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

Iowa News

Even with health insurance, challenges remain
Many Iowa consumers purchasing health insurance through the state’s marketplace are among the sickest and the least prepared to use that insurance effectively, according to a pair of University of Iowa Public Policy Center studies out earlier this month. The studies, funded by a grant from the Commonwealth Fund, also suggest that a high proportion of eligible consumers need post-enrollment help to better understand their new insurance plans, provider availability and billing. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

However unlikely, Washington hospital preparing for possible Ebola cases
The recent news of confirmed Ebola patients in the United States has heightened the awareness and concern of this infectious disease. While the chance of having a confirmed case of Ebola locally is minimal, Washington County Hospitals and Clinics has actively pursued efforts to ensure preparedness for the Ebola virus. “Though WCHC has plans, protocols, and appropriate supplies and equipment in place to care for patients with infectious diseases, our hospital has taken extra measures to ensure preparedness for Ebola,” stated WCHC CEO Dennis Hunger.

Cresco hospital board checks out construction progress
The Regional Health Services of Howard County Board of Trustees toured the North Wing/Pharmacy areas of the facility’s ongoing construction project at its monthly meeting recently. Following the meeting, Regional Health Services of Howard County CEO Robin Schluter described the areas that were featured on the tour. (Cresco Times Plain Dealer)

Medical marijuana discussion tabled by pharmacy board
Three members of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended Wednesday morning that the state take marijuana out of the strictest classification of drugs, but the full board decided to wait until at least January to discuss the idea. A board subcommittee recommended Wednesday that legislators take marijuana out of Schedule I, a classification that bans almost all uses. But other board members said they wanted to go slow on the proposal. “I think we should take our time here,” said board member James Miller, a Dubuque pharmacist. (Des Moines Register)

Ottumwa students experience medical robotics
High-tech robotic surgical equipment sounds like something you wouldn’t let just anybody play with, but some Ottumwa High School students got to experience the system first-hand. Ottumwa’s robotics club and engineering class took a field trip to Ottumwa Regional Health Center to learn about the “da Vinci Robotics” surgical system. (KTVO)

National News

CHI Health offers Blue Cross plan to achieve $80M in savings, including $10M in price cuts in 2015
CHI Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska are discussing the first proposal offered in weeks by either side in an effort to end their conflict. CHI Health on Monday offered what it called a two-year plan to achieve savings of $80 million — $10 million by cutting prices next year in the Omaha area and $70 million by freezing rates in 2016 and gaining savings through keeping groups of patients healthy. (Omaha World Herald)

CMS: 9.1 million enroll in Medicaid/CHIP over 12 months
More than 9.1 million people enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program between Oct. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014, increasing total enrollment in the programs by an estimated 15.8 percent, according to a report released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The preliminary estimate is based on 48 states and the District of Columbia reporting both September enrollment data and baseline data from July through September 2013. (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services)

How much did health insurance rates go up? It’s complicated
Americans could find the new insurance rates for the Affordable Care Act in online marketplaces last week. Prices of many plans went up. But just how much depends on how you measured them. Shortly after the numbers were released, think tanks, consultants and reporters all crunched the data to produce varying estimates of what’s happening to insurance premiums in the new marketplaces. (New York Times)

Study: American seniors face health care gaps, despite Medicare
Americans older than 65 are more likely to have chronic illnesses and to say they struggle to afford health care – despite qualifying for the federal Medicare program – than are seniors in other industrialized countries, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs. (Kaiser Health News)

How medical care is being corrupted
When we are patients, we want our doctors to make recommendations that are in our best interests as individuals. As physicians, we strive to do the same for our patients. But financial forces largely hidden from the public are beginning to corrupt care and undermine the bond of trust between doctors and patients. Insurers, hospital networks and regulatory groups have put in place both rewards and punishments that can powerfully influence your doctor’s decisions. (New York Times)

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

Iowa News

ACA sign-ups slow but steady in Siouxland
Support for the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed ‘Obamacare’, appears to be plunging, according to a new Gallup Poll. Yet, sign ups the second time around are going better around the country and here in Siouxland. Enrollment for 2015 healthcare is now open. And the website handling sign-ups is running much smoother than last year. (KCAU)

