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KHN First Edition: July 22, 2016


First Edition

Friday, July 22, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Prepares To Go Forward With New Hospital Quality Ratings
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Despite objections from Congress and the hospital industry, the Obama administration said it will soon publish star ratings summing up the quality of 3,662 hospitals. Nearly half will be rated as average, and hospitals that serve the poor will not score as well overall as will other hospitals, according to government figures released Thursday. The government says the ratings, which will award between one and five stars to each hospital, will be more useful to consumers than its current mishmash of more than 100 individual metrics, many of which deal with technical matters. The hospital industry, however, fears the ratings will be misleading and oversimplify the many types of care at the institutions." (Rau, 7/22)

Kaiser Health News: How A Caribbean Island Became Prime Source Of U.S. Zika Cases
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "More than 1,400 Americans contracted Zika while traveling outside the U.S. this year and a Caribbean-island nation is one of the top destinations where they caught the virus. Visitors to the Dominican Republic account for more than a fifth of the confirmed Zika cases in the U.S. through mid-July, according to data from state health departments. New York, Florida and California alone tally 304 cases linked to the country, the data show." (Galewitz, 7/22)

Kaiser Health News: Montana's 'Pain Refugees' Leave State To Get Prescribed Opioids
Montana Public Radio's Corin Cates-Carney, in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports: "Federal authorities say about 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. In Montana, health care officials report that abuse there is worse than the national average. But the casualties of the opioid epidemic are not all drug abusers. On a recent night, three Montana residents, who call themselves pain refugees, boarded an airplane from Missoula to Los Angeles. They say that finding doctors willing to treat chronic pain in Montana is almost impossible, and the only way they can get relief is to fly out of state." (Cates-Carney, 7/22)

Kaiser Health News: Diabetes Linked To Risk Of Mental Health Hospitalization In Young Adults: Study
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews reports: "Young people with diabetes were four times more likely to be hospitalized for mental health or substance use treatment in 2014 than were young adults without the disease, according to a recent study that shines a harsh light on the psychological toll the disease can take on this group. For every 1,000 young adults aged 19 through 25 who had diabetes, 37 were hospitalized for mental health/substance use, compared to nine young adults without diabetes. The study by researchers at the Health Care Cost Institute also found the incidence of such hospitalizations is on the rise for these patients. The 2014 rate was 68 percent higher than two years earlier, when the rate of mental health/substance use hospitalizations per 1,000 for that group was 22." (Andrews, 7/22)

The New York Times: U.S. Sues To Block Anthem-Cigna And Aetna-Humana Mergers
Within a three-week span last summer, four of the five biggest health insurers announced two mergers totaling $85 billion. Suddenly, what was five would be three, reshaping the industry. But on Thursday, antitrust regulators said, Not so fast. United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that the government had filed lawsuits to block the deals, between Aetna and Humana and Anthem and Cigna. (Picker and Abelson, 7/21)

The Washington Post: Justice Department Sues To Block Two Health Care Mega-Mergers
“These mergers may increase the profits of Aetna and Anthem. But they would do so at the expense of consumers, employers and health professionals across the country, inflicting costs that cannot be measured in dollars alone,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a press conference to discuss the suits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Merle and Johnson, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Files Suits Seeking To Block Insurer Deals
Both lawsuits argue the mergers create collective problems. Justice officials indicated that they would seek to have the two cases tried together in front of the same judge. The lawsuits use identical language arguing the deals would eliminate “two innovative competitors”—Cigna and Humana—“at a time when the industry is experimenting with new ways to lower health-care costs.” (Kendall and Wilde Mathews, 7/21)

USA Today: Antitrust Suits Aim To Block Two Health Care Mergers
Eleven states and the District of Columbia joined the attempt to block the Anthem deal, which would combine the nation's second- and fourth-largest insurers. Eight states and D.C. joined the suit to block the Aetna deal, which would combine the third and fifth largest. (Bomey, 7/21)

Politico: DOJ Files Lawsuits To Block Mergers Of Insurance Giants
In statement, Anthem called the DOJ lawsuit "an unfortunate and misguided step backwards for access to affordable healthcare for America" and promised to challenge the decision in court. It also left open the possibility of negotiating an agreement with DOJ to let the merger go through. Its partner in the $54 billion merger, Cigna, said it now believes the deal won't close before 2017, "if at all." Aetna and Humana, in a joint statement, also promised to fight the DOJ lawsuit. (Cook, 7/21)

Reuters: Aetna, Humana Map Legal Strategy To Salvage Merger
Aetna vowed to fight “to the very end” after the Department of Justice filed suit earlier on Thursday to block the merger, which had been in the works for more than a year. Antitrust reviewers say the combination will hurt consumers and the companies' proposed fix - selling some health plans to a competitor - is insufficient. (Humer, 7/22)

