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KHN First Edition: March 10, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, March 10, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Hospital Closures Rattle Small Towns
Kaiser Health News staff writer Sarah Varney reports: "Across the country, more than 50 rural hospitals have closed over the last six years, and another 283 are in fragile financial condition, according to the National Rural Health Association. With rural populations long in decline in the United States, small-town hospitals have lost customers and struggled to keep pace with the striking advancements in medical technology. But the pace of closures has escalated in recent years, hastened by a series of budget control measures passed by Congress that reduced Medicare payments and by the Affordable Care Act, which is slowly restructuring the health care industry. The law rewards scale and connectivity -- difficult goals for rural hospitals that are, by their geographic nature, low-volume and remote. (Varney, 3/10)

Kaiser Health News: N.H., Calif. Seek To Help Consumers Get Details On Health Care Prices
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Two states are making inroads into revealing some of the biggest secrets of health care by publishing price information to help consumers comparison shop for doctors, dentists and prescription drugs. New Hampshire, which already had the nation’s most advanced website allowing people to compare the cost of specific medical procedures, last week added prices for 16 dental procedures and 65 prescription drugs. ... California on Wednesday released an expanded version of its quality report cards on 154 large physician groups. Those cards, which already assess clinical quality and patient experiences, take a different tack than New Hampshire." (Rau, 3/10)

The New York Times: In The Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton And Bernie Sanders Clash On Immigration
Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders clashed vividly over immigration reform, health care and Cuba during a contentious debate Wednesday as the two Democrats appealed to Hispanic voters and tried to outdo each other in assailing Donald J. Trump. ... [Sanders] also showed he could throw a punch, such as when Mrs. Clinton questioned the cost of his Medicare-for-all plan, saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” “What Secretary Clinton is saying is that the United States should continue to be the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all of our people,” Mr. Sanders said, drawing a stern look from his opponent. “I do believe in universal coverage,” she fired back. “Remember, I fought for it 25 years ago.” (Healy and Chozick, 3/9)

The Washington Post: Democratic Debate: Clinton Criticizes Sanders’s Plans As Being Too Far Left
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, just one day removed from a stinging upset loss in the Michigan primary, used Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate to launch sharp attacks on her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, criticizing him as too far left at some points. ... Clinton also criticized Sanders for being too negative about recent Democratic presidents. “Sen. Sanders is always criticizing the two recent Democratic presidents, President Clinton and Persident Obama,” said Clinton. She meant that Sanders was wrong to seek to replace “Obamacare” – President Obama’s signature health-care law – with a “single-payer” health-care system. (Fahrenthold, 3/9)

Los Angeles Times: Tough Debate Questions, Especially For Clinton, After Her Surprise Loss To Sanders In Michigan
Hillary Clinton's embattled status as the Democratic presidential front-runner faced new challenges Wednesday during a debate with Bernie Sanders that often delved into the vulnerabilities that have complicated her path to the nomination. ... Sanders, too, came in for tough questioning, particularly about a videotaped interview from 1985 in which he pointed out Fidel Castro's work to improve Cuban society, including education and healthcare. “Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian, undemocratic country, and I hope very much as soon as possible it becomes a democratic country,” he said. “But on the other hand, it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in healthcare.” (Megerian and Memoli, 3/9)

The Washington Post's Fact Checker: Fact-Checking The Eighth Democratic Debate
Not every statement could be easily fact-checked, but here are 12 suspicious or interesting claims [from the debate]. ... “It is a record on achievement for veterans … working to achieve the most significant veterans’ health care bill in decades," [Sanders said]. Sanders touts his record as chairman of Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, but he has faced criticism from veterans groups for not paying attention to the health care delays as soon as they were revealed publicly in 2014. But many veteran groups still criticize Sanders for not reacting to the scandal quickly enough. They still point to Sanders’s comments in May 2014: “The point I want to make is that when you are dealing with 200,000 people, if you did better than any other health institution in the world, there would be thousands of people every single day who would say ‘I don’t like what I’m getting.’ And we have to put that all of that in the context of the size of the VA.” (Kessler and Ye Hee Lee, 3/10)

The New York Times: Groups Scrutinize White House Plan To Cut Drug Costs In Medicare
The Obama administration touched off a tempest on Wednesday with its plan to test new ways of paying for prescription drugs under Medicare, widely seen as the administration’s first serious attempt to rein in drug spending. Groups representing Medicare beneficiaries welcomed some of the proposals but expressed concern about others. Drug manufacturers and some cancer doctors criticized the initiative, saying it placed too much emphasis on saving money and too little on ensuring patients’ access to treatment. (Pear, 3/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Providers Aim To Fight Medicare Drug Plan
Specialty physicians and other health-care providers have launched efforts to derail a federal proposal to test whether paying doctors less for drugs administered under a Medicare program reduces spending, one day after the Obama administration released the plan. The administration says the proposal will help patients and won’t deny anyone access to drugs. But the reaction Wednesday suggested a major fight ahead, as specialty doctors, drug-industry groups and Republican lawmakers described the plan as ill-conceived. (Armour, 3/9)

