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KHN First Edition: February 15, 2017


First Edition

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Influence Of GOP Doctors Caucus Grows As Congress Looks To Replace Health Law
Phil Galewitz reports: "The confirmation of Tom Price, the orthopedic surgeon-turned-Georgia congressman, as secretary of Health and Human Services represents the latest victory in the ascendancy of a little-known but powerful group of conservative physicians in Congress he belongs to — the GOP Doctors Caucus. During the Obama administration, the caucus regularly sought to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and it’s now expected to play a major role determining the Trump administration’s plans for replacement." (Galewitz, 2/15)

Kaiser Health News: Docs Bill Medicare For End-Of-Life Advice As ‘Death Panel’ Fears Reemerge
JoNel Aleccia reports: "End-of-life counseling sessions, once decried by some conservative Republicans as “death panels,” gained steam among Medicare patients in 2016, the first year doctors could charge the federal program for the service. Nearly 14,000 providers billed almost $35 million — including nearly $16 million paid by Medicare — for advance care planning conversations for about 223,000 patients from January through June, according to data released this week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Full year figures won’t be available until July, but use appears to be higher than anticipated." (Aleccia, 2/15)

Kaiser Health News: Individual Insurance Primer: Long Troubled Market At Center Of Drive For Repeal
Carmen Heredia Rodriguez reports: "As the country braces for a possible overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, consumers and patients are raising concerns that the more than 10 million people who purchased plans through the law’s insurance marketplaces could lose coverage. Some are also nervous that changes unleashed by any revamping of the law could throw insurance purchased by individuals outside of the marketplaces into jeopardy." (Heredia Rodriguez, 2/15)

The New York Times: Humana Plans To Pull Out Of Obamacare’s Insurance Exchanges
Humana announced on Tuesday that it would no longer offer health insurance coverage in the state marketplaces created under the federal health care law, becoming the first major insurer to cast a no-confidence vote over selling individual plans on the public exchanges for 2018. President Trump immediately seized on the company’s decision as evidence that the Affordable Care Act needed to be repealed and replaced. “Obamacare continues to fail,” he said on Twitter. (Abelson, 2/14)

Los Angeles Times: Amid Obamacare Uncertainty, Insurance Giant Humana Plans To Leave Marketplaces In 2018
The company attributed its action to mounting losses caused by sicker-than-expected consumers. It is the first major insurer to pull back completely amid the mounting uncertainty over the GOP’s still undefined healthcare plans, though other leading health plans have exited marketplaces over the last year, citing losses. Humana’s move will also probably mean that some 150,000 policy holders in 11 states where Humana sells Obamacare plans will have to switch carriers in 2018; some may be left without any alternative. (Levey and sen, 2/14)

Politico: Humana Becomes First Major Insurer To Quit Obamacare Exchanges
The decision makes Humana the first major insurer to fully exit Obamacare amid uncertainty about the GOP's undefined health care plans. Other major insurers said they could also withdraw from Obamacare marketplaces next year if Republicans don't take immediate steps to shore up the law before replacing it. (Cancryn, 2/14)

The Washington Post: Ryan Faces Major Test In Selling Obamacare Repeal And Replacement
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent Tuesday on a door-to-door tour of the Capitol in hopes of salvaging his plan to repeal and largely replace the Affordable Care Act by spring. The day-long blitz comes as Republicans in Congress have made virtually no visible progress in recent weeks on overhauling the health-care system, according to interviews with several senior GOP aides. (Snell and DeBonis, 2/14)

The Washington Post: Hill Republicans Are Eager To Talk Policy. But Trump Is Getting In Their Way.
One by one, Republican lawmakers stepped to the microphone and talked about the topic that was not consuming Washington on Tuesday morning: overhauling the health-care system. One committee chairman declared that Republican lawmakers were “working on solutions” to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Another chairman was more cautious, explaining that Republicans were “taking our time” to “get it right.” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan spoke on each side of the issue, saying both that the health-care system is “collapsing” and needs a “rescue,” and promising a “step-by-step approach” leading to a “stable transition.” (Kane, 2/14)

The Associated Press: Conservatives Want Fast Health Law Repeal, Leaders Cautious
Conservatives have demanded a quick vote on erasing much of President Barack Obama's health care law, with some threatening to oppose less sweeping legislation. But House Republican leaders said they were working deliberatively as the party continued its struggle to find a replacement that could pass Congress. "This affects every person and every family in America," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters on Tuesday. "That's why we're taking a step-by-step approach." (2/14)

Politico: GOP May Boost Medicaid Spending In Order To Slash The Program
Republicans determined to cut Medicaid may first have to pour more money into it, to keep the peace between Republican governors who expanded health care for low-income people under Obamacare and those who resisted. It’s all part of the GOP’s long-term plan to dramatically revamp the health care entitlement for the poor in order to cap what they see as runaway federal spending. (Haberkorn and Pradhan, 2/15)

