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KHN First Edition: July 7, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, July 07, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Gingrich, Kennedy Take On Opioid Addiction — The KHN Conversation
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "Politics are more polarized and acrimonious than ever. But one public health concern — the nation’s epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse — is uniting some unexpected bedfellows. There is Patrick Kennedy, former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, who has since made a career of advocating for mental health treatment since leaving the House in 2011. And there is Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives and 2012 presidential candidate, who recently has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Donald Trump." (Luthra, 7/7)

Kaiser Health News: Despite Federal Directive, Texas Denies Medicaid Coverage For An Autism Therapy
Kate Harrington, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Like many parents of children with autism, Braulio De La Cruz sought an expensive therapy called applied behavioral analysis -- or ABA -- when his son Noah Leonardo was diagnosed last year. Noah, now 3 years old, qualifies for Medicaid coverage because he had been approved for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, and his neurologist sent paperwork to get the state to cover the therapy. But Medicaid officials rejected the request. Braulio De La Cruz appealed the decision, but that effort hit a major roadblock last fall when the state suddenly said the Medicaid program would not cover behavioral therapy." (Harrington, 7/7)

Kaiser Health News: Medical Marijuana Linked To Modest Budget Benefits For Medicare Part D, Study Finds
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "Prescription drug prices are up, making policy experts increasingly anxious. But relief could come from a surprising source. Just ask Cheech and Chong. New research published Wednesday found that states that legalized medical marijuana — which is sometimes recommended for symptoms like chronic pain, anxiety or depression — saw declines in the number of Medicare prescriptions for drugs used to treat those conditions and a dip in spending by Medicare Part D, which covers the cost on prescription medications." (Luthra, 7/6)

Kaiser Health News: Study: Brand-Name Drugs’ High Copays Soak Medicare Part D Patients
Kaiser Health News staff writer Rachel Bluth reports: "A new study takes a fresh measure of generic drugs’ price advantages, revealing how much more Medicare Part D patients shelled out in copayments for two popular brand-name drugs in 2013. The result: 10.5 times more. Copayments averaged $42 for both Crestor, a cholesterol medication, and Nexium, taken for acid reflux, according to researchers whose study was published Wednesday in Health Affairs." (Bluth, 7/6)

Kaiser Health News: Consumers’ Sunscreen Picks Don’t Always Track With Doctors’ Advice, Study Says
Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "When it comes to consumers choosing sunscreen, they are often drawn to a product’s scent, texture and, of course, performance, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology. It also found that, in many instances, these sunblocks don’t measure up to the standards recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. The AAD recommends sun protection products contain broad spectrum coverage, an SPF of 30 or higher, and water or sweat resistance. But four out of every 10 products fell short of the recommendations." (Heredia Rodriguez, 7/6)

The New York Times: House G.O.P. Returns Focus To Obamacare’s Spending Authority
The Obama administration knowingly spent billions in health care dollars without proper congressional authority and went to “great lengths” to impede congressional scrutiny of the money, Republicans on two major House committees said in a report that will be made public on Thursday. An extensive investigation by the Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce Committees concluded that the administration plowed ahead with funding for a consumer cost-reduction program that was central to the new health insurance law even though Congress did not provide money for it. (Huse, 7/7)

The New York Times: Congress Splits Over Bill Aimed At Nation’s Opioid Epidemic
A partisan feud over money to treat drug addicts split a House and Senate conference committee on Wednesday as it considered legislation to address the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic, imperiling a bill many had hoped would be one of this Congress’s most significant accomplishments. Democrats on the conference committee lost in their effort to insist that the bill include at least $920 million to help pay for additional treatment of addicts, most of whom cannot find or afford the treatment they need. (Harris, 7/6)

Reuters: U.S. Republicans Reject Democratic Funding Proposals For Opioids
Republican lawmakers in U.S. Congress on Wednesday rejected two Democratic amendments to provide nearly $1 billion in funding for bipartisan legislation intended to combat America's opioid epidemic, aides said. The rejection, which came during a meeting of U.S. House of Representatives and Senate negotiators on the measure, could undermine Democratic support for final legislation that could come up for a vote in the House of Representatives as early as Friday. (Morgan, 7/6)

