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Today’s NewsStand (November 30, 2011)

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

Iowa News

Keokuk hospital finds support
Keokuk Area Hospital is getting bipartisan support to keep its doors open. A Republican and two Democrats are petitioning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to help the financially strapped medical center. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, and Democrats Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Dave Loebsack drafted a letter asking Sebelius to review options for the hospital. They noted the hospital serves a “particularly needy population,” as more than 23 percent of families in the area live below poverty and Lee County has the second highest unemployment rate in Iowa. About three-quarters of its patient care is paid for by either Medicare or Medicaid, at about 76 percent of costs, or is uncompensated. (Burlington Hawkeye)

Council lauds Mercy for keeping jobs downtown
Sioux City lawmakers took the first step Monday to keep 80 well-paying jobs downtown and praised Mercy Medical Center for making that decision. Mercy wants to buy the Central Medical Building at 500 Jackson St., where it houses 80 administrative employees. Plans call for remodeling the exterior and interior of the building, which is adjacent to Mercy’s main hospital to the east. “Mercy has been very important to Sioux City,” Councilman John Fitch said Monday. “I know you had options. … Choosing to stay in downtown Sioux City is really appreciated.” (Sioux City Journal)

Survey: state budgets facing ‘big squeeze’
While the overall fiscal condition of U.S. states has improved from the depths of the national recession, results of a new national survey issued Tuesday suggested states are facing a ‘big squeeze’ from both local and federal governments. The combination of the effects of the economic downturn, tepid economic growth, and the expiration of federal stimulus and other program funding from Washington has severely impeded the growth of state resources, according to the fall 2011 fiscal survey of states conducted by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers. (Eastern Iowa Government)

A certificate worth three years’ hard work
The Parents as Teachers program operated by the Van Buren County Hospital received its certification today from the Iowa Department of Management. The certificate is the result of almost three years’ hard work of the program’s directors and coordinators. The Parents as Teachers program is one that began in Missouri. It is a home visitation program that offers parents the tools they need to foster their child’s development. “We go into the home, and we educate the parents of children 0-5 years of age,” program director Janet Phelps said. “We speak on their child’s developmental stages, the activities that they do and provide information and support to the family.” (KTVO)

New swine flu strain keeps health officials on alert
The new flu strain combines parts of a rare influenza virus — H3N2 – circulating in North American pigs, and the H1N1 virus from the 2009 worldwide flu outbreak. New flu strains develop when flu viruses combine in new ways. They can pose health risks because people haven’t yet developed immunity to them. The new swine flu strain has drawn particular interest because none of the Iowa children sickened last month — all of whom have recovered and are doing fine — nor their families, had known contact with pigs, suggesting person-to-person transmission. (ABC News)

National News

Study: Employers could dump sickest employees on public health care
A loophole in the federal health care overhaul could allow employers to game the system by getting their sicker employees to opt into buying coverage on the health insurance exchanges, according to two University of Minnesota law professors. They say the loophole could have dire consequences for the financial health of the exchanges, which are a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. The online marketplaces are intended to make it easier to comparison shop for health plans and also to expand access to coverage for the uninsured. (Kaiser Health News)

Democrats to attack Republicans for pushing Medicare cuts
The Democratic Party will begin a campaign on Wednesday to attack Republican lawmakers for pushing cuts to Medicare benefits during the latest round of failed federal deficit talks, a new turn in a drama that not long ago featured top Democrats expressing a willingness to tinker with the popular entitlement program. The strategy underscores the full-circle nature of the policy fight that has gripped Washington for the past year, as early calls for bipartisan solutions have turned into trench warfare in the wake of last week’s collapse of the debt-reduction “super committee.” (Washington Post)

7 states suing to overturn health overhaul receive federal grants to carry out Obama’s law
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said 13 states will split grants totaling nearly $220 million to help set up health insurance exchanges. Millions of uninsured Americans will be able to buy private coverage through these online supermarkets starting in 2014, with taxpayer-provided assistance to cover the cost of premiums. The seven that are suing and also getting money are: Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan and Nebraska. Three other plaintiff states — Indiana, Mississippi and Nevada — previously got funding. (Associated Press/Washington Post)

Rise in PTSD cases from two wars strains military resources
Ten thousand combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder flooded into VA hospitals every three months this year, pushing the number of patients ill from the disorder above 200,000 and straining resources, Department of Veterans Affairs data to be released today show. Demand for mental health care is only going to continue to grow as thousands more troops return home,” says Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., head of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The VA still has work to do to decrease wait times … reduce the stigma around seeking care and to provide access to care in rural areas.” (USA Today)

