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KHN First Edition: November 3, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, November 03, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: FDA’s Drug Approval Team Copes With 700 Unfilled Jobs As Industry Lures Staff
Sydney Lupkin and Sarah Jane Tribble report: "The Food and Drug Administration has more than 700 job vacancies in its division that approves new drugs, and top officials say the agency is struggling to hire and retain staff because pharmaceutical companies lure them away. “They can pay them roughly twice as much as we can,” Janet Woodcock, who directs the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), said at a rare-diseases summit recently in Arlington, Va." (Lupkin and Tribble, 11/3)

Kaiser Health News: Why Tobacco Companies Are Spending Millions To Boost A Cigarette Tax
KCUR's Alex Smith reports: "For many Missouri health advocates, an increase in the state’s tobacco tax is long overdue. But onlookers might be surprised to hear that tobacco companies are spending a fortune this election year to get one or another increase in that tax passed, while health groups are urging a no vote. What’s going on? The tax increases that the companies want are so low that tobacco researchers say they would have no effect on smokers buying their products — or quitting a dangerous habit." (Smith, 11/3)

The Associated Press: CDC: Progress Reducing Uninsured Rate Threatens To Stall
President Barack Obama's legacy health care law has reduced the number of Americans going without health insurance to historically low levels, but continued progress threatens to stall this year, according to a new government report. The study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the law may be reaching a limit to its effectiveness in a nation politically divided over the government's role in guaranteeing coverage. (11/3)

Reuters: Anthem Says It May Trim Obamacare Participation In 2018
U.S. health insurer Anthem Inc on Wednesday raised the prospect of smaller participation in the individual Obamacare exchanges in 2018, saying it would have a market-by-market strategy that hinges on 2017 profitability. The company said that losses due to sicker-than-expected customers in its individual Obamacare plans were a bit less than foreseen in the third quarter and that it was planning for a slight profit in that business next year. (11/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem May Reconsider Affordable Care Act Business If Improvements Aren’t Seen
The insurer said that 2017 is a critical year as it evaluates its plans for the business. If there aren’t improvements next year, including regulatory changes to the health-law exchanges, “we will likely modify our strategy in 2018,” said Chief Executive Joseph R. Swedish in a conference call with analysts. He said the insurer will look closely at, and reconsider its offerings in, the regions in which it offers health-law plans. Anthem said its ACA exchange plans will show a mid-single-digit loss for 2016, but said it is aiming for a slim profit next year. (Wilde Mathews and Hufford, 11/2)

The Associated Press: Anthem Misses 3Q Street Profit Forecast, Medical Costs Rise
Anthem’s third-quarter earnings slid nearly 6 percent and missed Wall Street expectations, as rising medical costs countered revenue growth and some cost cutting for the nation’s second-largest health insurer. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer also updated on Wednesday a 2016 forecast that falls short of analyst forecasts. (Murphy, 11/2)

Politico: Lawmakers Who Cross Aisle On Abortion Face Ouster
Republicans who support abortion rights are already an endangered species. But they’re likely to become nearly extinct next year in a political winnowing that is knocking off moderates on both sides — and turning the politics of abortion even more rancorous. Five Republicans in Congress regularly buck their party by supporting abortion rights. But one of those, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, is retiring and two more — Rep. Bob Dold and Sen. Mark Kirk, both of Illinois — face uphill races. And the same narrowing is happening on the other side: No more than seven Democrats in Congress regularly vote against abortion rights. (Haberkorn, 11/3)

Reuters: West Virginia Urges Justice Dept To Reject Settlement With Mylan
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Wednesday blasted Mylan NV's announced $465 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over the drugmaker's classification of its lifesaving allergy treatment EpiPen as a generic, saying the amount was "woefully deficient." The department has not acknowledged such a deal almost a month after Mylan announced it, and department spokeswoman Nicole Navas declined to comment on Wednesday. (Lynch, 11/2)

The Associated Press: Drug Maker Extends $6 Discount On Heroin Antidote In NY
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says a drug maker has agreed to extend a price cut for a heroin overdose antidote bought by hundreds of government agencies around the state. California-based Amphastar Pharmaceuticals will continue to offer a $6-per-dose rebate through January 2018 for naloxone, which can quickly reverse an opioid overdose. (11/3)

The New York Times: Brexit Threatens Supply Of New Drugs, Report Warns
British patients could end up not being able to access modern medicines if there is a "hard Brexit", a think tank report endorsed by a former Conservative health minister warned on Wednesday. Drugmakers currently use the European Medicines Agency as a one-stop-shop to get drugs licensed across Europe, but Britain is likely to drop out of that system if it severs EU ties and leaves the single market in a scenario dubbed "hard Brexit." (Hirschler, 11/2)

