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Health care news from around the state and nation


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Medi-Cal care trumps California’s fiscal woes, judge rules
Sacramento Bee

The state’s fiscal crisis does not outweigh access to health care, a federal judge said in temporarily blocking state Medi-Cal cuts that rural hospitals say would have endangered skilled nursing care for their elderly and long-term patients.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder in Los Angeles federal court Dec. 28 puts the brakes on Medi-Cal cuts that were intended to save California up to $623 million by trimming reimbursement rates to care providers by as much as 10 percent.

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Sutter Health contributes $400M to employee pension plan
San Francisco Business Times

Sutter Health, frequently a target of union ire, said Thursday it made a $400 million contribution to its pension plan late last month. The Sacramento-based system, which operates 24 hospitals and a network of affiliated medical foundations in Northern California, said its Sutter Health Retirement Plan is fully funded for its roughly 45,000 employees. To keep the plan fully funded, Sutter said, it injected $400 million in late December, on of top of investments of $120 million in 2010 and $500 million in 2008.

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California insurance program a major success among those with pre-existing conditions
Live Insurance News

California may have been the last state to launch an interim health insurance program before the Affordable Care Act takes effect, but its program is now ranked the second most successful behind that of Pennsylvania’s. The program began several months after the health care reform law was passed. It was created to offer those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, access to affordable health insurance policies.

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Insurance profits soar after health care overhaul
San Francisco Chronicle

Insurance companies spent millions of dollars trying to defeat the U.S. health care overhaul, saying it would raise costs and disrupt coverage. Instead, profit margins at the companies widened to levels not seen since before the recession, a Bloomberg Government study shows. Insurers led by WellPoint, the biggest by membership, recorded their highest combined quarterly net income of the past decade after the law was signed in 2010, said Peter Gosselin, the study author and senior health care analyst for Bloomberg Government.

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SVMH seeks input on partnership
The Californian - Salinas

Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System officials are reaching out to the community for help with shaping the hospital’s future.

In a news report issued Thursday, officials said economic realities have prompted the hospital to pursue a partnership or merge with another health-care system that would be both a financial and cultural fit in the Salinas Valley.

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Federal justice officials accuse hospice provider of Medicare fraud
California Watch

A national for-profit hospice care company partially owned by a San Francisco private equity firm has been accused of bilking Medicare of millions of dollars, according to a legal complaint filed this week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In court documents, the government contends that since at least 2007, Texas-based AseraCare Hospice has fraudulently certified patients as terminally ill to illegally collect Medicare payments.

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Sutter Health beefs up retirement portfolio
Sacramento Bee

Sutter Health contributed $400 million to its retirement plan in December, keeping its pension plan fully funded, officials at the Sacramento-based health network announced Thursday.

“At a time when companies are down- sizing or eliminating employee pensions, Sutter Health has made funding our pension a top priority,” said Pat Fry, Sutter Health president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Sutter Health has invested $1 billion in its retirement fund in the last four years, said spokeswoman Karen Garner.

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Fremont hospital wraps $100M project
San Francisco Business Times

Washington Hospital Healthcare System , which runs Fremont’s Washington Hospital, said it spent $105 million on a new, 37,000-square-foot central utility plant completed early last month. Costs for the project, funded in part by tax funds approved by district voters in 2004, “are coming in close to budget,” said spokeswoman Beth Copeland, senior director of ambulatory operations at the system. “Details of payments are still being finalized.”

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Report Finds Most Errors at Hospitals Go Unreported
New York Times

Hospital employees recognize and report only one out of seven errors, accidents and other events that harm Medicare patients while they are hospitalized, federal investigators say in a new report.

Yet even after hospitals investigate preventable injuries and infections that have been reported, they rarely change their practices to prevent repetition of the “adverse events,” according to the study, from Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Collaborating reduces costs of health care
USA Today

Peter Cady, who works 12-hour shifts on his feet at Intel’s plant here, occasionally suffers severe lower back spasms. But he nearly gave up seeking medical help because in the weeks it took to get a doctor’s appointment and a referral to physical therapy, the pain usually subsided. These days, he’s much happier with his care. Rather than waiting to see a doctor, Cady and other patients with routine back pain now see a physical therapist within 48 hours of calling, compared with about 19 days previously, Intel says.

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Healthcare hiring quickened in December
Modern Healthcare

Led by jumps at hospitals and ambulatory health services, the healthcare sector created 22,600 new jobs in December, according to seasonally adjusted preliminary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a rebound from November, as healthcare jobs rose by 0.16% in December, which is more in line with job creation in September when healthcare added 23,700 jobs. November added 16,000 new posts, the lowest in healthcare since January 2011.

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Brown’s budget would slash safety net

The state’s health and social safety net for its poorest residents would be slashed even if voters approve a tax increase that Gov. Jerry Brown proposes for the November ballot, Brown said Thursday as he released his spending blueprint for the coming year.

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San Jose edges Santa Cruz for nation’s healthiest metro title
Santa Cruz Sentinel

The Atlantic rates Santa Cruz County as the second most healthy metropolitan area in the nation.

If Santa Cruz had a smaller percentage of smokers, Santa Cruz could have beaten San Jose for the No. 1 spot.

The rankings were calculated by Richard Florida, The Atlantic columnist and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, based on the level of smoking and obesity in 315 regions using data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Palm Drive Hospital hires temp CEO
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Palm Drive Hospital directors Thursday hired an interim chief executive officer to run the Sebastopol facility for the next three months as it begins an alliance with Marin General Hospital.

Charles R. Guenther, former CEO of Eastern Plumas Health Care in Portola, was hired at a salary of $20,000 per month. He replaces Rich Polheber, who has served as Palm Drive CEO for HealthTech Management Services, a Brentwood, Tenn., company that has managed Palm Drive the past two years.

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Tenderloin Health to close due to money woes
San Francisco Chronicle

Tenderloin Health, which provides care to the San Francisco neighborhood’s homeless and poor residents at risk of acquiring HIV or AIDS, will close due to financial problems, the center’s board of directors announced Thursday. Existing debt, the poor economy and the loss of federal funds led to the decision to close, said David Fernandez, the chief executive officer of Tenderloin Health since 2009.