News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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No more applications for pre-existing conditions program
Sacramento Business Journal

The federal program serving Californians with pre-existing medical conditions is in its final year of operations, so no new applications will be processed after March 2. Authorized by the Affordable Care Act, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program was designed to serve as a bridge in coverage until other provisions take effect in 2014 that prevent insurance companies from charging more or denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions.

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Future of SIH, patient care threatened by Medi-Cal cuts
The Inyo Register

New, reduced Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates could adversely affect patient treatment and even threaten the very existence of a local hospital district. Like many critical access hospitals, Southern Inyo Healthcare District and its skilled nursing facility are in danger of closing if drastically-reduced Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates are retroactively enforced effective January 2013, SIHD Chief Executive Officer/Chief Financial Officer Lee Barron said.

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Hospitals clamp down on dangerous early elective deliveries
KTVU.com

For decades, doctors have been warned about the dangers of delivering babies early without a medical reason. But the practice remained stubbornly persistent. Now, with pressure on doctors and hospitals from the federal government, private and public insurers and patient advocacy groups, the rate of elective deliveries before 39 weeks is dropping significantly, according to latest hospital survey from The Leapfrog Group, a coalition of some of the nation’s largest corporations that buy health benefits for their employees.

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Hospital Mergers Unlikely to be Affected by Antitrust Ruling
Health Leaders Media

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that makes it harder for local hospital authorities to claim immunity from federal antitrust laws will likely have little practical effect on most hospitals mergers taking place across the nation, observers say. In a running two-year old legal battle, the Federal Trade Commission challenged as anticompetitive Phoebe Putney Health System, Inc.’s proposed $195 million acquisition of rival Palmyra Park Hospital, in Albany, GA from HCA.

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Drop Coverage? Cut Hours? Big Firms Grapple With Obamacare
CNBC

For large retail and restaurant chains, the big unknown in the year ahead is how much more they’ll pay for health coverage. Employers with 50 or more workers who put in 30 hours a week will be required to provide health care coverage or pay a fine, under the Affordable Care Act, also called the ACA or Obamacare. That lower full-time threshold is one of the big issues business groups are trying to negotiate with the Obama administration as the rules are being finalized.

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Weight Loss Surgery Doesn’t Cut Health Costs
Health Leaders Media

A report concluding that weight loss surgery in 29,820 obese BlueCross BlueShield enrollees did not result in lower health costs compared with similar enrollees who didn’t have the procedure is being attacked by bariatric surgeons who say the research was “irresponsible.” The study, by Johns Hopkins University health economists, found that while those who had the surgery had lower costs for medication and physician’s office visits up to six years later than a similarly obese group that did not undergo surgery, those reductions were overcome by much higher hospital costs in the surgery group.

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Study disputes long-term medical savings from bariatric surgery
Los Angeles Times

In the span of 15 years, the number of bariatric surgeries performed in the United States has grown more than 16-fold to roughly 220,000 per year, gaining cachet as a near-panacea for obesity.

Despite the daunting price tag, mounting research has boosted hopes that the stomach-stapling operations could reduce the nation’s healthcare bill by weaning patients off the costly drugs and frequent doctor visits that come with chronic obesity-related diseases like diabetes and arthritis.

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Becker’s Hospital Review honors St. Helena Hospital heart program
St. Helena Star

Becker’s Hospital Review, a trade publication, has named St. Helena Hospital Napa Valley to its list of “100 Hospitals with Great Heart Programs.” The list names hospitals in the country exhibiting excellence in heart care and research, selected based on clinical accolades, outstanding local and national reputations, recognition for quality care, and contribution to the field of cardiology and cardiovascular surgery.

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1 in 8 Americans has type 2 diabetes and the arrival of coronavirus: In health news today
Southern California Public Radio

One in eight Americans has type 2 diabetes, according to a new poll – and more than one in three has a family member who’s been diagnosed with the disease or has been diagnosed themselves. That’s according to HealthDay, which also noted that only 21 percent of those polled reported knowing much about the disease, meaning that folks among the remaining 79 percent may have diabetes but not know it. The National Center for Health Statistics reported Tuesday that more than 38,300 people died of drug overdoses in 2010, which marked an increase from the previous year.

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EHR use tied to more women’s health tests: study
Modern Healthcare

Primary-care providers who use electronic health records are more likely to order routine women’s health tests than those without the systems, according to a study. The report in the Journal of the Medical Informatics Association is the latest to show that electronic systems increase healthcare utilization. And it found that the more sophisticated the EHR system, the more likely a clinician was to order screening tests such as breast and pelvic examinations, Pap smears, cholesterol tests, mammograms and bone mineral density tests, among others.

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Web ratings aren’t key in choosing doc: study
Modern Physician

Geography and physician referral still top the Internet when it comes to patients’ healthcare choices, but insurance coverage is by far the biggest driver when it comes to parents choosing a doctor for their children, according to a new national survey. “Accepts my health insurance” was rated as “very important” by 92% of the respondents in a survey commissioned by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

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No surprises in final essential-benefits rule
Modern Healthcare

HHS on Wednesday released a final regulation on the health reform law’s essential health benefits, actuarial value and accreditation provisions that closely follows the department’s proposed rule from last November. The final rule maps out standards for the core set of benefits that health insurance issuers must cover in the individual and small group markets—both inside and outside of the health insurance exchanges—for 2014 and 2015.

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LA consumers face 25 percent premium hikes under state healthcare reforms
Southern California Public Radio

A bill that changes how health plans handle individual customers in California cleared its first committee hearing Wednesday, under heavy fire from Dave Jones, the state’s own insurance commissioner.

