News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Flu Season Brings Stronger Vaccines And Revised Advice
National Public Radio

The symptoms of the flu are familiar: fever, chills, cough, congestion, feeling very, very tired. If you’re a healthy adult under 65, you’ll most likely recover in a week or two.

But for those older than 65, things can get worse fast, says Dr. H. Keipp Talbot, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

“It’s not [just] a cold, it’s not the chills, it’s not a runny nose,” she says. Flu complications like these hospitalize more than 200,000 older adults every year, and thousands die.

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HealthCare.gov gets cybersecurity upgrades
San Francisco Chronicle

Officials say HealthCare.gov has gotten cybersecurity upgrades ahead of a Nov. 15 start for the second open enrollment season under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Andy Slavitt oversees the complex technology. Slavitt says the facility that hosts HealthCare.gov is now certified to meet rigorous government standards for cloud computing. Cloud operations use large networks of machines in different locations to handle data.

HealthCare.gov is also conducting daily security scans and weekly so-called “white-hat” hacking attempts that simulate real attacks.

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Telehealth Gets More Coverage from CMS
HealthLeaders Media

New rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services significantly broaden coverage for chronic care telehealth services.

The rulemaking changes are inside the 1,185-page document detailing Medicare payments to physicians and other providers.

The American Telemedicine Association, which had sought the expanded coverage for five years, notes that among the rules are provisions that will pay for remote chronic care management using the new current procedural terminology (CPT) code 99490, with a monthly unadjusted, non-facility fee of $42.60.

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A Post-Election Day Certainty: New Scrutiny for the Affordable Care Act
New York Times

This week’s elections ensure a new round of political attacks on the Affordable Care Act, but they also create potential opportunities to repair provisions of the law that people on both sides of the partisan divide would like to fix.

With the shift in power in the Senate, Republicans can turn up the heat on the White House, which has dismissed as political stunts repeated House votes to repeal the law.

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California, New York Efforts Highlight Shift in Health Data Exchange
California Healthline

A major source of funding for electronic health information exchange has historically been federal grants, such as those provided by the HITECH Act, which included, among other things, grants for the development of statewide HIE infrastructure. With this funding largely gone, the locus of electronic HIE activity has been shifting from the federal government to public — and, increasingly, private — health care stakeholders at the state and local level.

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Covered California Announces Proposed Rates for 2015 Small Business Health Options Program
Sierra Sun Times

Health insurance premiums for Covered California’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) have been proposed and submitted to state regulators. Small-business consumers can expect to see a statewide weighted average increase of just 5.2 percent for the 2015 plan year.

In its role as an “active purchaser,” Covered California was able to keep increases low for a majority of SHOP consumers.

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Health care’s biggest winners and losers
San Francisco Business Times

Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield of California, WellPoint/Anthem Blue Cross, Health Net: For successfully fighting off Proposition 45’s additional rate regulation. Covered California: Also a winner when Prop. 45 went down to defeat, because the initiative could have complicated rate setting at the Obamacare exchange. California Medical Association: Dodged a bullet when proponents of Prop. 46 created a three-headed beast of an initiative, rather than focusing on indexing medical malpractice awards to inflation.

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Fewer Babies Are Born Prematurely, But Many Still Suffer
National Public Radio

The number of babies born too early dropped to 11.4 percent of all births in 2013, the best number in 17 years. But that’s still more than 450,000 children being born too early. Those babies face in increased risk of death, and those who survive are more likely to have problems including intellectual disability, vision or hearing loss, cerebral palsy and breathing trouble.

One reason for the success is that women, doctors and hospitals are getting the message about the benefits of waiting until labor begins, rather than choose to deliver a few weeks early.

“After 37 weeks there was a little bit of a cavalier attitude, that the baby was OK and it was OK to deliver,” says Dr. Siobhan Dolan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the March of Dimes. The nonprofit released its premature births report card Thursday, based on CDC data.

