News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Medicare trust fund projected to last until 2026 as health costs drop
Washington Post

Falling health-care costs are brightening the financial outlook for Medicare, extending the life of the trust fund that supports the program until 2026 — two years later than previously forecast.

The new projections, released Friday by the program’s trustees, credit President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in part for the improvement in the finances of the federal health insurance program for the elderly.

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California bill would fine big firms whose workers get Medi-Cal
Los Angeles Times

For years, politicians and labor unions have pilloried Wal-Mart and other large employers for paying workers so little that many qualify for government health insurance at taxpayers’ expense.

Now critics fear the public will get stuck with an even bigger tab as California and other states expand Medicaid as part of the federal healthcare law. That has California lawmakers taking aim at the world’s largest retailer and other big firms.

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Pressure Grows to Create Drugs for ‘Superbugs’
New York Times

Government officials, drug companies and medical experts, faced with outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” are pushing to speed up the approval of new antibiotics, a move that is raising safety concerns among some critics. The need for new antibiotics is so urgent, supporters of an overhaul say, that lengthy studies involving hundreds or thousands of patients should be waived in favor of directly testing such drugs in very sick patients. Influential lawmakers have said they are prepared to support legislation that allows for faster testing.

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East Bay Health Care Providers Urge Lawmakers to Halt Devastating Medi-Cal Payment Cuts
PR Newswire

Citing devastating impacts on California’s most vulnerable patients, local hospital leaders joined with physicians and health care workers in Alameda County today to urge state officials to halt pending Medi-Cal payment cuts. The cuts stem from legislation originally enacted by the passage of AB 97 in 2011. Although the payment reductions amount to a 10 percent cut for doctors and most other providers, the cuts are much deeper – averaging 25 percent or greater – for hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities.

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Obama calls for national conversation about mental health
Washington Post

President Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks Monday on the issue of mental health, raising it in connection with the sweeping gun-control agenda he unveiled earlier this year. The morning address will open what the White House has dubbed a National Conference on Mental Health, a gathering of advocates, elected officials, faith leaders and others aimed at increasing awareness of mental illness and highlighting ways that the mentally ill can seek help.

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Affordable Care Act’s challenge: getting young adults enrolled
Los Angeles Times

Arsine Sargsyan is 23 years old, healthy and uninsured. She chooses to forgo coverage for one simple reason: “I never get sick.” Despite her reluctance, Sargsyan is exactly the type of person insurance plans, states and the federal government are counting on to make health reform work. As the clock ticks toward the 2014 launch of the Affordable Care Act, health leaders across the nation are embarking on a tough task: persuading young adults like Sargsyan to enroll.

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Lower Health Care Costs Improve Government Budget Outlook
The Huffington Post

Lower hospital and nursing costs improved the budget outlook for the U.S. government’s healthcare program for the elderly over the past year, but the fortunes of the Social Security pension program have changed little, the programs’ trustees said on Friday.

Despite the improvement for Medicare, the trustees reiterated their longstanding view that neither program can meet projected long-term obligations without changes from Congress, and urged action as soon as possible.

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Limited plans may help employers avoid health care reform penalty
Business Insurance

Employers that provide extremely limited health care plans have a way around paying significant penalties to the government when major provisions of the health care reform law go into effect next year.

A growing number of benefit experts say employers can offer bare-bones plans without running afoul of a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision that imposes a $2,000 penalty per full-time employee for not offering what the health care reform law calls minimum essential coverage.

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New insurance market taking shape
HealthyCal.org

California’s new health insurance marketplace is starting to come into focus as a state agency in charge of implementing President Obama’s federal health reform steadily adds more and more detail to the emerging picture, like a painter filling in a vast canvass. But exactly how the final image will look to consumers remains a bit murky. And we probably won’t know the answer until after the health benefits exchange, known as Covered California, opens for business Oct. 1.

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Too soon to know if exchanges will be competitive, experts say
Modern Healthcare

Responding to a steady stream of criticism that health insurance exchanges will offer few options along with high premiums, the Obama administration predicted a shot of competition in many areas. Some experts, though, say that data the White House crunched in a new memorandum is still too early and incomplete to support its conclusions. Whether an exchange is competitive and plans are reasonably priced is expected to vary greatly by state.

