News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Senators Urge Feds To Expand Access To Opioid Addiction Medication
The Huffington Post

A group of 22 senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, think the Department of Health and Human Services could do more to increase access to a medication viewed by the medical establishment as the best chance for opioid addicts to make a lasting recovery.

Under current federal regulations, doctors can treat only 30 patients at a time in the first year they’re certified to prescribe buprenorphine (commonly sold in the U.S. as Suboxone), a medication that can reduce opioid cravings and ward off harsh withdrawal symptoms. Doctors can receive authorization to treat as many as 100 patients in subsequent years. Access to the medication can be especially difficult in rural counties. Addicts may have to drive hundreds of miles to find a doctor who can prescribe them the life-saving medication.

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Insurance Rates Going Up: New Concerns for Obamacare
New York Times

Fresh problems for “Obamacare”: The largest health insurer in Texas wants to raise its rates on individual policies by an average of nearly 60 percent, a new sign that President Barack Obama’s overhaul hasn’t solved the problem of price spikes.

Texas isn’t alone. Citing financial losses under the health care law, many insurers around the country are requesting bigger premium increases for 2017. That’s to account for lower-than-hoped enrollment, sicker-than-expected customers and problems with the government’s financial backstop for insurance markets.

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Showdown over ObamaCare subpoenas quickly escalating
The Hill

House Republicans and the Obama administration are clashing over subpoenas for ObamaCare documents.

Republicans are upping the pressure on the administration, saying officials are withholding documents that Congress has every right to see. The administration argues that it is justified in withholding some documents, as predecessors have done, because of the executive branch’s interest in protecting the confidentiality of internal deliberations. It says it has cooperated with Republicans by making officials available for interviews and by providing some documents.

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Health insurance mega-deals aren’t winning over a key party: large employers
Modern Healthcare

Federal and state insurance regulators are determining the fate of the pending health insurance mergers, and many large employers won’t be disappointed if officials torpedo the deals.

Several surveys of Fortune 500 companies and other big employers reveal nervousness that the reduced competition among health insurers will mean higher healthcare costs for them.

“Anytime you have a limited market and limited number of key players and they come together, that’s not a great thing for a purchaser,” said Larry Boress, CEO of the Midwest Business Group on Health. His coalition surveyed employer members this past December, and 95% of respondents viewed the loss of competition as negative.

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Will Covered California sell plans to undocumented immigrants?
Modern Healthcare

California is moving to become the first state to allow unauthorized immigrants to purchase insurance through the state exchange. The state assembly voted Tuesday to open up Covered California to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who want to purchase a health plan with their own funds.

SB 10, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara from southeast Los Angeles County, would authorize the state to apply for a federal waiver to make the change. The state Senate voted to pass the measure last June and an April staff report from Covered California also expressed support for the move.

The legislation would be cost-neutral to the state, and the biggest hurdle could well be getting the waiver itself. “The federal government is adamant about not providing any Affordable Care Act benefits to undocumented immigrants,” said Joel Diringer, a San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based health policy consultant at Diringer and Associates.

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Medicaid advisory panel adopts new conflict-of-interest standards
Modern Healthcare

In an effort to appease Republican lawmakers and address recent concerns of bias, a panel that advises Congress on Medicaid policies has adopted a sweeping new conflict-of-interest policy.Late last month, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) voted unanimously to adopt a policy for disclosing financial and other interests as well as a process for members to recuse themselves from voting on recommendations in which they may have a conflict of interest. It also outlined activities that would be prohibited as long as an individual serves on the panel.

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California’s end-of-life law launches, hospitals choosing to opt out

Starting June 9, terminally ill Californians will be able to obtain a lethal prescription from doctors. However, since it’s a voluntary law, some physicians and hospitals are opting out.

Of the four major hospitals in San Luis Obispo County, none confirmed they will be opting-in to provide patients the option of life-ending medication.

Dignity Health-operated French Hospital in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande Community Hospital will not be participating.

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Death Talk Is Cool At This Festival
Kaiser Health News

In a sunny patch of grass in the middle of Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery, 45 people recently gathered around a large blackboard. The words “Before I Die, I Want To …” were stenciled on the board in bold white letters.

