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KHN First Edition: November 24,2015


First Edition

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: End Of Medicare Bonus Program Will Cut Pay To Primary Care Doctors
KHN's consumer columnist Michelle Andrews reports: "Many primary care practitioners will be a little poorer next year because of the expiration of a health law program that has been paying them a 10 percent bonus for caring for Medicare patients. Some say the loss may trickle down to the patients, who could have a harder time finding a doctor or have to wait longer for appointments. But others say the program has had little impact on their practices, if they were aware of it at all." (Andrews, 11/24)

Kaiser Health News: Small Coastal California Town Fights To Keep Hospital Afloat
KQED's April Dembosky, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Board meetings for the Mendocino Coast District Hospital are usually pretty dismal affairs. The facility in remote Fort Bragg, Calif., has been running at a deficit for a decade and barely survived a recent bankruptcy. ... Now it’s barely hanging on. And some locals are worried that the only hospital in the area might close for good. 'Nobody can live here without that hospital,' says Sue Gibson, 78, a Mendocino resident. 'I mean, the nearest hospital is an hour and a half away on treacherous mountain roads.' It’s not only her family’s health and the community’s that Gibson is concerned about. She’s afraid the local economy would be wrecked: The hospital is the largest employer." (Dembosky, 11/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Weighs Splitting Up New Drug Behemoth
The $155 billion agreement to combine Pfizer Inc. with Allergan PLC would create a drug behemoth so big that Pfizer is already thinking of breaking it up. The deal, which was announced Monday, brings together a diverse stable of drugs, from Pfizer’s cancer medicines and vaccines, to Allergan’s skin-care treatments and eye drugs. The companies expect to achieve $2 billion in cost savings as well as significant tax benefits from the deal, under which Pfizer’s tax base would shift to Allergan’s home base in Ireland in a so-called inversion. (Rockoff, 11/23)

The New York Times: Pfizer Chief Defends Merger With Allergan As Good For U.S.
In phone calls to Washington lawmakers and Obama administration officials, the chief executive of the largest drug maker in the nation had a surprising message: A deal that would allow the company to move its headquarters to Ireland was actually good for the United States. The Scottish-born chief executive of Pfizer, Ian C. Read, told them that a merger with Allergan, the maker of Botox that is based in Dublin, would significantly cut Pfizer’s tax bill and give it more cash that it could invest in the United States and ultimately add jobs, according to people briefed on the calls. He made the calls in recent days as the two companies were hammering out a $152 billion deal. (de la Merced, Gelles and Picker, 11/23)

Politico: Drug Merger Unleashes Dem Fury — And More Calls For Tax Reform
Pfizer’s blockbuster $160 billion merger with Irish pharmaceutical maker Allergan is stoking the partisan debate on corporations that move their headquarters overseas to lessen their U.S. tax bills — with Democrats like Hillary Clinton quickly condemning the deal while Republicans called it a symptom of a broken tax code. The deal "will leave U.S. taxpayers holding the bag," Clinton said in a statement Monday, calling on Congress to limit corporations’ ability to use the tax-limiting maneuver known as an inversion. (O'Donnell, 11/23)

The Associated Press: $160B Deal To Combine Pfizer And Allergan Raises Outcry
A $160 billion deal announced Monday to merge Pfizer and Allergan and create the world's biggest drug company renewed the outcry in Washington over "inversions," in which U.S. corporations combine with companies overseas to lower their tax bill. The combination — the second-largest merger in history — could have ramifications around the globe, pushing up drug prices and spurring more such deals in the fast-consolidating health care sector and other fields. It is also increasing the election-year backlash from U.S. politicians who have been blasting drugmakers recently over medicine prices that can exceed $100,000 a year. (Johnson and Murphy, 11/23)

The Washington Post: Pfizer’s Tax-Avoiding Megamerger With Allergan Sparks Outcry
A $160 billion megamerger announced Monday would turn U.S. pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer Inc. into an Irish drug company, using a controversial tactic that allows companies to dodge billions of dollars in corporate taxes by renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Pfizer’s deal with Botox-maker Allergan, which would create the world’s largest drugmaker, immediately sparked criticism from Democrats and Republicans in Congress who agree that such deals are problematic but have so far not taken legislative action against them. (Johnson and Merle, 11/23)

The New York Times: Drug Merger Reignites Tax Reform Discussion
For almost four years, Congress and the White House have done little to make their long-promised overhaul of the corporate tax code a reality. Now the blockbuster pharmaceutical merger of Pfizer and Allergan has put new pressure on all sides to act. (Calmes, 11/23)

