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KHN First Edition: June 13, 2016


First Edition

Monday, June 13, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Women And The Zika Virus: Smart Questions And A Few Solid Answers
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "Mosquitoes may be one of summer’s nuisances. But the ones carrying Zika, a virus that has spread through Latin America and could be transmitted in the United States this summer, are triggering public health warnings -- especially among women of childbearing age -- because of Zika's propensity to cause birth defects. The virus has also been implicated as a potential cause of Guillain-Barre, an autoimmune disorder that causes temporary paralysis and can result in permanent nerve damage and even death. But researchers are still investigating how strong that link is, and how common the disease is." (Luthra, 6/13)

Kaiser Health News: As Hospital Chains Grow, So Do Their Prices For Care
Kaiser Health News staff writer Chad Terhune reports: "As health care consolidation accelerates nationwide, a new study shows that hospital prices in two of California’s largest health systems were 25 percent higher than at other hospitals around the state. Researchers said this gap of nearly $4,000 per patient admission was not due to regional wage differences or hospitals treating sicker patients. Rather, they said California’s two biggest hospital chains, Dignity Health and Sutter Health, had used their market power to win higher rates. "California experienced its wave of consolidation much earlier than the rest of the country and our findings may provide some insight into what may happen across the U.S. from hospital consolidation," said the study’s lead author, Glenn Melnick, a health care economist at the University of Southern California." (Terhune, 6/13)

The Associated Press: Gay Men Limited As Blood Donors For Orlando Club Victims
Hundreds lined up to give blood Sunday in Orlando to help the victims of the massacre at a gay nightclub, but major restrictions remain for gay men wanting to give blood themselves. The response overwhelmed OneBlood donation centers, where officials asked donors to make appointments and continue donating over the next several days. Over 50 people were injured and 50 were killed when a gunman opened fire early Sunday inside the downtown Orlando club Pulse. While many Facebook and Twitter posts from individuals and at least one gay advocacy group in Florida said no one would be turned away and all blood would be screened, OneBlood denied any change in policy. (6/12)

The Associated Press: Rising Premiums Rattle Consumers Paying Their Own Way
Millions of people who pay the full cost of their health insurance will face the sting of rising premiums next year, with no financial help from government subsidies. Renewal notices bearing the bad news will go out this fall, just as the presidential election is in the homestretch. "I don't know if I could swallow another 30 or 40 percent without severely cutting into other things I'm trying to do, like retirement savings or reducing debt," said Bob Byrnes, of Blaine, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb. His monthly premium of $524 is already about 50 percent more than he was paying in 2015, and he has a higher deductible. (6/13)

Reuters: California Governor Signs Bill Letting Undocumented Immigrants Buy Insurance
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law allowing unauthorized immigrants to buy health insurance on a state exchange created under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, making the state the first in the country to offer that kind of coverage. The law lets the state request a waiver from the federal government that will be needed to allow unauthorized immigrants to purchase unsubsidized insurance through Covered California, the state's healthcare exchange. (O'Brien, 6/11)

Los Angeles Times: Gov. Brown Signs Bill That Could Help Immigrants Get Access To Health Insurance
The new law is the latest immigrant-friendly policy recently passed in California. Over the last few years, immigrants here illegally have gained the ability to apply for professional licenses, such as for practicing law or medicine, and also for drivers licenses. Opponents of these policies say they encourage illegal immigration and take away resources from those here legally. But immigrant advocates have praised California’s efforts, especially those around expanding healthcare. (Karlamangla, 6/10)

The New York Times: America’s Appellate Lawyer Recaps 5 Years Of Legal ‘High Drama’
“I really felt like the roof had caved in on me,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said the other day, recalling the low point of his five years as the Obama administration’s top appellate lawyer. Mr. Verrilli, 58, is preparing to step down from the job this month after a tenure that included 37 Supreme Court arguments and a string of major victories on behalf of a Democratic president facing a court dominated by conservative justices. But the scathing reviews of his most important Supreme Court argument, in the 2012 case challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law, still sting. (Liptak, 6/11)

The Wall Street Journal: Walgreen Terminates Partnership With Blood-Testing Firm Theranos
Drugstore operator Walgreen Co. formally ended a strained alliance with Theranos Inc. as regulators near a decision on whether to impose sanctions against the embattled Silicon Valley firm. Some officials at the Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. unit had grown frustrated at not getting more details and documentation from Theranos after learning it had corrected tens of thousands of blood tests, including many performed on samples collected from patients at Walgreens pharmacies, according to people familiar with the partnership. (Siconolfi, Weaver and Carreyrou, 6/12)

