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4. Pregnant Women In Houston And Their Doctors Weigh Risks Of Zika

The U.S. Gulf Coast has the right weather conditions and mosquitoes for the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects. But the level of risk is unknown in this country so doctors are advising caution to their patients who are pregnant or trying to have a baby. (Carrie Feibel, Houston Public Media, 4/28)

5. Political Cartoon: 'Keeping Track'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Keeping Track'" by Brian, Greg and Mort Walker.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Getting out of jail
Just first step for ex-inmates
To get Medicaid.

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Summaries Of The News:

Administration News

6. Administration Expands Medicaid To Cover Former Prisoners In Halfway Houses

People who are still incarcerated are not eligible for the program, but there had been questions previously about their eligibility once they moved to a halfway house. The administration also wants correction departments to begin signing up prisoners before they are released to help ease the transition.

USA Today: Feds Expand Medicaid Coverage To Most Of Those In Halfway Houses
Most inmates in halfway houses after release from prison will be eligible for Medicaid benefits under a new federal policy announced Thursday. The change, part of a larger push by the Obama administration to help former inmates or reduce sentences, means nearly 100,000 people in halfway houses in states where they would be eligible for Medicaid should soon have access to health care, mental health and substance abuse treatment. (O'Donnell, 4/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration Takes Steps To Help Former Prisoners Get Medicaid
Community activists have long seen the law’s expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, as an opportunity to secure health care for people leaving prison, where they do receive treatment. It could also prevent them from sharp relapses that could result in costly emergency room admissions. Ex-inmates often have particular needs for HIV, mental health and substance abuse treatment, activists and federal officials agree. But there have been practical obstacles involved in signing people up before they are released, and questions over their eligibility if they are living in halfway houses or on parole. Incarcerated people aren't allowed to be in Medicaid, and states are responsible for their health care instead through the prison health system. (Radnofsky, 4/28)

Kaiser Health News: HHS Acts To Help More Ex-Inmates Get Medicaid
Administration officials moved Thursday to improve low Medicaid enrollment for emerging prisoners, urging states to start signups before release and expanding eligibility to thousands of former inmates in halfway houses near the end of their sentences. Health coverage for ex-inmates “is critical to our goal of reducing recidivism and promoting the public health,” said Richard Frank, assistant secretary for planning for the Department of Health and Human Services. (Hancock, 4/29)

7. Teen Birth Rates Plunge Dramatically, But 'Profound' Racial Disparities Remain, CDC Finds

Hispanic birth rates dropped 51 percent, while those for black teens are down 44 percent, but the white teen birth rate is only half as high.

NPR: Teen Birth Rates Plummet For Hispanic And Black Girls
The nation's falling teen birth rate saw an even bigger drop over the past decade, with dramatic declines among Hispanic and black teens. Birth rates are down a whopping 51 percent among Hispanics age 15 to 19 since 2006, and down 44 percent among black teens, according to a survey of census data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen pregnancy rates among whites also fell by a third. (Ludden, 4/28)

The Associated Press: CDC: Teen Birth Rates Plunge, But Racial Disparities Persist
Birth rates are falling dramatically for black and Hispanic teenagers, but they continue to be much higher than the birth rate for white teens. The Hispanic teen birth rate fell by half over about eight years, and the black teen birth rate dropped nearly that much. But even with those declines, the white teen birth rate is still only half as high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. "Despite this historic progress, profound disparities remain," said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (4/28)

The Washington Post: Teen Birthrate Hits All-Time Low, Led By 50 Percent Decline Among Hispanics And Blacks
Theories on the reasons for the dramatic shift include everything from new approaches to sex education to the widespread availability of broadband Internet. But most experts agree on the two major causes. The first is the most important and may be obvious: Today's teens enjoy better access to contraception and more convenient contraception than their predecessors, and more of them are taking advantage of innovations like long-acting injectable and implantable methods that can last years over a daily birth control pill. But the second cause is something that goes against the conventional wisdom. It's that teens -- despite their portrayal in popular TV and movies as uninhibited and acting only on hormones -- are having less sex. (Cha, 4/28)

The Baltimore Sun: CDC: Pregnancies Among Black, Hispanic Teens Drop Nationally
“The United States has made remarkable progress in reducing both teen pregnancy and racial and ethnic differences, but the reality is, too many American teens are still having babies,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, in a statement. “By better understanding the many factors that contribute to teen pregnancy we can better design, implement, evaluate, and improve prevention interventions and further reduce disparities.” The CDC also reported that research shows the cost to U.S. taxpayers from teen pregnancy and childbirth is estimated at $9 billion a year. To reduce the rates, public health officials have been concentrating on community-level programs. That includes reproductive health services such as contraception. (Cohn, 4/28)

Meanwhile, the rate of teens being taught sex education is also falling —

Kaiser Health News: Even As Birth Rates Fall, Teens Say They Are Getting Less Sex Education
Teenage girls are catching up to teenage boys in one way that does no one any good: lack of sex education, according to a recent report. The proportion of teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 who were taught about birth control methods declined from 70 to 60 percent over two time periods, from 2006-2010 and 2011-2013, the analysis of federal data found. Meanwhile, the percentage of teenage boys in the same age group who were taught about birth control also declined, from 61 to 55 percent. (Andrews, 4/29)


8. Opposition Building On Capitol Hill To HHS Plan To Cut Medicare Payments For Some Drugs

The plan would reduce payments to doctors and hospitals for some outpatient drugs.

The Hill: Medicare Battle Brewing On Capitol Hill
An Obama administration proposal aimed at fighting high drug prices is facing a backlash on Capitol Hill. Republicans say the pilot program that would change how Medicare pays for certain drugs should be scrapped, while congressional Democrats are expressing serious concerns and seeking changes, but generally do not want to terminate it completely. (Sullivan, 4/28)

Modern Healthcare: Senators Want To Halt Change To Medicare Part B Drug Pay
Senate Finance Committee members from both parties told the CMS on Thursday not to go forward with a Medicare Part B initiative to change how hospitals and doctors are reimbursed for outpatient drugs. The CMS announced the mandatory change last month to criticism from some doctors and insurers as well as the pharmaceutical lobby. The five-year pilot program borne out of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation would, starting this year, decrease the percentage of a drug's average sales price paid to providers from 6% to 2.5% while adding a flat payment of $16.80 per drug a day. (Muchmore, 4/28)

And more details are emerging about the government's plan for changing how Medicare pays doctors —

Kaiser Health News: FAQ: Medicare Lays Out Plans For Changing Doctors’ Pay
Federal officials have unveiled their roadmap to a revamped Medicare physician payment system designed to reward doctors and other clinicians for the quality of care delivered, rather than the quantity. The proposed regulation would replace a patchwork of programs that now govern physician payments in Medicaid. It would allow doctors to choose from a new menu of measures and activities that officials said would be tailored to the type of care clinicians provide in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program. (Carey, 4/29)

Modern Healthcare: How Medicare's Payment Overhaul Tries To Change How Docs Use Tech
Medicare's new system for paying physicians will kill off the so-called “meaningful use” regime the government has used for the past five years to judge whether the providers deserve to be rewarded for using electronic health records.But that doesn't mean Medicare will no longer hold physicians accountable for incorporating information technology into

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