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Daily Archives: August 23, 2013

What is a vasectomy (male sterilisation)?

A vasectomy (male sterilization) is a form of contraception that involves surgically cutting or blocking the tubes that transport sperm from the testicles to the penis. When men undergo a vasectomy their sperm can no longer reach the semen, as a result any semen that is ejaculated during sex does not contain sperm – which is needed to fertilize a woman’s egg. A vasectomy is a very effective and permanent means of preventing pregnancy. It is estimated that only one out of every 2,000 men who receive a vasectomy will impregnate a woman during their lives…

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Diet drug controversy as US approves meds rejected by Europe

The decision from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow two anti-obesity drugs to be marketed in the US has been called into question by a senior doctor publishing in the BMJ. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, founder of the health research group at Public Citizen, says that the fact these drugs have been banned by the European regulator “puts the FDA to shame.” Belviq (lorcaserin) and Qsymia (phentermine plus topiramate) are available as anti-obesity drugs in the US…

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'Diabetes dogs' can alert owners to sugar levels

People with diabetes may have a new way to indicate their blood sugar level is too high or too low, by turning to our trusty canine friends, after researchers have found that dogs can help with hypoglycemia monitoring. The study, published in PLOS ONE, is the first of its kind to analyze whether trained dogs can accurately and consistently serve as an “early-warning system” to monitor blood sugar levels for their owners and notify them when the levels are too high or low…

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Red hair and melanoma may have genetic link

A mutation in a gene called MC1R gives redheads their hair color and fair skin. Now a new US study suggests this same mutation triggers a cancer-causing signalling pathway when redheads are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This may explain, the researchers say, why redheaded people have a higher risk for melanoma, the rarest but deadliest form of skin cancer. The study authors, from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), report their findings in an August 22nd online issue of Molecular Cell…

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State Laws Could Upend Elements Of The Health Law Enrollment Effort

Twelve states have passed measures that could undermine funding for “navigators.” Also, news outlets report on the latest on health exchanges from California, Wisconsin and Florida.  

Bloomberg: State Laws Hinder Obamacare Effort To Enroll Uninsured
President Barack Obama has set aside $67 million to make it easier to enroll in his health-care overhaul. Laws pushed by Republicans in 12 states may keep that from happening. Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government plans to pay a network of local groups known as navigators to explain the law’s new coverage options to the uninsured and guide them through its online insurance markets (Nussbaum and Wayne, 8ታ).

The Wall Street Journal: California Health Exchange Might Face Online-Enrollment Delay
California’s new health-insurance exchange, the biggest of the state marketplaces emerging under the federal health overhaul law, has started telling insurers that there’s a possibility it won’t be ready to sign up consumers for coverage online when it launches on Oct. 1. spokesman for Covered California, the state agency creating the exchange, said the technology for its enrollment process is still being tested, and “we are fully planning on being fully functional on Oct. 1” (Mathews, 8/22).

The Associated Press: Analysis: At Least 3 Options In Area Health Exchange
There will be multiple options across Wisconsin for purchasing insurance through the new marketplaces, or exchanges, required under the federal health care overhaul, an analysis released Thursday concluded. Citizen Action of Wisconsin determined that every part of the state is covered by at least two insurance companies, at least three companies will be selling plans in nearly 99 percent of the state, and more than 68 percent of the state will be covered by at least four companies (8/23).

Health News Florida: Why Are ‘Navigators’ Needed For Obamacare
When the new online health insurance marketplace opens Oct. 1, millions of people will be able to buy insurance at the click of a mouse. The federal government has a website and a hotline people can call for help. But they’ll also have people who can help face-to-face. They’re called “navigators” (Watts, 8/22).

Also in the headlines, a look at why some employers are open to the idea of private insurance exchanges –

Modern Healthcare: Reform Update: Employers Take Closer Look At Private Insurance Exchanges
With public small-business insurance exchanges opening Oct. 1, two studies released this week show employer interest in private insurance exchanges is growing. … the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 29% of employers with 5,ዀ or more employees are considering private exchanges as an option for buying healthcare coverage for their employees. A day later, consulting firm Towers Watson released its Health Care Changes Ahead survey, which found that 37% of employers think private exchanges are a reasonable alternative to traditional employer coverage in 2014 (Block, 8/22).

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Congressional Obamacare Sparring Matches Continue At Home

Both sides of the political aisle in Washington are continuing their Obamacare sparring sessions at home in their districts during the August recess with town hall meetings and debates on the law taking spotlight.

Los Angeles Times: Sen. Boxer Promotes Health Care Reform During Visit To Los Angeles
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) attacked Republicans on Thursday for their repeated attempts to repeal Obamacare, saying threats to shut down the government or limit the debt ceiling are irresponsible and ineffective. … Despite the continued discussions about repeal, Boxer said the states and federal government are moving forward with the Affordable Care Act and plan to begin enrolling people in new coverage options in October (Gorman, 8/22).

