News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Hospitals get tough on workers refusing flu shots
Modern Healthcare

Patients can refuse a flu shot. Should doctors and nurses have that right, too? That is the thorny question surfacing as U.S. hospitals increasingly crack down on employees who won’t get flu shots, with some workers losing their jobs over their refusal. “Where does it say that I am no longer a patient if I’m a nurse,” wondered Carrie Calhoun, a longtime critical care nurse in suburban Chicago who was fired last month after she refused a flu shot.

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California avoids worst of flu, but probably not for long
Los Angeles Times

California public health officials are bracing for an increase in new flu patients in the coming weeks as the influenza outbreak that has engulfed 47 other states gears up here.

Flu activity in California has been accelerating since late December and usually doesn’t peak until February or March, state health officials said Friday. In Los Angeles County, 17 of the 71 confirmed flu cases this season have been recorded since Jan. 4.

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Legislator vows action on reckless prescribing of addictive pills
Los Angeles Times

The leader of the California Senate says holes in the state’s oversight of physicians, exposed in recent Los Angeles Times articles about prescription drug deaths, are “extremely troubling” and need to be corrected “as quickly as we can.”

Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he would put his political muscle behind legislation to give the Medical Board of California more investigators and broader authority to stop reckless prescribing of addictive medications.

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Rady works to shrink ER wait times
San Diego Union-Tribune

From adding more beds to tweaking the way health care workers see patients, Rady Children’s Hospital is working to reduce wait times for the thousands of kids and parents who come through its emergency department each day.

Dr. Irvin “Buzz” Kaufman, senior vice president of health affairs at Rady, said the hospital convened a blue-ribbon panel last February after realizing that the amount of time that emergency patients were waiting was longer than the industry average.

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As Flu Epidemic Advances, Latinos More Vulnerable
KPBS

As this year’s flu epidemic moves west, a major sector of the population in the Southwest may be particularly vulnerable. Hispanics are 10 percent less likely to get vaccinated against the flu than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That could make them more susceptible to getting sick and spreading the flu to others — especially in a year when public health officials say the vaccine is a good match for the worst flu virus going around.

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Brown commits state to health reform
San Mateo Daily Journal

Gov. Jerry Brown says he’s firmly committed to making national health care reform work in California, but he also is wary of potential costs that could affect state spending for years to come. In releasing his budget for the coming fiscal year last week, Brown pledged to be a reliable partner in implementing the federal Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income Californians. Brown said he wants to move cautiously so the state can run a sustainable program that will not burden taxpayers with new expenses.

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Study Urges National Healthcare Spending Target
Insurance Journal

The United States could save $2 trillion in healthcare spending over the next decade, if the U.S. government used its influence in the public and private sectors to nudge soaring costs into line with economic growth, a study released on Thursday said.

Compiled by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, the study recommends holding the $2.8 trillion U.S. healthcare system to an annual spending target by having Medicare, Medicaid, other government programs and private insurers encourage providers to accelerate adoption of more cost-effective care.

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Projected doc shortage is real, experts say
Modern Healthcare

Although they found areas of partial agreement, two experts who believe the threat of an imminent physician shortage is real disagreed with the basic premise of a recent Health Affairs report that concluded that the projected shortage was “greatly overestimated.” The report’s authors, researchers with the Columbia Business School in New York and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, wrote that, with proper staffing, new scheduling methods and effective use of health information technology, “This projected shortage can be completely eliminated.”

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Minorities face surge in Alzheimer’s cases in California
Sacramento Bee

Even when she walked into her first meeting, Debra Johnson wasn’t convinced that a support group could help her family.

Her mother, Lucinda Clayton, now 90, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008 – but in the African American community, Johnson said, people generally don’t like to share concerns about their elders’ dementia. So how could the smiling circle of older white women at the Alzheimer’s Association group for caregivers possibly understand?

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Losing Babies
HealthyCal.org

Fatimah Wilson is part of a social experiment under way in Richmond, Calif., an economically depressed corner of the San Francisco Bay Area. Wilson is pregnant and is spending the day with other soon-to-be moms learning habits— from better eating to relaxation—to help them improve their health and the health of their babies. The goal: to erase the health disparity that results in African American infants in Contra Costa County dying at twice the rate of white babies before they reach their first birthday.

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Study analyzes health care safety net in Monterey County
Monterey Herald

With major implementation of the Affordable Care Act about a year away, local health officials are publicly unveiling a study aimed at analyzing the county’s health care safety net, including its current capabilities and its capacity for expanding to meet the demands of national health care reform. The study, dubbed the “Phase I Report: Preliminary Profile of Health Care Needs & Safety Net Providers that serve Residents of Monterey County,” will be presented at five public meetings set for the next week and a half at various locations throughout the county.

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Insurers’ coverage of breast pumps, lactation services varies
FierceHealthPayer

Amid all the talk about the reform law’s insurance implications is a little known provision that requires a new benefit for insurers to cover–breast pumps and lactation consultant visits–that went into effect Jan. 1, The New York Times reported.

Insurers have been working to comply with the regulation, which doesn’t specify whether they must cover certain breast pump brands or types but does state that they must pay for the costs of renting breastfeeding equipment after a baby’s birth.

