Colo. Medicare gets $14M federal award for initiative

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Colorado received a $13.7 million award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for making changes in its enrollment policies.

The changes led to big increases in the past fiscal year in the number of children enrolled in the public health insurance program. Colorado’s Medicaid program saw a 14 percent increase during the fiscal 2010, which ended June 30.

That 14 percent equals 105,000 more children with insurance than in 2006. The biggest reason for that increase is a hospital fee that draws matching federal funds and will raise an expected $1.7 billion a year by 2014 to cover Colorado’s uninsured. The fee was adopted by the legislature in 2009.

The state also restored cuts in reimbursement fees to doctors and increased pay for family physicians who see Medicaid patients.

Despite advances in the state to cover everyone, about 700,000 people remained uninsured in Colorado.

Still, Colorado is far ahead of others when it comes to federal reform that requires expansion of Medicaid eligibility by 2014. Federal law says people with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level, about $29,300 for a family of four, will have to be eligible for Medicaid by 2014.

For parents with a child, Medicaid eligibility went from 60 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent in Colorado last summer. The fee on hospitals is helping pay for that and other expansions scheduled in the next few years.

More mergers in 2011

Health care tops the list of sectors that will see more mergers and acquisitions in 2011, industry analysts say.

The increased activity should span all sectors of the industry — from Big Pharma to major hospital chains.

While the price tags on the deals won’t be as high as in previous years, more big industry names will be targeted for M&A next year.

There were some major names in deal-making this year — Pfizer bought Wyeth and Merrick bought Schering Plough. Those deals merely whetted the appetite for more, according to the experts.

In 2011, several popular, name-brand drugs will lose patent protection and those companies will lose millions as the drugs can be sold by other companies in cheaper, generic brands. Pharmaceutical companies will be looking to expand or merge in order to bolster their bottom lines, according to industry experts.

Though nothing has been announced, some of the companies behind deals reported to be in the works include Medtronic Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories and Pfizer. Amgen Inc. is also expected to acquire new companies.

Each year, the health care law firm Dykema polls M&A experts to find out which industries will be consolidating in the next year. “It’s been difficult for health care providers to obtain financing or issue bonds to raise capital over the past few years, and the market seems to be opening up,” Dykema said in its annual report.

More than one-quarter of respondents to Dykema’s survey expect health care to generate the most activity among economic sectors, ranking it just ahead of technology. Twenty percent of the respondents placed health care as the top M&A sector in 2010.

Economics and a changing health care platform explain way, said Kathy Kudner, a partner at Dykema’s health care practice groups.

As the economy improves, more providers have a better capital position they need to make a move. The way hospitals improve their bottom line is by taking on more patients — and mergers are one way to do that.

Locally, Memorial Health System is taking the steps to become an independent, free-standing nonprofit hospital. The Dykema survey shows those systems are exactly the kind that are vulnerable to takeover and acquisition activity.

“Right now, everything coming down from every place is pro-consolidation,” Kudner said. “Everybody’s open to alternatives and trying to figure out the best way for handing the changes that are coming. All options are on the table.”

State health department uses social media to encourage influenza shots

Every winter, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment struggles to get the word out: getting a flu vaccination is essential to public health.

In the past, it has tried television PSAs and poster competitions. This year, it’s turning to the most popular social media network in the world to gain attention.

Anyone who posts a picture after getting a flu shots to the Facebook page, “enough excuses” (http://on.fb.me/enoughexcuses), will be entered to win two tickets to an upcoming Denver Nuggets game. Second prize is a $150 spa gift certificate. Winners will be announced Jan. 31.

This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending everyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot.

Amy Gillentine can be reached at amy.gillentine@csbj.com or at 719-329-5205. Friend her on Facebook.