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KHN First Edition: July 28, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, July 28, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Many Well-Known Hospitals Fail To Score 5 Stars In Medicare’s New Ratings
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "The federal government released its first overall hospital quality rating on Wednesday, slapping average or below average scores on many of the nation’s best-known hospitals while awarding top scores to dozens of unheralded ones. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rated 3,617 hospitals on a one- to five-star scale, angering the hospital industry, which has been pressing the Obama administration and Congress to block the ratings. Hospitals argue the ratings will make places that treat the toughest cases look bad, but Medicare has held firm, saying that consumers need a simple way to objectively gauge quality. Medicare does factor in the health of patients when comparing hospitals, though not as much as some hospitals would like." (Rau, 7/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem: Getting Past Cigna Merger Blues
Anthem hasn’t given up on its merger with Cigna just yet. But second-quarter results suggest the backup plan isn’t a bad alternative. Anthem, the second-largest U.S. health insurer by membership, reported sales of $19.9 billion and adjusted earnings of $3.33 a share on Wednesday morning. That topped analyst estimates, but the stock traded lower. Higher-than-expected medical expenses were to blame. Those amounted to 84.2% of premium revenues, more than 2 percentage points higher than a year ago. Anthem blamed the squeeze in part on margin pressure in its Medicaid business, which is Anthem’s fastest-growing membership segment. (Grant, 7/27)

The Associated Press: Anthem Prepping For Hardball Fight With Feds Over Cigna Deal
Anthem has no intention of backing away quietly from its plan to buy rival Cigna in the face of federal opposition, and the company looks ready to play hardball. The health insurer told analysts Wednesday that it is preparing to fight the government's move to block its deal, and the company said its participation in the government's health insurance exchanges — a sore subject for the Obama administration that is trying to stop the acquisition — may be at stake. (7/27)

Reuters: Anthem To Fight For Cigna Deal, Sees Obamacare Losses
Anthem has argued that its planned $45-billion purchase of Cigna will give it greater leverage to negotiate better prices from healthcare providers and pass on those savings to consumers, including those signing up for "Obamacare" plans on public insurance exchanges. "To be clear, our board and executive leadership team at Anthem is fully committed to challenging the (U.S. Department of Justice's) decision in court," Chief Executive Joseph Swedish told analysts on a conference call. (Berkrot and Penumudi, 7/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem Projecting Losses On Affordable Care Act Plans This Year
Anthem Inc. said it is now projecting losses on its Affordable Care Act plans this year, a turnaround for a major insurer that had maintained a relatively optimistic tone about that business. Anthem said it now believed it would see a “mid-single-digit” operating margin loss on its ACA plans in 2016, due to higher-than-expected medical costs. It expects better results next year, because it is seeking substantial premium increases. (Wilde Mathews, 7/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Alere Faces Criminal Probe Over Medicare, Medicaid Billing
Federal investigators are seeking information about government-billing practices at Alere Inc., adding to a litany of woes at the diagnostic-testing company as it seeks to complete a deal to sell itself. The Justice Department’s criminal-fraud section sent Alere a subpoena recently seeking patient-billing records, according to people familiar with the matter. It asked for information about Alere’s efforts to collect copayments from patients, as well as forms submitted on their behalf to government programs such as Medicare, the people said. (Hoffman, Viswanatha and Rockoff, 7/27)

Los Angeles Times: A Woman At The DNC Just Discussed Her Abortion. Here's Where The Battle Over Abortion Rights Is Being Fought.
Abortion continues to be an important issue in the 2016 presidential election and has been referenced several times at the DNC so far, including today, when Ilyse Hogue, the president of a national pro-choice organization, discussed her own abortion in front of the convention. The next president’s Supreme Court nominee could tip the scales when it comes to decisions similar to the one made in June striking down Texas restrictions on doctors and clinics who perform abortions. (Rañoa, 7/27)

Los Angeles Times: Amid Opioid Epidemic, Rules For Drug Companies Are Loosened
When it comes to combating the nation’s opioid epidemic, politicians of all stripes say they are fully committed. President Obama wants to spend a billion dollars on new treatment programs. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump talk about the ravages of addiction and the need for solutions. And Congress earlier this month passed a package of legislation to prevent overdoses, bolster law enforcement and improve recovery programs. But this spring, with little attention and virtually no public opposition, lawmakers approved and the president signed a new law that makes it more difficult for government to take action against a key player in the crisis: the pharmaceutical industry. (Ryan and Christensen, 7/27)

The Associated Press: A New Threat In Fight Against Overdoses: Elephant Sedative
A drug used to sedate elephants and other large animals, 100 times as potent as the fentanyl already escalating the country's heroin troubles, is suspected in spates of overdoses in several states, where authorities say they've found it mixed with or passed off as heroin. The appearance of carfentanil, one of the most potent opioids known to investigators, adds another twist to the fight against opioid painkillers in a country already awash in heroin and fentanyl cases. (7/28)

The New York Times: The ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ Helped Scientists Discover A New Gene Tied To A.L.S.
It turns out those much-mocked Ice Bucket Challenge videos helped do a lot of good. Two summers ago, the challenge, designed to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, took the internet by storm. Supporters ended up raising over $115 million for the A.L.S. Association. Over two years, money from the challenge has helped fund the research and development of treatment drugs and has been used as prize money to entice people to design technology for people living with the disease, which causes a rapid breakdown in a person’s ability to control muscle movement. (Roger, 7/27)

