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KHN First Edition: October 26, 2017


First Edition

Thursday, October 26, 2017
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: ‘No One Is Coming’: Hospice Patients Abandoned At Death’s Door
As her husband lay moaning in pain from the cancer riddling his body, Patricia Martin searched frantically through his medical bag, looking for a syringe. She had already called the hospice twice, demanding liquid methadone to ease the agony of Dr. Robert Martin, 66. A family practice physician known to everyone as “Dr. Bob,” he had served this small, remote community for more than 30 years. But the doctor in charge at Mat-Su Regional Home Health & Hospice wasn’t responding. (Aleccia and Bailey, 10/26)

California Healthline: Federal Judge Denies Bid To Force Feds To Resume ACA Subsidies
A federal judge Wednesday denied a petition to immediately reinstate Affordable Care Act subsidies that President Donald Trump suspended earlier this month. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by 18 states and the District of Columbia, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. It sought an emergency restraining order compelling the Trump administration to resume the Obamacare payments, which would have totaled $7 billion this year. (Nguyen, 10/25)

The Associated Press: States Lose Push To Force Trump To Restart Health Subsidies
State attorneys general, all Democrats and led by Xavier Becerra of California, argued that the monthly payments are required under former President Barack Obama's health care law and cutting them off will harm consumers. The payments reimburse insurers for providing lower-income people with discounts on out-of-pocket costs. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, an Obama appointee, said the states had devised workarounds to the lost subsidies that would give millions of lower-income people even better health care options. (10/25)

Politico: Judge Denies Request To Force Trump To Pay Obamacare Insurance Subsidies
“The fight for affordable healthcare moves forward,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The actions by the Trump Administration undermine critical payments that keep costs of healthcare affordable for working families. The judge made clear in his ruling that the ACA is the law of the land. Without an emergency order halting the Trump action, swift action in this litigation becomes even more compelling.” (Colliver and Bettelheim, 10/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Administration Won’t Be Forced To Provide Health-Insurance Subsidies
The government payments reimbursed insurers for providing subsidies to some low-income consumers for out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and copays. Insurers are required by the ACA to provide these cost-sharing subsidies and about seven million people who buy health plans on the ACA’s insurance exchanges get them. President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that he would end the subsidies as of Oct. 18 because Congress never appropriated money for the program. The payments are estimated at $7 billion in 2017. (Kendall and Armour, 10/25)

The Associated Press: Premiums Rising 34 Percent For Most Popular Health Plan
Premiums for the most popular "Obamacare" plans are going up an average of 34 percent, according to a study Wednesday that confirms dire predictions about the impact of political turmoil on consumers. Window-shopping on went live Wednesday, so across the country consumers going online can see the consequences themselves ahead of the Nov. 1 start of sign-up season for 2018. (10/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Some Affordable Care Act Premiums Set To Jump For 2018
Some consumers who get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges next year will face sharp premium increases and have fewer insurer options, though federal premium subsidies mean that others will be able to get cheaper coverage. The federal website posted new details Wednesday about what plans will be available for 2018 under the health law. Open enrollment starts on Nov. 1. (Wilde Mathews, 10/25)

The Hill: Analysis: Premiums For Most Popular ObamaCare Plans To Rise 34 Percent
"Plans are raising premiums in 2018 to account for market uncertainty and the federal government's failure to pay for cost-sharing reductions," Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere, said in a statement. "These premium increases may allow insurers to remain in the market and enrollees in all regions to have access to coverage." (Weixel, 10/25)

The Washington Post: Maryland Will Allow Insurers To Hike Premiums After Trump Ends Subsidies
Maryland regulators have given two insurance carriers permission to substantially raise monthly premiums on some plans in a direct response to a Trump administration decision to halt certain subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The steep increases will raise costs by as much as 76 percent over last year for silver-level individual plans on the state exchange and come atop already approved increases for 2018. (Itkowitz, 10/25)

Reuters: U.S. Insurer Anthem Says Obamacare Business Improving; Stock Jumps
Anthem Inc reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings as its Obamacare individual insurance business broke even and forecast a slight 2018 profit for the government plans despite uncertainty about the market's future. Anthem's outlook takes into account President Donald Trump's efforts to undercut former President Barack Obama's health reform law, which he has described as "dead." (Humer and Banerjee, 10/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Bipartisan Senate Health Bill Would Reduce Deficit By About $4 Billion Over Decade
A bipartisan Senate health bill would reduce the deficit by almost $4 billion over the next decade without significantly affecting the number of people who have coverage, the Congressional Budget Office found in a report released Wednesday. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the bill’s co-sponsors, said the findings strongly bolster the case for their legislation. But a standoff between the White House, which wants more provisions to undo the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats, who reject such provisions, has left the measure stalled for now, with no clear path forward. (Armour and son, 10/25)

