News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Newly-Signed Budget Improves State’s Fiscal Health; One Piece of Unfinished Business Remains
Sacramento Bee

As the ink dries on the newly-signed state budget, Governor Brown and state lawmakers have taken a significant step forward in improving California’s fiscal health.

This year’s on-time, balanced budget hopefully sets the groundwork for a new era in collaborative governance between the Executive and Legislative branches of state government. Yet, one piece of unfinished business remains. Hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities across California are making plans to cut back services and even close facilities, due to the state budget’s failure to reverse devastating Medi-Cal payment cuts.

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California Endowment pledges $26.6M for Medi-Cal outreach, enrollment
Sacramento Business Journal

The California Endowment has pledged $26.5 million in funding for Medi-Cal outreach and enrollment assistance that will be used by the state to draw down matching federal dollars, for a total of $53 million for the effort. Included in the new state budget signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, the funding will provide $28 million to support enrollment of up to 450,000 Medi-Cal applicants through in-person enrollment assistance. The other $25 million available in grant funds for local outreach and enrollment services.

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Gun Injury Hospitalizations Drop 67% in CA
Health Leaders Media

The number of people hospitalized for firearm-related injuries—from assaults to unintentional and deliberate self-inflicted shootings—has steadily dropped by a dramatic 67% over the last 20 years, from 10,832 in 1992 to 3,575 in 2010, according to a first-of-its kind report from California. But even though the number of gun injuries has dropped throughout the state, the total cost and the per-day cost of caring for those injuries has gone up, from $1,859 per day to $4,120 per day. And hospitals may be absorbing a good bit of that bill.

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Hospitals seek high-tech help for hand hygiene
Modern Healthcare

Hospitals have fretted for years over how to make sure doctors, nurses and staff keep their hands clean, but with only limited success. Now, some are turning to technology — beepers, buzzers, lights and tracking systems that remind workers to sanitize, and chart those who don’t.

Health experts say poor hand cleanliness is a factor in hospital-borne infections that kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that one of every 20 patients in U.S. hospitals gets a hospital-acquired infection each year.

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How Important Is Cost Transparency To Lowering Health Costs?
KQED Radio

The largest public employees retirement system in the country – CalPERS – has plenty to gain from a drop in health care costs. After all, they cover 1.6 million employees, retirees and their families in California. Now they’re saying, they found a way to decrease the amount they’ve spent on knee and hip replacements by 19 percent in a year, which could have implications for other employer health plans.

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Obamacare Approval: More Than Half Of Americans Disapprove Of Health Care Law, Poll Shows
The Huffington Post

A majority of Americans say President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul will make things worse for their families and the nation overall, a poll released on Thursday found, highlighting the challenges his administration still faces in winning over the public.

Overall, the survey of nearly 2,050 adults showed 52 percent disapprove of the 2010 law aimed at expanding access to health insurance for millions of people, according to Gallup. Another 44 percent said they back the changes.

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Fierce reflects on anniversary of healthcare reform ruling
FierceHealthcare

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court made two major rulings furthering gay rights, putting all eyes on the Supreme Court this week. So, what better time to look back on its ruling on healthcare reform? In fact, today we hit the one-year mark of the high court’s decision to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act as constitutional. This time last year, hospitals were preparing for reimbursement changes under healthcare reform but with much uncertainty about how the law would affect revenues and operations.

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CMS adjustments plan would cut Medicare pay rates
Modern Healthcare

A series of rebasing and coding adjustments from the CMS would cause home health agencies to see a 1.5% reduction in their Medicare payments for 2014, which the CMS estimates could lower total payments to these facilities by $290 million next year. In a proposed rule Thursday, the CMS said the decrease reflects a 2.4% home health payment update amounting to a $460 million increase in overall payments, combined with a host of adjustments that would decrease payments by $750 million.

