News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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House Passes Legislation Aiming to Shore Up Health Law and Lower Drug Costs
New York Times

The House on Thursday passed a suite of health care bills that tied shoring up the Affordable Care Act to lowering drug prices, as Democrats tried to hold Republicans to their campaign promises to secure coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and rein in the cost of prescription medicine.

But Democratic leaders appeared to be focused less on the substance of the measures than on their likely demise in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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House passes legislation to strengthen the ACA, boost generic drugs
Washington Post

House Democrats pushed through legislation Thursday to lower prescription drug prices, strengthen the Affordable Care Act and — most significantly — position themselves as the party on the side of health-care consumers as the 2020 election approaches.

The 234-to-183 vote, with every Democrat and five Republicans casting ballots in favor, gave a partisan hue even to three strategies to boost the availability of generic drugs that initially attracted GOP support. Those were merged, however, with measures that would block several Trump administration policies that Democrats characterize as “sabotaging” the ACA.

The upshot was a barbed debate: Democrats accused Republicans of disregarding consumers’ need for affordable, quality health care, and Republicans accused Democrats of thwarting a rare opportunity for bipartisanship.

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How the Trump prescription for drug prices transparency could make health care well again
USA Today

When it comes to the prescription drugs America use, too often money is the last thing consumers think about. Formulaic prescription drug ads are part of the reason why.

Suffer from blood clotting or find yourself at an elevated risk of stroke due to an irregular heartbeat? Then Eliquis is your answer. Got moderate to severe ulcerative colitis, psoriatic arthritis or Crohn’s disease? Then talk to your doctor about Humira.

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Will Washington State’s New ‘Public Option’ Plan Reduce Heath Care Costs?
National Public Radio

Millions of Americans who buy individual health insurance, and don’t qualify for a federal subsidy, have been hit with sticker shock in recent years. Instability and uncertainty in the individual market — driven in part by changes Congress and the Trump administration made to the Affordable Care Act — have resulted in double-digit premium increases.

Now Washington state has passed a law designed to give consumers another choice: a new, “public option” health insurance plan that, in theory, will be cheaper.

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New Senate bill targets insurers in transparency push
Modern Healthcare

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Wednesday proposed a bill requiring insurers to tell people what they would have to pay out of pocket for any in-network treatment or prescription drug.

The bill is part of the broader push in Congress and from the Trump administration to force healthcare prices out in the open.

The Senate health committee led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is expected to release a packet of bills shortly all aimed at cutting some of the fat out of the healthcare system to save money for patients and the government.

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Senators introduce surprise medical bill ban with arbitration
Modern Healthcare

A bipartisan group of senators released legislation Thursday to ban surprise medical bills, and landed on arbitration as a final resort if hospitals, specialty physicians or insurers aren’t happy with the pay rate proposed for out-of-network treatment.

The new bill from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has been in the works nearly a year. Under the proposal, a patient’s insurer would automatically pay the out-of-network doctor or hospital about the same rate it would pay if the service were in network.

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CMS’ final drug price rule doesn’t include price concessions
Modern Healthcare

The Trump administration on Thursday released a final rule aimed at boosting transparency of drug costs on Medicare Part D, but does not include a proposal to pass on price concessions negotiated by the pharmacy to patients.

While the agency had wanted to implement the new policy in 2020, the CMS said in a release that it is not implementing it after receiving more than 4,000 comments.

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Bay Area Counties Join Gov. Newsom’s Push to Lower Drug Prices
KQED Radio

At a press conference at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco on Thursday, Mayor London Breed announced that San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara counties would join Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to collectively bargain with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices.

“When we have people struggling on the streets of San Francisco, with mental health challenges and substance use disorder, or people spending thousands of dollars on life-saving medications for HIV/AIDS, or people fighting a battle with cancer, we need to be focused on helping them recover and heal,” said Breed.

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PhRMA: Drug advertising rules would confuse patients
USA Today

We agree patients should have more transparency about medicine costs. That is why our member companies have taken a new approach to direct-to-consumer television advertising and began voluntarily directing patients to links to comprehensive cost information in their DTC television advertising.

It is also why we partnered with consumer, patient, pharmacist and provider groups to launch a new platform called the Medicine Assistance Tool at MAT.org. This tool links to the websites referenced in company DTC television advertising and includes a search tool to help patients connect to financial assistance programs.

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Study: EHRs can help address social needs in primary care
Modern Healthcare

Boston Medical Center’s new screening tool has shown promise for addressing patients’ social needs in primary-care settings and developing better clinical strategies, according to a study published Wednesday.

