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

Iowa News

Wellmark trims broad-network health insurance options
Iowans looking to buy individual health insurance policies now have fewer options from the state’s largest carrier. Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield leaders said Tuesday that they no longer will sell standard, broad-network health policies, known as Preferred Provider Organization plans, on the individual market in Iowa. The company will continue to sell plans that steer participants to specific hospital-and-clinic systems, such as the Mercy Health System or the University of Iowa system. It also will sell a Health Maintenance Organization plan that has some restrictions on out-of-network care. (Des Moines Register)

UI app aids in alleviating kids’ pain
With certain medical procedures, pain is unavoidable. However, with the Distraction in Action application, distress caused by these painful medical procedures can be reduced. Researchers at University of Iowa (UI) Children’s Hospital and the UI College of Nursing have developed an app, Distraction in Action, that will be used as an intervention method to distract children from painful medical procedures such as IV insertions. The app’s development is based on 20 years of research and is geared toward children between the ages of four to 10. (University of Iowa Daily Iowan)

Seasons receives $150,000 grant for Children’s Mental Health
Seasons Center for Behavioral Health has been awarded a $150,000, nine-month planning grant from the Iowa Department of Human Services. The purpose of the grant is to fund the continued development of children’s mental health crisis services throughout the state of Iowa. Seasons will work closely with partners Boys Town, Juvenile Court, Prairie Lakes AEA and Avera in providing a collective rural voice on how children’s crisis services should be delivered in the future. (Spencer Daily Reporter)

National News

Rural hospitals in Georgia see ray of hope in tax credit program
The chief executive of two financially stressed hospitals in southwest Georgia looks forward to the promise of donations under a new state tax credit program. “The tax credit legislation is a lifeline for us, helping us keep essential services in our rural communities,’’ said Kim Gilman, who runs Phoebe Worth Hospital in Sylvester and Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert. Gilman joined several other rural hospital CEOs at the state Capitol on Tuesday for the kickoff of a task force, called Rural Healthcare 180, that aims to promote the donation program. (Georgia Health News)

Public gets chance to speak on Idaho Medicaid expansion at hearing Wednesday
The legislative committee reviewing health care options for Idaho’s working poor convenes a daylong session in the Capitol Wednesday, including a two-hour period of public testimony. Wednesday’s agenda features morning testimony from advocates on both sides of the debate over whether Idaho should expand Medicaid to cover the estimate 78,000 residents caught in a health coverage gap. Those residents earn too much to qualify for standard Medicaid health benefits, but not enough to qualify for subsidized coverage available on the state health insurance exchange. (Idaho Statesman)

Underfunding Medicaid in New Mexico is a foolish decision
Currently, New Mexico receives four dollars in federal funds for every state dollar invested in Medicaid. Rather than maximizing this $4 to $1 return on investment, New Mexico underfunded the Medicaid budget in the 2016 legislative session. For fiscal year 2017, New Mexico is losing over $265 million in federal matching funds for Medicaid by failing to come up with $67 million to meet Medicaid’s minimum budget needs. In response, health care providers have issued serious warnings that the low Medicaid rates will force them to downsize staff and potentially even close entire facilities. (Albuquerque Journal)

Opioid crisis in rural areas may be tackled through telemedicine
Some health professionals think technology could offer a solution to the opioid crisis — by using video chat to connect patients in need with faraway physicians who know how to treat addiction. Their telemedicine effort is part of a larger initiative to fight the opioid epidemic in hard-hit rural areas such as Appalachia. This summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture directed $1.4 million to five pilot projects in southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. The initiative comes as the nation’s addiction to prescription painkillers remains at epidemic levels. (Washington Post)

MedPAC questions validity of CMS’ hospital star ratings
The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) has added its influential voice to those questioning the accuracy of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) hospital quality star-rating system and whether or not it penalizes hospitals with the sickest patients. The panel, which advises Congress on Medicare spending, will develop its own quality measures and a corresponding payment structure. CMS released the ratings this summer despite pressure from Congress and industry stakeholders to delay or tweak the system. They and others say the system oversimplifies a complex matter and could hurt hospitals’ reputations. (Modern Healthcare)

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

Iowa News

Anonymous Medicaid happy tales not enough
Governor Terry Branstad is desperate for good publicity about his privatization of Medicaid management. The problem: Iowans are not contacting the media to share positive experiences. Instead, numerous people have come forward with horror stories since the governor handed over administration of the government program to three for-profit insurers on April 1. Health providers are closing their doors because they’re not being reimbursed for services. Some are borrowing money to stay afloat. Patients are struggling to obtain medications and care. (Des Moines Register)

