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KHN First Edition: April 14, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Political Gridlock Blocks Missouri Database For Fighting Drug Abuse
Side Effects Public Media's Bram Sable-Smith, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "In the battle against America's surging opioid drug addiction, 49 states, the District of Columbia and even Guam have all implemented some kind of [prescription drug monitoring program]. Missouri is the only state that hasn't. A protracted political battle has kept the state from passing a law to establish one. That leaves pharmacists with few options. [They] can only check the prescription history of patients on Medicaid, which tracks such data. But when a patient pays cash there is no record to check leaving pharmacists to guess whether the patient is in genuine pain, feeding an addiction or maybe looking for pills to sell." (Sable-Smith, 4/14)

The New York Times: Zika Virus Causes Birth Defects, Health Officials Confirm
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that there was now enough evidence to definitively say that the Zika virus could cause unusually small heads and brain damage in infants born to infected mothers. The conclusion should settle months of debate about the connection between the infection and these birth defects, called microcephaly, as well as other neurological abnormalities, the officials said. (Belluck and McNeil, 4/13)

NPR: Zika Virus Can Cause Brain Defects In Babies, CDC Confirms
The study marks a turning point in the current Zika outbreak, says Dr. Tom Frieden, chief of the CDC. "There's still a lot that we don't know, he says. "But there is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly." A causal link between the bite of a mosquito and brain malformations is unprecedented, he says. "And it is because this was so unprecedented that we have until now waited to say that we have concluded that there is a causal link." (Bichell, 4/13)

Reuters: Confirmation That Zika Causes Microcephaly Shifts Debate To Prevention
The announcement comes at a critical time for the Obama Administration, which has been urging the Republican-controlled Congress to grant nearly $1.9 billion in emergency funds to fight the virus, which is already affecting Puerto Rico and is expected to hit parts of the United States with the coming of mosquito-friendly warmer weather. (Steenhuysen, Berkrot, Cornwell and Gardner, 4/13)

The Washington Post: CDC Confirms Zika Virus Causes Microcephaly, Other Birth Defects
"We do know that a lot of people aren't concerned about Zika infection in the United States, and they don't know a lot about it," said Sonja Rasmussen, director of CDC's division of public health information. "It's my hope that we can be more convincing that Zika does cause these severe birth defects in babies and hope that people will focus on prevention more carefully." The research is likely to help scientists developing a vaccine for Zika, she said. (Sun, 4/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Regulators Propose Banning Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes For At Least Two Years
Federal health regulators have proposed banning Theranos Inc. founder Elizabeth Holmes from the blood-testing business for at least two years after concluding that the company failed to fix what regulators have called major problems at its laboratory in California. In a letter dated March 18, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it plans to revoke the California lab’s federal license and prohibit its owners, including Ms. Holmes and Theranos’s president, Sunny Balwani, from owning or running any other lab for at least two years. That would include the company’s only other lab, located in Arizona. (Carreyrou and Weaver, 4/13)

The New York Times: Theranos Under Fire As U.S. Threatens Crippling Sanctions
Federal regulators have threatened a series of stiff sanctions against Theranos, the embattled blood-testing company, including closing down its flagship laboratory and potentially barring its chief executive from owning or operating its labs for two years. The sanctions, which have not been made final, were included in a strongly worded letter from officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It is the latest blow to the credibility of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, its chief executive, who seemingly became a self-made billionaire by promising to upend the clinical testing industry. (Abelson and Pollack, 4/13)

