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KHN First Edition: March 7, 2016


First Edition

Monday, March 07, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Plans Score Higher Ratings And Millions In Bonuses
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "Vantage Health Plan executives saw an opportunity when they realized few of their female Medicare members were being screened for osteoporosis after they broke bones. The test to identify women at increased risk for fractures is one of 40 measures that Medicare applies to produce its 5-star ratings comparing the private plans chosen by nearly a third of seniors over traditional coverage. More than $3 billion is in play for insurers. Health plans earning at least four stars qualify for federal bonus payments. Those that don’t, lose out." (Galewitz, 3/7)

Kaiser Health News: TrumpCare Takes It On The Chin
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: "There may finally be one thing Republicans hate more than ObamaCare: TrumpCare. The GOP front-runner, after weeks of talking in vague terms about his plans for the health care system, put out a seven-point proposal Wednesday night. But within hours, Republican opinion leaders in health care were already piling on. “It has the look and feel of something that a 22-year-old congressional staffer would write for a backbencher based on a cursory review of Wikipedia,” wrote Avik Roy, the opinion editor at Forbes who has advised several GOP presidential candidates on health policy, including Mitt Romney in 2012." (Rovner, 3/4)

The New York Times: In Democratic Debate, Bernie Sanders Pushes Hillary Clinton On Trade And Jobs
Senator Bernie Sanders, anxious that the Democratic nomination is slipping away from him, launched a series of cutting and sarcastic attacks against Hillary Clinton over trade, welfare reform and Wall Street in a debate Sunday night that often felt like a war over Bill Clinton’s legacy and the moderate Democratic policies of the 1990s. ... The focus on the economic fortunes of African-Americans had a powerful setting in Sunday’s debate: Flint, a city in the midst of a public health emergency over lead-tainted water, and a symbol of a middle class that rose to prosperity with the auto industry, but where 42 percent of the majority African-American population now lives below the poverty line. ... Mr. Sanders struck some more aggressive notes on Flint than he had in the past, embracing Mrs. Clinton’s call to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluate the health of every adult and child in the city. “Federal government comes in, federal government acts,” Mr. Sanders said. (Chozick and Healy, 3/6)

USA Today: Sanders, Clinton Take On Flint Water Crisis In Democratic Debate
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tangled over trade, guns, the auto industry and the water crisis in Flint, Mich., on Sunday in their seventh Democratic presidential debate. ... The candidates came together in a city struggling for the past two years with lead-polluted water that city, state and federal officials recognized and overlooked. The two Democrats both visited Flint in recent weeks to call attention to the water crisis, criticize local officials and vow assistance. On Sunday night, Clinton for the first time joined Sanders in calling for Gov. Rick Snyder to resign or face a recall election. “It is raining lead in Flint, and the state is derelict in not coming forward with the money that is required,” Clinton said. (Wolf, 3/6)

The Washington Post Fact Checker: Fact Checking The Seventh Democratic Debate
CNN aired the seventh Democratic presidential debate on March 6, a pre-Michigan primary showdown between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held in the city of Flint. Not every statement could be easily fact-checked, but here are 13 suspicious or interesting claims. ... “Five hundred thousand children today have lead in their bodies," [Hillary Clinton said]. Clinton is citing data available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data come from 2014, but the CDC continues to use the estimate for blood lead levels in children today. According to the CDC, about 500,000 children in the United States aged 1 to 5 years old have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. CDC considers this amount of lead a level of potential public health concern. (Kessler and Ye Hee Lee, 3/6)

The Washington Post: Mental Health Patients To Bernie Sanders: Don’t Compare Us To The GOP Candidates
Mental health was mentioned twice during Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate. First, in connection to mass shootings. “I don’t want to hear anything about tougher laws for mental health or criminal backgrounds, because that doesn’t work,” Gene Knopf, the father of 14-year-old shooting victim Abigail Knopf, asked in a question to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), both of whom responded with calls for gun control. Second, in a jab at the Republican presidential candidates. “You know, we are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health,” Sanders said. “And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to invest in that.” (Wang, 3/7)

The New York Times: As Aid Floods Into Flint, A Fix Remains Far Off
For months, almost no one would listen to residents’ fears about their odd-looking drinking water. Now, it seems, everyone is listening — and sending truckloads of bottled water, water filters and baby wipes, and cash donations and television news crews that set up along Saginaw Street downtown. But five months after state authorities announced that it was unsafe to drink unfiltered water because of high lead levels caused by government errors over the past two years, federal officials said here last week that the water still was not safe, and, as testing goes on, offered no promise for when it would be. (Davey, 3/6)

The New York Times: Health Law Insurance Plans To Be Rated By Network Size
The Obama administration, responding to consumer complaints, says it will begin rating health insurance plans based on how many doctors and hospitals they include in their networks. At the same time, the maximum out-of-pocket costs for consumers under the Affordable Care Act will increase next year to $7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family, the administration said. Consumer advocates said those costs could be a significant burden for middle-income people who need a substantial amount of care. (Pear, 3/6)