Bringing exercise programs to patients
Everyone knows that exercise can help patients prevent and manage chronic illness and, often, recover from acute disease. But getting patients on board can be tough. They complain that they can’t afford it, they can’t find the time or motivation, or they feel uncomfortable at the gym. To address such concerns, Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, has moved beyond lecturing patients to partner with its local YMCA. Located at the Mercy Wellness Campus, the resulting collaborative program offers services and facilities through a medically integrated fitness model. (Today’s Hospitalist)

Allen kicks off fund drive
UnityPoint Health, the parent company of Allen Hospital and Allen College, has launched the most ambitious fund drive in those institutions’ long history in Waterloo-Cedar Falls. It’s a three-pronged, $19.8 million fund drive called “For Allen For You.” About $10.2 million already has been raised. The remaining $9.5 million is being sought to help fund three major initiatives “designed to address the health care and health care education needs of the Cedar Valley,” UnityPoint officials said in making the announcement. (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

Baby boom hits ORHC
This past week was a busy one for Ottumwa Regional Health Center (ORHC). A total of 17 babies were born at ORHC in less than 48 hours this week. It made for a very, very busy maternity ward, though doctors Lindsy Alons and Eric Garner said that wasn’t a bad thing. “Spikes in our census are cause for celebration up here,” said Sharry Fipps, Director. “Everyone pitched in to help; the positive attitudes and teamwork were definitely in play. We had 17 healthy babies with happy parents!” (Ottumwa Courier)

National News

Innovative Georgia tax credit benefits rural hospital donors
A new state income tax credit aims to help struggling rural hospitals, according to a news release. The program, which will go into effect in January, allows donors to rural hospitals to be eligible for tax credits. House Appropriations Chairman Terry England said it’s important that all of the donated money goes directly to the rural hospitals. “This innovative piece of legislation has put Georgia at the forefront of the national conversation for rural healthcare reform and has positioned our state to bring broader health care solutions to the table on a national level,” Representative Geoff Duncan (R-Cummings) said. (The Telegraph)

National meeting on Medicaid managed care to include focus on KanCare
Several Kansans are scheduled to meet today with federal officials and counterparts from across the country to discuss issues related to the privatization of state Medicaid programs. The meeting comes at a critical time for Kansas officials, who are expected next year to seek federal authorization to continue the state’s $3.2 billion managed care Medicaid program, known as KanCare. There have been steady complaints from hospitals, doctors and other health care providers about late payments and problems getting treatment authorizations from the managed care organizations. (Kansas Health Institute)

Texas Supreme Court allows Medicaid cuts to children’s therapy to proceed
A significant cut to the amount of money Texas pays therapists who treat children with disabilities was finally cleared to take effect — more than one year after state lawmakers originally ordered it — when the Texas Supreme Court on Friday declined to hear a lawsuit over the budget cut’s legality. Last year, a group of concerned Texans filed a lawsuit seeking to block the $350 million cut to Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, from taking effect. Child welfare advocates said the decision would harm vulnerable Texans. (Texas Tribune)

It’s easy for Obamacare critics to overlook the merits of Medicaid expansion
Three years into Obamacare and it seems as if much of the news is bad: private insurers exiting the exchanges, networks being narrowed, premiums rising and competition dwindling out of existence. But it’s important to remember that many, if not most, of the newly covered Americans became insured through an expansion of Medicaid. Looking at the balance sheet for Medicaid — health benefits, financial security, societal improvements through education — it’s not hard to argue that money allocated to Medicaid is well spent. (New York Times)

House approves bill for mental health first aid training
The House on Monday approved a bill that would require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to reauthorize mental health first aid training programs. The chamber approved H.R. 1877, the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015, by voice vote. The bill would reauthorize a grant program that trains individuals who are likely to be a first responder to a patient experiencing mental illness, such as teachers of police officers. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised the bill, sponsored by Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) and Doris Matsui (D-California), ahead of the vote. (Morning Consult)

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

Iowa News

Healthier, maybe, but affordable?
The confusion over the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is understandable, to some degree. Nick Gerhart, Iowa’s insurance commissioner, and three other states’ top insurance chiefs testified September 15 before a U.S. Senate committee to present what at best can be called a mixed report card. He noted that the 13 health systems that take part in accountable care organizations established by Iowa’s biggest insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, reported savings and said Iowa’s version of the ACA Medicaid Expansion plan offered up coverage for more than 150,000 low-income childless adults. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

