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KHN First Edition: May 23, 2016


First Edition

Monday, May 23, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Doctors' House Calls Saving Money For Medicare
Susan Jaffe, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Looking for ways to save money and improve care, Medicare officials are returning to an old-fashioned idea: house calls. But the experiment, called Independence at Home, is more than a nostalgic throwback to the way medicine was practiced decades ago when the doctor arrived at the patient's door carrying a big black bag. Done right and paid right, house calls could prove to be a better way of treating very sick, elderly patients while they can still live at home." (Jaffe, 5/23)

Kaiser Health News: A Tender Steak Could Be A Little Dangerous
Kaiser Health News' Lydia Zuraw reports: "A new label on some of the steaks in your grocery store highlights a production process you may have never heard of: mechanical tenderizing. This means the beef has been punctured with blades or needles to break down the muscle fibers and make it easier to chew. But it also means the meat has a greater chance of being contaminated and making you sick. The labels are a requirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture." (Zuraw, 5/23)

The New York Times: Proposal To Reduce Medicare Drug Payments Is Widely Criticized
An Obama administration proposal to reduce Medicare payments for many prescription drugs has run into sharp bipartisan criticism, suggesting that it is easier to diagnose the problem of high prices than to solve it. Patients’ advocates have joined doctors and drug companies in warning that the federal plan could jeopardize access to important medications. Every member of the Senate Finance Committee — 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats — and more than 300 House members have expressed concern. (Pear, 5/23)

The Associated Press: Elderly Book End-Of-Life Talks Once Labeled 'Death Panels'
The doctor got right down to business after Herbert Diamond bounded in. A single green form before her, she had some questions for the agile 88-year-old: about comas and ventilators, about feeding tubes and CPR, about intense and irreversible suffering. "You want treatments as long as you are going to have good quality of life?" Dr. Manisha Parulekar asked. The retired accountant nodded. "And at that point," she continued, "you would like to focus more on comfort, right?" There was no hesitation before his soft-spoken reply: "Right." Scenes like this have been spreading across the U.S. in the months since Medicare started paying for conversations on end-of-life planning. Seven years after that very idea spurred fears of "death panels," supporters hope lingering doubts will fade. (5/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem, Cigna Privately Bicker As They Seek Merger Approval
Quarrels have broken out behind the scenes of Anthem Inc.’s $48 billion proposed acquisition of Cigna Corp. as the health insurers seek regulatory approval for their landmark deal, according to a series of letters reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. People on both sides say the squabbles could delay or derail antitrust approvals, which are typically harder to obtain if both parties aren’t in sync. While neither company has sought to terminate the merger, the people say—and it doesn’t appear in danger of imminent collapse—Anthem and Cigna are bickering on several fronts. (Hoffman and Wilde Mathews, 5/22)

Reuters: F.D.A. Tackles Sugar In New Labeling Rules
The United States plans a major overhaul of the way packaged foods are labeled, the Food and Drug Administration announced on Friday. Serving sizes will be adjusted to reflect how much people actually eat, and for the first time labels will list added sugars. These are the first significant changes since the Nutrition Facts label was introduced more than 20 years ago. They come as an increasing number of Americans battle obesity, diabetes and heart disease and will affect roughly 800,000 products from Coca-Cola and ice-cream to soup and spaghetti sauce. (5/20)

The Washington Post: Makeover Coming For Food Nutrition Labels
A new look is coming to Nutrition Facts labels on food packages, with more attention to calorie counts and added sugars. And no longer will a small bag of chips count as two or three servings. Michelle Obama said parents will be the beneficiaries. “You will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids,” the first lady said Friday, announcing the new rules. (Jalonick and Superville, 5/20)

USA Today: New Nutrition Facts Panel Has Line For Added Sugar
Sugar-sweetened food is about to get a reality check with new rules for the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged goods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized an updated design for the nutrition facts label Friday, the first major overhaul in more than 20 years to perhaps the biggest symbol used to measure a product's healthfulness. Among the changes: a line that calls out added sugar, which research has shown increases risk of heart disease and contributes to obesity and diabetes. The current labels only list total sugar, a combination of added and natural sugar. (Malcolm, 5/20)

