News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Fewer struggle with paying medical costs
San Francisco Chronicle

Not only do more Americans have health insurance, but the number struggling with medical costs has dropped since President Barack Obama’s health care law expanded coverage, according to a study released Thursday. The Commonwealth Fund’s biennial health insurance survey found that the share of U.S. adults who did not get needed care because of cost dropped from 43 percent in 2012 to 36 percent last year, as the health care law’s main coverage expansion went into full swing.

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CMS’ Doc Payments Database Wins Good Reviews
HealthLeaders Media

The Open Payments database created under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (PPSA) is much improved from its rocky start, several speakers said at a briefing here sponsored by the National Coalition on Health Care.

 ”To CMS‘ [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] credit, they have made consistent improvements in what is out there,” Rodney Whitlock, PhD, health policy director for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said at the briefing Wednesday. “Our office is very pleased with what CMS has done.” “The PPSA is definitely a success,” agreed Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at the Georgetown University Medical Center. “The fact of its existence is really positive.” Berman is also the director of PharmedOut, an organization whose goals are to document the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on drug prescribing and foster access to unbiased information about drugs.

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Senate Report: Overhaul California’s Long-Term Care System
capital public radio

California uses 112 programs spread across 20 state departments and agencies to provide long-term care for its nearly five million elderly residents. A new state Senate report says that patchwork system needs an overhaul.

Democratic Senator Carol Liu’s office sorted and color-coded all those different long-term care programs by department. “It looks like a periodic table, doesn’t it?” Liu says.

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Robots roam hallways of SF’s newest hospital, lending a helping hand

Meet Eve, a short, refrigerator-wide robot. While it doesn’t have arms, or a head, its portly frame can haul heavy loads, dispense supplies and travel long distances.

Eve is one of 25 autonomous robots programmed to help the staff of San Francisco’s newest hospital. When the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center at Mission Bay opens on February 1, Eve and its comrades will be cruising the corridors to bring supplies to and from the pharmacy, kitchen, lab and stock rooms.

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Obamacare: Latino enrollment numbers in California show mixed results
The Mercury News

A retooled, multi-million-dollar marketing effort by the state’s health care exchange to persuade more of the state’s Latino residents to obtain insurance under the nation’s health care law is showing mixed results, according to enrollment data released Thursday.

Nonetheless, Covered California officials appear hopeful that final enrollment figures will be rosier.

This year’s first demographic breakdown of enrollment numbers, released by Covered California, showed that of the 228,766 Californians who selected a 2015 health care plan in the first 60 days of open enrollment — from N

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Covered California Could Have Increased Insurers, Consumer Choice, Insurance Commissioner Says
capital public radio

California’s insurance commissioner says he objects ‘in the strongest possible terms’ to a decision by Covered California to block an insurer from selling policies in areas with few consumer choices.

Commissioner Dave Jones says Health Net wanted to sell individual policies in more than two-dozen new counties in California in both 2014 and 2015, but the effort was rejected by the health insurance exchange both times.

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Covered California attracting lots of Latinos this year
Sacramento Business Journal

A significant uptick in Latinos appear to have applied for coverage through Covered California since the second open enrollment period began Nov. 15, according to new data released Thursday by the state health benefit exchange. Half the consumers who have applied for coverage, been deemed eligible for the program — and provided information about their race/ethnicity — are Latino. Among other large groups, 23 percent are white, 11 percent Asian and six percent African American.

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California rejects UnitedHealth’s bid to sell Obamacare statewide
Los Angeles Times

California’s Obamacare exchange rejected a bid from the nation’s largest health insurer to start selling coverage statewide next year.

The Covered California board adopted new rules Thursday that sharply limit where industry giant UnitedHealth Group Inc. could offer policies to individuals.

Many consumer advocates backed the exchange’s decision. But California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones panned it, saying Californians deserve more choice and competition statewide.

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Giant insurer UnitedHealth wants to join California’s Obamacare market
Los Angeles Times

Two years after spurning the state, insurance giant UnitedHealth Group Inc. wants to sell Obamacare coverage in California’s exchange for 2016.

The turnabout comes as the nation’s largest health insurer is expanding into Obamacare policies across much of the country after initially bypassing the government-run marketplaces.

But UnitedHealth’s bid in California faces opposition from consumer and labor groups over the company’s marketing of a bare-bones health plan to large employers.

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Blue Shield, Sutter Impasse About More Than Money
KQED Radio

Contract breakdowns between insurance companies and health care providers are nothing new and often blow over after public posturing. But the current failure of Blue Shield and Sutter Health to come to terms on a new contract may be harder to resolve. That’s because the main issues appear to be about much more than money. While the negotiations grind on, more than 250,000 people in individual and family plans are waiting to see what happens. The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter terminated on Dec. 31.

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Limited Insurance Choices Frustrate Patients In California

Dennie Wright lives in Indian Valley, a tiny alpine community at the northern end of the Sierra, close to the border with Nevada.

