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KHN First Edition: June 9, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, June 09, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: HHS Announces Plans To Curtail Consumers' Use Of Short-Term Insurance Policies
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "The Obama administration on Wednesday moved to sharply limit short-term health insurance plans, which a growing number of consumers have been buying even though they offer less coverage than what the Affordable Care Act decreed all people should have. The plans, designed for people in between jobs or in need of temporary insurance until they secure a regular policy, are cheaper than regular insurance plans. But they also can lack features that the health law requires for other policies, such as coverage for preexisting medical conditions, maternity care and prescription drugs. In addition, insurers are allowed to refuse to sell short-term plans to people they think will run up large medical costs, and insurers can also cap the maximum amount they will pay. Both practices are banned for regular policies under the health law." (Rau, 6/9)

KHN: At This Medical School, Students Mix Science And Health Policy
KHN correspondent Julie Rovner reports: "Medical students cram a lot of basic science and medicine into their first two years of training. But most learn next to nothing about the intricacies of the health care system they will soon enter. That's something the medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is trying to remedy." (Rovner, 6/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Government Seeks Limits On Short-Term Health Policies
The Obama administration is seeking to limit short-term health policies that include features largely banned under the Affordable Care Act, a proposal that could crimp a profitable and growing business for some insurers. Under a proposed rule released Wednesday, insurers would only be able to offer short-term health policies that last less than three months, and the coverage couldn’t be renewed at the end of that period. The proposal seeks to close a gap that has let healthier consumers purchase short-term plans that could last for nearly a year, sometimes using them as a cheaper substitute for ACA plans. (Wilde Mathews, Radnofsky and Armour, 6/8)

The New York Times: Congress Will Work On $1.1 Billion Measure To Fight Zika, McConnell Says
With public health officials warning of a fast-spreading emergency, House and Senate negotiators will work to reconcile legislation aimed at providing up to $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that carry it, Senator Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday. The Senate last month approved $1.1 billion — far less than the $1.9 billion sought by the Obama administration — in a regular appropriations measure, after four months of sparring with the White House. (Herszenhorn, 6/8)

The Associated Press: Senate Agrees To Negotiate With House Over Zika Funding
The Senate voted Wednesday to move ahead with negotiations with the House on a measure to fund the government’s fight against the Zika virus. The 93-2 vote paves the way for potentially tricky talks over how much money to provide to battle Zika and whether to pay for it with cuts elsewhere in the budget as demanded by House GOP conservatives. The virus can cause grave birth defects and can be spread by mosquitoes native to large swathes of the country. (Taylor, 6/8)

Politico: Zika Could Cause 'Billions Of Dollars' Of Damage To Gulf Coast, Expert Warns
Zika virus is poised to spread across the U.S. Gulf Coast states this summer, and the human and financial toll could be on the scale of a massive disaster, warns a top public health expert. Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, told POLITICO's "Pulse Check" podcast that the aedes aegypti mosquito could already be spreading Zika virus across the southern United States, but local officials don't have the resources to conduct adequate surveillance because of the monthslong battle over Zika funding in Washington. (Diamond, 6/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Zika Virus Swamps Embattled Puerto Rico
The Zika virus is creeping north toward the continental U.S., and Alberto de la Vega has started to detect its signs. In ultrasounds he gives pregnant women who are infected with the virus in this American territory, he has seen a 22-week-old fetus with serious brain damage and two others with stunted growth. He is bracing for more. “If you ask me in a month,” says Dr. de la Vega, an obstetrician-gynecologist and chief of a high-risk-pregnancy unit at the capital’s University Hospital, “we may have 10 times the detection rate.” (McKay, 6/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Bill Would Require Doctors To Report Medical-Device Hazards
Doctors would be required to report potentially serious problems with medical devices they use to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, under a new bill that a pair of lawmakers is expected to introduce in Congress Wednesday. The proposed legislation, known as the “Medical Device Guardian’s Act," is intended to help raise awareness of the possible risks of medical devices that could cause harm to patients. Sponsors of the bill said they were motivated to change the law after the long delay in public awareness of the risks of a women’s surgical tool called the laparoscopic power morcellator. (Levitz, 6/8)

