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

Iowa News

UnityPoint Health-Trinity finishes new heart center, ER
UnityPoint Health-Trinity has finished construction on its new heart center and emergency department. Hospital workers are now training for opening day, which will be Sunday, April 19. The new emergency department will include trauma, short stay, and radiology rooms for patients. The facility will improve patient safety, privacy and coordination of care. (WQAD)

Cherokee hospital CEO Comstock to retire
Cherokee Regional Medical Center CEO John Comstock, has announced that he will retire in September. CRMC’s Board of Directors and UnityPoint Health have named CRMC Senior Vice President David Liebsack as Comstock’s successor, following a transition process. Comstock has served as CEO of Cherokee Regional Medical Center since joining the organization in 1996. (Cherokee Chronicle Times)

Wearables help manage chronic diseases
Erik Nieuwenhuis is excited about the Apple Watch and other wearable devices coming down the pipeline that could change the way he and other diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels. Medical technology company Dexcom has developed an app for the smartwatch, which is expected to go on sale in April, That will allow its continuous glucose monitor to wirelessly transmit glucose readings in real time directly to Apple Watch. (Sioux City Journal)

Robillard tapped as interim UI president
UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard would become the interim University of Iowa president later this year under a plan proposed Wednesday by the president of the Iowa state Board of Regents. Robillard also is the chairman of the search committee looking for a replacement for retiring UI President Sally Mason. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

National News

Senate will wait to vote on Medicare deal
Senators will wait until they return from a two-week recess to vote on a Medicare deal that passed the House on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said senators will “move to it very quickly” once they return from the recess next month. “I want to reassure everyone … we’ll move to it very quickly when we get back,” McConnell said, adding he expects it will pass the Senate. The House voted Thursday to repeal automatic payment cuts to doctors under Medicare, known as the “doc fix.” (The Hill)

Ebola not mutating into ‘supervirus,’ study finds
The Ebola virus that is causing the current outbreak in West Africa is not mutating as quickly as earlier reports had suggested, a new study finds. This finding helps allay fears that the virus could change into a more infectious or deadly form, the researchers said. In the study, published online today (March 26) in the journal Science, researchers compared virus samples from people in Africa who became infected with Ebola up to nine months apart. (CBS News)

Bill would give TN special Medicaid funding
Tennessee hospitals that treat large numbers of low-income or uninsured patients will collect special Medicaid payments under a provision in a major health care bill that passed the House Thursday and now goes to the Senate. If the measure becomes law, Tennessee will no longer be the only state in the nation ineligible for the extra funding intended to help reimburse hospitals for providing care to people that aren’t able to pay. (Murfreesboro Daily News Journal)

New York City to teens: txt me with mental health worries
The majority of teenagers with mental health issues don’t get help. But maybe if help were just a text message away — they wouldn’t be so hesitant to reach out. That’s the thinking behind NYC Teen Text, a pilot program at 10 New York public high schools that allows teens to get help with mental health issues by text. (Iowa Public Radio)

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

Iowa News

Study: Sioux City hospitals add $246M to local economy
The two hospitals in Sioux City combine to generate 2,712 jobs that contribute $246 million in local economic benefits each year, according to a new study. Employees at UnityPoint Health — St. Luke’s and Mercy Medical Center also spend in excess of $100 million on retail sales in the community, generating $5.1 million in state sales tax revenues, according to the Iowa Hospital Association report. (Sioux City Journal)

Groups express support for Iowa bill on Medicaid oversight
The Iowa Legislature should have more oversight of this year’s plans to transition the state’s Medicaid program into private managed care, representatives for several medical groups told a House panel Wednesday. Lobbyists for groups representing children and older people, among others, expressed their support for a bill making its way through the House that would create a commission that provides transition guidelines and offers rules for private managed care contracts. The Senate passed the bill unanimously this month. (Associated Press/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

How health systems are building ‘ecosystems’ of care
“We basically include all hospitals and all physicians in our state as members if you will,” said Tom Evans, president and CEO at the Iowa Healthcare Collaborative. “It’s based on the premise of the health care stakeholders – provider, patient, payer and purchaser – we really believe that the provider community should be proactively working to improve care.” The concept behind the Iowa Healthcare Collaborative was to have the providers come together, regardless of who they work for, on improving patient quality, safety and value. (Healthcare Finance News)

