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KHN First Edition: March 14, 2016


First Edition

Monday, March 14, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Saving Amanda: One Family's Struggle To Deal With A Daughter's Mental Illness
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold reports: "In March 2010, Pam Lipp received the call she'd been dreading for months. She figured it would come from one of three places: the police, the hospital or the morgue. Instead, it was her husband, Doug, saying that he'd just received word that their 18-year-old daughter, Amanda, a freshman at Chico State University in California, was being held at a psychiatric crisis center after trying to throw herself in front of a moving car. Amanda had lost her grip on reality and fallen into a state of psychosis. She'd started selling off her belongings and believed that cameras were following her everywhere." (Gold, 3/14)

The Associated Press: Obama Health Law Missed 2015 Enrollment Target
Last year's final enrollment numbers under President Barack Obama's health care law fell just short of a target the administration had set, the government reported Friday. The report from the Health and Human Services Department said about 8.8 million consumers were still signed up and paying premiums at the end of last year. HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell had set a goal of having 9.1 million customers by then. So the administration didn't miss its target by much — about 3 percent. (3/11)

The Associated Press: ACA Co-Ops Lose Millions In 2015; Some Expect 2016 Profits
The Affordable Care Act's health insurance co-ops absorbed deep financial losses last year, and 2016 is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for these nonprofit alternatives to traditional insurers. Officially called Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, these still-fledgling insurers were devised during the ACA's creation to inject competition into insurance markets. But they have struggled from the start to build a customer base from scratch and deal with higher-than-expected expenses, among other problems. (3/11)

The Washington Post: Rattled By Drug Price Increases, Hospitals Seek Ways To Stay On Guard
Doctors at the University Hospitals of Cleveland see an immediately recognizable symbol pop up alongside certain drugs when they sign in online these days to prescribe medications for patients: $$$$$. The dollar signs, affixed by hospital administrators, carry a not-so-subtle message: Think twice before using this drug. Pick an alternative if possible. The Zagat-like approach is just one of the strategies hospitals nationwide are using to try to counter drug costs. (Dennis, 3/13)

Los Angeles Times: Voter Anger Over Surging Prescription Drug Costs Has Generated A Campaign Issue
[The] concern about the cost of prescription drugs has emerged as a big issue in the presidential campaign, prompting candidates in both parties to sharpen their rhetoric against pharmaceutical companies and put curbing drug prices at the center of their healthcare plans. The message is particularly resonant here in Florida, which holds its primary Tuesday and where people over 60 make up more than a third of registered voters. At the Democratic debate in Miami on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly castigated drug companies for “ripping off” the American public. Hillary Clinton has vowed to rein in drug prices and is running an ad in Florida specifically focusing on the “predatory” pricing of one embattled pharmaceutical company, Valeant. (Mason, 3/11)

The New York Times: Valeant, Woes Rising, Backs Away From Boldness To Calm Investors
Back when its stock soared and investors fawned — just six months ago — Valeant Pharmaceuticals billed itself as a new kind of drug company. It thrived on acquiring new drugs rather than inventing them, and generating big profits from raising prices on old, undervalued treatments. Now, in the face of federal investigations and a tumbling stock price, the company has a different pitch — as an old-fashioned drug company. (Thomas, 3/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant: Can Investors Make Sense Of It?
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.’s finances are like an old jigsaw puzzle: Some pieces don’t seem to fit together, some are missing. Investors hope to find a few Tuesday when the company plans to, finally, announce fourth-quarter results and update earnings guidance. If it doesn’t provide enough answers, its shares could again get hammered. (Rapoport, 3/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Bristol Bucks Trend Toward Precision Medicine
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. has sprinted to an early lead in the race to sell a new class of cancer treatment by bucking the trend toward precision medicine. For years, drug companies tried to sell medicines to as many patients as possible. More recently many pharmaceutical companies have been pairing their new therapies with diagnostic tests identifying patients best suited for the treatment. Merck & Co., Bristol’s chief cancer-drug competitor, has pursued such a “precision medicine” approach while selling its new lung-cancer drug, which harnesses the immune system to attack tumors. But in selling its similar therapy, Bristol has outflanked Merck partly by sticking to the old, mass-marketing approach. (Rockoff and Lotfus, 3/13)

