Week in review: 13 biggest healthcare stories this week

Stay in the know with Becker's Hospital Review's weekly roundup of the nation's biggest healthcare news. Here's what you need to know this week.

1. House Republicans unveil 2016 budget
House Republicans revealed their proposed budget for 2016, which would have a profound effect on the healthcare industry. The budget proposal slashes federal spending by $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years, and significant amount of that total comes from repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and overhauling Medicare and Medicaid. The Independent Payment Advisory Board — the unelected 15-member agency created under the PPACA responsible for achieving Medicare savings — is repealed under the proposed budget. The creation of the agency was one of the most controversial provisions of the PPACA, and major healthcare groups, including the American Medical Association, have publicly fought for its elimination. The proposed budget also calls for transforming Medicare into a "premium support model," in which Medicare recipients would receive "premium support" to purchase private insurance off an exchange for Medicare plans.

2. Senate GOP releases 2016 budget
A day after House Republicans unveiled their budget proposal, GOP Senators revealed their plan for 2016. The Senate GOP budget proposal, which was outlined by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, projects saving $4.3 trillion from 2016 to 2025 from mandatory programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The budget plan also includes extending the life of the Medicare trust fund by five years, but does not provide details as to how that will be achieved. Like the House GOP budget plan, Senate Republicans' proposal calls for the repeal of the PPACA in its entirety. According to the Wall Street Journal, Medicaid would be transformed into a system similar to the Children's Health Insurance Program, which involves states receiving a capped amount of federal funds annually if they provide matching funds.

3. $210B Medicare deal unveiled to replace flawed SGR
Permanent "doc fix" legislation has been introduced by bipartisan committee leaders in the House and Senate to permanently replace the sustainable growth rate, according to The Hill. The deal, designed by House Speak John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to cost $210 billion. About $70 billion of the total cost would be offset in the deal. Half of the $70 billion would come from cuts to providers, such as hospitals and insurers, and the other half would come from beneficiary cuts, such as by making wealthier seniors contribute more to their premium cost.

4. 4 more Americans flown to US for Ebola monitoring
Four more Americans who were potentially exposed to Ebola are being flown to the U.S. from Sierra Leone for observation, according to NBC News. Additionally, 11 other Americans were transported back to the U.S. March 14 after possible exposure to the virus after coming in contact with an American healthcare worker who contracted the virus there, bringing the total to 15 Americans. These Americans were volunteering in Sierra Leone in an Ebola treatment center and are being transported back to the U.S. out of an "abundance of caution" as the Centers for Disease Control conducts contact tracing of the American with Ebola. So far, none of the 15 have tested positive for Ebola, but one was moved to the biocontainment unit at Omaha-based Nebraska Medicine after a change in symptoms.

5. New HCV pills drive US drug spending up 13.1%
New treatments for hepatitis C have been found to be effective, but come at a hefty price. A new Medscape report found these new drugs account for a 13.1 percent increase in U.S. prescription drug spending in 2014. Spending on hepatitis C medication, including treatments from Gilead Sciences and AbbVie, increased 734 percent from 2013 to 2014.

6. $3.3B returned to government through federal healthcare fraud enforcement
The federal government recovered $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2014 from individuals and companies that attempted to defraud federal health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced March 19. President Barack Obama's administration recovered $7.70 for every dollar spent on healthcare-related fraud and abuse investigation in the last three years, which is about $2 more than the average return on investment in the federal government's Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program since it was formed nearly 20 years ago, and the third-highest return on investment since the program's launch.

7. Cyberattack on Premera Blue Cross affects 11 million
The health plan Premera Blue Cross, based in Mountlake Terrace, Was., reported a cyberattack on its IT systems that has compromised the data of 11 million customers, employees and business affiliates. Premera discovered the attack Jan 29, and investigations determined the initial cyberattack occurred May 5, 2014. The cyberattack affects Premera Blue Cross, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska and the payer's affiliate companies Vivacity and Connexion Insurance Solutions. Additionally, members of other Blue Cross Blue Shield plans who received treatment in Washington or Alaska may be affected, as are individuals who do business with Premera and provider the payer with their email address, personal bank account number or Social Security number. Member names, birth dates, email addresses, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, member identification numbers, bank account information, claims information and clinical information were compromised in the attack.

