News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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SGR Permanent Fix Bill Filed in Congress
HealthLeaders Media

Congress on Thursday unveiled its latest attempt to provide a permanent fix to the widely reviled Sustainable Growth Rate funding formula that, if approved, would avert a 21% cut in Medicare reimbursements for physicians at the end of the month.

The sweeping package repeals the SGR and adds an automatic 0.5% payment update each year for five years. Proponents say it will stabilize Medicare payments to physicians. The bill also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program another two years.

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Bipartisan Medicare bill would end yearly fixes
Boston Globe

At least once a year, doctors and their elderly patients endure a hated ritual where lawmakers use the threat of deep cuts to physician payments as a political bargaining chip. Now, in a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation, House leaders aim to stop the practice, once and for all.

Speaker John Boehner and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the chamber’s minority leader, on Thursday unveiled a proposal for a permanent solution, renewing hope for health care providers but leaving lawmakers in both parties fretting over the means to pay for the $200 billion package.

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Advocates: Don’t turn children’s insurance into Medicare bargaining chip
The Hill

A children’s advocacy group wants Congress to promise four years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) instead of settling for a two-year compromise.

House leaders have been mulling a two-year extension of CHIP as part of a major deal on Medicare’s “doc fix.” The proposal, which has yet to be officially unveiled, would lift the much-maligned formula known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR).

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Data Swamps Docs, Slows Movement to Alternative Payments
HealthLeaders Media

Physicians moving toward alternative payment models are overwhelmed by reams of confusing quality metrics and data from the government and commercial payers and will need help sorting it, according to a new study from the American Medical Association and the RAND Corporation.

“We face the paradox of too much data being directed at physicians, yet there is a dearth of accurate, actionable, and timely information,” AMA President-elect Steven J. Stack, MD, said in teleconference with media on Thursday.

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House, Senate panels adopt balanced-budget plans
Washington Post

Republicans in Congress advanced balanced-budget plans bristling with cuts in Medicaid and other benefit programs Thursday, determined to make a down payment on last fall’s campaign promise to erase deficits by the end of the decade.

Last-minute maneuvering to match Pentagon spending levels requested by President Barack Obama consumed GOP lawmakers in both the House Budget Committee and the counterpart Senate panel.

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California state lawmakers are concerned about health costs
Southern California Public Radio

Last spring, KPCC – in collaboration with KQED and – started a conversation about health costs in California.

We knew a growing number of people wanted to shop around for affordable mammograms, MRI’s and other procedures. But it was nearly impossible to discover the costs. As part of our project, called #PriceCheck, we invited you to share what you paid for certain procedures. In the process, we began building a database of health costs.

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Health Law Brings No Drop In Insurance Enrollment At Work, Study Finds
Kaiser Health News

There has been much hand wringing over the health law requirement that large employers this year offer insurance to workers who put in 30 or more hours a week or face penalties for not doing so. The new rules would cost employers a bundle, some fretted, as part-timers clamored for company coverage previously unavailable to them. Others worried that employers would cut workers’ hours to get under the cap.

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Obamacare chief says UCSF research can help lower drug prices
San Francisco Chronicle

The Obama Administration’s top healthcare official said Thursday that personalized medicine research championed by UC San Francisco could help lower the cost of blockbuster drugs.

In a visit to the school’s Mission Bay campus, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell acknowledged the extraordinary cost of breakthrough therapies like Sovaldi, the hepatitis C drug made by Gilead Science in Foster City that costs $1,000 a pill.

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California tax board revokes health insurer Blue Shield’s tax-exempt status
Contra Costa Times

In a startling blow to one of California’s biggest health insurers, the state has revoked the tax-exempt status of Blue Shield of California, forcing the company to pay tens of millions of dollars in back taxes and unleashing a torrent of calls for it to return billions of dollars to customers.

The nonprofit health provider has built up about $4.2 billion in reserves, a pile of cash that many critics have long viewed with suspicion and frustration.

