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KHN First Edition: April 18, 2016


First Edition

Monday, April 18, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: EPA Chief McCarthy: Public Health Is What We Do
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "You may not think about public health when you think about the Environmental Protection Agency. But Administrator Gina McCarthy wants you to. There are “challenges to our health and well-being that result from exposures to pollution,” said McCarthy. “While we are called the Environmental Protection Agency, our major role is public health. That is what we do.” The administrator -- who has drawn fire from opponents of stricter air pollution standards as well those who say the agency failed to act quickly enough in Flint, Michigan -- started her career as a local health officer in Canton, Massachusetts. She was nominated to head the EPA in 2013. She’s now part of an Obama administration effort to focus attention on climate change and its potential effects on health, which could include more air pollution, heat-related medical problems and the spread of insects that carry disease." (Appleby, 4/18)

Kaiser Health News: Genetic Counselors Struggle To Keep Up With Huge New Demand
WHYY's Todd Bookman, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Genetic testing can help diagnose a disease and estimate your future risks, based on DNA. It can even help patients and doctors select the best medicines. It came on the scene in the late 1960s and was employed mainly to screen prospective parents and newborns for deadly inherited diseases like Tay-Sachs. ... The sheer number of genetic tests has exploded in the past decade or so. There are now thousands of different testable genetic disorders. In fact, demand for genetic tests has been strong since 2013. ... But the number of genetic counselors, the people who help both doctors and patients make sense of these tests, hasn't expanded enough to keep up with that demand." (Bookman, 4/18)

The New York Times: Immigrants, The Poor And Minorities Gain Sharply Under Health Act
The first full year of the Affordable Care Act brought historic increases in coverage for low-wage workers and others who have long been left out of the health care system, a New York Times analysis has found. Immigrants of all backgrounds — including more than a million legal residents who are not citizens — had the sharpest rise in coverage rates. Hispanics, a coveted group of voters this election year, accounted for nearly a third of the increase in adults with insurance. That was the single largest share of any racial or ethnic group, far greater than their 17 percent share of the population. (Tavernise and Gebeloff, 4/17)

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth To Stop Offering Affordable Care Act Plans In Michigan In 2017
UnitedHealth Group Inc. will stop offering Affordable Care Act plans in Michigan in 2017, marking the third in a growing tally of states where the biggest U.S. insurer will withdraw from the health law’s marketplaces. Andrea Miller, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services, said the insurer planned to pull out of the individual insurance market in the state. Regulators in Arkansas and Georgia earlier said UnitedHealth had informed them it would no longer sell the ACA plans in their states. (Wilde Mathews, 4/15)

The Associated Press: 'Innovation Center' Tries To Reinvent Medicare
They work for the government and even their closest relatives have no idea what they do. It's not because they're spies or nuclear scientists, but because their jobs are so arcane: trying to reinvent Medicare to improve it, and maybe save taxpayers money. In a sprawling, nondescript office park near Baltimore, some 360 people at the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation are trying to change the health care system, using the government's premier insurance program as leverage. (4/18)

The Associated Press: Drug Manufacturer Must Pay $125M In Health Care Fraud Case
A federal judge in Boston has ordered the former pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott to pay $125 million to resolve criminal and civil claims in a health care fraud case. U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV imposed the sentence Friday, six months after the company pleaded guilty in connection with a scheme to illegally promote its drugs. Prosecutors alleged that from 2009 to 2013, employees provided payments, meals and other remuneration to doctors to induce them to prescribe Warner Chilcott's drugs.(4/15)

The Washington Post: Long-Term Survival Rates Double For Melanoma Patients Getting Immunotherapy
More than a third of advanced-melanoma patients who received one of the new immunotherapy drugs in an early trial were alive five years after starting treatment -- double the survival rate typical of the disease, according to a new study. The data, released Sunday at a cancer conference, showed that 34 percent of patients with metastatic melanoma who received Opdivo, an immunotherapy drug also known as nivolumab, have survived. The five-year survival rate for patients with advanced melanoma who got other treatments was 16.6 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the National Cancer Institute. (McGinley, 4/17)

The Washington Post: The Most Unexpected Hospital Billing Development Ever: Refunds
At Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, hospital officials want to keep their customers happy. So when patients are upset about a long wait in the emergency department, or a doctor’s brusque manner, or a meal that never arrived in a room, Geisinger is doing more than apologizing. It’s offering money back on their care, no questions asked. (Sun, 4/15)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: Perinatal Hospice Care Prepares Parents For The End, At Life’s Beginning
The baby who would soon die arrived at 34 weeks, eyes shut, squawking. Her father cut the umbilical cord with a pair of silver scissors. A priest in blue scrubs sprinkled Holy Water on her forehead. A photographer circled the delivery room, capturing her last moments. And Cathleen Warner quietly marveled: My baby is crying. ... This is perinatal hospice, a birth plan that revolves around death. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated diagnostics, families today can confront tragedy with advance notice — and a decision: Should they terminate a pregnancy that cannot sustain life? Or deliver a baby who won’t survive long outside the womb? (Paquette, 4/16)