Los Angeles Times: As GOP Plows Forward On Obamacare Repeal, New Data Show The Nation's Uninsured Rate Hit A Record Low Last Year
The nation’s uninsured rate tumbled further last year, hitting the lowest rate on record, according to new government data that underscored what is at stake in the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.In the first nine months of 2016, just 8.8% of Americans lacked health coverage, survey data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. (Levey, 2/14)

The Associated Press: 2 Big Insurance Breakups On Valentine's Day
It was a rough day for the already-roiled U.S. health insurance market: One giant merger was abandoned, another is threatened by infighting, and a major insurer announced it will stop selling coverage on public exchanges in 11 states. Both merger deals had already been rejected by federal regulators and judges, but the companies were considering appeals to those decisions. Now they both appear to be off. (2/14)

Reuters: Aetna, Humana Drop Merger; Cigna Wants To End Anthem Deal
Health insurers Aetna Inc and Humana Inc walked away from their $34 billion merger on Tuesday and Cigna Corp sought to end its deal with Anthem, shelving the industry consolidation they charted to address former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. (Humer, Bartz and Banerjee, 2/14)

USA Today: Aetna-Humana $37B Health Merger Dies, Cigna-Anthem Fight Over $48B Deal
Reacting to recent court rulings that blocked both transactions on antitrust grounds, Aetna on Tuesday abandoned its planned $37 billion merger with industry rival Humana in an agreement approved by both companies. But Anthem and Cigna battled each other over the fate of their planned $48 billion transaction. Cigna filed a court action to scuttle the tie-up and seek legal damages from its deal partner, while Anthem vowed to press ahead. The developments are the latest corporate fallout from the Obama administration's decision to challenge corporate mergers on anti-competition grounds and seek to block so-called tax inversion deals based on contentions they take unfair advantage of tax loopholes and would erode the nation's tax base. (Bomey and McCoy, 2/14)

The Washington Post: Cigna Demands Anthem Pay $14.8 Billion In Lawsuit To Terminate Merger Agreement
An Anthem spokeswoman said the company is still committed to closing its deal with Cigna, signaling the breakup could be messy. In a news release, Cigna announced it had filed a lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court against Anthem seeking a judgment that the merger agreement had been terminated lawfully and seeking a $1.85 billion termination fee, along with an additional $13 billion in damages. ... Anthem spokeswoman Jill Becher said that Cigna's action was invalid and said the company "does not have a right to terminate the agreement." (Johnson, 2/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Antitrust Rulings Put Chill On Health-Insurance Mergers
The fate of both deals represents a victory for the Obama administration’s antitrust officials, who were able to win the cases despite major differences between the two transactions. In the Aetna case, a judge in January said the merger could harm seniors who buy the private Medicare plans known as Medicare Advantage. The Anthem antitrust decision by a different judge last week focused closely on that acquisition’s potential impact on large, multistate employers that offer health coverage to their workers. Both acquisitions came together amid an insurance-industry merger frenzy in 2015, but the dynamics in each have been different. (Wilde Mathews and Kendall, 2/14)

The Associated Press: Pick For Medicare Post Faces Questions On Indiana Contracts
President Donald Trump's pick to oversee Medicare and Medicaid advised Vice President Mike Pence on health care issues while he was Indiana's governor, a post she maintained amid a web of business arrangements — including one that ethics experts say conflicted with her public duties. A review by The Associated Press found Seema Verma and her small Indianapolis-based firm made millions through consulting agreements with at least nine states while also working under contract for Hewlett Packard. (2/15)

Reuters: Pharma Industry Shuns Trump Push For Radical Shift At FDA
U.S. President Donald Trump's vow to roll back government regulations at least 75 percent is causing anxiety for some pharmaceutical executives that a less robust Food and Drug Administration would make it harder to secure insurance coverage for pricey new medicines. The prospect of big change at the regulatory agency comes as drugmakers are under fire for high prices, including Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC, which said Monday it was "pausing" the launch of its Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug after U.S. lawmakers questioned its $89,000 a year price. (2/15)

USA Today: Congress To Challenge Rule Protecting Planned Parenthood Grants
House Republicans are taking aim this week at an Obama-era rule that bans states from denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that perform abortions. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday sent legislation to the House floor that would rescind the rule, which prohibits states from withholding family-planning funding from providers for reasons other than their ability to offer family-planning services. (Gaudiano, 2/14)

The Washington Post: Lawmaker Who Called Pregnant Women A ‘Host’ Pushes Bill Requiring Fathers To Approve Abortion
A bill advancing in Oklahoma would require a woman to get the written consent of the fetus’s father before obtaining an abortion. The bill, which passed out of a House committee Tuesday, would also require a woman “to provide, in writing, the identity of the father of the fetus to the physician who is to perform or induce the abortion,” according to the bill’s language. “If the person identified as the father of the fetus challenges the fact that he is the father, such individual may demand that a paternity test be performed.” (Somashekhar and Wang, 2/14)

