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KHN First Edition: September 7, 2017


First Edition

Thursday, September 07, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Congress’ Tight Timetable Complicates Renewal Of Children’s Health Plan
A popular federal-state program that provides health coverage to millions of children in lower- and middle-class families is up for renewal Sept. 30. But in a deeply divided Congress facing such pressing concerns as extending the nation’s debt ceiling, finding money for the Hurricane Harvey cleanup and keeping the government open, some health advocates fear that the program for children could be in jeopardy or that conservative lawmakers will seek changes to limit the program’s reach. (Galewitz, 9/7)

Kaiser Health News: Insurance Commissioners Say Help Offered By Congress Is Not Enough To Save Market
A key Senate committee Wednesday launched a set of hearings intended to lead to a short-term, bipartisan bill to shore up the troubled individual health insurance market, but a diverse group of state insurance commissioners united around some solutions that were not necessarily on the table. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said at the outset of the hearing he hoped to reach consensus on “a small, bipartisan, stabilization bill” by the end of next week. But the five state officials who testified seemed to have ideas other than those Alexander has touted for the past couple of weeks. (Rovner and Bluth, 9/6)

Kaiser Health News: Shedding New Light On Hospice Care: No Need To Wait For The ‘Brink Of Death’
A few weeks ago, Kathy Brandt’s 86-year-old mother was hospitalized in Florida after a fall. After rushing to her side, Brandt asked for a consult with a palliative care nurse. “I wanted someone to make sure my mother was on the right medications,” Brandt said. For all her expertise — Brandt advises end-of-life organizations across the country — she was taken aback when the nurse suggested hospice care for her mother, who has advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and a rapid, irregular heartbeat. (Graham, 9/7)

The New York Times: Work Toward Bipartisan Fix For Health Markets Begins In Senate
The chairman of the Senate health committee said Wednesday that he hoped the panel would reach a consensus by the end of next week on a small, bipartisan bill to stabilize health insurance markets and prevent prices from skyrocketing next year under the Affordable Care Act. “The blame will be on every one of us, and deservedly so,” if senators fail to reach agreement, said the chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. (Pear, 9/6)

The Associated Press: GOP, Dem Senators Calmly Discuss Bolstering Obama Health Law
Republicans and Democrats serenely discussed ways to curb premium increases for individual insurance policies on Wednesday at a Senate hearing that veered away from years of fierce partisanship over the failed GOP effort to revoke President Barack Obama's health care law. Senators and state insurance commissioners from both parties embraced the idea of continuing billions in federal subsidies to insurers for reducing out-of-pocket expenses for millions of people, flouting President Donald Trump's oft-repeated threats to halt those payments. (9/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Senators Discuss Bipartisan Approach To Repair Obamacare
Mr. Alexander’s proposal, laid out at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing, would formally authorize subsidy payments to insurers and loosen requirements governing the law’s state waivers. Mr. Alexander hopes to pass legislation with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, before the end of the month, when insurers must sign contracts to participate in next year’s markets. (Hackman, 9/6)

The Washington Post: A GOP Senate Leader Calls For Bipartisan Compromise On ACA Marketplaces
The set of ideas advocated in a large, crowded hearing room amount to a strategy to slow recent spikes in premium rates by some health plans sold on ACA marketplaces and to expand consumers’ choices given major insurers’ defections from some marketplaces. The ideas track the basic contours of changes being touted by Republicans or Democrats — though not necessarily by both — on the HELP committee. (Goldstein and Eilperin, 9/6)

Los Angeles Times: In The Face Of Major Premium Hikes, State Insurance Regulators Urge Congress To Act Quickly
State officials — both Republican and Democratic — urged lawmakers to maintain the federal funding that subsidizes poor customers’ deductibles and co-pays, even as the president continues to threaten to withhold that aid. And they called on Congress to move quickly in the face of mounting warnings from health insurers that without congressional action by the end of September, consumers will face major premium hikes next year. “Uncertainty destabilizes the market,” Lori Wing-Heier, Alaska’s nonpartisan insurance regulator, told senators at the Senate health committee. (Levey, 9/6)