The Wall Street Journal: CVS Chooses Repatha As New Cholesterol Drug For Caremark
CVS Health Corp. said Monday that Amgen Inc.’s Repatha will be the only drug of a new class of cholesterol-lowering injections in its Caremark pharmacy-benefits manager. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Repatha and rival drug Praluent, developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi SA, as a new way to treat high cholesterol. The new class of drugs, which are known as PCSK9 inhibitors, has drawn attention for their potential to combat heart disease but also for their potential high costs to the health care system. Repatha costs about $14,100 a year and Praluent costs about $14,600. (Hufford, 11/23)

Bloomberg: CVS Makes Exclusive Deal To Cover Amgen’s Cholesterol Drug
CVS Health Corp.’s drug-benefits unit will cover Amgen Inc.’s new cholesterol-cutting injections while excluding a competing treatment from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., pushing for savings from medications that list for more than $14,000 a year. ... While the discount CVS obtained from Amgen was “substantial,” [CVS chief medical officer Troyen] Brennan said he would not reveal the amount or the length of the contract with Amgen. CVS will continue to require that prescriptions for Amgen’s drug be approved in advance, a practice known as prior authorization that can limit use of the medicine. (Langreth, 11/23)

The New York Times: F.D.A. Targets Inaccurate Medical Tests, Citing Dangers And Costs
Inaccurate and unreliable medical tests are prompting abortions, promoting unnecessary surgeries, putting tens of thousands of people on unneeded drugs and raising medical costs, the Food and Drug Administration has concluded. Life-threatening diseases go undetected in some cases. In others, patients are treated for conditions they do not have. ... The findings come at a time when the use of laboratory-developed tests is booming, the Obama administration is seeking new regulatory powers and even Republicans in Congress are working on legislation to set stricter standards. (Pear, 11/23)

USA Today: Tax Impact Of Sanders' Proposals Still Up For Debate
Sen. Bernie Sanders says if he's elected president, he'll expect the wealthiest Americans to start paying their “fair share” of taxes. Exactly what that means is still largely unknown. So far, the Vermont independent has proposed raising nearly $6 trillion in revenue from corporations, Wall Street speculators and the wealthy to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, provide free college tuition, expand Social Security and finance other programs. But Sanders still hasn't provided details of his two most ambitious proposals— Medicare-style health care for everyone, and universal child care — or said how much he would raise income tax rates to pay for them. (Guadiano, 11/23)

The Associated Press: Federal Court Rules Wisconsin Abortion Law Unconstitutional
A Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court panel ruled Monday. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel's 2-1 decision doesn't put the question to rest. Nearly a dozen states have imposed similar requirements on abortion providers, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to hear a challenge to Texas' law in a case that could settle the issue nationally. (Richmond, 11/23)

Reuters: U.S. Appeals Court Rules Against Wisconsin Abortion Doctor Law
Abortion providers in Wisconsin had challenged the state law, which requires doctors to have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 km). The law's supporters said the measure ensures continuity of care while opponents say it serves almost no public health value and is intended to shut clinics. A federal judge in March permanently blocked the Wisconsin law, ruling that the health benefits, if any, were outweighed by the burden on women's health caused by restricted access to abortion. (Bailey, 11/23)

USA Today: In Texas, Going The Distance For An Abortion
None of the obstacles Texas placed in her way were going to keep Veronica from driving 125 miles to her appointment at Whole Woman's Health clinic Friday. With her 3-year-old and 1-year-old in tow, she was determined to get an abortion. The state didn't make it easy. There used to be a clinic 50 miles away in Corpus Christi. But Texas — which she likens to a "big bully" — is more than halfway to its goal of reducing from 44 to 10 the number of licensed clinics in the nation's second-largest state. ... Texas' abortion law — which the Supreme Court this month agreed to review early next year — unquestionably has made abortions harder to come by. (Wolf, 11/23)

Reuters: Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Threat To Cut Medicaid Funding
Planned Parenthood, other women's health providers and a group of women in need of reproductive healthcare sued Texas on Monday, seeking to halt its threatened cut in Medicaid funding, a move they said was more about politics than healthcare. The suit filed in federal court in Austin comes as Texas and several other Republican-controlled states try to cut funding for Planned Parenthood after an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissues from abortions it performs. (Herskovitz, 11/23)

The Associated Press: Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Blocked Medicaid Dollars
Planned Parenthood sued again Monday over efforts by Republican governors to block Medicaid funding to the nation's largest abortion provider, this time against Texas, where the organization says health care access to 13,500 women is on the line. Federal courts have so far halted similar attempts in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama while lawsuits play out. Texas plans to kick Planned Parenthood out of the state's Medicaid program by Dec. 8. (Weber, 11/23)

