Category Archives: News

When a hospital closes . . .

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Belhaven 1 300

Dr. Charles Boyette is a primary care doctor who has been practicing in Belhaven, N.C., for more than 50 years (Photo by Lisa Gillespie/KHN).

The July 1 closure of Vidant Pungo Hospital, which gained national attention through Mayor Adam O’Neal’s 273-mile protest walk to Washington, D.C., is a constant refrain here.

People gossip about it over dinner at the Fish Hooks Cafe, or during the Tuesday night bluegrass and gospel music open mic night, held just down the street from the vacant hospital.

In a scenario playing out in rural areas across the country, the closing has left local doctors wondering how they will make sure patients get timely care, given the long distances to other hospitals, and residents worrying about what to do in an emergency and where to get lab tests and physical therapy. Continue reading

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How much will your x-ray cost? You can find out in New Hampshire

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This KHN story also ran in the .

When Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield became embroiled in a contract dispute with Exeter Hospital in N.H. in 2010, its negotiators came to the table armed with a new weapon: public data showing the hospital was one of the most expensive in the state for some services.

Local media covering the dispute also spotlighted the hospital’s higher costs, using public data from a state website.

When the dust settled, the insurer had extracted $10 million in concessions from Exeter. The hospital “had to step back and change their behavior,” said health policy researcher Ha Tu, who studied the state’s efforts to make health care prices transparent.

New Hampshire is among 14 states that require insurers to report the rates they pay different health care providers —and one of just a handful that makes those prices available to consumers.

The theory is that if consumers know what different providers charge for medical services, they will become better shoppers and collectively save billions.

In most places, though, it’s difficult, if not impossible to find out how much you will be charged for medical care. And with more people enrolled in high-deductible insurance plans, there is a growing demand for accurate price information. Continue reading

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Enterovirus D-68 confirmed in two patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital

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From Seattle Children’s Hospital

Parents strongly encouraged to take precautions, seek medical attention for troubled breathing, wheezing in babies, children, teens

EV68-infographicSEATTLE – Sept. 19, 2014 – Seattle Children’s Hospital announced today that two children have tested positive for Enterovirus D-68 (EV-D68).

The children, whose names were not released, have preexisting health conditions that exacerbated their condition but were stable enough to be discharged from the hospital earlier this week.

The presence of EV-D68 in the two children was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday.

Results for three other children who were tested for EV-D68 were negative. Two of those children have been discharged; one is deceased.

No children in Washington or the United States have died of EV-D68 related illness. Continue reading

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For autistic adults, coverage options are scarce

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Graphic showing an umbrella sheltering medicinesBy Michelle Andrews
KHN / September 19th

It’s getting easier for parents of young children with autism to get insurers to cover a pricey treatment called applied behavioral analysis.

Once kids turn 21, however, it’s a different ballgame entirely. Continue reading

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County receives $6m grant to improve hepatitis C care

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Hepatitis C by the numbersKing County has received a four-year, $6 million grant to improve testing, treatment and cure rates of people with chronic HCV infection.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects large numbers of people in King County, but it often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

“Thousands of people in King County have chronic HCV, but many don’t know they have it,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease & Epidemiology at Public Health – Seattle & King County. “This grant will allow us to make sure that patients with chronic HCV are not just identified, but also seen by a provider, receive follow-up testing, and get the care they need.”

The grant will fund the Hepatitis C Test & Cure Project, which will provide training for clinicians on the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of HCV and connect them to specialists. Continue reading

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One-quarter of ACOs save enough to earn bonuses

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Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Jordan Rau
KHN

About a quarter of the 243 groups of hospitals and doctors that banded together as accountable care organizations under the Affordable Care Act saved Medicare enough money to earn bonuses, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Tuesday.

Those 64 ACOs earned a combined $445 million in bonuses, the agency said. Medicare saved $372 million after accounting for the ACOs that did not show success, including four that overspent significantly and now owe the government money.

The bonuses, losses and Medicare savings are teensy sums in the context of a program that spends half a trillion dollars a year on care for the elderly and disabled.

But the Obama administration views the results so far as evidence that reorganizing the financial incentives for doctors and hospitals — a key element of the health law – can translate to substantial savings if the program expands nationwide. Continue reading

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Dying in America is harder than it has to be, expert panel says

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It is time for conversations about death to become a part of life.

That is one of the themes of a 500-page report, titled “Dying In America,” releasedWednesday by the Institute of Medicine.

The report suggests that the first end-of-life conversation could coincide with a cherished American milestone: getting a driver’s license at 16, the first time a person weighs what it means to be an organ donor.

Follow-up conversations with a counselor, nurse or social worker should come at other points early in life, such as turning 18 or getting married.

The idea, according to the IOM, is to “help normalize the advance care planning process by starting it early, to identify a health care agent, and to obtain guidance in the event of a rare catastrophic event.”

