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KHN First Edition: February 9, 2016


First Edition

Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Will Get A California Makeover?
CALmatters' Pauline Bartolone, in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: When 28-year-old Charis Hill discovered the medication to treat her degenerative arthritis condition had risen to $2,000 a month, she chose to be in pain instead. ... Paying for drugs isn’t a problem for Hill now: She has a more robust Covered California health plan, and she gets assistance from a drug company program. All Covered California plans have a cap on how much patients pay for drugs. The copay cap on drugs is just one way Covered California chose to shape the health insurance marketplace this year. Experts say the California exchange uses more of its powers as an “active purchaser” than any other state. That means it can decide which insurers can join the exchange, what plans and benefits are available and at what price." (Bartolone, 2/9)

Kaiser Health News: A 401(k) Withdrawal Can Lead To Trouble For Health Plan Subsidies
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "It’s not uncommon for people to fail to count one-time income bumps from retirement savings or other sources when they’re estimating their annual income to qualify for advance premium tax credits for marketplace coverage, said Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In the case of retirement savings, “they’re not thinking of it as income because it’s their own money,” she said. But since retirement money is generally deposited on a pretax basis, it counts as income when it’s withdrawn and can affect how much people qualify for in premium tax credits." (Andrews, 2/9)

The Associated Press: Obama To Release $4 Trillion-Plus Budget For 2017
President Barack Obama is unveiling his eighth and final budget, a $4 trillion-plus proposal that’s freighted with liberal policy initiatives and new and familiar tax hikes — all sent to a dismissive Republican-controlled Congress that simply wants to move on from his presidency. ... Now, Obama has broken out a budget playbook filled with ideas sure to appeal to Democrats: A “moonshot” initiative to cure cancer; increasing Pell Grants for college students from low-income backgrounds; renewed incentives for GOP-governed states to join the expanded Medicaid system established under the health care law, and incentives to boost individual retirement accounts. (Taylor and Crutsinger, 2/9)

The New York Times: Congressional Republicans Balk At Obama’s Budget, Sight Unseen
President Obama sends Congress his eighth and last annual budget proposal on Tuesday, a lame-duck executive’s accounting of national priorities that Republican leaders have branded sight unseen: dead before arrival. But some new ideas that the administration previewed in recent weeks, including on cancer research, opioid abuse and military projects, could have more life than Republicans care to admit. (Calmes, 2/8)

Reuters: Corporate Winners Of Obama Budget Still Face Long Odds
Ipsita Smolinski, managing director at healthcare research consulting firm Capitol Street, said it was doubtful the Republican Congress would approve Obama's plan to aid the 19 state governments that passed up an earlier offer to expand the Medicaid program for low-income Americans. Such a plan, she said, would benefit hospital companies including Tenet Healthcare and HCA Holdings and Medicaid insurers such as Centene and Molina Healthcare. More palatable to Congress could be Obama's push for $755 million to jumpstart cancer research. But that level of investment without being more targeted may not benefit any specific firms, given that so many drug and biotech companies are invested in developing cancer therapies. (Krauskopf, 2/8)

The Washington Post: $1.8 Billion To Fight Zika: CDC Moves To Highest Alert Level
"We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus," the administration said in a statement. It said it has not yet seen a case of Zika transmitted directly within the continental United States, but with the approach of spring and summer mosquito seasons, it wants to be prepared to fight the disease. (Mufson and Sun, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: White House To Request $1.8 Billion To Combat Zika Virus
The largest portion of funding, $828 million, would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for programs that include mosquito control and surveillance efforts to track the virus. It would also go to ensuring the ability of birth-defect registries in the U.S. to detect Zika-related risks. It is uncertain whether the request will get full approval from Congress, but lawmakers said Monday they were pleased to see the White House acknowledging the need to act promptly before transmission of the virus by mosquitoes in the continental U.S. is seen. (Armour and Lee, 2/8)

USA Today: Obama Asks For $1.8 Billion In Emergency Zika Funding
The new request comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that its emergency operations center has been put on a “Level 1” status — its highest level of activation — because of the Zika outbreak. The CDC has only put its operations center at Level 1 three times in the past: during the Ebola outbreak in 2014; during the H1N1 pandemic in in 2009; and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama's spending proposal includes $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America, the Caribbean, where the Zika virus is spreading most rapidly. (Korte and Szabo, 2/8)

Los Angeles Times: Zika Virus Raises More Questions Than Answers For Pregnant Women
As public health officials and epidemiologists race to understand the Zika virus, doctors in the United States are struggling to counsel patients and ease their fears amid a flood of constantly changing information. Experts say pregnant women in the United States who haven't traveled to countries with outbreaks have no risk of being infected. But with a rapid stream of new information about how the illness is transmitted, new worries keep emerging among pregnant women. "You can't reassure them," said Dr. Kathleen Berkowitz, an obstetrician who practices in Los Angeles and Orange counties. (Karlamangla, 2/9)

Los Angeles Times: Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes: Biological Weapons Target Zika Virus
No other animal has done so much harm to the human race. Each year, [mosquitoes] infect millions of people with malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and other viruses and parasites, killing at least 600,000, the vast majority of them children in Africa. The World Bank estimates that they cost afflicted African countries 1.3% of gross domestic product each year. Which raises the question: Why not try to wipe mosquitoes off the planet? (Dixon, 2/8)

