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KHN First Edition: June 29, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Will Louisiana's Medicaid Expansion Be A Harbinger For Georgia?
Georgia Health News' Andy Miller, in partnership with KHN, reports: "Louisiana and Georgia have many political similarities. Both states face significant health challenges affecting their populations. And until recently, both states had identical approaches to Medicaid expansion. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has rejected expansion since he took office in 2011, and GOP lawmakers have repeatedly backed him up. They point to concerns about the future cost of expansion, saying it would eventually put too much strain on the state budget. But on Friday, Louisiana will become the 31st state -- and only the third Southern state -- to expand the government program, which is jointly financed by state and federal governments. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat elected last fall, on his second day in office reversed the course set by his predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, by signing an executive order that began the process." (Miller, 6/29)

Kaiser Health News: HHS Proposes To Streamline Medicare Appeals Process
Susan Jaffe, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "The Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday proposed key changes in the Medicare appeals process to help reduce the backlog of more than 700,000 cases. The measures “will help us get a leg up on this problem," said Nancy Griswold, chief law judge of the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals. If there was not a single additional appeal filed and no changes in the system, it would take 11 years to eliminate the backlog, Griswold said in an interview." (Jaffe, 6/29)

The New York Times: Zika Bill Is Blocked By Senate Democrats Upset Over Provisions
Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a federal spending bill that would have provided $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus, saying Republicans had sabotaged the legislation with politically charged provisions. The move raised the possibility that no new money would be available soon to fight the disease as Southern states brace for a summer outbreak. The stalemate, accompanied by a sharp war of words on the Senate floor, raised the prospect that the partisan divide in Congress was hindering the government’s ability to respond effectively to a pressing public health emergency. (Herszenhorn, 6/28)

The Associated Press: Senate Democrats Block GOP's Zika Funding Bill
Democrats blocked the GOP-drafted measure by a 52-48 vote Tuesday — short of the 60 votes required to advance it. The party faulted Republicans for packing the bill with provisions designed to deny new funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico and ease rules on pesticide spraying. (6/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Zika Spending Bill Is Blocked By Senate Democrats Due To Planned Parenthood Exclusion
The bill, which Republicans wrote and pushed through the House on June 23 in the midst of the Democrats’ sit-in on the House floor over gun control, would direct $1.1 billion to research the virus, develop a vaccine, and give certain health-care providers money to respond to an expected influx of patients. The measure would direct the money through hospitals and public health clinics as opposed to women’s health clinics such as those operated by Planned Parenthood. (Hughes and Armour, 6/28)

The Washington Post: Zika Funding Stalls In The Senate Amid Partisan Rift
Top Senate leaders appeared to be sharply at odds after the vote failed 52 to 48, with 60 votes needed to advance the legislation. Each side charged that the other would be responsible if money isn’t approved and the virus, which causes birth defects, begins to spread in the United States over the summer. “This is the one shot,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters. “There’s not going to be another opportunity to deal with this in the near future.” Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor a few minutes later, “I don’t remember anything as outrageous, as shameful as this piece of legislation.” (Snell and DeBonis, 6/28)

Reuters: U.S. Lawmakers Deadlock On Zika Virus Funds
It was unclear when Congress would revisit the issue. Democrats urged bipartisan talks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said lawmakers would address the matter again sometime after the July 4 national holiday next week. (Heavey and Morgan, 6/28)

Reuters: White House Chides Congress For Failing To Fund Zika
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, on Tuesday, chided Republicans for failing to push forward with the president's request for funding to combat the Zika virus and address an urgent public health crisis. "They need that money right now," Earnest told reporters at a daily briefing, referring to U.S. agencies that he said are on the frontlines of battling the virus, especially in the U.S. South. Senate Democrats earlier on Tuesday blocked a Republican funding proposal that they said was inadequate. (Rascoe and Zargham, 6/28)

Los Angeles Times: Two New Vaccines Can Protect Against Zika After A Single Shot
Just five months after the Zika virus was declared a global public health emergency, a scientific team’s feverish efforts to create a vaccine against the viral threat have borne promising fruit: With a single shot of either of two different types of vaccine, experimental mice gained near-total immunity to Zika for at least two months. Writing in the journal Nature on Tuesday, a U.S.-Brazilian team of scientists reported that two distinct vaccine candidates conferred powerful protection from Zika infection when each was delivered by intra-muscular injection to mice. (Healy, 6/28)

The Washington Post: Zika Infections Last Much Longer During Pregnancy, Monkey Study Shows
New research on monkeys found some good news that could have implications for humans: One infection with the Zika virus protects against future infections. But along with good news were some troubling findings. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Duke University found the virus persisted in the blood of pregnant monkeys for much longer — up to 70 days — compared to the 10 days it lasted in males and non-pregnant female monkeys. (Sun, 6/28)

Reuters: First Baby With Zika-Related Birth Defect Microcephaly Born In Florida
A Haitian woman in Florida has delivered the first baby in the state born with the birth defect microcephaly caused by the Zika virus, Florida's health department said on Tuesday. The mother contracted the mosquito-borne virus in her home country and traveled to Florida to give birth, state officials said in statements. (Jenkins, 6/28)