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Blue Shield Of California Loses Its Tax-Exempt Status
National Public Radio

One of California’s largest health insurers, Blue Shield of California, could be on the hook for a massive tax bill after the state revoked its tax-exempt status. The company is appealing the decision which could cost the health insurer tens of millions of dollars a year. The dispute comes as the nonprofit is facing mounting criticism for operating like a for-profit company.

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Tax agency refuses to say why it yanked Blue Shield’s tax-exempt status
Sacramento Business Journal

Although the news broke Wednesday that Blue Shield of California’s tax-exempt status had been revoked, the Franchise Tax Board made that ruling in late August, roughly six and a half months ago.

Details are sketchy, but that’s likely to mean the San Francisco-based health care insurer could be liable for tens of millions of dollars in state taxes.

Denise Azimi, a tax board spokeswoman, says it doesn’t make public announcements when it revokes non-profit tax status, doesn’t make audits public and doesn’t explain why an organization loses its tax-exempt status.

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State Insurance Commissioner Calls Out Blue Shield for ‘Second Tax Dodge’
California Healthline

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D) on Wednesday said Blue Shield of California has been dodging taxes for years.

Jones spoke Wednesday after the Franchise Tax Board revealed it had revoked Blue Shield’s tax-exempt status in August 2014. “The second tax dodge we have known about for some time,” Jones said, “and it costs California $100 million in premium taxes annually.”

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Hoag Completes Cardiovascular Care Center
Newport Beach Independent

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian has completed the Nancy and Bill Thompson Center for Cardiovascular Care at the Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart and Vascular Institute. The new build out brings together world-class cardiovascular programs, state-of-the-art technology and highly specialized physicians in one convenient location.

On March 5, Hoag recognized Nancy and Bill Thompson for their generous donation and celebrated past donors that made this project possible, including Bob and Marjie Bennett, Allan and Sandy Fainbarg and the late Jeffrey M. Carlton.

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Hospital expanding ER
Simi Valley Acorn

Simi Valley Hospital’s newly expanded emergency room should be up and running within the next few weeks, hospital officials estimate.

During an open house and ribbon-cutting on March 12, the hospital celebrated the completion of phase 1 of its three-phase, $41-million ER expansion, which includes a 5,500-square-foot addition that features an expanded surgical suite.

“Healthcare is a very important part of our community,” Councilmember Mike Judge said during the event. “In fact, it’s one of the pillars of every community. I’m happy to see that the expansion here at our hospital is making an outstanding first-class healthcare environment.”

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Online insurance company eHealth lays off 72 in Gold River
Sacramento Business Journal

Obamacare has taken a toll on sign-ups through online health insurance giant eHealth Inc., and employment at the company’s Gold River call center off Highway 50.

The company laid off 72 employees at the center March 10, according to information filed with the state Employment Development Department. A number of executives, including senior vice president Robert Hurley, still work there, eHealth spokesman Nate Purpura said. He declined further comment. In 2012, the office had more than 100 employees.

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How Does Staph Spread in Hospitals?
Pacific Standard

One of the unfortunate risks of spending time in a hospital is catching a staph infection, especially its antibiotic-resistant strain. Now, researchers have used small, wireless transmitters worn by patients and health care workers to track how the bacteria spreads — and perhaps find a way to keep it from spreading any further.

While methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, has been on the decline in recent years and isn’t quite the superbug it was once made out to be, it’s still a significant public health threat for patients being treated in hospitals, as well as the doctors, nurses, and other employees working there.

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Despite A Wave Of Data Breaches, Fed Says Patient Privacy Isn’t Dead
National Public Radio

It’s hard to keep track of even the biggest health data breaches, given how frequently they seem to be happening.

Just Tuesday, health insurer Premera Blue Cross disclosed that hackers broke into its system and may have accessed the financial and medical records of some 11 million people. Premera’s announcement comes weeks after another health insurer, Anthem Inc., announced that it too had been hacked — and that the records of nearly 80 million people were exposed.