The hospital has embedded a screening program for identifying social needs within its electronic health record system that automatically processes responses and prints out a list of appropriate resources.

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Editorial: People die while the FDA dithers on generic insulin
Modern Healthcare

In 1921, University of Toronto scientists discovered insulin, the pancreas-produced hormone that breaks down sugar in the blood. They quickly purified it, injected it into children dying from Type 1 diabetes, and were hailed as the first great miracle-makers of modern medicine.

There have been many improvements to animal-derived insulin over the years. In 1982, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first DNA-based human insulin.

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Data Points: Private equity sees a lot to like in healthcare
Modern Healthcare

Healthcare remains an attractive target for private equity. The industry racked up some impressive numbers in 2018, with global deals rising nearly 50%. Bain & Co. expects more of the same in 2019, as do others, but the consulting firm said “the jury is out on whether this vintage of healthcare deal returns will be as good as previous vintages.” That’s because there’s uncertainty around public stock and debt markets, among other things.

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‘Sham’ Sharing Ministries Test Faith Of Patients And Insurance Regulators
Kaiser Health News

Sheri Lewis, 59, of Seattle, needed a hip transplant. Bradley Fuller, 63, of nearby Kirkland, needed chemotherapy and radiation when the pain in his jaw turned out to be throat cancer. And Kim Bruzas, 55, of Waitsburg, hundreds of miles away, needed emergency care to stop sudden —and severe — rectal bleeding.

Each of these Washington state residents required medical treatment during the past few years, and each thought they had purchased health insurance through an online site.

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Cystic Fibrosis Patients Turn to Experimental Phage Therapy
New York Times

Mallory Smith was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease affecting the lungs and digestive system, at age 3. She was living on borrowed time, and she knew it: Cystic fibrosis puts patients at an increased risk of serious infection, and the average life expectancy is about 37, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

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The Generic Drugs You’re Taking May Not Be As Safe Or Effective As You Think
National Public Radio

As the cost of prescription medication soars, consumers are increasingly taking generic drugs: low-cost alternatives to brand-name medicines. Often health insurance plans require patients to switch to generics as a way of controlling costs. But journalist Katherine Eban warns that some of these medications might not be as safe, or effective, as we think.

Eban has covered the pharmaceutical industry for more than 10 years. She notes that most of the generic medicines being sold in the U.S. are manufactured overseas, mostly in India and China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that it holds foreign plants to the same standards as U.S. drugmakers, but Eban’s new book, Bottle of Lies, challenges that notion. She writes that the FDA often announces its overseas inspections weeks in advance, which allows plants where generic drugs are made the chance to fabricate data and results.

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As ER Wait Times Grow, More Patients Leave Against Medical Advice
Kaiser Health News

Emergency room patients increasingly leave California hospitals against medical advice, and experts say crowded ERs are likely to blame.

About 352,000 California ER visits in 2017 ended when patients left after seeing a doctor but before their medical care was complete. That’s up by 57%, or 128,000 incidents, from 2012, according to data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Another 322,000 would-be patients left the emergency room without seeing a doctor, up from 315,000 such episodes in 2012.

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California faces a doctor shortage. But doctors just derailed a plan to fix it
Los Angeles Times

State lawmakers had a chance Thursday to vote on ensuring that all Californians get the healthcare they need. Instead of rising to the occasion, they punted.

No, the matter at hand wasn’t a single-payer bill to provide universal coverage, although that would be a good thing too.

Rather, the California Assembly Appropriations Committee decided to put off a vote until next year on a bill that would expand the ability of nurse practitioners to treat patients.

Such a move would go a long way toward addressing a severe shortage of primary-care doctors and would align us with other states that have adopted similar measures.

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Two health systems standardize sepsis care to reduce mortality, costs
Modern Healthcare

Leaders at Ascension noticed that nearly 10% of patients in their hospitals who were diagnosed with sepsis died, five times the average mortality for all inpatients.

They decided to prioritize the goal of improving sepsis outcomes at all their hospitals during fiscal year 2019. That’s no easy task in a company with 151 hospitals in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

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Sutter Health to take on more Medicare Advantage patients
Sacramento Business Journal

Sutter Health is partnering with a Medicare Advantage plan to serve more seniors in 2020. 

The Sacramento-based health system said Tuesday that it’s starting a new partnership with Alignment Healthcare, which is expanding its Medicare Advantage service area into Northern California. Medicare Advantage plans are privately operated plans that contract with Medicare, the federal health program for seniors. Under the partnership, Sutter’s doctors and facilities will be “in-network” for the health plan.

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