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KHN First Edition: July 13, 2015


First Edition

Monday, July 13, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

The Wall Street Journal: Cost Of Covering New People Under ACA Significantly Higher Than Expected
The cost of covering people who qualified for Medicaid as part of the federal health law was significantly higher than expected in 2014, federal actuaries said Friday. Adults who became eligible for Medicaid as a result of the health law’s expansion of the program to include most low-income Americans incurred average medical costs of $5,517, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services office of the actuary said. That was about $1,000 higher than had initially been expected for the first full year of the expansion. (Radnofsky, 7/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Kentucky Is New Test Case Of Health Law’s Politics
For a Southern state where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular and Republicans dominate federal elections, Kentucky stands out for having created a well-regarded health exchange and having expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That dynamic will be put to the test in November’s gubernatorial election. (Campo-Flores, 7/12)

The New York Times: Courts Support Obama’s Contraceptive Policy, But Challenges Remain
Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception. While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating. (Pear, 7/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Birth Control Coverage Rules Announced By Obama Administration
The Obama administration on Friday set final rules for contraception coverage in workers’ health insurance plans, putting in place rules that are unlikely to satisfy some religious employers who object to birth control. ... Federal officials said the arrangements also would be available to closely held for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. that last year won a Supreme Court case against the coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act. ... Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have said the revised system is inadequate because it still uses the insurance plan they set up to provide something they believe to be wrong. They have challenged the alternative system in the courts. (Radnofsky, 7/10)

The New York Times: Health Law’s Contraceptive Rule Eased For Businesses With Religious Objections
The Obama administration issued new rules on Friday that allow closely held for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby Stores to opt out of providing women with insurance coverage for contraceptives if the companies have religious objections. Women enrolled in such health plans would still be able to get birth control at no cost, the administration said. Insurers would pay for contraceptive services, but the payments would be separate from the employer’s health plan. (Pear, 7/10)

The Associated Press: New Birth Control Rule For Employers With Religious Qualms
Hoping to put to rest one of the most difficult disputes over its health care law, the Obama administration Friday unveiled its latest plan to address employers' religious objections to providing free birth control for their female workers. ... To qualify for the opt-out, companies cannot be publicly traded on stock markets. Also, more than half the ownership must be in the hands of five or fewer individuals. For purposes of meeting the new rule, a family counts as a single individual. The administration's latest effort also attempts to address the objections of some religious nonprofits to an earlier accommodation. That previous plan called for the nonprofit to notify its insurance administrator of its objections to covering birth control. Some nonprofits said that would essentially involve them in arranging the coverage, albeit indirectly. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 7/10)

The New York Times: Modern Doctors’ House Calls: Skype Chat And Fast Diagnosis
The same forces that have made instant messaging and video calls part of daily life for many Americans are now shaking up basic medical care. Health systems and insurers are rushing to offer video consultations for routine ailments, convinced they will save money and relieve pressure on overextended primary care systems in cities and rural areas alike. And more people like Ms. DeVisser, fluent in Skype and FaceTime and eager for cheaper, more convenient medical care, are trying them out. ... But telemedicine is facing pushback from some more traditional corners of the medical world. Medicare, which often sets the precedent for other insurers, strictly limits reimbursement for telemedicine services out of concern that expanding coverage would increase, not reduce, costs. Some doctors assert that hands-on exams are more effective and warn that the potential for misdiagnoses via video is great. (Goodnough, 7/11)

The Associated Press: $1,000-Per-Pill Drug Overtaken By Pricier Successor
The $1,000 pill for a liver-wasting viral infection that made headlines last year is no longer the favorite of patients and doctors. ... Sovaldi, last year's wonder drug, has been pushed aside by a successor called Harvoni, made by the same company. The sticker price for Harvoni is $1,350 a pill. The fast-paced changes in hepatitis C treatment are being watched closely amid fears that breakthrough drugs could reignite the rise of U.S. health care costs. Other medications that could turn into cost drivers include a new treatment for melanoma and a cholesterol-lowering drug awaiting approval. More hepatitis C drugs are also headed to market. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 7/11)

The New York Times: How CVS Quit Smoking And Grew Into A Health Care Giant
With 7,800 retail stores and a presence in almost every state, CVS Health has enormous reach. And while shoppers might think of CVS as a place to pick up toothpaste, Band-Aids or lipstick, it is also the country’s biggest operator of health clinics, the largest dispenser of prescription drugs and the second-largest pharmacy benefits manager. With close to $140 billion in revenue last year — about 97 percent of that from prescription drugs or pharmacy services — CVS is arguably the country’s biggest health care company, bigger than the drug makers and wholesalers, and bigger than the insurers. (Tabuchi, 7/11)

