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KHN First Edition: January 24, 2017


First Edition

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

California Healthline: One GOP Plan Says States That Like Their Obamacare Can Keep It
Chad Terhune and Pauline Bartolone report: "California and other states could keep their federally funded insurance exchange with consumer protections intact under a proposal unveiled Monday by two Republican U.S. Senators.Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said their proposed legislation would allow states that embraced the Affordable Care Act to keep operating under many of the current federal rules." (Terhune and Bartolone, 1/24)

Kaiser Health News: In A Liberal Pocket, Assisted Living Residents Fear Obamacare’s Death
JoNel Aleccia reports: "From an upscale assisted living center here, 87-year-old Brendan Wall has some advice for members of Congress eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Slow down. “They haven’t said what they’re going to replace it with or how they’re going to replace it,” said Wall, who taught philosophy and religion for more than 30 years." (Aleccia, 1/24)

The Washington Post: HHS Nominee’s Mix Of Investments, Donations, Legislation Keeps Raising Questions
Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican nominated by President Trump to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, is under increasing scrutiny for a trifecta of financial, campaign and legislative activities that some longtime ethics lawyers describe as “extremely rare” and revealing “an extraordinary lack of good judgment.” In recent years, Price has repeatedly traded stock in dozens of health-related companies while pushing bills that could have benefited many of them. At the same time, he has been uncommonly reliant on campaign contributions from the health-care industry, accepting more than $700,000 from physicians, hospitals, drug companies and insurers during his 2016 run for a seventh congressional term, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (Kindy and Goldstein, 1/23)

Politico: Price To Face Grilling On Trump's Order To Weaken Obamacare
Tuesday's hearing marks the second major test in a week for Price, who struggled at last week’s hearing to offer a clear blueprint for replacing Obamacare. Questioned by both Democrats and Republicans about his preferred replacement, he demurred, calling it a "legislative question" rather than an administrative one he'd handle as HHS secretary. At the same time, though, he assured lawmakers that the 20 million Americans insured through Obamacare wouldn’t lose coverage — a promise that could be hard to keep if Trump’s administration starts dismantling the law before Congress has readied a replacement plan. (Cancryn, 1/24)

The Associated Press: 2 GOP Senators Would Let States Keep Obama Health Law
The plan by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine would retreat from years of GOP cries to repeal Obama's law and replace it with a still undefined Republican alternative. It comes as GOP lawmakers face pressure from President Donald Trump to quickly void and replace the health law and as Republicans continue hunting for a proposal that would unite them. "It has been a Republican principle that power is best held by individuals and states, not the federal government," Cassidy told reporters. (1/23)

USA Today: GOP Senators Outline First Obamacare Replacement Plan
The Senate’s top Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, blasted the GOP plan as unworkable and an “empty façade” that would create chaos in the marketplace. “Millions of Americans would be kicked off their plans, out-of-pocket costs and deductibles for consumers would skyrocket, employer-based coverage for working families would be disrupted, and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, would be gutted,” Schumer said. “It is nearly impossible to keep the benefits of the Affordable Care Act without keeping the whole thing.” (Shesgreen, 1/23)

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Senators Propose Health Law Replacement That Lets States Opt Out
But Ms. Collins and Mr. Cassidy argued that theirs is the only approach with a chance of attracting support not only from Republicans but from the handful of Democrats needed to enact a complete ACA replacement. “At some point in this process, we’re going to need a bill that would get 60 votes, OK?” Mr. Cassidy said. “Now, if you can say to a blue-state senator who’s really invested in supporting Obamacare, ‘You can keep Obamacare, but why force it upon us?’, we think that helps us get to 60.” (Radnofsky and Hughes, 1/23)

The Washington Post: GOP Senators Pitch Plan That Would Let Some States Keep Obamacare
The proposal is one of many GOP-written alternatives expected to be released in coming weeks as the party scrambles to avoid criticism for repealing the ACA without a viable replacement. Many of the proposals include similar elements, such as shifting the burden of administering insurance coverage to states through block-grant-style funding, and an emphasis on individual health savings accounts. The true test of any of these plans will be how they are received by President Trump, who has said he wants to see insurance for everyone. (Snell, 1/23)

The Associated Press: Trump Can Do Plenty On His Own To Unravel Obama Health Law
President Donald Trump can do plenty on his own to unravel the Obama health care law, but some of those actions would create disruptions that undermine his administration's early promises. Other less sweeping steps could open the way for big changes, but might not get as much notice. Suspending enforcement of tax penalties on people who remain uninsured would win Trump immediate cheers from the political right for taking down a widely unpopular requirement. But experts say it would destabilize insurance markets by allowing healthy people to opt out, raising costs for taxpayers and remaining consumers. (1/23)

Politico: Trump’s Obamacare Order Throws ‘Curveball’ Into Enrollment Push 
Tens of thousands of consumers are inundating Obamacare call centers nationwide with questions about whether they can still sign up for insurance, or if their coverage will continue under President Donald Trump. With only eight days left to sign up for 2017 plans, many consumers — not to mention, insurers and brokers — were stunned and confused by Trump’s order Friday night encouraging federal agencies to dismantle parts of the law even before Congress repeals it. By authorizing agencies to roll back some provisions of the law — but not requiring them to do so — the order added to the uncertainty of already jittery consumers and insurers. (Colliver, 1/24)