Wright works as a meat cutter in a grocery store and lives in a modest home overlooking a green pasture. He also lives in one of the 250 ZIP codes where Blue Shield of California stopped selling individual policies in 2014. As his insurance agent explained it, Wright had only one choice of companies if he wanted to buy insurance on Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange.

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High court to hear arguments in battle over Medicaid rates
Modern Healthcare

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case Tuesday centering on the question of whether private healthcare providers may sue state Medicaid agencies over low reimbursement rates.Providers say a victory for them in the case, Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc., would ensure they can continue to challenge low rates in court. Low rates otherwise might lead to fewer providers agreeing to participate in Medicaid and thus less access to care for Medicaid patients.

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Tech industry hopes to cash in on curing health industry’s ailments
San Francisco Business Times

As in other things tech, San Francisco and the Bay Area have emerged as the heart of the digital health realm, as entrepreneurs seek ways to monetize fixes to the nation’s highly complex and fragmented health care industry. The region is home to 83 digital health companies that received significant venture funding last year, led by Proteus Digital ($172 million), Proteus Digital ($120 million) and Doximity ($54 million), according to a recent report by San Francisco-based seed investor and accelerator Rock Health.

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Will There Be a Sony For Healthcare in 2015?
The Health Care Blog

Our The World In 2015 series continues. Industry Skeptic, who asked to remain anonymous, writes:

In 2015 I think there is a good chance we’ll see a major security incident along the lines of this month’s Sony hack. This event will be like 9/11, in the sense that there will be a before and an after, and life as we know it will change forever. This has been coming for a long time. We’ll finally see how vulnerable we are and there will be a public outcry, most likely leading to some kind of government action.  Up until now, most incidents have been security breaches of the disgruntled employee and clueless user variety,  which are a huge big deal as far as HIPAA lawyers and privacy advocates are concerned, but not a very real threat to anybody.

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California doctors use loophole to raise drug prices, study finds
Sacramento Bee

Some California physicians who treat workers with job-related injuries and dispense drugs to their patients are exploiting a loophole in state regulations governing drug costs to increase their reimbursements by as much as 400 percent, a new study has found.

Three researchers for the Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute discovered the loophole’s impact while studying the effects of reforms aimed at reducing costs of treating workers’ injuries, which are borne by employers.

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El Camino Hospital limits visits to avoid spreading the flu
The Mercury News

El Camino Hospital has implemented temporary visiting restrictions at its Los Gatos and Mountain View hospitals due to an uptick in flu cases. The restrictions took affect today and will continue through the remainder of the flu season.

Adults who have any flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, fever, runny nose or body aches are asked not to visit patients.

In addition, children under the age of 16 will not be allowed to visit patient’s rooms during this time because children are more likely to pose a health risk to patients, staff and other visitors.

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Hospital restricting young vistors during flu, RSV season
Porterville Recorder

Until further notice, children younger than age 13 visiting Sierra View Medical Center are not permitted in any of the hospital’s inpatient units, except for the Distinct Part Skilled Nursing Facility. Children requiring hospitalization will continue their normal course of care. The restriction on the young visitors will be in effect for the duration of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and Influenza (flu) season, which began Monday, and usually lasts from winter until early spring, depending on the number of RSV and flu cases seen.

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San Diego County has 10 measles patients; 9 weren’t vaccinated
Los Angeles Times

San Diego County now has 10 confirmed cases of measles, all with ties to Disneyland, the county Health and Human Services Agency announced late Thursday. Nine were persons who had not been vaccinated. Six of the 10 were people who came to the Sharp Rees-Stealy urgent care clinic in La Mesa on Wednesday, causing a five-hour shutdown of the clinic.

Along with an updated number, county health officials released a list of places where the 10 persons had visited during “times of possible exposure.”

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A New King for South L.A.
Los Angeles Sentinel

After rebuilding from a long tarnished history, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) is set to reopen this spring for South LA residents and surrounding communities. The hospital officially closed its doors in 2007 when it decided to rebuild and potentially bring on a new agenda.

“Our commitment to passionate care for our patients will be evident in the new hospital,” said Dr. Elaine Batchlor, President and Chief Executive Officer of the hospital. “Each private room has a designed area for families to stay with their loved ones.”

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UC Irvine Medical Center CEO to retire
Los Angeles Business Journal

Terry Belmont, chief executive of University of California Irvine Medical Center, is retiring in June after six years at the helm. Belmont, who also is retiring as associate vice chancellor for medical center affairs, said his last day will be June 30, which will allow time for a smooth transition. Belmont was named CEO in March 2009 when the hospital was transitioning to a new state-of-the-art facility in Orange. The medical center at the time was facing the threat of loss of federal funding over poor record-keeping, inadequate staffing, broken equipment and other troubles, according to the Orange County Register.

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San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital Foundation names new executive director
The Record Gazette

The San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital Foundation recently named Robin Calder as its new executive director. Calder formerly served on the Foundation Board for many years, and held the position of Board President before his term expired in 2012. In addition to his years of service on the SGMH Foundation Board, serving on and off since 1985, Calder also led the Foundation’s Endowment Fund Development effort. He also helped to get the Birthing Center built debt-free.