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KHN First Edition: February 13, 2017


First Edition

Monday, February 13, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Death Doesn’t Have To Be So Scary
Bruce Horovitz reports: "Most people prefer not to think about death, much less plan for it. In a tech-crazed world, where time is commonly measured in 140 characters and 6-second sound bites, life would appear to be dissected into so many bite-sized morsels that discussion of death doesn’t even seem to fit into the equation. “Everybody has a fear of death, no matter what culture, religion or country they come from,” said Kelvin Chin, author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death” and founder of the Overcoming the Fear of Death Foundation and the non-profit “Fear is simply an emotion caused by the anticipation of unhappiness.” (Horovitz, 2/13)

California Healthline: For California’s Smallest Businesses, Obamacare Opened The Door
Pauline Bartolone reports: "Under Republican-led plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, hundreds of thousands of self-employed people in California are at risk of losing their ability to buy affordable insurance. Some business owners welcome the rollback of the law, but the smallest of California businesses — entrepreneurs and contract workers who buy insurance on their own through Covered California — have the most to lose under a repeal.That worries small business advocates who favor the Affordable Care Act. They say putting health care coverage out of reach of the self-employed could threaten Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit and burden people who create jobs and take on financial risk." (Bartolone, 2/13)

California Healthline: California Regulator Slams Health Insurers Over Faulty Doctor Lists
Chad Terhune reports: "California’s biggest health insurers reported inaccurate information to the state on which doctors are in their networks, offering conflicting lists that differed by several thousand physicians, according to a new state report. Shelley Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, said 36 of 40 health insurers she reviewed — including industry giants like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare — could face fines for failing to submit accurate data or comply with state rules." (Terhune, 2/10)

Kaiser Health News: Grassley Launches Inquiry Into Orphan Drugs After KHN Investigation
Sarah Jane Tribble reports: "Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has opened an inquiry into potential abuses of the Orphan Drug Act that may have contributed to high prices on commonly used drugs. In a statement, Grassley said the inquiry is “based on reporting from Kaiser Health News” and strong consumer concern about high drug prices." (Tribble, 2/10)

Kaiser Health News: Obamacare Came To Montana Indian Country And Brought Jobs
Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports: "The Affordable Care Act created new health coverage opportunities more than half a million Native Americans and Alaska Natives — and jobs have followed on its coattails.In Montana, this is playing out at the Blackfeet Community Hospital. It’s the only hospital on the Blackfeet reservation, and has been mostly funded — and chronically underfunded — by the Indian Health Service, which has been in charge of Native American health care since its founding in the 1950s. But now, many Native Americans have been able to afford health insurance on the Obamacare exchange, and last year, Montana expanded Medicaid. Now, about one in seven reservation residents gets Medicaid." (Whitney, 2/13)

The New York Times: Tom Price Is Sworn In As Health Secretary Amid Senate Disunity
President Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, took office on Friday with a promise to fix what he called a “broken health care system” that was “harming Americans and their families.” Mr. Price was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence just hours after the Senate, by a party-line vote of 52 to 47, confirmed his nomination in the early hours of Friday morning. (Pear and Rappeport, 2/10)

Reuters: With Eye On Obamacare, Price Takes Helm As U.S. Health Secretary
As head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Price has the authority to rewrite rules implementing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He could move quickly to rework the regulations while waiting for Republicans in Congress to keep their pledge to scrap the law entirely. (2/13)

The Wall Street Journal: As HHS Head, Price Has Wide Latitude To Shape Obamacare’s Fate
Tom Price’s swearing-in as secretary of health and human services Friday means he is now in position to dismantle key parts of the Affordable Care Act, even if repeal efforts in Congress bog down. But it isn’t clear Dr. Price will quickly gut parts of the law. Instead, the Trump administration is expected to issue a proposed rule soon to appease insurers and help stabilize the individual insurance market for 2018, giving Republicans breathing room to continue working on their overhaul plans. (Armour and Hackman, 2/10)

The Washington Post: Polarizing HHS Secretary Sworn In After Senate’s Party-Line Vote
The new secretary offered no remarks following his swearing-in hours later by Vice President Pence. But the biggest challenge he faces — one on which progress in Congress seems uncertain for now, despite GOP lawmakers’ pledges for immediate action — was the first subject Pence mentioned in his introduction. “President Trump has made it the top priority of this new Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with health-care reform that will lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government,” Pence said. (Goldstein and Sullivan, 2/10)

