News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Large Employers Look To Tighten Control Of Costs For Expensive Drugs
Kaiser Health News

More than half of large employers in 2016 will aim to more tightly manage employees’ use of high-priced specialty drugs, one of the fastest-growing expenses in their health plans.

Despite those efforts, companies still expect the cost of specialty drugs that are carefully administered to treat conditions such as cancer, HIV and hepatitis C to continue rising at a double-digit annual rate — well ahead of the pace for traditional pharmacy drugs or companies’ overall spending on health benefits, according to the National Business Group on Health.

The group released a survey Wednesday that found 55 percent of employers next year plan to direct employees to specialty pharmacies if they need drugs that can cost thousands of dollars for a single treatment. That share was up from a third in the group’s survey a year ago on companies’ plans for 2015 health plans.

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Sutures With A Soundtrack: Music Can Ease Pain, Anxiety Of Surgery
National Public Radio

Hospitals have a free and powerful tool that they could use more often to help reduce the pain that surgery patients experience: music.

Scores of studies over the years have looked at the power of music to ease this kind of pain; an analysis published Wednesday in The Lancet that pulls all those findings together builds a strong case.

When researchers in London started combing the medical literature for studies about music’s soothing power, they found hundreds of small studies suggesting some benefit. The idea goes back to the days of Florence Nightingale, and music was used to ease surgical pain as early as 1914. (My colleague Patricia Neighmond reported on one of these studies just a few months ago.)

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Doctors Fail to Address Patients’ Spiritual Needs
New York Times

My patient, a woman in her 20s with cancer, was doing poorly on chemotherapy. The disease had spread throughout her body. We were doing everything we could to help her, but didn’t know how long she would live – probably only a few months, at most. Her mother came regularly to visit, and sat by her side. Around their necks, they both wore gold crosses on tiny gold chains. Taped on the wall, near the foot of her bed, was a greeting card with a picture of Jesus, in a red cloak with pointy gold beams radiating from his head.

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As Obamacare’s Cadillac Tax Looms, Employers Raise Deductibles, Shift Costs

Though employers won’t have to pay the “Cadillac tax” on rich medical plans until 2018, they are mitigating potential financial hits from it by spending more on wellness and shifting workers to high deductible plans so employees think twice about using expensive care, a new analysis indicates.

The Cadillac tax was created as part of the Affordable Care Act largely as a way to help fund subsidized benefits to the uninsured under the law. Starting in 2018, employers pay a 40% tax on costs of health plans that are above $10,200 per individual and $27,500 for family coverage.

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Share of Latinos Without Health Coverage Down to 28.3 Percent
NBC News

Newly released federal data show just 28.3 percent of adult Hispanics lacked health insurance in the first three months of the year.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that Hispanic adults had the greatest percentage point decrease in the uninsured rate between 2013, when the uninsured rate was 40.6 percent, and the first three months of this year, 28.3 percent.

That drop has helped contribute to news that in this year’s first three months nine of every 10 American adults had health insurance.

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90% Of Americans Now Have Health Insurance: Does Having Coverage Make You Healthier?
Medical Daily

Thanks to Obamacare, almost 90 percent of Americans have heath insurance now, according to new data released by the federal government Wednesday. The report examined health insurance trends from 2013 until now and found that the number of uninsured people in the U.S. has continuously been decreasing.

The report, released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), found that the percentage of uninsured adults aged 18 to 64 decreased from 16.3 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in the first three months of 2015. It also found that the percentage of children under the age of 18 with private coverage increased from 52.6 percent in 2013 to 56.3 percent in 2015. Perhaps most notable was the fact that the greatest decrease in uninsured Americans were among the poorest in the country.

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Companies Slow Down Shift of Health Costs to Workers

After years of passing on more and more health-care costs to employees, companies are slowing their adoption of high-deductible plans next year, according to a survey of more than 100 large U.S. employers. That relief could be temporary. Companies are waiting to see if lawmakers will repeal Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health coverage, which is a levy on individual health premiums greater than $10,200.

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What’s unfair competition? FTC may define it soon
Modern Healthcare

The Federal Trade Commission may soon define more clearly what constitutes unfair competition. Healthcare players would welcome the clarity in a nebulous area of antitrust law, experts say, but it’s not likely to change the FTC’s enforcement approach.

The commissioners are nearing a bipartisan agreement on principles for going after companies engaged in unfair competition, the Wall Street Journal reported this week citing unnamed sources.

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CMS extends enforcement delay for ‘two-midnight’ rule
Modern Healthcare

The CMS has extended its enforcement delay for the controversial “two-midnight” rule governing short hospital stays to fall in line with recently proposed changes to the policy.

