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KHN First Edition: February 2, 2016


First Edition

Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Editor’s Note: California Healthline is now being produced by Kaiser Health News. Our goal is to bring you the best coverage of health policy news in California, with original reporting that highlights the state’s outsized influence on the nation’s health care system. Click here to learn more about California Healthline and its staff. If you would like to receive the free California Healthline daily or weekly emails, you can adjust your email preferences here.

Kaiser Health News: Insurer’s Approval Of Genetic Testing For Some Cancers Raises Questions
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Pennsylvania-based Independence Blue Cross’ announcement that it will cover a complex type of genetic testing for some cancer patients thrusts the insurer into an ongoing debate about how to handle an increasing array of these expensive tests. Independence — with its approximately 3 million members — became the largest insurer to cover whole genome sequencing for select cancer patients." (Appleby, 2/2)

Kaiser Health News: Hospitals Employ Email 'Empathy' To Help Doctors And Patients Keep In Touch
Kaiser Health News staff writer Barbara Feder Ostrov reports: "A health care startup made a wild pitch to Cara Waller, CEO of the Newport Orthopedic Institute in Newport Beach. The company said it could get patients more engaged by "automating" physician empathy. It “almost made me nauseous,” she said. How can you automate something as deeply personal as empathy? But Waller needed help. Her physicians, who perform as many as 500 surgeries a year, manage large numbers of patients at various stages of treatment and recovery. They needed a better way to communicate with patients and track their progress." (Feder Ostrov, 2/2)

Kaiser Health News: N.Y., Minn. Opt For Low-Cost Plans To Help Some Residents Afford Coverage
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "In January, more than 350,000 lower income New Yorkers began paying $20 a month or less for comprehensive health insurance with no deductibles and low copayments, under a federal health law program. Minnesota has similar coverage in place through the same program, with more than 125,000 enrollees. The two states are using a provision of the health law to create a “basic health program.” And even though the coverage is significantly more affordable than the alternative — subsidized marketplace plans — health policy experts say it’s unlikely other states will follow suit." (Andrews, 2/2)

Kaiser Health News: Study: Doctors’ Texts Can Prod Patients To Take Drugs, But Questions Linger
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but that’s hardly useful if a patient doesn’t remember to take it in the first place. According to a new analysis, there could be a possible solution: text message reminders sent to patients’ phones from the doctor. Researchers found that texts could push people to do better at adhering to their drug regimens and, along the way, save the health system a fair bit of money." (Luthra, 2/1)

The New York Times: Ted Cruz Wins Republican Caucuses In Iowa
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, powered by a surge of support from evangelical Christians, dealt a humbling loss to Donald J. Trump in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, throwing into question the depth of support for Mr. Trump’s unconventional candidacy. (Martin, 2/1)

Politico: Clinton Ekes Out Win In Iowa Against Sanders
Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, according to results announced by the state Democratic Party early Tuesday morning — a dramatic finish to a race so close that the Associated Press declined to call it even after all precincts except one had reported results. (Gass, 2/1)

The Washington Post: Clinton And Sanders, All Even After Iowa Voting, Are Poised For A Long Slog
Hillary Clinton and her late-surging rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, remained locked in a dead heat with most precincts reporting in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses late Monday, setting up what is likely to become a prolonged nominating contest. Clinton and Sanders effectively battled to a draw in the Iowa caucuses, splitting the vote in the first presidential selection contest of 2016. (Gearan and Wagner, 2/2)

The New York Times: Zika Virus A Global Health Emergency, W.H.O. Says
The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency on Monday, a rare move that signals the seriousness of the outbreak and gives countries new tools to fight it. ... At a news conference in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O, acknowledged that the understanding of the connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly was hazy, and said that uncertainty placed “a heavy burden” on pregnant women and their families throughout the Americas. She said that the emergency designation would allow the health agency to coordinate the many efforts to get desperately needed answers. (Tavernise and McNeil Jr., 2/1)

Reuters: Zika Virus Tied to Birth Defects Is International Emergency, WHO Says
The World Health Organization on Monday declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international public health emergency due to its link to thousands of birth defects in Brazil, as the U.N. agency sought to build a global response to the threat. The emergency designation, recommended by a committee of independent experts following criticism of a hesitant response to Zika so far, should help fast-track international action and research priorities. The move lends official urgency to research funding and other steps to stem the spread of the virus. (2/1)

