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KHN First Edition: June 8, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: A New Sort Of Consultant: Advising Doctors, Patients On California’s Aid-In-Dying Law
KQED's Lisa Aliferis, in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Few people have the unusual set of professional experiences that Dr. Lonny Shavelson does. He worked as an emergency room physician in Berkeley for years — while also working as a journalist. He has written several books and takes hauntingly beautiful photographs. Now, just as California’s law aid-in-dying law takes effect this week, Shavelson has added another specialty: A consultant to physicians and terminally ill patients who have questions about how it works. “Can I just sit back and watch?” Shavelson asked from his cottage office. “This is really an amazing opportunity to be part of establishing policy and initiating something in medicine. This is a major change … [that] very, very few people know anything about and how to do it.” (Aliferis, 6/8)

Kaiser Health News: FDA Eases Paperwork To Help Some Patients Get Experimental Drugs
Kaiser Health News staff writer Rachel Bluth reports: "The Food and Drug Administration removed an obstacle from of its “compassionate use” policy this month, eliminating some paperwork that physicians must do to obtain experimental drugs for some patients with immediately life-threatening illnesses. Doctors will now file an application for FDA approval that contains just 11 questions, 15 fewer than the old form. They should be able to complete this new version in 45 minutes, the FDA said. The new form is simpler because it was designed for individual patients, replacing an all-purpose format that had been used by doctors acting on behalf of individuals or small or large groups of patients." (Bluth, 6/8)

The Associated Press: Senate GOP Drops Push To 'Defund Obamacare'
Republicans controlling the Senate are abandoning an effort to use their power over the federal purse strings to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The more pragmatic approach came Tuesday on a huge $164 billion spending measure and reflects a hope by top Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to remove veto bait from must-pass spending bills in hopes of advancing them more easily with Democratic support. (6/7)

The Associated Press: Congress Sends Obama Bill To Regulate Toxic Chemicals
Congress on Tuesday sent President Barack Obama a sweeping bill that would for the first time regulate tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in everyday products, from household cleaners to clothing and furniture. In a rare display of bipartisanship in an election year, the Senate backed the measure on a voice vote after Republicans and Democrats spoke enthusiastically about the legislation. Backers of the bill said it would clear up a hodgepodge of state rules and update and improve a toxic-chemicals law that has remained unchanged for 40 years. (6/7)

The Washington Post: Sweeping Overhaul Of Nation’s Chemical-Safety Laws Clears Final Legislative Hurdle
In reauthorizing the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act on a voice vote, lawmakers are providing chemical manufacturers with greater certainty while giving the Environmental Protection Agency the ability to obtain more information about a chemical before approving its use. And because the laws involved regulate thousands of chemicals used in products including furniture, sippy cups and detergents, the measure will affect Americans’ everyday lives in ways large and small. (Eilperin, 6/7)

The New York Times: Senate Approves Update Of Toxic-Chemical Regulations
Public health advocates and environmentalists complained for decades that the 1976 law was outdated and riddled with gaps that left Americans exposed to harmful chemicals. Under current law, around 64,000 chemicals are not subject to environmental testing or regulation. But efforts to tighten the law had stalled for years. The authors of the bill say their breakthrough represents a pragmatic, politically viable compromise between better environmental standards and the demands of industry. 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, 6/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Approves Bill To Overhaul Chemicals Oversight
The bill is the first significant update to U.S. chemicals safety law in 40 years and would expand the federal government’s power over chemical companies. “The fact that Congress in a bipartisan and bicameral way has arrived at a solution that will provide the industry greater certainty and consumers greater public health protections is an enormous step forward,” Brian Deese, senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said in a recent interview. (Berzon and Harder, 6/7)

Reuters: New Research Finds Low Risk Of Zika Virus At Olympics
New research attempting to calculate the risk of the Zika virus at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro may reassure organizers and many of the more than 500,000 athletes and fans expected to travel to the epicentre of the epidemic. Controversy about the global gathering in August has grown as more about the disease becomes known. The mosquito-borne virus can cause crippling birth defects and, in adults, has been linked to the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre. (Steenhuysen, 6/7)

Politico: Renee Ellmers Is First GOP Incumbent Knocked Off In Primary
Rep. George Holding won the Republican primary for a newly redrawn district in North Carolina, beating Rep. Renee Ellmers, who became the first GOP incumbent to lose in a primary this year. Holding, who was first elected in 2012, had 52 percent of the vote with nearly two-thirds of precincts reporting when The Associated Press called the race. Ellmers, a three-term incumbent who was drawn into a new district this year and a rare incumbent-on-incumbent primary with Holding, trailed with 24 percent of the vote. Greg Brannon, a two-time Senate primary candidate, also got 24 percent. ... But an important factor in Ellmers being turned out was a rift with social conservatives over her brief opposition to the 20-week abortion ban. She stalled a vote planned to coincide with the March for Life in January 2015 — the biggest annual event for anti-abortion groups — to ensure that the rape exception didn’t mandate women to report the rape to police. (Schneider, 6/7)

The New York Times: Microsoft Finds Cancer Clues In Search Queries
Microsoft scientists have demonstrated that by analyzing large samples of search engine queries they may in some cases be able to identify internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before they have received a diagnosis of the disease. The scientists said they hoped their work could lead to early detection of cancer. Their study was published on Tuesday in The Journal of Oncology Practice by Dr. Eric Horvitz and Dr. Ryen White, the Microsoft researchers, and John Paparrizos, a Columbia University graduate student. (Markoff, 6/7)

