Biggest insurer in US drops caution, embraces Obamacare

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Dye with Yes, No and Maybe of the three visible sidesBy Jay Hancock
KHN

UnitedHealthcare, the insurance giant that largely sat out the health law’s online marketplaces’ first year, said Thursday it may sell policies through the exchanges in nearly half the states next year.

“We plan to grow next year as we expand our offering to as many as two dozen state exchanges,” Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the insurance company’s parent, told investment analysts on a conference call. He was referring to coverage sold to individuals.

A study found that if UnitedHealthcare had sold policies through the exchanges this year in every state where it already does business, premiums would have been 5 percent lower.

The move represents a major acceleration for the company and a bet that government-subsidized insurance, sold online without regard for pre-existing illness, is here to stay. UnitedHealthcare sells individual policies through government exchanges in only four states now.

Even analysts who follow the company closely seemed surprised. Continue reading

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Docs slam recertification rules. Call them a waste of time.

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This KHN story also ran in .

Many specialists are balking at what they say are onerous new rules to get recertified, warning the demands will force some physicians out of practice at a time when the nation faces a shortage.

Doctors say the new requirements have made maintaining specialty certifications a process that never ends.

Younger doctors already retake the arduous certification exam every seven to 10 years to keep their credential, long considered the gold standard of expertise.

“I’m at an age where, if anybody does anything to force me to participate, I’d say ‘adios.’ I’d retire. It’s not worth it for me.”

But physicians of all ages must now complete a complex set of requirements every two to three years, or risk losing their certification.

Supporters contend the new process will ensure doctors incorporate the latest medical advances into their practices, but many critics dismiss it as meaningless, expensive and a waste of time. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 21st

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HIV

HIV

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Women’s Health – Week 46: Stroke

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tacuin womenFrom the Office of Research on Women’s Health

A stroke, also called a brain attack, occurs when blood flow to the brain suddenly stops. Blocked or damaged vessels are the two major causes of stroke.

During a stroke, brain cells begin to die because oxygen and nutrients cannot reach them. The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage.

Every minute counts when someone is having a stroke. Immediate treatment can save a person’s life and enhance the chance for a successful recovery.

stroke

Diagram showing what happens in the brain during a hemorrhagic stroke and a ischemic stroke.

There are two kinds of stroke: Continue reading

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Top five stories of the week

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The number five 5

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Enjoy the lake — but please don’t drink the water

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Enjoy the lake this summer but, please, don’t drink the water, say Snohomish health officials

swimmersFrom the Snohomish Health District:

Swimming or playing in water that is contaminated or high in bacteria or natural toxins can affect your health.

Swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers, or oceans are all potential sources of water-related illness. Recreational water illnesses typically affect a person’s stomach and intestines, causing diarrhea and vomiting. Water quality can also affect your skin or respiratory system.

The recent outbreak of illness at Horseshoe Lake in Kitsap County was caused by norovirus found in the water at the swimming beach. Continue reading

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Half of abortion clinics in Texas close due to new state law

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200px-Flag-map_of_TexasBy Carrie Feibel, KUHF
KHN / JULY 18TH

This story is part of a partnership that includes Houston Public MediaNPR and Kaiser Health News. 

In just over the past year, the number of abortion clinics in Texas fell from 41 to 20, and watchdogs say that as few as six may be left by September.

Many of those closed because of the requirement that doctors at those clinics obtain hospital admitting privileges within a certain radius of the clinic, and many doctors couldn’t comply. That requirement began November 1. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the law that started it all.

Bitter fighting over the law last summer propelled state senator Wendy Davis into the national spotlight, and she is now running for Texas governor on the Democratic ticket.

“We’re seeing delays,” said Heather Busby, executive director of  NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “We’re seeing people being pushed further into pregnancy, having to leave the state, having to drive and sleep in their cars in parking lots because of these barriers to access.” Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 19th

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Premature infant's tiny hand being held

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Health system not doing enough to protect patients, experts

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Physician and Nurse Pushing Gurneyby Marshall Allen
ProPublica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The health care community is not doing enough to track and prevent widespread harm to patients, and preventable deaths and injuries in hospitals and other settings will continue unless Congress takes action, medical experts said today on Capitol Hill.

“Our collective action in patient safety pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem,” said Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We need to say that harm is preventable and not tolerable.” Continue reading

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Nurses delaying retirement – study

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Woman_doctor_surgeonBy Shefali Luthra
KHN / JULY 16TH, 2014

Despite predictions of an impending nurse shortage, the current number of working registered nurses has surpassed expectations in part due to the number of baby-boomer RNs delaying retirement, a study by the RAND Corp. found.

The study, published online Wednesday by Health Affairs, notes that the RN workforce, rather than peaking in 2012 at 2.2 million – as the researchers predicted a decade ago – reached 2.7 million that year and has continued growing.

The trend of nurses delaying retirement accounted for an extra 136,000 RNs in 2012, the study suggests. Continue reading

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If I have a job-based plan, can I still buy on an exchange?

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 Q. It is my understanding that people who are employed and have insurance through their jobs that offer individual coverage for less than 9.5 percent of their income are not eligible to enroll through the state exchange. Am I confused?

A. Yes, you are, but yours is a common misperception. Almost anyone can buy a health plan on the health insurance marketplaces. As long as you live in the United States, you’re a U.S. citizen or someone who’s lawfully present here, and you’re not in jail, you can probably buy a marketplace plan. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 18th

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Mosquito

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Getting specialty care a challenge with some ACA plans

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“Narrow networks” keep the price of some Obamacare insurance plans low, but they also keep certain hospitals and physicians out of reach for sick patients

Sawhney 300

Dr. Charu Sawhney of Hope Clinic in southwest Houston listens to the lungs of Mang Caan, a refugee from Burma. (Photo by Carrie Feibel/Houston Public Media)

Primary care doctors have reported problems making referrals for patients who have purchased some of the cheaper plans from the federal insurance marketplace.

Complaints about narrow networks with too few doctors have attracted the attention of federal regulators and have even prompted lawsuits.

 ‘Oh by the way, when you sign up, make sure you sign up for the right plan.’

But they’re also causing headaches in the day-to-day work of doctors and clinics. “The biggest problem we’ve run into is figuring out what specialists take a lot of these plans,” said Dr. Charu Sawhney of Houston. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 17th

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Biohazard

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