Reuters: U.S. Lawmakers Will Not Tackle Healthcare This Year, Ryan Says
Republican lawmakers will not take up a bipartisan plan to stabilize Obamacare insurance markets or try again to repeal and replace the law this year, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday, signaling his party was shelving the matter until the 2018 U.S. congressional election year. ... "I think that is something we should do next year," Ryan said in an interview with Reuters when asked about prospects of the House passing a bipartisan bill that would reinstate federal subsidies to private insurers to help lower-income people buy medical coverage through the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare. (Chiacu, Cowan, Brice and Abutaleb, 10/25)

The Hill: Democrats Introduce Public Option Health Care Bill 
Congressional Democrats are introducing legislation to allow states to set up a public option for health-care insurance. The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M), is the latest idea from Democrats as the party tries to plot its next steps after blocking the GOP effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. (Carney, 10/25)

The New York Times: Undocumented Teenager Obtains Abortion After Court Victory
The teenager, who is 17 and is identified in court documents as Jane Doe, illegally crossed the border in Texas in early September and was apprehended. Her pregnancy was discovered during a physical exam, and since then she had been fighting in court to have an abortion. In a statement released by her lawyers and her court-appointed guardian, Jane Doe, who had been nearly 16 weeks pregnant, wrote of coming to the United States with dreams of one day becoming a nurse, and of not being ready to be a parent. (Fernandez, 10/25)

The Washington Post: Jane Doe, Undocumented Teen In U.S. Custody, Aborts Her Unwanted Pregnancy
The abortion ended the girl’s individual court challenge in a case that drew widespread attention and evoked the incendiary issues of abortion rights and illegal immigration. But the broader legal battle over whether the federal government may continue to dissuade, and even block, undocumented teens in its custody from having abortions is still pending in U.S. District Court in Washington. (Sacchetti and Marimow, 10/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Undocumented Teenager Has Abortion After Court Ruling
Though the abortion took place, the case is not over. The ACLU still is challenging the underlying HHS policy on behalf of a class of other teens who may be similarly situated. “The administration’s efforts to interfere in women’s decisions won’t stop with Jane,” said Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU lawyer for the teenager. “With this case we have seen the astounding lengths this administration will go to block women from abortion care.” (Kendall, 10/25)

Politico: Trump Pledges To Declare Opioid Emergency 'Next Week' — Again
President Donald Trump once again promised to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency "next week" during an interview on Wednesday, the latest in a string of pledges on the matter that have so far gone unfulfilled. "Next week, I’m going to declaring an emergency, national emergency on drugs. The opioid is a tremendous emergency, what’s going on there," President Trump told Fox Business on Wednesday. (Lima, 10/25)

Stat: Trump Set To Declare Emergency Over Opioid Crisis, As Big Questions Linger
The Trump administration is poised to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency on Thursday, following through on a recommendation made nearly three months ago by a special White House commission tasked with addressing the crisis. President Trump pledged on Oct. 16 to make such a declaration this week, and at a hearing on Wednesday, members of Congress outlined their expectation for Trump to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency the following day. An email from the Office of National Drug Control Policy obtained by STAT also invited a number of drug policy stakeholders to a Thursday afternoon “event on the nationwide opioid crisis” on the president’s behalf. (Facher, 10/25)

Politico: Senior Health Officials In The Dark About Trump'S Opioid Declaration
Top federal health officials responding to the opioid epidemic still don't know what President Donald Trump will say when he makes a highly anticipated announcement about the crisis Thursday afternoon. “We don’t have information about what the announcement will be, and so I can’t comment on it. I honestly don’t know,” Assistant HHS Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Elinore McCance-Katz told POLITICO on Wednesday following her appearance at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the federal response to the epidemic. (Karlin-Smith and Ehley, 10/25)

The Washington Post: Lawmakers To DEA: Use More Legal Muscle Against Opioids
Lawmakers urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to seek more legal authority if it is needed to battle the nation’s opioid epidemic, telling an official they are awaiting suggestions on how they can help stem the worst drug crisis in U.S. history. “Give us suggestions. Talk to us. We want to do the right thing,” Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (R-Fla.) implored at a hearing held Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “We need to know the tools that you need to handle this. We’re on the same team with regard to this.” (Bernstein and Higham, 10/25)

The Hill: Senate Dems Want $45B To Address Opioid Epidemic 
Senate Democrats introduced a bill on Wednesday to invest $45 billion to fight the opioid epidemic, just a day before President Trump is slated to announce how his administration will combat the crisis. “The Trump administration’s plan to address the opioid epidemic has been little more than empty words and broken promises,” Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said in a press release. “What we need to fight this scourge is continued and reliable long-term investments in prevention, treatment, recovery and monitoring.” (Roubein, 10/25)

