News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Electronic records access expensive—for patients
Modern Healthcare

Charging patients for access to copies of their medical records is widespread, contends a survey published by the American Health Information Management Association. Advocates of converting to electronic records hope they will democratize patient access to their own data. But the survey responses appear to throw cold water on that expectation. The survey found that 87.5% of respondents’ organizations had an electronic record system and 52.6% of respondents charge patients for access to electronic copies of their medical records, with fees varying from a flat fee to per-page fees.

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Slow blood tests put infants’ lives at risk: Our view
USA Today

Noah Wilkerson seemed to be a happy, healthy infant when he was born on a Friday in June 2009 at a Colorado Springs hospital. The next morning, the hospital drew a blood sample for routine screening done by virtually all U.S. hospitals.

It took two days for Noah’s sample to be couriered to the state lab, which did not process samples on weekends. On Tuesday — one day before the results came back — Noah died, the victim of an easily treatable disorder that can lower blood sugar to dangerous levels and kill.

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How The Skin Disease Psoriasis Costs Us Billions
National Public Radio

Skin disorders rarely make it on the list of big-time diseases, so when we saw a study saying that psoriasis costs the nation $52 to $63 billion a year, it was hard not to think, “Really?”

And that’s just for the direct costs of health care for people with psoriasis, according to the study, published Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology.

Indirect costs such as lost work hours and unemployment make up another $24 to $35 billion, the study found. Then there are the costs of associated health problems like heart disease and depression, at $35 billion. That’s a lot of money for something that could easily be dismissed as a rash by those of us who aren’t up to speed on psoriasis. But as those numbers suggest, we’d be wrong.

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Why Obamacare Means One of the Most Complicated Tax Seasons Ever
KQED Radio

Most days in early January, tax preparation offices are dead. Most people won’t get their W-2 or other tax documents until later this month. But at an H&R Block office I visited in San Francisco, office manager Sue Ellen Smith is expecting things to pick up fast. The IRS commissioner declared back in November that this tax season will be one of the most complicated ever. Why?

“This year taxes and health care intersect in a brand-new way,” Smith said. This is the first year that people who do not have health insurance will have to pay a fine, and that fine could be hefty.

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House redefines full-time work under Obamacare employer mandate
Modern Healthcare

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to redefine full-time employment under the healthcare reform law as 40 hours a week, but Republicans failed to win enough support to override a promised presidential veto. The proposal cleared the House by a 252-172 margin, with 12 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting for the change to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

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California’s soaring healthcare costs bode ill for the budget
Los Angeles Times

California’s budget, which bounced back after years of deficits, is now being squeezed by rising healthcare costs for the poor and for retired state workers.

The mountain of medical bills threatens to undermine Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to strengthen state finances — his central promise of the past four years.

Enrollment in the state’s healthcare program for the poor, known as Medi-Cal, has exploded by 50% since President Obama’s signature law took effect.

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State exchange enrollment hits 995,000 as King v. Burwell looms
Modern Healthcare

State-based exchanges are reporting a robust number of sign-ups and renewals for health insurance during the current open-enrollment period, an analysis of state data shows. The 14 state-based exchanges are collectively reporting more than 995,000 people signed up or re-enrolled in coverage as of early January. If that pace keeps up, states could surpass the roughly 2 million enrollees their exchanges saw last year.

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States make big improvements: Another view
USA Today

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and reporter Ellen Gabler did a public service in 2013 by exposing weaknesses in the nation’s newborn screening system. Public health agencies and hospitals embraced this opportunity and achieved significant improvements benefiting mothers and infants.

State health officials take this issue seriously. Three weeks after the newspaper’s initial report, state health officials convened in person to review newborn screening performance and launch systematic improvements. We partnered with the March of Dimes, clinical organizations and public health experts to launch a national collaborative to share strategies and build momentum.

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Lavish ‘Cadillac’ health plans dying out as federal health-care coverage tax looms
Chicago Tribune

Large employers are increasingly putting an end to their most generous health-care coverage as a tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans looms closer under federal health insurance laws.

