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KHN First Edition: June 3, 2016


First Edition

Friday, June 03, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Details On Death Certificates Offer Layers Of Clues To Opioid Epidemic
WNPR's Jeff Cohen, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Dr. James Gill walked through the morgue in Farmington, Connecticut, recently, past the dock where the bodies come in, past the tissue donations area, and stopped outside the autopsy room. "We kind of have a typical board listing all of the decedents for the day," Gill said, pointing to the list of names on a dry erase board. "Overdose, overdose, overdose, overdose overdose. That's just for today." Gill is the chief medical examiner for the state of Connecticut, and of the nine bodies in his custody that day, four were the remains of the people who likely died from an accidental drug overdose. A fifth was a probable suicide involving drugs. It was a sad, but typical day, he explained, with a practical consequence for the state's morgue: Gill is running out of room to store bodies." (Cohen, 6/3)

Kaiser Health News: Young People At Risk For STDs Often Don’t Get Tested: Study
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Although they account for half of all new sexually transmitted infections, most young people between the ages of 15 and 25 have never been tested for those infections, according to a study published in the May issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. The 2013 survey of 3,953 adolescents and young adults by researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11.5 percent had been tested for a sexually transmitted infection in the previous year, including 17 percent of females and 6 percent of males." (Andrews, 6/3)

The New York Times: Prince Died From Accidental Overdose of Opioid Painkiller
Prince, the music icon who struggled with debilitating hip pain during his career, died from an accidental overdose of self-administered fentanyl, a type of synthetic opiate, officials in Minnesota said Thursday. The news ended weeks of speculation about the sudden death of the musician, who had a reputation for clean living but who appears to have developed a dependency on medications to treat his pain. Authorities have yet to discuss how he came to be in possession of the fentanyl and whether it had been prescribed by a doctor. (Eligon and Kovaleski, 6/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Pop Star Prince Died Of Opioid Fentanyl Overdose
Whether Prince knew he was taking fentanyl is unclear. An attorney who previously represented two of Prince’s siblings has said that the musician had used Percocet and cocaine in the past. “Most of the people we’re seeing are dying unsuspecting that they used fentanyl,” said Traci Green, deputy director of the Boston Medical Center Injury Prevention Center. Because the drug “is extremely fast-acting, [Prince] probably died quickly,” she said. “There’s not a lot of time to intervene to reverse that.” (Maher and Campo-Flores, 6/2)

The Associated Press: Finding Overdose Killed Prince Just The Beginning Of Probe
Kent Bailey, head of the DEA in Minneapolis, said the agency will continue investigating along with Carver County authorities and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He declined to offer details, but said “rest assured, we will be thorough.” Legal experts say the focus of the investigation will now probably turn to whether the source or sources of the fentanyl were legal or not. Often, such investigations include grand jury subpoenas for records or for testimony from individuals. (Tarm and Forliti, 6/3)

The Associated Press: Prince's Death Adds To Opioid Overdose Epidemic's Grim Toll
Prince's death from an overdose of the powerful opioid fentanyl is another example of the national opioid epidemic driven by prescription painkillers. "This was a man in his 50s who may have been struggling with pain and took a very potent opioid analgesic and died accidentally from an overdose," said Dr. Barbarajean Magnani, pathologist-in-chief at Tufts Medical Center who read a one-page autopsy report released Thursday. "Celebrities bring it to our attention, but we see this every day. We have to re-examine the way we're treating pain." (6/3)

The Washington Post: Prince’s Death By Opioid Overdose Is A Very Public Example Of A Growing Cultural Problem
Prince's death earlier this year was the result of an overdose of opioids, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, citing a law enforcement official. Now confirmed by the medical examiner, Prince has just become a key example of a problem that has spiked in recent years — and that has become a key undercurrent in American politics. The most recent annual data on opioid overdoses comes from 2014 by way of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the end of 2015, the CDC released figures for that year and the trend back to 1999. Sixty-one percent of drug-overdose deaths in 2014 involved some sort of opioid, including heroin. The recent uptick in heroin overdoses is obvious, but the longer-term growth of opioid deaths is also visible. (Bump, 6/2)