The New York Times: Peril On Wings: 6 Of America’s Most Dangerous Mosquitoes
With the spread of the Zika virus, the threat posed by the tiny mosquito has been magnified into shark-size proportions. But among the more than 3,000 species of the insect worldwide, only two in the Americas are known carriers of the virus: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). The potential range of the two species in the United States helps explain where Zika could be a threat. (Rueb, 6/28)

NPR: 'Nobody Is Immune': Bracing For Zika's First Summer In The U.S.
The mosquito-borne Zika epidemic is headed for its first summer in the United States. New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that if the virus is ever going to hit hard in the U.S., 2016 will be the year. "No one in the population has had the disease before, so nobody is immune to it, nobody has antibodies to it," McNeil says. "After this year, a fair number of people will be immune, and each year immunity will grow." (6/28)

The New York Times: Justices’ Orders Underscore Ruling Against Abortion Limits
The Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand appeals court decisions that had blocked abortion restrictions in Mississippi and Wisconsin. The orders, part of a final set from the court before the justices left for their summer break, underscored the sweeping nature of Monday’s abortion rights decision striking down similar restrictions in Texas. In the Mississippi case, Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 14-997, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, had said the challenged law would have shut down the state’s only abortion clinic. (Liptak, 6/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Denies Mississippi, Wisconsin Efforts To Reinstate Abortion Laws
The brief, unsigned orders rejecting the state appeals, reflected the first fallout of the court’s decision to strike down Texas provisions that included the admitting-privileges mandate along with a requirement that abortion clinics meet the strict building standards of ambulatory surgical centers. If implemented, the Mississippi measure was expected to lead to the closure of the state’s only abortion facility. (Bravin and Radnofsky, 6/28)

Los Angeles Times: Expect A State-By-State Rollback Of Abortion Restrictions, Advocates Say
Texas abortion clinics at risk of being closed by a restrictive state law will remain open, and some of those shuttered probably will be able to reopen in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling Monday that could block similar laws in other states across the so-called “abortion desert” of the South and Midwest. Supporters of abortion rights said they now expected a steady state-by-state rollback of laws that restrict the ability to get an abortion, erasing gains that opponents have notched in recent years. (Hennessy-Fiske, 6/28)

Reuters: Divided Supreme Court Rejects Family Pharmacy's Religious Claim
A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away an appeal by a family-owned pharmacy that cited Christian beliefs in objecting to providing emergency contraceptives to women under a Washington state rule, prompting a searing dissent by conservative Justice Samuel Alito. The justices left in place a July 2015 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a state regulation that requires pharmacies to deliver all prescribed drugs, including contraceptives, in a timely manner. (Hurley, 6/28)

The New York Times: Latest Plan To Cut Medicare Drug Payments Leaves Senators Skeptical
Under fire from senators in both parties, a senior federal health official told Congress on Tuesday that the Obama administration would adjust its plan to reduce Medicare payments for many prescription drugs, but those assurances did not fully allay deep concerns. The official, Dr. Patrick H. Conway, a deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, indicated to the Senate Finance Committee that the administration would probably go ahead with its proposal in some form, and he promised that officials would try to prevent any harm to patients. (Pear, 6/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Proposal To Discourage Expensive Drugs May Undergo Changes
The response is an acknowledgment of the fierce backlash from lawmakers, doctors and patient groups who fear the proposal is too broad and will limit seniors’ access to drugs. Pressed by lawmakers, Dr. Conway remained vague about what could be changed but did say that re-examining the scope of the test proposal is a key issue. The goal of the plan is to remove the financial incentive for prescribing more expensive drugs. (Armour, 6/28)

The Associated Press: Medicare Weighs Changes To Controversial Plan On Cancer Meds
Trying to salvage a controversial experiment to confront rising drug costs, the Obama administration Tuesday hinted at modifications to an ambitious plan that would revamp Medicare payments. Affected are those medications administered in a doctor's office. That includes most chemotherapy drugs, as well as injected and infused drugs for macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, some immune diseases and other conditions. Cancer doctors want the administration to tear up its proposal. (6/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Gilead Gets FDA Approval For Combo Hepatitis C Drug
Gilead Sciences Inc. received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its Epclusa hepatitis C combination drug and priced the treatment below its older drugs for the disease. ... The new drug, a combination of the biopharmaceutical company’s Sovaldi with its new velpatasvir therapy, is the first drug that treats all six major strains of the disease. Gilead priced Epclusa lower than its older hepatitis C drugs, at $74,760 for a course of treatment before discounts, according to a company spokeswoman. (Stynes and Rockoff, 6/28)

The Associated Press: FDA Approves First Pill To Treat All Forms Of Hepatitis C
Federal health officials on Tuesday approved the first pill to treat all major forms of hepatitis C, the latest in a series of drug approvals that have reshaped treatment of the liver-destroying virus. The Food and Drug Administration approved the combination pill, Epclusa, from Gilead Sciences for patients with and without liver damage. The new drug's broad indication could make it easier to use than five other hepatitis drugs recently approved by the FDA, which are each tailored to different viral strains or stages of liver disease. (6/28)

