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KHN First Edition: December 16, 2016


First Edition

Friday, December 16, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

California Healthline: The Throwaway Scope: A Way To Ditch Superbugs?
Chad Terhune reports: "In response to a series of superbug outbreaks around the country, some doctors and hospitals are trying out disposable scopes to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. U.S. regulators recently approved two new colonoscopes designed to be used just once and thrown away. They will sell for $250 or less apiece — compared to roughly $40,000 or more for a conventional scope that lasts several years but must be disinfected after each use." (Terhune, 12/15)

Kaiser Health News: After-Hours ER Care May Come With A Doctor’s Surcharge
Michelle Andrews reports: "If an emergency department is open 24 hours a day, why would patients be charged extra for coming in “after hours”? Good question, say experts who help patients decipher and dispute their medical bills. “After-hours surcharges,” as they’re sometimes called, should be included in the regular fees charged by emergency physicians for an emergency department visit, they argue. But instead patients sometimes find an additional charge, generally between $30 and $200, tacked onto their bill for visiting overnight." (Andrews, 12/16)

Kaiser Health News: More Prisoners Die Of Old Age Behind Bars
Melissa Bailey reports: "As the number of older prisoners soars, more inmates are dying in prison of diseases that afflict the elderly, new data from the Department of Justice show. A total of 3,483 inmates died in state prisons and 444 in federal prisons in 2014, the highest numbers on record since the bureau started counting in 2001, according to data issued Thursday by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. In addition, 1,053 inmates died in local jails, where suicide is on the rise." (Bailey, 12/15)

Kaiser Health News: Senior Citizens, Even 80-Year-Olds, Can Be Organ Donors
JoNel Aleccia reports: "Diana Teller never thought she was too old for anything, not scuba diving or traveling the world or taking Italian lessons late in life, her family recalled. So when the vivacious San Diego woman died last year at age 76 after a sudden brain hemorrhage, no one questioned whether she was too old to be an organ donor. “I guess I never really thought of her as her age,” said daughter Lori Teller, 57. “This was something she wanted to do.” Despite such convictions, donations from senior citizens like Teller — whose corneas, kidneys, liver and tissue were used — rarely happen." (Aleccia, 12/15)

The Associated Press: HealthCare.Gov Moves Sign Up Deadline To 11:59 PM PST Monday
The Obama administration is giving consumers a few extra days to sign up on in time for health insurance coverage to take effect Jan. 1. The new deadline is 11:59 p.m. Pacific time on Monday, Dec. 19, says Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal health insurance markets. The unexpected extension was announced after close of business Thursday. Counihan said it's due to strong interest. (12/16)

USA Today: Feds Extend Healthcare.Gov Deadline To Dec. 19, Citing Late Rush
Federal regulators Thursday night extended the midnight deadline for Affordable Care Act insurance by four days, as consumers fought to get through to call center operators and log onto to buy insurance that takes effect Jan. 1. "Nearly a million consumers have left their contact information to hold their place in line," CEO Kevin Counihan said in a statement late Thursday. "Our goal is to provide affordable coverage to everyone seeking it before the deadline, and these two additional business days will give consumers an opportunity to come back and complete their enrollment for January 1 coverage.” (O'Donnell, 12/16)

The Washington Post: Health Insurance Enrollment Deadline Extended Till Monday
Federal health officials announced Thursday night that they have extended the deadline for consumers to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage through Affordable Care Act marketplaces, giving them until the end of Monday night to enroll. The announcement marked the second consecutive year that federal officials granted insurance-seekers a little extra time beyond the Dec. 15 deadline. (Goldstein, 12/15)

The New York Times: G.O.P. Plans To Replace Health Care Law With ‘Universal Access’
House Republicans, responding to criticism that repealing the Affordable Care Act would leave millions without health insurance, said on Thursday that their goal in replacing President Obama’s health law was to guarantee “universal access” to health care and coverage, not necessarily to ensure that everyone actually has insurance. (Pear and Kaplan, 12/15)

