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News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Senate confirms Robert Califf as new FDA commissioner
Washington Post

Senate lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to confirm Robert Califf, a longtime cardiologist and academic researcher, as the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The final tally was 89 to 4.

“Dr. Califf is the right person with the right experience to build on the FDA’s unsurpassed record of protecting public health while encouraging innovation and the introduction of new life-saving therapies to the market,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in a statement.

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HealthCare.gov to Tighten Eligibility Checks
The Wall Street Journal

The Obama administration is adopting verification measures to ensure that people who sign up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange outside of the enrollment period are entitled to coverage. The new measures are a response to criticism from insurers who have said people are abusing a rule that lets consumers enroll in insurance through the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov, outside official sign-up periods if they meet certain criteria. Insurers have said the rule lets people wait until they are ill to get coverage, driving up health-care spending and premiums, and that there is insufficient oversight to verify that they are eligible.

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CDC finds flu vaccine nearly 60% effective
Modern Healthcare

This season’s flu vaccine is so far one of the most effective since the government began evaluating influenza vaccine performance in 2003, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccine was 59% effective overall, the CDC announced late Wednesday at an advisory committee meeting in Atlanta. The vaccine typically has an efficacy rate of 47% to 60%. Last year’s was just 23% because of a mutation in the virus’ dominant strain.

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No, hospitals aren’t gaming readmissions with observation claims, HHS says
Modern Healthcare

Fewer patients are returning to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, and it’s not because hospitals are holding patients in observation units instead of admitting them as a means of avoiding penalties, according to new federal data. Readmission rates dropped significantly for more than 3,300 U.S. hospitals between 2007 and 2015. A small increase in the number of Medicare observation claims was also seen at that time. But researchers say the changes in observation stays can’t account for the drops in readmission rates.

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Doctors ‘alarmed’ by rise in mastectomies
Orange County Register

The rate of breast cancer is holding steady, but federal data released this week shows more women are undergoing mastectomies. From 2005 to 2013, the rate of mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed, increased by 36 percent, to 90 out of every 100,000 adult U.S. women, according to a new report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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Proof Needed to Enroll in Health Plan Post-Deadline
New York Times

People who want to buy health insurance in the federal marketplace outside the annual open enrollment period will now have to provide documents to show they are eligible, the Obama administration announced on Wednesday.

In the last two years, insurers say, many people went without coverage and then signed up under the Affordable Care Act when they became sick and needed care. Insurers say that people who sign up after the deadline tend to generate more claims and more costs, raising premiums.

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Feds will soon require proof for special Obamacare enrollment periods
USA Today

Consumers who try to sign up for insurance after the Obamacare open enrollment period will soon need to submit proof that they are eligible for most special enrollment periods, federal health officials announced Wednesday.

This new confirmation process, which is expected to start in the next few months, will only affect those living in the 38 states that use the federal Healthcare.gov site.

It addresses complaints from insurance companies that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was allowing too many people to buy insurance after the open enrollment deadline passed.

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Feds want proof for ACA exchange special enrollment windows
Baltimore Sun

The federal government is tightening loopholes that let customers on the Affordable Care Act’s public insurance exchanges buy coverage outside the law’s annual enrollment window. That could ease a major concern health insurers have about the exchanges.

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HHS makes it tougher to sign up for ACA coverage outside of enrollment season
Washington Post

Federal health officials are cracking down on consumers’ ability to buy health plans through HealthCare.gov outside formal enrollment seasons, responding to complaints from insurers that some people have waited to get coverage until they were sick.

Under rules announced Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, people who want coverage under five main reasons for a “special enrollment period” will need to supply documents proving that they deserve an exception from the regular sign-up times.

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Six states sue Obama administration over Affordable Care Act
Modern Healthcare

Six states filed a new lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act.

The complaint that Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Indiana and Nebraska filed in the Northern District of Texas takes issue with the Health Insurance Providers Fee assessed to health insurers to cover federal subsidies.

The lawsuit says nothing in the Affordable Care Act’s language provided clear notice that states would also have to pay the fee.

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White House to mark a year of effort on precision medicine initiative
Washington Post

President Obama will welcome 170 people to the White House Thursday for a summit on his precision medicine initiative, the year-old effort to treat and prevent disease based on individual differences in genetics, environment and lifestyle.

The president will participate in a panel discussion on advances that have been made since he announced the initiative during his 2015 State of the Union address.

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New FDA head Robert Califf vows to use ‘bully pulpit,’ better explain agency decisions
Washington Post

Robert Califf, a longtime Duke University cardiologist and researcher, was confirmed as the next leader of the Food and Administration this week by a wide margin. The Senate voted 89 to 4 in favor of placing Califf in the agency’s top post, where he replaces former FDA commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg.