The Hill: Insurance Official To Congress: ObamaCare Not Collapsing 
A Pennsylvania insurance official told Congress Wednesday that ObamaCare is not collapsing, as some Republicans have argued. Speaking at a Senate Health Committee hearing on efforts to stabilize Affordable Care Act (ACA) markets, Teresa Miller, Pennsylvania’s acting Human Services secretary and former insurance commissioner, said that the notion is “just false.” (Sullivan, 9/6)

Politico: Bid To Shore Up Obamacare Faces Time Crunch, Conservative Countereffort
A bipartisan group of senators has palpable momentum but little time to make good on a bid to shore up Obamacare insurance markets, even as conservative Republicans press a parallel attempt to make good on their promise to repeal the health care law. The stabilization effort, led by Republican Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Democrat Patty Murray (Wash.), could yield the first bipartisan Obamacare bill since the law was passed seven years ago. It could also provide some measure of certainty for insurance companies that have until Sept. 27 to make final decisions about whether to participate in Obamacare markets next year. (Haberkorn, Cancryn and Bade, 9/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Sign-Up Groups Brace For Enrollment Challenge
Democrats and activists are trying to promote the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period and raise money for outreach following a Trump administration decision to cut millions of dollars from programs that help people sign up for health coverage. That outside effort, unfolding alongside a push on Capitol Hill to restore some of the funds, includes more than 1,500 volunteers organizing on social-media sites such as Facebook under the name Indivisible ACA Signup Project, seeking to promote the open-enrollment season beginning Nov. 1. (Armour, 9/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Obamacare Insurer In Virginia To Scale Back Planned Expansion
Virginia became the latest state at risk of having regions that will lack Affordable Care Act exchange plans next year, after a small insurer announced it will scale back the area where it expects to offer marketplace insurance. The Virginia area that currently has no 2018 exchange insurer includes 48 counties and parts of six more, as well as 15 cities that are independent of counties, according to a Virginia state regulator. In total, the state has 95 counties and 38 independent cities. (Wilde Mathews, 9/6)

The New York Times: What Older Americans Stand To Lose If ‘Dreamers’ Are Deported
When the Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it would end an Obama-era program that shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation, Sherwin Sheik quickly sized up the potential toll on his business. Mr. Sheik is the chief executive and founder of CareLinx, which matches home care workers with patients and their families. The company relies heavily on authorized immigrant labor, making the looming demise of the program — which has transformed around 700,000 people brought to this country as children into authorized workers — a decidedly unwelcome development. (Scheiber and Abrams, 9/6)

The Washington Post: Two Senators Aim To Challenge Trump’s Transgender Troops Order In Defense Bill
Two senators are preparing an amendment to challenge President Trump’s announced ban on transgender people serving in the military that they hope to attach to a sweeping defense bill the chamber is set to consider this month. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that she is drafting the amendment with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to “try to protect the transgender troops” against the order that Trump initially issued via Twitter in July banning them from the military. (Demirjian, 9/6)

The New York Times: After Harvey Hit, A Texas Hospital Decided To Evacuate. Here’s How Patients Got Out.
As floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey began filling his north Beaumont, Tex., home last week, Theodore Atwood waded outside to get a utility knife, so he could pull up his carpet and protect it. Coming back to his kitchen, he slipped and fell on the wet linoleum, and ended up at a local hospital with a severely broken pelvis. But that was only the beginning of his journey, as he became one of 243 patients evacuated from the hospital last Thursday and Friday, according to a hospital spokeswoman, after flooding from the storm damaged the city’s water system. (Fink and Burton, 9/6)

NPR: Houston Methadone Clinics Reopen After Harvey's Flooding
Medical workers in Houston are dealing with a secondary problem after last week's floods: Clinics that offer methadone and other opioid addiction therapies are just getting back up and running, and many people don't have access to the treatments they need. While the city flooded last week, Stormy Trout was going through opioid withdrawal at a detox center surrounded by water. "You know, cravings and anxiety, it's just treacherous, it really is," she said Tuesday while waiting for a ride outside an opioid treatment clinic in north Houston. "I'm like, I know I can do this, but I just need something to help with the cravings and the anxiety and stuff." (Hersher, 9/6)

