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KHN First Edition: February 3, 2017


First Edition

Friday, February 03, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: HSAs: ‘Tax-Break Trifecta’ Or Insurance Gimmick Benefiting The Wealthy?
Julie Appleby reports: "They are just three little words — “health savings accounts” — but they are generating a lot of buzz as Republicans contemplate plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Expanding the use of such accounts, based on a long-held conservative view that consumers should be more responsible for their health care spending, is part of almost every GOP replacement plan under consideration on Capitol Hill." (Appleby, 2/3)

California Healthline: Q&A: Efforts To Extend Health Coverage To Undocumented Immigrants
Ana B. Ibarra reports: "California’s decision to withdraw a request for federal government permission to sell unsubsidized health plans to immigrants without papers has many wondering about the future of their health coverage in the state. Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, was the state lawmaker who made that request for a federal waiver from the rules — then pulled it back over fears that the new Trump administration would use immigrants’ information to deport them." (Ibarra, 2/3)

The New York Times: G.O.P. Campaign To Repeal Obamacare Stalls On The Details
Congress’s rush to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, once seemingly unstoppable, is flagging badly as Republicans struggle to come up with a replacement and a key senator has declared that the effort is more a repair job than a demolition. “It is more accurate to say ‘repair Obamacare,’” Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Senate health committee, said this week. “We can repair the individual market, and that is a good place to start.” (Pear and Abelson, 2/2)

The Associated Press: With Unity Elusive, GOP Talks More Of Repairing Health Law
While insisting they've not abandoned their goal of repealing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, Republicans are increasingly talking about "repairing" it as they grapple with disunity, drooping momentum and uneasy voters. The GOP triumphantly shoved a budget through Congress three weeks ago that gave committees until Jan. 27 to write bills dismantling the law and substituting a Republican plan. Everyone knew that deadline was soft, but now leaders are talking instead about moving initial legislation by early spring. (2/3)

The Washington Post: Two Top Republicans Open To Repairing Obamacare Ahead Of Repeal
Two top Republicans long expected to lead the Senate’s role in repealing the Affordable Care Act said publicly this week that they are open to repairing former president Barack Obama’s landmark health-care law ahead of a wholesale repeal, which has been a GOP target for eight years. Coming one week after a closed-door strategy session in which Republicans expressed frank concerns about the political ramifications of repealing the law and the practical difficulties of doing so, statements this week by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) brought into public view the political and policy challenges the GOP is facing. (Snell and DeBonis, 2/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Weigh Moves To Bolster Health Law
On Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, sent a proposed rule on shoring up the individual insurance market under the ACA to the Office of Management and Budget for White House review. The details of what the proposed rule would do still aren’t public, but people involved in the drafting of the proposal say it aims to help bolster the ACA exchange markets at least in the short term. That doesn’t suggest a full reversal of Republicans’ repeal-and-replace strategy, but GOP lawmakers say they are now considering moves to retain and prop up important parts of the law while they consider larger changes. (Armour, son and Hackman, 2/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Cigna To Review Participation In Affordable Care Act Exchanges
Cigna Corp. became the latest insurer to say it will review its participation in Affordable Care Act exchanges this spring, as it watches for what steps Republicans will take as they move to overhaul the health law. Cigna, which offers plans in seven states’ ACA marketplaces, said it expects its individual-plan enrollment of 168,000 to grow by about 100,000 this year. The insurer has been losing money on the ACA plans and said it still won’t be profitable in 2017, but the company expects some improvement. In the future, the results will either improve or Cigna will pull out of marketplaces, said Cigna Chief Executive David Cordani during a call with analysts. (Wilde Mathews and Hufford, 2/2)

USA Today: HHS Nominee Tom Price Bought Stock, Then Authored Bill Benefiting Company
President Trump's nominee to be the nation's top health official introduced legislation last May that benefited a health company he had recently invested in. The $15,000 purchase of shares in McKesson is but the latest financial action raising questions about possible conflicts of interest during the confirmation battle over Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.  The orthopedic surgeon was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday and his nomination will soon be voted on by the full Senate. (O'Donnell, 2/2)

The Washington Post: Trump’s Vaccine Views Are At Odds With Those Of Most Americans, Study Says
The criticism of vaccines voiced by President Trump and some other public figures is at odds with the attitudes of most Americans, who overwhelmingly support requiring public school children to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday. Overall, 82 percent of Americans support requiring students in public schools to be vaccinated for those three diseases. In addition, the survey found, their perceptions of the benefits of that combination vaccine are strongly positive, with about 88 percent saying the benefits outweigh any risks. About 73 percent of Americans see high preventive health benefits, and 66 percent say there is a low risk of side effects. (Sun, 2/2)

The Washington Post: Hundreds Of Doctors And Nurses Urge The Cleveland Clinic To Stand Up To Trump
Hundreds of medical professionals are calling on the prominent Cleveland Clinic hospital system to cut its perceived ties to President Trump in light of a contentious executive order that has temporarily banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering or returning to the United States — including a resident at the clinic. Doctors, nurses and students have signed an open letter pleading with the clinic to publicly condemn Trump's immigration ban and use its power to protect medical professionals from deportation. The letter also urges the hospital system to cancel a fundraiser set for later this month at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. (Bever and Bernstein, 2/2)

