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KHN First Edition: December 14, 2016


First Edition

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: COBRA, Retiree Plans, VA Benefits Don’t Alleviate Need To Sign Up For Medicare
Thousands of seniors unwittingly make similar mistakes every year, believing that because they have some type of health insurance, they don’t have to worry about signing up for Medicare Part B. Generally, insurance other than that provided by a current employer will not exempt them from Medicare’s strict enrollment requirements. Seniors’ advocates and some members of Congress want to fix the problem, backed by a broad, unlikely group of unions, health insurers, patient organizations, health care providers and even eight former Medicare administrators. (Jaffe, 12/14)

California Healthline: How Would Repeal Of The ACA Affect Californians’ Health Coverage?
In almost every county across California, regardless of its political leaning, at least one in ten people has health coverage because of Obamacare. And in some counties, almost one fifth of the population is eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, either through the expansion of Medi-Cal or Covered California, the state-run health insurance marketplace that offers subsidized private coverage. (Bartolone and Zuraw, 12/14)

USA Today: Obama Signs $6.3 Billion Law For Cancer Research, Drug Treatment
President Obama signed a $6.3 billion bill to fund drug treatment, a precision medicine initiative and Vice President Biden's signature effort to "end cancer as we know it." In an emotional bill signing ceremony — likely the last one of this presidency — Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act in a White House auditorium. The signing brought full circle Obama's State of the Union challenge to Congress to "surprise the cynics" by tackling some of the biggest health priorities facing the country. (Korte, 12/13)

The Associated Press: Obama Signs Bill Boosting Spending On Cancer Research
On a "bittersweet day" that brought back memories of loved ones lost, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that makes new investments in cancer research and battling drug abuse. Obama signed the bill Tuesday at a ceremony on the White House campus flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and key lawmakers from both parties. ... The 21st Century Cures Act invests $1.8 billion for a cancer research "moonshot" that is strongly supported by Biden. The vice president's son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015. (Freking, 12/13)

USA Today: White House Moves Quickly To Release Opioid Money
With $500 million in hand to fight the opioid epidemic, White House officials are moving quickly to get that money flowing to the hardest-hit states—and pushing local officials to spend the new dollars on treatment above other addiction-related initiatives. (Shesgreen, 12/13)

CNBC: Obamacare Report Card Claims Next Year's Higher Premiums Are 'One-Time Adjustment'
The Obama administration on Tuesday released a wide-ranging, positive report card on the Affordable Care Act, describing how Obamacare has driven down the rate of people without health insurance "to its lowest level in history," increased financial security and access for consumers who seek medical care, and bent the cost-curve of health-care spending. (Mangan, 12/13)

The Hill: White House Report Makes Case Against ObamaCare Repeal
The White House’s top economists released a sweeping report Tuesday warning of “profound implications” for a majority of Americans if ObamaCare is repealed and replaced. The report, dubbed “the economic record” of President Obama’s healthcare reforms, marks the administration's most public effort since the presidential election to pressure Republicans into keeping parts of the law in place. (Ferris, 12/13)

Vox: Why Obamacare Enrollees Voted For Trump
I spent last week in southeastern Kentucky talking to Obamacare enrollees, all of whom supported Trump in the election, trying to understand how the health care law factored into their decisions. Many expressed frustration that Obamacare plans cost way too much, that premiums and deductibles had spiraled out of control. And part of their anger was wrapped up in the idea that other people were getting even better, even cheaper benefits — and those other people did not deserve the help. (Kliff, 12/13)

The New York Times: Extensive Brain Defects Seen In Babies Of Mothers With Zika
Babies born to Zika-infected mothers are highly likely to have brain damage, even in the absence of obvious abnormalities like small heads, and the virus may go on replicating in their brains well after birth, according to three studies published Tuesday. Many types of brain damage were seen in the studies, including dead spots and empty spaces in the brain, cataracts and congenital deafness. There were, however, large differences among these studies in how likely it was that a child would be hurt by the infection. (McNeil and Belluck, 12/13)

The Washington Post: Ohio Governor Vetoes ‘Heartbeat Bill’ But Signs Another Abortion Restriction Into Law
Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday vetoed a controversial bill that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy but signed a measure prohibiting the procedure later in pregnancy. The measure the Republican governor rejected would have barred a woman from obtaining an abortion if a fetal heartbeat could be detected. The legislature passed the measure last week even though it conflicts with Supreme Court decisions upholding the right to abortion at least until the point at which the fetus is viable. The bill he signed, banning the procedure at 20 weeks of pregnancy, may run afoul of these rulings, because viability is generally interpreted to be around 24 weeks. (Somashekhar, 12/13)

