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KHN First Edition: September 15, 2016

Early a.m. highlights: Wait for flu shot?; Employer health costs; Congress on drug prices; Clinton, Trump health details; and more

First Edition

Thursday, September 15, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: The Ads Say ‘Get Your Flu Shot Today,’ But It May Be Wiser To Wait
KHN's Julie Appleby reports: "The start of flu season is still weeks — if not months — away. Yet marketing of the vaccine has become an almost year-round effort, beginning when the shots become available in August and hyped as long as the supply lasts, often into April or May. Not that long ago, most flu-shot campaigns started as the leaves began to turn in October. But the rise of retail medical clinics inside drug stores over the past decade — and state laws allowing pharmacists to give vaccinations — has stretched the flu-shot season." (9/14)

Kaiser Health News: Studies: Employer Costs Slow As Consumers Use Less Care, Deductibles Soar
KHN's Jay Hancock and Shefali Luthra report: "Employer health insurance expenses continued to rise by relatively low amounts this year, aided by moderate increases in total medical spending but also by workers taking a greater share of the costs, new research shows.Average premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage rose 3.4 percent for 2016, down from annual increases of nearly twice that much before 2011 and double digits in the early 2000s, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)" (9/14)

Kaiser Health News: Key Steps Can Help Patients Recover From A Stay In The ICU
KHN columnist Judith Graham writes: "As many as 1.4 million seniors survive a stay in the ICU every year. And most go home, with varying degrees of disability. ICUs are responding to older patients’ needs by helping them try to regain functioning — something that families need to pay attention to as well. “There’s a growing recognition that preparing patients and families for recovery needs to start in the ICU,” said Dr. Meghan Brooks Lane-Fall, assistant professor of critical care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania." (9/15)

Kaiser Health News: Geographic, Racial Disparities In Stroke Treatment Tracked In New Study
KHN's Carmen Heredia Rodriguez reports: "In the United States, one out of every 20 deaths is caused by stroke. And yet, based on new research, race and geography prevent some of the most vulnerable from obtaining effective treatments.The findings come from a report published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. Researchers found stroke patients living in the Northeast states had more than twice the odds of receiving tPA — a powerful anti-coagulant that can break up the clot causing the stroke — than those living in the Midwest and the South." (9/14)

The Washington Post: How Companies Are Quietly Changing Your Health Plan To Make You Pay More
While politicians have been embroiled in a fiery debate over President Obama's signature health-care law, a quiet but profound shift is fundamentally reshaping how health insurance works for the roughly 155 million Americans who receive coverage through their employers. A national survey of employer health benefits released Wednesday shows how much deductibles — the health-care costs that people must pay out of their own pockets before insurance kicks in — have shot up. In 2016, 4 in 5 workers had a deductible as part of their individual coverage, averaging $1,478. During the past five years, deductibles have grown 10 times as fast as inflation and nearly six times as fast as wages, according to the new report. (Johnson, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Average Cost Of Employer Health Coverage Tops $18,000 For Family In 2016
The average cost of health coverage offered by employers pushed above $18,000 for a family plan this year, though the growth was slowed by the accelerating shift into high-deductible plans, according to a major survey. Annual premium cost rose 3% to $18,142 for an employer family plan in 2016, from $17,545 last year, according to the annual poll of employers performed by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation along with the Health Research & Educational Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Hospital Association. (Wilde Mathews, 9/14)

The New York Times: Workers Pay More For Health Care As Companies Shift Burden, Survey Finds
State health insurance exchanges created under the new health care law are in turmoil. By contrast, the employer market — where the majority of Americans still get their coverage — seems like a bastion of stability. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation released on Wednesday shows that the share of employers offering coverage remained steady this year, and that the cost of premiums for health plans remained largely unchanged. (Abelson, 9/14)

NPR: Workers' Health-Care Deductibles Are Going Up Again
High deductible health plans are the new normal. Just over half of employees this year have a health insurance policy with a deductible of at least $1,000, according to a survey of employers from the Kaiser Family Foundation. It's the continuation of a multiyear trend of companies passing more of the costs of employee health care back onto workers. (Kodjak, 9/14)

USA Today: Senators Move To Force Drug Makers To Justify Big Price Hikes
A bipartisan group of Senate and House members plan to introduce a bill Thursday that would force drugmakers to tell the Department of Health and Human Services why any price hike of more than 10% is justified at least a month before the increase. Companies would have to disclose spending on research and development, manufacturing, marketing and advertising spending on the drug, as well as profit information. (O'Donnell, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: EpiPen Maker Executive To Testify At House Hearing
Lawmakers have summoned the top executive from EpiPen maker Mylan NV to Washington for a hearing next week to explain substantial price increases for the emergency allergy treatment that have generated widespread consumer outrage. The company confirmed Wednesday that Chief Executive Heather Bresch will come to Capitol Hill Sept. 21 to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in a hearing likely to feature intense questioning about Mylan’s pricing strategy. (Radnofsky, 9/14)

