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KHN First Edition: February 14, 2017


First Edition

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: A Deep Dive Into 4 GOP Talking Points On Health Care
Julie Rovner reports: "Republicans leaders have a lengthy list of talking points about the shortcomings of the health law. Shortly before his inauguration last month, President Donald Trump said that it “is a complete and total disaster. It’s imploding as we sit.” And they can point to a host of issues, including premium increases averaging more than 20 percent this year, a drop in the number of insurers competing on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces and rising consumer discontent with high deductibles and limited doctor networks. Yet a careful analysis of some of the GOP’s talking points show a much more nuanced situation and suggest that the political fights over the law may have contributed to some of its problems." (Rovner, 2/14)

Kaiser Health News: Drugmaker Marathon ‘Pausing’ Delivery Of $89,000-A-Year Muscular Dystrophy Drug
Sarah Jane Tribble and Sydney Lupkin report: "In a surprise move Monday, Marathon Pharmaceuticals told patient advocates that it would “pause” the launch of its drug Emflaza because of pricing concerns expressed by patients and advocacy groups.The drugmaker had announced an $89,000 annual price tag for its newly approved drug last week but patients and lawmakers immediately cried foul." (Tribble and Lupkin, 2/13)

Kaiser Health News: Former FDA Chief Cites 5 Things To Watch On Drug Approvals, And Keeping Drugs Safe
Sydney Lupkin and Sarah Jane Tribble report: "The just-departed commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration has concerns about plans to speed up drug approvals and dramatically reduce regulations at the agency, as advocated recently by President Donald Trump. Dr. Robert Califf, who stepped down last month, shared his thoughts about keeping Americans safe — and making sure drugs actually work — after about a year overseeing the federal agency." (Lupkin and Tribble, 2/14)

Kaiser Health News: Judge Upends Effort To Limit Charity Funding For Kidney Patients’ Insurance
Michelle Andrews reports: "Every night, Jason Early attaches a catheter in his chest to a machine by his bed that, over the course of nine hours while he sleeps, removes his blood from his body, cleanses it and returns it because his kidneys are no longer able to do the job. It’s been about 18 months since the 28-year-old Dallas resident started getting dialysis after his kidneys failed as a complication from the Type 1 diabetes with which he was diagnosed as a child. Like many patients with end-stage renal disease, Early, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in finance at the University of North Texas at Dallas, turned to a charity for financial assistance to cover his health insurance costs." (Andrews, 2/14)

USA Today: Senate Confirms David Shulkin As Veterans Affairs Secretary
The Senate unaminously confirmed Trump nominee David Shulkin to be secretary of Veterans Affairs Monday night. Shulkin, the lone holdover from the Obama administration among President Trump’s Cabinet picks, has been the VA undersecretary for health since July 2015 and has not drawn the harsh opposition from Democrats that other Trump nominees have faced. (Slack, 2/13)

The Associated Press: Senate Easily Confirms Trump Pick Of Shulkin As VA Secretary
Senators voted 100-0 to approve the former Obama administration official, who was the VA's top health official since 2015, in a rare show of bipartisanship amid partisan rancor over Trump's other nominees. Shulkin secured the backing of Senate Democrats after pledging at his confirmation hearing to always protect veterans' interests, even if it meant disagreeing at times with Trump. (2/13)

The Washington Post: Shulkin Unanimously Confirmed To Head Veterans Affairs
The 57-year-old Pennsylvania native will run the second-largest federal agency after serving 18 months as undersecretary for health in charge of VA’s sprawling medical system, which takes care of nearly 9 million veterans a year. After a long search for a leader who could turn around a system Trump denounced on the campaign trail as a tragic failure, the president surprised critics by turning inside rather than outside for a VA leader. (Rein, 2/13)

NPR: Senate Confirms First Nonveteran To Lead VA
Over the past two years, Shulkin oversaw the implementation of the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act, a $16 billion congressional fix for the long wait times for veterans seeking care. But an NPR investigation found that the fix itself is broken: A $10 billion program to help veterans get care in the private sector resulted in mountains of red tape, and a $2.5 billion hiring program didn't significantly increase the hiring of new doctors and nurses inside the VA. (Lawrence, 2/13)

Politico: Veterans Affairs Secretary Confirmed 100-0
"Veterans are very fortunate to have Dr. Shulkin voluntarily stay in what has evolved into the most scrutinized and criticized position in the country," Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy said in a statement. "And it should be," he added. The conservative Concerned Veterans for America, which has pushed for veterans to obtain greater health care from the private sector and has criticized the VA for not holding problem employees accountable, said Monday it was "encouraged" Shulkin had "acknowledged systemic failures within the VA and the need for transformational reforms to fix them." (O'Brien, 2/13)

