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KHN First Edition: March 18, 2016


First Edition

Friday, March 18, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Coinsurance Trend Means Seniors Likely To Face Higher Out-Of-Pocket Drug Costs, Report Says
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Medicare beneficiaries may get dinged with higher prescription drug bills this year because more than half of covered drugs in standalone plans require them to pay a percentage of the cost rather than a flat fee, a new analysis found. Fifty-eight percent of covered drugs in Part D drug plans are subject to “coinsurance” in 2016 rather than flat copayments, the analysis by Avalere Health found. The percentage of drugs requiring coinsurance has climbed steadily, increasing from 35 percent in 2014 to 45 percent last year. That percentage is approaching two-thirds of all covered drugs." (Andrews, 3/18)

Kaiser Health News: How Medicare Drug Plans Hope To Follow Private Sector Lead
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Aetna and Cigna inked deals in early February with drugmaker Novartis that offer the insurers rebates tied to how well a pricey new heart failure drug works to cut hospitalizations and deaths. If the $4,500-a-year drug meets targets, the rebate goes down. Doesn’t work so well? The insurers get a bigger payment. In another approach, pharmacy benefit firm Express Scripts this year began paying drugmakers a special negotiated rate for some cancer drugs — to reward the use of the medicines for the specific cancers for which they have the most demonstrated effectiveness." (Appleby, 3/18)

The Washington Post: EPA’s McCarthy Stands Up To Claims Her Agency Is Responsible For Flint Water Crisis
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency conceded Thursday that her agency was too slow to intervene in the Flint, Mich., water-contamination crisis and less forceful than it should have been when federal officials told a recalcitrant state bureaucracy to act. Despite learning last June that three homes had lead-tainted water and expressing her concern over the situation in a September email to top staffers, Administrator Gina McCarthy did not use her emergency powers until late January. Assuming the state would make good on promises to take decisive measures, the EPA did not push Michigan’s environmental quality agency hard enough to begin treating the water, McCarthy acknowledged. (Bernstein, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: EPA Chief, Michigan Governor Asked To Resign Over Flint Water Crisis
Lawmakers from both parties called on the top officials at the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Michigan to resign Thursday over their respective roles in the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Mich. Republicans began by calling for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s resignation, and Democrats shot back that Michigan’s GOP Gov. Rick Snyder should resign. Thursday’s hearing in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was the first such appearance for both Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Snyder on this issue, which has captured the nation’s attention for the past few months. (Harder and Maher, 3/17)

Detroit Free Press: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Apologizes Before Congress For Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder again apologized for the Flint drinking water disaster when he opened his testimony Thursday before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Snyder and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy appeared before the committee during its third day of hearings into what caused the Flint drinking water public health crisis and how to prevent a recurrence. Reading from prepared remarks, Snyder called the Flint catastrophe a failure at all three levels of government, but he also accepted personal responsibility. (Egan, 3/17)

NPR: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder: 'We All Failed The Families Of Flint'
"Let me be blunt," Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said in his opening statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint." He was answering questions at a Congressional hearing this morning that is investigating the lead-laced water crisis in Flint, Mich. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also testified at the hearing, which frequently became heated with multiple calls for their resignations. Once such call came from Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright. "Governor, plausible deniability only works when it's plausible and I'm not buying that you didn't know about any of this until October 2015. You were not in a medically induced coma for a year," he said. "And I've had about enough of your false contrition and phony apologies." (Wagner and Kennedy, 3/17)

USA Today: Lead Taints Drinking Water In Hundreds Of Schools, Day Cares Across USA
Jamison [Rich's] school, Caroline Elementary in Ithaca, N.Y., is one of hundreds across the nation where children were exposed to water containing excessive amounts of an element doctors agree is unsafe at any level, a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found. An analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showed about 350 schools and day-care centers failed lead tests a total of about 470 times from 2012 through 2015. That represents nearly 20% of the water systems nationally testing above the agency's "action level" of 15 parts per billion. (Ungar, 3/17)

The Washington Post: D.C.’s Decade-Old Problem Of Lead In Water Gets New Attention During Flint Crisis
The District’s water utility found itself on the defensive this week after a Virginia Tech professor who has crusaded against lead in drinking water told a congressional panel that the city’s lead problem in the early 2000s was “20 to 30 times worse” than what has occurred recently in Flint, Mich. D.C. Water officials said that they didn’t take issue with professor Marc Edwards’s statement Tuesday to a House committee because the District is a much larger city than Flint, and the elevated levels of lead in the city’s tap water occurred over several years vs. about 18 months in Flint. (Shaver and Hedgpeth, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: City Produces Millions Of Documents For Federal Probe Of Public Housing
City officials have turned over millions of documents to the federal prosecutors who are conducting a broad investigation into health and safety conditions at New York City Housing Authority buildings and at homeless shelters, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation is “widespread” and about far more than lead issues, a senior city official said, adding it began in October 2015. (Dawsey and O'Brien, 3/18)

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Challenge Turing Executives On Drug Price Hikes
The former top lawyer for Turing Pharmaceuticals said Thursday that he and other executives warned Martin Shkreli against the drastic price hike that triggered a national backlash against the company and its then-32-year-old CEO. The Senate Committee on Aging subpoenaed current and former Turing executives to appear Thursday and explain the fiftyfold price hike of Daraprim, a drug used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection. Lawmakers struggled to describe the company’s behavior, which Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called “pure evil.” (Perrone, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court To Consider Compromise To Health-Law’s Contraception Rules
A four-year-old fight between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration reaches the Supreme Court on Wednesday, in a bishop’s challenge to the health-care law’s contraception requirements that could alter the boundaries of religious freedom. Eight justices will weigh how far the government has to go to accommodate religiously affiliated employers that object to including contraception in workers’ insurance plans. The outcome could affect as many as a million Catholic nonprofit employees. The case comes after the court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling that for-profit businesses could assert such objections. (Radnofsky, 3/17)

