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KHN First Edition: August 1, 2016


First Edition

Monday, August 01, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Long-Term Care Is An Immediate Problem — For The Government
Anna Gorman and Barbara Feder Ostrov, for Kaiser Health News and California Healthline, report: "Experts estimate that about half of all people turning 65 today will need daily help as they age, either at home or in nursing homes. Such long-term care will cost an average of about $91,000 for men and double that for women, because they live longer. In California and across the U.S., many residents can’t afford that, so they turn to Medicaid, the nation’s public health insurance program for low-income people. As a result, Medicaid has become the safety net for millions of people who find themselves unable to pay for nursing home beds or in-home caregivers. This includes middle-class Americans, who often must spend down or transfer their assets to qualify for Medicaid coverage." (Gorman and Feder Ostrov, 8/1)

California Healthline: University Of California OKs $8.5 Million Payout In Spine Surgery Cases
California Healthline staff writer Chad Terhune reports: "The University of California regents have agreed to pay nearly $8.5 million to settle two lawsuits alleging a well-known UCLA spine surgeon failed to disclose his conflicts of interest with a leading device maker before using the company’s products in harmful surgeries. The settlements were approved last month in separate Los Angeles County Superior Court cases that focused on the financial ties among the surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Wang, UCLA and Medtronic, the world’s largest medical-device company." (Terhune, 7/29)

Kaiser Health News: Opioid Dependence Leads To ‘Tsunami’ Of Medical Services, Study Finds
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "In one of the first looks at privately insured patients with opioid problems, researchers paint a grim picture: Medical services for people with opioid dependence diagnoses skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2014. The study considers a huge cohort of people who have either job-based insurance or buy coverage on their own. Its findings illustrate that the opioid problem is “in the general mainstream,” said Robin Gelburd, president of Fair Health, a nonprofit databank corporation focused on health care cost transparency and insurance information. “Is the health system preparing for this tsunami of services?” she said." (Appleby, 8/1)

The New York Times: Doctors Are Improperly Billing Some On Medicare, U.S. Says
Doctors are improperly billing poor people on Medicare for deductibles, co-payments and other costs from which they are supposed to be exempt, the Obama administration says. Federal officials have warned doctors that they may be subject to penalties if they persist in these practices. They could, for example, be fined or excluded from Medicare. The people who are being billed improperly are “qualified Medicare beneficiaries” who are also enrolled in Medicaid. They are 65 and older or disabled and have low incomes, generally less than $1,010 a month for an individual or $1,355 for a married couple. (Pear, 7/30)

The New York Times: Immunotherapy Offers Hope To A Cancer Patient, But No Certainty
A cancer patient nicknamed the Steel Bull got his death sentence on a gloomy March Wednesday in 2015. He was 47, his given name Jason Greenstein, but he had earned the moniker from his oncologist for his stubborn will during more than four years of brutal chemotherapy and radiation treatment — all of which had failed. ... The oncologist, Dr. Mark Brunvand, said he excused himself to the hallway to gather his emotions. When he returned a moment later, he looked Mr. Greenstein in the eye. “You are going to die,” he remembers saying. “And because you’re my friend, it’s my job to make you as comfortable as possible.” ... What happened next qualified as well beyond “dramatic response.” A few days later, Mr. Greenstein agreed to try a last-ditch drug called nivolumab that was being tested for Hodgkin’s. It dripped into his veins, just like those body-racking chemotherapy treatments. But this time, there were no harsh side effects. And this time, the outcome was very different. (Richtel, 7/31)

The New York Times: Harnessing The Immune System To Fight Cancer
Steve Cara expected to sail through the routine medical tests required to increase his life insurance in October 2014. But the results were devastating. He had lung cancer, at age 53. It had begun to spread, and doctors told him it was inoperable. A few years ago, they would have suggested chemotherapy. Instead, his oncologist, Dr. Matthew D. Hellmann of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, recommended an experimental treatment: immunotherapy. Rather than attacking the cancer directly, as chemo does, immunotherapy tries to rally the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease. (Grady, 7/30)

The New York Times: What Is Immunotherapy? The Basics On These Cancer Treatments
Some of the most promising advances in cancer research in recent years involve treatments known as immunotherapy. These advances are spurring billions of dollars in investment by drug companies, and are leading to hundreds of clinical trials. Here are answers to some basic questions about this complex and rapidly evolving field. (Grady and Pollack, 7/30)

The New York Times: Zika Cases In Puerto Rico Are Skyrocketing
The Zika epidemic that has spread from Brazil to the rest of Latin America is now raging in Puerto Rico — and the island’s response is in chaos. The war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito carrying the virus is sputtering out in failure. Infections are skyrocketing: Many residents fail to protect themselves against bites because they believe the threat is exaggerated. (McNeil, 7/30)

