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KHN First Edition: September 8, 2017


First Edition

Friday, September 08, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: 5 Governors Press Congress For Fast Bucks To Secure Obamacare Market In 2018
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has a problem — and not much time to solve it. The chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee wants to turn the page on the divisive health debate of this summer. He’s been working with the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), to craft a bipartisan bill aimed at shoring up the individual health insurance market. (Rovner and Bluth, 9/7)

Kaiser Health News: Lawmakers Debate How Much Wiggle Room To Give States In Health Care
One of the few things that Republicans and Democrats broadly agree on is that states should have some flexibility to experiment with different ways to pay for and deliver health care. But they disagree — strongly — on how much. In fact, Republicans don’t agree with one another on this, and that dissent helped sink efforts this summer to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. Bridging these divides will help determine the success of a bipartisan effort in the Senate this month to help shore up the individual health insurance market. (Rovner, 9/7)

Kaiser Health News: Meningitis B Vaccine’s High Price Tag Poses A Health Care Conundrum
Four years ago, when meningitis B, an extremely rare but potentially lethal form of the infection, sickened a small number of college students at Princeton and the University of California-Santa Barbara, there was no vaccine against the disease sold in the U.S. Despite its availability abroad, it had never been licensed in the country due to its limited marketability. Scientific evidence supporting an absolute need to immunize against meningitis B still falls short. The risk of contracting it is smaller than that of being involved in a car crash. (Luthra, 9/8)

The New York Times: Governors Rally Around Health Law Fixes As White House Pushes Repeal
Governors from both political parties told Congress on Thursday that they supported immediate action on modest, bipartisan steps to repair the Affordable Care Act without repealing it, even as the Trump administration continued to encourage efforts to dismantle the law. Testifying at a hearing of the Senate health committee, governors from Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, Tennessee and Utah endorsed proposals to stabilize health insurance markets by providing federal money for continued payment of subsidies to insurance companies to offset the cost of discounts provided to low-income people. (Pear, 9/7)

The Washington Post: Five Governors, Friends And Foes Of The ACA, Urge Congress To Bolster Its Markets For 2018
From Massachusetts to Utah, the governors agreed that guaranteeing payments to ACA insurers to help defray certain coverage expenses for consumers ranks as the most urgent step Congress should take. The cost-sharing-reduction subsidies, which reimburse insurers for discounts they must give roughly 7 million lower-income customers for health plans’ out-of-pocket costs, will total as much as $10 billion next year. (Eilperin and Goldstein, 9/7)

The Associated Press: Governors Back Bipartisan Senate Bid To Control Health Costs
The support from the governors seemed to further isolate Trump on the issue. But with partisan feelings heightened by the failed Republican effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama's health law, the prospects for even a modest effort to shore up the Affordable Care Act are uncertain. Health panel chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a brief interview it was "a good bet" the narrow measure would be limited to extending the payments to insurers and making it easier for states to get exemptions to some of the statute's requirements. (9/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Plan To Fund Health Insurer Payments Coalesces
Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) said he hoped to reach an agreement with Democrats by the end of next week on the insurer payments, which offset subsidies they provide low-income consumers. At a hearing Thursday, Mr. Alexander suggested he would be willing to authorize the subsidy payments for multiple years, as Democrats are demanding, in exchange for “structural changes” to the ACA, also called Obamacare. (Hackman, 9/7)

NPR: Senate Asks Governors For Advice In How To Fix Health Insurance
Funding CSR's is the easy part, Alexander said. He was looking for tweaks that will appease conservative Republicans who for years have told their constituents that Obamacare is a failure. They would be hard-pressed to appropriate money to fund it without some substantive changes. Alexander presented the dilemma to the governors as an opportunity to ask for specific changes they'd like to see happen fast. "This train may move through the station, and this is the chance to change those things," he said near the end of the hearing. "And so if you want to tell us exactly what those are, and we got it by the middle of next week, we could use it and it would help us get a result." (Kodjak, 9/7)

Politico: Senate GOP Accepting Defeat On Obamacare Repeal
Senate Republicans are throwing cold water on the idea of holding another Obamacare repeal vote before their opportunity to gut the law on a party-line vote expires at the end of this month. Though President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans are pushing a plan being devised by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to block grant federal health care funding to the states and keep much of Obamacare's taxes, the idea of passing the measure by month's end appears almost impossible, according to senators and aides. (Everett, 9/7)

