- California Healthline Original Stories 2
- State Regulators Green Light $6.8 Billion Health Insurance Merger
- Debate Arises Over HHS Plans For Privacy Rules On Addiction Treatment
- Marketplace 2
- Centene-Health Net Deal Gets Approval To Move Forward
- AHIP To Attempt To Streamline Provider Directory Updates
- Pharmaceuticals 2
- Cost Of Aid-In-Dying Medication Doubled To More Than $3,000 Last Year
- Jury Finds Merck Patents Valid In Dispute Over Gilead's Hep C Drug
- Public Health and Education 1
- Scientists Brace For Backlash From Zika Research Method Utilizing Pregnant Monkey
Latest From California Healthline:
On Tuesday, the two agencies regulating health insurance in California approved the $6.8 billion acquisition of Health Net by Centene Corp., clearing away the final hurdle to the deal. (David Gorn, 3/23)
The current guidelines, last updated in 1987, require patients to specify exactly who gets information about their care. But advocates of change say the new rule will fit in better in the era of sharing patient data through electronic medical records. (Michelle Andrews, 3/23)
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More News From Across The State
The state regulators, however, wanted a few guarantees.
San Francisco Business Times:
State Regulators OK Health Net Deal, Subject To Significant Conditions
Both regulators responsible for reviewing insurance mergers in California have now approved Centene Corp.'s $6.8 billion acquisition of Health Net, allowing the controversial deal to move forward. The California Department of Managed Health Care approved the deal Tuesday morning, followed a few hours later by the state Department of Insurance. The DMHC imposed conditions with a total price tag of at least $340 million. The DOI also imposed what Commissioner Dave Jones called "strong conditions," some of them overlapping with the DMHC's list. (Rauber, 3/22)
The Associated Press:
California Regulator Approves Centene-Health Net Deal
The regulators are requiring St. Louis-based Centene to keep Health Net’s headquarters in California. The combined company also must build a California call center, improve the health care system and provide assistance in underserved communities. Centene Corporation says in a statement that it expects to close the $6.3 billion deal shortly. (3/22)
State Regulators Green Light $6.8 Billion Health Insurance Merger
One thing regulators could not exact from the insurers was an iron-clad guarantee to limit future premium increases. The only concession in that regard was that Centene officials would be required to meet directly with regulators in an effort to resolve any disagreements over proposed rate hikes. Some Health Net policies are regulated by the managed care department, others by the Department of Insurance. (Gorn, 3/22)
California is one of three states where the trade association will test out its plan to have a health IT company regularly contact providers to check for updates. It will then relay that information to several insurers.
The Associated Press:
Insurers Plot Test To Build Better Provider Directories
Some health insurers are hoping to ease headaches that can flare when customers try to confirm whether a doctor is covered in a plan's network of providers. The trade association America's Health Insurance Plans will soon start testing a more efficient way to update insurer provider directories, which are becoming critical for finding the right fit as insurance evolves and coverage networks shrink. America's Health Insurance Plans, known as AHIP, will attempt to streamline directory updates by testing a new concept next month in California, Florida and Indiana. AHIP will have one health information technology company contact providers for regular updates on standard information like whether they are accepting new patients and if they are still in a coverage network. Then AHIP will share that information with several insurers. (3/22)
“It’s just pharmaceutical company greed,” said David Grube, a family doctor in Oregon, who says he remembers back in 2009 when a lethal dose of the drug, Seconal, was less than $200.
Pharmaceutical Companies Hiked Price On Aid In Dying Drug
When California’s aid-in-dying law takes effect this June, terminally ill patients who decide to end their lives could be faced with a hefty bill for the lethal medication. It retails for more than $3,000. Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes the drug most commonly used in physician-assisted suicide, doubled the drug’s price last year, one month after California lawmakers proposed legalizing the practice. (Dembosky, 3/22)
Meanwhile, U.S. News & World Report finds California will help cover expenses for Medi-Cal patients who want the medication used under the aid-in-dying law —
U.S. News & World Report:
Californians Can Choose To Die – With The Help Of Taxpayers
California’s aid-in-dying law contains a provision allowing doctors and hospitals to opt out of helping terminally ill patients access medications that would help them hasten their deaths, but that same exemption will not be carved out for state taxpayers, U.S. News has learned. The state government plans to assist in the cost of providing life-ending medications and doctor visits using $2.3 million already quietly tucked into Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget in January, according to a spokesperson for California’s Department of Health Care Services. Of five states that offer aid-in-dying options, California will be the second, after Oregon, that covers the prescriptions using public funds. (Leonard, 3/21)
The California jury hasn't yet decided how much in damages Gilead will have to pay, but Merck has asked for $2 billion and a royalty of 10 percent of the sales going forward.
