News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Health officials would add $2 tax to packs of cigarettes in California
Los Angeles Times

After seven failed attempts since 2002, a coalition of health groups and lawmakers is once again proposing to increase the tobacco tax in California, arguing that an additional $2 per pack of cigarettes will save lives, in part, by discouraging people from smoking. Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a physician, introduced the latest proposal, which would generate $1.4 billion a year to fund smoking prevention, research into smoking-related diseases and expanded treatment services for Medi-Cal patients.

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A Ruling Against Obamacare Would Have Broad Implications
National Public Radio

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case that could end Obamacare subsidies for policyholders in a majority of states, including Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, it would mean millions of people could no longer afford health insurance.

The challenge to the Obamacare subsidies comes in the case King v. Burwell. The plaintiffs point to a passage in Affordable Care Act that suggests that the federal government can only offer premium subsidies in Obamacare exchanges established by the states.

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California Apartments Raided in Federal Investigation of Chinese ‘Birth Tourism’
The New York Times

Federal agents stormed 37 locations in Southern California early Tuesday, gathering evidence about what they say are three illegal “birth tourism” businesses for wealthy Chinese women.

According to affidavits unsealed Tuesday, the businesses arranged for pregnant women to come to the United States on tourist visas to give birth to babies. The children will be American citizens, entitled to birth certificates and passports — and, when they turn 21, able to help their parents become legal residents of the United States.

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Obamacare on SCOTUS chopping block: Column
USA Today

As if Obamacare weren’t problematic enough, two federal courts have found that the IRS unlawfully expanded the health care law’s individual and employer mandates, by imposing them on tens of millions of Americans whom Congress exempted. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear King v. Burwell, a case challenging that illegal and ongoing attempt to expand Obamacare outside the legislative process. The victims of this illegal Obamacare expansion include Kevin Pace, a jazz musician and adjunct professor of music in Northern Virginia.

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Justices Roberts And Kennedy Hold Key Votes In Health Law Case
National Public Radio

With yet another do-or-die test of Obamacare before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, the justices were sharply divided.

By the end of the argument, it was clear that the outcome will be determined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy. The chief justice said almost nothing during the argument, and Kennedy sent mixed signals, seeming to give a slight edge to the administration’s interpretation of the law.

Judging by the comments from the remaining justices, the challengers would need the votes of both Roberts and Kennedy to win.

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SCOTUS Hears Latest Obamacare Challenge
HealthLeaders Media

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a second challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that, if affirmed, could disqualify millions of Americans from receiving billions of dollars in federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

Plaintiffs in King vs. Burwell told the justices that the wording of PPACA prohibits the federal government from offering subsidies for people in 34 states that used a federal healthcare exchange. [View transcript.]

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Death spiral if subsidies nixed? Health insurers hope for solutions
Modern Healthcare

Health insurers are counting on policymakers to craft a workaround to keep federal subsidies flowing to low- and moderate-income Americans if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration.

But without a plan B for that scenario, insurers would be sitting front row as the individual marketplaces collapse from higher premiums and a sicker patient base. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday from plaintiffs and the government in King v. Burwell.

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Few Clues On Health Law’s Future Emerge In Supreme Court Arguments
National Public Radio

For the second time in three years, the Affordable Care Act went before the Supreme Court Wednesday. And before a packed courtroom, a divided group of justices mostly picked up right where they left off the last time.

Once again, people inside the courtroom and out were left to wonder where Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered swing votes in the case, stand. A decision is expected by the end of June.

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Health care law subsidies seem to divide Supreme Court justices
San Francisco Chronicle

Sharply divided along familiar lines, the Supreme Court took up a politically charged new challenge to President Obama’s health overhaul Wednesday in a dispute over the tax subsidies that make insurance affordable for millions of Americans. The outcome in what Justice Elena Kagan called “this never-ending saga” of Republican-led efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act appears to hinge on the votes of Chief Justice John Roberts, whose vote saved the law three years ago, and Justice Anthony Kennedy.

