News Headlines for October 21, 2014

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Covered California Doles Out $13.4M To Increase Call Center Capacity
California Healthline

Covered California has awarded contracts worth a total of $13.4 million to two third-party vendors to increase the capacity of the exchange’s call centers during its second open enrollment period, which begins on Nov. 15, the Los Angeles Times reports (Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 10/17).

Last week, the state health insurance exchange released a report outlining lessons learned during the first open enrollment period and efforts the exchange will take to address those issues. The report identified three main lessons from the exchange’s first open enrollment period:

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House Calls Key to Pioneer ACO Success
HealthLeaders Media

Three years after launching its Medicare Accountable Care Organizations program, also known as the Pioneer ACO program, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has published financial results and quality performance data.

The results for the program’s first two years, made public by CMS on Oct. 8, show that the biggest financial winner is Montefiore Pioneer ACO in NY.

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Medi-Cal Officials Hope Enrollees Aren’t Confused by Exchange Renewal Notices
California Healthline

Last week, state officials said they’re planning to get a message out to families that have coverage both in Medi-Cal and Covered California — that the renewal notices from the exchange are not the same as Medi-Cal renewal notices.Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program. “Estimates are that there’s about a 20% overlap, where parents are in Covered California and their children are eligible for Medi-Cal,” said Rene Mollow, deputy director of health care benefits and eligibility at the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees the Medi-Cal program.

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CDC Releasing New Guidelines For Health Workers Treating Ebola
National Public Radio

The CDC is issuing new guidelines for how hospital workers should protect themselves from Ebola. The revised guidelines come after the virus spread from a Liberian traveler to two nurses in Texas. ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is releasing new guidelines for how hospital workers should protect themselves from Ebola. For example, they prescribe more care in putting on and taking off protective gear.

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CDC issues formal guidelines giving workers more protection against Ebola
Washington Post

Federal health officials Monday tightened infection-control guidelines for health-care workers caring for Ebola patients, explicitly recommending that no skin be exposed.

The beefed-up guidelines also call for health-care workers to undergo rigorous training, and to be supervised by trained monitors when putting on and taking off personal protective equipment. The government will issue step-by-step instructions for workers to follow in doing that.

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New challenge for hospitals dealing with Ebola
CBS News

A new challenge is emerging for hospitals already concerned about dealing with potential cases of Ebola.

They now have to determine what to do with the staggering amount of contaminated medical waste an Ebola patient generates, reports CBS News Ben Tracy.

Each potential patient leaves about eight 55-gallon barrels of hazardous material each day.

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More Insurers Put Spending Limits On Medical Treatments
National Public Radio

To clamp down on health care costs, a growing number of employers and insurers are putting limits on how much they’ll pay for certain medical services such as knee replacements, lab tests and complex imaging.

A recent study found that savings from such moves may be modest, however, and some analysts question whether “reference pricing,” as it’s called, is good for consumers.

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Readmissions: No Quick Fix to Costly Hospital Challenge
HealthLeaders Media

Two recently released studies on costly hospital readmissions of seriously ill, elderly patients draw the same conclusion: Fixing this vexing problem is far from easy.

With hospitals under mounting financial pressure to reduce readmissions in the form of Medicare reimbursement penalties, the search is on to find intervention strategies that work. The studies released this month deliver a sobering message.

Ariel Linden, DPH, is lead author of “a study on interventions to reduce readmissions in chronically ill patients published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

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Eye Phone? Your Next Eye Exam Might Be Done With Your Phone
National Public Radio

Getting an eye exam typically involves big complicated machines. But eye doctors are trying to get the big and complicated out of the equation by using smartphones and tablets instead. That way, they figure, eye exams can be done just about anywhere — even a village in Nepal.

That’s where Dr. Chris Johnson and his colleagues are using iPads to test people for glaucoma, a disease that often has no symptoms until it has irreversibly damaged eyesight. That’s because it nibbles away at vision at the periphery of the visual field.

