News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Here’s a first: January hospital prices lower than a year ago
Modern Healthcare

The prices that health insurers paid to acute-care hospitals declined in January compared with the same month a year ago, a first since federal officials began to collect such data. Public sector and private payer efforts to push down costs could explain the drop, experts said.

In aggregate, the price of acute-care hospital care for Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers and other payers — including the uninsured — declined 0.1% last month from January 2014. The new federal data, which is preliminary and may be revised, reported a 2.9% drop in Medicare rates for hospital care during the period and the weakest 12-month price growth, 1.6%, among private health plans and other payers since July 1998. Medicaid prices were nearly flat, declining 0.1%.

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What makes CRE superbugs so dangerous?
Los Angeles Times

Hard-to-treat or untreatable infections from CRE superbugs are becoming more widespread in hospitals and other medical care facilities. Here is a basic primer on the issue. What is CRE? CRE stands for carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, and comprises a family of supergerms that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have listed as an urgent threat to public health.

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How Hospitals are Responding to Measles Outbreak
HealthLeaders Media

In 2008, it took doctors at an Arizona hospital three days to diagnose measles in a European patient who was admitted with respiratory problems and a rash. By the time the outbreak was contained, 14 people statewide had developed measles and more than 7,000 healthcare workers and patients had been exposed.

The state’s ability to respond to a measles outbreak has improved. Last week, Arizona State Health Director Will Humble took to his blog to announce that the most recent measles outbreak, which came to Arizona in December via Disneyland, was “winding down” with a total of 7 cases.

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Study names 227 risky surgeries for seniors
Modern Healthcare

Some common surgeries for seniors should be considered “high risk” and preceded by careful conversations about the potential harms, according to a new study listing 227 operations with high mortality rates.

The risks of surgery for older adults are generally understood, but establishing a comprehensive list of the most problematic, for which the risks and benefits “should be carefully evaluated,” can be a helpful decision-making tool, the authors say.

Designation of a surgery as high risk presents an opportunity for patients to pause and consider the value of surgery over alternative treatments, or “prepare for the real potential of an unwanted outcome,” they write in a study published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery.

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Enrollment extension decision potentially two weeks away, Burwell says
Modern Healthcare

The Obama administration may take as many as two weeks before deciding whether to extend open enrollment for consumers who realize they’ll face a hefty tax penalty for not obtaining health insurance coverage this year, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said during a news briefing Wednesday.Burwell declined to comment during the briefing about factors the agency is considering in its decisionmaking, other than saying it would center on what’s best for consumers.

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Drugs, insurance costs behind latest spike in healthcare spending
Modern Healthcare

Drew Altman, executive director of the Kaiser Family Foundation, is usually an astute observer of the healthcare scene. But his latest column on the Wall Street Journal website missed identifying the main drivers behind the recent uptick in healthcare spending.

The Altarum Institute last week reported that overall healthcare spending in December rose 5.6%, up from a 4.5% growth rate a year ago and 3.3% in December 2012. When compared to the growth rate in the overall economy, healthcare is once again sprinting ahead.

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California lawmakers address importance of vaccinations
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

At a time when California is gripped in one of the worst measles outbreaks in recent history, several lawmakers are pushing for new legislation that would ensure more children are protected against measles and other transmittable diseases.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer joined state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a pediatrician, on Wednesday on a tour of a Head Start center in Emeryville, where every child is vaccinated, to address the importance of vaccinations for children as young as preschool.

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The reason why so many kids aren’t vaccinated? It’s not always anti-vaxxers, some just don’t follow up
Orange County Register

The mother of an Orange County child who exposed 20 infants to measles last year never intended for her baby to go unvaccinated.

“That baby was not in a family that was against vaccinations. The mom … had four children, and was juggling so much, it had simply slipped her mind,” said Dr. Jan Johnson, a partner at Sea View Pediatrics, with offices in Laguna Niguel and Aliso Viejo.

In the past year, as a measles outbreak has stricken 141 people in 17 states and a whooping cough epidemic has killed two infants and sickened more than 10,000 people, public attention has focused on parents who refuse to immunize their children, often obtaining personal belief or religious waivers to permanently skirt vaccination laws.

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Not All Drugs for A Disease Could Be High Cost, Proposes New California Bill
capital public radio

The bill, AB 339, would prevent health plans from putting all medications used to treat a certain condition into the highest cost prescription drug tier.

Democratic Assemblymember Richard Gordon says insurance companies often put the highest-priced drugs into a specialty tier, requiring patients to pay a higher share of the drug’s price.

“So if I have HIV, and all of the HIV drugs are in a very expensive top tier category, that would appear to be discriminatory,” says Gordon.

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3 Drugs for an Eye Disease, With Big Price Gaps, Are Found to Be Equals for Many
New York Times

At a time of rising concern over the cost of medicine, a government-funded study has found that three drugs, ranging in price from $50 to $1,950 a dose, are equally effective in treating many cases of a common form of vision loss caused by diabetes.

