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KHN First Edition: July 23, 2015


First Edition

Thursday, July 23, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Good News, Bad News In Medicare Trustees Report
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "As Medicare approaches its 50th anniversary next week, the federal program got some welcome financial news Wednesday: Its giant hospital trust fund will be solvent until 2030, and its long-term outlook has improved, according to a report from the program’s trustees. But the report warned that several million Medicare beneficiaries could see their Medicare Part B monthly premiums skyrocket by 52 percent in January — from $104.90 to $159.30. Medicare Part B, which is paid for by a combination of federal funds and beneficiary premiums, generally covers physician and outpatient costs." (Galewitz, 7/23)

Kaiser Health News: HHS Pushes States To Negotiate Lower Obamacare Rates
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: "Some analysts who have looked at health insurers’ proposed premiums for next year predict major increases for policies sold on state and federal health exchanges. Others say it’s too soon to tell. One thing is clear: There’s a battle brewing behind the scenes to keep plans affordable for consumers. Now the Obama administration is weighing in, asking state insurance regulators to take a closer look at rate requests before granting them. Under the Affordable Care Act, state agencies largely retain the right to regulate premiums in their states. So far only a handful have finalized premiums for the coming year, for which enrollment begins in November." (Rovner, 7/22)

Kaiser Health News: How Vandalism And Fear Ended Abortion In Northwest Montana
Montana Public Radio's Corin Cates-Carney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "There has never been a welcome mat for abortion service providers in the Flathead Valley, a vast area that stretches over 5,000 square miles in the northwest corner of Montana. Susan Cahill began providing abortions in 1976 in the first clinic to offer the service in the Flathead." (Cates-Carney, 7/23)

The New York Times: Social Security Disability Benefits Face Cuts In 2016, Trustees Say
Eleven million people face a deep, abrupt cut in disability insurance benefits in late 2016 if Congress fails to replenish Social Security’s disability trust fund, which is running out of money, the Obama administration said Wednesday. Officials expressed concern about the program as they issued their annual report on the financial condition of Medicare and Social Security, which together account for about 40 percent of all federal spending. ... The trustees, in their report, said that the squeeze on the disability program was “but the first manifestation of larger financial imbalances facing Social Security as a whole, as well as Medicare.” They predicted that Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund would be exhausted in 2030, the same as projected last year. (Pear, 7/22)

Los Angeles Times: Disability Benefits For 11 Million People At Risk As Congress In Stalemate
Nerly 11 million Americans who receive federal disability benefits risk seeing their checks reduced unless Congress acts by next year to replenish the system's trust fund, the Social Security trustees reported Wednesday. The pending cash crunch in the disability fund is one of those slow-motion -- and largely self-created -- crises that Congress usually fails to resolve until a deadline hits. The latest report puts that deadline, the date when the disability trust fund will reach insolvency, in fall of 2016. After that point, tax revenues will cover only about 80% of scheduled disability benefits, unless Congress acts to fix the system. (Lauter, 7/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Social Security, Medicare Outlook: Better But Still Bleak
The long-term solvency of Medicare and Social Security has improved slightly, but the imminent depletion of a fund for disabled workers highlights the risk of delays in addressing rising costs of the government programs. ... Meanwhile, the report said Medicare’s hospital-insurance program, which insured around 1.6 million more people last year than it did the previous year, will be able to pay full benefits for elderly and disabled patients through 2030. The estimate is unchanged from last year’s projection. As recently as 2009, trustees had estimated that the hospital-care fund would be depleted by 2017. Projections for the solvency of Medicare have consistently improved in recent years amid a slowdown in the growth of health-care costs, which Obama administration officials say is attributable in part to the Affordable Care Act. (Timiraos, 7/22)

The Associated Press: Report: Social Security Disability Fund To Run Dry Next Year
The 11 million Americans who receive Social Security disability face steep benefit cuts next year, the government said Wednesday, handing lawmakers a fiscal and political crisis in the middle of a presidential campaign. ... In more bad news for beneficiaries, the trustees project there will be no cost-of-living increase in benefits at the end of the year. It would mark only the third year without an increase since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975. Separately, about 7 million Medicare beneficiaries could face a monthly premium increase of at least $54 for outpatient coverage. (Ohlemacher and Alonso-Zaldivar, 7/22)

The Associated Press: 5 Things From Annual Check-Up For Social Security, Medicare
Looking at the big picture, the financial health of Social Security and Medicare doesn’t appear to have worsened. Wednesday’s annual check-up found that Social Security’s retirement trust fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035, a year later than previously projected. Medicare’s giant trust fund for inpatient care won’t be exhausted until 2030, the same date as last year’s report. But below those reassuring projections, program trustees said there’s cause for concern. (Alonso-Zaldivar and Ohlemacher, 7/23)

Reuters: Some Public Hospitals Win, Others Lose With Obamacare
A year and a half after the Affordable Care Act brought widespread reforms to the U.S. healthcare system, Chicago's Cook County Health & Hospitals System has made its first profit in 180 years. Seven hundred miles south, the fortunes of Atlanta's primary public hospital, Grady Health System, haven't improved, and it remains as dependent as ever on philanthropy and county funding to stay afloat. (7/23)

