News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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New Alzheimer’s study shows promise
San Diego Union-Tribune

A new study is generating hope — and international attention — that a simple blood test may be able to determine who will develop Alzheimer’s disease. The test would be a major milestone because current methods of detecting the progressive neurological affliction are expensive and invasive. A relatively low-tech alternative like a blood test has the potential to expand the number of people who could participate in the clinical trials necessary to create new Alzheimer’s drugs and therapies.

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Another SGR Patch Likely, Lawmaker Says
Health Leaders Media

Congress likely will not find a permanent solution for the Sustainable Growth Rate funding formula before the deadline expires at the end of March, and will impose yet another temporary fix and re-address the issue later this year, a leading House Republican says. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, MD (R-GA), co-chair of the 19-member GOP Doctors’ Caucus, says there is widespread support in both parties and both chambers for ending the SGR Medicare reimbursement formula for physicians.

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Rules to Rein in HIX Narrow Networks Could Drive Away Payers
Health Leaders Media

Proposed federal rules that would limit the ability of health plans to craft narrow provider networks for the PPACA exchanges would benefit some hospitals, but tighter regulation could create an unbearable level of risk for insurers, market analysts say.

In a healthcare “sector comment” released last week, Moody’s Investors Service predicts that plans to limit narrow networks in 2015 would benefit rural hospitals and safety net hospitals because those facilities are the most likely to be left out of a narrow network.

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Farm families to gain under the Affordable Care Act
UPI.com

Farmers rely more on individual private health insurance plans than most so many were a tractor or truck accident away from bankruptcy, a U.S. expert says. Heidi Johnson, Dane County University of Wisconsin-Extension crops and soils educator, said farming is a risky occupation, so most farm families need to have health insurance. Often one parent would work at a factory so the family would be covered by employer-provided health insurance.

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Last call: The health overhaul’s March 31 deadline
San Francisco Chronicle

Uninsured Americans face an important deadline at the end of this month, and many don’t realize it.

March 31 is the last day to sign up for health insurance coverage and avoid a penalty for failing to obtain insurance for 2014 under the federal health care overhaul.

The Obama administration says about 4 million people have signed up so far through the overhaul’s insurance exchanges, which allow customers to buy coverage with help from income-based tax credits or subsidies.

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Only 85 percent of Covered California enrollees have paid premiums so far
San Francisco Business Times

With four weeks until the open enrollment deadline for Obamacare in California, about one in six people who picked Covered California health plans through Jan. 31 have not paid up, according to the four major health insurers who have grabbed more than 90 percent of the market. That means the 728,410-enrollee total that Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee boasted of last month could be about 15 percent too high, which would put the actual number at closer to 619,000 enrollees.

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Emergency economics
San Diego Union-Tribune

Mike Murphy has seen a few things during his 36 years in the ambulance business, from one of the nation’s deadliest plane crashes to one of its first school shootings.

Fascinated by the 1970s TV show “Emergency!” he started moonlighting weekends as an emergency medical technician while still a senior in high school. Then he joined full time right after graduation.

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Study: 2 percent of Americans have new hips, knees
Sacramento Bee

It’s not just grandma with a new hip and your uncle with a new knee. More than 2 of every 100 Americans now have an artificial joint, doctors are reporting. Among those over 50, it’s even more common: Five percent have replaced a knee and more than 2 percent, a hip. “They are remarkable numbers,” said Dr. Daniel J. Berry, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic.

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Go after doctors who overprescribe painkillers
Sacramento Bee

The biggest drug problem in the United States is not the one we think we have: illegal drugs. It is drugs prescribed by doctors. On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder properly focused attention on the sharp rise in heroin deaths, noting that “addiction to heroin and other opiates, including certain prescription pain-killers, is impacting the lives of Americans in every state.”

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Campos wants stricter rules on S.F. health care accounts
San Francisco Business Times

It looks like it’s loophole closure time all over again.

Supervisor David Campos is once again proposing legislation to stop employers from pocketing millions of dollars that were supposed to pay for employee health care as part of the city’s universal health care law.

The centerpiece of Campos’ proposal is a requirement that money employers deposit in savings accounts to reimburse their workers for their health care expenses actually gets used for that.

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Medical device maker TriVascular seeks $100 million IPO
San Francisco Business Times

Medical device developer TriVascular Technologies Inc. hopes to expand sales and marketing, fund additional research and pay off a note to Boston Scientific Corp. with a planned $100 million initial public offering. The Santa Rosa maker of devices that help doctors repair abdominal aortic aneurysms, led by Chairman, President and CEO Christopher Chavez, would trade on the Nasdaq exchange as “TRIV.”

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Survey: Kaiser leads in customer satisfaction, Blue Shield ranks last
Los Angeles Times

For the seventh consecutive year, Kaiser Permanente ranked highest in customer satisfaction for health insurance among California policyholders, according to ratings firm J.D. Power & Associates. But two other major rivals — Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross — scored the lowest on member satisfaction among seven California health plans. In its annual survey, J.D. Power surveyed more than 34,000 customers of 136 commercial health plans in December and January in 18 regions across the country.

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Kaiser ranks highest in state customer satisfaction
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

For the seventh straight year, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan earned the highest rating for customer satisfaction in California, according to an annual survey issued Monday by market research firm J.D. Power.

“Kaiser set the curve in the state of California,” said Rick Johnson, head of J.D. Power’s health care evaluation practice.

Kaiser scored 756 points out of a possible 1,000, followed by Cigna and UnitedHealthcare with 674 and 667 points, respectively.

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University of California grants $2.5 million for health care improvement projects
San Francisco Business Times

The University of California gave $2.5 million total to four projects at its campuses — two of them at UC San Francisco — to improve health care and lower its cost. UC gave $709,900 to Nathaniel Gleason, M.D., at UCSF to improve communication between primary care doctors and specialists, thereby saving time patients wait between appointments, and eliminating unneeded appointments. Doctors can recommend some patients to a specialist without them needing to appear in person at their primary care doctor’s office.

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Merced County opens bidding for ambulance contract
Fresno Bee

The bidding for Merced County’s permanent ambulance provider has begun, more than a year after the county canceled an award to a competing ambulance company and restarted the process.

County officials confirmed the request for proposal document has been released, and ambulance companies have until April 15 to submit proposals for the five-year contract. The contract allows an extension for an additional five years.

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