Jones told lawmakers the plan could subject consumers to rate hikes as high as 25 percent in greater Los Angeles. One-and-a-half million Californians currently buy their own health insurance.

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Higher Cost, Inferior Care: Dental Health in Emergency Departments
California Healthline

Each year, nearly one million U.S. residents visit hospital emergency departments seeking treatment that EDs are not equipped to provide: dental care. Most people seeking dental help at EDs have low incomes and receive health benefits through Medicaid. They often resort to emergency care because few dentists are willing to treat the program’s beneficiaries.

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Children’s Hospital cancer program gets $250,000k
Fresno Bee

A native Fresnan whose grandfather built the Reedley Opera House has given $250,000 to a cancer survivorship program at Children’s Hospital Central California.

Norman D. Jansen, 94, made the gift in memory of his wife, Vivian E. Jansen, who died of leukemia in June 2009.

The hospital said Jansen was encouraged to support Children’s by a caregiver, who was not identified. The caregiver’s son was treated at the hospital.

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Hospital PPI edges up in January after December dip
Modern Healthcare

The acute-care hospital Producer Price Index edged upward 0.1% in the first month of the year after a dip of 0.2% the prior month, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency captures reimbursement rates paid to hospitals in its Producer Price Index. In January 2012, the PPI for acute-care hospitals increased 0.4%.

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Mercy Medical Center support group helps in cancer fight
Merced Sun-Star

Mercy Medical Center will launch a support group for anyone whose life has been touched by cancer. Medical officials say they are trying to provide a place where people can go for support, education and networking. They want to look at all aspects of cancer. “How treatments affect your overall body,” explained Lillian Sanchez, community educator at Mercy. The support group will meet from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month. Mercy hopes to begin the program March 27, Sanchez said.

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Campaign expands list of questionable tests, procedures
Modern Healthcare

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation expanded its Choosing Wisely campaign, adding 90 more tests and procedures that it considers possibly unnecessary or harmful, several of which involve the use of antibiotics and imaging. Seventeen newly participating medical societies each submitted at least five tests or procedures to the campaign, which was launched in 2011 by the ABIM Foundation, a not-for-profit that seeks to advance medical professionalism.

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Mobile Health at the Market
HealthyCal.org

When it comes to getting her kids the healthcare she needs, Monica Villalobos faces many challenges. A single mom with three kids under five, she doesn’t have a car, works long hours and shares parenting with her mom, who speaks very little English. But it was easy for her to find her way to the Healthy Steps Medical Mobile Unit from the San Ysidro Health Center – they set up a mobile services truck in the parking lot of her grocery store on Thursdays. The grocery store parking lot is across from the mobile home park where her family lives.

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Federal law means change for state, county health care
Merced Sun-Star

California is getting ready to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, and Mercedians could see changes as the process moves forward. This week, the Legislature’s special session began with hearings and votes to implement the reforms, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer coalition.

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WellPoint board OKs 30 pct dividend hike
The Mercury News

WellPoint Inc. said it plans to raise the quarterly dividend it pays shareholders by 30 percent, an announcement that comes about week after the health insurer’s stock started slipping after it named a new CEO. The Indianapolis company said Thursday that it will pay a dividend of 37.5 cents per share in the first quarter, up from its fourth-quarter payout of 28.7 cents per share. The new dividend is payable March 25 to shareholders of record at the close of business on March 8.

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CalPERS enrollees receive notice of long-term care rate hikes
San Luis Obispo Tribune

With an 85 percent premium hike looming, government workers and retirees covered by CalPERS‘ costliest long-term care insurance policies face a crucial decision: Swallow the increase or get out of a program they have been paying into for years.

The reality of the increase literally came home this week as letters from CalPERS hit the mailboxes of 148,000 policyholders.

The fund’s board last year voted to raise premiums for the 90 percent of insured members who bought the top-tier plan – lifetime coverage and inflation protection for things like nursing home and assisted-living care.

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Monarch to pay $2.5M to Blue Shield
Orange County Register

Irvine-based medical group Monarch Healthcare has agreed to pay $2.5 million to Blue Shield of California to settle claims resulting from a 2011 contract dispute that forced Orange County patients to choose between their doctors or their health plan. The money will go to Blue Shield’s philanthropic foundation to be spent in Orange County to improve access to health care and provide domestic violence services, said Steve Shivinsky, a Blue Shield vice president.

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield antitrust lawsuits pile up
Yahoo! News

A litigation onslaught facing the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and its 38 member health plans over alleged antitrust violations has snowballed ahead of a legal status conference scheduled for Thursday. Three more lawsuits were filed last week alleging a conspiracy among the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and its member plans to divide the U.S. healthcare market into geographical areas that allowed plans to avoid competing with each other. At least 27 lawsuits have now been filed.

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Blue Shield of California continues exec makeover with rash of 8 personnel moves
San Francisco Business Times

Both right before and immediately after former Blue Shield of California Chairman and CEO Bruce Bodaken retired at year-end, his successor has made a number of high-level personnel moves at the San Francisco nonprofit company. The latest round came today, with eight new executive promotions or appointments. Late last year, Paul Markovich, Bodaken’s successor in the CEO role, reshuffled the senior executive ranks even before moving up as chief executive. Late last month he announced a new chief information officer, Michael Mathias.

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The IPAB Bomb
The Health Care Blog

How’s this for a bitter pill? For Republicans looking for cures for Medicare spending growth, one of the best places to look is one of their least favorites: in the legislative pharmacopeia that is Obamacare. There are many things opponents of President Obama’s health reform law detest, and topping the list is the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB.

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