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KHN First Edition: April 28, 2016

KHN

First Edition

Thursday, April 28, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Democrats Increasingly Want Expansion Of Health Law, Poll Finds
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "When Democrats fault the Affordable Care Act, it’s increasingly because it does not go far enough, a poll released Thursday shows. The results come as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has repeatedly derided the law for including too many concessions to the private health care industry and costing consumers too much. The Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 51 percent of Democrats want to expand the law, a 15 point increase since December. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)" (Rau, 4/28)

Kaiser Health News: Counterfeit Opioid Poisonings Spread To Bay Area
Barbara Feder Ostrov, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "An outbreak of poisonings linked to a counterfeit prescription painkiller -- previously seen in the Sacramento region -- has reached the Bay Area, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC reported Tuesday that seven patients were treated for overdoses in Bay Area hospitals in late March and early April after taking what they thought were tablets of Norco, a brand-name painkiller that combines acetaminophen and hydrocodone." (Feder Ostrov, 4/28)

Reuters: Ryan Wants To End Obamacare Cost Protections For Sick Consumers
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan called on Wednesday for an end to Obamacare's financial protections for people with serious medical conditions, saying these consumers should be placed in state high-risk pools. In election-year remarks that could shed light on an expected Republican healthcare alternative, Ryan said existing federal policy that prevents insurers from charging sick people higher rates for health coverage has raised costs for healthy consumers while undermining choice and competition. (4/27)

The Associated Press: Significant Premium Hikes Expected Under Obama Health Law
Expect insurers to seek significant premium increases under President Barack Obama’s health care law, in a wave of state-level requests rippling across the country ahead of the political conventions this summer. Insurers say the law’s coverage has been a financial drain for many of them, and they’re setting the stage for 2017 hikes that in some cases could reach well into the double digits. For example in Virginia, a state that reports early, nine insurers returning to the HealthCare.gov marketplace are seeking average premium increases that range from 9.4 percent to 37.1 percent. Those initial estimates filed with the state may change. (Alonso-Zaldivar and Murphy, 4/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem’s Affordable Care Act Enrollments Grew More Than Expected
Anthem Inc. said its enrollment through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges grew more than expected in the first months of the year. The company said it is still targeting a slim positive margin on the business this year, striking a guardedly optimistic tone about the marketplaces amid questions about their sustainability. The No. 2 U.S. health insurer said it had 975,000 exchange enrollees at the end of the first quarter, up by around 184,000 since the end of the year. The increase drew sharp questions from analysts after UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s recent announcement that it would withdraw from all but a handful of the exchanges after steepening losses. (Wilde Mathews and Steele, 4/27)

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Blast Valeant For Price-Gouging Tactics
Lawmakers accused Valeant Pharmaceuticals of gouging patients to reward Wall Street investors during a hearing Wednesday scrutinizing the embattled drugmaker's pricing tactics. The blistering criticisms from Senate Republicans and Democrats came as Valeant's outgoing CEO expressed regrets for the most egregious price increases and a billionaire hedge fund investor defended the company's business model. (4/27)

The New York Times: Valeant Chief Says It Made Mistakes On Aggressive Drug Pricing
The chief executive of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, which has been harshly criticized for its practice of raising prices on old drugs, said during a tense hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that the company had made “mistakes,” while lawmakers accused him and others connected to Valeant of favoring profits over patients’ needs. “Let me state plainly that it was a mistake to pursue, and in hindsight I regret pursuing, transactions where a central premise was a planned increase in the prices of the medicines,” J. Michael Pearson, the chief executive, said at the hearing. (Thomas, 4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant’s Michael Pearson Admits Aggressive Drug-Price Increases Were A Mistake
Michael Pearson, who oversaw the rise and fall of Valeant, told the committee that Valeant’s strategy of buying and increasing prices on many drugs was a mistake. The testimony, under sharp questioning, highlighted Valeant’s stark fall from Wall Street darling to Washington punching bag, and showed how much it has at stake. Its stock is​down more than 85% from its high last August, closing at $34.92 on Wednesday. Shares were up about 2.5% in after-hours trading. (Hoffman and Rapoport, 4/27)

