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KHN First Edition: December 2, 2015


First Edition

Wednesday, December 02, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

WEB BRIEFING FOR MEDIA: Today at 1 p.m. ET, KHN will host an interactive web briefing to help reporters explore new ways to cover caregiving issues. Interested? Register now.

Kaiser Health News: Kentucky Strategy Will Test Need For State-Run Obamacare Exchanges
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "Kentucky Gov.-elect Matt Bevin’s plan to dismantle the state’s successful health insurance exchange, Kynect, and shift consumers to the federal one would likely have little impact on consumers, health experts say. 'The federal exchange is a perfectly viable alternative,' said Jon Kingsdale, a Boston health care consultant who formerly led the state agency that started Massachusetts’ exchange in 2006, the model for the federal health law. Consumers on the federal exchange would still be able to shop and enroll in private plans and apply for federal subsidies to lower their costs." (Galewitz, 12/2)

Kaiser Health News: More Women Getting Breast Screenings Under Medicaid Expansion
Kaiser Health News staff writer Lynn Shallcross reports: "If you’re a low-income woman, you’re more likely to get screened for breast cancer if you live in a state that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act than in a state that didn’t. According to new research, low-income women who lived in a handful of early-adopter states that implemented Medicaid expansion by 2011 were 25 percent more likely to be screened for breast cancer in 2012 than women in non-expansion states. That’s a big change from 2008, when low-income women in both sets of states had similar odds of being screened. The study was presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America." (Shallcross, 12/2)

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Effort To Repeal Health Law, Defund Planned Parenthood Grows Complicated
It should have been smooth sailing. Senate Republicans combined two of their top policy priorities into a bill that can pass later this week without any Democrats. Instead, this week’s vote will cap a protracted, behind-the-scenes campaign to find enough GOP votes for legislation that would both repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (son, 12/1)

The Associated Press: Senate GOP Health Law Repeal Delivers Wins To Party’s Wings
Senate Republican leaders seem to have carried out a delicate balancing act in their drive to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care law and close the federal funds spigot to Planned Parenthood. They’re poised to push through a measure that would bestow victories on both conservative Republicans and moderates, senators confronting the more competitive 2016 re-election races. For his part, Obama is primed to veto the bill when it reaches his desk. (Fram, 12/2)

Politico: GOP Has Little Room To Spare On Obamacare Repeal
Senate Republican leaders say they will finally realize their long-sought goal of sending an Obamacare repeal to the president's desk — but likely only by the narrowest of margins. After months of tweaking the measure to secure the pivotal 51 votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford only three GOP defections if he wants to pass the measure. (Kim and Haberkorn, 12/1)

Politico: Democrats Take Aim At GOP's Medicaid Repeal
Putting an Obamacare repeal on the president’s desk would mark a major psychological — if not an actual — victory for Republicans. But it also could come with electoral repercussions that Democrats believe could boost their efforts to recapture the Senate in 2016. (Everett, 12/2)

Politico: Ryan And Pelosi Bear Down On Budget As Deadline Looms
The private conversation between Pelosi and Ryan, however, marked a new phase in the government funding battle, and it also helps illustrate the new dynamics between the top Democrat and Republican in the House. Former Speaker John Boehner and Pelosi cut many deals to fund the government, oftentimes frustrating Rogers and other appropriators who thought they were being big-footed. (Sherman and Bresnahan, 12/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Gilead Knew Hepatitis Drug Price Was High, Senate Says
Gilead Sciences Inc. knew the $1,000-a-pill launch price for its hepatitis treatment would be out of reach for many patients and cause “extraordinary problems” for government health programs, according to a U.S. Senate report released Tuesday. The 144-page committee report adds to a chorus of criticism of escalating drug prices from patients, doctors, insurers and some presidential candidates. U.S. congressional committees also have opened inquiries into drug-pricing practices by other companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., and House Democrats have formed a drug-pricing task force to explore ways to reduce costs. (Loftus, 12/1)

The Associated Press: Report: Drug Maker Was Focused On Profits, Not Patients
In a statement, Gilead said it disagreed with the report’s conclusions. Gilead stock was down slightly most of the day Tuesday, as broader financial markets posted solid gains. The company’s first breakthrough drug, Sovaldi, was priced at $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a course of treatment. Gilead has since introduced a more expensive, next-generation pill called Harvoni, highly effective and simpler for patients to use. It’s priced at $94,500 for a course of treatment. (Alonso-Zalidvar, 12/1)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: How An $84,000 Drug Got Its Price: ‘Let’s Hold Our Position … Whatever The Headlines’
Gilead Sciences executives were acutely aware in 2013 that their plan to charge an exorbitantly high price for a powerful new hepatitis C drug would spark public outrage, but they pursued the profit-driven strategy anyway, according to a Senate Finance Committee investigation report released Tuesday. "Let's not fold to advocacy pressure in 2014," Kevin Young, Gilead's executive vice president for commercial operations, wrote in an internal email. ‘‘Let’s hold our position whatever competitors do or whatever the headlines." (Johnson and Dennis, 12/1)

The New York Times: Paul Ryan Pushes Changes In Mental Health Care After Colorado Shooting
While Democrats made it clear they believed that Republicans were avoiding the real problem — lax restrictions on access to guns — Mr. Ryan encouraged lawmakers from both parties to present their ideas to address the problems with mental health care. He expressed support for an ambitious proposal that would make major changes to the mental health care system. The bill would, among other steps, create an assistant secretary post in the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate the government’s approach and remedy a shortage of beds in psychiatric hospitals. (Huetteman and Perez-Pena, 12/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Ryan Calls for Mental-Health Overhaul After Planned Parenthood Shooting
Some abortion-rights supporters have suggested that criticism of the organization has fueled anger toward the group. The suspected gunman made an apparent antiabortion remark to authorities, saying “no more baby parts,” according to a law-enforcement official. That phrase echoed Republican rhetoric on the women’s health organization’s provision of fetal tissue for medical research, the topic of undercover videotapes released earlier this year. Mr. Ryan pointed to legislation from Rep. Tim Murphy (R., Pa.) that would increase the number of inpatient psychiatric beds in the U.S., expand the mental-health workforce and authorize an early-intervention program, among other things. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to consider the bill soon. (son, 12/1)

