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News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Medicare chief apologizes for HealthCare.gov problems
CBS News

The American people received a formal apology Tuesday from the first Obama administration official to testify before Congress about the botched Obamacare website.

“To the millions who have tried to use HealthCare.gov, we want to apologize to you,” Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said before the House Ways and Means Committee. “This initial experience has not lived up to our expectations, or the expectations of the American people, and it is not acceptable.”

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The universal healthcare experiment in Vermont
FierceHealthPayer

The state of Vermont is planning a 2017 launch of the nation’s first universal healthcare system financed by a single payer, the Associated Press reported. Similar to Medicare, Vermont’s healthcare would be publicly financed and managed by the government or a government-sanctioned agency. The system has been called one of the costliest and most closely-watched social experiments of its time.

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Health Site Puts Agency and Leader in Hot Seat
New York Times

Ten days before HealthCare.gov opened for business, Marilyn Tavenner, the obscure federal bureaucrat whose agency oversaw the creation of the troubled online insurance marketplace, had a bad omen. It was a Sunday, and her mobile device was on the fritz, forcing her to go into the office. “It reminded me that I can still be brought to my knees by a malfunctioning BlackBerry,” she joked in late September, recounting her technology woes to a group of insurance executives. Nobody at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency Ms. Tavenner runs, is joking now.

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Medicare chief apologizes for ‘Obamacare’ woes
San Francisco Chronicle

Stressing that improvements are happening daily, the senior Obama official closest to the administration’s malfunctioning health care website apologized Tuesday for problems that have kept Americans from successfully signing up for coverage.

“I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner said as she began her testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee. It was the most direct mea culpa yet from a top administration official.

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CMS taking close look at HealthCare.gov troubles
Modern Healthcare

The head of communications at the CMS said the agency is plowing through a list of problems with HealthCare.gov to improve performance and functionality, but stopped short of identifying what’s next on that list. In a call with reporters Monday, Julie Bataille, director of the CMS’ office of communications, said the agency’s technology team has put in place enhanced monitoring tools that provide a high-level picture into the system and its problems. “We’re now better able to see how quickly pages are responding,” Bataille said. “We’re also getting information on which parts of the applications are causing the most errors.”

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CMS shelved accreditation group’s plan for HealthCare.gov, used own idea
Modern Healthcare

Fourteen Health insurance industry leaders met last week at the White House with top Obama administration officials over the troubled implementation of the ASC X12 834 health insurance benefits enrollment standard on the federal online marketplace HealthCare.gov.

But nearly two years ago, dozens of standards development experts began meeting weekly for 10 months to customize a key implementation specification of that widely used data interchange for enrollment on the federal insurance exchange.

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White House rejects NBC Obamacare report
POLITICO

The Obama administration is strongly pushing back Monday night on an NBC News report that the White House has known for years that millions of consumers would lose their insurance under Obamacare. “NBC ‘scoop’ cites ‘normal turnover in the indiv insurance market’. That’s a) not new b) not caused by #ACA c) the problem #ACA will solve,” White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said in a tweet.

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Thousands of Health Policies Canceled Due to ACA Change
Highbrow Magazine

When Alemaz Belay got a letter from Blue Shield of California last month, notifying her that her health care policy would no longer be effective come Jan. 1, 2014 “due to new requirements for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” and that her premium was going to increase, she was understandably upset. “I thought the (health reform law) was going to make health care more affordable and not more expensive,” said Belay, 57, an Ethiopian-born single mother of three in the San Francisco Bay area.

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Why the health reform law is causing thousands to lose coverage
PBS

Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies.

The main reason insurers offer is that the policies fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010. At least a few are cancelling plans sold to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

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Calif. Individual Policyholders Could Face Higher Premiums Under ACA
California Healthline

Hundreds of thousands of California residents could face higher premiums as the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the Los Angeles Times reports. Experts say that the increases could diminish public support for the law, according to the Times. Last month, Blue Shield of California sent notices to 119,000 policyholders whose current health plans will be canceled because they do not meet the ACA’s minimum coverage levels. Blue Shield said about two-thirds of such policyholders will pay higher premiums for a new plan.

