- California Healthline Original Stories 2
- Hospital Finance Measure On State Ballot May Stump Voters
- Medical Marijuana Linked To Modest Budget Benefits For Medicare Part D, Study Finds
- Health Care Personnel 1
- State Medical Board Revokes Buena Park Doctor's License After Fraud Conviction
- Public Health and Education 3
- With Proper Drugs, HIV-Positive Patients Have Low Risk For Sexual Transmission
- After Pair Of Suicide Clusters Hits Palo Alto, CDC Weighs In With Recommendations
- Study Links Risk Of Painkiller Addiction To Type Of Surgery
Latest From California Healthline:
Proposition 52 would permanently enshrine a significant source of funding for hospitals and limit lawmakers’ ability to change it. (Pauline Bartolone, 7/13)
A Health Affairs study determines that Part D spending went down slightly on prescription drugs for which medical marijuana is viewed as a possible alternative. (Shefali Luthra, 7/13)
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Summaries Of The News:
In November, Los Angeles County voters will decide on the measure, which county analysts estimated would raise as much as $130 million a year to pay for mental health and substance abuse treatment, among other services. Meanwhile, one lawmaker is worried about a separate ballot initiative -- one that would legalize marijuana.
Los Angeles Times:
County Marijuana Tax For Homeless Services To Appear On November's Ballot
Los Angeles County voters will decide this fall whether to tax marijuana businesses to help pay for housing and health services for the homeless. The ballot measure, approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, seeks to take a potentially significant new source of government revenues, from marijuana sales, and use it to address one of the region’s oldest and most intractable problems. L.A.’s homeless population has been rising in recent years, and the proposed pot tax is part of a larger effort by city and county officials to finally put significantly more money behind easing the problems. (Sewell, 7/12)
How Can You Tell If A Driver Is Stoned?
[State Assemblyman Tom] Lackey, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, wants the state to adopt a legal limit for THC -- the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis. Without it, he says, patrol officers must rely mostly on their own subjective judgment as to whether a driver is impaired. That, he says, makes many officers uncomfortable. (O'Neill, 7/13)
In other news, a separate initiative to provide new mental health facilities in Mendocino County gathers enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and an arcane measure on the state ballot might flummox voters —
The Press Democrat:
Sales Tax Proposal For Mendocino County Psychiatric Care Facility Qualifies For Ballot
A sales tax proposal that would raise an estimated $23 million to $30 million over five years to provide new mental health facilities in Mendocino County has received enough qualified signatures to go on the November ballot. The half-cent sales tax proposal now heads to the Board of Supervisors, which will decide whether to place it on an upcoming ballot or ask for further studies on the impacts of the measure. (Anderson, 7/12)
Hospital Finance Measure On State Ballot May Stump Voters
California voters will be asked to weigh in this November on a hospital financing measure so politically and financially complicated that they might be tempted to avoid it altogether. The initiative, Proposition 52, would make permanent the “Hospital Quality Assurance Fee,” which the state collects from private hospitals to bring in additional federal dollars for Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid health care program for the poor. The federal government matches money that California puts up to fund Medi-Cal services. (Bartolone, 7/13)
If something seems too good to be true, it just might be. Don't buy into the hype. Pay attention to red flags. These are just some of the lessons investors may take away when they evaluate what happened with the blood-testing startup.
The Wall Street Journal:
Silicon Valley Looks For Lessons In Theranos
Silicon Valley’s best-known venture investors have emerged largely unscathed from the rapid descent of Theranos Inc., but the decline offers a cautionary tale for a community that bets big on visionary founders touting revolutionary technology. ... Silicon Valley investors say Palo Alto, Calif.-based Theranos—which was valued at $9 billion in a 2014 funding round—offers lessons about the importance of oversight and due diligence in the venture-capital business, which bets sometimes on nothing more than an idea. (Winkler, 7/13)
San Clemente-based Sovereign Health, which provides mental health and addiction treatments, has filed the suit, saying the insurer's "current misconduct is part of a sad pattern of prioritizing dollars over decency."
Orange County Register:
San Clemente Healthcare Provider Sues Health Net Over $55 Million In Unpaid Services
Health service provider Sovereign Health has filed a lawsuit against Woodland Hills-based Health Net, alleging the company refused to reimburse $55 million in medical services. San Clemente-based Sovereign Health treats recovering drug addicts and people who suffer from mental illness. The company alleges Health Net “engaged in a disgraceful scheme to enrich themselves by backtracking on their insurance promises to recovering addicts and the mentally ill at the expense of providers,” according to the complaint. (Madans, 7/12)
UCI and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute are leading a patient safety research program to cut down on the number of hospitalized patients who contract an infection while receiving treatment for other conditions.
