News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Administration Proposes New Health Rules Addressing Religious Objections
New York Times

The Obama administration on Friday proposed new regulations intended to address the religious objections that some nonprofit organizations and private companies have to providing contraceptive coverage for their employees.

The United States Supreme Court said this summer that the government could not force a private, closely held company to pay for insurance coverage for contraceptive services at no cost to their employees if the owners of the company expressed religious objections.

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California: Insurers must cover elective abortions
Modern Healthcare

Health insurance companies in California may not refuse to cover the cost of abortions, state insurance officials have ruled in a reversal of policy stemming from the decision by two Catholic universities to drop elective abortions from their employee health plans. Although the federal Affordable Care Act does not compel employers to provide workers with health insurance that includes abortion coverage, the director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care said in a letter to seven insurance companies on Friday that the state Constitution and a 1975 state law prohibits them from selling group plans that exclude the procedure.

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Medi-Cal has booby trap for some estates
San Francisco Chronicle

Many low-income Californians who became eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, under the Affordable Care Act were happy to get free health care. But for those 55 and older, it came with a booby trap. When they die, the state will attempt to recover anything it spent on their health care from their estates, including their home. This so-called estate recovery program has been a feature of Medi-Cal for many years, but the act allowed California to expand Medi-Cal coverage to a much larger group of people, including those with low incomes but unlimited assets.

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Obamacare delivers benefits despite the political attacks
San Francisco Chronicle

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a slam-dunk issue for the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Karl Rove told us so in April, writing that “Obamacare is and will remain a political problem for Democrats.” So how’s that Obamacare thing working out for the GOP? The most significant bit of election news over the last week was the decision of Sen. Mark Pryor, the embattled Arkansas Democrat, to run an ad touting his vote for the health care law as a positive for the people of his increasingly Republican state.

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Obama administration proposes new workarounds on contraceptive coverage
Modern Healthcare

The Obama administration is proposing a workaround to provide contraceptive coverage to employees of closely held companies that object on religious grounds. It was not immediately clear whether this latest compromise would finally defuse the controversy that has yielded dozens of lawsuits challenging the administration’s policies on the coverage.

Under a proposed rule issued Friday, HHS would give those companies the same accommodation extended to religious charities that raise objections.

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California reverses position on health insurance abortion coverage
The Mercury News

Spurred by faculty and staff outrage over the refusal by two Catholic universities to pay for elective abortions, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration on Friday announced that health insurance companies in the state can no longer deny coverage for these procedures.

California’s Department of Managed Health Care, which oversees HMOs, issued letters to seven insurance companies saying refusing to pay for any abortion, whether medically necessary or not, violates the state constitution and a 1975 state law.

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Covered California names sales chief for individual and small business division
Sacramento Business Journal

Covered California has appointed Kirk Whelan to be director of its Individual and Small Business Sales Division and named Amy Palmer director of communications and public relations.

This action fills two more spots in the executive ranks as the state health benefit exchange prepares for its second open enrollment period, which starts this fall. Whelan will replace Corky Goodwin, who has served on an interim basis, while Palmer is filling a vacant position.

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Covered California fills key executive positions
Los Angeles Business Journal

Covered California has promoted operations chief Yolanda Richardson to chief deputy director of strategy, marketing and product development and hired Susannah Johnsrud to take over for Richardson as chief deputy executive director of operations. Johnsrud presented financial information to the board at its June meeting in Sacramento, but her previous job was director of the Financial Information System for California that is integrating financial management for the state.

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Covered California’s Peter Lee nets bonus, Obamacare site nets 1.2 million enrollees
San Francisco Business Times

Covered California’s executive director, Peter Lee, has won a one-time $52,528 bonus for his role in launching the Obamacare exchange in the Golden State, which apparently netted 1.2 million enrollees all told during its first open enrollment period. The latter number is still unconfirmed and based on preliminary projections, spokeswoman Anne Gonzales told me late this morning. As of mid-April, Covered California was citing nearly 1.4 million people signed up, while noting that only about 80 percent had actually paid for their coverage at that point.

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Covered California chief Peter Lee gets $52K bonus
Sacramento Bee

Peter V. Lee, the head of the state’s health insurance exchange, was awarded a 20-percent bonus for his efforts in launching the federal program in California.

The performance-based award, which pencils out to $52,528 on top of his base salary of $262,644, was disclosed at the exchange’s board meeting Thursday. Covered California board member Diana Dooley said officials would look at possibly adjusting Lee’s base pay in the coming months.

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Covered California officials, insurance chief clash over Prop. 45
Los Angeles Times

California’s Obamacare exchange and the state insurance commissioner are on a collision course over Proposition 45, a popular ballot measure aimed at reining in health insurance rates.

Covered California officials lashed out at the statewide ballot initiative this week and warned that it could be disastrous to the state’s implementation of the federal healthcare law.

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African-Americans overlooked at Covered California, lawmakers say
San Francisco Business Times

The board at Covered California got an earful Thursday from two African-American legislators unhappy with what they say was a lack of outreach to the African-American community during the first open enrollment for the new state health benefit exchange. Covered California boosted outreach to Latinos but the “lack of commitment” to African-Americans means this population could owe more than $8 million in penalties to the IRS for failure to buy insurance, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, a Democrat from San Bernardino, said at the board’s regular monthly meeting in Sacramento.

