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Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. Should Federal Retirees Opt For Medicare?

When people retire from federal government jobs, they can keep their federal plan as primary coverage but may face penalties for late Medicare sign-ups later on. (Michelle Andrews, 3/15)

4. Political Cartoon: 'Gallows Without Saying'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Gallows Without Saying'" by Bill Thomas.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

NOT AS BAD AS 2014, BUT …

Drug spending rises
Again … And forecast predicts
Gloomy year ahead.

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

Pharmaceuticals

5. Specialty Medicines Contribute To 5 Percent Increase In Drug Spending For 2015, Report Finds

The rate is half of the 2014 spike, but Express Scripts, the company that issued the report, forecasts that the prices will only continue to climb for the next two years.

The Associated Press: Report: 2015 US Drug Spending Up 5 Percent, Half 2014's Rise
Spending on prescription drugs for insured Americans rose about 5 percent last year, driven by both greater medication use and higher prices, mainly for very expensive drugs termed specialty medicines. Still, the increase was half the rate in 2014, which saw the biggest price jump since 2003. A report by the largest U.S. prescription benefit manager, Express Scripts Holding Co., also found the average price of brand-name drugs already on the market increased by 16.2 percent in 2015 and has jumped 98.2 percent since 2011. One-third of brand-name prescription drugs had price increases exceeding 20 percent last year. (3/14)

NPR: Cancer And Arthritis Drugs Drive Up Spending On Medicines
Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. rose 5.2 percent in 2015, driven mostly by increased costs of expensive specialty medications to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, according to data from the largest manager of employers' drug benefits. Spending on specialty medications rose 18 percent, while spending on standard prescription drugs rose less than one percent, according to a new report by Express Scripts. The report is based on the prescription drug spending for the company's 80 million covered patients. The measure — called "drug trend" in pharmaceutical industry parlance — includes increases in the use of medications and price hikes. (Kodjak, 3/14)

6. Marijuana-Based Drug Helps Reduce Seizures In Children, Study Finds

Justin Gover, chief executive of GW Pharmaceuticals, said the trial result “validates the proposition that cannabinoids can play a meaningful role in modern medicine.”

The New York Times: Marijuana-Based Drug Found To Reduce Epileptic Seizures
An experimental drug derived from marijuana has succeeded in reducing epileptic seizures in its first major clinical trial, the product’s developer announced on Monday, a finding that could lend credence to the medical marijuana movement. The developer, GW Pharmaceuticals, said the drug, Epidiolex, achieved the main goal of the trial, reducing convulsive seizures when compared with a placebo in patients with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. GW shares more than doubled on Monday. (Pollack, 3/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Marijuana-Derived Epilepsy Drug Shows Gains
GW Pharmaceuticals PLC said its marijuana-derived drug for children with severe epilepsy significantly cut the number of seizures they suffered during a Phase III trial, possibly paving the way for the first U.S. approval of a drug of its kind. The drug, called Epidiolex, reduced the frequency of seizures by 39% in children with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, compared with a 13% reduction in a control group, over a treatment period of 14 weeks. (Roland, 3/14)

Campaign 2016

7. Report: 21 Million Would Lose Insurance Under Donald Trump's Health Plan

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington-based fiscal watchdog, said the Republican presidential candidate's proposals would also drive up the deficit by as much as $500 billion over the next 10 years.

The Associated Press: Trump Health Plan Would Increase Uninsured By 21 Million, Study Finds
An independent analysis of Donald Trump's recently released health care plan finds it would increase the number of uninsured by about 21 million people while costing nearly $500 billion over 10 years. The estimates released Monday by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that repealing Obama's health care law would leave 22 million more people uninsured in 2018, and Trump's replacement plan would only provide coverage to about 1.1 million of those. (3/14)