The Washington Post: New Blood Test May Be Able To Find Best Antidepressant Match, Study Says
British scientists took a major step toward bringing personalized medicine to mental health on Tuesday, announcing that they developed a blood test that can accurately predict whether you'll respond to the conventional, commonly prescribed antidepressants on the market. This is important because about half of patients who try them don't respond to first-line antidepressants and often spend months struggling to find the right drug. Doctors also have not had a lot of tools to help them create more personalized individual treatment plans. (Cha, 6/7)

The Washington Post: The Problem With Trying To Solve Gun Violence By Going After The Mentally Ill
In the wake of a mass shooting, a furious political debate inevitably erupts: Does gun violence stem from mental-health issues or from easy access to firearms? A policy solution that attempts to skirt the contentious divide is to make it harder for people with a history of mental illness to own a gun. A new Health Affairs study followed 81,704 adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression who were receiving treatment through the public behavioral health systems in two Florida counties to measure the effectiveness of such policies. About 12.8 percent were restricted from purchasing a firearm for mental-health reasons. Federal and state laws prohibit people from obtaining guns if they have been committed for mental-health treatment involuntarily, found not guilty of a crime due to insanity, been found incompetent to stand trial, or deemed mentally unable to manage their affairs. (Johnson, 6/7)

The Washington Post: Mental-Health Crisis Ensnares Inmates, Judges, Jailers And Hospitals
Just before 6 p.m., a prison transport van pulled up to a state mental hospital in central Maryland. Inside were two deputies and James Geeter, a 77-year-old man arrested for trespassing at a library in Prince George’s County — and so mentally incompetent that a judge ordered treatment before he could face the charges. Four hospital staffers, including the clinical director, met the deputies at the door that night last month and turned them away. The psychiatric facility was full. The deputies and their prisoner returned to the county’s jail, where Geeter took a spot on a list of 84 inmates throughout Maryland waiting to get into one of the state’s five forensic hospitals — including some inmates charged with violent felonies. The crisis at Maryland’s mental hospitals is playing out nationwide, putting pressure on jails and testing the patience of judges. (Morse, 6/7)

The Wall Street Journal: New England Governors Tackle Region’s Drug Problem
Deaths linked to opioid drugs in Massachusetts nearly tripled in the past five years, according to state data, while in Maine, opioids drove a 31% year-over-year climb in drug-related deaths in 2015. As those trends underscore New England’s acute problem with heroin and prescription drugs, the region’s six governors, including four Democrats and two Republicans, gathered at Harvard Medical School in Boston Tuesday to address how they are fighting the problem. (Kamp, 6/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Judge Sides With Gilead Against Merck In Case Over Hepatitis C Drug Patents
A federal judge has reversed a jury’s verdict that Gilead Sciences Inc. should pay $200 million to Merck & Co. in a drug-patent dispute, after the judge concluded Merck engaged in misconduct in its efforts to obtain patents for hepatitis C drugs. U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman castigated Merck in a 65-page order filed in federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, concluding a former Merck in-house patent attorney involved in obtaining patents for hepatitis C drugs was “dishonest and duplicitous” and thus “crossing the line to egregious misconduct.” (Loftus, 6/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Shares Drop On Another Deep Cut To Guidance
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. cut its outlook again Tuesday and said some key franchises were performing below its expectations, the latest signs of weakness as the Canadian drug company tries to dig out of months of turmoil and heavy debt. Shares in the company fell as much as 22% Tuesday before bouncing back. The stock closed down nearly 15% at $24.64 on the New York Stock Exchange, its lowest close since November 2010. (Rockoff and Rapoport, 6/7)

The Associated Press: Puerto Rico Left Without Air Ambulance Service Over Debt
Puerto Rico's only active air ambulance company announced Tuesday that it has suspended its services, blaming a multimillion-dollar government debt amid a deepening economic crisis that has affected basic services in the U.S. territory. Aeromed said in a statement that it has been negotiating with Puerto Rico's government for nearly three years, but that health officials last week rejected a deal to make a minimum payment of $4.4 million, a portion of a much larger overall debt. (6/7)

The Associated Press: Judge Delays Ruling On Planned Parenthood Kansas Lawsuit
A federal judge on Tuesday weighed a Planned Parenthood request to block Kansas from cutting off Medicaid funding because the women's health provider performs abortions, saying she was "disappointed" the state resisted her earlier suggestion to hold off on halting the money until the matter could go to trial within months. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson did not say after more than two hours of arguments when she might decide whether to block the state health department's action. (6/7)

The Washington Post: Language Barriers, Fear Heighten Woes In Flint Water Crisis
Margarita Solis regularly drives to Flint distribution centers to load up on bottled water, as thousands of residents have done in the city coping with a lead-contaminated water crisis. ... The city of nearly 100,000 has been dealing with the lead contamination since switching from the Detroit system, which draws from Lake Huron, to the Flint River in April 2014 as a short-term measure to save money while another pipeline to the lake was under construction. ... The struggles have been acute for members of some Spanish-speaking households, who say it took several months to learn about the water problems and the need for filters. State officials said there are no Spanish language print media or radio outlets in Flint devoted to news. What’s more, some people in the country illegally have been afraid to provide information to anyone in exchange for water or other basic help lest they be deported or questioned by law enforcement officials. (Karoub, 6/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Gardens Regional Hospital Files For Bankruptcy
The Gardens Regional Hospital and Medical Center Inc. filed for bankruptcy after losing money providing health care to depressed southern Los Angeles neighborhoods, where fewer patients can afford the cost of health care. Lawyers who put the 137-bed hospital into chapter 11 protection on Monday said that since 2010, state and federal medical insurance programs have slowly whittled down reimbursement payments to the facility, which took in more than 8,500 emergency-room patients last year. (Stech, 6/7)

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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