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Why This Woman’s Health Care Plan Costs 994% More Under Obamacare
The Atlantic

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney admitted on Monday what hundreds of thousands of Americans have known for a while now: under the Affordable Care Act you might lose your old health insurance plan.

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Obamacare Cancels Policies in New Hurdle for Health-Care Law
San Francisco Chronicle

The Obamacare rollout is leading to the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of health insurance plans nationwide, contradicting President Barack Obama’s repeated pledge that people who like their coverage can keep it.

The notices started to arrive in recent weeks, compounding the political headaches for the White House from the troubled start of its health exchange, the federal website created to give millions of people access to new plans by Jan. 1.

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Amid Obamacare signup glitches, thousands head to free clinic event
Los Angeles Times

Organizers of a high-profile annual free clinic in Los Angeles that attracts thousands of uninsured and underinsured patients have hoped that improvements in the nation’s healthcare system would greatly reduce demand for their services.

The massive Care Harbor event returns to town this week, amid the rollout of new and shifting insurance options for millions of Californians under the Obama administration’s overhaul of the healthcare system.

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U.S. Health Insurance Website’s Problems Continue Despite Improvements
New York Times

The Obama administration on Monday reported improvements in the operation of the federal health insurance marketplace, but insurers said that severe technical problems were still making it difficult to enroll new subscribers. Administration officials said they had resolved a “network failure” that knocked out the federal website HealthCare.gov on Sunday. The officials blamed Terremark, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications that provides cloud computing services for the site.

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Healthcare Reform’s Impact on ASCs: How to Navigate 2014
Becker's Hospital Review

How will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act impact ambulatory surgery centers and physician practices?

Several industry experts discussed these issues heading into 2014 at the 20th Annual Ambulatory Surgery Centers Conference in Chicago on Oct. 25. The panel, titled “The Impact of Healthcare Reform on ASCs and Practices,” included CEO of Regent Surgical Health Tom Mallon; President and CEO of Physicians Endoscopy Barry Tanner; Richard Wohns, MD, of NeoSpine; and CEO of Ambulatory Surgical Centers of America Luke Lambert. Anna Timmerman, Associate at McGuireWoods, moderated the panel.

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Delaying the individual mandate won’t fix Obamacare
Washington Post

What a difference a few weeks makes. Remember when Democrats voted to keep the government shut down rather than accept a delay in the individual mandate? Now that the Obamacare implosion is dominating the news, they are falling over each to see who gets credit for a delay. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is pushing legislation to delay the mandate for one year.

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White House fixes disconnect in penalty and enrollment window
Modern Healthcare

On the eve of a congressional hearing about HealthCare.gov featuring the top CMS official, the agency said consumers can sign up for health insurance through the exchanges at any time during open enrollment period and not face a tax penalty.

The news late Monday was not a surprise. The Obama administration signaled earlier that it would soon issue guidance to work out the disconnect between the open enrollment deadline of next March 31 and the Feb. 15 deadline to buy insurance or else face a fine. For the first year, that penalty—known as the “shared responsibility payment”—is either $95 or 1% of income, whichever is greater.

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Healthcare law also faces plenty of low-tech problems
Los Angeles Times

When advocates for the president’s healthcare law strategized about how to reach the uninsured, they knew exactly whom to tap: mothers who could spread the word about the law’s benefits, sign up their younger children and nudge their twentysomethings to take part.

But beyond the widely publicized problems with the federal website, low-tech challenges also are complicating that part of the drive to sell the program — even in California, where the state website is running more smoothly and officials are fully behind the push.

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Organizations release paper touting reference pricing use with bundled payments
Modern Healthcare

Two organizations focused on value-oriented healthcare delivery reform have released a joint paper on the advantages of coupling reference pricing with bundled payments as a strategy to control costs, bolster quality and promote transparency.