USA Today: GOP Focuses On Mental Health After Colo. Shooting
Murphy's bill — which has had some Democratic support — would also reduce barriers for caregivers to provide information with parents or guardians of their patients, and would boost support for "assisted outpatient treatment" for patients with severe mental illness. AOT is basically a court-ordered treatment regimen, with court-imposed penalties for non-compliance. Mental illness causes tens of thousands of death a year through suicide, drug overdoses, and a range of ailments that afflict homeless people with mental illness, Murphy told USA TODAY Tuesday. (Singer, 12/1)

The Washington Post: Ryan’s Nod Could Get Mental Health Legislation Moving
Congressional Republicans have frequently pointed to mental health in their responses to mass shootings, but Ryan and McCarthy’s remarks this week were notable in their endorsement of a specific piece of legislation — one that had seemed to be gaining bipartisan support earlier this year. “The common theme with these kinds of shootings is mental illness, and this is something that we should not be ignoring,” Ryan said. “Congressman Murphy has a very comprehensive effort underway. He’s put years into this, and that is why we want to see this process all the way through, and this is something that requires our attention.” (DeBonis, 12/1)

Los Angeles Times: California Members Among Congressional Democrats Seeking To Disband Planned Parenthood Panel
House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, called on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) Tuesday to disband the select committee investigating Planned Parenthood. The organization has been a focus of heated criticism by conservatives since the release last summer of several videos in which Planned Parenthood officials in California and Colorado appeared to discuss using tissue from aborted fetuses in medical research. The videos were filmed by anti-abortion activists posing as biotechnology workers. (Wire, 12/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Rules Reshape Hospital Admissions
At Banner Health’s general hospitals, the rate of heart-failure patients who wind up admitted to the hospital again soon after leaving has been dropping significantly, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Medicare billing data. So has the readmission rate for patients treated for pneumonia and three other serious conditions. ... But this seemingly good news isn’t as encouraging as it appears. At Banner, based in Phoenix, and at hospitals around the country, more patients are entering or re-entering hospitals under something called “observation status”—a category that keeps them out of the readmission tallies. (Weaver, Wilde Mathews and McGinty, 12/1)

The Washington Post: HHS Says Patient Safety Efforts Have Saved 87,000 Lives, $20 Billion
Patient safety measures that reward hospitals for reducing preventable infections, pressure ulcers and adverse drug reactions have resulted in a 17 percent decline in these types of patient harms between 2010 and 2014, according to a federal report released Tuesday. The measures were put in place by the Affordable Care Act. Preliminary estimates by the Department of Health and Human Services show 87,000 fewer patients died in hospitals and nearly $20 billion in health care costs were saved as a result of a reduction in these harms, known as hospital-acquired conditions, during that four-year period. (Sun, 12/1)

The Wall Street Journal: What Is A QALY?
The acronym stands for Quality-Adjusted Life Year, a metric that health economists and others use to quantify the health benefits generated by a particular treatment. QALYs (kwah-lees) are often used by state-run health systems in Europe and other countries to help decide which drugs to cover. ... Use of QALYs can be controversial, particularly in the U.S., where some critics say they amount to putting a price on life. Drug makers have been among the metric’s biggest critics. In an October letter to a Boston nonprofit group that studies the value of health care, the Biotechnology Industry Organization said there are “well-documented disadvantages of using QALYs to assess the value of a therapy.” (Whalen, 12/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Ben Carson May Have Had Prostate Problems After His Surgery
GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, who underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2002, suggested Tuesday in an interview he had a recurrence of the disease, or problems related to it, seven years later. Clues about Mr. Carson’s health can be found in a 2009 letter he wrote to the CEO of Mannatech Inc., maker of a nutritional supplement that Mr. Carson credits with helping him recover from his original bout with prostate cancer. (Maremont and Stewart, 12/2)

The New York Times: U.S. Still In Danger Of Losing War On AIDS, C.D.C. Director Says
Despite major medical advances and more than 30 years of effort, the United States is still in danger of losing the war on AIDS, according to the country’s top disease-control official. In an essay in The New England Journal of Medicine published on Tuesday, World AIDS Day, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the agency’s chief of AIDS prevention, paint a bleak picture of the fight. (McNeil Jr., 12/1)

Los Angeles Times: State Lawmakers Worry Projected Budget Surplus Saps Effort To Revise Healthcare Tax
One of healthcare advocates' unspoken fears is being voiced by state lawmakers who worry a projected multibillion-dollar budget surplus could weaken political resolve to revamp a soon-to-disappear tax that helps fund healthcare for low-income Californians. "The lack of alarm is troubling," state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said at a Tuesday legislative hearing on the fate of California's managed care organizations, or MCO, tax. (Myers, 12/1)

The Associated Press: NY Adds Tax Check-Offs On Mental Illness, Women's Cancers
New York taxpayers will have the option of contributing to 13 causes next year that will include educational efforts to prevent women's cancers and against the stigma of mental illness. At the same time, another new state law will generally require spending contributions in the fiscal year they're collected, meant to stop leaving millions of donated dollars languishing as the state comptroller found in a report almost two years ago. (12/1)

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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