Quitline Iowa helps Iowans kick smoking habit
As The Great American Smokeout approaches, a growing number of Iowans, including youth, are taking advantage of Quitline Iowa to help them kick the smoking habit. The smokeout, planned for Thursday, is sponsored by the American Cancer Society to encourage smokers to quit for the day and make a plan for quitting for good. (Des Moines Register)

UIHC program does more with less
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic’s Blood Management Program is proving that, when it comes to blood transfusions, more might not always be better. In its first three years of existence, the program has dropped red blood cell usage by almost 30 percent, according to UIHC officials. (University of Iowa Daily Iowan)

National News

Outreach workers look for gains in second year of Obamacare
With the HealthCare.gov website working for consumers much more smoothly than last year, health officials are focused on reaching out to potential customers. For starters, they want to people who bought insurance last year to take another look at those plans. And, of course, the exchange wants to bring in new customers who didn’t need or skipped insurance last year. (Iowa Public Radio)

Cost to treat Ebola in the U.S.: $1.16 million for 2 patients
It cost more than $1 million to treat two Ebola patients at the Nebraska Medical Center, said Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the hospital’s academic partner. That’s the direct cost of providing the care, Gold said Tuesday during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee. It doesn’t include the opportunity cost of taking those 10 beds out of service, which he estimated was close to $148,000 so far. (Washington Post)

Avera eCare: Revolutionizing rural health care
For many South Dakotans, choosing where to live also means choosing to live far away from the nearest emergency medical facility. However, thanks to improved technology, Avera Health is allowing doctors to reach patients all over the Midwest. Avera Health’s mission is to take care of patients in their home communities, Avera eCare allows staff to live-out that mission. This isn’t just an e-emergency room, it’s pretty much a virtual hospital. (KSFY)

Integrating art into patient quality and safety
The Australian Institute for Patient & Family Centered Care brings patients, families and healthcare professionals to the table together, to transform people’s experience of health care. We aim to achieve this through a three-fold approach: Develop partnerships between patients; their families and health professionals; create a culture that is both supportive and effective and improve healthcare environments through high-quality integrated art, architecture and design. (Not Running a Hospital)

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

Iowa News

Medicaid expansion helps Iowa hospitals and patients
The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare has been in place for more than a year now and one key part of it was expanding Medicaid. That’s the joint federal/state healthcare program for low income people, but states were given the option to expand it. Here in Iowa, an alternative to Medicaid expansion was passed by state lawmakers and now, new data from the Iowa Hospital Association says the Iowa Health and Wellness plan is benefiting both hospitals and patients. (Iowa Public Radio)

Pharmacy regulators hear testimony on medical marijuana
Patients, medical professionals and drug-abuse prevention specialists testified Monday about whether Iowa should relax its strict ban on medical uses of marijuana. The conflicting opinions were offered to a committee of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, which is considering renewing its recommendation that the state reclassify marijuana in a way that could make it easier to use legally for medical purposes. (Des Moines Register)

Decorah hospital foundation awards grants to local mental health projects
As part of the Centennial Gala Event on November 1, the Winneshiek Medical Center Foundation awarded five grants to local groups and organizations working to improve the mental health of our region. Ronald Hougen, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic Health System psychologist at Winneshiek Medical Center says, “We know that early detection and a quick response are essential to providing good mental health care. The more people know about mental illness, the better they can help themselves or help their loved ones get the support they need.” (Winneshiek Medical Center)

National News

Administration says HealthCare.gov working well
As a crucial second sign-up season gears up, the Obama administration said Sunday that HealthCare.gov is stable and working well, a far cry from last year’s frozen computer screens and frustrated customers. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said she expects “strong and healthy growth” for 2015. About 7 million people are signed up, and Burwell expects to grow that by 2 million more or so. (Associated Press/Charlotte Observer)

More ACA plans likely to exclude major hospitals in the future
Some of the health care policies that went for sale on Maryland’s insurance marketplace over the weekend won’t cover care at Johns Hopkins Health System. UnitedHealthcare has a few plans that will not cover Johns Hopkins hospitals or physicians, the Baltimore Sun reported. In a statement, the insurer — one of region’s largest — says the plans are options among its other offerings on the exchange, and that includes plans that do include Hopkins. This is where health care is going. (Washington Business Journal)