The New York Times: Prince Overdosed on Fentanyl. What Is It?
Minnesota officials reported on Thursday that Prince died in April of an overdose of the opiate fentanyl. The authorities have not revealed how the musician obtained the drug or whether a doctor had prescribed it. But it has been reported that he had hip surgery in the mid-2000s and may have still been in pain. Fentanyl has become a source of concern for government agencies and law enforcement officials as death rates from fentanyl-related overdoses and seizures of the drug have risen in several states. Here’s what we know about the drug. (Browich, 6/2)

Los Angeles Times: Prince Died From An Overdose Of A Powerful Painkiller Described As 'Heroin On Steroids'
Fentanyl was first introduced under the name Sublimaze in the 1960s, and was initially administered via an intravenous anesthetic. Nowadays, patients can get a fentanyl dosage via tablets, patches, and injections -- or even lozenges referred to as “lollipops.” The drug is often prescribed for patients dealing with chronic pain from late-stage cancer, and is also used as an anesthetic during heart surgery. (Ng, 6/2)

The Associated Press Fact Checker: Trumped-Up Charge On 'Obamacare' Premiums
Donald Trump says the Obama administration plans to keep consumers in the dark about premium increases for 2017 under the president's health care law — for political reasons. But the administration says next year's sign-up season is going forward on schedule, and insurers say they've seen no indication of a delay. "The numbers are coming out, right now, the numbers are scheduled to come out on November 1. The increases are going to be so large that everybody is going to vote for Donald Trump. It's a catastrophe," the presumptive Republican nominee for president, said Wednesday at a rally in Sacramento. (6/3)

The Associated Press: Insurers In Delaware Exchange Seek Steep Rate Increases
Insurance companies participating in Delaware’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act are seeking average rate increases of about 24 percent or more for next year, state officials revealed Thursday in acknowledging the potential sticker shock for consumers. In a rate filing with the Delaware Department of Insurance, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware is asking for an average rate increase of 32.5 percent for individual plans. Rate increases would vary by plan and would range from 24.1 percent to 35.8 percent. (Chase, 6/2)

The Wall Street Journal: North Carolina Blue Cross And Blue Shield Sues U.S. Over Health-Care Payments
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina sued the federal government, becoming the latest health insurer to claim it is owed money under the Affordable Care Act. The suit, filed on Thursday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., says the U.S. failed to live up to obligation to pay the insurer more than $147 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. (Wilde Mathews, 6/2)

Los Angeles Times: Immigrants Here Illegally Could Have Chance To Buy Health Coverage If Brown Signs Legislation
The state Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a measure that would ask for federal approval to allow immigrants in the country illegally to purchase their own health insurance through the Covered California exchange. State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said his bill may lead to an estimated 390,000 immigrants who earn an income too high to qualify for Medi-Cal to fully pay for healthcare coverage through the state exchange under the Affordable Care Act. (McGreevy, 6/2)

The New York Times: Donald Verrilli Will Step Down As U.S. Solicitor General
The Justice Department announced on Thursday that Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who won historic Supreme Court rulings for the Obama administration on its signature health care law and on same-sex marriage, would be stepping down as the nation’s top appellate lawyer. Mr. Verrilli, 58, has been the solicitor general for five years, arguing the administration’s position before the justices during an unusual wave of contentious cases that drew attention far outside the legal world. (Lichtblau, 6/2)

The Associated Press: Justice Lawyer Who Defended Obamacare At High Court Leaving
The top Justice Department official who defended the president's health care law at the Supreme Court is leaving his job. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. is ending his five-year tenure as the administration's chief lawyer at the high court, President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday. "Thanks to his efforts, 20 million more Americans now know the security of quality, affordable health care," Obama said. (6/2)

The Washington Post: U.S. Solicitor General Is Stepping Down
Verrilli, the 46th solicitor general, had served as the country’s top appellate lawyer and advocate before the Supreme Court since 2011. He took over for Elena Kagan after her appointment as a justice. The 58-year-old spearheaded a number of high-profile cases, notably defending the Affordable Care Act in the King v. Burwell case and winning over a majority of the justices in Obergefell v. Hodges that the 14th Amendment required that same-sex marriages be recognized across the country. He had earlier won a case declaring unconstitutional a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. (Zapotosky and Barnes, 6/2)