The New York Times: Walgreens Cuts Ties To Blood-Testing Company Theranos
Walgreens said on Sunday that it was terminating its relationship with Theranos, dealing a severe blow to the embattled blood-testing company. Walgreens said it would immediately close all 40 of the Theranos testing centers in its Arizona drugstores, the source of most of Theranos’s customers. The giant retailer, a part of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, played a critical role in Theranos’s early success. Founded by Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford University dropout, the company promised to revolutionize the lab industry by being able to offer blood tests through a simple finger prick at a fraction of the cost of conventional testing. (Abelson and Pollack, 6/12)

The New York Times: An E.R. Kicks The Habit Of Opioids For Pain
Since Jan. 4, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center’s emergency department, one of the country’s busiest, has been using opioids only as a last resort. For patients with common types of acute pain — migraines, kidney stones, sciatica, fractures — doctors first try alternative regimens that include nonnarcotic infusions and injections, ultrasound guided nerve blocks, laughing gas, even “energy healing” and a wandering harpist. Scattered E.R.s around the country have been working to reduce opioids as a first-line treatment, but St. Joe’s, as it is known locally, has taken the efforts to a new level. (Hoffman, 6/10)

The Washington Post: The Lonely Road Of Staying Clean
Jessica Kilpatrick was in the middle of a 10-hour shift at Burger King when she checked her phone messages. Right away she knew. It was the canned voice of the community corrections office ordering her in for a random drug test. Jessica put her headset back on and tried to stay calm. She looked into a mirror. She was hot and greasy and smelled like a Croissan’wich, but her eyes were clear and her mind was straight, unglazed by opioid painkillers. She had not missed a single day of work in 11 months. Above: Jessica Kilpatrick and Jeremy Horton have tried to get their lives in order after years of drug abuse. But with Jeremy now having to serve a prison sentence, Jessica must enter a new chapter while fighting her addiction to painkillers. “Have a blessed one,” a customer shouted from the drive-through, and Jessica, who was 33, hollered back in her raspy twang, “You do the same.” She had learned in recovery to focus on the positive and not let the old voices get too loud, so on the drive to the courthouse later she thought of the calendar she kept at home on her nightstand. For every day she stayed clean, she marked another X. (Hull, 6/11)

The New York Times: Drug Maker’s Former Employees Accused Of Shady Dealings With Doctors
Jonathan Roper, once a sales manager at Insys Therapeutics, a small pharmaceutical company, had a problem. The end of the quarter was near, and for the first time, Insys was in danger of missing sales goals for its only product, a spray called Subsys that contains the powerful painkiller fentanyl. So Mr. Roper sent out a blistering email to his staff members at the time, in March 2014, urging them to make a final push. “There is no excuse for any of your docs to not take care of you at this crucial time of the quarter,” he wrote. It’s time, he said, for the top-prescribing doctors “to give back for all of the hard work, long days and late nights you have spoiled them with.” Mr. Roper and a former sales representative, Fernando Serrano, were arrested on Thursday on federal anti-kickback charges. (Thomas, 6/10)

NPR: Investors See Big Opportunities In Opioid Addiction Treatment
The first time Ray Tamasi got hit up by an investor, it was kind of out of the blue. "This guy called me up," says Tamasi, president of Gosnold on Cape Cod, an addiction treatment center with seven sites in Massachusetts. "The guy" represented a group of investors; Tamasi declines to say whom. But they were looking to buy addiction treatment centers like Gosnold. "He had checked around and learned that we were one of the more reputable programs. We had a good reputations in the community — nice array of services," Tamasi recalls. "He wanted to know if we were interested in becoming part of his company." (Kodjak, 6/10)

The New York Times: Prescription Drug Abuse Among Older Adults Is Harder To Detect
Drug addiction is not restricted to the young. Donna Weber, now 53, turned to painkillers after undergoing simple surgery. Then a long, tortured path to divorce made her anxious and depressed. Soon, she found herself on a candy-colored pill roller coaster. Unlike street drugs, the pharmaceutical pills were easy to obtain legally. She got them from emergency rooms, dentists, psychiatrists, even plastic surgeons. “I went to doctors with exaggerated truths,” explained Ms. Weber, who once had four doctors. “I said I hurt more and more.” (Gustke, 6/10)

