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KHN First Edition: March 17, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Long-term Care Insurance: Less Bang, More Buck
Barbara Feder Ostrov, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Mary Julia Klimenko thought she was prudent 20 years ago when she invested in a long-term care insurance policy, one she believed would help pay for the care she’d need as she aged. Now she wishes she’d banked the money instead. Her monthly premiums have nearly quadrupled over the past two years, and Klimenko, now 69, is furious about the choices she’s been given: pay the higher cost, lower her premiums by cutting her policy’s benefits or drop the insurance altogether." (Feder Ostrov, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Picks Merrick Garland For Supreme Court, Setting Off High-Stakes Fight With Senate
President Barack Obama nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, unleashing a showdown with the Republican-controlled Senate over the court’s first vacancy in six years. Wednesday’s nomination of Judge Garland, a veteran jurist with a reputation for consensus-building, landed in the middle of a heated election battle and at a time when the nation’s highest court is bitterly divided on hot-button issues that include abortion, campaign finance and gun rights. (Lee and son, 3/16)

Politico: Garland’s Lack Of Standout Opinions A Boon In Confirmation Fight
Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s nearly two-decade tenure as a judge on the D.C. Circuit holds few seminal opinions that capture his legal philosophy—and, for those rooting for his confirmation, that may be a good thing. ... A former prosecutor, Garland often split with his liberal colleagues on criminal justice issues, while broadly approving of federal government regulatory actions in areas like health and the environment. On the First Amendment, he has leaned towards free speech rights, while his stances in other areas like abortion rights and church-state issues are uncharted. (Gerstein, 3/16)

Politico: How Obama Broke With The Left In Supreme Court Showdown
What, President Barack Obama would like to know, could Republicans have against an older, moderate white man who chokes up talking about marrying his wife. ... Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, was spotted by POLITICO headed into the West Wing immediately after the announcement ended, and later issued a cautiously positive statement about Garland. "Judge Garland seems like a responsible and qualified nominee. There’s a lot that we don’t know about his judicial approach, and that’s why the Senate needs to do its job and hold a fair hearing and up or down vote," she said. "The President has done his constitutional duty, and now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs." (Dovere, 3/16)

The New York Times: Patients In Pain, And A Doctor Who Must Limit Drugs
Susan Kubicka-Welander, a short-order cook, went to her pain checkup appointment straight from the lunch-rush shift. “We were really busy,” she told Dr. Robert L. Wergin, trying to smile through deeply etched lines of exhaustion. “Thursdays, it’s Philly cheesesteaks.” Her back ached from a compression fracture; a shattered elbow was still mending; her left-hip sciatica was screaming louder than usual. She takes a lot of medication for chronic pain, but today it was just not enough. Yet rather than increasing her dose, Dr. Wergin was tapering her down. “Susan, we’ve got to get you to five pills a day,” he said gently. She winced. (Hoffman, 3/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Some Co-Ops Under Health Law Still Have Tepid Enrollment
Four of the 11 remaining health cooperatives set up under the Affordable Care Act are still seeing tepid enrollment, according to a report by federal investigators, in another sign such insurance startups are on shaky footing despite more than $1 billion in federal loans. The cooperatives were launched under the health law to provide affordable insurance and infuse competition into the market. Twelve of the 23 co-ops that got off the ground have closed as a result of financial troubles. The Obama administration is seeking to recoup about $1.2 billion in federal loans to the co-ops that have closed. (Armour, 3/16)

NPR: Medical Debt Rains Pain On Families, Even In The Sunshine State
Health insurance is no guarantee against financial hardship, according to a national poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. "People are financially overwhelmed in lives that are working OK — they have financing for everything else in their life but they can't deal with this large medical bill," says Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard Chan School. (Mack, 3/17)

Reuters: Senate Advances Bill To Aid Drug-Dependent Newborns
A bipartisan bill designed to improve the health and safety of babies born to mothers who used heroin or other opioids during pregnancy was approved by a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday. The bill, which will now move to the Senate floor, was prompted by a Reuters investigation last year. Reuters found 110 cases of children who were exposed to opioids while in the womb and who later died preventable deaths at home. No more than nine states comply with a 2003 law that calls on hospitals to alert social workers whenever a baby is born dependent on drugs, Reuters found. (Shiffman and Wilson, 3/16)

The Associated Press: Deficit-Slashing Plan Advances Through House Panel
A key House panel on Wednesday approved a GOP plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit without tax increases demanded by Democrats, relying on sharp cuts to federal health care programs, government aid to the poor, and hundreds of domestic programs supported by lawmakers in both parties. The 20-16 Budget Committee vote could be the high point for the GOP blueprint, which is short of the majority votes needed to advance through the GOP-controlled House. Two tea party Republicans defected on the otherwise party-line vote. (3/16)