The Washington Post: House Overwhelmingly Passes Bill To Speed FDA Drug Approvals
The bill tries to address the impatience that stems from a major societal problem: despite billions of dollars of research into diseases that range from common cancers to the rarest genetic diseases, we still lack treatments for thousands of conditions. Many of its provisions seek to make the drug approval process less burdensome. But its laundry list of provisions that tweak the process for approving new drugs or devices have raised significant concern from industry watchdogs and physicians who say the legislation is aimed more at helping drug and device companies than patients. (Johnson, 7/10)

The New York Times: Bipartisan Partnership Produces A Health Bill That Passes The House
By the standards of the modern Congress, Representatives Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, and Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, have no business writing health care legislation together. Mr. Upton, the buttoned-up chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, is one of the House Republicans’ go-to representatives on dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Ms. DeGette, a member of the Democratic leadership who leans decidedly left of center, counts herself among the central champions of the health care law. But the two lawmakers ... developing a sweeping measure to help cure diseases. ... But the two lawmakers, friends since they met in a prayer group nearly two decades ago, have spent the last 18 months — sometimes with a spouse or dog in tow — sitting together through hundreds of hours of meetings with doctors, health advocates and policy experts; traveling to each other’s districts and to policy conferences around the country; and enlisting colleagues coast to coast to hold town hall-style meetings, all with the goal of developing a sweeping measure to help cure diseases. (Steinhauer and Tavernise, 7/10)

The Wall Street Journal: House Votes To Boost Funding For Medical Research
The House of Representatives voted 344-77 for a bill that would boost federal funding for medical research, and would speed up Food and Drug Administration approvals for many new drugs and medical devices. The bill, which won overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, would increase funding for the National Institutes of Health by $8.75 billion over five years. (Burton, 7/10)

The Associated Press: Big House Vote To Speed Drug Approvals, Boost Research
For the second time this year, the House used overwhelming bipartisan unity Friday to approve health legislation, this time voting to bolster biomedical research and streamline how the government approves drugs and medical devices. The chamber's 344-77 vote sent the measure to the Senate, where a bill is unlikely until later this year. It is unclear how different the Senate version will be. (Fram, 7/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Hillary Clinton Economic Plan To Chart Center-Left Course
Hillary Clinton is preparing to lay out an economic plan that seeks a center-left ideological course, rejecting ideas put forth by Republican presidential contenders but striking a contrast with her party’s liberal wing. ... To address income inequality, Mrs. Clinton will call for raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy, boosting the power of unions and reducing health-care costs. She also is likely to propose some new rules governing Wall Street. ... She is unlikely to propose breaking up Wall Street banks or installing a single-payer health-care system. A wholesale expansion of Social Security, as many on the left would like, is unexpected as well. (Meckler, 7/12)

Politico: Bernie Sanders’ Senate Colleagues Stunned By His Ascent
Bernie Sanders’ Senate colleagues have come to know him as a bit player in the Democratic Caucus, a gruff, rumpled protest voice to the left of even the most liberal senators. Now the Vermont socialist is drawing crowds by the thousands seemingly everywhere he goes — and his cohorts in D.C. can hardly believe it. ... When President Barack Obama came into office and pushed his health care bill, Sanders was a rare voice publicly calling for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type system. (Raju and Everett, 7/13)

The Associated Press: Rep. Young Joins Indiana Senate Race To Succeed Coats
Young has worked to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act and points to a bill that would increase the number of hours an employee has to work before an employer must offer health insurance under the act as one of the achievements he’s proudest of. The bill has passed the House but hasn’t been considered by the Senate. (Coyne, 7/12)

NPR: Should Doctors And Drugmakers Keep Their Distance?
Doctors are obsessed with time. It comes down to simple math. If I have four hours to see a dozen patients, there simply isn't much time to stray from the main agenda: What ails you? Frequently harried, I avoid drug company salespeople. Their job is to get face time with me and convince me quickly of the merits of their products. To sweeten the path in, they bring food for the staff along with free samples of prescription drugs for us to give to our patients. (Schumann, 6/12)

