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KHN First Edition: May 26, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Inventing A Machine That Spits Out Drugs In A Whole New Way
WBUR's Martha Bebinger, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "In a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all the work that happens in a vast pharmaceutical manufacturing plant happens in a device the size of your kitchen refrigerator. And it's fast. This prototype machine produces 1,000 pills in 24 hours, faster than it can take to produce some batches in a factory. Allan Myerson, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and a leader of the effort, says it could become eventually an option for anyone who makes medications, which typically require a lengthy and complex process of crystallization." (Bebinger, 5/26)

Kaiser Health News: Missouri Hospitals Seek To Focus Readmission Penalties On Patient Poverty
Lisa Gillespie, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Christian Hospital says its costly difference of opinion with Medicare hinges on how to count the large number of poor people that the St. Louis hospital treats. Medicare penalizes hospitals that readmit too many patients within 30 days of discharge, and Christian expects to lose almost $600,000 in reimbursements this year, hospital officials said. Christian is one of 14 hospitals in the BJC HealthCare System. Steven Lipstein, chief executive of BJC, which includes Barnes-Jewish hospital in St. Louis, said Medicare doesn’t play fair because its formula for setting penalties does not factor in patients with socioeconomic disadvantages -- low-income, poor health habits and chronic illnesses for instance -- that contribute to repeated hospitalizations." (Gillespie, 5/26)

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Seek Big Premium Boosts
Big health plans stung by losses in the first few years of the U.S. health law’s implementation are seeking hefty premium increases for individual plans sold through insurance exchanges in more than a dozen states. The insurers’ proposed rates for individual coverage in states that have made their 2017 requests public largely bear out health plans’ grim predictions about their challenges under the health-care overhaul. According to the insurers’ filings with regulators, large plans in states including New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia are seeking to raise rates by 20% or more. (Radnofsky, 5/25)

The Associated Press: Congressional Panel Releases Critical Cover Oregon Report
Republicans on a U.S. House committee have found former Gov. John Kitzhaber and a federal agency mishandled the creation of Oregon's health insurance enrollment website, with the Democratic governor's political advisers making decisions based on his re-election campaign. In a staff report released Wednesday, the Republicans on the committee said they are asking the Justice Department and state attorney general to conduct criminal investigations into the actions involving Cover Oregon. (5/25)

The Wall Street Journal: D.C. Appeals Court Set To Determine Fate Of Several Obama Initiatives
The Supreme Court may be keeping a lower profile while it is short-handed, but high-stakes cases remain in Washington—at a powerful appeals court that could determine the fate of several important Obama administration initiatives. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is preparing for cases examining signature Obama administration climate change regulations on power plants, as well as economic-crisis era rules for the nation’s largest financial firms. The court also soon could be reviewing a challenge to the implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, a showdown between the administration and House Republicans. (Kendall, 5/25)

Reuters: Aetna-Humana Tie-Up Is Anti-Competitive In Missouri-State Regulator
A tie-up of Aetna Inc and Humana Inc would be anti-competitive in Missouri for several types of insurance, including individual Medicare Advantage plans where the combined company would have more than a 50 percent market share, the Missouri Department of Insurance said. The department said in an order, dated May 24 and posted on its website, that if the proposed acquisition of Humana by Aetna were to go forward, the companies would need to stop selling individual insurance, small group and certain Medicare Advantage plans in its state. (Humer and Berkrot, 5/25)

The Wall Street Journal: DOJ Joining Lawsuit Against Prime Healthcare Services Alleging Medicare Fraud
The Justice Department said it is joining a lawsuit against Prime Healthcare Services and its chief executive that alleges Prime hospitals improperly admitted patients for care and submitted false claims to Medicare. The lawsuit was first brought in 2011. On Wednesday a federal judge granted a Justice Department request to join the case. Troy Schell, general counsel for the Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare Services, said in a statement the company’s officials believe it will be exonerated. (Evans, 5/25)

Los Angeles Times: Justice Department Accuses Ontario-Based Hospital Chain Of Cheating Medicare System
The U.S. Justice Department has joined a whistle-blower case against Prime Healthcare Services, adding significant weight to allegations of widespread Medicare overbilling at 14 of the company’s hospitals in California. A Los Angeles magistrate judge granted the agency’s request to intervene in the case Tuesday, one day after the government declared in a court filing that its investigation of the Ontario- hospital operator has “yielded sufficient evidence” that the facilities “submitted or caused the submission of claims to Medicare for unnecessary inpatient stays.” (Sisson, 5/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Craving Growth, Walgreens Dismissed Its Doubts About Theranos
Walgreens was considering a partnership with Theranos Inc. when founder Elizabeth Holmes arrived at Johns Hopkins University in the spring of 2011. She brought with her a machine she said could test tiny samples of blood for dozens of conditions and thick binders of data to show its accuracy. A Hopkins scientist told her that his researchers needed to put the device in their Baltimore laboratory to verify the technology on Walgreens’ behalf, and Ms. Holmes agreed to provide one, say people familiar with the meeting. (Weaver and Carreyrou, 5/25)

