News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Copays Don’t Reduce Medicaid Non-urgent ED Visits, Study Says
HealthLeaders Media

Slapping copayments on emergency department visits by Medicaid patients seeking non-urgent care does little or nothing to reduce the costly practice, research shows.

A study this week by Johns Hopkins researchers published in JAMA Internal Medicine tracked the use of the emergency department for Medicaid non-urgent care from 2001–2010 in eight states where hospitals were authorized to charge copayments.

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Placebo effect influenced by perceived cost, study finds
Los Angeles Times

How do you convert a simple saline solution into a useful treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease? Tell them it’s a drug that costs $100 per dose. And if you want to make it even more effective, tell them it costs $1,500 instead.

That’s what researchers from the University of Cincinnati discovered in an unusual clinical trial. Instead of testing a placebo against an actual drug, they pitted two placebos against each other. The only difference between the two sham treatments was their purported price.

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Half of California’s Children Now Covered by Medi-Cal
KQED Radio

California’s Medi-Cal program has grown to cover nearly half of the state’s children, causing policymakers and child advocates to question the ability of the taxpayer-funded program to adequately serve so many poor kids.

In the past two years alone, the program has added nearly 1 million young people up to age 20, including those newly eligible for Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The increase brings the total number of young people on Medi-Cal to 5.2 million, more than ever before.

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It’s not just the ACA—employer-sponsored insurance was already eroding
Modern Healthcare

The number of private-sector workers who get health insurance through their employer has been declining steadily since well before the Great Recession, according to a new analysis published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And trend started nearly a decade before the healthcare reform law took effect.

The foundation said the findings should diffuse concerns that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the primary cause of the erosion in employer-sponsored insurance.

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Most are keeping their Covered California plans for a second year
Southern California Public Radio

A majority of people with private health coverage purchased through Covered California are keeping their plans for a second year, according to new figures that the state-run insurance exchange released on Wednesday.

During Covered California’s first year, 1.2 million people bought private coverage and more than 1.1 million people kept it. Of those, about 1 million are eligible to renew. As of last month, 576,000 of them had allowed their plans to renew automatically, Covered California says.

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Most who enrolled through Covered California last year stayed with health carriers
Los Angeles Daily News

Of the more than 1 million people who signed up for health care plans through Covered California last year, 92 percent were eligible for enrollment and most of them stayed with their insurance carrier, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday.

Officials with Covered California, the state’s health care plan exchange, said the figures show that 944,000 who signed up by Dec. 1, 2014, were eligible for renewal. Of those, about a third chose to explore their options for coverage while most took no action, meaning they renewed with their current plan.

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Covered California has signed up 1.2 million so far, say feds
San Francisco Business Times

Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange, is expected to announce its “enrollment” totals in private plans later today, but was scooped by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which says 1.2 million folks have signed up or renewed coverage in the open enrollment period that ends Feb.

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Covered California appears headed for 92% renewal rate
Sacramento Business Journal

It looks like Covered California will keep 92 percent of its enrollees on board for 2015, according to new data released Wednesday. About 1.1 million were enrolled in the program in December. Those who take no action in the open enrollment period that ends Feb. 15 will be automatically renewed with their current plan and insurer. So far, more than half the pool — 576,000 consumers — have done nothing, presumably endorsing their current coverage.

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Covered California renewal rate tops 90%
Los Angeles Times

California officials say more than 90% of Obamacare customers renewed their policy for 2015, but the state still faces an uphill climb to reach its goal of 1.7 million enrolled before next month’s sign-up deadline.

The state’s insurance exchange reported renewal figures for the first time Wednesday along with an update on new enrollment.

Covered California said more than 1 million enrollees were eligible for renewal last month, and 944,060 have chosen to renew.

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What’s ahead for state health benefits
Sacramento Bee

Let’s break out the crystal ball and peer into the future for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to bargain state-employee and retiree health benefits with unions.

Background: California spends about $3 billion on medical benefits for state workers, plus $2 billion for retirees. Unfunded obligations to retirees over the next 30 years approach $72 billion. If nothing changes, experts have said, that long-term unfunded liability will more than quadruple by midcentury because the state sets aside nothing for those promised benefits.

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Major providers, insurers plan aggressive push to new payment models
Modern Healthcare

Several of the nation’s largest health systems and insurers are joining together in a new task force with the goal of shifting 75% of their business to contracts with incentives for quality and lower-cost healthcare. The Health Care Transformation Task Force includes some of the largest U.S. health systems, including Ascension, St. Louis, and Trinity Health, Livionia, Mich., and insurance giants Aetna and Health Care Service Corp. Employer Caesars Entertainment and the Pacific Business Group on Health also are involved.

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Insurance Choices Dwindle In Rural California As Blue Shield Pulls Back
National Public Radio

After the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act first went live in late 2013, Lori Lomas started combing the website of Covered California on a hunt for good deals for her clients. Lomas is an agent at Feather Financial, in the Sierra Nevada mountain town of Quincy, California; she’s been selling health policies in rural communities for more than 20 years. But in 2013, she noticed a troubling change that surprised her: For many clients, insurance options decreased.

