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KHN First Edition: July 5, 2016


First Edition

Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Medicaid, Private Insurers Begin To Lift Curbs On Pricey Hepatitis C Drugs
Judith Graham, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "After legal battles and lobbying efforts, tens of thousands of people with hepatitis C are gaining earlier access to expensive drugs that can cure this condition. States that limited access to the medications out of concern over sky-high prices have begun to lift those restrictions — many, under the threat of legal action. And commercial insurers such as Anthem Inc. and United HealthCare are doing the same." (Graham, 7/5)

Kaiser Health News: Young Adults Can Face Challenges To Health Enrollment
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews, reports: "The Obama administration is making a push to get young adults covered on the health insurance marketplaces, both for their own good and that of the marketplaces, which need healthy people to balance sicker ones in the risk pool. While experts applaud the beefed up outreach planned for the coming months, they point to several factors that may throw a wrench into enrollment plans for young people." (Andrews, 7/5)

The Washington Post: Democrats Release Draft Of Platform, With Shifts To Left On Death Penalty, Abortion, Taxes
The Democratic National Committee released the latest draft of its 2016 platform late Friday afternoon, a week after Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) promised to fight "on the floor of the convention" if more progressive planks did not make it in. ... For the first time, the 2016 Democratic platform says that the party will attempt to repeal the Hyde Amendment (which bars the use of federal funds for most kinds of abortion) and the Helms Amendment (which prevents foreign aid from being spent on abortion). (Weigel, 7/1)

The New York Times: Brand-Name Drug Makers Wary Of Letting Generic Rival Join Their Club
For decades, brand-name and generic drug companies have fought each other in Congress, at international trade negotiations and in court. So when the world’s largest generic drug company moved this year to join the powerful trade association for producers of brand-name medicines, pharmaceutical lobbyists were in a swivet. The trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, is plunging into battles over drug prices here and in many state capitols. And the request from the generic company, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, is raising eyebrows in PhRMA’s secretive councils. (Pear, 7/1)

The New York Times: California Drug Price Plan Is Criticized By Patient Advocates
A state ballot initiative meant to lower prescription drug prices for California faces an expected opponent: the pharmaceutical industry, which has spent almost $70 million to defeat it. But concerns are also coming from a more curious source: some patient advocacy groups. Called the Drug Price Relief Act, or Proposition 61, the proposal would prohibit state programs, such as California’s Medicaid, from paying more for a drug than the lowest price paid by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, which typically receives big discounts. (Pollack, 7/4)

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Sues American Renal Associates, Alleging Fraud
UnitedHealth Group Inc. sued kidney-care chain American Renal Associates Holdings Inc., accusing it of fraud as health-industry fights escalate over who is allowed to help consumers pay for Affordable Care Act coverage. The lawsuit by the biggest U.S. health insurer, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Florida’s Southern District, said American Renal Associates engaged in a “fraudulent and illegal scheme” to get larger payments from the insurer by convincing patients to sign up for UnitedHealth plans and connecting them with a charity that helped pay their premiums. (Wilde Mathews, 7/1)

The New York Times: UnitedHealthcare Sues Dialysis Chain Over Billing
Private health insurers can pay more than $4,000 for each dialysis treatment. Government health plans like Medicaid pay around $200. That gaping price difference was the motivation for a scheme, orchestrated by a for-profit dialysis chain, that illegally pushed poor people in Florida and Ohio out of inexpensive government programs and into expensive private plans sold by UnitedHealthcare, according to a lawsuit the giant insurer filed in federal court on Friday. UnitedHealthcare says the arrangement needlessly exposed the patients to medical bills. (Abelson and Thomas, 7/1)

Reuters: Aetna Launches Medicare Advantage Asset Sale: Sources
Aetna Inc has launched an auction to sell a portfolio of Medicare Advantage assets as it seeks antitrust approval for its $37 billion acquisition of U.S. health insurance peer Humana Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The company is hoping the move will help ease antitrust concerns. Merging Aetna's and Humana's Medicare Advantage businesses would make the combined company the largest U.S. manager of the healthcare insurance for seniors and the disabled. (O'Donnell and Humer, 7/1)

The New York Times: Sex May Spread Zika Virus More Often Than Researchers Suspected
An outbreak of the Zika virus in the continental United States could begin any day now. But while there is plenty of discussion about mosquito bites, some researchers are beginning to worry more about the other known transmission route: sex. Intimate contact may account for more Zika infections than previously suspected, these experts say. The evidence is still emerging, and recent findings are hotly disputed. All experts agree that mosquitoes are the epidemic’s main driver. (McNeil, 7/2)

