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KHN First Edition: January 20, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: For Hospitals, Treating Violence Beyond The ER Is Good Medicine And Good Business
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "[David] Ross is a violence intervention specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Though he isn’t a doctor, he’s been working at the hospital as part of its Violence Prevention Program for close to 10 years. His team works with patients who are victims of violent injuries — stabbings, gunshots or physical assaults — and who physicians flag as candidates for the program’s assistance. His challenge is to figure out the factors in their lives that put them at risk of violence. The work he does is time-consuming, and the relationships he builds with these patients can last months and even years." (Luthra, 1/20)

Kaiser Health News: Want Into A Clinical Trial? Read This First.  
Columnist Emily Bazar writes: "I’ll explain how you can find clinical trials of drugs that could treat your condition – but access isn’t a sure thing. The trial could take a year or more of your time. And more often than not, the experimental drug doesn’t work. Less than 12 percent of the medicines that enter clinical trials are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America." (Bazar, 1/20)

Kaiser Health News: Even With ‘Skin In The Game,’ Health Care Shoppers Are Not More Savvy
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "It’s long been argued that if consumers are shopping with their own money, they will be savvier in their choices of services and doctors. But a research letter published Tuesday highlights a need for “greater availability of price information” as well as “innovative approaches” to make information easier for consumers to use. ... [Researchers] found that even when people were responsible for more of their health costs, they weren’t more likely to consider cost or shop around for the best deal on medical treatments." (Luthra, 1/19)

The New York Times: U.S. Toughens Rules For Latecomers Trying To Enroll In Health Care Act
The Obama administration, responding to complaints from insurance companies, announced several steps on Tuesday that will make it harder for consumers to obtain health insurance after the annual open enrollment period. ... Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the federal insurance marketplace, said that special enrollment periods “are not allowed for people who choose to remain uninsured and then decide they need health insurance when they get sick.” Mr. Counihan said the administration would eliminate six of the special enrollment periods. ... In addition, he said the government would clarify eligibility standards and step up enforcement to prevent abuse of special enrollment periods. (Pear, 1/19)

USA Today: Feds Tighten When People Can Enroll In Obamacare Plans
Bowing to pressure from insurers, federal officials on Tuesday tightened the conditions under which people can sign up for plans on the exchange outside open enrollment. The move by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services comes after complaints by health insurers that it was too easy for people to wait until they were sick to sign up and to drop coverage after they got treatment. Earlier Tuesday, UnitedHealth announced a 19% drop in profit and downgraded its earnings forecast citing concerns about its Obamacare enrollment and the flexibility people had to change insurance plans. (O'Donnell, 1/19)

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Raises Forecast For Losses On Affordable Care Act Plans
UnitedHealth Group Inc. said its projected losses on the Affordable Care Act exchanges for 2016 deepened as enrollment grew despite the company’s efforts to reduce sign-ups. UnitedHealth had taken steps to pull back on its exchange business in anticipation of losses, including reducing marketing and slashing commissions to health-insurance agents. But enrollment nevertheless grew, widening the company’s exposure. (Wilde Mathews, 1/19)

Politico: Democratic Rift Spurs Questions About Obamacare's Future
With less than two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic primary has morphed into an all-out brawl over Obamacare, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders offering starkly different prescriptions for its future. That’s a potentially risky proposition for the candidates and for a law that is still opposed by more than half of all Americans, according to recent polls. (Cook, 1/19)

The Associated Press: High Court Rejects New Challenge To Obama Health Overhaul
The Supreme Court has rejected another challenge to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The justices on Tuesday left in place lower court rulings that dismissed a lawsuit against the national health care law. The suit argues that the law violates the provision of the Constitution that requires tax-raising bills to originate in the House of Representatives. (1/19)

Reuters: Biden Pledges Faster U.S. Approval For Cancer Drug Cocktails
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the United States would speed up the approval of promising new drug combinations in his government's newly announced drive to cure cancer "once and for all." Biden, who lost his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer last year, set out his plans at a World Economic Forum meeting of international cancer experts in Davos, a week after being appointed to lead the initiative by President Barack Obama. (1/19)

The Wall Street Journal: Big Pharma’s Remedy For Beaten-Down Biotech Stocks
When the stock market hands you lemons, make a lemonade-flavored pill. That is one option for drug makers, who can use the gloom around biotech stocks to their advantage. The biotech sector has had a cruel start to the year. ... And the chilly market environment could eventually present a serious issue for small companies without established products. These must rely on external funding—often from the capital markets—to sustain their research operations. In the absence of funding to go it alone, these companies would need to find a partner with deeper pockets. Therein lies a potential silver lining, at least for bigger players. (Grant, 1/19)

