- California Healthline Original Stories 5
- California Voters Will Have Their Say On Drug Prices
- Will A California Regulator Halt The Centene-Health Net Deal?
- Hospitals Employ Email 'Empathy' To Help Doctors And Patients Keep In Touch
- Californians Split On Spending Surplus
- Short-Term Health Plans: The Pros And Cons
- Covered California & The Health Law 1
- Covered California Makes Final Push As Enrollment Deadline Nears
- Marketplace 2
- 13 Indictments Announced In Workers' Comp Insurance Fraud Scheme
- In Latest Blow To Theranos, Walgreens Halts Use Of California Lab
- Pharmaceuticals 1
- In November, California Voters Will Get Chance To Weigh In On Prescription Drug Prices
- Veterans Health Care 1
- VA Wants To Turn Neglected LA Campus Into Thriving Community For Homeless Veterans
Latest From California Healthline:
Heated battle expected over November ballot proposal to curb state’s prescription drug costs, as pharmaceutical industry opens its pocketbook to defeat the measure. (Anna Gorman, 1/28)
Three pending multi-billion dollar health insurance acquisitions are facing wary resistance from Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who might nix at least one of them. (David Gorn, 1/29)
A better way to communicate with patients and track their progress? (Barbara Feder Ostrov, 1/28)
Californians are evenly split on whether the state's $2 billion surplus should go toward paying off debt or restoring social service programs, according to a survey released yesterday. (David Gorn, 1/28)
"You could get one of these plans, pay the uninsured tax penalty and still pay less." (Emily Bazar, 1/28)
Editor’s Note: Starting today, California Healthline is being produced by Kaiser Health News. Our goal is to bring you the best coverage of health policy news in California, with original reporting that highlights the state’s outsized influence on the nation’s health care system. We welcome your comments about our new look. You can contact us here, or click here for more information about California Healthline and its staff.
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More News From Across The State
Staff members are not only warning of the impending deadline, they're also making sure people know of the stiff penalties they'll face this year if they remain uninsured.
The Sacramento Bee:
Uninsured? Covered California’s Final Enrollment Push Ends This Weekend
For Covered California officials, it’s crunch time. They’ve spent $29 million on advertising, opened 500 storefronts, beefed up call centers and trained hundreds of health insurance enrollment counselors who speak 12 languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese. They’ve also rolled through 21 cities in a statewide bus tour to highlight this year’s open enrollment season, projecting the words “Enroll Now” on iconic buildings such as Sacramento’s Tower Bridge and San Francisco’s Coit Tower. (Buck, 1/28)
A Last-Minute Push In Inglewood For Health Insurance Signups
On a recent afternoon, more than a dozen Covered California staff members and volunteers armed with clipboards and flyers descend on a two-block stretch of Inglewood around the intersection of La Brea Avenue and Manchester Boulevard. They duck into every business in this two-block stretch, and stop people on the street. (Aguilera, 1/29)
The San Jose Mercury News:
Obamacare: Enrollment Deadline Looms
As the midnight Sunday deadline looms for hundreds of thousands of uninsured Californians to sign up for a health care plan -- or face steep fines -- it's gut check time for them, but also for Covered California. (Seipel, 1/28)
Feds Seek Insurance Sign-Ups As Clock Ticks Towards Enrollment Deadline
Four days before an enrollment deadline they vow not to extend, federal health officials on Thursday tried to dismiss suggestions Affordable Care Act sign ups slowed in January and emphasized that momentum is building toward Jan. 31. Instead, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted that December enrollment was particularly strong and he singled out 14 states where signups are running at least 20% higher than they were last year at this time. And Slavitt noted that Thursday traffic was 50% higher than a week ago, showing how interest is picking up during what he called "the final countdown." (O'Donnell, 1/28)
Still Uninsured? Buy A Health Plan This Week To Avoid A Tax Penalty
Federal health officials have this message for people who want health insurance: Don't wait. There are just four days left to sign up for an insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act, and officials from the Department of Health and Human Services are stressing that they won't extend the enrollment period this year beyond Jan. 31. (Kodjak, 1/28)
The federal-state investigation uncovered nearly a half-million dollars in kickback payments in Southern California and implicated doctors, chiropractors and medical supply providers, authorities said. The bribes were usually $50 to $100 per patient.
