News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Health care agency passes $1 trillion milestone
San Francisco Chronicle

President Barack Obama’s budget pushes Health and Human Services spending over $1 trillion for the first time, reflecting an aging population adding to the Medicare rolls, as well as expanded coverage for younger people through the new health law. Released Tuesday, the HHS budget for the 2015 fiscal year calls for just over $1 trillion, which budget officials said is a new milestone for the department. HHS runs Medicare, Medicaid and the insurance expansion in Obama’s health overhaul law, which together provide coverage for about 1 in 3 Americans.

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Obama budget proposes new fight against superbugs
San Francisco Chronicle

Sounding an alarm about the growing threat of superbugs, the Obama administration is proposing a jump in spending to fight antibiotic-resistant germs in hospitals.

Infections that can withstand some of the best antibiotics already are killing more than 23,000 Americans a year, and some bacteria are becoming resistant to drugs of last resort, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Hospital antibiotic use can put patients at risk, study says
Washington Post

Doctors in some hospitals prescribe up to three times as many antibiotics as doctors at other hospitals, putting patients at greater risk for deadly superbug infections, according to a federal study released Tuesday.

In addition, about one-third of the time, prescriptions to treat urinary tract infections and prescriptions for the drug vancomycin were given without proper testing or evaluation, or prescribed for too long, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Thyroid cancer overdiagnosed, many researchers say
San Francisco Chronicle

It sounds counterintuitive: Researchers found rates of the most common type of thyroid cancer had tripled since the 1970s, but they weren’t particularly alarmed.

That’s because they say the problem is rooted in the way we diagnose the disease rather than the cancer itself. In essence, technology is allowing us to find tiny tumors that may never even go on to cause symptoms, let alone death.

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Americans may be able to keep old insurance plans longer under rewrite of health-care rules
Washington Post

The Obama administration is preparing to announce that Americans who want to keep their old health plans may do so for at least one year longer than they expected, even if the policies don’t comply with law, according to insurance industry officials familiar with the latest rewrite of federal health-care rules. The decision has become an open secret in insurance and health policy circles. And it marks the second time in four months that administration officials have adjusted their rules about health plans that do not include benefits required by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

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HealthCare.gov Was So Broken Obama Almost Scrapped It Completely
San Francisco Chronicle

HealthCare.gov was so broken it was almost scrapped after launch, according to a new expose in Time. In the March 10 cover story, “Code Red,” Steven Brill offers a detailed account of what happened behind the scenes during the disastrous launch and the subsequent effort to fix the site. He says the post-launch panic was so deep that President Obama actually considered scrapping the site altogether and starting fresh.

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New O-Care delay to help midterm Dems
The Hill

The Obama administration is set to announce another major delay in implementing the Affordable Care Act, easing election pressure on Democrats.

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements.

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March is last month for Obamacare signups
San Diego Union-Tribune

With less than a month left to enroll in the Covered California health-insurance exchange for this year, the program’s executive director came to San Diego on Tuesday with a simple message: Please don’t wait.

“Don’t wait until March 31 to sign up because, even if we had infinite staff, we couldn’t handle everyone if they waited until the last day,” Lee said while standing outside the Council of Community Clinics office in Mission Valley.

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Enrollment sessions offered for Covered California health insurance
Napa Valley Register

Anyone who is interested in registering for health insurance from Covered California can get help at the Napa County Library on Monday, March 17, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Napa County Health and Human Services Agency, the Napa County Library and Children’s Health Initiative have partnered to provide enrollment assistance for county residents who are interested in applying for Covered California or Medi-Cal health care coverage.

Individuals and families interested in signing up for coverage should bring:

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Tallying local health plan enrollment in Covered California
Sacramento Business Journal

Health plan market share in Covered California remained remarkably stable in the Sacramento region in January, even though sign ups rose 41 percent. Overall enrollment in the region rose to 38,436 in January, up from the 27,227 tally for the first three months of open enrollment. The vast majority of new members in the four-county Sacramento region — 34,075, or 88.5 percent — appear eligible for subsidies to help pay their premiums.

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Los Angeles County residents surpass projected enrollment into Covered California health exchange
Los Angeles Daily News

More Los Angeles County residents purchased health care plans through Covered California than first projected, but state officials said Monday other regions, including San Bernardino County, are lagging behind.

There are three weeks left for those who qualify to enroll into an insurance plan through Covered California, the state’s health plan exchange. Nearly 200,000 Los Angeles County residents signed up in the first four months of enrollment, which began Oct. 1. That’s about 25,000 more people than Covered California projected for the whole six-month enrollment period.

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Pace quickens for private online health insurance exchange
Sacramento Business Journal

The numbers are smaller, but business is brisk in the online individual health insurance market outside Covered California, too. A total of 169,800 applications were submitted nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2013 to eHealthInsurance.com, the first and largest private online health insurance exchange in the nation. That’s up 49.5 percent from 113,600 applications for individual coverage during the fourth quarter of 2012, the last figure available.