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Republican vs. Republican on covering uninsured
Modern Healthcare

It’s Republican vs. Republican in the latest round of political battles over healthcare. Conservative Republican legislators in major states are trying to block efforts by more pragmatic governors of their own party to accept health insurance for more low-income residents under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. Unlike their congressional counterparts, who’ve misfired in repeated attempts to torpedo the law, state Republicans may well sink the expansion of Medicaid in populous states such as Florida and Michigan.

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Doctors seek MBA’s to grapple with health care reform
Marketplace

Doctors used to focus on one thing: practicing medicine. But these days, it pays to know something about business. As health care reform starts upending the economics of medicine, the Kelley School — a top-20 MBA program, based in Indiana – is looking to cash in by launching an online MBA for just doctors. If an online MBA doesn’t sound legit, check out the price tag on Kelley’s two-year program: $58,000. That doesn’t include hotel or airfare to Indianapolis, for monthly in-person sessions.

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GOP governors’ endorsements of Medicaid expansion deepen rifts within party
Washington Post

Republican fissures over the expansion of Medicaid, a critical piece of the 2010 health-care law designed to provide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, continue to deepen, with battles in Arizona and elsewhere showing just how bitter the divisions have become.

Despite expressing distaste for the new law, some GOP governors have endorsed an expansion of Medicaid, and three — Jan Brewer of Arizona, John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan — are trying to persuade their Republican-controlled legislatures to go along.

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Medicare Trust Fund Solvency Extended
Health Leaders Media

Lower-than-expected spending for most healthcare service categories means that the federal Medicare trust fund will not be exhausted until 2026, according to the Old Age, Survivor’s and Disability Insurance (OASDI) board of trustees.

The report confirms that Medicare Part B, which pays outpatient expenses, and Part D, which provides access to prescription drug coverage, will remain adequately financed indefinitely, in accordance with current federal law.

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Medicare Fund Future Still Grim
Health Leaders Media

This isn’t exactly dance-in-the-street news but the federal Medicare program is heading for insolvency at a slightly slower pace than previously forecast. Thanks to lower projected spending, lower projected Medicare Advantage program costs, and some technical changes in calculating projections, Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will remain solvent until 2026, the 2013 Medicare Trustees Report shows. That’s two years longer than the 2012 report estimated.

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Medicare financial outlook improves, but problems still loom
Los Angeles Times

The federal government projected Friday that Medicare’s main trust fund would not run in the red until 2026, two years later than projected last year, in part because of slower growth in healthcare costs.

Prospects for the Social Security retirement program, meanwhile, remain largely unchanged from last year. The program’s main trust fund, which provides assistance to about 46 million retirees and their relatives, will be unable to pay full benefits starting in 2035, according to an annual report from the board of trustees that oversees the nation’s major entitlement programs.

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Cancer drug Avastin doesn’t extend life for newly diagnosed brain tumor patients, studies find
Modern Healthcare

New research raises fresh questions about which cancer patients benefit from Avastin, a drug that lost its approval for treating breast cancer nearly two years ago. Avastin did not prolong life when used as a first treatment for people with brain tumors like the one U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy died of several years ago, two studies found. In one, patients who were expected to benefit the most from Avastin based on genetic testing had the worst survival rates. Side effects also were more common with Avastin.

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Two Studies Challenge Avastin’s Effectiveness Against a Rare Brain Cancer
New York Times

Two new studies have found that the widely used cancer drug Avastin does not prolong the lives of patients with a deadly form of brain cancer, raising questions about the role of the drug in treating that disease. The results, presented at a conference here this weekend, could lead the Food and Drug Administration to revoke Avastin’s approval for the treatment of the brain cancer, called glioblastoma, much as it did with the drug’s approval for breast cancer.

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Drug shortages endanger cancer patients, study finds
Visialia Times-Delta

Shortages of critical cancer drugs are threatening the care of patients who are already fighting for their lives, a new study shows.