The Wall Street Journal:
Merck Gets Win Over Gilead In Hepatitis C Drug Patent Dispute
Merck & Co. won a legal victory over rival Gilead Sciences Inc. on Tuesday when a California jury upheld the validity of two patents that Merck says should entitle it to a portion of the multibillion-dollar annual sales of Gilead’s hepatitis C drugs. Financial repercussions of the decision weren’t immediately clear. The jury still must consider what damages to award to Merck and its co-owner of the patents, Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc., for past sales, Kenilworth, N.J.-based Merck said in a statement. A judge then will decide on potential royalties on future sales. (Loftus, 3/22)
Merck Wins Hepatitis C Drug Patent Claim Against Gilead
A federal jury on Tuesday upheld the validity of two Merck patents in a dispute with Gilead Sciences, which could be forced to hand over a portion of the billions of dollars in revenue from its blockbuster cure for hepatitis C. The verdict in federal court in San Jose, Calif., is a setback for Gilead, whose drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni brought in $19.2 billion in worldwide sales last year. Merck has demanded more than $2 billion in damages and a royalty of 10 percent of Gilead’s sales going forward. The jury must now decide exactly how much Gilead owes. (3/22)
Leapfrog Group's report looks at each specific hospital building instead of how it rates in combination with other facilities in the system.
Report Reveals Infection Rates For Individual San Diego Hospitals
If patients want to know rates of potentially deadly hospital-acquired infections at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest versus UCSD’s Thornton Hospital in La Jolla, they’ve been out of luck. That’s because Medicare’s publicly reported data combines those two hospitals’ infection rates, even though their rates of complications may be very different. Likewise for Scripps Mercy Hospital’s Hillcrest facility versus its hospital in Chula Vista. And for some 39 other hospitals whose data are grouped with sister facilities in California, and many more across the country. But a report released March 16 by the Leapfrog Group, which represents employers who buy health coverage, brings some sunshine to this darkness. (Clark, 3/22)
In other hospital news —
The Modesto Bee:
Sutter Health To Become Majority Owner Of Stanislaus Surgical Hospital In Modesto
Sacramento-based Sutter Health said it has signed an agreement to become majority owner of Stanislaus Surgical Hospital in Modesto. The agreement will be effective April 1, according to a press release posted Tuesday on the Sutter Health Central Valley Region website. (Carlson, 3/22)
The raises amend the existing contract for about 700 county nurses represented by the California Nurses Association.
Ventura County Star:
County Finalizes New Pay Pact With Nurses
Ventura County officials say new raises that give most nurses at least a 6 percent hike and some far more will stem the flow of employees leaving for private hospitals and better pay. Nurses say new wage scales, unanimously approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, help but still fall short of wages paid by other employers. (Kisken, 3/22)
Dave O’Connor and Tom Friedrich are bucking trends and posting their Zika research findings as they get them -- instead of going through the peer-reviewed journal process. But part of that research has involved injecting a pregnant monkey with the virus, and the scientists think that perhaps providing that information could be "an invitation to disaster," even if it is "profound."
After Infecting Pregnant Monkey With Zika, Scientists Wait For Backlash
You may have seen the NPR story about the University of Wisconsin, Madison scientists who are studying Zika virus. Dave O’Connor and Tom Friedrich are deviating from the ordinary method for disseminating research — publishing in a peer-reviewed journal — by posting their data as they collect it, in real time. (Brooks, 3/22)
If the court splits 4-4, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, it could leave a patchwork of confusion in place created by conflicting opinions in the lower courts.
The move is the agency's latest step in the battle against one of the worst drug epidemics in the United States. The labels on the bottles will include messages about the serious risk of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose and death from the medications.