The New York Times: Alzheimer’s Drug LMTX Falters In Final Stage Of Trials
A new type of drug for Alzheimer’s disease failed to slow the rate of decline in mental ability and daily functioning in its first large clinical trial. There was a hint, though, that it might be effective for certain patients. The drug, called LMTX, is the first one with its mode of action — trying to undo so-called tau tangles in the brain — to reach the final stage of clinical trials. So the results of the study were eagerly awaited. The initial reaction to the outcome was disappointment, with perhaps a glimmer of hopefulness. (Pollack, 7/27)

Reuters: Teva Is Approved To Purchase Allergan’s Generics Business
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries won United States antitrust approval to purchase Allergan’s generics business after agreeing to sell 79 generic drugs to rival firms, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday. The $40.5 billion deal, which was announced in July 2015, solidifies Teva’s position as the world’s largest maker of generics while freeing Allergan to focus on branded drugs. (7/27)

The Wall Street Journal: GlaxoSmithKline Helped And Hurt By Sterling’s Post-Brexit Fall
While Brexit provided an expected boost to core earnings for GlaxoSmithKline PLC, it also led to a big write-down—the latest in a series of surprises stemming from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. The U.K.-based drug giant said it recorded a £1.8 billion pound ($2.4 billion) charge to earnings, resulting in a net loss for the second quarter. The charge came after the company revalued its liabilities in line with the steeply lower pound. Sterling fell sharply after the Brexit vote last month and hasn’t recovered much. (Roland, 7/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Vertex Pharma Loss Narrows As Cystic Fibrosis Drug Sales Grow
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. said its second-quarter loss narrowed, as sales of its cystic fibrosis drugs continued to grow. The Boston-based biopharmaceutical company’s top- and bottom-line results beat expectations. Its drug Orkambi, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval roughly a year ago, treats patients with a genetic mutation that is the leading cause of the disease. The drug combines Vertex’s Kalydeco, which treats a different genetic type of cystic fibrosis, with another Vertex compound. (Stynes, 7/27)

The Associated Press: Army Secretary Touts Importance Of Mental Health
Army Secretary Eric Fanning says the Army is paying more attention to behavioral health and making sure anyone who's injured while defending the nation gets the treatment they need. The Army and other military branches are conducting research into how military deployment affects anger, and they are encouraging mental health treatment before deployment to mitigate the effects of anger after soldiers return, he said. (7/27)

The Associated Press: Hospital Network Paying $2.5M To Settle Overbilling Claims
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has paid $2.5 million to settle some claims in a federal whistleblower lawsuit accusing the hospital network of overbilling government insurance programs for neurosurgery. UPMC, Pennsylvania's largest private employer with 60,000 workers, didn't acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement announced Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh. The nonprofit reported $12 billion in revenue last year. (7/27)

The Washington Post: A New Formula For Exercise? Study Suggests 1 Hour Of Activity Per 8 Hours Of Sitting
If you fear you're doing irreparable damage to your body because your white-collar job keeps you sitting at your desk from 9 to 5, or you regularly spend entire weekends sprawled out on your couch binge-watching Netflix, there's some good news just out from sports medicine researchers. According to a study published in The Lancet, all is not lost. You may be able to "make up" for your increased risk of death due to a sedentary lifestyle by engaging in enough physical activity. So just how much is enough? (Cha, 7/28)

NPR: What Women Need In A Checkup: Test Less, Talk More
Healthy young women can be forgiven for being confused about how often they're supposed to be getting into see their primary care doctor. After all, annual checkups in general have come under scrutiny. Doctors who have reviewed the data say there is little scientific evidence to support routine pelvic exams or clinical breast exams in women who have no symptoms. Cervical cancer screening is now recommended only every three years. Even a routine blood test to measure cholesterol levels isn't recommended for women under 45. So, is it best to skip that annual wellness visit with a gynecologist or other family practitioner? (Hobson, 7/28)

The Washington Post: Scientists Find New Antibiotic In The Human Nose
Scientists have discovered a bacterium living inside the human nose that produces an antibiotic capable of killing one of the most hard-to-treat pathogens — a pathogen that causes serious, even deadly skin and wound infections, bloodstream infections and pneumonia. German researchers found that this antibacterial substance was effective in treating skin infections in mice caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature. The scientists said the substance, which they named lugdunin, has potent antimicrobial effects against a wide range of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus bacteria. (Sun, 7/27)

NPR: 'Nose-y' Bacteria Could Yield A New Way To Fight Infection
The scientists already knew that S. aureus lives in the noses of about 30 percent of humans, usually without causing harm — most people never know they are carriers of the bacterium. But if the body becomes compromised (whether by surgery, physical trauma, an underlying illness or suppressed immune system) the little cache of S. aureus in the nose can suddenly launch an attack against its human host. And if the strain of bacteria is MRSA, that infection can be lethal. (Beans, 7/27)

The Washington Post: E-Cig Vapor Releases Two Cancerous Chemicals, New Study Says
Vapor from electronic cigarettes contains two previously undiscovered cancer-causing chemicals, according to a new study. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found propylene glycol, an eye and respiratory irritant, and glycerin, a skin, eye and respiratory irritant, among 29 other chemicals released in e-cigarette vapor. Both are considered “probable carcinogens” by federal health officials. They’re used in e-cigarettes to create artificial smoke. (Bogage, 7/28)

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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