The Washington Post: Political Divide Over Funding Threatens Fate Of Popular Opioid Bill
The bill is popular with members in both parties and several lawmakers in tough re-election contests are eager to promote it back home as evidence they are getting things done in Washington. But Democrats have long pushed for the additional funding arguing that without it the bill will not deliver on its promise to help stem the growing abuse of opioids across the country. “We are debating a bill to address the opioid epidemic. It should include the funding necessary to actually fight that epidemic,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the conference committee that drafted the bill. She offered one of two amendments Wednesday that would have increased funding for the bill’s programs. Both failed along party lines. (Demirjian, 7/6)

The Wall Street Journal: House Passes Mental Health Bill
The House passed legislation Wednesday to overhaul the nation’s mental health system, the first effort by lawmakers to specifically tackle federal policies on serious mental illness. The bill passed 422-2, overwhelming support that reflected a decision by sponsors to defer debates on some of its most controversial aspects. The bill would reorganize the federal agency overseeing mental health policy, direct funding to combat serious mental illness as opposed to general mental health programs, and change Medicaid reimbursements for treating patients with illnesses like schizophrenia. (Radnofsky, 7/6)

Politico: Pro-Abortion Rights Group Lumps Vulnerable GOP Senators In With Trump
With the Republican National Convention fast approaching, a pro-abortion rights group is working to tie GOP members of Congress who have said they’ll skip the event in Cleveland to their party’s presumptive presidential nominee. NARAL Pro-Choice America kicked off its online advertising blitz Thursday with the slogan #TrumpSquadGoals, linking vulnerable Republican senators and congressmen with anti-abortion views to Donald Trump and GOP party leadership. (Nelson, 7/7)

The Associated Press: Study: Insurers' Spending On Costly Meds Soared From 2003-14
The latest study of medicine prices finds U.S. insurers' spending on expensive prescription drugs nearly quadrupled from 2003 through 2014, when the number of such prescriptions filled tripled. Spending on expensive "specialty" drugs by commercial insurance plans jumped from 11 percent of spending on all prescriptions filled in 2003 to 43 percent in 2014, according to the study, published Wednesday by the journal Health Affairs. Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions for specialty drugs rose from 0.6 percent of prescriptions filled in 2003 to 1.8 percent in 2014. (7/6)

The Associated Press: What Costliest Drugs Cost Commercial Insurance Plans In 2014
A new study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill examining usage of and spending for specialty prescription drugs by commercial insurance plans finds huge spikes from 2003 through 2014. During that stretch, drugmakers launched more and more high-priced drugs, many of them big scientific advances, and raised their prices for existing drugs at least once a year. Here's a look at eight drugs with the highest monthly cost to commercial insurance plans in 2014. (7/6)

The Associated Press: VA Puts Latest Estimate Of Veteran Suicides At 20 Per Day
On average, 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014, a slight decrease from the previous government estimate, but federal health officials are cautious about concluding the suicide problem is getting better. Rather, they say the Department of Veterans Affairs is relying on a more comprehensive database than ever before, making comparisons to prior studies difficult and possibly offering a truer snapshot than what was captured in the past. (Freking, 7/7)

The Associated Press: US Urges Aerial Spraying Amid Jump In Puerto Rico Zika Cases
As many as 50 pregnant women in Puerto Rico are becoming infected with Zika every day, top U.S. health officials said Wednesday as they urged the U.S. territory to strongly consider aerial spraying to prevent further spread of the mosquito-borne virus. The warning came as Puerto Rico debates whether to fumigate with the insecticide Naled, a proposal that has sparked protests in the U.S. territory over concerns about its impact on human health and wildlife. (7/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant: Good Time For A Hike
Aggressive pricing helped send Valeant Pharmaceuticals International into a tailspin. Its current financial state means it won’t be easy to leave the past behind altogether. Its collapse in market value—more than 90% since last year’s peak—elicited a change in leadership. But new chief executive Joseph Papa’s tenure at Perrigo, where he served as CEO for nearly a decade, had at least one similarity to that of former Valeant boss Michael Pearson. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Mr. Papa raised prices on Perrigo’s prescription drugs more aggressively than many rivals. (Grant, 7/6)

