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Health care news from around the state and nation


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Slideshow: UCSF’s Mission Bay hospital takes shape
San Francisco Business Times

Earlier this week, UCSF Medical Center celebrated a milestone in the construction of its $1.5 billion new women’s, children’s and cancer specialty hospital at Mission Bay, “topping out” the new structure with a 1,600-pound steel beam. After all, any structure under construction — whether a modest house, soaring skyscraper or huge hospital — reaches its topmost point at some point during the building process.

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GOP pushes for CLASS Act repeal
Modern Healthcare

Republican members of Congress are pushing to repeal the CLASS Act, the long-term-care insurance measure in the healthcare reform law that HHS officials said the agency will not implement.

Rep. Charles Boustany, a physician who serves on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, introduced legislation this year to repeal the provision. On the road in his home district Tuesday, Boustany said he has communicated with the House leadership and that repeal is going to be a “top priority” between now and when House members return from a weeklong recess next week.

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S.J. to spend $1M toward county hospital earthquake retrofit design

County officials agreed Tuesday to spend $1 million for architectural planning to replace portions of San Joaquin General Hospital deemed deficient to weather a major earthquake.

The contract required would pay for part of the design work for an estimated $39 million project to replace the Old Tower, which was built in 1932.

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Health care workers rally against federal spending cuts
Orange County Register

About 40 health care workers held signs reading “Medicare not Millionaires” during a demonstration in Orange Tuesday against potential federal cuts to health spending. The group circled the sidewalk in front of the Chapman Avenue office of U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R- Fullerton. Joanna Powers, a licensed vocational nurse at Western Medical Center Anaheim, said she’s concerned that Congress will make cuts to Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor and disabled.

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U.S. Moves to Cut Back Regulations on Hospitals
New York Times

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to roll back numerous rules that apply to hospitals and other health care providers after concluding that the standards were obsolete or overly burdensome to the industry.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposed changes, which would apply to more than 6,000 hospitals, would save providers nearly $1.1 billion a year without creating any “consequential risks for patients.”

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Medicare Ratings System Largely Untapped By Seniors
Health Leaders Media

The federal government’s efforts to promote Medicare’s new and highly touted Star Quality Ratings for health plans is so far not reaching most of its target audience.

A survey released by Kaiser Permanente during the Medicare open enrollment period this month found that only 18% of Medicare-eligible seniors were familiar with the star quality ratings, and that less than one-third of those seniors used the ratings to pick their health plan.

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Kaiser gets trauma designation at Vacaville hospital
North Bay Business Journal

Kaiser Permanente’s Vacaville Medical Center received official approval by the Solano County Emergency Medical Services Agency to provide level III trauma services.

A site visit by a team that included Solano EMS officials and a trauma surgeon was conducted Sept. 29, and the assessment team concluded that Kaiser Permanente met the criteria to begin providing trauma care at its Vacaville Medical Center.

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Patient information to be exchanged
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County will participate in a health care information exchange that medical officials say will reduce health costs by allowing providers to share patient records electronically. The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved an agreement to take part in the Inland Empire Health Information Exchange, a coalition of most of the major health care providers, physician groups and hospitals in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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Valley study links ER visits with bad air days
Bakersfield Californian

Children’s asthma-related emergency room visits rise in the San Joaquin Valley at a similar rate as fine particulate levels do – even on days where air quality is considered in the moderate range.

That’s a key finding of a yearlong study by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State, which examined the short-term impacts of air quality changes in Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto.

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UnitedHealth Group beats expectations on Q3 profits
Los Angeles Business Journal

UnitedHealth Group Inc. , the parent company of Cypress’ PacifiCare Health Systems , came close to analyst expectations on revenue and beat them on profits. The Minnetonka, Minn.-based provider of managed care and HMOs said it increased its profit outlook for the full year by almost 5 percent, according to its quarterly earnings release Tuesday.

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Emergency room use reaches a record high
Modern Healthcare

Visits to hospital emergency departments increased to an all-time high of 136 million in 2009, according to estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This represents almost a 10% increase from the 2008 figure of 123.8 million. The CDC study is one of three examinations of ER use being released today at the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting in San Francisco.

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State to clinics: Send back payments for dental care
California Watch

California’s health program for the needy is approaching the state’s clinics with a controversial request: Send back those checks for root canals, tooth extractions and other dental services rendered within the last year.

State coverage for Medi-Cal patient dental and podiatry services was cut amid budget shortfalls in mid-2009, but reinstated by court order after clinics sued in October of last year.

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CDC: Emergency room visits surged in 2009
Los Angeles Times

New estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that emergency room visits rose nearly 10% to 136 million in 2009. The preliminary data were released Tuesday at the meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in San Francisco. A statement from the organization linked the rise in emergency room visits to physicians’ fear of lawsuits, citing two studies also presented Tuesday at the meeting.

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Heart failure hospital stays fall 30% in ten years, saving billions
USA Today

Hospital stays for heart failure fell a remarkable 30 percent in Medicare patients over a decade, the first such decline in the United States and forceful evidence that the nation is making headway in reducing the billion-dollar burden of a common condition. But the study of 55 million patients, the largest ever on heart failure trends, found only a slight decline in deaths within a year of leaving the hospital, and progress lagged for black men.

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Heart-Failure Hospital Stays Plunge as U.S. Saves $4 Billion
San Francisco Chronicle

The number of older Americans hospitalized with heart failure declined 30 percent from 1998 to 2008, saving the U.S. health insurance program for the elderly $4.1 billion annually, researchers said.

In the largest study of its kind, investigators analyzed heart-failure hospitalizations among 55 million people in the U.S. Medicare program.

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Heart failure hospitalization rates fall, JAMA study says
Modern Healthcare

Hospitalization rates for patients with heart failure fell significantly from 1998 to 2008, saving billions in healthcare costs, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Using fee-for-service data on more than 55 million Medicare beneficiaries, researchers found a 29.5% drop in the risk-adjusted heart failure hospitalization rate over the 10-year period.

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Obama adviser slams Romney on health care plan
San Francisco Chronicle

President Barack Obama’s top political adviser is giving GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney credit for something he’d rather not be thanked for — inspiring the national health care overhaul.

David Axelrod says the Obama health plan was largely modeled on the system Romney shepherded into place as Massachusetts governor.