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KHN First Edition: September 2, 2016


First Edition

Friday, September 02, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

NOTE TO READERS: KHN's First Edition will not be published Sept. 5. Look for it again in your inbox Sept. 6. Here's today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: Burwell Says HHS Trying To Bring More Insurers Into Marketplaces
KHN's Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Federal officials continue to make operational adjustments in the health law marketplaces and meet with some insurers to encourage them to offer more plans in areas of the country that are forecast to be low on competition following the withdrawal of some major insurers for 2017, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Thursday." (Carey, 9/1)

Kaiser Health News: ‘Simple Choice Plans’ To Debut In 2017 Marketplace Enrollment
KHN consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Despite much hand-wringing about health insurers exiting the marketplaces where people buy individual coverage, in many areas consumers will likely still have a choice of plans when the 2017 open enrollment starts in November. Aiming to make picking a plan easier, the federal government, which runs the marketplaces in roughly two-thirds of states, is encouraging insurers to offer “simple choice plans” as an option this fall. The six new standardized plan designs will eliminate many of the moving parts that have bedeviled consumers trying to make apples-to-apples comparisons between plans." (Andrews, 9/2)

Kaiser Health News: Attending To The ‘Human Element’ Is Key To Keeping Patients Healthy
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: "Racial minorities and lower-income people typically fare far worse when it comes to health outcomes. And figuring out why has long been one of health care’s black boxes. Forthcoming research may help shed light on what’s driving those inequities — and how the system can fix them. What is needed? Better bedside manner, so patients actually trust their doctors. Communication that is easily understood by everyday people. And transparency about what medical care costs, plus a willingness to discuss how price points fit into consumers’ health decisions." (Luthra, 9/2)

Kaiser Health News: Drop In Teen Pregnancies Is Due To More Contraceptives, Not Less Sex
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: "Teen pregnancy is way down. And a study suggests that the reason is increased, and increasingly effective, use of contraceptives. From 2007 to 2013, births to teens age 15 to 19 dropped by 36 percent; pregnancies fell by 25 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to federal data.But that wasn’t because teens were shunning sex. ... Rather, the researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and Columbia University found that “improvement in contraceptive use” accounted for the entire reduced risk of pregnancy over the five-year period." (Rovner, 9/2)

The Associated Press: Top Official Says Health Law's Insurance Markets Are Viable
Addressing concerns about rising premiums and dwindling competition, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asserted Thursday that the federal health law's insurance markets clearly are sustainable. Willingness by Congress to help smooth out problems would definitely help, Burwell told reporters, but it is not absolutely essential. Congressional Republicans committed to repealing "Obamacare" are unlikely to assist. (9/1)

USA Today: Obamacare Rate Hikes Rattle Consumers, Could Threaten Enrollment
Many of next year's premium rate increases on the Affordable Care Act exchanges threaten to surpass the high and wildly fluctuating rates that characterized the individual insurance market before the health law took effect, interviews with insurance regulators and records show. With dramatic drops in insurance company participation on the exchanges for some states, decreased competition and other factors are leading to often jarring rate hikes. Some of the states that are facing what are likely among the biggest increases this year — Tennessee, Arizona and North Carolina — were among those the Urban Institute reported in May had the biggest increases last year. (O'Donnell and Leys, 9/1)

The New York Times: EpiPen Price Increases Could Mean More Riches For Executives
Heather Bresch, chief executive at Mylan, the pharmaceutical giant that has been vilified for price increases on its EpiPen allergy treatment, maintains that her company has attained a sort of capitalist nirvana — it does good for others while doing well for itself. But the argument that Mylan has achieved a balance benefiting all of its stakeholders simply doesn’t hold up when viewed through the prism of the company’s recent proxy filings. Those materials detail the company’s executive pay and show, for example, that Mylan’s top brass received a windfall when it incorporated overseas in 2014 to cut its tax bill sharply. (Morgenson, 9/1)

The Wall Street Journal: EpiPen Maker Mylan Tied Executive Pay To Aggressive Profit Targets
The drugmaker at the center of a firestorm over hefty price increases on the lifesaving EpiPen put a special incentive plan in place more than two years ago that rewards executives if they hit aggressive profit targets. In early 2014, the board of Mylan NV approved a one-time award for more than 100 employees that hinged on more than doubling the company’s adjusted per-share earnings over a five-year period ending in 2018, Mylan’s regulatory filings show. Meeting that goal would require 16% compound annual earnings growth—a tall order for a company that generated almost 90% of its revenue from the generally mature generic-drug business. (Maremont, 9/1)

The New York Times: Tests Confirm Mosquitoes In Miami Beach Are Carrying Zika Virus
Florida announced on Thursday that, for the first time, mosquitoes in Miami Beach had tested positive for the Zika virus, a disappointing confirmation that the virus is still active in the area. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika is famously difficult to fight, and experts often say that testing the bugs to find the virus is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The three samples that tested positive all came from a 1.5-square-mile area in Miami Beach where locally acquired cases of Zika had been confirmed. (Tavernise, 9/1)

Los Angeles Times: Florida Finds Zika In Trapped Mosquitoes, Confirming The Virus Is Being Spread By The Insects
Authorities in Florida have found the Zika virus in mosquitoes in Miami Beach, confirming what they had suspected: The virus that can cause devastating birth defects is being spread by the insects. The three mosquitoes that tested positive for Zika were trapped in a 1.5-square-mile area that had already been identified as a source of infection, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Thursday. (Zavis, 9/1)

