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KHN First Edition: February 2, 2017


First Edition

Thursday, February 02, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Indiana, Pence’s Home State, Seeks Federal OK To Keep Medicaid Expansion
Phil Galewitz reports: "As Congress weighs repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence Tuesday sought to keep its conservative-style Medicaid expansion under the federal health law.Indiana applied to the Trump administration to extend a regulatory waiver and funding until Jan. 31, 2021, for its innovative package of incentives and penalties that are intended to encourage low-income Hoosiers on Medicaid to adopt healthy behaviors. Beneficiaries pay premiums, get health savings accounts and can lose their benefits if they miss payments." (Galewitz, 2/1)

The New York Times: Veterans Affairs Nominee Vows Not To Privatize Health Care
President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, David J. Shulkin, vowed at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to reform — but not privatize — veterans’ health care, potentially putting him at odds with Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to allow all veterans to choose private health care. “V.A. is a unique national resource that is worth saving,” Dr. Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He added, “The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.” (Philipps, 2/1)

USA Today: VA Nominee David Shulkin Vows Faster Improvement, More Choices For Veterans
At his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Shulkin said “there should be no doubt” that he will seek “major reform and transformation of the VA.” Shulkin, as the only Obama appointee among Trump’s Cabinet nominees, is walking something of a tightrope, outlining what he will do differently under Trump, while at the same time assuaging the fears of Democrats and some veterans' groups that VA services will be privatized. (Slack, 2/1)

The Washington Post: VA ‘Will Not Be Privatized Under My Watch,’ Cabinet Nominee Says In Clash With Trump Team
His opposition to turning over vast parts of the system to private doctors and approach seeking gradual changes at an agency still reeling from a 2014 scandal over patient wait times puts Shulkin at odds with Trump advisers and some Republican lawmakers who are pressing for more drastic reform, particularly more private care. But Shulkin, now serving as VA undersecretary in charge of the veterans’ health system, is likely headed for swift confirmation by the Senate, say Republican and Democratic aides. (Rein, 2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump’s VA Nominee Pledges Not To Privatize Department
The hourslong hearing was strikingly civil, in contrast with other confirmation proceedings in recent days in which Democrats have boycotted procedures and lawmakers have slung insults at their colleagues across the aisle. Veterans’ issues are the “one thing that’s kept us bipartisan,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) as he walked from the hearing. (Kesling, 2/1)

Reuters: U.S. Senate Panel Suspends Rules, Backs Price, Mnuchin For Cabinet
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspended committee rules and confirmed U.S. Representative Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and banker Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary Wednesday on a straight party line vote, sending the nominations to the Senate floor. Under pressure from their political base to block President Donald Trump's nominees, Democrats stayed away from the meeting for a second day running. This normally would have stopped action, but Republicans plowed ahead by voting to suspend the rule that required at least one Democrat to be present for business to be conducted. (2/1)

The Washington Post: Senate Republicans Just Bent Committee Rules To Approve Cabinet Nominees. Is That The New Normal?
Senate Democrats aren't making it easy for Republicans to approve President Trump's Cabinet nominees — and now, Republicans are so mad, they're abandoning their own committee rules to push at least two nominees through. Democrats boycotted a Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, meaning the committee couldn't make a quorum. ... Republicans got predictably mad at the stall tactic but set another hearing for Wednesday morning, hoping to hold a vote. But Democrats, again, were no-shows. That's when the GOP senators on the committee got creative and made a move that is sure to infuriate the opposition. (Stevenson, 2/1)

The Associated Press: GOP Pushes 2 Top Cabinet Picks Through To Full Senate
Underscoring Congress’ foul mood, Finance panel Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Democrats should be “ashamed” for staying away from his committee’s meeting. “I don’t feel a bit sorry for them,” he told reporters, adding later, “I don’t care what they want at this point.” (Fram and Lardner, 2/1)