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Today’s NewsStand (November 29, 2011)

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

Iowa News

Feds give state $7 million for insurance-exchange planning
Iowa has been awarded $7 million in federal money to prepare for a new health-insurance exchange, a computerized system that is supposed to help individuals and small businesses find affordable coverage. The federal grant was announced this morning. It will be sent to the Iowa Department of Public Health, which is to use it for market research and analysis in preparation for the exchange. The system is to go online before 2014, when nearly all Americans are to be required to have health insurance. (Des Moines Register)

Hiawatha lands $12 million computer data storage center
Kevin Vermeer, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Iowa Health System, said the Enseva Data Center will house a portion of Iowa Health System’s patient data. “Data availability is incredibly important when you are dealing with the health of those who make up more than 2.6 million patient visits per year,” Vermeer said. “We serve more than 76 communities and have 199 physician clinics in Iowa and Illinois. This data center is part of our comprehensive plan to store and secure all the critical data generated in caring for our patients.” (Business 380)

St. Luke’s donation aims to ease children’s MRI fears
Children will soon feel like they’re going to the movies instead of having a medical procedure at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids thanks to a generous donation. Peregrine Charities in Cedar Falls has gifted $44,850 to St. Luke’s Health Care Foundation for the purchase of a CinemaVision goggle system made specifically for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging. CinemaVision is a state-of-the-art 3D video and sound system that functions flawlessly within the MRI’s magnetic field. It has no metal components and no impact on MRI image quality. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Mercy’s mobile mammography van marks 25 years on the road
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids is celebrating a milestone as a front runner in the early detection of breast cancer.  For 25 years, Mercy’s mobile mammography unit has been providing convenient access to mammography services for women in eastern Iowa’s rural communities.  The mobile unit has provided breast screening services for more than 50,000 women in its two and a half decades on the road. (CedarRapids Gazette)

National News

Top 12 uncertainties hovering over health care
If ever there was a year in which “anything could happen” in healthcare, 2012 just might be it. Numerous major decisions, regulations, and policy rollouts loom, including how severely physicians’ pay will be cut and whether the Affordable Care Act itself is a constitutional document. We look at a dozen potential game changers. Get ready for 2012. It’s going to be a wild ride, for sure. (HealthLeaders Media)

Mandatory budget cuts after super committee failure will trigger pain for some
In official Washington-speak, the process is known as sequestration. But the mandatory reductions of $1.2 trillion in spending — also known as the trigger — are very real and are on track to slash many government programs. Unless Congress reverses the trigger before January 2013, the federal government will have to start making plans for these cuts. Here’s a guide to the essentials for the trigger, compiled from interviews and analyses by think tanks, the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service and Capitol Hill aides. (Politico)

States face bleak economic forecast, report says
The Fiscal Survey of States says that even as states struggle with tepid revenue growth, they will be called on to spend more because of the economic distress caused by continued high unemployment. “State budgets are certainly improving; however, growth is weak, and there is not enough money for all the bills coming in,” said NASBO Executive Director Scott Pattison. “State officials will still be cutting some programs, and increases in funding for any program except for health care will be rare.” (Washington Post)

Panel urges sharp change for hospitals in Brooklyn
The New York State health commissioner should be given sweeping new powers to replace the executives and board members of private hospitals, a group appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended Monday in a report on how to restructure Brooklyn’s failing hospitals and health system. The report calls for legislation to provide such authority “not just in Brooklyn and not just for troubled hospitals, but across the state and along the continuum of care.” (New York Times)

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“The Iowa Hospital Association is the organization that represents Iowa hospitals and supports them in achieving their missions and goals.” 

That is IHA’s mission statement, and it’s a good one. Basically, IHA helps hospitals do what they need to do to meet the expectations of their communities by educating hospital staff, collecting data that helps hospitals plan and representing Iowa hospitals in Des Moines and Washington, D.C. 

That last part means IHA is a lobbying organization, not unlike other lobbying organizations that work on behalf of farmers, builders, school teachers, school boards, restaurants, grocers, insurance companies, lawyers, newspapers and dozens of other industries and organizations, including many non-profits, from Boys and Girls Clubs to Ducks Unlimited to Easter Seals. 

