Regional Digest

• A study recently published in Health Affairs painted a rather bleak picture for hospital and home healthcare nurses in Massachusetts. The nurses should expect "little employment growth in hospitals, a deceleration of employment growth in home health, and continued gradual decline in wages," the study’s authors concluded. Tougher Medicare payment policies and other economic factors are adding to the problem. The result is many families can’t find round-the-clock home healthcare, Stanley Plozdik, chairman of the Massachusetts State Board of Nursing, told The Boston Globe. "I had a family after me last week who wanted help finding an RN or even a CAN for home care," he said. "I found just one agency that was able to provide me with a nurse for one shift. Other than that, there was nothing available on the entire seacoast."

New York Gov. George Pataki released a budget that proposed Medicaid cuts of $511 million. With the cuts, the state’s total Medicaid spending would be about $9.7 billion. Pataki proposed to cushion the impact of the reductions by accelerating the phase-out of certain state tax assessments on providers. This would yield $223 million for home health agencies, hospitals, and nursing homes.

The Portland Visiting Nurse Association (Portland, CT) is working to find new sources of revenue after finding its income from Medicare was $100,000 less for the first five months of FY98-99 than for the same period the previous year. The VNA expects to make cuts by reducing the staff’s work week, restructuring the office staff, and reducing office supplies, equipment, utilities, and maintenance. It also hopes to get conessions from its workers’ union to save money, the Hartford Courant reported.

CareLink (Worthington, OH) has filed court documents claiming Aetna U.S. Healthcare (Hartford, CT) has not paid an estimated $9 million for care provided to Aetna members. The home health company is suing for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, bad faith termination, and unjust enrichment, according to Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News. The court papers said Aetna agreed to pay the company for home health and nursing services, as well as for supplies, but never did. In December, Aetna notified CareLink it intended to terminate its contract with the company on March 31.

Three Iowans and a Texan have been indicted for attempting to defraud Medicare and Medicaid of $6.9 million, reported the Omaha World-Herald. The charges include wire fraud, healthcare fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to defraud the government. One Iowa agency involved is Universal Home Health, which has offices in Des Moines, Waterloo, and Albia. Universial, reports the World-Herald, submitted $2.7 million in false costs from 1993-1996.