News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Administration Prods States To Scrutinize Insurers’ Rate Hikes
National Public Radio

There’s a battle brewing behind the scenes to keep health plans affordable for consumers. The Obama administration weighed in this week, sending letters to insurance regulators in every state and Washington, D.C., that ask them to take a closer look at rate requests before granting them.

Under the Affordable Care Act, state agencies largely retain the right to regulate premiums. So far only a handful have finalized premiums for the coming year, for which enrollment begins in November.

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Cancer specialists urge letting Medicare negotiate drug prices
Modern Healthcare

Cancer patients who receive life-prolonging drugs often face bills for those therapies that are several times greater than their annual family income. That was one of a number of concerns expressed in commentary published Thursday by more than 100 cancer specialists from across the country. They urged federal involvement in addressing soaring drug prices, which they say ultimately harms patients.“The good news is that effective new cancer therapies are being developed by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies,” said the letter posted online in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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Anthem To Buy Cigna, Creating Largest Health Insurer By Enrollment
National Public Radio

Health insurer Anthem has struck a deal to acquire rival Cigna for $48 billion — a buyout that would create the country’s largest health insurer by enrollment.

The combined entity would have an estimated revenue of $115 billion and cover 53 million people in the U.S.

According to The New York Times, Indianapolis-based Anthem operates Blue Cross plans in 14 states and has a strong presence in Medicaid plans. Bloomfield, Conn.-based Cigna “is best known for offering plans through employers and selling other kinds of insurance like dental and disability.”

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Will the Legislature inadvertently invite more medical tourists?
Los Angeles Times

California is already a magnet for birth tourism. Now, health analyst Robert Laszewski writes, the California Legislature could make the state a magnet for medical tourists who sign up for insurance, get an expensive procedure done at one of the state’s famous medical centers, then drop their coverage and head home.

It’s a powerful critique, but Laszewski downplays one important fact: Foreign nationals can do that already, and not just in California.

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Legislator vows to seek more healthcare coverage for immigrants
Los Angeles Times

Healthcare advocates in California this year successfully pushed for medical coverage for kids who are in the country illegally. But they say they’re not satisfied. At a news conference Thursday, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) outlined his efforts to further expand coverage to Californians who entered the country illegally. Immigrants without legal status are barred from signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

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Insurers UnitedHealth, Oscar are poised to join Covered California
Los Angeles Times

Two new health insurers are poised to join California’s market for Obamacare coverage — industry giant UnitedHealth and a New York start-up named Oscar.

Many consumers may welcome the new choices starting next year and the prospect that increased competition helps hold down premiums. The lack of more health plans to choose from has been a sore point for some Covered California customers during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

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Consumers’ Satisfaction With Coverage Linked To Out-Of-Pocket Expenses
Kaiser Health News

How much money people have to fork over when they go to the doctor can make a big difference in how satisfied they are with their health plan, a recent study suggests.

“It looks like it’s boiling down to costs,” says Paul Fronstin, director of the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s health research and education program and the author of the report.

The annual online survey by EBRI/Greenwald & Associates of 3,887 people examined issues related to consumer-directed health care, generally defined as plans with high deductibles that are linked to savings accounts that consumers can use to pay medical expenses. Study participants were grouped into three categories: consumer-driven health plan members who had a deductible of at least $1,250 for individual coverage or $2,500 for family coverage and access to a health savings account or similar savings vehicle; high-deductible health plan members who had the same deductible thresholds but no savings account; and so-called traditional plan members who had plans with lower deductibles.

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Senate panel will push HHS to delay Stage 3 MU rules
Modern Healthcare

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is asking to delay Stage 3 meaningful-use rules, its chairman, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), said during a news conference Thursday.This will be one of several recommendations his committee will make to the Obama administration in a push to expand the use of electronic health records, which some providers say are costly and time-consuming.Alexander’s staff and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have been meeting with committee members’ staff weekly and meeting regularly with experts and administration officials to relay their

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Doctors Press For Action To Lower ‘Unsustainable’ Prices For Cancer Drugs
National Public Radio

Anyone who’s fought cancer knows that it’s not just scary, but pricey, too.

