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

Iowa News

The folly of privatized Medicaid
Regarding Governor Terry Branstad’s unilateral decision to turn over management of Iowa’s Medicaid to contractors, the real cost of this is the management fee: 12.5 percent maximum of the annual budget, or about a half a billion dollars. This means that in a program that currently costs $4.2 billion, Governor Branstad is essentially cutting the budget by a half a billion bucks. If managed care is that much more efficient, let the Department of Human Services do it, add employees and get it done. If it can’t be done within a $450 million budget, then go the other way. (Quad City Times)

Senate bill puts brakes on Medicaid privatization
Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to stop Governor Terry Branstad’s unilateral decision to privatize Iowa’s Medicaid program. Specifically, the legislation directs the Iowa Department of Human Services to immediately terminate contracts with three private out-of-state managed care companies. The legislation calls on Iowa to continue improving patient outcomes, increasing access to care and making the existing public management of Medicaid more efficient. (Des Moines Register)

Culver responds to Branstad criticism on Medicaid privatization
Former Iowa Governor Chet Culver is responding to criticism of current Governor Terry Branstad on Culver’s meetings in eastern Iowa to discuss the privatization of the Medicaid program. On Monday, Branstad accused Culver and Senate Democrats of politicizing the issue. Culver says he wants to help people who have questions about the issue. “This is not about partisan political shots. It’s about an honest debate on an important public policy matter that is impacting more than a half million Iowans,” said Culver. (Radio Iowa)

Brandstad: Culver trying to ‘torpedo’ Medicaid privatization
Governor Terry Branstad says he views a push by Iowa Senate Democrats to repeal his Medicaid privatization program as a “partisan, political” effort and he’s disappointed that former Democratic Governor Chet Culver also has become involved in the health care debate. Culver has scheduled town hall meetings Coralville and Cedar Rapids to hear from some of the people affected by the shift to private management of Medicaid. (Des Moines Register)

Senator Joni Ernst visits Virginia Gay Hospital
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited Virginia Gay Hospital Friday to gain better understanding of challenges facing rural hospitals. Senator Ernst was interested in receiving an update on Virginia Gay’s effort to create a national demonstration project to integrate mental health into primary care. Senator Ernst also addressed a question about Iowa’s plan to privatize Medicaid by saying, “I’ve heard many concerns from constituents, health care providers and many of the agencies providing ancillary services like transportation.” (Vinton Today)

National News

Hospitals launch ad campaign ahead of vote
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association has launched a new statewide ad campaign aimed at defeating legislation it says would put smaller, rural hospitals out of business. Some Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would curtail much of the certificate of public need program, saying the current system is uncompetitive and results in higher health care prices. Hospitals argue they don’t operate in a free-market system and need certificate of public need laws to remain economically viable. (Associated Press/Washington Post)

Florida hospital pilots ER program to help kids with Autism
An Orlando children’s hospital is piloting a new program to reduce stress for children with Autism when they visit the emergency room (ER). Nemours Children’s Hospital officials say emergency rooms tend to be overstimulating and can exacerbate symptoms for children with autism or other behavioral conditions. The program offers family a separate, quiet waiting room or playroom or headphones or sensory brushes to help distract children from overwhelming sights and sounds. (Associated Press/

Evidence-based practice underutilized, hospitals fall short on performance
More than one-third of hospitals aren’t meeting National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators performance metrics, a new Ohio State University study finds. It showed that evidence-based practice – a care-delivery approach that integrates problem solving, best practices, clinician expertise and patient preferences – is a low priority across the U.S. Although multiple studies show evidence-based practice results in high-quality care, improved patient outcomes and lower costs, implementation is relatively low. (Healthcare IT News)

How millennials could change health care
With a presidential election fast approaching, health care is an issue that’s getting plenty of traction on both sides of the political aisle. Amid all the debate, however, one group could prove to be the wild card. As more millennials interact with the healthcare system, the industry will find itself facing a more sophisticated and demanding group that won’t stand for its inefficiencies with the same begrudging acceptance of previous generations, said Kathy Hempstead, director of insurance coverage for the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. (USA Today)

Tackling the social determinants of health
Urban public health departments are launching new initiatives to address the social determinants of ill health, which are now seen as a contributing factor to the social unrest of recent years. Experts say such efforts represent an evolution of the core mission of public health departments. Interventions aimed at addressing issues require that public health workers take on new tasks such as coordinating stakeholders from other government agencies, community groups, health systems and businesses. (Modern Healthcare)

