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KHN First Edition: September 9, 2016


First Edition

Friday, September 09, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

California Healthline: Behind The EpiPen Monopoly: Lobbying, Flailing Competition And Tragedy
California Healthline staff writer Pauline Bartolone reports: "Thirteen year-old Natalie Giorgi probably didn’t know the name of the company that makes EpiPen. The 2013 death of the Sacramento girl from a peanut-induced allergy attack inspired passage of the California law that made the Mylan product a staple at every school. It was Giorgi’s story, not industry lobbying, that then-California State Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, said inspired him to write a law requiring public schools in the state to stock the injectors. He said he was also influenced by one of his staffers who had a child with life-threatening allergies. “It was just sort of organic,” said Huff about the bill. “It seemed like we oughta do better to protect these kids.” (Bartolone, 9/8)

California Healthline: Consumer Group Questions Role Of Drug Costs In California Premium Hikes
California Healthline staff writer Chad Terhune reports: "Rising drug costs are often blamed for driving up health insurance premiums, but a major consumer group says the numbers don’t add up — at least in California. The advocacy group Consumers Union says two large Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers in the state may be exploiting the outrage over high drug prices to artificially inflate their premiums for individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act." (Terhune, 9/9)

Kaiser Health News: Shhh! America’s Most Common Workplace Injury Is Hearing Loss
Zhai Yun Tan, for Kaiser Health News, reports: "Eight years ago, Jeff Ammon, now 55, began noticing a feeling of pressure in his ears every day after work. Over the next months, when his symptoms progressed into a slight loss of hearing and sensitivity to noise, he became worried. Ammon, a construction worker for 32 years, eventually started wearing ear protection hoping this would address these complaints — but it was too late."(Tan, 9/9)

The New York Times: A Push To Lower Drug Prices That Hit Insurers And Employers The Hardest
Americans have expressed outrage at drug companies for raising prices on products like EpiPen, the severe allergy treatment needed by thousands of children, and Daraprim, a rarely used but essential drug to treat a parasitic infection. But insurers and employers — who pay the bulk of the cost for drugs — say that a bigger financial shock has come from a largely overlooked source: expensive anti-inflammatory medications like Humira and Enbrel, drugs taken by millions of people for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. In recent years, the prices of the medications have doubled, making them the costliest drug class in the country by some calculations. (Thomas, 9/8)

The Associated Press: Why Insurance Denies Your Claim, But Pays Your Neighbor's
Glaring differences in insurance coverage persist for amputees, children with autism and others in need of certain expensive treatments even after the Affordable Care Act set new standards as part of its push to expand and improve coverage, and despite efforts by states to mandate coverage for some treatments. These differences don't develop simply because some people pay more for better coverage. Instead, they stem from random factors like what state someone lives in or who happens to provide their coverage — and often people can do nothing about it. The federal health care law largely leaves decisions on what actually gets covered up to states or employers who provide insurance for their workers. (9/8)

USA Today: Proving Legal Status Slows Immigrants' Ability To Get, Keep Health Coverage
For thousands of consumers, proving they are legal U.S. residents so they can keep their Obamacare plans can be a bigger health care challenge than affording them. Documentation issues over immigration or citizenship status ensnared more than a half million people who bought plans on last year. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell noted 85% fewer people had their plans terminated for these "data matching" issues for the first three months of 2016 — the most recent information available — than the first quarter of 2015. (O'Donnell, 9/8)

Politico: Senate Nears Zika Funding Breakthrough
Senate leaders may be nearing a truce in the ideological battle over Planned Parenthood that's crippled Congress’ response to the Zika virus. Senior senators and aides said Thursday that the main impediment to a $1.1 billion bill to combat the virus — a fight over which health centers in Puerto Rico can use Zika funding — is likely to be dropped from the debate. That would allow the Zika money to more easily be tucked into a government funding bill that must pass by the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown. The House would remain a major hurdle, however: Republicans in that chamber are warning that they have a harder line against any funding that includes Planned Parenthood. (Everett, Kim and Haberkorn, 9/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Brazil’s Attorney General Asks High Court To Allow Abortions For Women With Zika
Brazil’s attorney general is urging the nation’s Supreme Court to permit abortions for pregnant women infected with the Zika virus. Although there is no timeline yet for the high court to take up the matter, the proposal by Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has sparked objections from religious leaders and some legal authorities in socially conservative Brazil. Under current law, abortion is permitted under limited circumstances, such as when a woman has been raped or if her health is threatened by carrying her baby to term. (Jelmayer and Johnson, 9/8)

NPR: Widespread Use Of Prescription Drugs Provides Ample Supply For Abuse
Almost half of all Americans take prescription painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants or sedatives, according to results of a federal survey released Thursday. The prevalent use of these drugs could help explain why millions of Americans end up misusing or abusing them. Last year, for the first time, the government's National Survey on Drug Use decided to ask the people it interviewed about all uses of prescription medicines, not just inappropriate use. The survey found that 119 million Americans over the age of 12 took prescription psychotherapeutic drugs. That's 45 percent of the population. (Harris, 9/8)

