News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Feds approve state’s health insurance exchange
Sacramento Bee

The Obama administration gave California’s subsidized health care marketplace conditional approval Thursday as the state prepares to sign up subscribers in October.

The marketplace, dubbed Covered California, plans to serve hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents who are eligible in 2014 for federal subsidies to obtain health coverage.

Starting next year, all Americans are required to obtain insurance or pay a penalty under the 2010 federal health care overhaul.

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Medicare Punishes, Rewards Hospitals
San Diego Union-Tribune

Nine local hospitals are being rewarded and six are being penalized as part of a new Medicare program mandated by national health care reform that seeks to improve the quality of care while reducing cost.

The money being reimbursed to the hospitals for Medicare patients is being based for the first time on a formula that includes quality criteria, such as whether antibiotics are administered within an hour after surgery, and patient satisfaction surveys.

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National Union of Healthcare Workers affiliates with powerful California Nurses Association
The Mercury News

In a move expected to shake up health care labor battles statewide, the powerful California Nurses Association announced Thursday that it will affiliate with the National Union of Healthcare Workers in fights with major health systems over wages, benefits and patient care issues. CNA also agreed to use its 85,000 members and considerable resources to help NUHW in its campaign to defeat a large rival, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, in an upcoming election for the right to represent 43,500 Kaiser Permanente service and technical workers.

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Drop in Central-Line Infection Rates Linked to Disinfection Caps
Health Leaders Media

Clinicians at NorthShore University HealthSystem’s three hospitals near Chicago have found a method of reducing bloodstream infections by half. Using a tiny alcohol-impregnated cap on central line hubs prevented four CLABSI deaths and prevented 21 patients from getting infections, they calculated during the study year, a result sustained with proven cost-effectiveness during the 18 months following their experiment.

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Hospitals hit by fiscal cliff deal, while docs get reprieve from pay cut
Sacramento Business Journal

Doctors got a reprieve from a big pay cut in the stop-gap fix to the fiscal cliff, but hospitals are big losers in the deal. Congress approved the one-year delay of a proposed 27 percent pay cut for doctors who serve Medicare patients, but lawmakers expect to recoup much of the $25 billion price tag from hospitals. A fee coding adjustment alone is expected to cut hospital payments $10.5 billion nationwide.

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Health care: State benefits exchange will drive change this year
Sacramento Business Journal

“Prepare” is the key word for 2013 in the health care industry as companies angle for position when the state launches an insurance exchange to serve millions of Californians. Exactly how many people will buy individual policies through the new program when it opens enrollment Oct. 1 is unknown. So is the number of businesses that will use the exchange to offer insurance for the first time — or drop their conventional health plans, sending workers to the exchange to buy coverage themselves.

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U.S. approves health exchanges in four Republican-governed states
Yahoo! News

U.S. officials on Thursday gave four states currently governed by Republicans the green light to set up their own health insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, an initiative largely opposed by Republicans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah joined a list totaling 17 states and the District of Columbia that have all won conditional approval to establish their own state exchanges, with operations set to begin on January 1, 2014.

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Doctors Glad That Fiscal Cliff Deal Protected Their Reimbursements
KQED Radio

Some doctors in California are expressing relief after the deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff protected their reimbursements for treating Medicare patients.

Paul Phinney, president of the California Medical Association, says Congress halted a nearly 27 percent Medicare payment cut that would have devastated doctors.

“They would have had to lay off staff,” Phinney says, “even be faced with actually closing their practices, should the cuts have gone into effect.”

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Cliff bill’s short-term fixes a bad deal, doc lawmaker says
Modern Physician

Given that most of the physicians currently in Congress are conservative Republicans, it may not be a surprise that physicians in the House of Representatives voted 12-3 against the recently passed fiscal cliff legislative package. More unexpected is that one of the “no” votes came from a Democratic doctor, Seattle psychiatrist Jim McDermott.

“In any compromise, there are some good things and there are bad things,” McDermott told Modern Healthcare. “There were a whole bunch of things that were reasonable (in the bill) and should have happened.”

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State can run health exchange
San Mateo Daily Journal

The federal government on Thursday approved California’s plan to run its own health insurance market, a milestone in the state’s effort to meet requirements of the national health care reform law. California was among seven states that received conditional approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to operate their own insurance exchanges. Arkansas was approved to operate a partnership exchange with the federal government. In all, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have been partially or fully approved. Other states have until Feb. 15 to apply for a partnership exchange.

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Fiscal deal gives Medicare more time to recover overpayments
Modern Healthcare

A little-noticed provision buried in the fiscal-cliff bill that President Barack Obama signed Wednesday will give Medicare officials the ability to take back an estimated $500 million in payments made to hospitals and physicians since 2007.

The eight-line provision in the law, Section 638, “Removing Obstacles to Collection of Overpayments,” says that Medicare contractors now have five years to collect on errors in Medicare payments.

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Three health care reforms coming this year
KTVU.com

Health care reform won’t kick in fully until 2014. That’s when health care exchanges will roll out and employers will have to decide whether they want to continue offering health care insurance to employees or pay a fine and make them enter an exchange on their own. But 2013 has some start dates as well. GoHealthInsurance, a Chicago-based online health care exchange, is out with three key developments on the health care front for consumers in ’13, especially on how they can deduct medical expenses.

