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KHN First Edition: May 18, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Critics Of Medicare’s Overall Hospital Star Rating Push For Changes
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Over the past decade, the federal government has publicized 115 different ways to measure medical quality in hospitals, from assessing wait times in emergency rooms and noise levels outside hospital rooms to tracking blood clots in surgical patients. But the latest effort, to combine dozens of metrics into one patient-friendly quality indicator, has proven the most contentious. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently postponed its plan to release the new rating system, which would award one star to the worst-quality facilities and five stars to those with the best marks. ... Hospital leaders who previewed the preliminary rating system say the formula seems skewed against institutions that treat the poorest or toughest patients, meaning those with complex illnesses." (Rau, 5/18)

Kaiser Health News: A Primer: How The Fight Against Zika Might Be Funded
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "The Obama administration says the Zika virus is the nation’s next big public health threat. But there is continuing disagreement on how much money it will take to counter it. The Senate thinks $1.1 billion is the magic number. It voted 68 to 29 Tuesday to allocate that amount toward fighting this mosquito-borne virus — whose rapid spread globally has for months fueled concerns. The funding would be provided through an amendment to a larger appropriations bill, which could gain final passage later this week. The vote follows months of sparring between lawmakers, the White House and public health officials." (Luthra, 5/17)

Kaiser Health News: New York Aims To Become The Next State To Toss The Tampon Tax
WNYC's Fred Mogul, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Feminine products are having a moment. With some calling for a red wave to take the taboo out of menstruation, politicians across the country are trying to make tampons and sanitary pads as affordable and accessible as possible. Five states have eliminated sales taxes on pads and tampons: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and Minnesota. In New York, a bill awaits the governor's signature, and other efforts to improve access to sanitary products are underway." (Mogul, 5/18)

The Associated Press: Senate Easily Advances $1.1 Billion In Zika Funding
The Senate voted decisively on Tuesday in favor of a bipartisan $1.1 billion measure to combat the Zika virus this year and next, cutting back President Barack Obama's request but offering significantly more money to fight Zika than would House GOP conservatives. The 68-29 vote propelled the measure over a filibuster and sets the stage to add the Zika funding to an unrelated spending bill. It comes three months after Obama requested $1.9 billion to battle the virus, which can cause severe birth defects. (5/17)

The New York Times: Senate Votes To Advance Emergency Funding To Fight Zika Virus
A number of Senate Republicans, particularly from Southern states that face the most immediate threat from Zika virus, spoke out forcefully for government action, putting added pressure on House Republicans who have accused the Obama administration of using the threat of Zika to demand a “slush fund” from Congress. But Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, said he had recently spent four hours at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looking at models of how the virus could spread. “If anybody in the audience or in this room doesn’t think this is an emergency, you should have been with Senator Collins and I two weeks ago at the C.D.C. in Atlanta,” Mr. Isakson said. (Herszenhorn, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Approves $1.1 Billion In Emergency Zika Funding
The Senate deal provides less than the $1.9 billion the White House had requested from Congress in February for a broad initiative that would include mosquito-control programs and birth-defect surveillance. Health officials have said programs may have to be delayed or stopped without emergency funding. “We have trimmed this package back to what really addresses the emergency,” Mr. Blunt told reporters Tuesday. Democrats said they hoped to approve additional funding later, but would support the $1.1 billion now as an interim compromise with Republicans. (son and Armour, 5/17)

USA Today: Senate Advances Compromise Bill To Provide $1.1 Billion To Combat Zika
The Senate compromise provides $800 million less than the $1.9 billion that President Obama has been seeking since February. But it is far more than the House is proposing. Republican House leaders introduced legislation Monday that would provide $622 million in Zika funding, which they would pay for in part by using money allocated to fight Ebola. The House bill could come to a vote as early as this week. (Kelly, 5/17)

The Washington Post: Congress Struggles To Strike Deal On Zika Funds As Concern About The Virus Grows
There is government speed, and then there is virus speed. They’ve been mismatched in this year of Zika. The political apparatus of Washington has been sluggish compared with the epidemic that already has taken hold in Puerto Rico and poses a serious threat to the mainland United States as mosquito season arrives. On the Hill, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have different ideas about how much emergency money should be appropriated to combat the contagion — as well as where that money should come from and whether it has to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. (Achenbach and Snell, 5/17)

Politico: Senate OKs $1.1 Billion To Fight Zika; House Wants Half That
The divide between House and Senate Republicans is coming to a head after months of congressional squabbling over the administration’s funding request as the summer mosquito season approaches. The Zika virus, which has been directly linked to the severe birth defect microcephaly, is already spreading through mosquitoes in Puerto Rico. Local transmission of the virus is expected to take place in the continental United States — particularly the Southern states — this summer. (Haberkorn, 5/17)

