News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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AHA to MedPAC: Raise, Don’t Cut Hospital Payments
Health Leaders Media

Flawed analysis and methodology, and the failure to understand that hospitalized patients require costlier care than in the past permeate the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s December recommendations for reducing inpatient and outpatient payment rates for FY 2014, which starts this October. Those are among the concerns expressed in the American Hospital Association’s 7-page letter Jan. 4 to MedPAC chairman Glenn Hackbarth.

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Covered California continues hiring spree with CFO pick
Sacramento Business Journal

Covered California continues a hiring blitz as it prepares to begin enrollment in October and launch a new insurance program for individuals and small businesses on Jan. 1, 2014. John Hiber has been appointed chief financial officer and Ken Wood has been hired as a consultant to serve as senior advisor for products, marketing and health plan relationships. Additional staffing is in the works as the program prepares to meet tight deadlines for state exchanges under federal health reform.

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Growth of Health Spending Stays Low
New York Times

National health spending climbed to $2.7 trillion in 2011, or an average of $8,700 for every person in the country, but as a share of the economy, it remained stable for the third consecutive year, the Obama administration said Monday. The rate of increase in health spending, 3.9 percent in 2011, was the same as in 2009 and 2010 — the lowest annual rates recorded in the 52 years the government has been collecting such data.

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Dave Jones Reflects on 2nd Year, Stresses Need for Rate Regulation
California Healthline

After his second year as California Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones sat down with California Healthline to talk about health insurance rate regulation, successes of the Department of Insurance over the past couple years and the department’s role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Jones, a Democrat from Sacramento, spent eight years in the Assembly serving on the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and chairing the Assembly Committee on Health.

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Health-Care Reform Update: IRS Proposes Regulations on Employer Penalty
Noozhawk

The Internal Revenue Service has released proposed regulations on the health-care reform employer “shared responsibility” penalty provision. This is the penalty on “large” employers (those with at least 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees) that do not provide affordable minimum essential coverage for full-time employees and their dependents and have at least one full-time employee who receives subsidized Exchange coverage (new Internal Revenue Code section 4980H, enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010).

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Researchers find minimal state cost from Medicaid expansion in California
Lake County News

As the California Legislature prepares to consider bills relating to implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and expanding Medicaid, the state has the opportunity to significantly increase health insurance coverage at minimal cost to the state budget, according to a joint study by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

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High court rejects Medicare enrollment challenge
Modern Healthcare

The Supreme Court has turned away a challenge from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and other Social Security recipients who say they have the right to reject Medicare in favor of continuing health coverage from private insurers.

The justices did not comment Monday in letting stand a federal appeals court ruling that held that there is no way for people who receive Social Security to reject Medicare benefits.

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U.S. health cost growth slowed in 2011 but with signs of pickup
Yahoo! News

U.S. healthcare spending rose at a historically low rate of 3.9 percent for the third consecutive year in 2011, but showed underlying signs of acceleration as the economy recovered from recession, the Obama administration said on Monday. The report, released by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and published in the journal Health Affairs, said the sprawling national healthcare system totaled $2.7 trillion, or $8,680 per person. It accounted for 17.9 percent of gross domestic product, a level that has been steady since 2009.

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Report: Death rates from cancer still inching down
Yahoo! News

Death rates from cancer are continuing to inch down, researchers reported Monday. Now the question is how to hold onto those gains, and do even better, even as the population gets older and fatter, both risks for developing cancer. “There has been clear progress,” said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society, which compiled the annual cancer report with government and cancer advocacy groups.

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Alzheimer’s drugs are expensive, and they don’t work very well for most people
Washington Post

More than 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, an insidious disorder that gradually destroys the brain, robbing people of the ability to remember, complete everyday tasks and function on their own. Several drugs are approved to treat it, including donepezil (Aricept and its generic cousins) and memantine (Namenda). But they don’t work well for most people, according to a report from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs. In fact, the report concluded that none of the drugs could be recommended as a Best Buy.

