News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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U.S. Proposes Cuts to Rates in Medicare Payments
New York Times

The Obama administration on Friday proposed cuts in Medicare payment rates for managed-care plans serving more than one-fourth of all beneficiaries, and Republicans immediately pounced on the proposal, which appears likely to become a significant issue in this year’s midterm elections.

The proposed reductions were larger than the administration had indicated in guidance given to the insurance industry in December. Jonathan Blum, a top Medicare official, cited the “historically low growth in Medicare per capita spending” as a reason for the proposal.

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Medical Board makes it official by appointing executive director
Sacramento Business Journal

The Medical Board of California has appointed Kimberly Kirchmeyer executive director of the state agency that licenses and disciplines doctors. Kirchmeyer, 44, has been interim director since June 1, following the retirement of former director Linda Whitney. She formally takes the reins after a difficult year when the board faced sunset review amid complaints about slow enforcement of wayward doctors.

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Insurance Status a Factor in Trauma Care, Study Says
Health Leaders Media

Emergency doctors at non-trauma hospitals are less likely to transfer severely injured patients to a designated trauma center if the patients are insured than if they are not insured, according to a study published in JAMA Surgery.

The implication is that insured patients admitted to non-trauma hospitals may be getting “suboptimal” care simply because hospitals want to keep patients whose care would be well reimbursed compared with patients without health insurance coverage.

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Actors draw med school students into caregiver role
Los Angeles Times

David Solomon lay in bed, a sheet draped over his legs. His darkened bedroom was silent, except for the ticking of a clock on the wall. A box of tissues sat on a bedside table; a Hebrew-and-English siddur, or prayer book, rested on his lap. The cancer that the 70-year-old cosmetics merchant had held at bay for 12 years was no longer responding to chemo. His breathing was labored, and his morphine-addled gaze wandered. It took all his effort to focus on the white-jacketed medical student who stood next to him.

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Obamacare here to stay, governors say
Modern Healthcare

The explosive politics of healthcare have divided the nation, but America’s governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, suggest that President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul is here to stay.

While governors from Connecticut to Louisiana sparred on Sunday over how best to improve the nation’s economy, governors of both parties shared a far more pragmatic outlook on the controversial program known as “Obamacare” as millions of their constituents begin to be covered.

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Obamacare stats still hard to nail down
POLITICO

When you go to all this trouble to cover the uninsured, is it really that unreasonable to ask how many uninsured people Obamacare has covered so far? The answer, apparently, is: Yes. It’s unreasonable. The truth is, nobody has a good, real-time fix on how successful the Affordable Care Act has been in reducing the ranks of the uninsured.

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Promising Signs of Real Health Reform
San Francisco Chronicle

Don’t look now, but signs of real health care reform are starting to appear. We’re not talking about insurance reform posing as health reform but honest-to-goodness changes in the way people are being encouraged to take care of themselves. Consider last month’s “Health Update” from Blue Shield of California. The entire newsletter was devoted to improving health through improved thinking, with articles on “Tapping the power of optimism,” “Laughing your way to better health,” “Dealing with negative thoughts” and “Practicing gratitude.”

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Health care law’s small-business marketplace not attracting many small businesses
Washington Post

After a slow start, the pace of enrollment is starting to pick up on the health-care law’s new insurance marketplace for individuals and families, with more than 1 million people signing up for coverage last month, including strong showings in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

It’s a very different story, though, for people trying to enroll through the insurance exchanges designed for small employers.

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Health care reform is causing public sector shift cuts
Live Insurance News

According to local and state officials across the country, public employees are finding their hours cut back and limited to that of part time workers when they had previously been working full time, as their employers are trying to skirt the health care reform requirement to provide them with insurance. The public sector is an area that has yet to experience a rebound following the recession, and now workers in this area are facing further cut backs as their employers respond to the health care reform by trying to eliminate as many full time workers in favor of part timers who don’t

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Politics preventing real health care reform?
MedCity News

Maybe in November, after the elections, we can have a good national conversation about this. Since it’s an election year, we really should be having that talk now.

But discussion of the Affordable Care Act is too toxic to permit civility — or, alas, rationality.

And that’s unfortunate, because the flawed act could be easily improved, if not fixed to everyone’s satisfaction. It also could be replaced with something else, if politicians from both parties were able to work together and compromise.

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Covered California list of doctors and hospitals will be offline for months
San Francisco Business Times

Covered California, the Obamacare health insurance exchange for the Golden State, may not be able to fix problems with its trouble-plagued online provider directory until this fall at the earliest.

“We have no plans to restore the consolidated provider directory at this time,” Covered California spokeswoman Anne Gonzales told the San Francisco Business Times Friday morning.

But “we are working on it, and it may be up again sometime in the fall,” Gonzales said. In the meantime, “Consumers can access the same information … on links we give to the specific plans’ provider directories on their websites.

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California health insurance portal still down for repairs
Sacramento Bee

The state health insurance exchange’s online enrollment portal remains down because of a software malfunction that has dogged consumers.

Covered California took the enrollment function offline Wednesday afternoon, and officials initially said engineers hoped to have the service restored Friday. However, the exchange announced Saturday that the website would remain down through the weekend.

