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KHN First Edition: March 4, 2016


First Edition

Friday, March 04, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Combatants In Texas Abortion Case Using New Playbooks
Kaiser Health News' Julie Rovner reports: "The fate of the controversial Texas abortion law is in the hands of the Supreme Court, and a decision is not expected before June. But exactly how this particular law reached the high court and how its opponents are gathering evidence to strike it down represent fresh twists in an acrimonious national debate stretching back to the 1970s. ... Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel for Americans United for Life, said the group’s most recent focus on health and safety provisions for abortion clinics was spurred by several events. One was the case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor who was convicted in 2013 of murder in the deaths of three babies and one woman in his unregulated abortion clinic. The other was the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v Carhart, which upheld a ban on a specific abortion procedure used late in pregnancy. While that decision upheld a federal law, said Forsythe, it also “leaves more deference to the states to protect maternal health.” (Rovner, 3/4)

Kaiser Health News: Slowing Down The ER To Improve Care For Patients With Autism
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "When you head to the emergency room, you almost expect stress -- the long waits, the hubbub of other patients and the endless, seemingly discombobulated stream of doctors and nurses. But for patients with autism, a neurological disorder that affects communication and can make people sensitive to stimulation, that stress can be so overwhelming that it undermines their ability to get the treatment they need. That’s why a small but growing number of hospital ERs across the country are implementing accommodations for these patients, hoping to improve the quality of care they provide while also adding efficiency." (Luthra, 3/4)

Kaiser Health News: Consumer Choices Have Limited Impact On U.S. Health Care Spending: Study
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews: "A new study throws cold water on the popular idea that consumers can save themselves and the health care system loads of money if they become savvier shoppers for health care services. The analysis by the Health Care Cost Institute focused on what consumers paid out of pocket, where comparison shopping can result in lower costs. The study found that less than 7 percent of total health care spending in 2011 was paid by consumers for “shoppable” services." (Andrews, 3/4)

Kaiser Health News: Trump Health Plan Recycles GOP Staples And Adds A Populist Wrinkle
NPR's Scott Hensley, in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "Republican front-runner Donald Trump released a seven-point plan to change the country’s health care system that includes several familiar GOP proposals and one that puts him in agreement with, believe it or not, Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders. Right off the bat, Trump calls for the elimination of the Affordable Care Act, ringing the repeal bell that has been popular among a wide swath of Republicans and that has fueled dozens of votes to overturn Obamacare in Congress, including another failed attempt when lawmakers reconvened first thing in January." (Hensley, 3/3)

Kaiser Health News: For Parents Of Preemies, Life Starts With A Complex Fight For Survival
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold reports: "About 380,000 babies are born too soon every year in the United States, a preterm birth rate that's far higher than most high-income, developed countries. Even with so many families facing the realities of a premature child, predicting the long-term health of a baby is difficult, and doctors have an even tougher time talking about those predictions with parents." (Gold, 3/4)

The New York Times: Obama Says Enrollment In Affordable Care Act Reaches 20 Million
President Obama said on Thursday that enrollment in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act had reached a new high, 20 million, and he called the law an overwhelming success in this city and around the nation despite Republicans’ implacable opposition. “Congressional Republicans have tried and failed to repeal Obamacare about 60 times,” Mr. Obama said to an audience here. “They have told you what they would replace it with about zero times.” He continued, his voice rising: “If they got their way, 20 million people would have their insurance taken away from them. Twenty million people!” (Harris, 3/3)

The Associated Press: Obama Cites Gains In Health Coverage During Milwaukee Visit
Congratulating local leaders in Wisconsin for winning a national health insurance enrollment contest, Obama acknowledged that millions more are eligible to enroll but have yet to do so. He attributed some of that to acrimony over the law, saying people haven't always known what's true and what's not. Obama was introduced at the event by Brent Brown of Mosinee, Wisconsin, who said he's a Republican who never voted to elect Obama and worked to ensure he would not be president. But he said the health care law saved his life after he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and ran out of money for treatment. Brown called on Republicans to quit trying to repeal the law. "Swallow your pride as I am doing right now," he said. (3/3)