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Moves To Block Health Insurance Mega-Mergers
The lawsuits are unlikely to end maneuvering in the health insurance industry, as health plans try to bolster their positions in a fast-changing industry still being reordered by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. In the last year alone, Los Angeles-based HealthNet merged with Centene Corp., a leading Medicaid plan. And Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente acquired Washington state’s Group Health Cooperative, another well-regarded nonprofit plan. (Levey and Puzzanghera, 7/21)

USA Today: Hospitals, Doctors Funded Consumer Opposition To Insurance Mergers
Hospital and doctor groups helped fund the consumer opposition to the two big health insurer mergers the Justice Department sued to block Thursday. Hospitals, which have been merging fast and furiously on their own, jump started the campaign against the mergers of Aetna and Humana and Anthem and Cigna by funding the Campaign for Consumer Choice with unions. Insurers said they needed to consolidate to deal more effectively with ever-larger hospital companies, which have also been gobbling up doctors' practices. (O'Donnell, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Antitrust Suits Could Upend Health Insurers’ Strategies
If the Justice Department wins its two health-insurance antitrust cases, the four companies involved would face business challenges as they move forward alone. All four— Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp.—would be left without the additional scale that they said would help them pare costs and boost their products. They would remain substantially smaller than the industry’s largest player by revenue, UnitedHealth Group Inc., and could turn to other smaller deals to gain at least some heft in key markets. (Wilde Mathews, 7/21)

Politico: Humana Pulling Out Of Many Obamacare Markets
Humana will stop marketing Obamacare exchange plans in several states next year and will exit many off-exchange individual markets as well, the company announced today. The decision means the company will only offer individual plans in 156 counties in 11 states, down from 1,351 counties across 19 states this year. It had sold plans on Affordable Care Act exchanges in 15 states this year. (Karlin-Smith, 7/21)

The Washington Post: Zika Is Found In Common Culex Mosquitos, Signaling A Potentially Larger Risk
Brazilian researchers said Thursday they have found Zika in Culex mosquitoes in the northeastern city of Recife in what could prove to be an important discovery. But they cautioned that more study was needed. Until now, Zika was believed to be carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is much less numerous, lives in clean water and is more likely to bite during the day. Aedes aegypti thrives in tropical and subtropical climates — it is found in Southern U.S. states such as Florida, but is absent in large parts of the United States. The virus is also carried by the Aedes albopictus mosquito, which lives in more rural environments. (Phillips, 7/21)

The New York Times: Second Possible Zika Infection Is Found in Florida
Florida health officials are investigating a possible second case of the Zika virus that may have been locally transmitted. The announcement of the case, in Broward County, comes two days after the state said it was investigating a possible homegrown case in Miami-Dade County. If the cases are confirmed, they would be the first times a person has been infected with the virus by a mosquito in the continental United States. There are more than 1,300 confirmed Zika cases in the country, but all of them had been contracted through travel abroad — by a mosquito bite or by sexual intercourse with someone who had traveled to a Zika-infected area. (Tavernise, 7/21)

The Associated Press: Zika Investigations Eating Up Funds, Florida Officials Say
Florida mosquito control officials worry they won't be able to keep up their efforts to contain the bugs that carry Zika without federal funding, even as concern mounts that the first infection from a mosquito bite on the U.S. mainland is near. On Thursday, fogging trucks drove through a Miami-Dade County neighborhood where health officials are investigating a Zika diagnosis that doesn't appear to have connection to travel outside the United States. Zika is usually spread by mosquitoes, but nearly all the Zika cases in the U.S. have been contracted in other countries or through sex with someone who got it abroad. (7/22)

Reuters: Doctors Devise Care Plan For Babies As Zika Threat Looms In U.S.
As U.S. public health officials try to determine whether Zika has arrived in the country, doctors are establishing guidelines on how to care for the rising number of babies whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. ... So far, 400 pregnant women in the continental United States have evidence of Zika infection, up from 346 from a week ago, the CDC reported on Thursday. All of those were related to travel or sex with an infected person who had traveled. (Berkrot, 7/21)

Los Angeles Times: New Warning Rule For Users Of Generic Drugs Is Left In Limbo
Five years after the Supreme Court blocked most personal-injury lawsuits against makers of generic drugs, a rule designed to strengthen patient protections have stalled, leaving what consumer groups warn is a safety gap for millions of users. After several delays, the Food and Drug Administration said last year it would to issue a new rule by the end of this month to require generic drug makers to update their warning labels in response to newly revealed risks. But the agency quietly said recently it had put off a final decision until early next year. (Savage, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Amgen And Allergan Study Finds Biosimilar Comparable To Herceptin
Amgen Inc. and Allergan PLC on Thursday said a late-stage trial of their treatment being developed as a biosimilar to Roche Holding AG’s breast cancer drug Herceptin met its primary endpoint, another step in bringing cheaper versions of some of biotechnology’s best-known cancer drugs to the market. The study, evaluating the effectiveness and safety of ABP 980 compared with trastuzumab, the clinical name for Herceptin—a multibillion-dollar medicine that in the past two decades has transformed treatment for about 25% of breast-cancer patients—ruled out inferiority but couldn't rule out superiority. (Steele, 7/21)

