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KHN First Edition: February 10, 2017


First Edition

Friday, February 10, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Dozens Of New Cancer Drugs Do Little To Improve Survival, Frustrating Patients
Liz Szabo reports: "Marlene McCarthy’s breast cancer has grown relentlessly over the past seven years, spreading painfully through her bones and making it impossible to walk without a cane. Although the 73-year-old knows there’s no cure for her disease, she wants researchers to do better. It’s been years, she said, since she has found a drug that has actually helped. McCarthy said she’s frustrated that the Food and Drug Administration is approving cancer drugs without proof that they cure patients or help them live longer." (Szabo, 2/9)

Kaiser Health News: ‘Massive Confusion’ Abounds For Insurers As GOP Wavers On Obamacare Redo
Jay Hancock reports: "Premiums for Obamacare plans sold by New Mexico Health Connections could rise as little as 7 percent next year, says Martin Hickey, the insurance company’s CEO. Or they might soar as much as 40 percent, he said. It all depends on what happens in Washington. Such is the vast uncertainty about how the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress are approaching their promises to repeal, repair and replace the Affordable Care Act." (Hancock, 2/9)

Kaiser Health News: What Made Obamacare Succeed In Some States? Hint: It’s Not Politics
Stephanie O'Neill reports: "Ask anyone about their health care and you are likely to hear about ailments, doctors, maybe costs and insurance hassles. Most people don’t go straight from “my health” to a political debate, and yet that is what our country has been embroiled in for almost a decade. A study out Thursday tries to set aside the politics to examine how the insurance markets function and what makes or breaks them in five specific states." (O'Neill, 2/10)

Kaiser Health News: Despite Prevention Guidelines, Few Smokers Seek CT Scans To Check For Lung Cancer
Michelle Andrews reports: "Lung cancer screening rates have barely budged in recent years, according to a new study, even though under the health law many people don’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket for them because the test is recommended by a panel of prevention experts. In 2010, just 3.3 percent of eligible smokers surveyed said they had received a low-dose computed tomography scan in the past year to check for lung cancer. In 2015, the percentage had inched up to 3.9 percent, or 262,700 people out of 6.8 million who were eligible." (Andrews, 2/10)

The New York Times: Tom Price Is Confirmed As Health Secretary
The Senate early Friday approved the nomination of Representative Tom Price to be secretary of health and human services, putting him in charge of President Trump’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. By a vote of 52 to 47, the Senate confirmed Mr. Price, Republican of Georgia, after a debate that focused as much on his ethics and investments as on his views on health policy. (Pear and Kaplan, 2/10)

The Associated Press: Trump's Health Secretary Pick Confirmed Narrowly For Cabinet
Democrats prolonged the debate on the 62-year-old Price until nearly 2 a.m. Friday, in arguments tinged with bitter accusations, reflecting the raw feelings enveloping Washington early in Trump's presidency. Just four of 31 votes for then-President Barack Obama's Cabinet vacancies drew at least 40 "no" votes, as did only two of 34 votes for Cabinet positions under President George W. Bush. (2/10)

The Washington Post: Polarizing HHS Nominee Confirmed By Senate On Party-Line Vote
Lacking the votes to defeat his confirmation, Democrats instead marshaled a war of words. They used the hours leading to the 2 a.m. roll call to read testimonials from Americans with severe, expensive-to-treat illnesses and gratitude to the ACA, Medicare or Medicaid — cornerstones of federal health policy that the Democrats accused the nominee of wanting to undermine. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who as a 2016 presidential candidate energized many progressive voters, accused the White House of hypocrisy. President Trump, he contended, had campaigned on promises not to cut the nation’s main entitlement programs but then chose as his HHS secretary a congressman who has long sought to weaken them. (Goldstein and Sullivan, 2/10)

USA Today: Senate Confirms Tom Price As New Health Secretary
Democrats view Price as a polarizing figure with a controversial history of trading health care stocks and whose policies will snatch insurance coverage from Americans. "He seems to have no higher priority than to terminate health coverage for millions of people,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. She said his preference for limiting women’s access to free birth control was "not only wrong, it’s arrogant." (Hjelmgaard, 2/10)

Los Angeles Times: Sharply Divided Senate Approves Trump's Pick To Be Health Secretary
Price, a former orthopedic surgeon and longtime ally of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), has been a leading champion of the repeal campaign and a favorite of the Republican base. He was an early supporter of the tea party movement and has sponsored legislation to overhaul the healthcare system, scaling back Medicaid and replacing Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces. (Levey, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Confirms Tom Price As Health And Human Services Secretary
Mr. Price is also expected to follow through on an executive order, issued by Mr. Trump on the first day of his administration, directing federal agencies to pare back regulatory elements of the ACA in ways that don’t require congressional action. There is little evidence of action on that front so far, but Mr. Price’s installation could change that. One rule he could overturn, for example, is the Obama administration’s mandate that health plans include contraceptive coverage at no cost to the patient, a protection that isn’t explicitly written into the law. (Hackman, 2/10)