USA Today: Progressives Push For 'Public Option' Health Plan
Progressive senators and activists will launch a campaign Thursday calling for every American to have the choice of a public health insurance option. They aim to build on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s support for a public option with what they hope will be the biggest health care push by Democrats since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. (Gaudiano, 9/15)

The New York Times: California Moves To Allow Undocumented Immigrants To Buy Insurance
In a move that is sure to draw the ire of Republicans, California officials are asking the Obama administration this week to approve a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance on the state’s public exchange. Officials say that up to 30 percent of the state’s two million undocumented adults could be eligible for the program, and that roughly 17,000 people are expected to participate in the first year, if the plan is approved. But the proposal faces serious hurdles in Washington, where it must be approved by both the Treasury and the Health and Human Services Departments. (Medina, 9/14)

The Washington Post: Clinton Campaign Releases Doctor’s Letter Describing ‘Mild’ Pneumonia
Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a letter from her doctor Wednesday describing her treatment for “mild” bacterial pneumonia and painting an overall picture of good health in an attempt to put to rest concerns about her medical condition following her illness over the weekend. The letter, from Clinton’s doctor, Lisa Bardack, noted that she received a CT scan confirming the pneumonia diagnosis and is now about halfway through a regimen on the antibiotic Levaquin. (Phillip and Gearan, 9/14)

The New York Times: Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Give More Details On Their Health
With less than eight weeks until Election Day and pressure mounting for the candidates to give details about their health and medical histories, Donald J. Trump acknowledged on Wednesday that he was overweight and taking a cholesterol-fighting drug, and Hillary Clinton elaborated on the circumstances that led to her contracting pneumonia and the medicine she was taking to recover. (Chozick and Haberman, 9/14)

USA Today: Clinton Campaign Releases Additional Medical Info
Hillary Clinton released more detailed medical information Wednesday that describes the form of pneumonia she's been diagnosed with as a mild, non-contagious bacterial infection. The campaign also released more details about the results of routine lab tests given to the Democratic presidential nominee, such as blood cholesterol levels and her annual mammogram. (Przybyla, 9/14)

Politico: Trump And Clinton Offer Peek Into Medical Files
While the Republican filmed an appearance on the Dr. Oz show — a safe environment — to discuss select details of his health, his opponent's campaign released updated letters from both Clinton's and running mate Tim Kaine's physicians depicting a relatively healthy pair. Not to be outdone, it took less than an hour before Trump's campaign said his running mate Mike Pence would soon release health information of his own. (Debenedetti, 9/14)

NPR: Donald Trump Will Share Medical Records With Dr. Oz On A Show That Airs Thursday
Donald Trump sat down with controversial TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz on his show, set to air Thursday, to discuss his personal health and medical history. The Republican presidential nominee's campaign had said earlier Wednesday he wouldn't be releasing on The Dr. Oz Show the results of a physical the 70-year-old candidate underwent last week. But a press release from the show said the two did discuss the recent physical along with his personal health, his views on health care policy and his recent proposal for child care and maternity leave. (Taylor, 9/14)

Politico: Clinton's Doctor Declares Her 'Fit To Serve' As President
Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Wednesday released more information about her health that depicted her as a healthy 68-year-old woman with low cholesterol (without taking a statin) and seasonal allergies. She also takes a thyroid medication, and as the campaign has previously disclosed, she takes a blood thinner, Coumadin. (Debenedetti, 9/14)

Politico: Kaine Releases Health Records
Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine is in "excellent health," according to his physician, a disclosure that comes as the medical history of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take center stage in the presidential campaign. (Everett, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Are Slow To Back Donald Trump’s Paid Maternity-Leave Plan
Donald Trump’s proposal to create a new federal program offering six weeks of partially paid maternity leave is winning few Republican supporters in Congress. The mixed reaction to Mr. Trump’s proposal, put forward in a speech Tuesday night, leaves him squeezed between Democrats who dismiss it as insufficient and Republicans reluctant to embrace ideas they have spent years criticizing. (Rubin, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Clinton Health Access Initiative Sets Plan To Sever Ties To Family
The Clinton Health Access Initiative, the largest project of the Clinton Foundation, announced Wednesday the steps it would take to sever ties to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her family if she is elected president. Among CHAI’s proposed changes, according to a spokeswoman: The five board members appointed by the Clinton Foundation would step down, including former president Bill Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and Clinton Foundation board chairman Bruce Lindsey. The Clinton Foundation would lose its power to appoint members of the board, and CHAI would no longer include “Clinton” in its name, though it would continue to go by the same acronym. (Ballhaus, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Moves Closer To FDA Removing Suicide Warning From Smoking Cessation Pill Chantix
Pfizer Inc. said two federal advisory panels have recommended removing the most serious warnings on its Chantix smoking cessation pill, clearing a major hurdle in the pharmaceutical giant’s push to lessen concerns about using the medicine. The move comes out of a joint meeting of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee and Drug Safety Risk Management Advisory Committee. The panels have recommended to the FDA that a so-called Black Box warning—noting the risk of psychiatric side effects, such as suicidal thoughts and behavior—should be removed from the medicine. (Jamerson, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Allergan To Buy Vitae Pharmaceuticals For $639 Million
Allergan PLC agreed to acquire clinical-stage biotechnology company Vitae Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $639 million, more than double its market value, in a move aimed at strengthening the drugmaker’s skin-care pipeline. ... The deal gives Allergan a drug in mid-stage trials that is intended to treat psoriasis, a disease that causes scales and itchy dry patches, and other autoimmune disorders. (Hufford, 9/14)