White House seeks $1.8 billion for Zika virus response
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $1.8 billion to help get ready to fight the Zika virus, which is spreading across the Americas fast and which doctors fear may cause severe birth defects. The money would go for mosquito control, training programs and laboratory capacity to test for the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among U.S. travelers from December 2015 – February 5, 2016. (NBC News)

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

Iowa News

Medicaid transition a hot topic at legislative crackerbarrel
Three of Dubuque County’s state legislators met with constituents today during the year’s first legislative crackerbarrel. Democratic Representatives Abby Finkenauer and Chuck Isenhart, along with Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum, all of Dubuque, attended. About 70 people attended the event. Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s Medicaid managed care transition dominated most of the discussion. About half the room indicated they were there because of the plan. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

Wellcare’s acts don’t deserve constituitional protection
Wellcare’s lawyers are now contesting the state’s decision to disqualify the company, and are arguing in court that the governor’s office is not a state agency, and that the First Amendment guarantees it the right to contact state officials during the bidding process, regardless of any rules that say otherwise. This argument fails to recognize the difference between commercial speech, which is regulated and subject to all sorts of government-imposed restrictions, and attempts to engage in political lobbying. (Des Moines Register)

Iowa economic indicators point to contraction
Two elements of the Iowa Department of Revenue’s index on the state economy reached lows not seen since 2009 in December as part of an overall decline that portends a softening of the economy. Although the weakness is stemming largely from Iowa’s agricultural sector and spillovers into manufacturing, the persistent widespread weakness across the index components in December continues to suggest future softness in Iowa’s economy. (Business Record)

Fireworks legalization advances in Iowa Senate
An Iowa Senate committee has approved legalizing fireworks in Iowa, but a condition in the proposal probably will create a patchwork of prohibitions. The Senate State Government Committee approved Senate File 508 by a 10-5 vote to allow the possession, sale, transfer, purchase and use of fireworks. However, by changing an “opt-out” provision to “opt-in,” the proposal essentially would leave legalization up to county boards and city councils. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

National News

How Florida hospital promotes health among a widely diverse population
In an effort to provide quality care beyond its patients, NCH Healthcare System in Naples, Florida is extending its population health efforts to achieve a healthier overall community. Within the population of 350,000 there are many serious health challenges. After an experiment of promoting wellness proved successful in improving health and decreasing costs with its own controlled groups, Allen Weiss, president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System, decided to take this concept county-wide. (HealthLeaders Media)

673 rural hospitals on verge of closing
An iVantage Health Analytics report says 673 rural hospitals, representing more than 33 percent of U.S. rural hospitals located across 42 states, are “vulnerable to closure,” with 210 being the most vulnerable and 463 being at risk. Some of the drivers of these hospital closures, according to iVantage, include loss of market share; lower patient volumes; declines in quality and outcomes and decreases in reimbursements. (Healthcare Dive)

Health care hiring spree spills into 2016
The health care industry, bolstered by the nation’s hospitals and health systems, added 36,800 jobs in January. January figures show that hospitals and outpatient clinics still have an appetite for hiring. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also included new subcategories that showed employment patterns in dentists’ offices, medical and diagnostic labs, home health agencies and residential mental health facilities. (Modern Healthcare)

Smoking bans appear to improve health outcomes
Smoking bans aimed at reducing secondhand smoke exposure appear to have a positive impact on cardiovascular disease rates and outcomes across the globe, according to an updated Cochrane review of 77 observational studies from 21 countries. The review represents the most robust evidence yet that legislative action banning smoking in public places may be improving health outcomes. Most studies in the updated review showed declines in hospital admission rates due to cardiovascular disease following the initiation of smoking bans. (HealthLeaders Media)

Could hospital ERs provide missing data on police shootings?
Joseph Richardson, criminologist and director of the Violence Intervention Research Project at Prince George’s Hospital Trauma Center outside Washington, D.C., views police violence as a public health issue and believes health care providers have a role to play in addressing it. Hospital-reported numbers along with those recorded by police and media outlets could help define the true scope of police shootings. (NPR)

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

Iowa News

Opponents ask if Medicaid network is ready
Iowa is three weeks away from its March 1 transition date that will move the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program from a fee-for-service system to managed care. And with the deadline moving ever closer, some opponents to the state’s plan are questioning if an adequate provider network has been established. On Thursday, Governor Terry Branstad announced 87,000 provider contracts have been signed. But some opponents to the transition — including the Iowa Hospital Association and Iowa Senate Democrats — have questioned the accuracy of those numbers. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Iowa Senate to pass Medicaid privatization repeal
Iowa Senate Democrats say they will approve a bill next week to repeal Governor Terry Branstad’s plan to privatize Iowa’s Medicaid program. However, House Republicans are signaling that the measure will be dead on arrival when they receive it. The bill would immediately give termination notices to three private managed care companies. Senate President Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) whose adult daughter is developmentally disabled and enrolled in Medicaid, said Branstad’s plan has tried to do too much, too fast and is at risk of failing. (Des Moines Register)