The agency proposed in July that the rule be modified to allow physicians to exercise judgment to admit patients for short stays on a case-by-case basis. An enforcement delay, passed by Congress in legislation replacing Medicare’s payment formula for doctors, was set to expire on Sept. 30.

The CMS said on its website Wednesday that it would extend the delay through the end of the year.

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Medical scopes alert came too late: Our view
USA Today

When you go to a hospital, you don’t expect the device used for treatment to harm you. Yet since 2008, scores of patients across the country have been sickened, and some have died, from infections linked to contaminated medical scopes.

Compounding the tragedy is that many of the illnesses might have been prevented if the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices, had done its job with a greater sense of urgency.

Instead, the FDA took until this year to issue an explicit safety alert on the device, known as a “duodenoscope,” or flexible tube that is threaded down the throat of patients to examine and treat blockages in bile ducts or gall bladders. The alert came six years after the agency was first warned that the device was difficult to disinfect and was linked to a drug-resistant infection in Florida that sickened scores of patients, according to a USA TODAY investigation. Fifteen of the patients died.

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Achieving Mental Health Parity: Slow Going Even In ‘Pace Car’ State
Kaiser Health News

After the state of California fined her employer $4 million in 2013 for violating the legal rights of mental health patients, Oakland psychologist Melinda Ginne expected her job — and her patients’ lives — to get better.

Instead, she said, things got worse.

Within months, Ginne, a whistleblower in the 2013 case, was back to writing her supervisors at Kaiser Permanente about what she considered unconscionable delays in care. Patients who were debilitated or dying from physical diseases for which they were receiving regular medical treatment had to wait months for psychological help, she said. Some patients, she said, might not live long enough to make the next available appointment.

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‘Defunding’ Planned Parenthood Is Easier Promised Than Done
Kaiser Health News

The undercover videos purporting to show officials of Planned Parenthood bargaining over the sale of fetal tissue have made the promise to defund the organization one of the most popular refrains on the Republican presidential campaign trail.

It’s actually a much easier promise to make than to fulfill. But that’s not slowing down the candidates.

“There is no reason in the world to have Planned Parenthood other than abortion,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “We should stop all funding for Planned Parenthood.”

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New for-profit medical school on track to start classes in fall
Sacramento Business Journal

The new for-profit medical school in Elk Grove has enrolled 52 students so far and expects to meet its goal — an inaugural class of 60.

California Northstate University School of Medicine officials said they have received more than 700 applications since receiving a key accreditation in June. That approval allowed the school to start seeking and enrolling students. Orientation begins August 31. Classes start Sept. 8.

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UCLA receives $2.5 million grant to improve geriatric care in underserved Riverside County

The UCLA division of geriatrics has received a three-year, $2.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to enhance geriatric education, training and workforce development in Riverside County. The grant will fund a new partnership between UCLA, UC Riverside School of Medicine, Riverside County Regional Medical Center and the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.

Called the Program for Improving Care of Aging adults through Training and Education, or PICATE, the project is a collaboration among primary care clinics, community-based organizations and educational institutions throughout Riverside County.

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LA County Supervisors merge health departments into mammoth agency
Southern California Public Radio

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to merge its three health departments, under the argument that it will ultimately expand services for the county’s neediest residents by reducing barriers and bureaucracy and could take on larger issues like homelessness.

The vote followed a report outlining the benefits of the merging the departments of Mental Health, Health Services, and Public Health – and testimony from dozens who showed up to protest consolidation. But the vote itself had not been on the supervisors’ public agenda.

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Longer times after Doctors Medical Center closure
Martinez News-Gazette

When Rachelle Bertumen started working at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez as an emergency room nurse in the fall of 2013, the department saw one- to two-dozen patients a day.

“Leisurely” was how she described her pace at work.

With this week marking the one-year anniversary since Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo stopped taking ambulance transports, and just over three months since its full closure, Bertumen says the emergency room at CCRMC has never been busier.

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Reborn Palm Drive Hospital Awaits Re-opening

How much longer until the former Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol reopens? It could be before the end of the month, but even now, that’s not yet a certainty. There are still lingering issues to be resolved around the old Palm Drive Hospital’s bankruptcy. But Ray Hino, the new CEO for the Sonoma West Medical Center, says those issues will not get in the way of the hospital’s reopening and renewed operations.

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Vote on Tehachapi hospital delayed
Tehachapi News

A possible hospital partnership in Tehachapi is on hold.

The Tehachapi Healthcare District and Adventist Health could not come to a lease agreement to become partners in running the mountain town’s new hospital. The negotiations for the resolution agreement and ballot measure could not be completed in time to get the issue before the public on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Maybe that isn’t a bad thing, some said.