National / International News

Drop in uninsured is a mixed blessing for hospitals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 02:00

Some of the big, urban hospitals around the country – the "safety net" hospitals that serve the poor – are getting hit with a dose of good news.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured patients is dropping sharply. Hospitals like Our Lady of Lourdes in Camden, New Jersey, are now spending millions less on providing charity care.

William Castro is one of thousands of patients Lourdes had treated for free. A car accident in 2010 left him suffering with chronic back pain. 

“You know what it is... you’re a grown man and it’s so bad you have to take hot showers, you are crying at night,” says Castro.

Without health insurance, Castro made monthly visits to the hospitals where doctors scribbled out prescriptions.

The 46-year-old says he struggled to scrape up the money to buy his meds.

“You are talking about $300-$350 a month. And a person that’s not able to work... can you imagine, having zero? Needing this medication, and have to count on your family, loved ones, friends... then next month you have to do it all over again?” he says.

Now on Medicaid, Castro has his prescriptions covered – no co-pays – and is hoping to enroll in a pain management course.

One by one, Lourdes CEO Alexander Hatala has watched his uninsured patient population fall from 8.5 percent of patients last year to 3 percent.

That’s a $3.5 million of savings at the Camden hospital.

“$3.5 million can make a difference between breaking even or operating in the red,” Hatala says.

What’s happening in Camden is happening around the country – at least for hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

This summer the Colorado Hospital Association – looking at stats from 30 states – found a 30 percent jump in Medicaid charges, and a 30 percent drop in charity care costs.

That puts hospitals on track to save billions this year.

“Yeah, there’s more money. But it also comes with a caveat,” says Ellen Kugler, Executive Director of the National Association of Urban Hospitals. “There are a number of federal cuts coming and many more that are coming.”

Federal, state, and local government funding currently covers about 65 percent of charity care costs. Under the ACA, the plan has been to reduce that funding  - at least at the federal level - as more Americans gain insurance coverage.

In this new landscape, the Urban Institute’s Teresa Coughlin says these hospitals will now have to fight to keep their newly-insured patients: “Do they have contracts with [insurers]? Are they able to retain patients who became newly insured and still continue to come to their facility? Or will they go elsewhere now that they have a choice?”

Coughlin says some of these hospitals are considered second-tier facilities, and to keep their doors open, they must build relationships with insurers and convince consumers they offer excellent service for a fair price. 

A whole new world, says Coughlin - a world where not all safety net hospitals may survive.

What the time of day says about your earnings report

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 02:00

Humana is among the companies reporting its quarterly numbers on Wednesday as earnings season continues. The health insurance giant always releases its earnings before the markets open. Whole Foods reports the same day, but the grocery chain always waits until after the closing bell.

If you've ever wondered why companies go one way or the other, it's worth noting the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t care what time of day companies report their quarterly earnings.

So it comes down to factors like: what’s the best time to put the CEO on the phone with investors and analysts?  

"Some people are morning people and some people are afternoon people," says Jeff Morgan, president of the National Investor Relations Institute. He adds that once a company picks a time, it sticks. "We want to be sure that whatever we do every quarter, we do the same thing the next quarter, so that there’s not anybody wondering why we’re making changes."

A recent study found that 66 percent of companies hold earnings calls at the same time every quarter. Co-author Elizabeth Demers, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, says executives should avoid afternoon calls, when they might be hungry and cranky.

"What we find is that as the tone of the calls becomes more negative, the share price returns are also more negative," Demers says. "In other words, the stock price responds to the negativity that's being emitted on the calls." 

Demers says size matters, too; a lot of small companies reporting earnings have to take whatever slot they can get. 

NCAA Head-Injury Settlement Includes $70 Million Medical Fund

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:58

The NCAA has settled a class-action lawsuit over its head injury policies, pending approval. Supporters laud a $70 million fund for medical monitoring; others say there's no money for injured players.

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Birds beat machines in hover test

BBC - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:52
Micro-drones are just starting to catch up with the hovering and flight performance of the tiny hummingbird, say scientists.

