News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Premature birth ‘biggest killer’
BBC News

A study in the Lancet shows it accounts for more than one million deaths per year – mostly in the developing world.

The complications of childbirth accounted for another 720,000 deaths a year.

Being born too soon – when the lungs, brain and other organs have not developed – can make babies highly vulnerable.

These figures are significant as for the first time neonatal conditions have overtaken infectious diseases such as pneumonia as the biggest childhood killer.

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Knowing When to Say Yes to Medical Technology
The Health Care Blog

In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine reported results of the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). Screening trials have to be big, because almost all the people who are screened don’t have the disease being investigated, and screening only helps people with silent disease.

The NLST had over 50,000 participants, all with a history of abusing their lungs through heavy smoking. Half were randomly assigned to have three annual low-dose helical chest computed tomography (CT) exams, and half were assigned to have three annual chest x-rays.

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Health Care Law Recasts Insurers as Obama Allies
New York Times

As Americans shop in the health insurance marketplace for a second year, President Obama is depending more than ever on the insurance companies that five years ago he accused of padding profits and canceling coverage for the sick.

Those same insurers have long viewed government as an unreliable business partner that imposed taxes, fees and countless regulations and had the power to cut payment rates and cap profit margins.

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Obama says he did not mislead public on ACA, spars with reform ‘architect’

President Barack Obama denied charges that he mislead Americans about the healthcare reform law in order to get it passed, reports The Washington Times.

His comment was in response to Jonathan Gruber–a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was a consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services on the Affordable Care Act–who claimed that a lack of transparency, along with the stupidity of American voters, helped pass the bill, notes The Wall Street Journal.

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Federal gov’t falls short on more health websites
San Francisco Chronicle

With many seniors facing high medical bills, a congressional investigation has found that federal government websites meant to give Medicare patients basic consumer tools instead fail to provide adequate information on out-of-pocket costs, and even quality of care.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that Medicare lacks clear procedures for getting useful information to consumers.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press before its public release, finds “critical weaknesses” in five consumer-information websites run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that seek to inform how well hospitals, nursing homes, physicians and other Medicare providers are doing.

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Health insurers exhale after smooth start to open enrollment
Modern Healthcare

A flood of calls and applications in the first days of Obamacare’s second open-enrollment period didn’t crash the enrollment websites like last year, but it will take a few days to check the accuracy of the information insurers are getting from the exchanges.

Still, the relatively glitch-free beginning was a relief to the agencies, companies, and not-for-profit organizations working to sign up more people for health insurance and renew existing customers’ plans.

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Poll: A New Low For Obamacare
San Francisco Chronicle

More Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform than ever before, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday.

The survey found 56% of Americans said they disapproved of the law, the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, while just 37% said they approved. That’s a seven-point shift from October, when Gallup found 53% of the US public disapproved of the law and 41% approved.

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Covered California says website will work as open enrollment begins
San Francisco Business Times

Covered California is poised for a boom in new business.

Open enrollment for insurance coverage in 2015 began at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15, 2015. Benefits will begin Jan. 1 for those who sign up by Dec. 15.

The state health benefit exchange website has been upgraded, more workers are available to answer call-center phones and brokers are geared up to help. Program officials hope to add more than 500,000 new members in 2015.

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Covered California officials promote open enrollment in SLO
San Luis Obispo Tribune

Covered California officials visited San Luis Obispo on Monday as part of a nine-day bus tour to spread the word about the open enrollment period for Californians to buy health insurance for 2015.

“We’re doing this to make sure we leave no one behind,” said Executive Director Peter Lee, who was making his first visit to San Luis Obispo County.

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Poll: Will California state government tighten up health enrollments?
Sacramento Bee

In case you missed the story, CalPERS says that it has removed close to 9,000 people wrongly carried on state employees’ and retires’ health insurance plans. An outside auditing firm discovered the “ineligible dependents” during a year-long check of state departments’ medical plan subscribers. Local agencies and school districts are next up for review.

When added to more than 5,000 ineligibles voluntarily dropped from coverage during an amenesty period last year, nearly 15,000 incorrectly enrolled individuals have been removed from state coverage. That’s a little more than 3 percent of the 432,000 dependents on state employee and retiree plans.

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AM Alert: The financial future of low-income Californians
Sacramento Bee

In their first addresses as Democratic leaders, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, both talked about lifting up Californians on the bottom of the income scale.

They were fitting introductions for members who have underlined their working class upbringings in rural Virginia (Atkins) or as the son of an immigrant mother in San Diego (de León). The implications for liberal priorities like more spending on social services will emerge over the course of this year’s legislative session and budget negotiations. For today, de León will be delivering the keynote at an event on connecting impoverished Californians to basic financial services.

