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KHN First Edition: June 23, 2015


First Edition

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Slow To Adopt Telemedicine Due To Cost Concerns
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "Donna Miles didn’t feel like getting dressed and driving to her physician’s office or to a retailer’s health clinic near her Cincinnati home. For several days, she had thought she had thrush, a mouth infection that made her tongue sore and discolored with raised white spots. When Miles, 68, awoke on a wintry February morning and the pain had not subsided, she decided to see a doctor. So she turned on her computer and logged on to, a service offered by her Medicare Advantage plan, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield of Ohio. She spoke to a physician, who used her computer’s camera to peer into her mouth and who then sent a prescription to her pharmacy." (Galewitz, 6/23)

Kaiser Health News: Controversies Made Preventive Services Panel Stronger, Says Retired Leader
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "For its first 25 years, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force toiled in relative obscurity. Created by the federal government in 1984, the task force published books and articles in scientific journals that aimed to inform primary care practitioners about which preventive services were effective based on scientific evidence. It assigns preventive services such as screenings, medication and counseling grades from A to D, or an I for insufficient evidence." (Andrews, 6/23)

Politico: Obamacare Repeal Still Vexes GOP
Republicans for months have been planning to use a fast-track budget procedure to extend Obamacare subsidies if the Supreme Court strikes them down — all while completely gutting the underlying law. But just days before the court’s ruling, the party is still grappling with the question of how much of the law to repeal, in part because of its exorbitant cost. (Bade, 6/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Before Supreme Court Health Ruling, GOP Lawmaker Is In Tug-Of-War
The Affordable Care Act isn’t popular with many in Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne’s district on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. If the Supreme Court strikes down crucial tax credits to subsidize insurance costs here and in many other states, constituents like Ann Lanier want Mr. Byrne to take additional steps toward dismantling the law. “Are Republicans doing anything?” Mrs. Lanier, a 58-year-old retiree from nearby Fairhope, asked Mr. Byrne at a recent town-hall meeting. (son and Radnofsky, 6/22)

The New York Times: Supreme Court Ruling On Health Law Will Shape Obama’s Legacy
The night his administration’s Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, President Obama described the victory the way he hopes historians will: as a “stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American dream.” But Mr. Obama’s prospects for a legacy of expanding health care coverage in the United States for generations have never seemed as uncertain as they do today. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the month on a critical provision of the Affordable Care Act — insurance subsidies for millions of Americans — and even Mr. Obama’s closest allies say that a decision to invalidate the subsidies would mean years of logistical and political chaos. (Shear, 6/23)

Los Angeles Times: Important Cases Still Pending Before The Supreme Court (And The Decisions So Far)
Another much-anticipated decision will be whether the Obama administration may continue to subsidize health insurance for low- and middle-income people who buy coverage in the 36 states that failed to establish an official insurance exchange of their own and instead use a federally run version. If the court rules against the Obama administration, about 8.6 million people could lose their subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. In all, the court will hand down more than two dozen decisions on matters invovling politics, civil rights, free speech and air pollution. Several of these cases have been pending for months, suggesting the justices have been sharply split. (Savage, 6/22)

The New York Times: Gay Marriage, Health Care Among Last 7 Supreme Court Cases
The right of same-sex couples to marry and the ability of low- and middle-income Americans to receive subsidies to help them afford insurance under the health care overhaul are the two biggest cases among the seven still to be decided by the Supreme Court. The justices will meet again Thursday to hand down more opinions and almost always finish their work by the end of June. (6/22)

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: The Supreme Court And The Art Of Saving The Best Opinions For Last
The Supreme Court sure knows how to put an eager audience on edge. The justices are wrapping up their 2014-2015 term and issued four decisions Monday, but none were in the half dozen biggest cases still pending. As in prior years, it looks like the court is saving the best for last. Cases still outstanding include those dealing with the legality of Obama administration health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage and EPA regulations on power plant emissions. Also pending are important cases on housing law, lethal injection and congressional redistricting. Seven cases remain in total, and the court is scheduled to decide them no later than next week. (Kendall, 6/22)

The New York Times: Fewer Poor Uninsured, Study Finds In Health Law
The share of poor Americans who were uninsured declined substantially in 2014, according to the first full year of federal data since the Affordable Care Act extended coverage to millions of Americans last year. The drop was largely in line with earlier findings by private polling companies such as Gallup, but was significant because of its source — the National Health Interview Survey, a long-running federal survey considered to be a gold standard by researchers. The findings are being released on Tuesday. (Taversnise, 6/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem Needs A New Tune For Cigna
Cigna is apparently playing pretty hard to get. Anthem should be careful in how it goes about trying to seal a deal. Anthem, the second largest U.S. health insurer by membership, proposed to buy Cigna, the nation’s fourth-largest, for more than $47 billion. Cigna rejected the overture on Sunday. Anthem, though, is evidently determined. (Grant, 6/22)