Some people don’t like lobbyists; one of those people may well be Dean Lerner. Which would be more than a little ironic, since the Department of Inspections and Appeals, the state agency Lerner used to run, has its own lobbyist. 

Certainly Lerner dislikes IHA, leaving one to wonder if he doesn’t feel the same way about the hospitals that make up IHA’s membership and drive the Association’s lobbying priorities. For the record, that would be every hospital in the state. 

It’s a little hard to tell just what Lerner’s mission is, even after several reads of his 650-word opinion in Sunday’s Des Moines Register.  Well, maybe it’s not that hard, as Lerner concludes early on that “hospitals…have come to reflect the values of Wall Street,” though he doesn’t bother to explain what that means or how it has affected one of the highest quality, most efficient health care systems in the country. 

But it is obvious Lerner doesn’t like that there are hospitals in West Des Moines (a city of nearly 60,000 people located in the fastest-growing region in the state that Lerner, nonetheless, describes as “nowhere”) even though these hospitals see nearly 2,000 patients each month – in just their emergency rooms

He doesn’t like Iowa’s smallest hospitals, either, because the federal government has the temerity to pay these hospitals 1 percent more than their cost of care. Lerner doesn’t seem to mind at all that these hospitals are almost completely dependent on Medicare and Medicaid dollars for their survival and that, without the Critical Access Hospital Program, their buildings would remain best suited for medicine as it was practiced 50 years ago. 

Maybe Lerner doesn’t realize that Iowa hospitals, particularly in smaller counties, are often the largest employer and always an economic cornerstone for a state desperate to attract and keep young, well-educated workers and their growing families. His position seems to be that these hospitals, and the communities they serve, should just get it over with and die. 

He also apparently believes hospitals should not be tax-exempt, though, once again, does not say why. He doesn’t think Medicaid losses by hospitals should count as a community benefit, though it’s difficult to imagine a greater benefit to taxpayers than the $196 million hit Iowa hospitals take each year to keep the program afloat (not to mention $63 million lost to Medicare).  

He doesn’t think a half billion dollars in charity care and another $67 million in additional health care services are enough. He doesn’t think $344 million lost to people who simply decide not to pay their hospital bills is enough. And he apparently has ready replacements for hospitals and the millions they expend supporting and improving the health of their communities through education, counseling, sponsorships and research that extend above and beyond day-to-day patient care. 

If he does have a different idea, rest assured that it will come at the expense of the communities that hospitals serve, the same communities filled with Iowans who each year donate millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to their hospitals. It is those communities and their representatives that drive each hospital’s mission – the mission that IHA represents and supports. 

Because there is one thing Lerner does manage to make clear – he is still the dedicated former bureaucrat who would gladly add more layers of legislation, regulation and expense to health care, ultimately making nurses and physicians more accountable to the government than to their patients and communities. 

That’s a mission Iowa’s hospitals will not support, and neither should the people of Iowa.

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Today’s NewsStand (November 28, 2011)

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

Iowa News

Heroin returns with vengeance to East Iowa
Twenty-two people have died from heroin overdoses in the Cedar Rapids area within the last 18 to 22 months and three people have died in Johnson County so far this year. There also have been several other non-fatal overdoses in Cedar Rapids but they can’t be linked to heroin. Scott Smith, Drug Enforcement Administration resident agent in charge, said heroin is being brought into the area from drug organizations in Chicago that can offer the cheaper, more potent alternative for the harder-to-obtain opiates like oxycodone or OxyContin. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Couple feel call to give kidneys
Sherry Whisler had never had such an epiphany. Sitting next to Karen Harris in a Bible study at their Urbandale church on a Wednesday night last year, she suddenly realized that she would be the one to change, and perhaps save, Harris’ life. “I can’t explain it,” she said. “I just knew that it would be me.” Whisler asked Harris for her blood type, and how she could donate a kidney, setting off months of tests, surgery and recovery. Then came a second realization: Whisler’s husband, Mike, told his wife he also wanted to donate. (Des Moines Register)

9 in 10 low-income Scott County kids see doctors regularly
A program run by the Scott County Health Department shows that nearly 90 percent of low-income children in the county receive regular medical attention and care from a doctor, according to the 2011 Care for Kids report. Recent numbers indicate that 89.8 percent of Care for Kids clients - all of whom qualify for the Iowa Medicaid program - have what’s called a “medical home.” That means they see a doctor and receive regular immunizations and care, said Brianna Huber, the child health consultant at the health department. (Quad-City Times)

