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KHN First Edition: May 25, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Medicare’s Drug-Pricing Experiment Stirs Opposition
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "A broad proposal by Medicare to change the way it pays for some drugs has drawn intense reaction and lobbying, with much of the debate centering on whether the plan gives too much power over drug prices to government regulators. One of most controversial sections would set up a nationwide experiment, scheduled to start in 2017, to test a handful of ways to slow spending on drugs provided in doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals and cancer infusion centers. The proposal would not affect most prescriptions patients get through their pharmacies." (Appleby, 5/25)

Kaiser Health News: FDA Considering Pricey Implant As Treatment For Opioid Addiction
WBUR's Martha Bebinger, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Amid a raging opioid epidemic, many doctors and families in the U.S. have been pleading for better treatment alternatives. One option now under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration is a system of implanted rods that offer controlled release of buprenorphine — a drug already used in other forms to treat opioid addiction. Because it's implanted in the skin, this version of the drug can't easily be sold on the illegal market, proponents say — a key treatment advantage. The FDA is expected to decide whether to approve the device — called Probuphine — within a week." (Bebinger, 5/25)

Kaiser Health News: CVS MinuteClinics: A Cure For Long Wait Times At Veterans Affairs?
Barbara Feder Ostrov, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Struggling with long wait times, the Veterans Affairs Health Care System is trying something new: a partnership with the CVS Pharmacy chain to offer urgent care services to more than 65,000 veterans. The experiment begins today at the VA’s operations in Palo Alto, California. Veterans can visit 14 “MinuteClinics” operated by CVS in the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento, where staff will treat them for conditions such as respiratory infections, order lab tests and prescribe medications, which can be filled at CVS pharmacies." (Feder Ostrov, 5/25)

Kaiser Health News: Mosquito Hunters Set Traps Across Houston, Search For Signs Of Zika
Houston Public Media's Carrie Feibel, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Mosquito control is serious business in Harris County, Texas. The county, which includes Houston, stretches across 1,777 square miles and is the third most populous county in the U.S. The area's warm, muggy climate and snaking system of bayous provide an ideal habitat for mosquitoes — and the diseases they carry. The county began battling mosquitoes in earnest in 1965, after an outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis. Hundreds of people contracted the virus and 32 died." (Feibel, 5/24)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem CEO Says Cigna Deal Moving Forward
Anthem Inc. Chief Executive Joseph R. Swedish acknowledged “dynamic tension” with Cigna Corp. over their $48 billion pending merger, but said the health insurers had resolved differences and are on track to receive regulatory approval. The Wall Street Journal had reported that Anthem and Cigna were privately sparring on several fronts as they work toward antitrust clearance, citing letters their executives exchanged as recently as this month. Speaking at an investor conference in New York, Mr. Swedish called the disputes “old news.” He said the companies are working well together and have “virtually met all the deadlines up to this point” in the antitrust review by the Justice Department. (Hoffman and Wilde Mathews, 5/24)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem And Cigna: What Worried Investors Have To Hear
Companies tend to break a few eggs when making a deal omelet, so investors probably shouldn’t fret too much about squabbling between Anthem and Cigna. It is the regulatory cook in the kitchen that is the bigger issue. Anthem and Cigna have bickered about a number of issues since agreeing to a deal last summer, raising fears the acquisition won’t close, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Anthem told investors Tuesday that isn’t likely to scuttle the deal, which it still expects will close sometime this year. (5/24)

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Is Helping Millions Get Needed Healthcare, New Survey Finds
More than 60% of working-age Americans who signed up for Medicaid or a private health plan through the Affordable Care Act are getting healthcare they couldn’t previously get, a new nationwide survey indicates. And consumers are broadly satisfied with the new coverage, despite some cost challenges and an ongoing Republican campaign to discredit the law. Overall, 82% of American adults enrolled in private or government coverage through the health law said they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied, according to the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund. (Levey, 5/24)

The Associated Press: House Approves Bill to Regulate Toxic Chemicals
The House on Tuesday easily approved a bipartisan bill that would for the first time regulate tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in everyday products from household cleaners to clothing and furniture. Supporters said the bill would clear up a hodgepodge of state rules and update and improve a toxic-chemicals law that has remained unchanged for 40 years. (5/24)

