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KHN First Edition: April 4, 2016


First Edition

Monday, April 04, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: UnitedHealth Tries Boutique-Style Health Plan
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "UnitedHealthcare is betting $65 million that it can profit by making primary care more attractive. With little fanfare, the nation’s largest health insurer launched an independent subsidiary in January that offers unlimited free doctor visits and 24/7 access by phone. Every member gets a personal health coach to nudge them toward their goals, such as losing weight or exercising more. Mental health counseling is also provided, as are yoga, cooking and acupuncture classes. Services are delivered in stylish clinics with hardwood floors and faux fireplaces in their lobbies. Harken Health is available only in Chicago and Atlanta, where it covers 35,000 members who signed up this winter on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. UnitedHealth still sells traditional plans in those cities, too. (Galewitz, 4/4)

Kaiser Health News: Medi-Cal Expands to Immigrant Children. Here's How It Works.
Kaiser Health News' Emily Bazar writes: "In a few months, California will begin providing full Medi-Cal coverage to all low-income children — regardless of their immigration status. Depending on whom you ask, anywhere from 170,000 to 250,000 children who live in California and are in the country illegally will qualify. State officials expect coverage to start May 16. But because the policy shift requires complex programming changes to state and county computer systems, implementation may be delayed, says Tony Cava of the state Department of Health Care Services." (Bazar, 4/4)

The New York Times: Medicare Is Often Overbilled By Hospices, And Pays Twice For Some Drugs
Hospices often bill Medicare for a higher level of care than patients need, and Medicare often pays twice for the prescription drugs provided to people who are terminally ill, federal investigators say in a new report. The extra cost to Medicare was put at more than $260 million a year. “Many hospices have been billing far more than they should have,” said Nancy T. Harrison, a deputy regional inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services who led the investigation. (Pear, 4/2)

The New York Times: Finding The Best Addiction Treatment, With Hired Help
Treatment for drug and alcohol addictions is incredibly expensive, often rising to tens of thousands of dollars a month for residential treatment. And even people who have good insurance that will pay for such programs often face limits on how much that insurance will cover. Yet people like the Frawleys, who could afford treatment for their daughter, still face the issue of finding the right treatment. That is where a small group of people have stepped up as consultants to guide families through the many options for treatment. (Sullivan, 4/1)

NPR: How A Painkiller Designed To Deter Abuse Helped Spark An HIV Outbreak
When Kevin Polly first started abusing Opana ER, a potent prescription opioid painkiller, he took pills — or fractions of pills — and crushed them into a fine powder, then snorted it. But the drug's manufacturer, Endo Pharmaceuticals, reformulated Opana in 2012. The new pills featured a coating that was intended to make them more difficult to abuse by crushing them into powder or dissolving them. Polly discovered he could no longer snort the medicine in the pill, to which he had become addicted. But he and other Opana users soon found a way to remove the drug's hard coating and receive Opana's powerful dose all at once: injection. He says he never anticipated what would happen next. In early 2015, Polly tested positive for HIV. (Dreisbach, 4/1)

USA Today/The Tennessean: Opioid Abuse Has Death Grip On Tennessee
For many of the millions of Americans caught in the growing scourge of opioid abuse, the outcome is far worse. And few places have been hit harder than Tennessee. The state said at least 1,263 Tennesseans died from opioid overdose in 2014, the most recent figure available and one that points to rampant abuse, misuse and addiction impacting millions of Tennesseans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, 47,055 people died, up 6.5% from 2013. For every one person who dies there are 851 people in various stages of misuse, abuse and treatment, according to the CDC. That's at least 1,074,813 Tennesseans, or 1 in 6. More people died in 2014 from opioid overdose than in car accidents in Tennessee. (Fletcher, 4/3)

The Washington Post: In Maryland, New Efforts To Fight Drug Addiction Are Taking Shape
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the Democratic-controlled legislature are weighing options for tackling the fast-growing heroin epidemic that has taken root across the state and throughout the country. Many of the solutions focus on loosening criminal penalties for drug offenses and shifting more money — including the potential prison savings — to treatment and rehabilitation programs. (Hicks, 4/3)

