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KHN First Edition: January 25, 2017


First Edition

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Trump’s First Order Has Strong Words On Health. Actual Impact May Be Weak.
Julie Rovner reports: "The Trump administration has significant power to undermine the workings of the Affordable Care Act. The bigger question is how much of that power it will use. President Donald Trump’s executive order on Inauguration Day urging federal officials to “take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the federal health law did not provide administration officials with any new powers to unravel parts of the law." (Rovner, 1/24)

Kaiser Health News: Everything You Need To Know About Block Grants — The Heart Of GOP’s Medicaid Plans
Shefali Luthra reports: "President Donald Trump’s administration made explicit this weekend its commitment to an old GOP strategy for managing Medicaid, the federal-state insurance plan that covers low-income people — turning control of the program to states and capping what the federal government spends on it each year. It’s called “block granting.” ... But what would this look like, and why is it so controversial? Let’s break down how this policy could play out, and its implications — both for government spending and for accessing care." (Luthra, 1/24)

Kaiser Health News: Republicans Standing Behind Price
Julie Rovner, the chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, talks with Robin Young of WBUR’s Here and Now about the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on the nomination of Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Rovner notes that despite some withering criticism from Democrats about his stock trades and questions about Price’s plans for the health law, Republicans appear to be solidly supporting Price. (1/24)

Kaiser Health News: For Conservatives, A New Day In Health Care
Jenny Gold reports: "So what would a Republican replacement plan actually look like? And would it maintain some of the more popular pieces of the ACA? To find out, we spoke with leading conservative health care expert Lanhee Chen co-author of the influential American Enterprise Institute replacement proposal. Chen previously served as the policy director for Gov. Mitt Romney during his presidential campaign and is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University." (Gold, 1/25)

Kaiser Health News: Athlete-Turned-Trucker Works To Improve Truckers’ Health
KCUR's Alex Smith reports: "On a chilly winter morning, dozens of truck driver trainees file into a classroom at the headquarters of Prime Inc., a trucking company based in Springfield, Mo. At the front is Siphiwe Baleka, an energetic former swimming champion in his mid-40s. He delivers grim news about trucker health to the new recruits. “If you haven’t started to think about this, you need to start right now,” Baleka said. “You are about to enter the most unhealthy occupation in America.” (Smith, 1/25)

The New York Times: Tom Price’s Heated Hearing Is Unlikely To Derail His Nomination
In a heated confirmation hearing that focused on ethical issues, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, Representative Tom Price, defended his trading of medical and pharmaceutical stocks on Tuesday, saying, “Everything that I did was ethical, aboveboard, legal and transparent.” Democrats accused Mr. Price of a potential conflict of interest at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, saying he held more than $100,000 in stock in companies that could have benefited from legislation he promoted. Mr. Price, a Georgia Republican, denied any wrongdoing. (Pear and Kaplan, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Trump Health Pick Gives Dems Few Details On Health Overhaul
President Donald Trump's selection to become health secretary told a Senate committee Tuesday that the new administration believes people with existing illnesses should not be denied health insurance, but committed to no details on that or any aspects of how Republicans will reshape President Barack Obama's health care law. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who would be at the center of GOP efforts to scuttle Obama's statute and create new programs, frustrated Democrats probing for details of what Republicans will do. Instead, he repeatedly told them that the GOP goal is making health care affordable and "accessible for every single American" and to provide choices. (1/24)

Reuters: Trump Health Nominee Says He Does Not Back Medicare Privatization
[Price] told a congressional panel on Tuesday that he does not support the privatization of Medicare and defended his ethics record. Speaking before the Senate Committee on Finance, one of two committees that oversee the health department, Representative Tom Price said his position was consistent with that of Trump, who has stated he does not want to cut the federal health program for the elderly. (Clarke and Cornwell, 1/24)

The Washington Post: HHS Nominee Skirts Questions About Impact Of Trump’s Executive Order On ACA
President Trump’s choice for health secretary declined Tuesday to promise that no Americans would be worse off under Trump’s executive order to ease provisions of the Affordable Care Act — and distanced himself from the president’s claim to have an almost-finished plan to replace the law. At a testy Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) sought to play down the influence he would have on reshaping the health-care system along conservative lines, while attempting to deflect accusations from Democrats about his ethics. (Goldstein and Eilperin, 1/24)