The New York Times: Pfizer’s Eager To Go, But The Market Has Doubts
The stock market isn’t convinced that the biggest tax inversion merger on the horizon — Pfizer’s pending blockbuster deal with Allergan — will be concluded without major problems. That’s what the share prices of the two pharmaceutical companies are telling us. While their adjusted prices should be converging — if you assume the merger will be completed without significant impediments — the spread remains unusually wide. (Sommer, 3/12)

The Washington Post: FDA Expands Use Of Pfizer Drug For Rare Form Of Lung Cancer
The Food and Drug Administration expanded approval of a Pfizer drug to treat a small subset of lung cancer patients with a rare mutation. The agency said Friday that Xalkori capsules are now approved for patients with the ROS-1 gene mutation, who make up about 1 percent of U.S. patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease. (Perrone, 3/11)

The New York Times: When Gene Tests For Breast Cancer Reveal Grim Data But No Guidance
At a time when genetic testing and genetically personalized treatments for cancer are proliferating, buoyed by new resources like President Obama’s $215 million personalized medicine initiative, women with breast cancer are facing a frustrating reality: The genetic data is there, but in many cases, doctors do not know what to do with it. ... Doctors have long been tantalized by a future in which powerful methods of genetic testing would allow treatments to be tailored to a patient’s genetic makeup. Today, in breast cancer treatment, testing of tumors and healthy cells to look for mutations has become standard. But ... “our ability to sequence genes has gotten ahead of our ability to know what it means,” said Eric P. Winer, the director of the breast oncology program at Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (Kolata, 3/11)

The New York Times: States Move To Control How Painkillers Are Prescribed
A growing number of states, alarmed by the rising death toll from prescription painkillers and frustrated by a lack of federal action, are moving to limit how these drugs are prescribed. On Thursday, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill expected to be signed next week that would sharply restrict the number of pain pills a doctor can prescribe after surgery or an injury to a seven-day supply. Officials in Vermont and Maine are considering similar actions, and governors across the country are set to meet this summer to develop a broad approach that could reduce the use of painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. (Meier and Tavernise, 3/11)

NPR: A Small Town Wonders What To Do When Heroin Is 'Everywhere'
The epidemic of opioid abuse that's swept the U.S. has left virtually no community unscathed, from big cities to tiny towns. In fact, drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury death in this country: more than gun deaths; more than car crashes. There were more than 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes unintentional overdoses and suicides. More than half of those were from opioids, including painkillers and heroin. (Block, 3/12)

The New York Times: Test Of Zika-Fighting Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Gets Tentative F.D.A. Approval
The federal government on Friday moved to clear the way for the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild for the first time in the United States, tentatively approving a field test that might help slow the spread of the Zika virus. The genetically engineered insects, which contain a gene that will kill their offspring, have already shown effectiveness in small tests in Brazil and other countries in suppressing the populations of the mosquitoes that transmit both Zika and dengue fever. (Pollack, 3/11)

The Washington Post: Want To Avoid Zika? Stay More Than A Mile Above Sea Level, CDC Says
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says pregnant women can safely travel to Zika-affected countries if they stay at elevations higher than 6,562 feet, where they’ll find few mosquitoes that could spread the virus. But the agency’s revised travel advisory, released Friday, continues to recommend that trips to lower-elevation areas be avoided because the greater presence of mosquitos increases the risk of infection. (Sun, 3/11)

The Associated Press: Puerto Rico Reports 201 Confirmed Zika Cases
Puerto Rico’s Health Department is reporting 201 confirmed Zika cases amid warnings the U.S. territory could face an epidemic of the mosquito-borne virus. Officials said Friday that 21 of those cases involve pregnant women. This concerns health authorities because Zika may be linked to microcephaly, which causes babies to have unusually small heads and brain damage. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited the island on Tuesday as federal officials stepped up efforts to help prevent the spread of Zika in Puerto Rico. (3/11)

