California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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California Healthline Original Stories

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Hospital Roundup

California Fines Hospital For Mistakenly Removing Patient's Ovaries

In total, 14 California hospitals are facing fines for incidents that caused injury or death.

The Bakersfield Californian: Bakersfield Memorial Hospital Fined $75,000 In Connection With Patient Death 
Bakersfield Memorial Hospital has been fined $75,000 after a state investigation determined nurses failed to provide adequate supervision to a patient who choked to death last March, according to a California Department of Public Health investigation. The administrative penalty is the third Bakersfield Memorial has received since 2009, CDPH records show. The hospital, which operates under the umbrella of Dignity Health, was cited in 2014 for not following established policies and procedures for patient monitoring and intervention, and again in 2009 for not having properly functioning anesthesia equipment. (Pierce, 4/20)


26 Doctors, Medical Professionals Facing Charges In Wide-Ranging Kickback Scheme

The charges allege Tanya and Christopher King, deemed as the masterminds of the scheme, recruited physicians who treated workers' compensation patients and gave them financial incentives to prescribe unnecessary tests and treatments.

Los Angeles Times: 26 Charged In $40-Million Southern California Medical Kickback Scheme 
Prosecutors charged 26 doctors and other medical professionals Thursday in an alleged kickback scheme that may have defrauded up to 13,000 patients in California and netted the defendants roughly $40 million as they overcharged for medication or prescribed balms that had no known medical value. In a joint statement, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the plot was spearheaded by Tanya and Christopher King of Beverly Hills, the owners of two medical billing and management companies. (Queally, 4/20)

KPCC: Beverly Hills Couple Targeted As Leaders Of Massive Workers' Comp Scam 
The Orange County District Attorney has filed charges against 26 doctors, pharmacists and business owners in a crackdown on an alleged $40 million workers' compensation fraud that involved overbilling for unnecessary compound creams and urine tests. A Beverly Hills couple, Tanya Moreland King, 37, and Christopher King, 38, masterminded the complex scheme that enriched them and their co-conspirators for the treatment of more than 13,000 people between 2011 and 2015, according to complaints filed April 3. (Plevin and Faust, 4/20)

Modesto Bee: Five Modesto Doctors Faces Charges In Broad Fraud And Kickback Scheme
Five Modesto doctors are among more than two dozen physicians, pharmacists, business owners and a physician assistant charged in a $40 million fraudulent medical billing and kickback scheme, authorities announced Thursday. State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said a Beverly Hills couple are accused of masterminding a complex insurance fraud scheme of recruiting doctors and pharmacists to prescribe unnecessary treatment for workers compensation insurance patients. (Valine and Farrow, 4/20)

In other news from the courts —

Los Angeles Times: University Of California Officials Will Ask Judge To Halt Alleged Health Fraud Scheme They Claim Stole Millions
The University of California is alleging that it’s uncovered a scheme that targeted hundreds of students through its student healthcare plan and cost the UC almost $12 million. In a complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the UC said the scheme used information from more than 500 students enrolled in its systemwide Student Health Insurance Plan that allowed doctors to write fraudulent medical prescriptions. The UC is seeking a temporary restraining order hoping to halt the practice and the people behind it. (Landa, 4/20)

KPCC: Prescription Pain Cream Scam Stole $12 Million, According To University Of California
The University of California says it will notify hundreds of students who gave their private health insurance information to an alleged multimillion-dollar prescription medication scam, according to a statement issued Thursday. The university said it also plans to file a motion for a temporary restraining order against the alleged scammers on Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court to shut down the scheme. (Bloom, 4/20)

KQED: Judge Threatens To Fine California Prisons For Delayed Mental Health Treatment 
California prison officials could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines a day if they can’t comply with a federal court order to eliminate delays in treatment for the most severely mentally ill inmates. U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller this week threatened to fine prison officials to get them to meet the terms of a 1995 settlement of a decades-old class-action lawsuit. (Pickoff-White and Small, 4/20)

Sacramento Watch

Two Democratic Lawmakers Work To Bring Universal Health Care To California

State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins of San Diego want to implement a system that could be replicated across the nation.