The New York Times: Republicans, Aiming To Kill Health Law, Also Work To Shore It Up
After denouncing the Affordable Care Act as an abomination for seven years, Republicans in Congress, working with the Trump administration, are urgently seeking ways to shore up health insurance marketplaces created by the law. While President Trump said as a candidate that “Obamacare is certain to collapse of its own weight,” Republicans fear such an outcome because, now that the fate of the health law is in their hands, they could be blamed by consumers and Democrats. (Pear, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Employers Balk At Curbs On Generous Health Plans
The Affordable Care Act’s tax on high-cost employer health plans faced sharp opposition from employers and unions. Now, Republicans are drawing equal fire for ACA replacement proposals that those groups say would have some of the same effects. The ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax is levied on the value of employer health plans above a certain threshold, in part to discourage what backers argue are overly generous plans and high usage of costly care. It is one of the few aspects of the law that Congress has tweaked, delaying its impact until 2020. (Wilde Mathews, 2/13)

The Associated Press: GOP Must Decide What To Do With Health Law Taxes
Republicans love cutting taxes, especially if they were authored by a president named Barack Obama. But as they push their wobbly effort to erase his health care overhaul, they're divided over whether to repeal the levies the law imposed to finance its expanded coverage for millions of Americans. (2/13)

The Associated Press: A Look At Taxes Imposed By Obama's Health Care Law
A look at the $1.1 trillion in taxes over 10 years imposed by former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The revenue helped pay for the law's expansion of coverage to millions of Americans. The revenue estimates are by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. They could differ significantly from whatever Republicans propose in their effort to erase the law and replace it. (2/13)

USA Today: Obamacare Overhaul Proposals Create Uncertainty For Patients, Providers
Once its patients were insured by the Affordable Care Act, the community health center in Whitesburg, Ky. opened on the weekends in 2014 and added optometrists and a dental clinic in 2015. Van Breeding, the primary care doctor in charge of the clinic, says if his patients lose coverage in any ACA replacement, he’ll have to close on weekends and get rid of the newer services. Patients like Lee Sexton, an 88-year-old banjo player with black lung disease, will have to head to the far more expensive emergency room if they need care on the weekends. (O'Donnell, 2/12)

The Washington Post: Swarming Crowds And Hostile Questions Are The New Normal At GOP Town Halls
Republicans in deep-red congressional districts spent the week navigating massive crowds and hostile questions at their town hall meetings — an early indication of how progressive opposition movements are mobilizing against the agenda of the GOP and President Trump. Angry constituents swarmed events held by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Diane Black (Tenn.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). They filled the rooms that had been reserved for them; in Utah and Tennessee, scores of activists were locked out. Voters pressed members of Congress on their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on the still-controversial confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even on a low-profile vote to disband an election commission created after 2000. (Snell, Schwartzman, Friess and Weigel, 2/10)

NPR: Foreign-Born Doctors Provide Care In Underserved Area
[Dr. Muhammad] Tauseef was born and raised in Pakistan. After going to medical school there, he applied to come to the U.S. to train as a pediatrician.It's a path thousands of foreign-born medical students follow every year — a path that's been around for more than half a century. And, like most foreign-born physicians, Tauseef came on a J1 visa. That meant after training he had two options: return to Pakistan or work for three years in an area the U.S. government has identified as having a provider shortage. (Silverman, 2/11)

The Washington Post: Trump Travel Ban Kills Surgeon’s Lifesaving Trip To Iran
A Houston surgeon has canceled a trip to Iran to perform lifesaving surgeries because of uncertainty over the future of President Donald Trump’s refugee and immigration travel ban. Dr. Alireza Shamshirsaz is an Iranian-born professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He specializes in fetal surgery, and he has already had devastating video chats with two sets of parents who expected him to operate on their unborn children. (2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Industry Goes Boldly Into New Minefield
Last month, the pharmaceuticafl industry, under pressure from the president among others for persistent price hikes, launched an ad campaign to highlight its drug research. Called “Go Boldly,” an allusion to poet Dylan Thomas, the campaign was intended to bolster the industry’s reputation after pricing scandals involving companies such as Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and Turing Pharmaceuticals. It took just a few weeks for another pharma company to ignite a controversy and set off the requisite tales of patients unable to afford the treatment. (Grant, 2/10)

The Washington Post: An Old Drug Gets A New Price To Fight A Rare Disease: $89,000 A Year
An old steroid treatment, long available outside the United States, received approval this week for a rare disease that afflicts about 15,000 Americans. Though not previously approved in the United States, the drug, deflazacort, has for years been available to patients suffering from the devastating and fatal disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy; families can import it from abroad for about $1,200 per year on average. The new list price for the drug? $89,000 a year. (Johnson, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Marathon Pharmaceuticals To Charge $89,000 For Muscular Dystrophy Drug After 70-Fold Increase
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Marathon’s drug, a corticosteroid called deflazacort, to treat a rare type of muscular dystrophy that affects some 12,000 boys in the U.S., most of whom die in their 20s and 30s. The drug isn’t a cure, but it has been shown to improve muscle strength, the FDA said in a statement announcing the approval. The drug wasn’t sold in the U.S. mainly because no company thought it would be profitable enough to warrant the effort of seeking FDA approval. (Walker, 2/10)