Reuters: Theranos Hires Executives In Regulatory, Compliance Push
Blood-testing company Theranos Inc said on Thursday it hired two executives to oversee regulatory, quality and compliance standards, as the company tries to recover from a series of regulatory sanctions and investigations. The company named former Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc executive Dave Wurtz vice president, regulatory and quality. Daniel Guggenheim, who previously served as assistant general counsel at McKesson Corp, was appointed as chief compliance officer. (Tharakan and Grover, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Theranos Hires Compliance, Regulatory Executives
The company said the moves were the “latest in a series of significant actions Theranos has taken to ensure that it meets the highest standards in its laboratories, medical products and operations.” ... The company faces other threats, including a criminal probe by federal prosecutors of whether it misled investors and regulators, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Theranos also lost its main retail partner, the Walgreens drugstore chain, in June. The company has said it is working closely with regulators and is cooperating with all investigations. (Hufford, 7/21)

The New York Times: Heroin And Pill Overdoses Claim Immigrant Victims, Catching Families Off Guard
The country’s epidemic abuse of opioids — heroin, or prescription pills — is often seen as an affliction of white suburban and rural communities, but it has also spread to New York City’s immigrant neighborhoods. There is no city data that breaks down drug abuse by ethnicity, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is emerging or even worsening where it already has a foothold. Experts and those enmeshed in the fight against drugs see many possible explanations. Immigrant parents are often unfamiliar with the signs of drug abuse and may not know how to navigate the world of treatment and recovery. Immigrant families, steeped in traditions, can also have an especially strong culture of shame around addiction that discourages asking for help. (Robbins, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: K2 Patients Put Emergency Rooms To The Test
Emergency departments ... are on the front line in the medical response to K2, a drug-laced herbal mixture that has no antidote and is often labeled as potpourri or incense to mask its illicit purpose. K2 is cheaper than cocaine, heroin or marijuana, and its ever-shifting chemical makeup has defied regulators’ efforts to control it. Last week, 130 people suspected to be on the drug, which is often referred to as “spice” and sometimes erroneously marketed as legal marijuana, were brought to emergency rooms across New York City, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (Furfaro, 7/21)

The New York Times: Sperm Banks Accused Of Losing Samples And Lying About Donors
Frozen sperm has become a major industry, dominated by a few large sperm banks, but with smaller stocks of sperm maintained at hundreds of assisted-reproduction centers nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration requires that donor sperm be tested for infectious diseases. Beyond that, sperm banks are lightly regulated. Several states require health department licensing of the labs, but only New York conducts routine inspections. Some of the new cases accuse sperm banks of careless record-keeping, or mishandling or misappropriation of sperm banked for a client’s personal use. Others say the banks use hyped, misleading descriptions to market their donors. (Lewin, 7/21)

The Associated Press: Nevada Ending Discrimination Of Prison Inmates With HIV
Nevada’s Department of Corrections is changing a series of policies and practices that the U.S. Justice Department says illegally discriminate against prison inmates with HIV by housing them separately and denying access to work assignments that can speed their release. The Justice Department concluded last month the state was violating inmates’ civil rights under the policies based largely on outdated and unfounded fears about the transmission of the virus that causes AIDS. (Sonner, 7/21)

The Associated Press: New York Repeals Sales Tax On Tampons And Sanitary Napkins
New York state has repealed its tax on tampons and other feminine hygiene products, a move expected to save women $10 million a year. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law Thursday, calling it “a matter of social and economic justice.” The repeal passed the Legislature earlier this year after female lawmakers from both parties complained the tax was sexist because personal products including condoms and bandages were already exempt from the sales tax. (Klepper, 7/21)

NPR: Psychotherapy Helps People Tune Out The Din Of Tinnitus
About three years ago, a high-pitched "eeeeeeeee" sound started ringing in Linda Gray's ears. Sometimes, the ring would suddenly turn into a roar, sending Gray into panic mode. Her heart would speed up. She'd try to find a quiet room. "You're trying to escape it. It's like, 'Turn this off!' " she says. A lot of people experience ringing, roaring or buzzing, also known as tinnitus. It can be maddening. ... Doctors writing Thursday in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found that about 1 in 10 U.S. adults reported experiencing tinnitus within the past year. And, surprisingly, very few of them talked with their doctors about one of the few methods known to help with it. (Bichell, 7/21)

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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