The Associated Press: Trump Now Says Abortion Laws Should Be Left As Is
Donald Trump now says abortion laws should not be changed. It's a pendulum swing for the Republican presidential contender on an issue that's caused him grief since he said earlier in the week there should be "some form of punishment" for women who get abortions if the procedure is outlawed. Now he's shifted anew, in a "Face The Nation" interview being broadcast Sunday. In an excerpt broadcast Friday on "CBS Evening News," Trump said about abortion: "The laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way." He declined several times to say whether he thinks abortion is murder. "I have my opinions on it, but I'd rather not comment on it," he said. Asked if he disagrees with those who consider the procedure to be murder, he said, "No, I don't disagree with it." (4/2)

The Washington Post: Donald Trump On Abortions: ‘I Would Have Rather Answered It In A Different Manner’
Donald Trump has come under fire for just about every answer he gave on abortion in the past week. On Sunday, Trump expressed regret for his initial remarks about punishing women who receive abortions if the procedure were banned, and he said he corrected his statements so that his view is "acceptable to everybody." ... On "Fox News Sunday," Trump said he was answering a "hypothetical" question. "I said the woman because it was asked hypothetically," Trump said. "I also corrected it, and I made it very much so that I think -- everybody -- it's acceptable now for everybody." (Lee, 4/3)

The Washington Post: Donald Trump Took 5 Different Positions On Abortion In 3 Days
You can see the exact moment last week that Donald Trump made up his mind on whether women would face criminal punishment once he signed new restrictions into law. He is at a town hall with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and, after Matthews badgers him for a while, he finally answers the question. “The answer is ... that,” Trump says, eyes looking to the side in thought, “there has to be some form of punishment.” He punctuates “has” with a hand gesture. Done. Final. But as it turns out — and as it has turned out repeatedly over the course of his life — that was not, in fact, Trump’s final position on the subject. (Bump, 4/3)

The Associated Press: Clinton, Sanders Had Opposing Views On Biomedical Research
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were on opposing sides of certain types of biomedical research while they served in Congress, differences that have gained notice by scientists and advocates on the forefront of stem cell research. Clinton has pointed to her advocacy for groundbreaking medical research, from her push for more dollars as a New York senator for the National Institutes of Health to her long support for stem cell research that could eventually lead to regenerative medicine. Sanders, a Vermont senator, has supported stem cell research in the Senate. But advocates within the scientific community cite his voting record in the early 2000s in the House when he repeatedly supported a ban on all forms of human cloning, including one called therapeutic cloning intended to create customized cells to treat disease. (4/2)

The Associated Press: Doctors Applaud End Of Tennessee's Fetal Assault Law
Brittany Hudson was pregnant, addicted to painkillers and afraid of a Tennessee law that calls for the arrest of mothers of drug-dependent babies. She eventually gave birth without medical help, on the side of a road in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Hudson's dilemma, doctors say, was one of many unintended consequences of the Tennessee Legislature's decision in 2014 to become the first and only state with an explicit criminal offense for these addicted mothers. (4/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Protesters Rally Against Poland’s Proposed Ban On Abortions
Thousands protested on Sunday against the Polish government after the ruling party’s powerful leader and the country’s prime minister said they backed a complete ban on abortion advocated by the Catholic Church. ... The proposed move would end a status quo reached in the 1990s under which abortion is allowed in three cases -- when the pregnancy is the result of a crime like rape or incest, when it puts the health of the mother at risk, and when the fetus is terminally ill or has a severe disability. (Sobczyk, 4/3)

The Associated Press: Poles Protest Possibility Of Total Ban On Abortion
The rallies in Warsaw and other cities were held under the slogan "No to the torture of women" and came as the influential Roman Catholic Church launched a campaign for a total ban on abortion, something supported by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Protesters say a total ban would lead to women dying or force them to travel to other countries for abortions. In Warsaw they strung up coat hangers, a symbol of primitive underground abortions. (4/3)