The Associated Press: Lawmakers: VA Hid Details As Budget Crisis Loomed
Lawmakers from both parties accused the Department of Veterans Affairs Wednesday of hiding details of a budget crisis that could force the shutdown of some VA hospitals next month. The VA said last week it may shutter hospitals unless Congress closes a $2.5 billion shortfall caused by a sharp increase in demand by veterans for health care, including costly treatments for the deadly hepatitis C virus. (7/22)

The Associated Press: Dem Senator Withdraws Vets Fertility Bill, Cites GOP Attacks
With partisan battling over abortion on the rise, a Democratic senator withdrew a bill Wednesday expanding government fertility services for wounded veterans and blamed what she said was a Republican attack on women's health care. A GOP senator said the changes he was pushing were designed to set priorities for an overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs. (7/22)

Politico: Planned Parenthood Does Damage Control As GOP Demands Answers
House Republicans are threatening to subpoena a top Planned Parenthood official unless the group voluntarily makes her available for an interview about alleged sales of fetal tissue from abortions. But the women’s health group is ramping up its own efforts to contain political damage from the controversy. The dispute over Dr. Deborah Nucatola and her comments in a video secretly taped by anti-abortion activists means abortion - not a dominant issue in American politics for several years - could move front and center this fall as Republican lawmakers try to score political points on Planned Parenthood. Several Republican presidential candidates have already attacked the organization, meaning abortion rights could be part of the struggle for the White House as well. (Palmer and Bresnahan, 7/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem Nears Deal To Buy Cigna For $48 Billion
Anthem Inc. is nearing a deal to buy Cigna Corp. for more than $48 billion in a transaction that along with a previously proposed combination of rivals would shrink the five largest U.S. health insurers to just three. Anthem, based in Indianapolis, is expected to pay about $188 a share for Cigna, of Bloomfield, Conn., according to people familiar with the matter. A deal between the two companies could be announced as soon as Thursday afternoon, one of the people said. The agreement hasn’t been signed, and it is possible that the timing could be delayed or deal terms changed. (Mattioli, Hoffman and Wilde Mathews, 7/22)

Los Angeles Times: Cigna Shares Jump As Rival Anthem Reportedly Nears Deal
Shares of Cigna Corp. soared late Wednesday on a report that rival Anthem Inc. was nearing a deal for the health insurer after a months-long pursuit. Cigna's stock shot up 6% during extended trading after the Wall Street Journal reported that a merger could be announced as early as Thursday. (Terhune, 7/22)

The New York Times: Drug Companies Pushed From Far And Wide To Explain High Prices
As complaints grow about exorbitant drug prices, pharmaceutical companies are coming under pressure to disclose the development costs and profits of those medicines and the rationale for charging what they do. So-called pharmaceutical cost transparency bills have been introduced in at least six state legislatures in the last year, aiming to make drug companies justify their prices, which are often attributed to high research and development costs. (Pollack, 7/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Doctors Object To High Cancer-Drug Prices
More than 100 oncologists from top cancer hospitals around the U.S. have issued a harsh rebuke over soaring cancer-drug prices and called for new regulations to control them. The physicians are the latest in a growing roster of objectors to drug prices. Critics from doctors to insurers to state Medicaid officials have voiced alarm about prescription drug prices, which rose more than 12% last year in the U.S., the biggest annual increase in a decade, according to the nation’s largest pharmacy-benefit manager. (Whalen, 7/23)

The Washington Post: Cancer Experts Call For Curbs On Rising Drug Prices
Top cancer experts called Thursday for steps to curb the rapidly escalating price of oncology drugs, warning that the current trajectory “will affect millions of Americans and their immediate families, often repeatedly.” The commentary in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, signed by 118 physicians from cancer centers across the country, cited startling, if now familiar, evidence of the dramatic rise in cancer-drug prices. (Bernstein, 7/23)

The Associated Press: On-Demand Doctor Apps Bring Uber Approach To Medicine
It was 8 o'clock on a weeknight and Brooklyn resident Sarah Sheehan was reeling from a painful earache. She wouldn't be able to see her doctor until the next morning, and that would require a 45-minute subway ride uptown. That's when Sheehan, co-founder of an education technology business, remembered receiving a promotional code for a new company called Pager, an Uber-like service that sends doctors to patients' homes. (7/22)

NPR: Younger Adults with Alzheimer's Are Key to Drug Search
The face of Alzheimer's isn't always old. Sometimes it belongs to someone like Giedre Cohen, who is 37, yet struggles to remember her own name. Until about a year ago, Giedre was a "young, healthy, beautiful" woman just starting her life, says her husband, Tal Cohen, a real estate developer in Los Angeles. Now, he says, "her mind is slowly wasting away." People like Giedre have a rare gene mutation that causes symptoms of Alzheimer's to appear before they turn 60. (Hamilton, 7/23)

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County Task Force Suggests Ways To Divert Mentally Ill From Jails
Cutting the number of mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles County's jail system would require spending tens of millions of dollars on new treatment facilities and housing for offenders who would otherwise be released into homelessness, a long-awaited report concludes. A task force of public officials and mental health advocates convened by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey issued the report after spending more than a year studying how to divert mentally ill people from the criminal justice system. (Sewell and Gerber, 7/23)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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