Texas Tribune/KUT News: With Spotlight On Cruz, Doggett Touts Health Care Law
As U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz brought his effort to defund the Affordable Care Act to Texas this week, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, tried to drum up support for the law during a visit to East Austin (Zaragovia, 8/22).

The Associated Press: Ham Breakfast Turns Into Debate On Health Care Law
Sen. Mitch McConnell and Gov. Steve Beshear squared off in a spirited debate about the federal health care law Thursday at the Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast. Beshear predicted that the law will work in Kentucky to expand coverage and fight chronic health problems. He accused the law’s critics of spending more time seeking its repeal than striving to improve public health (Schreiner, 8/22).

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State Highlights: Colo. Effort To Reduce Hospital Readmissions Pays Off

A selection of health policy stories from Colorado, Wisconsin, Georgia, California, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina.

The Denver Post: Effort To Reduce Colorado Hospital Readmissions Shows Results
A 2-year-old initiative between the Colorado Hospital Association and UnitedHealthcare to reduce costly unnecessary readmissions is reporting major gains on a lingering problem. The readmission rate for “same cause” patients — those coming back for the same malady as their initial visit — dropped to just over 5 percent from 9.8 percent the year before, at 19 Colorado hospitals, according to a release by the collaboration (Booth, 8/21).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State Medical Records Network Preparing To Go
Wisconsin now has in place the basic building blocks for a statewide network that could enable hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other health care settings to exchange key information from patients’ medical records securely and effortlessly. The Wisconsin Statewide Health Information Network, or WISHIN, a private nonprofit organization, expects to begin adding hospitals, including several in Milwaukee, to the network this year (Boulton, 8/23).

Georgia Health News: Phoebe, FTC Reach Deal To End Legal Fight
Phoebe Putney Health System and its local hospital authority have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the acquisition of a rival hospital harmed competition in six South Georgia counties. The agreement, announced Thursday, does not include Phoebe Putney divesting itself of the former Palmyra Medical Center, because that would trigger a state regulatory review under the certificate of need (CON) system, the federal agency said in a statement (Miller, 8/22).

Los Angeles Times: Prison Pharmacist Wins Judgment Against Firms Tied To Senator
An Orange County pharmacist has won a $20,000 judgment against two companies he said stiffed him on pay for work he did on a state contract while the firms were co-owned by the husband of state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine). The state labor commissioner found that pharmacist Larry Drechsler of Orange County had not been paid more than $4,000 that was owed him for services provided to the companies, American Healthcare Recruiting and Drug Consultants Inc. The rest of the award was for interest and penalties (McGreevy, 8/22).

Los Angeles Times: Harassment Allegations Against California Hospital Probed
The executive recruited two years ago to correct deep-seated problems at the state’s mental hospitals is the subject of a sexual harassment investigation that was launched within a week of her state Senate confirmation, according to two independent sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter (Romney, 8/22).

Texas Tribune: Despite Additional Dollars, Doctor Shortage Hard To Fix
Texas lawmakers invested millions of additional dollars in the񎧝 legislative session to address a looming physician shortage. Voters and university regents have rubber-stamped plans to open two new medical schools, in Austin and the Rio Grande Valley. But those moves have not placated the medical community, which remains concerned that Texas has no long-term solution to produce enough physicians, particularly in primary care, to support the surging population (Aaronson, 8/23).

Arizona Republic: Health Group To Hire Hundreds
A unit of UnitedHealth Group said it plans to fill roughly ᒴ jobs in the Phoenix area over the next 60 days, with an employment fair scheduled for Tuesday in Ahwatukee Foothills. Connextions, a business unit that helps insurers enroll, retain and provide services to members, already has started to hire “engagement specialists,” who will help seniors and others understand their Medicare and prescription-drug benefits so they can evaluate, enroll in and effectively use their plans (Wiles, 8/22).

North Carolina Health News: Focus On Patient Transition From Hospital To Home Pays Off
Payment regimens in the health care system are changing and, increasingly, hospitals will be penalized when patients are readmitted frequently. But a focus on patients transitioning from hospital to home is paying off (Hoban, 8/22).

California Healthline: Contested Biosimilars Bill Clears Committee
The Assembly Committee on Appropriations yesterday passed a bill to require pharmacies to notify physicians when dispensing biosimilar drugs as a replacement for biologic medication. Biosimilars are a new type of biologic that isn’t yet on the market, but is expected to be sold by 2015 (Gorn, 8/22).

California Healthline: Minimal Fallout Expected From State Auditor’s Mental Health Spending Report
Potential paths after an auditor’s report criticized the way California agencies and government officials have overseen spending of mental health funding range from staying the course to replacing the entire oversight commission. Repercussions from the California State Auditor’s report on the Mental Health Services Act released last week will probably fall closer to the former than the latter, most experts agree. The report concludes that government representatives have “provided little oversight of counties’ implementation of MHSA programs, particularly as it relates to evaluating whether these programs are effective” (Lauer, 8/22).

