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KHN First Edition: February 10, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Blue Shield Top Choice On California Exchange
Kaiser Health News' Chad Terhune reports: "For the first time in three years, Blue Shield of California leads enrollment in the state’s insurance exchange while Oscar, a closely watched newcomer, experienced a slow start. The Covered California exchange said it won’t release enrollment figures by company until later this month, and insurers declined to share specifics until then. But interviews with industry officials indicate some insurers, such as Blue Shield and Molina Healthcare Inc., picked up more business while others lost ground during the Affordable Care Act’s third open enrollment." (Terhune, 2/10)

The New York Times: Obama’s Last Budget, And Last Budget Battle With Congress
President Obama on Tuesday sent his final annual budget proposal to a hostile Republican-led Congress, rejecting the lame-duck label to declare that his plan “is about looking forward,” with new initiatives that include $19 billion for a broad cybersecurity plan. Mr. Obama’s proposed 10-year savings would push deficits down again for a couple years and offset costs of the president’s proposed initiatives. Then deficits would begin increasing again with the retirement and health costs of aging Americans. (Calmes, 2/9)

The Washington Post: HHS Budget Would Rise To $1.1 Trillion And Encourage States To Expand Medicaid
Spending for the Department of Health and Human Services would increase to $1.1 trillion under a proposal that would add large mandatory expenditures for cancer research and fighting drug addictions while slightly decreasing the department’s discretionary programs. The budget would modify the controversial “Cadillac tax” on expensive private health plans, so that it wouldn’t apply to some employers in states with especially high insurance prices. The tax, part of the Affordable Care Act, already has been postponed from 2018 to 2020. The budget furthers the administration’s efforts to move toward new payment methods in Medicare, including a new competitive bidding system for private Medicare Advantage health plans. (Goldstein, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama’s Budget Has Modest Provisions For Affordable Care Act
The Obama administration stopped short of writing a detailed prescription for its signature health law into the president’s final budget, but called for growth for the nation’s premier agency for biomedical research for the first time in a decade. In the fiscal 2017 budget proposal, widely seen as a template for a Democratic successor, officials stuck to modest recommendations for the Affordable Care Act aimed at encouraging more states to expand their Medicaid programs as part of the law, and tweaking its so-called ‘Cadillac tax’ on high-cost health plans. (Radnofsky and Burton, 2/9)

The Associated Press: Obama Unveils Record $4.1 Trillion Election-Year Budget
President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled a record $4.1 trillion, election-year budget that finances Democratic priorities like education, health care and climate change with new taxes on crude oil, the wealthy and big banks. ... Among the health care provisions in Obama's budget, several address the rising cost of prescription drugs. One new proposal would gradually shift most of the burden of paying for drugs in the "catastrophic" portion of Medicare's prescription program to insurers who deliver the benefit, as opposed to taxpayers. (2/9)

The Associated Press: A Look At Obama's Final Budget Proposal
President Barack Obama proposed a record $4.1 trillion budget on Tuesday. Here's a look at each agency and department. ... [Department of Health and Human Services is] up 3 percent. Responding to an epidemic of heroin addiction and abuse of prescription painkillers, Obama's budget would provide $1 billion in new funding over the next two years for states to help more people get and complete treatment. The money would be allocated to states based on the severity of the epidemic and the strength of their strategy. The budget also includes $500 million in new funding to increase access to treatment for people with serious mental health problems. (2/9)

Reuters: Factbox: What Is In Obama's Final Budget Proposal?
President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled his budget proposal for fiscal year 2017, his final year in office. But since the Republican-controlled Congress controls the purse strings, much of Obama's plan likely will be shelved and so it is primarily a political document. The following are some of Obama's proposals: Obama asked for $1 billion to fund a two-year effort to expand treatment for people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers. ... Obama proposed changes to certain high-cost health insurance plans. ... Obama proposed $500 million for a two-year initiative to boost access to mental healthcare as part of his push to address gun violence. (Rampton, Rascoe, Mason and Heavey, 2/9)

The Washington Post: Budget Breakdown: What The White House Wants To Spend Money On
The CDC is seeking $15 million in new funding to improve health and wellness for Native Americans and $30 million in mandatory funding for suicide prevention. The latter is part of the administration’s proposal to boost federal mental health spending by $500 million over two years to improve access to care and prevent suicides. ... Funding for Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot,” advances in precision medicine and research on the complexity of the brain highlight the president’s $33.1 billion proposed 2017 budget for the National Institutes of Health. About $680 million would expand clinical trials to include more minorities and others who suffer from higher cancer rates. (Sun and Bernstein, 2/9)

USA Today: Obama's Last Budget Proposal Would Spend $4.1 Trillion
"The budget that we’re releasing today reflects my priorities and the priorities that I believe will help advance security and prosperity in America for many years to come," President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House. "It adheres to last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. It drives down the deficit. It includes smart savings on health care, immigration, tax reform." (Korte, 2/9)

