New Guidelines Call for No Heart Tests for Low-Risk Patients – US News

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EKG tracingMany patients who are at low risk for heart problems don’t need to have screening tests such as EKGs and stress tests, a national association of primary care physicians recommends.

The new guideline jibes with research that has suggested the tests are overused in patients who don’t need them.

via New Guidelines Call for No Heart Tests for Low-Risk Patients – US News.

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Vashon parents try to get along despite deep divide over vaccination | The Seattle Times

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Vashon island mapEvery few years, stories appear about Vashon Island and its high percentage of unvaccinated kids. It happened again a few weeks ago in the wake of reports of measles outbreaks nationwide. Then the temporary publicity fades and this island of 11,000 goes back to the same old, same old. Which is: a deep divide between the pro and con camps that in most other ways are so much alike. Except that this time it got pretty vitriolic.

Vashon parents try to get along despite deep divide over vaccination | The Seattle Times.

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Kansas high school finds 27 positive tuberculosis cases | Reuters

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TuberculosisTwenty-seven people have tested positive for tuberculosis at a suburban Kansas City high school where a student was recently found to have an active case, Kansas state and county health officials said on Wednesday.

Health officials have tested more than 300 students and staff at Olathe Northwest High School after possible exposure to tuberculosis since the active case was reported two weeks ago, officials said.

via Kansas high school finds 27 positive tuberculosis cases | Reuters.

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Many unaware that health care law subsidies may be banned – Poll

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ACA health reform logoWith a decision due by summer in a Supreme Court case that could unravel President Barack Obama’s health care law, a new poll finds many Americans have heard nothing about the case. But when the potential fallout is explained, most say it would hurt the country and they would look to Congress or the states to fix it.

via News from The Associated Press.

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Blue Shield Of California Loses Exemption From State Taxes : Shots – Health News : NPR

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Flag_of_CaliforniaCalifornia tax authorities have stripped Blue Shield of California, the state’s third largest insurer, of its tax-exempt status in California and ordered the firm to file returns dating to 2013, potentially costing the company tens of millions of dollars.

At issue in the unusual case is whether the company is doing anything different from its for-profit competitors to warrant its tax break. As a nonprofit company, Blue Shield is expected to work for the public good in exchange for the exemption from state taxes.

via Blue Shield Of California Loses Exemption From State Taxes : Shots – Health News : NPR.

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Overdoses due to the painkiller fentanyl prompt nationwide alert

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Alert IconFrom the US Drug Enforcement Administration

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today issued a nationwide alert about the dangers posed by abuse with the synthetic opioid painkiller fentanyl.

The drug, which is commonly added to heroin, has been associated with a marked increase in overdoses and deaths as abuse of heroin has increased in recent years, the DEA said.

“Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin.”

In the last two years, DEA has seen a significant resurgence in fentanyl-related seizures and last year state and local drug-testing labs reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions, up from 942 in 2013. Continue reading

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Major data breach of Premera Blue Cross affects millions in Washington state.

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computer laptop and stethoscopeFrom the Office of the Washington State Attorney General

OLYMPIA — Premera/Blue Cross today announced it has been the target of a major data breach.

The breach affected Premera Blue Cross, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, and its affiliated companies, Vivacity and Connexion Insurance Solutions, Inc. It impacts millions of individuals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

It is unclear at this time what information was taken, but it may have included Social Security numbers, dates of birth, mailing and email addresses, telephone numbers, member identification numbers, bank account information and claims information (which includes medical information).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm, to find out more about the attack and who was behind it.

“I’m very concerned about this and other data breaches that put Washingtonians at risk,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “My team is looking into what happened, and we will do everything we can to protect consumers.”

The breach was discovered Jan. 29, 2015 and Premera has determined that the breach was the result of a May 5, 2014 cyberattack.

The company is offering two years of credit monitoring to all customers, ID theft restoration services and ID insurance through Experian. Customers can visit www.premeraupdate.com to sign up for the services.

Premera/Blue Cross reports it is in the process of setting up a dedicated call center to handle breach-related questions. Affected consumers will also receive notices.

The source of the attack is not yet known.

For more information, visit www.premeraupdate.com.

The Legislature is currently considering Attorney General-request legislation to strengthen notification requirements when data breaches occur. HB 1078 passed the House March 4 and is now before the state Senate.

For more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft and how to recover, visit www.atg.wa.gov/identity-theftprivacy.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

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Premera hacked

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135242Premera has been the target of a sophisticated cyberattack in which attackers gained access to the personal, financial and medical information of more than 11 million customers, the company announced today.

The company has set up a dedicated website where members can sign up for two years of free credit monitoring and identity protection services.

To learn more,  members should go here.

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VA eliminates net worth as health-care eligibility factor

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Instead of combining the sum of Veterans’ income with their assets to determine eligibility for medical care and copayment obligations, VA will now only consider a Veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year.

From the Department of Veterans Affairs

veteran-affairs-seal-vaWashington – The Department of Veterans Affairs is updating the way it determines eligibility for VA health care, a change that will result in more Veterans having access to the health care benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

Effective 2015, VA has eliminated the use of net worth as a determining factor for both health care programs and copayment responsibilities.

