News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Democrats have figured out where they’re going on health care
Washington Post

Something quite remarkable is happening right now among Democrats on the issue of health care: After an intense period in which rhetoric, policy and politics were all seemingly in flux, the party is rapidly moving toward something like consensus on where it ought to go next on its most critical domestic priority.

As you may know, almost every Democrat running for president has said he or she supports Medicare-for-all, but most of them (with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been proposing a single-payer plan for years) have been vague about what that might mean.

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Costly Confusion: Medicare’s Wellness Visit Isn’t The Same As An Annual Physical
Kaiser Health News

When Beverly Dunn called her new primary care doctor’s office last November to schedule an annual checkup, she assumed her Medicare coverage would pick up most of the tab.

The appointment seemed like a routine physical, and she was pleased that the doctor spent a lot of time with her.

Until she got the bill: $400.

Dunn, 69, called the doctor’s office assuming there was a billing error. But it was no mistake, she was told. Medicare does not cover an annual physical exam.

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Regulations cost inpatient psychiatric facilities $1.7 billion
Modern Healthcare

Inpatient psychiatric facilities across the country face $1.7 billion a year in compliance costs stemming from outdated regulations and inconsistent surveys from private and state agencies, according to a new industry report released Tuesday.

The biggest driver of regulatory costs for facilities is meeting requirements to lower ligature-risk points, which are areas where a patient can try to strangle themselves.

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HHS drops new guidance to bolster HIV med development
Modern Healthcare

The Food and Drug Administration finalized two guidances to support drugmakers developing new versions of HIV antiretroviral medications, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on Tuesday.

Pledging to make eliminating the HIV epidemic a priority of his tenure, Azar said the FDA guidances focus on drugs to treat pediatric HIV infections as well as new long-acting forms of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

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Did Your Doctor ‘Ghost’ You? An Employment Contract May Be To Blame
Kaiser Health News

When Don Cue developed a bladder infection last fall, he called his longtime urologist’s office for a urine culture and antibiotics. It was a familiar routine for the two-time prostate cancer survivor; infections were not uncommon since he began using a catheter that connects to his bladder through an incision in his abdomen.

When Cue called this time, a receptionist told him that his physician, Dr. Mark Kellerman, no longer worked at the Iowa Clinic in Des Moines, a large multi-specialty group. She refused to divulge where he’d gone.

“As a patient, ‘scared’ is too strong a word, but my feeling is, ‘What do I do now?’” said Cue, 58.

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Aspiring Doctors Seek Advanced Training In Addiction Medicine
National Public Radio

The U.S. surgeon general’s office estimates that more than 20 million people have a substance-use disorder. Meanwhile, the nation’s drug overdose crisis shows no sign of slowing.

Yet, by all accounts, there aren’t nearly enough physicians who specialize in treating addiction — doctors with extensive clinical training who are board certified in addiction medicine.

The opioid epidemic has made this doctor deficit painfully apparent.  And it’s spurring medical institutions across the United States to create fellowships for aspiring doctors who want to treat substance-use disorders with the same precision and science as other diseases.

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First drug specifically for postpartum depression is approved
The Washington Post

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the first drug specifically for postpartum depression — a debilitating condition that affects hundreds of thousands of women a year in the United States.

The disorder, which begins during pregnancy or within a month of childbirth, is characterized by feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or thoughts of suicide and is far more severe than the common “baby blues.” The condition can interfere with a mother’s ability to bond with an infant, which can affect the baby’s development. An estimated 400,000 women in the United States each year suffer from postpartum depression.

The newly approved drug, called brexanolone, will be marketed under the name Zulresso. It will cost, on an average, $34,000 per patient for a course of treatment, before discounts, according to the manufacturer, Sage Therapeutics in Cambridge, Mass.

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When Health Care Organizations Are Fundamentally Dishonest
The Health Care Blog

A class action legal ruling this month, on a case originally filed in 2014, found that UnitedHealthCare’s (UHC) mental health subsidiary, United Behavioral Health (UBH), established internal policies that discriminated against patients with behavioral health or substance abuse conditions. While an appeal is expected, patients with legitimate claims were systematically denied coverage, and employer/union purchasers who had paid for coverage for their employees and their family members received diminished or no value for their investments.

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Recent superbug cases linked to weight-loss surgeries in Tijuana prompt fresh warning
San Diego Union-Tribune

With several patients in local hospitals struggling to recover, public health officials are warning San Diego doctors to be on the lookout for signs of a deadly infection linked to weight-loss surgeries performed in Tijuana.

The county Health and Human Services Agency this week alerted the medical community that four patients have popped up in local hospitals with drug-resistant superbug infections of the same type that prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a travel advisory in early January.

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Gottlieb: Insurers must be willing to adopt biosimilars
Modern Healthcare

Insurers must be willing to take a short-term financial loss to get long-term savings from adopting biosimilars, outgoing Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday.

There are major commercial obstacles to getting biosimilars onto the market to replace pricey biologics, Gottlieb said at a Brookings Institution event. Even though the FDA has approved 16 biosimilars, very few are on the market. Gottlieb will leave his post as commissioner early next month to spend more time with his family.

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East Bay company’s drug may shrink dialysis patient ‘pill burden.’ But will it help them live longer
San Francisco Business Times

The Fremont company expects results from two late-stage clinical trials in kidney failure patients later this year. The same drug is expected to face a regulatory decision in September for another condition.

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Dignity Health scales back Elk Grove hospital plans
Sacramento Business Journal

The health care market has changed dramatically in the decade since the San Francisco-based health system began pursuing its plans, Dignity Health’s top local executive said.