Employees including bankers at JPMorgan Chase and college professors at Harvard University are seeing a range of moves to shift more costs to workers. Companies are introducing higher deductibles and co-payments, rising premiums and the imposition of wellness programs that carry penalties for people who don’t comply.

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Insurers will be dipping their toes in takeover waters in 2015
Modern Healthcare

The health insurance merger and acquisition scene has been noticeably quiet for the past two years. But consensus is building among industry observers that activity should pick up in 2015 as insurers become more comfortable with healthcare reform’s new operating environment.Some of the smaller publicly traded companies such as Centene Corp. and WellCare Health Plans have been rumored takeover targets for large-cap insurers. Speculation also has centered around the possibility of Humana merging with one of its larger competitors.

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CMS may use new child HCAHPS to adjust Medicaid hospital pay
Modern Healthcare

The CMS this year will start to lay groundwork to base hospitals’ Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program reimbursement in part on how satisfied parents and their children are with the care they receive.In October 2014, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality posted a pediatric version of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey now used by Medicare to track patient satisfaction in hospitals.

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CMS penalizes Providence for Medicare Advantage problems
Modern Healthcare

The CMS has fined Providence Health Plan in Beaverton, Ore., for what federal officials deemed “systemic” Medicare Advantage infractions.The $164,600 civil money penalty (PDF) mostly pertained to coverage determinations. For example, the CMS said Providence failed to quickly notify its Medicare members about what services or prescription drugs were covered.

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Will Twin Medi-Cal Cuts Affect Access?
California Healthline

Reimbursement rates dropped Jan. 1 for Medi-Cal primary care providers in two ways: A provision of the Affordable Care Act temporarily set primary care reimbursement rates at Medicare levels, significantly higher than Medicaid payments. The increase lasted two years and expired on Jan. 1. A state reduction in Medi-Cal reimbursement for primary care providers hit on the same day. The 10% rate cut, approved by the California Legislature in 2011, was held up while the matter was thrashed out in court.

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A new study might offer an explanation for the autism boom
San Francisco Chronicle

A new study suggests the surging rates of autism over recent decades are a result of changes in the way the disease is diagnosed.

Medical professionals have long thought improved and changed diagnosis practices could play a key role in the autism boom and now this large and ground-breaking study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics backs these assumptions with solid evidence.

And perhaps what makes this study especially noteworthy, Tara Haelle points out at Forbes.com, is that it supports “the idea that the apparent rise in autism rates, or at least most of it, is unlikely to be ‘real.’” In other words, the increase in autism reflects a more common diagnosis of what might have gone undetected or been diagnosed as something else in the past.

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Kaiser gives $1M to fight obesity in South Sacramento
Sacramento Business Journal

Kaiser Permanente has given a $1 million grant to a local nonprofit to boost the fight against obesity in south Sacramento. The Health Education Council grant is part of Kaiser’s two-year, $4 million investment in healthy eating and active living programs across Northern California. The focus is on chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension that are related to obesity. Half of California adults, one in nine California children and one in three California teens is overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Valley Children’s Hospital to train pediatricians, specialists with new programs
Fresno Bee

Valley Children’s Hospital announced Thursday that it plans to create its own graduate education program to train pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists, potentially ending a 40-year partnership with UCSF-Fresno.

“Our goal is to establish a Valley Children’s-sponsored pediatric residency program and over time pediatric subspecialty fellowships,” said Dr. David Christensen, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

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Dignity Health names new Bay Area head of operations
San Francisco Business Times

Dignity Health, which runs 39 hospitals in California, Arizona and Nevada, has named Dr. Todd Strumwasser at its new head of operations for the San Francisco Bay Area. Strumwasser, who had been chief executive of two hospitals in Seattle’s Swedish Health Services system, Swedish First Hill and Swedish Cherry Hill, starts in his new job as senior vice president of operations for Dignity Health’s Bay Area Service Area on Feb. 1.

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