The Associated Press: Medicare Doesn't Cover Everything
Younger people may not realize it, but seniors know well that Medicare doesn't cover all health-related needs and expenses. Many Medicare beneficiaries have some kind of supplemental insurance that partly covers the gaps. But those policies mainly provide financial protection for the patient's share of costs for regular doctor visits and hospital care covered by Medicare. Until 2006, Medicare didn't cover prescription drugs. (6/2)

The New York Times: Zika May Be Transmitted by Oral Sex, Scientists Find
Scientists raised the possibility that the Zika virus can be transmitted by oral sex — perhaps even by kissing — on Friday in a letter to The New England Journal of Medicine describing one such case in France. A single incident may seem trivial. But until early this year, there was only one known instance of sexual transmission of the Zika virus — a 2008 case in which a mosquito researcher just back from Africa infected his wife in Colorado. (McNeil, 6/2)

The Washington Post: House Fetal Tissue Panel Sharpens Focus On California Firm, Demands HHS Probe
The chairwoman of a special House committee investigating links between abortion clinics and medical researchers is accusing a firm that transfers fetal tissue between the two of violating federal privacy laws and ethics regulations. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who leads the select investigative panel established last year, alleges that California-based StemExpress engaged in “systematic violations” of federal health privacy laws and accuses it of “fraudulently using invalid consent forms” in its dealings with Planned Parenthood abortion clinics. (DeBonis, 6/2)

The Associated Press: Complaint Challenges Ban On Abortion Clinics Near Schools
Abortion clinic owners on Thursday filed a challenge to two new Alabama abortion restrictions, one banning clinics near schools and another banning a common second-trimester abortion procedure. The complaint filed by American Civil Liberties Union in Montgomery federal court said the school location restriction would close two abortion clinics that perform more than half of the abortions in the state, and the procedure ban would severely curtail second-trimester abortion access throughout Alabama. (6/2)

The Wall Street Journal: CDC Identifies Counties At Risk Of HIV Outbreaks
In this rural town, the forces of poverty and addiction drove a needle-sharing drug problem that caused the first-known HIV outbreak related to the current opioid crisis in America. Now, as Austin struggles to recover from its outbreak last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 220 counties across the U.S. where similar conditions create vulnerability to eruptions of HIV and hepatitis C. (Campo-Flores and McKay, 6/2)

The Washington Post: Patients And Doctors Urge Reconsideration Of NIH Shake-Up
Some patients and high-ranking officials at the National Institutes of Health are urging Director Francis S. Collins to reconsider his planned demotion of top leaders at the agency’s flagship hospital, contending that blame for safety problems identified by an outside panel has been misplaced. In a letter to Collins on Thursday, an advisory group of hospital patients asked him to rethink his plan to replace the Clinical Center’s current leaders with three new executives and a structure similar to the one at most hospitals. (Bernstein, 6/2)

Los Angeles Times: Pasadena Hospital Broke The Law By Not Reporting Outbreak, Health Officials Say
Pasadena’s Huntington Hospital broke state law by not quickly reporting a suspected deadly outbreak last year, according to a letter by city officials. The hospital released the letter this week, as well as the results of the city’s investigation into the outbreak caused by dirty scopes, which sickened 16 patients, including 11 who died. City health officials did not investigate the cause of the patients’ deaths, many of whom were seriously ill. The officials noted in the report that only one patient’s death certificate listed as a cause the dangerous drug-resistant bacteria that contaminated the scopes and sickened the patients. (sen, 6/2)

Reuters: Independence Of Compliance Reviews Is Questioned In Drug Firm Settlements
Some major U.S. drug companies have hired their own auditors to perform compliance reviews mandated in government settlements over alleged civil violations, such as paying kickbacks or off-label drug promotion, according to federal records reviewed by Reuters. Third-party compliance reviews are playing an increasingly large role in helping the government ensure companies fulfill their obligations in federal settlements. (Lynch, 6/2)