UnityPoint Health improves care for veterans through coordinated health records
Electronic health records at UnityPoint Health are now connected to the Department of Veterans Affairs through eHealth Exchange, the federal Health Information Exchange. Through this connection, clinicians can electronically share patient information across both systems to improve coordinated care for veterans regardless of location, UnityPoint announced in a recent press release. (Muscatine Journal)

Easing kids’ fears when visiting the doctor
It can be scary for any kid to visit the doctor, especially if you have to make several trips and have special surgeries and procedures. March is Child Life Month, which is a time dedicated to celebrating the specialists making it easier for kids to go through stressful situations. (KCCI)

National News

House passes Medicare deal in overwhelming 329-37 vote
The House on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to repeal automatic cuts to doctors under Medicare, endorsing a rare bipartisan deal that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) negotiated with Democrats. The bill, which passed by a vote of 329-37, puts Congress on the precipice of ending a nearly two-decades fight over a formula known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). (The Hill)

Obama will sign fix of Medicare doctor payments, without endorsing legislation
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he’s ready to sign good bipartisan legislation to fix Medicare’s doctor payment problem, without endorsing any specific legislation. Without a fix, doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees, the consequence of a 1990s budget law that Congress has repeatedly waived. The House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill with rare support from both top leaders in the House that would permanently fix the problem. (U.S. News & World Report)

Obama health law hasn’t increased doctor burden, study finds
The implementation of the national health care overhaul has not, as once feared, been a burden to doctors, according a new report from a Massachusetts health care technology company and a New Jersey foundation. Even while 10 million Americans gained insurance coverage last year through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the proportion of new patients visiting primary care providers only rose slightly, to 22.9 percent in 2014 from 22.6 percent in 2013, the report said. And the new patients were no sicker than the patients those doctors saw in years past, said Josh Gray, vice president of research at athenahealth Inc. (Boston Globe)

House GOP approves budget to hike defense, slash safety-net programs
House Republicans pushed past their internal divisions to approve a budget blueprint Wednesday, putting the new Congress on track to notch a significant achievement once Senate Republicans pass their version by the end of the week. The ambitious but largely symbolic spending proposals adhere to Republican ideas for slashing social safety-net programs and lowering tax rates. But they have drawn criticism for dramatically boosting defense spending in a way that breaks with the Republican pledge to stick to deficit-lowering limits imposed at their own behest just a few years ago. (Los Angeles Times)

Medical identity theft is fastest-growing identity crime in the US
By now, most people are aware of the consequences that data breaches create by exposing personal information, including credit card fraud or tax fraud. However, until recently, medical identity theft, the fastest-growing identity crime in the country impacting more than 2.3 million Americans, has mostly flown under the radar. In February, Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, announced that its systems had been the target of a sophisticated external cyber attack. (St. Louis Business Journal)

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

Iowa News

Marion County hospitals have $51 million economic impact
Pella Regional Health Center and Knoxville Hospital and Clinics have a $51 million impact on the local economy, according to the latest study by the Iowa Hospital Association. The hospitals’ employees contribute more than $10.9 million in retail sales and about $650,000 in sales tax in the county. The study examined the jobs, income, retail sales and sales tax produced by hospitals and the rest of the state’s health care sector. (KNIA/KRLS)

Iowa Senate panel OKs bill to track psychiatric beds
Iowa officials would develop a system for tracking when a bed is available for a person needing psychiatric treatment under a bill approved Tuesday by a Senate panel, though there is some concern over implementation. Members of a Human Resources subcommittee approved the bill, which now heads to a full committee for consideration. The bill originated and was passed in the House. (Des Moines Register)

DHS chief fails to gain Senate panel endorsement
A key Senate committee has declined to endorse the reappointment of Iowa’s human-services director, leaving it up to the full Senate to decide whether he should keep his job. Charles Palmer, 76, drew praise and criticism Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Human Resources Committee. Critics said Palmer failed to work with the Legislature, especially in deciding to close two mental institutions and a facility for delinquent juveniles. (Des Moines Register)

Colon cancer awareness takes an interesting twist
A giant inflatable colon is on display at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa in Mason City and it’s open to the public as a way to bring awareness to the deadly cancer. The idea of the traveling super colon is to help raise awareness about why people need a colonoscopy. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for men and women in the United States. But if detected early, the disease is treatable, according to Dawn Theilan at Mercy Medical. (KIMT)

