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KHN First Edition: June 23, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: In Alameda County, A Big Data Effort To Prevent Frequent ER Visits
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold reports: "Almost every day, a patient comes into Dr. Arthur Sorrell’s San Francisco emergency room still wearing a wristband from another hospital nearby. “There are folks who have a life of going from emergency department to emergency department, and that’s how their day is spent,” said Sorrell, an emergency physician and administrator at Sutter Health. "It’s sad and tragic, but that’s what happens.” The wristband is at least a hint. Without it, emergency room staff often have no idea they are sharing patients with other hospitals just a mile away. So they treat those patients completely independently, often repeating tests unnecessarily, assigning them multiple case managers when only one is needed and offering contradictory advice." (Gold, 6/22)

California Healthline: Saving Lives And Saving Money
David Gorn, for California Healthline, reports: "As health care costs continue to rise, attention has turned to a tiny number of expensive patients like Meade, called super-utilizers. A program that started in Orange County has taken a different approach to treating Meade and other high-cost patients: Over the past two years, it has tracked them, healed them and saved a ton of money along the way. Meade received more than a million dollars worth of care in each of the two years before he entered the program, according to Paul Leon, CEO of the Illumination Foundation, a homeless health services group based in Irvine. Leon’s foundation runs the program, known as Chronic Care Plus, which has stabilized Meade and found him housing. (Gorn, 6/23)

The New York Times: Medicare And Social Security Trustees Warn Of Shortfalls
The Obama administration said Wednesday that the financial outlook for Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund had deteriorated slightly in the last year and that Social Security still faced serious long-term financial problems. The report, from the trustees of the two programs, could inject a note of fiscal reality into a presidential campaign that has given scant attention to the government’s fiscal challenges as the population ages. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has proposed increasing Social Security benefits and allowing people age 55 to 64 to “buy into” Medicare, while Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has repeatedly said he would not cut either program. (Pear, 6/22)

Reuters: Medicare Program Spending Within Target Rate: Trustees
The Medicare program, which provides health coverage for more than 55 million older as well as disabled people, said that the projected growth rate for per capita spending has not exceeded its target. That put aside the need for the program's regulator, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, to establish a savings target and to initiate mandatory spending cuts, their annual financial report said. As such, the government would not need to immediately set up an Independent Payment Advisory Board to make proposals on the cuts, it said. (Humer and Krauskopf, 6/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Higher Earners Face Steep Hikes In Medicare Premiums
Nearly a third of all Medicare beneficiaries face a steep increase in their premiums next year, the result of a policy that in certain circumstances requires some beneficiaries, including higher earners, to shoulder the burden of rising costs. The government health-care plan’s trustees projected in a report Wednesday that premiums would rise by as much as 22% for wealthier beneficiaries of Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and other types of outpatient care. (Tergensen, 6/22)

The Associated Press: Candidates Avoid Medicare, Social Security Finance Woes
The nation's framework for economic security and health care in retirement is financially unsustainable, but you wouldn't know it from listening to the presidential candidates. ... Medicare's trust fund will run out in 2028, and Social Security's in 2034. The candidates have said little to acknowledge the issue, although it's at the root of the government's budget problems. They may not be able to avoid it once in the White House. Health care costs, in particular, can be volatile. And liberals and conservatives agree it's important to act sooner rather than later, to avoid disruptions for retirees and workers. (Alonso-Zaldivar and Ohlemacher, 6/23)

The Associated Press: Feds Charge 300 In Nationwide Health Care Fraud Sweeps
Health care fraud sweeps across the country have led to charges against 300 people including doctors, nurses, physical therapists and home health care providers accused of bilking Medicare and Medicaid, the government announced Wednesday. The sweep spread from southern California to southern Florida and Houston to Brooklyn, New York, with arrests being made over three days. (6/22)

Reuters: U.S. Completes 'Takedown' Of Medicare Fraud: Officials
The national sweep resulted in charges against doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists accused of fraud that cost the government $900 million, the department said. The cases involved an array of charges, including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering and violations of an anti-kickback law. This year's sweep exceeded last year's record in which 243 defendants faced charges in a combined $712 million in government losses. (6/22)

Los Angeles Times: Nation's Biggest Healthcare Fraud Probe Nets 301 People, Including 22 In Southern California
In Southern California, five physicians were among those arrested in cases involving $125 million in elaborate fraud schemes that targeted Medicare and the military’s medical plan and involved medical billing, unnecessary procedures and high-priced specialized compound medications. The charges in 13 criminals cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles and Santa Ana include conspiracy, money laundering, kickback schemes and identity theft, according to several federal indictments. (Winton, 6/22)