Sacramento Bee: Single-Payer Health Care Up For Debate In California 
While Republicans in Washington are seeking to resurrect their plan to dismantle Obamacare and replace it with a market-based approach, a pair of Democratic California lawmakers are plotting to go in the opposite direction. Lara, of Bell Gardens, and Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego, with backing from National Nurses United and the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, are working to create a universal, government-run health care system. (Hart, 4/21)

In other news from Sacramento —

KQED: Another Year, Another Effort To Expand Disability Benefits For Federal Firefighters 
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) has introduced legislation that would make it easier for tens of thousands of federal firefighters, many of them in California, to get disability benefits. Firefighters for the federal departments of Defense, Interior, and Agriculture have to prove exactly what job-related experience made them sick to get coverage from the federal government. (Goldberg, 4/20)

Sacramento Bee: CA Mandatory Vaccines Bill SB 277 Author Attends March For Science 
rotestors are gearing up for their second major event in a week, following on last weekend’s national Tax March with a March for Science planned for Saturday in cities across the country, including Sacramento. Fresh off the success of his 2015 mandatory vaccine bill – California announced last week that kindergarten vaccination rates have risen to their highest level in more than 15 years – state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is traveling to Washington, D.C., with other vaccine advocates to attend the main science march. (Koseff, 4/21)

Covered California & The Health Law

Feinstein: Single-Payer System Would Be 'Government Takeover Of All Medicine' In U.S.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein faced a raucous town hall crowd this week as Congress is on recess.

KPCC: At LA Town Hall, Feinstein Grilled On Health Care, Syria And Trump 
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein held a town hall meeting in South Los Angeles Thursday, met by a sometimes-raucous crowd of progressives who questioned her ability to fight the Trump administration. Hundreds filled the pews of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, some blaming Democrats like Feinstein for failing to stop President Trump’s policies in areas like immigration. (Huang, 4/20)

Public Health and Education

Tech Industry Latest To Jump Into Dietary Supplements Market Looking For Big Bucks

Led by tech world veterans and funded by venture capitalists, dietary supplement startups such as Ritual, Elysium and Nootrobox are peddling daily multivitamins and energy-boosting gels with transparency and testing that’s turning heads in the industry.

Los Angeles Times: Venture Capitalists Look Beyond Tech To The Dietary Supplements Market
How do you stay sharp and fit despite fatigue and age? By consuming substances extracted from blueberries, flowers and algae, say the makers of a new group of unregulated and unproven health pills. Trusting natural chemicals to solve inevitable ailments is familiar to anyone who has visited a GNC store or contributed to the $30 billion spent annually in the U.S. on dietary supplements. (Dave, 4/21)

Around California

Eden Health District Will Not Be Dissolved

Alameda's Local Agency Formation Commission, however, did acknowledge that more must be done to improve the health district, which covers Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland, Fairview, Hayward, San Leandro and San Lorenzo.

East Bay Times: Alameda County Board Votes To Keep Eden Health District Intact
An Alameda County board charged with drawing district boundaries and reviewing the Eden Health District’s operations has chosen to keep the special district intact despite calls by some state, city and county leaders to dissolve it. The seven-member Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) voted 3-2 at a special April 11 meeting to accept the results of a 143-page report by Berkson Associates, of San Anselmo. The report found that dissolving Eden Health District, formerly the Eden Township Healthcare District, was generally unwarranted, especially if no plans were in place to either provide health care services to mid-Alameda County residents or continue the district’s practice of awarding health care grants. (Moriki, 4/20)

In other news from across the state —

The Mercury News: Palo Alto Parents Join Fight Against New Sex-Ed Curriculum
A proposed sex education curriculum that caused an uproar among parents of Cupertino seventh-graders is now also drawing protests by some middle school parents in Palo Alto. The parents were shocked to learn this month that although the controversial class failed to gain majority approval from Cupertino Union School District trustees, it’s already being taught in Palo Alto schools. (Lee, 4/20)

KQED: Decades Later, Industry And Regulators Fail To Clean Up Former Rocket Test Site
Santa Susana was founded in the mid-1940s at what was then the remote fringe of a largely rural San Fernando Valley. The laboratory developed and tested 10 nuclear reactors for the federal government and tested rocket engines for half a century. The 1959 meltdown was just one mishap in decades of pollution left by atomic research, the open-air burning of toxic wastes and thousands of NASA rocket engine tests. (Richard, 4/21)

National Roundup

Eager For A Victory, Trump Hypes Renewed GOP Health Plan; Lawmakers Remain Skeptical

The deal, which is being hashed out between Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), would let states seek waivers on preexisting conditions and to set their own list of essential health benefits. Republican congressional aides, however, are throwing cold water on the optimism coming out of the White House.