The Washington Post: Obama: 20 Million People Gain Coverage Under 2010 Health Law
The administration described the drop in uninsured numbers as “historic.” In a statement, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of health and human services, said, “We have seen progress in the last six years that the country has sought for generations.” The new findings show that more than 6 million adults ages 19 to 25 have gained insurance under the law. Gains in coverage among previously uninsured adults were strong across all racial and ethnic groups, according to the report. (McGinley, 3/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration Hits Medicare Payment Target Early
Obama administration officials said Thursday they were almost a year ahead of their target to change the way Medicare pays hundreds of billions of dollars to providers for treating older Americans. The Department of Health and Human Services had wanted the federal insurance program for seniors to make 30% of its payments to doctors and hospitals on the basis of the quality of care they provide, rather than the quantity, by the end of 2016. That was seen as a step toward hitting 50% by 2018, beyond the lifespan of the Obama administration. (Radnofsky, 3/3)

The Washington Post: Trump Was Center Of Attention And Attacks In GOP Debate
Billionaire Donald Trump entered Thursday night’s GOP debate as the race’s front-runner – but he spent much of the night on the defensive, struggling to explain his positions to skeptical moderators, arguing with his rivals, even trying to drown out their arguments with shouted insults. “I won 10 states,” Trump said at one point, reasserting his dominance on a night when it seemed to be under assault. “I am by far the leader!” ... Moderator Chris Wallace had one of most powerful moments of the early going, pressing Trump to explain a claim that he would save $300 billion from Medicare drug purchases, when the U.S. only spends $78 billion total on Medicare drug purchases. Trump seemed to dodge the question, despite Wallace’s repeated efforts to pin him down. (Fahrenthold, 3/3)

The Associated Press Fact Check: Claims From The GOP Debate
"Because of the fact that the pharmaceutical companies are not mandated to bid properly, they have hundreds of billions of dollars in waste," [Donald Trump said at Thursday's debate]. This relates to Trump's unachievable promise to save $300 billion by allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. That's impossible because the entire country — Medicare, private insurance, individuals and other government programs — spends about $300 billion on drugs ($297.7 billion in 2014). Trump's promise could only be fulfilled, in essence, if drugs were free. (3/3)

The Washington Post: Fact-checking the 11th GOP debate
Fox News aired the 11th GOP presidential debate on March 3, a prime-time event starring the four remaining aspirants for the Republican nomination. Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact checked, but the following is a list of 14 suspicious or interesting claims. ... This is the first time that Trump has said that his repeated claim that he would save $300 billion on prescription drugs in Medicare actually was supposed to mean negotiating for a range of products in the Medicare system. As we have noted previously, his earlier statements made no sense because total spending in Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) in 2014 was $78 billion. But the $300 billion pledge doesn’t make much sense either. Projected Medicare spending in 2016 is $560 billion, so Trump unrealistically is claiming he will cut spending nearly 55 percent. (Kessler and Ye Hee Lee, 3/4)

Los Angeles Times: Trump Promised A 'Beautiful' Healthcare Plan, But It's Pretty Basic
Donald Trump has at various times promised a healthcare plan that would be “beautiful,” “terrific” and “unbelievable.” But the healthcare outline his campaign released Wednesday mostly highlights standard, if vague, Republican proposals, several of which conservatives themselves say will have little impact on patients’ health or their pocketbooks. (Levey, 3/3)

The Associated Press: Does Trump Have A Health Care Plan? Does It Matter?
Donald Trump's evolving ideas on health care do not amount to a full plan, and some proposals could mean new political and policy dilemmas for the Republican presidential front-runner and his party. ... Trump's positions are "based on attitudes and aspirations, not plans," said former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, who served under Republican President George W. Bush. "It is clear he underestimates the complexity and has not contemplated many of the dilemmas he would face," added Leavitt, now heading a health care consulting firm. (3/3)

