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KHN First Edition: February 1, 2017

KHN

First Edition

Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Democrats Say Cabinet Choice Tom Price ‘Misled’ The Public. Here’s What We Know.
Christina Jewett reports: "A key committee vote on Health and Human Services cabinet nominee, Rep. Tom Price, stalled Tuesday amid charges from Senate Democrats that he has misled the public about issues in his financial background. Democrats are demanding fuller explanations, and Republicans are vowing to break the committee impasse. Here are some of the issues still swirling around Price." (Jewett, 2/1)

California Healthline: Renewed Cleaning Efforts For Scopes Not Enough To Vanquish Bacteria
Chad Terhune reports: "Rigorous cleaning practices don’t ensure that medical scopes are free of contamination, and many of these reusable devices have scratches and dents that could harbor blood, tissue and bacteria, a new study found. The seven-month study, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Infection Control, found that 12 of 20 gastroscopes and colonoscopes examined tested positive for bacterial growth, even after being disinfected using the current guidelines or additional measures." (Terhune, 1/31)

The Washington Post: Trump Calls For Lower Drug Prices, Fewer Regulations In Meeting With Pharmaceutical Executives
President Trump met with leaders of some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies Tuesday and emphasized the need to lower “astronomical” drug prices, decrease regulations and bring more drug manufacturing into the United States. Trump offered no specific policies, but mentioned increasing competition and “bidding wars” as a way to bring down prices. In the past, he has lashed out at the pharmaceutical industry for “getting away with murder” and threatened to use the government’s bargaining power to force down drug prices for programs like Medicare. (Johnson, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Tells Pharmaceutical CEOs He Wants Prices Down
Trump on Tuesday told pharmaceutical executives that he wanted them to bring drug prices “way down,” but he promised he would curb regulations and lower tax rates to boost their competitiveness. At a White House meeting, Mr. Trump said Medicare and Medicaid are spending too much money on drugs, and he said in many cases these programs don’t have enough bargaining power when they are purchasing drugs. “We have to get the prices way down,” Mr. Trump told the executives. (Paletta, Burton and Rockoff, 1/31)

Politico: Trump Tells Drugmakers He'll Tackle Prices
Trump appeared to reiterate his support for drug negotiations. He contended that drugmakers need to face increased competition and bidding. Yet he appeared to suggest that Medicare, which is banned from negotiating with drugmakers, is hurting competition. "I'll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing a product to a vibrantly competitive market," he said. "That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare, which is what's happening. But we can increase competition and bidding wars big time — we have to — into that program." Trump also said he plans to work on global trade and tax policy that could benefit U.S. drugmakers. (Karlin-Smith and McCaskill, 1/31)

Reuters: Trump Pushes Drugmakers For Lower Prices, More U.S. Production
The meeting between Trump and the pharmaceutical executives signalled a defusing of tensions that have kept drug stock prices in check since the presidential election. Shares of most of the group rallied on Tuesday following the meeting, even as the broader stock market slid. (1/31)

USA Today: Bernie Sanders Seeks Trump's Support In Cutting Drug Costs
Within the last 24 hours, Sen. Bernie Sanders has called President Trump’s behavior “delusional,” “dangerous” and “unconstitutional.” But the Vermont independent also says he wants to work with Trump – “if he is serious about standing up to the pharmaceutical industry and reducing drug prices.” Following Trump’s Tuesday meeting with drugmakers, Sanders announced he will soon introduce legislation to lower prescription drug prices and said he hoped Trump would support that effort. (Gaudiano, 1/31)

The New York Times: Democrats Skip Votes, Delaying Confirmation Of Trump Nominees
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee sought to stall the confirmations of Steven Mnuchin and Tom Price, President Trump’s picks for Treasury secretary and secretary of health and human services, by refusing to attend scheduled votes on Tuesday. (Rappeport and Lichtblau, 1/31)