But the most expensive drug — Eylea, sold by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals — was more effective for patients who had poorer vision before starting treatment.

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Partnering for Growth via Wellness
HealthLeaders Media

Eating right and exercising more is advice doctors have been giving out for decades, but getting patients to actually do it can be tough; however, healthcare reform both directly and indirectly provides a carrot and stick for healthcare providers to encourage wellness. Insurance companies have had to expand their coverage to include the now-required preventive services for adults, seniors, pregnant women, and children. Wellness visits, personalized prevention plans, and health risk screenings for patients are services explicitly spelled out in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The rationale is that catching the early onset of chronic diseases will allow providers to help patients modify their behavior to prevent future health complications and hospitalizations.

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Decoy protein stops all tested HIV strains
San Diego Union-Tribune

Ever since HIV emerged as a deadly public health threat in the early 1980s, scientists have sought a vaccine that could repel the virus and prevent AIDS. Three decades of intensive research have come up short, although drugs to treat HIV infection have transformed the disease from a death sentence to a chronic disease people can live with.

However, in Third World countries where access to HIV drugs is limited, HIV continues to devastate populations. That could change, if a new study led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute lives up to its promise.

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Reality-Based Policy and the Digital Doctor: An Interview with Mark Smith
The Health Care Blog

Mark Smith, MD, MBA, was the founding CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation; he served in that role for 17 years before stepping down last year. I’ve known Mark since we were residents together at UCSF in the mid-1980s, and both of us were influenced by training at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. Mark continues to see AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital one day each week. He was the lead author of Best Care at Lower Cost, a major Institute of Medicine report, published in 2012. Mark is one of those rare people who can take complex and politically charged concepts and distill them into sensible nuggets – while managing to be hilarious and profound at the same time.

In the continuing series of interviews I conducted for my upcoming book, The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, here are excerpts of my interview with Mark Smith, conducted on July 24, 2014.

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Sacramento region ranked as one of top places to find a health care job
Sacramento Business Journal

About 15 percent of all open jobs in the Sacramento region are in the health care industry, ranking the region second place on a list of the top cities for available health care jobs.

The ranking comes from the job posting service ZipRecruiter. The company ranked Sacramento’s open health care jobs and organizations against 429 other metropolitan statistical areas that use its service. ZipRecruiter has approximately 2 million total jobs in its database.

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Justice Department probing Humana’s Medicare risk adjustment
Modern Healthcare

The U.S. Justice Department has asked health insurer Humana for information related to its Medicare Advantage risk-adjustment practices, building off a whistle-blower case from several years ago, Humana said in a regulatory filing late Wednesday.

The disclosure states that federal officials “recently” sent a request to Louisville, Ky.-based Humana asking for more information about how it submits and manages risk-adjustment data for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries. The CMS pays fixed monthly amounts to Medicare Advantage insurers like Humana partially based on risk scores, which indicate how sick members are. Higher risk scores correlate to sicker patients and thus lead to higher payments to insurers.

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Kaiser plans to buy half of its electricity from renewable sources, slash carbon footprint
San Francisco Business Times

Kaiser Permanente, already a big user and promoter of solar power, has signed deals to obtain half of its electrical power in California beginning in 2016 from renewable sources, and is taking other steps to drastically reduce the health care system’s huge carbon footprint. Kaiser Permanente’s facilities around the U.S. release more than 800,000 metric tons of harmful greenhouse gases annually, according to company figures.

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Sutter reequips for improved care
Lake County Record-Bee

Sutter Lakeside Hospital has introduced several new technologies that were funded by donors and Sutter Health System.

The technologies include a special imaging chair and standing platform that enable better X-ray images and a more comfortable, safe patient experience, a treadmill and patient monitoring systems that connect with electronic health records, and more intense, focused surgical lights for the operating room (OR).

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Sutter ‘AIM’s’ for better care
Lake County Record-Bee

Even with a history of cervical cancer and heart problems, 92-year-old Enes Cereni of South San Francisco says she enjoys time with her husband of 63 years and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren thanks to Sutter Health’s Advanced Illness Management (AIM) program, which covers 16 counties across Northern California

Patients in the Sutter Lakeside Hospital service area with late-stage chronic illness can access the same resources and support available to Cerini through AIM’s next major expansion in Northern California, which extends access to patients within the Sut

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Dignity Health turns clinic over to Peach Tree Health
Sacramento Business Journal

Dignity Health announced Wednesday that it is transferring operations of its MercyClinic Norwood clinic to Peach Tree Health, an operator of a federally qualified health center. The partnership marks the second time Dignity Health — the nonprofit parent of local Mercy hospitals — has turned over a Sacramento region clinic to another provider due to increasing challenges in serving needy populations amid regulatory changes. In 2012, Dignity Health forged a similar partnership with WellSpace Health, formally known as The Effort.

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