Reuters: Ackman, Valeant Pledge Reforms After Spiking Drug Prices
Activist investor William Ackman promised U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that he will urge the board of Valeant Pharmaceuticals to reduce the high prices of four life-saving drugs that are now at the heart of two congressional probes. Speaking before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Ackman revealed that Valeant's board will hold a conference call on Thursday to discuss the costs of heart medications Isuprel and Nitropress, as well as Cuprimine and Syprine, two drugs that are used to treat a genetic disorder that causes copper to build up in the body's organs. (Lynch and Berkrot, 4/27)

USA Today: Senate Told Valeant Drug Price Hikes Hurt Patients
Berna Heyman told a Senate committee Wednesday that her annual co-payment for a lifesaving drug needed to treat an ailment known as Wilson disease stayed below $700, a manageable cost, until 2013. That's when Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (VRX), an embattled Canada-based drugmaker, raised the price on Heyman's medication, said the retired Virginia librarian. By 2014, her projected co-pay topped $10,000 a year, with her health insurer paying more than $260,000, she said. (McCoy, 4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Pharmaceuticals To Make Sweeping Changes To Board
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. is planning sweeping changes to its board of directors as it moves to set a new tone at the top of a company under fire from politicians and investors for its management and drug-pricing practices. The drugmaker is expected to announce as early as Friday that five of its long-standing directors have agreed to step down to make room for new nominees, according to people familiar with the matter. Four new directors are lined up to join the board, the people said. Their names couldn’t be learned, but they draw heavily from traditional pharmaceutical companies, the people said—a sign that Valeant is looking for credibility from an industry it has long criticized as bloated, slow-moving and wasteful. (McNish, Hoffman and Benoit, 4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Discloses Pay For New CEO
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., which came under fire after it raised dramatically drug prices, on Wednesday disclosed a multimillion-dollar pay package for its new chief executive. Under the terms of the contract, Joseph C. Papa, the chief executive of rival Perrigo Co. who is slated to take over as Valeant’s chairman and CEO next month, will receive a $1.5 million annual salary. But the 60-year-old stands to make much more thanks to restricted stock awards that would vest if Valeant’s stock reaches certain thresholds. (Armental, 4/27)

The Associated Press: GSK Sees Rise In Sales Of Vaccines, Healthcare Products
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline says higher sales of vaccines and consumer healthcare products pushed up its earnings from core business by 19 percent in the first quarter. Core operating profit, which excludes taxes, one-time items and restructuring costs, rose to 1.56 billion pounds ($2.28 billion) from 1.31 billion pounds in the same quarter a year earlier. (4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: GlaxoSmithKline Posts Healthy Profit With Earnings Rise
GlaxoSmithKline PLC said core earnings rose in the first quarter of the year, in an early sign the company is returning to growth after two years of falling profits. The British drugs giant’s transition to a lower-margin business following a $20 billion asset swap with Novartis AG, combined with falling sales of blockbuster respiratory drug Advair, have taken a toll on the company’s earnings growth recently. But now that Glaxo’s integration of the businesses it acquired from Novartis is well under way, its prospects are brightening. (Roland, 4/27)

Reuters: GSK Finds Axing Doctor Payments Needn't Torpedo Sales
It has been one of the pharmaceutical industry's most closely watched experiments: does ending payments to doctors undermine drug sales GlaxoSmithKline, the British drugmaker, believes it has proved that raising the ethical bar on marketing practices doesn't necessarily reduce competitiveness. Chief Executive Andrew Witty said better-than-expected first quarter results on Wednesday coincided with a period where the entire group had operated under a new policy that bans payments to doctors who speak on behalf of GSK. (Hirschler, 4/27)

The Associated Press: Pfizer Agrees To $785M Settlement In Drug Discount Case
Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $785 million to resolve allegations that one of its companies failed to give Medicaid the same discounts it provided to private purchasers of a heartburn treatment, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday. The tentative deal that resolves allegations filed by two whistleblowers was first announced in February, but final approval was announced Wednesday by the U.S. attorney's office in Boston. (4/27)