Politico: Chris Murphy’s Stealthy Single-Payer Pitch
While Bernie Sanders readies a single-payer health care bill that the GOP is itching to attack, one of his Democratic colleagues is proposing a step toward that goal that could give cover to the party’s vulnerable incumbents. Sen. Chris Murphy, a potential presidential contender, is working on legislation expected this fall that would let individuals and businesses buy into Medicare as part of Obamacare’s exchanges. As Sanders and other potential challengers to President Donald Trump flock to “Medicare for all,” embracing a top liberal priority before 2020, Murphy is taking a conspicuously more pragmatic approach designed to get Democrats closer to that lofty but potentially unobtainable goal. (Schor, 9/7)

The Hill: Warren Co-Sponsoring Sanders's 'Medicare For All Bill' 
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Thursday she is co-sponsoring Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) "Medicare for All bill," the latest Democrat to back a signature Sanders campaign issue. "I believe it’s time to take a step back and ask: what is the best way to deliver high quality, low cost health care to all Americans?"  Warren, often considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020, said in a statement Thursday. (Savransky, 9/7)

Modern Healthcare: CHIP Funding Deadline Looms As Senators Signal Bipartisan Support
Republican and Democratic senators agreed Thursday that they need to extend funding for Children's Health Insurance Program, which covers 8.4 million low- and moderate-income children.But there was little or no discussion during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on how to resolve thorny disagreements about details of the program or how long to extend federal funding, which ends Sept. 30. (Meyer, 9/7)

Stat: NIH Budget Increased By $2 Billion Under Senate Plan
Senate appropriators on Thursday approved a plan that would increase spending for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion and maintain nearly $300 million in grants for family planning programs that a House committee had sought to eliminate. The plan would also fund the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration by $387 million more than the amount recommended by President Trump’s budget blueprint. (Facher, 9/7)

Politico: Senate Appropriators Rebuke Trump On Abortion Policy
Senate appropriators on Thursday dealt a twofold rebuke to the Trump administration on abortion policy, though it is almost certain the changes won't become law. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2018 foreign relations funding bill containing language that would undo a Trump administration prohibition on funding for nongovernment organizations that perform or promote abortion. (Haberkorn, 9/7)

Stat: Senate Panel Votes To Reverse Mexico City Policy, Signaling Support For Global Family-Planning Assistance
In a move likely to prove only symbolic, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to overturn the Mexico City Policy, which President Trump announced in January he would reinstate and which the State Department formalized in May. The policy, put in place by Republican presidents and nullified by Democratic ones for three decades, prevents federal family planning assistance from reaching foreign nongovernmental organizations that promote or provide abortions. The policy as announced by the State Department in the spring went a step further by prohibiting any global health assistance from going to these foreign NGOs. (Facher and Swetlitz, 9/7)

Los Angeles Times: Bill To Shed More Light On Prescription Drug Go-Betweens Is Shelved For The Year
An effort to shed more light on a little-scrutinized part of the prescription drug supply chain — pharmacy benefit managers — sputtered on Thursday after facing concerns from the Brown administration. Pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, such as Express Scripts or CVS Caremark, act as go-betweens connecting drug makers and purchasers, such as health plans and consumers. By negotiating in bulk with manufacturers, PBMs claim they can secure steep discounts, which can be passed on to purchasers. (Mason, 9/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Eli Lilly To Cut 8% Of Jobs, Invest More On New Drugs
The drug industry has eliminated tens of thousands of jobs over the past decade. In a sign that the bleeding is far from over, Eli Lilly & Co. announced plans on Thursday to cut roughly 8% of its global workforce. Indianapolis-based Lilly cited a number of issues that are plaguing many drugmakers, including the need to lower costs and raise investment in new drugs ahead of patent expirations that are expected to erode sales of older products. The company said it would eliminate about 3,500 positions globally, including 2,000 in the U.S. (Loftus, 9/7)

Stat: Alnylam Gene-Silencing Drug Studies In Hemophilia Suspended Following Patient Death
The death of a hemophilia patient due to a blood clot has forced Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (ALNY) to temporarily suspend studies of its gene-silencing drug fitusarin, the company said Thursday. The new safety setback comes at a particularly bad time for the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech company, developers of drugs based on a technology known as RNA interference, or RNAi. In the next days to weeks, Alnylam is expecting to receive and announce results from its first phase 3 clinical trial for a different drug called patisiran in a rare nerve condition. (Feuerstein, 9/7)