Reuters: U.S. Senator Calls For GAO Probe To Protect Babies Born Drug-Dependent
The ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate subcommittee on children and families wants a congressional watchdog agency to investigate whether states are complying with a federal law meant to protect newborns in drug withdrawal and help their families. In a letter sent this week to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania asked that the probe examine what steps Congress or the Obama Administration could take "to improve compliance and save the lives of vulnerable infants." (3/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Senators Split On FDA And Medical Research Funding Bill
Senate Republicans are moving ahead with their own legislation to relax Food and Drug Administration approval processes and boost medical-research funding, after talks to produce a bipartisan bill broke down. For weeks, members and staffers of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have been trying to find common ground on the legislation. Republicans wanted to smooth the regulatory path for drug and medical device approvals, while Democrats strove to increase funding for medical research and find ways to keep drug prices in check. (Burton, 3/3)

The Associated Press: Drug Distribution Becomes Weapon To Block Competition
The same strategy that Martin Shkreli used to get away with a 5,000-percent price increase on an old drug is used by many other drugmakers to maintain sky-high prices on billions of dollars' worth of medications. Before the price hike that made him infamous, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals had to ensure that no competitor would be able to launch a cheaper version of Daraprim, the 60-year-old anti-infection pill that is no longer under patent. (3/3)

The Associated Press: CDC: Superbugs Cause 1 In 7 Infections Caught In Hospitals
Supergerms cause 1 out of 7 infections caught in hospitals, health officials said Thursday. The bugs include the staph infection MRSA (MUR'-suh) and five other bacteria resistant to many kinds of antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. That leaves hospitals with few — if any — medicines to fight dangerous infections in already-sick patients. "That's the scary thing," said Tim Landers, an Ohio State University expert on antibiotic-resistant infections. (3/3)

The New York Times: Michigan: Medicaid Is Extended To 15,000 Exposed To Lead In Flint
The Obama administration approved Michigan’s request to extend Medicaid coverage to about 15,000 more children and pregnant women in Flint, where the water supply has been contaminated with lead. Children and pregnant women who were exposed to Flint water in their homes, workplaces, schools or day care facilities will be eligible for free health care if their household incomes do not exceed 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $97,000 for a family of four. The federal government will pay 65 percent of the costs for pregnant women, and up to 99 percent for children; the state will cover the rest. In addition, about 30,000 current Medicaid beneficiaries in Flint will be eligible for expanded services under the five-year agreement. (Goodnough, 3/3)

NPR: America's 'Lead Wars' Go Beyond Flint, Mich.: 'It's Now Really Everywhere'
Flint, Mich., isn't the only American city with a lead problem. Though the health crisis in Flint has highlighted the use of lead in water pipes, author David Rosner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that lead, which is a neurotoxin, can be found throughout the U.S. on walls, in soil and in the air. "The problem with lead is that it's now really everywhere, and we've created a terribly toxic environment in all sorts of ways," he says. (3/3)

Reuters: New York State's 'Tampon Tax' Targeted in Class-Action Suit
ew York state's "tampon tax" reflects a double standard that applies the sales tax to menstrual products used by women while exempting items typically used by men, such as Rogaine and condoms, according to a class-action lawsuit filed on Thursday. "It's a tax on women for being women. And that's wrong," said Ilann Maazel, a lawyer representing the five women who filed the class action in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. (3/3)

The Associated Press: Bill Would Make California 2nd State With Smoking Age Of 21
California lawmakers on Thursday revived a stalled effort to make the nation’s most populous state one of two to raise the smoking age to 21. The state Assembly passed a bill raising the smoking age from 18, joining Hawaii and dozens of cities around the country that have already moved to the higher limit. The Senate, which approved an earlier draft of the bill last year, is expected to decide next week whether to send it to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. (Cooper, 3/3)

NPR: Puerto Rico's Growing Financial Crisis Threatens Health Care, Too
A nearly decade-long recession has taken a severe toll on the island's economy. Half of San Jorge's patients are on Medicaid now, up from a fifth just a few years ago. And, for decades, the U.S. government has capped Medicaid reimbursements in Puerto Rico at a level far below what states receive. Cruz says that cap has forced his hospital and many others to cut services — he's had to close two wings and 40 rooms. He only managed to avoid staff layoffs, he says, by freezing 100 open positions — doctors, nurses, technicians and support personnel. And last year, when Puerto Rico ran out of money and couldn't make a $250 million payment to hospitals, San Jorge was forced to reduce hours and cut pay for all employees. (Allen, 3/3)

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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