The New York Times: Lifesaving Cancer Drugs May In Rare Cases Threaten The Heart
Powerful drugs that enlist the immune system to fight cancer can, in rare cases, cause heart damage, doctors are reporting. So far, fewer than 1 percent of patients taking these medicines — called checkpoint inhibitors — have developed heart trouble. But in those who do, the damage can be severe, and the drugs have led to several deaths by provoking the immune system to attack the heart. (Grady, 11/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Valeant Exploring Sale Of Eye-Surgery Equipment Business
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. is exploring a sale of its eye-surgery equipment business as part of a sweeping effort to unload assets and pare debt. The eye-surgery business, which Valeant acquired with its purchase of Bausch & Lomb just three years ago, could fetch as much as $2.5 billion in a sale, according to people familiar with the matter. It’s not clear who may be interested in the operation. The sales process is in an early stage and Valeant may still decide not to sell the business, some of the people said. (Mattioli, Rockoff and Benoit, 11/2)

The Associated Press: How To Choose The Right Amount For Your FSA In 2017
November is typically open enrollment time for millions who get health insurance, disability insurance and other benefits from an employer. If you’re one of them, among your important choices is whether you want a flexible spending account and how much money to deposit. FSAs are available through some employers as a part of benefits packages. You can spend FSA money only on “qualified medical expenses,” which are determined by the IRS. (Glover, 11/2)

The Washington Post: Medicare To Begin Paying For Diabetes Prevention Strategy
Medicare will start paying for a strategy to help millions of older Americans at high risk of diabetes from developing the disease, federal health officials announced Wednesday. The new benefits, scheduled to begin in 2018, are part of an increasing shift in the federal entitlement program, from its half-century tradition of mainly covering treatment when beneficiaries are sick to paying to try to keep them healthy. The strategy to avert diabetes also is the first disease-prevention experiment, tested under part of the Affordable Care Act, which federal officials have concluded is worthwhile enough to adopt nationwide. (Goldstein, 11/2)

USA Today: Feds Approve Y's Diabetes Program Despite Drug Maker Opposition
Federal regulators will move ahead with a national test of Medicare coverage for a YMCA diabetes prevention program over the objections of the pharmaceutical industry, which sells drugs including increasingly expensive insulin to treat disease. The final rule, announced Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is designed to speed Medicare coverage of a program to combat a disease  that a quarter of people 65 and older have. National trade associations representing hospitals and doctors enthusiastically supported CMS' plan in comments filed with the agency. (O'Donnell, 11/2)

The New York Times: Start-Ups For The End Of Life
Death and dying can be costly, but they are rarely considered a business by consumers. Many would rather not ponder critical decisions about feeding tubes, funeral homes and other end-of-life issues until the need is thrust upon them. But as our population ages and the industry gets more attention, new firms — many of them technology companies — are setting out to compete on price and convenience. (Zimmerman, 11/2)

NPR: Some Scientists Lose Out In Battle For CRISPR Patents And Prestige
Lots of people think this is how science works: A genius sits in a lab working late into the night and, finally — "Eureka!" After that come big prizes, and maybe even lucrative patents, right? Discoveries are rarely so straightforward. A recent biotech advance that goes by the long, awkward acronym of CRISPR-Cas9 is a perfect case. (Bichell, 11/2)

NPR: Lessons From War Zones Help Military Medics Save Lives
A bomb goes off. It's noisy. It's smoky. Lights are flashing, people are shouting. The wounded are bloody and dying. But this isn't a real war zone. It's a training class inside a simulator in San Antonio that recreates the real-life chaos and pressure of combat. (Rigby, 11/2)

NPR: Sleepy Teens Have More Trouble Learning
Researchers wanted to know more about the associations between the amount of sleep students get, how sleepy they are in the daytime and a brain function known as self-regulation — the ability to control emotions, cognitive functions and behavior. Night owls tend to have the hardest time with self-regulation, the researchers found. These students have more memory problems, are more impulsive, and get irritated and frustrated more easily. (Stein, 11/3)

The Associated Press: Fall 2017 Trial For Alleged Leader In $1B Health Care Fraud
A fall 2017 trial date is set for a South Florida businessman accused of orchestrating a $1 billion Medicare and Medicaid fraud scheme. Court records show a Miami federal judge on Wednesday scheduled 48-year-old Philip Esformes’ trial for Sept. 18. Esformes, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a potential life prison sentence if convicted of multiple fraud, conspiracy and other charges. (11/3)

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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