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KHN First Edition: March 28, 2016


First Edition

Monday, March 28, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Tiny Opioid Patients Need Help Easing Into Life
RINPR's Kristin Espeland Gourlay, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Swaddled in soft hospital blankets, Lexi is 2 weeks old and weighs 6 pounds. She's been at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island since she was born, and is experiencing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Her mother took methadone to wean herself from heroin when she got pregnant, just as doctors advised. But now the hospital team has to wean newborn Lexi from the methadone. As rates of opioid addiction have climbed in the U.S., the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has increased, too — by five-fold from 2000 to 2012, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse." (Gourlay. 3/28)

Kaiser Health News: Health Care Fades Into The Background Of 2016 Election Cycle
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: "With Obamacare battles largely behind us, presidential candidates in 2016 seem focused on other issues. Health care played starring roles in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. President Obama's Affordable Care Act became the battle cry of politicians hoping to ascend to the highest office in the land. But Obamacare passed through the gauntlets of the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court, and came out in tact. Whether it's fatigue with the topic of health care, a shift in the public's priorities, or other campaign year distractions, how we pay for our doctor's visits has fallen from the top of the nation's priorities list." (Rovner, 3/28)

Kaiser Health News: Pharmaceutical Company Has Hiked Price On Aid-In-Dying Drug
KQED's April Dembosky, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "When California’s aid-in-dying law takes effect this June, terminally ill patients who decide to end their lives could be faced with a hefty bill for the lethal medication. It retails for more than $3,000. Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes the drug most commonly prescribed by physicians to aid patients who want to end their lives, doubled the drug’s price last year, one month after California lawmakers proposed legalizing the practice. “It’s just pharmaceutical company greed,” said David Grube, a retired a family doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted death has been legal for 20 years." (Dembosky, 3/28)

The New York Times: Heroin Epidemic Is Yielding To A Deadlier Cousin: Fentanyl
When Eddie Frasca was shooting up heroin, he occasionally sought out its more potent, lethal cousin, fentanyl. “It was like playing Russian roulette, but I didn’t care,” said Mr. Frasca, 30, a carpenter and barber who said he had been clean for four months. When he heard that someone had overdosed or even died from fentanyl, he would hunt down that batch. Fentanyl, which looks like heroin, is a powerful synthetic painkiller that has been laced into heroin but is increasingly being sold by itself — often without the user’s knowledge. (Seelye, 3/25)

The Associated Press: Needle Exchange Debate Raises Prosecution Questions
As New Hampshire lawmakers decide whether to allow needle exchange programs, some of the biggest debate has been over how to handle the smallest amounts of drugs. Under current law, hypodermic needles and syringes can be dispensed only by pharmacists, and possessing a syringe containing any amount of heroin or other controlled drug is a felony. But faced with the state's growing drug crisis, the Legislature is considering a bill that would both clear the way for programs that allow drug users to swap dirty syringes for clean ones and would decriminalize residual amounts of drugs in syringes. It passed the House on Wednesday and now heads to the state Senate. (3/26)

The Associated Press: Indiana Counties Must Fund Needle Exchanges Sans State Help
One of Indiana's four legal needle exchange programs operates out of a cramped 10 foot-by-10 foot office in the basement of the local courthouse in Fayette County, which is struggling with a hepatitis C outbreak amid the state's growing opioid-abuse crisis. Though just seven intravenous drug users addicted to heroin are enrolled in the program, Paula Maupin, Fayette County's public health nurse, expects that to grow to 75 to 100 participants in the next year or so. The problem is, lawmakers banned state funding for the exchanges when they legalized them last year, even as Indiana's worst-ever HIV outbreak struck in another county. (3/27)