The Washington Post: Nation’s Psychiatric Bed Count Falls To Record Low
The number of psychiatric beds in state hospitals has dropped to a historic low, and nearly half of the beds that are available are filled with patients from the criminal justice system. Both statistics, reported in a new national study, reflect the sweeping changes that have taken place in the half-century since the United States began deinstitutionalizing mental illness in favor of outpatient treatment. But the promise of that shift was never fulfilled, and experts and advocates say the result is seen even today in the increasing ranks of homeless and incarcerated Americans suffering from serious mental conditions. (Beachum, 7/1)

The Associated Press: Texas Accused Of Ignoring Mentally Disabled In Nursing Homes
It took more than 40 years for Leonard Barefield to finally get to choose where he lived. The intellectually-disabled Texas native moved to a group home in Lubbock in September after he had first lived in near slavery conditions for more than three decades in a squalid house in Iowa and worked at a turkey processing plant there for 41 cents an hour. After being freed by social workers from that situation, he was sent in 2008 to a nursing home in Midland, Texas. His plight is not uncommon in Texas, where people with such disabilities are routinely warehoused in nursing homes. (7/3)

The Wall Street Journal: Abortion Providers Sue Louisiana Over Its Laws
Abortion providers in Louisiana filed suit Friday to invalidate state laws regulating the procedure, an early example of litigation likely to target antiabortion laws following a Supreme Court ruling earlier this week. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based advocacy group representing two of Louisiana’s four abortion clinics, filed the action in federal court in Baton Rouge, alleging seven abortion-related laws enacted in the state this year are unconstitutional. (Bravin and Radnofsky, 7/1)

The Associated Press: Clinics Challenge New Louisiana Abortion Restrictions
Abortion clinics and their doctors in Louisiana are challenging new abortion restrictions that include making women wait longer and barring a common second-trimester procedure. The federal lawsuit filed Friday in Baton Rouge seeks to keep the new rules from taking effect on Aug. 1. Among other restrictions, lawmakers voted to force many women to wait 72 hours and undergo ultrasounds before getting abortions, and they banned a procedure called dilation and evacuation. (7/1)

The Associated Press: Blocked Indiana Abortion Law Comes Amid Procedure's Decline
A federal judge's decision to block a new Indiana abortion law from taking effect was a setback for anti-abortion activists who backed the push to tighten restrictions on the procedure that are already among the most strict in the country. Provisions put on hold a day before they were to take effect Friday would have banned abortions sought because of a fetus' genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome or because of the race, gender or ancestry of a fetus, and required that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated. (7/4)

The Washington Post: Uterine Cancer Risk Higher For Women With ‘Breast Cancer Gene’ Mutation
Women with a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which is already linked to breast and ovarian cancers, also face a higher risk of a deadly type of uterine cancer, according to a new study. Lead author Noah Kauff, director of Clinical Cancer Genetics at the Duke Cancer Institute, said the study was the first "conclusive link" between the gene defect and an increased likelihood of serous endometrial carcinoma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the uterus and has a mortality rate of 50 percent. Many women with BRCA mutations have their breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce their risk of developing cancer. (McGinley, 7/1)

Kaiser Health News/NPR: Episiotomies Still Common During Childbirth Despite Advice To Do Fewer
Episiotomy, a once-routine surgical incision made in a woman's vaginal opening during childbirth to speed the baby's passage, has been officially discouraged for at least a decade by the leading association of obstetrician-gynecologists in the United States. Nonetheless, despite evidence that the procedure is only rarely necessary, and in some cases leads to serious pain and injuries to the mother, it is still being performed at much higher than recommended rates by certain doctors and in certain hospitals. (Wiener, 7/4)

NPR: Louisiana Medicaid Expansion Brings Insurance To Many New Orleans Musicians
Lisa Lynn Kotnik has been a singer on the New Orleans club circuit for more than 15 years. ... While Kotnik sings to revelers at night under the stage name Lisa Lynn, in the daytime she's battled health problems — fibroids, ovarian cysts, a hysterectomy and even a brain aneurysm. "So, I've had a lot of surgeries," she says. She counts at least five. And like many of her fellow musicians, Kotnik has never really had health insurance. Her income as a singer is tenuous and fluctuates with the seasons, so insurance has always just been too expensive, she says. (Kodjak, 7/1)