Los Angeles Times: Trump Health Plan Would Increase Deficit And Leave Millions Uninsured, Report Says
Donald Trump's recently released plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act would drive up the federal deficit by nearly $500 billion over the next decade and cause 21 million Americans to lose health coverage, according to a new independent analysis. Trump’s “Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again” plan, which the GOP presidential front-runner outlined on his campaign website last month, does not include much detail. (Levey, 3/14)

In other 2016 election news, Bernie Sanders proposes a new HIV/AIDS initiative and Theranos' chief executive will hold a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton —

The Wall Street Journal: Bernie Sanders To Unveil HIV/AIDS Research Initiative
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who criticized opponent Hillary Clinton for her recent comments on former first lady Nancy Reagan and AIDS, will propose his own platform Monday to spur development of drugs that treat the disease. Mr. Sanders, who is advocating a single-payer health system, will propose establishing a $3 billion annual fund to reward developers who come up with new treatments for HIV and AIDS. The candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination wants to award money from the HIV/AIDS prize fund and permit generic competition for the newly developed drugs immediately after they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Armour, 3/14)

STAT: Beleagured Theranos CEO To Hold Fundraiser For Hillary Clinton
The blood-testing company Theranos has been immersed in controversy in recent months, accused of violating government standards and overhyping its technology. Despite the public storm, Theranos Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes will be hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton on Monday at the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., according to the technology news website Re/code. (Boodman, 3/14)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

8. New Rules Aimed At Helping Consumers On Federal Exchanges

Among other things, the new regulations would give patients slightly more warning before they get hit with surprise medical bills. In other health law news, one-third of Floridians say their health care has become less affordable in the two years since the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

Kaiser Health News: Three Changes Consumers Can Expect In Next Year’s Obamacare Coverage
Health insurance isn’t simple. Neither are government regulations. Put the two together and things can get confusing fast. So it’s not surprising that federal regulators took a stab at making things a bit more straightforward for consumers in new rules unveiled in late February and published Tuesday in the Federal Register. Because those rules are part of a 530-page, dizzying array of changes set for next year and beyond, here are three specific changes finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services that affect consumers who buy their own health insurance in one of the 38 states using the online federal insurance exchange. (Appleby, 3/15)

Health News Florida: Care Affordable, Floridians Say, But Becoming Less So
Across the country and in Florida, most say their health care is a good value, according to a national poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "But then again, when you look more in depth, what you see is a third of Floridians said that their health care became less affordable over the last two years,” said Harvard professor and study co-director Robert Blendon. (Watts, 3/14)

Women’s Health

9. Democrats Call Out GOP Action On Late-Term Abortions, Yet Inaction On High Court Vacancy

“While they say they won’t even hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities— they were eager to hold a hearing to attack women’s constitutional rights,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will say when she takes the battle to the Senate floor. Meanwhile, in Indiana, abortion rights advocates ask Gov. Mike Pence to veto a bill that would ban the procedure if the fetus has a genetic abnormality.

Politico: Democrats To Link Court Vacancy To Late-Term Abortion Bill
Senate Democrats are trying to turn the GOP's refusal to move on the Supreme Court vacancy into the latest episode of the “war on women.” Led by some of their most senior female members, Senate Democrats will take to the floor Tuesday to launch a new messaging offensive that ties the battle over replacing Justice Antonin Scalia to a GOP-led hearing on late-term abortions scheduled to occur later Tuesday. The new tactic, led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the sole woman in Democratic leadership, is an attempt to galvanize women in the Supreme Court vacancy fight, particularly as the high court takes up critical abortion cases. (Kim, 3/15)

The Associated Press: Abortion Rights Advocates Ask Pence To Veto Restriction Bill
Abortion rights advocates say Indiana Gov. Mike Pence should veto a bill that would ban abortions sought because the fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. About 30 activists spoke out against the measure Monday at the Statehouse and delivered a petition with about 2,700 signatures asking Pence to reject the bill. After the measure was passed last week, a national group representing gynecologists wrote a letter to Pence also urging a veto. (3/14)

Public Health And Education