National News

Highlights of bipartisan House plan on Medicare doctor fees
Highlights of the compromise released Tuesday by House Republican and Democratic leaders to permanently avoid yearly cuts in reimbursements for physicians treating Medicare patients. Cost figures were not released but are based on interviews with lawmakers, lobbyists and congressional staff. (Associated Press/KWWL)

CDC survey: 7.6 million fewer U.S. residents uninsured in first 9 months of 2014
An estimated 37.2 million U.S. residents lacked health insurance at some time during the first nine months of 2014, 7.6 million fewer than in 2013, according to preliminary estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The uninsured rate for adults under age 65 fell 4.5 percentage points in Medicaid expansion states, compared with 2.8 percentage points in non- expansion states. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

VA says it will relax 40-mile rule for private medical care
Responding to pressure from Congress and veterans groups, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday it is relaxing a rule that makes it hard for some veterans in rural areas to prove they live at least 40 miles from a VA health site. The change comes amid complaints from lawmakers and advocates who said the VA’s current policy has prevented thousands of veterans from taking advantage of a new law intended to allow veterans in remote areas to gain access to federally paid medical care from local doctors. (Associated Press/Miami Herald)

Baton Rouge emergency room shows the cost of Obamacare fight
Baton Rouge hospital is closing the only emergency room on the city’s impoverished north side, a real-world ripple effect of the ideological clash over President Barack Obama’s health-care law. The shutdown on April 1 serves as an early warning for hospitals in states such as Louisiana, where Republican Governor Bobby Jindal turned down federal money to expand the Medicaid program for the poor. Charity hospitals will lose billions of federal aid beginning late next year, a cut that was supposed to be offset as more residents were covered by Medicaid. (Bloomberg)

Many doctors who diagnose Alzheimer’s fail to tell patients
Doctors are much more likely to level with patients who have cancer than patients who have Alzheimer’s, according to a report released this week by the Alzheimer’s Association. The report found that just 45 percent of Medicare patients who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s said they were informed of the diagnosis by their doctor. By contrast, more than 90 percent of Medicare patients with cancer said they were told by their doctor. “What we found is really shocking,” says Beth Kallmyer, vice president of constituent services for the Alzheimer’s Association. (Iowa Public Radio)

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

Iowa News

Iowa Medicaid managed care proposal hits opposition
Governor Terry Branstad’s plan to turn Iowa’s $4.2 billion Medicaid program over to managed care hit stiff opposition in the state Legislature last week, with the Senate voting to create a commission to handle the process. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Amanda, Ragan, said legislators need more say in the process. (American Journal of Accountable Care)

Report shows Medicaid expansion helping reduce uncompensated care
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids reported in February that it saw a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in Medicaid patients in 2014 along with a 1 percent decrease in the number of uninsured patients it cares for. Overall, the hospital has seen a drop in the amount of uncompensated care it provides, Mercy officials said, but the trend of more patients having plans with large out-of-pocket maximums means the hospital still is awarding quite a bit of charitable care. Meanwhile, UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital said there has been a 50 percent decrease of in the number of self-pay patients treated between 2013 and 2014. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Efforts to limit early elective deliveries find success
Just a few years ago in Iowa, an expectant mother might persuade her doctor to induce labor early to avoid the final uncomfortable days of pregnancy. But for nearly two years, all Iowa delivering hospitals have adopted policies restricting early elective deliveries, defined as labor induced at 39 weeks without a medical reason. The issue was safety, said Dr. Tom Evans, president and chief executive officer of the Iowa Healthcare Collaborative, which organized the hospitals to promote the effort. (Des Moines Register)

Healthcare Foundation surpasses $2 million goal
The Spencer Regional Healthcare Foundation surpassed its endowment campaign goal of $2 million, receiving over $2.5 million in contributions, pledges and planned gifts. An initial goal of $2 million was set to establish an endowment with a long-term goal of growing the endowment, enabling a permanent fund to help enhance local health care provided at Spencer Hospital long into the future. (Spencer Daily Reporter)

