In This Edition:
From Kaiser Health News:
Evidence shows dominant insurers hold down hospital prices. Big insurers seeking to get bigger want to take that idea to the extreme. (Jay Hancock, 8/11)
Report portrays Affordable Care Act’s individual market as improving with rising enrollments of healthier, lower-risk consumers, a performance that clashes with recent complaints from some large insurers. (Phil Galewitz, 8/11)
Many expected that the federal health law would push these employers in this direction. An analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute finds evidence that these predictions are coming to fruition. (Michelle Andrews, 8/12)
University of Southern California scientists determined the virus uses certain types of protein to interrupt the brain development of fetuses. The finding is a step toward the possible development of an intervention that could prevent the infection from leading to microcephaly. (Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, 8/11)
Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Lend A Floppy Ear'" by Jerry Van Amerongen.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
AN ARGUMENT FOR BIG INSURER ACQUISITIONS?
The mega mergers —
They build up market muscle
That holds down health costs.
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.
Summaries Of The News:
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced that the administration is moving $81 million away from biomedical research and other health programs to continue Zika vaccine development funding, which would run out by the end of the month otherwise.
The New York Times: With Congress Deadlocked, White House Diverts Funds To Fight Zika
The Obama administration on Thursday said it was shifting $81 million away from biomedical research and antipoverty and health care programs to pay for the development of a Zika vaccine, resorting to extraordinary measures because Congress has failed to approve new funding to combat the virus. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, told members of Congress in a letter that without the diverted funds, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority would run out of money to confront the mosquito-borne illness by the end of the month. (Davis, 8/11)
The Washington Post: Obama Administration To Shift $81 Million To Fight Zika
The money will supplement the $347 million HHS transferred away from an existing fund to fight the Ebola virus. The administration is seeking $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but Congress is deadlocked over the funding. “The failure to pass a Zika emergency supplemental has forced the Administration to choose between delaying critical vaccine development work and raiding other worthy government programs to temporarily avoid these delays,” Burwell wrote. (Snell and Dennis, 8/11)
The Wall Street Journal: New Zika Funding To Come From Inside NIH
Secretary Burwell, in her letter, said the administration now has to “choose between delaying critical vaccine development work and raiding other worthy government programs to temporarily avoid” delays in vaccine research on Zika. She estimated that, even with the $34 million, NIH will need another $196 million in fiscal 2017 for vaccine and other research related to Zika. (Burton and McWhirter, 8/11)
Politico: Administration Shifts More Funds To Zika Fight
NIAID Director Tony Fauci said at the National Press Club that funding Zika this way is not wise. "All of that is extremely damaging to the biomedical enterprise," he said. "We're taking money away from cancer, diabetes, all of those kinds of things." The new Zika funding is coming from other NIH accounts, as well as the Administration for Children and Families, CMS and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Burwell said that these moves will “exhaust” the ability to provide short-term financing help for ZIka and that more funding will be needed. (Haberkorn, 8/11)
The Hill: Health Officials To Spend Research Money Fighting Zika, Dems Say
Top Democrats on Thursday said congressional inaction on Zika funding is forcing the Obama administration to take money from vital biomedical research. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not disclose how much money would be transferred to fight the Zika virus, but said an announcement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is forthcoming. (Lillis, 8/11)
Modern Healthcare: HHS To Divert Funding To Zika Vaccine Development
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Thursday she will divert federal funds to support efforts to develop a Zika vaccine.In a letter sent to congressional leaders, Burwell said some $34 million that was previously committed toward researching other illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and cancer would be re-allocated. An additional $47 million from other agencies will go to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA. (Muchmore and Johnson, 8/11)
The Hill: Pelosi Gets Personal With GOP On Birth Control
Hammering GOP leaders for tying funding for the Zika virus to restrictions on Planned Parenthood clinics, Pelosi on Thursday wondered aloud how many Republicans abstain from using contraception. "Zika … can be sexually transmitted. … And yet, they're saying, 'Well, if we have any funding for Zika it cannot include contraception,' " Pelosi said at a press briefing in the Capitol. (Lillis, 8/11)
The Washington Post: Lobbyists Leading The Charge On Zika Funding: ‘We’re Making Stone Soup.’
Perhaps no one is more frustrated with Congress’s inaction on emergency Zika funding than Cindy Pellegrini. Pellegrini oversees lobbying at the March of Dimes, the nonprofit working to improve maternal and infant health. Since March, Pellegrini has been leading the charge on Capitol Hill to pass legislation funding research, vaccine development and other measures to combat the Zika virus, which causes severe brain defects in babies whose mothers are infected while pregnant. But her efforts have hit a wall. (Ho, 8/11)
In other Zika news —
Stat: Zika Cases Call Into Question Guidelines On Sexual Activity
Two new reports call into question advice about how long men who have been infected with the Zika virus should wait before trying to father a child. On Thursday, scientists described two cases in which the semen of men who contracted Zika in Haiti early this year continued to test positive for the virus, even though it has been six months since they were infected. (Branswell, 8/11)
Stat: The Unrelenting Struggle Of Raising Brazil's Zika Babies
Now, as the pace of new cases has slowed, Brazil is entering a new phase of the epidemic, in which families and doctors are discovering the long-term medical complications Duda and the 1,748 other infants like her nationwide will confront.Doctors have coined a new name for their disease, “congenital Zika syndrome” — a sign of how much they have to learn. Besides microcephaly, experts say some of the affected children have joint malformation or brain malformation, though their heads are normal-sized. So much is unknown: How will these babies grow? Will they ever be able to talk or walk? How long will they live? (Bailey, 8/12)
Orlando Sentinel: Zika Update: 3 New Local Zika Cases In Miami
Three more local cases of Zika were identified on Thursday, in the same small area of the Miami-Dade County, bringing up the total of such cases to 25, according to the Florida Department of Health. There were also 21 new travel-related cases of Zika identified on Thursday, 17 of which were in Broward County. (Miller, 8/11)
Kaiser Health News: Researchers Identify A Key Weapon Of Zika Virus
Scientists at the University of Southern California discovered a key weapon used by the Zika virus to ravage the brains of infected fetuses: proteins. In an article published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, researchers identified two proteins in Zika potentially responsible for causing microcephaly. ... The proteins — called NS4A and NS4B — affect the brain by targeting a critical signaling pathway that controls cell growth and breaks down damaged cells and their elements. Initially, Zika slows cell development and reduces the variety of cells in the brain. Over time, this “rigged” system enables the virus to thrive and spread while healthy cells die. (Heredia Rodriguez, 8/11)
Dr. Vindell Washington will take over the job as head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. DeSalvo will continue in her other role at the Department of Health and Human Services as acting assistant secretary of health.
Modern Healthcare: DeSalvo Out, Washington In At ONC
Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who had been wearing two hats at HHS, is stepping down from her role as the nation's top health information technology official. Effective Friday, Dr. Vindell Washington, the agency's principal deputy national coordinator, will take over as head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. DeSalvo will remain at HHS as acting assistant secretary for health. (Conn, 8/11)
Politico Pro: DeSalvo, Leaving ONC, Urges Continued Funding For Health IT Efforts
Karen DeSalvo stepped down as national coordinator for health IT Thursday and urged Congress to keep funding unfinished health IT work that she said was crucial for building a modern health care system. After 2 ½ years of moonlighting — she would never say whether ONC or her job as acting assistant secretary of health was her main job — DeSalvo will be replaced at ONC Friday by Vindell Washington, ONC’s second-in-command since January. She will remain at her senior HHS position. (Pittman, 8/11)