Iowa Medicaid ambiguities linger
Iowa Medicaid officials cannot guarantee federal officials will approve Governor Terry Branstad’s Medicaid managed care transition and meetings for the already-delayed program continued Thursday in Dubuque. In a two-hour meeting attended by about 80 people, Iowa Medicaid Enterprise spokeswoman Lindsay Buechel expressed confidence in the transition. She said state officials are working frequently with the federal government but could not comment on whether or not there would be another delay. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

Mercy Medical Center’s new drug treatment program to help fight heroin problem
The Dubuque Drug Task Force says the number of heroin deaths in Dubuque has tripled since 2011. Mercy Medical Center’s Turning Point Treatment Center is now offering the Medication-Assisted Treatment program which treated 55 people for heroin addiction in 2015. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted a three year, $3 million grant to the Iowa Department of Public Health to help fund the program. (KCRG)

Health care careers dominate Siouxland’s fastest growing occupations
Health care careers dominate the top 10 occupations expected to have the largest percentage of employment growth between 2012 and 2022 in region 12, which is comprised of Plymouth, Cherokee, Ida, Monona and Woodbury counties. Mental or behavioral health social workers are in high demand in the region, according to Iowa Workforce Development data, as well as medical assistants, medical secretaries, home health aides, postsecondary health teachers and health care practitioners. (Sioux City Journal)

SHACS and GRMC to combine services for improved care
Grinnell College’s Student Health and Counseling Services (SHACS) will make changes in the services available to students. The department decided to rework its model as part of an ongoing effort to re-evaluate health services. The College will hire two Grinnell Regional Medical Center (GRMC) counselors to work at SHACS as well as a new outside hire. They are also invested in working with a University of Iowa Doctoral student, who will work part time to treat students. (Scarlet and Black)

National News

Failure to expand Medicaid leaves many Missourians uninsured
A report released this week by Families USA shows states that expanded Medicaid had, on average, a 25 percent reduction in the rate of uninsured workers. But since Missouri was one of eight states that has not expanded Medicaid since 2014, the decline was only 13 percent. Dee Mahan, director of medical advocacy for Families USA, says the failure to expand Medicaid put Missouri behind neighboring states. (Public News Service)

Illinois attorney general seeks stay on hospital tax ruling
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is asking an appeals court to hold back enforcement of its ruling on a part of a state law that lets hospitals avoid taxes. The 4th District Appellate Court ruled last month that the state’s 2012 charity care law was unconstitutional because it created a tax exemption for hospitals without requiring the properties to be used only for charity purposes. The charity care law redefined the terms by which nonprofit hospitals receive property tax exemptions. (Modern Healthcare)

AHA slams CMS for ‘unlawful’ two-midnight rule pay reduction
The debate over the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS’) 0.2 percent IPPS payment reduction as a result of implementing the two-midnight rule continued this week, with the American Hospital Association (AHA) calling the cut “unlawful” in a letter to Andy Slavitt, CMS acting administrator. The AHA called on CMS to release more information about the methodology and data used to support its claims so that hospitals can replicate the analysis and confirm the data. (HealthLeaders Media)

U.S. appeals court: Hospitals can be ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ at same time
The federal appeals court in New York struck down a U.S. regulation that made it harder for hospitals to provide better medical care at lower cost by claiming they were “rural” for some purposes and “urban” for others. The law “simply increases the number of situations in which hospitals can be treated as rural for some purposes and urban for others, but there is nothing ‘absurd’ about such a measured approach,” wrote Judge Jed Rakoff. The decision is a victory for hospitals in urban areas. (Reuters)

Hospital-based wellness centers on the rise
Hospital-based wellness centers are changing the health care model by providing convenient access to early treatment, preventive care and pro-active wellness programs. The increase of hospital-based wellness centers is part of the population health management movement that calls for health care professionals to focus more on preventing, rather than treating. When patients have convenient access to healthcare, they seek help earlier and receive treatment before their symptoms have manifested into chronic or acute conditions. (Fierce Healthcare)

The U.S. is running out of nurses
America’s 3 million nurses make up the largest segment of the health-care workforce in the U.S., and nursing is currently one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. Despite that growth, demand is outpacing supply. By 2022, The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects, there will be more than a million job openings for nurses, a considerable shortfall. (Atlantic)