The New York Times: Anti-Abortion Activists, Counter-Protesters Rally Around US
Anti-abortion activists emboldened by the new administration of President Donald Trump staged rallies around the country Saturday calling for the federal government to cut off payments to Planned Parenthood, but in some cities counter-protests dwarfed the demonstrations. Thousands of Planned Parenthood supporters, many wearing the pointy-eared pink hats popularized by last month's women's marches, turned out for a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, separated by barricades from an anti-abortion crowd of a couple hundred people. In Detroit, about 300 people turned up outside a Planned Parenthood office, most of them supporting the organization. In St. Louis, thousands marched, many carrying pink signs that read, "I stand with Planned Parenthood." (2/11)

Reuters: Calls For Protests For And Against Planned Parenthood
Anti-abortion groups called for demonstrations at more than 200 Planned Parenthood locations throughout the United States on Saturday to urge Congress and President Trump to strip the women’s health provider of federal funding. Supporters of Planned Parenthood in turn organized 150 counterdemonstrations outside politicians’ offices and government buildings. (2/11)

The New York Times: Addiction Treatment Grew Under Health Law. Now What?
Chad Diaz began using heroin when he was 12. Now 36 and newly covered by Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, he is on Suboxone, a substitute opioid that eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and he is slowly pulling himself together. “This is the best my life has gone in many, many years,” Mr. Diaz, a big man wearing camouflage, said as he sat in a community health center here. If Congress and President Trump succeed in dismantling the Affordable Care Act, he will have no insurance to pay for his medication or counseling, and he fears he will slide back to heroin. (Seelye and Goodnough, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: New Jersey Finds Challenge To Combating Addiction Crisis
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has staked his final year as governor on tackling the state’s addiction crisis, but efforts under way in the state show how difficult that task is. Citing long waiting lists at many treatment centers, Mr. Christie wants to increase the availability of both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. The governor has urged the state legislature to pass laws limiting the quantity of opioids doctors can prescribe and mandating insurance coverage for addiction treatment. (King, 2/11)

The New York Times: Karen Pence Picks A Cause, And Art Therapists Feel Angst
Although art therapy is offered by a number of established medical centers, many Americans don’t know much about it. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy where mental health professionals use art materials to help patients explore feelings that may not be easy to express in words. Almost overnight, the field has attracted new attention because of a connection with the Trump administration. On Inauguration Day, Karen Pence, the second lady, announced on the newly revamped White House website that she wants to shine a “spotlight on the mental health profession of art therapy.” (Saint Louis, 2/10)

The Associated Press: House Moving To Block DC ‘Death With Dignity’ Law
A House committee is taking up an unusual resolution that would invalidate a local law in the nation’s capital. The House Oversight Committee will vote Monday on whether to send a resolution to the House floor blocking the District of Columbia’s “Death with Dignity” law. Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has vowed to stop the law, calling it “misguided” and immoral. (2/13)

The New York Times: Doctors See Gains Against ‘An Urgent Threat,’ C. Diff
Tom Bocci’s encounter with a bacterium he had never heard of began in April, when his doctor suggested a test for prostate cancer. Because the results appeared slightly abnormal, Mr. Bocci underwent a biopsy, taking antibiotics beforehand as a standard precaution against infection. There was no problem with his prostate, it turned out. But a few days later, Mr. Bocci developed severe diarrhea, fever and vomiting. He grew dehydrated. Five days afterward, in a hospital emergency room, doctors diagnosed a Clostridium difficile infection. (Span, 2/10)

NPR: Depression Hits Teen Girls Especially Hard, And High Social Media Use Doesn't Help
It's tough to be a teenager. Hormones kick in, peer pressures escalate and academic expectations loom large. Kids become more aware of their environment in the teen years — down the block and online. The whole mix of changes can increase stress, anxiety and the risk of depression among all teens, research has long shown. But a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests many more teenage girls in the U.S. may be experiencing major depressive episodes at this age than boys. (Neighmond, 2/13)

The New York Times: Baby In A Box? Free Cardboard Bassinets Encourage Safe Sleeping
Jernica Quiñones, a mother of five, was the first parent in New Jersey to get her free baby box — a portable, low-tech bassinet made of laminated cardboard. But first, she had to take an online course about safe sleeping practices, which experts say can sharply reduce the chances of sudden infant death syndrome. “Basically, you want to have the baby on the mattress, and that’s it,” she said after watching a 20-minute series of videos. (Foderao, 2/12)

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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