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KHN First Edition: September 5, 2017


First Edition

Tuesday, September 05, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: The Secret To Chronic Happiness As You Age
By all rights, Fletcher Hall should not be happy. At 76, the retired trade association manager has endured three heart attacks and eight heart bypass operations. He’s had four stents and a balloon inserted in his heart. He has diabetes, glaucoma, osteoarthritis in both knees and diabetic neuropathy in both legs. He can’t drive. He can’t travel much. He can’t see very well. And his heart condition severely limits his ability to exercise. On a good day, he can walk about 10 yards before needing to rest. (Horovitz, 9/5)

The Hill: Week Ahead: Congress Returns To Take Up Bipartisan Health Care Effort 
The Senate's Health Committee will hold two hearings in the coming week on a bipartisan healthcare bill, with testimony from governors and state insurance officials on Wednesday and Thursday, in addition to two more hearings the following week. The goal is to pass a bill by the end of the month to stabilize the insurance markets for 2018. (Hellmann, 9/5)

Politico: Alexander Sets Ambitious Timetable For Obamacare Fixes
The chairman of the Senate health committee is aiming to break years of stalemate and pass a bipartisan Obamacare repair bill to try to stabilize health insurance markets in the remarkably short span of just three weeks. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) envisions a narrow bill that won't fix everything but would provide some assurances for insurers selling coverage next year. (Haberkorn, 9/1)

The Associated Press: GOP Ability To Dismantle Health Law Expires At Month's End
Senate Republicans will soon run out of time to rely on their slim majority to dismantle the Obama health law. The Senate parliamentarian has determined that rules governing the effort will expire when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, according to independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. The rules allow Republicans to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care law with just 51 votes, avoiding a filibuster. (9/1)

Politico: Moment Of Truth Arrives For Obamacare Repeal
In a potential death knell for efforts to repeal Obamacare — at least this year — the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Republicans face a Sept. 30 deadline to kill or overhaul the law with only 50 votes, Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee said Friday. Congress is facing fights in September over boosting the federal debt limit, government funding, defense programs and the FAA, among other issues. Adding another Obamacare repeal battle to that schedule could prove too much for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has all but said he's moving on from health care. (Pradhan and Bresnahan, 9/1)

Reuters: Bad Blood Over Obamacare Fight Lingers As Congress Returns
When the U.S. Congress returns from summer vacation on Tuesday, for the first time in years gutting Obamacare will not be the main order of business on the healthcare agenda. But leftover hard feelings in the wake of the long, partisan Obamacare wars could poison other issues. (Drawbaugh and Lewis, 9/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Congress Faces A Tense Agenda, With Little Margin For Error
Mr. Trump over the August recess repeatedly criticized Republican lawmakers over Twitter , blaming them for the failure to repeal the health-care law. His tweets underscored the party’s inability to pass major legislation, despite controlling both chambers and the White House for the first time since 2007. Both House and Senate Republicans said Mr. Trump’s attacks on his own party won’t help them quickly pass the looming high-stakes bills that already face little room for error in either chamber. (Bender and son, 9/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Push On Bipartisan Health Proposal Signals Deeper Rift Between GOP, Trump
A number of Senate Republicans are gathering behind a bipartisan push to shore up the Affordable Care Act, reflecting a growing divide between President Donald Trump and many GOP senators. Republicans brushed off a call by Mr. Trump to continue working on a repeal of the 2010 health-care law after their bill to roll back and replace it failed by a single vote in the Senate in late July. Mr. Trump has called for letting the ACA implode on its own, and on Thursday the administration cut funding for ads and grants to encourage ACA sign-ups, a move that Democrats said would destabilize insurance markets. (Armour and son, 9/1)

Los Angeles Times: As Some In Congress Look To Move Past The Obamacare Standoff, States Offer A More Bipartisan Model
With interest growing among congressional Republicans and Democrats in modifying the Affordable Care Act to bolster the nation’s health insurance markets, states are emerging as potential models for bipartisan cooperation. The political battling over the 2010 healthcare law, widely known as Obamacare, may not be over, especially with President Trump continuing to undermine the law. (Levey, 9/3)

Politico: Senate’s Obamacare Fixes Would Build On Heavy Lifting By States
While Congress was busy bickering over repealing the health law, officials in red and blue states worked frantically to soothe anxious insurers, tamp down rate increases and insulate their markets from the ceaseless chaos in Washington. The result is an Obamacare system that’s still vulnerable, but far from the “disaster” President Donald Trump and his top health officials describe. (Cancryn, 9/5)