The New York Times: Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law
The Supreme Court on Friday temporarily blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say would leave the state with only one abortion clinic. The court gave no reasons, though it did say that its order was “consistent with” one last June that blocked part of a Texas abortion law. The move came two days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Texas case, and abortion rights groups said they hoped that the development Friday was a sign that they had secured five votes to strike down the Texas law. (Liptak, 3/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law
The Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana abortion regulation Friday, temporarily stopping the state from requiring doctors to hold admitting privileges at local hospitals while litigation over the issue continues. ... The high court said it was granting the Louisiana stay “consistent with the court’s action” in the Texas litigation. The Supreme Court last summer prevented parts of the Texas law from going into effect while that case continued, so Friday’s move may have been made to maintain the status quo until the court announces the Texas ruling. Both laws were blocked by federal judges who found they were a “substantial obstacle” for women seeking abortions. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which oversees Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, overrode those decisions, prompting abortion providers to appeal to the Supreme Court. (Bravin, 3/4)

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Majority Blocks Louisiana Law Restricting Abortion Providers
The Supreme Court handed abortion rights advocates a victory Friday by blocking a Louisiana law they said would leave the state with only one doctor licensed to perform the procedure. The court, with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, issued a brief order that restores an earlier judicial ban on enforcing the 2014 state law. The ruling is a good sign for abortion rights groups in Louisiana and nationwide. Coming shortly after the justices debated a similar Texas law, the order indicates a majority of the high court is unwilling to permit conservative states to enforce stringent regulations, at least for now. (Savage, 3/4)

The New York Times: Heroin Epidemic Increasingly Seeps Into Public View
With heroin cheap and widely available on city streets throughout the country, users are making their buys and shooting up as soon as they can, often in public places. Police officers are routinely finding drug users — unconscious or dead — in cars, in the bathrooms of fast-food restaurants, on mass transit and in parks, hospitals and libraries. Nationally, 125 people a day die from overdosing on heroin and painkillers, and many more are revived, brought back from the brink of death — often in full public view. (Seelye, 3/6)

The New York Times: A Biotech Evangelist Seeks A Zika Dividend
In the expanding realm ruled by Randal J. Kirk, sliced apples don’t brown. Salmon grow twice as fast without swimming upriver to spawn. Beloved cats are reborn. And male mosquitoes are unleashed with the sole mission to mate, pass on a gene that kills their offspring, and die. A few decades ago, the foods and creatures nurtured by Mr. Kirk would have been found only in dystopian fantasies like those written by Margaret Atwood. But Mr. Kirk’s company, Intrexon, is fast becoming one of the world’s most diverse biotechnology companies, with ventures ranging from unloved genetically engineered creatures to potential cancer cures and gene therapies, gasoline substitutes, cloned kittens and even glow-in-the-dark Dino Pet toys made from microbes. (Pollack, 3/5)

The Wall Street Journal: Drugmakers Scramble To Find Zika Vaccine
International health officials vowed after West Africa’s Ebola crisis to be better armed for the next epidemic with vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests. Now the next one—Zika—is here and in an echo of Ebola, researchers are scrambling to develop medical tools to fight the virus. About 15 companies are working on Zika vaccines, most in the initial stages, according to the World Health Organization. (McKay and Loftus, 3/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Zika Vaccines Would Pose Special Risks To Pregnant Women
Researchers are debating whether vaccines and drugs developed for Zika would be offered to pregnant women. They are the group most at risk from infection, because the virus is linked to serious birth defects. But medical products to be offered to pregnant women would have to go through extra, potentially lengthy regulatory hurdles to evaluate the potential risk to the unborn baby. “That’s going to slow you down quite a bit,” said Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. (Loftus and McKay, 3/6)

The Associated Press: Evidence Of Zika's Risk To Pregnant Women Continues To Grow
Researchers report that the Zika virus may be linked to a wider variety of "grave outcomes" for developing babies than previously reported — threats that can come at any stage of pregnancy. The findings released Friday are preliminary results from the first study tracking pregnant women in Brazil from the time they were infected, and do not prove that Zika is to blame. But they come as separate laboratory research released Friday strengthens the case that Zika causes a serious birth defect called microcephaly — babies born with abnormally small heads — by targeting embryonic brain cells. (3/5)

Reuters: Venezuela Uses Distressed Bonds To Settle Debts With Drugmakers
Venezuela has settled debts with at least three global drug companies by giving them bonds that trade at a heavy discount, a further sign of the OPEC nation's worsening financial crisis. Novartis AG, Bayer AG and Sanofi SA acquired dollar-denominated bonds from state-owned oil company PDVSA that they resold for as little as a third of their face value, according to a Reuters analysis of regulatory filings and sources with knowledge of the situation. This contributed to some $500 million in foreign exchange losses that the three companies suffered in Venezuela in 2015, The extent of the bond transactions has not been previously reported. (3/7)