The Associated Press: Obama Admin Says It Won't Use Ebola Funding To Combat Zika
The Obama administration on Tuesday rejected a Republican suggestion to use money Congress provided to fight the Ebola virus to combat the Zika virus and mosquitoes that spread it. ... Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who heads an appropriations subcommittee on health, said the administration has money left over that was allocated to fight Ebola and other infectious diseases. ... But Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said she and other administration officials "believe we need to finish the job in terms of Ebola" and focus separately on Zika. (2/9)

The Washington Post: Trump Notches An Easy Victory In New Hampshire’s Republican Primary
Donald Trump resoundingly won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary Tuesday night, giving the billionaire mogul his first victory in an improbable and brash campaign that already has turned American politics upside down. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, on the strength of his optimistic focus on economic renewal and lifting people out of the shadows, finished a distant second. On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders notched a decisive win over Hillary Clinton in a state she had won in 2008. (Rucker and Costa, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Sanders And Trump Win Big But Leave Their Races Unsettled
For years, plenty of players in the American political system have quietly wished that the outsize role of two small and quirky states—Iowa and New Hampshire—in picking presidential nominees could be reduced. Maybe this is the year that has come true. With the results now in from New Hampshire’s primary, what’s striking is how little those two states, the ones that often launch new front-runners and bring leaders crashing down to earth, have actually settled. (Seib, 2/10)

Politico: Trump Vs. Sanders?
There is no ignoring it now, the American electorate’s disregard for establishment politicians promising incremental change. If the country’s fatigue with the prospect of a Clinton-Bush presidential matchup has hovered above this 2016 race like a latent current of electricity, Tuesday’s New Hampshire results were the long-awaited lightning strike. (Stokols, 2/10)

The Washington Post's Fact Checker: Democrats’ Claims That A Koch-Backed Group Wants To ‘Privatize’ The VA
During an exchange about veterans’ health care, moderator Rachel Maddow asked the two candidates: “How will you win the argument on that issue given the problems that have been exposed at the V.A. in the last few years? What’s your argument that the V.A. should still exist and should not be privatized?” Maddow cited efforts to “abolish” or privatize large portions of the VA. Then, just days after the debate, Clinton was quoted referring to the plan to “abolish the Veterans’ Administration.” Such an effort is most closely associated with Concerned Veterans for America, a veterans advocacy group in the Koch brothers’ political network. What exactly is the group’s proposal to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs? (Ye Hee Lee, 2/10)

Politico: Why An Anti-Abortion Group Is Applauding NARAL
Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List announced its support for pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, on at least one thing. On Monday NARAL sent an email to supporters asking them to sign a petition requesting that the hosts of Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Milwaukee, PBS’ NewsHour's Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, ask the candidates about abortion rights. (Collins, 2/9)

The New York Times: Pregnancy Clinics Fight For Right To Deny Abortion Information
“Free Pregnancy Testing,” reads the large sign in front of the East County Pregnancy Care Clinic, on a busy intersection of this impoverished city east of San Diego. ...The clinic is one of more than 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers around the country that are operated by religious opponents of abortion, with the heartfelt aim of persuading women to choose parenting or adoption. Now it and others in California are in a First Amendment battle with the state over a new law that requires them to post a notice that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available to low-income women through public programs, and to provide the phone number to call. (Eckholm, 2/10)

Reuters: Texas Abortion Providers Launch Campaign To Keep Clinics Open
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide the legality of strict Texas abortion restrictions, women's healthcare providers have launched a campaign across the state trying to win support to keep their clinics open. On Tuesday, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, Whole Woman's Health, opened a San Antonio clinic to media as part of week-long campaign of rallies called the "Truth Tour." (2/9)

Los Angeles Times: House Passes Bill Focused On Mental Health Of Female Veterans
Under a House bill passed Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs would have to look closely at whether its mental health and suicide prevention programs meet the needs of the growing number of female veterans. A study released over the summer found that women who have served in the military commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of those in the civilian population. (Wire, 2/10)

The Associated Press: VA Hospitals Compare Favorably On Deaths, Readmission Rates
Veterans' hospitals compare pretty favorably with others when it comes to treating older men with three common conditions — heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia, according to a study on death rates and readmissions. Chances for dying or being readmitted within 30 days of treatment for those conditions varied only slightly for patients hospitalized within the VA system versus at outside hospitals, the 2010-2013 study found. (2/9)

The Associated Press: House Approves Bill To Tighten Control On VA Construction
The House on Tuesday approved a bill to increase oversight and management of large construction projects at the Department of Veterans Affairs after a new VA hospital outside Denver tripled original cost estimates. The bill requires the VA to allow the Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies to manage projects that cost more than $100 million. The VA also would be required to keep Congress closely informed about large projects. Money could not be spent on advance planning or design until 60 days after Congress is notified. (2/9)