The New York Times: High Levels Of Carcinogen Found In Houston Area After Harvey
High levels of the carcinogen benzene were detected in a Houston neighborhood close to a Valero Energy refinery, local health officials said Tuesday, heightening concerns over potentially hazardous leaks from oil and gas industry sites damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Preliminary air sampling in the Manchester district of Houston showed concentrations of up to 324 parts per billion of benzene, said Loren Raun, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department. (Tabuchi, 9/6)

The New York Times: Harvey Swept Hazardous Mercury Ashore. The Mystery: Its Source.
Public health officials are investigating a case of dangerous liquid mercury that appears to have washed or blown ashore here, east of Houston, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Bobby Griffin found the clusters of shiny silver mercury globules scattered across his San Jacinto riverfront property on Tuesday, a few hundred yards from the San Jacinto Waste Pits, a Superfund site that was inundated during last week’s storm. (Healy and Kaplan, 9/6)

Bloomberg: Receding Floodwaters Expose Long-Term Health Risks After Harvey 
Benzene churns through Houston’s economy. The clear, sweet-smelling chemical is found in the crude oil processed in the region’s refineries and is used to make plastic, pesticides and other products. It’s also a carcinogen whose cancer-causing properties illustrate the risks that will linger for southeast Texas long after the floodwaters of Harvey have receded. Thousands of homes were submerged in murky water that may have been tainted with benzene and other runoff from an area that boasts the nation’s largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants. (Dlouhy, 9/7)

The New York Times: Seven Hard Lessons Federal Responders To Harvey Learned From Katrina
During Hurricane Katrina, as residents of New Orleans were left stranded in the floodwaters, thousands of firefighters who had assembled to help rescue people instead spent days wading through paperwork and completing training on federal sexual harassment policies. Disasters, of course, are never smooth. Last week in Houston, some residents reported trouble getting through to 911, and many said calls to officials for help went unanswered. And plenty of volunteers who splashed into the floods saw a tangle of miscommunication, wrenching delays and plain old incompetence. Now many are watching to see how the federal government will handle Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, as it appears ready to hit Puerto Rico and Florida. (Philipps, 9/7)

Stat: Preparing For Hurricane Irma, Hospitals In Florida Keys Evacuate Patients
Hospitals in the Florida Keys bracing for Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of up to 185 miles an hour, are evacuating patients and preparing to close their doors. Three hospitals in the Florida Keys — Lower Keys Medical Center, Mariners Hospital, and Fishermen’s Community Hospital — have been discharging patients capable of going home since earlier this week and are coordinating air and ambulance transports for the 20 or so inpatients who remain inside their walls. (Blau, 9/6)

Stat: Billion-Dollar Gamble: Biotech CEO Takes A Second Shot At Alzheimer's Drug
Medivation, a California startup, was developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, and pivotal results from a major clinical trial were finally available. An earlier study, conducted in Russia, had generated what Alzheimer’s experts hailed as the best results the field had ever seen. Dr. David Hung, the CEO, believed he had a billion-dollar product. ... The drug, Dimebon, failed all five of the trial’s key metrics, performing even worse than placebo on two of them. Medivation lost more than $1 billion in value in the first hour of trading as the company’s leaders struggled to process the startling failure. ...So he’s doing it again — headed for another crowded room and another make-or-break clinical trial. This time it’s with Axovant Sciences. (Garde, 9/7)

Stat: To Fight Opioid Epidemic, Senators Make The Case For ‘Partial Fill’ Prescriptions
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) wrote a series of letters on Wednesday asking major figures in the battle against the nation’s opioid epidemic to consider promoting and analyzing “partial fill” policies, which allow patients to receive less than a full prescription’s worth of medication on a single pharmacy trip. A clause in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed in 2016, permits pharmacies to dispense portions of prescriptions for Schedule II drugs — a classification that includes many opioid-based painkillers with high potential for abuse — and for patients to return later if they feel the remainder of prescribed medication is needed. (Facher, 9/6)