Politico: Democrats Fail To Draw Blood From Price
The nominee to head HHS wouldn’t say if he would use the directive to scrap Obamacare’s unpopular requirement that most Americans get health coverage or pay a fine. Price also dodged questions about whether he backs converting Medicaid into block grants, despite supporting the idea as House Budget Committee chairman. And he gave vague assurances he wouldn’t “abandon” people with pre-existing conditions who can no longer be denied coverage under Obamacare while disputing a 2012 report that quoted him criticizing the law's requirement that insurers cover that population. (Cancryn, 1/24)

Los Angeles Times: Trump's Health Secretary Pick Faces Scrutiny Over Reform Plans In Round 2 Of Senate Hearings
Democrats on the finance panel repeatedly quizzed Price about what would happen to patients. Price kept his answers vague. In a round of questions about Medicare, Sen. Bob Menendez  (D-N.J.) asked: “Are you willing to commit that we won’t see increased costs or less coverage for seniors under a revision of Medicare that you might advocate or that the president might pursue?” Price responded: “Our goal is to make certain that seniors have access to the highest quality healthcare possible at an affordable price.” (Levey, 1/24)

The Wall Street Journal: HHS Nominee Says Congress Will Determine New Health System
Mr. Trump has sent sometimes conflicting messages about the stamp he intends to place in shaping the debate over repealing the ACA, urging Congress to act quickly but also saying he has his own plan that he intends to release soon. Mr. Price declined to say whether he would hold back on acting on Mr. Trump’s executive action until Republicans had coalesced around any replacement for the law. Asked by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado if Republicans’ proposals to repeal the ACA also included repealing the law’s expansion of Medicaid, he replied: “I, if I’m fortunate to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, will carry out the law that you pass. That’s a decision that you all will make.” (Radnofsky and Armour, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Trump Budget Pick Says Benefit Programs Must Be Changed
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need significant changes to be preserved for future generations, President Donald Trump's pick to head the White House budget office told Congress Tuesday. Rep. Mick Mulvaney's comments at his confirmation hearing stand in sharp contrast to Trump's campaign pledges not to cut the programs. (1/24)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Administration Makes Drug And Medical-Device Companies Nervous
The pharmaceutical and medical-device industries are deeply unsettled about their future under Republican control in Washington, which presents threats as well as opportunities, according to industry officials and advisers. The companies and their trade groups want to develop ties with key players in the Trump administration on health care to push their agendas and protect their interests, according to people familiar with company efforts. Yet who those key players will be remains largely a mystery, the people said. (Rockoff, 1/24)

USA Today: Trump Hiring Freeze Includes The Short-Staffed VA
A federal hiring freeze imposed by President Trump on Monday affects thousands of open jobs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, despite the half-million veterans still waiting longer than a month for VA appointments. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Tuesday that the VA is covered under the freeze, which exempted the military and other positions deemed necessary for national security and public safety. (Slack, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Key House Committee Will Hold Hearings On First Obamacare Replacement Bills Next Week
In a sign that Republican lawmakers are set to move swiftly on plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, key House committees are scheduling hearings and drafting legislation to unravel former president Barack Obama’s major domestic achievement. On Tuesday, the House Budget Committee is holding a hearing titled “The Failures of Obamacare: Harmful Effects and Broken Promises,” while the Ways and Means Committee is set to examine the “effectiveness” of the individual mandate to buy insurance, a linchpin of the ACA’s model to expand insurance and make it more affordable. (DeBonis, 1/24)

Politico: GOP-Aligned Group Launches Obamacare Ad Blitz
A House GOP-aligned outside group is rolling out a $2.6 million media blitz urging lawmakers to repeal and replace Obamacare — a move aimed at proving Republicans support as they craft a health care alternative. American Action Network on Wednesday will unveil the new spending on TV, digital and print ads as well as mailers in 41 districts. That brings the group’s total Obamacare ad spending to just over $4 million in January alone, a huge investment they hope will preempt Democratic attacks for their efforts. (Bade, 1/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Massachusetts Governor To Pitch Health-Insurance Penalty For Employers
The first state in the nation to require residents to carry health insurance is grappling with escalating Medicaid rolls, but a fix floated by Massachusetts’ Republican governor is drawing pushback from employers. Gov. Charlie Baker will propose in his annual budget on Wednesday a $2,000 penalty per worker on businesses that don’t shoulder enough of the health-insurance cost. The governor is aiming to solve what he sees as a flaw in the national health law: Medicaid ends up being more appealing to low-income workers than insurance offered by employers, raising the costs for the state. (Levitz and Evans, 1/25)