The Los Angeles Times: Federal Health Regulators Seek To Revoke License Of Theranos Blood-Testing Lab
Theranos has responded to the letter and is waiting for the agency to finish reviewing the privately held company's proposed solutions, Theranos spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said. In the meantime, "CMS has not imposed any sanctions on Theranos or its executives," and the sanctions proposed by the agency in its letter were "the worst-case scenario," Buchanan said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to comment, noting that the letter was not intended to be made public. (Peltz, 4/13)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Drug Spending Climbs
Total spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. rose 12.2% to nearly $425 billion in 2015, continuing a steep climb fueled by the introduction in recent years of expensive new drugs for cancer and infections, as well as price hikes for older drugs, according to a new report. The spending growth rate decelerated from the 14.2% rise in 2014, partly because of patent expirations for certain drugs, but the growth was still well above the average for the past decade, according to a research arm of IMS Health that produces the annual report on spending. The figures are based on pharmaceutical list prices. (Loftus, 4/14)

The Associated Press: Report: US Medicine Spending Up 8.5 Percent 2015
The report comes amid growing criticism of unaffordable drug prices from patients, doctors, insurers, Congress and presidential candidates, who have pledged to rein in drug prices. Insurers have been trying to limit prices, demanding bigger discounts to cover many drugs, but have less clout on drugs with little or no competition. Drug spending keeps growing due to factors including rising prices, fewer blockbuster drugs getting new generic competition and a 10 percent jump last year in the number of prescriptions filled, to nearly 4.4 billion. In prior years, total prescriptions dispensed edged up about 2 percent. (4/14)

The Associated Press: Valeant CEO Agrees To Be Deposed In Senate Drug Price Probe
The chief executive of embattled Valeant Pharmaceuticals, J. Michael Pearson, has agreed to be deposed by a Senate committee investigating the causes of soaring prescription medicine prices. Meanwhile, the Canadian drugmaker has received a notice of default from some bond holders because it hasn't filed a financial report due in March. That's been delayed by a review of company accounting practices, which found Valeant prematurely reported $58 million in sales in 2014 to its former partner, mail-order pharmacy Philidor. Valeant now is revising earlier financial statements related to that. (4/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant CEO Pearson Agrees To Senate Deposition
Wednesday, the committee said the contempt procedures would be postponed, pending his deposition with the committee. The deposition is scheduled for Monday, April 18 and the hearing is scheduled for April 27. “Following discussions between the committee’s staff and his lawyers, Mr. Pearson looks forward to testifying at a deposition and the hearing,” a spokesman for Mr. Pearson said in a statement. (Hufford, 4/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Health Officials Call For Less Aggressive Treatment Of Pain
In a sign of growing alarm about painkiller addiction, a group of U.S. state health officials, doctors and consumer advocates is calling for a stricter approach to treating pain in hospitals and clinics. The group of 60, including senior health officials from Pennsylvania, Vermont, Alaska and Rhode Island, is recommending new guidelines for pain treatment, saying current standards are too aggressive and contribute to overuse of addictive painkillers. (Whalen, 4/13)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: People May Be Warming Up To Health Reform — But Not To ‘Obamacare’
A new study finds that although the public remains stubbornly split on the Affordable Care Act, a slight shift may be occurring beneath the surface — with a growing minority of people coming around to the opinion that the law is having a real impact on access to health care. To be clear, the analysis is based on two-year-old data, and it shows more people are opposed to the law (45.6 percent) than in favor of it (36.2 percent). It also shows that most Americans — albeit a shrinking majority — still think the law has had "no/little impact" on any of the following: increased access to health care, insurance coverage for young adults, assistance for drugs to seniors or insurance subsidies. (Johnson, 4/13)

The Los Angeles Times: California Effort Is Underway To Allow Undocumented Immigrants To Buy Healthcare Coverage
California would be the first state in the nation to ask the federal government to allow immigrants in the country illegally to purchase health insurance through a state exchange under new proposed legislation. Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) authored a bill that would have the state formally request the federal government to give permission for immigrants to pay for coverage through Covered California without cost to the state or federal government. (McGreevy, 4/14)

NPR: Why It's Getting Harder To Decide When To Treat High Blood Pressure
Are you ready for some more uncertainty about blood pressure treatment? Decisions about blood pressure have gotten more difficult over the past couple of years as experts in the U.S. have failed to reach consensus on recommendations about when drug therapy should be started. Now there's new evidence that could make the decisions even more challenging. (Krumholz, 4/13)

