News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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FDA lays out extra steps to clean scopes linked to outbreaks
Southern California Public Radio

Federal health officials laid out extra safety measures that hospitals can take to clean specialized medical scopes that have been linked to sometimes deadly bacterial outbreaks across the U.S. However, Food and Drug Administration officials acknowledged on Tuesday that not all hospitals have the staff, expertise and resources to take the steps, including sterilizing scopes with toxic gas to kill bacteria.

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Senators announce mental health reform bill, pledge to enforce parity
Modern Healthcare

Lawmakers introducing a new mental health reform bill Tuesday said it would increase access to mental health services and help enforce insurance coverage parity. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 is a companion bill to a revised House bill brought forth last month by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). Cassidy said he and Chris Murphy, both members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, have received assurances from committee leadership that the bill would move forward.

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Your Pill Is Printing: FDA Approves First 3-D-Printed Drug
National Public Radio

In a first, the Food and Drug Administration has given approval to a drug that is produced on a 3-D printer. The pill, produced by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, treats seizures. It’s expected to hit the market in the first quarter of 2016.

NPR’s Rob Stein reports for our Newscast unit:

“The drug is called Spritam and is designed to treat seizures in people suffering from epilepsy. It’s a new version of a seizure medication that’s been on the market for years.

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Hospitals Seeking An Edge Turn To Unlikely Adviser: A Car Maker
Kaiser Health News

The equipment closet for the operating rooms at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Hospital was a mess. Nurses had to maneuver through a maze of wheelchairs, beds, boxes and lights to find the necessary surgical supplies.

“It looked kind of like a dog pile of equipment,” said Dawna Willsey, a clinical director at the hospital. “It was every man for themselves trying to find anything.”

As public hospitals like Harbor-UCLA try to cut costs and make patients happier, administrators have turned to an unlikely ally: Toyota.

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No, Giving More People Health Insurance Doesn’t Save Money
New York Times

In 2014, an estimated nine million people became newly insured thanks to Obamacare.

There’s an oft-expressed view that getting all those people covered could actually save the health system money. The argument goes something like this: Once people have insurance, they’ll go to the doctor instead of an expensive emergency room. Or: Prevention costs far less than a serious illness down the road.

In selling the Affordable Care Act, President Obama was fond of making these sorts of arguments.  “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse,” he said, in his big 2009 address to Congress, urging passage of the bill. “That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.” The White House was careful to describe the overall financial forecast for the law — the administration said the law would slow spending growth and not reverse it. But it has also argued forcefully and repeatedly about the financial value of preventive care.

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Lax state oversight cited for wide variability in premium increases
Modern Healthcare

The federal government wants state regulators to keep health insurance premium hikes modest for 2016, but consistency and strict enforcement elude states’ rate review processes.

If states had a more unified, rigorous rate review approach, premiums would likely increase tepidly, or potentially decrease, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs.

Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal government’s insurance marketplace and the former chief of Connecticut’s exchange, sent a letter to state insurance commissioners last month asking them to “carefully consider” some findings before finalizing rates for 2016.

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California hospitals get hit with Medicare readmission penalties
Sacramento Bee

Nearly two-thirds of California’s hospitals will receive less money than usual from Medicare this fall as a penalty for failing to reduce patient readmissions, according to the federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid.

The penalties of up to a 3 percent reduction in billing reimbursements for Medicare patients were issued to hospitals because too many patients there who suffered heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, chronic lung problems or elective hip or knee replacements returned within 30 days after initial discharge.

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AEDs: Califronia bill is aimed at increasing accessibility of lifesaving defibrillators
The Mercury News

When easy-to-use heart defibrillators came onto the market two decades ago, they were billed as a way to save the lives of tens of thousands of victims of cardiac arrest each year.

But today defibrillators are still few and far between. And they often sit in back rooms or lockers, shuttered away from public view.

“I can’t even say there’s one in every building. I can’t say there’s one in every complex, and I can’t say there’s one in every block,” said Angie Scott, the defibrillator coordinator at the Santa Clara Unified School District. “They are rare.”

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Pain Patients Say They Can’t Get Medicine After Crackdown On Illegal Rx Drug Trade
Kaiser Health News

The accident happened 10 years ago when Chris Young was 35. He owned a salvage yard in Maui, Hawaii, and his employee had hoisted a junker on a machine called an excavator when the hydraulics gave out. The car fell on him from above his head, smashing his spine.

“He was crushed accordion-style,” says his wife Lesley.

The accident left Young with a condition known as “partial paraplegia.” He can’t walk and he needs a wheelchair, but he does have some sensation in his legs.

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Hospitals must work together to prevent superbug spread, CDC says
Los Angeles Times

Superbugs — germs that have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics and other medical treatments — are on the loose, infecting more than 2 million people in the U.S. every year and killing at least 23,000.

But a new analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that coordinated efforts to combat antibiotic-resistant infections could reduce the number of infections in healthcare facilities by more than half a million over the course of five years.

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You can now look up ER wait times, hospital noise levels and nursing home fines on Yelp
Washington Post

Yelp is adding a ton of health-care data to its review pages for medical businesses to give consumers more access to government information on hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis clinics.

Consumers can now look up a hospital emergency room’s average wait time, fines paid by a nursing home, or how often patients getting dialysis treatment are readmitted to a hospital because of treatment-related infections or other problems.

