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KHN First Edition: February 18, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: California Marketplace May Require Insurers To Pay Agent Commissions
Kaiser Health News' Chad Terhune reports: "California’s health exchange may require its health plans to pay sales commissions to insurance agents to keep insurers from shunning the sickest and costliest patients. Covered California is working on a proposal that would force the plans to pay commissions effective next year, said Executive Director Lee. The proposed rules could apply to regular and special enrollment periods, and would leave the specific commission amount or percentage up to insurers, he said. The issue is expected to be discussed Thursday at Covered California’s monthly board meeting." (Terhune, 2/18)

Kaiser Health News: Selling The Health Benefits Of Tap Water, In An Age Of Flint
Colorado Public Radio's John Daley, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is making some public health messages harder to get across — namely, in most communities, the tap water is perfectly safe. And it is so much healthier than sugary drinks. It’s a message Dr. Patty Braun, a pediatrician and oral health specialist at Denver Health, spends a lot of time on in Denver, even before lead was found in the water system of Flint." (Daley, 2/18)

The Associated Press: Hospital Paid 17K Ransom To Hackers Of Its Computer Network
A Los Angeles hospital paid a ransom in bitcoins equivalent to about $17,000 to hackers who infiltrated and disabled its computer network, the medical center’s chief executive said Wednesday. It was in the best interest of Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to pay the ransom of 40 bitcoins — currently worth $16,664 dollars — after the network infiltration that began Feb. 5, CEO Allen Stefanek said in a statement. (Dalton, 2/17)

Los Angeles Times: Hollywood Hospital Pays $17,000 In Bitcoins To Hackers Who Took Control Of Computers
“The malware locks systems by encrypting files and demanding ransom to obtain the decryption key. The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” Hollywood Presbyterian CEO Allen Stefanek said. “In the best interest of restoring normal operations, we did this.” Stefanek said patient care was never compromised, nor were hospital records. (Winton, 2/17)

The New York Times: A Novel Plan For Health Care: Cutting Costs, Not Raising Them
As employees know all too well, health insurance companies have one surefire way to lower costs: Ask their customers to pay more. Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit health system in Salt Lake City, is trying something virtually unheard-of: promising to sharply cut costs rather than pass them on. Its new health plan, SelectHealth Share, is guaranteeing to hold yearly rate increases to one-third to one-half less than what many employers across the country typically face. (Abelson, 2/17)

The New York Times: F.D.A. Deals Setback To Catalyst In Race For Drug Approval
A Florida company involved in an unusual race for approval of a drug that treats a rare neuromuscular condition had a setback on Wednesday, after federal regulators said they needed more information before deciding whether to approve it. The drug treats a disease called Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, and for years was given away by a New Jersey company, Jacobus Pharmaceutical, under an obscure federal drug provision. It never had formal approval from the Food and Drug Administration. (Tavernise, 2/17)

The Washington Post's Fact Checker: Trump’s Truly Absurd Claim He Would Save $300 Billion A Year On Prescription Drugs
Reining in the cost of prescription drugs has become a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. Both former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) have proposed detailed plans to control prescription-drug prices, with both calling for Medicare to negotiate directly with prescription-drug companies to get lower prices. Republican candidates have also decried high prescription-drug costs, though generally their policy proposals have been thinner. Developer Donald Trump ... also says he wants to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies. In fact, he makes the bold claim that he would save $300 billion a year. Is this even remotely possible? (Kessler, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Democratic Economists Say Bernie Sanders’s Math Doesn’t Add Up
Four leading Democratic economists sharply criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders for citing “extreme claims” about the economic effects of his campaign proposals, the latest in a stream of critiques from Democrats over details of his platform. Criticism has also been directed at Mr. Sanders’s plan for a single-payer, government-run health-care plan, with critics saying he underestimates the costs of providing health care to all Americans and overestimates the revenue his plan would generate. (Timiraos and Meckler, 2/17)

The Washington Post: Mexico Confirms Zika Virus Cases In Pregnant Women As Pope Francis Exits The Country
The spread of the Zika virus, which has accelerated debates over contraception and abortion in Latin American countries that have been hit hardest, continues in Mexico, where Pope Francis has spent the past week. Mexico’s health department said on Tuesday it has confirmed six pregnant women who are infected with the virus, which came as the pope was about to leave the region after a six-day trip to Central America. The pontiff did not mention the virus during his trip, and the Vatican has yet to issue a statement on the issue. (Pulliam Bailey, 2/17)

