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KHN First Edition: March 3, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, March 03, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Bridging The Gap Between Medical And Mental Health Care
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: "People with severe mental illnesses are more likely to die prematurely than those without, and it’s often from treatable chronic diseases — in part because many, like Young, don’t receive regular medical care. They may be uninsured or unable to find doctors who take their insurance. They may be reluctant to seek care in traditional medical offices because of stigma or discrimination. ... Now, though, providers are beginning to bridge the gap between medical and mental care, forming partnerships aimed at improving patients’ physical and mental health, and reducing costs at the same time. Such holistic projects are underway in numerous states, including California, New York, Washington and Florida." (Gorman, 3/3)

Kaiser Health News: Boston's Heroin Users Will Soon Get A Safer Place To Be High
WBUR's Martha Bebinger, in partnership with KHN and NPR, writes: "A Boston nonprofit plans to soon test a new way of addressing the city’s heroin epidemic. The idea is simple: Starting in March, along a stretch of road that has come to be called Boston’s “Methadone Mile,” the program will open a room with a nurse, some soft chairs and basic life-saving equipment — a place where heroin users can ride out their high, under medical supervision. ... With state statistics indicating that roughly four Massachusetts residents die every day from an overdose, the need for some sort of new approach seems more urgent than ever, [Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which initiated the project] said. Still, her organization plans only a limited version of the “safe place” other countries offer. In Boston, patients will not be allowed to take drugs in the room." (Bebinger, 3/3)

The New York Times: Supreme Court Appears Sharply Divided As It Hears Texas Abortion Case
The Supreme Court appeared splintered on Wednesday during arguments in a major abortion case that could affect the lives of millions of American women. The court’s four liberal justices were adamant that restrictions imposed by a Texas law on the state’s abortion providers served no medical purpose and could not pass constitutional muster. But two of the more conservative justices said there was little evidence that abortion clinics in Texas had closed or would close because of the law. (Liptak, 3/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Some Supreme Court Justices Cite Lack Of Detail In Key Abortion Case
As passions ran high on the court’s ideological wings, Justice Kennedy asked probing questions of both sides, pressing abortion-rights advocates on whether they had tangible evidence to support claims that the state was imposing real burdens on women seeking abortion. Later in the session, he may have tipped his hand after Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued that courts shouldn’t second-guess the legislature’s judgment regarding patient safety, and should only consider whether the regulations deprived women of the ability “to make the ultimate decision to elect the procedure.” Justice Kennedy appeared concerned that would give the state carte blanche to restrict abortions in a way that violates the earlier precedent. “Doesn’t that show that the undue-burden test is weighted against what the state’s interest is?” he said. (Bravin and Kendall, 3/2)

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Texas Abortion-Clinics Case
If Kennedy joins the liberals to make a five-member majority, it will have national implications, cutting off what abortion opponents had seen as a promising way to make abortion more rare. Abortion rights backers say more than 200 restrictions have been passed by states in the past five years. If Kennedy sides with the three remaining conservatives, that will not be enough by itself to secure the court’s endorsement of the two issues at stake: requiring admitting privileges at a nearby hospital for doctors who perform abortions and requiring clinics to maintain hospital-like standards. (Barnes, 3/2)

USA Today: Supreme Court Closely Divided On Abortion Case
It seemed possible that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who likely holds the deciding vote, would seek to have the case returned to Texas for additional fact-finding, delaying any decision until next year at the earliest. That could include whether the law's restrictions were responsible for shuttering up to 20 clinics and whether the few that remain open can handle the statewide demand for abortions. If the case is not sent back but is decided on its merits, it seemed more likely that Kennedy would join the liberals in ruling that the law places an undue burden on abortion access without serving a legitimate medical purpose. Such a sweeping decision, which likely would be issued in late June, could impact states with similar laws. (Wolf, 3/2)

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court's Female Justices Lead Attack On Texas Law That Would Shut Abortion Clinics
The three female Supreme Court justices led an attack Wednesday on a Texas law that would shut down about three-fourths of the state’s abortion clinics, clashing with their conservative colleagues over what could be the court’s most important abortion case in decades. Though supporters of the law say the state’s strict medical regulations were intended to promote health and safety, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that they would hurt women. Texas lawmakers, she said, were “only targeting abortion.” ... Justices Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said Texas does not similarly regulate other medical procedures that are more risky, including dental surgery and colonoscopies. Doctors can perform those procedures safely in a doctor's office, without the need for a fully equipped surgical center, they said. “We know that liposuction is 30 times more dangerous [than an early-stage abortion], yet doesn’t have the same kind of requirements” in Texas, Kagan said. (Savage, 3/2)

The Washington Post: The Forgotten History Of Justice Ginsburg’s Criticism Of Roe v. Wade
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the Supreme Court’s most ardent protector of abortion rights, outspoken enough about their importance to become an icon to young feminists and a source of outrage among her detractors. With her valedictory on the court undetermined but within sight, Ginsburg, 82, may have only one more chance to leave a mark on reproductive rights. It comes in the most consequential abortion case during her time on the court. ... With her leadership on the issue pivotal, it is difficult to remember that 23 years ago Ginsburg was considered suspect on the issue. Some women’s groups questioned President Bill Clinton’s choice of Ginsburg for the Supreme Court because she had criticized the legal foundations of the court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. (Barnes, 3/2)