The New York Times: Obituaries Shed Euphemisms To Chronicle Toll Of Heroin
When celebrities like the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman die of heroin overdoses, the cause of death is a prominent part of the obituary. The less famous tend to die “unexpectedly” or “at home.” But as the heroin epidemic surges across the country and claims more lives every day, a growing number of families are dropping the euphemisms and writing the gut-wrenching truth, producing obituaries that speak unflinchingly, with surprising candor and urgency, about the realities of addiction. (Seelye, 7/11)

Los Angeles Times: Sounding The Alarm As Prescription Drug Abusers Turn To Heroin
Standing in the pulpit above Austin Klimusko's casket three years ago, his mother used his death to draw the connection between pills from a pharmacy and drugs from the street. "When his prescriptions dried up, he turned to heroin," Susan Klimusko said in a frank eulogy meant as a warning to the young mourners at Simi Valley's Cornerstone Church. Last week, the nation's top public health official used the bully pulpit to sound the same alarm. The prescription drug epidemic is stoking the nation's appetite for heroin with disastrous results, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters in a teleconference. (Girion, 7/11)

NPR: For Families Of Heroin Addicts, Comfort Comes In Sharing Their Stories
In a community center just south of Los Angeles, upwards of 50 people pack into a room to offer each other words of comfort. Most of them are moms, and they've been through a lot. At Solace, a support group for family members of those suffering from addiction, many of the attendees have watched a child under 30 die of a fatal drug overdose — heroin, or opioids like Oxycontin or Vicodin that are considered gateway drugs to heroin. (Hersher and Javier, 7/11)

NPR: Engineering A Shingles Vaccine That Doesn't Wimp Out Over Time
If you had chickenpox as a child, then you're at risk for shingles. As you age, the risk increases, probably because the immune system weakens over time. The varicella zoster virus can hide in the body over a lifetime and suddenly activate, causing a painful blistery rash. Even when the rash disappears, pain can linger and worsen, causing a burning, shooting, stabbing pain so severe it can leave people unable to sleep, work or carry on other activities. (Neighmond, 7/13)

USA Today: Semicolon Tattoos Raise Awareness About Mental Illness
A semicolon is a pause in a sentence, not the end of one. That's why Amy Bleuel selected it for her mental health awareness campaign, Project Semicolon. The non-profit encourages people to draw (or tattoo) semicolons on their bodies as a way to represent and support those dealing with mental illness or loss of someone from suicide. (Grisham, 7/9)

USA Today: New PAC Defends Doctor Embroiled In Medicare Fraud Lawsuit
Florida cardiologist under federal scrutiny for his high Medicare billings appears to have a new weapon on his side: a political action committee aimed at defending him against government "bureaucrats" and "money-hungry whistle-blowers." The PAC, Patient's Right to Excellent Medicine or PREM, ran a full-page ad Sunday in The Ocala Star-Banner denouncing the federal government and media's treatment of Dr. Asad Qamar, the paper reported. On its website, the PAC describes itself as a coalition of patients "disgusted and distressed" by "inaccurate" portrayals of "this extraordinary physician." (Schouten, 7/10)

ProPublica/The Washington Post: Popular Blood Thinner Causing Deaths, Injuries In Nursing Homes
When nursing homes fail to maintain this delicate balance, it puts patients in danger. From 2011 to 2014, at least 165 nursing home residents were hospitalized or died after errors involving Coumadin or its generic version, warfarin, a ProPublica analysis of government inspection reports shows. Studies suggest there are thousands more injuries every year that are never investigated by the government. (Ornstein, 7/12)

The Washington Post: D.C. Could Be The Next Place To Legalize Assisted Death For The Terminally Ill
The nation’s capital could be on track to join those U.S. jurisdictions where terminally ill patients can legally seek to end their lives with medication prescribed by physicians. D.C. lawmakers on Friday held a hearing on the Death With Dignity Act of 2015, which would authorize doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients who have been given six months or less to live and wish to die on their own terms. (Hauslohner, 7/10)

The Associated Press: Undergraduate Medical Students Treat Homeless People's Feet
Foot care, including washing, scraping and filing calluses, clipping toenails and massage, also had practical health applications in this case, said Dr. Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, associate dean of admissions at the VCU School of Medicine. Whitehurst-Cook runs the summer program with Cheryl Ford-Smith, an associate professor of physical therapy at VCU. "We were serving the homeless, and the feet seem to be a big issue with them, because they're walking all the time," said Whitehurst-Cook, also an associate professor. During the school year, students in VCU's Department of Family Medicine's rural and inner-city preceptorship program work with Caritas, a homeless services organization in Richmond. They see a lot of foot-related ailments, some related to diabetes. (7/11)

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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