USA Today: Senate Democrats Block Two Trump Cabinet Picks By Boycotting Vote
The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on both candidates Tuesday. But Democrats on that panel--in a boycott organized by Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ron Wyden of Oregon--refused to attend the meeting, thus denying Republicans a quorum and preventing the votes from occurring. (Shesgreen, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Democrats Delay Votes For Donald Trump’s Cabinet Picks
The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said he was acting because of a Wall Street Journal article that contradicted testimony Mr. Price gave last week. The article, published Monday, said Mr. Price had participated in a private stock offering open to fewer than 20 individuals after hearing about the offering from Rep. Chris Collins, who sits on the board of the company. In a hearing last week and on several other occasions, Mr. Price said the stock offering was open to all investors in the company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, which is developing a drug for multiple sclerosis. “The evidence is the company is directly contradicting Congressman Price, indicating that he didn’t tell the truth and he misled the Congress, and he misled the American people,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said Tuesday. (Timiraos, Hughes and Grimaldi, 1/31)

The Washington Post: Democrats Block Confirmation Votes For Sessions, Price And Mnuchin
Democrats alone lack the votes needed to block any of Trump’s nominees from taking office — and there are no signs of Republican opposition to any of his picks. In fact, Republicans lashed out at Democrats for what they described as partisan, obstructionist moves. “It is time to get over the fact that they lost the election,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “The president is entitled to have his Cabinet appointments considered. None of this is going to lead to a different outcome.” That did nothing to tamp down enthusiasm among liberal activists and some Democratic lawmakers to mount a fierce resistance to Trump’s priorities. (O'Keefe, Sullivan and Snell, 1/31)

The Associated Press: Democrats Force Delays In Votes On 3 Cabinet Nominees
The tactic infuriated Republicans, even though the GOP boycotted a committee vote on Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 when Democrats ran the Senate. "They ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots," said committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Are they that bitter about Donald Trump? The answer has to be yes." (1/31)

The Associated Press: Conservative Gorsuch Emulates Scalia Minus The Rough Edges
If confirmed by the Senate to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch would fill the seat of the man he seeks to emulate as a judge. He would be the first justice to serve alongside a colleague for whom he worked. Gorsuch described his former boss, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Tuesday as one of the judges who brought him up in the law. ... While abortion rights groups immediately criticized the nomination, Rosen said Gorsuch's record on the issue is sparse. In a book Gorsuch wrote laying out the case against assisted suicide and euthanasia, Rosen said, Gorsuch was careful to avoid making a religious case for his views, focusing instead on philosophy. "He has been careful not to say what he thinks about abortion or marriage equality," Rosen said. (2/1)

The Washington Post: Trump Picks Colo. Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch For Supreme Court
Gorsuch has not ruled on abortion. But activists on both sides of the issue believe they know where he stands. They point to language in his book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” in which he opines that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Additionally, his rulings on behalf of those who challenged the Obamacare mandate that employee insurance coverage provide all approved contraceptives seemed instructive. He noted the provision would require the objecting businesses to “underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.” (Barnes, 1/31)

Los Angeles Times: Neil Gorsuch Could Fall Somewhere Between His Hero, Justice Scalia, And Former Boss, Centrist Justice Kennedy
If Gorsuch replaces Scalia, a fierce critic of Roe vs. Wade and a reliable conservative vote, it would likely preserve the court’s previous ideological balance, with Kennedy holding the deciding vote in the most divisive cases. The real tipping point on the court could come if Kennedy or Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer depart, giving conservatives, including the court’s conservatives, an opportunity to overturn the abortion right and other liberal precedents. (Savage, 1/31)

Politico: Gorsuch Pick Affirms Trump Vow To Pick 'Pro-Life' Justice
The choice of Gorsuch for the Supreme Court was immediately praised by anti-abortion groups and chastised by supporters of abortion rights. “President Trump has kept his promise to nominate only pro-life judges to the Supreme Court,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “Judge Gorsuch is a distinguished jurist with a strong record of protecting life and religious liberty, as evidenced by his opinions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, and in his doctoral dissertation in which he wrote that ‘human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable.’” House Speaker Paul Ryan called him a "phenomenal nominee" in part because of his "strong commitment to life." (Haberkorn, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Amid Political Rancor, ACA Sign-Up Deadline Arrives
Last-minute sign-ups for coverage under the Affordable Care Act continued across the country Tuesday as Senate Democrats stalled the confirmation of a new health and human services secretary expected to take a leading role in unwinding the 2010 law. ... The “open enrollment” season for 2017 coverage bookended the tumultuous presidential transition. It began a week before Election Day delivered sweeping victories to Republicans promising to overturn the health law they dub Obamacare, and it was set to finish 11 days after Democrats relinquished control of a government tasked with implementing the law. (Radnofsky, 1/31)

