News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Medicare finances improve partly due to ACA, hospital expenses, trustee report says
Washington Post

Medicare’s financial stability has been strengthened by the Affordable Care Act and other forces that have been subduing health-care spending, according to a new official forecast that says the fund covering the program’s hospital costs will remain solvent until 2030 — four years later than expected a year ago.

The annual report, issued Monday by trustees overseeing the government’s two largest entitlement programs, found little change overall in the finances of Social Security.  The trustees warned, however, that the part of Social Security that pays monthly benefits to people with disabilities is especially fragile and, without changes, will start to run short of money for benefit checks in 2016.

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Why the acting Surgeon General thinks skin cancer is a ‘major public health problem’
Washington Post

Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak wants to shine a spotlight on the nation’s ever-growing number of skin cancer cases, calling it a “major public health problem that requires immediate action.” In a report set for release Tuesday, Lushniak highlights some disquieting facts about the disease and its most deadly form, melanoma.

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Patients require compassion, not just competence, from doctors
San Francisco Chronicle

True story: A man who severely cut his hand while using a table saw ran screaming into the emergency room of a local hospital. The attending doctor asked that he be given a dose of morphine to calm him down. When he continued screaming, he was given a second dose. And then another. And then another. Realizing that the drug was having absolutely no effect, the doctor put his hands on the man’s shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, “You’re going to be just fine.” Immediately the man relaxed and fell asleep.

Apparently what the doctor had to offer – at least initially – and what this man needed were two very different things.

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Under pressure to run insurance exchanges, states wary of glitches
Modern Healthcare

New Mexico has decided to stick with HealthCare.gov for 2015. Given the vast technology problems many state-based exchanges experienced during the first open-enrollment period, state officials there and elsewhere remain wary of running their own websites. New Mexico’s exchange board voted 11-1 on Friday to delay enrollments in the state’s website for another year. Dr. Martin Hickey, a member of the board and the CEO of not-for-profit insurer New Mexico Health Connections, said the board wanted more time to test out the state’s technology before moving forward.

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Obamacare at center of debate over California health insurance initiative
Sacramento Bee

As state insurance commissioner, Dave Jones has the power to regulate rates for car and homeowner insurance. He can halt an insurer’s proposed increase if the company can’t justify the higher cost.

Health insurance is another matter.

The former Democratic lawmaker has spent years working to give elected commissioners regulatory authority over health insurance rates. He’s asking voters in November to give him that ability with Proposition 45, asserting it’s the only way to slow down spiraling premium costs.

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Obamacare Health premium increases might be mild
Orange County Register

It’s unlikely that state health insurance exchange officials will deliver a rate shock later this week when they announce premiums for 2015 plans sold by Covered California.

Several factors, including recent comments from some of the state’s largest insurers, suggest there will be only modest increases on those policies offered under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. In some cases, there may be no hikes at all.

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$17 billion VA health care deal includes 4 new facilities in California
Southern California Public Radio

A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

An agreement announced by the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees is intended to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

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Deal on veterans’ health care to cost at least $17 billion
San Francisco Chronicle

A bipartisan deal to improve veterans’ health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill’s chief supporters said Monday.

The agreement includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with Veterans Affairs doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affa

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Drop in health care inflation helps Medicare finances
San Francisco Chronicle

Improvements in health care costs have extended the life of Medicare’s main trust fund by four years, the annual report of the Social Security and Medicare trustees said Monday, a further sign of the positive effect of lower medical inflation.

Medicare Part B premiums are expected to remain the same through 2015 because of that improvement, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters as the report was released.

Medicare is “considerably stronger than it was just four years ago,” she said.

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Medicare trustees’ report finds ‘cautious optimism’
Modern Healthcare

The Medicare trustees say there are reasons for “cautious optimism” about Medicare’s financial outlook, and that Obamacare deserves at least some credit for that.

The depletion date for the Part A hospital insurance trust fund is now projected at 2030, compared with last year’s projection of 2026, and initial projections show unchanged Part B premiums in 2015, the trustees said in their annual report Monday. The 2030 date is consistent with a recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

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Medicare’s Costs Stabilize, But Its Problems Are Far From Fixed
National Public Radio

Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which finances about half of the health program for seniors and the disabled, won’t run out of money until 2030, the program’s trustees said Monday. That’s four years later than projected last year, and 13 years later than projected the year before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

But that’s not the case for the part of Social Security that pays for people getting disability benefits. The Disability Insurance Trust Fund is projected to run out of money in 2016, just two years from now, unless Congress intervenes, the trustees said.

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Medicare’s own health looking better, report says
San Francisco Chronicle

Medicare’s financial future is looking brighter despite a growing wave of baby boomers reaching retirement.

Getting relief from a slowdown in health care spending, the program’s giant hospital trust fund won’t be exhausted until 2030, the government said Monday. That’s four years later than last year’s estimate.

As for Social Security, its massive retirement program will remain solvent until 2034, although disability benefits are in more immediate danger.

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Medicare Advantage Carriers See ‘No Choice’ But to Accept Cuts
Health Leaders Media

Among the lawmakers in attendance, last week’s House Ways and Means healthcare panel hearing on Medicare Advantage featured partisan fireworks over reimbursement rate cuts to the value-based healthcare insurance program.

The testimony of a key witness, Chris Wing, CEO of Long Beach, CA-based SCAN Health Plan, displayed some of the economic responses insurers are making to adjust MA drug and health insurance policies in response to the federal cutbacks.

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California seniors save $952M on prescription drugs since 2010
Sacramento Business Journal

People on Medicare in California have saved $952 million on prescription drugs, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. More than $11.5 billion has been saved nationwide as the law gradually closes the “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage, federal officials announced Monday. In 2010, everyone with a Medicare prescription drug plan who reached the doughnut hole got a $250 rebate. Discounts on covered brand-name discounts and savings on generic drugs started in 2011.

