News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Health Care Spending Slowdown Could Wipe Out One-Fifth Of The Deficit If It Persists: Study
The Huffington Post

The U.S. could shrink the deficit by 20 percent if current health care spending trends continue, according to a newly released study in the journal Health Affairs. If spending on health care continues to grow at its current rate, the government would spend $770 billion less than predicted by 2021, according to a the research from David Cutler, a Harvard health care economist and former adviser to President Obama.

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CMS data show wide variation in hospital billing
Modern Healthcare

The CMS released data showing U.S. hospitals charge widely varying amounts for the same services. The database, posted on the CMS website, is described as “part of the Obama administration’s work to make our healthcare system more affordable and accountable.” It includes hospital charges for 100 most frequently billed discharges by the more than 3,000 hospitals reimbursed under the inpatient prospective payment system.

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Hospital EDs Seeing Sicker Medicare Patients
Health Leaders Media

Hospital emergency departments are treating growing numbers of sicker Medicare patients who require more complex and expensive treatment regimens, the American Hospital Association reports. “The drivers [are] both the aging demographic, but also just that people are getting sicker. Chronic diseases are skyrocketing,” says Caroline Steinberg, AHA’s vice president of trends analysis.

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Harkin lifts hold on Tavenner nomination to head CMS
Modern Healthcare

A roadblock to the Senate confirmation of acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner was removed Tuesday when the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee lifted the hold he placed on the former HCA executive’s nomination in April. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Tuesday said he placed the hold on Tavenner’s nomination before a congressional recess late last month because Tavenner had signed a directive in March that channeled funds away from the health reform law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund.

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HHS to providers: Check lists of excluded Medicare personnel
Modern Healthcare

HHS maintains a list of 51,588 people who are categorically excluded from providing even indirect care to Medicare patients, and new guidelines that will be published today recommend healthcare providers check their personnel rosters against the list once a month. That obligation extends to temporary nurses and doctors who work under contract from staffing firms. And it might not hurt to print out screen shots proving that the list was checked, the new guidance says.

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Long wait for device identifier gets longer
Modern Healthcare

It’s likely to be another seven weeks before the Food and Drug Administration finalizes long-awaited regulations that will require manufacturers to mark medical devices with unique identifiers that are expected to help track products during recalls, save money and improve patient safety. An FDA spokeswoman said in e-mail that the final rule would not be released in time to meet the May 7 deadline that was set in legislation passed last year. “We are working hard to complete this, and it is a priority for the agency,” she said.  The FDA said in an April report that the agency planned to finalize the rule by June 30.

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Reform Update: Ore. study could impact national Medicaid debate
Modern Healthcare

New Medicaid research that garnered widespread attention from national health policy experts has not yet affected the expansion debate at the state level, but it could bolster national policy changes in the program. A highly anticipated randomized trial comparing Oregon Medicaid enrollees with uninsured patients was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. It found more healthcare utilization but no better healthcare results—among major indicators—for enrollees after two years of Medicaid coverage.

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Healthcare: Reform or move on
The Hill

Let’s be honest. Healthcare reform doesn’t quite sell itself. With few exceptions, more voters have disliked the plan than liked it in polls over the last several years. But at the same time, even fewer voters want the law repealed or defunded. Hence, Republican attempts to take those actions are strategically inexplicable. They have enjoyed some advantage by just complaining about Democrats’ passing the law. Why dilute that by taking an even less popular position themselves?

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4 ways hospitals can ease healthcare reform implementation
FierceHealthcare

Members of Congress are looking over their shoulders. The Democratic caucus is worrying aloud that an uneven implementation of the Affordable Care Act will cost them seats during next year’s mid-term elections–instead of using that nervous energy to roll up their sleeves and make sure it’s deployed correctly.

I’m also not surprised that Republicans, having lost every legal battle to defeat the ACA, have gone guerrilla.

