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News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Here’s another way Obamacare is changing U.S. healthcare for the better
Los Angeles Times

The Affordable Care Act aimed to go well beyond merely making health insurance more accessible to millions of people who couldn’t buy it in the individual insurance market; many provisions were designed to fundamentally change for the better how healthcare is delivered in the country. A new study shows one way it’s working by improving patient outcomes in a sample of New York hospitals.

President Obama alluded to that aspect of the 2010 law in a speech Tuesday in Washington, telling his audience that the Affordable Care Act is “now part of the fabric of how we care for one another. … There is a reality that people on the ground day to day are experiencing. Their lives are better.”

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AMA President Sets Problem-Solving Agenda
HealthLeaders Media

As the AMA debated the formation of a Super PAC to help put more physicians in positions of political power, it’s hard to miss the potential of their new president, who says his three-part agenda will better prepare new physicians, protect the current ranks, and make Americans healthier.

At the annual meeting of the American Medical Association, the House of Delegates inaugurated Steven J. Stack, MD, an emergency medicine physician from Lexington, Ky, as their youngest president in 160 years.

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Two new cholesterol drugs raise questions of cost and access
Modern Healthcare

FDA advisory panels this week recommended approval of two drugs that may significantly lower cholesterol. But experts warn the potential high cost for these blockbuster drugs could limit their access and once again raise concerns about skyrocketing prescription costs.

An advisory committee Wednesday voted 11-4 to recommend approval for drug maker Amgen’s injectable drug Repatha. It treats high-risk patients. On Tuesday, an advisory panel voted 13-3 to recommend approval for Praluent, an injectable medication produced by Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

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Heartburn meds, heart attacks linked
San Diego Union-Tribune

A popular kind of heartburn medication is linked to a higher rate of heart attacks, according to a data-mining study led by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers.

These drugs, which include Prilosec, known generically as omeprazole, belong to a class called proton pump inhibitors. Their use was associated with a roughly 20 percent increase in the rate of subsequent heart attacks. Such a finding in the general population was unexpected.

However, the study is correlational, and doesn’t prove there is a cause-and-effect relationship, the researchers said. More study is needed. That caution was also given by a Scripps Clinic cardiologist not involved in the study.

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Obama: Health law has now been ‘woven into the fabric of America’
Washington Post

In a speech today before the Catholic Health Association in Washington, President Obama didn’t directly mention the Supreme Court case that could gut subsidies for millions of people in three dozen states on the federal exchange. But he telegraphed the political argument he and Democrats will make in the aftermath of such a Court ruling.

In his speech, Obama made a moral case for the goal of universal health care; an ideological case that government-sponsored health insurance enhances economic opportunity and mobility without setting back American freedom; and a substantive case that the Affordable Care Act is working better than expected. He rattled off a number of anecdotes of people who now have better lives, thanks to the law. But perhaps the most important part of the speech was this one:

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Obama defends health care law amid Supreme Court case
USA Today

Despite years of political and legal challenges, President Obama said Tuesday his health care law has insured millions, saved lives, and is a success that is here to stay.

“After a century of talk, after decades of trying, after a year of sustained debate, we finally made health care reform a reality here in America,” Obama told a supportive crowd with the Catholic Health Association.

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Arguments in House lawsuit may pose next threat to ACA
Modern Healthcare

If House Republicans can make it over the first hurdle in their lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, their arguments might pose a serious threat to the healthcare law, some legal experts say.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer is now considering whether to allow the lawsuit to proceed or dismiss it for lack of standing on the House’s part. Collyer’s questions during oral arguments in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, along with her subsequent requests, have led some to speculate that she will grant the House standing and let the lawsuit move forward.

If she does, and her ruling on standing is upheld by the appellate court, some believe the House’s arguments in the suit could carry some heft. The case comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to soon decide the outcome of King v. Burwell, a challenge on the legality of premium subsidies in states without their own insurance exchanges.

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Congress told it must act if health law voided
San Francisco Chronicle

Congress and the states will need to find an answer if the Supreme Court strikes down the federal subsidies that are a foundation of President Barack Obama’s health care law, his health secretary told lawmakers Wednesday. Sylvia Burwell also said the president would reject any of the current GOP proposals because they would roll back crucial elements of the overhaul, in effect repealing it. “Something that repeals the Affordable Care Act is something the president will not sign,” she said.

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Burwell Says It’s Up To States, Congress To Help Consumers If Court Strikes Down Subsidies
Kaiser Health News

It will be up to state officials and Congress to help consumers who can’t afford health insurance if the Supreme Court strikes down health law subsidies for millions of Americans, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday.

“The critical decisions will sit with the Congress and states and governors to determine if those subsidies are available,” Burwell told the House Ways and Means Committee. The secretary told Congress earlier this year that the administration has no authority to undo “massive damage” that would come if the court invalidates the subsidies in the online marketplaces, or exchanges, which the federal government operates in about three dozen states.

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For those in California illegally, health services vary greatly by county
Los Angeles Times

Margarita Vasquez lacked health insurance and couldn’t afford an eye operation to ward off blindness.

But under a Los Angeles County program that extends healthcare services to poor residents who are in the country illegally, the 64-year-old underwent surgery earlier this year and can now see clearly.

“It saved me,” she said.

An hour’s drive to the east, in the flatlands of the Inland Empire, Sujey Becerra wasn’t as fortunate.