The New York Times: Dashing Hopes, Study Shows A Cholesterol Drug Had No Effect On Heart Health
It is a drug that reduces levels of LDL cholesterol, the dangerous kind, as much as statins do. And it more than doubles levels of HDL cholesterol, the good kind, which is linked to protection from heart disease. As a result, heart experts had high hopes for it as an alternative for the many patients who cannot or will not take statins. But these specialists were stunned by the results of a study of 12,000 patients, announced on Sunday at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting: There was no benefit from taking the drug, evacetrapib. (Kolata, 4/3)

The Washington Post: Statin Intolerance Is Real, Researchers Find. Another (More Costly) Drug May Get Around The Problem.
Statins like Lipitor and its generics have revolutionized cardiovascular care for nearly two decades as an effective, inexpensive way to reduce LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. Not everyone can take them, though; a significant number of people complain of muscle pain, weakness and cramping so severe that they discontinue the therapy even at the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Their resistance to the medication has been controversial, because in most cases there are no biomarkers for the muscle problems individuals describe. (Bernstein, 4/3)

The New York Times: A Valeant Boo-Boo May Portend Bigger Errors
In the five months since Valeant’s board established a committee to examine the company’s accounting practices, it has turned up one $58 million error. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, the besieged drug company, had made a mistake in booking $58 million in sales in 2014 to Philidor Rx Services, a specialty pharmacy the company used to sell its drugs. Those sales should have been recorded later, when the drugs were actually dispensed to patients, the committee said. A $58 million boo-boo is no biggie for Valeant, which reported over $8 billion in sales in 2014. Still, the question lingers: Will other accounting flaws emerge? (Morgenson, 4/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Regeneron’s Blockbuster Dreams Get Brighter
After a rough start to the year, fresh clinical data gave Regeneron Pharmaceuticals shareholders some much-needed relief. Regeneron’s stock surged 12% on Friday after the company announced strong phase 3 clinical results for dupilumab, its experimental treatment for atopic dermatitis. Regeneron is developing the drug with the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi. (Grant, 4/3)

The New York Times: In Miami, Facing Risk Of Zika With Resolve But Limited Resources
Summer is coming, and the Aedes aegypti will soon be buzzing around its usual haunts in the United States — mostly in the South and Southwest. But it is already here in South Florida, hatching from kiddie pools and rain-catching flowerpots, recycling containers and bottle caps. Scientists do not believe that the United States will have a runaway Zika epidemic, but most agree that mosquitoes here will eventually acquire it and that they could start infecting people, leading to local flare-ups. (Tavernise, 4/1)

The Associated Press: New Push To Keep Seniors In Home, Community-Based Programs
The federal government is pushing states to keep more low-income seniors out of institutions and, instead, enroll them in home-and community-based programs. The shift comes as demand for long-term care is rising. By 2050, the number of seniors older than 85 is expected to triple to more than 18 million. These seniors tend to have the highest disability rate and greatest need for long-term care. (4/4)

The Associated Press: Right-To-Die Group Comes Up With New, Cheaper Medication
Right-to-die advocates in Washington state have created a cheaper alternative mixture of medications to help terminally ill patients legally end their lives after a drug company abruptly hiked the price of a drug commonly used for the purpose. Doctors with the End of Life Washington advocacy group concocted the alternative for about $500, after Valeant Pharmaceuticals International of Quebec acquired the drug and jacked up the price to about $3,000, The Seattle Times reported. (4/3)

NPR: Kids' Grades Can Suffer When Mom Or Dad Are Depressed
When parents suffer depression, there can be a ripple effect on children. Kids may become anxious, even sad. There may be behavior problems. Health may suffer. Recently, a large Swedish study showed that grades may decline, too, when a parent is depressed. Using data from 1984 to 1994, researchers from Philadelphia's Dornsife School of Public Health, at Drexel University, measured school grades for more than 1.1 million children in Sweden and compared them with their parents' mental health status. The study was published in a February issue of JAMA Psychiatry. (Neighmond, 4/4)

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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