NPR: Technology Helps A Paralyzed Man Transform Thought Into Movement
Ian Burkhart, now 24, was paralyzed in 2010 after diving into a wave in shallow water. The accident left him with some arm movement but no use of his hands. Then, about two years ago, scientists in Ohio equipped Burkhart with a system that allowed him to control his right wrist and hand with his thoughts. "The first time moving my hand — that was really just like that flicker of hope," Burkhart told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday. The briefing was held to publicize a study in this week's issue of Nature, which describes Burkhart's progress since he started using the system. (Hamilton, 4/13)

The Associated Press: EPA: No Changes To Federal Lead Water Rule Until Next Year
The Environmental Protection Agency’s top water regulator said Wednesday that officials are working urgently to strengthen a federal rule limiting lead and copper in drinking water — a key focus in the ongoing lead-contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. But Joel Beauvais, acting chief of the EPA’s water office, said proposed changes will not be released until next year, with a final rule expected months after that. (Daly, 4/13)

NPR: Chicago's Upgrades To Aging Water Lines May Disturb Lead Pipes
Chicago's North Broadway Street is always bustling, but in the past few weeks, it has been noisier than ever. There is water flowing from an open fire hydrant, and as traffic inches by, a cement truck backs up and pours concrete down into a big hole in the street. ... It's part of the city's sweeping plan to update and replace miles of the city's aging water lines that was announced four years ago. But while there has been praise about the long overdue new infrastructure, there has also been criticism — and a lawsuit from residents who say the city's work is causing unsafe lead levels in the city's drinking water. (Corley, 4/14)

The New York Times: Flophouse Operator Is Arrested In A Scheme To Defraud Medicaid
An operator of flophouses catering to addicts, who was the subject of an investigation last year by The New York Times, was arrested on Wednesday on money laundering and Medicaid fraud charges. Investigators from the New York State attorney general’s office took the landlord, Yury Baumblit, and his wife, Rimma, who helped him run his business, into custody at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday at their Brooklyn home, a block from Brighton Beach. The couple were arraigned in the afternoon in Kings County Criminal Court on felony charges of second-degree grand larceny, second-degree money laundering and violations of a law prohibiting Medicaid kickbacks. (Barker, 4/13)

The Associated Press: Jury Convicts Texas Doctor in Biggest Home Health Care Fraud
A jury on Wednesday convicted a Dallas-area doctor of fraud for allegedly "selling his signature" to process almost $375 million in false Medicare and Medicaid claims in what investigators called the biggest home health care fraud case in the history of both programs. A federal jury deliberated for 14 hours over two days before finding Dr. Jacques Roy, 58, of Rockwall, Texas, guilty of eight counts of committing health care fraud, one of conspiracy, two of making a false statement and one of obstructing justice. (4/13)

The Washington Post: Judge Sentences Potomac, Md., Doctor To Nine Years In Prison
A Maryland judge sentenced a Potomac doctor to nine years in prison for his role in a $3.1 million health-care fraud. Paramjit Singh Ajrawat, 60, was charged with counts including health-care fraud, wire fraud and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow. He was also ordered to pay $3.1 million in restitution. (Hedgpeth, 4/13)

The Associated Press: Oklahoma Ex-Dentist Admits To Money Laundering In Plea Deal
A former Oklahoma oral surgeon whose filthy clinics led to thousands of patients being tested for HIV and hepatitis pleaded guilty to money laundering Wednesday tied to allegations that he deposited at least $15,000 of fraudulent Medicaid billings into a personal account. Wayne Scott Harrington, who had previously pleaded not guilty to the same charge, could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 at a sentencing hearing scheduled for July 14. Harrington also agreed to pay nearly $30,000 in restitution. (4/13)

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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