The San Diego Union Tribune:
Probe Widens In Workers' Comp Insurance Fraud Ring
An investigation into what is being billed as one of the largest workers’ compensation insurance fraud schemes uncovered in the county’s history has swept up additional medical professionals throughout Southern California. Chiropractors, a radiologist, a pain management physician, a medical equipment provider and others are accused in 13 new indictments of playing varying roles in a bribery scheme that bought and sold patients like commodities, the District Attorney’s Office said Thursday. The investigation uncovered nearly a half-million dollars in kickback payments resulting in millions of dollars in fraudulent workers’ compensation insurance claims, authorities said. (Davis, 1/28)
Walgreens said the blood testing startup "must immediately cease sending any clinical laboratory tests" to Theranos' Palo Alto lab, which is facing federal scrutiny for deficient practices that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services say pose immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety.
In related news, the Food and Drug Administration's approval of Merck's new hepatitis C drug may lead to lower medication costs for consumers. Also, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton takes on Valeant Pharmaceuticals' price hikes during a campaign appearance.
California Voters Will Have Their Say On Drug Prices
California voters will weigh in this November on a high-stakes ballot proposition intended to help control the cost of prescription drugs – the latest attempt to limit soaring prices that have prompted public criticism nationwide. The proposition would require the state to drive a harder bargain with drug companies so it doesn’t pay more for medications than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The initiative would affect about 5 million people whose health care is covered by the state, proponents said. (Gorman, 1/29)
The Associated Press:
FDA OKs Merck Hepatitis C Drug, Adding To Patient Choices
Patients with hepatitis C have yet another advanced treatment option, as the Food on Drug Administration has approved a new once-a-day pill developed by drugmaker Merck. The FDA said Thursday Merck can begin marketing Zepatier, its new drug for patients with the liver-destroying virus. The combination pill includes the medications elbasvir and grazoprevir, which attack the virus in two different ways. (1/28)
Clinton Targets Valeant Price Hikes in Campaign Appearance
Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc fell on Thursday after the campaign of Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton posted a blog from an Iowa event detailing exorbitant price hikes for a migraine drug made by the company. At an Iowa town hall over the weekend, Clinton read from a letter saying that the list price for 10 vials of migraine drug D.H.E. 45 had increased to more than $14,000 in December, compared with just over $3,000 in June of 2014. "This is predatory pricing. It is unjustified. It is wrong," Clinton said, according to the post. (Beasley, 1/28)
In other hospital news, a California-based chain is sued over its use of an automated-dialer for bill collection, and Petaluma Health Center gets federal help in recruiting top doctors.
The San Diego Union Tribune:
Hillcrest Hospital Fined For Patient Death
The California Department of Public Health fined Vibra Hospital of San Diego nearly $50,000 Thursday for medical errors that caused a patient’s death in 2014. According to a report released by the department, nurses and respiratory technicians ignored alarms and multiple electronic pager notifications that started about 3:30 a.m. on May 4, 2014, after part of a female patient’s ventilator became disconnected during her stay at the long-term care facility on Washington Street in Hillcrest. (Sisson, 1/28)
Hospital Company Sued After FCC Tightens Medical Debt Collection Rules
The bar was raised for medical debt collectors last summer when the Federal Communications Commission issued a ruling that made it harder to dial patients on their cellphones without their express consent. Now a California-based hospital chain has become one of the first providers to be sued since the FCC's July interpretive ruling. (Kutscher, 1/28)
The Press Democrat:
Sonoma County Health Clinic Gets New Tool To Recruit Doctors
In the midst of a severe shortage of family physicians on the North Coast and across the country, the Petaluma Health Center has just been given a tool that will help it recruit more top young doctors. The federal government recently revised its “health professional shortage area” rating for the Petaluma Health Center, giving it a “19,” the most severe shortage rating for any health center in Sonoma County. The designation makes young doctors and other medical professionals who are willing to work at the health center eligible for federal funds, specialized training and — most importantly — loan forgiveness. (Espinoza, 1/28)
"You can be pretty financially robust and not have enough money to care for someone with this disease," says Ruth Gay, the Alzheimer's Association's director of public policy and advocacy. In other news, a study reveals that few older adults talk about memory problems with their doctors, and higher-than-expected death rates among middle-age white men worry researchers.