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The Great Healthcare Transparency Movement?
HealthLeaders Media

Why can’t it be easy to shop for healthcare services? All too often, it is a Kafkaesque experience. There’s no single place to go.

As a patient, you can’t easily compare prices for services as you would when buying a TV. You can call your insurer—which really sets the prices—and you might make some headway, only to then run into brick walls. When you’re pointed back to your physician’s office for a code in order to continue discussions with the insurer regarding your obligation for, say, a colonoscopy, you’ll circle back into discussions about codes and preventive and elective care. You might get it resolved before your scheduled procedure. You might not. For most patients, that is the world of healthcare billing as it is.

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Some Insured Patients Still Skip Care Because Of High Costs
Kaiser Health News

A key goal of the Affordable Care Act is to help people get health insurance who may have not been able to pay for it before. But the most popular plans – those with low monthly premiums – also have high deductibles and copays. And that can leave medical care still out of reach for some.

Renee Mitchell of Stone Mountain, Georgia is one of those people. She previously put off a medical procedure because of the expense.

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Consumers In ‘Grandfathered’ Health Plans Can Face Higher Costs
National Public Radio

Judy Naillon called her insurer several months ago to find out why she was being charged $35 every month for birth control pills. Her friends said they were getting their pills free under the federal health law.

Why wasn’t she getting the same deal?

The insurance representative explained that was because the plan Naillon and her husband had through his job was “grandfathered” under the health law.  In other words, unlike other health plans, Naillon’s insurance policy, which existed before the health law was enacted, doesn’t have to cover many preventive services, including contraception.

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Health Affairs Event Reminder: The Medi-Cal Waiver And Health System Improvement In California
HealthAffairs Blog

California’s five-year federal waiver to help revamp the state’s $95 billion Medi-Cal program is set to expire on October 31, 2015. While crucial changes have been made to the program in terms of flexibility and accountability, and coverage has been vastly expanded, much work remains to be done before Medi-Cal can be considered truly transformed.

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Pressure builds to boost reimbursements to dentists in Medi-Cal
HealthyCal.org

Jim Wood tells a story about teeth that makes him smile.

Wood — a dentist and a state assemblyman from Sonoma County — remembers the time a patient of his who was an elementary school teacher told him about a student suffering from serious dental problems. The little girl’s family was poor and they lived in a rural area. They couldn’t find a dentist to treat her.

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Adult Dental Coverage Expanding Slowly in Medicaid
Kaiser Health News

At the Interfaith Dental Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, people with dental pain can walk into a ground floor office off Bedford Avenue and get treated without an appointment. They might have to wait in a packed waiting room. But if they’re in the door by 5 p.m., a dentist will see them.

Residents in this low- to middle-income neighborhood likely don’t realize how lucky they are. The majority of Americans have to travel miles to see a dentist who takes their insurance, particularly if they’re covered by Medicaid. Many dental patients with private insurance cannot afford to pay their share of the bill.

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Virtual doctor visits with click: Walgreens, insurers behind push for Web consultations
The Mercury News

Millions of people will be able to see a doctor on their smartphones or laptops for everyday ailments once the nation’s largest drugstore chain and two major insurers expand a budding push into virtual health care.

Walgreens said Wednesday that it will offer a smartphone application that links doctors and patients virtually in 25 states by the end of the year. That growth comes as UnitedHealth Group and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem prepare to make their own non-emergency telemedicine services available to about 40 million more people by next year.

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More Evidence That Parents’ Ages Could Influence Autism Risk
National Public Radio

Lots of factors may affect a child’s odds of ending up with autism. Researchers around the world have been striving to fully understand how biology, genetics and environment play roles.

A huge study that includes data from more than 5.7 million children in five countries might shed some light on how autism develops — but it also raises new questions.

Researchers looked at autism rates among children born between 1985 and 2004 in Denmark, Israel, Norway, Sweden and Australia.

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Stanford ‘Big Data’ Study Links Common Heartburn Drugs with Heart Attack Risk
KQED Radio

Some of the most commonly used drugs in the world to treat heartburn are associated with a 16 to 20 percent increased risk of heart attack, a large data mining study of electronic health records from Stanford researchers shows.

The class of drugs, called proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, are sold under the name Prilosec and Nexium, among others. These drugs are available by prescription as well as over the counter and generate an estimated $13 billion in annual sales globally.

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San Francisco approves health warning on sugary drink ads
The Mercury News

Soda and some other sugary drinks contribute to health problems, San Francisco supervisors said as they voted unanimously to approve health warnings on ads for such beverages.

The soda industry said it might sue to block the ordinance, while supporters said they will seek to expand the requirement beyond the city.

It’s believed San Francisco would be the first place in the country to require such warnings if the Board of Supervisors gives a second approval next week and the mayor allows it to go into effect.

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Marin cancer gala raises $830,000
North Bay Business Journal

Marin General Hospital Foundation raised $830,000 for cancer treatment at a recent event.

About 650 people attended the organization’s annual fundraiser, held May 16 and themed this year “Bombay Dreamy.”

“This event honors the patients throughout our community, as well as the inspiring physicians, nurses and staff who work tirelessly at the Marin Cancer Institute and who dedicate their lives to helping others,” said Andrea Schultz, chairwoman of the foundation board of directors in a statement. “Through the years, the Foundation has seen a tremendous amount of support from the community. We are pleased to share these achievements and continue our mission to continue bring world-class upgrades and enhancements to the people we serve.”

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