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Private Players Launch Value-based Task Force
HealthLeaders Media

Some of the nation’s largest healthcare systems and payers on Wednesday launched the Health Care Transformation Task Force, with an ambitious commitment to put 75% of their business into value-based models by 2020.

The task force describes itself as a “private sector alliance” dedicated to accelerating the transformation of the U.S. health care system to value-based business and clinical models aligned with improving outcomes and lowering costs.” Members include commercial payers, providers, and partners.

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Study: Insurers may using drug costs to discriminate
San Francisco Chronicle

Insurance companies, perhaps more than previously thought, may be charging the sickest patients extra for drugs under the federal health law, in an effort to discourage them from choosing certain plans, according to a study released Wednesday. One of the cornerstones of President Obama’s signature health law forbids insurance companies from turning away people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or cancer.

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20% of Low-Birthweight Calif. Babies Not Referred to Follow-Up Care
California Healthline

One-fifth of very-low-birthweight infants born in California are not referred to the state’s follow-up care program, despite their increased risk for neurological and developmental problems, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, EdSource reports.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Researchers analyzed data from 2010 and 2011 on 10,433 infants born weighing less than 3.3 pounds.

According to EdSource, babies born at or below 3.3 pounds typically are referred to California’s High Risk Infant Follow Up program, where they receive care and various diagnostic assessments until they turn three years old.

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A Tale of Two Sore Throats: On Retail Clinics and Urgent Care
The Health Care Blog

Six years ago, just after arriving in Baltimore for a winter conference, I fell sick with fever and a bad sore throat. After a night of feeling awful, I went looking for help. I found it at a Minute Clinic in a CVS near the hotel. I was seen right away by a friendly NP who did a rapid strep test, and prescribed me medication. I picked up my medication at the pharmacy there. The visit cost something like $85, and took maybe 30 minutes. They gave me forms to submit to my California insurance. And I was well enough to present my research as planned by day 3 of the conference.

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Senate panel unanimously OKs bill easing employee healthcare count
Modern Healthcare

In a rare show of bipartisanship over President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, a Senate committee voted unanimously Wednesday to exclude veterans from the 50-worker threshold that triggers required coverage for employees under that statute.The Senate Finance Committee vote was 26-0, a departure from the usual party-line fights over Obama’s showcase 2010 law.Yet senators’ comments suggested that party-line battling over many aspects of the statute — and other laws — could erupt when the measure reaches the full Senate.

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EnvisionRx signs deal to offer breakthrough Hepatitis C drugs
Sacramento Business Journal

EnvisionRx has nailed down an exclusive deal with drug company Gilead Science Inc. to offer the company’s breakthrough Hepatitis C treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni to EnvisionRx patients. Based in Twinsburg, Ohio, EnvisionRx manages pharmacy benefits for employers, union trusts and others. The company has more than 200 employees at local offices in El Dorado Hills and serves more than 13 million people nationwide.

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Sutter Health, Blue Shield face Saturday milestone
Sacramento Business Journal

Saturday is a milestone in the contract fight between Sutter Health and Blue Shield of California, raising speculation that a deal may be coming. That’s the day Blue Shield is expected to drop letters in the mail to more than 140,000 HMO members across Northern California advising them they will be reassigned to non-Sutter doctors by April 1 if they don’t make changes themselves. That’s if there’s no deal by Saturday. Sutter and Blue Shield continue intense negotiations on a new contract, or some kind of extension of the old one they allowed to expire Dec.

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Grand UCSF hospital’s opening to change care in S.F.
San Francisco Chronicle

After more than a decade in the works, a new $1.52 billion UCSF Medical Center will open Sunday, finalizing the university’s vision to provide more personalized patient care and create a closer relationship between its physicians at the hospital and its scientists conducting biomedical research on the Mission Bay site. By linking clinical care with the research, UCSF officials say, they hope to translate ideas into practice more quickly and turn discoveries into treatments and cures targeted specifically for a patient’s biology.

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Rady Children’s Hospital being inundated with patients with flu, RSV virus
10News.com

As the county battles a flu outbreak, Rady Children’s Hospital is being inundated with patients both with the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is similar to a bad cold.

“We’re experiencing the peak of an epidemic of RSV virus at the same time we’re experiencing an epidemic of influenza and that’s rather unprecedented,” said Dr. John Bradley, the head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Rady Children’s Hospital.

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Sierra Vista hospital reorganizes nursing division
San Luis Obispo Tribune

Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center recently announced that it has reorganized its nursing division under the leadership of Chief Nursing Officer Kim Brown Sims.

The reorganization is “in an effort to improve quality, streamline care and have more accountability for patient satisfaction,” according to a hospital news release.

Former Director of Medical and Surgical Services Connie Malek will take over as director of nursing, adult services, according to the release.

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