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KHN First Edition: February 11, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, February 11, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Farm Contractors Balk At Obamacare Requirements
KQED's April Dembosky, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Obamacare is putting the agricultural industry in a tizzy. Many contractors who provide farm labor and must now offer workers health insurance are complaining loudly about the cost in their already low-margin business. Some are also concerned that the forms they must file with the federal government under the Affordable Care Act will bring immigration problems to the fore. About half of the farm labor workforce in the U.S. is undocumented." (2/11)

The Associated Press: Surprise Insurance Fees Often Follow Medical Emergencies
Recovering from a medical procedure is always a challenge, but getting hit with unexpected insurance fees can add financial hardship to the process. As health insurance plans become increasingly complicated, more patients are facing unexpected fees when they step outside their plan's coverage network. In many cases, patients don't realize they've received out-of-network care until they're slapped with a bill for hundreds or thousands of dollars. (2/10)

The Associated Press: Ryan, Republicans Grapple With Alternative to Obama Budget
Meet the new boss. Confronting the same tea party challenges as the old boss. Speaker Paul Ryan is scrambling to avoid an embarrassing fiscal defeat this year in the face of a hard-right conservative revolt over last fall's spending-and-tax deal. ... The question is whether to abide by last year's hard-won budget pact. ... Last year's budget agreement applied to about $1.1 trillion in annual "discretionary" spending for day-to-day operations of the Pentagon and domestic Cabinet agencies. So-called mandatory spending such as Social Security, Medicare and health care costs under the Affordable Care Act is responsible for the rest of the $4 trillion-plus federal budget. (2/10)

The Associated Press: Federal Budget In Black For January
The federal government recorded a budget surplus in January of $55.2 billion, helped by a timing quirk that shifted benefit payments to December. ... Obama, in the new budget he released Tuesday, projects that the deficit will jump to $616 billion this year while the CBO is forecasting a deficit of $544 billion. The CBO projects that the deficit will keep rising and top $1 trillion again in 2022 as the costs of Social Security and Medicare climb with the retirement of the baby boomers. (2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Health Officials Expect Significant Zika Cases In Puerto Rico, Other Territories
Federal health officials on Wednesday said the U.S. can expect to see a significant number of Zika cases in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories where the mosquito that spreads it is likely to appear. On the U.S. mainland, though, the virus’s impact is likely to follow the pattern seen by dengue, another mosquito-borne viral disease, Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told members of two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees in a joint hearing. The dengue virus has appeared in Hawaii, Florida and Texas but hasn’t been widespread throughout the country. (Armour, 2/10)

The Associated Press: Study Finds Zika Virus In Fetal Brain, A Clue In Outbreak
New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain emerged Wednesday as U.S. health officials say mosquito eradication here and abroad is key to protect pregnant women until they can develop a vaccine. European researchers uncovered an extremely abnormal brain — not only a fraction of the proper size but lacking the usual crinkly neural folds — in a fetus whose mother suffered Zika symptoms at the end of the first trimester while she was living in Brazil. (Neergaard, 2/10)

USA Today: Report Paints Heartbreaking Picture Of Zika-Linked Birth Defects
A new report paints a heartbreaking portrait of the damage suffered by babies with microcephaly, a normally rare birth defect linked to the Zika outbreak in Brazil. New research suggests that the damage can go far beyond the size of a baby's skull, and that babies with microceophaly who survive their infancy may need a level of intensive care that is in short supply in the developing countries and territories hardest hit by Zika. (Szabo, 2/10)

Reuters: Catholic Group Urges Pope To Allow Contraception To Fight Zika
A Roman Catholic group appealed to Pope Francis on Wednesday to allow Church members to "follow their conscience" and use contraception or to let women have abortions to protect themselves against the Zika virus. The appeal came as the World Health Organization (WHO) advised women in areas with the virus to protect themselves, especially during pregnancy, by covering up against mosquitoes and practising safe sex with their partners. (Pullella, 2/10)

