News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Study: Western States Eliminate Race Gap on Key Health Measures
KQED Radio

A major new study looking at health disparities across the U.S. finds that significant gaps in managing heart disease and diabetes persist — except in western states, where the gap has been eliminated.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University looked at 100,000 Medicare patients who were enrolled in HMOs, called “Medicare Advantage” plans, from 2006 to 2011. While management of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar improved overall, blacks “substantially” trailed whites everywhere except the western U.S., an area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

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HHS awards $665 million for state innovation models
Modern Healthcare

The federal government announced more than $665 million in grants to 28 states, three territories and the District of Columbia on Tuesday to design and test new healthcare payment and delivery models.

The bulk of the money will go to 11 states, including Michigan, New York and Ohio to test statewide initiatives.

“This is a historic day for our health system,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, CMS deputy administrator for innovation and quality, on a call with reporters. “HHS is committed to partnering with states to advance the goals we all share: better care, smarter spending, and, ultimately, healthier people.”

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More hospitals moving to improved EHRs, CMS reports
Modern Healthcare

Hospitals are further along in upgrading their electronic health-record systems to where they need to be than had seemed possible only a month ago, according to new data from the CMS. After getting off to a sputtering start, nearly 3,700 hospitals have attested to meeting the program’s meaningful-use requirements through Dec. 1 this year. More are expected to attest as the filing period draws to a close at the end of this month, Elisabeth Myers, of CMS’ office of e-health standards and services, said in a report to the federally chartered Health Information Technology Policy Committee.

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California’s Retiree Health Care Costs Jump Past $70 Billion
capital public radio

The state controller’s office says California is now on the hook for more than $70 billion in health care costs for retired state workers. That’s a 10 percent increase from last year. Gov. Jerry Brown plans to take the issue on in his new budget proposal next month.

The sharp increase in retiree health care costs comes mostly because we’re all living longer. Controller John Chiang says the state must start pre-funding its retiree health care benefits – just as it does with pensions. He compares it to making credit card payments:

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HealthCare.gov sign-ups surge
San Francisco Chronicle

Sign-ups under President Barack Obama’s health care law surged last week, driven by a deadline for getting covered by Jan. 1, officials said Tuesday. Unlike last year, the HealthCare.gov website was working well. More than 1 million people picked a plan from Dec. 6 through Dec. 12, bringing the total to nearly 2.5 million, said Health and Human Services officials. “It’s been a strong start,” said Andy Slavitt, overseeing the second year rollout. “Our call center and our technology have done their jobs — so far.”

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Federal Health Exchange Sees Enrollment Flurry
New York Times

The Obama administration said Tuesday that nearly 2.5 million people had selected health insurance plans through the federal marketplace in the first four weeks of open enrollment this fall.

More than one million of those selections came in just one week, from Dec. 6 through last Friday.

“Millions of Americans want access to affordable quality health insurance, and they came to the marketplace to find it,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, said in reporting enrollment activity under the Affordable Care Act.

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HealthCare.gov sees record traffic
The Hill

Traffic on the federal government’s ObamaCare website reached a record high on Monday, with more than 1 million people logging on to HealthCare.gov on the final day to buy coverage effective Jan. 1. At least 2.5 million people have bought health insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges as of Friday — a robust enrollment tally that does not include sign-ups from this week or an “extremely busy” weekend, according to Andy Slavitt, deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

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HealthCare.gov sign-ups surge ahead of Jan. 1 coverage deadline
Modern Healthcare

More than a million people signed up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov in the past week, bringing the overall total of signups for the first four weeks of the current open-enrollment period to nearly 2.5 million, the CMS announced Tuesday. Dec. 15 was the HealthCare.gov deadline to enroll for coverage to go into effect Jan. 1. More than half of the people who enrolled between Dec. 6-12 were renewing their coverage. The number of people enrolling or re-enrolling last week was considerably higher than in previous weeks.

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How Obamacare reduces racial disparities in health care
MSNBC

A newstudyreleased Tuesday by the nonpartisan Urban Institute found that Obamacare will reduce the coverage gap between minorities and whites. But blacks won’t benefit as dramatically unless more states embrace the health care law’s Medicaid expansion, the study, billed as providing the first state-level projections of Obamacare’s impact by race and ethnicity, found.

Health coverage for all racial and ethnic groups is growing as a result of the Affordable Care Act through the new insurance exchanges and additional public funds for health care. But the study found Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid is particularly effective at reducing the coverage gap between whites and racial minorities, as minorities are more likely to be uninsured and qualify for the program, which covers lower-income Americans up to 138% of the poverty line.

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Covered California extends deadline to sign up for health insurance
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, has extended the deadline for residents trying to obtain individual medical coverage beginning next year.

People who initiated the Covered California application process by the original deadline of Dec. 15 will have until Sunday to complete the process and pick a health plan, state health officials said Tuesday. Health coverage will still begin Jan. 1 for those who meet the new deadline.

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California State Controller John Chiang Urges Action on State’s $72 Billion Unfunded Retiree Healthcare Liability
Sierra Sun Times

State Controller John Chiang today released a new report showing the unfunded liability of providing health and dental benefits for state retirees under the current funding policy is $71.8 billion. The amount represents the present-day cost to provide benefits earned as of June 30, 2014, which is expected to be paid over the lifetime of current and future retirees.

