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KHN First Edition: April 27, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Three Hospitals Hope To Spark A Reduction In Surgeries By Inexperienced Doctors
Sandra G. Boodman, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "After James Happli of Mosinee, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was referred to a surgeon at a local hospital where he had been treated for lymphoma 28 years earlier. The surgeon told Happli and his wife that although she had never successfully performed a Whipple procedure -- the pancreatic cancer operation widely regarded as among the most difficult in surgery -- she believed she could do it with the help of a second surgeon. But Happli's operation had to be aborted after it proved too difficult. Several months later, the pipe fitter, now 58, traveled to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, 175 miles from his home. His operation, one of 127 Whipples done at Froedtert last year, was performed successfully by chief surgeon Douglas B. Evans." (Boodman, 4/27)

Kaiser Health News: Medi-Cal AIDS Program Is Underfunded, Advocates Say
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: "Andy Martin’s body had rejected another HIV medication, and now his viral load was spiking. Sitting in his living room, Martin told a nurse and a social worker that he’d recently spent three days in the hospital with a high fever. The social worker, Scott Blackburn, told him that if his viral load didn’t drop, he could end up there again. ... The visits to Martin, 61, are part of a Medi-Cal program designed to help HIV and AIDS patients avoid costly hospitalizations and nursing home stays. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health coverage for people with low incomes. In Medi-Cal’s HIV-AIDS program, the state pays for a range of services, including case management, nursing, caregiving, therapy, transportation and home-delivered meals." (Gorman, 4/27)

The Associated Press: Valeant CEO Will Cite ‘Mistakes’ In Price-Hiking Strategy
The outgoing CEO of embattled drugmaker Valeant Pharmaceuticals will tell lawmakers Wednesday that he was “too aggressive” and made mistakes in drastically hiking prices for several critical medicines, according to testimony provided to The Associated Press. J. Michael Pearson will issue the unusual mea culpa on Capitol Hill for the business strategy that made Valeant an industry powerhouse but also triggered a backlash against the Canadian drugmaker. (Perrone, 4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Was Too Aggressive In Raising Drug Prices, CEO Says
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. has made mistakes and been too aggressive in the past in dramatically boosting ​the ​price​ of some of its drugs, the company’s outgoing chief executive is expected to tell a Senate committee Wednesday. Valeant’s drug-price increases have overshadowed its broader work, “and so I recognize that we therefore need to work to regain the confidence of Congress, the public, doctors, and patients,” Michael Pearson, the departing CEO, says in testimony prepared for the Senate Special Committee on Aging. (Rapoport, 4/27)

The New York Times: Drug Prices Keep Rising Despite Intense Criticism
From the campaign trail to the halls of Congress, drug makers have spent much of the last year enduring withering criticism over the rising cost of drugs. It doesn’t seem to be working. In April alone, Johnson & Johnson raised its prices on several top-selling products, including the leukemia drug Imbruvica, the diabetes treatment Invokana, and Xarelto, an anti-clotting drug, according to a research note published last week by an analyst for Leerink, an investment bank. Other major companies that have raised prices this year include Amgen, Gilead and Celgene, the analyst reported. (Thomas, 4/26)

The New York Times: The Complex Math Behind Spiraling Prescription Drug Prices
The soaring cost of prescription drugs has generated outrage among politicians and patients. Some cancer drugs carry price tags of more than $100,000 a year, and health plans are increasingly asking people to shoulder a greater share of the cost. In surveys, Americans regularly cite drug prices as a top health care concern, which may be why presidential candidates keep bringing them up. Congress has jumped into the debate, holding a series of hearings on the issue. But there are no simple answers. (Thomas, 4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Eli Lilly Revenue Boosted By New Drug Sales
Eli Lilly & Co. said revenue rose nearly 5% in its latest quarter as sales of new drugs helped offset declines in some established products, while profit dropped 17% due to higher expenses for research and development and a currency devaluation in Venezuela. The earnings fell short of analysts’ expectations, sending Lilly’s shares down 1.9% to $76.45 in late-morning trading Tuesday. (Loftus and Hufford, 4/26)

Reuters: Express Scripts CEO Aims To Keep Anthem As A Customer
Pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co's top executive said on Tuesday that despite its contract dispute with Anthem Inc over pharmaceutical price cuts Anthem says it is owed, it aims to keep the health insurer as a customer. "We want to make clear that we are confident that we have negotiated in good faith," Express Scripts Chief Executive Officer George Paz said during a conference call with analysts to discuss the company's first-quarter earnings, which were announced Monday evening. (Humer, 4/26)