Politico: GOP Breaks Dem Blockade On Mnuchin And Price
"We have significant concerns that both Mr. Mnuchin and Congressman Price gave inaccurate and misleading testimony and responses to questions to the Committee," the Democrats said. Republicans slammed them as being obstructionists and downplayed their concerns with the nominees. The GOP adopted a similar approach in the environment committee, where chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) vowed to push past the Democratic boycott of EPA nominee Scott Pruitt — though he declined to say exactly how he would do so. (Warmbrodt, Cancryn and Schor, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Gorsuch Case Review Shows He's No Crusader On Abortion
On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised to appoint a crusading anti-abortion Supreme Court justice who'd work to overturn the Roe v. Wade opinion that legalized it. However, an Associated Press review of decisions and writings by Neil Gorsuch during a decade as a federal appeals court judge in Denver turns up no guarantees on how he might rule on that hot-button issue. (2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Rhode Island Lawmakers Seek To Protect Abortion Rights
Democratic lawmakers in Rhode Island on Wednesday proposed legislation to strengthen women’s access to abortion, the latest state-level effort to protect those rights. The proposed legislation would bar restrictions on medically recognized methods of contraception or abortion. It would also prevent the state from interfering with a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy as long as that decision is made before a physician determines that a fetus would likely survive outside the womb. (De Avila, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Backers Of Right To Die Fear Trump Supreme Court Nominee
Supporters of a terminally ill person’s right to take his or her own life said Wednesday they are alarmed by President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court and worry that Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation could mean a renewed battle over the legality of laws permitting the practice. Gorsuch, a Denver-based judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote a 2006 book titled “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia” that included an extensive discussion of Oregon’s law, which allows doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients to have less than six months to live and who request it. (Flaccus, 2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Paring ACA Raises Questions On What A Health Plan Should Cover
As Republicans consider paring back the Affordable Care Act’s federal mandates, they face a difficult question: what does health insurance need to cover? The 2010 health law created a new set of federal requirements for plans sold to individuals and small businesses, including a list of 10 benefits, among them prescription drugs, mental-health services and laboratory tests. It also mandated that plans cover preventive services such as vaccinations at no cost to enrollees. (Wilde Mathews, 2/2)

The Wall Street Journal: 5 Things Required To Be Part Of ACA Health Plans
The Affordable Care Act created new federal requirements for health plans. Some critics of the law want to allow more flexibility in plan design, which they say could help bring down premiums and potentially draw in more healthy enrollees. Here are some of the law’s insurance mandates, and potential trade-offs, if those are relaxed or eliminated. (Wilde Mathews, 2/2)

The Associated Press: Risk To Women's Health Benefits Seen In Health Law Repeal
From a return to higher premiums for women to gaps in coverage for birth control and breast pumps, the Republican push to repeal the Obama-era health care law already is raising concerns that women could be hit hard. The 2010 law ended a common industry practice of charging women more than men for policies purchased directly from an insurer. It made maternity and newborn care a required benefit for individual market health plans. And it set a list of preventive services to be provided at no extra cost to women, including birth control and breast pumps used by nursing mothers. (2/1)

The Associated Press: Entrepreneurs: Health Law Changes May Mean Finding New Jobs
Stay in business for yourself or go back to working for someone else? That's the choice some small business owners and freelancers are worried they may have to make, depending on what changes Congress makes in the health care law. With Republicans working on legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, people who traded a full-time job for entrepreneurship are concerned that new insurance policies may be too expensive or not available at all — and possibly force them to find new jobs that offer cheaper and more comprehensive group plans. (2/1)

Los Angeles Times: People From All Around California Are Heading To The Central Valley To Defend Obamacare. Here's Why
The crowd of hundreds was ready to march, winding a circuitous route from a Bakersfield park to the nearby district office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy to rally in support of the Affordable Care Act. But before they hoisted their signs and joined in healthcare-themed chants, there was a quick geographic roll call. “How many of you are from Bakersfield?” asked the emcee. About half the attendees cheered. The rest had come from farther-flung homes: Long Beach, Sacramento, Riverside. They had traveled via chartered bus, largely with labor unions or grass-roots liberal groups, to the heart of the California effort to save Obamacare. (Mason, 2/2)

The Washington Post: Health Insurers Warn Of Wider Defections From ACA Marketplaces For 2018
Leaders for the health insurance industry, state insurance commissioners and brokers warned Wednesday that more health plans almost certainly will defect from Affordable Care Act marketplaces unless Congress and the Trump administration provide some concrete assurances within the next two months. Unless the government promises to continue subsidies and other features of the law for at least another year, some states probably will not have any insurers selling health plans to individuals buying coverage on their own for 2018, the witnesses warned at a Senate hearing. (Goldstein, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Insurers Shrink From Exchanges As Lawmakers Mull Changes
The Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges have become too risky for major health insurers, and that's creating further doubt about coverage options consumers might have next year. Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish said Wednesday his company is waiting to see whether the government makes some short-term fixes to the shaky exchanges before it decides how much it will participate next year. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier is the nation's second largest insurer and sells coverage on exchanges in 14 states. (2/1)

NPR: Quarantine Rules Revised To Give CDC More Power To Stop Outbreaks
Federal health officials may be about to get greatly enhanced powers to quarantine people, as part of an ongoing effort to stop outbreaks of dangerous contagious diseases. The new powers are outlined in a set of regulations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published late last month to update the agency's quarantine authority for the first time since the 1940s. (Stein, 2/2)

