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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Democrats continue to question Iowa’s Medicaid performance
A handful of Democrats in a health oversight committee on Tuesday said they continue to have questions about the performance of Iowa’s Medicaid program, more than eight months after it switched to a privatized system run by three insurance companies. Democrats in the bipartisan Health Policy Oversight Committee expressed skepticism about the new health care system for poor and disabled residents amid a roughly four-hour meeting at the Capitol that featured results of a quarterly report about the program. (Associated Press/Washington Times)

Iowa Medicaid insurers cautious to say if they’ll need another rate hike
The three heads of the private insurance companies managing the state’s nearly $5 billion Medicaid program were hesitant to answer questions Tuesday regarding additional future rate increases to the monthly fees they each receive from the state of Iowa. In early November the state announced it would increase capitation rates, or the per-member per-month fees it pays the managed care organizations (MCOs) for the first rate period, which ends June 30, 2017, by about $33 million. And with two of the tree MCOs reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in losses in early December, several state legislators on the committee wanted to know if the second shoe might drop. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Opioid deaths up nationally, down in Iowa
More Americans died from heroin than gun homicides in 2015, according to data released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of opioid-related deaths surpassed 30,000 for the first time in recent history. Meanwhile a different story emerged in Iowa. The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy reported last week the number of Iowans who died from opioid overdoses dropped for the second straight year in 2015. Medical examiners reported 58 deaths, compared with 97 in 2013. The decrease in fatalities may be due, in part, to better trained emergency workers who can recognize and respond to overdoses. (Des Moines Register)

National News

Report recommends Virginia consider cap on profits for MCOs
A new legislative report recommends that Virginia consider a tighter cap on profits for insurance companies that manage care for most people in the state’s Medicaid program. The report delivered Monday to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission also suggests that the state Medicaid program increase its oversight of inefficient spending by managed care organizations (MCOs) — estimated at $17 million to $36 million last year compared with other states — and improve its forecasting of costs in setting rates that insurers charge on a monthly per-capita basis to manage care. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Reversing Medicaid cut a priority going into session
Earlier this year Kansas cut Medicaid reimbursements another four percent as part of a host of emergency budget-balancing measures. As the Legislature prepares to reconvene January 9, Governor Sam Brownback and lawmakers have a few ideas for restoring the cut but have yet to agree on any specific plan amid larger budget problems. Meanwhile, medical providers are weighing whether to continue seeing Medicaid patients — decisions that have the greatest impact in specialties like dentistry, and in rural places like western Kansas where many patients already drive hours to find care. (Kansas Health Institute)

Rise in infant drug dependence is felt most in rural areas
As the opioid epidemic sweeps through rural America, an ever-greater number of drug-dependent newborns are straining hospital neonatal units and draining precious medical resources. The problem has grown more quickly than realized and shows no signs of abating, researchers reported on Monday. Their study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, concludes for the first time that the increase in drug-dependent newborns has been disproportionately larger in rural areas. Hospitals in the eye of this storm are commonly underresourced, experts said. (New York Times)

Five-year decline in hospital-acquired conditions leads to $28B in savings
Fewer patients have died due to hospital-acquired conditions over the past five years and hospitals saved more than $28 billion in health care costs during the same time period, according to a new federal government report. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services credits the 21 percent decline in hospital-acquired infections in part to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Based on the latest government findings, hospitals and health systems should take great pride in the progress they have made, Jay Bhatt, chief medical officer of the American Hospital Association (AHA) and president of AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust, said in the announcement. (Fierce Healthcare)

Obama signs medical cures bill into law
President Obama on Tuesday signed a sweeping medical cures bill into law, capping more than a year of bipartisan negotiations. The 21st Century Cures Act seeks to speed up the approval of new drugs and invests new money in medical research. The measure grew to include a slew of bipartisan priorities, including $1 billion over two years to fight the epidemic of opioid addiction and $1.8 billion for Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot” initiative. A long-awaited mental health bill was also included in the package. The bill passed both houses of Congress on overwhelming bipartisan votes. (The Hill)

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