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Health care news from around the state and nation


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Obama administration rejects Medi-Cal copayments
San Francisco Chronicle

Federal health officials on Monday said California cannot force Medi-Cal recipients to make a co-pay for doctor visits and prescription drugs, a decision that brings relief to low-income patients but complicates the state’s effort to close a $9.2 billion budget deficit. A letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said agency officials were “unable to identify the legal and policy support” for the state’s request.

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House and Senate at Impasse on Medicare Payments
New York Times

House and Senate negotiators are deadlocked over how to prevent a deep cut in Medicare payments to doctors who treat millions of Medicare beneficiaries, an impasse that could threaten broader legislation on a payroll tax cut. Lawmakers in both parties said they wanted to give doctors a small increase, but could not agree on how to cover the cost.

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For many, affordable healthcare hinges on Supreme Court vote
Los Angeles Times

It remains anyone’s guess how the Supreme Court will vote this year on whether Congress can require people to buy insurance as part of President Obama’s healthcare reform law.

At this point, the smart money is on a 4-4 split between the court’s conservative and progressive factions, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy the likely swing vote. And he hasn’t tipped his hand on how he feels about the issue.

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Dems press for openness on essential benefits
Modern Healthcare

A small group of House Democrats expressed concern about HHS allowing states to determine the definition of essential health benefit packages. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking members, respectively, on the House Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce Committees, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (PDF) about the essential health benefits bulletin that HHS’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight issued in mid-December.

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Medical debt keeps rising, new report shows

Hard hit by one of the worst recessions in nearly a century, hundreds of thousands of Californians lost insurance coverage across the state as employers shed jobs and the health plans that came with those jobs, according to a new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Among the most alarming trends resulting from the so-called Great Recession: a significant jump in California’s already high rate of residents with medical debt.

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Hospital parcel tax ballots in mail
Sonoma Index-Tribune

Sonoma Valley voters will be getting ballots in the mail this week for an election with just one issue: a renewal of the $195 parcel tax to support operations at Sonoma Valley Hospital.

Called Measure A, the parcel tax ballot – if passed – would continue the current tax for another five years. Voters approved the existing parcel tax in 2007. The mail ballots were sent out Monday to all voters who live within the Sonoma Valley Health Care District, which covers all of the Valley.

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FDA questions Amgen drug for prostate cancer
USA Today

Scientists for the Food and Drug Administration say that an Amgen drug slowed the spread of cancer to the bone in men with hard-to-treat prostate cancer, though the drug did not extend life and carried significant side effects. The Food and Drug Administration will ask a panel of outside experts on Wednesday whether the benefits of Amgen’s Xgeva outweigh its risks, which included bone disease in about 5 percent of patients taking the drug. The agency posted its review of the drug online Monday morning ahead of the meeting.

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Komen official quits breast cancer charity over dispute
USA Today

A high-ranking official resigned Tuesday from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast-cancer charity after a dispute over whether the group should give funding to Planned Parenthood, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

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County unveils bold health plan for poor

Imagine a health care system that provides you with medical attention when you need it, superior treatment and seamless coordination between your primary care doctor and a specialist.

It already exists.

But for thousands of chronically sick, disenfranchised poor San Joaquin County residents the concept is nothing but a pipe dream.

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Federal officials reject California’s plan to charge Medi-Cal co-payments
Sacramento Bee

Federal health officials rejected California’s bid to charge Medi-Cal co-payments for everything from drugs to hospital visits, dealing a new blow to the state budget but relief to low-income patients and their providers.

Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers relied on mandatory Medi-Cal co-payments to save $511 million in last year’s state budget and presumed that the state would continue saving in future years.

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A push for family input to detect dementia earlier
USA Today

Alexis McKenzie’s mother had mild dementia, but things sounded OK when she phoned home: Dad was with her, finishing his wife’s sentences as they talked about puttering through the day and a drive to the store. Then their phone service was cut off. “I mailed that check,” McKenzie’s father insisted. No, he’d mailed the phone company a bank deposit slip instead. McKenzie visited and discovered spoiling food. Dad the caregiver was in trouble, too.

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Real Race in Cancer Is Finding Its Cause
New York Times

A decision by the nation’s leading breast cancer advocacy group, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to largely cut off financing for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood set off howls of outrage last week. Once again, it seemed, political gamesmanship was jeopardizing women’s health. The widespread anger forced Komen to reverse its decision, and it has certainly reinvigorated the women’s health movement.

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States look at limiting or expanding what doctors can do
USA Today

State legislatures are considering a host of measures that would make it tougher — or easier — for doctors to perform surgery outside of their specialties, including in their offices. Only 20 states require doctors doing surgery in their offices to have facilities that are licensed or accredited, according to the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgical Facilities.


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Health care spending on end-of-life treatment is irrational
The Mercury News

Mercury News reporter Lisa Krieger’s compelling, poignant tale Sunday of her father’s final 10 days of life and the extraordinary hospital costs they entailed should be required reading for all. For doctors. For hospital administrators. For health care policy makers, both elected and professional. And, although it is painful, for every one of us with aging parents or friends — or with a creeping sense of our own inescapable mortality.

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Planned Parenthood fights breast cancer
Orange County Register

Last June, Monique Benoit had no job and no health insurance and she needed a mammogram. What could she do? If anyone might offer solid advice, she thought, it would be a Planned Parenthood clinic. As a teenager she’d turned to the organization for reproductive health services, including birth control. Still, she figured the best they could do was to turn over a list of references.