NPR: SOS: Puerto Rico Is Losing Doctors, Leaving Patients Stranded
Puerto Rico is losing people. Due to a decade-long recession, more than 50,000 residents leave the U.S. territory each year—most for jobs and new lives on the mainland. This issue is especially affecting healthcare, where it's estimated that at least one doctor leaves Puerto Rico every day. The mass exodus of doctors is creating vacancies that are hard to fill and waiting lists for patient care. Dr. Antonio Peraza is among those doctors who recently left for the mainland. He specializes in internal medicine and for nearly 14 years, had a private practice in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. (Allen, 3/12)

The Wall Street Journal: As Wearables In Workplace Spread, So Do Legal Concerns
Wearable devices, like the Fitbits and Apple Watches sported by runners and early adopters, are fast becoming tools in the workplace. These devices offer employers new ways to measure productivity and safety, and give insurers the ability to track workers’ health indicators and habits. For companies with large workforces, the prospect of tracking people’s whereabouts and productivity can be welcome. But collecting data on employees’ health and their physical movement can trigger a host of potential ethical and legal headaches for employers. (Haggin, 3/13)

The New York Times: New York To Discard Prescription Pads, And Doctors’ Handwriting, In Digital Shift
Starting on March 27, the way prescriptions are written in New York State will change. Gone will be doctors’ prescription pads and famously bad handwriting. In their place: pointing and clicking, as prescriptions are created electronically and zapped straight to pharmacies in all but the most exceptional circumstances. New York is the first state to require that all prescriptions be created electronically and to back up that mandate with penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for physicians who fail to comply. Minnesota has a law requiring electronic prescribing but does not penalize doctors who cling to pen and paper. (Otterman, 3/14)

The Associated Press: Indiana: Bill Banning Abortions For Genetic Causes Goes To Governor
Gov. Mike Pence stressed his anti-abortion convictions on Friday, leaving fellow conservatives to believe he will sign a measure making the state the second to ban abortion in cases in which a fetus has a genetic abnormality, such as Down syndrome. In addition, the bill would ban abortions because of race, gender or ancestry. Mr. Pence, a Republican, co-sponsored legislation as a member of the United States House in 2011 that would have prohibited abortions sought because of gender. (3/11)

The Associated Press: Grant Program For Anti-Abortion Centers Passes Georgia House
Georgia would provide state-funded grants to "pregnancy resource centers" that offer medical care, counseling and other services to pregnant women while discouraging abortion, under legislation that easily passed the state House on Friday. The state Senate approved the measure on party lines last month. Senators must agree to some minor changes before the proposal can head to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk. To be eligible, facilities cannot encourage or discuss abortions as an option or refer women to clinics that perform abortions, except when the mother's life is threatened. (3/11)

The Washington Post: Virginia Lawmakers Wrap Up Session, Send $105 Billion Budget To Governor
Virginia lawmakers finished their work late Friday one day ahead of schedule and sent Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) a budget that would give teachers raises and increase spending for education and economic development. ... For the third straight year, the Republican-controlled General Assembly denied McAuliffe and Democrats expansion of Medicaid and rejected the governor’s plan to tax hospitals and use the revenue to fund the state’s share of the federal health-care program. “We don’t have any answer for the 400,000 Virginians who don’t have any health-care coverage,” Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) said. (Portnoy, 3/12)

The Associated Press: Gov. Snyder Calls For Investigation Of Health Department
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday called for an investigation of how his health department handled an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area as well as high lead levels among residents who were drinking tainted water from the Flint River. Snyder was briefed on an “internal review” of the Department of Health and Human Services and now wants the agency’s inspector general and Michigan’s auditor general to quickly launch a broader investigation, spokesman Ari Adler said. (White, 3/11)

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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