The New York Times: Angry Town Hall Meetings On Health Care Law, And Few Answers
Michelle Roelandts had a question for her congressman: If the Affordable Care Act and its premium subsidies were repealed, what would happen when her daughter turns 26 this year and needs to get her own health insurance while attending law school? Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a durable Wisconsin Republican who has served in the House since 1979, had little to offer in response. “If I could give you an answer today, I would, but I can’t,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said at a town-hall-style meeting on Saturday, where about 70 people packed a room at the Pewaukee Public Library. (Kaplan, 2/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Legal Challenges Could Leave U.S. On The Hook For Obamacare ‘Risk Corridor’ Payments
A recent ruling by a federal judge that the U.S. government must pay more than $200 million to an Oregon insurer could mean serious financial and political headaches for the Trump administration in the months to come. The decision last week by a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims requires the government to pay Moda Health Plan Inc. money it said it was owed under an Affordable Care Act provision intended to cover insurers financial shortfalls. (Armour, 2/13)

Politico: Conservatives Balking At GOP Leadership's Obamacare Plans
House conservatives — anxious that the GOP’s effort to end Obamacare is getting bogged down in the fight over what a replacement should look like — are plotting a major push to repeal the law immediately without simultaneously approving an alternative. The House Freedom Caucus and a number of Republican Study Committee members this week will urge Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his lieutenants to forego their plan to add replacement provisions to a repeal bill, dubbed “repeal-plus.” Instead, they want to approve the same standalone repeal bill that Congress sent to President Barack Obama in 2016. (Bade, 2/13)

The Washington Post: The Strange Tale Of How A False 2009 Obamacare Claim Ended Up In A Viral 2017 Video
Bill Akins achieved his 15 minutes of fame — and, he says, death threats — after a clip of him making this statement at a Florida town hall when viral. The audience immediately hooted him down, and he responded by saying, “Okay, children. All right, children.” In 2009, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin first promoted the idea that the emerging law contained death panels, referring to a provision that would allow Medicare to pay for doctor’s appointments for patients to discuss living wills and other end-of-life issues. (Kessler, 2/14)

The Associated Press: Company Announces Pause For Drug After Price Criticism
Marathon Pharmaceuticals announced Monday that it will temporarily halt the rollout of a drug to treat genetic muscle deterioration just hours after two members of Congress expressed outrage that the company planned to charge $89,000 a year for a drug that's widely available abroad for about $1,000 a year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., urged the company earlier in the day to lower the drug's price. (2/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Firm Delays Muscular Dystrophy Drug U.S. Launch Amid Criticism Of $89,000 Price
In a statement posted on the website of a nonprofit group involved with muscular dystrophy, Marathon CEO Jeffrey Aronin said the company was “pausing our launch,” which had been scheduled for March. The company will meet with “caregivers and explain our commercialization plans, review their concerns, discuss all options, and move forward with commercialization based on an agreed plan of action,” he said in the statement. (Walker and Pulliam, 2/13)

The New York Times: Sharp Rise Reported In Older Americans’ Use Of Multiple Psychotropic Drugs
The number of retirement-age Americans taking at least three psychiatric drugs more than doubled between 2004 and 2013, even though almost half of them had no mental health diagnosis on record, researchers reported on Monday. The new analysis, based on data from doctors’ office visits, suggests that inappropriate prescribing to older people is more common than previously thought. Office visits are a close, if not exact, estimate of underlying patient numbers. The paper appears in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. (Carey, 2/13)

The Washington Post: Disease ‘Superspreaders’ Accounted For Nearly Two-Thirds Of Ebola Cases, Study Finds
They are called superspreaders, the minority of people who are responsible for infecting many others during epidemics of infectious diseases. Perhaps the most famous superspreader was Typhoid Mary, presumed to have infected 51 people, three of whom died, between 1900 and 1907. Now scientists studying how Ebola spread during the 2014-2015 epidemic in West Africa say superspreaders played a bigger role than was previously known, according to findings published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Sun, 2/13)

NPR: Scientists Inadvertently Build Cocaine-Proof Mouse
Researchers have created mice that appear impervious to the lure of cocaine. Even after the genetically engineered animals were given the drug repeatedly, they did not appear to crave it the way typical mice do, a team reports in Nature Neuroscience. (Hamilton, 2/13)

Reuters: California Lawmaker Makes Push For Health Warning Labels On Soda
A California state senator is taking another stab at introducing a law that would require sugary drink manufacturers to put a warning label on their products, the latest effort in the "War on Sugar." Officials and public health advocates have heightened their criticism of sugar as a key contributor to health epidemics like obesity and diabetes, and California has become a major battleground in the fight against what they say is excessive sugar consumption. (Prentice, 2/13)

The Associated Press: Artificial Insemination Parenting Bill Draws LGBT Criticism
Two Tennessee lawmakers want to do away with a 40-year-old state law granting legitimacy to children conceived through artificial insemination. Critics say the bill is aimed at gay couples and their children. The bill would remove a single sentence applying to child custody when artificial insemination is involved, one that’s been interpreted to make no distinction between same-sex and heterosexual couples. But opponents warn that changing the law could prevent both same-sex parents from appearing on the children’s birth certificates, affecting their ability to make parenting decisions ranging from medical care to education. (Schelzig, 2/13)

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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