The New York Times: Could Alzheimer’s Stem From Infections? It Makes Sense, Experts Say
Could it be that Alzheimer’s disease stems from the toxic remnants of the brain’s attempt to fight off infection? Provocative new research by a team of investigators at Harvard leads to this startling hypothesis, which could explain the origins of plaque, the mysterious hard little balls that pockmark the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. It is still early days, but Alzheimer’s experts not associated with the work are captivated by the idea that infections, including ones that are too mild to elicit symptoms, may produce a fierce reaction that leaves debris in the brain, causing Alzheimer’s. (Kolata, 5/25)

The Associated Press: Researchers Slowly Homing In On Risk Of Zika Birth Defect
As the international epidemic of Zika virus disease has unfolded and led to devastating birth defects for at least 1,300 children in eight countries, an agonizing question has persisted: What is the chance that an infected pregnant woman will have a baby with these defects? Researchers don't yet have a complete answer, but they are slowly homing in on one. The largest study to ever look at the question says the risk of one especially severe type of birth defect is "substantial" — in the range of 1 percent to 14 percent. It also reinforces the understanding that women infected in the early stages of pregnancy face the greatest risk. (5/25)

The Washington Post: How U.S. Officials Plan To Protect Olympic Athletes From Zika
U.S. officials are starting a massive effort to protect American athletes from Zika, even as they are learning more about the mysterious disease in real time. Some members of the U.S. Summer Olympics delegation are already being monitored for the virus as they begin to go to Brazil, the epicenter of the rapidly evolving outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also assessing the threat that athletes and other travelers to the Games may increase the global spread of the mosquito-borne virus when they return to their home countries. (Sun, 5/25)

The Associated Press: South Carolina Governor Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed legislation Wednesday that immediately outlaws most abortions in South Carolina at 20 weeks beyond fertilization. The only exceptions are if the mother’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. Doctors face up to $10,000 in fines and 3 years in prison for each violation; prison time is mandatory on a third conviction. (Adcox, 5/25)

The Associated Press: Challenge To 2012 Georgia 20-Week Abortion Ban Revived
A 2012 Georgia law banning abortions after 20 weeks quietly took effect nearly six months ago with no fanfare or resistance — until lawyers for three obstetricians who had challenged the measure realized what had happened. Now those lawyers, who say they never got notice that their challenge was dismissed and therefore didn’t appeal in time, want the law suspended again while they continue their fight. (Brumback, 5/25)

The Associated Press: Oklahoma, Kansas-Missouri Planned Parenthood Groups To Merge
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri announced plans Wednesday to merge with the abortion provider's central Oklahoma affiliate in July and open a new Oklahoma City clinic, even as political leaders in the three states seek to cut off Medicaid funding. Laura McQuade, the Kansas and Mid-Missouri affiliate's president and CEO, said the merger is designed to create a regional health care "powerhouse" and isn't a response to attempts by legislators and governors in the three states to prevent public funds from going to Planned Parenthood. (5/25)

The Washington Post: Oklahoma’s Abortion, Transgender Bills Called Political ‘Smokescreen’
Some public schools are starting summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March. But instead of addressing a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services, Oklahoma lawmakers have been busy debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students’ access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama. (Ross, 5/25)

The Washington Post: 7 Things About Vaccines And Autism That The Movie ‘Vaxxed’ Won’t Tell You
On its surface, the movie “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” appears to be a slickly produced scientific documentary with lots of charts and data about one of the most important issues of our time. The central premise of the film is that the country’s mandatory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine — when given to children under age 2 — may be leading to an epidemic of autism diagnoses. It contains heartbreaking footage of happy, laughing toddlers who, their parents say, became profoundly disabled almost overnight after receiving the shot. It explains the findings of a study that confirms the link and unearths recordings from a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who purportedly claimed the government quashed findings of the connection. But what the movie doesn’t get into is as compelling as what it does present. (Cha, 5/25)

Los Angeles Times: Report On Increase In Mental Competency Cases Leaves Many Unanswered Questions
Misdemeanor cases filed by city attorneys are driving a surge in competency cases that is overwhelming Los Angeles County's mental health court, according to a preliminary report released Wednesday. The report suggests that the increase might be linked to the county’s rising homeless population, to criminal justice reform measures that may have resulted in fewer people participating in mandated treatment programs, and to the scarcity of psychiatric hospital beds. (Sewell, 5/25)

The Associated Press: Appeals Court Affirms 45-Year Sentence For Cancer Doctor
An appeals court has affirmed the 45-year prison sentence for a Detroit-area cancer doctor who put hundreds of patients through needless treatments. Farid Fata's appeal focused on how a judge calculated the sentencing guidelines and whether it was proper to allow many victims to speak in court. In a 3-0 decision Wednesday, the appeals court says the arguments lack merit. (5/25)

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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