The Washington Post: Zika Outbreaks Most Likely To Hit Eight Countries In Asia, Africa
The worsening Zika outbreak in Singapore and its potential to spread elsewhere in Asia and beyond is rapidly raising alarms among health experts. Singapore has at least 151 confirmed cases, authorities reported Thursday, with two involving pregnant women. Neighboring Malaysia also confirmed that a 58-year-old woman who recently visited her Zika-infected daughter in Singapore had been diagnosed with the disease. The developments came as a new study released Thursday identified eight countries in Asia and Africa that researchers say are at the greatest risk of Zika virus transmission. (Sun, 9/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Takeda Gets Financial Help From U.S. In Developing Zika Vaccine
The U.S. government has pledged $19.8 million to help Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. pay for initial development of a Zika vaccine under a contract that could go up to $312 million. Takeda said the Japanese government, with which it is working on fighting pandemic influenza, could join the Zika virus project. Several companies, including Sanofi SA, are trying to develop a vaccine to help fight the virus, normally transmitted by mosquitoes, that has been tied to severe birth defects, including brain malformations. (Armental, 9/1)

The Associated Press: Obama Says He Supports Veterans' Health Care Recommendations
President Barack Obama says he supports a congressional panel's recommendation to create a veterans' health care system that coordinates government and private care. The recommendation is among a total of 18 issued in July by the Commission on Care. Congress created the panel following a scandal over long wait times for veterans who sought care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. (9/1)

The New York Times: Contraceptives Drive Teenage Pregnancy Down
The sharp decline in American teenage pregnancy and birthrates in recent years was driven exclusively by the increased use of contraceptives, a new study concludes. Researchers interviewed a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 women ages 15 to 19 at three different time periods: in 2007, 2009 and 2012. They then combined data on sexual activity, contraceptive use and contraceptive failure rates to calculate a Pregnancy Risk Index at these times. This risk index declined steadily at an annual rate of 5.6 percent. (Bakalar, 9/1)

NPR: Synthetic Opioid Carfentanil Is Killing People In The Midwest
A powerful drug that's normally used to tranquilize elephants is being blamed for a record spike in drug overdoses in the Midwest. Officials in Ohio have declared a public health emergency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says communities everywhere should be on alert for carfentanil. The synthetic opioid is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, the prescription painkiller that led to the death earlier this year of the pop star Prince. Fentanyl itself can be up to 50 times more deadly than heroin. (Ludden, 9/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Biogen’s Alzheimer’s Therapy Granted FDA Fast-Track Status
Biogen Inc. said its investigational therapy for the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease was granted fast-track designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a designation intended to bring promising drugs for serious conditions to market faster. ... The drug—called aducanumab—is designed to help clear the brain of beta amyloid plaques, which many scientists say play a role in causing Alzheimer’s, a progressive, memory-destroying condition associated with older age. (Stynes, 9/1)

The Washington Post: For A 6-Year-Old With Cancer, A Future Staked On Medicine’s Hottest Field
Bald but beaming, 5-year-old Eden Oyelola yanked the long rope to ring the “victory bell” at Children’s National Medical Center last September. She was finally done with her treatment for brain cancer — surgery followed by months of radiation and chemotherapy that made her terribly ill. At a “bell party” at her home in Upper Marlboro, Md., later that week, she gobbled down ice cream with friends and rode a pony around the back yard. Her parents exhaled in relief. “We thought she was in the clear,” her father said. The relief was short-lived. (McGinley, 9/1)

The Associated Press: Abu-Jamal Loses Suit Over Hepatitis C Drug; Can Refile
A federal judge in Pennsylvania has blasted a prison policy that denies former death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and others an expensive hepatitis C drug until they have advanced liver damage.U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani said the policy amounts to "conscious disregard" for the inmates' health, but noted that prisons, Medicaid officials and courts across the country are struggling to decide who should get the anti-viral drugs. (9/1)

The Associated Press: Kentucky Attorney General Sues Dialysis Company Over Product
Kentucky's attorney general is accusing a medical company of Medicaid fraud for allegedly promoting a kidney dialysis product it knew was harmful to patients. Attorney General Andy Beshear is suing Fresenius Medical Care Holdings Inc. His lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Circuit Court, says Fresenius is the nation's largest provider of kidney dialysis and renal care products, treatment and services. (9/1)

The Washington Post: Calif. Legislature Poised To Criminalize Distribution Of Planned Parenthood-Type Sting Videos
The California legislature is near final approval of a bill that would make it a crime, punishable by a jail sentence, to carry out and distribute undercover video or audio stings against Planned Parenthood and other health-care groups. The measure was inspired by two California antiabortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood. The project prompted multiple investigations by Congress and states. (Barbash, 9/1)

The Washington Post: Tentative Settlement In Suit Over Mentally Ill Inmates
Delaware prison officials have reached a tentative settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging that mentally ill prisoners have been subjected to solitary confinement without proper evaluation, monitoring and treatment. As part of the settlement, the Department of Correction has agreed to undertake steps to better classify, track and care for prisoners with mental health issues and in restrictive housing. Prison officials also have agreed to create a special needs unit at the women’s prison in New Castle. (Chase, 9/1)

The New York Times: Tobacco Industry Works To Block Rules On E-Cigarettes
The e-cigarette and cigar industries have enlisted high-profile lobbyists and influential congressional allies in an attempt to stop the Food and Drug Administration from retroactively examining their products for public health risks or banning them from the market. The campaign targets a broad new rule that extends F.D.A. jurisdiction to include cigars, e-cigarettes and pipe and hookah tobacco. (Lipton, 9/2)

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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