The Washington Post: The Rush To Get Millennials Health Insurance Before The Possible Repeal Of Obamacare
The outreach workers joined the line at a Michael “Air” Jordan shoe launch. They went to Denny’s after the District’s clubs had closed. They hung out at happy hours with $4 drinks and $7 bar food, laundromats, gyms, and Sunday brunches. This month, as Republicans in Congress moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and President Trump signed an executive order weakening its provisions, D.C. health insurance exchange officials were rushing to sign up millennials before the open enrollment period ends Jan. 31. (Brown, 1/23)

Politico: GOP Split Over Medicaid Imperils Obamacare Plans
Top GOP lawmakers and President Donald Trump are coalescing around a plan to turn Medicaid over to the states as part of their Obamacare replacement. But the push is already driving a wedge between congressional Republicans and could gum up the repeal process altogether. (Everett, Bade and Pradhan, 1/23)

NPR: Repealing Obamacare Threatens Health Benefit To Black Lung Survivors
The Affordable Care Act includes special provisions that make the process of getting black lung benefits easier for coal miners. If the ACA is repealed, gaining these benefits could become much more difficult, effectively harming a group of people that President Donald Trump has promised to protect. (Lofton, 1/24)

Reuters: U.S. Fund Managers Betting Trump Fails To Rewrite Obamacare
Some prominent U.S. fund managers are betting that former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law will not undergo the widespread changes that President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail. Portfolio managers from Fidelity, Gamco, Thornburg and other large firms say they see the broad outlines of the Affordable Care Act - commonly known as Obamacare - remaining intact despite Trump's signing of an executive order on Friday, his first day in office, that sought to weaken it. (Randall, 1/24)

The New York Times: Trump Revives Ban On Foreign Aid To Groups That Give Abortion Counseling
President Trump reinstated a policy on Monday that originated in the Reagan era, prohibiting the granting of American foreign aid to health providers abroad who discuss abortion as a family-planning option. United States law already prohibits the use of American taxpayer dollars for abortion services anywhere, including in countries where the procedure is legal. But Mr. Trump’s order takes the prohibition further: It freezes funding to nongovernmental organizations in poor countries if they offer abortion counseling or if they advocate the right to seek abortion in their countries. (Sengupta, 1/23)

The Washington Post: Trump Reverses Abortion-Related U.S. Policy, Bans Funding To International Health Groups
The move drew immediate denunciations from family-planning groups and their Democratic allies and praise from pro-life officials and Republicans. Since its inception in 1984, the funding ban — officially known as the “Mexico City policy” and referred to as “the global gag rule” by its critics — has been repealed and reinstated every time a different political party has assumed power in the White House. (McGinley and Goldstein, 1/23)

The Associated Press: Marking Roe Anniversary, Abortion Foes Pin Hopes On Trump
Abortion opponents expressed optimism Monday that President Donald Trump's early months in office would advance their cause as hundreds converged on the Kansas Statehouse to mark the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Trump, inaugurated Friday, has promised to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with what he has called a "pro-life" justice and has said he would sign anti-abortion measures approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. (1/23)

The Associated Press: Federal Judge Swats Aetna-Humana Insurer Combo
U.S. District Judge John Bates said in an opinion filed Monday that federal regulation would probably be "insufficient to prevent the merged firm from raising prices or reducing benefits," and neither new competitors nor an Aetna plan to sell some of the combined company's business to another insurer, Molina Healthcare Inc., would be enough to ease competitive concerns. (1/23)

USA Today: Aetna-Humana $37B Merger Blocked Over Fear It Would Harm Consumers
Although the antitrust decision can be appealed, the outcome could have significant ramifications on how older Americans purchase government Medicare and private Medicare Advantage coverage in the rapidly changing U.S. healthcare market, as well as on the options available to individuals who don't have employer coverage. (McCoy, 1/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Federal Judge Blocks Aetna-Humana Merger On Antitrust Grounds
The government’s challenge to the merger was among the last major law-enforcement actions taken by Obama administration antitrust officials. The administration also challenged Anthem Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Cigna Corp., and a ruling in that case is expected any day. Together the deals could have transformed an industry already facing uncertainty from Republican plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and replace it with another health-care plan. (Kendall and Wilde Matthews, 1/23)

The Washington Post: CDC Abruptly Cancels Long-Planned Conference On Climate Change And Health
With little warning or explanation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently canceled a major climate change conference that had been scheduled for next month in Atlanta. The Climate and Health Summit, which had been in the works for months, was intended as a chance for public health officials around the country to learn more about the mounting evidence of the risks to human health posed by the changing climate. But CDC officials abruptly canceled the conference before President Trump’s inauguration, sending a terse email on Jan. 9 to those who had been scheduled to speak at the event. The message did not explain the reason behind the decision. (Dennis, 1/23)

NPR: Opioid Abuse In Rural Colorado On The Rise Via Social Webs
A doctor handed Melissa Morris her first opioid prescription when she was 20 years old. She'd had a cesarean section to deliver her daughter and was sent home with Percocet to relieve post-surgical pain. On an empty stomach, she took one pill and lay down on her bed. "I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, my God. Is this legal? How can this feel so good?' " Morris recalls. (Runyon, 1/23)

The Washington Post: The Horrifying Way Some Drug Addicts Are Now Getting Their Fix
It was the third time Heather Pereira had taken her golden retriever to the same neighborhood animal clinic in Kentucky. ... Police said Pereira had been intentionally wounding her dog and “vet shopping,” visiting vet after vet to obtain prescription medication for her pet, then taking it. Although these cases appear uncommon, authorities say they underscore the nation's widespread opioid epidemic, showing the lengths people go to obtain drugs for personal use or for sale on the street. They also say it's a concern — one they want to get ahead of. (Bever, 1/23)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2017 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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