Ernst urges mental health help for veterans in 1st speech on floor
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst proposed legislation Monday that would allow military veterans to get mental health care outside the Veterans Affairs system until they receive help from the agency. In her first floor speech since taking office in January, Ernst, an Iraq War veteran, devoted nearly all of her remarks to the needs of military veterans, saying they’re not getting enough help transitioning back to civilian life. (Des Moines Register)

Veterans gather to honor Richard Miles and call for change
Iowans are remembering a fallen veteran and in light of his death are calling for change. Army Veteran Richard Miles was honored Monday evening by fellow veterans and those pushing for change in veteran’s mental health care. On Monday, Miles was laid to rest and the Veteran’s Cemetery on what would have been his 41st birthday. The Veterans National Recovery Center hosted the event and say 22 veterans are committing suicide every day and if more isn’t done there will be more cases like Miles. (WHO-TV)

National News

HHS estimates 2014 reduction in hospital uncompensated care costs under ACA
Hospital uncompensated care costs were about 21 percent, or $7.4 billion, lower in 2014 due to gains in health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services. More than two-thirds of the estimated reduction ($5 billion) was in states opting to expand Medicaid to uninsured low-income adults. “If non-expansion states had proportionately as large increases in Medicaid coverage as did expansion states, their uncompensated care costs would have declined by an additional $1.4 billion,” the agency estimates. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Diabetes study shows benefits of expanded Medicaid under Obamacare
Low-income patients with diabetes are getting better access to medical care in states that have expanded Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act, suggests a new study that provides one of the first indications of the sweeping law’s health effects. Residents of other states are at risk of being left behind. The number of Medicaid patients with newly identified diabetes surged 23% in states that expanded their programs, an option provided by the law, but there was virtually no increase in states that declined to expand coverage, researchers found. (Los Angeles Times)

Report: Obamacare subsidies likely expanded insurance coverage
Early evidence suggests that the tax credit subsidies at the core of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law likely helped expand U.S. health insurance coverage last year, Congress’s non-partisan research arm said on Monday. The subsidies – which can be paid by the federal government to insurers in advance to lower monthly insurance premiums – significantly reduced the premium costs, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report. (Reuters)

As patients face death, doctors push straight talk on care
Dr. Angelo Volandes remembers performing rib-cracking CPR on a frail elderly man dying of lung cancer, a vivid example of an end-of-life dilemma: Because his patient never said if he wanted aggressive care as his body shut down, the hospital had to try. He died days later. Years later, the Harvard Medical School researcher now tries to spur conversations about what care patients want during life’s final chapter through videos that illustrate different options. (Associated Press/ABC News)

Researchers use A.I. to reimagine health care
Two patients receiving the same treatment for breast cancer may be entirely different in significant ways. One may be a marathon runner, the other a more sedate reader. One might be a smoker, while the other is considered a health nut. One may be in her 60s while the other just turned 40. With all these differences, these two women might need different cancer treatments. The challenges for scientists and doctors is in finding information about treatments for specific types of people. (ComputerWorld)

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

Iowa News

Medicaid plan is gift for private firms
In its comments to state officials, the Iowa Hospital Association noted that managed care companies reduce costs by denying coverage for services, including emergency room visits. The association is “deeply concerned” that the private model could reduce access to care and reimbursement rates for providers. All health-care providers should be concerned. So should anyone who relies on Medicaid. So should anyone who cares about vulnerable Iowans. (Des Moines Register)

Medicaid expansion in Iowa helps hospitals slash charity care costs
The Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of uninsured hospital patients in Iowa and lowered costs for charity care, the Iowa Hospital Association says. Kirk Norris, CEO of the organization, said Medicaid expansion, an element of the health care law, has been “huge” in giving more Iowans insurance to pay for care. Nebraska has chosen not to adopt Medicaid expansion, which a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made optional for states. (World Herald News Service/Grand Island Independent)

Loan checks worth $1.36M presented to Knoxville Hospital & Clinic
Knoxville Hospital & Clinics was presented with a total $1.36 million in loans to assist with its expansion and renovation project. CEO Kevin Kincaid says the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing the loans interest free. A $1 million USDA loan check came through Pella Cooperative Electric while a second one worth $360,000 was through Central Iowa Power Cooperative. (KNIA/KRLS)