The Wall Street Journal: FDA Approves New Nutrition Panel That Highlights Sugar Levels
The FDA’s decision to break out added sugar from the total sugar count already on packaging comes amid a yearslong campaign by the Obama administration to curb obesity, diabetes and other ailments. The new sugar rules have faced opposition from food and beverage companies, which say there is no difference between naturally present sugars and added sugars. While foods with naturally occurring sugar like in fruit also have nutrients such as fiber and vitamin C, health officials say, sugars added by manufacturers offer no nutritional value. But they boost caloric intake, helping fuel obesity and diabetes. (Gasparro and Esterl, 5/20)

Politico: Michelle Obama Gets Her Way On Nutrition Labels
First lady Michelle Obama Friday unveiled the country's first update to nutrition labels in more than two decades — a move that helps cement her campaign to encourage Americans to eat healthier. The new Nutrition Facts labels, which will take effect in two years and appear on billions of food packages, for the first time require food companies to list how much sugar they add to their products and suggest a limit for how much added sugar people should consume — two changes vehemently opposed by many food companies. (Bottemiller Evich, 5/20)

The Washington Post: A First Look At The FDA’s New Nutrition Label — And 10 Reasons It’s Different From The Old One
The new label still retains the minimalist black-and-white, two-column look that designers have praised over the years, and it highlights many of the same categories, such as cholesterol and sodium. But this is where it might get confusing: Even though it doesn’t look all that different, some categories are now emphasized more than others, and the way some numbers are calculated has changed. (Cha, 5/20)

The Washington Post: Why The Sugar Industry Hates The FDA’s New Nutrition Facts Label
In early 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it was going to consider making a few changes to the nutrition facts label found on just about every food item sitting on grocery store shelves around the nation. And the food industry freaked out. For more than two decades, the label had gone unchanged, which, for the most part, food manufacturers seemed to like. Specifically, the industry was content that the label did not reveal the amount of "added sugars" in a product -- the sugar content not present before the food was produced and packaged -- or how much of these added sugars people should consume daily. (Ferdman, 5/20)

Reuters: Major Change In U.S. Food Labels Is Likely To Help Healthiest The Most
The biggest overhaul of U.S. food nutrition labels in more than two decades is likely to help improve the diets of the most health-conscious consumers, but others may need more convincing. Public health advocates welcomed the new rules but said some of the groups most at risk for obesity and diet-related illness may not change habits without other measures to discourage sugar consumption, such as taxes on sugar and food advertising warning labels. (5/20)

Reuters: U.S. Reports 279 Zika Cases In Pregnant Women, Obama Pushes Congress On Funds
Health officials said 279 pregnant women in the United States and U.S. territories have tested positive for Zika infection, prompting a new call from President Barack Obama for more funding to fight the outbreak spreading through the Americas. Obama wants the U.S. Congress to provide close to $1.9 billion for vaccine development, faster diagnostic tests, and new tools for killing the mosquitoes that carry the virus, which can cause a rare birth defect in newborns and neurological disorders in adults. (Pierson, Berkrot and Rampton, 5/20)

Politico: CDC: Nearly 300 Zika Cases In Pregnant Women In U.S. And Territories
All of the U.S. infections occurred in women who had traveled abroad or, in rare cases, contracted the virus by infected sexual partners who returned from areas where the Zika is prevalent. In Puerto Rico, the virus is being transmitted by mosquitoes. The CDC is tracking the outcomes of these pregnancies, but reported no data today. At least one infected woman in Puerto Rico miscarried and another in Washington, D.C., had an abortion after imaging revealed the fetus had a misshapen head and brain. (Allen, 5/20)

The Associated Press: Trying To Get Jump On Zika Preparations With Money In Limbo
Beg, borrow and steal: Zika preparation involves a bit of all three as federal, state and local health officials try to get a jump on the mosquito-borne virus while Congress haggles over how much money they really need. With that financing in limbo, health officials are shifting resources and setting priorities — and not just in states where mosquitoes are starting to buzz. All but six states so far have seen travel-associated cases of Zika. (Neergaard, 5/23)

