hagan has two more amendments

In addition to two amendments she promoted Tuesday morning, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan has two others she plans to introduce as the Senate continues debating health reform.

The first amendment would require health insurance companies to report at least once a year on their reimbursement rates paid to providers and hospitals for health care services, Barb Barrett reports. The information would then be made public.

"Currently, the health insurance industry does not have to tell consumers how much services, such as a colonoscopy, cost." Hagan said in a prepared statement. "This is the only type of shopping where a consumer has no information about price. With this amendment, prices will be transparent to the public, and people can become better health care shoppers."

Publicly reporting the numbers will improve transparency and help consumers understand the cost of health care.

Another amendment would work to improve health care for diabetic patients by better tracking the disease and the best methods for fighting it.

Perdue goes to Washington

Gov. Bev Perdue is headed to Washington on Wednesday where among other things she is looking for help on Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor.

Perdue said she hopes to meet with Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, to see if the state can get some relief. Perdue estimated that North Carolina's Medicaid program is running at least a $150 million to $200 million shortfall for this fiscal quarter, Rob Christensen reports.

"We are overspending on enrollment," Perdue told reporters Tuesday after a meeting of the Council of State. "We have a lot people out of work who have no money and who qualify for Medicaid."

She also plans to stop by the White House to lobby for a health care bill that does not add too many additional burdens on the states in Medicaid costs.

The primary reason for her trip is a meeting with Energy Secretary Steven Chu to lobby for a major research university grant which she declined to discuss in detail.

State approved buying $40,000 crab pots

A little-known state government service bought 1,100 crab pots to help a hearing-impaired Belhaven man pursue his dream of starting a business.

The state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services approved using federal money to buy the $38,018 worth of traps as part of its rehabilitation program. The division is better known for preparing disabled people for work. Helping people start businesses is a smaller part of its job.

Some lawmakers say the state is wasting money on a losing proposition. Lanier Cansler, the Department of Health and Human Services secretary who personally approved the purchase, said he is satisfied that the department handled the case right. Nonetheless, he has asked the department's internal auditor for a review to make certain its procedures make sense.

Rep. Robert Grady, a Jacksonville Republican, happened across the crab pot buy as a member of a state board that approves some contracts. The notice last month about an "emergency" crab-pot purchase startled him.

Even though the pots are bought with federal money, Grady said taxpayers shouldn't be underwriting a shaky business venture while he's taking questions from constituents about teachers losing their jobs and elderly people losing home care.

"I think this is crazy," he said.

Dewayne Blackburn, 39, confirmed it was he who plans to start the business. Blackburn, who is hearing-impaired, said in a brief interview he wants to return to the work he used to do with his father.

"Me and my daddy used to do it a long time ago," he said.

With 1,100 pots, Blackburn will be going full throttle into an enterprise in which it is difficult to succeed, Grady said. He said Blackburn's job counselors should have steered him toward another opportunity. (N&O)

Burr will oppose Sebelius nomination

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr will oppose Kathleen Sebelius' nomination.

The Winston-Salem Republican said today that he cannot support the Kansas governor's nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services because of her recent veto of an abortion bill.

On Thursday, Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have amended Kansas law on late-term abortions, questioning whether it was constitutional and suggesting it would lead to intimidation of doctors.

Burr said that he had some concerns about Sebelius' "tax problems" after he estimtony in March, though he did not think they were "disqualifying."

"However, I am troubled by her decision late last week to veto a Kansas bill that would have tightened restrictions on late term abortions, and I intend to vote against her confirmation," he said in a statement.

Full statement after the jump.

Another Tar Heel working for Obama

Another Tar Heel has joined the Obama administration.

According to an item by the Washington Post's Al Kamen, a native North Carolinian will soon help shepherd Barack Obama's health care plan:

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, now tasked with overhauling the nation's health-care system and the Department of Health and Human Services, will be able to count on former aide Mark Childress to help him. Childress is to be his chief of staff and also deputy director of the new White House Office of Health Reform. Childress had been Daschle's chief counsel and policy director when he was in the Senate.

Childress, a native of Asheville, was a Morehead scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill's law school and still has family in North Carolina.

Burr tours pandemic facility

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr received a personal tour Tuesday of the Health and Human Services emergency operations center that he helped create a year ago.

The center, staffed today by nearly 20 people, is charged with maintaining a constant vigil on the nation’s health—monitoring weather, news, health crises and the international path of the bird flu virus, Barb Barrett reports.

It is part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act that Burr authored. Bush signed it into law a year ago. The bill aims to help the federal government work with local and state governments in responding to crises.

Among its provisions was the hiring of a new assistant secretary, Navy Rear Adm. Craig Vanderwagen.

Yesterday morning, Vanderwagon offered a briefing on the center, housed inside the Health and Human Services agency about a block from Capitol Hill.

More after the jump.

Stopping traffic

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families will announce a program Tuesday to educate agencies and individuals about human trafficking in North Carolina and across the country.

The federal department estimates that 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States every year, reports Barb Barrett.

Several high-profile cases have come up in North Carolina in recent years, including a sex ring in the Triangle and a legal suit filed by 22 Thai farm workers from Johnston County earlier this year.

The federal program comes alongside an ongoing statewide coalition that has been working several years to train social services and law enforcement agencies about how to identify and help trafficking victims.

Read more after jump.

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