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KHN First Edition: February 19, 2016


First Edition

Friday, February 19, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Urban Medicare Beneficiaries May See More Drug Savings This Year 
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Medicare beneficiaries who live in urban areas may save money on their prescription drugs this year because they have better access to pharmacies in drug plan networks that charge lower copayments or coinsurance, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Such “preferred cost-sharing pharmacies” have been on the rise, adding another layer of calculation — and sometimes confusion — for Medicare beneficiaries who are trying to find the best price for their drugs." (Andrews, 2/19)

The New York Times: Francis Says Contraception Can Be Used To Slow Zika
Pope Francis shook up an already intense debate over birth control and abortion in Latin American countries where the Zika virus is causing a public health emergency by declaring on Thursday that contraceptives could be used to prevent the spread of Zika, which researchers have linked to a spike in cases of babies born with severe brain damage. He ruled out condoning abortion, which he called “a crime, an absolute evil.” But he seemed somewhat open to making an exception for contraception, citing Pope Paul VI’s decision in the 1960s to make an emergency exception to permit nuns in the Belgian Congo to use contraceptives because they were in danger of rape. (Romero and Yardley, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Pope Francis Says Contraception Can Be Acceptable In Regions Hit By Zika Virus
The [Pope's] comments on contraception—which is against church teaching—caused a stir especially in Latin America, a predominantly Catholic region at the center of what the World Health Organization has declared to be a global health emergency over the Zika virus and its possible connection to a birth defect called microcephaly. “What he’s saying is that protecting reproductive rights is protecting the population,” said Debora Diniz, a founder of Anis, a women’s rights group based in the Brazilian capital. (Rocca, 2/18)

USA Today: Pope Suggests Contraception Can Be Condoned In Zika Crisis
An outbreak of the Zika virus sweeping across Latin America and the Caribbean could make use of contraceptives a "lesser evil" for Catholics prohibited by the church from using birth control, Pope Francis said. "Abortion is not a lesser evil — it's a crime ... an absolute evil," Pope Francis said. "Don't confuse avoiding pregnancy with abortion." (Bacon, 2/18)

Los Angeles Times: Pope Opens The Door To Contraception In Averting Harmful Effects Of Zika Virus
Under no circumstances, Francis said, should abortion be considered a "lesser evil," and he said the procedure should be avoided at all cost. “It is a crime, [killing] one person to save another,” he said. "That is something that the Mafia does ... an absolute evil." However, preventing a pregnancy that was in danger of being exposed to Zika might be allowable, he said, but only if it would most certainly prevent a pregnancy at risk. (Wilkinson, 2/18)

The Washington Post: Pope: Contraceptives Could Be Morally Permissible In Avoiding Spread Of Zika
It was not immediately clear what effect the pope’s remarks would have in heavily Catholic Latin America, where cases of Zika are multiplying. Researchers increasingly believe the virus is linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly — a condition in which babies are born with small heads and brain abnormalities — in Brazil. There also is evidence that the virus is spread through sexual transmission in some ­cases. (Boorstein, Itkowitz and Pulliam Bailey, 2/18)

The Associated Press: Pope Suggests Contraception Can Be Condoned In Zika Crisis
Theologians and some Latin American bishops cautioned the pope was not giving a green light for Catholics to use artificial birth control, nor did his remarks amount to a change in church teaching. But Francis’ comments suggest that Catholics under specific circumstances could make a “conscience-based decision about whether they should prevent pregnancy,” said the Rev. James Bretzke, a moral theologian at Boston College. (Winfield, 2/19)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration Pushes Steps To Aid Puerto Rico With Zika Virus
Obama administration officials are increasingly worried about Puerto Rico’s ability to handle a projected influx of Zika virus cases, given the territory’s struggling health care infrastructure and limits on federal Medicaid funding. U.S. health officials said last week that they expect a significant number of Zika cases in Puerto Rico because the mosquito that spreads the virus is common there. Health and Human Services Department officials on Thursday noted the Zika outbreak in detailing its emergency plan to help Puerto Rico. Among other things, the administration wants to temporarily lift a cap on Medicaid—increasing the territory’s federal Medicaid share with about $250 million in additional federal assistance. (Armour, 2/18)

The Washington Post: World Bank Announces $150 Million To Fight Zika Outbreak
The funding, being made available immediately, comes after extensive consultations with governments in the region, the bank said in a statement. The bank said it could provide additional financing if needed. Based on its projections, the short-term economic impact of Zika on the region is likely to be about $3.5 billion. The countries that are likely to see significant impacts include: Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Belize and Jamaica. (Dennis and Sun, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: World Bank Calculates Zika’s Economic Cost In Latin America
The outbreak of the Zika virus that has swept Latin America in recent months will have an economic impact on the region’s countries of $3.5 billion in 2016, the World Bank said Thursday. The estimate of the economic impact of the disease is based on expectations of a fast and coordinated effort to control the spread of Zika and on the assumption that the main risks of the virus are to pregnant women, the international organization said in a note. (Lewis and Magalhaes, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Lengthy Hospice Care Boosts Medicare Bills
Medicare pays hospice agencies to care for patients who are close to death. For some beneficiaries of the taxpayer-funded program, hospice has become a way of life. Between 2005 and 2013, about 107,000 patients received hospice care for an average of nearly 1,000 days spread out over four or more calendar years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Medicare billing records. Medicare’s hospice program, which has been around for 33 years, is supposed to be only for patients who doctors certify are likely to die within six months, or about 180 days. (Weaver, Wilde Mathews and McGinty, 2/18)