The Washington Post: Zika Virus: WHO Declares Global Public Health Emergency, Says Causal Link To Brain Defects ‘Strongly Suspected’
The World Health Organization designated the Zika virus and its suspected complications in newborns as a public health emergency of international concern Monday. The action, which the international body has taken only three times before, paves the way for the mobilization of more funding and manpower to fight the mosquito-born pathogen spreading "explosively" through the Americas. (Eunjung Cha, Sun and Dennis, 2/1)

The Washington Post: A Md. Biotech Firm Claims It Can Track Zika Virus By Testing Mosquitoes
Since the World Health Organization started raising alarms about the mosquito-borne Zika virus spreading throughout the Americas, deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies have been racing to find a vaccine. But a seven-person biotech company based in Rockville, Md., is trying something different. After a 21-day sprint, GenArraytion claims to have come up with a molecular test that can spot the virus in mosquitoes before it infects humans. The goal is to give health agencies a better way to map the virus. (Gregg, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Aetna Tops 4Q Expectations, But 2016 Outlook Falls Short
Aetna wrapped up 2015 with a 38-percent surge in fourth quarter earnings but chased its better-than-expected performance with 2016 guidance that misses Wall Street forecasts. The nation's third largest health insurer said Monday it expects adjusted earnings of at least $7.75 per share in the new year. Analysts had been looking for per-share earnings $8.05, according to a poll by the data firm FactSet. Aetna recorded adjusted earnings of $7.71 per share in 2015. The insurer said its initial, 2016 guidance factors in an expected first-quarter drop in commercial health insurance enrollment and an anticipated modest rise in medical cost trends, among other factors. (2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Reports Surge In Profit And A Dark Spot On Results
Aetna Inc. became the latest health insurer to report losses on 2015 Affordable Care Act business, a dark spot as the company unveiled sharply higher profit for the fourth quarter. Though individual health plans are a small share of Aetna’s overall revenue and enrollment, which totaled 23.5 million at the end of 2015, they are drawing outsized attention amid questions about the future of the marketplaces that are at the heart of the federal health law. (Wilde Mathews and Steele, 2/1)

USA Today: Aetna Earnings Jump On Growth In Medicare, Medicaid Health Plans
U.S. health insurance giant Aetna (AET) beat Wall Street forecasts Monday as the company reported higher fourth-quarter profits and reaffirmed plans to complete its acquisition of smaller rival Humana this year. The Hartford, Conn.-based company credited the results in part to growth in membership and premiums as Aetna boosted its government business that sells Medicare and Medicaid health plans to U.S. consumers. (McCoy, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Insurer Aetna Lays Out Concerns About ACA Exchange Business
Aetna has joined other major health insurers in sounding a warning about the Affordable Care Act's public insurance exchanges. The nation's third-largest insurer said Monday that it has been struggling with customers who sign up for coverage outside the ACA's annual enrollment window and then use a lot of care. This dumps claims on the insurer without providing enough premium revenue to counter those costs. (2/1)

NPR/KQED: Bosses Find Part-Time Workers Can Come With Full-Time Headaches
Starting in 2016, the federal health law requires small employers to offer their full-time workers health insurance. In anticipation of the change, some fast-food restaurants looked to get around the law by making more workers part time. Now some owners are rethinking that approach. ... Starting Jan. 1, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance to all full-time staff or pay a hefty fine. Employers with 100 or more workers had to start offering coverage last year. But smaller businesses that operate on lower margins, especially restaurants, complained loudly about the cost. And some fast-food franchise owners figured out a way to avoid paying for coverage: Just make as many workers as possible part time. (Dembosky, 2/1)

Reuters: GSK And J&J Back $1 Billion Biotech Spin-Off From Index Ventures
Index Ventures, an early investor in technology hits like Skype and Dropbox, is spinning off its biotech portfolio into a new $1 billion (695 million pounds) business, with backing from drug giants GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson. The new Medicxi Ventures business will be led by the existing life sciences team from Index Ventures and includes all the current biotech portfolio companies. Medicxi said on Tuesday it had raised 210 million euros ($229 million) for a new fund focused on early-stage life sciences investments in Europe, with GSK and J&J each contributing 25 percent. (2/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration: Victims Of Medical Identity Theft May See Thieves’ Data
People have a right to view and correct medical records that contain the health information of thieves who have stolen their personal data to obtain care, the Obama administration said in a letter to senators. Victims of medical identity theft have had their personal data stolen and used by thieves to get health care, prescriptions, and medical equipment in their name. The victims can wind up with the thief’s health data folded into their own medical charts. (Armour, 2/1)

