News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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State health exchange swamped with enrollees
Los Angeles Times

California’s health exchange is struggling to keep pace with a surge of applicants who are encountering long waits and website problems as they try to meet a Dec. 23 deadline. In response to higher-than-expected demand, the Covered California exchange said it is adding staff and expanding its capacity to answer consumer calls. It received 17,000 calls in less than an hour Wednesday, more than it received in an entire day in recent weeks. The exchange is also trying to dig through a backlog of 25,000 paper applications filed in October and November.

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Health care reform puts doctors in a money bind
Sacramento Business Journal

Offered a chance to land dozens of new patients through Covered California, thousands of local doctors have agreed to a pay cut. More than 2,000 accepted lower rates to get patients as thousands of uninsured Californians seek coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And that’s just those who signed on with one health plan, Blue Shield of California. Anthem Blue Cross is doing the same, but would not say how many doctors agreed.

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Telehealth Improves Patient Care in ICUs
Health Leaders Media

New research supports telehealth within intensive care units as improving patient survival rates and speeding discharge. “A Multi-center Study of ICU Telemedicine Reengineering of Adult Critical Care” examined the impact of remote intensive care units (eICUs) on nearly 120,000 critical care patients who were treated at 56 intensive care units, 32 hospitals, and 19 health systems over a five-year period. The research demonstrated reductions in both mortality and length of stay. The results were statistically significant on both an unadjusted and severity-adjusted basis.

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U.S. pregnancy rate continues to fall
Modern Healthcare

The U.S. pregnancy rate fell to a 12-year low in 2009, continuing a trend that has seen a 10% decline since 1990, according to a government report released Thursday. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 102 pregnancies for every 1,000 women in 2009, the lowest rate since 1997 and the second-lowest rate in the last 30 years. Much of the overall decline came from a stark drop in teenage pregnancies from 1990 to 2009. Pregnancy rates for teens ages 15 to 17 declined 53% during the period, while pregnancy rates for women ages 18 and 19 were down by 36%.

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Is There Really a Physician Shortage?
The Health Care Blog

Large coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act have reignited concerns about physician shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) continues to forecast large shortfalls (130,000 by 2025) and has pushed for additional Medicare funding of residency slots as a key solution. These shortage estimates result from models that forecast future supply of, and demand for, physicians – largely based on past trends and current practice. While useful exercises, they do not necessarily imply that intervening to boost physician supply would be worth the investment. Here are a few reasons why.

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Obama’s fixer-upper website races to catch up
San Francisco Chronicle

It looks like President Barack Obama’s fickle health insurance website is finally starting to put up some respectable sign-up numbers, but its job only seems to have gotten harder.

Two months in and out of the repair shop have left significantly less time to fulfill the White House goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of open enrollment on March 31.

Signups were just over 100,000 nationally as of the end of October.

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Questions linger for insurers, even as HealthCare.gov hums for consumers
Modern Healthcare

Insurers have a seen a flood of enrollments in the days since the Obama administration announced that HealthCare.gov is largely functional.

Sign-ups topped 50,000 in just the first three days of December, according to an unnamed administration official cited by the Washington Post—about twice as many as in the entire first problem-plagued month of operations.

That’s seemingly good news for insurers participating in the online marketplaces. But there’s still significant concern over the federal exchange’s back-end operations that are key to completing the enrollment transactions.

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Is Obamacare Responsible For the Recent Slowdown in Health Care Costs?
The Health Care Blog

That is what we have been told the Obama administration will claim today as they begin the job of reselling Obamacare. Is Obamacare even partly responsible for the slowdown in health care costs? That is silly. First, Obamacare is not a health care reform law; it is a health insurance reform law. No one on either side of the debate has ever argued anything different.

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Affordable Care Act Responsibilities for the Individual
Santa Barbara Independent

As a tax accountant, I have received many questions from clients and friends about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). It’s not as complicated as people think, but there are many scams and a lot of misinformation. Below is what you must do in order to be in compliance with the ACA for 2014 if you haven’t already.

Pay attention to the details, because enrolling or not depends on your situation.

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My Cancelled Policy, and My Values
The New Yorker

In the short term, I am the kind of person for whom the Obamacare mandate is a pain in the neck. My husband and I, both writers, have been buying health insurance on the individual market for several years, paying about a thousand dollars a month for a policy that covers us and our two children. We were among those Americans who liked our policy: we had to choose doctors from within a network, but there were plenty to choose from, including the pediatrician we’d gone to since our kids, now teen-agers, were born.

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California’s Small Business Insurance SHOP Opens, A Contrast To Feds
Kaiser Health News

Just a few days after the federal government delayed online enrollment, California announced better news for small businesses who want to buy health insurance. Businesses with up to 50 employees can begin signing up online for coverage through the state’s new marketplace, officials announced Monday. Last week, the federal department of Health and Human Services said that businesses in 36 states could not get coverage online until November 2014 – the latest bump on the road to implementing the Affordable Care Act.