The New York Times: White House Officials, Craving Progress, Push Revised Health Bill
White House officials, desperate to demonstrate progress on President Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, are pushing to resurrect a Republican health care bill before his 100th day in office next week. Some members of the president’s team have grown consumed by that deadline, worrying that appraisals of the president’s tenure will be brutal and hoping that a last push on health care might bring a measure of salvation. (Flegenheimer and Abelson, 4/20)

The Associated Press: White House Pushes Uncertain Bid To Revive Health Care Bill
The White House optimism is driven largely by a deal brokered by leaders of the conservative Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group aimed at giving states more flexibility to pull out of "Obamacare" provisions. A senior White House official acknowledged that it was unclear how many votes Republicans had, but said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has told the White House that a vote could come together quickly. Yet GOP lawmakers and aides to party leaders, conservatives and moderates alike were skeptical that the House would vote next week on the health legislation. (Fram and Pace, 4/20)

The Washington Post: White House Turns Up Heat On Congress To Revise The Affordable Care Act
The fresh hopes for resuscitating the American Health Care Act are pegged to an amendment being offered by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) that aims to attract enough conservatives and moderates that the measure can pass in the House. White House officials said language would be circulated among members in the next few days, and the modifications will be discussed Saturday in a conference-wide call as Republicans prepare to return to Washington next week. The MacArthur amendment would allow states to obtain permission from the federal government to write their own list of essential health benefits and allow insurers to charge people with preexisting conditions higher premiums, as long as they also make a high-risk pool available to those patients — a change conservatives have demanded. As a concession to moderates, the amendment would also add back federal requirements for essential health benefits, which the measure’s current version instead leaves up to states. (Winfield Cunningham, Snell and Wagner, 4/20)

Los Angeles Times: Trump Is Trying To Repeal Obamacare Again, But He Still Doesn't Have The Votes
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a centrist who has been working on the new language, said in a Facebook post that sick patients would still be able to get coverage because states would be required to offer a special health plan, known as a high-risk pool, for people unable to get other coverage. “This amendment will make coverage of preexisting conditions sacrosanct for all Americans,” he said. But these high-risk pools were almost universally unsuccessful before the advent of Obamacare, and the new GOP proposals drew swift criticism from many patient advocates and others. (Levey, 4/20)

Editorials and Opinions

Viewpoints: Murky World Of Pharmacy Benefits Managers Needs More Transparency

A selection of opinions on health care developments from around the state.

Sacramento Bee: Transparency Needed On Companies That Manage Prescription Drugs
If you’re like most Californians who have health insurance, you know two things about how prescription drugs fit into your health plan. You know that you receive some level of coverage for medications, and you know that soaring prices for prescription drugs are a major cost-driver that have caused insurance premiums to soar. What you don’t know is how your coverage for prescription drugs works, who determines which drugs are covered, or who gets how much from the money you pay for your prescription drugs. The fact is, almost no one knows those things. (Jim Wood, 4/17)

San Francisco Chronicle: Require Drugmakers To Report When They Raise Prices 
Big Pharma wants us to believe that such costs reflect the expensive nature of research and development. But what the pharmaceutical companies spend on research, clinical trials and their 24/7 advertising campaigns is kept hush-hush. One study found that for every $1 drug companies spend on R&D, they spend $19 on advertising. (Ed Hernandez and Tom Steyer, 4/18)

Los Angeles Times: Republicans Base Their New Obamacare Repeal On A Maine Program They Call A Success. Don't Believe Them
When our hard-working members of Congress return to work next week refreshed from their 18-day Easter recess, they’re planning to take up healthcare reform again. This time, their Affordable Care Act repeal effort has been dressed up with a new provision known as “invisible risk sharing,” based on what they assert was a successful program in Maine. They’re blowing smoke. (Michael Hiltzik, 4/18)