The Associated Press: Texas Anti-Abortion Efforts Renew After Supreme Court Defeat
Undeterred by a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down sweeping abortion restrictions that were sold as protecting women's health, Texas Republicans are pushing new measures pitched as protecting fetuses, with a hopeful eye toward Washington. New anti-abortion measures are moving through the Legislature — where Democrats are virtually powerless to stop them — and opponents see a shift in GOP strategy after last year's 5-3 Supreme Court ruling that rejected the state's claims of trying to safeguard women and dismantled a 2013 law that prompted many of the state's abortion clinics to close. (2/14)

The Associated Press: Arkansas House Approves Ban On ‘Sex-Selection’ Abortions
The Arkansas House voted Tuesday to impose fines and prison time on doctors who perform abortions that are based solely on whether the mother wants to have a boy or girl, moving the state closer toward adopting a “sex-selection” ban that opponents say is unconstitutional. The prohibition adopted by the majority-Republican House on a 79-3 vote is the latest among a series of abortion restrictions advancing months after Republicans expanded their majorities. The bill now heads to the majority-GOP Senate. (Demillo, 2/14)

The New York Times: Human Gene Editing Receives Science Panel’s Support
An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once-unthinkable proposition: the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations. This type of human gene editing has long been seen as an ethical minefield. (Harmon, 2/14)

The Washington Post: Ethicists Advise Caution In Applying CRISPR Gene Editing To Humans
Ethicists have been working overtime to figure out how to handle CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing technique that could potentially prevent congenital diseases but could also be used for cosmetic enhancements and lead to permanent, heritable changes in the human species. The latest iteration of this ongoing CRISPR debate is a report published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. The report, a series of guidelines written by 22 experts from multiple countries and a variety of academic specialties, presents a kind of flashing red light for CRISPR. (Achenbach, 2/14)

NPR: Editing Human Embryo Genes Could Be Allowed Someday, Scientific Panel Says
The academies determined that new gene-editing techniques had made it reasonable to pursue such controversial experiments down the road, though not quite yet. "It is not ready now, but it might be safe enough to try in the future," R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who co-chaired the committee, said. "And if certain conditions are met, it might be permissible to try it." That conclusion counters a long-standing taboo on making changes in genes in human sperm, eggs or embryos because such alterations would be inherited by future generations. (Stein, 2/14)

The Washington Post: CDC Reports More Progress Against HIV, But Gay Latinos Contracted More Infections
The government reported more evidence of progress against HIV on Tuesday, citing an 18 percent decline in the number of U.S. infections between 2008 and 2014 and even sharper drops among heterosexuals and people who inject drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the estimated number of infections fell from 45,700 in 2008 to 37,600 in 2014, after remaining at roughly the same level for more than a decade. Heterosexuals saw a 36 percent decline in HIV diagnoses during the same period, and intravenous-drug users experienced a 56 percent drop despite a burgeoning opioid epidemic. (Bernstein, 2/14)

NPR: Fear Of Aging Prevents Many From Saving For Health Care
Spending your own money on health care might mean that you'll be more frugal with it. That's the theory behind health savings accounts, a decades-old GOP concept that's sparking renewed interest on Capitol Hill as Republican lawmakers look for ways to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Fulton, 2/15)

NPR: Cold Caps Reduce Hair Loss From Chemotherapy
It's no surprise that most women with breast cancer consider hair loss one of the most traumatic aspects of chemotherapy. That has led to a big market for cooling caps, which are purported to limit hair loss. But cooling caps haven't been extensively studied in the U.S., and womens' experiences with the caps have been hit or miss. And just one cooling cap, the DigniCap, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Neighmond, 2/14)

The Washington Post: Henrietta Lacks’s Family Wants Compensation For Her Cells
The eldest son of Henrietta Lacks wants compensation from Johns Hopkins University and possibly others for the unauthorized use of her cells in research that led to decades of medical advances. Lawrence Lacks said that he is the executor of his mother’s estate and that an agreement that the National Institutes of Health made with other family members over the years regarding the use of the cells was not valid. That agreement did not include compensation. (McDaniels, 2/14)

The Associated Press: No Further Penalty For Nurse Who Let Patient Go In Snowstorm
The state has lost its effort to impose a greater penalty on a nurse whose license was suspended after letting a disoriented patient leave a hospital during a snowstorm. The 61-year-old patient was found dead the next day just 380 feet from the entrance of Down East Community Hospital in Machias, leading to an investigation of nurse John Zablotny’s actions and an effort by the Maine State Board of Nurses to revoke his license for two years. (2/14)

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