News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Gov. Jerry Brown commits to major Medi-Cal expansion
Los Angeles Times

In order to help implement President Obama’s healthcare overhaul in California, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a major expansion of the state’s public insurance program in the state budget he unveiled Thursday. Most Americans face the requirement in January 2014 to buy health insurance or pay a penalty under the federal Affordable Care Act. Brown earmarked $350 million in his spending plan to help enroll more Californians in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.

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Medicare ACOs Add 106
Health Leaders Media

Providers across the nation launched 106 new Medicare Accountable Care Organizations on January 1 in the latest ramp-up of the coordinated care program. Since the program’s inception in late 2011, more than 250 ACOs have been formed in almost every state, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officials said Thursday. “By CMS’s estimate these total organizations are serving more than 4 million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries.

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MedPAC pushes 1% pay increase for hospitals
Modern Healthcare

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should limit hospital cuts she was required to make under a year-end fiscal cliff law to leave those facilities with a 1% payment increase next fiscal year, Congress’ primary Medicare advisory body recommended Thursday.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Congress direct Sebelius to increase inpatient and outpatient prospective payments by the 1%, which is technically a reduction from the pre-existing legislative formula that said hospitals should receive a 1.8% increase starting next October.

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In 2nd Look, Few Savings From Digital Health Records
New York Times

The conversion to electronic health records has failed so far to produce the hoped-for savings in health care costs and has had mixed results, at best, in improving efficiency and patient care, according to a new analysis by the influential RAND Corporation. Optimistic predictions by RAND in 2005 helped drive explosive growth in the electronic records industry and encouraged the federal government to give billions of dollars in financial incentives to hospitals and doctors that put the systems in place.

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Governor Brown commits to full Medi-Cal expansion under federal health reform
Southern California Public Radio

In his proposed 2013-2014 budget unveiled in Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown has committed to a full expansion of Medicaid – called Medi-Cal in California – as part of federal health reform.

Under the expansion, childless Californians adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level will qualify for Medi-Cal but will receive slightly less coverage than existing recipients.

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Brown’s Call for Medi-Cal Expansion Leaves “Unanswered Questions” (Audio)
capital public radio

While the Governor stated his commitment to Medi-Cal expansion, no decision has yet been made on how exactly to accomplish that goal. California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley says the budget lays out two options – expanding coverage through the state, or through the counties. DOOLEY: “The Governor’s budget sets up a framework for the conversations that we have to have. There are many unanswered questions that he identified about the expansion. But the budget calls for an expansion.”

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Brown’s budget: Schools will see improvements; health care spared from cuts
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

California’s public schools are the big winners in Gov. Jerry Brown’s “breakthrough” budget plan, with education leaders saying they hope to have the money to restore many of the public services gutted by years of recession.

With more revenue from the Proposition 30 tax initiative passed in November and an improving economy, officials for cash-strapped school districts, community colleges and public universities said they’ll be able to stave off more cuts and stabilize their own operations.

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Social services and the California budget: No significant cuts proposed; plans to expand health care
The Mercury News

In a departure from budgets of years past, California Gov. Jerry Brown this year is not proposing dramatic cuts to programs for the poor, aged and disabled. Instead, there are even creep-backs in funding for programs previously battered, such as welfare-to-work initiatives and pay for home health-care workers. “The high level good news is there are no cuts,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley said in a conference call with reporters shortly after the budget proposal was released Thursday.

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Yuba-Sutter cautious on Brown’s budget plan
The Appeal-Democrat

Though Gov. Jerry Brown may have painted his proposed 2013-14 budget on Thursday as the first one with good news in several years, Yuba-Sutter officials said they’re taking a more cautious stance. In his presentation, Brown said the state’s improved financial picture and voters passage of tax-hike Proposition 30 last year allowed him to make good on a previous vow: More money for education.

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Governor’s Proposals for Medicaid Expansion
KQED Radio

Gov. Jerry Brown has released his new state budget, including plans for implementing the Affordable Care Act in California. In a press conference this morning, the governor said he plans to handle that implementation “cautiously.” “We are committed to expanding Medi-Cal, we’re committed to bringing more people into the healthcare system, but we recognize there are big costs out there,” the governor told reporters.

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Medicare looking for answers in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Sentinel

Medicare officials wonder why the per capita cost for long-term acute care services in Santa Cruz County is the lowest in the nation — $17 vs. a national average of $80 — so they sent a team to look for answers.

About 50 people gathered Thursday at Cabrillo College at the invitation of the Health Improvement Partnership of Santa Cruz County for an inquiry that is part of a yearlong innovation project funded by Medicare. Doctors, nurses and officials from hospitals, nursing homes and hospice participated.

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CMS announces over 100 new ACO contracts
Modern Healthcare

Medicare nearly doubled the size of one accountable care program as of Jan. 1 with 106 new ACO contracts that offer hospitals and doctors financial incentives to improve quality and slow health spending. The CMS announced its latest and largest round of accountable care organizations under the Medicare shared-savings program, which launched in April last year with 27 ACOs. Another 89 ACOs were named to the program last July. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation separately launched 32 Medicare ACOs known as Pioneers roughly one year ago.

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Federal Health Law, Budget a Main Focus for California’s Health Care Lobby (Audio)
capital public radio

California lobbyists spent tens of millions of dollars influencing lawmakers around health care policy last session. The Affordable Care Act will continue to be their main focus.

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California Insurance Chief Criticizes Anthem Rate Hike
Insurance Journal

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones called Anthem Blue Cross’ proposed rate hike for some of its small-group members is unreasonable, but the insurer says the increase reflects the rising cost of health care.