After War's Deadliest Day, Another U.N. School In Gaza Gets Hit

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:30

A U.N. spokesman said Israeli tank shells hit the school Wednesday, killing 15 Palestinians and wounding 90. The agency is housing scores of people displaced by the fighting in schools across Gaza.

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Star Wars name passport rejected

BBC - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:19
A woman who added "Skywalker" as a middle name is told by passport officials that her signature infringes a trademark.

Apology over Turtles '9/11 poster'

BBC - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:03
Paramount Pictures apologises over a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles poster featuring the characters jumping from an exploding skyscraper alongside the release date of 11 September.

Ten jailed for India school fire

BBC - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:00
Ten people, including the owner of a school , are convicted for a school fire in 2004 in which 94 children were burnt alive in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The contents of the internet, via satellite

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 01:00

Outernet is a new project aims to deliver online content, but not the internet itself—only its information. The method? Large satellites and simple radio waves.

If it works, it might be a useful way to deliver information to people who don't have regular access.

“Instead of providing direct internet access to everyone, we’re providing the content that exists on the internet,” says Syed Karim, founder of the project. 

The satellites will broadcast the data to anyone with a receiver who can then turn them into files viewable in a browser.

Currently, the site will only be updating pages such as Wikipedia on a weekly or biweekly basis. As bandwidth increases, a page can be “rebroadcast” — re-transmitted — and it can be locally updated for those who are “listening” to it.

The project expects to launch in a few weeks.

Wildfire Season Flares Up Early In The Pacific Northwest

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Wildfire season has intensified early in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington are turning to the federal government for assistance in fighting the fires and cleaning up the mess left behind.

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U.S., EU Try To Turn Up The Heat On Russia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

The U.S. and EU announced more sanctions against Russia because of its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions are more wide-ranging than previous efforts to target the ruling elite.

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Doctor Treating Ebola Patients In Sierra Leone Succumbs To The Disease

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Sheik Humarr Khan, one of the doctors fighting to control West Africa's largest Ebola outbreak, died Tuesday in Sierra Leone. He was 39.

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Polio's Surge In Pakistan: Are Parents Part Of The Problem?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Health workers are trying to convince parents to let their children take a vaccine, but the program faces violent opposition. Researchers from Harvard polled the parents; the results surprised them.

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California Pharmacists Resist Translating Medicine Labels

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Adding a translation to the English label would require bigger bottles, pharmacists say. They worry patients would wind up carrying a few pills around loose — without any instructions at all.

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Polio's Surge In Pakistan: Are Parents Part Of The Problem?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Health workers are trying to convince parents to give children the polio vaccine. But the program faces violent opposition. Harvard researchers polled the parents. They were surprised by the results.

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Farming The Bluefin Tuna, Tiger Of The Ocean, Is Not Without A Price

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

Scientists are trying to raise prized bluefin tuna completely in captivity. An experiment at a Baltimore college is the first successful attempt in North America.

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Senate's Highway Trust Fund Bill Sets Up Conflict With The House

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

A short-term fix for the nearly empty Highway Trust Fund is a step closer to President Obama's desk. Congress has been talking about the long-term problems with the construction account, but the two chambers have not agreed on a long-term solution.

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U.S. Judge Sides With Iraq, Blocks Kurds' Attempt To Sell Oil

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

A U.S. judge has blocked an effort by Iraq's Kurdistan region to sell $100 million worth of crude oil to refiners in the U.S. It's sitting in a giant tanker ship off the coast of Texas. The judge agreed with the Iraqi government that the oil belongs to it and not the Kurds.

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As Pharma Jobs Leave N.J., Office Space Ghost Towns Remain

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

In the last 20 years, New Jersey went from having more than 20 percent of U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs to less than 10 percent. That means offices, labs and warehouses have gone dark.

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New York Skyscraper's Separate 'Poor Door' Sparks Outrage

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 00:59

A developer got tax breaks for creating affordable units in its luxury high-rise, but those tenants will have to use a separate entrance. Officials vow to review zoning laws that allowed the design.

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