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CA health exchange slowed by demand
San Diego Union-Tribune

Covered California’s phone banks and website are struggling to keep up with a crush of Californians determined to buy coverage in time for policies to start on Jan. 1, a health exchange spokesman said Thursday. The slow downs are being felt in San Diego County this week with several local residents reporting severe problems trying to sign up for policies through the exchange, from long telephone wait times to web pages that seemingly take forever to load.

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Valley officials accelerate ‘Obamacare’ sign-up efforts
The Desert Sun

More than 40 people showed up Thursday to sign up for health insurance as desert health care leaders launched a new program designed to enroll as many of the Coachella Valley’s roughly 90,000 uninsured residents in the Affordable Care Act as possible.

The new outreach efforts include a $1.2 million partnership between the Desert Healthcare District and the California Endowment and a newly launched Path to Health from Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio.

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Employers see promise in narrow networks to cut costs
Sacramento Business Journal

It’s not just policies offered under the Affordable Care Act that are squeezing doctors. Narrow networks also may be the next big thing as employers search for more ways to cut costs.

One employer exploring the approach next year is the University of California. Faced with health benefit costs that escalated by $85 million annually for the last four years, the university added a self-insured plan as part of a package of changes in offerings for 2014. But the changes are drawing complaints from some employees who say they’ll have to pay more to keep their doctors.

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One doctor’s reason for taking pay cut: his patients
Sacramento Business Journal

Dr. Quinn Li sees some patients at Lincoln Medical Associates who have no insurance. They pay cash, he says, but keep coming back for care. Come Jan. 1, these patients could have insurance through Covered California, the new state health benefit exchange. That’s one reason why Li agreed to be part of a narrow network plan offered in the Sacramento area by Blue Shield of California.

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Hospital M&A Volume Up, Value Down in 3Q
Health Leaders Media

The volume and value of hospital mergers and acquisitions increased in the third quarter of 2013 when compared with the same period in 2012, although the fundamental reasons for the market consolidations are essentially the same, PricewaterhouseCoopers says in a new report. The total number of hospital merger and acquisition transactions globally increased from 12 in Q3 2012 to 19 in Q3 2013, an increase of 58.3%. Conversely, for the first nine months of 2013, overall deal volume dropped 6.6%—from 60 in YTD12 to 56 in YTD13.

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More screens from breast density laws may hike false cancer reports
Modern Healthcare

Laws in about a dozen states that require radiologists to notify patients if they have dense breast tissue have raised questions about the utilization of new supplemental screening techniques for breast density and how radiologists identify density levels.

Women with dense breast tissue are more likely to get cancer than those with fatty tissue. There is also a higher risk that their cancers may be missed because denser tissue can mask tumors in a mammogram. About 40 million women in the U.S. undergo mammograms each year. About 40% of women are estimated to have dense breast tissue.

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Anthem Blue Cross: ACOs make progress on quality
San Francisco Business Times

Anthem Blue Cross, one of California’s largest health plans, said Thursday that four medical groups in its affordable care organization network have made major quality gains since joining the ACO. Using data comparing 2012 results to those in 2011, before the groups joined forces with Thousand Oaks-based Anthem in the voluntary partnerships, they did 35 percent more mammograms and made a 44 percent jump in “appropriate” prescribing of antibiotics for treatment on bronchitis, Anthem said.

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Health Insurance Woes Continue for UCSB Employees
Santa Barbara Independent

After the University of California announced two weeks ago that it struck a deal with Sansum Clinic over new health care plans, UCSB employees sighed a moment of relief. The agreement will allow them to receive care at Sansum Clinic through a “UC Select” Teir 1 plan once health insurance plans are restructured in January.

Several employees have expressed gratitude in the partial victory but say the issue has not completely subsided because the matter of hospital services has not been resolved.

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TRMC selects potential partner
Visialia Times-Delta

After months of discussion, the Tulare Regional Medical Center board of directors unanimously selected Healthcare Conglomerate Associates as a potential affiliation partner. The long-awaited decision came during their special meeting Thursday at the Tulare Public Library Council Chambers.

The hospital district will now negotiate a short-term management contract with the goal of a long-term lease of Tulare Regional Medical Center.

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Community rallies for Redwood deliveries; officials, business leaders ask for 3-year recruitment window
Times-Standard

A crowd of 200 — many wearing “I delivered at Redwood Memorial” and “I support Redwood Memorial obstetrics” stickers — spoke in support of keeping the maternity ward in Fortuna during a public meeting held Thursday to take input on the possible closure of the unit. ”This is our hospital,” said one mother who delivered two children at Redwood Memorial. “This hospital means everything to this community.”

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