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Accountable care pays off for North County group
San Diego Union-Tribune

About 200 doctors working with Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside are on pace to earn a total of more than $1 million from Medicare as part of a new program that rewards those who can lower costs without cutting quality.

The North Coast Medical Accountable Care Organization is one of 29 such groups across the nation to save enough in their first year of operation to earn a 50/50 split of those savings with the federal government, according to preliminary data released recently by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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CDC Warns of Antibiotic Overuse in Hospitals
Health Leaders Media

Hospital physicians are putting their current and future patients in danger by overusing antibiotics, and they need to take steps now to prevent resistant bacterial strains, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials warned Tuesday.

According to a CDC survey, “about half of hospitalized patients got antibiotics during their stay.” But “given the many reasons patients need hospital care, that’s not particularly surprising,” agency director Tom Frieden, MD, said during a news conference.

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Court rejects pharmacies’ appeal on Medi-Cal rates
San Francisco Chronicle

Managed care health plans that serve low-income patients in California don’t have to consider pharmacies’ costs of obtaining prescription drugs when setting their Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, a state appeals court in San Francisco has ruled.

Federal law requires rates to be high enough to provide “quality care” and “adequate … access” to drugs for patients, but doesn’t require states to take pharmacies’ costs into account when determining how much to reimburse those businesses for the drugs they provide, the First District Court of Appeal said in a ruling made public Monday.

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Fewer Americans are living with hepatitis C, because more have died
Los Angeles Times

The number of Americans who are infected with hepatitis C is falling, but that’s probably because more people who have been sickened by the virus are dying as a result, government researchers reported Monday. After analyzing data from thousands of people who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 1% of the population over age 5 have hepatitis C. If so, that would translate to 2.68 million people with the virus, known as HCV.

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States with HIX Woes to Get Enrollment Relief
Health Leaders Media

They are still looking at the fine print, but state officials are welcoming a decision by the federal government to ease public exchange enrollment for individuals in states with exchange website woes.

On Feb. 27, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a bulletin announcing the availability of advance payment of the premium tax credit and cost-sharing reductions for individuals who have had trouble enrolling in states with troubled exchange websites.

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CDC: Together We Can Provide Safer Patient Care
The Health Care Blog

There are many stories of patients who suffer when we make errors prescribing antibiotics. 75-year-old Bob Totsch from Coshocton, Ohio, went in for heart bypass surgery with every expectation of a good outcome. Instead, he developed a surgical site infection caused by MRSA. Given a variety of antibiotics, he developed the deadly diarrheal infection C. difficile, went into septic shock, and died. A tragic story and, probably, a preventable death.

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State hit with fines over psych hospitals
RecordNet

When a county judge recently ordered Stacy Perkins committed to a state psychiatric hospital, she was supposed to be accepted for treatment within 30 days, in accordance with a recent deadline for state hospitals imposed by San Joaquin County Superior Court.

Perkins, a mentally ill woman, had been held in the County Jail on criminal charges.

But when Perkins was transported to Napa State Hospital on Jan. 9, she was refused admission on arrival because of limited space and because she had to be transported back to jail.

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Handling of L.A. County nursing home complaints under scrutiny
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County supervisors ordered an audit Tuesday of the way the county’s public health department investigates complaints about health and safety issues at nursing homes. The officials sharply criticized public health officials over a report that complaints about health and safety issues at nursing homes are not always thoroughly investigated. An investigation by Kaiser Health News found that public health officials told inspectors to close certain cases without fully investigating them in an effort to reduce a backlog.

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Nurses union wins temporary court order blocking Alta Bates Summit layoffs, restructuring
San Francisco Chronicle

The California Nurses Association has won Round 1 in a legal battle over whether and when Alta Bates Summit Medical Center can implement layoffs and a scheduled March 2 job restructuring initiative at its hospital campuses in Berkeley and Oakland. A U.S. district court judge blocked Alta Bates Summit’s plans to implement some of the changes over last weekend, imposing a temporary restraining order Feb. 28 on the Sutter Health affiliate.

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The Permanente Group chooses Roseville doctor as chairman
Sacramento Business Journal

A local Kaiser doctor has been elected chair of the board of largest medical group in the nation. Dr. Chris Palkowski, physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente’s Roseville Medical Center, took over as board chair at The Permanente Medical Group on March 1. The group of 8,000 doctors serves 3.4 million Kaiser members who receive care at 21 Kaiser hospitals and more than 55 medical offices across the region.

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Doctors Hospital plans cancer symposium
Manteca Bulletin

Donna Hartley is coming to Manteca to inspire positive thinking as a way to fight illness.

She’s one of the presenters for Doctors Hospital of Manteca’s upcoming Cancer Symposium at the Valley Cancer Center conference room on Norman Drive on Saturday, March 22.

The North Lake Tahoe resident will use the theme “Fire up Your Healing” for her morning presentation. Those attending will also hear from noted oncologist Dr. George Fisher of Stanford University.

Hartley contends there are seven practical steps people can take to stay healthy.

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