The San Jose Mercury News:
Options Limited For California Caregivers Shouldering Burden Of Growing Alzheimer's Crisis
[Patt] Martin was among the 15.7 million Americans who contributed an estimated 17.9 billion unpaid hours to caring for people with Alzheimer's in 2014, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The organization says that 41 percent of those caregivers had a household income of less than $50,000, and 17 percent had to give up their jobs. Faced with physical, emotional and economic hardships, 40 percent of caregivers reported bouts of depression, the association says. (Wessel, 1/28)
Few Discuss Memory Problems During Checkups, Study Finds
Routine medical checkups provide an ideal setting for older adults to discuss memory problems with their doctors, yet many avoid such conversations, according to a new study. Using survey data from 10,276 adults aged 45 and older who reported memory loss or confusion in the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), researchers found that only one in four discussed their cognitive difficulties with health professionals. That was true, the study found, even when the issues were serious enough to affect the tasks of daily life. (O'Neill, 1/28)
The Los Angeles Times:
Researchers Find Causes For Higher Death Rates Among Middle-Aged Whites
Higher-than-expected death rates among middle-aged white Americans are largely being driven by stagnant progress against heart disease and other common illnesses, according to new research into a crisis that is increasingly worrying healthcare officials and policymakers. (Levey, 1/29)
More than 1,200 supportive housing units for traumatized and disabled veterans, and more than 700 short-term units for homeless veterans would be set up through the plan.
The Los Angeles Times:
VA Proposes Hundreds Of Housing Units Plus Services For Homeless Vets At West L.A. Campus
Hammered out in months of meetings with veterans and community members, the project is also designed to serve as a beacon for non-homeless veterans, who can use the campus for recreation, cultural events and job development, as well as medical care, officials said. (Holland, 1/28)
In other local news, counties step up medical marijuana regulations, and a teen is injured after an electronic cigarette explodes in his mouth.
The Ventura County Star:
Hope's Haven Charity Donates iPads For Kids With Health Needs
More than 40 iPads were donated Wednesday to a therapy program that works with children with special health care needs. The iPads were given by the Hope's Haven Children's Charity to the Ventura County Public Health and California Children's Services Medical Therapy Program. The computers will be used by children with conditions that can include cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and cancer. (1/28)
Where Can You Buy Medical Marijuana In The Inland Empire
This fall, the Legislature gave the state’s counties, cities and towns a clear message: Regulate medical marijuana in your communities, or we’ll do it for you. After years of local governments being ambivalent at best about regulating medical marijuana in their jurisdictions, those governments hustled to beat a March 1 deadline imposed by the state. (Yarbrough, 1/28)
The Press Democrat:
Windsor Teen Badly Hurt When E-Cigarette Explodes
An electronic cigarette exploded in a 15-year-old Windsor boy’s mouth, causing him to lose about a half-dozen teeth, police and fire officials said. The explosion sent hot shards of the device scattering, with some still hot like embers on the floor when firefighters arrived after a 911 call came in just after 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at a home on Summer Rain Drive off Los Amigos Road, said Cyndi Foreman, a fire prevention specialist with the Central Fire Authority of Sonoma County. (Johnson, 1/28)
The White House and other political leaders need to strike a balance between preparedness and disproportionate reactions that go beyond public health recommendations. Meanwhile, new research calls into question the link between the virus and a rare birth defect, even as women worry about abortion and childlessness as a result of the crisis.
Is Zika The New Ebola?
