News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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U.S. proposes hike in Medicare Advantage payments; insurer shares rise

The U.S. government on Friday proposed raising payments by 1.35 percent on average next year to the health insurers who offer Medicare Advantage health benefits to elderly and disabled Americans.

Payments to insurers will vary under the 2017 Medicare Advantage proposal, based on the region the plans are sold and on the size of bonus payments insurers can receive based on quality ratings, the government said.

Shares of health insurers rose in after-hours trade. Analysts said the proposal looked positive for insurers at first glance, but cautioned that they needed to parse it fully.

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Big Pharma’s Delicate Dance on Drug Prices
The Wall Street Journal

Drug makers are enjoying a research-and-development revival after a fallow period. Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 45 new drugs, more than double the number in 2006. But the industry also faces growing criticism of the prices it charges for new drugs — some cancer therapies cost as much as $150,000 a year — as well as repeated price increases for older drugs. Critics say high prices are putting drugs out of reach for many patients and straining health-care budgets.

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Strokes On The Rise Among Younger Adults
National Public Radio

“I am what I like to call ‘new stroke’,” says Troy Hodge, a 43-year-old resident of Carroll County, Md. With a carefully trimmed beard and rectangular hipster glasses, Hodge looks spry. But two years ago, his brain stopped communicating for a time with the left half of his body.

He was at home getting ready for work as a food service director at a nearby nursing home. Hodge remembers entering the downstairs bathroom to take his blood pressure medications. He sat down on the bathroom floor and couldn’t get up. He says he felt so hot, he actually splashed some toilet water on his face because he couldn’t reach the sink.

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The terrifying link between concussions and suicide
Washington Post

Suicide and brain injury have long been linked by scientists, but just how many people who have had a brain injury end up committing suicide? A new study has a grim answer: It found that the longterm risk of suicide increases three-fold among adults who have had concussions.

That’s the conclusion of a team of Canadian researchers who studied a health insurance database of more than 235,000 people. Their work was recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Rather than focus on athletes or people who were hospitalized for days or weeks after head injuries, they looked at ordinary people who had concussions but did not sustain severe brain injury. The researchers matched those whose official death certificates listed suicide with their medical history over a 20-year period. They found a suicide rate of 31 deaths per 100,000 patients — three times the population norm. The mean time between a mild concussion and suicide was 5.7 years, and each additional concussion raised suicide risk.

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Blog: Republicans and Democrats head for a healthcare reckoning after Saturday primaries
Modern Healthcare

After Saturday’s South Carolina primary, the Republican presidential race has realistically narrowed to one candidate, Donald Trump, who has expressed ambivalent feelings about the Affordable Care Act and two, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who want to erase it. Trump scored a strong victory this weekend over Rubio and Cruz, who essentially tied for second.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, who wants to improve and expand Obamacare, won a significant victory Saturday over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a champion of single-payer government health insurance, in the Nevada caucuses.

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CMS proposes small increase in Medicare Advantage payments
The Hill

The Obama administration announced on Friday a proposed payment increase to insurers of 1.35 percent on average in 2017 under the Medicare Advantage program. The modest increase is a contrast to several recent years when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed a cut to average payments. The announcement of the Medicare Advantage payments is a subject of intense lobbying from insurers and is also watched closely by lawmakers in both parties who oppose cuts to a program in which many of their constituents are enrolled.

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Federal Regulators Propose Increase to Medicare Advantage Rates
The Wall Street Journal

Federal regulators proposed what they said was a slight rise in payments for insurers that offer private Medicare plans, a closely watched figure as this coverage becomes increasingly central to the companies’ business.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that the Medicare Advantage rate proposal represented a 1.35% increase on average for 2017, though the agency said the insurers would likely see overall revenue increase about 3.55% as they deliver—and bill for—more intensive services.

Sean Cavanaugh, CMS deputy administrator, said the rates represented “modes

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CMS Is the Reason We Have so Little Useful ACO Research
The Health Care Blog

In his THCB essay, “Why We Have So Little Useful Research on ACOs,” Kip Sullivan correctly notes we know surprisingly little about the ACO program. (While he identifies Medicare, Medicaid and commercial plan ACOs, here I’m referring specifically to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs that account for two-thirds of all ACOs.) Why there is little useful research is however not due to the two reasons Mr. Sullivan proposes. To understand why we lack useful ACO research look no further than the agency that manages the MSSP.

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Health plans’ finances a big unknown in California tax swap package
Sacramento Bee

A $2.4 billion managed-care organization tax package awaiting votes in the California Legislature reflects the heavy imprint of the state’s health insurance industry, which pushed for major changes to avoid any tax hit that could be passed on to customers.

The approach has earned the backing of the California Chamber of Commerce and neutrality from the influential Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. It has a strong chance of winning enough support from Republican lawmakers to reach the needed two-thirds vote threshold to pass.

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Urging Openness About Superbug Infections, Doctor Omits Cases In Own Hospital
California Healthline

As superbug outbreaks raised alarm across the country last year, a prominent doctor at a Philadelphia cancer center wrote in a leading medical journal about how to reduce the risk of these often-deadly patient infections.

Dr. Jeffrey Tokar, director of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Fox Chase Cancer Center, pointed to recent outbreaks from contaminated medical scopes and discussed steps doctors and hospitals should take to ensure patient safety in his Sept. 22 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Health care facilities and providers should strive to establish an environment of open information exchange with patients about what is being done to maximize their safety,” Tokar and his two co-authors wrote.