About 83% of cancer specialists reported a drug shortage in the past six months, and 92% said patients’ care has been affected, according to a survey of 245 doctors to be presented Monday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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Death Sentence No Longer a Given for Patients With Melanoma
San Francisco Chronicle

Nathan Schwegman was just 25 when his doctor told him he had a 3 percent chance of surviving the melanoma that had spread into his lungs and spine, soon leaving him in so much pain he could hardly move. A month later, in January 2012, he enrolled in a clinical trial testing a new drug from Merck & Co. that was designed to rev up his immune system to attack and kill his cancer. In just two months, the pain started going away. Now he’s cancer free.

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HHS chief seeks review of lung transplant policy
Modern Healthcare

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is calling for a review of policies affecting patients needing lung transplants as a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl whose parents say she’s been denied the life-saving surgery because of her age remains hospitalized on a ventilator.

Sebelius sent a letter Friday to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, asking it to review the policy on lung allocation. The nonprofit agency is under contract with the federal government and also works with United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the transplant system.

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Obesity surgery, genes linked
Monterey Herald

Obese mothers tend to have kids who become obese. Now provocative research suggests weight-loss surgery may help break that unhealthy cycle in an unexpected way — by affecting how their children’s genes behave.

In a first-of-a-kind study, Canadian researchers tested children born to obese women, plus their brothers and sisters who were conceived after the mother had obesity surgery. Youngsters born after mom lost lots of weight were slimmer than their siblings. They also had fewer risk factors for diabetes or heart disease later in life.

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Workplace Wellness Programs Take Off, Using Money as a Motivator
capital public radio

Susan Southard walks 10 miles a week without taking her eyes off a computer screen.

Every day at 12 noon, Southard uses a treadmill desk for an hour at her office in El Dorado Hills. She adjusts the height of the desk, turns on the fan, and starts walking at two miles per hour.

“I’ve lost weight over the last couple of years, about 40 pounds,” says Southard. “That’s really without changing my eating habits.”

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Next Year’s Health Plan Rates
New York Times

Republicans are doing their best to persuade Americans that the Affordable Care Act will drive health insurance premiums so high that consumers will experience “rate shock.” That fear-provoking tale seems much less credible now that the rates proposed by health insurers for individual coverage on the new health care exchanges have been made public in several states.

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Adult dental care: Making the case for coverage
Santa Cruz Sentinel

For many of us, going to the dentist is a scary prospect. Here’s an even scarier scenario: not being able to go to the dentist at all. Half of all residents in our county lack dental insurance and live with that scenario year after year.

The reasons are many. In 2009, California’s Medicaid plan, Medi-Cal, stopped providing its Denti-Cal coverage as part of drastic statewide cost-cutting measures.

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Obamacare: The Great Experiment Begins
The New Yorker

More than three years after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, some of the big changes in the nation’s health-delivery system that the legislation mandated are about to go into effect. With the pro and anti forces already claiming victory, there’s a lot of misinformation going around about how the new system will operate. Critics who claimed that the reform, which ran to nearly two thousand pages, was too complicated even to get off the ground have been discredited. But big questions remain about how things will shake out.

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California Dreamin’ on Obamacare
The Weekly Standard

Supporters of President Obama’s overhaul of American medicine are touting the early evidence from California’s Obamacare exchange (still under construction) as good news for their side. But as the Los Angeles Times notes, the Golden State’s version of Obamacare will mean higher insurance premiums and a lower quality of care, as those who use its exchanges to buy federally mandated insurance will encounter not only higher prices but also diminished access to hospitals and doctors.

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Onyx, UCSF deal targets cancer-fighting projects
San Francisco Business Times

Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. is throwing open its net to UCSF cancer projects, hoping to pick and choose from a haul that could include preclinical and clinical cancer drug-development programs as well as new ways of designing drug trials. Financial terms of the three-year deal weren’t disclosed, but Dr. Pablo Cagnoni, Onyx’s executive vice president of global research and development and technical operations, said the projects would focus on blood cancers, solid tumors and potential cancer biomarkers.

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