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News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Some EHR payments going back to government as auditors look into programs
Modern Healthcare

The federal government has paid out more than $16 billion to healthcare providers for adopting electronic health-record systems and putting them to good use. As auditors scrutinize the payments, the government is getting some of that money back.

Givebacks under the federal incentive program for health information technology have been rare so far. But Health Management Associates announced this week that it’s returning payments totaling $31 million received by 11 hospitals operated by the Naples, Fla.-based chain.

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Declining Patient Volumes Threaten Not-for-Profit Bond Ratings
Health Leaders Media

Declining patient volumes and other bottom line pressures continue to pose a challenge for not-for-profit hospitals and there is no indication that things will get better any time soon, Moody’s Investors Service says.

The bond rating agency reported 10 ratings downgrades affecting $2.7 billion in debt in the third quarter of 2013 that were due primarily to declines in admissions averaging 5.3% when compared with fiscal 2011-2012.

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Patient engagement key to better chronic-disease care, providers say
Modern Healthcare

Achieving better health and more efficient care for any patient requires more than access to doctors, medications or hospitals. Success also will hinge on the degree of support, confidence, knowledge and skills that patients have to follow treatment regimens or make changes to diet or exercise that can improve their health, said healthcare providers and researchers at an industry meeting Wednesday in New York City.

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Report links imbalance in graduate medical education payments, doc shortages
Modern Healthcare

Physician shortages in states with rural and growing populations have been exacerbated by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, because the law essentially gave ownership of a capped number of federally supported residency slots to hospitals that had them at the time, according to a new study. The Northeast in general and New York in particular are getting a disproportionate share of Medicare graduate medical education payments compared with growing states such as Florida and states with physician shortages such as Mississippi, according to the report by researchers from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington.

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Obama looks to regain the offensive on health care reform
MSNBC

After a run of tough weeks, the Obama administration got a dollop of good news on health care reform Tuesday night. Even as congressional committees continued their hearings on the website debacle, and opponents hammered the president for his past misstatements on the cancellation of insurance plans, voters in Virginia elected an Obamacare enthusiast, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, as governor.

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Obama Assures Public New Health Care Plans Are Best
The Root

As no clear resolution to the fiasco that is Healthcare.gov is in sight, President Obama is in full swing to restore the nation’s trust in his vision for universal health care, the Huffington Post reports. Millions of Americans who had individual plans have been receiving cancellation notices. Obama assured a gathering of about 200 campaign supporters and health care activists Monday that while he understands that being kicked off of their health care plans “can be scary for people,” often they had been receiving a bad deal in the first place.

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Despite Fumbles, Obama Defends Health Care Law
New York Times

President Obama strongly defended his signature health care law on Wednesday in the largest state that has refused to participate, as rattled Senate Democrats called for changing or delaying key parts of the new health coverage. Against a backdrop of closer-than-expected election results in Virginia that some attributed to opposition to the health law, Mr. Obama again expressed regret for the troubles at the federal website that have prevented many people from enrolling for insurance. But he said the Texas government — by refusing to take federal funds and expand Medicaid eligibility — had left more than a million people uninsured. He promised to get problems with the health program fixed.

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Obamacare Architect Slams Health Care Law Rollout
TIME Online Edition

The Obama administration’s top health care official said Wednesday that problems with the new insurance enrollment website do not threaten the future of the health care reform law, even as a key architect of the law lambasted the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.

“There’s plenty of time to sign up for the new plans,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.

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President touts Obamacare as ‘universal health care’
Washington Times

President Obama used a campaign-style trip to Texas on Wednesday to rally liberals on his sputtering health care law, calling it a system of “universal health care” and calling out Texas Republicans for, he said, denying health insurance to 1 million state residents. For decades, liberals have dreamed of a “universal health care” system in America and Mr. Obama used that phrase, which he rarely does, in telling a group of volunteers that, under his leadership, it has become a reality.

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‘Couple of hundred’ fixes needed for HealthCare.gov
Modern Healthcare

The Obama administration needs to make “a couple of hundred” functional fixes to HealthCare.gov, the federal Web portal where Americans can shop for private health plans, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Testifying before the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Sebelius said these problems—which make up the “punch list” of issues that the CMS and external contractors are working to solve—are grouped by priority and some of the issues were addressed Tuesday night.

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Obama’s “crisis of confidence” on healthcare reform implementation
CBS News

When Sen. Barbara Mikulski speaks, President Obama ought to listen. Attentively. Mikulski, after all, was a social worker before Obama was 5 and a successful community organizer before he was 10. She led a campaign to stop a proposed 16-lane highway from plowing through her native Highlandtown neighborhood in East Baltimore. She was elected to the City Council in 1971, the U.S. House in 1976, and the Senate in 1986.

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In Texas, Obama offers healthcare pep talk
Modern Healthcare

Beset by hard-to-keep promises and a massive website failure, President Barack Obama traveled to the heart of the “Obamacare” opposition Wednesday, declaring that ideological rigidity was denying health insurance to millions of Americans.

Ad-libbing at a synagogue in Dallas, Obama said he was the first to admit he was unhappy with the rocky first month since new insurance exchanges went live. He implored volunteers and guides who are working to help consumers to stick with it, casting it as an effort that would, eventually, be well worth the trouble.

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Out with the old, in with Obamacare
San Francisco Chronicle

The math for the Affordable Care Act in California is stark: Kick 1 million Californians off the private health care plans they already have at the end of the year so that a million Californians can enroll in subsidized Obamacare plans. Another million or so can stay in their old plans, and the state will sign up an additional 1.1 million for Medi-Cal.

The losers are Californians, many of them Obama voters, who run their own shops and did the right thing by buying private health care, probably after Obamacare passed.

