News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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When Hospital Paperwork Crowds Out Hospital Care
New York Times

A friend was recently hospitalized after a bicycle accident. At one point a nursing student, together with a more senior nurse, rolled a computer on wheels into the room and asked my friend to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

She mumbled, “4 to 5.” The student put 5 into the computer — and then they left, without further inquiring about, or relieving, my friend’s pain.

This is not an anecdote about nurses not doing their jobs; it’s an illustration of what our jobs have become in the age of electronic health records.

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Federal Health-Insurance Exchanges See Nearly Six Million Apply for 2016 Coverage
The Wall Street Journal

Nearly six million people have signed up for 2016 insurance coverage on the federal exchanges since the November start of open enrollment, a pace that Obama administration officials said Friday outstrips last year’s and indicates the health law’s success.

Analysts had been concerned that higher premiums and deductibles might scare off new enrollees. But, according to the administration, 2.4 million of the roughly six million people who signed up as of Dec. 17 were new customers.

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HealthCare.gov enrollment surges to nearly 6 million so far
Washington Post

Nearly 6 million Americans so far have enrolled in insurance for 2016 through HealthCare.gov, President Obama announced on Friday, touting a big increase over last year that he said shows the Affordable Care Act is succeeding.

The number who have already signed up on the federal insurance exchange compares with 3.4 million at the same stage a year ago and comes at a significant moment in the ACA’s enrollment cycle: the deadline for people who want health plans in place starting on New Year’s Day.

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Last-minute rush boosts Obamacare signups, thanks to new consumers
USA Today

About 6 million people signed up for health insurance through Thursday on the federal exchange covering 38 states, federal officials announced Friday.

About 60% of the people who signed up for plans in the last two days were new customers. Overall, about 2.4 million people were uninsured, new customers to Healthcare.gov. The new enrollment numbers are at least a third higher than the number of new customers who signed up before the first deadline last year.

“The more who sign up the stronger the system becomes,” President Obama said during a press conference Friday.

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Health Plans’ Coverage Of Some Drugs Can Be A Source Of Consumer Confusion
Kaiser Health News

Patients getting chemotherapy or other complex medications may have a sudden panic when shopping for health insurance: Their drugs often don’t appear to be covered.

“People think, ‘Jeez, what do I do now?’” said Anna Howard, policy principal at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Despite advice to shop around before selecting a plan, consumers may find that getting answers about drug coverage can be an exercise in frustration, despite a federal health law requirement that insurers provide lists of the prescription medications included in their plans.

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State’s voters will be able weigh in on drug pricing proposal
San Francisco Business Times

California voters will soon be able to vote on how much the state pays for prescription drugs, after a ballot measure addressing the issue qualified for the 2016 ballot this week. Backed by the California AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the proposal, if passed, would bar any state agency from paying more for a prescription drug than what the federal U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays.

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New rules bringing kidneys to hardest-to-transplant patients
Modern Healthcare

A shake-up of the nation’s kidney transplant system means more organs are getting to patients once thought nearly impossible to match, according to early tracking of the new rules.

It’s been a year since the United Network for Organ Sharing changed rules for the transplant waiting list, aiming to decrease disparities and squeeze the most benefit from a scarce resource: kidneys from deceased donors. Now data from UNOS shows that the changes are helping certain patients, including giving those expected to live the longest a better shot at the fittest kidneys.

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Report: Home Care Workers Need Better Job Protections
Kaiser Health News

A lack of oversight in the rapidly growing home care workforce could undermine new wage and labor gains for many of the nation’s 2 million workers, according to a report released Monday.

Private agencies employ the vast majority of home care workers, who provide services that are largely paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and other federal and state programs. But the companies are poorly regulated, which could hamper the enforcement of new labor standards, said the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a labor advocacy group.

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Employers Battle Drug Costs
The Wall Street Journal

At the University of Minnesota, employees with cancer face a new rule under the health plan. If they are starting on certain expensive drugs, they get just a two-week supply, half the usual amount.

Before they can get two more weeks’ worth, a nurse at the university’s pharmacy partner has to confirm they are doing well enough.

The policy, called “split fill,” is designed to avoid paying for drug prescriptions that go half-unused if patients develop side effects and must stop them.

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Study: Cancer is just not bad luck
KRON4

That’s what the authors of a new study in the journal Nature argue. External factors such as exposure to toxins and radiation are a major risk factor in developing cancer, the new study says.

“Environmental factors play important roles in cancer incidence and they are modifiable through lifestyle changes and/or vaccination” the authors write.

Looking at the increasing incidences of various types of cancers, including lung cancer, the authors concluded that “large risk proportions for cancer are attributable to changing environments” such as smoking and air pollutants.

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After cancer drug trials crash, Peninsula biotech sheds one-third of jobs
San Francisco Business Times

Threshold Pharmaceuticals Inc. will lay off 20 to 25 people — or 30 percent to 40 percent of its staff — to focus on mid-stage trials of one potential cancer-fighting drug after another experimental cancer drug failed two late-stage studies. The South San Francisco company (NASDAQ: THLD) will take a one-time severance-related charge of about $2.6 million, most of which will be paid by the end of the first quarter, it said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing …

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State Urged To Protect Consumers in Proposed Centene-Health Net Merger
California Healthline

Consumer advocates are urging the Department of Managed Health Care to “use its full authority to impose comprehensive requirements to protect consumers before allowing the merger between Centene and Health Net to move forward.” Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to the regulator last week, detailing several safeguards the group would like included in the proposed deal that would create a company with more than 10 million members nationwide and about $37 billion in revenue. Health Net serves more than 1.8 million Medi-Cal enrollees in California and has about 18

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New Kaiser Permanente Med School Part Of A Growing Trend
Kaiser Health News

Thursday’s announcement by Kaiser Permanente that it plans to open its own medical school in Southern California has attracted a lot of attention in the health care community.

But Kaiser is actually at the trailing edge of a medical school expansion that has been unmatched since the 1960s and 1970s, say medical education experts. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.) In the past decade alone, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 20 new medical schools have opened or been approved.

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Kidney donor’s death a ‘nightmare scenario’ for UCSF program
San Francisco Chronicle

UCSF’s suspension of its living donor program for kidney transplants this week after the death of a donor highlights a rare but potential complication for a procedure that’s typically an altruistic gift by a friend or family member to a kidney patient in need. The donor, who died last month, had provided a kidney to a recipient at UCSF Medical Center in October.

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Adventist Health to launch Medi-Cal HMO next year
Sacramento Business Journal

Adventist Health is teaming up with a four-hospital system in Fresno in a HMO that will serve Medi-Cal patients in the San Joaquin Valley. The Roseville-based health system reached agreement this week on a joint venture with Community Medical Centers. Subject to state approval, the new plan could be marketed in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties by next fall. Officials estimate the HMO could deliver care to as many as 200,000 patients within two years of launch.

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