The New York Times: Christians Flock To Groups That Help Members Pay Medical Bills
When Chris Doyle learned that his health insurance deductible would climb to $10,000 last year, he and his wife, both evangelical Christians, “spent a couple weeks just praying,” he said. Then they opted out of insurance altogether, joining something called a health care sharing ministry, which requires members to help cover one another’s major medical costs as they come up. While such nonprofit ministries have been around for decades, interest in them has grown since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, largely because the law exempts members from the requirement to have health insurance or pay a yearly fine. (Goodnough, 3/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Gilead Tries To Block Merck’s Patent Claims On New Hepatitis C Drugs
A high-stakes battle between two drug companies over the multibillion-dollar sales of new hepatitis C treatments is kicking off in a California courtroom this week. Gilead Sciences Inc. hopes to convince a jury in federal court in San Jose that it shouldn’t have to share any of the sales of its blockbuster hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni with rival Merck & Co., which wants a cut. Last year, combined U.S. sales of the two drugs were $12.5 billion, out of a global haul of $19.1 billion. (Loftus, 3/9)

The Washington Post: This Drug Is Defying A Rare Form Of Leukemia — And It Keeps Getting Pricier
When the drug company Novartis launched its breakthrough cancer medicine, Gleevec, in 2001, the list price was $26,400 a year. The company’s chief executive acknowledged it was expensive, calling it an “uphill battle to win understanding for our decision.” Today, that hill is a mountain. Since Gleevec was approved to treat a rare form of leukemia, similar drugs have come on the market — and the U.S. wholesale list price for a year’s supply of that little orange pill has soared to more than $120,000. (Johnson, 3/9)

Reuters: Exclusive: Teva Set To Win EU Okay For $40.5 Billion Allergan Deal-Sources
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is expected to win EU antitrust approval for its $40.5 billion bid for Allergan's generics unit after agreeing to sell off some of its products to appease regulators, three people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. Teva, the world's biggest generic drugsmaker, will divest some drugs already on the market and others in the pipeline to address competition concerns by the European Commission, the people said. The package includes products from both Teva and Allergan. (3/9)

NPR: High Doses Of Experimental Drug Implicated In Botched French Study
An investigation into a clinical test in France that left one person dead and put five in the hospital has found evidence of brain damage in people who took high doses of the experimental pain medicine. The early-stage clinical study, conducted by Biotrial in France, was halted in January when the side effects surfaced. It was the first time the drug, made by the Portuguese company Bial and known as "BIA 10-2474," was tested in humans. A report released Monday by a committee of scientists says people who got high cumulative doses of the drug sustained damage to their brains, specifically the hippocampus and pons. Those who got lower doses had no consistent adverse reactions. (Bichell, 3/9)

The Wall Street Journal: CVS To Spend $50 Million On Antismoking Program Aimed At Youths
CVS Health Corp. plans to spend $50 million over the next five years on a youth antismoking campaign as it aims to position itself as a serious competitor in the health-care industry. It is unusual for a corporation to attack an industry as CVS plans to do by warning youth of the harms of smoking. Historically, the only companies to fund antitobacco initiatives have been pharmaceutical companies that sell smoking cessation products like Pfizer Inc., according to the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading antitobacco group. (Mickle, 3/10)

The New York Times: New Procedure Allows Kidney Transplants From Any Donor
In the anguishing wait for a new kidney, tens of thousands of patients on waiting lists may never find a match because their immune systems will reject almost any transplanted organ. Now, in a large national study that experts are calling revolutionary, researchers have found a way to get them the desperately needed procedure. In the new study, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors successfully altered patients’ immune systems to allow them to accept kidneys from incompatible donors. Significantly more of those patients were still alive after eight years than patients who had remained on waiting lists or received a kidney transplanted from a deceased donor. (Kolata, 3/9)

The New York Times: First Uterus Transplant In U.S. Has Failed
The first uterus transplant in the United States has failed, and the organ was surgically removed on Tuesday, officials at the Cleveland Clinic said on Wednesday. The recipient, a 26-year-old woman, suddenly developed a serious complication on Tuesday, according to Eileen Sheil, a spokeswoman for the clinic. She did not specify the nature of the problem but said the uterus was being analyzed by pathologists to determine what went wrong. (Grady, 3/9)

