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KHN First Edition: March 15, 2016


First Edition

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Three Changes Consumers Can Expect In Next Year’s Obamacare Coverage
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "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)

Kaiser Health News: Should Federal Retirees Opt For Medicare?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Whether as a federal retiree you should sign up for Medicare Part B, which covers preventive care and services such as doctor visits and lab work to treat medical conditions, depends on your own preferences and priorities, said Casey Schwarz, senior counsel for education and federal policy at the Medicare Rights Center, an advocacy group. You have options. Unlike many private retiree health plans, your federal retiree plan will continue to be the primary insurer if you decide not to enroll in Medicare Part B, Schwarz said. In contrast, many private retiree plans may not provide any coverage at all if a retiree doesn’t sign up for Part B coverage, or they may only pick up the 20 percent coinsurance that’s generally charged to beneficiaries for Part B services, said Schwarz." (Andrews, 3/15)

Kaiser Health News: Fear Of Future Health Problems Plagues Porter Ranch, Calif., Gas Leak Victims
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: "Kavita Ramchandani loved everything about evenings in her backyard: how the full moon lit up the sky, the way the breeze seemed to talk to her, the smell of the pine trees. She bought the single-story hillside house in this upscale Los Angeles County suburb after emigrating from India, and from the first night it felt like home. Then last fall, gas started leaking from a well at a nearby storage facility, and Ramchandani, 53, began wheezing, getting nose bleeds and persistent headaches. She left her home in January. Now, she says, the house just feels foreign. And scary." (Gorman, 3/15)

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)

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 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)

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)

The Washington Post: Getting Painkillers Seems Easy. Getting Help To Fight Painkiller Addiction Is Hard.
Addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin has grown so deadly that the Obama administration wants to spend more than $1 billion over the next two years fighting it. Nearly all of the money would go to making anti-addiction medications, including buprenorphine, more available. Yet in the midst of the worst epidemic of unintentional drug overdose in U.S. history — mortality rates are four to fives times as high as in the mid-1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — it can be harder to get drugs to treat an addiction than it is to get the drugs that feed it. (Vestal, 3/14)

The Associated Press: Massachusetts Governor Chokes Up At Painkiller Bill Signing
An emotional Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed what he called the most comprehensive law in the nation to combat an opioid addiction scourge, including a seven-day limit on first-time prescriptions for opiate painkillers. The Republican governor struggled to maintain his composure while recalling families he had met — some standing behind him at the Statehouse ceremony — who had lost loved ones to a "deadly, merciless epidemic" and others who were desperately seeking help for a family member. (3/14)

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)

The New York Times: Women Who Brought Zika Fears Home With Them
The Zika virus is not yet known to be circulating in the continental United States. But already, fear of the infection has come home for many pregnant women and their families who journeyed abroad before the risks were known. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that nine pregnant women were known to have become infected while traveling. Yet many more are coping with the possibility of exposure, reaching out to their doctors for blood tests and ultrasounds, obsessing on news coverage and trying to manage their worry. (Beil, 3/14)

The New York Times: Centers To Treat Eating Disorders Are Growing, And Raising Concerns
Their websites show peaceful scenes — young women relaxing by the ocean or caring for horses in emerald pastures — and boast of their chefs and other amenities. One center sends out invitations to a reception with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Another offers doctors and therapists all-expense-paid trips to visit and experience their offerings, including yoga classes. Several employ staff who call mental health professionals, saying they would love to have lunch. The marketing efforts by these for-profit residential care centers are aimed at patients with eating disorders and the clinicians who treat them. The programs have proliferated in recent years, with some companies expanding across the country. (Goode, 3/14)

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)

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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