After Medicaid expansion, a sharp drop in hospital stays
As state governments continue to wrangle over Medicaid expansion, new data confirms that extending coverage has a great effect on the inpatient payer mix. States that expanded eligibility for Medicaid in 2014 experienced dramatic decreases in uninsured hospital stays and increases in Medicaid-covered stays, a Health Affairs study shows. States that did not expand Medicaid saw very little change in inpatient payer mix. (HealthLeaders Media)

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

Iowa News

State lab in Coralville could soon begin testing for Zika virus
Officials at the State Hygienic Laboratory on the University of Iowa research campus in Coralville could soon begin testing for the Zika virus, a condition linked to an increase in babies born with small heads called microcephaly. Currently the only organization testing for Zika is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. The state lab is working closely with the Iowa Department of Public Health to watch for potential cases of Zika in Iowa. (KCRG)

Tamper-proof painkillers urged
Republicans in the Iowa House are backing a special kind of prescription painkiller they say will help cut down on opioid abuse. Lawmakers have introduced a bill to encourage the use of tamper-proof pills for doctors to prescribe for patients likely to abuse. Pharmaceutical companies and medical groups back the bill. Some insurance companies oppose it. The legislation is part of a larger bill to combat heroin overdoses. (Iowa Public Radio)

Iowa City earns Blue Zones certification
Iowa City has achieved an official certification as a Blue Zones community, a designation awarded to cities that offer healthy alternatives in food, transportation and other areas. Iowa City achieved its certification by making progress in a number of areas related to healthy living, including an ordinance passed by the council banning e-cigarettes in places where tobacco products are banned; adding new sidewalks and bike lanes and increasing fruits and vegetables eaten and sold in schools, local restaurants and grocery stores. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Sioux City couple to donate CuddleCot to St. Luke’s
A medical tool, the CuddleCot, helps families on their darkest day and is catching on in Siouxland. Loosing a baby is a hard thing to think about, and even harder to talk about, but several local families are starting the conversation in order to help others. The CuddleCot gives families more time with their baby and a Sioux City couple wants to make sure UnityPoint Health -St. Luke’s has a CuddleCot and a lasting memory of their daughter’s impact on the community. (Siouxland Matters)

Iowa economic indicators point to contraction
Two elements of the Iowa Department of Revenue’s index on the state economy reached lows not seen since 2009 in December as part of an overall decline that portends a softening of the economy. Although the weakness is stemming largely from Iowa’s agricultural sector and spillovers into manufacturing, the persistent widespread weakness across the index components in December continues to suggest future softness in Iowa’s economy. (Business Record)

National News

California exchange chief rips UnitedHealth for Obamacare excuses
Amid growing questions over the future of Obamacare exchanges, the head of California’s marketplace said the nation’s largest private health insurer should take responsibility for nearly $1 billion in losses and stop blaming the federal health law. In a blistering critique, Covered California’s executive director, Peter Lee, said UnitedHealth Group Inc. made a series of blunders on rates and networks that led to a $475 million loss in 2015 on individual policies across the country. (NPR)

Kentucky tops coverage gains as GOP looks to remake Medicaid
As Governor Matt Bevin prepares to remake Kentucky’s Medicaid program, a new national survey shows what’s at stake: gains in insurance coverage matched only by one other state. Nationally, the survey found nine states ahead of the pack in reducing the percentage of uninsured residents. The nine — Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Connecticut and North Dakota — had less than 7 percent of their adult residents uninsured last year. (Associated Press/Quad City Times)

Missouri Hospital Association launches new pricing tool; local hospitals mostly absent
The Missouri Hospital Association’s (MHA’s) Focus on Hospitals website launched Wednesday. The launch of pricing data is part of the hospital quality transparency program and is designed to provide consumers with the most current data available on hospitals’ work to prevent infections, manage readmissions and reduce harm. MHA partners with the Kansas Hospital Association, but a majority of the hospitals not participating in the data release are from the Kansas City area, making it complicated for hospital systems with facilities on both sides of the state line. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Pennsylvania hospital launches bedside tablet program for patients
West Chester Hospital in Pennsylvania has launched a program that allows patients to view detailed information about their own medical care and hospital stay as well as access entertainment apps and the Internet. The system allows them to monitor vital signs and lab results, access educational materials about various health topics specific to their diagnosis and learn more about their care team. (Journal-News)

Lifting telemedicine limits would save Medicare $1.8B over 10 years
A new bill that has bipartisan congressional support would expand Medicare reimbursement of telehealth consultations and remote patient monitoring with fewer restrictions from current geographic requirements. The bill, Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, is expected to save the federal government $1.8 billion over 10 years, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. (Computer World)