Orange County Register:
UCI Receives Funds To Fight Hospital Infections
UC Irvine and researchers from Harvard will receive up to $6.7 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their joint work on preventing deadly hospital-acquired infections. UCI and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute lead a patient safety research program, part of a national effort aimed at slowing the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the CDC, about 1 in 25 hospitalized patients contract an infection while receiving treatment for other conditions. (Perkes, 7/12)
In other hospital news —
Berkeley City Council Resolution Would Oppose Alta Bates Hospital Closure
Three members of the Berkeley City Council are backing a resolution to oppose the planned closure of the Alta Bates Medical Center emergency room and inpatient hospital. The full council will vote on the issue at its meeting Tuesday night. Sutter Health, which owns Alta Bates, said last fall that it would close the acute care hospital and emergency department sometime before 2030. That’s when tough California seismic standards kick in. Sutter said it would consolidate emergency and inpatient services at its Oakland Summit Medical Center and make Alta Bates an outpatient hub. (Aliferis, 7/12)
Augustus Ohemeng served as medical director of Pacific Clinic in Long Beach, where he billed Medicare for unnecessary tests and procedures, according to prosecutors.
Orange County Register:
Buena Park Doctor Loses License After Fraud Conviction
A Buena Park doctor’s medical license has been revoked by the state medical board after his conviction for Medicare fraud, according to documents made public this week. Augustus Ohemeng was convicted in 2013 of six counts of health care fraud totaling nearly $3 million. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, board documents said. (Perkes, 7/12)
A new study finds that patients who are HIV-positive and taking antiretroviral drugs have a low risk of spreading the virus to their partner, even if they are not using condoms. Doctors, however, warn about placing too much weight on the findings.
HIV Drugs Protect Against Transmission, Even In Unprotected Sex
Couples in which one partner is HIV-positive have a low risk of transmitting the disease if the infected partner is on antiretroviral drugs, a new study found, even if they are not using condoms. Scientist have been studying for decades whether HIV-positive individuals who take certain combinations of drugs, called antiretroviral therapy (ART), will infect their partners with the virus. A landmark study, which mostly enrolled heterosexual couples, found that ART taken by infected individuals reduced the risk of HIV transmission by 96 percent. (Swetlitz, 7/12)
Los Angeles Times:
Safe Sex Without Condoms? With Drugs Keeping HIV In Check, Infected Partners Didn't Spread Virus
Altogether, the researchers counted more than 58,000 acts of unsafe sex. And the total number of times an HIV-positive person infected his or her partner? Zero. That’s not to say the condom-less sex was totally safe. Between 17% and 18% of the men who had sex with men were diagnosed with a new sexually transmitted infection, as were 6% of the men and women in heterosexual relationships. In addition, 11 of the 888 volunteers who were HIV-negative at the start of the study became infected with the virus after they enrolled. But in all of these cases, the newly acquired virus didn’t match the one the partner had. (Kaplan, 7/12)
The report stresses the importance of focused outreach to male youths, as well as to those with a current mental health problem and those who have experienced a recent crisis. In other news, researchers find room for improvement with California's suicide hotlines.
East Bay Times:
CDC Releases Early Report On Youth Suicides In Santa Clara County
Youth suicide has increased in Santa Clara County since 2003, is higher among males and is often preceded by a crisis or mental health problem, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The so-called "Epi-Aid" investigation was requested by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in response to a pair of suicide clusters in Palo Alto. Four youths died by suicide in 2014 and 2015, and six did in 2009 and 2010, mostly on the Caltrain tracks. (Green, 7/13)
California Suicide Hotlines Get Good Grades But Could Improve, Study Says
Some of California’s suicide hotlines provide a “valuable and trusted service” to callers in distress, but they could be doing an even better job, according to a new study released Tuesday. Researchers at the Rand Corporation, a Santa Monica-based think tank, found that hotline staff had good rapport with callers and were able to ease their distress in some cases. But the hotlines could better integrate their services with existing health care providers and add new ways to connect with the public, such as online chats, the study said. (Ibarra, 7/12)
Because surgeries like knee replacements, breast surgeries and hip replacements have particularly painful post-operative recovery, patients undergoing them are at higher risk of becoming addicted.
Study: Opiate Addiction More Likely After Certain Surgeries
The chance that you’ll get hooked on painkillers after surgery is low — only about five in a thousand people do, according to a new Stanford study. But researchers found that the type of surgery can make a difference. “The surgeries that were at high risk were knee replacements, breast surgeries, hip replacements and open gallbladder surgeries.” says Dr. Eric Sun, anesthesiologist and lead author on the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. He says these procedures, which can involve particularly painful post-operative recovery, were about twice as likely to lead to chronic opioid use. (McClurg, 7/12)
In other public health news —
San Diego’s Methamphetamine Problem Strains Criminal Justice System
In 2010, customs agents seized roughly 2,500 kilos of meth at the San Ysidro border crossing. In 2014, they confiscated more than double that amount — 5,800 kilos. One hit of meth is about a quarter of a gram — 5,800 kilos equals 5.8 million hits. That’s how much was confiscated. Nobody knows how much is actually getting in. What’s worse is the methamphetamine that’s coming across from Mexico is stronger than ever, and the price on the street is lower than ever. That leads to more meth use and more meth-related problems. (Goldberg, 7/12)
The agency's report shows that when factoring in financial assistance from the government, the median deductible that consumers actually pay for Obamacare health plans is $850 this year. That's down $50 from the past year. Meanwhile, another co-op is shutting down.