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The bipartisan anti-Obamacare squeeze
San Francisco Chronicle

This week, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones asserted between 900,000 and one million Californians stand to be liberated from their individual health plans — so they’ll be free to buy a Covered California plan. Monday, Jones also announced that he had cut a deal with Blue Shield to allow 115,000 policyholders to keep their plans through March 31. Jones said the deal would save consumers $28.6 million — for a three months delay.

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How ObamaCare Rips Off the ‘Young Healthies’
The Wall Street Journal

When ObamaCare is under attack, its defenders retreat to several well-worn claims. Among them is a provision that compels insurance companies to allow parents to keep their “children” ages of 21 to 26 on their family policies.

Yet this part of the Affordable Care Act was not engineered in response to any noticeable interest group. Instead, political considerations are responsible for the provision—which is an unnecessary and a deceptive ripoff of the “young healthies.”

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Sebelius admits HealthCare.gov has been ‘excruciatingly awful’ (Video)
Sacramento Business Journal

Kathleen Sebelius didn’t mince words when talking to a Senate committee Wednesday about the rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal insurance exchange created under Obamacare. “There’s no excuse for what’s been a miserable five weeks,” said Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services. “The rollout has been excruciatingly awful for too many people,” she said. “We are not satisfied at all where we are now.”

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Sebelius assures fixes are being made to HealthCare.gov
Washington Post

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that the government is working to fix a “couple of hundred” problems with the federal health insurance Web site and that once the site is running smoothly, she will “re-invite” people who have been turned off by the technical headaches. Sebelius, appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, rejected calls from politicians in both parties to delay aspects of the health-care law, including by extending the initial open enrollment period beyond March 31 for buying insurance on the new online marketplaces. People who don’t buy coverage by then risk being fined.

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Sebelius Rejects Delays to Get Time to Repair Problems at Health Site
New York Times

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Wednesday that the government needed to fix hundreds of problems with the website for the federal health insurance marketplace, but she categorically rejected bipartisan calls to delay parts of the new health care law. She made her comments at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee hours after the Obama administration disclosed that the chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would retire. His office supervised the creation of the troubled website.

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Health care needs a Steve Jobs: Column
USA Today

At some point, a freewheeling United States gave birth to the most innovative health care system in human history. American doctors have continuously introduced medical miracles. But today, every young health care professional ought to ask, “Can we keep it up?” Anyone who has witnessed the Obamacare meltdown can be forgiven for wondering, too. As I have watched, I remembered one of my parents’ endearing habits — inflating the accomplishments of their friends. One who was moderately well-to-do would become Aristotle Onassis. A second vice president at some company would be a notch or two below the CEO.

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Clarifying state settlement with 1 Blue Shield firm
San Francisco Chronicle

Blue Shield will let some California policyholders extend their coverage for an additional 90 days – until March 31 – under a settlement with the California Department of Insurance announced Tuesday.

The settlement applies only to Blue Shield of California Life and Health Insurance Co. – one of two Blue Shield health insurers in the state. It does not presage a widespread delay in health policy cancellations that are a result of the Affordable Care Act, although several bills in Congress would halt or postpone those terminations.

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Blue Shield delays policy cancellations
Orange County Register

The Blue Shield of California, one of the state’s largest insurers, will delay the planned cancellation of about 80,000 individual and family health policies to avoid a lawsuit by the Department of Insurance, the company and the department said on Tuesday. The 115,000 people covered by those policies are about 13 percent of the 900,000 Californians expected to lose their current coverage at year’s end because it does not comply with new, stricter coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

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Humana execs assume enrollment will be extended
Modern Healthcare

As the Obama administration continued to assure lawmakers and consumers that HealthCare.gov will be fixed soon, Humana executives suggested the enrollment period for the exchanges will be extended beyond March 31 because of the glitches that have hobbled online signups since the Oct. 1 launch.

James Murray, the insurance company’s chief operating officer, expressed that opinion on a call with investors Wednesday to discuss third-quarter earnings.

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Humana reports decline in third-quarter income
Modern Healthcare

Humana reported income of $368 million in the third quarter of 2013, down from $426 million for the same period last year.

The Louisville-based company’s earnings per share also slipped, from $2.62 for the third quarter of 2012 to $2.31 for the reporting period that closed at the end of September.

But Humana’s projection for 2013 earnings remained unchanged from previous forecasts. The publicly traded company, more than 12 million members, expects to earn between $8.65 and $8.75 per share for the year.

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What Health Care Needs Is a Real-Time Snapshot of You
Wired News

Healthcare can be a very slow-moving beast. Getting something as seemingly easy as a basic metabolic panel or an HIV test done can take days. First, your blood is drawn, then it’s sent to a lab where your samples are actually processed. The lab does the tests your doctor ordered and days later they send her back the results.

That’s a problem because while the lab was working its slow magic, your body was changing.

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Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, recognized again for cardiac care
Sacramento Bee

Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, has again been named among the “50 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals” selected by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Truven Health Analytics.

As was the case last year, Sutter was among a group of 20 recognized U.S. teaching hospitals without cardiovascular residency programs. The study by Truven examined the performance of hundreds of hospitals by analyzing outcomes for patients with heart failure and heart attacks and for those who received coronary bypass surgery and coronary procedures such as angioplasties.

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Desert AIDS Project aims to spur all to get an HIV test
The Desert Sun

Local HIV and AIDS advocates say that when they’ve mentioned the Coachella Valley to national health experts in the past, the well-known — and extremely high — rate of HIV infection concerns them. “What is going on down there?” they ask.

The prevalence of infection in the valley is 67 percent higher than the national average, according to data from the Health Assessment Resource Center. But about two-thirds of residents have never been tested for the virus.

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