SEATTLE—A groundbreaking ceremony was held to mark the start of construction work on a proton therapy center on the campus of 242-bed Northwest Hospital and Medical Center. The 60,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in 2013, and it is expected to treat 1,400 patients a year.
Regional News/West: Northwest Hospital and Medical Center breaks ground
It will be operated as a joint venture between the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance—which includes the cancer programs of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and 250-bed Seattle Children's Hospital—and ProCure Treatment Centers, a Bloomington Ind.-based proton therapy center operator. The price of the facility has been listed at $160 million, and that figure includes construction, land, equipment, working capital and other costs, said Dean Forbes, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance spokesman. The project has received $7.4 million in philanthropic donations, he said. A news release said the project has received some federal support. Procure operates proton therapy centers in Oklahoma City and Warrenville, Ill. Another is being built in Somerset, N.J., and others are planned for Detroit and South Florida.
ALAMEDA, Calif.—A California judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the California Medical Association that sought to block a physician rating program by Blue Shield of California. Blue Shield of California, a not-for-profit insurer based in San Francisco, started its Blue Ribbon Recognition Program in 2010. The program recognizes physicians by awarding them a “blue ribbon” icon next to their name on the insurer's website. The California Medical Association asserted in the lawsuit that because the information is based on selective data, it does not accurately describe the quality of care physicians provide and that the blue ribbons are awarded only to lower-cost physicians. The data is developed and compiled by the California Physician Performance Initiative, a healthcare program of the Pacific Business Group on Health, an employer coalition. But Alameda County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Steven Brick dismissed the CMA's claims, agreeing with the insurer that the program is a protected form of speech that benefits consumers. Brick also wrote in his order that the plaintiffs did not provide evidence of physicians being harmed or having lost business because of the program. In a statement, the insurer called the ruling “a validation that Blue Shield has every right to recognize high-performing physicians.” Long Do, director of litigation for the CMA, said the organization is disappointed the judge ruled on the basis of a state law that protects speech. “We think the court misapplied that statute and didn't fully understand Blue Shield was using the ratings program to further its PPO products.” The CMA has 60 days to decide whether to appeal, Do said.
NORWALK, Calif.—For-profit hospital chain Avanti Hospitals, Manhattan Beach, Calif., and investor-owned Coast Plaza Hospital, Norwalk, announced that they signed a definitive agreement for Avanti to buy Coast Plaza. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, though the companies said the deal is expected to close in May, according to a news release. “It was paramount for us to find a buyer that understands our philosophy,” Craig Garner, CEO of 123-bed Coast Plaza, said in the release. “In today's healthcare market, the public is best served by larger, multihospital conglomerates who have access to the resources necessary to bring quality care to those in need,” he said. Avanti owns or operates three other California hospitals, 157-bed Community Hospital of Huntington Park; 127-bed East Los Angeles Doctors Hospital; and 103-bed Memorial Hospital of Gardena.
PHOENIX—Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is asking HHS for a five-year waiver to reduce Medicaid rolls and increase member cost-sharing but also restore some organ transplant benefits. In a request to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius dated March 31, Brewer sought approval for a plan to freeze Medicaid enrollment for childless adults and parents. Her plan also includes eliminating emergency coverage to those who can’t prove citizenship, and installing new co-payments for enrollees. She also is seeking to add a $50 annual coverage surcharge for smokers and adults with chronic conditions who don’t stick to a care plan and meet goals to improve their health. An estimated 160,000 childless adults and parents are expected to fall off Medicaid rolls this year as a result of the proposed freeze. Enrollment changes for low-income parents would necessitate a waiver from “maintenance of effort” provisions in the federal health reform law, which requires states to maintain enrollment levels to draw down federal funds. Brewer’s plan also includes restoration of transplant benefits that were cut this fiscal year. The governor said in the letter that these cuts would no longer be needed if other changes to Medicaid are approved. Brewer previously announced a $500 million proposal to drastically change Arizona’s Medicaid program, which includes further reimbursement cuts to providers. The plan requires approval from the federal government and the state Legislature.
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