The Washington Post: FDA’s Gottlieb Calls For Greater Use Of Medication-Assisted Treatment To Fight Opioid Epidemic
Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, called Wednesday for the expanded use of medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction, saying they could reduce overdoses and deaths. During a House hearing on the federal response to the opioid epidemic, Gottlieb said the agency will issue new guidance to manufacturers to promote the development of novel therapies, including ones that treat a wider range of symptoms. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines drugs and counseling to combat addiction. (McGinley, 10/25)

The Wall Street Journal: Purdue Is Under Investigation For Opioid Painkiller OxyContin
Purdue Pharma L.P. said it is the subject of a probe by federal prosecutors related to its opioid painkiller OxyContin, adding to the mounting litigation the company already faces over its marketing of the addictive drug. Purdue said it has been cooperating with an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut and “will continue to do so until the matter is resolved.” It added that the company “is committed to being part of the solution to our nation’s opioid crisis.” (Randazzo and Whalen, 10/25)

NPR: Court Weighs Addicted Opioid Users' Ability To Quit And Stay Drug-Free
Julie Eldred has been struggling with addiction to opioids for more than a decade and she says the criminal justice system punishes her for it. Eldred, a part-time pet caretaker in Acton, Mass., was put on probation last year for theft. She knew staying drug-free would be tough — especially at first, when she was going through opioid withdrawal. But, she says, she didn't have much of a choice. (Becker, 10/26)

The Hill: Frustrated With Trump, Dems Introduce Drug Pricing Bill  
Several high-profile Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill to let Medicare negotiate drug prices, saying they are frustrated the measure hasn’t received a full-throated endorsement from Trump. "Well, the campaign is over,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at a press conference. “He’s president now. We need him to join us in taking on the pharmaceutical industry." (Roubein, 10/25)

Stat: Gilead Faces Challenge To U.S. Hepatitis C Patents From Advocacy Group 
In the latest attempt to attack the cost of hepatitis C drugs, an advocacy group is challenging several U.S. patents for the Sovaldi treatment that is sold by Gilead Sciences (GILD). The group wants to overturn six patents for the drug, which is the oldest of several Gilead hepatitis C medicines, in hopes of spurring lower-cost generic versions to become available sooner than might otherwise be possible. The group contended that U.S. taxpayers can save $10 billion and generics can get to market 14 years faster if it succeeds. (Silverman, 10/25)

Bloomberg: Gilead’s Patents On Hepatitis C Drug Challenged By Consumer Group  
Gilead Sciences Inc.’s U.S. patents on the blockbuster $84,000 hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi were challenged by a consumer group that’s battled the drugmaker around the world over the pricing. The Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, a nonprofit focused on how patents affect access to medicine, said that it’s filed petitions with the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board seeking to challenge intellectual-property rights that would keep generic versions of Sovaldi from entering the market. (Decker and Koons, 10/25)

Reuters: Special Report: How And Why Reuters Purchased Bodies For Its Investigation
Reuters spent more than a year examining the workings of a multimillion-dollar industry that dissects, rents and sells the donated dead. Such firms are sometimes called body brokers, but they prefer to be known as non-transplant tissue banks. They acquire, usually for free, bodies that have been donated to science. Then they often cut those bodies into pieces and sell the parts for hundreds or thousands of dollars each. The buyers are typically medical researchers, device makers and groups that train doctors. (Grow and Shiffman, 10/25)

Reuters: Special Report: Reuters Buys Human Remains, And Learns A Donor's Tragic Story
Cody Saunders was born in 1992 with failing kidneys and a hole in his heart. When he died on his 24th birthday, he had endured 66 surgeries and more than 1,700 rounds of dialysis, his parents said. Some days, he hid the pain in upbeat selfies on Facebook. Other days, he shared an excruciating reality, posing in a hospital bed with bandages strapped across his scarred chest. (Grow and Shiffman, 10/25)

Los Angeles Times: The Quiet Crisis Among African Americans: Pregnancy And Childbirth Are Killing Women At Inexplicable Rates
Three weeks after Cassaundra Lynn Perkins gave birth to premature twins, she returned to the hospital, feeling unwell. She phoned her mother from her hospital bed at 3:30 in the morning. “I’m just not feeling good,” she said. Surely it was just another bout of the mysterious illness her daughter had been suffering from for most of her pregnancy, Cheryl Givens-Perkins thought as she rushed over to San Antonio’s North Central Baptist Hospital. (Simmons, 10/26)

Los Angeles Times: Black Doulas, Midwives And Reproductive Health Advocates Step Up In Response To Rising Black Maternal Deaths
It wasn’t just the disproportionate number of pregnancy-related deaths among black women in the United States that alarmed Darline Turner when the crisis first hit the headlines. It was the seeming nonchalance surrounding the issue. Why hadn’t the federal government declared this phenomenon a public health emergency, professed it a pressing human rights concern, or ordered a nationwide investigation, wondered Turner, a physician’s assistant and certified doula — a person trained to help women through childbirth and serve as their advocate. (Simmons, 10/26)

