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

Iowa News

Ommen appointed Iowa Insurance Commissioner
Governor Terry Branstad on Monday tapped Doug Ommen to lead the Iowa Insurance Division. Ommen — who has served as the interim Insurance Commissioner — will replace Nick Gerhart, who stepped down at the end of 2016. Before serving as interim Insurance Commissioner, Ommen also had been Deputy Insurance Commissioner in Iowa since 2013. “I’ve spent my career in public service ensuring that consumers are protected and I’m very happy to continue that work for Iowans,” Ommen said in a statement. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Task force will review future of IPERS’ pensions
Commitments already made to state and local government workers will be honored, but a task force will be established to review possible long-term changes to Iowa public employees’ pension programs, Governor Terry Branstad confirmed Monday. Branstad said the review will include the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS), which has 350,000 members and $28 billion in assets. Branstad and Reynolds said Monday they plan to appoint a group of citizens to study the pension issues, but they do not expect the Iowa Legislature to act on bills to implement major changes in public employees’ pension plans this session. (Des Moines Register)

National News

A day in Kansas City’s new mental illness crisis center reveals a daunting road ahead
The new Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center is struggling to meet a pressing need: aiding people in severe mental distress whom police in the past too often delivered to the county jail or the nearest hospital emergency room — usually bad choices. The first two months of operation have brought 328 referrals including 245 unduplicated patients to the center, and it is preparing to serve more — an effort welcomed by the police who understand this work is hard. The biggest problem is figuring out what to do with their wards once they are stabilized. (Kansas City Star)

Political uncertainty adds to challenges of rural hospitals
With repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) looming, the health care world is buffeted by an unusual level of uncertainty. Georgia’s rural hospitals, already in precarious financial situations, are feeling the anxiety acutely. And lawmakers in the General Assembly are looking at different financial tools to ease this pressure on rural medical providers. Some of the rural hospitals that have hung on are in a daunting financial predicament. Georgia has the third-highest rate of uninsured people, who often cannot pay for the hospitals’ services. Many other patients have high deductibles and, after getting the hospital services, wind up as bad debt. (Georgia Health News)

Obamacare repeal uncertainties worry central Ohio hospitals
As President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress work to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act, hospital officials nationwide are watching to see how that will affect their work to provide health care and what a replacement will mean to their bottom line. In Ohio, the state’s expansion of the Medicaid health-insurance program for low-income people provided coverage to 713,521 additional residents, and approximately 212,000 Ohioans obtained private insurance coverage through the marketplace program, said Ohio Hospital Association spokesman John Palmer. (Columbus Dispatch)

Hours after landing in U.S., Cleveland Clinic doctor forced to leave by Trump’s order
Hours after landing in New York on Saturday, a doctor at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic was forced to leave the country based on an executive order issued by President Donald Trump that bans visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. Her flight to Saudi Arabia took off minutes before a federal judge in New York put a temporary stay on turning back people in such situations. Suha Abushamma, 26, is in the first year of an Internal Medicine residency program at the clinic and held an H-1B visa for workers in “specialty occupations.” (HealthLeaders Media)

Trump’s actions on Obamacare threaten to undermine insurance markets
The Trump administration’s decision to pull television ads urging Americans to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act is stoking fears that the White House is trying to sabotage the nation’s insurance markets in an effort to hobble the program, jeopardizing coverage for millions. The move follows Trump’s executive order last weekend in which he suggested his administration wouldn’t implement rules crucial to sustaining viable markets. Senior Republicans have been pressuring health insurers to publicly declare that Obamacare is failing, according to industry officials. (Los Angeles Times)

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

Iowa News

Mental Health services in Cherokee updated
Dawn Mentzer, the Rolling Hills community services region director, updated the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors last week on developments in mental health and disability services. As of 2012, mental health and disability services in Iowa underwent a redesign process that is still ongoing. “We are almost one year into our crisis stabilization service, which is called Turning Point. It is located in Sac City and is operated by Plains Area Mental Health,” Mentzer said. She explained that the Turning Point service provides stabilization for those in a mental health crisis in order to avoid an acute care facility. (Cherokee Chronicle Times)