Politico: Republicans Could Keep Parts Of Obamacare For Up To Four Years
Congressional Republicans say they will vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare “very quickly” early next year but may keep Obamacare in place for as long as four years. The incoming Trump administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill are sorting out the details of how to best deconstruct the Affordable Care Act. One of the thorniest problems is how long to leave parts of the law intact — to give 20 million Americans time to find other arrangements and health insurance companies the ability to develop and price new plans. (Haberkorn, 12/15)

Politico: Liberal Group Warns Democrats On Obamacare
A prominent liberal outside group issued a stern warning Thursday to Democratic senators who might help Republicans replace Obamacare: Do so at your own political peril. The broadside from the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America came hours after POLITICO reported that some Senate Democrats would be open to working to rebuild the health care law as long as Obamacare’s core components are preserved. (Everett, 12/15)

The Associated Press: Study: Repealing Obama Health Law Cuts Taxes For Wealthy
Republicans may be handing wealthy Americans a big tax cut by repealing President Barack Obama's health care law, according to a study released Thursday that spells out potential economic pitfalls behind the election-year slogans. The richest households — those with incomes above $3.7 million — would get an average tax cut of about $197,000, said the analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution think tanks. (12/15)

The Washington Post: Health Insurers Get Only 1.6% Of $6 Billion They Are Owed For Costly ACA Customers
Hundreds of insurers selling health plans in Affordable Care Act marketplaces are being paid less than 2 percent of nearly $6 billion the government owes them for covering customers last year with unexpectedly high medical expenses. The $96 million that insurers will get is just one-fourth of the sum that provoked an industry outcry a year ago, when federal health officials announced that they had enough money to pay health plans only 12.6 percent of what the law entitles them to receive. (Goldstein, 12/15)

The Wall Street Journal: Big Hospital Operator Retreats From Health-Insurance Foray
One of the nation’s largest hospital operators is retreating from an ambitious plan to run its own insurance company, underscoring the risks faced by health-care providers seeking to compete with health insurers. Catholic Health Initiatives, which has 103 hospitals in 18 states, made an aggressive push into insurance markets roughly three years ago. (Evans, 12/15)

The New York Times: 20 States Accuse Generic Drug Companies Of Price Fixing
A wide-ranging investigation into generic drug prices took its most significant turn yet on Thursday, as state attorneys general accused two industry leaders, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Mylan, and four smaller companies of engaging in brazen price-fixing schemes — and promised that more charges were coming. A civil complaint filed by 20 states accuses the companies of conspiring to artificially inflate prices on an antibiotic and a diabetes drug, with executives coordinating through informal industry gatherings and personal calls and text messages. (Thomas, 12/15)

The Associated Press: Connecticut Leads 20-State Lawsuit Over Drug Pricing
Six generic drug-makers artificially inflated and manipulated prices to reduce competition for an antibiotic and oral diabetes medication, 20 state attorneys general, led by Connecticut, said in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, whose office began its investigation more than two years ago into suspicious price increases of certain generic medications, said his staff “developed compelling evidence of collusion and anticompetitive conduct” among many companies that manufacture and market generic drugs. (12/15)

NPR: States Sue Drug Companies For Price Fixing
The lawsuit alleges that the companies, led by New Jersey-based drug maker Heritage Pharmaceuticals, identified competitors and tried to reach agreements on how they could avoid competing for customers on price. (Kodjak, 12/15)

The Wall Street Journal: States Sue Generic-Drug Companies Over Price-Fixing Allegations
“This is just the beginning of our work,” Mr. Jepsen said in an interview. “We think we have under investigation—and I assume Justice does as well—many more drugs than in this lawsuit and considerably more generic drug manufacturers than are parties to this suit.” “We think that this is kind of the tip of the iceberg,” he added. (Orden, 12/15)