Complex system shifts Iowa doctors away from private practice
When it comes to health care, Dr. John Roof believes doctors just can’t do it alone anymore. The medical director of UnityPoint Health clinics Cedar Rapids region oversees 19 family medicine clinics and several specialty clinics for UnityPoint Health. “The complexity of the business of medicine now goes far beyond what I can do by myself,” he said. “When I was in private practice, I was in charge of HR, finance, risk management, what computer systems to use — all while I was trying to be a doctor.” (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Sioux City well on its way to being Blue Zones certified
Sioux City is well on its way to becoming a certified Blue Zones community. Minimum requirements included having nearly 13,000 residents join the Blue Zones Project, along with 13 of the top worksites, six grocery stores, 14 restaurants and seven schools. Sioux City was named a Blue Zones demonstration site in 2013, one of seven cities in Iowa chosen for the initiative at the time. Currently, 15 cities in Iowa are participating in the project — a component of Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative unveiled in 2011 by Gov. Terry Branstad. (Sioux City Journal)

Specialist helps children deal with doctors’ visits
As a child, Courtney Mergen had a series of ear issues that required repeated visits to the doctor. That experience has helped her guide young patients in her new role as the first child life specialist at Iowa ENT Center. Child life specialists typically work in hospital settings. Few, if any, in Iowa, and possibly the nation, do so in outpatient clinics. The outpatient setting has often been overlooked, Mergen said. (Des Moines Register)

VA helps Iowa veterans tell their life stories
If the Department of Veterans Affairs wants to take down John Gualtier’s life story, it’s going to take a while. The Vinton retiree was one of the first to volunteer for a new project in which VA staffers interview veterans and write up short biographies. The resulting essays are to be attached to the veterans’ medical charts, to help VA health care providers understand their patients’ perspectives. (Des Moines Register)

National News

2015 is already the year of the health care hack — and it’s only going to get worse
Last year, the fallout from a string of breaches at major retailers like Target and Home Depot had consumers on edge. But 2015 is shaping up to be the year consumers should be taking a closer look at who is guarding their health information. Data about more than 120 million people has been compromised in more than 1,100 separate breaches at organizations handling protected health data since 2009, according to a review of Department of Health and Human Services data. (Washington Post)

What’s in the House’s proposal for fix Medicare payments to doctors
It’s make-or-break time for a Medicare “doc fix” replacement. The House is likely to vote this week on a proposal to scrap Medicare’s troubled physician payment formula, just days before a March 31 deadline when doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a 21 percent payment cut. Senate action could come this week as well, but probably not until the chamber completes a lengthy series of votes on the GOP’s fiscal 2016 budget package. (Kaiser Health News)

Charity care declines at Minnesota hospitals, but bad debt inches up
Charity care costs declined last year at several Minnesota hospitals, and the drop could be linked to the expansion of health insurance coverage under the federal health law. Between 2013 and 2014, charity care costs across 10 hospital systems declined by about $37 million, or 18 percent, according to a Star Tribune analysis. The broader trend in uncompensated care was more complicated, however, with 13 health systems reporting an increase of $15 million, or 3 percent, in what’s called “bad debt” — a measure of unpaid bills that hospitals write off. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Rural Texas hospitals struggle
It could have happened anywhere, but it was on the high plains of Guthrie — 90 miles east of Lubbock — where Dannie Tiffin suddenly collapsed of a heart attack last spring. No one knows for certain, but doctors and hospital staff in this rural area say they’re pretty sure the 62-year-old electrician could have made it, had he gotten care in time. (Longview News-Journal)

Hospitals: Governor’s budget threatens medical services
Maine hospital officials are pushing back against the LePage administration’s budget proposal, arguing that if millions of dollars in MaineCare reimbursement cutbacks are combined with the proposed property tax on nonprofit organizations, needed medical services would be reduced or eliminated. “This budget is not in any way realistic. The hospitals cannot just absorb these cuts,” said Jeff Austin, vice president of the Maine Hospital Association. He estimates the reimbursement cuts total $55 million statewide on top of $10 million to $20 million in extra property taxes. (Portland Press Herald)

Flu winds down as FDA aims for better vaccine next winter
If it seems early to worry about the next flu season, well, producing 140 million doses of vaccine requires starting months in advance. It’s a process that’s part science, as researchers track what flu strains are spreading in different parts of the world to predict what may come here. And it’s part luck, as this year showed when a surprise new version of an aggressive flu strain – one that arose too late to be added to the vaccine – swamped the country. (Associated Press/Fox News)