Stat: Opioid Maker Is Slammed By FDA For Omitting Risk Info In Materials Given To Docs
In promotional materials that were distributed to doctors, Vertical Pharmaceuticals omitted some rather important risk information about ConZip, an opioid painkiller, according to a warning letter the Food and Drug Administration issued late last month and posted on its web site earlier this month. Specifically, Vertical did not mention that the drug should only be prescribed when alternative treatments are ineffective or inadequate, and also failed to note the painkiller is not approved for use as an “as-needed analgesic.” These points are clearly noted in the prescribing information under a section called “limitations of use.” (Silverman, 9/6)

The New York Times: Overtreatment Is Common, Doctors Say
Most physicians in the United States believe that overtreatment is harmful, wasteful and common. Researchers surveyed 2,106 physicians in various specialties regarding their beliefs about unnecessary medical care. On average, the doctors believed that 20.6 percent of all medical care was unnecessary, including 22 percent of prescriptions, 24.9 percent of tests and 11.1 percent of procedures. The study is in PLOS One. (Bakalar, 9/6)

The New York Times: Fitness May Lower Breast Cancer Risk
Aerobic fitness seems to alter the interior workings of cells in ways that may substantially lower the risk of breast cancer. A new study with female rats found that those that were the most fit were much less likely than other animals to develop cancer after exposure to a known carcinogen, even if they did not exercise. (Reynolds, 9/6)

Stat: A Pen That Detects Cancerous Tissue Could Help Surgeons Remove Full Tumor
Anew handheld device could someday help cancer surgeons figure out what to cut and what to leave alone in real time. The device, called the MasSpec Pen, is (unsurprisingly) about the size of a pen and employs water, plastic tubing, and a mass spectrometer. It’s the latest in engineers’ efforts to speed up the pace at which samples collected during operations are processed for clinically valuable information. (Sheridan, 9/6)

Stat: Can Craig Venter Really Predict What Your Look Like From Your DNA?
Can genomics wizards make an informed guesstimate on what a person looks like, based on his or her DNA? J. Craig Venter sure thinks so, per a new PNAS paper. Yet his Human Longevity Institute study is facing Twitter blowback for that claim. Venter’s proof-of-concept study used a machine learning algorithm to analyze the genomic and biometric data of 1,061 volunteers. It looked at gender, facial structure, age, height, weight, skin color, eye color, and voice, generating a facsimile of the person based on their genetic analysis. (Keshavan, 9/6)

The New York Times: Infectious Mosquitoes Are Turning Up In New Regions
A mounting number of citations on a popular disease-tracking website suggests that mosquitoes may be moving into new ecological niches with greater frequency. The website, ProMED mail, has carried more than a dozen such reports since June, all involving mosquito species known to transmit human diseases. (McNeil, 9/7)

Stat: Third Dose Of Mumps Vaccine Could Help Stop Outbreaks, Researchers Say
An extra dose of the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine can help to stop mumps outbreaks, a new study suggests. The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and based on analysis of data from a large mumps outbreak at the University of Iowa in 2015-2016, showed that getting a third dose of MMR vaccine cut the risk of contracting the mumps by 78 percent. (Branswell, 9/6)

NPR: Dating App Questionnaires May Not Measure Real-Life Attraction
Dating sites claim to winnow a few ideal suitors out of a nigh-infinite pool of chaff. But the matches these algorithms offer may be no better than picking partners at random, a study finds. Researchers asked about 350 heterosexual undergrads at Northwestern University to fill out questionnaires assessing their personalities and romantic preferences. (Chen, 9/6)

The Associated Press: Kentucky Abortion Clinic’s Future At Stake In Federal Trial
Attorneys for Kentucky’s last abortion clinic said as a federal trial opened Wednesday that state regulators are using “onerous” rules to try to shut it down, predicting some women would “take the matter into their own hands” to end pregnancies if the state succeeds.“ There will be no abortions in Kentucky if they win,” clinic attorney Donald L. Cox said as proceedings began in a court case that could determine whether Kentucky becomes the nation’s first state without an abortion clinic. (Schreiner, 9/6)

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