News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Covered California: We’re still going to add small biz groups with 51-100 employees
Sacramento Business Journal

The Affordable Care Act’s small-business expansion — slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2016 — is now optional, but Covered California expects to move ahead with the change. President Barack Obama signed legislation Oct. 7 that gives states flexibility to expand the small-group market up to 100 employees or keep it at 50. Business interests had widely opposed the mandatory expansion. The new law repeals that requirement and gives states the flexibility to determine the size of their small-group market. The current definition is up to 50 employees.

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Study reveals why gowns and gloves can be so dangerous for hospital workers
Los Angeles Times

A hospital ought to be the last place to get a life-threatening infection, but it happens. A new study helps explain why.

Researchers asked real hospital workers to remove gowns and gloves smeared with fake bacteria. When they did, the fake bacteria wound up on their skin or clothes 46% of the time, according to their report published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

In other words, the odds that these healthcare professionals could take off their protective coverings without contaminating themselves were only slightly better than the flip of a coin.

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Democratic debate may draw Clinton, Sanders into healthcare fray
Modern Healthcare

When the Democratic presidential candidates take the stage in Las Vegas Tuesday night for their first primary debate, they’re likely to tangle over their willingness to tweak the Affordable Care Act and how to tackle rising prescription drug prices.

Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton will be flanked by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is surging in the polls, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Also debating will be former Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who are considered long shots for the 2016 nomination.

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Bush offers plan to repeal, replace federal healthcare law
Modern Healthcare

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is proposing to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s healthcare law with one that would increase tax credits for individuals, allowing them to buy coverage protection against “high-cost medical events.”

But the two-page proposal, which would give more power to states to regulate health insurance, contained no specific details on how many people could be left without coverage. It does, however, guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions, which is part of Obama’s 974-page federal health law.

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2 Million Uninsured Californians Are Eligible for Obamacare Benefits
KQED Radio

In advance of the Nov. 1 start of open enrollment for Covered California, new numbers show that just over half of the state’s remaining uninsured are eligible for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The estimate was part of a state-by-state analysis compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Researchers found that California has 3.845 million people still uninsured. Of those:

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Makeover Coming for HealthCare.gov
New York Times

Acknowledging at least tacitly the difficulties of some health care consumers, the Obama administration plans major changes to HealthCare.gov this year to make it easier for shoppers to find health insurance plans that include their doctors and to predict their health care costs for the coming year.

With substantial premium increases coming in some states in 2016, administration officials are expecting that many consumers already in the Affordable Care Act’s networks will have to switch health plans and find new doctors as they scramble for cheaper alternatives.

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Bipartisan Effort Revises Health Law Provision For Small Businesses
Kaiser Health News

President Barack Obama signed legislation last week that makes a significant change in the health law’s small business rules, following a rare bipartisan effort to amend the health law.

The revision updates the definition of “small employer” under the health law so that companies with 51 to 100 workers will not become subject to the small group insurance reform provisions next year. Instead, the new law allows those companies to continue as large group plans, unless states step in to define them differently. Lawmakers from both parties argued that classifying these companies as small businesses would increase their health insurance premiums significantly because they would have to comply with requirements to offer a comprehensive package of benefits, among other things.

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Half of America’s remaining uninsured are eligible for health coverage
Modern Healthcare

Almost half of the 32.3 million nonelderly people who have no health insurance could gain coverage through their state’s existing Medicaid policy or a subsidized exchange plan, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The federal government is hoping those uninsured will sign up for coverage during the Affordable Care Act’s upcoming open enrollment. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 33 million people will have a health plan through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or the exchanges by 2016, a large jump from the current 17.6 million people who have become insured under the ACA.

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New law aims to fix a major frustration with health care in California
Sacramento Business Journal

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that requires weekly updates to health-service provider directories so people know what doctors and hospitals are in their network when they shop for coverage or seek care.

