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KHN First Edition: July 21, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, July 21, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Tracking Cancer In Real Time
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: "California is overhauling the way it collects information for its massive cancer database in the hope of improving how patients are treated for the disease. Pathologists at a dozen hospitals in the state are part of a pilot project — the first of its kind in the United States — in which they are reporting cancer diagnoses in close to real-time to the California Cancer Registry. And they are using standardized electronic forms to make their reporting more consistent and accurate. That represents a significant change for the registry, which traditionally relies on data up to two years old." (Gorman, 7/21)

Kaiser Health News: Study: Medicare Beneficiaries May Face ‘Treatment Gap’ For Painkiller Abuse, Misuse
Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "When most people think of the victims of the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic, they seldom picture members of the Medicare set. But a research letter published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry found Medicare beneficiaries had the highest and most rapidly growing rate of “opioid use disorder.” Six of every 1,000 recipients struggle with the condition, compared with one out of every 1,000 patients covered through commercial insurance plans. (Heredia Rodriguez, 7/20)

Kaiser Health News: Frustrated You Can't Find A Therapist? They're Frustrated, Too
KQED's April Dembosky, in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports: "There are a lot of people suffering from a mental health condition who need therapy. And there are a lot of therapists who want to help them. But both sides believe the insurance companies that are supposed to bring them together are actually keeping them apart. Insurance companies, for their part, say there's a shortage of therapists." (Dembosky, 7/21)

Kaiser Health News: For Surgeons, Talking About Adverse Events Can Be Difficult: Study
Zhai Yun Tan, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Dr. Thomas Gallagher has been through many tough conversations with patients. He remembers once standing in front of a patient and the patient’s family, preparing to tell them about a mistake that had occurred. "This is a topic I think about all the time and it was still very nerve-racking and embarrassing,” said Gallagher, an internist and a professor at the University of Washington's medical school specializing in quality and patient safety issues. The patient had been sent to another clinic an hour away to get an MRI, but because of a miscommunication, the MRI was done in the wrong area of the body and would have to be repeated. ... Medical mistakes often happen. National guidelines call for doctors to provide full disclosure about adverse events, and studies have shown that those discussions benefit patients." (Tan, 7/20)

The New York Times: Failure Of 2 Health Insurer Mergers Is Unlikely To Stop The Efforts
The Justice Department is expected to block two mergers involving four of the nation’s five largest health insurance companies, on the ground that the deals would harm competition. But don’t expect the action to stop the consolidation in the health care industry anytime soon. No matter the fate of the deals between Anthem and Cigna, and Aetna and Humana, hospitals, doctors’ groups and even insurers are almost certain to continue their scramble to find partners in a rapidly changing environment. Blockbuster deals may slow, but smaller combinations will remain attractive. (Abelson, 7/20)

The Associated Press: Florida Mosquitoes Being Tested For Zika To Confirm Case
Florida health officials have trapped mosquitoes in an area of Miami-Dade County and are testing them for Zika to confirm whether a woman with the virus could be the first person infected directly by a mosquito bite in the continental United States. Florida's Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not immediately respond to questions about their investigation, but health officials said the case had no apparent connection to travel outside the country. (7/21)

The Associated Press: Quebec Team To Begin Zika Vaccine Tests On Humans
A Quebec City-based research team has received the green light to begin testing a Zika vaccine on humans in collaboration with U.S.-based partners. The researchers based at Universite Laval are the first in Canada to be authorized by Canada's federal health agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct clinical tests. The university is one of three sites that hope to begin testing a vaccine for the mosquito-borne virus in the next few days. (7/20)

The New York Times: Insurance Groups In New York Improperly Cut Home-Care Hours For Disabled Patients, Report Says
Since January 2015, [Senior Health Partners] and at least two others have been systematically cutting the hours of home care for their disabled clients, typically without proper notice or legal justification, the study found. By law, only a change in a client’s medical condition or circumstance is supposed to allow a reduction. The study was co-sponsored by Medicaid Matters, which is an advocate for Medicaid beneficiaries, and by the New York chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. It independently confirms similar allegations made earlier this year in a federal class-action lawsuit filed against Senior Health Partners and the New York State Health Department on behalf of disabled and aged clients threatened with cuts in home care. (Bernstein, 7/20)

The New York Times: Report On Medicaid Home Care Reductions In New York
A detailed report by a coalition of more than 100 nonprofit groups found that since January 2015, Senior Health Partners of Healthfirst and at least two other companies have been systematically cutting the hours of home care to their disabled clients, typically without proper notice or legal justification. (7/21)

NPR/ProPublica: Rehab Hospitals May Harm A Third Of Patients, Report Finds
Patients may go to rehabilitation hospitals to recover from a stroke, injury or recent surgery. But sometimes the care makes things worse. In a government report published Thursday, 29 percent of patients in rehab facilities suffered a medication error, bedsore, infection or some other type of harm as a result of the care they received. Doctors who reviewed cases from a broad sampling of rehab facilities say that almost half of the 158 incidents they spotted among 417 patients were clearly or likely preventable. (Allen, 7/21)

The New York Times: Updated Brain Map Identifies Nearly 100 New Regions
The brain looks like a featureless expanse of folds and bulges, but it’s actually carved up into invisible territories. Each is specialized: Some groups of neurons become active when we recognize faces, others when we read, others when we raise our hands. On Wednesday, in what many experts are calling a milestone in neuroscience, researchers published a spectacular new map of the brain, detailing nearly 100 previously unknown regions — an unprecedented glimpse into the machinery of the human mind. (Zimmer, 7/20)

