News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Lack of quality ratings on Covered California site is criticized
Los Angeles Times

California’s insurance exchange came under fire for its plan to withhold quality ratings of health plans until late 2015 while thousands of consumers shop for coverage under the federal healthcare law.

The state exchange, Covered California, said Tuesday that it had reliable ratings on only four of the 12 participating health insurers primarily because their networks of doctors and hospitals have changed so much for new policies available next year.

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States’ refusal to expand Medicaid may leave millions uninsured
Southern California Public Radio

President Obama Tuesday appointed one of his top management gurus, Jeffrey Zeints, to head the team working to fix what ails Healthcare.gov, the troubled website that’s supposed to allow residents of 36 states to enroll in coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But even if the team gets the website working as it should, millions of Americans may still log on to discover that they aren’t eligible for any health coverage at all. And that won’t be due to any technical glitch. It’s because their state has decided not to expand its Medicaid program.

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Hepatitis C rates soar – Boomers should get tested
San Francisco Chronicle

Let me start with a sobering statistic: Hepatitis C is now killing more people in this country than HIV/AIDS and another form of hepatitis, hepatitis B – combined.

Hepatitis C, a chronic condition caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, is one of the leading causes of liver cancer in the United States and the No. 1 reason for needing a liver transplant – by far.

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Health Reform Implementation: A Little Historical Perspective, Please
The Huffington Post

I yield to no one in my anger around the performance of some of the websites where far too many people are enduring deep frustration to sign up for coverage on the new health care exchanges. But there is an obvious danger of over-interpreting this unfortunate, time-limited episode. Perhaps I should address this post to people over 45 (I’m almost 58… eeks!), but can we get a little historical perspective here in at least two dimensions, with the second being most important?

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Health care website problems jeopardize Obama’s legacy
USA Today

As his administration scrambles to fix the online enrollment process under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama is facing a challenge that threatens to undercut the most significant legislative victory of his presidency.

The difficulty of the situation, and the pressing need to find a solution, was underscored on Tuesday when the White House announced that Obama has tapped Jeffrey Zients, a former deputy White House budget director who has helped the president fix other troubled government programs, to lead the embattled Department of Health and Human Services’ effort to repair the online exchange.

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Obama calls on his supporters to join ‘Team Obamacare’
Los Angeles Times

Could the activists of the 2012 presidential campaign come to Obamacare’s rescue?

With the website for the nation’s new healthcare program mired in structural problems that could take weeks — if not months — to fix, President Obama appealed to his supporters in a video Tuesday to join “Team Obamacare” and help counter the law’s critics.

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Sebelius Thrust Into Firestorm on Exchanges
New York Times

The first, and perhaps most painful, call for Kathleen Sebelius to resign as President Obama’s health secretary came this month from an old family friend: Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, who once boasted of a “special relationship” with Ms. Sebelius, forged when he worked for her father-in-law.

Now Ms. Sebelius, the former Kansas governor who is the public face of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, is facing a barrage of criticism over the problem-plagued rollout of its online insurance exchange. For Republicans, still reeling from their failed “defund Obamacare” strategy and government shutdown, she has proved an easy target.

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White House brings in help to fix healthcare website
Los Angeles Times

A familiar troubleshooter has been enlisted to try to fix the government’s health insurance website, administration officials said Tuesday, as political pressure piled up over the centerpiece of President Obama’s healthcare law.

Jeffrey Zients, a former acting director at the Office of Management and Budget, will assist the Department of Health and Human Services with “short-term advice, assessments and recommendations,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Zients has served as the chief performance officer at OMB, a job aimed at improving government technology and efficiency.

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Obama calls trusted fixer to help health care site
San Francisco Chronicle

When a federal program that promised cash rebates to people who traded in their clunkers for more fuel-efficient vehicles was overrun by demand, President Barack Obama assigned Jeffrey Zients, his deputy budget director, to help eliminate the backlog.