The Associated Press: The Pluses And Minuses Of Drugmakers' Discount Cards
Facing public furor for the price of its emergency allergy shot EpiPen, Mylan Pharmaceuticals quickly pointed to a familiar industry solution: copay discount cards. Copay coupons or cards have become a ubiquitous part of the pharmaceutical business, offered through websites, mobile apps and doctor's offices. Patient advocates say they can bring down out-of-pocket expenses for patients who face high copays and deductibles. Mylan last month boosted its discount cards to cover $300 of insured patients' copay costs, up from $100. (Perrone, 9/14)

The New York Times: Florida Gets Help To Deal With Backlog Of Zika Tests
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida announced on Wednesday that the state was getting help to speed up the results of Zika tests, a move that should reduce the inordinately long waits — sometimes up to five weeks — experienced by hundreds of pregnant women who took the state-offered tests at no cost. In a statement, Mr. Scott said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was sending seven laboratory technicians to help process Zika tests — noting that he had made this request in August. The governor added, however, that in light of the long waits, the seven technicians are not enough and he has requested additional help. (Alvarez, 9/14)

NPR: Doctors Studied 42 Infants In Brazil With Microcephaly And The News Isn't Good
"These babies do not catch up as they grow," says Dr. Antonia Augusto Moura da Silva of the Federal University of Maranhao, Sao Luis, Brazil. He's describing the findings from a study of 48 babies whose mothers were believed to have been infected with the Zika virus. Forty-two of the children were diagnosed with microcephaly. The study, on the early neurological growth pattern of the infants, will be published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in November but was released early online. (Brink, 9/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Greater Share Of U.S. Workers Testing Positive For Illicit Drugs
The share of U.S. workers testing positive for illicit drug use reached its highest level in a decade, according to data from millions of workplace drug tests administered by Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the nation’s largest medical-screening laboratories. Detection of illicit drugs—from marijuana to heroin to methamphetamine—increased slightly both for the general workforce and the “safety-sensitive” workforce, which includes millions of truck drivers, pilots, ship captains, subway engineers, and other transportation workers. (Weber, 9/14)

Los Angeles Times: Women And Minorities Are Less Likely To Get Key Stroke Treatment, Even When They're Eligible, Study Says
If you’re having an ischemic stroke, it’s crucial that you get to a hospital fast so you can be treated with a clot-busting medicine. And to improve your odds of getting that medicine, it helps to be a white man. A new analysis of more than 60,000 stroke patients from around the country found that women were less likely than men to receive an infusion of tissue plasminogen activator, the drug that’s considered the gold standard in stroke treatment. The analysis also showed that racial minorities were less likely to get the drug than whites. (Kaplan, 9/14)

The New York Times: Prostate Cancer Study Details Value Of Treatments
A new study offers important information to men who are facing difficult decisions about how to treat prostate cancer in its early stages, or whether to treat it at all. Researchers followed patients for 10 years and found no difference in death rates between men who were picked at random to have surgery or radiation, or to rely on “active monitoring” of the cancer, with treatment only if it progressed. (Grady, 9/14)

The Washington Post: Almost All Men With Early Prostate Cancer Survive 10 Years, Regardless Of Treatment
The survival rate for early-stage prostate cancer is 99 percent after 10 years, regardless of whether men undergo surgery, radiation or are "actively monitored," according to studies published Wednesday. Researchers hailed the results as good news, saying they had been expecting a survival rate of 90 percent. The two new studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also illustrated the complicated treatment equations facing men with early-stage prostate cancer, and they immediately set off a debate among physicians about how to interpret the results. (McGinley, 9/14)

The Washington Post: How Tens Of Thousands Of Patients Who Weren’t Actually Dying Wound Up On Hospice Care
Hospice patients are expected to die. The service, after all, is intended for the terminally ill. But over the past decade, as a 2014 Washington Post investigation found, the number of patients who outlived hospice care in the United States has risen dramatically, in part because hospice companies earn more by recruiting patients who aren’t actually dying. Now government inspectors have turned up information about how that happens. (Whoriskey, 9/14)

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