News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation


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Health uninsured rate falls, yet again, under Obamacare

What goes down apparently goes down even more. The sharp plunge in the number of Americans lacking health coverage has continued, reaching a seven-year low, as Obamacare exchanges and Medicaid enroll more people.

In the second quarter of this year, 11.4 percent of adults lacked some kind of health insurance, a half-percentage point drop from the prior quarter, according to the tracking survey released Friday by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

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Small Business Health Insurance Exchanges Are Off To A Rocky Start
Kaiser Health News

Millions of Americans have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, but there’s one area where enrollment has significantly dragged. Few small businesses are getting coverage through the law’s online insurance exchange.

Only 10,700 employers are currently enrolled in coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, exchanges, the federal government announced this month.

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Slavitt’s CMS Confirmation Could Face Opposition
HealthLeaders Media

Another contentious Senate confirmation hearing may be in the works over the new leadership at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Senate Republicans have signaled that they may challenge the Obama Administration’s nomination Thursday of Andy Slavitt to be administrator at CMS. Slavitt has been with CMS for a year, and has served as acting administrator since February, when Marilyn Tavenner resigned from the job she’d held for 21 months.

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California foster children would be better protected from overprescribing physicians, under proposed new laws now in the Assembly
The Mercury News

Proposed laws aimed at cracking down on the overuse of psychiatric medication in foster care require more from judges, lawyers, nurses, social workers, caregivers and state investigators to better protect children from potentially dangerous drugs.

The measures, however, create no new rules for the one profession at the heart of the problem — doctors who do the prescribing. Under four bills now moving through the Assembly, California’s juvenile courts and social service agencies — not the medical profession — would be tasked with keeping in check physicians who treat traumatized kids.

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New vaccine law is just what the doctor ordered
Santa Monica Daily Press

Congratulations are in order to state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who co-sponsored SB 277 which requires that California school children must be vaccinated against communicable diseases such as measles and whooping cough. SB 277 was signed into law June 30 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The new law requires vaccinations against measles and whooping cough for nearly all public and private school children including those in daycare.

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Rate hike for healthcare providers gets no mention in tobacco tax petition
Sacramento Bee

A tobacco-tax initiative proposed for the November 2016 ballot would raise as much as $1 billion to increase reimbursement rates for healthcare providers, about three-quarters of the estimated revenue that would be generated by the $2-per-pack tax hike. But Friday’s title and summary from the Attorney General’s Office makes no mention of higher reimbursement rates, a priority of the California Medical Association and some other supporters of the effort, which has raised $2 million.

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Should More Women Give Birth Outside The Hospital?

A recent recommendation from doctors in the United Kingdom raised eyebrows in the United States — the British National Health Service says healthy women with straightforward pregnancies are better off staying out of the hospital to deliver their babies.

That’s heresy, obstetrician Dr. Neel Shah first thought. In the United States, 99 percent of babies are born in hospitals.

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Tools for Assessing Nursing Quality Include Surveys
HealthLeaders Media

Do your hospital’s nurses feel empowered? Are nurses’ relationships with physicians strong enough that nurses can call out errors or ask questions without fear? Do they think their hospital hires enough nurses with appropriate skills and provides enough resources to provide safe and timely care? Are nurses involved in making policy?

When nurses are surveyed on these and related questions, which they increasingly are, poor scores may indicate troublesome systemic issues that could, directly or indirectly, affect quality of care, even adverse events.  A drop in scores can often be tracked down to a specific hospital unit, research has shown. And poor scores may correlate to “nursing sensitive” patient outcomes, such as patient falls, lengths of stay, pressure ulcers, and infections.

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Fight for gay equality shifts to blood donations
San Francisco Chronicle

On the heels of the Supreme Court victory on marriage equality, supporters of lifting the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men want blood-donor equality.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed lifting the 32-year ban but with a hitch: The agency’s new rules would still bar men who’ve had sex with men within the past year from donating blood. The 60-day public comment period for the proposal ends Tuesday.

“We’re getting equality in other areas, but donor equality is still missing,” said Nathan Svoboda, president of the Project More Foundation, a Santa Clara nonprofit that supports outreach, education and advocacy efforts for the LGBT community.

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New Regulations Would Require Modernizing Nursing Home Care
Kaiser Health News

After nearly 30 years, the Obama administration wants to modernize the rules nursing homes must follow to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

The hundreds of pages of proposed changes cover everything from meal times to use of antipsychotic drugs to staffing. Some are required by the Affordable Care Act and other recent federal laws, as well as the president’s executive order directing agencies to simplify regulations and minimize the costs of compliance.

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How Big Data Can Be Used to Improve Early Detection of Cognitive Disease
The Health Care Blog

The aging of populations worldwide is leading to many healthcare challenges, such as an increase in dementia patients. One recent estimate suggests that 13.9% of people above age 70 currently suffer from some form of dementia like Alzheimer’s or dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that by 2050, 135 million people globally will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

While these are daunting numbers, some forms of cognitive diseases can be slowed if caught early enough. The key is early detection. In a recent study, my colleague and I found that machine learning can offer significantly better tools for early detection than what is traditionally used by physicians.

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Many Hospitals Don’t Follow Guidelines For Child Abuse Patients, Study Finds
Kaiser Health News

About half of young children brought to hospitals with injuries indicating that they have been abused were not thoroughly evaluated for other injuries, and the use of proper care is less likely to happen in general hospitals than in those that specialize in pediatrics, a study released Monday found.

The researchers examined whether hospitals are adhering to guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that all children younger than 2 years old suspected of being victims of child abuse undergo skeletal surveys, a series of X-rays used to identify broken bones that are not readily apparent, called occult fractures.

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Engineering A Shingles Vaccine That Doesn’t Wimp Out Over Time

If you had chickenpox as a child, then you’re at risk for shingles.

As you age, the risk increases, probably because the immune system weakens over time. The varicella zoster virus can hide in the body over a lifetime and suddenly activate, causing a painful blistery rash. Even when the rash disappears, pain can linger and worsen, causing a burning, shooting, stabbing pain so severe it can leave people unable to sleep, work or carry on other activities.

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Should Doctors And Drugmakers Keep Their Distance?
National Public Radio

Doctors are obsessed with time. It comes down to simple math. If I have four hours to see a dozen patients, there simply isn’t much time to stray from the main agenda: What ails you?

Frequently harried, I avoid drug company salespeople. Their job is to get face time with me and convince me quickly of the merits of their products. To sweeten the path in, they bring food for the staff along with free samples of prescription drugs for us to give to our patients.

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Fast-growing East Bay drug maker stares down hostile $3 billion bid
San Francisco Business Times

Depomed Inc. stock closed the week 46 percent higher — hitting a new all-time high — thanks to an unsolicited $3 billion takeover bid from Horizon Pharma PLC. The hostile takeover came to light earlier in the week, when Horizon said Newark-based Depomed rejected two similar but quiet overtures. Depomed also rejected this third attempt as well, saying the $29.25-per-share stock offer by Ireland’s Horizon undervalues Depomed (NASDAQ: DEPO).