Dallas Morning News: Abortion Down 14 Percent In Texas Since New Restrictions Closed Clinics
Texas women had nearly 9,000 fewer abortions in the first full year since new restrictions forced more than half of the state's abortion clinics to close. Provisional data recently released by the Department of State Health Services show a 14 percent reduction in the number of abortions performed in 2014 compared with the year before. Nationally, abortion rates have steadily decreased in recent years, but the drop in Texas is dramatic. The Associated Press found that abortions decreased by about 12 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2013-14. Texas abortions decreased by 30 percent in that five-year span. (Martin, 3/17)

Politico: Planned Parenthood Goes Up With Ads Against Florida Abortion Bill
Planned Parenthood is going up Friday with new television and digital ads pushing Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto a sweeping anti-abortion bill. The ad campaign is Planned Parenthood’s first major pushback this year against state efforts to defund or undermine the organization — a legislative trend since sting videos targeting the group were released last summer. The Florida bill would increase regulations on abortion clinics and prohibit public funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood that work with abortion clinics. It would also require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and perform the procedure in surgical centers — provisions similar to Texas restrictions that are now before the Supreme Court. (Haberkorn, 3/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Walgreens, UnitedHealth Form Pharmacy Partnership
Two of the largest players in the U.S. pharmaceutical supply-chain, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s OptumRx, formed a partnership aimed at helping them capture a greater share of the prescription drug market. Under the deal, OptumRx, which manages prescription drug insurance for more than 66 million Americans, will charge its customers, including employers and insurers, less for certain drugs if patients fill their prescriptions at Walgreens stores, instead of other pharmacies. The offering will apply to 90-day prescriptions for medications that patients take for chronic conditions, sometimes called maintenance drugs. (Walker, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Jitters Infect Specialty Drug Sector
Worries about Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. seem contagious. Shares of other specialty pharmaceutical firms have fallen this week, as the Canadian drugmaker on Tuesday cut its earnings guidance and warned about a potential default on its debt due to a delayed filing. Among those also pummeled: some drug companies where investors see a resemblance to Valeant’s business model. (Farrell, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Glaxo, Rio Bosses Out: Which CEO Departure Brings Real Relief?
The departure of a chief executive is a moment—sometimes marked by worries about the future; sometimes accompanied by relief that change is coming. Share-price reactions Thursday to news that the bosses at global mining heavyweight Rio Tinto and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline are departing are a poor guide to which one’s which. Rio’s stock jumped while Glaxo fell. (Thomas, 3/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Drugmaker Mallinckrodt Increases Stock Buyback
Mallinckrodt PLC said its board authorized the repurchase of an additional $350 million of the specialty biopharmaceutical company’s stock, which is trading around multiyear lows. Mallinckrodt, spun off from Covidien PLC in 2013, said in a news release Thursday that the latest stock-buyback plan reflects its “strong current performance and future prospects” as well as its “inherent long-term earnings power and free cash generation capacity.” Shares of Mallinckrodt have been under pressure amid investor concerns about the company’s business model. (Stynes, 3/17)

The Associated Press: Things To Know, Ask If You’re Considering Bariatric Surgery
Finances and fear deter many morbidly obese patients from having stomach-reducing bariatric surgery, but it’s steadily becoming more common. Surgical techniques and insurance coverage have improved, and the number of obese Americans, now about 79 million, keeps rising. Meanwhile, research shows benefits go far beyond looking better, because obesity reduces life span by two to 10 years. (Johnson, 3/17)

The Associated Press: Commission: US Lacks Strategies To Lower Child Abuse Deaths
The United States lacks coherent, effective strategies for reducing the stubbornly high number of children who die each year from abuse and neglect, a commission created by Congress reported Thursday after two years of sometimes divisive deliberations. The report made dozens of recommendations, including expanding safe-haven programs for abandoned infants and enlisting a broader range of community organizations to help often-overburdened child protection service workers. "We need a system that does not rely on CPS agencies alone to keep all children safe," the report said. "Other systems become key partners, including the courts, law enforcement, the medical community, mental health, public health, and education. Even neighbors who come into regular contact with young children and families are part of a public health approach." (3/17)

The Washington Post: The Mysterious Infection That Might Be Behind 17 Deaths In Wisconsin Has Spread To A Second State
The biggest outbreak of Elizabethkingia in recorded public health history just got bigger. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) confirmed Thursday that an older adult from the western part of the state has died after contracting the obscure blood infection, which has sickened more than 50 in Wisconsin. Seventeen of those patients died, though it’s not clear whether the infection was to blame. All of the victims were people with underlying health conditions, including the latest one in Michigan. An outbreak like this one is thought to be unprecedented — according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, most prior outbreaks had fewer than ten patients. (Kaplan, 3/18)

NPR: Stand To Work If You Like, But Don't Brag About The Benefits
Too much sitting increases heart failure risk and disability risk, and shortens life expectancy, studies have found. But according to an analysis published Wednesday of 20 of the best studies done so far, there's little evidence that workplace interventions like the sit-stand desk or even the flashier pedaling or treadmill desks will help you burn lots more calories, or prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end. "What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health," says Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. (Chen, 3/17)

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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