Reuters: Sanofi Offers $9.3 Billion For U.S. Cancer Drug Firm Medivation
French drugmaker Sanofi went public with a $9.3 billion offer to buy Medivation on Thursday after the U.S. cancer drug firm rebuffed its approaches. The decision to target Medivation marks a return to the biotech takeover trail by Sanofi, which is looking to new cancer treatments to bolster its portfolio and help offset declining sales of its mainstay diabetes drug Lantus. (4/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Sanofi Makes $9.3 Billion Bid For Medivation
Sanofi SA on Thursday said it has made an all-cash offer to acquire Medivation Inc. in a deal valued at $9.3 billion, the French drugmaker’s latest effort to expand its cancer-treatment business. Sanofi decided to go public with its takeover approach after the U.S. company failed to respond to its earlier advances. Sanofi shares fell 1.1% in early trading Thursday. Chief Executive Olivier Brandicourt said the $52.50 a share offer—a 50% premium to Medivation’s average share price for the two months before takeover speculation emerged—was “very attractive.” (Kostov, 4/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Cystic Fibrosis Drug Disappoints
Sales of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s expensive new cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi fell shy of analysts’ expectations in the first quarter, as 15% of patients stopped taking the drug within three months because of its side effects, the company said. Orkambi had sales of $223 million in the quarter, compared with $259.4 million projected by analysts, according to FactSet. On Wednesday, the company projected full-year 2016 Orkambi sales of $1 billion to $1.1 billion, versus $1.23 billion expected by analysts. As recently as Feb. 29, analysts had projected Orkambi first-quarter sales of $278 million. (Walker, 4/27)

The Associated Press: Obama Wants $1.9B To Fight Zika: Where Does Its Stand?
President Barack Obama's $1.9 billion request for emergency money to combat the Zika virus has been sitting before Congress for more than two months, and there's no obvious path forward despite a growing threat in the hot summer months and increasing public anxiety. The administration has already transferred almost $600 million of unused Ebola funds and other money to fight Zika in the near term, but it says more is urgently needed to control the mosquitoes that spread the virus, manufacture vaccines once they are developed, and produce more accurate testing for the virus. (4/28)

The Associated Press: House Panel Approves Bipartisan Drug-Abuse Legislation
The House Judiciary Committee took an election-year swipe Wednesday at the nation's growing drug addiction problem, approving federal grants that would bolster state and local efforts against the abuse of opioid painkillers. The bipartisan measure sailed through the Judiciary panel by voice vote. Its easy approval contrasted with recent clashes between the two parties over President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and administration efforts to win quick emergency spending to combat the zika virus and fix the lead-poisoned water supply of Flint, Michigan. (4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Addiction Treatment Centers Struggle To Attract Workers
Recovery centers around the U.S. say they have long struggled to attract and retain workers, given the low pay, the stigma attached to addiction, and the high burnout from dealing with difficult patients. Many counselors leave the field after only a few years. Yet clinics now must not only replace those workers, but fill an expected surge of new positions in the coming years to meet rising demand for addiction treatment. The jobs range from psychiatrists to licensed addiction counselors to house aides who monitor patients. (Campo-Flores, 4/27)

Politico: Politico Pro Q&A: How Andy Slavitt Plans To Win Doctors' Hearts And Minds Again
Andy Slavitt knows the Obama administration has lost doctors' hearts and minds. But the CMS acting administrator thinks the new physician payment system unveiled on Wednesday is the first step to winning them back, he told POLITICO in an exclusive interview. Appearing on the debut episode of POLITICO's "Pulse Check" podcast, Slavitt said that the new payment system, MACRA, is intended to make amends for the electronic health records Meaningful Use program and other onerous reporting requirements that have left doctors feeling over-regulated and over-measured. (Diamond, 4/27)