The Washington Post: Zika Is Spreading Explosively In Puerto Rico, Report Says
CDC officials said the rapid rise could lead to hundreds of infants being born with microcephaly or other severe birth defects in the coming year. Noting the "widespread and accelerating increase" in cases, the report provides several indicators that show how quickly infections are spreading, especially among pregnant women, who face the greatest risk. As of July 7, Zika had been diagnosed in 5,582 people, including 672 pregnant women, the report said. (Sun, 7/29)

The Associated Press: Obama Pointing To Strides In Veterans’ Health Care
President Barack Obama is touting strides in reducing homelessness among military veterans as his administration reaches the halfway point in building a massive database on veterans’ health. Overall veteran homelessness has been cut nearly in half, by 47 percent, although that’s still short of Obama’s long-held goal of getting it to zero by 2015. Credit also goes to first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, for using their initiative on military families to challenge mayors and county officials nationwide to end veterans’ homelessness, the White House says. (Superville, 8/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Hospital Chain’s CEO Faces Lawsuit Over Business Practices
Over the past decade and a half, California cardiologist Prem Reddy has built Prime Healthcare Service Inc. into one of the largest for-profit hospital chains in the U.S. by targeting distressed hospitals for acquisition. He boasts that his aggressive turnaround strategies have righted the finances of each and every one. But the chief executive has also attracted criticism, including claims that he plays hardball with insurers. Now Dr. Reddy is the central figure in a lawsuit brought by an employee and the Justice Department alleging that he strong-arms doctors in an effort to unnecessarily hospitalize patients at Medicare’s expense. (Evans, 7/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Cigna Misses, Cuts Guidance
Cigna Corp. slashed its guidance for the year and posted second-quarter earnings sharply below expectations, dragged down by weakness in the group disability and life insurance segment. For 2016, the company now anticipates earnings of $7.75 to $8.10 a share, down from its previous forecast for $8.95 to $9.35 a share. Shares of Cigna fell 5.7% to $128.24 in midday trading. The stock is down more than 12% so far this year. (Wilde Mathews and Steele, 7/29)

The Wall Street Journal: Glaxo, Alphabet Plan $700 Million Bioelectric Treatment Venture
GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Google-parent Alphabet Inc. have teamed up to develop what they call bioelectronic medicines, or treatments that use miniature electronic devices to modify how electrical impulses are transmitted around the nervous system. The U.K pharmaceutical company said it had signed an agreement with Verily Life Sciences LLC, formerly Google Life Sciences, to create Galvani Bioelectronics. It said the pair would spend up to £540 million ($700 million) over seven years on the venture, provided they succeeded in hitting various milestones along the way. Glaxo will control 55% of the new company with Verily holding the rest. (Roland, 8/1)

Los Angeles Times: Meningitis Outbreaks Among Gay Men Have Experts Puzzled
As cases of meningitis, a rare and potentially fatal disease, popped up in cities nationwide over the past several years, public health officials noticed a trend: many of those infected were gay men. There’s no known medical reason why meningitis, which is transmitted through saliva, would spread more among gay and bisexual men. Yet New York, Chicago and now Southern California have experienced outbreaks disproportionately affecting that population. “It is perplexing,” said Dr. Rachel Civen, a medical epidemiologist at L.A. County’s Department of Public Health. (Karlamangla, 7/30)

NPR: Campaign For Universal Health Care In Colorado Seeks Bernie Sanders' Help
Backers of ColoradoCare — the state ballot initiative that would establish universal health care in Colorado — think they have the perfect job for former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. With the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia behind him, Sanders "comes to Colorado and campaigns for single-payer — and we win," says T.R. Reid, one of the architects of ColoradoCare. The initiative aims to provide every resident of Colorado with affordable health insurance. Sanders made universal coverage one of the cornerstones of his presidential bid. (Daley, 7/29)

NPR: How Your Health Data Lead A Not-So-Secret Life Online
There are apps that can help people with diabetes keep track of their blood sugar and apps that can attach to a blood pressure cuff and store blood pressure information. I use an app called ZocDoc to schedule and manage doctor's appointments. Every time I see a therapist or a primary care doctor or dentist, the data get stored in my personal account. But we leave behind other trails of health data, too, from apps and activities that are sometimes only tangentially health related. When I walk down the street, an app on my phone logs steps as it bounces against my thigh. When I swipe a loyalty card at the pharmacy, the over-the-counter medications that I buy become bits of data attached to my name. (Chen, 7/30)

USA Today/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW-Madison And Collaborators Launch Website On Patients’ Experiences
Marty remembers looking outside the window of his room, seeing cars go by and thinking to himself, “How do you get in your car and just go, you know, just go about your day?” Leanna talks of “going through my day like a cement block.” Sierra Rose recalls how she would stop caring about her job, thinking, “Oh, what is the point of it? I’m just a low-class American anyway.” They are among 38 people from throughout the country, all of them 18 to 29 years old, who were interviewed about different aspects of depression for a new website designed to let people better understand the diseases and conditions they’re facing. (Boulton, 7/30)

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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