News Headlines for April 17, 2014

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Insurers pour money into fight against Calif. ballot initiative
Modern Healthcare

A political battle looms over whether regulators in the nation’s most populous state will have the authority to reject proposed health insurance rate hikes, a power that could make a big difference in the fate of the Obamacare insurance exchanges.

Supporters of the referendum argue that it’s a long overdue mechanism to rein in unreasonable rate hikes and supplement changes that were part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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Medicare Opt-Out a Viable Physician Strategy
Health Leaders Media

It may come when you are in the office late trying to catch up on paperwork, or perhaps when you’re looking over the reimbursement denials from CMS. Maybe it will hit you when you look at the approved claims and realize how little you make off of Medicare. Sooner or later, most physicians will wonder about the option of quitting Medicare altogether. Is it a crazy idea?

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For Diabetics, Health Risks Fall Sharply
New York Times

Federal researchers on Wednesday reported the first broad national picture of progress against some of the most devastating complications of diabetes, which affects millions of Americans, finding that rates of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations fell sharply over the past two decades.

The biggest declines were in the rates of heart attacks and deaths from high blood sugar, which dropped by more than 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, the period studied. While researchers had had patchy indications that outcomes were improving for diabetic patients in recent years, the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, documents startling gains.

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Amazon Shows the Way on Wellness — Treat People like Adults
The Health Care Blog

Since 2000, the government and healthcare industry have sold Americans a bill of goods called workplace wellness, which turns out to have been a colossal waste of billions of dollars. Most of this money was spent bribing employees to do things that they don’t want to do, such as submit to biometrics, answer intrusive health risk appraisals, and get preventive medical care.

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Obamacare effects are bigger than expected, poll finds
Los Angeles Times

President Obama’s health law has led to an even greater increase in health coverage than previously estimated, according to new Gallup survey data, which suggests that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since last fall. That is millions more than Gallup found in March and suggests that as many as 4 million people have signed up for some kind of insurance in the last several weeks as the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act drew to a close.

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Uninsured rate drops faster in states friendly to Obamacare
Modern Healthcare

States that have embraced the federal healthcare law are seeing significantly sharper reductions in the rate of individuals lacking health insurance than are states that are not implementing key provisions of the law, according to a Gallup survey.

In the 21 states that have opted to expand Medicaid to individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty threshold and taken some steps to develop a state-specific insurance exchange, the rate of uninsured individuals dropped by 2.5 percentage points from 2013 to the first quarter of 2014. In states that failed to take both of those steps, the reduction was only 0.8 percentage points.

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Healthcare Reform Puts Vise Grips on Physicians
Health Leaders Media

When the enrollment period opened for the new health insurance exchanges in 2013, it was a signal to physicians that a key element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act had, indeed, arrived and would start to play out in their waiting rooms this year. Other changes providers are now contending with include the implementation of ICD-10, public disclosure of any financial gain doctors receive from drug and device manufacturers because of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, and attesting to meaningful use requirements.

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America’s Largest Health Insurer Is Feeling The Pinch Of Health Care Reform
Business Insider

UnitedHealth Group Inc , the largest U.S. health insurer, said on Thursday that first-quarter profit fell on costs and taxes related to the national healthcare reform law as well as government cuts to private Medicare funding. The company said the Affordable Care Act related-costs and the effects of budget sequestration last year on payments from the government negatively affected earnings by about 35 cents per share.

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Anyone suffering because of healthcare reform, please step forward now.
Monterey County Weekly

As relentless as Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponents have been in their quest to deny Americans affordable health insurance, even they would have to admit they’ve lost ground in recent months. Let’s start with the Koch brothers, who have spent more than $30 million in anti-Obamacare ads, only to see the law’s popularity continue to grow. A recent ABC/Washington Post found plurality support for the healthcare reform law for the first time ever, at 49 percent to 48 percent opposed.

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Obamacare Means New Challenges for California’s Safety Net Providers
KQED Radio

California leads the nation in the number of people getting insurance through the Affordable Care Act. But now that the final deadline has come and gone on Tuesday, millions are still left uninsured. These people will still turn to community clinics and public hospitals for care — they are the safety net institutions that serve Californians with nowhere else to go. But as the ACA is implemented, those institutions are facing changes.