“A lot of my patients cry — they’re frustrated,” says Dr. Ayalew Tefferi, a hematologist at the Mayo Clinic. “Many of them spend their life savings on cancer drugs and end up being bankrupt.”

The average U.S. family makes $52,000 annually. Cancer drugs can easily cost a $120,000 a year. Out-of-pocket expenses for the insured can run $25,000 to $30,000 — more than half of a typical family’s income.

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Rising cancer costs pit doctors against drugmakers
CBS News

Spending on cancer drugs is skyrocketing and shows no signs of slowing.

IMS Health, which tracks the market, estimates that spending on these medications hit $100 billion worldwide in 2014, an increase of 10.3 percent, bringing the compound annual growth rate to 6.5 percent over the past five years. That’s expected to rise to 6 percent to 8 percent through 2018, when total global spending is forecast to hit between $114 billion to $147 billion.

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Costly to Treat, Hepatitis C Gains Quietly in U.S.
New York Times

Zach Wayman says he first contracted hepatitis C several years ago by sharing needles with other heroin addicts. He went into rehab and was successfully treated for the virus. But he relapsed into addiction and reinfected himself, testing positive for hepatitis C again this spring.

“Pretty much everybody in my rehab has it,” said Mr. Wayman, 25, who started abusing pain pills at 18 and switched to heroin a few years later.

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PriceCheck: How Much Does It Cost to Have a Baby in Northern California?
KQED Radio

Childbirth is the most common reason for hospitalization in the U.S. In California, about half a million babies are born every year. Given how common it is — and that most births are fairly uncomplicated, medically — you’d think there would be some predictability in prices.

But there isn’t. The price of delivery varies dramatically, both nationwide and across California. A study last year of more than 109,000 births at 198 hospitals statewide found a stunning 11-fold variation in prices charged for vaginal delivery — from $3,296 to $37,227 — and more than 8-fold for cesarean section — from $8,312 to $70,908.

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Readers respond: Birth centers should be ‘more available option’
Southern California Public Radio

Wednesday on this blog and on Take Two, I delved into the cost of having a child at a birthing center. I explained that it can definitely be cost-effective, at a societal level, for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies to give birth outside of the hospital. But I pointed out that it’s harder to determine whether individual mamas will save money using a birthing center.

That led me to ask our blog readers and Take Two audience a couple of questions: Did you have a child at a birthing center? If so, was it cost-effective for you?

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Who Are Patient Portals Really For?
The Health Care Blog

I already know my blood type, what conditions and allergies I have, and when my last appointment was. And I don’t know what to do with the millilitre-by-millilitre values from my last blood workup. It’s important information for my doctor, but it’s not material to my day-to-day health.

Nevertheless it’s front and center in my provider and insurance-company patient portals. Besides a couple of critically useful tools—like appointment scheduling—they’re little more than a window to a database full of indecipherable medical data, generic health tips, and insurance minutiae. Who are patient portals really for?

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Healthcare district close to approving ballot language for Nov. 3 vote on partnership with Adventist Health
Tehachapi News

The Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District will move forward with a ballot initiative to allow it to form a partnership that ultimately will help pay to finish construction of the new hospital, and take over operations of both the new and old facilities.

“This will be a huge step forward for us,” said board member Duane Moats at the July 21 district meeting. “It is a fulfillment of our mission.”

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UCLA hospital to test new cleaning system after superbug outbreak
UCLA Daily-Bruin

Doctors at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center will be the first to test a new cleaning system for a medical device in the wake of a superbug outbreak late 2014, officials announced on Monday.

Due to insufficiently cleaned duodenoscopes, a strain of bacteria, or superbug, resulted in the death of two patients and infected several others at the center between October and January.

A specialized scope used to diagnose and treat pancreatic, bile duct and gallbladder diseases may have transmitted the superbug between patients during the outbreak. The university said the scopes had been cleaned according to the instructions the manufacturer provided.

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Simi Valley Hospital names new CEO
Moorpark Acorn

Jennifer Swenson has been named president and CEO of Simi Valley Hospital, according to Beth Zachary, president and CEO of the Southern California Region for Adventist Health.

She will begin her new role on Aug. 17. Swenson comes to SVH with more than 20 years of finance, operations and business development leadership experience in the health care industry.