Vaccine bill risks health for freedom
A bill working its way through the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature casts public safety concerns aside, and relies on “freedom” as justification for putting children’s health at risk. On Thursday, a three-member House subcommittee approved a bill sponsored by Iowa Representative Ken Rizer (R-Cedar Rapids). The bill inserts a “personal conviction” clause into state law regarding childhood vaccinations. If passed, no parent will be required to vaccinate children enrolled in care facilities or public schools. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge thriving
Michael Dewerff, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge, has good news for area residents. Trinity Regional Medical Center (TRMC) has completed major enhancements in 2016 and is on course to strengthen further its ability to provide top-notch care to residents of north central Iowa. TRMC’s well-being is important for the broader community not only because of the health care it provides. The medical center is also one of the county’s largest employers. With more than 1,000 employees, it contributes roughly $63 million to the Webster County economy each year, according to data provided by officials at Trinity and the Iowa Hospital Association. (Fort Dodge Messenger)

National News

Restoration Center: San Antonio’s answer to mental health
he plan was simple: instead of arresting the mentally ill for crimes, treat them for their illness. Keep them out of the jails and emergency rooms and instead provide them with a one-stop shop where they can be treated with psychiatric care, counseling and rehabilitation. The plan in this Texas city was to help them heal. This happened in 2008 when the Roberto L. Jimenez M.D. Restoration Center opened in Texas. Since that time, close to 50,000 people have been treated, saving the law enforcement more than 100,000 manpower hours that can now be spent on the streets, and saving taxpayers more than $50 million. (Montgomery Advertiser)

Spend Virginia’s $4.5 million on mental health programs, not consultants
Social workers and other mental health advocates specifically question Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s $4.5 million budget proposal for a study and redesign of the structure of the behavioral health system that would be contracted out to consultants. The proposal was one of many intended to improve mental health services in Virginia. “I think the money needs to be spent on many things, but my priority would be … taking mental illness out of the Dark Ages,” said Alexandra Kedrock, whose son has experienced a psychiatric crisis. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Kansas bill would allow Medicaid funding for mental health “clubhouse” programs
Some Kansas lawmakers hope allowing community-based rehabilitation programs to bill Medicaid for their services will help more people with mental illnesses find work. Representative Dan Hawkins, introduced a bill earlier this month that would allow the psychosocial rehabilitation programs known as “clubhouses” to claim reimbursement from Medicaid as allowed by federal law. Some states already allow clubhouses to receive Medicaid funds. Clubhouse programs are designed to supplement the medication and therapy a client receives from a community mental health center. (KCUR)

Hospital beds often unavailable for people needing psychiatric care in Massachusetts
With a shortage of facilities for patients who require intensive, in-patient mental health care in Massachusetts, people who experience urgent and sometimes dangerous psychiatric crises are often left to languish for hours in noisy emergency departments. The practice, known as “boarding,” has been recognized as a major problem in the state’s mental health care system for years, but little has been done to stop it and emergency departments continue to report long wait times for psychiatric patients. (Quincy Patriot Ledger)

Broad worries about potential health care loss
A majority of Americans worry of losing coverage if Obamacare is repealed. A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 56 percent of U.S. adults are “extremely” or “very” concerned that many will lose health insurance if the health overhaul is repealed. That includes more than eight in 10 Democrats, nearly half of independents and more than one in five Republicans. Another 45 percent of Republicans say they’re “somewhat” concerned. Overall, Americans remain divided, with 53 percent wanting to keep the law in some form, and 46 percent favoring its repeal. (Associated Press/U.S. News & World Report)

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

Iowa News

Iowa’s rural hospitals bracing for effects of Obamacare repeal
Repealing Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), could have a big impact on thousands of Iowans insured through the program and hospitals that provide the care. And many small, rural hospitals in Iowa are watching the repeal and replace efforts with interest because those changes could carry a financial risk. Marengo Memorial in Iowa County is one of those hospitals watching the political activity in Washington very carefully. Matt Murphy, the hospital’s chief financial officer, says with the ACA insurance exchanges, mandates and subsidies have dropped the uninsured rate to about one to two percent of patients more recently. (KCRG)