The Washington Post: Researchers Just Doubled What We Know About The Map Of The Human Brain
Scientists like to say the human brain is the most complex object in the universe — three pounds of fluid and tissue, about which we understand only a fraction. That fraction just grew dramatically. In a study published Wednesday online in Nature, a team of researchers more than doubled the number of distinct areas known in the human cortex, from 83 to 180. This new map of the brain combines data from four different imaging technologies to essentially bring high-definition to brain scanning for the first time. (Nutt, 7/20)

The Washington Post: The Real Reason That So Many More Americans Are Using Heroin
President Obama has committed to sign the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which includes among its provisions new policies to reduce inappropriate prescribing of prescription opioids such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. Given the ongoing epidemic of addiction and death caused by opioid painkillers, this seems like sensible public-health policy, but some critics charge that tighter prescribing rules simply cause prescription opioid users to switch to heroin, thereby feeding a second opioid epidemic. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine recently published the first systematic analysis of this terrifying possibility. (Humphreys, 7/20)

The New York Times: Study That Reported Sharp Rise In Prostate Cancer Is Questioned
Bad news for men popped up in news media all over the country this week, based on a study from Northwestern University reporting that cases of advanced, aggressive prostate cancer had risen sharply from 2004 to 2013. Newsweek, NBC, CBS, Fox News and United Press International were among the organizations that covered the study. The reports suggested that recent medical advice against routine screening might be to blame for the apparent increase in advanced cases, by leading to delays in diagnosis until the cancer reached a late stage. Another factor cited was the possibility that prostate cancer had somehow become more aggressive. (Grady, 7/20)

The Wall Street Journal: Why The Price Is Right For Drug Companies
Drug manufacturers continue to rely on pricing power to help top investor expectations. That may not be as big a short-term problem as some investors fear. Prices of medicines remain in focus ahead of second-quarter earnings season. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that more than two-thirds of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies boosted revenues from major products in the first quarter by raising prices. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index showed a nearly 6% rise in pharmaceuticals prices from June 2015 through June 2016, well above broader inflation rates. Since prescription drugs generally carry a high gross profit margin, these price raises tend to flow through to the bottom line. (Grant, 7/20)

The New York Times: Generic Crestor Wins Approval, Dealing A Blow To AstraZeneca
The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it had approved generic versions of the blockbuster cholesterol-lowering pill Crestor, rejecting a last-ditch and controversial effort by AstraZeneca to stop cheaper competition from reaching pharmacy shelves. The move should considerably decrease the price of the drug and result in a sharp loss of market share for AstraZeneca. The brand-name drug has a retail price around $260 a month, according to With multiple generics now coming onto the market, the price could eventually drop as much as 80 to 90 percent. (Pollack, 7/20)

The Wall Street Journal: Roche Sales Rise On Cancer Drugs
Roche Holding AG said profit climbed in the first half of the year thanks to strong sales across its pharmaceutical and diagnostics divisions. Basel, Switzerland-based Roche said net income increased 4% to 5.5 billion Swiss francs ($5.57 billion) in the six months to June 30, beating analyst estimates of 5.3 billion. Revenue rose 6% to 25 billion francs, in line with estimates. Stripping out currency effects, net income climbed 3% and sales rose 5%. (Roland, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Bioengineered Bacteria Burst In Synchrony To Release Anticancer Drugs
In a new way to inject drugs, researchers say today they can make bacteria that deliver regular doses of an anticancer toxin deep inside a tumor, usually beyond the reach of conventional chemotherapy. In animal experiments of interest to pharmaceutical companies, the researchers report today in the journal Nature that their genetically engineered bugs can shrink a tumor by directly delivering repeated, synchronized doses of an anti-tumor toxin. To modulate the drug dose, the researchers engineered the anticancer microbes to grow or self-destruct based on the rise or fall of their overall population, through a technique called quorum sensing. (Hotz, 7/20)

Reuters: Your Inhaler's Watching You: Drugmakers Race For Smart Devices
Makers of inhalers to treat asthma and chronic lung disease are racing to develop a new generation of smart devices with sensors to monitor if patients are using their puffers properly. Linked wirelessly to the cloud, the gadgets are part of a medical "Internet of Things" that promises improved adherence, or correct use of the medication, and better health outcomes. They may also hold the key to company profits in an era of increasingly tough competition. (7/20)

The Washington Post: Prisons Around The World Are Reservoirs Of Infectious Disease
Prisoners around the world and people who were formerly incarcerated have a higher burden of HIV and other infectious diseases than the general population, worsening the spread of diseases inside and outside of prison, according to new research. In a series of six papers in medical journal the Lancet, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed the prevalence of infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B and tuberculosis between 2005 and 2015. (Beachum, 7/20)

The Associated Press: Ex-NFL Player Sues Insurer For Denying Concussion Claim
A former NFL player who suffered what the league deemed a career-ending concussion has sued insurer Lloyd’s of London for denying a $1 million insurance policy for professional athletes. The lawsuit, filed this week in North Carolina, could become a test case for insurers dealing with the emerging fallout from sports concussions and head trauma claims. The NFL declared former Carolina Panthers defensive back Haruki Nakamura fully and permanently disabled after the August 2013 concussion he received in a preseason game, awarding him monthly benefits. (Dale, 7/20)

Los Angeles Times: Woman Accused Of Trafficking Fentanyl To Sacramento County Following Wave Of Overdose Deaths
Federal authorities have arrested a woman who they say was trafficking the powerful opiate fentanyl into Sacramento County, where earlier this year officials linked 14 overdose deaths to the drug. Mildred Dossman, 50, of Sacramento was arrested Tuesday after a grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging her with possession with intent to distribute hydrocodone and fentanyl, distribution of both drugs and using a cellphone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense, federal prosecutors said in a statement. (Serna, 7/20)

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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