The New York Times: Officials Preparing For Zika Virus To Spread In The U.S.
The federal government, preparing for homegrown cases of the Zika virus, is planning to release a proposal for responding to them, health officials said Friday. The 60-page document, a blueprint for action when the first cases of locally transmitted Zika occur in the continental United States, could be released early next week, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. They emphasized that it was a working draft that could change based on advice from state officials. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, and Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., spoke by videoconference with state governors Thursday about the plan. On Friday, experts with the C.D.C. talked with state health departments. (Tavernise, 6/10)

The Associated Press: A Look At The Attempt To Block Indiana’s New Abortion Law
A federal judge will hold a hearing this week to consider a bid to block Indiana’s new abortion law from taking effect on July 1. The law, which conservative Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed off on in March, includes a provision banning abortions sought because of a fetus’ genetic abnormalities. Here is a look at the law’s provisions and the arguments that are likely to come up during the hearing Tuesday. (Callahan, 6/12)

Reuters: Abortion Providers, Opponents Brace For U.S. High Court Decision
As she waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law, Amy Hagstrom-Miller said she hopes she will not have to close up to three of the clinics she operates in the state, but is planning for it just in case. Hagstrom-Miller founded Whole Woman's Health, which runs four facilities in Texas that provide abortions and led the legal challenge to the law. She said she has spreadsheets listing staffers who would be laid off if the court allows the law to survive, and is thinking about selling buildings and medical equipment as well as shutting her clinics in Fort Worth, San Antonio and McAllen. "I would be irresponsible if I didn't plan," Hagstrom-Miller said in an interview. (Hurley, 6/12)

The Associated Press: Travel Costs For Kidney Donors To Be Reimbursed By Insurer
Travel costs that could dissuade potential kidney donors from volunteering for life-saving transplants will be reimbursed by the nation’s biggest insurer starting next year in a move designed to encourage more donations. UnitedHealth Group says that it will pay back up to $5,000, not counting lost wages from missed work, becoming the latest insurer to reimburse people who donate for an organ transplant. (Murphy, 6/12)

Los Angeles Times: California Voters Are Becoming More Concerned About Healthcare Costs Than About Whether They Have Insurance
Six years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law has gained acceptance from a majority of California voters, but the cost of getting healthcare remains a major concern, eclipsing worries about having insurance, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. The widespread worry about costs indicates a potential shift in the debate over healthcare, at least in this heavily Democratic state. (Lauter, 6/10)

NPR: Despite Rise Of Superbugs, Syphilis Still Has A Kryptonite
Lola Stamm fell in love with the bacterium that causes syphilis when she was in grad school. Other bacteria are rod-shaped or blobby. Treponema pallidum, the syphilis culprit, is a long, skinny corkscrew — and it slithers. "Under the dark-field microscope they look like little snakes," says Lola Stamm, a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "It's really rather creepy, but they're just fascinating organisms." The bacterium is bizarre for another reason – penicillin still obliterates it. (Bichell, 6/10)

The Washington Post: In U.S. Drinking Water, Many Chemicals Are Regulated — But Many Aren’t
For all the pathogens and chemicals monitored by the federal government to protect drinking water, a far broader universe of “emerging contaminants” is going unregulated. The Environmental Protection Agency keeps tabs on scores of substances that have surfaced in water systems around the country, with the aim of restricting those that endanger public health. But partly because the rules that the agency must follow are complicated and contentious, officials have failed to successfully regulate any new contaminant in two decades. Only once since the 1990s has the EPA come close to imposing a new standard — for perchlorate, a chemical found in explosives, road flares, rocket fuel and, it turns out, the drinking water of over 16 million people. (Dennis, 6/10)

USA Today: The Least Healthy Cities In America
Thanks to continued improvement in public health care, Americans today are healthier than ever. The average American is expected to live 79 years, about six years longer than in 1975. The improvement, however, has not been uniform across the United States, and some cities are stuck in the past. In some of the least healthy cities, life expectancy is as low as it was 40 years ago. To determine the least healthy cities in the country, 24/7 Wall St. compiled an index of various health factors and outcomes. Health factors in an area, including eating and exercise habits of residents, the availability of clinical care, social and economic conditions, and the physical environment, tend to be accurate predictors of an area’s health outcomes — its residents’ length and quality of life. (Comen, 6/11)

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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