The Wall Street Journal: Allergan Agrees To $38 Million Settlement Linked To Marketing, Sales Practices
Allergan PLC said Thursday two of its subsidiaries had reached a $38 million settlement with federal authorities to resolve an investigation into sales and marketing practices involving three products. Under the settlement terms, subsidiaries Forest Laboratories LLC and Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc. will pay the federal government $38 million, which will also cover claims from state Medicaid programs linked to the case. (Minaya, 12/15)

The Wall Street Journal: The Children Of The Opioid Crisis
Widespread abuse of powerful opioids has pushed U.S. overdose death rates to all-time highs. It has also traumatized tens of thousands of children. The number of youngsters in foster care in many states has soared, overwhelming social workers and courts. Hospitals that once saw few opioid-addicted newborns are now treating dozens a year. And many of the children who remain in the care of addicted parents are growing up in mayhem. They watch their mothers and fathers overdose and die on the bathroom floor. They live without electricity, food or heat when their parents can’t pay the bills. They stop going to school, and learn to steal and forage to meet their basic needs. (Whalen, 12/15)

NPR: Dr. Anna Lembke: Well-Meaning Doctors Have Driven The Opioid Epidemic
America's attitude toward pain has shifted radically over the past century. Psychiatrist Anna Lembke says that 100 years ago, the medical community thought that pain made patients stronger. "Doctors believed that pain was salutary," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "meaning that it had some physiologic benefit to the individual, and certainly some spiritual benefit." But as prescription painkillers became more available, patients became less willing to endure pain. (12/15)

The Wall Street Journal: America’s Next Defense Against Zika And Other Foreign Invaders
Dr. Keith Hamilton took his turn in the patient chair and braced for the sting of an experimental Zika vaccine. The injection was the easy part. Next, a nurse jabbed three tiny needles in his upper arm with a device that delivered two electrical jolts strong enough to flex muscle. He said it felt like a needle piercing his arm, again and again. Dr. Hamilton, an infectious-diseases doctor, was on a break from his rounds to volunteer in a landmark trial of a next-generation vaccine at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school. (McKay and Loftus, 12/15)

The New York Times: U.S. Judge Halts Texas Rules On Fetal Tissue Disposal
A U.S. judge on Thursday temporarily halted until Jan. 6 a Texas regulation that would require abortion providers to dispose of aborted fetal tissue through burial or cremation, court documents showed. The regulation, which was supposed to go into effect on Dec. 19, also would require hospitals and other medical facilities to bury or cremate miscarried fetuses. (Herskovitz, 12/15)

The New York Times: Never Too Old To Be An Organ Donor
Old age is not necessarily a barrier to kidney donation. A new study has found a kidney transplanted from a deceased 79-year-old can be as effective as one from a person 30 years younger. Generally, guidelines classify donors older than 50 as “extended criteria donors,” but shortages have led to using these donors more frequently. (Bakalar, 12/15)

The Washington Post: The Unintended Consequence Of Angelina Jolie’s Viral Breast Cancer Essay
When Angelina Jolie published an essay in the New York Times about her decision in 2013 to get a double mastectomy, the essay quickly went viral. Jolie's frank and candid admission that she had inherited a "faulty" BRCA1 gene that increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer and struggled with what to do struck a chord with people. Jolie revealed that she had undergone a medical procedure rarely talked about openly, much less by A-list celebrities, and said she hoped her experience could help others. (Johnson, 12/15)

Los Angeles Times: Depression Symptoms Are Common Among Active Airline Pilots, International Survey Reveals
Behind the self-confident gait, the friendly greeting and the air of superb competence, as many as 13% of the nation’s commercial airline pilots may be suffering from depression, and roughly 1 in 25 report they’ve had suicidal thoughts in the last two weeks, a new study reveals. But the researchers — the first to ask a large sample of airline pilots about their mental health — suggest that depressed pilots are reluctant to seek treatment for their depression for fear of being grounded or damaging their careers. (Healy, 12/15)

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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