News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Unlikely coalition vows joint battle against Medi-Cal rate cuts
Sacramento Bee

A veritable army of politically powerful but unlikely partners vowed today to jointly fight California’s planned rate cut to Medi-Cal providers. The broad-based coalition includes groups representing physicians, health plans, hospitals, dentists, first responders, and the state’s largest labor union of health-care workers – Service Employees International Union.

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CMS proposes offering patients up to $10M for fraud tips
Modern Healthcare

Many Medicare fraud schemes rely on “patient recruiters” to scour local communities for senior citizens who, knowingly or not, can provide personal information that can be used to generate false bills. The CMS has long zeroed in on this potential weakness in fraud conspiracies by offering up to $1,000 to seniors who report patient recruiters to authorities. Now a new CMS proposal would dramatically increase potential payouts to such whistle-blowers, capping such awards at nearly $10 million.

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Nevada changes psychiatric discharge policy; patients to have travel escorts
Sacramento Bee

In a dramatic change to their controversial discharge practices, Nevada health officials no longer will send state psychiatric patients alone on buses to cities across the country, they said Wednesday. Effective immediately, a chaperone will accompany any mentally ill patient discharged from state facilities “for whom the state is paying transportation costs” to points outside of Nevada, said Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

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HHS’ offers updated guidance on removing disparities, promoting equality in healthcare
Modern Healthcare

HHS on Wednesday released enhanced standards to help health and healthcare organizations promote health equity, advance quality and remove disparities in healthcare. HHS’ Office of Minority Health developed the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards in Health and Health Care, which update initial standards that were released in 2000. In a news release, HHS cited an estimate from its Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that the cost of insufficient and inequitable healthcare related to racial and ethnic health disparities is more than $1 trillion. A spokeswoman for AHRQ said in an email that the estimate came from a report on healthcare inequalities from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

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HHS Would Hike Whistleblower Rewards to $10M
Health Leaders Media

Forget Powerball. The odds of becoming a millionaire are much better for Medicare fraud whistleblowers.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week unveiled a proposed rule that would pay rewards of nearly $10 million to Medicare beneficiaries and other whistleblowers whose fraud tips identify and recover funds.

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No estimate on amount of money lost to fraud in Medicare: CMS
Modern Healthcare

The CMS has no estimate of how much federal money is lost to fraud in the Medicare program most plagued with improper payments, and the agency’s top integrity official was unable to tell lawmakers when they might see such a number.

The first healthcare fraud hearing in this Congress by the Finance Committee’s Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee focused on durable medical equipment because the CMS reported in February that two-thirds of the roughly $10 billion Medicare spent on the program were “improper” payments.

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Healthcare industry asks feds for clearer guidance on fraud, fewer audits
Modern Healthcare

After sifting through 2,000 pages of public comments, staff members for the Senate Finance Committee say the healthcare industry wants clearer rules, fewer redundant audits and more focus on proactive healthcare fraud prevention. The committee was swamped with more than 150 reports from healthcare providers, insurers and suppliers last year after asking for suggestions on ways to prevent waste and improve fraud-fighting efforts in Medicare and Medicaid. About $65 billion was lost to improper payments from Medicare in 2011, according to one government estimate.

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Employer health premiums rose 170% in California in last decade
Los Angeles Times

Premiums for employer health insurance in California jumped 170% over the last decade, more than five times the 32% increase in the state’s inflation rate. That escalation in premiums has taken a toll on employers’ willingness to offer health benefits, according to an annual survey by the California HealthCare Foundation.

The report found that 60% of California firms offered health benefits last year, down from 73% three years ago.

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Calif. employers offering health coverage falls by more than 10%: survey
Modern Healthcare

The percentage of California employers that offer healthcare coverage to their employees has plummeted in the past decade.

In 2012, 60% of California employers offered coverage to their employees, down from 71% in 2002, according to a survey by the California HealthCare Foundation.

Coverage rates, though, varied significantly by company size.

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Democratic senator blocks vote on Tavenner nomination
Modern Healthcare

A Democratic senator has indefinitely blocked a Senate vote on Marilyn Tavenner’s nomination to head the CMS.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, placed a hold on Tavenner’s nomination to keep the Senate from voting on it, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. She declined to specify why Harkin blocked a vote on Tavenner but alluded to his concerns raised at an earlier hearing.

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The Healthcare Help Desk Steps Up Its Game
Health Leaders Media

Healthcare being a round-the-clock, up-to-your-elbows business, CIOs have recognized that the IT help desk must change—and at a few institutions, that change has already occurred.

“Typical service desk analysts are not skilled in clinical applications, which are very unique to this industry, probably more so than any other industry,” says Chad Eckes, CIO of Schaumburg, Ill.–based Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

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Senator Tom Berryhill’s Flex-Work Week Legislation Killed in Senate Labor
Sierra Sun

Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte) announces the defeat of Senate Bill 607, the California Workplace Flexibility Act. SB 607 would have given employees and employers the ability to adopt a mutually agreeable alternative workweek schedule. The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations defeated the bill despite testimony from multiple employer and Human Resource experts that the current system does not give employees and employers the flexibility to devise flexible work schedules.

