News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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UnitedHealth, Aetna and Cigna opt out of California insurance exchange
Los Angeles Times

Some prominent health insurers, including industry giant UnitedHealth Group Inc., are not participating in California’s new state-run health insurance market, possibly limiting the number of choices for millions of consumers. UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest private insurer, Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp. are sitting out the first year of Covered California, the state’s insurance exchange and a key testing ground nationally for a massive coverage expansion under the federal healthcare law.

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Immigration bill seeks to ease rules for foreign health workers
Modern Healthcare

After 30 hours of debate over a three-week period, the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bipartisan immigration bill that would seek to strengthen the country’s healthcare workforce by making it easier for foreign health professionals to work in the U.S. The panel voted 13-5 on Tuesday to approve the sweeping Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced last month.

In all, the committee considered 212 amendments in the bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he would like to bring to the floor for debate in June, “sometime soon” after Congress returns from a weeklong Memorial Day work period.

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Less Blood Testing for Some Surgeries Safe, Cost Effective
Health Leaders Media

For hospitals looking to lower costs anywhere they can, Johns Hopkins researchers have identified a longstanding procedure worthy of a closer look: the unnecessary crossing and typing of blood for surgeries that almost never require transfusions. “A lot of effort in transfusion medicine has gone toward understanding the transfusion itself and controlling the use of transfused blood,” says Steven Frank, MD, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

“But our new paper focuses on the ordering and testing of blood, which is expensive and time consuming and which we think is overutilized, especially for these cases that are rarely if ever transfused.”

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UC medical center strike: Most union members reported for work
Los Angeles Times

As University of California patient care workers returned to the picket lines in a workplace dispute Wednesday, hospital administrators said they were gratified that so many union members chose to come to work rather than strike.

More than three-quarters of the union employees scheduled to work Tuesday did so, said Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the UC office of the president. Hospital officials said they expected a similar turnout Wednesday.

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13 insurers to compete on Calif. health exchange
The Mercury News

The state’s largest health insurers, including Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente, will be among 13 plans competing for policies from millions of Californians who are expected to purchase coverage through the state’s new health exchange, officials announced Thursday.

Covered California, the state agency running the health insurance marketplace, announced the plans and prices that will be offered by private insurers when the exchange begins enrolling customers in October. Coverage begins Jan. 1, the same time virtually everyone in the country will be required to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

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2-day worker walkout to end at UC hospitals
San Francisco Chronicle

A two-day strike held by workers at University of California hospitals over staffing and pension is coming to an end. Union officials say the strike formally ends at 4 a.m. Thursday, after thousands of hospital pharmacists, nursing assistants, operating room assistants and other health care workers observed the 48-hour walkout. The green-shirted picketers marched outside medical centers, prompting the postponement of dozens of surgeries.

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Trend toward part-time work, cuts in health coverage predate ObamaCare
The Hill

Employers have been cutting back employees’ hours and access to health insurance since before President Obama’s healthcare law passed, according to new research released Wednesday. The findings are potentially significant as the healthcare law is about to take full effect. The law’s critics say employers will cut workers’ hours to avoid offering healthcare benefits. But the trend toward part-time work predates the Affordable Care Act, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI).

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Monterey County supervisors debate impact of Affordable Care Act
Monterey Herald

A new study of Monterey County’s health care safety net system suggests it can absorb the new demand for access to care under the Affordable Care Act with a few tweaks.

But it warns that local officials must make sure county residents who qualify for new health coverage are informed of their options.

The study was conducted by CSU Monterey Bay researchers and presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

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Geography has a role in elective surgery decisions, study finds
Los Angeles Times

Geography plays a role in whether patients in California have elective operations such as joint replacement, weight loss surgery and gallbladder removal, according to a new study. The California HealthCare Foundation study showed wide variations in patient surgeries across the state. The authors attribute the difference to several factors, including physician preferences and lack of clinical evidence that one procedure is better than another. Patient input also played a role in whether a certain kind of operation was performed.

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CDC to doctors: Help your patients quit smoking!
Los Angeles Times

A new anti-tobacco campaign is urging smokers to turn to their physicians for help in quitting. The campaign – “Talk With Your Doctor” – also encourages clinicians to ask patients whether they smoke and to offer them assistance giving up cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with several national physicians’ organizations, unveiled the initiative Wednesday.

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County sees hope for mental health services
Lompoc Record

There is hope for improving Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services in Santa Barbara County, but only with significant changes, a consultant told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Providing better service to patients will be the focus of the restructuring effort, according to a report analyzing the effectiveness of the division.

The supervisors unanimously agreed with the report, compiled by county staff and TriWest Consultants, and voted to direct staff to implement structural and procedural changes that will alter the face of the department.

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Over half of docs have received EHR incentive payments
Modern Healthcare

Key federal programs to boost electronic health-record system use passed a milestone last month as more than half of physicians and other “eligible professionals” have received incentive payments for attesting to the adoption of a certified EHR system.

As of April, 191,305 physicians and EPs have received EHR incentive payments from Medicare, while 88,903 have received payments from Medicaid and 11,117 from Medicare Advantage under programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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$131 million price tag for Emanuel hospital in Turlock
Merced Sun-Star

Tenet Healthcare Corp. will pay $131 million to acquire the nonprofit Emanuel Medical Center of Turlock, according to publicly disclosed terms of the sale. In one of the key items, the Dallas-based for-profit hospital chain has agreed to maintain cardiac care, cancer treatment, the emergency department, birthing center, intensive care and other services at Emanuel for at least 10 years. And the deal calls for Tenet to spend $30 million in the next five years on investments in expansion, improved services, equipment and medical staff development.

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State must protect local safety net in health care reform implementation
Inside Bay Area

In just five months, California will start to enroll millions of previously uninsured residents under the Affordable Care Act. Much uncertainty remains as the 58 counties of the most populous state in the nation take on the monumental task of reaching out to a new population. As a county supervisor and a member of the California State Association of Counties Executive Committee, I see firsthand how this historic law will impact our whole community: working families, business owners and the uninsured.

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Viewpoints: Obesity crisis demands tax on sugary drinks
Sacramento Bee

The beverage industry is in a real bind. On one hand, the major drink manufacturers that produce soda, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks are an American success story. They have made some of the most iconic products in the world and have developed some of the most ingenious ad campaigns. They have found ways to sell their products everywhere, increase portion sizes, keep prices low, and expand product lines in response to changing consumer tastes.

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Covered California exchange to lift the veil — a little
San Francisco Business Times

Covered California, the health exchange in charge of implementing key elements of national health reform in California, is set to announce some “tentative” details on Thursday. Those are expected to include which health plans will participate in various geographical regions throughout the Golden State and what rates consumers and small businesses will have to pay to participate. The entire process has been shrouded in secrecy, and unveiled piece by piece. Call it Executive Director Peter Lee’s “Dance of the Seven Veils.”

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VA aims for $500 million Mission Bay hospital
San Francisco Business Times

The VA Medical Center is looking to form a public-private partnership to fund a $500 million hospital and research facility in Mission Bay. The facility, which could be built on land Salesforce or UCSF owns, would replace the VA Medical Center’s bucolic but cramped and outdated home near the Golden Gate. The need to fund a new VA facility through a public-private partnership is being driven by the fact that the Veterans Administration has very little money allocated for major capital improvements — just $1 billion for major and minor capital projects at 153 medical centers across the country.

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