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KHN First Edition: March 2, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, March 02, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Leading Scope Maker Olympus Agrees To Hefty Settlement In Kickback Cases
Kaiser Health News' Chad Terhune reports: "Medical device maker Olympus Corp., already under federal investigation for its role in superbug outbreaks, has agreed to pay $646 million to resolve criminal and civil probes into illegal kickbacks and bribes to doctors and hospitals. Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that the company’s settlement is the largest ever for violations of the U.S. Anti-Kickback Statute. A portion of the company’s payout, $22.8 million, will resolve similar bribery allegations in Latin America. U.S. investigators said the Tokyo company’s “greed-fueled kickback scheme” from 2006 to 2011 used research grants, consulting deals, luxury trips, gifts of hot-air ballooning and spa treatments and free equipment to induce influential doctors to order more Olympus devices at prominent hospitals and help the company keep out competitors." (Terhune, 3/1)

Kaiser Health News: Medicine’s Power Couples: A Challenge In Recruiting Physicians To Rural Areas
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "If someone is well-educated, the odds are that he or she will marry someone with similar credentials, according to census data. And that trend has consequences when it comes to access to health care in rural areas. Rural areas have for years been facing a doctor shortage. That means for the roughly 20 percent of Americans who live in those areas, it’s harder to get care when it’s needed. Policymakers have been trying to create programs that offer medical debt forgiveness and other incentives to doctors willing to set up shop away from the city. But a research letter published Tuesday in JAMA highlights how a key demographic change -- the rise of power couples -- is stacking the deck against these efforts." (Luthra, 3/1)

Kaiser Health News: UCLA Freshmen Learn About Growing Old
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: "April Pearce is in the middle of her freshman year at UCLA, settling into life away from home for the first time. But instead of thinking about dorm food or exams, the 19-year-old is focused on something a little more abstract: old age. That’s because of a unique course Pearce is taking called Frontiers in Human Aging, designed to teach first-year college students what it means to get old — physically, emotionally and financially. In addition to teaching students about aging, the professors have another goal in mind: inspiring them to pursue careers working with the elderly." (Gorman, 3/2)

Kaiser Health News: The Stethoscope: Timeless Tool Or Outdated Relic?
WHYY's Taunya English, in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports: "[S]ome argue that the stethoscope is becoming less useful in this digital age. Dr. Bret Nelson, an emergency medicine physician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, said clinicians now get a lot more information from newer technology. An ultrasound, for example, turns sound waves into moving images of blood pumping and heart valves clicking open and shut; those visual cues are easier to interpret than muffled murmurs and may produce a more accurate diagnosis, Nelson said. He admits the stethoscope is an icon, but doesn't buy the argument that if you lose the stethoscope, you lose the tradition of "healing touch." (English, 3/2)

The New York Times: Donald Trump Overwhelms G.O.P. Rivals From Alabama To Massachusetts
Donald J. Trump won sweeping victories across the South and in New England on Tuesday, a show of strength in the Republican primary campaign that underscored the breadth of his appeal and helped him begin to amass a wide delegate advantage despite growing resistance to his candidacy among party leaders. Mr. Trump’s political coalition — with his lopsided victories in Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts and Tennessee, and narrower ones in Arkansas, Vermont and Virginia — appears to have transcended the regional and ideological divisions that have shaped the Republican Party in recent years. (Burns and Martin, 3/1)

