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Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Free Refills?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Free Refills?'" by Matt Wuerker.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

OBAMA ON THE VA HEALTH SYSTEM

Privatizing it
Would be a mistake, he said.
We’re making progress.

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Summaries Of The News:

Capitol Hill Watch

4. A FEMA-Like Fund Exists To Fight Zika -- But Congress Has Left That Piggy Bank Empty

The fund to help deal with public health disasters was created by Congress in 1983 with an initial appropriation of $30 million. But Congress only put money into it again twice: in 1987 and again in 1993, in response to the outbreak of hantavirus. Today the fund balance is $57,000. Meanwhile, both the surgeon general and Sen. March Rubio, R-Fla, warn about the lack of Zika prevention funding.

NPR: A Permanent Fund That Could Help Fight Zika Exists, But It's Empty
Public health advocates who are exasperated by the fight on Capitol Hill over how much to spend to combat the Zika virus are looking longingly at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has a standing fund that it can draw upon when disaster strikes. The fund is replenished when the money is spent cleaning up from hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. If only, public health experts sigh. (Kodjak, 6/3)

The Hill: Surgeon General: ‘We Are Going To Run Out Of Funds’ For Zika
The nation’s top doctor is stepping up his warnings about the need for funds to fight the Zika virus in the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says federal health agencies are nearing the end of their reserves as they to try to halt the outbreak and will need new funds from Congress immediately to keep fighting the disease. (Ferris, 6/3)

In other news, the birth defects associated with Zika go beyond microcephaly, and the World Health Organization says it will hold an emergency meeting to evaluate the risks of holding the Olympics in Brazil —

Reuters: WHO Experts Say Zika May Cause Birth Defects In Thousands Of Babies
World Health Organization officials on Friday cautioned that "many thousands" of infants infected with Zika virus could suffer neurological abnormalities and said nations dealing with an outbreak need to watch for problems beyond the widely reported cases of microcephaly. These include spasticity, seizures, irritability, feeding difficulties, eyesight problems and evidence of severe brain abnormalities. (Berkrot, 6/3)

Reuters: WHO Emergency Panel To Meet In June On Zika And Olympics: Spokeswoman
With debate growing over the safety of holding the Olympics in Brazil amid the ongoing Zika virus outbreak, the World Health Organization's Emergency Committee on Zika will meet in the coming weeks to evaluate the risks tied to going on with the Games in August, a WHO spokeswoman said on Friday. "The Emergency Committee meeting will consider the situation in Brazil, including the question of the Olympics," WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander told Reuters in response to a query. (Nebehay and Berkrot, 6/3)

The Associated Press: Gabby Douglas: 'I Don't Care About No Stupid Bugs.'
Olympic champion Gabby Douglas says the Zika virus won't affect her plans to pursue more gold in Rio de Janeiro. "It's the Olympics," Douglas said Friday. "Mosquitoes? Like, whatever. I'm going. This is my shot. I don't care about no stupid bugs." The 20-year-old Douglas and other Olympic hopefuls are in Hartford for the Secret U.S. Classic on Saturday. The meet is the final tune-up for the national championships in St. Louis this month. (6/3)

Veterans' Health Care

5. Obama: 'Dismantling The VA System Would Be A Mistake'

The president says a move to privatize the veterans' health care system would undercut the progress his administration has made in modernizing the department and bringing veterans timely care. Meanwhile, the VA proposes a rule change to allow veterans to apply for medical services to change their sex.

The Associated Press: Obama Opposes Privatization Of The Department Of Veterans Affairs
President Obama is opposing suggestions to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the health care that veterans receive. In an interview with The Colorado Springs Gazette, he said that his administration had made progress modernizing the department and providing veterans with more timely care. Privatizing the agency would delay that progress, Mr. Obama said. (6/5)

Colorado Springs Gazette: Obama: VA Is Healing
"The notion of dismantling the VA system would be a mistake," Obama told The Gazette on Thursday after he shook the hands of 812 new Air Force officers -- all of whom will someday be veterans. He said his administration has made steady progress in modernizing the VA and providing veterans with more timely health care. Reinventing the system would derail that progress. "If you look at, for example, VA health care, there have been challenges getting people into the system. Once they are in, they are extremely satisfied and the quality of care is very high," Obama said. (Schrader, 6/5)

The Wall Street Journal: Veterans Affairs Department Proposes Coverage For Gender Reassignment Surgery
The Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing a rule change to begin covering sex-reassignment surgeries and other related medical treatment for transgender veterans. ... “Surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria,” the medical diagnosis required for a transgender person to have sex-reassignment surgery, the proposed rule change said. “Recent medical research shows that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that has had severe medical consequences for certain patients if transition-related surgeries and procedures are not provided.” (Kesling and Radnofsky, 6/3)

Campaign 2016

6. Clinton Facing Pressure From Sanders To Support Calif. Initiative On Drug Prices

The ballot measure would give California health agencies the ability to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug costs for 5 million people who are on Medicaid plans and those enrolled in the HIV/AIDS drug assistance program. Also, a look at how experts are parsing Clinton's proposal to extend Medicare to people 55 and older.

The Hill: Sanders Pressures Clinton To Back Drug Price Initiative
Hillary Clinton is under mounting pressure from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to back California’s ballot measure aimed at reducing steep drug prices ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday. The first-in-the-nation ballot measure would allow California’s health agencies to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower drug costs. (Ferris, 6/4)

The Fiscal Times: Clinton’s Plan To Extend Medicare Raises Red Flags
Hillary Clinton last month dusted off a long-standing proposal of hers to expand health care coverage by allowing uninsured people 55 and older to qualify for Medicare – the government health care program for the elderly. ... her idea is generating substantial buzz among health care experts and professionals, some of whom question whether it would be a panacea for millions of uninsured Americans or a “bad fit” for a health care system that has been revolutionized by the Affordable Care Act. (Pianin, 6/5)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

7. Conflict Brewing In Alaska Over Whether House GOP Can Continue Medicaid Expansion Fight

Republican legislators lost their effort to derail the governor's order to expand Medicaid in a case that went to the state Supreme Court. The House wants to appeal but hasn't secured consent from the Senate. Meanwhile in Wyoming, a poll by researchers at the University of Wyoming finds residents support Medicaid expansion if it will help the state budget.

Alaska Dispatch News: Lawyers Spar Over Whether Alaska House Can Appeal In Medicaid Expansion Lawsuit
Lawye
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