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KHN First Edition: May 17, 2016

KHN

First Edition

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Supreme Court Sends Health Law Birth Control Case Back To Lower Courts
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: "When it comes to the issue of religious rights versus no-cost contraception, the only thing the Supreme Court could agree on was not to decide the case. In an unsigned opinion issued Monday, the court sent a series of cases back to a raft of federal appeals courts, with instructions for those courts and the parties in the lawsuits to try harder to work things out. “The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the opinion said." (Rovner, 5/16)

Kaiser Health News: Final EEOC Rule Sets Limits For Financial Incentives On Wellness Programs
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Employer wellness programs can gather medical information from employees and spouses — so long as financial incentives or penalties don’t exceed 30 percent of the annual cost for an individual in the company’s group health plan, according to final rules issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Monday. Although such penalties or incentives could run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the programs are considered voluntary — and therefore legal, the commission said." (Appleby, 5/17)

Kaiser Health News: Insurers Quitting Health Law Exchanges May Still Sell Plans To Individuals
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "An insurer’s decision to stop selling plans on the marketplace doesn’t necessarily mean it will stop selling individual coverage in that state altogether. This year, for example, Aetna stopped selling individual plans on the marketplaces in Kansas, Utah and the District of Columbia. But it continues to sell individual policies outside the marketplaces in Kansas and Utah, said T.J. Crawford, a spokesperson for Aetna. However, it stopped selling off-exchange plans in the District, which requires insurers selling on the individual and small group markets to offer their products on the exchange. A handful of states require insurers to sell similar plans on and off the exchange." (Andrews, 5/17)

The New York Times: Justices, Seeking Compromise, Return Contraception Case To Lower Courts
The Supreme Court, in an unsigned unanimous opinion, announced on Monday that it would not rule in a major case on access to contraception, and instructed lower courts to consider whether a compromise was possible. The opinion is the latest indication that the Supreme Court, which currently has eight members, is exploring every avenue to avoid 4-to-4 deadlocks, even if it does not decide the question the justices have agreed to address. (Liptak, 5/16)

The Associated Press: Supreme Court, Down By One, Finds It Can Be Hard To Decide
The decision averted a 4-4 tie, which would have left different rules in place in different parts of the country concerning the availability of cost-free birth control for women who work for faith-affiliated groups. But the outcome was itself inconclusive and suggested that the justices could not form a majority to issue a significant ruling that would have settled the issue the court took the case to resolve. (5/17)

The Associated Press: 8-Justice Supreme Court Dodges Decision On Birth Control
"The court expresses no view on the merits of the cases," the justices wrote, ending a major confrontation over Obama's health care law with a whimper. The matter almost certainly will not return to the Supreme Court before the 2016 presidential election, and perhaps not until a new justice is confirmed to take Scalia's seat, if at all. (5/16)

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Sends Obamacare Contraception Case Back To Lower Courts
Both sides in the lawsuits had made concessions since the case was argued in March, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in announcing the decision from the bench. A pause will provide an opportunity for them to “arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,” the opinion said. (Barnes, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Sends Birth-Control Case Brought By Religious Employers Back To Lower Courts
“We are all grateful to God and the Supreme Court justices that they…recognize our willingness to reach a resolution that allows us to abide by our faith and the government to achieve its goals,” said the lead case’s plaintiff, the Most Rev. David Zubik, Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh. President Barack Obama said in a Monday interview with BuzzFeed that “the practical effect is, right now, women will still be able to get contraception if they are getting health insurance and we are properly accommodating religious institutions who have objections to contraception.” He again pushed for Senate Republicans to consider his nominee to succeed Justice Scalia, Judge Merrick Garland. (Bravin and Radnofsky, 5/16)

Reuters: White House Says Women's Healthcare Access Not Threatened By Ruling
The White House said on Monday that millions of American women will continue to have access to health insurance that they need, despite the Supreme Court's ruling in a case involving contraception coverage under the Obamacare law. "We were gratified by the ruling today," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "And this announcement does ensure that millions of women across the country can continue to have access to their healthcare. And it is a reflection of something we have long believed: which is that it is possible to prioritize both access to healthcare for everybody while protecting the religious liberty of every American." (Gardner and Heavey, 5/16)