Politico: Senate Confirms Obamacare Opponent Price To Lead Health Department
[T]he bitter opposition to Price’s nomination — which culminated with Democrats delaying a final vote for nearly 30 hours — served as a preview of the fight to come over the future of American health care. And Price could well start that fight immediately by using his authority as secretary to roll back or not enforce select pieces of Obamacare — the mandated benefit package, perhaps, or the hot-button birth control coverage rules. (Cancryn, 2/10)

The Washington Post: Republicans In Idaho Tried To Design A Better Plan Than Obamacare — And Failed
Jamie Gluch lumbered into the kitchen and pulled from the freezer a bag of corn, the only affordable analgesic he had for his swollen face. ... Gluch’s tooth had rotted weeks before, but seeing a dentist was an unthinkable expense after car trouble sucked up the family’s savings. The Gluchs had hoped it wouldn’t come to this — a car or a tooth — when former president Barack Obama announced his health-care plan years ago. But then Idaho chose not to expand Medicaid, as the law allowed, and then Idahoans chose not to come up with their own plan, even though state leaders keep trying. (Samuels, 2/9)

Los Angeles Times: For Music's 'Medical Refugees,' Obamacare Is A Lifeline Worth Protecting
Last April, doctors told David Ponder, a 57-year-old gospel musician living near San Diego, that his heart was going to fail. He had already had quadruple bypass surgery; without a full transplant he and his music would likely die within months. Three months later, with the help of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ MusiCares charity, he had a new heart. With it came a renewed faith in his music, his beliefs — and the necessity of the Affordable Care Act. (Brown, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Ramps Up Effort To Transform Medicaid Into Block Grants
Congressional Republicans are stepping up efforts to overhaul how Medicaid is funded, a move that could reduce the funds states receive while giving states more control over the roughly $500 billion program. House Republicans this week weighed bills on Medicaid eligibility that are widely seen as their first move toward a broader overhaul. (Levitz and Armour, 2/9)

The Washington Post: School District Chiefs: Proposed Medicaid Changes Would Hurt Poor Children And Students With Disabilities
A new survey of school district leaders across the country finds that they are deeply worried that Republican proposals to refinance Medicaid, if they become law, would hurt students who live in poverty and those with disabilities and in special education. A big cut in Medicaid spending would mean, the survey report said, that many districts would have to furlough or lay off school personnel, that the percentage of uninsured children could go from 12 percent to an estimated 21 percent or higher, and critical benefits could be eliminated. (Strauss, 2/9)

The Associated Press: 12.2 Million Sign Up For 'Obamacare' Despite Its Problems
More than 12.2 million people have signed up for coverage nationwide this year under the Obama-era health care law even with the uncertainty created by President Donald Trump's vow to repeal and replace it. A count by The Associated Press shows that many consumers returned to the program despite its problems. Aside from the political turmoil, those difficulties include a spike in premiums, rising deductibles and dwindling choice of insurers. (2/10)

The Associated Press: Minnesota's Health Exchange Reports Record Number Of Signups
A record number of residents signed up for private insurance this year through Minnesota's health exchange, officials said Thursday, attributing the spike in part to uncertainty over the federal health care law and a novel state program that offsets skyrocketing premiums. MNsure, the health exchange Minnesota created through the federal Affordable Care Act, signed up more than 117,000 people during the three-month open enrollment period for 2017 that ended Jan. 31. (2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Anti-Trump Crowds Rule At Republicans’ Town Halls
Town halls held by Republican Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee and Justin Amash of Michigan on Thursday also drew big numbers and tough questions. At earlier home-district events in states including Colorado, Florida, Virginia and California, GOP House members were surprised by rowdy crowds, often declaring support for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have vowed to repeal. The protests, some organized by activists, recall the opposition early in the Obama administration to that same Democratic-sponsored health-care law. That gave birth to the tea-party movement—a parallel not lost on some protesters. (Tau, 2/10)

The Associated Press: Republican US Rep. Amash's Town Hall Event Gets Contentious
Hundreds packed into a school auditorium Thursday evening for the chance to pose — and in many cases shout — questions to Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. ... Perhaps the most contentions moments at the town hall were created by questions about the future of the Affordable Care Act. Paul Bonis stood from his first-row seat and gave an impassioned endorsement of the federal health law, before telling Amash: "I am also a cancer survivor. I am scared to death that I will not have health insurance in the future."

