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KHN First Edition: January 31, 2017


First Edition

Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Demand For Popular Short-Term Insurance Plans Could Surge If Health Law Is Relaxed
Michelle Andrews reports: "Short-term health plans have been around for decades, bridging coverage gaps for people who are between jobs or have recently graduated from school, among other things. After the health law passed, some people gravitated toward them because they were willing to trade comprehensive coverage for a cheaper sticker price — even if it meant paying a tax penalty for not having the comprehensive coverage required in the law. Sales increased. Now, as Republicans look for ways to weaken the health law’s coverage requirements and explore the possibility of not enforcing the requirement that people have health insurance, short-term plans may be poised to grow even more. If that happens, consumer advocates warn it could be bad for consumers." (Andrews, 1/31)

Kaiser Health News: Medicare’s Coverage Of Therapy Services Again Is In Center Of Court Dispute
Susan Jaffe reports: "Four years after Medicare officials agreed in a landmark court settlement that seniors cannot be denied coverage for physical therapy and other skilled care simply because their condition is not improving, patients are still being turned away. So federal officials and Medicare advocates have renewed their court battle, acknowledging that they cannot agree on a way to fix the problem. Earlier this month, each submitted ideas to the judge, who will decide — possibly within the next few months — what measures should be taken." (Jaffe, 1/30)

NPR: It's The Last Day To Sign Up For Obamacare
It's the last day to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. And at Whitman-Walker Health, a community health center near downtown Washington D.C., people have been streaming in looking for help choosing an insurance plan. Katie Nicol is a senior manager who oversees the five so-called navigators whose sole job is to help people sign up for insurance coverage. "We've been busy, you know, consumer after consumer all day," she said in an interview Monday. She expects to be busier Tuesday. (Kodjak, 1/31)

The Associated Press: Chair Says GOP Doesn't Want To Rush Health Care Overhaul
A leader of the Republican effort to revamp President Barack Obama's health care law says the message from GOP lawmakers at last week's private strategy session was for "a very deliberate, thoughtful approach." ... Texas GOP Rep. Kevin Brady chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. He says lawmakers told leaders: "Let's not rush. Let's get it right." (1/30)

The Associated Press: GOP Group's TV Ads Press House Members On Health Care Repeal
A political group that backs House Republican leaders is using a $1.3 million television ad campaign to press two dozen representatives to back GOP efforts to scuttle President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. And most of the lawmakers they're aiming at are Republicans. The 30-second spots are by the American Action Network. They come as Republicans struggle to unite behind a plan to replace Obama's law, nicknamed "Obamacare." (1/31)

Politico: Ad Campaign Pushes Obamacare Repeal
The commercials, from American Action Network, will target eight House Democrats, all of whom reside in districts that Trump won in November. “Rising premiums and deductibles. Washington intruding between doctors and patients. Expensive mandates that destroy jobs. Rick Nolan supports Obamacare, and Minnesota families are paying the price,” says the commercial targeting Nolan, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota’s Iron Range. “We deserve better.” (Isenstadt, 1/31)

Reuters: Medical Students, Faculty Rally To Try To Save Obamacare
Hundreds of medical students and faculty members gathered at Northwestern University's school of medicine in Chicago on Monday to voice their opposition to the dismantling of Obamacare. The demonstration was part of a larger White Coats for Coverage effort organized by medical students across the country and came a day before the annual deadline to enroll in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), former President Barack Obama's healthcare law. (1/30)

The Wall Street Journal: Rep. Tom Price Got Privileged, Discounted Offer On Biomedical Stock, Company Says
Rep. Tom Price got a privileged offer to buy a biomedical stock at a discount, the company’s officials said, contrary to his congressional testimony this month. The Georgia Republican tapped by President Donald Trump to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services testified in his Senate confirmation hearings on Jan. 18 and 24 that the discounted shares he bought in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., an Australian medical biotechnology company, “were available to every single individual that was an investor at the time.” (Grimaldi, 1/30)