How to improve hospital ED communications
A growing body of evidence indicates quality medical care in the emergency department may be enhanced or eclipsed by patients’ experiences with their medical providers. For example, the Joint Commission performed a study to find root causes for all reported sentinel events between 1995 and 2005. Its findings indicate poor communications was the most common cause of negative events in the United States (68 percent). Meanwhile, lack of technical competence was responsible for only 20 percent of events. (InformationWeek)

America doesn’t care about Ebola anymore
But as the situation abates, so does the urgency to act. With a quarter of American hospitals losing money in day-to-day operations, according to the American Hospital Association, expensive and time-consuming training for unknown future outbreaks is not always a top priority, experts say. Hospitals seek a balance between preparation and overreaction when planning for the possibility of an outbreak of a deadly virus like Ebola, the spread of a pandemic flu or the emergence of another little-known infectious disease. (Governing)

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

Iowa News

Hospitals seeing fewer uninsured patients
At Allen Hospital in Waterloo, gross charges for services the hospital provided to uninsured, self-pay patients decreased by 58 percent from $12.1 million during the first nine months of 2013 compared to $5.1 million during the same period in 2014, according to Jim Waterbury, vice president for institutional advancement. Since the number of patients hasn’t changed significantly, the decrease in uninsured charges means Allen is caring for about half as many uninsured patients as it did last year. (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

Changes in health coverage suggest positive trend
During the first six months of this year, the number of people hospitalized in Iowa without insurance fell by 45.7 percent compared with the same period last year, an Iowa Hospital Association analysis has found. The analysis is based on data collected from 101 Iowa hospitals from January through June. “We looked at our numbers and during the same six month time period, Spencer Hospital had a 5.4 percent decrease in the number of uninsured patients. While not as dramatic as the statewide average, the impact on the hospital’s charity care decreased by half during that six month time frame over the same six months in 2013,” Susan Zulk, vice president of marketing and fund development at Spencer Hospital, said.

Iowa National Guard going to West Africa to fight Ebola
The Iowa National Guard announced Sunday that they have been notified of a pending mobilization to send approximately 80 soldiers to West Africa, as a part of Operation United Assistance. Operation United Assistance is the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It is led by the United States Agency for International Development, Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies are providing certain unique, supporting capabilities as needed to the operation. (WHO-TV)

Oskaloosa hospital share new technology for diabetes management
According to diabetes educator Sharon Ferguson, new technology provides individuals with educational resources and data-gathering mechanisms for managing their own care between provider visits. “While it is very important to continue regular visits with your health care provider, these technological advances assist with more precise insulin administration methods, smaller needles for checking blood sugar and injecting insulin, continuous glucose monitors and insulin pump devices.” (Oskaloosa News)

Muscatine pastor returns home; taught Liberians about Ebola
The Rev. Saye Beipa was back to preaching at his Muscatine church Sunday morning after coming off his 21-day quarantine. The Calvary Church pastor returned from Liberia on Oct. 16 after spending the summer in his native West African country. He didn’t just witness the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, he took action. “The day you act careless, that’s the day you get it,” Beipa said, recalling images of bodies pulled out of buildings in plastic bags. (Muscatine Journal)

National News

Surgeon who contracted Ebola virus in Sierra Leone dies at NE hospital
A surgeon who contracted the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone died at a Nebraska hospital where he was transported for treatment, the facility said Monday. A statement released Monday by Nebraska Medical Center said Dr. Martin Salia “has passed away as a result of the advanced symptoms of the disease.” “Dr. Salia was extremely critical when he arrived here, and unfortunately, despite out best efforts, we weren’t able to save him,” said Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit. (Fox News)

Health plans lead to more hospital pre-pays
Before Mark Edwards ever reclined on a hospital operating table in September, he’d received two bills for his outpatient procedure and was asked to remit $500. After he left the hospital, the Paducah, Ky., businessman paid $2,000 more, the rest of his insurance deductible. “Luckily, I could take out a credit card and pay. A lot of people can’t,” Edwards said. (USA Today)