The total unfunded obligation grew $7.2 billion from the $64.6 billion obligation identified as of June 30, 2013. Healthcare claims did not grow as rapidly as expected, and design changes in health systems also helped to lower costs, but those positive events were outweighed by new mortality assumptions that alone added $7.1 billion to the liability. Specifically, men are assumed to live approximately 2 years longer than previously expected. For women, the new mortality assumptions increase life expectancy by up to 1.8 years.

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First Real-time MRI-guided Brain Surgery for Parkinson’s in Southern California
UCSD News

Neurosurgeons at UC San Diego Health System are the first in Southern California to implant a deep brain stimulator (DBS) in a patient with Parkinson’s disease using real-time 3-D magnetic resonance image (MRI) guidance. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Symptoms include shaking, slowness of movement and difficulty walking.

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California Endowment CEO abruptly resigns from Covered California board
San Francisco Business Times

Bob Ross abruptly announced Monday he will resign from the Covered California board of directors on Dec. 31. His term does not expire until 2016. The president and CEO for the California Endowment wasn’t doing interviews Monday, but in a statement posted on the nonprofit foundation’s website, Ross thanked former state Senate president Darrell Steinberg and new state Senate leader Kevin de León for the opportunity to “contribute to California’s groundbreaking and historic efforts to bring affordable care to the citizens of the Golden State.”

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California retiree health care gap reaches $72B
San Mateo Daily Journal

California’s unfunded obligation to pay for the health and dental care of retired state government workers grew by 11 percent during the most recent fiscal year to nearly $72 billion, according to a report released Tuesday by the state controller’s office. In a report he has issued annually since 2007, Controller John Chiang proposed a five-year plan to start pre-funding the benefit, which is rarely offered in the private sector.

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Sean Parker donates $25 million to Stanford for allergy research
San Francisco Chronicle

Billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Sean Parker says he has been hospitalized 14 times for allergic reactions in the past four years. That’s one reason he’s donating $25 million to Stanford University to find a cure for allergies. The goal of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research is to find a cure for allergy sufferers that requires just one or two treatments. “It’s not just enough to come up with slightly better incremental improvements on the kind of treatments that are out there,” said Parker. “The goal is actually to achieve a cure.”

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After Blue Shield Pulls Out of Zip Codes, Consumers See Limited Insurance Options
capital public radio

Right now, insurance agents are spending a lot of time on the phone with health plans and Covered California.

“There are 101 callers ahead of me in the cue,” says Lori Lomas of Feather Financial in Quincy, who has been selling insurance in rural mountain communities for over 20 years.

When the Affordable Care Act was implemented, she started selling through Covered California’s website.

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UC Davis Children’s Hospital patients chat virtually with Santa
Sacramento Bee

Santa had a long line of fans in the UC Davis Children’s Hospital playroom Tuesday, but fortunately for him, they weren’t leaping into his lap.

The big-bellied Christmas figure was up in the “North Pole,” in this case a conference room, greeting kids all over the hospital through a large, high-definition screen. Seated in an office chair and costumed from beard to boot, Santa spoke with each child in the playroom about his or her Christmas wishes and favorite jingles. A backdrop depicting a cozy fireplace on a snowy day helped preserve the magic for patients, most of whom believed that Santa could not come to Sacramento because he was busy preparing for Christmas.

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Lodi Health votes to proceed with Adventist Health affiliation
Sacramento Business Journal

Members of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Association have voted 189 to 14 to move forward with plans to affiliate with Roseville-based Adventist Health.

If approved by the California Attorney General, the transaction could be completed as early as next spring. The membership vote occurred Monday night.

The deal would give the independent 191-bed community hospital and related health system financial assistance to adapt to health reform — and add to Adventist’s growing presence in the Central Valley.

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Lodi Health votes in favor of Adventist Health affiliation
Central Valley Business Times

Members of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Association have voted 189-14 to move forward with plans to affiliate with Adventist Health. If the affiliation is approved by the California Attorney General’s Office, the transaction may be completed as early as spring 2015.

The board of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Association brought the vote to its members after two years of considering Lodi Health’s options for the future. In August, the board unanimously approved a letter of intent to proceed with an affiliation with Adventist Health.

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Sutter’s surplus rises on tight expense management
Modern Healthcare

Sutter Health, a 24-hospital system based in Sacramento, Calif., has continued to improve its operating performance through the first nine months of the year, cutting expenses to overcome nearly flat revenue growth.

Admissions across Sutter’s hospitals continued to decline, decreasing 4.2% in the third quarter. However, the drop was offset by a 2.3% increase in outpatient revenue. Outpatient revenue accounted for 37.1% of total revenue in the third quarter compared with 36.2% in the prior-year period.

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Children’s Hospital CEO Cordova to retire
Los Angeles Business Journal

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles President and Chief Executive Richard Cordova plans to retire after 10 years at the helm of one of the top children’s hospitals in the country. Children’s Hospital didn’t say when Cordova will step down but said he would remain in his role during a transition period. The hospital said it would launch a national search to find his successor.

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