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Despite Errors, State Continues Enrolling Adults With Disabilities and the Elderly in New Health Program
HealthyCal.org

Ben Rockwell is a 68-year-old retired nurse with Parkinson’s disease and a long list of other health problems. He has to juggle two government health plans to make sure he gets the care he needs, but over the past two decades, he’s gotten good at it.

That’s why when he became eligible to join a new state health program, called Cal MediConnect, he decided he would pass. Because he knew how complicated coordinating his health care was, he didn’t want to hand off the process to a managed-care plan.

But despite California regulations stating that he had the right to keep his existing coverage — and his best efforts to do just that — it was changed anyway.

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‘Kafkaesque’ Value System Unfairly Penalizes Doctor Pay
Health Leaders Media

How much physicians get paid is increasingly determined by a “Kafkaesque” payment formula, one that penalizes doctors whose patients are more expensive—even when those higher costs stem from services that other doctors perform.

That’s the analysis from a healthcare payment reform consultant and author of a new report, “Fair and Effective Ways to Analyze the Drivers of Healthcare Costs and Transition to Value-Based Payment.”

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These doctors make office calls, or video ones
San Francisco Chronicle

Under a bright light, Dr. Sara Creighton probed and peered inside a patient’s mouth. The dentist’s first appointment of the day was under way. Only the unusually loud traffic outside suggested something was atypical about this practice. This was Studio Dental, a dental office in a trailer parked on the Embarcadero. Every weekday, Creighton and a team of hygienists drive the trailer to a location in downtown San Francisco and clean the teeth of employees from Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Square and other nearby businesses.

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Chicago and 2 California Counties Sue Over Marketing of Painkillers
New York Times

As the country struggles to combat the growing abuse of heroin and opioid painkillers, a new battlefield is emerging: the courts.

The City of Chicago and two California counties are challenging the drug industry’s way of doing business, contending in two separate lawsuits that “aggressive marketing” by five companies has fueled an epidemic of addiction and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in insurance claims and other health care costs.

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Pilot program shrinking response times
San Diego Union-Tribune

The first seven weeks of San Diego’s experimental effort to shorten emergency response times in poorly served areas has shown encouraging results, but city officials stopped short this week of declaring fast-response squads a model that will quickly spread across the city.

Response times have shrunk sharply in the Encanto neighborhood of southeast San Diego since two-man crews began fighting small fires and responding to medical emergencies in a reconfigured pick-up truck on July 1.

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Growing cancer-testing company NeoGenomics raises $34M in offering
Sacramento Business Journal

Growing cancer-focused testing company NeoGenomics Inc. raised about $34.6 million in public offering of additional shares. In July, NeoGenomics completed its $6 million purchase of Path Logic, which is based in West Sacramento. The transaction included Path Logic’s labs in West Sacramento and Fresno. Path Logic operates as a subsidiary of NeoGenomics. Path Logic retainsits name and brand, said Steven Jones, executive vice president of finance with NeoGenomics.

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Roche to pay rich price for one-drug InterMune
San Francisco Business Times

Roche — the Swiss parent of Genentech Inc. — will buy Brisbane’s InterMune Inc. for $8.3 billion, according to a deal disclosed Sunday.

The $74-per-share, all-cash deal really is no surprise. Rumors of a buyout by any one of a handful of Big Pharma players surged as InterMune’s experimental treatment for a fatal lung-scarring disease neared an approval-decision date with the Food and Drug Administration.

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Proton Beam Therapy Poised for Growth in US
Health Leaders Media

With several countries charging ahead in efforts to build proton beam therapy centers for cancer radiation treatment, American healthcare providers and their partners appear poised to advance the technology beyond its infancy in this country.

“It’s one of the areas where the U.S. is behind,” says Jason Caron, a partner at Chicago-based law firm McDermott, Will and Emery, who has worked on proton beam therapy center projects for more than eight years.

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Irvine’s Reverse Medical gets snatched up by Covidien as Medtronic merger looms
Los Angeles Business Journal

As it prepares for a merger with Medtronic Inc., medical device company Covidien has itself acquired a small California-based company to makes products to treat vascular disease. Covidien (NYSE: COV) didn’t say how much it paid for Reverse Medical Corp. in an announcement today, saying only that the business will come under its existing neurovascular product line.

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New Hospital Embraces Next Frontier of Cancer Treatment
UCSF Today

When urologist Peter Carroll, MD, MPH, did his residency at UCSF 30 years ago, cancer was “a word that was whispered,” a knowledgeable patient was someone who just followed doctor’s orders and oftentimes a diagnosis wasn’t made until disease was advanced.

That’s all changed with the introduction of routine use of imaging and other screening practices, in which, for example, an asymptomatic small kidney cancer might be spotted in a patient with suspected gallstones, said Carroll, interim director and head of the prostate cancer program at UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer

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UC Davis clinic serves the uninsured in Sacramento for free
Sacramento Bee

Daniel Heidelburg normally heads to the emergency room when his breath gets short and his heart starts racing. But on one of his recent visits to the ER at UC Davis Medical Center, his doctor told him about a different option for follow-up care: the school’s free TEACH clinic.

Earlier this month, Heidelburg, 51, a former Paratransit driver from Oak Park, paid his first visit to the UC Davis clinic, which is housed inside Sacramento County’s Primary Care Clinic at 4600 Broadway.

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