The Associated Press: Several States Seek To Block 2nd Trimester Abortion Method
Abortion opponents in Mississippi, West Virginia and several other states are filing bills to ban an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester that opponents describe as dismembering a fetus. Courts have already blocked similar laws that Kansas and Oklahoma enacted in 2015. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers in legal fights, says banning the dilation and evacuation method of abortion — commonly called "D&E" — is unconstitutional because it interferes with private medical decisions. (2/10)

The Washington Post: Kasich Plans To Sign Ohio Bill Slashing Grants To Planned Parenthood
The Ohio legislature moved Wednesday to cut off $1.3 million in public health grants to Planned Parenthood in a closely watched vote that could have repercussions for the surging presidential campaign of Gov. John Kasich (R). The bill, which cleared the Senate last month and passed the House on Wednesday, prohibits the Ohio Department of Health from giving state or federal grants to organizations that conduct or “promote” abortions. Kasich, who placed second in the Republican primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, has said he would sign the bill. (Somashekhar, 2/10)

The Associated Press: Ohio Bill To Strip Planned Parenthood Funds Heads To Kasich
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign a bill stripping government money from Planned Parenthood, a move that might help him with conservatives who dominate the upcoming Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. The legislation cleared the state legislature and was headed to Kasich on Wednesday, a day after the primary in New Hampshire, where a tough stance against Planned Parenthood might have been received with less enthusiasm by its many moderate Republican voters. (2/10)

Reuters: Ohio House Passes Bill To Deny Funds To Planned Parenthood
Ohio state legislators on Wednesday passed a bill blocking state and federal funds for groups that perform or promote abortions, effectively cutting $1.3 million annually used by Planned Parenthood clinics for HIV testing, pre-natal care and other programs. Governor John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, is expected to sign the bill, which the state Senate had already passed. (Palmer, 2/10)

The Associated Press: 2 Texas Researchers Under Fire For Planned Parenthood Study
Two state health researchers in Texas are under fire for co-authoring a study suggesting what Republican leaders have long disputed: cuts to Planned Parenthood are restricting access to women's health care. Texas Health Commissioner Chris Traylor has not said whether the researchers, one a high-level director with more than 20 years in state government, will be disciplined. But a spokesman made it clear that the agency agrees with outraged Republicans over the researchers' contributions to a study that the GOP sees as flawed and biased. (2/10)

Reuters: Louisiana Attorneys Appeal Judge's Ruling On Abortion Restrictions
The state of Louisiana on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to overturn a judge's decision to block a 2014 law that imposed tough restrictions on Louisiana abortion providers and threatened to close four of the state's five clinics. The law requires physicians who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the place where the abortion is performed. In an order filed Wednesday, U.S. Judge John deGravelles finalized his January ruling granting a preliminary injunction sought by abortion providers who argued the law violated women's rights to obtain an abortion. (Brooks, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Under Pressure To Improve Margins On Health Plans
After most health insurers racked up financial losses on Affordable Care Act plans in 2014, many companies’ results for last year worsened, creating heavy pressure to improve performance this year. An analysis of filings by not-for-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers—among the biggest players in the law’s exchanges for buying individual insurance—shows the challenge facing the industry as it seeks a turnaround in the individual business. They paid out more for health care in the first three quarters of 2015 than they took in from premiums on their individual plans. (Wilde Mathews, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Humana Profit Falls, But Guidance Comes In Above Views
Humana Inc., which in July agreed to be acquired by rival Aetna Inc., said profit fell 30% in the fourth quarter as it set aside a reserve to account for losses expected on its 2016 Affordable Care Act business, but the firm gave guidance for the year sharply above Wall Street expectations. “Humana faced challenges across a number of fronts in 2015,” said Chief Financial Officer Brian Kane. But he said strength in its clinical model and administrative cost discipline, along with targeted pricing, helped position the company for “meaningful margin improvement” in its core individual Medicare Advantage business for the year. (Steele, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Walgreens Threatens To End Theranos Agreement
Theranos Inc.’s main retail partner threatened to terminate its relationship with the blood-testing company unless it quickly fixes the problems found by federal inspectors at a laboratory in California, people familiar with the matter said. The warning from drugstore chain Walgreens was issued in a letter to Theranos late last month and gives closely held Theranos, based in Palo Alto, Calif., a 30-day deadline that expires near the end of February to resolve major infractions that violate the U.S. law governing clinical labs, these people said. (Weaver, Siconolfi and Carreyrou, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Mylan Reaches $7.2 Billion Deal For Sweden’s Meda
Mylan NV said Wednesday that it has agreed to buy Swedish pharmaceutical company Meda AB for $7.2 billion in cash and stock, while the drug maker also reported slower-than-expected growth in its fourth quarter. Mylan said the deal to buy Meda will build on its portfolio of specialty generic and over-the-counter products. The acquisition will also give Mylan access to new markets like China, Russia and the Middle East. (Dulaney, 2/10)