Senate Bill 137 by West Covina Democrat Ed Hernandez responds to consumer complaints about inaccurate online directories. This has been a problem for years, but things got worse when thousands of consumers tried to pick a plan and provider after signing up for new insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

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Education Push to Help Doctors Field Patients’ Assisted-Death Requests
KQED Radio

Now that California has legalized physician-assisted suicide, advocacy groups are planning statewide education campaigns so doctors know what to do when patients ask for lethal medication to end their lives.

One of the first stops for doctors new to the practice is a doctor-to-doctor toll-free helpline. It’s staffed by physicians from states where the practice is legal, who have experience writing prescriptions for lethal medication.

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Now, the reality of Prop. 30’s ‘temporary’ tax hikes
Orange County Register

Proposition 30 was passed by voters in 2012, raising the state sales tax by a quarter percentage point through the end of 2016. Additionally, it increased the personal income tax through 2018 on California residents with incomes over $250,000.

The tax has generated $6 billion to $7 billion annually, making California’s coffers flush with cash once again.

Prop. 30 was creatively advertised and sold to the voters by a union, the California Teachers Association, which depicted it as a “temporary” tax to support public schools.

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California doctors’ lobby group pushes agenda with swagger
Sacramento Bee

As large clocks around the office counted down to Election Day last year, leading physicians ditched their business meeting and marched downstairs to stuff envelopes with campaign pamphlets in a makeshift war room at the California Medical Association’s Sacramento headquarters.

No issue confronting voters threatened the pocketbooks and political prestige of physicians more than Proposition 46, the latest turn in the doctors’ epic battle with trial attorneys over a limit on medical malpractice awards.

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As U.S. insurers aim to get bigger, hospitals eye health plan entry
Yahoo! News

As U.S. health insurers chart an unprecedented consolidation of the industry, hospitals are taking a fresh look at becoming insurers themselves to keep more of their patients’ healthcare dollars in house.

Among the country’s largest insurers, Aetna Inc struck a deal to buy Humana Inc, while Anthem Inc agreed to acquire Cigna Corp. Both transactions are expected to draw months of scrutiny by U.S. antitrust regulators and Congress.

Hospital and physician groups say the mega-mergers announced this past summer could drive up premiums and limit choices for consumers.

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Payers Join the Healthcare Team
The Health Care Blog

Back when I was in medical training a decade ago, patient rounds were usually conducted by a group of physicians. We’d walk down the ward, visiting patients and scribbling notes as we went. If we were feeling particularly inclusive, we might bring nurses along. But that was as diverse as the care team got. Even the concept of a “care team” was only just starting to take hold on wards where highly complex patients were being cared for.

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Study: Breast cancer drug fights superbugs
San Diego Union-Tribune

Already effective against breast cancer, the drug Tamoxifen has secondary effects that can turbo-charge white blood cells, giving them extra power to chase down, trap and consume antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

These findings from UC San Diego, which appear Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, suggest that a medication known for stopping the growth of malignant breast tumors might also be a weapon in the fight against so-called superbugs — including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which kills more than 11,000 Americans each year, according to the U.S.

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Dueling Recommendations About Need For Pelvic Exams Leaves Women Confused
Kaiser Health News

It’s the latest battle over screening: Should healthy women skip annual pelvic exams?

A controversial recommendation last year by the American College of Physicians, which represents the nation’s internists, strongly urged that doctors stop routinely performing the invasive exam on women without symptoms and who are not pregnant.

Citing 60 years of research, the ACP found no evidence that the screening, performed about 63 million times annually at a cost of approximately $2.6 billion, detects cancer or other serious conditions. The exam, researchers reported, did cause harm: One-third of women reported discomfort, pain, embarrassment or anxiety — leading some to avoid care altogether. For roughly 1 percent of women, a suspicious finding triggered a cascade of anxiety-provoking interventions — including tests and surgery, which carry a risk of complications for conditions that nearly always turned out to be benign.

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