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurance Giant Anthem Presses For Cigna Takeover At $54 Billion
Health insurer Anthem Inc. pressed ahead with its pursuit of a $54-billion merger with Cigna Corp. despite a spurned bid and increasing concerns about industry consolidation. Joseph Swedish, Anthem's chief executive, went on the offensive Monday trying to rally support for his takeover offer among Cigna shareholders and put pressure on the company's board, which rejected his $184-a-share offer over the weekend. He also took on critics of health insurance consolidation who fear it will lead to higher premiums and less choice. (Terhune, 6/22)

USA Today: Anthem Continues $47B Cigna Takeover Battle
Health insurance giant Anthem (ANTM) on Monday reiterated support for its $47.4 billion cash and stock takeover bid for Cigna (CI), undeterred by the smaller rival's rejection of the latest offer. Indianapolis-based Anthem also tried to build Cigna shareholder support for the proposed transaction, webcasting a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the deal terms. (McCoy, 6/22)

The Associated Press: Anthem Reaffirms Commitment To It's $47B For Cigna
Anthem sees its more than $47 billion bid to buy rival Cigna as a way to muscle up on technology that helps consumers and to strengthen its rapidly growing Medicare Advantage business. Leaders of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer reaffirmed on Monday their commitment to getting a deal done a day after Cigna shot down the idea in a letter delivered to Anthem's board. (Murphy, 6/22)

The Associated Press: Insurer Combos Offer No Price Break Guarantees For Consumers
The average consumer should catch a price break if major health insurers like Anthem and Cigna combine and cut their expenses. That’s the basic theory, at least. The reality will be much murkier for the more than 50 million people who may be affected if Anthem Inc. succeeds with its bid to buy smaller rival Cigna Corp. or if other major insurers combine as many on Wall Street anticipate. (Murphy, 6/22)

NPR/ProPublica: Fraud Still Plagues Medicare's Prescription Drug Program
Fraud and abuse continue to dog Medicare's popular prescription drug program, despite a bevy of initiatives launched to prevent them, according to two new reports by the inspector general of Health and Human Services. Their release follows the arrests of 44 pharmacy owners, doctors and others, who last week were accused of bilking the program, known as Part D. (Ornstein, 6/23)

The Wall Street Journal: New Formula Aims To Help Weigh Value Of Cancer Treatments
A leading oncology group has developed a formula designed to help doctors and patients weigh the value of cancer treatments, in the latest example of rising concern over the price of new drugs. The American Society of Clinical Oncology published Monday a template for assessing new treatments based on the benefits and side effects seen in clinical trials and on the cost for individual patients. The formula is an initial step toward producing software-based tools that doctors and patients can use in deciding among treatment options for the disease, ASCO said. (Winslow, 6/22)

Los Angeles Times: Cancer Drugs Get A New Consumer's Guide
In a bid to inject clarity into the fast-moving, high-stakes world of cancer drugs, a task force of cancer doctors announced Monday that it has devised a decision-making aid to help physicians and their patients weigh the pluses and minuses of newly available options for treating malignancy, including their costs. In a trial run of the proposed system, which distills a single "net health benefit" number for cancer drugs, several costly new medications fared poorly. Others, despite high costs, appeared to offer major returns for patients with few effective options. (Healy, 6/22)

Los Angeles Times: Nation Of Islam Opposes California Vaccine Mandate Bill
A split among African American leaders on the issue of government-required vaccination has roiled the Capitol as lawmakers consider whether to eliminate most exemptions to state immunization laws. A leader of the Nation of Islam has warned African American lawmakers of political repercussions if they support a bill that would require many more children to be vaccinated. A coalition of other black organizations on Monday countered that message with support for the measure. (McGreevy, 6/22)

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County's Foster Center Should Be Closed Immediately, Panel Says
As the report was being drafted, the state was moving on a parallel track to require changes to the Youth Welcome Center for children 12 and older and the Children's Welcome Center for younger youths, requiring the county to come up with solutions to care for this particularly challenging population. The two centers, the only foster care facilities that turn no child away, are on the campus of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Together they serve hundreds of children and teens each year as they wait to be placed in increasingly scarce foster homes. Most young people at the Youth Welcome Center are older teenagers. Many have some type of mental illness or medical issue. Some are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Most have been thrown out of multiple foster homes. (Therolf, 6/22)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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