Reuters: Race To Fast-Track Zika Trials As 12 Groups Seek Vaccine
At least 12 groups are now working to develop a Zika vaccine and health authorities said on Monday they were working to ensure development proceeded as rapidly as possible. The World Health Organization said it was important to establish speedy regulatory pathways, although all the vaccines remained in early-stage development and licensed products would take "a few years" to reach the market. (2/8)

Reuters: Lawyers See Limited Legal Options For Workers Sent In Zika's Way
Employees of U.S. companies seeking to avoid exposure to the Zika virus likely have few legal avenues to either refuse travel to affected areas or sue if they actually become sick from the virus. But it may be a different story if such workers subsequently give birth to Zika-infected babies. ... U.S. and world health authorities are not currently warning against all travel to affected areas, as they did with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Adherence to the recommendations of the U.S. Department of State or the World Health Organization would shield companies to a large degree from claims they acted recklessly in sending employees into Zika-affected areas, lawyers who typically represent employers say. (Pierson, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Senator Scrutinizes Pharma Links On Government Pain Panel
A high-ranking Senate Democrat is scrutinizing links between pharmaceutical companies and government advisers who recently criticized efforts to reduce painkiller prescribing. Sen. Ron Wyden says he has a "number of concerns" about how panelists were selected and screened for an advisory panel on pain issues that includes government experts, outside academics and patient advocates. Wyden's inquiry follows a recent Associated Press story that found nearly a third of panelists at a December meeting of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee had apparent financial ties to painkiller manufacturers, including the maker of OxyContin. (2/8)

The Associated Press: Gov't Report: Drop In Uninsured In 8 States
Eight states saw a significant drop last year in the number of residents going without health insurance, according to a government report out Tuesday that has implications for the presidential campaign. All but Florida had accepted a Medicaid expansion that is one of two major pathways to coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law. The law's other coverage route is subsidized private insurance, available in all 50 states. (2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Sanofi Profit Hit By Falling Diabetes Revenue
French drugmaker Sanofi SA reported sharply lower fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday as it continues to face growing pricing pressure in the U.S. diabetes market, and said profit won’t show much change this year. ... Sanofi’s earnings for the quarter highlight the continuing deterioration of the drugmaker’s diabetes business in the U.S., where it is forced to offer larger discounts to the government, insurers and health-care providers to push its products to the market. (Bisserbe, 2/9)

The Washington Post: ‘Promise You’ll Never Put Me In A Nursing Home’
Promise you won’t put me away. It is hard to say no to that request. But it often is even harder to honor it. There’s now a wider spectrum of facilities catering to different levels of need, but even the best ones can feel institutional. [Many] caregivers [are] concerned that being in an institution would hasten a loved one's decline. People in [that] position engage in a constant calculus: How long can you hold a job, take care of a declining loved one, and stay healthy before something cracks? Where is the line between self-abnegation and self-preservation? How do you balance the best interests of the sick person and those of other family members? (Bahrampour, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Stress Raises Cholesterol More Than You Think
Of all the factors contributing to high cholesterol, many cardiologists say one often goes unmentioned in advice for patients: stress. Yet chronic stress from a tough job, a strained relationship or other anxiety-producing situations can play a role—along with poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise—in causing lipid concentrations to rise, they say. Cholesterol deposited by LDL can accumulate in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can reduce blood flow. (McKay, 2/8)

NPR: Scientists Discover A Second Bacterium That Causes Lyme Disease
Until very recently it was thought that just one bacterium was to blame for causing Lyme disease in humans. But it turns out that a second, related bug can cause it too. In 2013, during routine testing of bacterial DNA floating around in the blood samples of people suspected of having Lyme disease, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., realized they were looking at something different. When they sequenced the genome of the bacterium, they realized it was different enough to be considered a new species. (Bichell, 2/8)

Reuters: Lives At Risk Unless WHO Reforms, U.N. Report Says
The World Health Organization needs urgent reform to boost its ability to respond to crises, and failure to act now could cost thousands of lives, according to an advance copy of a high-level U.N. report. The report, entitled "Protecting Humanity from Future Health Crises", is the latest in a series of reviews by global health experts which have been sharply critical of the WHO's response to the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa. (Kelland, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Governor, Health Officials Sued Over Ebola Quarantines
Several people quarantined in Connecticut after returning from West Africa during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 were essentially imprisoned illegally under a state policy based on politics, not science, according to a lawsuit they filed on Monday. The lawsuit was filed by Yale Law School students against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state health officials on behalf of plaintiffs including a West African family of six quarantined at a relative's home for 20 days and a current student and former student at the Yale School of Public Health who were under 20-day quarantine orders at their homes. (2/8)

The Associated Press: Citing Huge Patient Load, NY Nurses Seek Rules On Staffing
When the emergency room fills up — whether it's a big accident, flu season or a stroke of misfortune — Brooklyn nurse Rose Green says she can find herself sprinting from room to room, trying to keep ahead of the whims of calamity. She and other nurses from around New York state are urging state lawmakers to pass legislation that would set minimum staffing levels for hospitals and nursing homes, a rule that they said would improve patient outcomes by addressing a chronic staffing problem. (2/8)

The Washington Post: Hospitals Launch Ad Campaign Ahead Of Vote
he Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association has launched a new statewide ad campaign aimed at defeating legislation it says would put smaller, rural hospitals out of business. Association spokesman Julian Walker said the TV and radio campaign was “substantial” and running exclusively in rural communities. Some Republican lawmakers and tea party groups are pushing legislation that would curtail much of the certificate of public need program, which requires government approval for new or expanded health care facilities. (2/9)

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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