Reuters: Emotions Run High Outside Courthouse For Abortion Showdown
Emotions over abortion simmered on the sidewalks outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, with hundreds of activists on both sides of the issue staging dueling rallies and anti-abortion lawmakers joining the fray. "If you support life, let me hear you scream," South Carolina Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott told anti-abortion demonstrators, eliciting yells and applause. "We are talking about 10 fingers and 10 toes and one precious heart. We are here for the right reasons." (Dunham, 3/2)

The Washington Post: Hundreds Of Activists Rally Outside Supreme Court For Key Abortion Case
Even before the oral arguments began Wednesday inside the U.S. Supreme Court, crowds of abortion rights supporters and opponents from across the country gathered outside for what is considered the most significant abortion case to reach the high court in decades. The signs on display outside the court showed the divided feelings. “Life counts,” one read. Another said, “I am a pro-life feminist,” and another read, “My body, my choice.” Yet another read, “There’s nothing pro-life about anti-choice.” Another: “Menopausal women nostalgic for choice.” And there were divisions by color. Both sides were making speeches and at times drowned each other out. (Vargas, 3/2)

The Associated Press: Justices Soon Could Hint At Outcome In Texas Abortion Case
For a clue on how the Supreme Court may decide a major abortion case it heard Wednesday, look to its impending decision in a fight over abortion clinics in Louisiana. The justices may not decide the high-profile case about regulation of abortion clinics in Texas until late June. But an order could come any day in the Louisiana case. The clinics are asking the high court to block enforcement of a 2014 law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The clinics say the law could leave the state with just one clinic in New Orleans, down from four. The cases are at different stages in the legal process, but they involve similar laws and actions by the same New Orleans-based federal appeals court. (3/3)

Politico: Trump Releases Plan For Replacing Obamacare
Donald Trump unveiled a batch of health care policy proposals Wednesday after facing criticism for failing to provide a credible plan for replacing Obamacare. On the eve of the next GOP debate, the front-running real estate mogul advanced several ideas that align with many conservative proposals to replace the health care law. He calls for Medicaid to be transformed into a state block grant program and for the tax exemption on employer-based health insurance plans to be extended to individuals who purchase coverage on their own — both longstanding GOP ideas. Trump would also allow prescription drugs to be imported and for full transparency of health care pricing, although he offered few details about how that — or any of the proposals — might work. (Demko, 3/2)

Reuters: Republican Trump Releases Healthcare Proposals
U.S. Republican presidential front-runner candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday unveiled proposals for reforming U.S. healthcare that included repealing Obamacare, allowing prescription drugs to be imported, and turning the Medicaid program for the poor into block grants to states. The plan also calls for the sale of health insurance plans across state lines, full deduction of health insurance premiums from income tax and adds: "We must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance." (Walsh, 3/3)

The Associated Press: Obama Will Cite Health Insurance Gains In Visit To Milwaukee
President Barack Obama will visit Milwaukee Thursday to highlight how his signature health insurance overhaul has helped millions of Americans gain coverage. The number of uninsured has dropped from about 44.8 million in 2013, the year before the health care law's big coverage expansion, to about 28.8 million, according to the latest estimates. Meanwhile, critics argue that the law's mandates have increased coverage costs unnecessarily. (3/2)

The New York Times: Obama Heads To Wisconsin To Promote Successes Of Affordable Care Act
On Thursday, President Obama will visit Wisconsin, the only state that used the Affordable Care Act to expand its Medicaid program while declining the hundreds of millions of dollars the federal government offered to pay for that expansion. Mr. Obama’s trip is intended to be a reward for Milwaukee, which won a nationwide competition called Healthy Communities by enrolling an estimated 38,376 people in private health insurance under the health care law. That was an estimated 75 percent of previously uninsured residents who were eligible, a rate higher than that of any other city. (Harris, 3/3)

The Associated Press: Bold Promises, But Thin Agenda So Far For Ryan-Led House
House Speaker Paul Ryan promises a bold, election-year agenda of replacing the health care law and fighting poverty. Until then, it’s the BRICK Act. While GOP task forces are talking about national security, jobs and health care, the House floor has largely been turned over to the obscure and the arcane. Instead of wrapping up a typical day’s work at suppertime, early afternoon getaways are often the norm. And it could remain that way for much of the year. This week is typical. (Taylor, 3/3)

The Wall Street Journal: House Panel Revives Debate Over Fetal-Tissue Limits
Republican lawmakers leading a special House panel probing the use of aborted fetal tissue in medical research used an inaugural hearing Wednesday to raise questions about the morality and necessity of the practice and renew a debate about placing restrictions on it. Some medical and research scholars who testified at the hearing urged new curbs, saying aborted fetal tissue isn’t necessary now that other types of cells are available. Others told lawmakers fetal tissue may hold vital clues to aid spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly the Zika virus, which has been linked to the birth defect of babies born with abnormally small heads. (Armour, 3/2)

