News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Calif. Hospital Association chief defends consolidation efforts
Modern Healthcare

Responding to a story in the Wall Street Journal, California Hospital Association President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said Friday that criticisms of hospital efforts to coordinate and consolidate operations are unwarranted, especially when such changes are driven by government regulations. The newspaper reported that California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been sending civil investigative demands to health systems in an apparent probe to see whether consolidation among hospitals and physicians has driven up prices by giving healthcare providers bargaining clout with payers.

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California Tries to Guide the Way on Health Law
New York Times

The meeting came to order, the five members of the California Health Benefit Exchange seated onstage with dozens of consumer advocates and others looking on. On the agenda: what to name the online marketplace where millions of residents will be able to shop for medical coverage under President Obama’s health care law. An adviser presented the options, meant to be memorable, appealing and clear. What about CaliHealth? Or Healthifornia?

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$11B in Looming Medicare Cuts Detailed by OMB
Health Leaders Media

The healthcare industry’s opposition to federally required sequestration cuts will likely grow stronger this week following Friday’s report from the Office of Management and Budget that shows $11 billion in annual cuts to Medicare over the next decade.

The OMB released its report under pressure from Congress to detail how sequestration would affect federal programs.

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Some business groups on the sidelines in California tax debate
Sacramento Bee

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown traveled to Irvine to meet with members of the Orange County Business Council, highlighting what he expected to be widespread business support for his November ballot measure to raise taxes.

Kaiser Permanente and Occidental Petroleum Corp. had already committed money to the campaign.

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Programs could ease doctor shortage expected in Valley
Fresno Bee

Hundreds of thousands of newly insured people in the central San Joaquin Valley will be looking for doctors in two years, and the worry is they won’t find many. The Valley has a doctor shortage that health professionals say can’t be turned around overnight, especially not in time for the influx of patients under the Affordable Care Act. As many as 900,000 people from Stockton to Bakersfield who are now without health insurance could have coverage in 2014.

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Kamala Harris looks at hospital chain charges
San Francisco Chronicle

Having made her mark on calling the home mortgage industry to account, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is now turning her attention to health care. Her office has issued subpoenas to several California hospital chains, including Sutter Health and Dignity Health in the Bay Area, as part of an investigation into whether the market power of major hospitals in California is improperly influencing health care costs.

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Mercy Medical Center brings spine surgeon to the area
Merced Sun-Star

Belinda Sabetta paid attention as Dr. Gabriel Garcia-Diaz pointed at an X-ray of her spine on a screen last week. This was Sabetta’s second visit with the spine surgeon in Merced. The 61-year-old Los Banos resident came in previously to be seen for back pain that’s accompanied by leg pain when doing certain activities. Sabetta has bad spinal discs, but other parts of her spine called facets might be the cause of her pain, Garcia-Diaz said.

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Medicare Savings Program sees enrollment rise
Modern Healthcare

Efforts to boost enrollment in the Medicare Savings Program, which provides help to low-income beneficiaries who can’t afford their premiums, have been successful in expanding the program’s numbers, according to a GAO report.

The report found that enrollment in the Medicare Savings Program increased every year since 2007, but the highest increases occurred in 2010 and 2011, following an outreach effort from the Social Security Administration.  It noted that the SSA spent $11.7 million in fiscal years 2009 to 2011 on building awareness and staff training, coming in well under its $27.1 million budget for that time period.

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Community clinics switching to electronic health records
HealthyCal.org

Community clinics are turning technologically savvy. Spurred on by federal funds, they are adopting electronic health records at rates exceeded only by HMOs. Community health centers once had the lowest rate of electronic health record use. Only eight percent had them in place in 2006. Today community health centers have the second highest rate of use. Seventy-four percent have made the switch from paper to electronic records, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

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Researchers pinpoint antibody critical to fighting flu
California Watch

Sifting through thousands of proteins, researchers have identified an antibody that not only prevents the influenza virus from taking hold of its victims’ cells, but also cures already infected animals.

And by examining the cell and virus in their crystalline, or 3-D forms, the researchers were able to identify how this antibody effectively neutralized the virus.

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Healthcare changes looming for all
Modern Healthcare

The issue: America’s healthcare system is unsustainable. It’s not one problem, but three combined: high cost, uneven quality and millions uninsured. Major changes will keep coming. Every family will be affected. Where they stand: President Barack Obama’s healthcare law will extend coverage to 30 million uninsured and keep the basic design of Medicare and Medicaid the same. It’s not clear how well his approach will control costs for taxpayers, families and businesses. Mitt Romney would repeal Obama’s healthcare overhaul; what parts he’d replace have yet to be spelled out.

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Medicare gaps leave many with big bill at end of life
KFMB TV

Many U.S. seniors have trouble saving enough money to handle health care costs beyond what Medicare covers, a new study suggests.

As a result, a significant portion of their savings and other assets go to paying their end-of-life costs when they die.

In the last five years of life, out-of-pocket co-payments and deductibles, and the high cost of home care services, assisted living and long-term nursing home care cause 25 percent of seniors to spend more than their total non-housing assets, the study found.

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White House projects $11.1 billion in Medicare pay cuts under deficit law
Modern Healthcare

The Obama administration projected that Medicare will be cut by $11.1 billion next year due to requirements of a deficit-reduction law unless overridden by statute. The 2% cut in the $554.3 billion that Medicare projects to spend on providers and insurance plans in 2013 was required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Medicare cuts are part of the $1.2 trillion in 10-year cuts the law required after bipartisan negotiations on a comprehensive and bipartisan deficit reduction plan failed last year.

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Where are the jobs in Shasta County? Try trucking and nursing
Redding Record Searchlight

“When will the California jobs boom hit Redding? Stillwater (Business Park)?”

So queried a reader last week who forwarded me a link to a recent CNN/Money article that talked up a Conference Board report suggesting demand for skilled factory workers is on the rise. The story noted that states where the need for manufacturing work is high include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Texas and California.

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The Doctor-Patient Relationship. Is Over.
The Health Care Blog

Probably the hardest part of making the change from a traditional to a direct-care practice is the effect it has on relationships. I am only taking a maximum of 1000 patients (less at the start) and will be no longer accepting insurance. These changes make it impossible for me to continue in a doctor-patient relationship with most of my patients. For some, this transition will be more hassle than anything. Some people do everything they can to avoid my office, and so are not going to be greatly affected by my absence.

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Low-income Parents Brace for End of ‘Healthy Families’
KQED Radio

Next January, the state will begin transferring hundreds of thousands of low-income kids from its popular Healthy Families insurance plan to Medi-Cal — which offers medical coverage to the state’s poorest residents. Ending Healthy Families was one of Governor Jerry Brown’s budget-balancing priorities and now families are feeling the weight of that decision.

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Out of the Box Thinking on Avoiding Hospital Readmissions: Stop Trying
The Health Care Blog

As a cardiac electrophysiologist, I’m pretty far removed from public policy. But I have to admit that I was interested in the latest move by CMS to cut their Medicare payment rates to hospitals by invoking pay cuts for hospital readmissions. The Chicago Tribune‘s article is enlightening and filled with some interesting anecdotes after the first round of pay cuts were implemented:

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The Wrong Way to Save Money on Health Care
The Health Care Blog

Employer outlays for workers’ health insurance slowed from a 9 percent jump last year to less than half that — 4 percent — this year, according to a new survey from the Kaiser Foundation. Good news? Our political class believes it is. The Obama administration attributes the drop to the new Affordable Care Act, which, among other things, gives states funding to review insurance rate increases.

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