St. Luke’s College now offers all bachelor’s degree completion programs online
Health care professionals now have the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degrees through St. Luke’s College — UnityPoint Health with the flexibility of 100 percent online learning. Designed for the working health care professional, programs allow busy adults the ability to design their own schedule with both full-time and part-time options. “With the increase in baby boomers requiring care and the growing shortage of health care providers, there are increasing demands placed on health care professionals,” said Michael Stiles, chancellor of St. Luke’s College. (LeMars Daily Sentinel)

Cedar Rapids man pushes for nationwide change in reporting Alzheimer’s deaths
When Ken Kirby’s wife, Bernice, died in March at the age of 89, he was confused as to why the attending physician recorded her cause of death as a heart attack. It was so clear to Kirby — the Alzheimer’s killed Bernice, not the heart attack. So he worked with his friend Kathy Good, director of the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy in Cedar Rapids, and Mercy Medical Center’s Dr. Tim Quinn to talk with the physician to change the death certificate. Kirby wrote to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explain the underreporting of the disease. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

National News

Connecticut rejects challenge to the hospital tax
Two state agency heads have ruled against Connecticut hospitals’ claims that the state tax on hospitals is illegal, clearing the way for the industry to take the state to court. Hospitals have long bristled at the tax, imposed during a budget crisis in 2011 and increased by hundreds of millions of dollars since then. Last year, 24 hospitals and the Connecticut Hospital Association challenged the tax. The hospital association called the ruling “unfortunate but not unexpected,” and said it and the hospitals “intend to pursue every legal option at our disposal as we continue our efforts to challenge the tax.” (CT Mirror)

Medicaid transition causes hardship in Florida
Lawmakers and administrators at the Florida Department of Health have laid off hundreds of department employees and disqualified nearly 13,000 previously eligible children — about 20 percent of the program’s total enrollment barely a year ago. Their care was outsourced to for-profit, publicly traded health insurance companies that make health care decisions with an eye toward the bottom line. The Children’s Medical Services plan was partially transferred from government control to private companies in 2014 and it has not gone smoothly. (Sarasota Herald Tribune)

Only 11 Medicaid managed care plans have more than 1 million members
Consolidation in the insurance industry means Medicaid beneficiaries have fewer coverage options under managed care, according to a new analysis from PWC. For the first time in three years, the number of private Medicaid health plans declined in 2016, from 195 last year to 183 this year. The decline is caused by consolidation between existing plans, plans closing up shop, losing contracts or exiting Medicaid. Of the 183 private Medicaid health plans up and running in the country, only 11 have more than 1 million members. (Modern Healthcare)

Tobacco tax ballot measure would fund health care for California’s poor – but how?
At first blush, the tobacco tax measure on California’s November ballot looks pretty straightforward. Proposition 56 would raise the price of a pack of cigarettes by $2 and tax e-cigarettes for the first time. Proponents say the higher price would prevent kids from smoking and lower health care spending because people won’t suffer as much from tobacco-related illness. It is estimated that up to $1 billion each year would go to “improved payments” for Medi-Cal health care services. But opponents say the health care funding is part of a “special interest tax grab.” (Kaiser Health News)

New people, new tools needed for effective post-discharge monitoring
Hospitals need new ways to engage and monitor patients after a stay because they face financial penalties for excess readmissions within 30 days after discharge. The readmissions penalties have driven many hospitals to mine their data and work more closely with the post-acute care providers like skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation hospitals and home health care agencies who care for their patients after discharge. This often means putting in place new computer systems and procedures. Monitoring and engaging patients post discharge is the obvious next step, but to do this effectively an infrastructure needs to be put in place. (Modern Healthcare)

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

Iowa News

6 months in, tri-state residents express frustration with new Medicaid system
During a meeting Thursday night, area families and health care providers expressed frustration and shared their struggles with Iowa’s transition to a privatized Medicaid system. About 50 people attended a listening and help session Thursday night at the Northeast Iowa Community College Town Clock Business Center. The event was hosted by Senator Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque). Attendees were given the opportunity to share their experiences with the new Medicaid structure, as well as meet with representatives of the managed care organizations that have been overseeing the program since April. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

St. Anthony Breaks Ground On New Assisted Living Complex
St. Anthony Regional Hospital (SARH) and Nursing Home announced the development of a new assisted-living facility this week at a ground breaking ceremony in Carroll. The planned 36-unit facility, named Garden View, will complement current St. Anthony Senior Living offerings and will be located on the southeast side of the St. Anthony campus. Ed Smith, St. Anthony President and CEO, says this facility brings many benefits to Carroll. The facility has a number of amenities that future residents will be able to enjoy, such as a chapel, a salon, library and even a pub. St. (KCIM)