The New York Times: Congress Returns To A Busy Schedule: Here’s What’s On The Agenda
The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides coverage for nearly 9 million children in low- and moderate-income families at a cost of about $15 billion a year. But funding for the program is set to expire Sept. 30, and Congress must renew it. That renewal could provide a vehicle for legislation to help stabilize the individual insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, which have grown shaky as insurers have pulled out and premiums have risen. (Stolberg, 9/5)

The Wall Street Journal: Deadline Looms For Insurers To File Rate Proposals
A deadline for insurers to file 2018 prices for health insurance sold through Affordable Care Act exchanges arrives Tuesday, but state regulators are still struggling to make decisions about pricing and coverage amid uncertainty in federal health policy. The upshot is confusion in what is typically an orderly, regimented regulatory process for reviewing insurance offerings that will go on sale to consumers on Nov. 1. (Wilde Mathews, 9/4)

The Associated Press: Utah To Pay $10 Million To Cover Failed Obamacare Insurer’s Debts
Utah’s state government will pay $10 million to health providers to cover debts left behind by an insurance company that was created to offer plans under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act but closed its doors in 2015. The Utah Insurance Department will pay the amount over the next six months to help diminish the debt of unpaid claims from Arches Health Plan. (9/3)

The New York Times: For Vulnerable Older Adults, A Harrowing Sense Of Being Trapped
A Holocaust survivor waded waist-deep in flood water. Dozens of people were trapped in a 14-story residence for seniors. A disabled man sat alone at home, without the aide who usually helps him, watching the water rise and unsure if anyone would come. Harvey was terrifying for millions of people along the Gulf Coast. But it was particularly difficult for the region’s seniors and disabled, many of whom struggled to escape as the water rose. Now, some wait in shelters for chemotherapy, dialysis, pain medication, a pillow. Rescue teams are still evacuating people from their homes. (Turkewitz and Medina, 9/1)

Politico: Health IT Passes First Big Test With Hurricane Harvey
Policymakers and health care providers can celebrate one quiet success in the wake of the Houston storm: the computers are still running. The preservation of patient health records represents a partial vindication for the HITECH Act, the 2009 EHR stimulus package that was conceived, in part, as a way to ameliorate natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina by replacing waterlogged paper with modern technology. (Tahir, 9/1)

NPR: Harvey Evacuees Need Medical Attention And Mental Health Care
Facing tremendous need after Hurricane Harvey, Texas has made it easier for out-of-state health care providers to come and help. The Texas Medical Board says health care workers who are licensed and in good standing in other states and who are coming to work at a hospital can practice in Texas while the governor's disaster declaration is in place. Hospitals must provide details for each provider. Physicians who are not affiliated with a hospital can apply for an expedited permit. (Hsu and Hersher, 9/1)

Stat: Sanofi Quietly Pulls The Plug On Its Zika Vaccine Project
Vaccine giant Sanofi Pasteur has quietly pulled the plug on its Zika vaccine project, a move that underscores how difficult it may be at this stage to develop a vaccine against the virus. The company announced the move in a statement posted on its website at 3 p.m. Friday, pointing to a decision by a federal funding body to scale back spending on Zika-related research. Sanofi said BARDA — the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services — informed the company in mid-August that it was reducing its financial assistance for Sanofi’s Zika vaccine project. (Branswell, 9/2)

The New York Times: The First Count Of Fentanyl Deaths In 2016: Up 540% In Three Years
Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016. It’s a staggering rise of more than 22 percent over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year — and even higher than The New York Times’s estimate in June, which was based on earlier preliminary data. (Katz, 9/2)

Stat: Trump Nominates Republican Congressman Tom Marino As Drug Czar
President Trump on Friday nominated Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the nation’s “drug czar,” months after he had officially withdrawn from consideration. Marino, an attorney who has served in the House of Representatives since 2011, has a lengthy track record of supporting enforcement-side drug policy as well as improved drug treatment. (Facher, 9/2)

The New York Times: Opioids Aren’t The Only Pain Drugs To Fear
Last month, a White House panel declared the nation’s epidemic of opioid abuse and deaths “a national public health emergency,” a designation usually assigned to natural disasters. A disaster is indeed what it is, with 142 Americans dying daily from drug overdoses, a fourfold increase since 1999, more than the number of people killed by gun homicides and vehicular crashes combined. A 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 3.8 million Americans use opioids for nonmedical reasons every month. (Brody, 9/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Private-Equity Pours Cash Into Opioid-Treatment Sector
Private-equity firms are piling into a new business opportunity: the opioid addiction crisis. Drawn by soaring demand, expanded insurance coverage and the chance to consolidate a highly fragmented market, firms plowed $2.9 billion into treatment facilities last year, up from $11.4 million in 2011, according to research firm PitchBook Data Inc. The number of private-equity deals rose to 45 from 25. (Whalen and Cooper, 9/2)