The review site is partnering with ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization based in New York. ProPublica compiled the information from its own research and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The data is for 4,600 hospitals, 15,000 nursing homes, and 6,300 dialysis clinics in the United States, and it will be updated quarterly.

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New Model Of Prenatal Care In The South Bay Is Having Positive Impacts

At the Chula Vista office of the San Ysidro Health Center, a group of mothers-to-be are taking charge of their health.

As one woman checks her blood pressure, another tests her urine for signs of excess sugar or protein. The women also spend a couple of moments with a medical resident, who measures their tummies and monitors their babies’ heartbeats.

After they make the rounds, the women record all of their numbers in a notebook.

Then they sit around in a circle and share their feelings about breastfeeding.

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With new drug on the way, Bayer and union settle contract
San Francisco Business Times

Bayer HealthCare and the union representing some 450 workers in Berkeley agreed on a four-year contract that includes annual pay increases of at least 3.2 percent. The new contract, settled a month before the current four-year pact expires on Aug. 25, was ratified last week by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6. The new deal ends Aug. 24, 2019.

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Lilly yanks millions from UCSD for Alzheimer’s study
San Diego Union-Tribune

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is shifting tens of millions of dollars from UC San Diego to the University of Southern California to test a drug on older people who have some evidence of Alzheimer’s disease but have yet to show symptoms.

The move represents a huge setback to UC San Diego in its legal fight with USC over control of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), a nationwide effort to better diagnose and treat the disease.

Lilly said on Tuesday that it will move the money it planned to give UC San Diego for a clinical test of Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug, solanezumab.

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Blue Shield of California owes $82.8 million in Obamacare rebates
Los Angeles Times

Health insurance giant Blue Shield of California owes $82.8 million in rebates to consumers and small employers under requirements of the federal health law.

The majority of that money, $61.7 million, will be divvied up among 454,000 individual policyholders who had Blue Shield coverage in 2014. The average rebate is $136.

The remaining rebates of $21.1 million are owed to about 19,000 small employers. Customers will receive their money by the end of next month, according to the San Francisco insurer.

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Health Net reports sharp profit fall but beats expectations
Los Angeles Business Journal

Managed health care services company Health Net Inc. reported a sharp fall in second-quarter profits due to costs related a contract with Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., which has now been suspended pending Health Net’s acquisition by Centene Corp. Woodland Hills-based Health Net(NYSE: HNT) said it earned $58.4 million, or 75 cents per share, in its second quarter, compared with $120.9 million, or $1.49 per share, a year ago.

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UC Davis gets $8.5M for stem-cell research to help AIDS patients
Sacramento Business Journal

The California stem cell agency has approved a $8.5 million grant to researchers at UC Davis who are working on treatments for HIV/AIDS patients who have lymphoma. The Davis team, led by Dr. Mehrdad Abedi and Joseph Anderson, will conduct a clinical trial using bioengineered stem cells to treat HIV patients suffering from the deadly immune system cancer associated with the disease.

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Watsonville Community Hospital gets new owner
Santa Cruz Sentinel

Watsonville Community Hospital’s chief expressed enthusiasm Tuesday about the parent company’s decision to spin off the 106-bed hospital and 37 other similar-sized hospitals. The change expected to occur in the first quarter of 2016.

Wayne T. Smith, chairman of CEO of Community Health Systems, a for-profit operator of 198 hospitals and based in Franklin, Tennessee, said the move aims to create two companies that are “better positioned to take advantage of growth opportunities while creating additional value for our stockholders.”

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Daughters of Charity deal would keep hospitals open five years
The Mercury News

Desperate for a deal to save its beleaguered hospitals, Bay Area-based Daughters of Charity Health System was left at the altar this spring when California’s Attorney General told its prospective new owner it must keep most of the hospitals open for at least 10 years. Yet, newly released documents show, the New York City hedge fund that is the nonprofit chain’s latest suitor is guaranteeing to keep the hospitals open for half that time.

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Readmissions bleed cash from 11 SD hospitals
San Diego Union-Tribune

Eleven local hospitals will be hit with reduced Medicare payments starting in October because too many of their patients were readmitted within 30 days of discharge, according to new data from the federal government.

They are among roughly 2,600 facilities across the country that will see their Medicare reimbursement rates drop by as much as 3 percent for that controversial reason. Nationwide, 37 hospitals received the maximum penalty; none of them were in San Diego County.

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Tahoe Forest Hospital needs to focus on cutting costs
Sierra Sun

While the 5 percent Tahoe Forest Hospital District rate increase is of concern, a far greater concern is the state of the district’s finances.

While the District earned $2.8 million on operations last fiscal year, those earnings were supported by an unconscionable $8.4 million profit on cancer drugs — a more than 100 percent profit (Medicare allows a 6 percent markup on cancer drugs).

Without this windfall, which exploits some of the most vulnerable patients, the district would be losing serious money.

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Tulare Regional recovery continues
The Foothills Sun Gazette

The completion of the first full fiscal year of the Tulare Regional Medical Center under the management of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates shows that the dramatic financial progress being made at Tulare’s hospital is continuing.

The hospital’s net operating margin consistently is in the black, the number of days cash on hand is the highest it’s been in five years and the hospital’s net position has increased by more than $12.3 million in just the last fiscal year alone.