Organized by the National Journal as part of that publication’s “The Next America” initiative, the event will take a look at topics like encouraging financial literacy and broadening access to basic products like bank accounts and loans. De León will be speaking at the Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco.

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Slideshow: Healthcare Executives Discuss Strategies During Health IT & Quality Exchange
HealthLeaders Media

Utilizing information technology to keep a population healthy and to motivate behavior changes in patients is a goal that all he althcare executives struggle with achieving.

More than 30 CIOs, CMIOs, CMOs, and other executives came together to share their thoughts and strategies at the first annual HealthLeaders Media Health IT & Quality Exchange in La Jolla, CA.

Over two days, attendees broke into small groups to discuss everything from solving population health problems, to the implementation of EHR and telehealth systems.

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Doctor Shortage Looming? Maybe Not
National Public Radio

The United States is facing a critical shortage of doctors that could seriously jeopardize the ability of a patient to get medical care in the coming years.

Or, at least, that’s the message the medical community has been pushing for several years now. And the media (including this reporter) have swallowed the line without much question.

But is the shortage real? Not necessarily, say a growing number of health economists and analysts.

The most widely publicized prediction of a looming crisis comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges, which has said that by 2025, the U.S. will be short roughly 130,000 doctors.

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Women’s Health and Gender-Specific Guidelines
HealthLeaders Media

As a population, women have different health and medical needs beyond the ones that present in the bikini zone. For example, women need smaller medical devices for knee replacements because their frames are smaller. Signs of a heart attack are different for women, as well.

The list of gender-specific presentations, diagnoses, and treatments goes on and on, thanks in part to a landmark study from the Institute of Medicine that showed sex differences were not just anatomical but cellular. That research led to a different way of thinking, says Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, FACC, FASNC, FAHSA, senior vice president for the Office of Community and Public Health at North Shore-LIJ Health System, a 17-hospital organization that provides care for 7 million people in an area that includes Long Island, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island in New York.

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Controversial Cholesterol Drug Redeemed By Global Clinical Test
National Public Radio

The wheels of drug research grind slowly, but they can grind exceedingly fine.

Merck said Monday that its cholesterol drug Vytorin was vindicated by a nine-year-long clinical study that aimed to find out if adding a drug that blocked the absorption of cholesterol to a statin, long the gold standard for cholesterol care, would help patients at a high risk of heart attack and stroke.

Previous research had raised doubts about Vytorin’s effectiveness. In a bit of a surprise, the study, known by the acronym IMPROVE-IT, showed that the drug worked. Still, the effects were modest.

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Toxic Tau Of Alzheimer’s May Offer A Path To Treatment
National Public Radio

After years of setbacks, Alzheimer’s researchers are sounding optimistic again. The reason: a brain protein called tau.

At this year’s Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., there are more than 100 papers on tau, which is responsible for the tangles that form in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. In the past, tau has received less attention than another protein called amyloid beta, which causes the sticky plaques associated with Alzheimer’s.

“Many people focused on amyloid beta for many years,” says Julia Gerson, a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Texas Medical Branch, who presented a paper on tau at the neuroscience meeting. “Now it’s coming out that tau might be more important.”

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Why Should Doctors Treat the Well and Nurses the Sick?
The Health Care Blog

A rash could be leukemia or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. A sore throat could be glossopharyngeal neuralgia or a retropharyngeal abscess. A blocked ear could be Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, a self-limited serous otitis or sudden sensorineural hearing loss with an abysmal prognosis if not treated immediately with high doses of steroids. A headache or sinus pain could be cancer, and a cough could be a pulmonary embolus or heart failure.

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Cal/OSHA updates rules for protecting hospital workers from Ebola
Sacramento Business Journal

State health officials rolled out a more complete explanation Friday of their rules for hospital action to prevent the spread of Ebola. The rules have been around for a while, said Juliann Sum, acting chief of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But this is an attempt to sweep together existing standards on infectious disease, apply them specifically to Ebola and make them easier to understand.

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Kaiser Permanente joins forces with Target Corp. on in-store clinics
Los Angeles Times

HMO giant Kaiser Permanente entered the growing retail clinic business for the first time by joining forces with Target Corp. on four in-store locations in Southern California.

Three Kaiser clinics inside Target stores opened Monday in Fontana, San Diego and Vista. A fourth clinic in Fullerton is scheduled to open next month.

These types of in-store clinics are expanding nationwide, driven by a shortage of primary care doctors and an influx of newly insured patients under the federal health law.