The Associated Press: House To Vote On Scaled-Back Zika Bill Despite Veto Threat
Republicans controlling the House are ignoring protests from Democrats and a White House veto threat as they speed legislation funding the battle against the Zika virus to a vote. The $622 million GOP plan would provide one-third of the resources requested three months ago by President Barack Obama to combat the virus, which can cause severe birth defects and other health problems. It is "paid for" with cuts elsewhere in the budget, including unspent funds from the successful fight against Ebola. The White House has issued a veto threat on the House measure, saying it is woefully inadequate and protested that it would only fund the Zika battle through September. (5/18)

USA Today: CDC Cut $44 Million In Local Health Funding To Pay For Zika Response
Short on funding to combat a potential Zika outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control shifted $44 million from its fund for local health departments to Zika, a move that public health officials say weakness their ability to plan for and respond to other emergencies. The CDC tapped into the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, which provides federal money for communities to deal with health emergencies of all kinds, from hurricanes to flu pandemics. (Szabo, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Florida Town Buzzing Over Biotech Mosquito For Zika Defense
A biotech mosquito is kicking up a political storm in the Florida Keys. Oxitec Ltd., a British maker of genetically modified insects, plans to go door to door in coming weeks to pitch Key Haven, Fla., voters on the virtues of a modified mosquito that the company says can help kill off wild populations known to spread maladies like the Zika virus and dengue fever. Critics of Oxitec’s proposed field trial are pushing back with yard signs and social-media campaigns, warning that the biotech mosquitoes aren’t needed to curb diseases and could harm local ecosystems. (Bunge, 5/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Highmark Sues U.S. Over Affordable Care Act
Major insurer Highmark Inc. is suing the federal government, arguing it is owed money under the Affordable Care Act, a move that opens yet another front in the continuing legal battles over the 2010 health law. Highmark, the insurance arm of Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Highmark Health, said in the suit that the U.S. failed to live up to obligations to pay the insurer nearly $223 million owed under an ACA program known as “risk corridors,” which aimed to limit the financial risks borne by insurers entering the new health-law markets. The suit claims “violations of the mandatory risk-corridor payment obligations prescribed” in the health law. (Wilde Mathews, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Number Of Uninsured In U.S. Dropped Below 10% For First Time In 2015
About 9.1% of people in the U.S., or around 28.6 million, were uninsured in 2015 according to federal statistics released Tuesday. The Obama administration is celebrating the figures—which largely matched an earlier release by the agency for the first half of last year—as proof of the impact of the Affordable Care Act, which overhauled the insurance system, created new subsidies for people to get private coverage and boosted funding for states to expand the Medicaid program that offers near free-care to the lowest-income Americans. (Radnofsky, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Nonprofit Hospitals Adjust To Attract Investors
Late last year, a hospital operator with $14 billion in annual revenue sent a team of executives to Boston to schmooze with investors during lunch. For most of corporate America, such events aren’t unusual. But this large hospital is a nonprofit. As Trinity Health of Livonia, Mich., shows, more nonprofits are starting to resemble big business. In health care, where nearly 60% of hospital operators are private nonprofits, recent consolidation has created large organizations that span several states, with multibillion-dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees. (Evans, 5/18)

The Associated Press: South Carolina Passes Bill Banning Abortion After 19 Weeks
The South Carolina Legislature passed a bill Tuesday prohibiting abortion after 19 weeks, becoming the 17th state to pass the restrictive ban. The legislation will now head to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk. The Republican said in March she will almost certainly sign it, but wants to look at the details once it reaches her. Similar laws are in effect in 12 states. They've been blocked by court challenges in three others, and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the ban's constitutionality. A South Dakota law signed in March takes effect this summer. (5/17)

The Associated Press: Kansas Won't Cut Off Funds For Planned Parenthood Until July
Kansas will not cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood until July 7 in what marks the third delay in two weeks as the state works to prepare for a lawsuit over its action against the abortion provider. Planned Parenthood sued Kansas earlier this month over the state's decision to end Medicaid funding starting on May 10 — a cutoff date that the state has repeatedly moved back so that attorneys and the judge could prepare for the first hearing in the federal lawsuit. (5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Head To Depart Amid Restructuring
Novartis AG said its head of pharmaceuticals, David Epstein, is to leave the company amid a restructuring that will split his role in two. The Basel, Switzerland-based drug giant said Mr. Epstein, who is American, had decided to leave the company “to explore new challenges from the U.S.” Chief Executive Joe Jimenez said Mr. Epstein had “steered our pharmaceuticals division through a period of excellence in innovation, execution and improved financial results.” Novartis disclosed Mr. Epstein’s departure as the company announced plans to separate its cancer unit from the rest of the pharmaceuticals business. (Roland, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Patent Office To Review A Regimen Of AbbVie’s Humira
Federal regulators agreed to review a key patent for Humira, sending shares of the anti-inflammatory drug’s maker, AbbVie Inc., lower Tuesday while lifting those of hopeful rival Coherus BioSciences Inc. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board took up Coherus’s petition to look at AbbVie’s patent on a Humira dosing regimen to treat rheumatoid arthritis. (Steele, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: AstraZeneca’s Asthma Drug Shows Positive Results
AstraZeneca PLC reported positive results from two late-stage studies on a severe asthma treatment that it hopes will grab market share in an increasingly competitive area. The U.K.-based company said the drug, called benralizumab, reduced the frequency of asthma attacks in people with a severe form of the disease. It said it planned to submit the drug to U.S. and European Union regulators for approval later this year. The drug is one of a new class of injected respiratory treatments for patients who can’t control their asthma with existing inhaled drugs and tablets. (Roland, 5/17)