Jones said that, unlike insurance regulators in many other states, he has no authority to stop the rate increases, which will take effect this month. Anthem’s increase will average 10.6 percent a year, and the two-year increase could be as high as 19.4 percent for some customers, he said.

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Judge denies Kaiser access to couple’s PCs in patient-files case
Los Angeles Times

In an ongoing legal battle over confidential patient data, a state judge refused to grant Kaiser Permanente access to the personal computers and email account of a couple the healthcare giant hired to store nearly 300,000 hospital files. The ruling Thursday by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold Hopp marked a victory for Stephan and Liza Dean, who ran a small document-storage firm in Indio called Sure File Filing Systems. The decision came in a lawsuit Kaiser is pursuing against the Deans over their handling of patient information.

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Cancer studies often downplay chemo side effects: study
Yahoo! News

Doctors relying on studies published in top journals for guidance on treating women with breast cancer may not be getting the most accurate information, with the side effects of various treatments downplayed, according to a North American study. “Investigators want to go overboard to make their studies look positive,” said Ian Tannock, senior author of the study that appeared in the Annals of Oncology.

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Boomers see increased health issues
Orange County Register

We go through different chapters in life. Turn a page and suddenly most everyone we know is getting married; another chapter, babies; more pages, children graduate. It’s a book, full of surprises, challenges, delights. But when a close friend dies, well, that’s not supposed to happen. My college roommate, the best man at my wedding, a guy I rolled the dice with far too many times playing the board game Risk, died on the first day of the new year.

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F.D.A. Advisory Panel Votes to Approve Diabetes Drug
New York Times

A federal advisory panel voted 10 to 5 on Thursday to approve a diabetes drug that could be the first in a new class of drugs in the United States to treat the disease, although several members raised concerns about potential cardiovascular risks and its use in people whose kidneys are impaired. The drug, canagliflozin, is being developed by Johnson & Johnson and is part of a new group of drugs that lowers blood sugar by causing blood sugar to be excreted in the urine. Many existing treatments work by affecting the supply or use of insulin.

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Restored funding for prescription drug-monitoring program urged
Los Angeles Times

California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris on Thursday called on Gov. Jerry Brown to restore funding to a prescription drug-monitoring program that health experts say is key to combating drug abuse and overdose deaths in the state.

Harris’ appeal to restore funding to CURES, as it is known, follows an article in The Times last month that reported that the system, once heralded as an invaluable tool, had been severely undermined by budget cuts and was not being used to its full potential.

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Where are UCR medical school funds?
The Press-Enterprise

Inland lawmakers and officials see both good and bad in the state budget proposal released by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday, Jan. 10. Educators are happy the governor wants to steer more money to schools and universities, but court officials are not pleased with funding cuts, and one state legislator questions why there’s no money listed for UC Riverside’s medical school.

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Health care, growth will be key for small businesses in 2013
Sacramento Bee

Small-business owners face many uncertainties as the new year gathers momentum. They have to prepare for under-construction health care reform, face the consequences of the fiscal cliff resolution and make the best of an economy dependent on those key moving parts.

Here are two areas that experts say small-business owners should watch in the coming year.

HEALTH CARE: This year, small-business owners will need to make decisions related to health care reform and plan for its 2014 implementation. Owners can also expect an increase in related fees and taxes.

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Despite Reform, Some Health Insurance Companies Exploit Small Businesses and Those without Employer-Provided Policies
All Gov

Obamacare may be the law of the land, but insurance companies are still getting away with jacking up insurance rates by double digits on certain policyholders. Despite the passage of the federal healthcare reforms, insurers in many states can hike rates by double digits without the federal government doing anything about it. In California, Aetna wants to boost rates by 22%, Anthem Blue Cross by 26% and Blue Shield of California by 20% for some policyholders, mostly those from small businesses and self-employed individuals.

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National Institute of Medicine will recommend ways to improve end-of-life care
The Mercury News

In a national move that portends improvement of care for the dying, an expert panel assembled by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine announced Thursday that it will recommend ways to improve end-of-life care in America. The Institute, part of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, seeks changes in federal policy, financing and hospital practices that will bring care into line “with individual values and preferences to promote high-quality, cost-effective care at the end of life,” according to a statement.

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Health care lobbyist plans office in L.A.
Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento health care specialty law and lobbying firm McClelland Advocacy Ltd. says it will open a new office in Los Angeles. Officials of the firm at 1819 K St., said the new office will open this month in Century City. McClelland Advocacy provides litigation, government relations and public affairs services to health care clients in California. That includes medical groups, health plans, insurers and physicians. Clients include Las Vegas-based MedLion.

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Special session on health care planned for end of month
Sacramento Business Journal

One new thing about the proposed state budget: it has a whole section related to health care reform, which will seriously kick in during the next budget cycle. California is waiting guidance from the federal government on a number of matters, but the timeline for decision-making is short and there’s a lot the state Legislature can do on its own. State health officials are in discussions with legislative leaders about what needs to be done immediately and what will take a little more time, California Health Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley said in a call with reporters Thursday morning. Plans for a special session of the Legislature are expected by the end of January, after a work plan is decided.

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Anthem’s mail-order policy may have crossed a legal line
Los Angeles Times

Anthem Blue Cross may be breaking California law by requiring some policyholders to buy their prescription drugs from a single mail-order pharmacy, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Anthem, the state’s largest for-profit health insurer, had notified members with conditions such as HIV/AIDS and cancer that they will have to buy their medications from the mail-order pharmacy CuraScript or pay full price at a retail drugstore.

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