The latest Obama administration crisis comes on the wings of a mosquito. After muted warnings about a mosquito-borne virus in Brazil associated with a surge of babies born with abnormally small heads and brain damage, the World Health Organization on Thursday ramped up the alarm, warning the Zika virus is “spreading explosively” through the Americas — teeing up a familiar playbook of panic over an unfamiliar disease. Federal health officials say they expect Zika spread in the United States but that any outbreak would be limited. The White House and a growing list lawmakers are trying to get ahead of a firestorm, with reassuring images and messages. But as the Ebola panic demonstrated in 2014, it’s hard to communicate subtle public health messages in the best of circumstances. (Kenen and Haberkorn, 1/28)
The Associated Press:
Scientists: More Research Needed Into Zika-Microcephaly Link
The release of new figures apparently finding fewer cases of microcephaly in Brazil than first feared is adding force to calls for more research into the link between the rare birth defect and the spreading Zika virus. Health experts have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October in Brazil, where authorities said the birth defect could be linked to the virus and announced that 220,000 military personnel were being deployed to help eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika. (Barchfield and Stobbe, 1/28)
The Associated Press:
In Face Of Zika Virus, Women Ponder Abortion, Childlessness
Maria Erlinda Guzman desperately wants a baby, and has been undergoing fertility treatments at El Salvador's largest women's hospital. But now, she fears her dream of motherhood may be dashed by Zika. After her country took the extraordinary step of advising women to avoid pregnancies for two years due to concerns about the rapidly spreading virus, the 34-year-old now plans to start using contraception. She worries that she may be too old to conceive by the time it is considered safe to do so. (Sherman, 1/29)
Zika Virus Not Causing Outbreaks In Continental U.S.
Although a number of returning U.S. travelers have been infected with the Zika virus while visiting Latin America, the mosquito-borne virus is not causing outbreaks in the continental U.S., health officials said Thursday. Thirty-one Americans in 11 states and Washington, D.C., have been diagnosed with a Zika infection contracted while traveling abroad, said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are isolated cases, however, and very different from the Zika epidemic in Brazil, which had an estimated 1 million Zika infections by the end of last year. (Szabo, 1/28)
CDC Says In Full Outbreak Mode In Response To Zika
U.S. disease detectives have moved into full outbreak mode over the Zika virus, assembling a team of hundreds of experts to try to better understand its impact as it spreads in the Americas. ... The World Health Organization on Thursday said it would consider next week whether to declare Zika an international health emergency, and estimated that as many as 4 million people could be affected by the virus as it spreads in Latin America and the Caribbean to North America in the coming months. (Steenhuysen, 1/29)
The Los Angeles Daily News:
Despite Zika Virus, Local Travel Agencies Continue To Book Flights Into Affected Countries
World health leaders predicted Thursday that 4 million people will become infected this year by the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that has spread across Central and South America and Caribbean countries. (Abram, 1/28)
President Barack Obama's speech to congressional Democrats on Thursday touted the results of their accomplishments, including the 18 million people who gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. But the much-diminished audience showed the political cost Democrats have paid for their support of the president. In other national news, because of drug shortages, doctors have to make the decision about which patient gets the medication, and researchers capture a cell that would become cancer at its earliest state.
The Associated Press:
Democrats Get Obama Pep Talk, Face Long Odds
House Democrats are heading home from their annual issues retreat energized by a pep talk by President Barack Obama but facing steep odds of reclaiming the majority that delivered Obama his greatest victories first-term victories. In Baltimore on Thursday evening, Obama said the country is “doing a lot better” than when he took office, citing progress against Islamic State forces and curbing Iran’s nuclear program — as well as lower gas prices, 18 million people gaining health insurance and 5 percent unemployment. (Taylor, 1/28)
The New York Times:
Drug Shortages Forcing Hard Decisions On Rationing Treatments
In recent years, shortages of all sorts of drugs — anesthetics, painkillers, antibiotics, cancer treatments — have become the new normal in American medicine. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists currently lists inadequate supplies of more than 150 drugs and therapeutics, for reasons ranging from manufacturing problems to federal safety crackdowns to drugmakers abandoning low-profit products. But while such shortages have periodically drawn attention, the rationing that results from them has been largely hidden from patients and the public. (Fink, 1/29)
The New York Times:
A Single Cell Shines New Light on How Cancers Develop
It was just a tiny speck, a single cell that researchers had marked with a fluorescent green dye. But it was the very first cell of what would grow to be a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Never before had researchers captured a cancer so early. The cell was not a cancer yet. But its state was surprising: It was a cell that had reverted to an embryonic form, when it could have developed into any cell type. As it began to divide, cancer genes took over and the single primitive cell barreled forward into a massive tumor. (Kolata, 1/28)