Address donor attrition to build financial sustainability
Most nonprofit organizations are just wrapping up the busiest time of year for fundraising. End-of-the-year appeals — via letter, email or through personal conversations — motivate new and current donors to contribute to the organization’s work. Every year, however, organizations lose a portion of their donors. Typically, these donors are replaced with new donors, so in many organizations, this donor loss goes unnoticed. It’s part of the board’s job to ensure that the organization’s fundraising efforts are sustainable. (Corridor Business Journal)

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

Iowa News

Ames company to develop Zika virus vaccine
An Ames pharmaceutical company has started on a project to develop treatment options for the Zika virus. NewLink Genetics, which was thrown into the spotlight last year during an outbreak of Ebola, announced Tuesday it has started working on solutions to the Zika virus. NewLink said Monday its Infectious Disease Division, based in Massachusetts, has “evaluated various approaches” to prevent infection of the Zika virus. (Des Moines Register)

Iowa caucuses may have impacted blood supply
Some of Iowa’s blood centers think the Iowa Caucuses had an unexpected effect on blood donations across the state. Officials at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center say the past few weeks have been slower than usual. As the campaigns became more aggressive in soliciting votes, it became harder to reach people who normally donate blood. (WHO)

Lawmakers should pay for own health insurance
In 2016, health insurance coverage for each lawmaker will cost taxpayers between $7,400 and $10,300, depending on the plan he or she selected. While this health insurance benefit is a good deal for elected officials, it is a bad deal for taxpayers, many of whom also pay a good chunk of the cost of their own coverage. If lawmakers want to sign up for a state health insurance plan, fine. But they should pay the entire cost of their coverage. (Des Moines Register)

Mom able to attend daughter’s wedding at unusual venue
A Central Iowa mother almost missed her daughter’s wedding day due to poor health. But her daughter saw to that by changing the venue. After nearly losing her mom about a month ago, Kelsea Prather got an idea. She decided to have the wedding in a corridor at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics so her mom could attend. “It felt amazing and wonderful,” Prather said. “I wouldn’t change it or do anything different.” (KCRG)

National News

1 in 3 rural Kansas hospitals at risk of closing in study
A third of Kansas’ rural hospitals are now at risk of closure, according to a national study released Tuesday. In Kansas, the report found that 31 of the state’s 107 rural hospitals have at least some characteristics of hospitals that have closed. “I’m extremely concerned but not surprised,” said Brock Slabach, a senior vice president at the National Rural Health Association, which held a daylong forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C., in hopes to convince Congress to pass a Save Rural Hospitals Act. (Wichita Eagle)

Hospital groups urge Supreme Court to strike down False Claims Act decision
Several health care provider groups submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court urging the reversal of a False Claims Act (FCA) decision hinging on what they say is an overbroad interpretation of “implied certification.” The American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and others argue the FCA’s definition “lowers the bar as to what constitutes ‘fraud’ to include payment requests that contain no false information,” and “raises clear issues of fundamental fairness. (Fierce Healthcare)

Telemedicine advances faster than states can keep up
As recently as 2011, only 11 states had telehealth parity laws, which require that insurers reimburse telehealth providers exactly as they would for an in-person visit. Today, 29 states and the District of Columbia have parity laws. In those jurisdictions, if a patient with a sore throat wants to confirm she has a strep infection and receive a prescription for antibiotics, it makes no difference to insurance companies whether the visit occurs over the computer or in an office. Despite the momentum, there are still plenty of gaps and question marks when it comes to telehealth policy. (Governing)

Hospitals employ email ’empathy’ to help doctors and patients keep in touch
“Automating empathy” is a new health care buzzword for helping doctors stay in touch with patients before and after medical procedures — cheaply and with minimal effort from already overextended physicians. It’s a powerful draw for hospitals and other health care providers scrambling to adjust to sweeping changes in how they’re paid for the care they provide. The idea of tailoring regular electronic communications to patients counts as an innovation in health care with potential to save money and improve quality. (Kaiser Health News)

When PR disaster strikes, hospitals must make the first move
How a hospital responds to a crisis – and bad press – is vital, as two recent cases show. Healthcare Dive examined the responses of two hospitals that faced public relation (PR) nightmares in the past month that could have seriously damaged their professional reputations. However, both hospitals were prepared for the media onslaught. Additionally, hospitals seeking to manage a public relations fallout must take social media into account as well, according to the article. (Fierce Healthcare)