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KHN First Edition: June 17, 2016

KHN

First Edition

Friday, June 17, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: California Insurance Commissioner Urges Feds To Block $54 Billion Anthem-Cigna Deal
Kaiser Health News staff writer Chad Terhune reports: "California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones urged federal officials to block the merger of health insurance giants Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp., declaring the $54-billion deal anti-competitive and harmful to consumers. The state insurance department doesn’t have the authority to thwart the merger on its own, but Jones’ recommendation Thursday could carry considerable weight in Washington and hinder the companies’ efforts to win federal antitrust approval. Jones said the Anthem-Cigna merger would likely result in higher costs for consumers and businesses, fewer choices for coverage and a lower quality of medical care." (Terhune, 6/16)

Kaiser Health News: Senate Panel Kills Medicare Program That Offers Help On Enrollment, Billing Issues
Susan Jaffe, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "A program that has helped seniors understand the many intricacies of Medicare as well as save them millions of dollars would be eliminated by a budget bill overwhelmingly approved last week by the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. The State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or "SHIP," is among more than a dozen programs left out of the bill by the committee. Cutting these “unnecessary federal programs" helped provide needed funding for other efforts, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the appropriations committee's health and labor subcommittee, said in a statement last week." (Jaffe, 6/17)

Kaiser Health News: Florida's Mosquito Control Forces Mobilize Against Zika Threat
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "[Evaristo] Miqueli is on the front line in the ground war against this year’s two most-feared urban mosquitoes -- Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (also known as the yellow fever mosquito and Asian tiger mosquito, respectively). Both can spread the dangerous Zika virus, which causes devastating birth defects in babies and has been called a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. The United States has seen more than 700 Zika cases in the past year, all of them related to people traveling from Brazil and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where they were infected. Florida, the main U.S. gateway to those regions, leads all other states with 185 cases as of June 16. Broward County’s 24 cases is second only to neighboring Miami-Dade’s tally of 55." (Galewitz, 6/17)

Kaiser Health News: Harmful Chemicals Are Everywhere — But What Does That Mean?
Kaiser Health News' Zhai Yun Tan reports: "Everything from our plastic water bottles and cosmetics to our non-stick frying pans contains chemicals that accumulate in our bodies. But it is unclear what effects these chemicals might have on human health and well-being. A report released this week by the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., attempts to inform part of this discussion by quantifying the extent these chemicals are found in Americans." (Tan, 6/17)

Reuters: U.S. Top Court Puts Some Limits On Contractor Fraud Lawsuits
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday imposed some limits on the kind of fraud claims that can be brought against federal contractors in a case involving a suit against one of America's largest hospital operators over a woman's death at one of its facilities. But the 8-0 ruling was not the broad victory for business sought by the company, Universal Health Services, and other healthcare providers fearful of suits under the U.S. False Claims Act, which lets individuals make claims that the federal government has been defrauded. (6/16)

Los Angeles Times: Divided Supreme Court Once Again Decides A Case Without Settling It
The eight-member Supreme Court showed again Thursday it can issue rulings in significant cases without actually deciding who wins. The justices issued a unanimous 18-page opinion in a major case of healthcare fraud that had appeared to leave them sharply divided during oral arguments in April. They achieved agreement by adopting some key arguments of each side. Then they sent the entire dispute back to a federal appeals court to take a second look. This method of ruling without deciding has emerged in response to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the lack of a tie-breaking vote in closely contested cases. (Savage, 6/16)

The Washington Post: High Court Says Law Requires More Contracts For Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
The Supreme Court decided Thursday that the Department of Veterans Affairs must set aside more contracts to be filled by veteran-owned small businesses. The court was unanimous that the department has not fulfilled its obligation to steer more business to small companies owned by veterans or service-disabled veterans simply by meeting its annual goal. The decision is likely to help more veteran-owned businesses compete for the billions of dollars in contracts the department awards. (Barnes, 6/16)

Reuters: Clinton Outpaces Rivals In Drug Company Donations
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has taken more money from employees of America's 15 biggest pharmaceuticals companies than all of the Republicans who attempted a run for the White House this year combined, according to campaign finance disclosures. The donations, which were nearly double those accepted by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, came even as the former senator and secretary of state vowed to curb price gouging in the industry if elected. (6/16)