When the same thing happened with sign-ups for an updated version of the GI Bill, one designed to help the 9/11 generation of veterans get a college education, Obama again turned to Zients for help.

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Two key parts of online health insurance exchange will take longer to fix than expected
Washington Post

The Obama administration acknowledged Tuesday that two key parts of its online health insurance marketplace will take longer than expected to fix, even as it brought back a former senior White House official to help diagnose and correct the Web site’s flaws.

A senior health official said that the insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, is still unable to perform one of its basic functions: making it easy for low-income Americans to enroll in Medicaid electronically.

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Health exchange takes more applications as web visitor numbers shrink
San Diego Union-Tribune

In its third week of operation, the number of visitors using the state’s new health insurance website continued to shrink, but volume to its call centers held steady, according to a weekly update issued late Tuesday afternoon by Covered California. In its first week of operation, the total number of unique visitors to coveredca.com was nearly 1 million but that number dropped to less than 500,000 in the third week of October.

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Key House Republican presses tech companies on Obamacare glitches
Reuters

The Republican chairman of a key congressional oversight committee has asked Google, Microsoft and three other U.S. companies to provide details on their possible involvement in a “tech surge” aimed at fixing a website implementing President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, made the request in a letter to Google, Microsoft, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Oracle and Expedia, committee spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll said.

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Analysis: Little evidence yet that Obamacare costing full-time jobs
Reuters

There is little evidence that employers are sacrificing full-time jobs by hiring more part-timers or reducing existing employee hours because of the costs of providing health coverage under Obamacare.

Conservative Republicans have pointed to the high level of part-time employment as evidence businesses are cutting hours for staff in response to the new healthcare law, which will require them to offer health insurance to full-time workers.

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Health co-ops, created to foster competition and lower insurance costs, are in danger
Washington Post

When the new health-care law was being cobbled together, Congress decided to establish a network of nonprofit insurance companies aimed at bringing competition to the marketplace, long dominated by major insurers.

But these co-ops, started as a great hope for lowering insurance costs, are already in danger. While the debut of the Affordable Care Act this month has been marred by widespread computer problems, the difficulties the co-ops face have been less obvious to consumers.

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Obamacare ad targets Peters
San Diego Union-Tribune

The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity is wading into the 52nd Congressional District race more than a year before Election Day, funding a television ad calling for residents to call Rep. Scott Peters and demand the Affordable Care Act be replaced.

“Call Congressman Scott Peters,” a voice in the ad says. “Tell him Washington can do better than Obamacare.”

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Medicaid enrollment outpaces private plans on state exchanges
Modern Healthcare

In many states around the country, the volume of Medicaid enrollment so far has surpassed the enrollment of people in private health plans through the state insurance exchanges set up by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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Covered California’s Week 3 grade: Another incomplete
San Francisco Business Times

Just like last week, Covered California’s weekly statistics were full of data points late Tuesday, except the most significant one: How many Californians have enrolled so far on the health exchange. After its first week, the exchange said 16,311 had completed applications for insurance coverage via Covered California, one of the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Since then, however, Covered California — like many of the exchanges nationwide, including the huge and hugely troubled federal Healthcare.gov site — has chosen not to release further enrollment data.

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Thousands told health policies will end
San Diego Union-Tribune

On June 28, 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama said Americans would be able to keep their health plans if they liked them. But, as the act reaches full implementation, thousands of people in San Diego County, and many more across the nation, are learning that their individual health plans will expire at the end of the year despite the president’s promise.

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Hospital Cost Shifting May Be a Thing of the Past
Healthcare Daily

Convention wisdom has long held that hospitals make up for reimbursement shortfalls in government insurance and uncompensated care by shifting those costs to the privately insured.

Two studies released this month indicate that this may no longer be the case, although they reach different conclusions about how hospitals are coping with the slowdown in Medicare and Medicaid financing.