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For Dual-Eligibles, Health Care Reform Is Already Here
The Huffington Post

You can’t open a newspaper–or a newsy website–these days without getting the latest update on two high-profile parts of the new health care law that are still months away from implementation. The Medicaid Expansion, which has the potential of helping 17 million people get health insurance, and the state-based Exchanges, which will offer even more the opportunity to purchase affordable health insurance at a group rate, are both set to roll out in 2014.

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Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, Government Data Shows
New York Times

A hospital in Livingston, N.J., charged $70,712 on average to implant a pacemaker, while a hospital in nearby Rahway, N.J., charged $101,945.

In Saint Augustine, Fla., one hospital typically billed nearly $40,000 to remove a gallbladder using minimally invasive surgery, while one in Orange Park, Fla., charged $91,000.

In one hospital in Dallas, the average bill for treating simple pneumonia was $14,610, while another there charged over $38,000.

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One hospital charges $8,000 — another, $38,000
Washington Post

Consumers on Wednesday will finally get some answers about one of modern life’s most persistent mysteries: how much medical care actually costs. For the first time, the federal government will release the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Until now, these charges have been closely held by facilities that see a competitive advantage in shielding their fees from competitors. What the numbers reveal is a health-care system with tremendous, seemingly random variation in the costs of services.

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Nurses union threatens 7-day East Bay strike against Sutter hospitals
San Francisco Business Times

The California Nurses Association is planning a seven-day strike at several Sutter Health hospitals in the East Bay, in an attempt to put pressure on the system to end a long impasse. The Oakland-based CNA, which is affiliated with National Nurses United, said the strike is slated to begin May 17 and end early on May 24. Affected hospitals could include Alta Bates Summit Medical Center campuses in Berkeley and Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Antioch’s Sutter Delta Medical Center, and San Leandro Hospital — a facility that Sutter wants to close or sell.

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UC Health workers vote to strike
San Diego Union-Tribune

Health care workers at UC San Diego Medical Center, and other University of California hospitals across the state, moved one step closer to the picket line Tuesday, announcing they have authorized a strike but announcing no firm date when they would stop reporting for work.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 said that 97 percent of its 13,000 members voted to strike out of frustration in stalled contract negotiations.

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Nurses announce another strike against East Bay hospitals affiliated with Sutter Health
The Mercury News

Hundreds of registered nurses have planned another strike against East Bay hospitals affiliated with Sutter Health — and this time the walkout will last at least seven days. The strike — part of a lengthy battle over wages, benefits and patient care issues — will begin at 7 a.m. on May 17 and end at 7 a.m. on May 24, union leaders said. But it could last beyond that date if the hospitals hire replacement workers on longer contracts and lock out the striking nurses until those contracts end, as has happened in the past.

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AFSCME workers authorize strike at five UC medical centers
San Francisco Business Times

AFSCME Local 3299, which represents nearly 13,000 technical workers at five University of California medical centers statewide, says its members last week overwhelmingly authorized a strike. More than 97 percent of workers who voted approved a strike at UC medical centers including UCSF Medical Center, UC Davis Medical Center and other UC hospitals at UC Irvine, UCLA and UC San Diego, as well as at student health centers at all 10 University of California campuses, the union said.

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Union for UC patient care technical workers authorizes strike
Sacramento Business Journal

Members of a union that represents 13,000 patient care technical workers at the University of California — including about 2,900 at University of California Davis — have voted to authorize a strike. Votes were cast over a three-day period last week at UC’s five medical centers and student health centers across all 10 UC campuses. Workers authorized the strike with more than 97 percent support, according to officials at the Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

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New Test Improves Assessment of Prostate Cancer Risk, Study Says
New York Times

A new test can help distinguish aggressive prostate cancer from less threatening ones, potentially saving many men from unneeded operations for tumors that would never hurt them, researchers are reporting. The test, developed by Genomic Health, could triple the number of men who could confidently monitor their tumors rather than undergo surgery or radiation treatments, according to the company and to researchers.