The Associated Press: Federal Officials, Advocates Push Pill-Tracking Databases
The nation's top health officials are stepping up calls to require doctors to log in to pill-tracking databases before prescribing painkillers and other high-risk drugs. The move is part of a multi-pronged strategy by the Obama administration to tame an epidemic of abuse and death tied to opioid painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin. But physician groups see a requirement to check databases before prescribing popular drugs for pain, anxiety and other ailments as being overly burdensome. (3/28)

The Associated Press: New York's Stringent Paperless-Prescribing Law Takes Effect
New York is putting an end to most paper prescriptions for medicine as the nation's toughest electronic-prescribing law takes effect. As of Sunday, doctors, dentists and other health care professionals must electronically send prescriptions directly to pharmacies, instead of giving paper scripts to patients. There are exceptions for emergencies and unusual circumstances, and thousands of prescribers have gotten extensions. (3/27)

The New York Times: Investing For Your Future Health Care
Ken Dychtwald, who is 65 and is the chief executive officer of Age Wave, a consulting and research company focused on aging, decided in his 50s that he and his wife should buy long-term care insurance so they wouldn’t be a burden on each other or their children if they became ill or disabled. Mark V. Pauly, 74, a professor of health care management, business economics and public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, considered long-term care insurance and decided against it. Both are experts in the field of aging and both understand, more than most, the potential cost of paying for care in later years. But they took different paths in addressing those needs. (Tugend, 3/25)

The New York Times: Health Savings Accounts: Unloved, But Worthwhile
Health savings accounts offer a rare, triple-tax benefit to those who are able to contribute and who qualify to save for future medical needs — which, among other things, means having a health insurance plan with a deductible of at least $1,300. Money goes into an H.S.A. tax-free, grows tax-free and is withdrawn tax-free, if spent on eligible medical costs. Yet some people find it difficult to commit to building up an H.S.A. to save for health needs. (Carrns, 3/25)

Los Angeles Times: How A Healthcare Revolution Came To One Red State While The Obamacare Battle Raged On
Winnie Abbott desperately wanted a knee replacement when she came to Dr. Jeffrey Angel’s office here in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Before Angel would operate, though, he had some requests for Abbott. She should take a class about the procedure and designate a family member to be her “coach” to help with recovery. And if she had problems after surgery, she needed to call a 24-hour number at Angel’s office rather than just go to the emergency room. This comprehensive approach to patients – focused not just on what happens in the doctor’s office but on how patients recover at home and how much their care costs – hasn’t always been the rule in American healthcare. But across the country, far from the vitriolic debate over Obamacare, it is driving a quiet revolution that is changing how doctors replace knees, communicate with patients, prescribe drugs, even deliver babies. (Levey, 3/25)

The Associated Press: Leading Private-Sector Health System Woos Veterans In Ads
A leading hospital system in the U.S. is courting military veterans with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, raising concerns from some veterans groups that private sector marketing could weaken the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. The campaign tag lines — "Veterans have a choice in healthcare" and "You honored your oath, and so do we" — emphasize consumer preference and the shared values of medical professionals and the military. (3/25)

Politico: Cruz's Missing Obamacare Replacement Plan
Everyone knows how Ted Cruz feels about Obamacare. He’s the guy who shut down the government in a bid to kill it — and should he reach the White House, he’d take a blowtorch to the law. But Cruz isn’t very clear about what — if anything — he’d do to replace a law covering 20 million people. And some establishment Republicans suggest that he address this head-on before the pivotal April 5 primary in Wisconsin, where Republican leaders have been more aggressive in fleshing out alternative health plans. (Pradhan and Demko, 3/27)

The Associated Press: Looking For Calorie Labels On Menus? Not Until 2017
Wondering how many calories are in that hamburger? Chain restaurants still don't have to tell you, despite a 6-year-old law requiring calorie labels on menus. The rules were passed as part of the health care overhaul in 2010. They will eventually require restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food "clearly and conspicuously" on their menus, menu boards and displays. This month, the Food and Drug Administration said it will delay the rules until 2017. (3/28)