NPR: Ohio Gov. Kasich Signs 20-Week Abortion Limit, Rejects 'Heartbeat Bill'
The so-called heartbeat bill, which Kasich rejected, was considered more vulnerable to legal challenge. Provisions of the measure would have essentially limited the period during which women could get an abortion to about six weeks, when many women don't even realize they're pregnant, reports the Associated Press. Similar measures have faced legal challenges in other states, the news service goes on to say, a fact weighing heavily in Kasich's veto defense. Kasich, himself an abortion-rights opponent, noted bans in two other states had been declared unconstitutional. (Slotkin, 12/13)

The Washington Post: Oklahoma Abortion Restrictions Blocked
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday permanently blocked a state law that would have required abortion providers to have special relationships with hospitals, in continuing fallout from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year striking down a similar provision in Texas. The Oklahoma measure, passed in 2014, required a physician to have so-called admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where he or she was performing an abortion. (Somashekhar, 12/13)

The Associated Press: Oklahoma Court Tosses Abortion Law On Hospital Privileges
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, saying efforts to portray the measure as protecting women's health are a "guise." The law would require a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles be present for any abortion. The court found it violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down a similar provision in Texas. (Miller, 12/13)

The Associated Press: Oklahoma May Require Restroom Signs In Anti-Abortion Effort
Oklahoma plans to force hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state. ... The provision for the signs was tucked into a law that the Legislature passed this year that requires the state to develop informational material "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society." The signs must be posted by January 2018. (Murphy, 12/13)

The Associated Press: Federal Judge Asked To Block Part Of Florida Abortion Law
A sweeping abortion law passed by Florida legislators this year — parts of which have already been struck down by the courts — is being challenged yet again. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a lawsuit late Monday on behalf of several ministers, rabbis and organizations that provide abortion counseling services to women. The lawsuit filed in a federal court in Tallahassee contends that the law violates constitutional rights by requiring groups to register with the state and pay a fee if they advise or help women seek abortions. The lawsuit also challenges a provision already in state law that requires groups to tell women about alternatives to abortion. (Fineout, 12/13)

The Washington Post: Texas State Booklet Misleads Women On Abortions And Their Risk Of Breast Cancer
“A Woman’s Right to Know” is an informed-consent booklet for pregnant women, mandated by a 2003 state law in Texas. The Texas Department of Health Services published a revised version of this booklet in 2016, replacing the one that had been used since 2003. A reader pointed us to this blurb, included under the heading “Breast Cancer Risk,” in a section about the risks of getting an abortion. According to this booklet, there is research showing that having an abortion “will not provide” women the “increased protection against breast cancer.” What does the research say? (Ye Hee Lee, 12/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Eli Lilly Offers Discount For Insulin As Prices Soar
Eli Lilly & Co. said Tuesday it would discount the list prices of its insulin brands by as much as 40% for uninsured patients and others paying for the drugs largely out-of-pocket, following an outcry over soaring prices of diabetes treatments sold by Lilly and its competitors. The price concession, intended for patients who currently pay the highest of out-of-pocket costs, is the latest sign that some drugmakers are bowing to public pressure to rein in prices. (Loftus and Jamerson, 12/13)

The Washington Post: After Years Of Price Hikes, Eli Lilly Announces A Discount On Insulin
Under pressure from politicians and patient groups, diabetes pharmaceutical giants have been taking action in recent weeks to limit the effect of rising insulin prices on patients. On Tuesday, Eli Lilly and Co. announced that, starting in January, patients who pay full retail price for insulin will be able to access a 40 percent discount. ... The Eli Lilly discount program will only help people without insurance or who are in the high-deductible phase of a health plan. But the action is part of a widening public discussion among drug companies in response to scrutiny of its pricing policies. (Johnson, 12/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Judge Takes Aim At Anthem’s Defense Of Cigna Deal
A federal judge put a lawyer for Anthem Inc. on the hot seat Tuesday, probing potential weaknesses in the insurer’s argument that its proposed acquisition of Cigna Corp. wouldn’t harm competition. ... Phase one of the two-part trial, focusing on whether the deal would harm large national employers, ended Tuesday. The judge brought in lawyers from both sides to pepper them with questions about the evidence they have presented so far. While both sides at times faced tough questions, Anthem appeared to have the rockier ride. (Kendall, 12/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Sanofi Is In Talks For Deal With Actelion Pharmaceuticals
French drug giant Sanofi SA is in talks for a deal with Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson abandoned its pursuit of the Swiss drug company. It’s not clear what price Sanofi is discussing paying or what structure is envisioned, but people familiar with the matter have said a deal could value Actelion at as much as $30 billion. (Mattioli and Rockoff, 12/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump’s Pledge To Loosen Regulations On Businesses Is A Heavy Lift
Mr. Trump has said his administration will take aim at regulations across industries, and he will be backed by congressional Republicans eager to undo some of the more controversial Obama administration initiatives. Big targets include power-plant regulations and regulatory rules imposed on banks and financial institutions after the financial crisis of 2008, though the effort will also reach deep into the federal bureaucracy to include rules involving labor, telecommunications and health care. (Harder and Tracy, 12/14)