The Washington Post: Scientists Announce New Gene-Editing Techniques Aimed At Common Mutations
Genetics is having a moment in the sun. Last year, biologists at the University of Bath in England created mice with neon feet. Scientists edited human embryos for the first time in the United States in August, cutting out a mutation for a heritable heart disease. Earlier this month, research spearheaded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences produced leaner pigs — a harbinger, one imagines, of low-fat bacon. (Guarino, 10/25)

Los Angeles Times: New Gene-Editing Technique May Lead To Treatment For Thousands Of Diseases
Scientists from Harvard University have just unveiled a new gene editor that uses the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 technology to target and change a single letter in a string of DNA bases — no cutting necessary. Considering that there are billions of letters in the human genome, converting one letter to another may not sound like much. But tens of thousands of human diseases can be traced to these tiny mistakes, scientists say. (Netburn, 10/25)

The Washington Post: Expert Panel Recommends New Shingles Vaccine That Gives Increased Protection
In a rare move, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also recommended, by an 8-to-7 vote, that the new Shingrix vaccine be preferred over the existing Zostavax vaccine because it provides far greater protection and is expected to prevent significant disease, especially among the elderly. The Food and Drug Administration approved the new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC, on Friday. Shingrix is the first new vaccine for shingles in a decade, and it's the first time the panel is recommending that adults between 50 and 59 be vaccinated — a group that numbers about 42 million Americans. (Sun, 10/25)

NPR: Troubling Legacy Of Tuskegee Study, Henrietta Lacks Still An Obstacle In Medical Research
It's a Sunday morning at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a famous African-American church in the Harlem area of New York City. The organist plays as hundreds of worshippers stream into the pews. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III steps to the pulpit. "Now may we stand for our call to worship," says Butts, as he begins a powerful three-hour service filed with music, dancing, prayers and preaching. "How good and pleasant it is when all of God's children get together." (Stein, 10/25)

The Washington Post: Pat Yourself On The Back, America. Your Cholesterol Levels Are Holding Steady, CDC Says.
When it comes to our health as a nation, we’re not doing so great. Some cancer rates are climbing sharply. Nearly one in eight Americans has diabetes. And we are ballooning in weight, with obesity rates at record highs. Amid that grim picture, government researchers on Thursday had a glimmer of good news: Our cholesterol numbers, which have improved significantly over the past 17 years, are holding steady. (Wan, 10/26)

NPR: Scientists And Surgeons Team Up To Create Virtual Human Brain Cells
Scientists in Seattle have created three-dimensional computer reconstructions of living human brain cells by studying tissue that is usually discarded during surgery. The virtual cells, unveiled Wednesday by The Allen Institute for Brain Science, capture not only the shape and anatomy of living cells, but also the electrical signals they produce. (Hamilton, 10/25)

NPR: It's Never A Good Idea To Stick Magnets Up Your Nose
Kids stick things in their nose, ears, and mouth all the time; it may be another way for them to explore and learn. But getting those objects out be challenging, and can take some creativity. Like when an 11-year-old boy put button magnets up both nostrils, where they locked tightly onto his septum. (Jochem, 10/25)

The Associated Press: Pharmacist In Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Cleared Of Murder
A pharmacist at a facility whose tainted drugs sparked a nationwide meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people was cleared Wednesday of murder but was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering. Jurors said prosecutors failed to prove Glenn Chin was responsible for the deaths of people who were injected with mold-contaminated drugs produced by the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Framingham, just west of Boston. As the supervisory pharmacist, Chin oversaw the so-called clean rooms where the drugs were made. (10/25)

The Associated Press: Born In Sandy-Flood Hospital, Kids 'Stronger Than The Storm'
Their lives began with one of the most dramatic stories of Superstorm Sandy: the evacuation of 32 newborn babies from a major New York City hospital that got flooded and lost power. Hospital staffers tended to laboring women in the dark and carried mothers and tiny infants — 21 of them in intensive care — down stairways into the thick of the 2012 storm. Doctors and nurses squeezed air pumps by hand to fill some of the most fragile babies' little lungs. (10/26)

Los Angeles Times: Activists Occupy City Hall Bathroom Stalls To Protest Skid Row Toilet Shortage
Protesters took graffiti-covered toilets to Los Angeles City Hall and occupied bathroom stalls on Wednesday to highlight what they called a severe hygiene shortage for homeless people on skid row. The activists tried to deliver the toilets, scribbled with slogans, to Mayor Eric Garcetti. But they were stopped at the security checkpoint by Los Angeles police, who cited safety concerns with hauling the ceramic thrones through the gilded Art Deco hallways and elevators of the landmark building. (Holland, 10/25)

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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