News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Economy less of a factor in slow growth for healthcare spending, new studies say
Modern Healthcare

The recession’s drag on health spending did not fully explain the recent record slow growth in health spending, according to the latest studies that aim to identify what, if anything, suggests the slowdown may last.

The papers, published in the journal Health Affairs, will be welcome news to those looking for signals that payment and delivery forms are beginning to have an effect on spending, although the researchers stop short of saying so.

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AMA Raises Reimbursement Concerns Over EHR Workarounds
Health Leaders Media

Physicians’ use of electronic health records may lead to denial of reimbursement for some services, the AMA chair warned last week.

During a CMS listening session, AMA chair Steven Stack, MD, who is also a Lexington, KY emergency physician, said that some Medicare carriers have already issued rules that if patient charts look too similar, they will deny payment for them.

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Researchers, Commonwealth urge new Medicare option
Modern Healthcare

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Commonwealth Fund are recommending a new Medicare public insurance option they say would combine parts of the decades-old federal health program and could reduce total health spending by $180 billion over 10 years.

Called “Medicare Essential,” the plan from study authors Karen Davis, Cathy Schoen and Stu Guterman appears in the May issue of Health Affairs. It would blend Medicare’s hospital, physician and prescription drug coverage into one integrated benefit with an annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses for covered benefits.

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Unusual billing patterns spur probe of inpatient hospice care
Modern Healthcare

HHS‘ inspector general’s office is launching an in-depth investigation into cases where Medicare hospice beneficiaries get inpatient care, following unusual billing patterns that surfaced during recent research on the $1.1 billion industry. Medicare hospice is designed to provide comfort to patients with six months to live, not life-saving treatments. However, in some cases, Medicare hospice patients do qualify for palliative inpatient care—and a new OIG study found that a high proportion of those lucrative services go to patients who stay in a certain type of provider, raising questions about the bills in those settings.

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New Worries for Democrats on Health Law
New York Times

As the administration struggles to put in place the final, complex piece of President Obama’s signature health care law, an endeavor on a scale not seen since Medicare’s creation nearly a half-century ago, Democrats are worried that major snags will be exploited by Republicans in next year’s midterm elections. Many Democrats also want to see a more aggressive and visible president to push the law across the country.

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When It Comes to Health-Care Reform, the IRS Rules
CNBC

Get ready for the Internal Revenue Service to play a dominant role in health care. When Obamacare takes full effect next year, the agency will enforce most of the laws involved in the reform—even deciding who gets included in the health-care mandate.

“The impact of the IRS on health-care reform is huge,” said Paul Hamburger, a partner and employee benefits lawyer at Proskauer.

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Calif. Health Insurance Regulation Lacks Teeth
NBC Bay Area

Health insurance companies under fire for raising premiums on California residents and businesses unfairly should modify their behavior, or else.

Wait a minute…or else, what? “The strategy really has been to try and have regulators negotiate with insurance companies, or for consumer groups to try and shame insurance companies,” explained Linda Leu, a healthcare policy analyst for the consumer advocacy group, Health Access.

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Some Lawmakers Want To Restore Dental Benefits To Medi-Cal
KPBS

Now that California’s budget is back in the black, some Democratic lawmakers want to restore Medi-Cal benefits that were cut during the recession. Dental services for adults are one item under consideration. California cut dental benefits from the Medi-Cal program in 2009. That means some 3 million low-income adults have no coverage for basic dental services like exams, fillings or dentures. Going to an emergency room is one of their only options. Anthony Wright, executive director of the non-profit group Health Access California, said restoring dental benefits makes sense, especially since there are federal matching funds available.

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Kickstart Walking System is game-changer for stroke victims
Contra Costa Times

Albert Azizian had used a wheelchair to get around for more than a decade after suffering a debilitating stroke. When he did walk, a good day was making it from one room to another, dragging his right leg. But Sunday morning, Azizian stood tall and took confident steps at the Fight Stroke Walk. Wearing a new assistive device called the Kickstart Walking System, Azizian proudly strode a half mile around the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden.

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With obesity epidemic, what’s the best way to get people to eat healthfully?
Washington Post

It’s no secret that the United States has a weight problem, but the numbers are staggering: More than a third of U.S. adults are obese. Cases of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke — which kill hundreds of thousands each year and are linked to obesity — are set to multiply tenfold between 2010 and 2020. By 2030, the annual medical bill for the nation’s bad eating habits could top $66 billion.

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Autism Bay Area founder creates community for families with autism
Inside Bay Area

The Kurada family had just returned from a trip to India when Shanti Kurada started noticing significant changes in her 2-and-a-half year-old son, Rahul. He began babbling. He stopped making eye contact.

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Baxter drug fails to slow Alzheimer’s in big study
San Francisco Chronicle

Baxter International Inc. says that a blood product it was testing failed to slow mental decline or to preserve physical function in a major study of 390 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The company says that people who received 18 months of infusions with its drug, Gammagard, fared no better than others given infusions of a dummy solution. Gammagard is immune globulin, natural antibodies culled from donated blood. Researchers thought these antibodies might help remove amyloid, the sticky plaque that clogs patients’ brains, sapping memory and ability to think.

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Facing Black Market, Pfizer Sells Viagra on Web
New York Times

Pfizer has taken the unusual step of selling its erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, to consumers on its Web site, in an effort to establish a presence in the huge online market for the popular blue pill, considered to be one of the most counterfeited drugs in the world. Viagra is one of Pfizer’s marquee drugs — the company said it brought in more than $2 billion in sales in 2012 — but some drug experts estimate Pfizer could be losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to a prolific black market of online pharmacies that cater to men too embarrassed to buy the drug through traditional means.

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Some Sutter Health jobs moving to Roseville from Modesto
Sacramento Business Journal

Modesto’s loss is Roseville’s gain, as some of the 39 business office employees at Sutter Memorial Medical Center in Modesto who received pink slips in April will move to Sutter’s new back office service center in Roseville. In October, Sutter Health announced plans to consolidate 1,000 back-office jobs to an office complex formerly occupied by Hewlett Packard Co.

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Drexel plans health care series
Sacramento Business Journal

Drexel University will present a free, four-day series of programs this week on the changing health care industry. All programs in the “Healthcare Perspectives” lineup are open to the public and will be held at One Capitol Mall, Suite 260, in Sacramento. The series will kick off with a health care CEO roundtable from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Three health care industry leaders in Sacramento and Dr. Mike Howley of Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business will discuss some of the opportunities and crises presented by changes in the industry.

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Avastin linked to flesh-eating disease, prompting new label warnings
San Francisco Business Times

Genentech Inc.’s cancer-fighting Avastin has been linked to 52 cases of flesh-eating disease over 15 years, prompting updated warnings by health authorities. The cases of necrotizing fasciitis — including 17 reports of fatalities — appeared to occur at a higher rate in people with weakened immune systems, according to South San Francisco-based Genentech. The Food and Drug Administration in March issued a label warning on Avastin, the world’s best-selling cancer drug with sales of roughly $6 billion, and Health Canada issued a similar warning May 2.

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