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KHN First Edition: July 9, 2015


First Edition

Thursday, July 09, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Patrick Kennedy On Moving Mental Health Policy Out Of ‘The Dark Ages’
Kaiser Health News staff writer Alana Pockros reports: "Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., was a senior in high school the first time he checked into rehab. His struggle with drug addiction and bipolar disorder continued to haunt him through his 16 years in Congress. But his first-hand experience with these illnesses also drives his long-standing interest in shaping public policies to confront the challenges faced by people with mental health problems. ... Kennedy [talked] about problems he sees in the nation’s mental health system and the steps needed to fix them." (Pockros, 7/9)

Kaiser Health News: An Explicit Contract Makes Surrogacy Viable For An Oregon Woman
Oregon Public Broadcasting Kristian Foden-Vencil, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "During the past few years, Oregon has quietly become a prime location for women willing to carry children for those unable to get pregnant. ... But surrogacy arrangements are often informal agreements, and they can go wrong. A surrogate may face unexpected medical bills, or the intended parents may change their mind. Yet Mardi Palan is excited about becoming a surrogate, and that’s due in part to a very thorough contract she has signed governing the terms of her surrogacy." (Foden-Vencil, 7/9)

Kaiser Health News: Montana Could Face Tough Bargaining With Federal Officials On Medicaid Expansion Plan
Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Montana’s blueprint for expanding Medicaid on terms that are palatable to the fragile bipartisan legislative majority that passed expansion law earlier this year has been released for public comment before it is formally submitted to federal officials. A leading expert on Medicaid waivers, however, says Montana is unlikely to get exactly what it wants." (Whitney, 7/9)

Politico: Senate Downplays Obamacare Repeal
July was supposed to be the big month for Obamacare repeal in Congress. But Senate Republicans are downplaying expectations that they’ll use a powerful budget tool called reconciliation to undo Obamacare through a simple majority vote this summer — and conservatives are none too pleased. Republicans pledged earlier this year that they would use the budget’s reconciliation tool to knock out parts of Obamacare. That was to start this month, to get rid of some unpopular Obamacare taxes or mandates even if they can’t scrap the whole law. But persistent divisions among Republicans, along with the reelection concerns of some GOP senators in liberal or swing states, are again slowing things down. (Haberkorn and Bade, 7/9)

The New York Times: Medicare Plans To Pay Doctors For Counseling On End Of Life
Medicare, the federal program that insures 55 million older and disabled Americans, announced plans on Wednesday to reimburse doctors for conversations with patients about whether and how they would want to be kept alive if they became too sick to speak for themselves. The proposal would settle a debate that raged before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when Sarah Palin labeled a similar plan as tantamount to setting up “death panels” that could cut off care for the sick. The new plan is expected to be approved and to take effect in January, although it will be open to public comment for 60 days. (Belluck, 7/8)

The Associated Press: Medicare's End-Of-Life Counseling Policy May Find Acceptance
Six years ago, a proposal for Medicare to cover end-of-life counseling touched off a political uproar that threatened to stall President Barack Obama's health care law in Congress. Wednesday, when Medicare finally announced it will make the change, reaction was muted. ... But for the Obama administration, end-of-life counseling remained politically radioactive, even as the idea found broader acceptance in society. Dr. Joe Rotella, chief medical officer of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, called Medicare's move a "little miracle," given the "death panels" furor. He said he believes the controversy has passed. (Alonso-Zaldivar and Sedensky, 7/9)

The Wall Street Journal: End-Of-Life Talk Proposed As New Medicare Benefit
The federal government is proposing to pay health-care providers for talking to Medicare beneficiaries about end-of-life care after mounting calls for a better approach to conversations about dying that can both save costs and improve patient care. The rule proposed Wednesday would reimburse doctors, nurse practitioners and some others in the health industry for discussions about end-of-life care, which was championed last year in a report by the Institute of Medicine, an independent advisory body. (Armour and Radnofsky, 7/8)

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Revives Plan Once Criticized As 'Death Panels'
The new proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services would not require Medicare patients to sign any order or even to talk with their physicians about end-of-life care. Rather, the proposed regulation would allow medical providers to bill Medicare for "advance-care planning" should a patient want to have the discussion. Such a session could include “the explanation and discussion of advance directives such as standard forms (with completion of such forms, when performed) by the physician or other qualified health professional,” according to the proposed rule. (Levey, 7/8)