Cherokee hospital’s hospice provides compassion
To help individuals and their families deal with the end-of-life journey, Cherokee Regional Medical Center Hospice started providing care to area residents in 1992. The Hospice philosophy centers on compassionate care and focuses on pain and symptom management. Hospice neither hastens nor postpones death and recognizes that dying is a natural part of the life process. Contrary to what many believe, Hospice is not about giving up. Rather, CRMC Hospice helps provide a better quality of life in the remaining time and allows patients to die in comfort and with dignity. (Cherokee Chronicle Times)

National News

Medicare back on the brink over cuts to doctors
It’s become a symbol of sorts for the federal government’s budget dysfunction: Unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, doctors will again face steep Medicare cuts that threaten to undermine health care for millions of seniors and disabled people. This time it’s a 27.4 percent cut. Last year, it was about 20 percent. A thousand miles away in Harlan, Iowa, Dr. Don Klitgaard is trying to contain his frustration. “I don’t see how primary care doctors could take anywhere near like a 27-percent pay cut and continue to function,” said Klitgaard, a family physician at Myrtue Medical Center. “I assume there’s going to be a temporary fix, because the health care system is going to implode without it.” (Associated Press/San Francisco Chronicle)

Marilyn Tavenner: Medicare’s new pragmatist-in-chief?
Donald Berwick and Marilyn Tavenner have taken markedly different paths to the same job. Berwick spent decades writing, thinking and speaking about overhauling America’s health care system. His sweeping policy ideas, celebrated by many, also became a major political liability. In blocking his confirmation, Republicans seized onto Berwick’s comments about the British National Health Service as a possible “example” for the United States. Such a situation is unlikely to play out with Tavenner, whose health-care experience lies much more in management than policy. (Washington Post)

Cleveland Clinic, others say patients need more financial help
The need for free and discounted medical care is escalating across Northeast Ohio, according to the latest tax filings. Hospitals from the giant Cleveland Clinic to smaller players like Parma Community General Hospital have seen drastic jumps in the amounts they spend to provide free care to those who have no insurance. They also have seen jumps in the unpaid portions of bills of those who do have health coverage – portions that the patients are supposed to pay but can’t. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Doctors, hospitals go into business as equals
St. John Providence Health System is increasingly teaming up with its doctors — including private practice physicians — to help manage services as it works to improve patient care, following a trend that’s becoming more common in Michigan. The Warren-based health system has set up three companies with physicians to help health system leaders manage cardiovascular services at its east side hospitals, surgery services at its west hospitals and medical neurology across its five-hospital system. Doctors have a similar management agreement in place at its St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Madison Heights. (Detroit News)

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Today’s NewsStand (November 23, 2011)

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

Iowa News

Oskaloosa Mayhem donates to MHP Mammography fund
The Oskaloosa Mayhem Girls Roller Derby Squad recently donated $400 to Mahaska Health Partnership Radiology Services for use in funding free or reduced cost digital mammograms for women. (Oskaloosa News)

Learning through shared medical appointments
As Dr. Anuj Bhargava’s patients arrive, a certified medical assistant checks their vitals and updates their records. But instead of waiting for the doctor in an exam room, they return to a larger room and sit in a semi-circle with other patients. (Des Moines Register)

New flu type, similar to one from ’90s, hits 3 children in north-central Iowa
Three children in north-central Iowa have been sickened by a new version of the flu virus. (Des Moines Register)

National News

Facing GOP opposition, Berwick will step down as Medicare chief
Dr. Donald Berwick, the Harvard pediatrician whom President Obama tapped to head the Medicare and Medicaid programs, will step down next week in the face of staunch Republican opposition to his permanent appointment to implement Obama’s healthcare law. (Los AngelesTimes)

Patients, Too, Turn to the Internet for Fund-Raising
Online fund-raising - a common tactic for nonprofit groups and charity events - is starting to spread to the world of costly health care. (The New York Times)

Where ‘Hospital Food’ Takes On A New Meaning
The pediatric clinic at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis gives its patients what they need to stay healthy: screenings, immunizations, prescriptions.  And, in an uncommon twist, food. (Kaiser Health News)

A Hard Turn: Better Health on the Highway
Beset by insurance costs and desperate to make sure that drivers pass health tests, trucking companies and industry groups are working to persuade them to change their habits. (The New York Times)

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