The New York Times: Planned Parenthood Sues Texas In Dispute Over Funding For Clinics
The nonprofit organization’s lawsuit alleges that Texas violated federal law and the so-called Medicaid freedom of choice provision, which allows those enrolled in Medicaid to seek services from a qualified provider of their choice. The lawsuit also accuses Texas officials of singling out Planned Parenthood for “unfavorable treatment without adequate justification,” a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. (Fernandez, 11/23)

Los Angeles Times: Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Medicaid Funding
Planned Parenthood and 10 of its patients sued the state of Texas on Monday to block officials from cutting off Medicaid funds, calling the state’s actions political and part of a long-term pattern of denying reproductive healthcare to women. “Women in Texas today have fewer rights than they did when I was growing up, and less access to healthcare,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards told reporters when announcing the lawsuit. “This time, they're targeting some of the most vulnerable Texans — women who already have the least access to healthcare in the country.” ... A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office declined to comment Monday, saying officials have yet to be served with the lawsuit. (La Ganga, 11/23)

The Associated Press: NY Bills For Costs Of Care After Alleged Cases Of Abuse
Bill Liblick was shocked to learn that his sister, a disabled woman with the mind of a 1-year-old, had repeatedly been sexually assaulted at a state-run group home. Then, after her death, he was astonished again when he received a $1.6 million bill from the state for the cost of her care. Liblick says it was a coldhearted attempt by the state to get its hands on the money her estate eventually won in a lawsuit over her abuse. ... At least three times in recent years, New York has pursued Medicaid reimbursement of $1 million or more from those who allegedly suffered devastating, even deadly, mistreatment while in state care. In two of those cases, the state eventually dropped its claims after the families contested them. (Virtanen, 11/23)

The Washington Post: Half Of All Healthy 45-Year-Olds Will Develop Pre-Diabetes
Almost half of 45-year-olds will develop pre-diabetes, an elevated blood-sugar level that often precedes diabetes, according to a large Dutch study using population estimates. Sometimes called impaired glucose metabolism, pre-diabetes has no clear symptoms, but people with higher than normal blood sugar based on a blood test should be tested for diabetes every one or two years, according to the American Diabetes Association. (Doyle, 11/23)

The Washington Post: Four In 10 Say They Know Someone Who Has Been Addicted To Prescription Painkillers
Nearly four in 10 people know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, including 25 percent who say it was a close friend or family member and 2 percent who acknowledge their own addiction, according to a new poll. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Tuesday also reveals that 16 percent say they know someone who has died from an overdose of prescription painkillers, including 9 percent who say that person was a family member or close friend. (Bernstein, 11/24)

NPR: Treating Prisoners With Hepatitis C May Be Worth The Hefty Price
Doctors, patients and insurers have been struggling with how to determine who should be treated for hepatitis C now that effective but wildly expensive drugs can all but cure the disease. Treating prison inmates is a good investment that would save money in the long run, a study finds. The drugs, Harvoni and Sovaldi, cure about 90 percent of patients, but at a hefty price, about $90,000 per patient. ... More than 15 percent of U.S. prison inmates are infected with Hepatitis C. The study, published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that as many as 12,000 lives would be saved if inmates were screened and treated. (Kodjak, 11/23)

NPR: More Women Are Freezing Their Eggs, But Will They Ever Use Them?
If egg freezing once sounded like science fiction, those days are over. Women now hear about it from their friends, their doctors and informational events like Wine and Freeze. ... In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine decided egg freezing was no longer an experimental procedure. That opened the door for clinics like Shady Grove [Fertility Center] to market it to women who don't have a medical reason to do it but are simply worried about their declining fertility — what's being dubbed as "social" egg freezing. (Barclay, 11/24)

The Washington Post: Are Doctors Prescribing Generic Drugs Often Enough? This Group Says No.
Doctors should more diligently prescribe generic medicines whenever possible, both to help contain rising prescription drug costs and to improve the chances that patients will adhere to their therapies, a top physicians group said Monday. Generic drugs now account for roughly 88 percent of prescriptions in the United States, even though they amount to less than a third of the more than $325 billion Americans spend each year on prescription drugs. But the American College of Physicians says doctors should be using generics even more often than they already do. (Dennis, 11/23)

The Associated Press: Emails Reveal Coke’s Role In Anti-Obesity Group
A nonprofit founded to combat obesity says the $1.5 million it received from Coke has no influence on its work. But emails obtained by The Associated Press show the world's largest beverage maker was instrumental in shaping the Global Energy Balance Network, which is led by a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Coke helped pick the group's leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website. ... When contacted by the AP about the emails, Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent said in a statement that "it has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network." (Choi, 11/24)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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