The Associated Press: As Clinic Access Tightens, Group Touts Pregnancy-Ending Drug
The tightening of restrictions on abortion clinics in many states has emboldened some abortion rights advocates to launch an outreach effort, reminding women they have relatively safe and effective means of ending a pregnancy on their own through use of a miscarriage-inducing drug. Anti-abortion groups are wary of the phenomenon, disavowing any drive to prosecute women who self-abort but favoring crackdowns on illegal distribution of the drug. Even in the abortion rights community, the outreach effort has raised some concerns. (Crary, 4/15)

The Associated Press: Bryant Signs Bill Banning Second-Trimester Abortion Method
Mississippi's governor has signed into law a ban on a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure, setting the state up for a possible legal challenge. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law Friday that outlaws a procedure called "dilation and evacuation" unless it is necessary to prevent a woman's irreversible physical impairment. (4/15)

The New York Times: Bronx Needle Exchange, Once Dismissed, Finds Acceptance
When Joyce A. Rivera decided in 1990 to confront the AIDS epidemic that had claimed her brother’s life, she teamed up with unlikely allies: two drug dealers in the South Bronx. First, she educated them on how dirty needles and unprotected sex spread H.I.V., which causes AIDS. Then, she wound up distributing clean syringes to their customers in Mott Haven. ... Back then, her needle exchange program — St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction — operated on the fringes of an impoverished minority community. The public saw her efforts as enabling drug users who would be better off behind bars. Today, her methods are viewed as part of an effective public health strategy that prevents the spread of disease and offers addicts help. (Gonzalez, 4/17)

The Washington Post: Stronger, Potentially Lethal Heroin Shows Up In Rural Virginia
Authorities in Culpeper County, Va., recorded 11 heroin overdoses in the first 12 days of the month. Then, on Wednesday, three happened in the span of a day. Sheriff Scott H. Jenkins said investigators suspect a stronger-than-normal heroin — or one that is mixed with a synthetic opioid — is to blame. “I ask citizens to be alert to the symptoms of heroin use,” he said in a press release. “If you have friends or family that you suspect may be abusing heroin, or might abuse heroin, talk to them about this dangerous drug on the streets now.” (St. Martin, 4/15)

Los Angeles Times: Deaths From Powerful Opiate Fentanyl Rise In Los Angeles County
There are signs that deaths connected to fentanyl, a powerful painkiller tied to a string of fatal overdoses in Northern California, are on the rise in the Los Angeles area, law enforcement and health officials said this week. The drug, an opiate used on patients after surgery that’s up to 100 times stronger than morphine, is appearing now more than ever in overdoses in California as a prescription drug abuse epidemic evolves nationwide. (Serna, 4/16)

The Associated Press: NYC Listing Of Potentially Violent Mentally Ill Stirs Qualms
When a homeless man was taken for a psychiatric evaluation because he argued with shelter police, doctors found no reason to commit him. Then City Hall stepped in. At the urging of a mayoral aide who cited a new city program to monitor mentally ill people considered potentially violent, the man was involuntarily hospitalized for a week. ... The case crystallizes the unease that has surrounded the NYC Safe program since Mayor Bill de Blasio launched it last summer after some high-profile attacks raised alarm about the mentally ill. The program — apparently unique among American cities — keeps tabs on a roster of people with psychiatric problems and a history of violence, hoping to help them before they reach a breaking point. (Pearson and Peltz, 4/18)

The Associated Press: Pennsylvania Launches 24th US Medical Marijuana Program
Pennsylvania has become the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law Sunday afternoon surrounded by a jubilant crowd of supporters at the Capitol building in Harrisburg. "Marijuana is medicine and it's coming to Pennsylvania," said Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach, the bill's co-sponsor. (4/17)

The Associated Press: Medical Pot Activists Fear Epilepsy Drug Could Undercut Them
An experimental epilepsy drug made from cannabis plants grown in England is complicating the medical marijuana debate in hospitals and statehouses. Epidiolex is a nearly pure extract of cannabidiol, or CBD, with little of the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that gets traditional pot users high. CBD products are the current rage in medicinal pot products, and activists fear that if the maker of Epidiolex manages to get FDA approval it could undercut the political momentum of the medical marijuana movement. (Carr Smythe, 4/17)

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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