NPR: Obamacare Repeal Could Threaten Kids' Health Coverage In Arizona
Like any college student, Vanessa Ramirez never expected chemotherapy would be part of her busy school schedule. "I don't have any history of cancer in my family, so it wasn't something I was on the lookout for," Ramirez says, sitting outside the library of her alma mater, Arizona State University, in Tempe. Ramirez was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 23. Now, more than a decade later, she's healthy and so are her children. "But there are also emergencies that happen," Ramirez says, explaining the priority she places on health insurance. (Stone, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Judge Says Aetna Dropped Out Of Some Obamacare Markets To Help Win Its Merger Fight
Aetna announced it would pull out of most of the state exchanges where it sold health insurance under the Affordable Care Act last August, citing financial losses. But a U.S. District Court judge who rejected the company's proposed merger with Humana on Monday revealed in his opinion that profitability wasn't the only concern driving the company's decision -- Aetna also exited several markets as part of an effort to "improve its litigation position." (Johnson, 1/24)

Reuters: Aetna, Humana To Consider All Options After Court Blocks Merger
Aetna and Humana would consider all available options for their proposed $34 billion merger, the two U.S. health insurers said on Tuesday, a day after a court ruled against the deal due to fears it would lower competition. The deal would "substantially lessen competition" in the sale of Medicare Advantage plans in 364 counties in 21 U.S. states and on the Obamacare exchange in three Florida counties, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Monday. (Humer and Banerjee, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Trump’s Revival Of The Antiabortion ‘Gag Rule’ Could Have A Big Impact In Africa
One of President Trump’s first foreign policy decisions is set to affect some of the world’s poorest people: women seeking health services in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where government hospitals are sometimes scarce. On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it would revive a Reagan-era policy that bans American assistance to organizations that offer abortion services, including counseling and referrals. In practice, experts say, that policy will freeze millions of dollars in funding that has gone to critical health treatment, including HIV testing and neonatal care. (Sieff, 1/24)

The Associated Press: House Passes Bill To Bar Federal Funds For Abortion
Emboldened by a Republican in the White House, the GOP-led House on Tuesday backed legislation that would permanently bar federal funds for any abortion coverage. The measure, which passed 238-183, would also block tax credits for some people and businesses buying abortion coverage under former President Barack Obama's health care law. Republicans passed a similar bill in 2015 under veto threat from Obama and the legislation went nowhere. (1/24)

The New York Times: Anti-Abortion Group Releases Video Targeting Planned Parenthood
An anti-abortion group released a video this week purporting to show that Planned Parenthood does not offer comprehensive prenatal services, an accusation that the women’s health organization said deliberately misrepresented its mission. The group, Live Action, said that of 97 Planned Parenthood centers it had contacted, only five said they provided prenatal care, one of the many medical services offered by the organization, which has approximately 650 health centers operated by 57 affiliates across the country. (Bromwich, 1/24)

Reuters: Johnson & Johnson Plans More Price Transparency; Eyes U.S. Tax, Healthcare Changes
Johnson & Johnson's chief executive officer said on Tuesday that responsible drug pricing is a priority and discussed changes he would like to see on the U.S. tax code and healthcare policy, one day after meeting with President Donald Trump. The diversified healthcare group got off to a rocky start to the year, forecasting 2017 sales and profit below Wall Street estimates and reporting 2016 fourth-quarter sales short of expectations. J&J shares fell 2.1 percent to $111.52. (1/24)

The Wall Street Journal: Johnson & Johnson Posts Rise In Revenue And Profit, Issues Cautious Forecast
The company is in talks to buy Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd., a Swiss maker of rare-disease drugs that had about $1.8 billion in sales during the first nine months of last year. On a conference call, J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky declined to comment on the Actelion discussions other than to acknowledge them. Mr. Gorsky also said J&J is assessing a wide range of options, including potential sales, for its diabetes businesses that sell devices such as blood-glucose meters and insulin pumps. (Rockoff and Hufford, 1/24)

The New York Times: Are New Drugs For Hepatitis C Safe? A Report Raises Concerns
Drugs approved in recent years that can cure hepatitis C may have severe side effects, including liver failure, a new report suggests. The number of adverse events appears relatively small, and the findings are not conclusive. But experts said the report was a warning that should not be ignored. It involves nine widely used antiviral drugs that were heralded as a huge advance because they greatly increased cure rates, seemingly with few side effects. (Grady, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Dying From Cancer: Could Your Location Determine Your Fate?
Americans in certain struggling parts of the country are dying from cancer at rising rates, even as the cancer death rate nationwide continues to fall, an exhaustive new analysis has found. In parts of the country that are relatively poor, and have higher rates of obesity and smoking, cancer death rates rose nearly 50 percent, while wealthier pockets of the country saw death rates fall by nearly half. (1/24)

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