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Study Ties Autism Risk to Creases in Placenta
New York Times

After most pregnancies, the placenta is thrown out, having done its job of nourishing and supporting the developing baby. But a new study raises the possibility that analyzing the placenta after birth may provide clues to a child’s risk for developing autism. The study, which analyzed placentas from 217 births, found that in families at high genetic risk for having an autistic child, placentas were significantly more likely to have abnormal folds and creases.

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Artificial kidney offers hope to patients tethered to a dialysis machine
Contra Costa Times

No matter what else is happening in his life, David Anderson knows he cannot go far from the dialysis machine that sustains him. Jobs, vacations, get-togethers with friends — everything takes a back seat to his thrice-weekly treatments that do the work of his failing kidneys. But across town, UC San Francisco researchers are using Silicon Valley technology to create a device they hope can untether the 63-year-old San Franciscan and 380,000 other Americans who rely on dialysis to cope with kidney disease.

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Obamacare fuels turf war
Los Angeles Times

Obamacare is supplying fresh ammunition for one of the oldest turf wars in Sacramento.

It pits doctors — represented by the politically powerful California Medical Assn. — defending their turf against other medical providers. They’re nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists.

In political speak, it’s about “scope of practice” — the type of medical care non-doctors are allowed to provide.

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Republicans, CCIIO’s Cohen spar over readiness of health exchanges
Modern Healthcare

House Republicans expressed serious reservations Wednesday that the health insurance exchanges would come together in time, while the top CMS official overseeing the marketplaces assured them everything is going according to plan.

Gary Cohen, director of the CMS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that, “I know that we are on track for open enrollment this October,” a sentiment shared a few days ago by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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Health-care reform’s high stakes
Sacramento News and Review

Health care has never been simple. Choosing treatment and a doctor, running a health-care organization—it’s complicated. But with health-care reform, it has become even more complex. It is like a difficult game of chess, but one where the rules keep changing; the bishops don’t move diagonally, and the knights jump three spaces one day and five on another. And tens of thousands of lives are literally at stake as we figure out how this game will play out.

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Long-term care in aging US: Not for me, poll says
San Francisco Chronicle

We’re in denial: Americans underestimate their chances of needing long-term care as they get older — and are taking few steps to get ready. A new poll examined how people 40 and over are preparing for this difficult and often pricey reality of aging and found two-thirds say they’ve done little to no planning. In fact, 3 in 10 would rather not think about getting older at all.

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Nurses Fighting State by State for Minimum Staffing Laws
Medscape

How many nurses does it take to run a hospital?

Legislatures in at least seven states and the District of Columbia are trying to answer that question as they debate bills that would require hospitals to have a minimum number of nurses on staff at all times.

So far, only one state has such a law. California’s state legislature passed a minimum nurse staffing law in 1999. Since then, similar nurse staffing laws have failed in every other state where they were proposed.

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Medical: Most teens, tweens seek parents’ health advice
KERO

Scripps Howard News Service – Teens and tweens are basically healthy, but they still face to steep risks that call for regular medical checkups. Too many aren’t getting that care.

The roughly 40 million Americans ages 10 to 19 are basically healthy most of the time. But they’re also more likely than most other age groups to die from accidents, homicide and suicide and at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse and eating disorders.

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Doctors have weaker emotional rapport with obese, overweight patients: study
Southern California Public Radio

New research from Johns Hopkins finds physicians are less likely to form an emotional connection with patients who are overweight, which could negatively affect the quality of care. The study, which appeared in the journal Obesity, looked at nearly 40 primary care doctors – along with more than 200 of their patients – and determined that doctors were significantly more likely to show empathy, concern and understanding to patients who were of a normal weight.

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Physicians debate whether patients need to know they’re dying
Los Angeles Times

In the days when American physicians dispensed oracular commands and their judgments were rarely questioned, a doctor could take it upon himself with few ethical qualms to keep from a patient the bad news of a terminal diagnosis.

 For better or worse, those days may be well behind us. But physicians have not ceased debating one of the stickiest and most universal ethical quandaries of medical practice: How, when and why does one inform a patient that he or she is dying? The latest evidence of that ongoing discussion was published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

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WellPoint posts 3% profit gain and raises full-year outlook
Los Angeles Times

Insurance giant WellPoint Inc. reported a 3% increase in first-quarter profit and raised its full-year outlook as the company prepares for major changes under the federal healthcare overhaul.

WellPoint, which runs Anthem Blue Cross in California and health plans in 13 other states, said its results were lifted by a recent acquisition that helped boost enrollment of the nation’s second-largest health insurer to nearly 36 million people.

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New SVMH CEO looks at hospital with optimism
Monterey Herald

New Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital CEO Pete Delgado wants to make the public district health care system his “last stop” at the end of a lengthy career, and retire locally.

Delgado, a 28-year veteran of health care administration, recently completed a decade at the helm of the giant Los Angeles County-USC Healthcare Network and flirted with other large-scale health organizations before settling on relatively small Salinas Valley Memorial.

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Nurses, other ‘mid-level’ providers: Future of primary care already here in South LA
Southern California Public Radio

It’s early in the morning, and Simmi Gandhi – a family nurse practitioner at UMMA Community Clinic – is making a call to one of her patients. “I’m sorry to wake you up so early this morning again,” says Gandhi over the phone. “But I thought that you would want to know what your results are.” It’s unlikely the woman will mind the early morning wake-up. That’s because it’s good news.

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