Block grants on the way for Medicaid?
One thing is becoming clear about the GOP’s replacement of the Affordable Care Act — they will pursue a Medicaid block grant. The federal government now covers about 60 percent of Iowa’s Medicaid costs, while the state covers the remaining 40 percent. Under a block grant program, the federal government would set baseline financing, effectively locking in states wherever their Medicaid programs currently stand and then increase that funding at a specified fixed, annual rate. The Cedar Rapids Gazette highlights three key take-aways about Medicaid block grants and what they could mean for Iowa. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Spencer Hospital discusses rising drug prices
Rising drug costs have become a concern for both patients and providers in recent years. The Spencer Hospital Board took a closer look at the issue Thursday as the members examined the costs of certain medications and processes that could potentially counter the spike in drug costs. Spencer Hospital Pharmacy Director Derek Grimm was able to provide further insight and statistics on the subject. Grimm, armed with a 2016 report that was commissioned by the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals, explained that overall spending in hospitals has increased by more than a third in the last two years. (Spencer Daily Reporter)

Mercy Medical Center adds programs to prevent heart disease
Two recently added programs at Mercy Medical Center are helping patients prevent, and in some cases reverse, heart disease. Vice President of Patient Care Services Amy Berentes says that the hospital’s new HEART score program for people that come to the emergency room with chest pain is giving doctors more time to help patients with serious cardiovascular events. It also is helping patients who have less serious problems, but whose symptoms are similar to a heart attack, avoid time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary tests. (Clinton Herald)

Unemployment rate drops for third straight month
The state’s unemployment rate dropped in December, the third straight month the rate has declined. Iowa Workforce Development says the unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 percent in December from 3.8 percent in November. A report from Workforce Development says Iowa’s economy has grown at a slower rate than in the past — but growth in construction, finance and health care offset losses in other areas. The total number of working Iowans decreased to 1,650,800 in December. This figure was 4,000 lower than November and 4,800 higher than one year ago. (Radio Iowa)

National News

Governor Rick Scott wants to eliminate Florida CON laws
Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday called for the elimination of the Certificate of Need (CON) process for building hospitals, nursing homes and hospice facilities. Under the CON process, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration reviews proposed health care projects and determines whether they will be granted approval to move forward. Many public and safety-net hospitals worry eliminating CON laws would create conditions in which new hospitals are built in affluent areas, while older safety-net facilities would be left to care for the majority of low-income and uninsured patients, according to the report. (Becker’s Hospital Review)

Ohio hospitals concerned about Trump administration’s block grant plans
The Trump administration’s plans to change the way Medicaid is funded to a lump-sum or “block grant” payment could once again leave a lot of Ohioans uninsured and burden an already-strained safety net, according to local hospitals, health policy analysts and managed care providers. And local and state health advocates as well as area hospitals warn that the economic impacts of rolling back Medicaid expansion in Ohio would be dire. Last year, about $95.5 million in federal dollars came to the region each month due to Medicaid expansion. Its loss could have impacts on healthcare spending, employment and patient services. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Health care advocates in Maine want Medicaid expansion on ballot
Health care advocates in Maine say they have more than enough signatures to get a referendum to expand Medicaid coverage on the November ballot. Now it’s up to the Secretary of State’s office to verify the signatures. The Mainers for Health Care campaign said Wednesday the additional federal funding would cover tens of thousands of state residents who can’t afford health insurance but have been denied coverage through Medicaid. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon said that an expansion to cover about 70,000 more Mainers would make more than $500 million in new federal funds available to reimburse health care in the state. (Oklahoman)

Hospitals worry repeal of Obamacare would jeopardize innovations in care
Much has been written about the 20 million people who gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and what could happen to these patients if the ACA is repealed without a replacement. But some people don’t realize that hospitals nationwide could take a big financial hit on several fronts, too. The American Hospital Association estimates that hospitals across the U.S. could lose more than $160 billion from the reduction in Medicaid revenue and the increase in unpaid medical bills. The ACA has also used financial incentives to encourage hospitals to experiment with ways to improve their care of patients, while reducing health care’s cost. (NPR)

At party retreat, GOP still searching for health law consensus
Republicans from the House, Senate and White House gathered in Philadelphia this week searching for some agreement on how exactly to “repeal and replace” the federal health law. By the end of the second day of the three-day retreat, however, it was clear they were not yet singing from the same hymnbook. House and Senate Republican leaders did seem to settle on a timing strategy for overhauling the Democrats’ health care law that could take them through the summer, even if they were light on specifics. “We don’t want to set arbitrary deadlines on things,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “We want to move quickly, but we want to get things right.” (Kaiser Health News)

