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KHN First Edition: December 15, 2016


First Edition

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

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

Kaiser Health News: In Light Of Zika Findings, Stepped-Up Monitoring Of Children’s Symptoms Urged
Shefali Luthra reports: "A series of studies released Wednesday shed a preliminary light on the Zika virus’ consequences for children infected in the womb. But, experts said, the findings also highlight additional challenges: identifying affected babies and making sure they receive needed follow-up care as they grow. That task could prove complicated, especially as new data emphasizes the virus may cause more damage than previously thought." (Luthra, 12/14)

Kaiser Health News: California Lawmakers Aim To Pay Dentists More To Treat Poor Patients
Ana B. Imbarra reports: "Lawmakers have introduced a bill aiming to improve Denti-Cal, the California’s dental program for the poor — a program that was subject to a scathing independent audit earlier this year. The proposed legislation, mostly sponsored by Republicans, is among the first public bids for revenue from the statewide tobacco tax that voters approved in November." (Ibarra, 12/15)

Politico: Democrats Open To Replacing Obamacare
Senate Democrats will never vote to repeal Obamacare. But once the deed is done, a surprising number of them say they’re open to helping Republicans replace it. “If it makes sense, I think there’ll be a lot of Democrats who would be for it,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). As Republicans aim to make good on their years-long vow to quash Obamacare and replace it with their own health care vision, they’ll have to do something Democrats were never able to: Bring members of the opposing party on board. (Everett and Haberkorn, 12/15)

The Washington Post: Sign-Ups For 2017 Affordable Care Act Health Plans Run Slightly Ahead Of Last Year
The number of Americans signing up for 2017 health plans through is running slightly ahead of a year ago, even as President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican Congress prepare to dismantle the law that provides the coverage. Customers new to the Affordable Care Act marketplaces account for just 25 percent of the enrollment so far, however, compared with almost 40 percent at about the same time last year, according to figures released Wednesday by federal health officials. (Goldstein, 12/14)

Bloomberg: Obamacare Sign-Ups Top 4 Million As First Deadline Approaches
More than 4 million people picked Obamacare plans in the 39 states that use the federal marketplace in the first six weeks of the 2017 sign-up period, the U.S. said Wednesday. The figure includes 1.1 million new customers and 2.9 million renewals through Dec. 10, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement. Sign-ups typically accelerate as the Dec. 15 deadline for Jan. 1 coverage approaches, and the government said more than 700,000 signed up on Dec. 12 and 13, without providing details. (Tracer, 12/14)

The Associated Press: Study: Premium Hikes Add $10B To Taxpayers' Health Law Tab
Taxpayers will fork over nearly $10 billion more next year to cover double-digit premium hikes for subsidized health insurance under President Barack Obama's law, according to a study being released Thursday. The analysis from the Center for Health and Economy comes as the Republican-led Congress is preparing to repeal "Obamacare" and replace it with a GOP alternative whose details have yet to be worked out. (12/15)

The New York Times: Obama Bars States From Denying Federal Money To Planned Parenthood
Mindful of the clock ticking down to a Trump presidency, the Obama administration issued a final rule on Wednesday to bar states from withholding federal family-planning funds from Planned Parenthood affiliates and other health clinics that provide abortions. The measure takes effect two days before the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald J. Trump. The rule was proposed three months ago, when many Democrats assumed the next president would be Hillary Clinton; she presumably would have promoted the rule’s completion if it were still pending. (Calmes, 12/14)

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Blocks States From Cutting Off Grants To Planned Parenthood
The rule stipulates that states may not prohibit an organization from participating in Title X — the state-federal program that gives out tens of millions of dollars for family planning — for any reason other than the organization’s ability to provide services. It is designed to undercut efforts in some states to withhold taxpayer money from Planned Parenthood, which offers a variety of health-care services, primarily to low-income women. While the money cannot be used for abortions, some conservative lawmakers have targeted the group because it also offers the procedure at some of its clinics. Abortion rights groups lauded the rule but cautioned that it could be reversed by the next administration. (Somashekhar, 12/14)

NPR: Obama Moves To Protect Planned Parenthood Funding
"President Obama has cemented his legacy as a champion for women's health," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in a written release. "This rule protects birth control, cancer screenings, [sexually transmitted infection] testing and treatment and other health care for millions of people." (Kodjak, 12/14)

The New York Times: Abortion Is Found To Have Little Effect On Women’s Mental Health
It’s an idea that has long been used as an argument against abortion — that terminating a pregnancy causes women to experience emotional and psychological trauma. Some states require women seeking abortions to be counseled that they might develop mental health problems. Now a new study, considered to be the most rigorous to look at the question in the United States, undermines that claim. (Belluck, 12/14)