The Associated Press: As US Puts Breaks On Megadeals, Walgreens Prepares To Unload
Walgreens believes that it will probably have to unload more stores than expected to ease antitrust concerns over its pending, $9.41 billion acquisition of Rite Aid, a deal that would make the nation's largest drugstore chain even larger. While it still expects to complete the acquisition this year, the Deerfield, Illinois, company said Thursday that it will probably have to divest more than 500 stores. The company previously said that it expected to divest 500 or fewer. (9/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Regulators Sue Vanguard Healthcare Over Quality Of Care At Facilities
Health regulators have sued nursing-home chain Vanguard Healthcare LLC, accusing it of providing poor patient care at some of its 13 locations, costing government insurance programs tens of millions of dollars. In their lawsuit, officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the Brentwood, Tenn., company provided a level of patient care “that caused serious physical and emotional harm to highly vulnerable elderly, disabled and low-income residents at [its] facilities.” (Stetch, 9/8)

Los Angeles Times: Dr. Bob Sears, Critic Of Vaccine Laws, Could Lose License After Exempting Toddler
Dr. Bob Sears, an Orange County pediatrician and nationally known critic of vaccination laws, faces the loss of his medical license after the state medical board accused him of improperly excusing a toddler from immunization and endangering both the child and the public. The Medical Board of California contends in legal documents released Thursday that Sears committed “gross negligence” and deviated from standard practice when he issued a letter in 2014 prescribing no more vaccines for the child. (Hamilton, 9/8)

Los Angeles Times: No, Apple's New AirPods Won't Give You Cancer, Experts Say
Technology analysts have been calling Apple’s decision to eliminate the earphone jack on its new iPhone 7 a risky business move. But some potential users of the new smartphone wonder whether the company is asking them to take on some health risk as well. Unless iPhone 7 users adopt a workaround that would let them plug their earphones into the device’s charging jack, they will need to don wireless headphones or earpieces. But is it safe to put a radiation-emitting earphone device directly in contact with one’s head? (Healy, 9/8)

The New York Times: Hedge Fund And Cybersecurity Firm Team Up To Short-Sell Device Maker
The cybersecurity firm behind a short-seller’s campaign against St. Jude Medical, a major manufacturer of pacemakers, has a curious operating history. The firm, MedSec, says it has been around 18 months. But it was incorporated in the United States in Delaware just last month. Justine Bone, its chief executive, came on board two months ago. And MedSec’s headquarters shares the same address as a virtual office in Miami that provides space to a number of companies. The start-up is at the center of an unusual story line that brings together a Wall Street short-seller and the mysterious world of computer hacking. (Goldstein, Stevenson and Picker, 9/8)

The New York Times: Smoking And Drinking Rates Among U.S. Teenagers Fall To New Lows
Smoking and drinking among teenagers fell to new lows in 2015, new federal data show, as young Americans continued to shift away from the habits of their parents. Just 9.6 percent of adolescents, ages 12 to 17, reported using alcohol in 2015, down from 17.6 percent in 2002, according to the data. Far fewer adolescents smoke every day: about 20 percent in 2015, down from 32 percent in 2002. (Tavernise, 9/8)

Los Angeles Times: Rising Homelessness And Lack Of Psychiatric Care Beds Are Cited In Surge Of Mental Competency Cases
A lack of psychiatric care beds and rising homelessness are fueling a dramatic increase in mental competency cases in Los Angeles County, a new study has found. The county launched a review after The Times reported on a surge in the number of competency cases in Los Angeles’ mental health court over the last five years. The number of cases referred to the mental health court’s Department 95 to determine defendants' competency had swelled from 944 in 2010 to 3,528 in 2015. (Sewell, 9/8)

NPR: Is It Ever OK To Use Marijuana While Pregnant?
Between 2 percent and 5 percent of women say they use marijuana while pregnant, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. And while harm to the fetus is certainly plausible since the drug crosses the placenta, the evidence has been spotty. Now a review and analysis of 31 previously published studies has found no independent connection between a mother's pot use and adverse birth events. But the doctors say that doesn't mean it's OK to partake. (Hobson, 9/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Marine Corps Officials Recommend Charges In Death Of Muslim Recruit
The U.S. Marine Corps has completed three internal investigations into the death of a Muslim recruit that recommend criminal charges or administrative action against as many as 20 Marines, officials said.Investigators found that a drill instructor allegedly physically abused Raheel Siddiqui and referred to him as a terrorist, said the Marine officials, who described details of the completed probes to The Wall Street Journal. ... Mr. Siddiqui fell three stories to his death in what the military classified as a suicide. New details emerging from the investigations indicate Mr. Siddiqui leapt from the balcony of a barracks building after he was slapped in the face by the drill instructor, according to Marine officials. (Lubold and Sonne, 9/8)

The Associated Press: Marines Uncover Wide Abuse, Hazing After Recruit's Suicide
The Marine Corps is considering possible punishments and potential courts-martial for up to 20 officers and enlisted leaders in the wake of investigations into the suicide of a 20-year-old recruit at its Parris Island training facility in South Carolina. The results of three investigations released Thursday found trainees — and even some drill instructors — were subjected to repeated incidents of verbal and physical abuse at the storied training site. It also faulted commanders for not paying enough attention to what was going on. (9/9)

Reuters: Appeals Court Rejects Michigan Woman's Lawsuit Over Catholic Hospital Care
A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected a woman's appeal in a lawsuit that alleged a Roman Catholic hospital in Michigan denied her adequate treatment during a painful miscarriage because of a policy banning even the discussion of abortion as an option. Tamesha Means said she went to a Mercy Health Partners facility in Muskegon, Michigan, the only hospital within 30 minutes of her home, when her water broke after only 18 weeks of pregnancy, according to the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2013. (Skinner, 9/8)

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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