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What Medi-Cal cuts mean for 8 million Californians
The Mercury News

When are cost savings not worth it. In fact, when are savings not savings at all? When Californians — from infants to the elderly to those who are disabled — might not be able to access the health care they need. A 10 percent across-the-board reduction in future payments to Medi-Cal providers — set to be implemented soon — would create that situation. Beyond these cuts, the state budget forces providers to pay back a significant proportion of Medi-Cal payments made between 2011 and 2013.

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California expanding Medi-Cal and streamlining enrollment
Contra Costa Times

Consumer advocates celebrated Thursday after Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills that will expand Medi-Cal to nearly 1.4 million low-income adults, streamline the program’s enrollment process and restore many of the dental benefits eliminated in 2009. The changes put California at the forefront of states moving aggressively to implement the national health reform law, advocates said.

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Governor signs Medi-Cal expansion bills
Sacramento Business Journal

Gov. Jerry Brown signed two special session health care bills Thursday that will expand Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 1.4 million Californians under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. He also signed the state budget and budget trailer bills that restore most dental services to 3 million adults in California and boost mental health and substance abuse services. Assembly Bill 1X-1 and Senate Bill 1X-1 will provide Medi-Cal coverage to low-income legal residents with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line — $15,282 for an individual or $31,322 for a family of four — regardless of whether they have children, disabilities or assets.

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U.S. Standards for School Snacks Move Beyond Cafeteria to Fight Obesity
New York Times

The Agriculture Department on Thursday effectively banned the sale of snack foods like candy, cookies and sugary drinks, including sports drinks, in schools, making it harder for students to avoid the now-healthier school meals by eating snacks sold in vending machines. “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options through school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will support their great efforts,” Tom Vilsak, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement.

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Feds to dictate what snacks can be sold in schools for first time
Contra Costa Times

High-calorie sports drinks and candy bars will be removed from school vending machines and cafeteria lines as soon as next year, replaced with diet drinks, granola bars and other healthier items. The Agriculture Department said Thursday that for the first time it will make sure that all foods sold in the nation’s 100,000 schools are healthier by expanding fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits to almost everything sold during the school day.

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Obesity, cancer and bacteria in the gut: Scientists explore link
Los Angeles Times

It’s well known that obesity is linked to diabetes, heart troubles and other health woes, but studies have also linked carrying too much weight to an increased risk of some kinds of cancer, including esophageal, colorectal, pancreatic and other cancers. Now researchers may have figured out why being overweight is linked to a person’s chances of developing liver cancer: obesity seems to cause key changes in microbes that live in the gut, stimulating bacteria there to secrete chemicals that damage DNA and lead to the development of tumors.

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Obesity and the AMA
The Health Care Blog

Last week’s announcement by the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) council on science and public health cheered me. It said that the AMA should not designate obesity a disease, because doing so was unlikely to improve health outcomes and because the most widely utilized obesity metric — the body mass index or BMI — was simplistic and flawed.

It’s a reasonable and principled stance, which should have been the first clue that it was doomed. The AMA’s board and delegates proceeded to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by ignoring their own scientific council and labeling obesity as a disease.

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Bending the Cost Curve with Reference Pricing
The Health Care Blog

Mitt Romney’s/Paul Ryan’s premium support/voucher plan was heavily derided during the dark days of Campaign 2012, but the devil was always more in the details than the theory. While the re-election of President Obama left premium support dead on the Medicare level, health insurers are increasingly turning to the ideas that drove it – choice, competition, and the power of a (carefully regulated) market – to address high costs on the procedural level. Call it the micro-voucherization of health insurance. This is known by wonks as reference pricing, and its recent results in California are promising: the costs of hip and knee replacements fell by 19%, with no attendant decrease in quality.

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In health care reform, art keeps patients in the picture
Marketplace

The conversation about health care can get pretty wonky: global payments, aligned incentives, health-data solutions, profit potential, and all sorts of other impersonal industry jargon. Washington, D.C., artist Regina Holliday wants to make sure that in all that talk, the most important part of health care reform — the patient — isn’t forgotten.