Los Angeles Times: Two More Deaths May Be Linked To Contaminated Medical Scopes
Two patients died and six more were sickened in a new outbreak suspected of being caused by contaminated medical scopes, according to a regulatory report by device manufacturer Olympus Corp. The report shows that hospitals are continuing to use a device that was recalled in January, which experts have found to be extremely difficult to disinfect. The name and location of the hospital was not revealed in the report. (sen, 3/25)

Reuters: U.S. Urges Waiting Period Before Conception After Zika Infection
U.S. health officials are recommending that women wait at least two months, and men at least six, before attempting to conceive after infection with Zika, a virus linked to thousands of suspected cases of birth defects in Brazil. The new guidance, issued on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, follows prior recommendations by the agency that focused on preventing infections in women who were already pregnant. (Steenhuysen, 3/26)

Los Angeles Times: Brazil Seizes Abortion Drugs Sent To Women Living In Fear Of Zika
The messages from the expectant mothers in Brazil resonate with desperation. “I'm thinking of doing the worst,” one woman wrote when her order for abortion medication failed to arrive. “I really need help. I can no longer eat, and I cry all the time.” The messages were sent to an international advocacy group that had been providing abortion-inducing drugs free of charge to expectant mothers who fear that the Zika virus could cause severe birth defects. Now, however, the group has temporarily suspended its operations in the country because Brazilian authorities have confiscated the drugs in the mail. Abortion is prohibited in most instances in Brazil, and the drugs are illegal. (Simmons and Rigby, 3/27)

Politico: Slew Of Anti-Abortion Laws May Thwart Zika Research
Even as mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus advance northward, lawmakers in 18 states are trying to block the fetal tissue research that might reveal the keys to unlocking the disease and preventing the massive birth defects associated with it. The furor from the Planned Parenthood sting videos is driving the tide of bills, which range from outright bans on research using aborted tissue to prohibitions on tissue donations. Scientists say such laws in states like Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Indiana — along with an escalating probe of fetal tissue research by House Republicans — are becoming roadblocks to the research needed to combat Zika. (Norman, 3/27)

Reuters: Florida Governor Signs Law Ending Funding To Clinics Providing Abortions
Florida Governor Rick Scott on Friday signed a law that cuts off state funding for preventive health services to clinics providing abortion and imposes abortion restrictions already being tested before the U.S. Supreme Court. Florida is among many states adopting new abortion laws as conservatives seek to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. (Cotterell, 3/25)

Reuters: Federal Judge Blocks Section Of Alabama Abortion Law
A federal judge on Friday struck down an Alabama law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The ruling comes amid a wave of new abortion laws in states where conservatives are aiming to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in Alabama issued the 53-page ruling, saying the provision in the state's so-called Women's Health and Safety Act would effectively close the only abortion clinics in Alabama's three largest cities: Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham. (Reuters, 3/25)

The Washington Post: Doctors Are Worried About How Indiana’s Abortion Law Will Affect Their Patients
One day after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a controversial bill blocking women from seeking abortions based on medical diagnoses, doctors grappled with how the measure might affect their patients. ... Brownsyne Tucker-Edmonds, an Indianapolis gynecologist, said in a statement Friday that the law could dissuade physicians from performing a legal medical procedure and, by doing so, imperil their patients’ health. ... The mandate carries a host of requirements that are among the country’s strictest prohibiting abortion in the event of fetal anomaly or because of the sex or race of the fetus. (Paquette, 3/25)

Los Angeles Times: State Isn't Using Blood-Test Data That Could Help Focus Exide Cleanup Efforts
The state of California has blood test results showing high levels of lead in children living near the closed Exide battery plant in Vernon but is not using the information to direct its massive cleanup of lead-contaminated homes and yards. Health experts say the test results should be used to help pinpoint neighborhoods most in need of swift cleanup because children there have been exposed to more of the poisonous metal. (Barboza and Poston, 3/26)

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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