The New York Times: Minority Voters Push Hillary Clinton To Victories
Hillary Clinton took full command of the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday as she rolled to major victories over Bernie Sanders in Texas, Virginia and across the South and proved for the first time that she could build a national coalition of racially diverse voters that would be crucial in the November election. Based on results from Democratic primaries and caucuses in 11 states, Mrs. Clinton succeeded in containing Mr. Sanders to states he was expected to win, like Vermont and Oklahoma, and overpowering him in predominantly black and Hispanic areas that were rich in delegates needed for the Democratic nomination. (Healy and Chozick, 3/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump Notches More Wins, But Ted Cruz’s Victories Promise Long Race
New York businessman Donald Trump won Republican primaries Tuesday from the Deep South to New England, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took his home state, Oklahoma and Alaska, ensuring that the race for the GOP nomination will stretch into the spring. Mr. Trump’s victories Tuesday are all the more impressive because, for the first time in the race, he faced concerted attacks from his chief Republican rivals. He continues to defy the laws of presidential politics, courting controversies that few other politicians could survive. ... In the race for the Democratic nominee, front-runner Mrs. Clinton swept the delegate-rich states of Massachusetts and Texas, as well as key Southern states. Her rival, Bernie Sanders, won in four states—Minnesota, Vermont, Oklahoma and Colorado—which offered much less of a delegate haul. (O'Connor and Hook, 3/2)

The Washington Post: South Texas’s Only Abortion Clinic Is Battleground For Major Supreme Court Case
The young woman lay on the exam table, waiting for her abortion. She expected pain. Tears. The grip of regret. But the dimly lit room smelled of lavender, and the nurse was asking about the butterfly tattoo on her right wrist. “It’s for my daughter,” the woman replied. “My butterfly.” She was 28, a single mother of three, her youngest 10 months old. She lived with her parents and was studying to become a medical assistant. She could not afford this procedure; her Catholic grandmother had slipped her the $440. She didn’t want to bring another child into poverty just as she was climbing out. That was how she wound up at Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen. The debate over abortion often involves sweeping abstractions. But what happens inside this clinic — and just beyond its walls — illustrates how abortion is lived in America, 43 years after Roe v. Wade. (Paquette and Somashekhar, 3/1)

The New York Times: Supreme Court To Hear Major Abortion Case Over Texas Law
The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear its first major abortion case in almost a decade, one that has the potential to revise constitutional standards and to affect millions of women. Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month may have muted the prospect of truly bold action, but even a 4-to-4 tie would have enormous consequences because it would leave in place an appeals court decision that could drive down the number of abortion clinics in Texas to about 10, from roughly 40. (Liptak, 3/2)

The Associated Press: Abortion Debate Returns To Depleted Supreme Court
The clinics want the court to roll back regulations requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forcing clinics to meet standards for outpatient or ambulatory surgical centers. Like other states, mainly in the South, Texas says it passed the measure to protect women's health. Justice Anthony Kennedy probably holds the deciding vote on the eight-justice court. He already joined with the court's four liberal members to block some restrictions from taking effect while the case is on appeal. (3/2)

Reuters: Impact Of Texas Clinic Law At Issue In Abortion Case Before Supreme Court
Lawyers for the state of Texas are making an unusual argument in a closely watched abortion case set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday: A law that placed new restrictions on clinics providing abortions didn't have much of an impact. Abortion providers dubbed the measure "the Texas clinic shutdown law." In arguments challenging it, they point out that 22 of 41 clinics in Texas have closed since it was passed in 2013. But Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller takes issue with those numbers, saying the abortion providers have failed to show that the law was the only cause of all the closures. (Hurley, 3/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Set To Take Up Key Abortion Case
Texas says the clinic requirements are designed to protect the health of women, while other provisions in the law, such as barring abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, are intended to limit abortions, said state Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican and one of the legislation’s co-sponsors. “We in Texas are always looking for ways to be vigilant about protecting women’s health and protecting innocent life,” Mr. Leach said. “It’s a win-win for Texas.” Amy Hagstrom Miller, owner of Whole Woman’s Health LLC, a chain of abortion clinics that is the lead plaintiff in Wednesday’s case, disagrees with the women’s-health claims. “The standards are just based on politics. They have nothing to do with health and safety,” she said. “Abortion takes anywhere from five to 10 minutes, there’s no incision, there’s no anesthesia,” she said, adding that she thinks there are no procedures to justify the state’s outpatient surgery center standards. (Bravin, 3/2)