USA Today: Drug Co-Pay Assistance Programs Facing Increasing State, Federal Scrutiny
Charity-run funds to help patients pay high co-payments face new scrutiny by prosecutors in two states and increased federal oversight, amid increasing questions about how they mask high drug prices. Three drugmakers — Gilead Sciences, Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Biogen — disclosed subpoenas this spring related to their funding of co-pay assistance programs. Valeant Pharmaceuticals, already under fire here for its high drug prices, announced last October that the U.S. attorneys for both the Southern District of New York and Massachusetts had subpoenaed information about its contributions to patient assistance programs. (O'Donnell, 6/8)

Los Angeles Times: What We Know About Physician-Assisted Death From Oregon, By The Numbers
Oregon was the first state to allow patients with terminal illnesses to request medications that would end their lives. Though other states have since adopted similar laws, Oregon remains the best guide for what to expect in California when physician-assisted death becomes legal in the state Thursday. Here are some statistics about who has taken advantage of Oregon’s aid-in-dying law since it took effect in 1998. (Karlamangla, 6/9)

Associated Press: California Aid-In-Dying Law Concerns Some Latinos, Blacks
California on Thursday becomes the latest state to allow the terminally ill to legally choose to end their lives, raising worries among some people in the state's large Latino and African-American communities that poor people with serious illnesses could be pressured to take lethal drugs as a cheaper option to long-term care. (Watson, 6/8)

USA Today: Calif. End-Of-Life Law, Inspired By Brittany Maynard, To Go Into Effect
Somewhere in California on Thursday, a terminally ill person may lift a glass and drink a lethal slurry of pulverized prescription pills dissolved in water. And then die. That’s the day the nation’s most populous state implements a law, passed in 2015, making physician-assisted dying accessible to 1 in 6 terminally ill Americans, according to its national backers, Compassion & Choices. (Grossman, 6/8)

The Wall Street Journal: AmSurg, Envision Healthcare Hold Merger Talks
Envision Healthcare Holdings Inc. is in talks to merge with AmSurg Corp., a deal that would bring together two big providers of physician and other health-care services with a combined value of more than $9 billion. The companies are in advanced discussions, and a deal could be announced as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter. It isn’t clear how the deal would be structured and, as always, it is possible the talks could break down before one is reached. (Mattioli and Cimilluca, 6/8)

NPR: Legal Medical Abortions Are Up In Texas, But So Are DIY Pills From Mexico
Women who want an abortion in deeply conservative Texas have slightly more choice these days than they had a few months ago. In March, the Food and Drug Administration simplified rules on abortion medication, allowing patients to take the standard regimen of abortion drugs later in a pregnancy. However, the recent spike in the number of women choosing legal, non-surgical abortions in U.S. clinics has not slowed brisk sales of abortion drugs south of the border, in Mexican pharmacies. (Burnett, 6/8)

The New York Times: Drug That Killed Prince Is Making Mexican Cartels Richer, U.S. Says
The drug that killed Prince has become a favorite of Mexican cartels because it is extremely potent, popular in the United States — and immensely profitable, American officials say. Law enforcement and border authorities in the United States warn that Mexican cartels are using their own labs to produce the drug, fentanyl, as well as receiving shipments from China. Then the cartels distribute the substance through their vast smuggling networks to meet rising American demand for opiates and pharmaceuticals. (Ahmed, 6/9)

The Associated Press: Study: Most Antidepressants Don't Work For Young Patients
Scientists say most antidepressants don't work for children or teenagers with major depression, some may be unsafe, and the quality of evidence about these drugs is so bad the researchers cannot be sure if any are truly effective or safe. In the biggest analysis yet conducted of previously published studies, researchers studied 14 antidepressants and found only one drug that seemed to be useful. (Cheng, 6/9)

NPR: An Army Buddy's Call For Help Sends A Scientist On A Brain Injury Quest
"Somehow I realized he's asking for help," [Kit] Parker says. "It's not being verbalized, but that's why he's calling." Parker would spend the next decade answering that call. He would reset the trajectory of his career. And ultimately, he would make a discovery that changed scientists' understanding of the battlefield brain injuries sustained by hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Hamilton, 6/8)