Los Angeles Times: The Ignoble History Of The 3-Drug Death Penalty Cocktail
When Ohio announced in 2009 that it planned to abandon the three-drug lethal injection protocol that virtually all jurisdictions had employed for the past three decades, many assumed that most other states would soon follow suit. After all, Ohio’s new protocol, which involved an overdose of a single barbiturate, was touted as being easier to administer and less risky. Eight years later, however, the three-drug protocol is still very much in use, and its current application likely violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. (Ty Alper, 4/20)

Los Angeles Times: My Mom's Dementia Has Stripped Her Of All But Her Least-Endearing Personality Trait: Worry
Before dementia, my sweet 90-year-old mama taught elementary school, sang in a Yiddish chorus, told great stories, had lots of friends, entertained often and with ease, and did volunteer work. Her one aggravating quality was the watchful worrier that lurked within, ready to explode into full, undistractable panic at any moment. ... And now that she has forgotten so much and lost so many parts of herself — her charm, her humor, her musicality and her ability to befriend — you’d think it only fair she’d finally be rid of her anxiety. But no. The last reverberation of her personality is the one trait that brought her and those she loved the most unhappiness. Like a cruel joke, she has been whittled down to her core, and her core is worry. (Amy Koss, 4/20)

Orange County Register: Opioid Epidemic In OC’s Low-Income Residents
County reports show that drug overdoses have killed 1,769 Orange County residents in the past five years. In 2016 alone, there were more than 400 fatal drug overdoses. More than two-thirds of these involved opioids, including common prescription painkillers such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin. And as controls tighten on these medications, those addicted often turn to heroin and deadly synthetic heroin analogues like Fentanyl. Given these realities, a strong, unified community response to combat soaring addiction and fatality rates is required. (Richard Bock, 4/21)

The New York Times: A Focus On Health To Resolve Urban Ills
On a crisp morning in the struggling Bay Area city of Richmond, Calif., Doria Robinson prepares a community vegetable garden for an onslaught of teenagers who will arrive that afternoon. Beyond the farm, a Chevron refinery pumps plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. The farm won’t remove the pollution, but Robinson believes it can make the city’s residents healthier in other ways, specifically by showing them that “their actions have an impact.” (Amy Maxmen, 4/19)

The Bakersfield Californian: Don't Overlook Focus On Valley Fever Prevention 
We like to think we’re winning the battle against valley fever, and in some ways we are. Educational outreach efforts are gaining momentum; more people know of the illness than perhaps ever before. For the decades of work researchers have done, however, the reality is that in many ways we haven’t gotten very far. There’s still no treatment developed specifically for valley fever, no vaccine and little funding to turn the tide on the disease. Treatments for some forms of valley fever are so bad that they cause photosensitivity and patients develop skin cancer. Big pharma won’t commit money to developing suitable treatments because valley fever is considered an orphan disease. The government doesn’t provide a steady funding stream because it’s not spread from person to person. (4/18)

Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Thumbs Up: More Kids Getting A Shot At Immunity
Despite all the controversy surrounding the issue at the time, we applauded the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 for adopting legislation making it mandatory that children who enter school, or day care, be vaccinated. At the time, we called it a “shot in the arm for common sense.” Well, the legislation is starting to pay off. According to state health data, the percentage of fully immunized children who started kindergarten in the fall was 95.6 percent, up from 92.8 percent in 2015. That’s the highest rate of immunization since 2002. It’s also paying off here in Sonoma County, which had one of the lowest immunization rates, causing an increase in such communicable — and preventable — diseases as measles and whopping cough. The portion of fully immunized kindergartners here rose from 92.1 percent to 93.4 percent. (4/18)

Los Angeles Times: Global Health Efforts Are In Jeopardy: A Polio Survivor Reflects On Proposed Cuts To Foreign Aid
In 1988, my family traveled from America to India to visit the homeland of my birth. At age 11, I vividly remember seeing beggars crippled by polio, crawling on the ground. I remember them staring at me. I, too, have polio, but I am able to walk with leg braces and crutches. I contracted polio as a baby in India. I was adopted from an orphanage at age 3 and moved to America. (Minda Dentler, 4/18)