Holliday knows what it’s like to feel lost.

She can still see the oncologist who stayed back just outside her husband’s hospital room door several years ago.

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Individual Mandate Exemptions Finalized
Health Leaders Media

The Department of Health & Human Services released on Wednesday its final rule detailing who is eligible for receive exemptions from the individual shared responsibility payment penalty required as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. The penalty is a flash point among some interest groups and members of Congress who object to Americans being subjected to the play or pay provision of PPACA.

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Rate of Early C-Sections Has Slowed, Study Finds
New York Times

In a trend that public health officials call encouraging, fewer women are undergoing early-term Caesarean deliveries, according to new government data. The findings are part of a broad shift in the rate of Caesarean deliveries, which had risen steeply since the mid-1990s. From 1996 to 2009, the Caesarean delivery rate soared by 60 percent, accounting for a record 33 percent of births nationwide.

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Is the autistic brain too wired or not wired enough?
Los Angeles Times

Trying to find out how the autistic brain is “different” can be like studying a spinning coin: one side says its circuits are over-connected; the other, under-connected.

How can the autistic brain do extraordinary things, like retain a photographic memory of city streets, yet fail to recall a face? Store a large vocabulary, yet fall flat in social conversation?

New evidence from a Stanford University study published online Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry freezes the coin on the hyper-connection side, at least for a time.

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DOMA ruling affects same-sex couples’ Medicaid benefits
Modern Healthcare

Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor mandating federal recognition of same-sex marriages will affect eligibility for expanded Medicaid benefits and health insurance tax credits slated to begin next year under the healthcare reform law. And that may be good, bad, or mixed news for same-sex couples. Eligibility for both programs is based on the size of a household and total income in relation to the federal poverty guidelines.

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Health insurers will refund $65M in California by Aug. 1
Sacramento Business Journal

Individuals and businesses in California will get more than $65 million in refunds from health plans by Aug. 1, but more than half that amount will come from one insurer: Blue Shield. The Affordable Care Act requires health plans that cover individuals and small businesses to spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on direct services and other programs to improve care. The requirement goes up to 85 cents on the dollar for large business clients.

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Eden Township owes Sutter Health $17 million, arbitrator rules
The Mercury News

Eden Township Healthcare District owes $17 million to Sutter Health, an arbitrator ruled Wednesday. The settlement is the result of a legal dispute Eden Township lost to Sutter over ownership of San Leandro Hospital. Sutter, which has held title to the hospital since September, had sought $29 million in damages, according to a news release from the district. Sutter has signed a letter of intent to donate the hospital to Alameda Health System. As part of that agreement, Sutter would release Eden Township from paying damages if the district helps financially support San Leandro Hospital.

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Blue Shield foundation makes $9.1 million in Q2 grants
San Francisco Business Times

The Blue Shield of California Foundation, the philanthropic arm of San Francisco-based Blue Shield of California, is making $9.1 million second-quarter grants, many of them focusing on helping low-income Californians sign up for coverage under health reform. More than $5.3 million of the grants involve health care and coverage, including $2.1 million to the University of California, San Francisco to help train 25 “emerging community health leaders,” $252,000 to the Kaiser Family Foundation to survey low-income populations in the state, and another nearly $388,000 to UCSF “to expand research and tools available to safety net providers” to create integrated systems for caring for safety net populations.

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UCR medical school gets $15 million guarantee
The Press-Enterprise

UC Riverside officials and local lawmakers were jubilant Thursday, June 27, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget providing $15 million a year in continuous, guaranteed funding for the university’s long-awaited medical school. G. Richard Olds, dean of the new School of Medicine, said he is relieved that the stars finally aligned after four years and a very public struggle to secure state money. “This was our best shot because we had new legislators, they were in the party in power and this is the first year the state wasn’t bankrupt. All those things worked for us,” Olds said.

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