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KHN First Edition: February 9, 2017


First Edition

Thursday, February 09, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Conservatives Urge Speed Up Of Health Law Repeal, Dismiss Calls For Caution
Julie Rovner reports: "Leading conservative Republicans from the House and Senate say Congress is moving too slowly on efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. But their potential resistance to compromise — even with other members of their own party — underscores just how hard a task Republicans have set for themselves. “We think it’s time to do something, and that’s to get rid of this law,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told reporters at an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation. “The biggest problem with waiting is that’s not what we told the voters.” (Rovner, 2/8)

California Healthline: Threat Of Losing Obamacare Turns Some Formerly Apolitical Californians Into Protesters
Ana B. Ibarra reports: "Until recently, Paul Smith didn’t consider himself much of an activist. But he woke up hours before sunrise on Saturday to attend his first town hall meeting. That meeting near Sacramento, organized by his district’s Congressman Tom McClintock (R-Roseville), sparked a peaceful — if large and raucous — protest over Obamacare, the travel ban and other issues. And it drew national headlines. (Ibarra, 2/8)

California Healthline: Industry Giants Anthem, Centene Among The Lowest-Rated Medicaid Plans In California
Chad Terhune reports: "Anthem Inc. and Centene Corp., top players in the growing Medicaid managed care market nationally, run some of the lowest-quality health plans serving California’s poor population, according to state data. The two insurers combined run five of the six lowest-rated plans in the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal. And until they improve the quality of patient care in some areas of the state, officials have placed both companies under stricter oversight. Together, the plans cover about 3 million people, or roughly 20 percent of the Medi-Cal population." (Terhune, 2/9)

Kaiser Health News: New Federal Rules Will Require Home Health Agencies To Do Much More For Patients
Judith Graham writes: "Home health agencies will be required to become more responsive to patients and their caregivers under the first major overhaul of rules governing these organizations in almost 30 years. The federal regulations, published last month, specify the conditions under which 12,600 home health agencies can participate in Medicare and Medicaid, serving more than 5 million seniors and younger adults with disabilities through these government programs." (Graham, 2/9)

The Associated Press: Price Nears Senate Confirmation As Trump Health Secretary
Republicans are ready to overpower Democrats and push another of President Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees through the Senate, the man who will help lead the GOP drive to erase and replace the health care law. The Senate voted 51-48 Wednesday to short-circuit Democratic delaying tactics against Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump's choice for health secretary. Final approval of Price seemed certain, a vote that would elevate the long-time proponent of dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law and reshaping and curbing Medicare and Medicaid. (2/9)

USA Today: New Stock Questions Plague HHS Nominee Tom Price As Confirmation Vote Nears
President Trump's choice to be the top U.S. health official bought and sold health care company stocks often enough as a member of Congress to warrant probes by both federal securities regulators and the House ethics committee, former government ethics lawyers say. A USA TODAY analysis of stock trade reports by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., also shows he often misstated the timing of stock purchases or failed to report them altogether. (O'Donnell, 2/8)

Politico: GOP Swimming In Obamacare Replacements, But No Consensus
Republican leaders want to get their Obamacare repeal effort back on track. There’s a big problem, though: They’re neck-deep in competing plans to replace the law. Nearly a half-dozen plans have been introduced or are coming — none with the broad support needed to get through Congress and win over the public. And that’s making it far more difficult to repeal a law the GOP has spent six years trying to kill. (Everett and Haberkorn, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Mike Lee: Obamacare Must Be Repealed First, Replaced Later
Utah Sen. Mike Lee, one of the conservative Republicans likely to shape the fate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, said Wednesday he would insist that Congress repeal the law first, then devise a replacement. Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, are united in their desire to repeal the law they call “Obamacare” but differ in timing and legislative strategy, especially how much disruption they are willing to tolerate to remake health policy in their own vision. (Hackman and Radnofsky, 2/8)

NPR: Indian Country's New Health Care Jobs Could Vanish With Obamacare Repeal
Since its founding in the 1950s, the Indian Health Service has provided medical care for many Native Americans. But the service has been chronically underfunded, so often pays for care only if someone is in immediate danger of losing life or limb. In recent years, the Affordable Care Act created new health coverage opportunities for more than half a million Native Americans and Alaska Natives — and created jobs in Indian country, too. (Whitney, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Obamacare Provisions Gain Unexpected Backers As GOP Moves To Rewrite Law
When the Affordable Care Act was debated in 2010, the country’s biggest gynecologists’ group spoke out against it, saying it wouldn’t help doctors get paid more fairly or avoid frivolous malpractice lawsuits. Today, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is fighting efforts to fully repeal the law, pushing especially to keep a ban on charging women higher health insurance premiums than men. (Hackman, 2/8)