The Associated Press: Governor, EPA Chief Agree: Michigan Agency Failed Flint
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly gave assurances that water from the Flint River was safe, when in reality it had dangerous levels of lead, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says. Snyder tells Congress that he did not learn that Flint's water was contaminated until Oct. 1, 2015 — nearly 18 months after the city began drawing its water from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. Snyder said he took immediate action, reconnecting the city with Detroit's water supply and distributing water filters and testing residents — especially children — for elevated lead levels. (3/17)

The New York Times: U.S. Investigating Elevated Blood Lead Levels In New York’s Public Housing
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are conducting a sweeping investigation of environmental health and safety conditions, including cases of elevated blood lead levels, in public housing and homeless shelters and the possibility that the New York City housing and homeless agencies filed false claims to federal housing officials for payment related to the conditions. (Navarro and Rashbaum, 3/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Federal Prosecutors Probe Lead Problems In NYC Public Housing
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating health and safety conditions, including lead problems, in New York City’s public-housing system, according to court documents and city officials. Prosecutors in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office are investigating whether the New York City Housing Authority, the largest public-housing agency in the country, made false claims for payment to the federal government related to safety conditions at city housing complexes, according to court filings. The investigation began last fall, court records show. (O'Brien, 3/16)

USA Today: Colo. Town's Tests Reveal Lead In Water Of Older Homes
Standing glumly behind the screen door of the brick house she has called home since 1971, Mary Schell shares the bad news: "We have it." "It" is confirmation that the water in her home contains high levels of lead. Schell and her husband tested their water in the fall after town officials discovered in October that 11 homes in their neighborhood had high levels. A subsequent round of testing in December found six homes exceeding federal limits. (Hughes, 3/16)

NPR: Drug-Company Payments Mirror Doctors' Brand-Name Prescribing
Doctors have long disputed the accusation that the payments they receive from pharmaceutical companies have any relationship to how they prescribe drugs. There's been little evidence to settle the matter, until now. A new ProPublica analysis has found that doctors who receive payments from the medical industry do indeed prescribe drugs differently on average than their colleagues who don't. And the more money they receive, the more brand-name medications they tend to prescribe. (Ornstein, Jones and Tiga, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Novartis Heart-Failure Pill Hits Hurdles With Doctors
In July, Novartis AG won regulatory approval for a new heart-failure pill that it called “one of the most remarkable drugs in cardiovascular medicine in the last several decades.” Since then, it has faced a problem: getting doctors to prescribe it. The drug, called Entresto, had $21 million in sales in the six months following its launch, a fraction of the $126 million expected by industry analysts. It also missed the company’s undisclosed internal forecasts, said David Epstein, head of pharmaceuticals at Novartis. (Roland, 3/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Amgen’s Patents On Cholesterol Drug Declared Valid By Jury
A jury declared valid two Amgen Inc. patents linked to the company’s recently approved cholesterol-lowering drug, delivering a setback to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi, makers of a rival drug. Regeneron and Sanofi, in a prepared statement, said they “strongly disagree” with the verdict by the Delaware jury and that they plan to appeal. (Stynes, 3/16)

The Wall Street Journal: GlaxoSmithKline Says Andrew Witty To Retire As CEO
Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC on Thursday said Andrew Witty would retire as chief executive in March 2017 after roughly 10 years as CEO of the company. Glaxo said it would begin a formal search for a successor, and consider both internal and external candidates for the role. (Kent and Walker, 3/17)

The Washington Post: Scientists Expose Vaccine Volunteers To Dengue Virus And Find 100 Percent Were Protected
Scientists reported on Wednesday that they think they have found the "final puzzle piece" for a dengue vaccine that might, at last, be able to stop the deadly mosquito-borne virus that has infected billions since the early 19th century. The experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health, was tested in a small, randomized, double-blind trial on 41 healthy volunteers. Each participant received either a single shot of an experimental vaccine or a placebo and were then infected with a mild form of the virus six months later. All of the 20 people in the placebo group came down with rashes, low white blood cell count and other symptoms of the disease, while none of the 21 vaccinated volunteers became sick and did not have evidence of infection in their blood. (Cha, 3/16)

The Washington Post: Our Alarmingly Polluted Environment Is Killing 12.6 Million Each Year, WHO Warns
The World Health Organization has put a number on the people estimated to have died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment and it's big -- 12.6 million. That number represents one in four of all deaths globally and underscores the devastating impact of the chemicals and waste we've been putting into the air, water and earth since the end of World War II. The WHO said deaths due to non-communicable diseases -- which include heart disease and cancer and are related to exposure to pollution -- now make up 8.2 million or nearly two-thirds of the total deaths. Deaths from infectious diseases -- such as malaria and diarrhea -- due to unsafe water and lack of sanitation represent one-third and are on the decline. (Cha, 3/16)

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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