The Wall Street Journal: House Passes Sweeping Chemical Safety Bill
The bill, the first significant update to federal chemicals safety law in 40 years, is expected to be passed by the Senate as soon as this week and signed into law by President Barack Obama. It passed 403 to 12. It gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to evaluate and impose restrictions on chemicals used in everything from dry-cleaning to grease removal to paint thinners. In most cases, that authority pre-empts states from passing laws to regulate a chemical while the EPA is making its determination. (Berzon and Harder, 5/24)

The New York Times: House Set To Subject 64,000 Household Chemicals To Regulation
Public health advocates and environmentalists have complained for decades that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act is outdated and riddled with gaps that leave Americans exposed to harmful chemicals. Under current law, around 64,000 chemicals are not subject to environmental testing or regulation. Efforts to tighten the law have stalled for years, in part because of opposition from the chemical industry. The bipartisan authors of the bill say their breakthrough represents a pragmatic, politically viable compromise between better environmental standards and the demands of industry. In particular, Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, worked closely with the American Chemistry Council to come up with language that would win the support of the industry and pass through the generally regulation-averse Republican Congress. (Davenport, 5/24)

The New York Times: Political Battles Color Congressional Feud Over Zika Funding
The feud on Capitol Hill over responding to the rapidly spreading Zika virus would seem to be largely a fight over how much money is needed to fight the mosquito-borne scourge. But lurking just beneath the surface are issues that have long stirred partisan mistrust, including Republicans’ fears about the use of taxpayer money for abortion and possible increased use of contraception, and Democratic worries about protecting the environment from potentially dangerous pesticides. Public health officials warn that the virus will not stop to check party affiliation — the mosquitoes that carry it bite Republicans and Democrats alike. (Herszenhorn, 5/24)

The Washington Post: FTC: Beware Of Companies Peddling Products To Protect Against Zika Mosquitos
That mint oil Mosquito Shield wristband you picked up last week to protect against Zika as mosquito season rolls into the United States? It's not going to cut it. The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday issued a strong warning to consumers that some companies may be trying to unscrupulously capitalize on fears about the virus. The FTC announcement focused specifically on on Viatek Consumer Products Group's Mosquito Shield Band, which is sold in stores and on the Home Shopping Network. (Cha, 5/24)

The Washington Post: 181 Democrats Join Call To End House Fetal-Tissue Probe
All but a handful of House Democrats are calling on Speaker Paul D. Ryan to disband the special committee established last year to probe connections between abortion providers and medical researchers, accusing the panel of “continued abuses which jeopardize the integrity of the House and the safety of Americans.” The letter represents a new salvo in the partisan warfare over the Select Investigative Panel established in October in response to a series of undercover videos produced by anti-abortion activists. All but two Democrats voted against creating the panel, and Democratic members of the committee have called since then on several occasions for its dissolution. (DeBonis, 5/24)

Thomson Reuters Foundation: Up Against Strict Laws, Texas Women Learn Do-It-Yourself Abortions
Susanna was young, single, broke and pregnant in southern Texas where, thanks to the state's strict laws, her chances of getting a surgical abortion at a clinic were slim to none. So she did what an estimated 100,000 women or more in Texas have done - had a self-induced abortion. With the help of a friend, some online instructions and quick dash across the Mexican border for some pills, she addressed the issue of unwanted pregnancy in a state where women are finding abortion services too expensive and too far away. (Wulfhorst, 5/24)

The Washington Post: Sparking Fears Of A Zombie Apocalypse: Controversial Study Aims To ‘Reanimate’ The Brain Dead
Ever since Ira Pastor declared his company’s intentions to take 20 brain-dead patients and try to “regenerate” their nervous systems, his email box has been overflowing with inquiries from far-flung parts of the world. Skeptical scientists grilling him about the details of the techniques his team is using. Desperate families, who have been paying for years to keep loved ones on life support, wondering how to enroll. Outraged representatives from every major religion telling him why what he’s doing violates the laws of nature. But the most vociferous challenge, says Pastor, chief executive of Philadelphia-based Bioquark, has been from the “zombie contingent.” (Cha, 5/24)

The New York Times: More Men With Early Prostate Cancer Are Choosing To Avoid Treatment
Seemingly overnight, treatment of men with early-stage prostate cancer has undergone a sea change. Five years ago, nearly all opted for surgery or radiation; now, nearly half are choosing no treatment at all. The approach is called active surveillance. It means their cancers are left alone but regularly monitored to be sure they are not growing. Just 10 percent to 15 percent of early-stage prostate cancer patients were being treated by active surveillance several years ago. Now, national data from three independent sources consistently finds that 40 percent to 50 percent of them are making that choice. (Kolata, 5/24)