Finding that out usually involves sitting in front of a big machine and staring at a screen while gray dots appear and disappear.

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Five People Alive Today Thanks To SDSU Student
KPBS

SDSU freshman Sara Stelzer was taken off life-support Saturday after losing a brief battle with meningococcal meningitis, and five other people were given new life because she was a registered organ donor.

Organ transplants help save many lives, but finding organs is a challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, new patients in need of an organ get added to the list every 10 minutes.

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SDSU Student’s Death From Meningitis Prompts Classmates To Seek Medical Help
KPBS

In the wake of conflicting information at the end of last week regarding the bacterial meningitis-caused death of an 18-year-old San Diego State University student, the school and county health officials confirmed Monday that she was taken off life support on Saturday.

Sara Stelzer, a freshman from Moorpark in Ventura County, began experiencing flu-like symptoms the night of Sunday, Oct. 12, and was admitted to a hospital on Tuesday.  The school announced Friday morning that she had died from meningococcal meningitis, even though she was still on life support at the time.

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Prisons balk at Sovaldi’s $84,000 cost for hepatitis C treatment
San Francisco Chronicle

In San Francisco’s jails, no inmates with hepatitis C are receiving Sovaldi, the breakthrough pill that can cure most patients in an unprecedented amount of time. In California’s prisons, the drug, made by Gilead Sciences of Foster City, is being given to less than 1 percent of the 17,000 inmates with the virus. Sovaldi could wipe out what has long been an intractable disease. But its $84,000 cost for a 12-week supply doesn’t fit into lean government budgets.

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Gilead’s $1,000-a-pill hepatitis C drug may make financial sense for prisons
San Francisco Business Times

Pricey new hepatitis C drugs, such as Gilead Sciences Inc.’s Sovaldi, may make financial sense to give to give to prisoners, one of the main groups infected with the liver-damaging virus, according to a team of Stanford University researchers. Sovaldi’s $1,000-a-pill price — or $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatments — has been criticized by pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX) and others for potentially breaking private and public insurance programs.

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S.F. supervisor proposes drugmakers fund take-back program
San Francisco Chronicle

After Alameda County became the first in the nation to require pharmaceutical companies to pay for a drug take-back program, San Francisco may follow suit. Seeking to prevent overdoses and reduce contaminants in water, Supervisor David Chiu told The Chronicle he will introduce legislation before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that would require drugmakers, and no longer taxpayers, to fund the disposal of unused and unwanted medications.

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Children’s hospital oakland implements new contract for doctors union
San Francisco Chronicle

Several months after negotiations Children’s Hospital Oakland reached an agreement last week on a new contract that raises the residents’ educational allowance, but doesn’t include a salary increase.

Salaries for resident doctors will remain unchanged at just under $52,000 for the first year, despite the residents original request of a $2,250 one-time bonus amount to help cover the rising cost of living in the East Bay. The contract offers a $500 bonus to all residents for ratifying the contract according to a press release.

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Mission Hospital kept operating rooms open after unsound conditions uncovered
Orange County Register

Mission Hospital, which said Monday that it is resuming elective surgeries at its medical campuses in Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo, continued to allow surgeries in its operating rooms earlier this year even after an inspection found flaws in its heating and ventilation system. At least four patients suffered serious infections in Mission Hospital operating rooms this year. Two weeks ago, the Joint Commission, an agency that oversees hospitals, issued a preliminary recommendation to deny accreditation to Mission Hospital based on conditions in its operating rooms.

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Sierra Nevada ranks in top 5 percent of nation’s hospitals in pulmonary care Healthgrades also gives SNMH a five-star rating for treatment of heart attack, stroke, pneumonia and infection
The Union

Today, Healthgrades released its 2015 hospital ratings which found Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) ranked among the top 5 percent of hospitals in the nation in overall pulmonary care and the top 10 percent of hospitals for stroke treatment and women’s health services.

The hospital also received five-star ratings for treatment of heart attack, stroke, pneumonia and sepsis (infection), along with five stars for total knee replacement.

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