The New York Times: Trump Takes The Hair-Growth Drug Propecia. How Does It Work?
The revelation by his longtime doctor that President Trump takes a medication to prevent hair loss has piqued curiosity about the drug. In an interview with The New York Times, the physician, Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, said that Mr. Trump takes finasteride, also marketed as Propecia. The drug, a one-a-day pill, is a popular treatment for so-called male-pattern hair loss, in which the hairline recedes and hair thins at the temples and crown, sometimes to the point of leaving just a horseshoe-shaped fringe around the sides and the back of the head. (Grady, 2/2)

USA Today: House Votes To Strike Rule Banning Guns For Some Deemed Mentally Impaired
The House of Representatives approved its first effort of the new Congress to roll back gun regulations, voting to overturn a rule that would bar gun ownership by some who have been deemed mentally impaired by the Social Security Administration. The House voted 235-180 largely along party lines Thursday to repeal an Obama-era rule requiring the Social Security Administration to send records of some beneficiaries to the federal firearms background check system after they’ve been deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs. (Gaudiano, 2/2)

The Associated Press: Rule On Guns And Mentally Ill People Faces A GOP Rollback
Gun-control advocates say the rule was meant to affect only those found to have a mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others, but was written too broadly. The rule didn’t make certain people ineligible to buy a firearm, but was designed to ensure the background check system was comprehensive, accurate and flagged those already deemed ineligible. “We would oppose any efforts to undermine that,” said Kristin Brown, chief strategy officer for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. (Pane, 2/3)

The Wall Street Journal: House Lawmaker Pushes Bill To Rein In Drug Prices
A powerful House lawmaker said he would push for legislation to stymie drug price-gouging by encouraging development of generic copies, after attending a meeting at the White House Tuesday with drug-company executives. Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced at a hearing Thursday his support for a bill that was introduced last year largely with Democrat support but then languished. (Rockoff, 2/2)

Los Angeles Times: This California Lawmaker Wants To Limit Use Of Those Coupons People Use For High-Cost Drugs
Drug companies often offer coupons or vouchers to take the sting out of certain medications' high price tags. But one Democratic lawmaker says such offers actually contribute to high healthcare costs — and is proposing legislation to limit their use. Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) has introduced a measure that would prohibit the use of coupons for medications when there are cheaper drug options available. (Mason, 2/2)

The Associated Press: Merck Profit Soars On New Drugs, Expects Better 2017
Profits at the drugmaker Merck surged in the fourth quarter, and the company CEO told investors that a “constructive” meeting with President Donald Trump focused on reducing taxes and relaxing regulations. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Thursday said he’s encouraged by an initial meeting he and other pharmaceutical executives had Tuesday with Trump, who has said drugmakers have been “getting away with murder” on drug prices. (Johnson, 2/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Merck Revenue Declines As Generic Competition Hurts Results
Drugmaker Merck & Co. posted a revenue decline in its latest quarter as generic competition for some of its top-selling products hurt results, though its sales still exceeded expectations. Merck’s shares rose 2.7% Thursday morning, as the company also issued a financial forecast for 2017 that was in line with analysts’ expectations. (Hufford and Loftus, 2/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Patients Had Slightly Better Survival Rate With Foreign-Educated Doctors, Study Finds
Medicare patients in U.S. hospitals were less likely to die when their doctors were educated outside the U.S., according to a study by researchers at Harvard University. The study, published in the journal BMJ, examined more than 1.2 million hospital admissions of Medicare patients between 2011 and 2014. It compared survival rates for patients of about 44,200 doctors who specialize in internal medicine. (Evans, 2/2)

Reuters: Iowa Moves To Cut Medicaid Funding For Planned Parenthood
The Republican-controlled Iowa state senate voted on Thursday to cut Medicaid funding for family planning services to abortion providers including Planned Parenthood. State senators passed the bill 30-20, advancing it to the Republican-controlled House. The vote was along party lines, with one independent voting in favor of the measure. (Mclaughlin, 2/2)

The Associated Press: Residents Demand Aliso Canyon Be Closed Permanently
With more than 100 deep underground wells, Aliso Canyon is the largest natural gas storage site in the West and is considered crucial to the Los Angeles area for home heating and to power gas-fired electricity plants during energy spikes. However, the Southern California Gas Co. facility has been crippled more than a year since a blowout discovered in October 2015 released tons of methane into the air for four months, drove 8,000 families from their homes in and around the Porter Ranch neighborhood and led to mass complaints of health issues ranging from headaches to cancer. (2/2)

The New York Times: Pregnant Women Turn To Marijuana, Perhaps Harming Infants
As states legalize marijuana or its medical use, expectant mothers are taking it up in increasing numbers — another example of the many ways in which acceptance of marijuana has outstripped scientific understanding of its effects on human health. Often pregnant women presume that cannabis has no consequences for developing infants. But preliminary research suggests otherwise: Marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — can cross the placenta to reach the fetus, experts say, potentially harming brain development, cognition and birth weight. THC can also be present in breast milk. (Saint Louis, 2/2)

The New York Times: The Purpose Of Sleep? To Forget, Scientists Say
Over the years, scientists have come up with a lot of ideas about why we sleep. Some have argued that it’s a way to save energy.  Others have suggested that slumber provides an opportunity to clear away the brain’s cellular waste. Still others have proposed that sleep simply forces animals to lie still, letting them hide from predators. A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day. (Zimmer, 2/3)

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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