The New York Times: Anti-Abortion Groups Join Battles Over Frozen Embryos
Anti-abortion groups are seeking a foothold on a new battlefield: custody disputes over frozen embryos. ... As scientific advances have made frozen embryos common, they have brought new complications to divorces. Most courts have treated embryos as marital property, often favoring the party that plans not to use the embryos, emphasizing a right not to be forced to procreate. Some have applied contract law, decided which half of the couple more deserved the embryos, or required mutual consent. But anti-abortion groups argue that such cases should be decided according to the best interests of the embryos, the same legal standard used in child-custody disputes. (Lewin, 1/19)

The Washington Post: VA Strikes Against Hill Assertions Over Corrupt Agency
When two members of Congress took a shot at the Department of Veterans Affairs in an op-ed last week, management decided it was not going to duck and cover. Rather than issue another string of VA mea culpas, as the agency has appropriately done for the cover-up of excessive patient wait times, Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson is punching back. ... “Did we find instances of misconduct? Yes we did,” he said. “Did we hold people accountable? Yes we did. Was there widespread corruption across the department? Actually, no there wasn’t.” (Davidson, 1/19)

The Associated Press: Insurance Customers Begin New Year With Delays
Thousands of health insurance consumers around the country have started the new year dealing with missing ID cards, billing errors and other problems tied to an enrollment surge at the end of 2015. Brokers and insurers in several states told The Associated Press that they’ve been inundated with complaints about these issues from customers with individual plans and those with coverage through small businesses. (Kennedy and Murphy, 1/19)

The Associated Press: HIV Testing Uncommon In Teens Despite Recommendations: CDC
Fewer than 1 in 4 high school students who’ve had sex have ever been tested for HIV, a troubling low rate that didn’t budge over eight years, government researchers say. Young adults fared slightly better, although testing rates have declined in black women, a high-risk group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an influential preventive health panel recommend routine HIV testing at least once for teens and adults. They also advise at least yearly screening for high-risk patients including those with multiple sex partners, gay or bisexual boys and men and injection drug users. (Tanner, 1/19)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: The U.S. Is Not As Bad At End-Of-Life Cancer Care As Most People Think
One of the most pervasive ideas about death in America is that we don't do it well, dying in hospital beds after enduring unnecessary medical procedures instead of at home. It's our uncomfortable relationship with death, the thinking goes, that's pushing the relentless rise of our health-care spending to the highest in the world. A new study of cancer patients over age 65 complicates that notion, finding that while pieces of the story are right, much of it is not. (Johnson, 1/19)

NPR: People With Minor Injuries Are Increasingly Getting CT Scans
If you fall off a curb, bop your head and go to the ER to make sure you're OK, there's a good chance you'll be trundled off for a CT scan. That might sound comforting, but people with injuries minor enough that they get sent home are increasingly being given computed tomography scans, a study finds. That's despite efforts to reduce the unnecessary use of CTs, which use radiation and increase the lifetime risk of cancer. (Shute, 1/19)

NPR: Opioid Abuse Takes A Toll On Workers And Their Employers
According to one study, prescription opioid abuse alone cost employers more than $25 billion in 2007. Other studies show people with addictions are far more likely to be sick, absent or to use workers' compensation benefits. When it comes to workers' comp, opioids are frequently prescribed when pain relievers are called for. How often doctors choose opioids varies by state, with an analysis finding the highest rates in Arkansas and Louisiana. (Noguchi, 1/20)

The Associated Press: NY Rebate Extended For Heroin Overdose Antidote
New York's attorney general has announced an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals to extend a nearly 20 percent price cut for naloxone, an antidote for heroin and other opioid overdoses. The attorney general's office says Tuesday that Amphastar for another year will cover a $6 rebate per dose, which will also automatically increase, dollar-for-dollar, to match future growth in the wholesale price. (1/19)

Los Angeles Times: Guidelines Issued For California's Assisted Suicide Law
With the state’s assisted death law taking effect in months, the California Medical Assn. on Tuesday issued guidelines to physicians on writing prescriptions of lethal doses of drugs for terminally ill patients. The 15-page guide details the complicated legal and medical path that doctors must take before they can authorize medication to hasten a patient’s death, and helps physicians understand their legal rights to participate or not participate based on their own moral or religious values. (McGreevy, 1/19)

NPR: Small Alabama County Offers Cash Amid Struggle To Stop Tuberculosis Spread
There's only one health department in Alabama where people can go to be tested for tuberculosis. That's in Perry County, where an outbreak claimed three lives in 2015. For every 100,000 people there, 253 would be infected; normally in Alabama it's only 2.5. Now, health officials are trying to get handle on the disease. But it hasn't been easy, so officials there decided to take a new approach. (Douban, 1/19)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2016 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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