Los Angeles Times: Xencor Signs Cancer-Drug Deal With Novartis; Its Stock Surges 32%
Shares of Los Angeles-area biotech firm Xencor Inc. soared Tuesday by 32% after the company announced a deal with Swiss drug giant Novartis. Under the agreement, Novartis will pay Xencor $150 million now and potentially much more in the future as the companies work to develop and commercialize two experimental cancer drugs. Monrovia-based Xencor will keep the rights to the drugs in the U.S. while Novartis will have those commercialization rights in the rest of the world. (sen, 6/28)

NPR/ProPublica: Industry Finds Receptive Doctors At For-Profit, Southern Hospitals
Where a hospital is located and who owns it make a big difference in how many of its doctors take meals, consulting and promotional payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies, a ProPublica analysis shows. A higher percentage of doctors affiliated with hospitals in the South have received such payments than doctors in other regions of the country, our analysis found. And a greater share of doctors at for-profit hospitals have taken them than at nonprofit and government facilities. (Ornstein and Grochowski Jones, 6/29)

The Associated Press: Advocates Criticize Kentucky's Proposed Medicaid Overhaul
Bobby Paisley's health insurance covers his vision and dental care. He knows, because he and his wife pay for it. "I don't have to do community service, I don't have to earn points and I don't have to wait," he said. But that's exactly what some 400,000 Kentuckians would have to do if they need an eye exam or a tooth pulled under Gov. Matt Bevin's proposal to overhaul the state's Medicaid program. Bevin's plan, announced last week, would eliminate dental and vision coverage for able-bodied Medicaid beneficiaries, but they could earn those benefits back by getting a job, volunteering for a charity or taking a class at a community college. (6/28)

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield Faces New Criticism Of Shortchanging Consumers In California
Blue Shield of California, already under scrutiny by state officials, is facing new criticism that it didn’t adequately pay back policy holders for excessively spending on administrative costs in 2014. Officials from the health insurer strongly rejected the allegation, made by a former company executive in a complaint to state regulators. But if substantiated by investigators, the accusation could force the insurer to pay additional rebates to customers. (Levey, 6/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Public-Private Partnerships Aim To Bolster ‘Cancer Moonshot’ Initiative
Vice President Joe Biden announced a series of partnerships involving government, industry and academia that are aimed at bolstering the White House’s proposed $1 billion “cancer moonshot” to speed up the national fight against the disease. The alliances were disclosed Wednesday at the outset of more than 270 events around the country to kick off the cancer effort, including a meeting at Howard University in Washington, D.C., billed as the Cancer Moonshot Summit. Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, were scheduled to speak, as was Greg Simon, executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. (Burton, 6/29)

The Washington Post: The World’s Smartest Computer Will Help Treat 10,000 Veterans With Cancer
IBM's supercomputer Watson, known for its "Jeopardy" prowess, is teaming up with the Department of Veterans Affairs to try to revolutionize cancer care for veterans. The VA-IBM partnership is one of dozens of initiatives being announced Wednesday as part of Vice President Biden's all-day cancer summit at Howard University. Other efforts aim to sharply increase the number of patients in clinical trials, harness the government's computing power to pave the way for better "precision medicine" therapies and rejigger the way officials handle approvals of cancer-related products. (McGinley, 6/29)

The Washington Post: The Days Of The Dreaded Annual Pelvic Exam For Women May Be Numbered
There's great news for women who dread that annual pelvic exam (i.e. basically everyone). On Tuesday, a panel made up of medical experts that advise the government said that there's not enough evidence to support doing them for women who are healthy and not pregnant. The conclusion, issued as a draft recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, is a strong endorsement of the recent evidence that has been building against the practice that is performed 63 million times annually and is estimated to cost $2.6 billion. This is the first time the task force has made a statement related to pelvic exams for gynecologic conditions and is likely to impact what millions of women decide to do about the test and what insurers will cover. (Cha, 6/28)

The New York Times: In Pat Summitt, A Toughness Greater Than Invincibility
[Pat] Summitt died Tuesday at 64 after years of struggling with Alzheimer’s-type dementia. In her 38 years as a head college coach, she won 1,098 games, more than any other Division I coach, man or woman, and led Tennessee to eight national championships. You can talk about her toughness: She once dislocated her shoulder while chasing an aggressive raccoon off her porch, in an attempt to protect her Labrador retriever, and spent two hours trying to pop her shoulder back into place before calling for medical help. ... ut it’s also important to remember how Summitt dealt with dementia, and what a perfect reflection it was of her personality. (Macur, 6/28)

USA Today: What Is Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease?
About 200,000 Americans suffer from early onset Alzheimer's disease, the condition that took the life Tuesday of legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt at age 64. She was diagnosed with the illness five years ago. USA TODAY's Liz Szabo asked experts to explain the disease. (Szabo, 6/28)

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