The Washington Post: Fish Oil Pills: A $1.2 Billion Industry Built, So Far, On Empty Promises
For anyone wondering about whether to take a fish oil pill to improve your health, the Web site of the National Institutes of Health has some advice. Yes. And no. One page on the Web site endorses taking fish oil supplements, saying they are likely effective for heart disease .... But another page suggests that, in fact, the fish oil pills seem useless .... Few issues better reflect the American confusion over diet. People in the United States spend about $1.2 billion annually for fish oil pills and related supplements even though the vast majority of research published recently in major journals provides no evidence of a health benefit. (Whoriskey, 7/8)

Reuters: White House Says Open To Working With Congress On Disease Research Bill
The White House said on Wednesday it was open to working with Congress on a bill that would invest in disease research and would be paid for with sales of oil from U.S. emergency reserves. The House of Representatives is considering a bipartisan bill that would increase funding for the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to boost research and approvals of new treatments for rare diseases. ... The White House expressed general support for the bill but expressed concern about increasing funding without addressing mandatory spending caps known as sequestration. (Rampton and Gardner, 7/8)

NPR: Despite National Progress, Colorectal Cancer Hot Spots Remain
One of the great successes in the war on cancer has been the steep decline in the death rate from colorectal cancer. Since 1970, the colorectal cancer death rate per 100,000 Americans has been cut in half, falling to 15.1 in 2011 from 29.2 in 1970. ... Even so, colorectal cancer remains the third biggest cancer killer. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 49,700 deaths from colorectal cancer this year. It's also the case that progress against the disease has been uneven. (Hensley, 7/8)

The Associated Press: Catholic Church Gets Win In Liberal California Legislature
The Catholic Church, often out of step with California's liberal Legislature, notched a prominent win at the statehouse this week after aligning with advocates for the disabled and medical groups to defeat a proposal to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives. ... Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez wrote to the Assembly Health Committee last month, warning against a state that responds to suffering by "making it easier for people to kill themselves." An archdiocese website urged volunteers to get involved. ... Using English and Spanish, the Diocese of Orange urged parishioners on its website to write members of the Legislature to oppose the bill. (Blood, 7/8)

Los Angeles Times: Judge Orders Truce In USC-UC San Diego Fight Over Alzheimer's Study Data
A judge ordered a temporary truce Wednesday in the unusually public and nasty fight involving UC San Diego and USC over control of a historic, nationwide study on Alzheimer's disease. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes accepted USC's promise that it will not alter data and computer systems that are part of the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), a $100-million nationwide project that has been based at, and managed by, UC San Diego since 1991. The university last week sued the director of the study, Paul Aisen, eight of his campus colleagues and USC, accusing them of hijacking a study that involves dozens of research institutions across the country. (Robbins, Fikes and Gordon, 7/8)

The Associated Press: Strong Sales, But High Abandonment For Fitness Trackers
Deepak Jayasimha's fitness tracker is now with his father-in-law in India, where it sits unused. Annabel Kelly foisted hers off on the kids. Virginia Atkinson took hers off to charge the battery and hasn't picked it up since February. Although sales of Fitbit and other fitness trackers are strong, many of their owners lose enthusiasm for them once the novelty of knowing how many steps they've taken wears off. One research firm, Endeavour Partners, estimates that about a third of these trackers get abandoned after six months. A health care investment fund, Rock Health, says Fitbit's regulatory filings suggest that only half of Fitbit's nearly 20 million registered users were still active as of the first quarter of 2015. (Jesdanun, 7/8)

USA Today: Born Into Suffering: More Babies Arrive Dependent On Drugs
Shortly after he was born, tremors wracked Leopoldo Bautista's tiny body as he suffered through the pain of drug withdrawal — pain his mother understands. Samantha Adams is being treated with methadone for a heroin addiction, and she passed the methadone into Leopoldo's system. Sitting vigil with him at Norton Hospital, she tears up as she describes the 10-day-old "going through what I'd been through." Being born into suffering is becoming ever more common as research shows a continuing surge in drug-dependent infants amid a national epidemic of pain pill and now heroin abuse, with no end in sight. (Ungar, 7/8)

USA Today: Advocates Push To Expand Use Of Medications To Treat Addiction
Medications that treat addiction – buprenorphine, methadone and a third named naltrexone -- are a cornerstone of the Obama administration's plan to combat the opiate epidemic. One consequence of the addiction epidemic: The death rate from drug overdoses more than doubled from 1999 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug overdoses now kill nearly 44,000 Americans a year – more than car accidents. Opiate addicts who are given such "medication-assisted treatment" cut their risk of death from all causes – from overdoses to car accidents – in half, said Melinda Campopiano, medical officer at the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Szabo, 7/8)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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