NPR: Can't Get In To See Your Doctor? Many Patients Turn To Urgent Care
Though the majority of Americans have a primary care doctor, a large number also seek treatment at urgent care centers, statistics show. For many people, the centers have become a bridge between the primary care doctor's office and the hospital emergency room. Urgent care is not meant for life-threatening emergencies, such as a heart attack, stroke or major trauma, doctors say. But it is designed to treat problems considered serious enough to be seen that day — conditions like a cut finger, a sprained ankle or severe sore throat. (Neighmond, 3/7)

The New York Times: Hybrid Long-Term Care Policies Provide Cash And Leave Some Behind
There’s a good reason to have long-term care coverage in your wealth management plan. If you need to go to a nursing home, it can cost more than $90,000 a year for a private room, according to a survey by Genworth Financial, an insurance company. The costs, especially for longer stays because of Alzheimer’s disease, can deplete your estate. The financial impact of prolonged long-term care expenses concerned Brian Cassell, 55, a veterinarian in Denver, and his wife, Linda. Although they had looked at several stand-alone policies for long-term care, they didn’t like them because they were expensive and the premiums could rise. They wanted something more flexible. Working with financial planners, the Cassells looked at a relatively new option, hybrid policies that package coverage for long-term care with a universal life insurance policy or a fixed annuity. (Wasik, 3/4)

The New York Times: On Eve Of Retirement, Savings For Medical Costs Can Fall Short
William Seavey, 69, does not fret about paying future medical expenses. He and his wife, Eleanor, are healthy. And they both have Medicare and Medigap policies, which can help pay many health costs. So they have not put any money aside in a medical savings account. If they do need cash, said Mr. Seavey, they can sell one of their three homes. Or they can go to Mexico for cheaper medical treatment. Various studies show that people in or nearing retirement have not saved nearly enough for medical expenses, which rise substantially with age. (Gustke, 3/4)

NPR: Fighting Cancer By Putting Tumor Cells On A Diet
Cancer dogma holds that most malignancies are caused by DNA mutations inside the nuclei of cells, mutations that ultimately lead to runaway cellular proliferation. Given the countless genetic blips that have been associated with various cancers, the illness has actually come to be seen as a complex of diseases for which personalized treatments might offer the best chances of success. But prevailing oncology orthodoxy has its detractors, and some cancer biologists feel that while mutations are nearly ubiquitous in cancer, they may not always be the driving force for disease. Cancer, they suggest, might actually be as much a disorder of altered energy production as it is genetic damage. (Stetka, 3/5)

The Associated Press: Accident Or Crime? VA Worker Faces Trial In Patient's Death
Hospital officials called it an accident when a 70-year-old psychiatric patient was fatally injured in an altercation with a nursing assistant at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in central Louisiana three years ago. But the case became fodder for the VA's congressional critics after local prosecutors charged the employee, 54-year-old Fredrick Kevin Harris, with manslaughter in the death of Air Force veteran Charles Lee Johnson. (3/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Colorado Looks To Broaden Therapists’ Power To Prevent School Shootings
In a state that has been battered by mass shootings, Colorado lawmakers are trying a new, focused approach to stopping bloodshed in schools. A proposed bill would broaden the circumstances under which mental-health professionals can report a student that they believe poses a threat, an issue that has drawn increasing attention around the country. Colorado law requires mental-health workers to alert authorities if a patient expresses a specific, imminent threat, and mandates that they warn those being threatened. The proposal would permit therapists to alert school administrators about a potentially dangerous student even if that danger isn’t immediate. (Frosch, 3/6)

NPR: Florida Doctor Says False Diagnoses Inflate Bills, Could Harm Patients
Insurance giant Humana Inc., which operates some of the nation's largest private Medicare health plans, knew for years of billing fraud at some South Florida clinics but did little to curb the practice even though it could harm patients, a doctor alleges in a newly unsealed whistleblower lawsuit. The suit was filed by South Florida physician Mario M. Baez. It accuses Humana and Baez's former business partner, Dr. Isaac K. Thompson, of engaging in a lucrative billing fraud scheme that lasted for years. The suit also names three other Palm Beach County doctors, two medical clinics and a doctors' practice group as defendants. The suit was filed in October 2012 but remained under a federal court seal until Feb. 26. (Shulte, 3/4)

Reuters: Texas Doctor Found Guilty Of Bilking Insurers, Government Of $10 Million
A Texas doctor has been found guilty of bilking $10 million from health insurance companies and the U.S. government through fraud, including being paid for attending surgeries while he was actually on his private jet, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday. Anesthesiologist Richard Toussaint Jr., 58, was convicted by a federal jury in Dallas on seven counts of fraud for submitting false claims for payments in 2009 and 2010 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and others, they said. (Richter and Herskovitz, 3/4)

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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