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Law means what it says: Opposing view
USA Today

The King v. Burwell challenge to the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court presents a straightforward case of statutory interpretation. The question is whether the law authorizes the issuance of tax credits in exchanges established by the federal government.

The statute is clear on this point. Tax credits are available in exchanges “established by the state,” and the federal government is not a state. Were there any doubt on this point, the law defines “state” to mean one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Department of Health and Human Services is not a state.

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Health care at the high court: 5 ways this time is different
San Francisco Chronicle

The never-ending political fight over health care hit the Supreme Court Wednesday, and insurance coverage for millions of Americans is on the line. Didn’t we do this already? Yes, but foes of President Barack Obama’s signature law hope this time the justices will gut “Obamacare.” The law’s defenders say it’s a trumped-up attack. Still sound familiar? Actually, a lot has changed since the Supreme Court’s big health care decision of 2012. Five ways this time is different:

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Obama balks at health care backup plan
MSNBC

Last week, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska acknowledged what is plainly true: if the Supreme Court’s GOP justices gut the Affordable Care Act, the impact on many families’ lives will be devastating: ”Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real.”

Naturally, Sasse’s op-ed blames the Obama administration. “Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell claimed in Senate testimony earlier this month that the administration has no plan to help the seven million citizens who could lose their coverage in the weeks following such a ruling,” he complained.

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Let Obamacare live: Our view
USA Today

For the second time in Obamacare’s short five-year life, the Supreme Court has a chance to kill or cripple the law in a way that political opponents have not been able to do despite endless attempts.

The court heard arguments in the case Wednesday, and the evidence suggested that this latest challenge is even more flimsy than the one the court wisely rejected in 2012.

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Lawmakers announce renewed push for Medi-Cal funding
Los Angeles Times

California lawmakers and advocates are gearing up for a new chapter in the battle over the state’s healthcare program for the poor. They announced new legislation on Wednesday that would pump more money into Medi-Cal, which has expanded to cover more residents even while suffering from recession-era funding cuts. The bills (SB 243 and AB 366) would reverse cuts to doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients. It also would go further, requiring higher payments from managed care plans that contract with the state and boosting funding for hospitals.

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Second Los Angeles hospital reports ’superbug’ infections
San Diego Union-Tribune

Four patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have been infected with an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” linked to a type of medical scope that’s used on more than a half-million people in the U.S. every year, the hospital said Wednesday.

The revelation comes two weeks after a similar outbreak at Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center where seven patients were sickened with the superbug known as CRE after undergoing endoscopic procedures. Two died.

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100 medical societies warn about possible ICD-10 problems
Modern Healthcare

The American Medical Association and 99 other state medical, medical specialty and professional associations are asking CMS acting Administrator Andrew Slavitt to have the agency improve transition plans for the Oct. 1 conversion to ICD-10 diagnostic and procedural codes.“By itself, the implementation of ICD-10 is a massive undertaking,” the AMA and fellow signatories said in a seven-page letter Wednesday.

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Data breaches can lead to major medical identity theft issues
Modern Healthcare

A healthcare data breach, such as the recent massive one at health insurer Anthem, means more than lost data for a patient: it can mean lost money and, in the most extreme circumstances, a completely altered medical history.

The financial ramifications can come when credit card and identity information is stolen. For example, the Community Health Systems breach in summer 2014 has caused several lawsuits alleging specific harms to patients. William Lutz, a CHS patient in Lafayette Hill, Penn., contends the data loss resulted in hackers making more than $40,000 in illegal charges and setting up new financial accounts in his name.

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Is There a Business Case For Patient Engagement?
The Health Care Blog

In the past, the AMA published an article questioning the merits of patient portals — the primary tool for engaging patients. Rob Tennant, senior policy adviser with the MGMA-ACMPE, the entity formed by the merger of the Medical Group Management Association and the American College of Medical Practice Executives raised the fundamental issue: “The business case just hasn’t been made.” I’ll attempt to make it.

