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Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Everybody's Selling Something'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Everybody's Selling Something'" by Mike Smith, Las Vegas Sun.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

PHYSICIANS, PATIENTS AND MARIJUANA

As more states OK
Medical uses for pot,
Docs seek more guidance.

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Summaries Of The News:

Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. Customers' Laser-Like Focus On Plan Prices Is Causing Concerns In Health Insurance Market

The continuing rise of premiums is causing some experts to worry that more people will refuse to buy insurance and that could lead to a collapse of the market. Meanwhile, insurers are using a mechanism created by the federal health law to help keep prices down to instead justify their premium increases.

The New York Times: Cost, Not Choice, Is Top Concern Of Health Insurance Customers
It is all about the price. Millions of people buying insurance in the marketplaces created by the federal health care law have one feature in mind. It is not finding a favorite doctor, or even a trusted company. It is how much — or, more precisely, how little — they can pay in premiums each month. ... The unexpected laser focus on price has contributed to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses among the country’s top insurers, as fewer healthy people than expected have signed up. And that has created two vexing questions: Will the major insurance companies stay in the marketplaces? And if they do, will the public have a wide array of plans to choose from — a central tenet of the 2010 Affordable Care Act? (Abelson, 8/12)

The New York Times: Health Insurers Use Process Intended To Curb Rate Increases To Justify Them
After the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2010, it created a review mechanism intended to prevent exorbitant increases in health insurance rates by shaming companies that sought them. But this summer, insurers are turning that process on its head, using it to highlight the reasons they are losing money under the health care law and their case for raising premiums in 2017. (Pear, 8/14)

And in insurance news from the states —

The Tennessean: Cigna, Humana File For Higher Obamacare Premiums
Cigna and Humana each filed revised, and higher, requests for premiums on the 2017 Obamacare exchange after the state's insurance regulator granted them the chance to revisit earlier requests in a bid to keep the insurers in the market. In its latest filing, Cigna is proposing an average 46 percent increase — double its first 23 percent increase request. (Fletcher, 8/12)

San Francisco Business Times: Blue Shield Of California Will Take A Week Off In September Due To Obamacare Losses 
Blue Shield of California is shutting down for the four days after Labor Day to reduce its payroll-related liabilities, citing losses in California's Covered California Obamacare exchange. The move will affect most of its 6,000 employees in California, except about 1,000 who work for Care1st, which it acquired last fall for $1.2 billion, and some staffers in customer service and related areas who will remain on the job. The exact number of workers involved hasn't yet been tabulated, according to the San Francisco-based insurer. (Rauber, 8/11)

Administration News

5. U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency In Puerto Rico Over Zika

There have been 10,690 cases of Zika confirmed in Puerto Rico, including infections in 1,035 pregnant women.

The New York Times: U.S. Declares Zika An Emergency In Puerto Rico
The Obama administration declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico on Friday because of the Zika virus, sending a message to the island that the virus, which has infected more than 10,000 residents, should be taken seriously. The warning came more than six months after the World Health Organization declared the virus, and the birth defects it can cause, a global health emergency, and it was not clear if the declaration would have much effect. (Tavernise, 8/12)

The Associated Press: US Declares Health Emergency In Puerto Rico Due To Zika
"This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency," Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a department statement. Burwell traveled to the U.S. territory in late April to evaluate its response to the outbreak. ... The announcement came hours after Puerto Rico reported 1,914 new cases in the past week, for a total of 10,690 since the first one was reported in December. (8/12)

News Service Of Florida: Feds Declare Zika Emergency In Puerto Rico
With more than 10,000 confirmed Zika cases on the island, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday declared a public-health emergency in Puerto Rico. In announcing the declaration, the federal agency pointed to the dangers that the mosquito-borne virus poses to pregnant women. Zika can cause severe birth defects. (8/14)

The Hill: US Declares 'Public Health Emergency' In Puerto Rico Over Zika 
The Obama administration on Friday declared a “public health emergency” in Puerto Rico over the Zika virus. The move is an indication of the severity of the virus in Puerto Rico, which is being hit much harder than the continental United States. The declaration allows Puerto Rico to apply for additional funding to fight the virus, which can cause severe birth defects. (Sullivan, 8/12)

Los Angeles Times: Zika Infections Pass 10,000 In Puerto Rico; White House Diverts Federal Funds To Find A Vaccine
The number of infections caused by the Zika virus in Puerto Rico has surpassed 10,000, an official said Friday, a day after the White House said it would redirect funds from other efforts to help pay for research to find a vaccine. The moves come as Florida continues to spray insecticide in parts of Miami to kill mosquitoes that can transmit the virus. The spraying was launched last week after health officials identified cases of locally transmitted Zika. Previous infections reported in the U.S. occurred only among people who traveled abroad. (Fernandez, 8/12)

Capitol Hill Watch

6. One Of The Biggest Lessons Lawmakers Learned From Zika? Don't Rely On Lawmakers

While it could be a long-shot, members of the House want to set up a fund for the next time the country is hit with a public health emergency like Zika. Meanwhile, health departments continue to ramp-up control methods, officials stress the risk of sexual transmission of the virus, and a look at Brazil's history with the Zika mosquito.

Stat: Could A Rapid-Response Fund Help The US Address Crises Faster?
Wouldn’t it be easier to respond to the next public health crisis if the federal government didn’t have to wait for Congress? That’s the lesson that top lawmakers have learned from the seemingly endless standoff over emergency funds for the Zika virus. Now, there’s a reasonable chance that the next health spending bill will include a reserve fund that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can use the next time there’s an infectious disease crisis. (Nather, 8/15)

The Wall Street Journal: Efforts To Prevent Zika Infections Intensify
Now that Zika is being transmitted by mosquitoes in Miami, health and insect-control workers across the country are intensifying preparations for possible local outbreaks of their own. Health departments are ramping up early-warning mechanisms, expanding mosquito-control programs and launching public-awareness campaigns. (McWhirter and Calfas, 8/12)

Health News Florida: Insecticide Used To Fight Zika Could Pose Risk For Humans, Wildlife
Some pesticide being used to kill mosquitoes and fight the spread of Zika in Miami-Dade County is also harmful to honey bees, birds, some fish and people, according to the Miami Herald. The insecticide naled has been approved for use in the United States since 1959 but is banned by the European Union, the newspaper reports. Miami-Dade mosquito control officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicate the risks are minimal and the pesticide is sprayed in small concentrations, with little of it actually reaching the ground, according to the newspaper. (8/14)