Stat: It's Not Just One Suspect Vaccine Trial: Most New Drugs Are Tested Overseas
The clinical trial for a herpes vaccine flouted just about every norm in the book: American patients were flown in to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts for experimental injections. Local authorities didn’t give permission. Nor did the Food and Drug Administration. Nor did a safety panel. That’s why the trial — run by a startup which has since received funding from billionaire investor Thiel — prompted widespread alarm and censure when it was reported last week by Kaiser Health News. (Robbins, 9/8)

The Associated Press: Prosecutors Want Shkreli’s Bail Revoked Over Clinton Posting 
Federal prosecutors on Thursday filed a court motion asking a judge to revoke Martin Shkreli’s bail and throw him in jail because of recent threats the so-called “Pharma Bro” allegedly made against Hillary Clinton. “Since his conviction on August 4, 2017, Shkreli has engaged in an escalating pattern of threats and harassment that warrant his detention pending sentencing,” prosecutors wrote in their motion. (McElroy, 9/7)

The Wall Street Journal: New Mexico Sues Drugmakers, Distributors Over Opioid Crisis
New Mexico sued several major pharmaceutical companies and wholesale drug distributors on Thursday, arguing the corporations are partly to blame for rampant opioid addiction rates in the state. The lawsuit, filed in state court in Santa Fe County, follows the lead of half a dozen other states that have also sued over the opioid crisis. All claim pharmaceutical companies played down the addictive risk of the painkillers in their marketing to the public and doctors, causing them to be widely prescribed for chronic pain and fueling addiction. (Randazzo, 9/7)

The Washington Post: In Scathing Lawsuit, First Responders Describe Vomiting, Gasping At Texas Chemical Plant Fire
A group of first responders exposed to smoke from a Crosby, Tex., chemical plant fire after Hurricane Harvey are suing the owner of the plant for more than $1 million, saying that they vomited and gasped for air in the middle of the road in a scene the suit describes as “nothing less than chaos.” The responders allege that the plant owner, Arkema, minimized the dangers of exposure to the fire and failed to warn the responders manning the perimeter of the mandatory 1.5 mile evacuation area to move farther away from the fumes after the first of nine trailers full of volatile organic peroxide burst into flames in the early nighttime hours of Aug. 29. (Mufson and Dennis, 9/7)

The New York Times: New Study Favors Fat Over Carbs
High carbohydrate intake is associated with a higher risk of mortality, and high fat intake with a lower risk, researchers report. An international team of scientists studied diet and mortality in 135,335 people between 35 and 70 years old in 18 countries, following them for an average of more than seven years. Diet information depended on self-reports, and the scientists controlled for factors including age, sex, smoking, physical activity and body mass index. The study is in The Lancet. (Bakalar, 9/8)

The New York Times: Treating Reflux With Diet
A small study has found that a plant-based diet is just as effective as proton pump inhibitors in treating laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR. LPR is a disease in which stomach acid comes up into the throat to the level of the laryngopharynx. It is not the same as gastro-esophageal reflux, or GERD, which involves a backflow of stomach acid into the lower esophagus. (Bakalar, 9/7)

Stat: Could Squid Ink Replace Painful Dental Probes For Gum Disease?
t’s one of the worst parts of a dental checkup — painful probing with sharp instruments to look for signs of gum disease. The time-consuming and sometimes bloody process keeps patients fearful, hygienists frustrated, and dentists worried they might be missing important symptoms. Now a nanoengineer in San Diego says he’s got a possible solution. It involves imaging gums after patients swish around a mouthful of squid ink. (McFarling, 9/7)

The Associated Press: Judge Opens Door For Lawsuit Over Girl Declared Brain Dead
A California judge ruled that a teen girl who was declared brain dead more than three years ago after a tonsillectomy may technically still be alive, allowing a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital to move forward and possibly setting up the family to have her care paid for if they succeed. Alameda County Judge Stephen Pulido ruled Tuesday that it’s up to a jury to determine whether Jahi McMath is alive, which would increase the damages jurors could award if they determine doctors at Children’s Hospital in Oakland botched a routine operation to remove the girl’s tonsils. (Elias, 9/7)

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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