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People With Eczema Are Itching For Better Health Care
National Public Radio

It might seem silly to miss work for a rash. But people who have eczema often have to put a lot of time and money into managing the itchy, inflamed rashes they get over and over. Lindsay Jones, who lives in Chicago, was diagnosed with eczema when she was 2 weeks old.

“I try to take proactive measures to keep my skin calm, but the flare-ups are inevitable,” Jones, age 34, tells Shots. Last year, her eczema got so bad that she missed work to go to the doctor and took a sick day just to treat her skin.

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Alzheimer’s startup lands $37.5 million investment
San Francisco Business Times

A Stanford University spinout targeting Alzheimer’s disease landed a $37.5 million investment from Spanish drug maker Grifols S.A.

Alkahest, launched last year by Stanford professor Tony Wyss-Coray, is aimed at infusing Alzheimer’s patients with plasma from young people. It is one of the first tenants in Johnson & Johnson’s new biotech incubator in South San Francisco. Grifols’ investment is for a 45 percent stake in Alkahest, whose other investors include Bioville Investment Ltd., Full House Investment Ltd. and Stanford.

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Possible HIV cure OK’d for testing
San Diego Union-Tribune

HIV patients will be given genetically modified stem cells in an attempt to effectively cure them of the infection, the first time this experimental therapy has been tried.

Sangamo Biosciences, based in the Bay Area community of Richmond, received approval from federal regulators Tuesday to conduct the clinical trial.

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Prostate cancer vaccine nabbed by Bristol-Myers Squibb for potential $1 billion
San Francisco Business Times

In its third Bay Area deal of the past two weeks, drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. will pay up to $975 million to license and sell an experimental prostate cancer vaccine under development by Bavarian Nordic.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) last week closed on a potential $1.2 billion deal with San Carlos’ Flexus Biosciences Inc. It also struck a potential $339 million partnership with Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: RIGL) of South San Francisco.

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Aetna, Providers Battle Over Billing Practices
HealthLeaders Media

Although the opposing sides disagree on the motives, a raging court battle in Texas is part of a national legal strategy at one of the country’s largest commercial insurance carriers over healthcare provider billing practices.

Last month, Hartford, CT-based Aetna Inc. filed a $120 million lawsuit against North Cypress Medical Center, which features a 139-bed hospital in Cypress, Texas, and three standalone emergency room facilities. The suit is the latest salvo in a legal struggle that began in February 2013, when North Cypress sued Aetna in US District Court alleging underpayment for medical services.

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El Camino’s new cancer center set to open its doors
Mountain View VOICE

El Camino Hospital is just steps away from opening its new cancer center this month. The new center, more than double the size of the old facility, will be able to handle the thousands of new cancer patients the hospital receives each year.

A community open house is set for Saturday, March 7, from 1 to 4 p.m., featuring children’s activities, music, food and laughter yoga sessions.

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Breast care center under construction in Chico
Chico Enterprise Record

An extensive project to create the north state’s largest breast care center is underway in Chico.

North State Radiology expects to open the Chico Breast Care Center this summer at 1720 The Esplanade. The center will be a collection of services, from health and early cancer detection to surgery and treatments.

It took eight years of planning to identify the need and draw up the design, according to Dr. Jim Schlund, who was one of the project founders and is director of women’s imaging at North State Radiology.

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St. Joseph CEO Deborah Proctor announces plans to leave post
Orange County Register

Deborah Proctor, CEO of St. Joseph Health, will step down at the end of this year after a decade in which she oversaw St. Joseph’s growth into a $6 billion medical delivery system that has become a major pillar of hospital and physician care in Orange County and beyond.

She will leave the Catholic nonprofit health system in a fortified position to confront the headwinds buffeting the hospital industry.

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