The New York Times: Actors In Pornographic Films Fight Proposal To Enforce Safety Regulations
The California pornographic film industry turned out in force Thursday to oppose regulations that would have forced actors to wear condoms and, in some cases, goggles, face shields or rubber gloves when on camera. A parade of actors took to the podium in a government auditorium here as five members of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board listened to their pleas for more than five hours. The hearing ended with the board deciding to vote down the proposal as written, but to reconsider a revised version over the next year. (Fuller, 2/18)

The Associated Press: Calif. Board Rejects Measure Specifying Condom Use In Porn
[Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Standards Board] members appeared influenced by the large number of industry representatives, ranging from actors to writers to directors, who argued forcefully but politely during five hours of testimony. If the proposed regulations didn’t destroy their multibillion-dollar industry, they said, they would likely force it underground. Doing that, they added, could be even worse for performers by eliminating existing safeguards such as the industry’s requirement that actors be tested every 14 days for sexually transmitted diseases. “I ask you not to approve this policy that will endanger me and my colleagues,” said porn actress Maxine Holloway. (Rogers, 2/19)

The Associated Press: Appeals Court Upholds Health Care Law Contraceptive Mandate
A federal appeals court in Atlanta on Thursday upheld a contraceptive mandate included in the president’s health care law but is delaying the implementation of its ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court can weigh in on the issue. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to reject challenges to the mandate in a single opinion addressing two separate cases, one filed by nonprofit organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church in Georgia and the other by Catholic broadcaster Eternal Word Television Network in Alabama. (Brumback, 2/18)

The Associated Press: Texas Health Official Out After Study On Planned Parenthood
A top Texas health official is stepping down after co-authoring a study that drew strong backlash from Republican leaders for suggesting that cuts to Planned Parenthood are restricting access to women's health care statewide. Rick Allgeyer, director of research at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, was facing possible discipline for the study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. He was eligible for retirement and will leave in March, agency spokesman Bryan Black said Thursday. (2/18)

Reuters: Wisconsin Blocks Federal Funds From Reaching Planned Parenthood
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker signed two bills into law on Thursday that block federal funding from Planned Parenthood and could cost the local organization millions of dollars. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin could lose about $7.5 million a year because of the measures, an organization spokeswoman said. (Gonzales and Herskovitz, 2/18)

USA Today/The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal: Kentucky Gov Sues Planned Parenthood Over Abortions
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announced Thursday that the state has filed a lawsuit against Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky Inc. for operating a facility in which it alleges that 23 abortions were performed unlawfully from Dec. 3 through Jan. 28. The lawsuit is the latest development in the clash between Bevin and Planned Parenthood, which has said it was operating under instructions of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services when it began offering abortions in December at its new clinic in downtown Louisville. (Yetter, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Independence Health Group Explores Strategic Options
Independence Health Group Inc. is examining its strategic options, as the Philadelphia nonprofit insurer and others weigh mergers or other steps amid a wave of consolidation spurred by the federal health-care overhaul. The parent of Independence Blue Cross is working with advisers on the review, according to a person familiar with the matter. (Wilde Mathews, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: IBM To Buy Truven Health Analytics For $2.6 Billion
International Business Machines Corp. is buying data company Truven Health Analytics Inc. for $2.6 billion, in a bid to expand its already considerable presence in the health-care industry. The deal will double the size of IBM’s Watson Health business unit to 5,000 employees, as the company adds new technology services to sell to doctors and hospitals. IBM has been on a health-care spending spree in the past year, doling out more than $4 billion to buy medical-technology companies. (McMillan and Wilde Mathews, 2/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Viruses Might Offer New Help In Treating Cancer
In the war on cancer, we may have a strange new ally: the viruses that infected our distant ancestors. New research suggests that hidden stretches of viral DNA in the human genome could help fight cancer by setting off an alert to the immune system. ... This is a potentially powerful weapon because it would undermine one of cancer’s main survival tactics: disguising itself as healthy tissue. (Roland, 2/18)

The Associated Press: Review: SC Medicaid Agency Exposed Data To Cybertheft Risk
A four-decade-old computer system and poor safety measures at South Carolina’s Medicaid agency exposed the personal health information of roughly 1 million residents to risk of cybertheft, according to a federal report released Friday. The findings by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General include that the Medicaid agency did not — at the time of its evaluation in 2013 — have a security plan for its computer system, had no encryption for laptops and had not properly trained employees. The report purposefully did not give specifics. (Adcox, 2/19)

The Associated Press: Health Panel To Hold Hearing On Right To Die Measure
A hearing is scheduled for a measure to allow terminally ill Maryland residents to legally end their lives with drugs prescribed by a doctor. The hearing is set for Friday in the House Health and Government Operations Committee. The bill would allow mentally capable, terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to obtain prescription drugs they could ingest themselves, if their suffering becomes unbearable. (2/19)

The Associated Press: Flint To Get More State, Federal Aid For Water Bills, Pipes
State and federal officials acted to send more help to Flint to deal with its lead-contamination crisis, as the Michigan House approved $30 million on Thursday to help pay residents' water bills and Gov. Rick Snyder announced a $2 million grant to help the city replace some of its pipes. The federal government is giving $500,000 to two health centers that are treating and testing Flint residents exposed to the lead-tainted water. (2/18)

NPR: Want To Get A Great Night's Sleep? Head To South Dakota
It's well known that Americans are not getting enough sleep. But some parts of the United States do it better than others. If you bed down in Minnesota, South Dakota or Colorado, you're likely getting seven or more hours a night. But you're less in luck if you live in Hawaii, where only 56 percent of adults get enough rest. Not that the rest of the country is doing much better. Of the roughly 444,000 Americans polled, about 65 percent got more than seven hours a night according to the study, which was published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Chen, 2/18)

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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