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Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Just Google It'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Just Google It'" by Ron Therien.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Krispy Kreme Challenge:
Can you say obesity?
Or diabetes?

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Capitol Hill Watch

4. Senate GOP Faces Tight Constraints In Effort To Repeal Health Law, Defund Planned Parenthood

The Senate vote is scheduled for Thursday and, unlike the many earlier votes to undo the health law, this one is expected to send legislation to the president's desk.

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. And Democrats say the GOP exercise is a partisan charade aimed at setting up Republicans to use the health care law as a wedge issue in the election campaign next year. (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. ... McConnell was able to mollify concerns from conservatives such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that the bill didn’t go far enough by adding a repeal of the law’s Medicaid expansion and subsidies that help consumers purchase health coverage on the Obamacare exchanges. And he allayed worries from senators in states that expanded Medicaid by delaying the repeal for two years — enough time, in theory, to find replacement health care for lower-income Americans. (Kim and Haberkorn, 12/1)

5. After Colo. Shooting, GOP Eyes Action On Mental Health Overhaul

Comments by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appear to add momentum to ambitious mental health system reform legislation by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn.

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 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)

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 Wall Street Journal: Ryan Calls for Mental-Health Overhaul After Planned Parenthood Shooting
Mr. Murphy said his bill would enable those with mental illness to receive treatment sooner, making them less likely to become engaged in violent acts. “For those with mental illness, what we ought to be doing is treating the mental illness instead of responding to the crime,” he said in an interview Tuesday. Democrats have called for new gun-control measures and urged Republicans to change their tone against the women’s health organization. (son, 12/1)

6. Senate Report Says Hep C Drug Maker Sought To Maximize Profits Despite Costs To Patients

Officials at Gilead Sciences, which makes the drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni that can cure hepatitis C infections, opted for a higher price tag even though they knew it would put the medications out of the reach of some patients and government programs, according to a Senate Finance Committee investigation.

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-Zaldivar, 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)

NBC News: Company Put Profit Over Patients In Pricing $1,000 Hepatitis Pills: Senate Report
The Senate report paints a picture of a drug that burdened state and federal health insurance plans. "For example, state Medicaid programs nationwide spent $1.3 billion before rebates on the drug in 2014. Even with that expenditure, less than 2.4 percent of the roughly 700,000 Medicaid enrollees with Hepatitis C were treated with Sovaldi," the report reads. Hepatitis C affects about 3.2 million Americans, killing more than 15,000 each year, mostly from illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. (Fox, 12/1)

Meanwhile, another drug maker that dramatically raised prices recently may be getting some cut-rate competition -

CBS News: Reining In The Rising Cost Of Some Prescription Drugs
Patients who suffer from the rare infection toxoplasmosis got some help Tuesday when the drug benefits manager Express Scripts offered to sell a treatment for a dollar a pill. The drug is similar to Daraprim, sold by Turing Pharmaceuticals for $750 a pill. (Dahler, 12/1)

Marketplace: More Drama In Prescription Drug Pricing
The price of prescription drugs has become something of a flashpoint in recent weeks, due in no small part to something that the company Turing Pharmaceuticals did, when it hiked the price of Daraprim, a pill often used by HIV patients and pregnant women, from $13.50 to $750 a dose. But now Express Scripts, which purchases drugs for insurers and large employers, will work with a different pharmaceutical firm, Imprimis, to make a generic version of that drug for a dollar a pill. (Gorenstein, 12/1)

7. Pelosi, Ryan Talk About The Budget -- Does This Mark A New Phase In Capitol Hill Budget Sagas?

In other congressional news, Senate Democrats say Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is blocking progress on a bill to help 9/11 first responders with health care.

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

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