The Washington Post: When The Hits (To Musicians’ Health) Just Keep On Coming
The deaths of David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Natalie Cole may have caught music fans by surprise, but they can be assured their heroes died receiving the best medical treatment possible. Most musicians, however, struggle to pay the bills, and those who may have enjoyed the spoils of fame in their heyday are finding that often doesn’t translate to covering the mounting medical costs they face in their twilight years. Accelerating the problem are changes in the music business itself. Artists who enjoyed hit records in the pre-digital era once were assured they could rely on continuing royalties that would allow them to enjoy retirement in comfort. Not anymore. (Guarino, 7/2)

The New York Times: Growing Pains For Field Of Epigenetics As Some Call For Overhaul
Our genes are not just naked stretches of DNA. They’re coiled into intricate three-dimensional tangles, their lengths decorated with tiny molecular “caps.” These so-called epigenetic marks are crucial to the workings of the genome: They can silence some genes and activate others. Epigenetic marks are crucial for our development. Among other functions, they direct a single egg to produce the many cell types, including blood and brain cells, in our bodies. But some high-profile studies have recently suggested something more: that the environment can change your epigenetic marks later in life, and that those changes can have long-lasting effects on health. (Zimmer, 7/1)

The Washington Post: Schools Around The Country Find Lead In Water, With No Easy Answers
The ongoing crisis in Flint, Mich., has shined a spotlight on the public-health hazards that lead continues to pose in U.S. drinking water. In particular, it has led to renewed pressure to test for the problem in the nation’s schools, where millions of young children, the age group most vulnerable to lead poisoning, spend their days. ... Public health officials agree that no amount of lead exposure is safe. Even at low levels, lead can cause serious and irreversible damage to the developing brains and nervous systems of young children. The result can be lasting behavioral, cognitive and physical problems. In short, it can alter the trajectory of a child’s life. (Dennis, 7/4)

The Wall Street Journal: New Weight-Loss Tactics For The Moderately Obese
The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved a host of new weight-loss interventions that make millions more people eligible for obesity treatments. Among the devices are balloons that inflate inside the stomach and leave less room for food, electrical impulses that trick the brain into thinking the stomach is full and a tube that lets people drain out some of their stomach contents after meals. The new interventions don’t require major surgery and are reversible; several are aimed at the estimated 60 million Americans who are only moderately obese, with a body-mass index of 30 to 40. (Beck, 7/4)

NPR: Few Young Doctors Are Training To Care For U.S. Elderly
At Edgewood Summit retirement community in Charleston, W.Va., 93-year-old Mary Mullens is waxing eloquent about her geriatrician, Dr. Todd Goldberg. "He's sure got a lot to do," she says, "and does it so well." West Virginia has the third oldest population in the nation, right behind Maine and Florida. But Goldberg is one of only 36 geriatricians in the state. "With the growing elderly population across America and West Virginia, obviously we need healthcare providers," says Goldberg. (Lofton, 7/3)

The Washington Post: I’ll Never Go Through Shoulder Surgery Again, So Here’s What I Did
When I tore my rotator cuff in 2008, I had conventional laparoscopic surgery to repair it. The outcome was excellent, but the recovery was long and horrible. The orthopedist wouldn’t let me drive for six weeks, or run, swim or lift weights for three months. I suffered through weeks of torturous physical therapy. It was nearly six months before I felt normal again. So in 2014, after a nurse improperly administered a vaccination that resulted in chronic pain and an MRI revealed another rotator-cuff tear, I vowed I would not go through shoulder surgery (or its aftermath) again. (Cimons, 7/4)

The Associated Press: Nursing Homes Phasing Out Alarms To Reduce Falls
Alarms no longer go off when a resident shifts in bed or rises from a wheelchair at Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge in Madison. Nurses no longer place fall mats next to beds or lower beds to the floor when residents sleep. The changes, which took effect at the nursing facility in June, are part of a nationwide movement to phase out personal alarms and other long-used fall prevention measures in favor of more proactive, attentive care. Without alarms, nurses have to better learn residents' routines and accommodate their needs before they try to stand up and do it themselves. (7/2)

The Associated Press: New Cigarette Taxes Could Be On Ballot In Hesitant States
An entire generation has come of age since the last time Missouri raised its cigarette tax, from 13 cents a pack to 17 cents, in 1993. Today, it's the lowest tax in the nation. And Missouri is one of just three states — along with North Dakota and California — that has held cigarette taxes flat since the turn of century. In that time, other states have increasingly tapped smokers to fill budget gaps and raise money for services such as health care and education. (7/2)

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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