The New York Times: Taming Drug Prices By Pulling Back The Curtain Online
Americans have come to rely on their smartphones to help them do seemingly everything, like hailing a taxi and comparing prices of dog food. But when it comes to buying prescription drugs, consumers still find the process maddeningly antiquated. Now, a few entrepreneurs say they are aiming to fundamentally change the way people buy drugs, bringing the industry into the digital age by disclosing the lowest prices for generic prescriptions to allow comparison-shopping. (Thomas, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Centene Profit Continues To Grow With Membership
Centene Corp., a Medicaid-focused health insurer, reported its profit rose 5.7% in the final quarter of the year as a key measure of the company’s medical costs fell and the company boosted its number of managed care members, but it also lowered its guidance for the year.The company said that its Medicaid business grew 30% to include 3.5 million members. (Steele, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: CVS Profit Grows On Higher Sales Of Prescription Drugs
CVS Health Corp. reported higher profit and sales in its fourth quarter, as rising sales of prescription drugs offset a slight drop in sales in the front-end of its stores, where traffic continues to erode. ... The results were also boosted by two recent acquisitions that allow CVS to cover more patients: Omnicare Inc., which dispenses drugs to places like nursing homes; and Target Corp.’s pharmacy business, which gives CVS nearly 1,700 more locations. As both those acquisitions become integrated, CVS plans to market them aggressively to help sign up more clients to its network. (Dulaney and Ziobro, 2/9)

The Associated Press: CVS Meets 4Q Profit Forecasts, Reaffirms 2016 Outlook
Acquisitions helped CVS Health's fourth-quarter profit climb 13 percent, and leaders of the drugstore operator and pharmacy benefits manager said Tuesday that they expect to reap more gains from their deal making later this year. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company spent more than $10 billion to buy pharmaceutical distributor Omnicare in a deal that closed last summer and about $1.9 billion to take over the pharmacy and clinic business of retail giant Target Corp. (2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Panel Recommends FDA Approval Of Remicade Knockoff
A U.S. regulatory panel vote on Tuesday is a win for companies developing lower-cost copies of pricey biotechnology drugs, but it could be a while before patients see them. An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend the agency approve the sale of a knockoff version of Johnson & Johnson’s arthritis drug Remicade, which had U.S. sales of $4.45 billion last year. The copy was developed by Celltrion Inc. and licensed to Pfizer Inc. (Loftus, 2/9)

The Associated Press: FDA Panel Backs Lower-Cost Version Of J&J's Top-Selling Drug
Federal health advisers on Tuesday endorsed a lower-cost version of Johnson & Johnson's blockbuster Remicade, a pricey biotech medicine used to treat a number of inflammatory diseases. The non-binding recommendation could clear the way for the cheaper medication from Celltrion, which would only be the second in a new class of quasi-generic biotech drugs to reach the U.S. market. These drugs, already available in Europe, have the potential to generate billions of dollars in savings for insurers, doctors and patients in coming years. (2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Regeneron: Good Results, Great Expectations
Despite some bumps in the road, the growth story is still intact at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Trouble is, a solid outlook isn’t enough to push shares higher in this unforgiving market. Regeneron reported fourth-quarter revenue of $1.1 billion and adjusted earnings per share of $2.83 on Tuesday. Both grew solidly while also falling short of expectations. (Grant, 2/9)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: What The Turmoil At Zenefits Reveals About Silicon Valley’s Big Problem With Health Care
Zenefits was reportedly one of the fastest-growing companies in Silicon Valley, a region famous for giving birth to companies that undergo tremendous growth spurts. The startup, which distributes free administrative software to businesses and works as a health insurance broker, was dealt a serious blow last fall when a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that the company had not been obtaining licenses necessary to sell insurance in individual states. ... Zenefits is just the latest example of a high-flying startup trying to revolutionize the health-care space, only to discover along the way that Silicon Valley's philosophy of disruptive innovation can be more difficult to apply to health care than in the digital world. (Johnson, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: How A Sanofi Diabetes Bet Went Wrong
The history of inhalable insulins for diabetes care is full of disappointments, but Sanofi SA thought a new approach would turn all of that around. It was wrong. The French drugmaker last month ended a licensing pact with MannKind Corp. for the rights to sell the insulin inhaler Afrezza, saying that despite substantial marketing efforts, the product was unlikely to reach even the lowest patient levels anticipated. Sanofi’s bet on inhaled insulin shows the strain pharmaceutical chiefs are under to acquire innovative products when their own pipelines aren’t delivering. (Roland and Bisserbe, 2/9)

The Washington Post: Johns Hopkins Becomes First Center In Country To Offer HIV-Positive To HIV-Positive Organ Transplants
Johns Hopkins announced this week that it had received approval from the nation's organ-sharing authority to become the first hospital in the United States to conduct transplants involving HIV-positive donors and HIV-positive recipients. “This is an unbelievably exciting day for our hospital and our team, but more importantly for patients living with HIV and end-stage organ disease. For these individuals, this means a new chance at life,” Dorry L. Segev, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. (Eunjung Cha, 2/9)

NPR: Meet The Repo Man For Global Health: Skim Off A Grant, He'll Make You Pay
If you're a government official, you don't want to get a call from Cees Klumper's office. Because there's a good chance what you'll hear is basically this: "Either you send us back the money that was misused in the past, or we'll deduct double

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