Hospitals and pharmacies grapple with rising drug prices
Fed up with the rising price of drugs, Ascension Health last month did something unusual. It publicly banned a drug company’s sales reps. The reason: The company had reclassified three cancer drugs, causing prices to spike. In a memo to employees, Dr. Roy Guharoy and Michael Gray, two top executives with the Edmundson-based hospital chain, explained: “Already scarce resources will need to be stretched with potential serious impact on the range and breadth of health services we currently provide to our patients and our communities.” The move proved largely symbolic. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Medicaid at 50: From exclusion to expansion to universality
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), as part of its comprehensive insurance coverage architecture, rendered all Americans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid. Through the effort to “provide everybody … some basic security when it comes to their health care,” the ACA adopted a universal approach to health care access. Universality is a fundamentally different philosophical approach in American health care, and an important progression away from the stigmatizing rhetoric of the “deserving poor.” (Health Affairs)

Are providers finally finding value in wearables?
The developer of an mHealth platform for diabetics is now incorporating biometric data from wearable fitness trackers, giving diabetics and their caregivers the opportunity to use health and wellness data in clinical decision support. The announcement by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Glooko is significant in that it brings the immensely popular consumer-facing wearables market that much closer to the healthcare providers, many of whom haven’t been all that interested in fitness bands or smartwatches yet. (mHealth News)

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

Iowa News

Mercy’s Heart Failure Clinic reduces readmission rates, helps patients manage their conditions
Heart failure patients are getting younger every day, according to Mir Rauf Subla, an interventional cardiologist at Mercy Medical Center.  These patients, some as young as 50, suffer shortness of breath, their legs swell and they feel tired, weak and depressed.  They have no idea these symptom are the result of their heart not being able to pump enough blood to keep up with its workload. Mercy recently opened a specialty clinic in its Heart Center specifically for these patients, who first show up at the emergency room.  They are evaluated by a cardiologist there and then admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay or sent to the Heart Failure Clinic for further evaluation. (Sioux City Journal)

Getting a Boost: More agencies to help with Q-C health insurance enrollment
More than 10 million Americans gained health insurance coverage a year ago via the federal Affordable Care Act, and local officials are lining up help with the next enrollment period that is about to begin.  Commonly called Obamacare, the act offers online enrollment that starts Saturday.  Most Quad-City public outreach efforts begin Monday. Some new consultants will be joining a big group of health insurance counselors to work with those enrolling in coverage plans in both Iowa and Illinois. One new team in the Illinois Quad-Cities is from The Project of the Quad-Cities, based in Moline.  “Our prevention team is out in the streets, meeting people where they are, making sure our clients are getting referred and connected to the services they need,” Wendy Kelly said. (Quad City Times)

National News

First look at health insurance rates for next year is encouraging
Early evidence suggests that competition in the new Affordable Care Act marketplaces is working.  Health insurance premiums in major cities around the country are barely rising. That’s the conclusion of two studies of data about newly public insurance rates.  One, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health research group, looked at 49 cities and found that prices for a popular type of plan are actually going down, on average.  A second, from the actuarial firm Wakely Consulting Group, looked at the largest county in each of the 34 states with marketplaces run by the federal government and found an average rate increase of zero. (The New York Times)

HHS promotes Healthcare.gov’s cyber defenses
Government officials are again stressing Healthcare.gov’s security measures, two days ahead of the second round of open enrollment.  “We’ve tested and retested our systems, putting ourselves through some of the industry’s most stringent protocols to ensure we’re taking the steps necessary to safeguard consumers’ personal information,” said Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a blog post.  It was the second topic Burwell raised in her post, following a comment on the expanded healthcare options and boosted call center help staff.  The initial HealthCare.gov launch last October was marred with technical glitches and security failings.  Security researchers said they were able to track down enrollee records through simple Google searches. Hackers later breached the site, although no personal data was exposed. (The Hill)

The selling of Obamacare 2.0
At this point last year, President Barack Obama had talked up Obamacare on “Leno.”  He tweeted about it with Katy Perry, asked ministers to pitch it to their flocks and dispatched top officials and celebrities to spread the Obamacare word.  This year?  Silence.  That’s about to change.  The second year of Obamacare enrollment starts Saturday, and the administration is launching a much more precise strategy that uses targeted digital ads, aims at specific demographics and leverages social media, according to senior administration officials who briefed POLITICO.  It’s a slower, quieter buildup for Obamacare sign-ups in year two, a reflection of a more cautious administration lowering expectations after last year’s disastrous HealthCare.gov rollout.  But in year two, officials can be more focused on the mechanics of enrollment and spend less time introducing Americans to the law. (POLITICO)