The Associated Press: Hawaii Bill Bans Discrimination Against Transgender Patients
Insurance companies would not be allowed to discriminate against transgender patients under a bill passed by the Hawaii Legislature. The bill passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives prohibits denying, canceling or limiting coverage based on a person’s gender identity. “That’s something that’s really critical, especially now when you have states around the country moving the other direction, explicitly placing into law the ability to discriminate based on who people perceive themselves to be,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill. (Bussewitz, 4/26)

The Associated Press: Could Marijuana Help Treat Painkiller And Heroin Addiction?
The growing number of patients who claim marijuana helped them drop their painkiller habit has intrigued lawmakers and emboldened advocates, who are pushing for cannabis as a treatment for the abuse of opioids and illegal narcotics like heroin, as well as an alternative to painkillers. It’s a tempting sell in New England, hard hit by the painkiller and heroin crisis, with a problem: There is very little research showing marijuana works as a treatment for the addiction. (Casey, 4/26)

The Washington Post: This New Street Drug Is 10,000 Times More Toxic Than Morphine, And Now It’s Showing Up In Canada And The U.S.
It was first developed in a Canadian lab more than three decades ago, promising and potent — and intended to relieve pain in a less addictive way. Labeled W-18, the synthetic opioid was the most powerful in a series of about 30 compounds concocted at the University of Alberta and patented in the U.S. and Canada in 1984. But no pharmaceutical company would pick it up, so on a shelf the recipe sat, the research chronicled in medical journals but never put to use. The compound was largely forgotten. Then a Chinese chemist found it, and in labs halfway around the world started developing the drug for consumers in search of a cheap and legal high — one experts say is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 stronger than morphine. (Mettler, 4/27)

The Associated Press: 14 People Fatally Overdose On 'Painkiller' In California
Fourteen people in the Sacramento, California, area have fatally overdosed on a pill disguised as a popular painkiller, and now the drug has turned up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bay Area hospitals have treated seven patients who ingested what they thought was the painkiller Norco in recent weeks, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The patients all survived, though at least some experienced nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing. (4/26)

NPR: Plateau But No Decline: Child Obesity Rates Hold Steady
When it comes to reversing the obesity epidemic, there have been glimmers of hope that the U.S. might be making headway, especially with young children. For instance, back in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented declines in obesity rates among low-income preschoolers in many states. And case studies in cities including Kearney, Neb., Vance, N.C., and New York , N.Y., have reported progress, too. (Aubrey, 4/26)

The Washington Post: After Flint Crisis, Senate Democrats Call On Congress To Pay For Lead Testing In U.S. Schools
Twenty-four Senate Democrats are asking their colleagues in Congress to help schools pay for the testing of lead levels in drinking water, calling it an investment to ensure the health and safety of the nation’s children. The move comes in the aftermath of the drinking-water crisis in Flint, Mich., which helped shine a light on a loophole in federal law that exempts many schools from having to test their water for lead contamination. Many schools don’t have the resources for voluntary testing, leaving children vulnerable to the possibility of undetected toxins in the water they drink from school fountains. (Brown, 4/26)

The Washington Post: ‘She Didn’t Know What Else To Do': To Keep Mother In Nursing Home, Accomplished Kentucky Woman Turned To Bank Robbery
Melinda Belleville stood outside a courtroom at Fayette District Court in Lexington, Ky., in 2012, shocked by what had just transpired. It seemed like something off television, a plot similar to that of “Breaking Bad.” One of her closest friends — one to whom she felt like a surrogate mother — was in jail, being held on $30,000 bond. “I could never believe in a million years that she would be involved in something like this,” Belleville told the Herald-Leader. “I want everyone to know this is not Crystal Little.” But it was Crystal Little, the same woman who worked for the University of Kentucky’s Office of Research Integrity, an organization obsessed with rules and guidelines in the pursuit of “support[ing] the institution in promoting ethical conduct of research.” The same woman who served as the primary caretaker for her mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. (Andrews, 4/27)

The Associated Press: NYC Will Triple Intensive-Care Mental Health Units At Rikers
Mayor Bill de Blasio says New York City will triple the number of intensive-care mental health units at its Rikers Island jail complex. The move announced Tuesday is part of the city's overhaul of mental health care for inmates. Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte says the specialized units can improve safety by reducing jail violence. (4/26)

The Associated Press: Police: Former UConn Health Official Forged Prescriptions
The former pharmacy supervisor of the University of Connecticut's Student Health Services faces 173 charges for allegedly forging prescriptions and ordering items through the pharmacy for his personal use. Michael Olzinski was charged last week and is free on $30,000 bond pending a May 2 court appearance. No defense lawyer was listed in online state records. (4/26)

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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