NPR: Today's Tools For Combating Zika Mosquitoes Hark Back To 1945
"It's up to you," said a 1945 public service announced aimed at Americans. Find "one of man's worst enemies" and "destroy their foxholes." The video came from the Office of Malaria Control in War Areas (now known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). And it was talking about a particular species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti — the very same mosquito in the news now. Back then, public health officials were mostly worried about dengue and yellow fevers. (Bichell, 5/21)

Politico: How A Deadly Tropical Virus Became Another Washington Mess
Even pregnant women have become fodder for partisan Washington funding fights. With nearly 300 pregnant women in the United States already infected with the Zika virus and the summer mosquito season looming after a soggy spring, Congress has yet to approve the Obama administration’s 3-month-old, $1.9 billion request for emergency funding. The bipartisan response to previous public health crises, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, is not evident in the months-long congressional debates about Zika, despite its huge human costs. The virus in pregnant women has been closely linked to severe brain abnormalities in fetuses. (Haberkorn, 5/20)

The New York Times: Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Charge Abortion Doctors
Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma vetoed a bill on Friday that would impose felony charges on doctors who perform abortions, calling the measure vague and unconstitutional. Ms. Fallin is a conservative Republican with a strong record of supporting restrictions on abortion, which she emphasized in a statement announcing her decision a day after the Legislature had passed the bill. But she acknowledged the virtual certainty that the bill would be struck down by the courts and said that the way to overturn Roe v. Wade was “the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court.” (Eckholm, 5/20)

The Associated Press: Oklahoma Senator Weighing Options After Abortion Ban Veto
The Oklahoma Republican state senator who authored the bill that would effectively outlaw abortion in the state said Saturday that he hasn't decided whether he'll try to override the governor's veto. "I have not made a decision," Sen. Nathan Dahm, of Broken Arrow, told The Associated Press. "That's what we're pursuing, what we'd like to see accomplished." (5/21)

The Associated Press: Vetoed Oklahoma Abortion Bill Follows Other Failed Attempts
The Oklahoma abortion bill vetoed Friday by the governor followed at least seven other attempts by state lawmakers to restrict abortions. All of them were shot down by the courts over the last five years. The latest bill would have made it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion. But Republican Mary Fallin, who has signed every anti-abortion bill that's made it to her desk, said the legislation was vague and would not withstand a legal challenge. A look at the other failed laws. (5/20)

The Washington Post: Oklahoma Isn’t The Only State Taking Big Steps To Limit Abortions
Before Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a bill Thursday that would have made performing abortions a felony, five other states this month quietly advanced their own measures to curb access to the procedure. Lawmakers in Arizona, Missouri, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have pushed actions to halt funding to women’s health clinics and expand waiting periods for women seeking abortions. (Paquette, 5/20)

The Washington Post: The Days Of Freely Prescribed Painkillers Are Ending. Here’s What’s Next.
For more than a decade, doctors, dentists and nurse practitioners liberally prescribed opioid painkillers even as evidence mounted that people were becoming addicted and overdosing on the powerful and addictive pain medications. Now, in the face of a prescription drug overdose epidemic that killed more than 14,000 people in 2014, a handful of states are insisting that health professionals do a little research before they write prescriptions for such highly addictive drugs as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. (Vestal, 5/20)

The Associated Press: States Ban Kratom Supplement Over Abuse Worries
A little-known plant-based substance often sold as an herbal supplement to address chronic pain is raising alarm bells in states concerned that it could be as addictive as heroin. The controversy around kratom — a plant originating in Southeast Asia — has led Alabama to become the sixth U.S. state to ban it. Kratom is now a Schedule 1 drug in Alabama, the same classification as heroin and ecstasy. (Brown, 5/20)