The Associated Press: Mylan To Buy Sweden’s Meda AB For $7.2 Billion
Drugmaker Mylan says it will buy Meda AB of Sweden for $7.2 billion in cash and stock, and says the move will help it enter new markets. Mylan valued the deal at $9.9 billion including Meda’s debt. It said Wednesday Meda’s board and largest shareholders support the sale. Meda says about 60 percent of its sales come from prescription drugs. Key products include drugs that treat respiratory conditions, skin ailments, and pain and inflammation. (2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Healthy? You’ll Spend More On Health Care In Retirement
The healthier you are, the more money you need to save for health care in retirement. That’s the counterintuitive finding of new research by the Empower Institute, which is sponsored by Empower Retirement, a division of Great-West Financial that administers $440 billion in retirement plans. “Excellent health, ironically, can actually raise an individual’s lifetime health spending” simply because healthier people can generally expect to live longer, says the report, released Wednesday. (Tergesen, 2/10)

The New York Times: Assisted Suicide Study Questions Its Use for Mentally Ill
A new study of doctor-assisted death for people with mental disorders raises questions about the practice, finding that in more than half of approved cases, people declined treatment that could have helped, and that many cited loneliness as an important reason for wanting to die. The study, of cases in the Netherlands, should raise concerns for other countries debating where to draw the line when it comes to people’s right to die, experts said. (Carey, 2/10)

USA Today: Study Finds Dementia Rates Falling Steadily
A long-running study has found that dementia rates fell steadily over the past four decades, most likely due to declining rates of heart disease. Although the Framingham Heart Study involved just 5,200 people, its findings likely reflect a national trend, said co-author Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and a senior investigator with the study. Other research also suggests that dementia rates are declining in the U.S. and other developed countries. (Szabo, 2/10)

NPR: A Fix For Gender-Bias In Animal Research Could Help Humans
There's been a male tilt to biomedical research for a long time. The National Institutes of Health is trying to change that and is looking to bring gender balance all the way down to the earliest stages of research. As a condition of NIH funding, researchers will now have to include female and male animals in their biomedical studies. (Bichell, 2/10)

The New York Times: Cuomo’s Proposal Seeks Confidentiality For Minors With H.I.V.
Among the recent patients at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx was a 17-year-old with H.I.V. who put off his treatment until he turned 18, because he was worried his parents would kick him out and not pay for his medications if they found out about his status. At SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, doctors wanted to prescribe Truvada, the preventive H.I.V. pill, to a 16-year-old girl who was dating a man who was H.I.V. positive. But she did not receive it because she could not qualify for state assistance to pay for it. A new proposal from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office seeks to remedy such situations by extending to minors the confidentiality that is already given to them for the treatment of other sexually transmitted infections. (Otterman, 2/10)

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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