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

Iowa News

Loebsack tours Genesis to highlight mental health
Representative Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) toured Genesis Behavioral Health Center on Wednesday to highlight their expansion. “I often talk about my mom,” said Loebsack. “She had an 11th grade education, she was a single parent, she had four kids and struggled with mental illness her whole life, in and out of institutions. She couldn’t hold a job to speak of.” Loebsack reflected on his experience with her mental health as he toured the facility. He said this is why behavioral health in Iowa is such an important topic for him. Loebsack and the doctors at Genesis realize that there is a need for expansion among facilities in the state. It is something that Genesis has been working on. (WHBF)

Video translators improve patient treatment in Storm Lake
Storm Lake, Iowa is a melting pot of middle America. About 80 percent of the student population is non-white. Now, the local hospital has started using new technology to better treat patients who speak a wide variety of languages. Buena Vista Regional Medical Center is offering a unique form of video language translators called STRATUS video to help treat hospital patients. There are 19 languages available on video interpretation, and more than 200 languages on audio interpretation, making it very diverse and helpful. (KMEG)

Guttenberg hospital introduces Rahma, the surgical robot
There’s a capable new set of hands at Guttenberg Municipal Hospital (GMH), and they’re powered by a surgical robot named Rahma. Bill Robinson, branch manager at Community Savings Bank in Garnavillo, was the first to go under the robot’s knife at GMH. The procedure would involve just three small incisions and would allow the surgeon to repair the hernia with more precision and less postoperative pain. Surgery staff did six weeks of training after Rahma was purchased in September and about 15 surgeries have been performed with the robot since then. (Clayton County Register)

One-stop Future Ready Iowa website unveiled 
As part of the state’s efforts to increase the number of Iowans with postsecondary education and prepare more workers for skilled careers, Governor Terry Branstad this week announced the launch of the Future Ready Iowa website. The website is designed as a one-stop shop where students and adults can review different career opportunities, training resources and financial assistance for education, as well as search immediate job openings. The goal of the Future Ready Iowa initiative is for 70 percent of the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by the year 2025. (Des Moines Business Record)

National News

Kansas City medical school partners with health care network to train more doctors
Kansas City University (KCU) of Medicine and Biosciences is partnering with HCA Midwest Health to create additional clinical training for about 100 medical students. Officials at KCU, which is the second-leading producer of physicians for Missouri and Kansas, are excited about the partnership because it expands student access to medical facilities in the area. KCU is also opening a second medical school in Joplin as a way to address the growing need for doctors in rural communities. (Kansas City Star)

AMA, AHA form coalition to reform prior authorization requirements
The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and 14 other health care organizations have joined forces to make it easier to adhere to prior authorization requirements imposed on providers. The coalition, announced Wednesday, will lobby health plans to streamline prior authorization for medical tests, procedures, devices and drugs. They say the current process is time consuming and can negatively affect patient care. The organizations together drafted 21 principles for health plans to use to reform their prior authorization requirements. (Modern Healthcare)

Two GOP senators would let states keep Obama health law
Two Republican senators said Monday that they’ll propose legislation that lets states keep former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul or opt for a new program providing trimmed-down coverage. The plan by Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine would retreat from years of GOP cries to repeal Obama’s law and replace it with a still undefined Republican alternative. It comes as GOP lawmakers face pressure from President Donald Trump to quickly void and replace the health law and as Republicans continue hunting for a proposal that would unite them. (Associated Press/WTOP)

Rand Paul unveils his own Obamacare replacement plan
A key GOP senator introduced an Obamacare replacement bill Tuesday, the second such plan put forth in the Senate this week as lawmakers scramble to put their stamp on the nation’s health care system. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul introduced the Obamacare Replacement Act, which he says would create more affordable insurance plans, eliminate the gap between private and employer-sponsored care and allow consumers to save unlimited amounts of money in health savings accounts. Paul sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is expected to play a key role in writing legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Morning Consult)

Everything you need to know about block grants – the heart of the GOP’s Medicaid plans
President Donald Trump’s administration made explicit this weekend its commitment to an old GOP strategy for managing Medicaid, the federal-state insurance plan that covers low-income people — turning control of the program to states and capping what the federal government spends on it each year. Block granting Medicaid is a centerpiece of health proposals supported by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Representative Tom Price, Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services. But what would this look like, and why is it so controversial? (Kaiser Health News)

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

Iowa News

Student health fee will increase to improve mental health care
Student fees will increase by $12 in July for the student health cost to expand mental health services at Thielen Student Health Center and Student Counseling Services at Iowa State University. In August, the Health Center and Student Counseling Services presented at the Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Senate meeting in order to inform the student body. The Board of Regents approved the student health cost in December. “We are trying to work to be a leader in how student health and student counseling provide mental health care,” Erin Baldwin, director of the health center, said. (Iowa State Daily)