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San Diego regulates e-cigs
San Diego Union-Tribune

Aiming to protect people from a potentially dangerous product, San Diego joined several other local cities on Monday in banning the use of electronic cigarettes in all places where conventional smoking is prohibited.

The legislation adopted unanimously by the City Council also regulates how the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes can be sold, requiring special permits for businesses that sell them and prohibiting sales from vending machines.

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Pfizer’s 2Q profit sinks 79 pct but tops forecasts
San Francisco Chronicle

Pfizer’s second-quarter earnings plunged 79 percent from last year, when the world’s second-largest drugmaker booked a business spinoff gain of more than $10 billion. The latest results still edged analyst expectations.

The New York company said Tuesday it earned $2.91 billion, or 45 cents per share, in the quarter. That compares with earnings of $14.1 billion, or $1.98 per share, last year. Adjusted earnings totaled 58 cents per share.

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Pfizer, Merck earnings beat Wall St. estimates
USA Today

Shares of Merck and Pfizer jumped in pre-market trading Tuesday after the drugmakers reported earnings that beat Wall Street estimates.

Merck said it earned net income of $2 billion, or 68 cents a share in the second quarter. That was up from $906 million, or 30 cents, in the same period a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, the pharmaceutical company earned 85 cents a share, which beat analysts’ consensus estimate of 81 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters.

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Merck 2Q profit more than doubles
San Francisco Chronicle

A big one-time gain and a tax benefit helped drugmaker Merck & Co. more than double its second-quarter profit, raise the lower end of its profit forecast and easily top analysts’ expectations.

The maker of popular Type 2 diabetes pill Januvia and cholesterol medicines Vytorin and Zetia said Tuesday that net income increased to $2 billion, or 68 cents per share, from $906 million, or 30 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier.

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Aetna 2Q profit beats expectations
USA Today

Aetna beat expectations for its second quarter with profits up 2%, primarily boosted by gains from its acquisition of Coventry Health Care.

Aetna reported net income of $548.8 million, or a $1.52 a share, from $536 million, or $1.49 a share in the second quarter of 2013.

Aetna beat analyst expectations and raised its projections for the rest of the year. Aetna expects full-year operating earnings of between $6.45 and $6.60 a share, up from its previous forecast of $6.35 to $6.55 a share.

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Aetna 2Q profit rises 2.4 percent
San Francisco Chronicle

Aetna’s second-quarter profit climbed more than 2 percent, as gains from an acquisition helped the health insurer top expectations and raise its 2014 earnings forecast again.

But the Hartford, Connecticut, company’s shares slipped Tuesday after it also reported a higher medical cost measurement than analysts expected and a slight performance dip for its health care segment, the biggest part of its business.

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El Centro Regional Medical Center, Pioneers Memorial Hospital to work toward partnership
Imperial Valley Press Online

The El Centro Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees and the Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District Board of Directors unanimously approved a letter of intent Monday that outlines the terms and conditions for an affiliation between the two hospitals. The document is not legally binding. But, it helps the two agencies work toward a partnership that officials say will expand the level of patient care in the Imperial Valley and improve the odds that both facilities will weather the changes in the healthcare industry that were accelerated by the Affordable Care Act.

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California Nurses, Kaiser Permanente Hope to Hash it Out This Week
KFBK

Negotiations between Kaiser Permanente and the California Nurses Association are due to begin this week.

Union bargaining committee member Katy Roemer says the big issue is patient care.

“This is about human beings who are in the hospital requiring health care and we want to give it. So we will be there fighting to make sure that we can. We are firmly on the side of our patients and we are going to fight until we get what we need,” Roemer said.

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Natividad board chairman O’Keefe tabbed as interim CEO
Monterey Herald

Natividad Medical Center board chairman Dr. Kelly O’Keefe has been appointed the county-owned hospital’s interim CEO by the Board of Supervisors in the wake of the departure of highly popular former CEO Harry Weis.

O’Keefe’s appointment, announced by County Counsel Charles McKee after a two-hour closed session during Monday’s special meeting, is subject to agreement on a contract, which could be finalized as soon as Tuesday. The board has scheduled a special 4 p.m. meeting for Tuesday to announce an agreement.

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Long Beach, Torrance hospitals join forces for pediatric care
Orange County Register

Young patients at Torrance Memorial Medical Center are getting a bonus to their care as they now have bedside access to pediatric specialists from Miller Childen’s Hospital Long Beach under an agreement announced Monday. The physician specialists from Miller will provide consultations and expertise and even assist in treatment, hospital officials said. For example, “advanced orthopedic surgery cases can be addressed right at the hospital,” said Diana Hendel, CEO of Miller Children’s and Long Beach Memorial hospitals.

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West Contra Costa hospital losing workers amid uncertain future
Contra Costa Times

As Contra Costa County officials scramble for options to save Doctors Medical Center in some form, skilled workers are leaving in droves amid the continuing uncertainty.

Hospital CEO Dawn Gideon said 66 workers have left since early May, and about two dozen more have resigned and will be gone in the coming weeks, meaning the staff is down about 11 percent. The drop in staffing hasn’t affected hospital services yet, but hospital officials are concerned that could happen if workers continue to flee.

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BioHealth, Bryman colleges shut doors following bankruptcy
San Francisco Business Times

BioHealth and Bryman colleges shut their doors after filing for bankruptcy two weeks ago, the Mercury News reported.

The health-focused college company led by CEO Sam Shirazi had five campuses in San Jose, San Francisco, Hayward and Los Angeles. It offered certificates in dental assistant, massage therapy, medical assistant and medical administrative assistant programs.

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