The New York Times: Go To The Wrong Hospital And You’re 3 Times More Likely To Die
Not all hospitals are created equal, and the differences in quality can be a matter of life or death. In the first comprehensive study comparing how well individual hospitals treated a variety of medical conditions, researchers found that patients at the worst American hospitals were three times more likely to die and 13 times more likely to have medical complications than if they visited one of the best hospitals. (Abelson, 12/14)

The Associated Press: Drugmakers Push Profitable, But Unproven, Opioid Solution
Pilloried for their role in the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, drugmakers are aggressively pushing their remedy to the problem: a new generation of harder-to-manipulate opioids that have racked up billions in sales, even though there’s little proof they reduce rates of overdoses or deaths. More than prescriptions are at stake. Critics worry the drugmakers’ nationwide lobbying campaign is distracting from more productive solutions and delaying crucial efforts to steer physicians away from prescription opioids — addictive pain medications involved in the deaths of more than 165,000 Americans since 2000. (Perrone, Mulvihill and Whyte, 12/15)

The Associated Press: Drugmakers Set To Gain As Taxpayers Foot New Opioid Costs
Critics say the answer pharmaceutical companies are pushing to address the ongoing opioid crisis boosts their profits while forcing taxpayers to shoulder the costs. Some drugmakers aim to replace ubiquitous painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet with harder-to-abuse formulations that are patent-protected and command higher prices — a plan that could cost government-funded health programs hundreds of millions of dollars in higher medication expenses. (Whyte and Perrone, 12/15)

The Associated Press: Key Findings Of Investigation Into Harder-To-Abuse Opioids
The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity investigated how pharmaceutical companies are using their political clout to push a new form of opioids as their answer to the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. The pills are marketed as abuse-deterrents because they usually are difficult to crush and dissolve, but they also are lucrative for the industry. (12/15)

USA Today/The Desert Sun: Two Years After Prop 47, Addicts Walk Free With Nowhere To Go
Two years after it was approved by California voters, Prop 47 has scaled back mass incarceration of drug addicts, but successful reform is woefully incomplete. Proponents celebrate how the law freed at least 13,500 inmates from harsh sentences in crowded prisons and jails, but Prop 47 has done little to help these people restart their lives. Instead, the unprecedented release of inmates has exposed the limits of California’s neglected social service programs: Thousands of addicts and mentally ill people have traded a life behind bars for a churning cycle of homelessness, substance abuse and petty crime. Prop 47 earmarked millions saved in prison costs for inmate rehabilitation, but not a penny has been spent. Meanwhile, the state’s shortage of treatment programs is more glaring than ever. (Castellano, Kelman, Hwang, Carlson, Wu and Espino, 12/14)

The New York Times: Drug 85 Times As Potent As Marijuana Caused A ‘Zombielike’ State In Brooklyn
When emergency medical technicians were called to a mass casualty event in Brooklyn last summer, dispatchers used a word more associated with apocalyptic Hollywood movies than medical emergencies: zombies. Emergency workers reported multiple people at the scene, near a subway station on Myrtle Avenue and Broadway, on the border of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, “all of whom had a degree of altered mental status that was described by bystanders as ‘zombielike,’” according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Santora, 12/14)

The Washington Post: McAuliffe Calls For Big Investment In Mental Health Care And Addiction Treatment
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) will ask the General Assembly for $31.7 million to improve and standardize treatment for mental illness and substance abuse around the state when he presents his budget on Friday. The initiative will be one of the biggest and costliest proposals of McAuliffe’s final General Assembly session, his office said. Virginia governors are limited to a single four-year term, and McAuliffe’s winds up after next year. (Schneider, 12/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Two Former Heritage Executives Charged With Generic Drug Price-Fixing
The former chief executive and former president of generic drug company Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc. have been charged with conspiring to fix prices, the first charges in a continuing Justice Department antitrust probe. In charges unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors allege former Heritage CEO Jeffrey A. Glazer and former President Jason T. Malek conspired with competitors to fix prices and allocate customers for the antibiotic doxycycline hyclate and glyburide, used to treat diabetes. (Kendall, 12/14)

The Associated Press: Federal Prosecutors Accuse Execs Of Fixing Drug Prices
Federal prosecutors have charged two former pharmaceutical executives with fixing prices of generic drugs, part of an ongoing government investigation into anticompetitive tactics by companies that make lower-cost drugs intended to reduce medication costs. The Department of Justice accused two former Heritage Pharmaceuticals executives of conspiring to fix prices, rig bids and avoid competing with other drugmakers in marketing two generic drugs. (12/14)