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Candidates’ Drug-Price Plans May Miss The Mark
Kaiser Health News

Most of the people running for president say they want to do something about the rising cost of prescription drugs. But most of their proposals probably won’t work because they don’t address the dynamics behind these price increases.

“There’s no magic bullet,” said John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonpartisan research group. Solving the problem “will require a whole range of policies.”

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders each have drug price proposals.

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Support For Sanders’ Single-Payer Plan Fades With Control, Cost Concerns
Kaiser Health News

Americans are divided about the idea of creating a single-payer government health insurance system, as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proposed, but support shrinks when negative arguments are highlighted and alternatives are presented, according to a poll released Thursday. In his insurgent primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, Sanders has been championing a Medicare-like single-payer plan for all citizens.

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AP-GfK Poll: Support shaky for Sanders ‘Medicare for all’
The Charlotte Observer

At first blush, many Americans like the idea of “Medicare for all,” the government-run health system that’s a rallying cry for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

But mention some of the trade-offs — from higher taxes to giving up employer coverage — and support starts to shrivel.

That’s the key insight from an Associated Press-GfK poll released Thursday. The survey also found that people’s initial impressions of Sanders’ single-payer plan are more favorable than their views of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

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With Special Tax Suspended, Medical Device Firms Reap Big Savings
Kaiser Health News

U.S. manufacturers of medical devices started 2016 with a windfall — a two-year suspension of a controversial tax on their revenue. Medical devices include a wide range of products and machines used in medical care, such as tongue depressors, endoscopes and MRI scanners, for example. Manufacturers said the tax on devices hurt their business.

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Patent pirate or drug-cost savior? Hedge fund boss targets Anacor drug
San Francisco Business Times

Is the Coalition for Affordable Drugs trying to open the door for a lower-cost generic challenger to Palo Alto-based Anacor’s toenail fungus drug, or is it designed to profit its creators?

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Fight for Health Co-op Funds Looms
The Wall Street Journal

Leaders of some health cooperatives set up under the Affordable Care Act said it would be hard for the Obama administration to recoup more than $1 billion in federal loans made to some of the organizations that are now defunct, because most of the money has been spent.

A group representing existing co-ops, as well as leaders of some of the organizations, said there is little of the federal loan money remaining and some of what is left is needed to pay providers whose bills have yet to be paid.

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Healthcare deals may boost cancer costs, while state laws stymie telehealth
USA Today

Medical consolidation is boosting cancer treatment costs, while video doctor visits and mental health services are being underused despite great need and promise, studies out Thursday show. The new research, among six studies released by the insurer-backed Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), doesn’t fit a theme other than that each is a health issue with costs that are affected by state and national policies. “We are not the cost control institute,” said HCCI President David Newman.

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Health care costs rising more slowly, says federal official in Loma Linda
Los Angeles Daily News

The rate of health care cost increases in the U.S. during 2015 were the smallest in 50 years, Melissa Stafford Jones, Region 9 director the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said here Wednesday.

Last year, for example, the insurance marketplace created by Covered California, the state-run health insurance exchange authorized by the Affordable Care Act, saw its costs rise 4.1 percent, far less than the double-digit growth experienced in many years prior to the passage of the ACA, Jones said.

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Kaiser Permanente set to open estimated $200 million medical office building in Mission Bay
San Francisco Business Times

Kaiser Permanente plans to open its estimated $200 million, 220,000-square-foot Mission Bay medical office building March 8. The new nine-story complex at 1600 Owens St., near UC San Francisco’s $1.52 billion Mission Bay campus and hospital complex, will house offices for 106 physicians, and employ a total of about 500 doctors, nurses, other clinicians, technicians and administrative staffers.

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Modesto’s Memorial Medical Center cutting almost 100 positions
Modesto Bee

Citing changes in the health care landscape, Memorial Medical Center is laying off almost 100 employees, and other staff members could have their work hours reduced.

The Modesto hospital affiliated with Sacramento-based Sutter Health said Wednesday the staff reductions will take effect at the end of April.

Stanislaus County officials were notified in a Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act letter from Memorial.

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Will Feeding Watson $3 Billion Worth Of Healthcare Payment Data Improve Its Decisions?
The Health Care Blog

On Feb 18, IBM announced its purchase of Truven Health Analytics for $2.6 billion. Truven collects and crunches payer data on medical costs and treatments. IBM will combine Truven’s data with recent other data acquisitions from the Cleveland Clinic’s “Explorys” and from Phytel, a software company that manages patient data. These data sets will be fed to Watson’s artificial intelligence engine in hope of helping doctors and administrators improve care and reducing costs. Truven’s data reflects more than 200 million patients’ payment records.

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