The Associated Press: House Passes $1.1B Zika Bill Over Democratic Opposition
The House has passed a $1.1 billion House-Senate measure to combat the Zika virus, but the GOP-drafted measure is a nonstarter with Senate Democrats and the Obama White House. The measure was unveiled late Wednesday and approved by the House early on Thursday morning by a 239-171 vote that broke along party lines. The vote came after Democrats hijacked the House floor for virtually all of Wednesday and well into Thursday, protesting GOP inaction on gun legislation in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando. GOP leaders called the vote abruptly, permitting no debate, and immediately adjourned the House through July 4. (6/23)

The New York Times: Zika Deal In Congress Likely To Be Delayed Until After Recess
As the Republican negotiators announced Wednesday evening that they had reached a tentative agreement — which the House approved early Thursday in a 239-171 vote — Democrats lashed out. They said the proposal was layered with numerous unrelated provisions that they would never accept, including an effort to restrict government financing of Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization. While Democrats did not have any sway over the House-Senate negotiations, Republicans do not have sufficient votes in the Senate to overcome procedural obstacles and approve the agreement on their own. (Herszenhorn, 6/23)

The Washington Post: Bipartisan Talks On Zika Virus Break Down Ahead Of July 4 Recess
Democrats abandoned negotiations on Wednesday in part because Republicans insisted that the funding be partially paid for by cuts to the Affordable Care Act — President Obama’s signature domestic achievement — and by shifting more than $100 million from the Ebola emergency fund, according to Democratic aides. With lawmakers headed for the exits on Thursday for a week of July 4th recess, the breakdown could mean that Congress will leave town once again without providing funding for Zika during the height of mosquito season. The virus is linked to severe birth defects in babies of some pregnant women who are infected. (Snell, 6/22)

The New York Times: House Democrats’ Gun-Control Sit-In Turns Into Chaotic Showdown With Republicans
A Democratic protest demanding votes on gun-control legislation led to pandemonium in the House chamber that did not end until early Thursday, when Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his fellow Republicans reclaimed control long enough to force through a major spending bill. They then abruptly adjourned and left the Capitol. ... Democrats — who do not have enough strength in either the House or Senate to pass legislation on their own — have resorted to spectacle to highlight their anger over the failure by Congress to take any action to tighten the nation’s gun-control laws. ... Democrats’ exasperation has grown since Monday, when four gun-control measures — two favored by Democrats and two by Republicans — were defeated in the Senate. (Herszenhorn and Huetteman, 6/22)

The New York Times: Abortion Pill Orders Rise In 7 Latin American Nations On Zika Alert
Orders for abortion pills by women in seven Latin American countries with Zika outbreaks increased after health officials in those countries warned that the virus might cause severe birth defects, according to a women’s organization supplying such pills. Orders from women in Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela roughly doubled, while those from Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras went up by from 36 percent to 76 percent, researchers said in a study published Wednesday by The New England Journal of Medicine. (McNeil and Belluck, 6/22)

Reuters: Democratic Senators Ask Justice Department To Block Insurance Megamergers
Seven Democratic senators urged the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday to block two mergers of major health insurance companies, saying that the proposed deals would mean higher premiums and lower-quality healthcare for consumers. The department is reviewing Aetna Inc's $33 billion plan to buy Humana Inc and Anthem Inc's $48 billion proposal to buy Cigna Corp. If approved, the deals, both of which were announced last July, would reduce the number of national health insurance carriers from five to three. (Bartz, 6/22)

The Wall Street Journal: The Chinese Connection Fueling America’s Fentanyl Crisis
Last spring, Chinese customs agents seized 70 kilograms of the narcotics fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl hidden in a cargo container bound for Mexico. The synthetic opium-like drugs were so potent that six of the agents became ill after handling them. One fell into a coma. The cargo had traveled through five freight forwarders before reaching customs, obscuring its exact origins, according to an internal U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence briefing reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. One thing is clear: The shipment and a host of others, detailed in the DEA briefing, court documents and interviews with government officials in multiple countries, are part of a vast drug-distribution network beginning in China that feeds lethal fentanyl to the Americas. (Whalen and Spegele, 6/22)

The New York Times: New Ways To Treat Pain Meet Resistance
In recent months, federal agencies and state health officials have urged doctors to first treat pain without using opioids, and some have announced plans to restrict how many pain pills a doctor can prescribe. But getting the millions of people with chronic pain to turn to alternative treatments is a daunting task, one that must overcome inconsistent insurance coverage as well as some resistance from patients and their doctors, who know the ease and effectiveness of pain medications. (Meier and Goodnough, 6/22)

The Associated Press: Nearly 1 In 3 On Medicare Got Commonly Abused Opioids
Nearly 12 million Medicare beneficiaries received at least one prescription for an opioid painkiller last year at a cost of $4.1 billion, according to a federal report that shows how common the addictive drugs are in many older Americans' medicine cabinets. With an overdose epidemic worsening, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries received at least one prescription for commonly abused opioids such as OxyContin and fentanyl in 2015. Those who did received an average of five such prescriptions or refills, according to the report from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (6/22)