The Associated Press: FDA Denies Bid To Drop Some Warnings From Tobacco Pouches
U.S. health officials have rejected an attempt by a Swedish company to remove several health warnings from its smokeless tobacco pouches, though regulators left open the possibility for other labeling changes it seeks. The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it denied the request by Swedish Match to remove warnings about gum disease and tooth loss from its chewable pouches, called snus. It's the first decision of its kind handed down by the agency since it gained authority to review the relative risks of tobacco products in 2009. (12/14)

The Wall Street Journal: FDA Sends Maker Of Snus Oral Tobacco Back To Drawing Board On Health Claims
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday partially rejected an application by Swedish Match North America Inc. to market its tobacco pouches as being less harmful than cigarettes. Eight products in the company’s General brand of tobacco pouches, called snus, represent the first test case in a program in which the agency is considering whether to allow companies to advertise some tobacco products as safer than cigarettes. (Maloney, 12/14)

The New York Times: Pregnant Women Warned To Avoid Brownsville, Tex., Because Of Zika
Federal health officials warned pregnant women on Wednesday to avoid visiting Brownsville, Tex., because of the threat of infection with the Zika virus. At least five cases of Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes have been reported in the last few weeks, and temperatures are still high enough for mosquitoes to thrive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. (McNeil, 12/14)

The Washington Post: CDC Issues Zika Travel Guidance For Texas Border City
Federal health officials on Wednesday urged pregnant women to consider postponing travel to Brownsville, Tex., because of five local cases of Zika virus infection that have been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an advisory to clinicians in its health alert network saying that the CDC is designating Brownsville, on the border with Mexico, a Zika cautionary area for testing and travel guidance. (Sun, 12/14)

Los Angeles Times: New Zika Findings Reveal How Virus Does Its Damage, And Two Weapons That Might Help Fight It
In the blood of a patient infected with Zika, researchers have found key proteins that could help them create medicines and vaccines to fight the rapidly spreading virus. A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine describes two antibodies that were able to “eliminate” samples of the Zika virus when tested in laboratory dishes. When the researchers gave either of the antibodies to mice that had been deliberately infected with Zika, the animals “were completely protected against ZIKV infection,” according to the study. (Healy, 12/14)

NPR: Women Giving Birth In The U.S. Vulnerable To Zika Effects
Among women who had symptoms or were exposed in the first trimester, 11 percent had fetuses or infants with birth defects. There were no reports of birth defects in fetuses of infants with exposure only in the second or third trimester. The study used laboratory tests to tell if the mother, fetus or baby had at some point been infected with Zika or similar viruses. But the tests couldn't necessarily tell which virus, or when. Four percent of the babies or fetuses had microcephaly, a devastating abnormality that causes very small heads and brain damage. (Stein, 12/14)

NPR: Gene Drives: Scientists Seek To Sterilize Mosquito Species That Spreads Malaria
It's a cold, damp fall day in London. But in a windowless basement laboratory, it feels like the tropics. It's hot and humid. That's to keep the mosquitoes happy. "In this cage, we have the adult mosquitoes," says Andrew Hammond, a genetic engineer at Imperial College London, as he picks up a container made out of white mosquito netting. ... Scientists have altered mosquitoes' genes before. But these insects aren't just any genetically engineered mosquitoes. (Stein, 12/14)

The Washington Post: Anesthesia May Harm The Brains Of Children Under 3, FDA Warns
The Food and Drug Administration warned Wednesday that repeated or lengthy use of general anesthesia or sedation drugs for children younger than 3 or pregnant women in their third trimester may affect youngsters' developing brains. The agency, which said its warning is based on a comprehensive analysis of the latest research, issued a “drug-safety communication” to inform health-care providers, parents and pregnant women about the risks of using the drugs repeatedly or for more than three hours at a time. It also ordered manufacturers to add warnings to their products' labels. (McGinley, 12/14)

Los Angeles Times: Sorry, Pokemon Go Addicts, Playing The Video Game Doesn’t Count As A Real Workout
Harvard University researchers have some bad news for Pokemon Go enthusiasts: The time you spend hunting digital monsters doesn’t qualify as a workout. After analyzing the movements of actual players, the researchers calculated that Pokemon Go encouraged people to take an average of 955 extra steps per day in the first week after downloading the game. Assuming that each step covered 31.5 inches and that players walked at a pace of 2.5 miles per hour, the game prompted people to walk for 11 extra minutes each day. (Kaplan, 12/14)

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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