The Associated Press: Democrats Object As House GOP Holds Hearing On Fetal Tissue
House Democrats suggested on Wednesday that a special House panel investigating Planned Parenthood could be complicit in future assaults or even murders of abortion providers at the Republican-led committee's first hearing on the ethics of fetal tissue research. The investigative panel was created last year following conservative furor over secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they sometimes supply fetal tissue for medical research. In February, the panel subpoenaed documents from groups that GOP lawmakers said were withholding information. Those include abortion providers and a company that supplies fetal tissue from abortion clinics to researchers. (3/2)

The Associated Press: Senate Rejects Adding $600M To Anti-Heroin Legislation
The Senate Wednesday rejected a Democratic effort to add $600 million to a bipartisan bill targeting heroin and opioid abuse. Supporters of the immediate funding won a majority of the Senate votes. But the 48-47 tally fell short of the 60 votes required for an attempt by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to add the money. Republicans opposed to the proposal said there’s plenty of previously approved money in the pipeline and that additional funding can wait until this year’s round of regular spending bills. (Taylor, 3/2)

NPR: GOP Congressmen Question The Need For $2 Billion To Fight Zika Virus
Republican representatives continue to question the need for about $2 billion in emergency funding requested by the Obama administration to respond to the Zika virus. Congressmen including Dr. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, asked in a hearing of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday whether funds earmarked for combating the Ebola virus couldn't be transferred to the fight against Zika virus. But federal health officials said there's only $9 million left of the original $238 million in funding the National Institutes of Health received for Ebola virus research. (Bichell, 3/2)

Los Angeles Times: Google To Throw Software Engineering Into The Zika Virus Fight
Google is now involved in the fight against the Zika virus. The tech giant announced Thursday that it is giving UNICEF a $1-million grant to raise awareness about Zika transmission, and is also dedicating software engineering and data science resources to help process information about the virus’ outbreaks. Its support for UNICEF will include developing a platform that processes data from different sources, such as weather and travel patterns; visualizing potential outbreaks; and making Zika virus information more accessible through its search feature in 16 languages. (Lien, 3/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Probed On Hepatitis C Drug Coverage
New York’s attorney general is investigating state health-insurance companies for allegedly restricting coverage of drugs that can cure hepatitis C, saying that the firms have inappropriately rationed care by denying patients expensive but effective medication. Some of the drugs have been the subject of consumer lawsuits, a continuing inquiry by the Massachusetts attorney general and a warning by federal officials that state Medicaid programs may be violating federal law by denying patients the medication. Pharmaceutical companies say the drugs are worth the cost because they result in long-term savings in care. (Ramey, 3/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Cancer-Care Giant To Pay $35 Million To Settle Radiation-Therapy Allegations
Cancer-care giant 21st Century Oncology Holdings Inc. agreed to pay $35 million to settle civil allegations that it billed Medicare for an unnecessary radiation procedure, according to a person familiar with the matter. The civil settlement is the second 21st Century Oncology has reached with the Justice Department in less than three months. In December, the Fort Myers, Fla., firm agreed to pay $19.75 million to resolve federal allegations that it performed an expensive bladder-cancer test on Medicare patients more often than medically necessary. (Carreyrou, 3/2)

The Washington Post: Going On Offense Vs. Down Syndrome
The dogging question for any athlete is whether their competitive values mean anything in the real world. Here it was for Debbie and Frank Antonelli. What were all the sweat-soaked shirts and the worn-soled sneakers for when their infant son was on oxygen, facing a lifetime of impairments from slowed motor skills to cognitive deficits? It was a random error in cell division, the pediatric specialist said. Down syndrome was an accident, a faulty extra copy of a single chromosome. “All the rest of them are yours,” he said. They had counted with an unthinking confidence on having healthy kids, maybe even a team roster’s worth. She played basketball at North Carolina State before becoming a sportscaster, and he hit .400 for the Columbia University baseball team before making a career in elite sports management, and they hoped to add some quality little strivers to the general population. Their first child was an easy birth, and they were so confident of their second that she played nine holes of golf the day he was born. Then he came out scrunched up with the cord around his neck, and holes in his heart. (Jenkins, 3/2)

The Washington Post: Doctor-Assisted Suicide Bill Unlikely To Pass Md. Senate Panel, Sponsor Says
A bill that would allow terminally ill adults in Maryland to take their own lives appears likely to fail in committee for the second straight year, its lead sponsor said Wednesday. With a vote expected Thursday, none of the four lawmakers whose support is needed to move the Death With Dignity Act to the full state Senate appears ready to commit to the measure, Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick) said. (Hernández and Wiggins, 3/2)

NPR: Baltimore's Leana Wen: A Doctor For The City
It's only March, but Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen already has an embarrassingly full calendar. She's put together the city's plan for dealing with the Zika virus, launched a campaign against soda and other sugary beverages and overseen an investigation into why so many people in the city are overdosing on fentanyl. Trained in emergency medicine, Wen, 33, says running the health department in Baltimore is the fastest-paced job she's had. (Hsu, 3/2)

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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