St. Luke’s Hospital provides support for mothers facing postpartum depression
1 in 5 mothers will face postpartum depression in their lifetime. A new baby can bring a lot of changes in a mother’s life including emotional. St. Luke’s Hospital offers a support group to help mothers facing anxiety and depression by talking in a casual setting with others who are going through similar experiences. Postpartum is a step above the common “baby blues.” I can cause a mothers to spiral into a deep depression which only progresses without treatment. St. Luke’s Maternal Child Education Coordinator Deb Oldakowski said there’s one thing a mother dealing with this needs to remember. (KCRG)

Volunteers start work on Lullaby Lane
Parents grieving an unexpected miscarriage will soon have a permanent place to memorialize their child. At Elmwood Cemetery, members of this year’s Leadership North Iowa class spent Tuesday morning helping to lay pavers in a path for Lullaby Land. Parents who lost children to miscarriage under 20 weeks will have the option of having their child’s name and date of loss engraved on a paver there to be installed in the pathway. When finished, it will be a space for “people be able to memorialize their child,” said Mercy Medical Center Bereavement Coordinator Andrea Campbell. (Mason City Globe Gazette)

Miracle Riders take off from Sioux City for the first time ever to raise money for children
Sioux City witnessed a first this week as Miracle Riders rode out on motorcycles for St. Luke’s Miracle Network. Their thousand-mile journey helps to raise money for babies and their families. “We’re trying to raise $50,000 to buy two new crib units,” says lead Miracle Rider Matt Thompson. The ride will be anything but boring as the motorcyclists have asked patients to give them fun challenges along the way. “We’ve put a call out to all the children in Siouxland and the children at the hospital to think of ideas for us like scavenger hunts for us riders to do, ” said Thompson. (Siouxland Matters)

National News

Medicaid backlog cost Kansas at least $2.3 million and counting
Kansa has spent an additional $2.3 million on staffing to handle thousands of backlogged health insurance applications for people with low incomes or who are severely disabled, according to an audit. The audit looked into ongoing problems with the state’s Medicaid application backlog. Medicaid is the state and federal health insurance program. Kansas has a privatized Medicaid system called KanCare. The audit also discovered that as of mid-August, nearly 35,000 people have renewal applications pending and are waiting to find out if they will continue to receive services. (Wichita Eagle)

Neighborhoods influence health, for better and for worse
Doctors are waking up to a reality: To save lives, it simply isn’t enough to provide the best clinical care. As health care transitions from fee-for-service care to population health management, providers must look beyond the walls of hospitals and into the communities where people live their daily lives. Providers need to collaborate with community leaders and organizations providing social services, making themselves part of the neighborhoods they serve. Many hospitals and clinics are already experimenting with innovative approaches that link the clinic to the neighborhood. (Wall Street Journal)

‘Genius Grant’ winner is a genius at inspiring students
When the phone rang, Rebecca Richards-Kortum thought it was a telemarketer. Instead, it was the MacArthur Foundation calling her at home to tell her she’d just won a grant totaling $625,000, often dubbed the “genius grants.” They’re given out each year to 20 to 30 people who show “exceptional creativity.” In announcing Richards-Kortum as one of this year’s 23 fellows, the MacArthur Foundation noted her commitment to “improving access to quality health care for all the world’s people. Richards-Kortum is not only developing novel solutions but also training and inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists to address our shared global challenges.” (NPR)

House panel advances six public health bills
The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a half-dozen public health-related bills Wednesday. The six bills were approved unanimously by the committee on voice votes, and covered a range of topics from mental health first aid to classifying some synthetic drugs. In the Senate, similar bills are working their way through the committee process. “Collectively, these bipartisan bills will improve the health of Americans across a large spectrum of issues,” Chairman Fred Upton (R-Michigan) said in a statement. The six bills now await action on the House floor. (Morning Consult)

McConnell releases stopgap spending bill, anti-Zika funds
The Senate’s top Republican on Thursday unveiled legislation to prevent a government shutdown next weekend and provide more than $1 billion to battle the Zika virus. It also would provide $500 million to help Louisiana rebuild from last month’s devastating floods. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the stopgap measure was “clean” of controversies. But Democrats immediately blasted the proposal for failing to fund one of their top priorities: money to help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system. (PBS Newshour)