The Associated Press: Justice Dept. Backs Fired VA Official In Legal Challenge
The Justice Department is siding with a legal argument by a fired Department of Veterans Affairs official at the center of a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and secret lists covering up the delays. Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, is suing the VA to win back her old job. Helman argues in court papers that a key portion of a 2014 law passed in response to the wait-time scandal is unconstitutional and denies her an important step to appeal her firing. (6/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Family Caregivers Become More Crucial As Elderly Population Grows
Strain on family caregivers is alarming many lawmakers and social-service providers. They are pushing for new ways to assist the vast unpaid workforce of people who are crucial in part because they allow more seniors to age in place and reduce reliance on public subsidies such as Medicaid, a major funder of institutional health care for older Americans. “Families have always been the backbone of our system for caring for people,” said Kathy Greenlee, the assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Really, if we didn’t have them, we couldn’t afford as a country to monetize their care and we couldn’t replace, frankly, the love they provide to family members.” (Levitz, 6/3)

The Associated Press: Needle Stealing Highlights Issue Tracking Health Workers
The latest public health scare involving a Colorado surgical technician has revealed states have more work ahead in trying to prevent needle-stealing hospital workers from getting hired. Authorities say an HIV-positive surgical tech stole syringes with fentanyl and endangered patients at a suburban Denver hospital - the third incident of this type in the state in less than a decade. Colorado lawmakers are trying to tighten regulations but experts say it is a national concern. (6/3)

The Associated Press: California Doctors Uneasy About Prescribing Lethal Drugs
Terry Petrovich asked her oncologist point blank: “Am I going to count on you to help me achieve a good death?” To her relief, he told her he would have no problem prescribing a lethal dose of drugs under California’s new law allowing such prescriptions for the terminally ill. But many in California’s medical community are grappling with the law that goes into effect June 9. Some physicians have told their patients they are not willing to play a role in intentionally ending a person’s life. (Watson, 6/3)

The Associated Press: New York Bill Extends Deadline For Medical Malpractice Suits
Legislation before state lawmakers in New York would significantly change medical malpractice law by allowing patients to sue years after an alleged misdiagnosis or mistreatment. Patients currently must file lawsuits within 2½ years after the alleged malpractice. The bill would amend the statute of limitations on such cases to start the clock when a patient first realizes they were possibly misdiagnosed or harmed by a medical professional — as long as the lawsuit is filed within 10 years of the original incident. (6/2)

The Associated Press: Hawaii’s Lack Of Mental Health Care Forces Teens From State
Within months of starting the process of adopting her son, Susan Callahan knew something was wrong. Aron, who was 7, had trouble communicating and started getting violent at home and school, trying to hit his mother and teachers. Callahan took him to a psychiatrist, where he was diagnosed with a range of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental disabilities. Desperate, his parents sought help from the state. But when Aron finally found adequate care nearly a decade later, it was not in Hawaii but more than 3,000 miles away, at a specialized facility in Kansas. (Starleaf Riker, 6/2)

The Washington Post: Md. Couple Sentenced To Prison In $80 Million Medicaid Fraud In Nation’s Capital
A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a Bowie, Md., wife and husband to 10 and seven years in prison, respectively, for orchestrating a multiyear campaign to defraud D.C. Medicaid of more than $80 million between 2009 and 2014, the largest local health-care fraud scheme ever prosecuted in the city. Florence Bikundi, 53, and Michael D. Bikundi Sr., 63, were ordered to forfeit more than $11 million in cash, their $1 million home and five luxury vehicles by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who also imposed a money judgment of $40 million and ordered the couple to pay $80.6 million in restitution. (Hsu, 6/2)

The Associated Press: Panel: Treating Hearing Loss Shouldn't Be A Pricey Hassle
Treating hearing loss shouldn't be such a pricey hassle. That's the message from a prestigious government advisory group that's calling on Medicare and other agencies to find ways to make better hearing more affordable and accessible for millions of older Americans. One proposal: Allow over-the-counter sales of si

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