USA Today: Feds Propose Docking Or Rewarding Medicare Doctors For Quality
Federal regulators proposed a rule Wednesday that will adjust hundreds of thousands of physicians' Medicare payments to reward or penalize them based on how healthy they keep their patients. The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services comes a year after Congress passed a law that was known as the "doc fix" bill and prevented a huge cut in Medicare payments. It also authorized HHS to come up with more streamlined ways of paying doctors that emphasize quality over quantity of services. (O'Donnell,, 4/27)

NPR: That Surgery Might Cost You A Lot Less In Another Town
Need knee replacement surgery? It may be worthwhile to head for Tucson. That's because the average price for a knee replacement in the Arizona city is $21,976, about $38,000 less than it would in Sacramento, Calif. That's according to a report issued Wednesday by the Health Care Cost Institute. The report, called the National Chartbook on Health Care Prices, uses claims and payment data from three of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. to analyze how prices for procedures vary from state to state, and city to city. The takeaway? Health care prices are crazy. (Kodjak, 4/27)

USA Today: Huge Health Care Price Differences Even Within Same Area, By State
Huge variations exist in the prices of some of the most common medical procedures across state lines, by according to a report major insurers released Wednesday, but some experts say the data is of little use to consumers who rarely know what they owe until the bills arrive. The insurer-funded Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) won’t disclose which hospitals or doctors are the high-price culprits and instead are releasing how much states' average prices differ from national average. (O'Donnell, 4/27)

Politico: Abortion-Rights Groups Demand Cruz Oust Co-Chair Of 'Pro-Lifers For Cruz'
The leaders of three prominent liberal and pro-abortion rights organizations on Thursday issued a scathing letter to Ted Cruz urging the Texas senator to oust Troy Newman, the co-chair of his Pro-Lifers for Cruz coalition, citing his past incendiary statements and comments on abortion. "While there are a number of coalition members whose records raise serious concerns, Troy Newman’s history of violent rhetoric and harassment toward women’s health providers is truly beyond the pale," wrote Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; Michael Keegan, the president of People For the American Way; and Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. (Gass, 4/28)

The New York Times: Smokers Urged To Switch To E-Cigarettes By British Medical Group
Taking a stance sharply at odds with most American public health officials, a major British medical organization urged smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes, saying they are the best hope in generations for people addicted to tobacco cigarettes to quit. The recommendation, laid out in a report published Thursday by the Royal College of Physicians, summarizes the growing body of science on e-cigarettes and finds that their benefits far outweigh the potential harms. (Tavernise, 4/27)

The Wall Street Journal: U.K. Report Advocates Substituting E-Cigarettes For Tobacco
Among the report’s conclusions are that e-cigarettes aren’t a gateway to smoking tobacco for current nonsmokers and that they likely lead tobacco smokers to try to quit regular cigarettes when they otherwise wouldn’t. “This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the U.K.,” said John Britton, director of the U.K. Center for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, who chaired the panel responsible for the report. (Mickle and Chaudhuri, 4/27)

NPR: A Concussion Can Lead To Sleep Problems That Last For Years
People who sustain a concussion or a more severe traumatic brain injury are likely to have sleep problems that continue for at least a year and a half. A study of 31 patients with this sort of brain injury found that 18 months afterward, they were still getting, on average, an hour more sleep each night than similar healthy people were getting. And despite the extra sleep, 67 percent showed signs of excessive daytime sleepiness. Only 19 percent of healthy people had that problem. (Hamilton, 4/27)

NPR: After Combat Stress, Violence Can Show Up At Home
Stacey Bannerman didn't recognize her husband after he returned from his second tour in Iraq. "The man I had married was not the man that came back from war," she says. Bannerman's husband, a former National Guardsman, had been in combat and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He behaved in ways she had never expected, and one day, he tried to strangle her. (Lawrence, 4/27)

The Associated Press: Tennessee Governor Signs Religious Counseling Bill Into Law
Tennessee's Republican governor said Wednesday that he signed a bill into law that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist's religious or personal beliefs. "As a professional I should have the right to decide if my clients end goals don't match with my beliefs — I should have the right to say somebody else can better serve them," Gov. Bill Haslam said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "Lawyers can do that, doctors can do that. Why would we take this one class of professionals and say you can't do that?" (4/27)


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