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State health exchange on track, gets federal approval
Sacramento Business Journal

California won conditional approval from the Obama administration Thursday to operate a health insurance exchange for individuals and small businesses in 2014. The state has made “significant progress” in setting up the new program and is on track to meet federal guidelines, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release. Enrollment in the program — now called Covered California — is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

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Health Care: Starting 2013 with 2014 in mind
San Francisco Business Times

For Bay Area employers and health care companies, 2013 looks a lot like a missile aimed at a date less than a year in the future: Jan. 1, 2014. That’s when many key components of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act kick in, including the start of Covered California, the health insurance exchange intended to offer health coverage to millions of Californians now uninsured or underinsured. It’s also when we’ll begin to see tangible results of how California’s small businesses are responding to the exchange.

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Congress kills voluntary long-term-care program
Modern Healthcare

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed legislation that ends a healthcare reform law provision that would have established a voluntary long-term-care program.

Under the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program, participants would have paid a monthly premium for five years, after which they would have become eligible for a cash benefit of at least $50 a day that could be used to offset the cost of long-term care services.

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HHS gives initial OK to eight more insurance exchange plans
Modern Healthcare

With eight new plans approved, 17 states in all have received a tentative nod from the CMS to operate their own health insurance exchanges while two more will offer the insurance marketplaces with federal help, according to the latest round of approvals.

HHS provided conditional approval Thursday for seven more states—California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont and Utah—to operate state-based exchanges, and Arkansas was approved to operate a state partnership exchange with the federal government.

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Local voices praise new health laws
Orange County Register

New health-related California laws will force insurers to cover mammograms for younger women, require nursing homes to quickly report elder abuse to police, and protect lactating mothers from workplace discrimination. Here’s a look at local reaction to some of the 2013 legislation: AB40 resolves a longstanding conflict between state and federal laws related to elder-abuse reports, according to the office of Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, the Northern California Democrat who authored the bill. The law took effect Jan. 1.

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CO-OP funding cut, but consumer-led plans may still survive
Modern Healthcare

The fiscal cliff deal’s elimination of funding for not-for-profit consumer-led health plans may not spell the end for such plans.

The last-minute deal cut $1.4 billion remaining from a $6 billion fund created to provide start-up and reserve monies to Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, which are not-for-profit, consumer-owned health plans designed to increase competition in states dominated by large insurers.

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CNA and NUHW to ‘formally affiliate’ but not merge or share assets
San Francisco Business Times

The California Nurses Association and the National Union of Health Care Workers, two of the Bay Area’s and the nation’s most obstreperous health care unions, have formally affiliated to form the NUHW-CNA, according to the Sal Rosselli-led NUHW. “Today we intend to send an unmistakable message to a callous hospital industry that nurses will not stand silent in the face of a ruthless drive by hospital employers or their collaborators to uproot decades of progress,” CNA co-President Deborah Burger said in a separate Jan. 3 statement.

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Unions join forces to fight nursing cutbacks
Sacramento Business Journal

Two feisty labor unions are joining forces to fight efforts to roll back California’s strict nurse-to-patient ratio law and erode contract protections they’ve won at Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health. The National Union of Healthcare Workers, formed four years ago when Service Employees International Union took control of California local United Healthcare Workers West, has affiliated with the California Nurses Association.

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Health-Care Unions Will Join Forces
The Wall Street Journal

The nation’s largest nurses union said Thursday it would team up with a union representing other health-care workers, seeking to make the combined entity the dominant labor group in the fast-growing health-care sector. The groups’ decision to join forces intensifies their rivalry with the powerful Service Employees International Union.

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Two medical unions merge
Sacramento Bee

Two health care unions are joining forces in a move that could threaten a powerful rival’s dominance and fuel a new round of labor tensions.

The 85,000-member California Nurses Association is forging an alliance with the 10,000-member National Union of Healthcare Workers to form a new union made up entirely of health sector workers.

The alliance, announced Thursday, renews a bitter rivalry between the nurses union and the powerful 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, the nation’s dominant health care union and a major force in Democratic politics.

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Copying common in electronic medical records
Yahoo! News

Most doctors copy and paste old, potentially out-of-date information into patients’ electronic records, according to a new study looking at a shortcut that some experts fear could lead to miscommunication and medical errors. “The electronic medical record was meant to make the process of documentation easier, but I think it’s perpetuated copying,” said lead author Dr. Daryl Thornton, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

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Failure to replace SGR vexes doc groups
Modern Physician

After the passage of another legislative “patch” postponing another scheduled decrease in Medicare pay for doctors, physician associations breathed a short sigh of relief and then called on Congress to repeal and replace the sustainable growth-rate Medicare reimbursement formula.

The American Medical Association and other groups have been practicing this exercise now for 10 years. This time, the threatened pay cut was measured at 26.5% and the cost of the patch, or “doc fix,” was estimated at $25.2 billion.

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Union vote is off at Turlock hospital
Merced Sun-Star

An allegation of unfair labor practices has blocked a union vote from taking place at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock. Shelley Coppock, assistant regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, said Thursday that the election, which had been set for next week, is canceled while the agency considers a complaint from the Service Employees International Union — United Healthcare Workers West.

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Pap Tests for Cervical Cancer Are Too Often Overused
KQED Radio

January is Cervical Health Awareness month, and the Centers for Disease Control is celebrating by highlighting just how poorly the US is doing at following established guidelines. In dual reports today, the CDC finds that many women are being screened for cervical cancer way too often — while other women are not screened enough.

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