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Covered California to tackle budget revision, benefit designs
Sacramento Business Journal

The board at Covered California will take action on a number of important issues at its regular monthly meeting in Sacramento on Thursday, including revision of the current budget and proposed standard benefit designs for 2015. There also will be updates on enrollment in the new health care marketplace, pending legislation, federal rules and the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15. The board will readopt regulations on enrollment assistance and the appeals process for the small employer program.

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More Proof That American Health Care Prices Are Sky-High
The Huffington Post

As anyone who’s ever paid a health insurance premium or a hospital bill knows, medical care is expensive. What Americans may not know is that residents of other countries don’t pay nearly as much for the same things.

The latest data from the International Federation of Health Plans, an industry group representing health insurers from 28 countries including the United States, once again illustrates that American patients pay the highest prices in the world for a variety of prescription drugs and common procedures like childbirth and hospital stays.

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Better, broader health care for Latinos being pursued
Sacramento Bee

Building on a service that has just celebrated its fourth anniversary, community leaders are fortifying their commitment to secure better access to health care for Latinos in the greater Sacramento region.

Surrounded by historic photographs chronicling the lives of Mexican Americans in Sacramento, Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutiérrez this week hosted a gathering at the Mexican Consulate in Natomas to celebrate the Ventanilla de Salud, or health window, where people of all backgrounds are welcome to seek health care services.

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Cut prices for low-risk hospital outpatient surgeries: HHS report
Modern Healthcare

Medicare should pay hospitals less for low-risk outpatient surgeries, the program’s fiscal watchdog suggests in a report published this morning. Bringing prices in line with those charged at cheaper ambulatory surgical centers could save the government as much as $15 billion over six years and save Medicare patients $4 billion in copayments, the report projects.

HHS‘ Office of the Inspector General recommends that the CMS seek Congress’ permission to pay hospital outpatient-surgery departments the same rates for Medicare surgeries as those received by stand-alone ambulatory surgery centers.

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One Medical Group raises $40 million in new funding
San Francisco Business Times

One Medical Group, the tech-savvy San Francisco-based primary care group led by Dr. Tom Lee, has raised another $40 million in funding this week, in a round led by the Redmile Group.

That gives it a new total of $117 million, after nabbing $77 million in multiple rounds of prior venture funding.

Lee, who earlier co-founded Epocrates, is One Medical’s founder, CEO and thought leader— and an emerging voice in Bay Area and national health care discussions and debates.

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UnitedHealth’s 1Q profit tumbles 8 percent
San Francisco Chronicle

UnitedHealth Group’s first-quarter net income slid 8 percent as funding cuts to a key product and costs imposed by the health care overhaul dented the health insurer’s performance.

The Minnetonka, Minn., company said Thursday the overhaul and government budget cuts added about 35 cents per share in costs during the quarter. The federal law aims to provide coverage for millions of uninsured people, but it also trims funding for Medicare Advantage plans, changes how insurers can write their coverage and adds an industry-wide tax, which is not deductible.

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Sacramento’s Hacker Lab working to meet deadline for ‘techies’ health care plan
Sacramento Bee

Hacker Lab, the Sacramento nonprofit that helps nurture technology startups, says it needs 21 more sign-ups by 5 p.m. Thursday to activate its “HackerCare” health care coverage aimed at businesses and individuals in the technology industry by May 1.

Gina Lujan, co-founder of Hacker Lab at 1715 I St., announced plans for HackerCare in January, characterizing it as a members organization formed by techies for techies.

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Number of Sacramento County autistic students doubles over six years
Sacramento Bee

About 3,100 Sacramento County public school students are autistic, a number that has risen seven-fold since 2000, according to new figures from the California Department of Education.

The figure represent a jump of about 300, or 10 percent, from 2013 to 2014. More than one of every 80 students in Sacramento County public schools is classified as autistic.

The number of autistic children also rose in El Dorado, Placer and Yolo County.

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