Politico: With Less Fanfare, Obamacare Sign-Ups Roll To A Finish
Obamacare enrollment efforts appear to be headed for a strong, if not overwhelming, finish on what is likely the last day to sign up for health law coverage in its present form. Several advocates working in states that use the federal site HealthCare.gov said they were swamped with enrollment appointments and phone calls from consumers, despite the Trump administration's decision to pull millions of dollars of advertising urging people to act before a midnight Tuesday deadline. But enrollment volunteers across the country said demand wasn’t as high as what they experienced around Dec. 15, the deadline to have health coverage at the start of the year. (Pradhan and Demko, 1/31)

NPR: Health Insurance Sales Across State Lines Are Easier Said Than Done
Tuesday is the last day of open enrollment for health coverage for 2017 under the Affordable Care Act. And while Republicans in Congress are working to repeal the law, it's not at all clear what might replace it. During the campaign, President Trump suggested a nationwide insurance market that would allow insurance plans to be sold across state lines. The idea has been kicking around for years, and some states have tried it, including Rhode Island, where it didn't work too well. (1/31)

The Washington Post: Paul Ryan’s Claim That ‘More And More Doctors Just Won’t Take Medicaid’
During a town hall on Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Ryan described the need for changes to the Medicaid program at the state level. Some states made changes so that low-income enrollees could get coverage and access to care, but not all states did, he said. Ryan claimed that “more and more doctors just won’t take Medicaid because they lose money on Medicaid.” He also said during the town hall that his concern was that Medicaid is “so over-regulated and so bureaucratic that physicians just won’t take Medicaid patients. And so our concern is that people on Medicaid can’t get a doctor, and if you can’t get a doctor, what good is your coverage?” We explored the facts. (Lee, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Hawaii Bills Aim To Save Best Parts Of Affordable Care Act
Concerned about the dissolution of the Affordable Care Act, Hawaii lawmakers are introducing bills to merge into state law the consumer protections they consider the best parts of the federal program. The bills seek to guarantee insurers don't deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, institute lifetime maximums for coverage or strip some of the benefits such as pregnancy care that were mandated by the federal act. (1/31)

The Associated Press: Trump's Pick To Head VA Rejects Radical Change To Fix Agency
President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, David Shulkin, promises to meet the health care needs of millions of veterans and is rejecting a dismantling of the beleaguered agency or wide-scale firings as a way to do it. Trump tapped Shulkin, the VA's current top health official, to be VA secretary after a presidential campaign in which the Republican billionaire described the agency as "the most corrupt" and "probably the most incompetently run." (2/1)

The Associated Press: Aetna Offers No Guarantees About ACA Future Beyond 2017
The nation's third largest health insurer is painting a cloudy picture of its future on the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges. Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini said Tuesday that his company will announce by April 1 whether it plans to stay beyond this year in any of the four states where it currently sells coverage, and it's "really impossible to consider entering any new markets." "We have nothing but bad news in front of us right now," he told The Associated Press. (1/31)

USA Today/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Aetna CEO Optimistic Over Evolving Health Care Policy Landscape
Bertolini said during a conference call with investors Tuesday that he is optimistic about “the next wave of health care reform,” and what he called “the evolving health care policy landscape.” Bertolini was once a booster of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Tuesday, he said that “in spite of the best intentions of Washington and industry, millions of Americans remain uninsured.” (Mara Lee, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Profit Slides, But Beats Forecasts
Bertolini said in an interview that the insurer wouldn’t expand its presence in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges for 2018 and was re-evaluating its current footprint for next year. He said that Aetna had spoken with Capitol Hill officials and Trump transition representatives and that it is “too soon to tell” what will result from the Republican overhaul of the ACA, which he said he thought would take effect “at the earliest” in 2019. He said that “everybody is very concerned about doing something rash that would blow the thing up and put people out of coverage.” (Wilde Mathews and Jamerson, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Revenue Falls As Full-Year Sales Seen Below Wall Street Estimates
Pfizer Inc. revenue declined in the latest quarter as sales of its top-selling product dropped, while the company’s sales outlook for this year fell below Wall Street’s expectations. Worldwide sales of Pfizer’s pneumonia vaccine Prevnar fell 24% to $1.4 billion in the quarter, which the company attributed to many eligible patients already being vaccinated. Pfizer also cited the smaller and unfavorable timing of government purchases. (Rockoff and Hufford, 1/31)


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