The Wall Street Journal: San Francisco’s Sugary-Drinks Warnings Delayed Pending Appeal
A federal judge has put San Francisco’s planned health warnings for soda and other sugar-added drinks on hold, granting the beverage industry an injunction pending appeal. The law was slated to go into effect July 25 and would require that billboards and other public advertisements include the language: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.” (Esterl, 6/8)

The Associated Press: NY Nonprofits Say Caregiver Staff Shortage Nears Crisis
Nonprofits that care for thousands of developmentally disabled New Yorkers say their chronic understaffing is reaching a crisis, with nearly 10 percent job vacancies last year. They say they can't fill the jobs because of the low pay for challenging work. A survey of 136 caretaker organizations also shows 23 percent staff turnover last year, another factor forcing other employees to work 6.4 million hours of overtime. (6/8)

The Associated Press: Edwards Tax Plan Takes Hit From Democratic Committee Chair
The proposal by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, would have raised $117 million to fill gaps in next year's budget by cutting breaks for taxpayers who itemize deductions on their income tax returns. Shadoin said 74 percent of individual taxpayers don't itemize for things like home mortgage interest payments, charitable contributions and medical costs. The change would return Louisiana to where the tax break was in 2007, from allowing 100 percent of those excess itemized deductions to 57.5 percent. Supporters said state government needs the money to keep health, education and other programs from facing steep cuts in the financial year that begins July 1, when Louisiana faces a $600 million shortfall. (DeSlatte, 6/8)

The Associated Press: New Smoking Age To Take Effect In California
Andrew Rodriguez was 15 years old when he smoked his first cigarette. He knows how addictive smoking can be and hopes a new California law raising the smoking age will discourage young people from taking up the habit. “I think it’s better,” said the 21-year-old chef-in-training from Los Angeles. “I just hope they don’t raise the drinking age.” Beginning Thursday, smokers have to be at least 21 to buy tobacco products in California. (Chang, 6/8)

Politico: Kasich Legalizes Medical Marijuana In Ohio
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana legalization bill into law on Wednesday, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The former Republican presidential candidate's penmanship makes Ohio the 26th state in the nation to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes. Kasich has said he would like children with certain medical conditions to be able to relieve their pain through cannabis use. (Gurciullo, 6/8)

Associated Press: Ohio Becomes Latest State To Legalize Medical Marijuana
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill Wednesday legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio, though patients shouldn't expect to get it from dispensaries here anytime soon. The bill lays out a number of steps that must happen first to set up the state's medical marijuana program, which is expected to be fully operational in about two years. (Sanner, 6/9)

The Associated Press: Doc Pleads Guilty To Health Care Fraud In Federal Drug Case
A Maryland physician who fled to Panama amid allegations he overprescribed addictive painkillers pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of health care fraud. Nicola Tauraso, 81, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He faces up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing Aug. 8. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss 23 other counts, including narcotics conspiracy, in the plea deal. (6/8)

The Associated Press: Doctor Gets Prison Term For Taking Bribes From Lab Company
A New York doctor is headed to prison for his role in a long-running bribes-for-test referrals scheme involving a New Jersey lab company. Federal prosecutors in New Jersey say Bret Ostrager received a 37-month sentence Wednesday. He also must forfeit $101,271. The 51-year-old Woodbury, New York resident had medical practices in Nassau County. He pleaded guilty last December to three counts in an indictment charging him with conspiracy and other counts. (6/8)

The Washington Post: Savvy Drug Dealer Or Clueless Wife? In Trial, Contrasting Depictions Of Md. Woman
To hear federal authorities tell it, William and Roxanne Granberry’s marriage was a real-life mashup of “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Fast and the Furious.” He organized a ring that sold prescription painkillers on the black market. She controlled the cash, managing her husband’s addiction to gambling and race cars. But Roxanne Granberry’s defense attorney said that story is as fantastical as the movies it resembles. (Weiner, 6/8)

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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