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Genomic Health targets better prostate cancer treatment with new test
San Francisco Business Times

Genomic Health Inc. is hoping to do for prostate cancer what it is doing for breast cancer and colon cancer. The Redwood City company (NASDAQ: GHDX) said late Tuesday that it will sell its Oncotype DX test for prostate cancer patients, zeroing in on 17 genes that could steer some men away from surgery or radiation treatments. Genomic Health introduced Oncotype DX in 2004 for breast cancer, predicting the likelihood of chemotherapy benefitting patients as well as the chances that invasive breast cancer will recur.

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Malpractice cap, medical board under attack
Sacramento Business Journal

An initiative is in the works for the November 2014 ballot that seeks to repeal the $250,000 cap on damages in medical malpractice cases and overhaul the Medical Board of California. The measure is being drafted by Consumer Watchdog and the Troy and Alana Pack Foundation, a Danville-based nonprofit started after the Pack family lost their young children in an accident that involved a drug abuser who obtained narcotics by physician prescription.

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Little improvement in Leapfrog’s latest round of hospital-safety grades
Modern Healthcare

The Leapfrog Group has released its latest round of safety scores, and nearly three quarters of hospitals maintained the same letter grade they received in November, when the organization issued its last update.

Launched nearly a year ago, in June 2012, the program rates hospitals with a patient-safety letter grade—A, B, C, D or F—based on publicly available data, drawing from the CMS‘ Hospital Compare, Leapfrog Group’s annual hospital survey and the American Hospital Association’s annual survey.

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Mobile devices, security among IT execs’ top concerns
Modern Healthcare

The rising tide of smartphones and other mobile computing devices and their impact on healthcare information network security were the key concerns raised by healthcare IT executives in a focus group session and a subsequent report by HIMSS Analytics.

The nine-page report, “Healthcare Provider Network Solutions, Barriers and Challenges,” said that healthcare workers already are bringing their own mobile devices into the workplace and expecting to use them there, a trend that is both unstoppable and problematic, the leaders said.

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Lawmakers Mull SGR Options
Health Leaders Media

The House Ways and Means subcommittee on Health spent two hours Tuesday exchanging ideas about reforming Medicare’s sustainable growth rate with a group of influential healthcare stakeholders.

That the SGR needs the boot was a foregone conclusion among both the assembled panelists and the House members. In his opening comments, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), committee chair, noted that participants in two previous SGR hearings held recently supported the repeal of SGR. “I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “The SGR is the major contributor to an unhealthy system and it needs to change this year.”

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Aetna Beefs Up Before Obamacare’s Arrival
San Francisco Chronicle

Health insurer Aetna , the third-largest insurance firm in the country, made a big splash last year when it announced the acquisition of fellow insurance firm Coventry for $5.7 billion. This week Aetna will close the acquisition and finalize the deal, pushing the company’s membership base higher by millions of members. This comes not a moment too soon for Aetna. A big membership base is a key strength headed into the post-Obamacare future for the insurance industry, as questions still remain about just how insurance reform will alter the landscape of this industry going forward.

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Telemedicine is Retail Health Clinics’ Newest Tool
Health Leaders Media

Earlier this year, Rite Aid became the first retailer to enter telemedicine in a big way when it announced plans to roll out its NowClinic program to 58 in-store health clinics in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

“Given the rapidly changing healthcare landscape, we believe that telehealth services such as our NowClinic will play an extremely important role in healthcare in the future,” said Robert Thompson, executive vice president of pharmacy for Rite Aid.

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What does Obamacare mean for young people?
HealthyCal.org

Most young people feel like they have years of good health in the bank. They are, as a group, so unlikely to buy insurance that insurance companies dubbed them the young invincibles and in some cases gave up on trying to enroll them in health care plans. Some young adults, inevitably, will be proven wrong in their optimistic evaluations of their health. “We’re not invincible—no one’s invincible,” said California organizer Tamika Butler. It’s not that people of her generation don’t want insurance, Butler said, it’s that they can’t afford it.

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