8. Sacred Heart Health System reports data breach affecting 14,000
Pensacola, Fla.-based Sacred Heart Health System reported a security breach March 16 due to a phishing attach on a third-party vendor that possibly exposed the information of 14,000 patients. The system was informed Feb. 2 by one of its third-party billing vendors that an employee's email — which contained the information of approximately 14,000 individuals — had been hacked through a phishing attack. The attack was detected by the vendor Dec. 3, and the account was immediately shut down. The compromised information includes patient names, date of service, date of birth, diagnosis and procedure, billing account numbers, total charges and physicians' names.

9. Mayo Clinic researchers discuss use of drones in healthcare
Three researchers from Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic's surgery department are discussing the idea of using drones to deliver medical materials to clinics, disaster areas and remote locations. The drones could be used for overcoming the difficulty of transporting sensitive materials, such as blood samples, to remote areas that are hard to reach by car. The drones in discussion at Mayo Clinic would not look like the multi-million dollar units used by the military. They would likely be small, rotary-wing aircrafts, able to carry a 5-pound load for about 20 to 60 miles. The drones would be less expensive than some medical equipment, costing approximately $10,000. The use of unmanned air vehicles in commerce is currently restricted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, but the agency is drafting new regulations to allow more commercial applications.

10. Epic defends its interoperability at Senate hearing
The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing March 17 on EHRs and meaningful use with four panelists representing different stakeholders in the industry. Peter DeVault, director of interoperability at Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems, represented vendors on the panel. A substantial portion of his testimony revolved around defending Epic's commitment and progress in Interoperability, as Epic is often questioned and criticized for lacking interoperability. Mr. DeVault outlined Epic's contributions to furthering interoperability, and clarified its role with patient data. He also stated Epic has exchanged more electronic records and patient data through its Care Everywhere record exchange platform than any other vendor. During the hearing, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) asked Mr. DeVault why Epic was not a member of CommonWell Health Alliance, a group of IT vendors aimed at fostering interoperability and data exchange between health systems, to which Mr. DeVault responded CommonWell is an "aspiring" network which is costly to achieve.

11. Senators 'concerned' with Anthem's breach response
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member, wrote a letter to Anthem detailing concerns over the payers response to its massive data breach Feb. 4, in which hackers gained access to personal information of nearly 80 million former and current customers and employees through the system's database. According to the letter, more than 50 million Americans still have not received direct notice from Anthem that their information was compromised. Furthermore, the letter requests Anthem provide an action plan to hasten the notification process and outline how Anthem will comply with federal and state laws requiring timely notification for customers whose data has been compromised.

12. Sacred Heart's former CEO, CFO and COO convicted in kickback scheme
A federal jury found three former executives of now closed Sacred Heart Hospital in Chicago guilty for their involvement in a kickback scheme, according to the Chicago Tribune. The jury deliberated for three days before convicting the hospital's owner and CEO Edward Novak, former CFO, Roy Payawal, and former COO, Clarence Naglevoort, or conspiring to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to physicians for referrals to Sacred Heart. Mr. Novak and Mr. Payawal, in addition to four physicians, were arrested in April 2013 for their alleged participation in the scheme. CMS subsequently suspended its reimbursements to Sacred Heart, and the hospital closed in July of that year.

13. Cerner, Allscripts ranked top EHR vendors by users
For the fifth consecutive year, Cerner was ranked the top EHR vendor for community hospitals ranging from 101 to 250 beds, and Allscripts was ranked the No. 1 EHR vendor for hospitals with more than 250 beds for the second consecutive year, according to Black Book Market Research's annual hospital EHR user poll. The poll identifies the top-ranking vendors according to user satisfaction by hospital bed size. Cerner was also selected by hospital corporations, groups and chains as the best EHR for hospital systems. This category is only ranked by CIOs and IT managers.

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