The Washington Post: More Than 350 Organizations Write Trump To Endorse Current Vaccines’ Safety
More than 350 organizations, including leading U.S. medical, advocacy and professional organizations, have sent a letter to President Trump expressing their “unequivocal support for the safety of vaccines.” The effort, organized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, reflects the growing alarm among a wide array of groups over Trump’s embrace of discredited claims about vaccine safety. After a meeting in January with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a proponent of the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism, a Trump spokeswoman said he was considering creation of a commission on autism. (Sun, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Anthem-Cigna Health Insurance Merger Rejected By Judge
Predicting diminished competition and likely higher costs, a federal judge rejected Anthem Inc.'s bid to buy rival health insurer Cigna Corp. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday said the merger would significantly reduce competition in the already concentrated insurance market, particularly for large national employers. Cigna and Anthem are two of just four insurers selling to companies with 5,000 employees spread across multiple states, and they compete aggressively for business, the judge wrote. (2/9)

The New York Times: Judge, Citing Harm To Customers, Blocks $48 Billion Anthem-Cigna Merger
The ruling, by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, came two weeks after another federal judge blocked a proposed $37 billion merger between Aetna and Humana on antitrust grounds. Judge Jackson wrote in her order that she found the Justice Department’s arguments against the deal persuasive, and that putting Anthem and Cigna together would harm customers. (de la Merced and Picker, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Federal Judge Blocks Anthem’s Planned Acquisition Of Cigna
“The evidence has also shown that the merger is likely to result in higher prices, and that it will have other anticompetitive effects: it will eliminate the two firms’ vigorous competition against each other for national accounts, reduce the number of national carriers available to respond to solicitations in the future, and diminish the prospects for innovation in the market,” Judge Jackson wrote. (Kendall and Wilde Mathews, 2/9)

Politico: Judge Rejects Anthem's $54 Billion Takeover Of Cigna
Anthem can appeal the ruling, but it faces a tight timeline. At the end of April, either of the merging companies can pull the plug on the deal, and Cigna is expected to do so immediately. That would trigger a $1.85 billion breakup fee that Anthem would owe to Cigna. This is the second blockbuster merger to be thwarted. Last month, Aetna's $37 billion takeover of Humana was also blocked. (Demko, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Gilead’s Boom Fades And Bust Will Linger
Gilead Sciences, perhaps the company most responsible for powering the last biotech bull market, has a revenue problem on its hands. Its struggles highlight how quickly the moment of opportunity can pass for research-focused drug companies. Gilead announced Tuesday it expects between $7.5 billion and $9 billion in sales for its hepatitis C franchise this year, well below analyst expectations. Hitting the high end of that forecast would mark a 40% annual sales decline. As a result, total company revenues could be down more than 20% in 2017 from a year ago. (Grant, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Humana Swings To Loss And Postpones Guidance
Humana Inc. said revenue fell and it swung to a loss in its latest quarter, and it postponed its earnings call and the release of its 2017 guidance after a federal judge last week blocked its proposed merger with Aetna Inc. on antitrust grounds. The move to hold off on releasing its forecast until Feb. 16 will allow the company to evaluate the court’s decision and its impact on future results, it said. (Hufford, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: Report Cites Deficiencies At Theranos Lab
Theranos Inc.’s lab in Arizona failed to ensure some patients who got potentially inaccurate diabetes test results were notified, according to a federal inspection report obtained through a public-records request. The embattled Silicon Valley company also performed patient blood-coagulation tests on a machine its staff configured improperly, according to the report and the company’s response to regulators. (Weaver, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Arkansas Doctors Could Be Sued Over Banned Abortion Method
Does an Arkansas law allow husbands to sue doctors to prevent their wives from undergoing a newly banned abortion procedure? Abortion opponents say no, and a group preparing to challenge the ban says it's theoretically possible but unlikely. The question has come up amid attention on an Arkansas law approved last month that bans dilation and evacuation, or "D&E," which apportion-rights supporters say is the safest and most common procedure used in the second trimester. (2/8)

Los Angeles Times: Southern California Gas To Pay $8.5 Million To Settle Lawsuit Over Aliso Canyon Leak
Southern California Gas Co. will pay $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by air quality regulators over the Aliso Canyon gas leak and will fund a study of community health effects. The settlement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, announced Wednesday, resolves a dispute over the months-long leak of methane from the gas company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility above the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Barboza, 2/8)

NPR: From Measles To Syphilis, The Golden Age Of Germs
Ten thousand years ago, at the dawn of the agricultural revolution, many of our worst infectious diseases didn't exist. Here's what changed. With the rise of agriculture, for the first time in history humans were living in close contact with domesticated animals — milking them, taking care of them and, of course, eating them. All that touching and sharing gave animal germs plenty of chances to get inside us. (Poole, 2/9)

The New York Times: Licorice During Pregnancy Tied To Problems In Children
Pregnant women may want to avoid licorice, which may affect the cognitive abilities of their children, a study suggests. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, a sweetener derived from the root of the licorice plant, and is used to flavor candies, soft drinks, herbal teas and other products. Pills and supplements containing concentrated licorice are also a popular herbal remedy for respiratory ailments and other ills. (Bakalar, 2/8)

The New York Times: The N.H.L.’s Problem With Science
In the 1950s, tobacco companies responded to research proving a link between smoking and lung cancer by trying to discredit the science. They formed their own research group to poke holes in the data and to stave off public panic that cigarette smoking could cause serious diseases and death. More than 60 years later, the N.H.L. has responded to a class-action lawsuit regarding head injuries with a similar approach. (Macur, 2/8)

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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