The Associated Press: Planned Parenthood Still Gets Medicaid Funds Despite Threats
Kansas hasn't cut off Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood even though Republican Gov. Sam Brownback declared two months ago that his administration would quickly end the funding, one of the organization's top officials said Wednesday. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade told The Associated Press that services are still being provided to Medicaid participants — and state reimbursements are being made — at five clinics in Kansas and the Kansas City, Missouri, area. She said her group expected to have been notified by now by state health officials that the clinics were no longer considered Medicaid providers. (3/9)

The Associated Press: Indiana Poised To Ban Abortions Due To Fetal Defects
Indiana is poised to become the second state to ban abortions sought because a fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome under a measure headed to Gov. Mike Pence for approval. Lawmakers on Wednesday approved the measure banning such abortions over the objections of many female legislators, including Republicans who say the bill goes too far and wasn't vetted enough before receiving approval in the House. In a statement, a Pence spokeswoman said the conservative Republican is "a strong supporter of the right to life" and said he will "give this legislation thoughtful consideration once it reaches his desk." (3/9)

The Associated Press: Florida Legislature Approves Controversial Abortion Restrictions
Florida legislators on Wednesday approved abortion restrictions that include requirements for physicians similar to a Texas law currently under review by the Supreme Court and prohibited state funding for routine care at abortion clinics. The measure imposes regulations that could force clinics to close, provider Planned Parenthood said. Supporters argue it aims to protect women's health, while opponents called it an attack on groups assisting women in terminating pregnancies. (3/9)

The Associated Press: South Carolina On Cusp Of Having Tougher Abortion Law
South Carolina is on the cusp of passing a bill prohibiting nearly all abortions past 19 weeks of pregnancy, making it the latest of 15 states to pass restrictive bans whose constitutionality has yet to be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. A compromise approved Tuesday by the Senate allows exceptions to the ban only if the mother's life is in jeopardy or the fetus can't survive outside the womb. That was crucial for passage in the Senate, where Democrats had blocked the legislation for years. The measure's limited definition of "fetal anomaly" means it would be illegal to abort a fetus with a severe disability if the child could live. (3/9)

The Associated Press: West Virginia: Governor Vetoes Curb On An Abortion Method
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday vetoed a ban on a second-trimester abortion practice. The bill would ban dilation and evacuation method abortions unless the doctor has caused the death of the fetus. It would not ban the method in cases of medical emergency. The governor, a Democrat, cited concerns about constitutionality and patient safety. (3/9)

USA Today/The Tennessean: Tenn. Senate OKs Allowing Druggists To Prescribe The Pill
The Tennessee state Senate approved a bill Wednesday to provide easier access to birth control by allowing women 18 or older to obtain contraceptives directly from pharmacists. Women seeking birth control in Tennessee and most other states have to obtain a prescription from a physician. But if state Senate Bill 1677 becomes law, a woman could obtain a prescription by going directly to a pharmacist who meets provisions outlined in a a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville Republican. (Ebert, 3/9)

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Approve Subscription-Like Doctor Plans
Legislation aimed at protecting a growing health care model where patients pay their doctors a periodic fee in return for agreed-upon primary care services is moving toward becoming law. The Virginia Senate narrowly approved the measure Wednesday despite strong opposition from the health insurance industry. Supporters of direct primary care agreements say they act like a subscription, providing an affordable and predictable way for the uninsured or people with high deductible insurance to cover their primary health care costs. Advocates say passing a law codifying the practice would prevent doctors from facing illegitimate but costly lawsuits from insurance companies. (3/9)

Los Angeles Times: Doctors Group Calls On Pediatricians To Address Child Poverty
For pediatricians, a routine visit is a chance to chat with parents about their child's vaccinations, sleep patterns, nutrition and TV time. But new guidelines say that with nearly half of American children living in poverty or close to that line, pediatricians need to broach another health-related matter with mom or dad: Are you having trouble making ends meet? "The early detection and management of poverty-related disorders is an important, emerging component of the pediatric scope of practice," says a policy statement issued this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Pediatricians can apply interventions in practice to help address the toxic effects of poverty on children and families." (Healy, 3/9)

The Associated Press: California Lawmakers Near Vote On Raising Smoking Age To 21
California's Senate is poised to vote on a sweeping package of anti-smoking measures_including raising the smoking age to 21— as lawmakers try to crack down on tobacco use and the health problems that flow from it. If the Senate approves Thursday and Gov. Jerry Brown signs off, California would become the second state to move the age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21, and electronic cigarettes would face the same restrictions as tobacco products. (3/10)

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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