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2. Political Cartoon: 'Hitch In Your Gitalong'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Hitch In Your Gitalong'" by Daryl Cagle.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Seniors’ eye exams …
Experts, docs do not agree
On tests’ importance.

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Summaries of the News

Health Law Issues And Implementation

3. By End Of 2015, Obamacare Enrollment Off Target By 3 Percent

Over the course of the year, the number of people signed up and paying premiums on exchange plans went down 25 percent, from 11.7 million to 8.8 million. In other health law news, a few of the troubled insurance cooperatives could turn profits in 2016. And Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois hopes for a financial turnaround after last year's flop.

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. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 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 Chicago Tribune: Blue Cross Parent Lost $1.5B On Individual Health Plans Last Year
Year 2 of the Affordable Care Act was another financial flop for the Chicago-based parent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois but hints of a turnaround are emerging. Health Care Service Corp.'s financial losses in its individual business, which includes ACA plans, worsened in 2015. The company, which owns Blue Cross affiliates in Illinois and four other states, said it lost $1.5 billion in its individual business, up from $767 million in 2014, the first year of the health law's state exchanges for buying coverage. (Sachdev, 3/11)

Campaign 2016

4. Clinton Asks Where Sanders Was On Health Care In '90s; Campaign Returns Volley With Photographic Evidence

A spokesman for Bernie Sanders released a photo and video clip from 1993 showing the candidate standing directly behind Hillary Clinton at an event to promote health care reform.

The Huffington Post: Sanders Fires Back At Clinton For Distorting His Health Care Record
In the latest round of policy battles between Democratic presidential opponents Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Clinton diminished Sanders’ record on healthcare on Saturday, raising the ire of the Sanders campaign. In pledging to take on the power of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries if she becomes president, Clinton accused Sanders of being absent in her fight for health care reform in the 1990s. (Fang, 3/13)

In other news, prescription drug costs have become a hot topic with 2016 voters —

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)


5. Bristol-Myers Outflanks Merck By Embracing Old, Mass-Marketing Approach On Cancer Drug

The two companies are offering a comparable drug, but doctors are flocking to Bristol's to bypass the testing process required for Merck's. In other pharmaceutical news, Valeant is trying to calm wary investors as its Tuesday earning report draws near, the stock market reflects the uncertainty surrounding the Pfizer-Allergan deal and Martin Shkreli's old drug company gets an offer.

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: 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 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)

Bloomberg: Shkreli's Bankrupt Drug Company Gets Offer From Hedge Fund
KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc., the drug company that plunged into bankruptcy after the arrest of its former Chief Executive Officer Martin Shkreli, is getting some help for its plan to buy a treatment for Chagas disease. Hedge fund Black Horse Capital LP offered to buy at least 40 percent of the company for $10 million on the condition that Shkreli holds no more than 20 percent of KaloBios’s voting shares, according to a filing Thursday in Delaware bankruptcy court. (Smythe and Church, 3/11)

6. Hospitals Employ New Strategies In Attempt To Control Rising Drug Costs

In related news, 11 Democratic senators – including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders -- are urging the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services to examine the impact of the drug company practice of selling “one-size-fits-all” vials of drugs to treat cancer and other deadly diseases.

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)

The Fiscal Times: Democratic Senators Demand Investigation Of $3 Billion In Wasted Bio-Drugs
Efforts to combat pricey drug costs that are blowing a hole in the pockets of consumers and the budgets of government agencies picked up a little steam on Thursday. Eleven Democratic senators – including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders -- pressed the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the impact of pharmaceutical companies selling “one size fits all” vials of drugs to treat cancer and other deadly diseases. (Pianin, 3/11)


7. Powerful Genetic Testing Provides Patients With Plenty Of Data, But Few Concrete Answers

Patients are left to decide what to do when doctors can't reach a consensus on a course of action when genetic tests turn up a higher risk for diseases like breast cancer.

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)