NPR: White House To Request $1 Billion For Cancer 'Moonshot'
President Obama plans to ask Congress for $755 million in cancer-research funding as part of his 2017 budget, according to the White House. That would bring the funding total to nearly $1 billion over the next two years to accelerate what the president called a "moonshot" to try to eliminate cancer. Congress has already approved $195 million in research funding in 2016. (Wagner, 2/1)

The New York Times: $1 Billion Planned For Cancer ‘Moonshot’
The Obama administration announced on Monday that it hoped to spend $1 billion to fund a cancer “moonshot” in search of a cure. But in the costly world of biological research, such a sum may be better described as a cancer slingshot, researchers said. “The good news is that the budget is no longer being cut,” said Dr. Adamson, the chairman of the Children’s Oncology Group, which conducts national clinical trials. “But we’re not going to the moon on $1 billion.” (Harris, 2/1)

NPR: CDC Endorses A More Effective HPV Vaccine To Prevent Cancer
The updated childhood immunization schedule, released today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes a couple tweaks to vaccine recommendations for older children and teens. One officially moves the recommendation for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine a few years earlier for children with a history of sexual abuse and officially recommends the HPV-9 vaccine over other HPV vaccines. Another offers all older teens the option of a meningitis vaccine previously recommended only for high-risk children. (Haelle, 2/1)

NPR: Modest Price Cut Expected For Generic Version Of Cancer Pill Gleevec
Pharmacies across the U.S. will begin receiving shipments of a generic form of the revolutionary cancer pill Gleevec this week after the drug lost its patent protection on Monday. The generic version of drug, known as imatinib, is likely to cost about 30 percent less than brand-name Gleevec, says Kal Sundaram, the CEO of Sun Pharmaceuticals, the Mumbai, India-based company that will make the first generic. (Kodjak, 2/1)

The New York Times: New Plan To Treat Schizophrenia Is Worth Added Cost, Study Says
A new approach to treating early schizophrenia, which includes family counseling, results in improvements in quality of life that make it worth the added expense, researchers reported on Monday. The study, published by the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin, is the first rigorous cost analysis of a federally backed treatment program that more than a dozen states have begun trying. In contrast to traditional outpatient care, which generally provides only services covered by insurance, like drugs and some psychotherapy, the new program offers other forms of support, such as help with jobs and school, as well as family counseling. (Carey, 2/1)

The New York Times: An Eating Disorder In People With Diabetes
People with Type 1 diabetes, who don’t produce their own insulin, require continuous treatments with the hormone in order to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. When they skip or restrict their insulin, either by failing to take shots or manipulating an insulin pump, it causes sugars — and calories — to spill into the urine, causing rapid weight loss. But the consequences can be fatal. (Rabin, 2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Find A Way To Say, ‘I’m Sorry’
While operating on Gary Avila’s arm last year, a surgeon at Stanford Hospital accidentally nicked a nerve, causing an injury that affected the use of his hand. Mr. Avila’s injury was resolved through a Stanford program known as Pearl, short for Process for Early Assessment, Resolution and Learning. In addition to an apology, an explanation of what had gone wrong, and a waiver of his medical bill, Mr. Avila received a monetary settlement that both sides agreed to keep confidential to compensate for his pain and suffering. Stanford’s Pearl program is serving as a model for more so-called communication and resolution programs that hospitals are adopting to interact with patients when things go wrong and avoid costly litigation. (Landro, 2/1)

NPR: Researchers Test Microbe Wipe To Promote Babies' Health After C-Sections
Babies get a lot from their mothers. But babies born by cesarean section don't pass through the birth canal and miss out on the benefits from picking up Mom's microbes on the way out. Researchers studying the human microbiome have asked: Could there be a way to fix that? If so, it might help restore the microbes a baby naturally gets that help fight off disease and foster normal development. (Stein, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Health Insurers, Pharmaceuticals Feud Over Drug Cost Bill
Two lobbying behemoths have been quietly duking it out behind the scenes at the Virginia General Assembly over a whether drugs companies should have to open up their books. Health insurers are pushing legislation that would require pharmaceutical companies publish the cost of developing, manufacturing, and marketing the prescriptions that cost $10,000 or more for a single course of treatment. (Suderman, 2/1)

USA Today/The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal: Planned Parenthood: Ex-Governor's Officials Gave Abortion OK
Planned Parenthood on Sunday released documents that show Kentucky officials, under former Gov. Steve Beshear, authorized it to begin providing abortions at its Louisville clinic. The organization released the material seeking to refute claims from Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin that the organization acted illegally. "We in no way, shape or form would contemplate offering abortion procedures in anything but a legal environment," said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, or PPINK. (Yetter, 2/1)

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