News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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GOP Senate budget offers few Medicaid, Medicare details
Modern Healthcare

Senate Republicans matched their House counterparts Wednesday by releasing a budget blueprint that eliminates deficit spending in a decade and repeals the Affordable Care Act.

But the Senate’s plan doesn’t fully embrace controversial House proposals to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid. Instead, the Senate offers less detailed prescriptions for how it would go about culling costs from the healthcare coverage programs for the poor and elderly.

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Healthcare Innovation Initiatives Accelerating
HealthLeaders Media

With the coming of spring, innovation is in the healthcare industry air.

In separate announcements last week, two initiatives were launched in Seattle and Chicago.

In Seattle, Cambia Health Solutions held a grand opening for Cambia Grove, a 9,000-square-foot innovation facility designed to provide “a collaborative environment for innovators, entrepreneurs, employers, the public sector, and community stakeholders,” according to a company statement.

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SF General is first hospital in California to pilot rapid tuberculosis test
San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco General Hospital is taking a stab at lowering The City’s steady rate of tuberculosis patients with a new genetic test.

Last month, the hospital became the first in California to pilot the diagnostic test, which reduces the need to isolate suspected patients and speeds up the administration of treatment, doctors said during a demonstration of the test Wednesday.

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Insurance commissioner rips Blue Shield for alleged tax dodge
San Francisco Business Times

Blue Shield of California, which has had its tax-exempt status stripped by the California Franchise Tax Board, also took a hit late Wednesday from state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a frequent foe.

Jones said the tax agency’s move — which took place in late August, but became public today — “confirms what I have said for years — that Blue Shield charges excessive rates and acts like a for-profit health insurer.”

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Blue Shield fighting the removal of tax-exempt status by FTB
Daily Republic

Blue Shield of California is protesting a state decision to strip the nonprofit health insurer of its tax-exempt status, which the company has held since its founding in 1939.

The California Franchise Tax Board quietly revoked the tax break last August, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The decision could put San Francisco-based Blue Shield on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in state taxes each year. The insurer has paid federal taxes for years.

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Blue Shield’s tax-exempt status revoked
Sacramento Business Journal

Blue Shield of California has had its tax-exempt status revoked by the California Franchise Tax Board, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The tax status was quietly taken away in August. The health-care insurer has already paid federal taxes for years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Blue Shield is protesting.

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Blue Shield’s lost tax exemption shines spotlight on not-for-profits
Modern Healthcare

A recent revocation of Blue Shield of California’s not-for-profit tax status raises questions of whether insurers and not-for-profit providers are doing enough to keep irate taxing bodies from following California’s lead. The revocation “is a significant development and, while speculative, we believe it could be a catalyst for other states to take similar action,” Chris Rigg, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group said in a note to investors.

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Blue Shield Fighting to Keep State Tax Exemption
KFBK

Word from Blue Shield is that they are fighting a state decision that eliminated the health insurance provider’s state tax exemption.

The California Franchise Tax Board’s decision is expected to cost Blue Shield millions of dollars in taxes going forward, plus the LA Times reports back taxes will be owed for the past two years. The not-for-profit company reportedly has accumulated $4 billion in reserves.

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Tax agency to Blue Shield: You owe us big time
Sacramento Business Journal

The California Franchise Tax Board has told Blue Shield of California, one of the state’s largest health insurers, that it’s tax-exempt status is revoked and it’s “on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in state taxes each year.”

That’s the word from the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story Wednesday morning, noting that the San Francisco-based health insurance giant, with $13.6 billion in 2014 revenue, has faced increasing criticism in recent years for steep rate increases, high executive pay and huge financial reserves — at $4.2 billion, roughly four times what the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association requires.

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Blue Shield of California loses tax-exempt status
San Francisco Chronicle

The state Franchise Tax Board has stripped Blue Shield of California of its tax-exempt status, a move that could make the 76-year-old San Francisco health insurer responsible for paying millions in state income taxes.

Officials from the tax board would not explain why they took the action in August, but critics have long accused the insurer, until now classified as a nonprofit, of acting like a for-profit while amassing billions of dollars in reserves, paying high executive salaries and hitting consumers with rate hikes.

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Blue Shield Of California Loses Its Exemption From State Taxes
National Public Radio

California tax authorities have stripped Blue Shield of California, the state’s third largest insurer, of its tax-exempt status in California and ordered the firm to file returns dating to 2013, potentially costing the company tens of millions of dollars.

At issue in the unusual case is whether the company is doing anything different from its for-profit competitors to warrant its tax break. As a nonprofit company, Blue Shield is expected to work for the public good in exchange for the exemption from state taxes.

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Why did it take 7 months to learn Blue Shield lost tax-exempt status?
Los Angeles Times

Health insurance giant Blue Shield of California and state tax authorities both came under fire for not disclosing seven months ago a landmark decision taking away the insurer’s tax-exempt status, which had been in place since 1939.

The Times first reported Wednesday that the California Franchise Tax Board had quietly revoked Blue Shield’s tax-exempt status in August after a lengthy audit of the nonprofit health plan.

