News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Protecting privacy while gathering health data
San Francisco Chronicle

As health care goes digital, data is an increasingly valuable commodity. Correctly crunched, the massive amount of patient health information now online could lead to big improvements in medicine. But few agree on a way to acquire, see, share and use the data that satisfies everyone who wants a piece. That debate took a turn this week when rival insurers Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross said they would team up to create a health information sharing network with their combined 9 million patients.

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VBP Program Impact, Incentives Questioned
HealthLeaders Media

In the initial nine-month rollout period for Medicare’s value-based purchasing program, participating hospitals achieved quality scores that were no higher than at ineligible hospitals, says Andrew Ryan, associate professor of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College, and fellow researchers. The culprit is low financial incentives, he says. Eligible hospitals appear to need much greater payment incentives than the 1% to 2% specified in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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Cost, convenience drive a boom in urgent care
Orange County Register

After a decorative plate fell off the wall and put a gash in the side of Tina Melgar’s face late last month, she went to MemorialCare’s urgent care clinic in her Los Altos neighborhood of Long Beach and was seen almost immediately.

The medical team gave her four stitches, and a week later she was back – no appointment necessary – to have them taken out.

Had the same mishap occurred a few years ago, Melgar says, she would have gone to the emergency room at Long Beach Memorial – also owned by MemorialCare – and probably waited several hours to be seen.

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Fresno County lowers abuse of ambulance rides, saving millions in costs
Fresno Bee

Fresno County used to be saddled by skyrocketing ambulance and hospital costs because of “frequent fliers” who called 911 hundreds of times a year for a ride to the hospital.

So the county came up with a “no-fly” list. Using a color-coded spreadsheet, the county ambulance services identifies the most frequent users and hands out suspension letters to the worst abusers.

The county also has improved its social services safety network, providing counseling and medical services that help former frequent fliers adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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Some need-to-know items under Covered California and the Affordable Care Act
Sacramento Bee

This year, hundreds of thousands of Californians got health care coverage under the state’s new Covered California program.

If you’re one of them, state and federal officials have a couple of reminders for you.

At the same time, sign-ups for 2015 coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act are just around the corner. Here’s some info that might help:

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Churn and the ACA
The Health Care Blog

Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with 47 million Americans uninsured, advocates and policy experts focused on expanding health insurance coverage for those who lacked it. Now that the law has broadened access to insurance, states are turning their attention to protecting enrollees from disruptions when they transition from one type of coverage to another, movement known as churn.

Churn is typically caused by a change in eligibility status, which itself stems from fluctuations in income, loss of a job, or changes in family circumstance, such as pregnancy.

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Vermont Is ‘Single-Payer’ Trailblazer
Kaiser Health News

Dr. Marvin Malek has been yearning and advocating for a publicly financed, single-payer health care system for at least two decades. Now, as Vermont stands on the threshold of being the first state to launch such a plan, he’s confessing to trepidation.

“I am pretty damn nervous,” he confided before bounding off for rounds at the Vermont Central Medical Center, still clutching the bicycle helmet he wore on his ride to work.

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Innovative Mobile Health Van in San Joaquin County Threatened by AB 503; Services for Underserved at Risk
PR Newswire

Three days a week, the St. Joseph’s Medical Center CareVan is dispatched to locations throughout San Joaquin County, taking free health care services directly into the community. But that program’s future is in doubt due to harmful legislation now pending at the State Capitol.  AB 503 (Wieckowski/Bonta) would impose costly and unrealistic mandates on nonprofit hospitals, reducing the ability to carry out effective community benefit programs like the CareVan.

The California Department of Finance issued its own warning this week, saying the bill is “unnecessary and will likely increase costs to the state.”  According to the Department’s Bill Analysis, AB 503 would cost an estimated $1.7 million in 2015-16, rising to $1.8 million the following year.  Additionally, the bill “misaligns state and federal law,” according to Finance officials.

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The HIE Phenomena – is it time to say “enough”?
MedCity News

On August 5, 2014 Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California announced they would jointly invest $80 million in creating a state health information exchange for California – Cal Index. An article in the San Francisco Business Times stated: “other efforts to create such a statewide exchange, including the now-defunct CalRHIO and Cal eConnect, among others, have floundered over the last 20 years, but the companies say they’ve done significant due diligence and learned from earlier mistakes.”

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New Blue Cross, Blue Shield HIE prompts privacy questions
Health IT Security

Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross joining forces this week was big news in healthcare, as a total of 9 million customers will have their records in the new comprehensive network, Cal INDEX. However, this large health information exchange (HIE) has also spurred some long-term privacy concerns among healthcare patient privacy experts, some of who are against “opt out” HIEs and believe “opt in” HIEs are the better option for patients.

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HPV vaccinations can save kids from misery and death
Sacramento Bee

Health officials can do little more than make educated guesses about how many teenagers have received HPV vaccinations in the United States. It’s not one of the vaccinations required to attend school. Any data are based on voluntary reporting.

But health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local physicians agree that the vaccination rates, whatever they are, are unacceptably low.

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National effort to find new cancer-fighting drugs takes root at UC Davis
Sacramento Bee

A national lung cancer trial launched earlier this summer with the help of a UC Davis oncologist has the potential to dramatically affect the way cancer drugs will be developed in the future.

The trial, called Lung-MAP, puts a cancer-fighting approach into action that uses genomic profiling. This involves testing a patient’s tumors for “bio markers,” or genetic identifiers, that can help physicians determine which genetically targeted drugs will work for them.

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Kaiser Permanente enrollment gets Obamacare bump
San Francisco Business Times

Looking for excitement in Kaiser Permanente’s financial results in recent quarters is like heading to the ‘burbs looking for big city lights. Ain’t gonna happen.

Kaiser’s Q2 and first half numbers all looked good, and consistently consistent. Treasurer Tom Meier dubbed them a “stable and consistent performance” in a brief telephone interview with me moments after Kaiser belatedly released them. Most numbers were also quite similar to the figures Kaiser announced in early May for the first quarter of 2014.

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Silicon Valley health CEOs talk expansion plans, hiring, salaries
Silicon Valley Business Journal

It’s a healthcare hat trick: Thousands of new (insured) patients from Covered California, a booming economy and a growing population means Silicon Valley hospitals are seeing great demand — and growth. We pulled together executives from top health organizations this morning for our Business of Healthcare event to quiz them on expansion plans, hiring challenges and Affordable Care Act impact.

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Community Hospital to close blood center Oct. 16.
Monterey Herald

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula said Friday it will close its 42-year-old blood center in October.

The hospital said the need for blood at hospitals has dropped with advances in medicine and patient blood management, making it more expensive to operate its own blood center rather than obtaining blood and blood products from other suppliers.

The blood center, which employs 10 people and costs about $2 million a year to operate, will close Oct. 16.

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Longtime Sutter Health CFO Bob Reed to retire, successor named
San Francisco Business Times

Bob Reed, Sutter Health’s longtime chief financial officer, is retiring in January after 17 years in the role, the Sacramento-based nonprofit health giant said Friday afternoon. Jeff Sprague, Sutter’s senior vice president of financial operations, will succeed Reed as CFO. Reed has been at Sutter for 18 years, including the last 17 as chief financial officer for the 24-hospital system, one of the largest and most influential in Northern California.