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Traffickers Push Meth Into New York City 
Mexican traffickers are supplying the New York City area with methamphetamine, attempting to create new clients in what historically has been a weak market for the drug. “The Mexican cartels have been sending loads up to New York and telling traffickers, ‘See if you can get customers,’ ” said James Hunt, special agent-in-charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York division. “They want to create an addict population.” (Ramey, 9/4)

The Washington Post: Addiction And The Brain
Today’s war on drugs isn’t fought by first ladies or celebrity advocates. Armed with MRI machines, electromagnetic pulses and experimental drugs, scientists are on the battle’s front lines. In the cover story of September’s National Geographic, Fran Smith explores the different fronts of a war being fought in laboratories and universities all over the world. Armed with the tools of science and with the help of people who struggle with addictions to substances and self-destructive behavior, researchers are working to unravel the mysteries of the addicted brain. (Blakemore, 9/2)

The New York Times: Under ‘Observation,’ Some Hospital Patients Face Big Bills
In April, Nancy Niemi entered Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, N.C., with cardiac problems. She stayed four nights, at one point receiving a coronary stent. Then she went home, but felt faint and took several falls. Five days later, her primary care doctor sent her back to the hospital. This time, her stay lasted 39 days while physicians tried various medications to regulate her blood pressure. (Span, 9/1)

Stat: Transgender Patients Fear Losing Care As Trump Rewrites Health Care Rules
Jyn Dao is scared. His bottom surgery — needed to realign the female genitalia he was born with to his male identity — is scheduled. But it’s not happening until January. And like many trans men and women, he’s afraid President Trump will soon revoke protections in federal law that ensure his surgery is affordable. ...The Obama administration made clear that this provision required states to cover transgender care through their Medicaid programs. Now, however, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has told a federal court that he’s reworking the rule and won’t enforce it in the meantime. (McFarling, 9/5)

The New York Times: New Study Offers Support For Prostate Testing
For men who are weighing the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening, a new study strengthens the evidence that testing can reduce deaths from this cancer, something two earlier large landmark clinical trials appeared to reach different conclusions about. (Rabin, 9/4)

Stat: PSA Saves Lives, A New Analysis Finds. Not Everyone Agrees
An analysis of two influential studies of prostate cancer screening concludes that the much-debated test “significantly” reduces deaths from the disease, suggesting that current recommendations against routine PSA screening might be steering men away from a lifesaving procedure. The analysis, published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine, drew wildly different reactions, as is often the case with research on PSA screenings. Some experts in cancer screening and statistics said its novel approach was “on shaky ground” and used a “completely unverifiable” methodology that they had “never seen before,” but others praised its “intriguing and innovative approach.” There was one area of agreement, however: “I imagine it’s going to generate some buzz,” said biostatistician Ted Karrison of the University of Chicago. (Begley, 9/4)

NPR: Pediatricians Say The Best Way To Beat The Flu Is To Get The Vaccine
The arrival of a new school year and cooler temperatures also means the arrival of flu vaccines in doctors' offices, pharmacies, clinics, work places, and school campuses. With flu season on its way, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued updated recommendations Monday for the flu vaccine — but without the needle-free option so many parents were hoping for. (Haelle, 9/4)

The Washington Post: Who Deserves A Liver? Officials Try To Make Organ Transplants Fairer.
His belly swollen, his energy flagging, 45-year-old Jorge Perez Remache waits in his Queens apartment for word that his turn has come to receive a lifesaving liver transplant. Though he has suffered from cirrhosis for 10 years, the chance of that happening is virtually zero. A thousand miles south in tiny Morven, Ga., Katryna Grisson — equally sick, just three years older and, like Perez Remache, on Medicaid — awaits the same miracle. (Bernstein, 9/1)

NPR: Has Salt Gotten An Unfair Shake?
For such a simple compound, salt is complicated. Sodium is a key element in table salt, and it's also essential for life. It helps regulate our blood volume. It shuttles nutrients into our bodies and brains. It allows our muscles to contract and our nerves to pulse with electricity. Yet for decades, we've been told to avoid it. (Stetka, 9/3)

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