Reuters: California Insurance Commissioner Urges U.S. To Block Anthem-Cigna Deal
California's insurance commissioner on Thursday urged the U.S. Department of Justice to block health insurer Anthem Inc's acquisition of Cigna Corp, saying he is concerned it will raise premiums in the state. Dave Jones, who as insurance commissioner in California does not have authority to approve the deal, said he believes his recommendation will hold weight with U.S. antitrust regulators examining the acquisition. (Humer and Bartz, 6/16)

Los Angeles Times: California Regulator Asks U.S. To Block Anthem-Cigna Deal
“When it comes to the Anthem and Cigna merger, bigger is not better for California’s consumers,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. Jones does not have the authority to block the merger. But he said he had reviewed evidence presented at a March 29 hearing, as well as studies of past mergers, and concluded that the deal was “anti-competitive.” Anthem is now the nation’s second-largest insurer, while Cigna is No. 4. If combined, Jones said, the resulting company would control more than half the insurance market in 28 California counties. (sen, 6/16)

The New York Times: Online Tools To Shop For Doctors Snag On Health Care’s Complexity
Need a dermatologist? Today, online tools can show you which doctors are in your plan’s network as well as rank them by the likely cost of a visit. Still not sure which one to pick? The tools also show whether you have already met your plan’s deductible and offer Yelp-like reviews of the doctors. The idea behind these web tools, which have been available from health insurers and start-ups for several years, is to harness the power of so-called big data. ... Yet the limits of this data are becoming increasingly clear. (Abelson, 6/16)

Politico: Why A Medicare Drug Fight Is Roiling Washington
A proposed Medicare experiment encouraging doctors to use cheaper meds is either a necessary fix for America's high drug prices — or the first step to President Donald Trump dismantling Obamacare. It all depends whom you ask. And experts interviewed for POLITICO's "Pulse Check" podcast showed the sides couldn't be further apart. (Diamond, 6/16)

The New York Times: C.D.C. Reports 234 Pregnant Women In U.S. With Zika
The number of women infected with the Zika virus during their pregnancies in the continental United States has risen to 234, health officials said on Thursday. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to say how many of the women had given birth, citing confidentiality concerns for the women and their families. But they did cite six cases with abnormalities — three babies with birth defects and another three who died before birth with evidence of defects. (Tavernise, 6/16)

The Washington Post: Mosquitoes Don’t Just Spread The Zika Virus. They May Be Helping An Older Killer Reemerge.
Yellow fever is a virus spread by Aedes mosquitos (which also spread Zika, dengue and chikungunya). Although most cases are mild, about 15 percent of patients progress to a more serious stage marked by jaundice, from which yellow fever takes its name. Until the 20th century, yellow fever was one of the world’s most feared diseases — a major killer and threat to commerce. Historical efforts to fight yellow fever laid the groundwork for our current public-health policies and disease-control strategies, both nationally and internationally. (Pillinger, 6/16)

The Associated Press: Philadelphia Is 1st Major American City With Soda Tax
Philadelphia became the first major American city with a soda tax on Thursday despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it. The City Council gave final approval to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages. The tax is set to take effect Jan. 1. Only Berkeley, California, has a similar law. Soda tax proposals have failed in more than 30 cities and states in recent years, including twice in Philadelphia. (6/16)

The Associated Press: IHS Leader: Bill Would Help Reservation Hospital System
The head of the federal agency responsible for providing health care to members of Native American tribes believes legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would help the department fix severe shortcomings at its network of hospitals across the country. Indian Health Service principal deputy director Mary Smith spoke with The Associated Press hours ahead of a U.S. Senate committee hearing scheduled for Friday in South Dakota during which the proposed legislation was expected to be discussed. (Garcia Cano, 6/17)

Politico: School Lead Testing: The Race For Tighter Regulations And More Funding
The Flint water crisis has exposed a gaping legal hole: There’s no requirement that schools using public water test for lead. Congress – and particularly state legislatures – are scurrying to tighten regulations and provide financial help for lead testing and infrastructure renovations as parents around the country are pressing school districts to act. (Lopez, 6/16)

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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