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Hospital group says Illinois could lease

Hospital group says Illinois could lease | Healthcare and Technology news |

A hospital group in cash-strapped Illinois says the state might be able to set up a health insurance exchange at a lower cost by "leasing" the federal government's technology, an option that could appeal to as many as 34 states where subsides could be jeopardized by an unfavorable U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a memo written for Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers and released to The Associated Press, the Illinois Hospital Association says it anticipates the federal government "will be developing a leasing fee" for states to use as the backbone for their own insurance exchanges. It also lists an alternate possibility of renting an exchange system from another state that has its own, such as Connecticut or Kentucky.

President Barack Obama has said there is no backup plan if the Supreme Court strips federal subsidies from the law in Illinois and the 33 other states that haven't created their own exchanges. The administration didn't respond Monday to the AP's requests for comment on the possibility of leasing

"We do believe that the administration is quietly discussing a lease option with the states and that it will roll out more specific guidelines in the event that the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies," said Caroline Pearson, who follows the health law for the market analysis firm Avalere Health.

The four-page Illinois memo is the clearest plan yet for how the state could create a state-based exchange quickly should the justices rule that only people living in states with their own exchanges can get federal financial help.

"We as an association are ready to work with the legislative leaders and certainly the administration," said Illinois Hospital Association President and CEO Maryjane Wurth. "We hope we have the governor's support to figure this out."

Rauner, a Republican who took office in January, hasn't discussed what his approach would be if the Supreme Court rules against subsidies. "The governor's office will take appropriate action depending on how the Supreme Court rules," said Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected later this month, and the subsidies could end later in the summer unless Congress acts. Leading congressional Republicans are promising to help consumers who lose subsidies, but it's unclear Congress could pass any fix that Obama would sign.

The partisan fight over Obama's health law stalled a state exchange in Illinois. Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, had supported a state-run insurance exchange but was never able to get enough legislative support.

At issue in the Supreme Court case are four words in the law. The challengers argue it provides subsidies only to people who get their insurance through an exchange "established by the state." The 34 states that have not established their own marketplaces instead rely on the federal system.

If the court strikes down subsidies in Illinois and the other states, more than 230,000 Illinois residents would lose the tax credits that help them pay for coverage. In Illinois, the average monthly subsidy is $211. On average, consumers would see their premiums increase by 169 percent if the tax credits were no longer available, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Many Illinois residents would no longer be able to afford insurance. Rates would rise for other individuals, Wurth said. Hospitals would see fewer patients with good-paying insurance and would provide more charity care at a financial loss.

While no one knows how the Supreme Court will rule, state lawmakers might need to react quickly to keep the subsidies available. Democrats in Springfield are warring with Rauner over a budget that falls $3 billion to $4 billion short on revenue.

Illinois may be in a better position than some states because it's already running some aspects of its insurance exchange in partnership with the federal government.

To have its own insurance exchange, Illinois would have to pass legislation to set up a way to pay for it, an annual cost that's been estimated at $50 million to $90 million. A 3.5 percent assessment on the group accident and health insurance industry in Illinois could generate $55 million, the hospital association memo says.

The memo explores the possibility of Rauner using an executive order to set up the current Get Covered Illinois team as the exchange governance. But it warns such an order "would likely be open to legal challenges."

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AMA Announces Health IT Innovation Lab in Chicago

AMA Announces Health IT Innovation Lab in Chicago | Healthcare and Technology news |

The American Medical Association (AMA) is the latest professional society to dig into technological discovery for the healthcare industry by creating the AMA Interaction Studio at MATTER, a Chicago-based health IT innovation incubator.  The studio will allow physicians, developers, and entrepreneurs to collaborate on the development of new products and services in a simulated healthcare environment.

“Innovation is a key driver in making the health system work better for everyone, and together we can educate and inspire entrepreneurs to deliver technologies that will transform health care,” said AMA CEO and Executive Vice President James L. Madara, MD. “The AMA’s partnership with MATTER will create an environment where entrepreneurs can directly collaborate with and gain insights from physicians and the health care community to improve and advance technologies, products and services that will improve the health of the nation.”

“The opportunity to engage with physicians through the partnership is hugely valuable to our company,” said Shane Greyvenstein of LatticeWorx, a MATTER member company that uses IT solutions to help physicians make better medical decisions,  “MATTER’s partnership with AMA will help us to refine our products in collaboration with the medical professionals who will use them, and helps us ensure we’re creating the maximum benefit for patients.”

Professional healthcare societies have been taking a hands-on approach to the problems that their members face by engaging in their own research and development projects.  From the American College of Cardiology’s new population health management and analytics databank to a multi-stakeholder diabetes registry that will foster research and innovation, society partnerships are helping to bring insights and novel tools to the point of care for providers.

“New technologies by themselves are not meaningful in health care without the engagement of physicians and healthcare professionals,” said MATTER CEO Steven Collens. “MATTER’s partnership with the AMA creates an environment that will allow entrepreneurs to work together with physicians and the broader health care community to test and advance new technology to improve the way the health care system works.”

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Tyson continues effort to cut antibiotics from chicken production

Tyson continues effort to cut antibiotics from chicken production | Healthcare and Technology news |

Tyson Foods Inc has removed gentamicin, a key antibiotic for human use, from company hatcheries, the company told Reuters on Tuesday.

Arkansas-based Tyson, the nation's largest chicken producer, said the drug and other antibiotics have not been used at its 35 hatcheries since Oct. 1, 2014. The company had not previously given details of what drugs were used at the hatcheries, where chicks are born and kept briefly before being moved to poultry farms.

Gentamicin is a member of an antibiotic class considered "highly important" in human medicine by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The poultry industry has long been under pressure to stop feeding medically important antibiotics to otherwise healthy livestock. Meat companies have used the drugs both to stave off disease and to promote more rapid growth.

Last week, McDonald's Corp said its U.S. restaurants will gradually stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics vital to fighting human infections. Tyson Foods is a major chicken supplier to McDonald's.

Tyson told Reuters this week it is also testing alternatives to medically-important antibiotics for use on the farms that house its chickens after they leave the hatcheries. It says it does not use antibiotics for growth promotion on the farms, but does use them, according to its website, "when prescribed by a veterinarian to treat or prevent disease."

Rival chicken producer Perdue Farms announced last summer that it had stopped using all antibiotics in its hatcheries, including gentamicin, because it wanted "to move away from conventional antibiotic use" due to "growing consumer concern and our own questions about the practice."

Gentamicin has been commonly used in hatcheries to fight off infection or prevent disease, including in fertilized eggs, livestock veterinarians and other poultry producers say.

Tyson sees the policy shift as "a significant first step toward our goal of reducing the use of antibiotics that are also used in human medicine," according to its website.

Tyson has reduced the volume of medically-important antibiotics used in its chicken business by 84 percent since 2011 and the "vast majority of the antibiotics used to raise our chickens are never used in humans," according to a company statement.

While veterinary use of antibiotics is legal, the risk is that overuse could spur the creation of so-called superbugs that develop cross-resistance to antibiotics used to treat humans. Reuters found last year that major U.S. poultry firms were administering antibiotics to their flocks on the farm far more pervasively than regulators realized.

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