The New York Times: House Challenge To Health Law Could Raise Premiums, Administration Says
Victory for House Republicans in federal court last week could mean significantly higher health insurance premiums for millions of people if the decision is upheld on appeal, the Obama administration said Monday. And much of the cost for those higher premiums could be passed on to the federal government and taxpayers, administration officials and health policy experts said. The ruling by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia would block the administration from reimbursing insurers for discounts provided to millions of low-income people under the Affordable Care Act. Without that money, insurers would have to increase premiums for many people purchasing insurance through the health law’s online marketplaces, the administration said. (Pear, 5/16)

The Washington Post: Most Americans Want To Replace Obamacare With A Single-Payer System — Including A Lot Of Republicans
The politics of Obamacare aren't all that complicated. Republicans have called for the Affordable Care Act to be "repealed and replaced" for years, with only sporadic attempts to articulate what the replacement would be. On the Democratic side, the question that's emerged over the course of the primary is whether or not the program should be expanded and improved (Hillary Clinton's argument) or if we should push for a complete overhaul, moving toward a "single-payer" system like Medicare (Bernie Sanders's argument). In a round of polling conducted this month, Gallup figured out which of those ideas was the most popular. And the result? It's sort of a three-way tie. (Bump, 5/16)

The Associated Press: Senate Likely To Advance $1.1 Billion In Zika Funding
After a three-month delay, the Senate is acting on President Barack Obama's request for money to combat the Zika virus. The Senate is slated to vote Tuesday on three competing plans to battle the virus, with a bipartisan plan that cuts Obama's $1.9 billion request to $1.1 billion having the greatest chance to advance. The procedural vote would pave the way to add funds for the government's response to Zika to an unrelated spending bill. (5/17)

Reuters: U.S. House To Weigh $622.1 Million In New Zika Funding
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try to pass legislation this week providing $622.1 million in funds to fight the spreading Zika virus, far less than the Obama administration has been seeking. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers introduced the measure on Monday, according to a statement. The bill would offset the new spending by taking $352.1 million from an Ebola fund and another $270 million from a Department of Health and Human Services administrative account. (Cowan and Gardner, 5/16)

Reuters: Obama Administration Releases Rules On Wellness Programs
A federal agency on Monday released final rules on how employers can offer workers financial incentives of up to 30 percent of the cost of their cheapest health insurance plans to participate in wellness programs without violating federal laws protecting the confidentiality of medical information. The move from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission aims to clear up confusion over the way two federal laws protecting employees' medical privacy apply to the popular programs, which are designed to control medical spending by reducing obesity, smoking and other risk factors. (Wiessner, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: EEOC Issues New Rules For Wellness Programs
The final rules go into effect in 2017, and apply to all workplace wellness programs, including those that aren’t tied to an employer’s health insurance program, the EEOC said. [Brian] Marcotte of the National Business Group on Health said that the finalized rules vary little from rules the EEOC proposed last year, so they won’t radically change how most companies administer their health programs. “It’s business as usual for most employers,” he says. (Silverman, 5/16)

The New York Times: Pfizer To Acquire Anacor Pharmaceuticals For $5.2 Billion
Pfizer has signed its first acquisition since terminating its $152 billion merger with Allergan about a month ago. Pfizer will acquire Anacor Pharmaceuticals for $5.2 billion, the companies announced Monday. Anacor has developed a product, currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration, known as crisaborole, to treat eczema. The company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., also makes a topical treatment called Kerydin for a form of toenail fungus. (Picker, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer To Buy Anacor For $4.5 Billion
Pfizer Inc. said Monday it would buy Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc. for about $4.5 billion, as it turns to smaller deals after walking away from its scuttled acquisition of Allergan PLC. Pfizer will pay $99.25 a share in cash for Anacor, a 55% premium to Friday’s closing price. The companies said the deal, including debt, is valued at $5.2 billion. Last month, Pfizer and Allergan terminated their planned $150 billion merger after the Obama administration took aim at the deal that would have moved the biggest drug company in the U.S. to Ireland to lower its taxes. Since then, Pfizer has been looking for deals of its own. (Steele and Rockoff, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Outlines Heart Drug Discounts After Heavy Scrutiny
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. said Monday that it would expand discounts for a pair of its heart drugs following heavy scrutiny over its pricing tactics. Under the changes, effective immediately, hospitals are eligible for a rebate of at least 10% but up to 40% based on the volume of drugs bought during a quarter. The program covers cardiac-care drugs Nitropress and Isuprel. (Steele, 5/16)