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New hope for Parkinson’s patients in stem cell treatment
Washington Post

For more than 30 years, stem cells have been the great hope of medical science. Given their remarkable ability to turn into any type of cell in the body, researchers have theorized that they could be used to treat and perhaps even cure all sorts of diseases and conditions from spinal cord injury to baldness.

Progress has been painfully slow for most areas of research but this week researchers in Sweden are reporting a major advance in a possible stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s. While the treatment has only been tried in rats, the scientists — led by Malin Parmar, an associate professor of regenerative neurobiology at the Lund University — said they believe the results are promising enough to move to clinical trials in humans within a few years.

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Lung Biopsy Value, Costs Questioned
HealthLeaders Media

A study presented in Chicago recently calls for a hard look at the value of biopsies in lung cancer diagnoses.

The research focused on a random sample of nearly 9,000 Medicare beneficiaries who underwent diagnostic tests after an abnormal chest computed tomography scan. The study found 43% of the total diagnostic workup cost after the abnormal CT scans was linked to biopsies with negative results for patients who ended up not being diagnosed with lung cancer.

The total diagnostic workup cost for patients in the study was pegged at $38.3 million, with Medicare spending at $16.5 million on biopsies for patients who did not have lung cancer.

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Could the ‘Design Thinking’ that Led to the Apple Mouse Transform Health Care?
The Health Care Blog

In 1980, Apple gave a small California design firm (that later became IDEO) a simple yet incredibly complex task: do more with less. The challenge: take a computer mouse that cost $400 and make one that cost $25 while simultaneously improving the quality, functionality and user experience. The result: IDEO not only delivered an exceptional product, but also pioneered a design thinking approach that has allowed it to make innovation a regular occurrence.

This month, as part of the first Evolent Health Clinical Innovation Summit on high-value health care delivery, we visited IDEO at its Palo Alto headquarters. Twenty health care leaders from across the country visited the IDEO toy lab, heard the story of the first Apple mouse and marveled at a 3D-printer. The question on our collective minds: could the design thinking principles that produced the first Apple mouse be used to transform U.S. health care?

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Cottage Hospital Prepares for Potential Ebola Outbreak
KEYT3 - Santa Barbara

Ebola is still a major concern in American even though there is only one case of the deadly disease in New York. Cottage hospital in Santa Barbara is working closely with the County Public Heath Department to provide proper care for any Ebola patient while isolating and containing the virus.

Cottage has trained nearly 200 staff members since august. The training consists of properly screening patients for Ebola-like symptoms as well as learning how to put on and take off personal protective equipment.

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Gene for HDL cholesterol linked to longer life, study finds
Washington Post

A new study lends additional evidence to the likelihood that genes associated with high levels of the so-called good cholesterol appear to contribute to exceptionally long life expectancy and resistance to age-related disease.

Sofiya Milman , an assistant professor of medicine in geriatrics and endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said her team’s findings could open the way to finding drugs that target the gene and mimic its functions, thereby extending life.

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Medical device industry hopes GOP shift in Congress thaws VC outlook
San Francisco Business Times

The political heat applied with the Republican takeover of the Senate could thaw the funding freeze for medical devices. While the GOP led in the Senate by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell may not succeed in overturning the Affordable Care Act, it may take the ACA out at the knees by repealing or cutting a 2.3 percent tax on medical device company revenue. “Some degree of device taxes is reasonable,” said Dan Burnett, who operates the TheraNova med device incubator in San Francisco’s biotech-rich Mission Bay neighborhood. “I hope that it can be altered.”

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Spotlight On…Brian Jensen, Hospital Council of Northern and Central California
Sacramento Business Journal

When Brian Jensen took a new job as chief of the regional hospital association in June 2013, he understood business and politics — but he didn’t really know health care. “Being new to health care just as the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is being implemented has been like learning how to surf during a tsunami.

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