NPR: A Small Town Bands Together To Provide Opioid Addiction Treatment
Bridgton, Maine, is the kind of place people like to go to get away. It's got a small main street with shops and restaurants, a pair of scenic lakes, a ski resort and plenty of hiking trails. But about 10 years ago, Bridgton, a town of just 5,000 residents, began showing signs of a serious drug problem. "I had a lot of young people calling the agency to come into treatment," says Catherine Bell, director of Crooked River Counseling, a substance abuse treatment center in Bridgton. "They were using needles. They were shooting heroin and it was like, really bombarded." (Sharon, 6/22)

The Associated Press: New York Sets 7-Day Limit On Initial Opioid Prescriptions
New York is limiting opioid drug prescriptions to seven days of painkillers following a patient's initial visit to a doctor. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, signing the new law Wednesday, said it's among four significant measures that he and state lawmakers are enacting to address the opioid and heroin addiction crisis raging nationally. The changes also require insurers to cover initial inpatient drug treatment without prior approval; extend from 48 to 72 hours the time someone can be held for emergency treatment; and add 2,500 addiction-treatment slots statewide. (6/22)

The Associated Press: AstraZeneca’s Flu-Vaccine Spray Fails Again; U.S. Panel Recommends Shot
AstraZeneca PLC’s nasal-spray version of the flu vaccine failed to protect children for three years in row, prompting an expert panel to recommend that doctors stop giving it to patients. Health officials said FluMist didn’t work at all against the flu strain that made most people sick last year, while the traditional flu shot worked reasonably well. “We could find no evidence (the spray) was effective,” said Dr. Joseph Bresee, a flu expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which presented preliminary study results to the federal advisory committee on immunization. (6/22)

The New York Times: A Cautionary Tale Of ‘Stem Cell Tourism’
A growing number of clinics, often in places like Russia or China, but also in Europe and elsewhere, say on websites that they can treat, even cure, diseases like muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and spinal cord injury as well as strokes, by injecting patients with stem cells that, in theory, could develop into a missing nerve, a muscle or other cells and repair damage from an illness or an injury. Reports by injured athletes of seemingly miraculous results have contributed to a growing interest among desperate patients. Estimates are that tens of thousands of patients around the world have had such treatments and that the industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. ... Academic researchers say stem cells hold enormous promise, but they are proceeding cautiously with clinical trials because stem cells divide rapidly and can form tumors in laboratory animals. In lab studies, stem cells also can quickly accumulate mutations like those in cancer cells. (Kolata, 6/22)

The Washington Post: Scientists Just Doubled The Number Of Known Contagious Cancers
All along the western Canadian coast, mussels are dying. Their blobby bodies are swollen by tumors. The blood-like fluid that fills their interiors is clogged with malignant cells. They're all sick with the same thing: cancer. And it seems to be spreading. For all its harrowing, terrifying damage, the saving grace of cancer has always been that it dies with its host. Its destructive power comes from turning victims' own cells against them and making them run amok. But when molecular biologist Stephen Goff biopsied these mussels, he found something strange. The tumor cells didn't have the same DNA as their host. (Kaplan, 6/22)

NPR: Asthma-Free With No Hay Fever? Thank Your Older Sibling
Older siblings may be good for something after all. Infants whose mothers have been pregnant previously may have more active immune systems that protect them against asthma and hay fever, according to a paper in the June issue of Allergy. Researchers have noted a positive relationship between older siblings and allergies since at least 1989, when a study following British children for 23 years found that the more older siblings a child has, the less likely she or he will be allergic to airborne particles like dust and pollen. But exactly how older siblings boost younger sibling health has continued to flummox scientists. (Jacewicz, 6/22)

Los Angeles Times: Kaiser Permanente Nurses Are Preparing To Strike Over Wages And Staffing
About 1,300 nurses at Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center are set to begin a four-day strike Thursday. The nurses, members of the California Nurses Assn. and National Nurses United, are seeking a contract to improve staffing levels, wages and patient care. The nurses contend that inadequate staffing levels at the hospital harm patient care and don’t allow for proper rest and meal breaks. (Edelen, 6/23)

The Washington Post: D.C. Revises Lead Contamination Rules After Libraries Tested Above U.S. Guidelines
On the same day the D.C. Public Library announced it found excessive lead contamination in four libraries, city officials said they will lower the maximum acceptable level of lead in public drinking water, making the District’s standards far stricter than those required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Six water fountains and one sink in the city’s public libraries were found to exceed the EPA’s maximum lead contamination level of 15 parts per billion, library officials announced Tuesday. (Schmelzer, 6/22)

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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