USA Today: Trump Education Nominee Opposed By Special Ed Advocates
President Trump’s nominee for education secretary will likely get a thumbs-up on Tuesday from a Senate committee, advancing her nomination to the Senate floor. But Michigan billionaire and philanthropist Betsy DeVos faces fierce opposition from education and civil rights groups, many of whom have stood up to oppose her in just the past few days. ... Groups that advocate for students with disabilities, among others, oppose her confirmation, saying in a few cases that they doubt DeVos even understands the details of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the 1975 law that guarantees a “free appropriate public education” to disabled students. (Toppo, 1/30)

The New York Times: Questions Raised About Brain Centers Backed By Betsy DeVos
A group of brain performance centers backed by Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, promotes results that are nothing short of stunning: improvements reported by 91 percent of patients with depression, 90 percent with attention deficit disorder, 90 percent with anxiety. The treatment offered by Neurocore, a business in which Ms. DeVos and her husband, Dick, are the chief investors, consists of showing movies to patients and interrupting them when the viewers become distracted, in an effort to retrain their brains. ... But a review of Neurocore’s claims and interviews with medical experts suggest its conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable. (Fink, Eder and Goldstein, 1/30)

Reuters: Trump Set To Name U.S. High Court Pick As Democrats Plan Fight
President Donald Trump said he will announce his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as he looks to quickly put his stamp on the court by restoring its conservative majority, even as Democrats geared up for a Senate confirmation fight. Trump, set to fill the lingering vacancy on the nation's highest court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, said on Monday he will reveal his choice at the White House at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, two days earlier than previously planned. (1/30)

Modern Healthcare: Healthcare Industry Celebrates 'One-In, Two-Out' Executive Order Despite Unknowns 
Healthcare industry stakeholders are lauding President Donald Trump's latest executive order which requires executive departments or agencies to remove at least two previously implemented regulations for every new one issued. The order could have major ramifications for healthcare, one of the most regulated industries in the U.S. economy. Providers and vendors face a myriad of rules drafted by numerous agencies and departments, including the CMS, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. (Rubenfire, 1/30)

Reuters: Sanctuary City Funding Cuts Less Of A Concern Than Medicaid: Fitch
President Donald Trump's executive order last week to cut federal funding to self-proclaimed sanctuary cities would likely not result in an impact to cities' bond ratings, Fitch Ratings reported on Monday. Instead, a push to convert Medicaid to a block grant would likely result in a more significant effect on state and local government finances, Fitch noted. (Respaut, 1/30)

USA Today/The Memphis Commercial Appeal: Trump Ban Puts Cancer Patient's Family In Limbo
A native of Iran, Arina Yaghoubi, has battled leukemia since she was 14. While her disease was in remission, she left home to enter James Madison University in Virginia, only to have the disease return. Yaghoubi, 21, has been successfully treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, with her mother by her side for the last nine months and is now cancer free. But with the ban President Trump has placed on immigrants from certain Middle Eastern countries, her mother is afraid to go home and her father can't enter the United States. (Moore, 1/31)

The New York Times: Drug Makers Accused Of Fixing Prices On Insulin
A lawsuit filed Monday accused three makers of insulin of conspiring to drive up the prices of their lifesaving drugs, harming patients who were being asked to pay for a growing share of their drug bills. The price of insulin has skyrocketed in recent years, with the three manufacturers — Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly — raising the list prices of their products in near lock step, prompting outcry from patient groups and doctors who have pointed out that the rising prices appear to have little to do with increased production costs. (Thomas, 1/30)

The Washington Post: Diabetes Patients Sue Insulin Makers For ‘Pricing Fraud’
The insulin market is dominated by an oligopoly of companies that sell many billions of dollars worth of insulin each year — and have steadily raised the list prices of their drugs. A version of insulin called Humalog launched two decades ago with a sticker price of $21 a vial and has increased to $255 a vial. Meanwhile, competition has appeared to work in a perverse way, with list prices of competing insulins often rising in concert. Last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) asked for a federal investigation into “possible collusion” on insulin prices. (Johnson, 1/30)