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More than 1 in 3 docs accede on patient requests for brand-name drugs
Modern Healthcare

When drug ads tell consumers to ask their doctor if Drug X is right for them, it often leads to patients getting a prescription for that drug, according to an online-first research letter posted by JAMA Internal Medicine (formerly the Archives of Internal Medicine). Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Colorado School of Public Health found that 37% of the almost 1,900 randomly selected physicians they surveyed reported sometimes or often prescribing the specific drug a patient wants over an available generic option.

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Better data needed on preventive health spending: GAO
Modern Healthcare

HHS and the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments could improve their reporting on estimated cost savings and cost-effectiveness of federal spending on preventive health activities, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The authors of the 45-page report, requested by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), wrote that additional information on the cost savings and effectiveness of preventive health spending would be useful for policymakers to have given the increased attention such programs have received.

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New Law Forces Health Insurance Companies to Use Plain Language to Explain Policies
All Gov

Making sense of health insurance policies should become easier for consumers, due to one provision of the federal healthcare reform law that kicked in on January 1. Insurers must now explain to policyholders the “what” and “how” of their coverage using simple language, instead of the jargon-laden descriptions companies used to rely on (presumably to confuse people).

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Despite Oversight, Some Consumers’ Health Rates to Rise Over 20%
Becker's Hospital Review

Although the healthcare law stipulates health insurance rate hikes of 10 percent or more must be reviewed by state regulators, many insurers’ requests for double-digit premium increases are being granted for 2013, according to a report by The New York Times. The largest planned increases are aimed at individuals and small businesses. Blue Shield of California averaged a 12 percent rate hike for such plans, with some as high as 20 percent, despite cash reserves three times larger than required by law.

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UCSF’s Helen Diller Cancer Center nabs $36M grant
San Francisco Business Times

The University of California, San Francisco’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has won a $36 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to fund research and clinical trials, UCSF said late Monday. The Helen Diller Cancer Center studies a wide range of cancers, including breat cancer, prostate cancer and pediatric cancer, and is the only designated comprehensive cancer center in the Bay Area, according to UCSF.

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Costlier breast screening for seniors not tied to better outcomes: study
Modern Healthcare

Regions that spent the most to screen women older than 65 years old for breast cancer were more likely to use new and more expensive screening technologies, but did not report better outcomes, according to the findings of a new study. The study, published online today by JAMA Internal Medicine, analyzed how much Medicare spends each year on breast cancer screening for women 65 or older. It also compared the outcomes for women who lived in regions that spent more or less on screening for breast cancer.

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Debt may influence young doctors’ career plans: study
Yahoo! News

Pediatricians-in-training are more likely to plan to go into primary care, rather than a specialty field, if they have lots of debt from college and medical school, according to a U.S. study. Researchers publishing in Pediatrics also found that the average pediatric resident doctor’s debt increased 34 percent between 2006 and 2010. That suggests financial considerations may keep young doctors out of medical specialties, they said, especially those fields that aren’t known for paying well but still require extra training.

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County-run insurance plan eyes new state insurance exchange
Ventura County Star

Leaders of a Ventura County-run HMO want the insurance plan to participate in the online marketplace being created through the federal health care overhaul.

Officials of the Ventura County Health Care Plan, which covers more than 20,000 people including county employees and people in the government program Healthy Families, will ask the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for approval to apply for a chance to offer coverage through the California Health Benefit Exchange.

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Affordable Care Act lets people buy policies, but not with pre-tax dollars
Washington Post

With just a year to go before the most significant changes under the Affordable Care Act take effect, readers have many questions about how the law will affect them. Q. My employer, with over 3,000 employees, is holding meetings with us explaining the health-care law and how expensive it is going to be for us and for them. My employer is saying it will likely drop our insurance and make us buy our own. Will the insurance premiums still be a pre-tax payment? Are there affordable options for me and my family?

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