This change makes VA health care benefits more accessible to lower-income Veterans and brings VA policies in line with Secretary Robert A. McDonald’s MyVA initiative which reorients VA around Veterans’ needs.

“Everything that we do and every decision we make has to be focused on the Veterans we serve,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “We are working every day to earn their trust. Changing the way we determine eligibility to make the process easier for Veterans is part of our promise to our Veterans.”

Instead of combining the sum of Veterans’ income with their assets to determine eligibility for medical care and copayment obligations, VA will now only consider a Veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year. Continue reading

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Rural hospitals, one of the cornerstones of small town life, face increasing pressure

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Farm with red barnBy Guy Gugliotta
KHN

MOUNT VERNON, Texas — Despite residents’ concerns and a continuing need for services, the 25-bed hospital that served this small East Texas town for more than 25 years closed its doors at the end of 2014, joining the ranks of dozens of other small rural hospitals that have been unable to weather the punishment of a changing national health care environment.

For the high percentages of elderly and uninsured patients who live in rural areas, closures mean longer trips for treatment and uncertainty during times of crisis. “I came to the emergency room when I had panic attacks,” said George Taylor, 60, a retired federal government employee. “It was very soothing and the staff was great. I can’t imagine Mount Vernon without a hospital.”

Since 2010, 48 rural hospitals have closed, the majority in Southern states, and 283 are in trouble.

The Kansas-based National Rural Health Association, which represents around 2,000 small hospitals throughout the country and other rural care providers, says that 48 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, the majority in Southern states, and 283 others are in trouble. In Texas along, 10 have changed. 

“If there was one particular policy causing the trouble, it would be easy to understand,” said health economist Mark Holmes, from the University of North Carolina, whose rural health research program studies national trends in rural health care. “But there are a lot of things going on.” Continue reading

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Transforming care through the end of life – Town Hall event, March 19th

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Ira Byock HeadshotWe prepare for life’s most important events – education, weddings, birthdays and vacations – but serious illnesses and death are rarely discussed. Now is the time to have the conversation.

Ira Byock, M.D., author of Dying Well and The Best Care Possible, will describe what it means to “die well” and highlight how we can change the way we plan for and experience the end of life.

Dr. Byock is a leading palliative care physician and public advocate for improving care through the end of life. He serves as executive director and chief medical officer of the Providence Institute for Human Caring of Providence Health & Services.

He is also Professor of Medicine and Community & Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.   Continue reading

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High-priced hepatitis C drugs largely cost-effective in U.S.: study | Reuters

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$100-dollar bill inside a capsuleNew hepatitis C drugs that shorten treatment times are largely cost-effective despite their hefty U.S. price tags, according to two new analyses.

The widespread use of a combination of drugs that include Gilead Sciences Inc’s Sovaldi, known generically as sofosbuvir, will nonetheless be a significant cost for the U.S. healthcare system, researchers wrote.

via Gilead’s hepatitis C drugs largely cost-effective in U.S.: study | Reuters.

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Owe a fee for not having health coverage in 2014? You may still be able to get coverage for 2015.

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The Special Enrollment opportunity runs from March 15 through April 30, 2015.

From Healthcare.gov

Alert IconOpen enrollment for 2015 is over. But if you owe a fee on your taxes for not having health coverage in 2014 and don’t yet have health coverage for 2015, you may still be able to get coverage for 2015.

In 2015, the fee for not having health coverage increases to $325 per person – or 2% of your household income – whichever is higher.

This fee generally applies if you can afford to have health coverage but choose to remain uninsured – although you may not have to pay the fee if you qualify for an exemption.

If you don’t have coverage for the remainder of 2015 you’ll risk having to pay the fee again next year for the portion of the year you don’t have coverage.

The good news is that the Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who are subject to the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015. In order to take advantage of this Special Enrollment Period, you must meet all of the following requirements: Continue reading

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Inviting patients to help decide their own treatment

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By Anna Gorman
KHN

SAN FRANCISCO — Rose Gutierrez has a big decision to make.

Gutierrez, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring, had surgery and 10 weeks of chemotherapy. But the cancer is still there.

Now Dr. Jasmine Wong, a surgeon at UC San Francisco, is explaining the choices – Gutierrez can either have another lumpectomy followed by radiation, or she can get a total mastectomy.

shared-decisions-3

Rose Gutierrez (Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN).

 

“I think both options are reasonable,” Wong said. “It’s just a matter of how you feel personally about preserving your breast, how you feel about having radiation therapy.”

“I’m kind of scared about that,” said Gutierrez, 52, sitting on an exam table with her daughter on a chair beside her.

“Well if you made it through chemo, radiation is going to be a lot easier,” Wong told Gutierrez, who is from Merced, Calif.

In many hospitals and clinics around the country, oncologists and surgeons simply tell cancer patients what treatments they should have, or at least give them strong recommendations.

But here, under a formal process called “shared decision making,” doctors and patients are working together to make choices about care. Continue reading

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