Chicago Tribune: Quest Data Breach Exposes Private Health Information Of 34,000 Patients
Quest Diagnostics Inc., a lab services company, is investigating an online data breach that exposed the test results and other personal information of 34,000 patients nationwide. The New Jersey-based company announced Monday that an "unauthorized third party" hacked into the MyQuest patient portal Nov. 26, accessing protected health information including name, date of birth, lab results and in some cases, phone numbers. It said the breach did not include Social Security numbers or credit card, insurance or other financial information. (Channick, 12/13)

The Washington Post: Where Opiates Killed The Most People In 2015
More than 33,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States last year. But speaking of an “opiate epidemic” is in some ways a misnomer. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the country is in fact dealing with multiple opioid epidemics right now — each with a distinct geographic footprint. (Ingraham, 12/13)

USA Today: 4 Million Americans Could Be Drinking Toxic Water And Would Never Know
Tiny utilities - those serving only a few thousand people or less - don’t have to treat water to prevent lead contamination until after lead is found. Even when they skip safety tests or fail to treat water after they find lead, federal and state regulators often do not force them to comply with the law. USA TODAY Network journalists spent 2016 reviewing millions of records from the Environmental Protection Agency and all 50 states, visiting small communities across the country and interviewing more than 120 people stuck using untested or lead-tainted tap water. (Ungar and Nichols, 12/12)

NPR: Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis A Year Later: Unfiltered Water Still Unsafe
A year ago, Flint, Mich., Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency because of lead-contaminated drinking water, attracting national outrage and sympathy, and millions of gallons of donated water. But a year later donations have slowed to a trickle, and little has changed — unfiltered water here is still unsafe to drink. (Carmody, 12/14)

The New York Times: Reversing Course, E.P.A. Says Fracking Can Contaminate Drinking Water
The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing, the oil and gas extraction technique also known as fracking, has contaminated drinking water in some circumstances, according to the final version of a comprehensive study first issued in 2015. The new version is far more worrying than the first, which found “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water” supplies. In a significant change, that conclusion was deleted from the final study. (Davenport, 12/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Fracking Can Taint Drinking Water, EPA Report Finds
Fracking can affect drinking water supplies in certain circumstances, the Obama administration said in a long-awaited report issued Tuesday, leaving open the possibility of more widespread impacts that it says can’t be determined with current data. The report, written by Environmental Protection Agency scientists, includes findings that are more open-ended than those in a draft version last year, when the agency said fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, isn’t having “widespread, systematic impacts on drinking water.” (Harder, 12/13)

The Washington Post: ‘Everybody Outside Of The Top Is Suffering’: How Stress Is Harming America’s Health
The stresses of poverty in the United States have grown so intense that they are harming the health of lower-income Americans — even prematurely leading to their death. A report published Monday by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution finds that stress levels have greatly increased for Americans at all income levels since the 1970s, but especially for low-income groups, as the chart below shows. (Swanson, 12/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Canada Task Force Offers Road Map For Pot Legalization
A panel led by Canada’s former attorney general has offered more than 80 recommendations on how Canada could become the largest developed-world country to legalize marijuana, arguing the current setup has allowed criminal organizations to profit and flourish. ... Canada’s pivot on marijuana is being watched closely by advocates for liberalized use.“ Canada’s move could be the shot heard around the world in terms of changing marijuana policy globally,” said Erik Altieri, national director of Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law. (Vieira, 12/13)

The Wall Street Journal: E-Cigarette Use Falls Among Teens
E-cigarette use among teens dropped in 2016, reversing an upward trend that had prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to recommend increased regulation and taxation. Among high-school seniors, 12% this year said they had used e-cigarettes in the past month compared with 16% in 2015, according to the National Institutes of Health’s annual Monitoring the Future survey. (Maloney, 12/13)

The New York Times: Back On Her Feet At 85, Thanks To A Chair - The New York Times
In the middle of Marilyn Oshman’s otherwise cozy apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, between an antique candelabra, flower-covered curtains and framed family photos, was a hospital bed.“I was dying,” Mrs. Oshman, 85, said. “I felt like I was in a prison in that lousy hospital bed. I couldn’t get out.” (Levine, 12/13)

The New York Times: An N.F.L. Executive, Honoring His Lost Sister, Speaks Out About Anorexia
Paraag Marathe’s structured, analytical mind has served him well in the offices of Silicon Valley and the National Football League. He figured that he could lean on those traits the first time he spoke publicly about his sister, Shilpa, and how anorexia had taken her life. But composure failed Marathe in 2011, six years after Shilpa’s death, while he spoke to survivors and grieving family members at an event for Andrea’s Voice, a nonprofit foundation that tries to promote education about eating disorders and their treatments. (Barber, 12/13)

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