Sixty-two-year-old Tom Davis led us through the thousands of gravestones scattered across the cemetery. He’d been thinking about his life and death a lot in the previous few weeks, he told us.

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Emergency room doctors need more flexibility
Sacramento Bee

It’s a fearful thing to have to go to the emergency room. Unfortunately, when those in a mental health crisis are brought in from the street, there are appalling delays in receiving proper treatment, much to the frustration of ER doctors.

That’s due to a long-obsolete state law that ties the hands of these highly trained physicians, creating a situation that is unfair to all patients in the ER. I’m referring to “5150” holds, named after the section of state law that authorizes an involuntary 72-hour detention for those who are believed to need mental health services to prevent harm to themselves or to others.  While the intent of that law is public safety, the reality is that these involuntary holds keep many people with behavioral health conditions from getting timely treatment.

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A Med Student Decides To Be Upfront About Her Mental Issues
National Public Radio

At first Giselle wasn’t sure what to put on her medical school application. She wanted to be a doctor, but she also wanted people to know about her own health: years of depression, anxiety and a suicide attempt. (We’re using only her first name in this story, out of concern for her future career.)

“A lot of people were like, you don’t say that at all,” she said. “Do not mention that you have any kind of weakness.”

Giselle remembers having her first intense suicidal thoughts when she was 10 years old.

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Intensive care unit opens for youth
The Acorn

The county has a new pediatric intensive care unit, meaning very ill children no longer have to travel to Los Angeles or Santa Barbara for critical treatments.

On the very day Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks opened its new four-bed PICU, it admitted its first patient—and doctors there have been caring for kids every day since, said Kevin O’Brien, the unit’s director.

“In two weeks time, we’ve had six or seven admissions,” he said.

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Sonoma West Medical Center scales back revenue forecasts
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Sonoma West Medical Center has dramatically scaled back its monthly revenue forecasts as the Sebastopol hospital struggles to collect payments for medical services and become financially sustainable.

The medical center, a revamped version of the failed Palm Drive Hospital, was launched last fall and has yet to turn a profit. Its operating losses for April are expected to surpass $600,000, up from an operating loss of $47,000 in March and $400,000 in February, CEO Ray Hino said.

The unexpectedly large April loss stems from two factors, Hino said.

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Nonprofit Hospital Forgives Debts And Stops Suing So Many Poor Patients
National Public Radio

For years, Heartland Regional Medical Center, a nonprofit hospital in the small city of St. Joseph, Mo., had quietly sued thousands of its low-income patients over their unpaid bills.

But after an investigation by NPR and ProPublica prompted further scrutiny by Sen. Charles Grassley, the hospital overhauled its financial assistance policy late last year and forgave the debts of thousands of former patients.

The hospital “deserves credit for doing the right thing after its practices were scrutinized,” Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote last week in a letter to his Senate colleagues, “but it should not take congressional and press attention to ensure that tax-exempt, charitable organizations are focused on their mission of helping those in need.”

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San Clemente’s Saddleback Memorial hospital shuts its doors
Orange County Register

After more than four decades of service, San Clemente’s 73-bed hospital shut down at 11:59 p.m.

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Longtime faculty member Lara named as interim leader of UC Davis cancer center
Sacramento Business Journal

Primo “Lucky” Lara, a medical oncologist, will serve as interim leader of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center as a national search is performed for a new director. Lara’s appointment comes after the current director, Ralph de Vere White, announced Tuesday he will step down later this month. De Vere White, 70, has been director of the center for 20 years.

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Valley hospitals garner large gifts
The Business Journal

Two Valley hospitals recently received large gifts that will be utilized to bolster area medical services.

Saint Agnes Medical Center received over $208,000 from the Saint Agnes Men’s Club. The gift, raised from various 2015 club fundraisers, will benefit the advancement of 16 hospital programs and services impacting patients and the community.

Saint Agnes President and CEO Nancy Hollingsworth, RN, accepted the donation on behalf of the Medical Center at the Men’s Club Mercedes-Benz of Fresno Casino Night fundraiser on May 21.