The Washington Post: McAuliffe Vetoes Budget Language Meant To Block Medicaid Expansion
Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday vetoed language that the Republican-controlled legislature inserted in the state budget earlier this year to prevent him from expanding Medicaid without its permission. A spokesman for McAuliffe said the governor had no imminent plan to expand the federal health care program for the poor on his own, suggesting that the veto was more about preserving the governor’s constitutional prerogatives than anything else. (Vozzella, 5/20)

The Associated Press: Gov. Snyder Tasks Board With Eliminating Child Lead Exposure
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder created a new board on Friday to eliminate children's exposure to lead statewide, saying the state needs to do more than just reduce exposure to the harmful chemical in the wake of the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint. The Republican governor, whose administration has been deemed primarily responsible for the public health emergency, formed the board with an executive order and tasked it with recommending a strategy to protect children from all sources of lead poisoning. Flint's crisis stems from old pipes contaminating the water after the city switched from Detroit's water system to improperly treated Flint River water in 2014. (5/20)

The Wall Street Journal: Connecticut Cuts Stir Worries On Mental-Health Funding
Mental-health advocates say state budget cuts may impede the improvements Connecticut has made in outreach and care after the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The state started several new mental-health programs after the killings at the Newtown school, where a disturbed 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six adults. One such effort, based in schools, helps children who show symptoms of trauma and depression. (de Avila, 5/22)

The Washington Post: Donated Organs Kept ‘Alive’ May Ease The Transplant Shortage
Lloyd Matsumoto awoke from his liver transplant last month to find his surgeon more than pleased with the results. The new organ had begun producing bile almost immediately, a welcome signal that it had quickly started to function well. That may be partly because of the way Matsumoto’s liver traveled from Tufts Medical Center across Boston to Massachusetts General Hospital. Instead of being packed in ice for the 4½ hours it was outside the abdomens of donor and recipient, the liver was essentially kept alive in a device that maintains its temperature, perfuses it with oxygenated blood and monitors its critical activity. (Bernstein, 5/22)

The Associated Press: Bone Cement Company Accused Of Experimenting On Humans
Reba Golden hurt her back after falling two floors while building an addition to her house in Honduras. But when she returned to Seattle for a routine spinal surgery, she suffered blood clots, severe bleeding and died in 2007 on the operating table. Joan Bryant’s back had bothered her since a 1990 car accident, so in 2009 she sought help from a Seattle spinal surgeon, but she bled out on the operating table and could not be revived. Like at least three spinal-surgery patients before them, Golden and Bryant died after their doctor injected bone cement into their spine and some of the material leaked into their blood stream, causing clotting. The patients were never told Norian bone cement wasn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Bellisle, 5/21)

The Wall Street Journal: How Should Companies Handle Data From Employees’ Wearable Devices?
Wearable electronics, like the Fitbits and Apple Watches sported by runners and early adopters, are fast becoming on-the-job gear. These devices offer employers new ways to measure productivity and safety, and allow insurers to track workers’ health indicators and habits. For employers, the prospect of tracking people’s whereabouts and productivity can be welcome. But collecting data on employees’ health—and putting that data to work—can trigger a host of privacy issues. (Haggin, 5/22)

The New York Times: Where Dentists Are Scarce, American Indians Forge A Path To Better Care
Going to the dentist evokes a special anxiety for Verne McLeod. He grew up on the Swinomish Indian reservation here in northwest Washington State in the 1950s and vividly remembers the dentist who visited periodically. The doctor worked from a trailer, and did not bother with painkillers. “They just strapped us down and drilled,” said Mr. McLeod, 70. Poor oral health is a scourge on tribal lands across the nation. Indian preschool-aged children had four times the rate of untreated tooth decay as white children in a recent study. Poverty, diet and a decades-long lack of access to good care on remote reservations compound the problem. (Johnson, 5/22)

The Associated Press: Hospital Sues Health Agency Over Hepatitis C Outbreak
Exeter Hospital has filed another lawsuit in hopes of getting others to pay for settlements it reached after a traveling medical technician infected patients with hepatitis C. David Kwiatkowski is serving 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. Despite being fired numerous times over drug allegations, he had worked as a cardiac technologist in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011. Since his arrest in 2012, 46 people in four states have been diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries. (5/21)


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