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Preview: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Health Health News From the Associated Press


Plan to give health care to every Californian moves forward

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 01:33:05 UT

(AP) — California lawmakers pushed forward Wednesday with a proposal that would substantially remake the health care system of the nation's most populous state by replacing insurance companies with government-funded health care for everyone. [...] a new state agency would set prices and contract with health care providers such as doctors and hospitals and pay the bills for everyone. The measure envisions using all public money spent on health care — from Medicare, Medicaid, federal public health funds and "Obamacare" subsidies. [...] it also would require significant tax increases on businesses, residents or both to replace billions of dollars in health care spending by employers and individuals while generating enough money to cover people who are currently uninsured. Employers, business groups and health plans have mobilized in opposition, warning that the measure would require massive tax increases and force patients into lengthy waits to see a doctor. "By having everything in one pool, you're going to decrease administrative costs, and you're also going to get away from a system where so many different players in the system are there only because of greed, because they want to make money off of people's health care needs," said Thorild Urdal, a nurse in Oakland who is originally from Norway, which has government-funded health care.

VA limiting new hiring as it aims to widen private care

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 01:02:24 UT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite the lifting of a federal hiring freeze, the Department of Veterans Affairs is leaving thousands of positions unfilled, citing the need for a leaner VA as it develops a longer-term plan to allow more veterans to seek medical care in the private sector. Government auditors have previously faulted the department for recent shortages in IT and HR, which it said had hurt its ability to recruit and hire key staff department-wide. Major veterans organizations also worry this could be a sign of future tightening at the VA, coming after the department had previously warned it would need "hiring surges" to address a rapidly growing disability backlog. Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his group was concerned the VA would overlook positions that didn't directly affect health care, such as staffing of its suicide prevention hotline. While President Donald Trump's budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, the memo indicated that the government's second-largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees was no different from other departments that needed to improve "efficiency, effectiveness and accountability."

The Latest: California universal health measure advances

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 00:00:25 UT

A proposal to eliminate health insurance companies and guarantee government-funded health care for all California residents is moving forward. The proposal is promoted by the state's powerful nursing union and two Democratic senators who say California should create a national model for providing health care for everyone. Hundreds of nurses have rallied in support of a California proposal to create a government-funded health care system that would eliminate health insurance companies. California lawmakers are considering an audacious proposal that would substantially remake the state's health care system by eliminating insurance companies and guaranteeing coverage for everyone.

Report: Cows, chickens taint Shenandoah River with E. coli

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 23:12:13 UT

(AP) — Excessive livestock manure from millions of turkeys, chickens and cows in Virginia is making its way into the Shenandoah River, polluting the scenic waterway with unsafe levels of E. coli, according to a new report from an environmental advocacy group. In addition to E. coli, which can sicken the swimmers, fishermen and tubers who flock to the river, the report also found elevated levels of phosphorous, which contributes to the growth of algae blooms and low-oxygen "dead zones." "The Shenandoah Valley is a place of incomparable beauty and cultural value, but its continued health is at risk," says the report, which suggests the state's manure management system isn't adequately protecting human health or water quality and is undermining Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts. [...] pollution management plans, also called nutrient management plans, are only required for large livestock operations, which account for only 12.5 percent of the farmland in those counties, the report says. The report found that more than 90 percent of the water quality monitoring stations where the state regularly samples the river and its tributaries detected E. coli at levels unsafe for human contact over the past two years. Wilmer Stoneman, director of commodities and marketing for the Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers face stringent regulations and are doing more than ever to improve conservation overall.

Conservatives back revised health bill, GOP moderates balk

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 23:09:03 UT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The moribund Republican health care bill received a jolt of life Wednesday when the conservative House Freedom Caucus endorsed a revised version of the measure. Conservatives embraced the revisions as a way to lower people's health care expenses, but moderates saw them as diminishing coverage because insurers could make policies for their most ill — and expensive — customers too costly for them to afford. Keeping GOP options for quick action alive, the House Rules Committee approved special procedures that could allow a sudden House vote on a health care bill through Saturday, though that seemed unlikely. In a statement, the Freedom Caucus said while the new package "still does not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise to the American people to lower health care costs." The legislation does things they oppose, including cutting the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and providing less generous federal subsidies to help people buy coverage than under Obama's law. In an added boost for the revised bill, a constellation of conservative groups announced support including Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the wealthy Koch brothers.

Judge strikes down Louisiana abortion law: unconstitutional

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 23:07:29 UT

[...] the state agreed to wait on enforcement. [...] the nation's highest court has overturned the same appeals court's decision upholding the Texas law. Louisiana had five abortion clinics when the law was passed, and opponents said it would shutter four of those. [...] two have closed, one of them earlier this month.

No verdict yet in eye doctor's $105M Medicare fraud case

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 22:55:43 UT

(AP) — A jury has failed to reach a verdict on the first day of deliberations in the Medicare fraud trial of a prominent Florida eye doctor who is accused separately of bribing a U.S. senator. Prosecutors say he stole up to $105 million from Medicare between 2008 and 2013, giving patients treatments and tests that couldn't help them.

Blood test offers hope for better lung cancer treatment

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:59:35 UT

BOSTON (AP) — Researchers have taken an important step toward better lung cancer treatment by using blood tests to track genetic changes in tumors as they progress from their very earliest stages. With experimental tests that detect bits of DNA that tumors shed into the blood, they were able to detect some recurrences of cancer up to a year before imaging scans could, giving a chance to try new therapy sooner. Some doctors use these tests now to guide care for patients with advanced cancers, mostly in research settings. The company that generated the tests for the study in Nature — California-based Natera Inc. — plans to offer the tests for research by universities and drug companies later this year and hopes to have a version for routine use in cancer care next year. In the studies, researchers analyzed tumors from about 100 people with non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease. Even in these early-stage cases, they found big variations in the number of gene flaws, and were able to trace how the tumors' genes changed over time.

Justices hear dispute over lower-cost biotech drugs sales

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:52:59 UT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday considered a drug company's fight to keep a generic version of its biotech drug off the market for an additional six months that would mean billions more in sales and higher costs to the public. Several of the justices seemed to side with California-based Amgen, which claims that rival Sandoz did not wait long enough before giving notice of its near-copy of Amgen's cancer drug Neupogen. The drug helps boost red blood cells in cancer patients. A federal appeals court ruled in 2015 that the notice can't take place until after biosimilar makers gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Insurer Anthem hands feds deadline on crucial ACA subsidies

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:58:57 UT

Health insurers are pressing President Donald Trump and Congress to guarantee a crucial customer subsidy for the Affordable Care Act's shaky insurance exchanges, and one of the biggest carriers has thrown in its participation as bargaining chip. Trump has suggested that the subsidies could be used as leverage to bring congressional Democrats to the negotiating table on health care, and the future of these payments also is under a legal cloud. House Republicans had sued the Obama administration, arguing that spending the money violates the Constitution because the health law lacked a specific congressional appropriation for the subsidies. Many say they've struggled to make money on the exchanges, while prospering in other parts of their business, and prominent companies like Aetna have already scaled back their coverage.