HHS Report Says Obamacare Plans Are Cheaper Than They Look
Obamacare health plans have been getting a bad rap this year. Critics say the premiums are too high, the out-of-pocket costs are out of control, and the requirements and red tape are too thick. But now the Obama administration is pushing back. A study released Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services argues that the cost-sharing isn't nearly as heavy as previous analyses have shown, because most consumers get subsidies that limit their deductibles and copayments. (Kodjak, 7/12)
In other health law news —
Q&A: Sylvia Mathews Burwell On 6 More Months Of Health Care Fixes
Last summer, when the Supreme Court ruled on a major challenge to President Barack Obama’s marquee health care law, the name on the court case wasn’t Obama’s. The case was called King v. Burwell, and front and center — as she is in all attacks on Obamacare — was Sylvia Mathews Burwell. As HHS secretary, Burwell has become the most public face of Obamacare, its chief defender and the person driving the president’s final push for a health care legacy. With only six months left in the president’s term, Obama wants to use his remaining time in office to make medicine more efficient and less expensive, and Burwell is the point person to get that done. (Haberkorn, 7/13)
The One That Got Away: Obamacare And The Drug Industry
President Barack Obama’s landmark health care bill shook up the health care system. One key player escaped the upheaval largely unscathed: Big Pharma. Scrounging up all the money to pay for Obamacare’s massive coverage expansion brought deep pay cuts to hospitals and health plans. And for those industries, it fundamentally changed the rules of the game. ... The pharmaceutical industry, on the other hand, hasn’t much changed — except its prices are higher and there’s nothing in the health law that allows the government to push back. Prescription drugs are now the fastest growing category of medical costs. Pharma companies are charging $84,000 for a new hepatitis C cure, more than $14,000 for new cholesterol treatments. Novel cancer therapies routinely run six figures. (Karlin-Smith and Norman, 7/13)
Obamacare And Mental Health: An Unfinished Story
America’s mental health system is having a breakdown. Suicide rates are at a record high; drug addiction is epidemic. There aren’t enough therapists, particularly not enough who accept insurance. And too often the most vulnerable and severely ill end up on the streets, or fill our prisons and jails. The Affordable Care Act was never meant to mend every crack in the system. It did zero in on the insurance side of reform — but there’s still a lot of heartbreak. (Ehley, 7/13)
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans rejected a new Democratic proposal aimed at finding a middle ground in the battle over Zika funding.
The Wall Street Journal:
Zika Stalemate Hardens As Senate Republicans Reject New Democratic Proposal
Negotiations over legislation for funding to combat the Zika virus hit a new impasse Tuesday, heightening the chances that Congress will leave Washington for the summer without acting on a measure to stem the spread of the mosquito-borne illness. The stalemate hardened Tuesday when Senate Republicans rejected a new Democratic proposal aimed at finding a middle ground in the battle over Zika funding. Congress is expected to adjourn Friday for a seven-week recess through Labor Day and there was little evidence Tuesday that any bipartisan agreement would arrive before week’s end. (Peterson and Armour, 7/12)
In other national health care news —
Durbin: Senate Dems Will Back Opioid Bill
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday said Democrats would support a deal combating the opioid epidemic and send the legislation to President Obama's desk ahead of Congress's seven-week recess. Asked whether the caucus would support the House-passed measure, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat told reporters, "yes, [but] making the point that it's unfunded." (Carney, 7/12)
Republicans Embrace The ‘Right To Try’ To Get Experimental Medicines
The “Right to Try” movement may be embedded in the Republican Party platform. Amid the run up to the Republican National Convention that begins in Cleveland next week, the party has adopted an amendment in its draft platform that endorses a controversial stance toward obtaining treatments for fatal illnesses. Known as Right to Try, the concept is designed to allow desperately sick people to gain access to experimental medicines. (Silverman, 7/12)
New Tool Searches Health Prices By Doctor, Insurance
Starting Tuesday, consumers worried about high out-of-pocket health costs can search for procedure prices ranging from knee surgeries to vasectomies, based on their doctor and type of insurance so they can eliminate most of the surprise bills that show up long after their wounds have healed. Amino, a health data company that launched last fall, was already helping connect patients to doctors in their areas based on quality data. The new tool greatly expands its pricing data and covers about 550,000 physicians, 49 procedures and 129 insurance companies. (O'Donnell and Ungar, 7/12)
The Washington Post:
Maker Of $84,000 Drug Avoided $10 Billion In U.S. Taxes, Report Says
Over the last few years, Gilead Sciences has grown into one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, fueled by the sales of expensive specialty treatments for hepatitis C. The company’s revenue has tripled since 2012, to $32.6 billion last year. According to a report to be released Wednesday, Gilead has also developed another specialty: Avoiding billions in taxes. (Merle and Johnson, 7/13)