The IOM plans to spend the next year holding meetings around the country to spark conversations about the report’s findings and recommendations. “The time is now for our nation to develop a modernized end-of-life care system,” said Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the IOM. Continue reading

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Seattle Brain Cancer Walk — this Saturday, Sept. 20th

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Brain Cancer WalkThe 7th annual Seattle Brain Cancer Walk will take place on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion.

Founded in 2008 by a group of committed volunteers and families, the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk has raised over $2.5 million for research, clinical trials and comprehensive care for brain cancer patients in the Pacific Northwest.

100% of the walk proceeds go directly to patient care and research. Continue reading

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Responding to cuts, new county committee to examine gaps in family planning health care access – Puget Sound Business Journal

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king county state mapIn response to budget cuts, the public health department for King County and Seattle is forming an oversight committee to keep tabs on, and hopefully replenish, county-run family planning health services that might slip through the cracks and leave clients with nowhere else to turn.

via Responding to cuts, new county committee to examine gaps in family planning health care access – Puget Sound Business Journal.

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Insurers limiting drug benefits shifts costs to the sick

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$100-dollar bill inside a capsuleBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica

This story was co-published with The New York Times’ The Upshot.

Health insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away patients because of their pre-existing conditions or charge them more because of those conditions.

But some health policy experts say insurers may be doing so in a more subtle way: by forcing people with a variety of illnesses — including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and epilepsy — to pay more for their drugs.

By charging higher prices for generic drugs that treat certain illness, health insurers may be violating the spirit of the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions.

Insurers have long tried to steer their members away from more expensive brand name drugs, labeling them as “non-preferred” and charging higher co-payments.

But according to an editorial to be published Thursday in the American Journal of Managed Care, several prominent health plans have taken it a step further, applying that same concept even to generic drugs. Continue reading

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In onscreen dramas, health experts inject a dose of reality

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Italia Ricci in "Chasing Life"

Italia Ricci in “Chasing Life” (Photo Courtesy of ABC Family)

This KHN story also ran in .

The questions from producers run the gamut: Could a body be stolen from a hospital? What do infectious disease specialists wear during an outbreak?

Do surgeons really say “Stat!”?

In a bright office building in Beverly Hills, Kate Langrall Folb and her team at Hollywood, Health & Society are on call to field queries from the mundane to the obscure. “Operators are standing by,” Folb, the group’s director, often tells TV and movie writers.

The organization was established with money from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001 to provide the entertainment industry with free, accurate health information.S

ince then, the group has worked with hundreds of television writers as they tell stories about performing complicated surgeries, coping with depression and fighting insurance companies for coverage. Continue reading

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UW snaps back against WSU over med school – Puget Sound Business Journal

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UW WashingtonStateCougarsUW officials say the study wildly over-estimated the cost per student to attend medical school at UW.

They also claim a new medical school would suck resources from the existing medical program known as WWAMI, which is named for the five states it operates in: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Washington State University is part of the program.

via UW snaps back against WSU over med school – Puget Sound Business Journal.

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Wealthy L.A. Schools’ Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s – The Atlantic

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Photomicrograph of the bacteria that causes whooping cough

Pertussis, the whooping cough bacteria — CDC photo

The Hollywood Reporter has a great investigation for which it sought the vaccination records of elementary schools all over Los Angeles County. They found that vaccination rates in elite neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have tanked, and the incidence of whooping cough there has skyrocketed.

via Wealthy L.A. Schools’ Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s – The Atlantic.

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Plan will keep White Center’s Greenbridge Public Health Center open

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greenbridgeA partnership between City of Seattle and Planned Parenthood will allow the White Center Public Health Center at Greenbridge to remain open, King County Executive Dow Constantine said Monday.

The White Center clinic, which serves West Seattle, Burien, SeaTac, Tukwila, and Des Moines, was under threat of closing due to cut backs in state and federal funding.

Under the new partnership, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest will provide family planning services at the facility, while Public Health continues to provide Women, Infant and Children (WIC) and Maternity Support services for the next two years.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has committed $400,000 in 2015 to help keep Greenbridge open and preserve a variety of public health services.

Key details of the partnership include: Continue reading

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States sidestep health law’s measures to curb mandates

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By Michelle Andrews
KHN / September 16, 2014

For decades, states have set rules for health coverage through mandates, laws that require insurers to cover specific types of medical care or services.

The health law contains provisions aimed at curbing this piecemeal approach to coverage. States, however, continue to pass new mandates, but with a twist: Now they’re adding language to sidestep the health law, making it tougher than ever for consumers to know whether they’re covered or not.

Confused? Policy experts fear consumers will be too.

State coverage mandates vary widely. They may require coverage of broad categories of benefits, such as emergency services or maternity care, or of very specific benefits such as autism services, infertility treatment or cleft palate care.

Some mandates require that certain types of providers’ services be covered, such as chiropractors.

They may apply to all individual and group plans regulated by the state, or they may be more limited.

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski

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