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Docs get more precise about full-term pregnancy
San Francisco Chronicle

Mom-to-be closing in on her due date? The nation’s obstetricians are getting more precise about exactly how close makes for a full-term pregnancy.

On average, a pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, counting from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. That’s how a due date is estimated.

A baby is considered preterm if he or she is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Until now, a “term” baby was defined as one born anytime from 37 weeks to 42 weeks, a few weeks before or after the calculated due date.

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As Drug Costs Rise, Bending the Law Is One Remedy
New York Times

Lee Higman, a 71-year-old artist from Bellevue, Idaho, who considers herself a law-abiding citizen, was shocked last month when she got a notice from the Food and Drug Administration telling her: “A mail shipment addressed to you from a foreign country is being held.” The 90 tablets of Vagifem, prescribed by her physician, that she had ordered from a Canadian pharmacy had been impounded as an illegal drug at Los Angeles International Airport.

First marketed in 1988, Vagifem estrogen tablets are used by millions of women to relieve symptoms of menopause.

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New Funding, Big Plans for DoubleDutch
Meetings Net

In late September, mobile event application company DoubleDutch announced that it had raised $10 million in Series C funding, bringing investment in the company to $18.5 million since its launch almost two years ago and positioning it to become a more dominant player in the crowded mobile event guide market.

“The opportunities for companies like DoubleDutch are riding on the backs of the smartphone explosion,” says DoubleDutch CEO and co-founder Lawrence Coburn.

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39 EMTs to lose ambulance jobs in Stanislaus County
Modesto Bee

American Medical Response will lay off 39 emergency medical technicians, but ambulances will continue to roll to 911 emergencies in Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Salida, Empire and Keyes, company officials say. AMR last week notified the employees that they will be laid off Nov. 11 because the company lost the nonemergency hospital transport contract it had held with Doctors Medical Center for at least 16 years.

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WellPoint’s 3Q profit falls 5 pct, forecast climbs
San Francisco Chronicle

WellPoint Inc.’s third-quarter earnings fell 5 percent, but the nation’s second-largest health insurer’s results topped Wall Street expectations. The company hiked its 2013 forecast, citing in part gains it expects from the health care overhaul.

Shares of the Indianapolis company jumped in premarket trading Wednesday about three hours before the market opening. The Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer said its performance so far and coming market changes under the overhaul prompted it to raise its forecast for 2013 adjusted earnings to at least $8.40 per share. That’s up from its previous forecast for at least $8 per share and well beyond the $8.26 per share average that analysts surveyed by FactSet expect.

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Troubled hospital makes offer to industry veteran
The Press-Enterprise

A health care industry veteran who has built a career on restoring troubled hospitals is the Board of Supervisors’ pick to become interim CEO of Riverside County Regional Medical Center. Meanwhile, the county’s auditor/controller Tuesday, Oct. 22, issued a dire warning about the county-run hospital’s finances, which he said were “picking up velocity straight down.” Paul Angulo told supervisors the Moreno Valley hospital’s negative cash balance will approach $173 million in two days and is projected to be $90 million when the fiscal year ends in June.

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L.A. leaders fight ballot measure to create city health agency
Los Angeles Times

City Hall and Los Angeles County elected leaders are warning that if voters pass a June ballot measure that forces the city to create its own health department, it will increase costs and erode essential services now provided by the county.

But the officials find themselves in a quandary: Although they vehemently oppose the measure, state law blocks them from publicly financing an opposition campaign.

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Kaiser pediatric unit closure in Hayward shakes up parents, nurses
KTVU.com

The closure of a pediatric unit in an East Bay hospital is catching patients and parents off guard after the date for the closure was suddenly pushed up. Now hospital workers and parents are scrambling to figure out how children will receive care. Nurses at Kaiser Hayward said they were told their hospital’s pediatric unit would be closed next year when the hospital would shut down and transfer to a new state-of-the-art facility in San Leandro.

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