NPR: Veterans Choice Act Not Helping Staffing Or Wait Time Problems At VA Hospitals
Before they get to work on reforming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Congress and the White House might want to take a closer look at the last time they tried it – a $16 billion dollar fix called the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, designed to get veterans medical care more quickly. NPR and local member stations have been following that money – including the $10 billion dollars for vets to get care outside the VA system. The Choice Act also channeled about $2.5 billion for hiring more doctors, nurses and other medical staff at VA medical centers. (Walsh, Murphy, Bisaha and Lawrence, 1/31)

The Washington Post: Telemedicine Gains Popularity In Schools, Connects Ailing Students With Doctors
Telemedicine, increasingly used in prisons, nursing homes and remote areas, is becoming more common in schools. According to the American Telemedicine Association, at least 18 states authorize Medicaid reimbursement for telemedicine services provided in schools. In addition, 28 states and the District require private insurers to cover telemedicine appointments as they would face-to-face doctor visits. (Ollove, 1/30)

NPR: A Pinworm Drug Gains Interest As A Potential Cancer Treatment
Cancer researchers are testing whether a generic drug that has been used for more than 40 years to treat parasitic infections may also help fight cancer. The tests of mebendazole are part of a growing effort to take a fresh look at old medicines to see if they can be repurposed for new uses. (Aubrey, 1/30)

Reuters: Healthy Babies Don’t Need Apps To Monitor Vital Signs
Smartphone applications paired with sensors to monitor babies’ vital signs may appeal to parents anxious to make sure infants sleep safely through the night, but there’s no medical evidence proving that these products work, a new paper suggests. These apps — linked to sensors in babies’ socks, onesies, leg bands and diaper clips — are marketed as tools to help parents keep tabs on breathing, pulse rate and oxygen levels in the blood and to sound alarms when infants are in distress. But they aren’t tested or approved for U.S. sale, as medical devices are, and there’s little evidence to suggest these monitors are safe or effective, said Christopher Bonafide, lead author of the opinion piece in JAMA. (1/30)

The Washington Post: She Had A Stroke When She Was 20, But A Nurse Thought She Was Faking
An emergency room nurse took one look at Sarah Porter — an athletic sophomore at the University of Maine — and diagnosed her as faking a stoke. Porter hadn’t uttered the word “stroke,” so it was terrifying when the nurse told her, “No one your age in good health has a stroke. You’re just trying to avoid taking your finals.” Porter tried to respond. But she couldn’t: “There was a disconnect between what was in my head and what was coming out in my speech.” That’s because she wasn’t faking. (Hallett, 1/30)

The Washington Post: Washington’s Worst Case Of Lead Poisoning In Decades Happened In A Home Sanctioned By Housing Officials
Another morning in the motel room, and there were more appointments to attend to. Today it wouldn’t be the blood tests, which weeks before had established Heavenz Luster’s lead levels as higher than anything seen in Washington in decades, or another injection to remove that lead — she had already had 18 — or another cognitive evaluation or visit to a nearby CVS pharmacy for more medication. Today it would be the behavioral therapists. Her parents, who silently watched the 2-year-old babble and stare at nothing, would finally know the severity of her brain damage. (McCoy, 1/30)

The Associated Press: Firm Seeks Dismissal Of Fed Watchdog’s Lead-Paint Lawsuit
A Chevy Chase financial firm and a Rockville lawyer are asking a judge to dismiss federal allegations that they bilked scores of lead-paint poisoning victims out of the full value of their damage settlements. Lawyers for Access Funding LLC and attorney Charles Smith filed the motions Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The company says the case involves issues of state law already being litigated in state court. (1/30)

The Associated Press: Minnesota’s Medical Marijuana Program Needs More Money
Minnesota’s medical marijuana program needs extra state funding to cover the costs of its patient database and inspections of drug manufacturers, just a few of the regulations that make it one of the most restrictive such laws in the country. It’s the latest reminder of the financial constraints on the program borne from the heavy restrictions on Minnesota’s 2014 law. (Potter, 1/30)

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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