Politico: Abortion Case Before 8-Member Supreme Court Could Deadlock
Scalia's death dramatically limited the possible outcomes. Given the current makeup of the court, if Texas wins, it most likely would be a muted victory on a 4-4 vote. That would apply only to Texas and two other southern states. And it would leave unanswered questions about abortion regulations — which in some places, like Texas, led to clinic closures — in the rest of the nation. "Beforehand, there was never much of a thought about a tie leaving us without a decision that governs the country," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project. "That's a possibility now." (Haberkorn, 3/2)

The Washington Post: The Supreme Court Is Hearing Arguments In A Key Abortion Case. Here’s What To Know.
So why did this case go to the Supreme Court? Abortion rights groups do not consider the Supreme Court a friendly environment. But the law’s full implementation would have such an impact in the nation’s second-largest state that they felt they had no choice but to ask the Supreme Court for a ruling. And Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said a decision from the high court was inevitable. “The cases just keep coming,” she said. (Barnes, 3/2)

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court To Decide On Abortion Laws: Can A State Regulate Clinics Out Of Business?
In a vast region of Texas that is "larger than California," the Supreme Court was recently told, no doctors or health clinics would be licensed to perform abortions if the state is allowed to enforce stringent new medical regulations. So, are these regulations a valid means to "increase the health and safety" of abortion patients, as the state maintains, or an unconstitutional scheme to deprive millions of Texas women access to legal abortion? (Savage, 3/1)

The Washington Post: In First Hearing, GOP Panel Seeks To Cast Doubt On Fetal Tissue Research
Republicans leading the special House panel investigating fetal tissue procurement and research practices are set to aggressively question the morality and necessity of that research when the panel convenes its first hearing Wednesday. The Select Investigative Panel, created by Republican leaders last year following the release of undercover videos produced by anti-abortion activists, will gavel to order in an underground Capitol hearing room while, just across the street, the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in the most closely watched abortion case in 24 years. (DeBonis, 3/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Rules Against Vermont Health-Care Data Law
The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed state efforts to gather health-care data from insurance plans, ruling that such reporting requirements run afoul of federal laws regulating employee benefits. The case came from Vermont, where a 2005 law mandates that larger health insurance plans report “information relating to heath care costs, prices, quality, utilization or resources required” to a state database. (Bravin, 3/1)

The Associated Press: High Court Limits State Power To Gather Health Care Data
The Supreme Court says state officials can't force certain health insurers to turn over reams of data revealing how much they pay for medical claims. The justices ruled 6-2 that efforts by Vermont and at least 17 other states to gather and analyze the data conflict with federal law covering reporting requirements for employer health plans. The case involves Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., which operates a self-insured health plan for its workers and refused to turn its data over to Vermont. (3/1)

Politico: SCOTUS Splits 6-2 On First Cases Since Scalia's Death
The Supreme Court split, 6-2, on Tuesday in the first cases decided since the death last month of Justice Antonin Scalia. In both cases, the court's four conservative justices voted together and picked up the votes of two of the Democratic-appointed justices, while the other two Democratic appointees dissented. In the second case, the court ruled that federal law overrules a Vermont statute that requires insurance companies to report health-claims data to the state. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which Justice Clarence Thomas joined with some reservations. Sotomayor and Kagan dissented. (Gerstein, 3/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Olympus Corp. Of The Americas To Pay $646 Million To Settle Kickback Charges
The settlements resolve charges brought against the company by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of New Jersey. The government alleged the U.S. bribes caused health-care providers to bill government health-care programs in violation of the False Claims Act. “There was a relatively widespread pattern of the company using various forms of financial benefits—cash, trips, consulting agreements—to induce doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers to buy their stuff,” Paul J. Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, told The Wall Street Journal. (Walker, 3/1)

The Associated Press: Olympus To Pay At Least $646 Million To End US Probes
Olympus Corp., the nation’s largest distributor of endoscopes and related equipment, will pay $646 million to resolve separate criminal and civil investigations into kickbacks and foreign bribery, company and federal officials announced Tuesday. Olympus said its U.S. unit will pay $623.2 million plus interest to end the kickback case in New Jersey. The company also agreed to a corporate-integrity agreement and the appointment of a monitor. (3/1)