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Local Governments Wrestle With Employee Hours And Health Coverage

Even though the requirement that employers — including governments — offer full-time employees health coverage does not kick in for 16 months, there are already changes, The Washington Post reports.

The Washington Post: Local Governments Cutting Hours Over Obamacare Costs
Many cash-strapped cities and counties … are opting to reduce the number of hours their part-time employees work. … Some local officials said the cuts are happening now either because of labor contracts that must be negotiated in advance, or because the local governments worry that employees who work at least 30 hours in the months leading up to the January 2015 implementation date would need to be included in their health-care plans (Wilson, 8/22).

Meanwhile, several outlets explain health-care terminology.

NPR: Say What? Jargon Busters Tackle Health Insurance
Scared you’ll have no idea how to choose the best health plan come fall? … [Dr. Ruth] Parker, a few friends at the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, several young doctors and some Emory students combed through thousands of wonky Web pages and documents so you wouldn’t have to. … The volunteers who worked on the guide went out of their way to steer clear of politics, or to favor one type of insurance over another (Franklin, 8/22).

Kaiser Health News: FAQ On ACOs: Accountable Care Organizations, Explained
One of the main ways the Affordable Care Act seeks to reduce health care costs is by encouraging doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to form networks to coordinate care better, which could keep costs down. To do that, the law is trying a carrot-and-stick approach in the Medicare program: Accountable Care Organizations (Gold, 8/23).

Finally, the health law’s Sunshine Act provisions continue to draw attention –

The Wall Street Journal: Doctors Face New Scrutiny Over Gifts
U.S. doctors are bracing for increased public scrutiny of the payments and gifts they receive from pharmaceutical and medical-device companies as a result of the new health law. Starting this month, companies must record nearly every transaction with doctors—from sales reps bearing pizza to compensation for expert advice on research—to comply with the so-called Sunshine Act provision of the U.S. health-care overhaul (Loftus, 8/22).

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Delta Air Lines Tells Feds: Health Law Makes Costs 'Rise Dramatically'

The airline is saying its increased health-care costs will be tens of millions of dollars.  

The Hill: Report: Delta Expecting Millions In News ObamaCare Costs
Delta Air Lines is expecting its healthcare costs to rise dramatically because of President Obama’s healthcare law, the conservative website RedState.com said Thursday. RedState said it had obtained a copy of a letter Delta sent to the Obama administration in June outlining additional costs the company will face because of the Affordable Care Act (Baker, 8/22).

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Delta: Healthcare Law To Cost Us Millions
In a letter sent in June to Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Delta detailed $38 million in extra costs. It said its total health care costs will rise nearly $100 million next year if inflation is included. … Delta had $35 billion in revenue last year, with profit of $1 billion (Markiewicz, 8/22).

Earlier, related KHN coverage: UPS Won’t Insure Spouses Of Some Employees (Hancock, 8/21).

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Federal Court Strikes Down Arizona Abortion Law

The measure would have kept Medicaid funding from some providers, including Planned Parenthood.

Los Angeles Times: 9th Circuit Rejects Arizona Law Banning Care By Abortion Providers
An Arizona law barring Medicaid patients from obtaining routine care from medical providers who perform elective abortions violates federal requirements and may not be enforced, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Thursday (Dolan, 8/Ƕ).

The Hill: Court Blocks Arizona’s Attempt To Cut Off Planned Parenthood Funds
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling against Arizona, which had sought to cut Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program because it provides abortions. Several states have tried to cut off Planned Parenthood’s funding through similar laws, but have had limited success defending those restrictions in the courts (Baker, 8/22).

Bloomberg: Arizona Ban On Medicaid For Abortion Providers Voided 
The Arizona law prohibits Medicaid funding for health-care providers who perform abortions except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or threatens the health or life of the mother. The measure, which had been scheduled to take effect in August, was challenged by Planned Parenthood Arizona (Gullo, 8/22).

Arizona Republic: Arizona’s Anti-Abortion Medicaid Law Struck Down
Anti-abortion leaders, who were regrouping after Thursday’s ruling, are essentially left with two options: appeal to a U.S. Supreme Court that is often more conservative in its decisions than the 9th Circuit, or try their luck with a 2014 Legislature that may be more willing to push abortion issues in an election year (Rau, 8/22).

Also –

Reuters: Indiana: State Sued Over Abortion Clinic Rules
Planned Parenthood sued on Thursday over a new state law requiring clinics that administer the so-called abortion pill to have full surgical facilities, a requirement it says would halt abortion services at a central Indiana clinic. Planned Parenthood would have to upgrade its clinic in Lafayette to surgical standards or stop administering RU-486, commonly called the abortion pill, it said in a lawsuit (Guyett, 8/22).

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