News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Prescription-Free Birth Control Coming To California

Coming soon: prescription-free birth control.

This spring, a doctor’s prescription will no longer be needed for women to buy birth control in California.

A law authorizing pharmacists to dispense hormonal contraceptives was passed in 2013. It’s expected to be enacted this April.

California will become the third state to allow pharmacists to furnish birth control without a prescription. They’ll be able to dispense hormonal patches, pills and vaginal rings.

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Surge in Medicare Advantage Sign-Ups Confounds Expectations
New York Times

Five years into Medicare spending cuts that were supposed to devastate private Medicare options for older Americans, enrollment in private insurance plans through Medicare has shot up by more than 50 percent, confounding experts and partisans alike and providing possible lessons for the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.

When Congress passed President Obama’s signature health law nearly six years ago, it helped offset the cost by cutting payments to Medicare Advantage plans, offered by private insurers operating under contract with the government. Insurers and Republicans said the cuts — about $150 billion over 10 years — would “gut” the program, a major theme in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The Congressional Budget Office predicted that enrollment would fall about 30 percent.

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Costs, changes led Obamacare enrollment to fall far short of estimates
USA Today

The number of people who signed up for health insurance for 2016 on the state and federal exchanges was up to 40% lower than earlier government and private estimates, which some say is evidence that the plans are too expensive and that people would rather pay a penalty than buy them.

In 2010, the non-partisan Rand Corporation estimated 27 million people would have exchange policies this year and the Congressional Budget Office at that time was estimating 21 million for 2016. CBO even said last June that 20 million people would have plans purchased on the exchanges this year. Just 12.7 million signed up for plans, however, by the end of open enrollment Jan. 31 and about 1 million people are expected to drop their plans — or be dropped when they don’t pay their premiums.

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A Mixed Story on Health Care Spending
Mother Jones

Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is optimistic about the growth of health care spending:

The quarterly trend in overall health spending growth using the Altarum Health Spending Economic Indicators series shows a clear peak in Q1 2015 at 6.7 percent, with subsequent declines every quarter. Partial data for Q4 (October and November) show a spending growth rate of 5.2 percent. While overall spending growth in 2015 will clearly exceed that of 2014, a reduction appears to be underway.

As near as I can tell, this spending data hasn’t been adjusted for inflation. When you do that you get the chart at the bottom, which tells a different story. There was indeed a peak in the first quarter of 2015 followed by a sharp drop, but spending growth has gone up since then.

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Delay Of New Health Law Forms May Confuse Some Taxpayers
Kaiser Health News

As the 2015 tax filing season gets underway, tax preparers said a delay in new health law tax forms is causing confusion for some consumers, while others want details about exemptions from increasingly stiff penalties for not having insurance.

Under the law, most people must have health insurance or pay a fine. In 2015, the penalty was $325 per adult and $162.50 per child up to $975, or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater. This is the first year that employers, insurers and government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are required to send consumers tax forms that report whether they offered or provided health insurance that was considered affordable and adequate under the law. The forms, 1095-B or 1095-C, are designed to help consumers in filling out their taxes but don’t need to be filed with their tax returns. The issuers also send copies to the Internal Revenue Service.

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State lawmakers to vote on major health care plan tax hike
San Francisco Business Times

The California Legislature is likely to pass a health care plan tax this week that will raise $1.27 billion annually, replacing an existing tax that is set to expire in July and raises $270 million less, the Contra Costa Times reports.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the tax hike last month.

“The new tax would use $250 million of the revenue raised to restore funding for the In-Home Supportive Services program that was cut several years ago during the state’s budget crisis,” the paper reports.

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Researchers Take Aim at Metastatic Breast Cancer
The Wall Street Journal

Scientists and doctors seeking to unravel some of the mysteries behind the deadliest form of breast cancer have put out a call to patients diagnosed with the disease: Please send us your DNA. These researchers are creating a national database of patients’ blood and tumor samples, along with their medical records, to better understand what triggers metastatic, or stage IV, breast cancer and how it might be stopped.

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‘I think and then I walk’: UCI experiment marks the first time a paraplegic walks by brain control
Orange County Register

After a motorcycle crash paralyzed his legs, Adam Fritz never stopped thinking he would walk again.

Those very thoughts, aided by new technology, activated a first-of-its-kind experiment in which Fritz’s brain waves enabled him to walk a 12-foot course inside a UC Irvine research lab.

The 29-year-old insurance claims adjuster spent countless hours thinking about walking so that his brain waves could be recorded.

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Transgender Patients Face Challenges at the Hospital
New York Times

After a skiing accident in January left him with a smashed knee, Beck Bailey, a transgender man in Greenfield, Mass., spent 15 days in a Vermont hospital undergoing a handful of surgeries. As part of his normal routine, Mr. Bailey gives himself regular shots of testosterone. But the endocrinologist on duty in Vermont told him that patients should not take testosterone post surgery.

Mr. Bailey explained that he couldn’t just stop his hormone treatment.

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The High Cost of Cancer Care May Take Physical and Emotional Toll on Patients
The Wall Street Journal

Doctors who supervise cancer treatments have long been concerned about side effects, including fatigue, hair loss and depression. To that list, some now add the potentially harmful effects of costly treatments.

Researchers call it “financial toxicity.” The financial burdens that some patients suffer as a result of the cost of their treatments can cause damage to their physical and emotional well-being.

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Pfizer settles Medicaid claims for $785 million
USA Today

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has reached an agreement to pay $784.6 million to resolve unpaid Medicaid rebates.

The long-running case involves practices relating to the calculation of Medicaid rebates by drug maker Wyeth for its drug Protonix between 2001 and 2006. Pfizer acquired Wyeth in 2009.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department had alleged that Wyeth violated the law by not offering to Medicaid the discounts it had given to hospitals on its heartburn drug Protonix.

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TRMC board re-votes to end doctor affiliations
Visialia Times-Delta

The Tulare Advance-Register/ Visalia Times-Delta couldn’t confirm reports that the Tulare Regional Medical Center Board of Directors cast a second, public vote Monday to dissolve the leadership of its medical staff, which includes department heads.

A special board meeting was held late Monday afternoon at the hospital, and people who attended said the board members voted all over again to terminate TRMC’s association with the the Medical Staff of Tulare Regional Medical Center, a group of doctors formed to oversee most of the doctors at the hospital.

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Loma Linda Health signs pact with Big Bear Lake hospital
San Bernardino Sun

Loma Linda University Health and the Bear Valley Community Healthcare District have entered into an affiliation agreement to enhance community access to specialty care within the greater Bear Valley area of the San Bernardino Mountains. Under the agreement, Loma Linda University Health will provide resources to district-run Bear Valley Community Hospital in Big Bear Lake. The affiliation will provide a streamlined system for patient referrals for those in need of specialty care not available at Bear Valley Community Hospital, such as oncology, cardiology, endocrinology and neurosurgi