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CMS Proposes Medicare Advantage Payment Cut of At Least 1.9 Percent
Health Leaders Media

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is proposing a Medicare Advantage pay cut of at least 1.9 percent despite urging from lawmakers and insurers to maintain current payment rates in 2015.

The payment cut would affect Medicare Advantage health plans in 2015.

“Preliminary estimate of the combined effect of the Medicare Advantage growth percentage and the fee-for-service growth percentage is estimated to be -1.9 percent,” CMS said Friday. The agency released a 148-page document detailing proposed MA payment and other changes in the fiscal year starting in October. “This historically low growth in Medicare per-capita spending is tied, in part, to successful initiatives undertaken to promote value over volume and help curb fraud, waste, and abuse in the Medicare fee-for-service program in recent years.”

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California flu fatalities rise another 35 in one week, totaling 278
Sacramento Bee

Flu deaths in California continue to climb, with state officials Friday warning the public that the influenza season likely will last until April.

Measles cases, too, are on the upswing – mainly because of people returning from travel overseas, especially from the Philippines, where a typhoon last fall displaced families and triggered an outbreak of illness.

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Health officials see flu declining but warn of measles
Los Angeles Times

Just as California’s record-setting flu season seems to be fading, with 278 deaths confirmed as of Friday, health officials warned that another infectious and sometimes deadly virus has arrived — measles. Fifteen Californians have come down with measles thus far this year, officials said. And nearly half had opted against childhood vaccination against the disease through the state’s personal beliefs exemption.

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Flu deaths increase to 278 across California
Orange County Register

The statewide death toll from influenza for people under age 65 this season has risen to 278, the California Department of Public Health has reported, with another 29 deaths under investigation. Six of those who died were children. Of the nearly 300 deaths statewide, the department reported seven confirmed flu deaths in Long Beach. This flu season continues to outpace last season.

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Do Workplace Wellness Programs Make Business Sense?
The Health Care Blog

The press and trade publications strongly endorse workplace wellness programs as a good investment for employers. Soeren Mattke, a physician and RAND senior scientist, explains why his work tells a different story. Why are workplace wellness programs so popular? Because employers think the programs make business sense.

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In Defense of Corporate Wellness Programs
The Health Care Blog

A recent blog on HBR.org proposed to deliver “The Cure for the Common Corporate Wellness Program.” But as with any prescription, you really shouldn’t swallow this one unless all your questions about it have been answered. As a physician, a patient, and a businessman, I see plenty to question in Al Lewis and Vik Khanna’s critique of workplace wellness initiatives.

With their opening generalization that “many wellness programs” are deeply flawed, the authors dismiss a benefit enjoyed by a healthy majority of America’s workers. Today, nearly 80% of people who work for organizations with 50 or more employees have access to a wellness program, according to a 2013 RAND study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Blue Shield of California Acknowledges Data Breach
eSecurityPlanet

Blue Shield of California recently began notifying an undisclosed number of insurance agents that their Social Security numbers were mistakenly made available online (h/t DataBreaches.net).

On January 15, 2014, the company learned that the transaction confirmation page on its Web site for individual and family plan members had been displaying Agent ID numbers, which in some cases were the agents’ Social Security numbers, since December 20, 2013.

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Doctors, insurers at odds on rates
Monterey Herald

Lowering costs by forcing doctors and insurers to compete for millions of new patients is a primary goal of the nation’s new health care law, but a group of gastroenterologists in the San Francisco Bay Area and internists near Chico are exposing a fissure in that plan.

There often aren’t enough doctors to go around.

In parts of the state, the shortage of doctors participating in California’s new insurance exchange is providing new leverage for medical providers to hold out for higher reimbursement rates from big insurance companies. And as a game of chicken unfolds behind the scenes between two powerful groups that are key to the law’s success, the insurers are often caving in to the doctors, raising concerns that the trend could catch on and drive up the price of health insurance premiums on the exchange.

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C-section guidelines urge waiting
Monterey Herald

Show more patience in the delivery room: That’s the prescription being given to the nation’s obstetricians.

New guidelines say doctors should give otherwise healthy women more time to deliver their babies vaginally before assuming that labor has stalled. The recommendations are the latest in years of efforts to prevent unnecessary C-sections.

“Labor takes a little longer than we may have thought,” said Dr. Aaron Caughey, who co-authored the guidelines for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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Health care’s hidden costs can take patients by surprise
Sacramento Bee

When a rheumatologist told Linda Drake of Miami that she might have lung cancer, the former smoker did some research and discovered a study for early detection and treatment of the disease with researchers in South Florida. Drake, 57, decided to participate in the study because there was a $350 flat fee, and she could enroll through UHealth – the University of Miami’s network of clinics and hospitals.

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Five vie for California State Senate seat after Emmerson’s resignation
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

The State Senate District 23 seat wasn’t supposed to be up for grabs until 2016. Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, had served in the Legislature since 2004, and won his seat in the 23rd District in 2012. He had four more years until he could be turned out of office by term limits in 2016. But two days shy of one year in office, he was out, having announced that he would resign from office one month before:

Commands