The New York Times: Man Receives First Penis Transplant In The United States
A man whose penis was removed because of cancer has received the first penis transplant in the United States, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Thomas Manning, 64, a bank courier from Halifax, Mass., underwent the 15-hour transplant operation on May 8 and 9. The organ came from a deceased donor. “I want to go back to being who I was,” Mr. Manning said on Friday. (Grady, 5/16)

The New York Times: American Well Will Allow Telemedicine Patients To Pick Their Doctor
When patients use a telemedicine service offered through their health insurer or employer, they can get modest routine care at any time, without having to go to a doctor’s office or urgent care center. But they usually know very little about the doctor or nurse on the other end of the phone or on the screen. “It’s a blind date,” said John Jesser, an executive with Anthem, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, which offers its customers telehealth services through LiveHealth Online, giving them access to medical care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now American Well, the company behind Anthem’s service, is betting that people would rather choose the doctors or nurses they consult with online, much as they select an urgent care center or a specialist. (Abelson, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Health Diagnostic Laboratory Patients Face Bills Years After Blood Work
Thousands of former patients of Health Diagnostic Laboratory, a Virginia lab that was sold after health regulators accused it of illegally paying doctors for work, have gotten bills for blood work done as far back as 2009 as bankruptcy lawyers try to collect money for the company’s final debts. The Richmond lab’s operations, which tested for cardiovascular diseases like diabetes, were taken over last fall by a competitor. But under the fine print of the sale, the power to collect old bills was kept by lawyers who are properly closing Health Diagnostic Laboratory down. (Stech, 5/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Proton-Beam Therapy For Cancer Gets Renewed Attention
To see the explosive rise of proton-beam therapy, an expensive and controversial cancer treatment, look to the billboards of Belgium. Ion Beam Applications SA, the Belgian company that leads the global market for huge proton-beam machines, is selling so many systems lately that it needs to boost its 1,200-strong workforce by 400 workers. It launched a big recruitment drive across the country this year, featuring radio and newspaper spots along with dozens of billboards and posters. “It was very difficult to escape the IBA campaign,” said Chief Executive Olivier Legrain. (Roland, 5/16)

The Washington Post: Have A Check-Up? Why Your Doctor Might Ask You If You Own A Gun.
A visit to the doctor’s office often comes with the sort of personal questions not asked anywhere else except, perhaps, the depths of an online dating quiz: How many sexual partners do you have? How much booze do you consume in a typical week? Do you smoke? Do you wear a helmet when you ride a bike? Is there a gun in your house? If that last query feels unusually probing, even for a medical exam, there’s good reason. The question is a bone of contention in states like Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott signed a 2011 law aimed at restricting doctors’ inquires about the firearms in their patients’ lives. Doctors who ask about guns, for their part, may fear finding themselves far afield from their comfort zones. (Guarino, 5/17)

The New York Times: Dogs Test Drug Aimed At Humans’ Biggest Killer: Age
Ever since last summer, when Lynn Gemmell’s dog, Bela, was inducted into the trial of a drug that has been shown to significantly lengthen the lives of laboratory mice, she has been the object of intense scrutiny among dog park regulars. ... The drug, rapamycin, which improved heart health and appeared to delay the onset of some diseases in older mice, may not work the same magic in dogs, for another. There is also a chance it could do more harm than good. “This is just to look for side effects, in dogs,” Ms. Gemmell told Bela’s many well-wishers. ... The trial also represents a new frontier in testing a proposition for improving human health: Rather than only seeking treatments for the individual maladies that come with age, we might do better to target the biology that underlies aging itself. (Harmon, 5/16)

Los Angeles Times: Billionaire-Backed Campaign Launched To Raise California’s Tobacco Tax
A coalition of health groups has launched a new campaign to ask voters in November to increase California's tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack, this time enlisting deep-pocket supporters to counter a tobacco industry that blocked several attempts in the past. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who was the nation’s largest individual political donor in 2014, spending $74 million that year, is leading the campaign for the tobacco tax. He has funneled $1 million into collecting signatures to qualify the measure for the Nov. 8 ballot. (McGreevy, 5/17)

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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