Reuters: U.S. Proposes 0.25 Percent Hike In Medicare Advantage Payments
The U.S. government on Wednesday proposed an increase of 0.25 percent on average in payments to health insurers who offer Medicare Advantage insurance, which provides health benefits to more than 18 million elderly or disabled people. Enrollment in these plans grew by about 7 percent last year to account for about one-third of Medicare members, making it an important growth business for private insurers who are facing changes in their business as Republicans seek to repeal and replace Obamacare. (Humer, 2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Rates To See ‘Moderate’ Increase
The agency said the rates represented “moderate growth.” In a statement, the acting CMS Administrator, Patrick Conway, said the proposal “will continue to keep Medicare Advantage strong and stable and provide high quality, affordable care to seniors and people living with disabilities.” The increase appeared roughly in line with the expectations of analysts, who had been anticipating a small boost in the rates. (Wilde Mathews, 2/1)

The Associated Press: People With Disabilities Finally Get A Way To Save Money
Justin Bainbridge is 27 and works two jobs, but he wasn't allowed to start saving money for his future until a few months ago. Bainbridge has Down syndrome, and like other people with disabilities who receive government benefits, he can't have more than $2,000 in savings. If he does, he would start to lose those much-needed benefits. But a new type of savings vehicle is giving Bainbridge, and others, a chance to save more cash. (2/1)

The Associated Press: How A New Savings Account For People With Disabilities Works
A new type of savings vehicle, known as an ABLE account, is allowing people with disabilities to save more money for the first time. That's because the accounts allow them to save without losing much-needed government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income monthly payments or Medicaid health care. The accounts are run by states and are similar to 529 college savings plans. Here's more on how ABLE accounts work. (2/1)

Los Angeles Times: At Least Three L.A. County Patients Infected After Heart Surgeries
Los Angeles County health officials said Wednesday that at least three heart surgery patients at a hospital have been sickened by a dangerous bacteria linked to an operating room device. Officials are now investigating a fourth patient infection at another hospital that may also be linked to the device, said Benjamin Schwartz, acting director of the county’s acute communicable disease control program. (sen, 2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Trial Reveals Deep Ties Between Pair Of Doctors And Fentanyl Maker
Often-emotional testimony at the criminal trial of two pain doctors is shedding new light on the sales tactics of fentanyl-maker Insys Therapeutics Inc., and the toll of opioid addiction in this port city along the Gulf Coast. Prosecutors here allege that Drs. John Couch and Xiulu Ruan made $40 million in illicit profit by overprescribing pain medications and dispensing them to patients from the pharmacy they co-owned and operated from the back of one of their pain clinics. (Walker, 2/1)

The New York Times: Hormone Blockers Can Prolong Life If Prostate Cancer Recurs
Men whose prostate cancer comes back after surgery are more likely to survive if, along with the usual radiation, they also take drugs to block male hormones. The finding, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, comes from a long-running study that experts say will help clarify treatment for many patients. (Grady, 2/1)

The Washington Post: A Swig Of Hydrogen Peroxide — Promoted By Alternative-Health Devotees — Can Kill You
Hundreds of people have become severely ill and at least five have died after consuming high-concentration hydrogen peroxide that some people take as an additive to their diets, according to a new study. The colorless, caustic liquid quickly releases a bubble of oxygen that can find its way into a blood vessel, blocking blood flow to the heart, the brain, the lungs or other parts of the body, according to the research, which was published this week in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine. (Bernstein, 2/1)

NPR: More Than 700 Gene Variants Affect Your Height
When scientists first read out the human genome 15 years ago, there were high hopes that we'd soon understand how traits like height are inherited. It hasn't been easy. A huge effort to find height-related genes so far only explains a fraction of this trait. Now scientists say they've made some more headway. And the effort is not just useful for understanding how genes determine height, but how they're involved in driving many other human traits. (Harris, 2/1)

NPR: Heading The Ball In Soccer May Increase Concussion Risk
Heading a soccer ball is both a fundamental skill and a dynamic way to score a goal, but research says it could be causing concussions along with player collisions. Players who headed a lot of balls, an average of 125 over two weeks, were three times more vulnerable to concussion than those who headed less than four in that time period, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. These header-happy players reported having concussion symptoms like headache, confusion and even unconsciousness. (Boddy, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Prosecutor: Pair Charged In Girl's Death Cited Faith Healing
A Pennsylvania couple who told police their faith forbids any kind of medical treatment were charged Wednesday in the pneumonia death of their 2-year-old daughter, becoming the latest members of their sect to be prosecuted for failing to take a dying child to a doctor. Jonathan and Grace Foster attributed the Nov. 8 death of their daughter, Ella Grace Foster, to "God's will," according to a police affidavit. (2/1)

Reuters: Ex-Tenet Healthcare Executive Accused By U.S. Of Fraud
A former senior executive of Tenet Healthcare Corp has been indicted on charges that he participated in a scheme to pay bribes for patient referrals, enabling the U.S. hospital chain to fraudulently bill state Medicaid programs for $400 million. (Raymond, 2/1)

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