The Washington Post: Why Victims Of Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Haven’t Been Compensated
Kathy Pugh quit her job when her mother got sick from a tainted medication, and now Pugh spends her days helping the once-vibrant 85-year-old get out of bed, shower and dress. If her mom ever were compensated for what she endured, Pugh said she would like to install laminate flooring — which would make it easier to move around in a wheelchair — and maybe buy a handicap van. Evelyn Bates-March, Pugh’s mother, is one of hundreds of victims of a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis that federal investigators traced to a batch of contaminated steroid injections manufactured by the New England Compounding Center. A civil fund of more than $200 million was created after victims sued the compounding center and companies with which it did business. The federal government also has money available to compensate crime victims. But the 85-year-old, like all the others affected by the outbreak, has yet to see a dime to help her cope with how her life has changed since she was given a tainted shot. (Zapotosky, 5/24)

Los Angeles Times: Antidepressants Aren't Just For Depression Anymore, Study Finds
Antidepressants didn’t get to be the third-most commonly prescribed medication in the United States for nothing. In fact, says a new study, the medications taken by more than 10% of American adults may be so ubiquitous because they are used to do so much. Depression medication, a new study suggests, has become a “do something” drug for primary care physicians to offer when a patient’s complaints may only be vaguely related to depression. In a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. on Tuesday, researchers reported that close to three in 10 antidepressant prescriptions written between 2006 and 2015 by general practitioners in Quebec, Canada, were for conditions for which the medications have not been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (Healy, 5/24)

NPR: Baby Boomers Will Become Sicker Seniors Than Earlier Generations
The next generation of senior citizens will be sicker and costlier to the health care system over the next 14 years than previous generations, according to a new report from the United Health Foundation. We're talking about you, Baby Boomers. The report looks at the current health status of people aged 50 to 64 and compares them to the same ages in 1999. The upshot? There will be about 55 percent more senior citizens who have diabetes than there are today, and about 25 percent more who are obese. Overall, the report says that the next generation of seniors will be 9 percent less likely to say they have good or excellent overall health. (Kodjak, 5/25)

The Associated Press: Consider Obesity Surgery More Often For Diabetes: Guidelines
New guidelines say weight-loss surgery should become a more routine treatment option for diabetes, even for some patients who are mildly obese. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are a deadly pair, and numerous studies show stomach-shrinking operations can dramatically improve diabetes. But Tuesday's guidelines mark the first time the surgery is recommended specifically as a diabetes treatment rather than as obesity treatment with a side benefit, and expand the eligible candidates. (5/24)

The Washington Post: Your Fitness Tracker May Be Accurately Tracking Steps, But Miscounting Calories
Your fitness tracker may be accurately counting your steps but not the correct number of calories burned, according to a new report by the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. The study, which will be published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise later this summer, found that FitBit and Jawbone are significantly over- and underestimating calories burned during certain physical activities. The group’s findings come at a particularly inopportune time for Fitbit, as the company is currently facing a class-action lawsuit alleging its product, specifically its heart rate technology, is faulty and inaccurate. (McDonough, 5/24)

The Associated Press: Washington, California Sue Over Pelvic Mesh Implants
Washington state and California sued Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday, saying that for years the company misrepresented the risks of vaginal mesh implants it sold to repair pelvic collapse. In the latest legal actions over the problem-prone devices, Attorneys General Bob Ferguson of Washington and Kamala Harris of California accused the New Jersey-based health care giant of neglecting to tell patients and doctors about the risks and occurrences of dire, sometimes irreversible complications. Those include urinary dysfunction, loss of sexual function, constipation and severe pain. (5/24)

The Associated Press: Judge Tosses Rite Aid Complaint In HIV Drug Disclosure Suit
A judge says Rite Aid cannot blame a man who learned of his son’s HIV infection when the pharmacy told him about his son’s prescriptions. Michael Spence is suing the retailer for negligence and invasion of privacy after his father went to pick up a prescription for his mother. A clerk told him his son had two prescriptions available. Spence had not told his parents he was HIV-positive. But the father researched the drugs and learned they were HIV medicines. (Chase, 5/24)

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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