Politico: How One GOP Congressman Tamed Pro-Obamacare Protesters
Instead of getting defensive or ducking for cover, though, the 36-year-old Michigan lawmaker leaned in, coolly explaining his position on the health care law. He made a point of trying to connect with the overwhelmingly Democratic room, jabbing President Donald Trump for what he called racially insensitive remarks and overreaching policies. Amash seemed to enjoy the give-and-take so much that he stayed 40 minutes longer than scheduled and promised to book an even bigger venue next time. It was a jarring juxtaposition from the hunkered-down, protective posture many GOP lawmakers have assumed in recent weeks as Democrats storm their town hall meetings and congressional offices. (Bade, 2/10)

ProPublica: How A Simple Fix To Reduce Aberrant Prescribing Became Not So Simple
Back in 2014, federal officials settled on what they thought would be a straightforward fix to curb abusive pill pushing: Require doctors and other health providers to register with the Medicare program in order to prescribe medications for beneficiaries. That way, the government could screen them and take action if their prescribing habits were deemed improper. Officials figured the modest change would barely ruffle the medical community: Doctors already had to fill out an application, have their credentials verified and enroll to get paid by Medicare for seeing patients, after all. (Ornstein, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem To Appeal Decision Against Cigna Deal
Anthem Inc. on Thursday appealed a federal judge’s decision to block its acquisition of Cigna Corp., but the future of the deal was unclear amid discord between the two partners. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the proposed $48 billion deal between the two health insurers violated federal antitrust law because it would create an unacceptable reduction in the number of companies able to serve large multistate employers that offer insurance to their workers. (Wilde Mathews, 2/9)

The New York Times: Next Fight For Anthem And Cigna: The Breakup Fee
Anthem and Cigna may have one fight left. Their $54 billion deal was nixed on Wednesday by a federal judge, who agreed with the Justice Department’s concerns about competition. In addition to fighting the government, the two health insurers had been squabbling with each other over the merger. That suggests that the payment of the breakup fee could be contentious, too. (Cyran, 2/9)

Reuters: Cigna, Humana Could Still Combine Despite Anti-Trust Rulings-Analysts
Although judges shot down Anthem Inc's $54 billion (£43.1 billion) acquisition of Cigna Corp and Aetna Inc's $35 billion takeover of Humana Inc on anti-trust grounds, the rulings left scope for a possible combination of Cigna and Humana, industry insiders said. Cigna would have both the motives and finances to pursue an acquisition of Humana, these experts suggested. Because of its much smaller Medicare Advantage business, Cigna may have a better shot at winning a regulatory green light, they added. (2/9)

Reuters: Zenefits Cuts Nearly Half Its Workforce As Startup's Struggles Continue
Zenefits is laying off nearly half its staff as the software startup grapples with the fallout of insurance violations that resulted in hefty penalties from state regulators. The company, which offers free human-resources software to manage benefits and payroll while making its money as an insurance broker, said on Thursday that 430 employees would lose their jobs. That leaves 4-year-old Zenefits with about 500 employees, roughly a third of what it had a year ago. (Somerville, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Zenefits Cuts Nearly Half Of Staff
In a memo to staff, the company’s new chief executive, Jay Fulcher, wrote that “in 2015, the company grew too quickly, hiring employees to support revenue projections that far surpass where we are today. Today’s action aligns our costs more closely to our business realities.” (Winkler, 2/9)

The Associated Press: Arkansas Considers Banning 'Sex-Selection' Abortions
Arkansas would become the eighth state to ban abortions based solely on whether a woman wants to have a girl or a boy under a measure a House panel approved Thursday that is part of a Republican agenda that started with the party's takeover of the Legislature four years ago. Opponents said the measure is unconstitutional. Supporters said the ban on so-called sex-selection abortions would have a minimal effect because most abortions occur before the gender is known. (2/9)

The Washington Post: Get The Lead Out: Hundreds Suffer Poisoning From Bullet Fragments In Their Bodies
Hundreds of people with bullet fragments lodged in their bodies have suffered lead poisoning from the slugs, including several people who have extremely elevated levels of the highly toxic metal in their blood, health authorities reported Thursday. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 457 gunshot-wound victims with elevated levels of lead in their blood when they looked at reports from 41 states between 2003 and 2012. Seventeen people had blood lead levels more than 16 times the limit recommended by the CDC. (Bernstein, 2/9)

The Associated Press: New Report Could Shed Light On Health Impacts Of A-Bomb Test
Residents of the New Mexico village of Tularosa have long said those living near the site of the world's first atomic bomb test in 1945 weren't told about the dangers or compensated for their resulting health problems. Since then, they say, descendants have been plagued with cancer and other illnesses while the federal government ignored their plight. (2/9)

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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