The paper came from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute. The term “reference pricing” refers to when employers require their employees to choose healthcare providers whose price for procedures and other services is at or below a set point or pay the difference if they go to a higher-priced provider.

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Exclusive: Password-Reset Security Glitch Fixed on HealthCare.gov
TIME Online Edition

A security flaw in the original design of HealthCare.gov that could have disclosed e-mail and other account information to hackers was eliminated Monday during an overnight fix, a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman has told TIME.

“We are eliminating this theoretical vulnerability by preventing users from seeing the specific reset functionality when trying to reset their password,” said Brian Cook, who works for the agency that oversees the troubled website portal for federal health-insurance exchanges.

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How HealthCare.gov can improve: Column
USA Today

Today, you can’t turn on the television, listen to the radio or read the newspaper without hearing just how frustrating it is to try and access the Affordable Care Act website. This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify before a congressional committee about the widespread problems. I feel for the Obama administration’s technology team. I’ve been there. While I was chief information officer for President George W. Bush, the technology team was tasked with redesigning WhiteHouse.gov.

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HFMA reveals guidelines for communication about medical bills
Modern Healthcare

The Healthcare Financial Management Association has unveiled best practices for healthcare providers to use when communicating with patients about their medical bills.

The guidelines are the culmination of a process that began in May 2012, when billing and collections company Accretive Health, under fire for controversial collection practices, said it would fund a panel to develop standards for patient financial interactions.

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Medicare Part B premiums won’t go up in 2014
Visialia Times-Delta

The premiums for Medicare Part B will remain flat in 2014 and seniors have saved $8.3 billion on Part D prescriptions since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday.

Medicare Part B covers medically necessary services, as well as preventive services.

Premiums for Medicare Part B will stay at $104.90 a month for 2014, the same as in 2013, according to the Center for Medicare Services.

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Local hospitals determined to keep sick patients from getting sicker
The Californian - Salinas

The threat of untreatable infections has long loomed over the heath care system, but the day has finally arrived when doctors routinely see patients with infections that are resistant to one or more antibiotics. As drug-resistant bacteria become more common, it is increasingly important to prevent infections before they start. Local hospitals are developing stringent protocols for room cleaning and hand washing to prevent patients from contracting these infections during hospital stays.

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Partners HealthCare Symposium: ‘A new level of maturity’ can boost health IT
FierceHealthIT

The basic infrastructure is largely in place to foster widespread low-cost innovation in health IT, Bill Geary of Northbridge Venture Partners said as part of a panel discussion last week at the Partners Connected Health Symposium.

“We’re seeing the ability on relatively small dollars to build really compelling tools that providers absolutely need to run their businesses. It’s so incredibly disruptive to legacy vendors, but in healthcare, we needed to see that cost curve collapse to really get innovative products,” he’s quoted as saying at Mobihealth News.

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Health insurer Aetna’s 3Q profit rises 4 pct
San Francisco Chronicle

Aetna’s third-quarter net income rose 4 percent, fueled in part by enrollment and revenue gains from a multi-billion-dollar acquisition the health insurer completed earlier this year.

But the Hartford, Conn., company’s expenses also jumped, and it became the second big health insurer to miss Wall Street expectations for the quarter. Aetna shares slipped Tuesday in premarket trading.

Aetna’s health care costs — its largest expense — climbed 57 percent in the quarter, which partially countered a 46 percent gain in total revenue.

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Medical Center earns award for reducing infections
The Press-Enterprise

A successful campaign to decrease surgical site infections at Riverside County Regional Medical Center has earned the hospital a prestigious statewide innovation award. The annual Challenge Award, which Riverside County Regional Medical Center won this year, exemplifies the very best of county government, said David Finigan, president of the California State Association of Counties. RCRMC competed against numerous entries from California’s other 58 counties.

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