Los Angeles Times: Olympus Corp. To Pay $646 Million To Settle Kickback Case
After Olympus Corp. paid to fly three doctors from a prominent California hospital to Japan for a weeklong vacation, one of the physicians thanked the company for providing them with “so much extra entertainment that we did not expect.” The expense-paid trip was just one of the dozens of illegal kickbacks that the Japanese maker of endoscopes paid to American doctors and hospitals for at least five years as it sought to increase sales in its most lucrative market, according to a criminal complaint federal prosecutors released Tuesday. (son, 3/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant CEO Races To Repair Drug Maker’s Reputation
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. Chief Executive Michael Pearson just got back from a two-month sick leave, and immediately faced a fresh round of criticism and doubts about the company’s financial disclosures and business practices. In response, Mr. Pearson spoke with a select group of Wall Street analysts. In one-on-one calls Tuesday with some who have generally stuck by the drug company, Mr. Pearson indicated he was bullish about Valeant’s prospects and predicted performance not too far off what the company had initially forecast, but later took back, according to the analysts. (Rockoff and Farrell, 3/1)

The Wall Street Journal: BioMarin Gets Orphan Designation For Hemophilia-Focused Therapy
BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. received orphan drug designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a gene therapy intended for hemophilia A patients. The biotechnology company is conducting a Phase 1/2 study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the gene therapy, known as BMN 270, which is designed to restore plasma concentrations. BioMarin shares were up 2.8% to $90 in after-hours trading. (Beckerman, 3/1)

The New York Times: Document Claims Drug Makers Deceived A Top Medical Journal
It is a startling accusation, buried in a footnote in a legal briefing filed recently in federal court: Did two major pharmaceutical companies, in an effort to protect their blockbuster drug, mislead editors at one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals Lawyers for patients suing Johnson & Johnson and Bayer over the safety of the anticlotting drug Xarelto say the answer is yes, claiming that a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine and written primarily by researchers at Duke University left out critical laboratory data. They claim the companies were complicit by staying silent, helping deceive the editors while the companies were in the midst of providing the very same data to regulators in the United States and Europe. (Thomas, 3/1)

The Associated Press: Ex-Phoenix VA Hospital Exec Failed To Disclose Yearly Gifts
The former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System — which had management problems that drew national outrage — has pleaded guilty to making false financial disclosures to the federal government about yearly gifts, prosecutors said Tuesday. Sharon Helman was accused of failing to list more than $50,000 in gifts she received from a lobbyist in 2012-14, according to authorities. (3/1)

The Associated Press: San Francisco Raises Age To Buy Tobacco To 21
San Francisco supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to boost the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, despite arguments from opponents that cities and counties cannot trump California law. San Francisco becomes the second-largest city after New York City to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Hawaii and Boston also require tobacco buyers to be 21. (Har, 3/1)

The Washington Post: Once Used In Desperation, Therapy Shows Promise Against Ebola
In August 2014, when two American aid workers battling the Ebola epidemic in Liberia fell ill with the disease themselves, their international relief organization began a frantic search for a medical miracle. With time running out for Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the group heard of an experimental medication that had been tested only on non-human primates. Within days, a few doses of ZMapp were on their way in frozen vials to West Africa, where they were administered to both workers. Both recovered from the usually fatal hemorrhagic disease. It was impossible then, and remains impossible now, to determine what part the medicine might have played in Brantly and Writebol's survival. But the first controlled clinical trial of the medication shows promising results, according to federal authorities and the company that makes the drug, which said it will push forward with requests for a license from the Food and Drug Administration. (Bernstein, 3/1)

NPR: This Gene Could Turn Your Hair Gray
We all know ancestors give us our hair color, but the roots of gray hair have been less clear. Is it genetics, or stress? Marie Antoinette supposedly went completely white the night before they lopped off her head. And our presidents seem to go gray much faster than those of us with less weighty roles. It turns out you can blame Mom and Dad, at least a bit. Scientists say they've identified the first gene for gray hair. The variant, dubbed IRF4, is also associated with blonde or lighter-colored hair. (Shute, 3/1)

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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