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Hospital prices are still hard to come by (and not very useful)
Modern Healthcare

Consumers may have the legal right to get price quotes from hospitals, but that does mean it’s easy or useful when they do, according to a health policy think tank that used mock consumers to test how accessible the information is in the real world.

The mock consumers found it “difficult and frustrating” to get the price of a common and standard imaging procedure. When provided, prices were sometimes inaccurate, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute after its survey of 54 hospitals in six states.

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Are we getting close to the ‘death’ of cancer?

When President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, he started the War on Cancer.

Some 45 years and more than $100 billion later, are we winning? In his book, “The Death of Cancer,” Vincent DeVita Jr., former director of the National Cancer Institute, says definitively “yes.”

“We’ve reduced the incidence of cancer, we’ve really markedly reduced the morbidity and mortality rates. But, you know, the 25 percent overall decline in mortality, 25 percent for breast cancer, all these things are very real and they’re all data. The data is about five years old, so when they finally catch up to 2016, it’ll be even more impressive,” DeVita says.

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HPV Sharply Reduced in Teenage Girls Following Vaccine, Study Says
New York Times

A vaccine introduced a decade ago to combat the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer has already reduced the virus’s prevalence in teenage girls by almost two-thirds, federal researchers said Monday.

Even for women in their early 20s, a group with lower vaccination rates, the most dangerous strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, have still been reduced by more than a third.

“We’re seeing the impact of the vaccine as it marches down the line for age groups, and that’s incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Amy B. Middleman, the chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who was not involved in the study. “A minority of females in this country have been immunized, but we’re seeing a public health impact that is quite expansive.”

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Reducing unplanned senior readmissions
The Stanford Daily

If all’s well that ends well, then it’s not too much of a stretch to think that all’s unwell that ends badly. This is especially relevant when we talk about ensuring the wellness of our seniors — both throughout and at the end of their lives — and in this regard, something’s rotten in the state of health care.

Seniors already face a number of issues in our existing healthcare system, including unplanned hospital readmission, which results in poorer mental and physical health consequences. According to “Our Parents, Ourselves: Health Care for an Aging Population,” a report published this month by the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, 16.2 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge in 2008. The figure decreased to 15.5 percent in 2012. The modest dip could be attributed to the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which stipulated that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid financially penalize fee-for-service hospitals demonstrating higher-than-expected rates of readmission.

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The Agonizing Limbo Of Abandoned Nursing Home Residents
California Healthline

A bad bout of pneumonia sent Bruce Anderson to Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento last May. As soon as he recovered, hospital staff tried to return him to the nursing home where he had been living for four years.

But the home refused to readmit him, even after being ordered to do so by the state. Nearly nine months later, Anderson, 66, is still in the hospital.

“I’m frustrated,” said his daughter, Sara Anderson. “You cannot just dump someone in the hospital.”

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How to Make the Most of Drugs We Already Have
New York Times

Though you may not have realized it, there’s a good chance that a doctor has prescribed you a medication for a use other than what it was approved for. This off-label use is perfectly legal, but isn’t as safe as it might be, in part because incentives to invest in costly clinical trials to test such uses are weak.

One out of five prescriptions is off-label. Some drugs, like those for cardiac conditions and anticonvulsants, are used off-label at a much higher rate. One study found that an average drug is used for 18 different conditions.

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Women Increasingly Having Outpatient Mastectomies, New Federal Data Show
Kaiser Health News

More women with breast cancer — and an increasing number without — are choosing to have mastectomies over more breast-sparing procedures. And nearly half don’t spend a single night in the hospital but go home the same day, new government data show.

The data add to other studies that show treatment for breast cancer is shifting after years in which women, particularly those with early-stage breast cancer, were encouraged to have less invasive surgeries — and advocates opposed outpatient or “drive-by” mastectomies.

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Kaiser to bring new health-care concept to La Habra
Orange County Register

Kaiser Permanente will open a 28,294-square-foot facility in La Habra in late 2017, kicking off a collaborative and community-based concept that will be a modelfor its Orange County outpatient facilities in the future.

Kaiser has eight such facilities in the state, but this will be the first local location.

The concept is a new approach to the standard medical office building, from the architecture to its community focus, spokesman John Stratman said.

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Pomona Valley Hospital preparing for trauma designation
Daily Bulletin

Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center is about halfway through the process of becoming a full-fledged trauma center for eastern Los Angeles County.

The effort began last year, and hospital leaders are in the middle of hiring personal, expanding the facilities and applying for permits. Representatives are eyeing a late-October finish line.

The move means eastern Los Angeles County residents in critical need won’t have to fly by helicopter or take an ambulance to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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HIV-Positive Organ Transplants Set To Begin At Johns Hopkins
National Public Radio

Earlier this week, officials at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore announced they had received approval to begin conducting the first organ transplants from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients. This comes after a 2013 change in the law that lifted a ban in place since 1988.

Surgeons at Johns Hopkins say that they are ready to begin performing liver and kidney transplants as soon as the appropriate candidates are available.

NPR’s Michel Martin spoke with Dr.

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LAUSD partners with app to connect students with health clinics
Southern California Public Radio

In a world where everything from reading books to dating can be done online, Healthvana is now making HIV and STD testing digital with an app — and it is LAUSD approved.

LAUSD has partnered with Healthvana to put posters in high school health classes that point student’s to an app that connects students to pre-screened, “youth-friendly” clinics. “Our goal is to provide the best referral systems with the best innovative technology to get the kids in the door as soon as possible,” said Timothy Kordic, program manager at LAUSD’s health education office’s HIV prevention unit.