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Looking at Obamacare, five years on
Orange County Register

Obamacare turns five years old March 23. But don’t break out the cake and candles. There’s not much to celebrate. When he signed his signature piece of legislation into law, President Obama guaranteed lower health costs, universal coverage and higher-quality care. Five years later, the health law has failed to fulfill those promises.

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Most Americans Unaware Obamacare Subsidies Are At Risk
Kaiser Health News

Despite months of news coverage, most people say they have heard little or nothing about a Supreme Court case that could eliminate subsidies helping millions of Americans afford coverage under the federal health law, according to a poll released Thursday.

But when respondents were told about the case, King v. Burwell, about two-thirds said that if the court strikes down the subsidies, then Congress or state officials should step in to restore them, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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What would happen to children if the Supreme Court dismembers Obamacare
Washington Post

We already know that a ruling against the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, this year’s Affordable Care Act Supreme Court case, would be a public health disaster: Millions of people would lose insurance coverage, and insurance markets across the country would stumble out of balance. But what would happen to children, a vulnerable group with specific health-care needs that any rational society would address? The nonpartisan Urban Institute released an analysis Tuesday that games out the possibilities.

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Poll: Public unaware Obama’s health law is again in jeopardy
San Francisco Chronicle

With a decision due by summer in a Supreme Court case that could unravel President Barack Obama’s health care law, a new poll finds many Americans have heard nothing about the case.

But when the potential fallout is explained, most say it would hurt the country and they would look to Congress or the states to fix it. Even after recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court got national media attention, 53 percent said they were unfamiliar with the case, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday.

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Rural Hospitals, One Of The Cornerstones Of Small Town Life, Face Increasing Pressure
Kaiser Health News

Despite residents’ concerns and a continuing need for services, the 25-bed hospital that served this small East Texas town for more than 25 years closed its doors at the end of 2014, joining the ranks of dozens of other small rural hospitals that have been unable to weather the punishment of a changing national health care environment.

For the high percentages of elderly and uninsured patients who live in rural areas, closures mean longer trips for treatment and uncertainty during times of crisis.

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Battle Over Dementia Drug Swap Has Big Stakes For Drugmakers, Consumers
Kaiser Health News

Executives at drug company Actavis knew they had to move fast to avoid a plunge in sales of their top-selling drug, Namenda, a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease which would lose patent protection in July.

When that happened, generic knockoffs would flood the market and doctors and pharmacists could switch patients to the lower-cost equivalents. With $1.5 billion in annual sales at stake, Actavis took action: Late last year, it touted a new, extended-release version of the drug, called Namada XR, which can be taken once a day and carries patent protection until 2029.

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Premera Blue Cross Cyberattack Exposed Millions Of Customer Records
National Public Radio

Another big health insurance company has revealed it has been the target of a massive cyberattack.

Premera Blue Cross says hackers may have taken up to 11 million customer records. Those records include credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, even information about medical problems. This news is just coming out but Premera issued a statement saying it discovered the breach on Jan. 29. That’s about the same date that Anthem, another Blue Cross company, told the FBI that it was breached.

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Sacramento County holds Workshop on Healthcare for the Undocumented
Fox40

When contemplating a trip to the ER, your biggest concern may be how long you’ll have to wait to get seen. But imagine trying to talk yourself out of going at all — no matter how sick you are — because your immigration status prevents you from getting medical coverage.

“Most people have a regular doctor when they feel sick…take a phone a make a call, we can not do that…. and that’s not easy. It’s not easy,” said housekeeper Gloria Casillos.

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City weighs option of opening its own hospital if emergency room closes
Orange County Register

The looming possibility that MemorialCare Health System may shutter its San Clemente hospital and emergency room has led city officials to look at another option: their own, brand-new hospital.

City Manager James Makshanoff announced last week that city staff is trying to identify a site for a new hospital and emergency room on land the city owns along the path of Avenida La Pata, a road being extended to link San Clemente with San Juan Capistrano in 2016.

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U.S. cancer care faces key challenges as country ages
Modern Healthcare

Cancer care in the U.S. faces a number of challenges involving care access, delivery and cost, despite making medical strides that resulted in a record number of cancer survivors in 2014, a new report finds.

Last year saw improvement in the five-year survival rates for many types of cancer that led to more than 14 million survivors, according to the findings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s second annual State of Cancer Care in America report.

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How Much Can Women Trust That Breast Cancer Biopsy?
National Public Radio

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, the person who does the diagnosing is a doctor she never sees — the pathologist.

But though pathologists do a great job of identifying invasive cancer, they aren’t as good at spotting two less clear-cut diagnoses that bring women a lot of uncertainty and worry, a study finds.

The doctors correctly identified invasive breast cancer 96 percent of the time compared with an expert panel, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, and correctly identified normal tissue 87 percent of the time.

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Why Is Insulin So Expensive In The U.S.?
National Public Radio

Dr. Jeremy Greene sees a lot of patients with diabetes that’s out of control.

“Every week I see patients with glucose levels so high that you can’t even record the number on the glucometer,” he says.

Greene, a professor of medicine and history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, started asking patients at his clinic in Baltimore why they had so much trouble keeping their blood sugar stable. He was shocked by their answer: the high cost of insulin.

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