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

Iowa News

Representative Patrick Kennedy, local health advocates discuss mental health concerns
Dr. Alan Whitters knows the mental health care system in Iowa is struggling. “We stabilize our patients and they shouldn’t be discharged, but they have nowhere to go,” said Whitters, medical director of behavioral services at Mercy Medical Center. He was talking with former US Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) who was in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday for a mental health care roundtable. Kennedy led the discussion that included nearly 30 mental health advocates, providers, law enforcement and local officials. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

New overtime rule would cost Iowa government, universities $19 million
Iowa has joined 20 other states in an effort to resist new overtime regulations handed down by President Barack Obama’s Labor Department. The new rules, announced in May, would make about 120,000 more Iowans eligible for overtime protections. Governor Terry Branstad on Tuesday announced that he had joined a coalition of 21 states and governors in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the new rules. In a news release, he said the new threshold would force major employment changes for state and local governments, including layoffs. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Estate provides $2 million for nursing endowment at UnityPoint
Dorothy Schaefer’s will provided $2 million to establish the William and Grace Lewis Scholarship Endowment Fund to support nursing education and certification at UnityPoint Health-Des Moines. A portion of the interest each year will be used for the William and Grace Lewis Scholarship. Schaefer, an Oskaloosa native, graduated from Des Moines Roosevelt High School and from Drake University, in business administration. Jane Wyatt, a former member of the hospital leadership team, was of great assistance to Schaefer and was instrumental in helping with the gift. (Des Moines Business Record)

Genesis speaks out against new out-of-state mental health hospital building
Genesis Health System leaders are speaking out with less than a month until an out-of-state company, Strategic Behavioral Health, tries to get approval for the second time to build a mental health facility in Bettendorf. The message is still the same, but this time Genesis leaders say they have proof they are already meeting the community mental health need. “In-patient beds are not needed in this region when we have 28 in-patient beds, and we’re averaging a daily census of 14. The facts show there is not a need for more beds,” says Dr. Jeffrey Weyeneth of Genesis. (WQAD)

National News

Arkansas panel adopts mental health Medicaid cap
An Arkansas legislative committee Tuesday approved putting a limit on a mental health benefit for Medicaid recipients, despite objections from providers who said it would disrupt patient care and force treatment facilities to close. Under the change, Medicaid reimbursement for group psychotherapy would be limited to one hour a day, instead of an hour and a half a day. The change would also limit the total number of hour-long sessions to 25 per year per person. Currently, the Medicaid program doesn’t limit the number of sessions a patient can receive. (Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

KU researchers aim to improve health of Kansans with disabilities
University of Kansas (KU) researchers plan to use a $1.5 million federal grant to help Kansans with disabilities catch up to their non-disabled peers in several health categories. Jean Hall, director of KU’s Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies, will lead a team of partners from nonprofit organizations and government agencies to improve physical activity, nutrition and oral health for Kansans with disabilities. Hall said the grant recipients must focus some attention on increasing physical activity, and her team members chose nutrition and oral health as the other areas they wanted to address. (Kansas Health Institute)

Heroin deaths are rising as state-funded treatment falls in Illinois
Once considered a drug largely used by urban populations, heroin use has been rising throughout the country across most demographic groups, most age groups and all income levels, for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illinois is a leader when it comes to heroin—and not in a good way. It leads the nation in heroin-related emergency room visits. From 2006 to 2012, heroin was the most common drug, after alcohol, for which people enter publicly funded treatment And yet, Illinois is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to availability of state-provided treatment. (Chicago Health)

Great job reducing readmissions, hospitals (but it’s about to get harder)
If unnecessary hospital readmissions are the low-hanging fruit in the pursuit of better health care, hospitals should get ready to pluck less and less. Some providers and policy experts are concerned that imposing financial penalties to drive down excess readmissions could move hospitals to take measures that go too far. They argue that it’s often better for patients to be held for observation rather than admitted. “Observation status helps ensure that the most appropriate setting of care is where the patient ultimately receives their care,” said Lorraine Ryan, senior vice president of legal, regulatory and professional affairs at the Greater New York Hospital Association. (Modern Healthcare)

Hospital quality scores unaffected by physician employment status
More and more hospitals are employing physicians, but it isn’t helping them to improve quality scores in mortality rates, readmission rates, lengths of stay or patient satisfaction. That’s the conclusion researchers made when they tracked performance at 803 hospitals employing physicians for up to two years after they switched employment models and compared them to 2,085 hospitals without physician employees. Researchers looked at performance scores at both types of hospitals and determined physician employment status did not affect quality of care. (Healthcare Dive)

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