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Experts fear for small-business plans
Redding Record Searchlight

North state insurance experts said a planned Anthem Blue Cross rate hike of up to 10 percent or more that came under fire this week primarily will affect individual plans and a limited number of small group plans.

But others cautioned the increase could signal Anthem preparing to leave the small business and individual market entirely.

Among her clients around 5 percent of small-group plans come from Anthem, said Margaret Beck, with Affiliated Benefit Services in Redding.

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Hospital Tax May Go to Reserve
California Healthline

The state budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown extends the Hospital Quality Assurance fee, which is due to expire at the end of 2013. The complicated fee structure was originally planned to gather about $2.8 billion from private hospitals over the 30-month life of the fee. Some of the money is used to tap federal matching money, which benefits both hospitals and the state. The state estimates extending the fee would add $310 million to the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2013-14.

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Ahead of federal healthcare overhaul, local hospitals look to primary care
GlendaleNewsPress.com

As the new year begins, local healthcare providers are preparing for a potential flood of patients who previously didn’t have access to insurance, but who will now be covered as the federal Affordable Care Act takes effect.

More primary care physicians and their assistants will be needed, according to healthcare officials. And everyone from primary care doctors to hospitals are beginning to look at increased preventive care, more outpatient procedures and home healthcare services to reduce costs.

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Filling the Holes in Health Care
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

At a time when affordable health care is a hot-button topic, health care for those who can’t afford anything doesn’t get much attention. Just over 11 years ago, that subject did come up, and Dr. Robin Lowitz decided to do something about it. Working with a small group of dedicated individuals that shared a common goal, she helped create the Jewish Community Free Clinic.

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Future unclear for L.A.’s Latino clinics
Sacramento Bee

The “bodega clinicas” that line the bustling commercial streets of immigrant neighborhoods around Los Angeles are wedged between money order kiosks and pawnshops. These storefront offices, staffed with Spanish-speaking medical providers, treat ailments for cash: a doctor’s visit is $20 to $40; a cardiology exam is $120; and at one bustling clinic, a colonoscopy is advertised on an erasable board for $700.

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Preventing Obesity, Cancer Is A Year-Round Priority
Santa Monica Mirror

Weight loss is typically a top New Year’s resolution. We want to get into good shape to fit into nice clothes and feel and look our best. It is well known that a better diet and exercise help us lose weight and fend off diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

There’s another disease that should make weight loss not only a New Year’s resolution, but a year-round priority for both children and adults: cancer.

Most people don’t realize that obesity causes cancer, and that obesity can decrease your odds of successfully fighting the disease if you get it.

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Ventura County promotes public health director
Ventura County Star

Former Ventura County public health director Barry Fisher has been named the No. 2 administrator in the county Health Care Agency.

Fisher, 47, a longtime county administrator, now serves as chief deputy director for an agency that runs two hospitals, a network of clinics, a health insurance plan and departments that include the medical examiner, emergency medical services, behavioral health, public health and animal services.

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Riverside County health official gets national award
San Diego Union-Tribune

A Riverside County public health official has been named recipient of a national award for promoting good planning, according to a news release.

Michael Osur, deputy director of the Department of Public Health, is set to receive the 2013 National Planning Excellence for a Planning Advocate award in Chicago from the American Planning Association later this year.

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Keep long-term-care, hospice rates static: MedPAC
Modern Healthcare

Medicare’s primary advisory board urged Congress to keep pay rates unchanged for long-term-care hospital services and hospices in the next fiscal year, even if a scheduled 2% Medicare-wide provider cut goes into effect.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s unanimous recommendations on Friday for unchanged rates for the two provider types were meant as cost-saving measures, since a legislative formula that sets the program’s provider rates had called for each to receive relatively small increases at the start of the next fiscal year in October.

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Ore., Calif., require transgender health coverage
San Francisco Chronicle

Regulators in Oregon and California have quietly directed some health insurance companies to stop denying coverage for transgender patients because of their gender identity. The states aren’t requiring coverage of specific medical treatments. But they told some private insurance companies they must pay for a transgender person’s hormone therapy, breast reduction, cancer screening or any other procedure deemed medically necessary if they cover it for patients who aren’t transgender.

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Hagel lauded as early VA EHR protector
Modern Healthcare

There is only a brief mention of Chuck Hagel in the unofficial history of the Veteran Affairs Department’s venerable VistA electronic health-record system, but comrades in arms, even in a fight to develop a computer software system, have long memories. The role of Hagel, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska and President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of defense, warrants the following account on the website of the Hardhats, an informal group of programmers who have worked on VistA over the past 36 years.

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A Tale of Two Studies: What Are the Actual Costs of an EHR?
The Health Care Blog

Does anyone in their right mind believe that these are the best of times in healthcare or health IT? Scratch that. Does anyone besides Judy Faulkner and Neal Patterson believe these are the best of times? (I mean, everyone knows that Dramatic Transition + Industry-wide Upheaval + Piles of Cash = Satisfaction / Contentment, proving the point mathematically.)

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Weintraub: Task force sounds call to improve Californians’ health
Orange County Register

California has a worldwide reputation as a place of healthy living – where residents eat natural, whole foods, exercise regularly and lead mellow lives largely free of stress. The truth, as any real Californian knows, is a lot more complicated. By some measures – say, smoking – the state is indeed a leader in healthy lifestyles. California has the second lowest smoking rate in the nation, behind only Utah.

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