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Health care news from around the state and nation

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Emerging markets are leaving the U.S. in the dust on healthcare

Universal healthcare is having a moment. In The New York Times last Thursday, The Rockefeller Foundation placed a full-page ad declaring its support for 267 economists from 44 countries who have argued that universal health coverage policies are morally urgent and economically efficient. Relatively poor countries are making huge strides in delivering basic healthcare to their citizens. Countries like Indonesia (with a GDP of roughly $3,500 per capita, vs. the United States’ $53,000) have launched ambitious plans to achieve universal coverage; in Indonesia’s case, by 2019. And middle-income countries, like Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica, have achieved universal health coverage for its citizens.

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Privacy Advocates Urge Stronger Protection Of Employee Health Data
Kaiser Health News

Like millions of Americans, Michelle Muckenthaler joined her workplace wellness program this year, answering a bunch of questions about her health habits: What did she eat? How often did she exercise?

Next year, she’ll also face a wellness exam, including tests to measure her cholesterol level, blood sugar and weight. Worried about the privacy of her personal information, she says she’ll opt out, even though she will lose a discount off her premium.

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Childhood Stress May Prime Pump For Chronic Disease Later
National Public Radio

We might not be able to remember every stressful episode of our childhood. But the emotional upheaval we experience as kids — whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the chronic stress of economic insecurity, or social interactions that leave us tearful or anxious — may have a lifelong impact on our health.

In fact, a study published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that emotional distress during childhood — even in the absence of high stress during adult years — can increase the risk of developing heart disease and metabolic disorders such as diabetes in adulthood.

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Prescription for health care system — money, flexibility
Capitol Weekly

Experts in California health care agree: The present system is unsustainable. It needs more money and flexibility.

But that’s where agreement ends.

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Hospitals, doctors rip insurance deals at Capitol Hill hearing
Modern Healthcare

The CEOs of Aetna and Anthem returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to defend their respective transactions to House members, the second such congressional hearing in a week, but hospitals and doctors said the deals remain unjustified and deserve sharp federal scrutiny.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini and Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish recited similar testimony from their Senate hearing last week. Bertolini said Aetna’s $37 billion acquisition of Humana is almost entirely about enlarging its Medicare Advantage business, and if the transaction closes, only 8% of all Medicare beneficiaries would be in an Aetna or Humana plan.  Most seniors would still be enrolled in the government’s traditional fee-for-service Medicare program.

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Should the Government Provide Infrastructure For a Health Data Highway?
The Health Care Blog

Susannah Fox, the CTO of HHS was talking at the AcademyHealth Concordium 2015 conference this week.

Her energetic call for innovation got me thinking: Should the government be in the business of funding infrastructure for healthcare communication?

Comparable infrastructures
The governments on local, state and federal level have deployed comparable infrastructures and licensing in the interest of public health and safety:

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Poll Finds Overwhelming Support For Medicare Paying For End-Of-Life Talks
Kaiser Health News

The public overwhelmingly supports Medicare’s plan to pay for end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients, despite GOP objections that such chats would lead to rationed care for the elderly and ill, a poll released Wednesday finds.

Eight of 10 people surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation supported the government or insurers paying for planning discussions about the type of care patients preferred in the waning days or weeks of their lives. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) These discussions can include whether people would want to be kept alive by artificial means even if they had no chance of regaining consciousness or autonomy and whether they would want their organs to be donated. These preferences can be incorporated into advance directives, or living wills, which are used if someone can no longer communicate.

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Workplace Wellness Programs Put Employee Privacy At Risk
Kaiser Health News

Houston workers who checked the fine print said they weren’t sure whether they were joining an employee wellness program or a marketing scheme.

Last fall the city of Houston required employees to tell an online wellness company about their disease history, drug and seat-belt use, blood pressure and other delicate information. The company, hired to improve worker health and lower medical costs, could pass the data to “third party vendors acting on our behalf,” according to an authorization form.

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7 Questions To Ask Your Employer About Wellness Privacy
Kaiser Health News

If your company hasn’t launched a wellness program, this might be the year.

As benefits enrollment for 2016 approaches, more employers than ever are expected to nudge workers toward plans that screen them for risks, monitor their activity and encourage them to take the right pills, food and exercise.

This involves a huge collection of health data outside the established medical system, not only by wellness vendors such as Redbrick, Audax and Vitality but also by companies offering gym services, smartphone apps and devices that track steps and heartbeats.

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Telemedicine Expands, Though Financial Prospects Still Uncertain
National Public Radio

Say you’re a Midwestern farmer in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery or a major illness. It’s time for the nurse’s check-in, but there’s no knock on the door.

At Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, a camera attached to the wall over the foot of the bed whirls around, as a video monitor next to the camera lights up to show a smiling face with a headset on.

“Good afternoon, this is Jeff with SafeWatch,” the smiling face says. “Just doing my afternoon rounds.”

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Alzheimer’s caregivers likely to spend more than $50,000 a year
Washington Post

A new survey offers further evidence of the substantial impact, financial and otherwise, that caregiving can have on family members who look after a relative with Alzheimer’s disease.

The online survey — conducted by the senior-care firm — found that caregivers were likely to spend more than $50,000 a year on expenses related to their duties.

The survey, which was released at Wednesday’s US Against Alzheimer’s/Women Against Alzheimer’s “Out of the Shadows” Summit, also found that people who were taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia were more likely to feel a negative impact at work because of their dual roles.

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Heart attack care and outcomes are worse for women
Modern Healthcare

Women who experience heart attacks are more likely than men to die within one year of the episode and be disabled due to heart failure within six years, according to an analysis released Tuesday from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The disparity shows that even though more attention has been placed on the impact of the disease on women, more needs to be done. The report proposes additional examination of treatment patterns, understanding of social determinants of heart health, and funding for women’s heart research.

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Hospital, outpatient prices for privately insured vary widely
Modern Healthcare

A new analysis of prices private insurers pay for healthcare services may fuel the already mounting consumer demand for transparency from payers and providers. Prices for hospital care and outpatient services were hugely different across more than three dozen U.S. markets, even between markets in the same state, according to a report from the Health Care Cost Institute, an independent not-for-profit organization that has a database of medical claims for tens of millions of working-age adults from Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Kaiser Permanente and Humana.

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Think Health Prices Are High Near You? Maybe Yes — And No
Kaiser Health News

A long-established belief about health costs is that some areas of the country, like McAllen, Texas, are expensive, while others like San Francisco are cheap. But an analysis released Wednesday provides evidence that prices can be exorbitant for some medical services and bargains for others—all in the same place.

The study from the Health Care Cost Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit, found discrepancies within some of the 41 areas of the country it studied using its rare data trove–billing claims from three of the biggest commercial insurers. Together the records show insurance payments for a quarter of the people under 65 who got their coverage through their employers between 2011 and 2013.

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New allegations about CalPERS long-term care management
Sacramento Bee

Actuaries cautioned CalPERS nearly 20 years ago that its new long-term care insurance fund was set up for failure, an attorney suing on behalf of policyholders says, but officials ignored the warning.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System denies those and other allegations outlined by Stuart Talley, one of the lawyers who last week asked a Los Angeles court to grant class-action status for a lawsuit against CalPERS. The plaintiffs claim the fund and its business agents misrepresented the insurance in sales pitches and materials, then made poor business decisions that wound up foisting huge rate hikes on tens of thousands of policyholders.

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S.F. seeks to improve heart health for minorities
San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco’s poorest residents — particularly Latinos and African Americans living in the neighborhoods that account for about 80 percent of the city’s cases of heart disease — are targets of a new federally funded program to try to improve their cardiac health. San Francisco is one of 49 cities in the country to receive funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the three-year effort to get people off the couch and into some form of exercise.

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$400K raised for Merced hospital’s 3-D mammography system
Merced Sun-Star

Mercy Medical Center in Merced will have a “state-of-the-art” 3-D mammography system for breast cancer screenings by the beginning of next year, the Mercy Foundation Board announced after surpassing its fundraising goal at this weekend’s gala.

The Mercy Foundation raised more than $410,000 for a Hologic-brand mammography system at its event themed “La Vie en Rose” (Life in Pink) held at Merced College on Saturday.

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San Bernardino Community Hospital expands emergency services
San Bernardino Sun

The Emergency Department at Dignity Health Community Hospital of San Bernardino is completed and the milestone is officially commemorated.

Thursday’s ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the formal opening of the three-year expansion project.

That morning, the sun was warming up for what would be a sultry day.

Renovation of the 105-year-old, 374-bed hospital has transformed it to better accommodate the growing critical needs of the community.

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Supervisors approve hospital authority to run KMC
Bakersfield Californian

Kern County Supervisors took a major step Tuesday on the road to transferring Kern Medical Center to a Kern County Hospital Authority.

They voted to approve the ordinance that will create the hospital authority.

“This is the culmination of a great deal of effort,” said Kern Medical Center CEO Russell Judd. “We’ve circled to the right. We’ve circled to the left. We’ve do-si-doed. And now we’re here.”