The Washington Post: Leading Researchers Recommend Major Change In Prostate Cancer Treatment
Leading American and British cancer researchers are urging that all men with advanced prostate cancer strongly consider being tested for inherited gene mutations -- both to help steer their treatment and to alert family members who themselves might be at increased risk for a range of cancers. This new recommendation, which represents a major change in approach, was prompted by a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found that almost 12 percent of men with advanced cancer had defects in genes that are designed to fix damage to DNA, compared to 4.6 percent of patients with disease that hadn't spread. (McGinley, 7/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Test Aids Prostate Cancer Treatment
Genomic Health Inc. has struck a deal to commercialize a new blood test that can help advanced prostate cancer patients decide whether to try costly new-generation drugs or rely on much cheaper traditional chemotherapy to improve their chances for survival. The test, developed by closely held Epic Sciences Inc., San Diego, detects a mutation associated with a poor response to two new drugs, Xtandi from Medivation Inc. and Astellas Pharma Inc. of Japan, and Zytiga from Johnson & Johnson. (Winslow, 7/7)

Los Angeles Times: Cancer Drug Discovered By UCLA Sets Off Takeover Fight Among Biotech Companies
A high-priced prostate cancer drug discovered at UCLA is at the center of a multibillion-dollar takeover battle that has several giant pharmaceutical firms eyeing the purchase of San Francisco biotech firm Medivation. Medivation sells the drug Xtandi for about $129,000 a year. Earlier this year, two nonprofit groups asked the federal government to allow other companies to sell the drug at lower prices. The groups argued that the federal government had a right under the law to allow lower-priced competition because UCLA scientists had used taxpayer-funded grants to discover Xtandi. (sen, 7/6)

Los Angeles Times: Researchers Develop Genetic Test That Can Predict Your Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease
New research into the genetic underpinnings of Alzheimer’s disease offers fresh evidence that the devastating brain disorder may gain a foothold years before dementia sets in, and takes a key step toward earlier detection of the disease. In a study that scoured the genes of healthy young people for the presence of variants linked to Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have found that those who carried many of the telltale gene variations had a smaller hippocampus -- a brain structure that is crucial to memory-formation – than did their peers with few of the genetic variations. (Healy, 7/6)

The Washington Post: A Lot Of Highly Rated Sunscreens Don’t Meet American Academy Of Dermatology Guidelines reviews have become the indispensable buying guide for all sorts of products for busy Americans who either don’t have time to trek to a retail store or just can’t be bothered. We scrutinize them to figure out which movies to watch, which toaster does the bagel setting right and which toddler booties hold up best. Given that that the marketplace has led you in the right direction with so many other consumer products, you might be wondering whether it’s a good place to read up on the sunscreen you’ve been meaning to buy as summer kicks into high gear. The answer, according to a study published Wednesday by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Shuai Xu, is yes and no. (Cha, 7/6)

The Washington Post: Calvin Johnson Says Painkillers Were Handed Out ‘Like Candy’ To NFL Players
Sometime soon, the NFL may have to explain in court how its team’s medical staffs responsibly dispensed painkillers to players in the league. According to Calvin Johnson, powerful and addictive opioids were, until recently, handed out “like candy.” ... “If you were hurting, then you could get them. It was nothing,” Johnson added. “I mean, if you needed Vicodin, call out, ‘My ankle hurt,’ you know. ‘I need, I need it. I can’t, I can’t play without it,’ or something like that. It was simple. That’s how easy it was to get them. So if you were dependent on them, they were readily available.” (Bieler, 7/6)

The Associated Press: NY Assembly To Hold Hearings On Drinking Water Contamination
The state Assembly is planning to hold public hearings on water quality in early September. Speaker Carl Heastie, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried announced the hearings Wednesday afternoon. They said the hearings in Albany and Suffolk County will take testimony related to the causes and responses to drinking water contamination in various communities across the state. (7/6)

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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