health care

The battle continues to rage between drug companies that are trying to make as much money as possible and insurers trying to drive down drug prices. And consumers are squarely in the middle.

That's because, increasingly, prescription insurers are threatening to kick drugs off their lists of approved medications if the manufacturers won't give them big discounts.

Retail giant Wal-Mart uses its market dominance to inflict "ruthless," "brutal" and "relentless" pressure on prices charged by suppliers, business writers frequently report.

What if huge health insurance companies could push down prices charged by hospitals and doctors in the same way?

The idea is getting new attention as already painful health costs accelerate and major medical insurers seek to merge into three enormous firms.

David Nogueras / KPLU

Washington state law protects reproductive rights, such as emergency contraception, but that doesn’t always mean you can go to your local hospital in an urgent situation and get what you need. Advocates hope a new website will help patients navigate the fine print.

Eyeing fast-growing urban and suburban markets where demand for health care services is outstripping supply, some health care systems are opening tiny, full-service hospitals with comprehensive emergency services but often fewer than a dozen inpatient beds.

A year ago, Mari d'Alessandro got some of the worst news a mother can get. She had taken her son, Hugo, for a routine checkup, and the pediatrician told her Hugo had cancer. He was only 10.

Since then, Venezuela has faced economic and political upheaval that has led to food riots — and now, according to doctors and patients, a health crisis as well.

"You can't find the medicines," d'Alessandro says. "The doctor told me I'm going to have to pay six or seven thousand dollars for just one of the medicines, if I can even get it on the black market."

The head of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Michael Murphy, says the agency is making progress in getting veterans in to see a primary care doctor, but he says there’s still a lot more work to do to improve care for veterans in this region. 

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

England’s health secretary has taken the unusual step of using a Seattle hospital to announce a major policy reform in his own country. The new patient safety policies are partly inspired by Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The Washington state health care exchange website was temporarily down on Wednesday morning as a result of a digital snag in Washington, D.C.

Michael Marchand, spokesman for the state exchange, says Washington state's website depends on a component of the federal system to work. At the moment, it doesn't work, but once it's fixed, the state site can start accepting applications again.

He spoke to KPLU's Ed Ronco about the details during Morning Edition. 

More than 500 workers from Providence St. Peter Hospital are striking this week in Olympia. They’re protesting changes the company has made to their health plans.

The workers include nursing assistants, housekeepers and admitting staff. They say Providence raised their health plan deductibles in January, meaning they have to pay more out of pocket before their insurance kicks in.

Health insurance plans now have to cover the full cost of breast pumps for nursing mothers. This is the result of a provision in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and the new rule took effect for many people at the start of this year.

It's led to a boom in the sale of the pumps, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Update at 10:21 a.m. ET. Strikes Down Key Provisions Of Immigration Law:

The United States Supreme Court invalidated three of four challenged provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.

The high court upheld the part of the law that asked police to check the immigration status of those stopped for another violation.

Keith Seinfeld / KPLU

King County Executive Dow Constantine says he’ll be able to preserve as many as a dozen sheriff’s deputies and 20 public health nurses. That’s because King County employees have been improving their health – and saving taxpayers about $23 million this year.

The savings go back into the county’s budget, and will mean fewer cuts next year.

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Washington continues to make progress boosting immunization rates among toddlers, despite having the highest percent in the nation of families exempting kids from vaccines. 

The new survey from the Centers for Disease Control shows the gains come with room for improvement.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

"There's a lot of courting going on ..."

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In Washington, there are more people on Medicaid than there are kids in public school – 1.2 million. And that number will grow significantly in 2014 when the new federal health care overhaul kicks-in.

The expansion has triggered a high-stakes competition for state contracts to provide Medicaid coverage.

Todd Gilmer and Kronick / Health Affairs (journal)

When it comes to caring for its poorest and sickest people, Washington state appears to be doing better than the rest of the country. At least, that’s the view from a new study that looks at Medicaid spending.

Public spending on health-care is a hot political topic these days, as states and the federal government try to balance their budgets. Researchers were wondering: How do the 50 states compare in their spending on Medicaid, which covers low-income people? Do some states spend more because they pay doctors higher fees?

The Washington state budget plan released Tuesday will cut funding for in-home health care workers. In reaction, one health care workers' union has already filed an initiative aiming to mitigate the effects of some of those reductions.