Health Care Checkup: MRIGlobal wins NIH contract, BJC could buy Farmington hospital

Cox-SouthThe Health Care Checkup is a weekly rundown of the state’s top health care headlines.

Checking the Pulse

Cox extends benefits to same-sex spouses; Mercy to follow

In a giant policy shift, two of Missouri’s biggest hospital systems, CoxHealth and Mercy, are expected to offer benefits to same-sex spouses by the end of the spring. CoxHealth began offering same-sex spouse benefits in October, though it never publicly announced the change. The Springfield News-Leader broke the news that Mercy will begin extending same-sex benefits later this spring. In all, the two hospital systems employ more than 52,000 people.

MRIGlobal wins $54 million bNIH contract

Kansas City-based MRIGlobal was awarded a contract from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health, worth $54 million. The contract calls for a 10-year program that includes manufacturing and testing of drug ingredients, from formulation to packaging to distribution, before they go into clinical trials. Although MRIGlobal, previously known as the Midwest Research Institute, has held contracts with NIH since 1969 this is the first such contract with the institute’s neurological division.

BJC HealthCare looking to acquire Farmington hospital

Did the Federal Trade Commission tip BJC HealthCare’s hand? It appears so. FTC officials were reportedly contacting business owners in Farmington asking about the potential community impact if BJC purchased the Mineral Area Regional Medical Center, a 135-bed facility currently owned by Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn. There are only two hospitals in Farmington, Mineral and the 130-bed Parkland Health Center, and BJC already controls the latter.

FTC officials declined to comment on the reported questioning, and BJC HealthCare representatives currently won’t confirm or deny interest in the purchase. There can be little doubt the Mineral Area Regional Medical Center can use some assistance, however; the most recent financials provided by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services show consecutive years of fiscal losses in 2010 and 2011 before posting a $542,000 profit in 2012.

Number of the Week: 40,000

The number of Missouri children age 18 and younger who could lose health insurance coverage if Congress doesn’t agree to funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for the coming year. The program costs about $14 billion a year to run, but its association with the Affordable Care Act since 2010 has soured its popularity in a now-Republican-controlled Congress.

Quote of the Week

“Personally, I look at this, and I am on a government website, and I don’t know what is going on between the government and Facebook, and Google, and Twitter. Why is that there?”

— Mehdi Daoudi, CEO of Catchpoint Systems, discussing the presence of connections to third-party data firms on the website, potentially collecting data including a customer’s age, income and ZIP code, as well as whether or not the customer is a smoker or is pregnant. Although there is no evidence of misuse of the data, its collection still represents what some consider a breach of privacy.

Tweet of the Week

To state that in full (rather than tweet) form: Missouri Senator Roy Blunt was just announced as the new chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies for the newly sworn-in Congress. He will oversee funding not only for HHS, but also for the National Institutes for Health and the National Labor Relations Board.

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