The Washington Post: Trying To Bring More Innovation To American Health Care
Susannah Fox, the chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services, was the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and also served as the associate director of the Internet Project at the Pew Research Center. She arrived at HHS as the initial issues were being resolved, and her mandate has been to lead other innovations within the agency. In an interview, Fox discussed those efforts to encourage innovation, including use of the IDEA Lab, an initiative for workers inside and outside of the department to explore unconventional solutions for problems in health and health care. (Fox, 5/17)

NPR: Treating Opioid Addiction With A Drug Raises Hope And Controversy
Scientists and doctors say the case is clear: The best way to tackle the country's opioid epidemic is to get more people on medications that have been proven in studies to reduce relapses and, ultimately, overdoses. Yet, only a fraction of the more than 4 million people believed to abuse prescription painkillers or heroin in the U.S. are being given what's called medication-assisted treatment. One reason is the limited availability of the treatment. But it's also the case that stigma around the addiction drugs has inhibited their use. (Hsu, 5/17)

The Washington Post: Most Mass Shooters Aren’t Mentally Ill. So Why Push Better Treatment As The Answer?
When it comes to mass shootings, President Obama and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan are in rare accord on a leading culprit. Both point fingers at mental illness. And in poll after poll, most Americans agree. But criminologists and forensic psychiatrists say there is a critical flaw in that view: It doesn’t reflect reality. While acknowledging that some of the country’s worst mass shooters were psychotic — the Colorado movie theater shooter, James Holmes, with his orange-dyed hair; the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, whom a judge ordered to get treatment — experts say the vast majority of these killers did not have any classic form of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or psychosis. (Rosenwald, 5/17)

The Washington Post: Risky Penis, Face And Hand Transplants Focus On Improving Lives – Not Saving Them
Today, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants — heart, lungs, livers, you name it — every day in the United States. Most of these patients are seriously ill, facing death, or at least suffering dire health consequences because of their malfunctioning organ. But increasingly, a new kind of transplant patient is emerging. They're undergoing some of the newest, riskiest transplant procedures in the world — and their lives don't even depend on them. Charla Nash got a new face. Thomas Manning got a new penis. Zion Harvey got new hands. (Feltman, 5/17)

The Washington Post: Here’s What Men Need To Know About The Angelina Jolie ‘Breast-Cancer Gene’
Should men worry about the "Angelina Jolie breast-cancer gene?" A few years ago, Jolie had her breasts and ovaries removed after she found out she had a breast-cancer gene mutation that sharply increased her risk of cancer. Her decision encouraged many women to take a closer look at their family medical histories and, in some cases, to undergo genetic testing. Since then, researchers have increasingly found that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have important implications for men. (McGinley, 5/17)

Los Angeles Times: For Loved Ones Of Critically Ill Patients, Hope Often Trumps Understanding Of A Physician's Prognosis
We have virtually all been there, are there now or will be there someday: A loved one is critically ill, and his or her physician is talking to us about the patient's prognosis. She wants to know how we would like to proceed. She's asking what we think our loved one, hovering in a twilight world, would want. She keeps on talking, though her voice is coming through distant and garbled. The doctor's words are scaring us. For a majority of people gathered at the bedside of a critically ill patient, new research finds that confusion and miscommunication rein, jostling for space alongside hope and fear. (Healy, 5/17)

The Associated Press: Court Rejects Blocking Health Warning On Sugary Drinks Ads
A federal court in Northern California has rejected an effort to block a new San Francisco law that requires health warnings on ads for sugary drinks. U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen's decision Tuesday clears the way for the law approved by city lawmakers last year to take effect in July. The ordinance requires the warnings to appear on ads for soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages that appear on billboards, buses, transit shelters, posters and stadiums within the city. The labels would read: "WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay." (5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Soda Industry Fails To Stop San Francisco Law Targeting Sugar
The American Beverage Association had filed a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in July, arguing the requirement violates free speech rights under the First Amendment. The California Retailers Association and California State Outdoor Advertising Association joined the complaint. In a ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen denied a request for a preliminary injunction. He added that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim or to suffer irreparable harm if the ordinance goes into effect. (Esterl, 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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