New medical equipment at St. Luke’s Hospital helping a man with his rehab
A Cedar Rapids man is slowly on the road to recovery. 25-year-old Ryan Jansa disappeared in May while out celebrating a friend’s graduation from the University of Iowa. Just a few hours later, someone found him unconscious behind a bar. A doctor told the family that he may have been hit by a car. He suffered extensive injuries, and his recovery has taken him to Saint Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. He has been using a medical device called a solo step there. It’s a rock climbing rope attached to a trolley and a harness that helps Jansa stand up whenever he loses his balance. The hospital got the solo step a month and a half ago through a $40,000 grant from the St. Luke’s Foundation. (KCRG)

Broadlawns launches neighborhood health initiative
Broadlawns Medical Center this week announced a new initiative, Broadlawns Local, a multifaceted effort to address social determinants of health for Des Moines residents in neighborhoods that surround the medical campus. The initiative incorporates training in health care careers for students and adults and offers community programs to address physical activity, diabetes, nutrition and smoking. “As the community hospital for Polk County and the largest employer in North Des Moines, Broadlawns recognizes that attending to the overall health of the community extends beyond providing traditional medical care,” Broadlawns President and CEO Jody Jenner said. (Des Moines Business Record)

New prevention system for medical identity theft at Van Diest Medical Center
Beginning January 23, patients at Van Diest Medical Center will experience a modern, convenient registration process that protects against medical identity theft and the creation of duplicate medical records. Using a state-of-the-art system, called SafeChx, patients will be able to register using their fingerprint to instantly secure their medical information. “We are committed to protecting our patients and providing our staff with the tools necessary to administer the best quality of care,” said Erick Schrier, security officer and information technology manager at Van Diest Medical Center. (KZWC)

National News

After blistering report faults Kansas’ Medicaid program, state officials respond
Kansas health officials on Monday defended themselves to lawmakers over a blistering federal review of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. Susan Mosier, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the analysis made “statements of opinion rather than statements of fact.” The report from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) last week said that KanCare was out of compliance with federal standards. And it emphasized that a lack of oversight and communication issues may put KanCare patients at risk. The state has to submit a corrective action plan to CMS by February 17. (Kansas City Star)

It’s not healthier to live in the country: Rural Washingtonians sicker than city dwellers
For many city dwellers, the country evokes images of healthy living: Clean air, farm-fresh produce and lots of outdoor activities. Data tell a different story. Rural Americans are sicker than urban Americans, and their health is declining, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers found that not only are mortality rates for these causes significantly higher in rural areas in Washington and nationwide, but the gap between urban and rural rates has been growing. (Seattle Times)

Why Kentucky couldn’t kill Obamacare: A lesson for Congress
Kentucky Republican Matt Bevin ran for governor on a platform devoted almost exclusively to killing Obamacare, including its expansion of Medicaid insurance to the poor. He didn’t do it. Following in the steps of eight Republican governors who sought to expand Medicaid without appearing to do so, he applied for federal permission to add Republican-friendly tweaks to the program instead. The decision was a nod to reality. By the time Bevin took office at the beginning of 2016, almost one in three Kentuckians had Medicaid or insurance through a federally subsidized Affordable Care Act plan. (Bloomberg)

Republican plan to replace Obamacare would turn Medicaid over to states
Republicans plan to turn control of Medicaid over to the states as part of their replacement for the Affordable Care Act, according to an adviser to President Donald Trump. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, told NBC News that the health care law that will replace Obamacare will turn Medicaid — a joint state-federal health insurance program for the poor — into a block grant program. The change would mean the federal government would give money to the states to implement Medicaid as they see fit. But many health policy analysts say that block grants could lead to reductions in care. (NPR)

Trump’s first order has strong words on health. Actual impact may be weak
The Trump administration has significant power to undermine the workings of the Affordable Care Act. The bigger question is how much of that power it will use. President Donald Trump’s executive order on Inauguration Day urging federal officials to “take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the federal health law did not provide administration officials with any new powers to unravel parts of the law. “They had all this authority before,” said Len Nichols, a health policy professor at George Mason University in Virginia who supports the health law. Trump, he said, “is signaling ‘I care’” about this issue. (Kaiser Health News)

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