The Associated Press: Report: Calls To VA Suicide Hotline Went To Voicemail
A suicide hotline operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs allowed crisis calls to go into voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance, according to a report by the agency's internal watchdog. The report by the VA's office of inspector general says calls to the suicide hotline have increased dramatically in recent years, as veterans increasingly seek services following prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the aging of Vietnam-era veterans. (2/17)

USA Today: To Treat Or Not? Question Looms For Elderly And Sick
Millions of families in our aging nation face [a] delicate decision about when to use life-extending but potentially-grueling treatment on the elderly and sick — and the medical world is responding. This year for the first time, Medicare began reimbursing doctors for having end-of-life discussions as a separate, billable service. And health experts are increasingly examining the issue, with three recent end-of-life studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association among the growing body of research. (Ungar, 2/17)

The New York Times: Testosterone Gel Has Modest Benefits For Men, Study Says
More than a million men have smeared testosterone gels on their bodies in recent years, hoping it would rejuvenate them, energize them, and increase their libido. But until now, there has never been a rigorous study asking if there were any real benefits to testosterone therapy for healthy men with so-called low T. The first results of such research were published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Although it found at best modest benefits, mostly in sexual functioning, it is a landmark study, said Dr. Eric S. Orwoll, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, because it provides the first credible data on testosterone’s effects on some of the problems it is thought to resolve. (Kolata, 2/17)

The Associated Press: Study Finds Testosterone Gel Is No Fountain Of Youth
A landmark study suggests that testosterone treatment is no fountain of youth, finding mostly modest improvement in the sex lives, walking strength and mood of a select group of older men. The long-awaited results from a rigorous, government-funded study are the first solid evidence of whether these hugely popular supplements can help treat low sex drive, lack of energy and other symptoms sometimes blamed on aging. (Tanner, 2/17)

NPR: Study Shows Extra Testosterone Might Help Some Older Men
As men age, they lose testosterone — which some say affects their sense of well-being and sexual function. But for healthy older men, using supplemental testosterone as a remedy has been controversial. Past studies of the supplement's use have been relatively small, and the evidence about benefits and risks has been mixed. Now a well-designed study published online Wednesday, in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirms certain benefits in sexual function and mood for some men 65 and over, at least in the first year. Though the gains were modest, and some tended to wane in the latter months of treatment, researchers say the findings are encouraging, and merit further research. (Neighmond, 2/17)

NPR: For Fertility Treatment, Wounded Veterans Have To Pay The Bill
The Pentagon's health care system for active duty troops covers IVF. The Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans doesn't. A law passed in 1992 made it illegal for the VA to pay for IVF, which some people oppose because embryos are often destroyed in the process. In the decades since Congress banned IVF for the VA, the procedure has become much more common. And about 1,400 troops came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries to their reproductive organs. Thousands more have head injuries, paralysis or other conditions that make IVF their best option. (Lawrence, 2/17)

USA Today/Indianapolis Star: Indiana Medical-Waste Firm Fined For Handling Fetal Tissue
A medical-waste company here has been fined for accepting fetal tissue, amplifying calls from anti-abortion advocates to restrict how fetal remains are handled. MedAssure Services, a private medical-waste disposal company based in Farmingdale, N.J., that operates in a dozen states, accepted three to six 31-gallon containers a week during the past four years from Pathology Services, a Missouri lab that services Planned Parenthood, a women's health and abortion provider. Some of those containers contained fetal tissue, in violation of the company's solid waste permit, according to a settlement the company signed Tuesday with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. (Cook, 2/17)

The Associated Press: State Agency Fines Hospital In Forcible Removal Case $45,000
Florida's health care agency issued a $45,000 fine to the hospital where a black woman died after being forcibly removed from the emergency room by a white police officer. The Agency for Health Care Administration lists four counts against Calhoun-Liberty Hospital in a 30-page administrative complaint issued Wednesday. Three counts are related to access to emergency care and services, and one is related to the Blountstown hospital's risk management program — patient grievance analysis. (2/17)

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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