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KHN First Edition: November 17, 2017

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First Edition

Friday, November 17, 2017                       Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

LOOK AT US: Kaiser Health News has a brand new look. With our readers’ feedback, we’ve changed the website to make it easier to discover important news, investigations, columns and multimedia. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Seeks Comment On Ways To Cut Costs Of Part D Drugs
Noting that the true price of a drug is often hidden from consumers, Medicare officials requested comments late Thursday on how to use discounts and rebates to help decrease what enrollees pay for prescriptions. The proposal request, buried in hundreds of pages released late Thursday afternoon, asked for public comment on how to share the rebates and discounts that are negotiated by manufacturers, pharmacists and insurers. Insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, administer Medicare’s Part D drug program and negotiate behind-the-scenes fees and discounts that are often hidden from public view. (Tribble, 11/16)

Kaiser Health News: About A Third Of Americans Unaware Of Obamacare Open Enrollment
While the Affordable Care Act’s fifth open enrollment season is off to a surprisingly good start, many uninsured people said they weren’t even aware of it, according to a survey released Friday. Nearly a third of people overall — including a third of people without health insurance — said they had not heard anything about the sign-up period for individuals who buy health plans on their own, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). (Galewitz, 11/17)

Kaiser Health News: Medicaid Expansion Takes A Bite Out Of Medical Debt
As the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress look to scale back Medicaid, many voters and state lawmakers across the country are moving to make it bigger. On Nov. 7, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Advocates are looking to follow suit with ballot measures in Utah, Missouri and Idaho in 2018. (Smith, 11/17)

Reuters: Moderate Collins Back In Prominent Role In Senate Tax Drama
Senator Susan Collins is back in the spotlight as a crucial swing vote in the U.S. Senate as she raises questions about how combining a Republican tax-cut plan with a partial repeal of Obamacare will affect middle-class Americans. ... She told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday that her staff's research showed pairing tax cuts with an effective repeal of the individual mandate of Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), could be a mistake. (11/16)

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare 101: Will The GOP Tax Bill Force Big Medicare Cuts?
As congressional Republicans move forward with their tax legislation, there are growing concerns that the costs, which are projected to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, will force a host of big cuts in government programs, including Medicare. The Medicare cuts alone are projected to hit $25 billion next year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and would increase steadily by 2026. (Levy, 11/16)

The Washington Post Fact Checker: The GOP Claim That Half Of The People Paying The Obamacare Penalty Make Less Than $25,000
On Nov. 14, Senate Republicans tacked a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate onto their tax bill. The mandate, which polls indicate is one of the most disliked aspects of Obamacare, requires Americans to pay a fine if they are uninsured for all or a portion of the year. During a news conference with Senate leaders, Sen. John Cornyn criticized the mandate, calling it a “tax on poor Americans” because “about half” make $25,000 or less. (Lewis, 11/17)

The Associated Press: Pope to Lawmakers: Protect All People With Health Care Laws
Pope Francis on Thursday urged lawmakers to ensure that health care laws protect the "common good," decrying the fact that in many places only the privileged can afford sophisticated medical treatments. The comments came as U.S. lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have been debating how to overhaul the nation's health insurance laws. (11/16)

The New York Times: Middle-Class Families Confront Soaring Health Insurance Costs
Consumers here at first did not believe the health insurance premiums they saw when they went shopping for coverage this month on HealthCare.gov. Only five plans were available, and for a family of four with parents in their mid-30s, the cheapest plan went typically for more than $2,400 a month, nearly $30,000 a year. With the deadline for a decision less than a month away, consumers are desperately weighing their options, dismayed at the choices they have under the Affordable Care Act and convinced that political forces in Washington are toying with their health and well-being. (Pear, 11/16)

The Washington Post: Where Are The Most Expensive ACA Plans In America? Charlottesville.
Monthly health-care insurance premiums increased all over America this year, but nowhere as dramatically as in Charlottesville, an analysis shows. Residents of the small college city and the surrounding Albemarle County who wish to purchase individual insurance from the federal marketplace will be paying for the most expensive plans in the country, a Kaiser Family Foundation review confirmed. (Itkowitz, 11/16)

The Wall Street Journal: New Health And Human Services Secretary Would Inherit Troubled Agency
The next head of the Department of Health and Human Services will be handed an agency facing criticism from state officials and internal strife. HHS, which employs about 80,000 people, oversees Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, and such agencies as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been caught up in the fallout over the Republicans’ failure to repeal the law legislatively and an ethics scandal over government-funded travel that led to the resignation of Secretary Tom Price in September. (Armour, Radnofsky and Wilde Mathews, 11/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Discord Threatens Federal Role At Indian Hospitals
The federal government’s management of three Indian hospitals that treat thousands of patients is crumbling, a failure that could jeopardize care on some of the nation’s poorest and most remote reservations. All three hospitals are run by the federal Indian Health Service, which was created to fulfill U.S. legal obligations to provide health care to members of Indian tribes. (Weaver and Frosch, 11/16)

The New York Times: F.D.A. Speeds Review Of Gene Therapies, Vowing To Target Rogue Clinics
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued new guidelines to speed the introduction of treatments involving human cells and tissues, including gene therapy. But the agency also said it would crack down on rogue clinics offering dangerous or unproven versions of those treatments. The therapies aimed at diseases like leukemia are known as regenerative medicine and have quickly grown into a booming industry worldwide. (Kaplan and Grady, 11/16)

The Washington Post: In A First, Scientists Edit Genes Inside A Man’s Body To Try To Cure A Disease. What’s Next?
Scientists have attempted to cure a patient with a rare genetic disorder by rewriting the DNA inside his body, in a first-of-its-kind therapy they hope could one day be applied to numerous other conditions including hemophilia and sickle cell disease. The procedure, which took place on Monday at the University of California at San Francisco's Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, Calif., involved sending what the Associated Press described as “billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot” into the patient's body. These edits are designed to enable the patient, 44-year-old Brian Madeux, to produce an enzyme that would counteract a metabolic disease he suffers from known as Hunter syndrome. (Cha, 11/16)

NPR: What To Make Of A Head-To-Head Test Of Addiction Treatments
Addiction specialists caution against reading too much into a new study released this week that compares two popular medications for opioid addiction. This much-anticipated research is the largest study so far to directly compare the widely used treatment Suboxone with relative newcomer Vivitrol. Researchers who compared the two drugs found them equally effective once treatment started. But there are fundamental differences in the way treatment begins, which makes these findings difficult to interpret. (Harper, 11/16)

The New York Times: Even Light Activity May Increase Your Chances Of Living Longer
Using accelerometers to precisely measure physical activity, researchers have found that even very light exercise, well below the generally recommended levels, reduces mortality in older women. The scientists had 6,382 women ages 63 to 99 wear an accelerometer for seven consecutive days, waking and sleeping, except when bathing or swimming. (Bakalar, 11/16)

The New York Times: Nuts May Lower Your Risk For Heart Disease
Eating nuts may lower the risk for heart disease. Researchers studied 210,836 men and women involved in three large prospective health studies from 1980 to 2013. They assessed nut consumption with food frequency questionnaires, updated every four years. Over the years, there were 8,390 cases of coronary heart disease and 5,910 strokes. (Bakalar, 11/16)

The Associated Press: 4 Indicted In Multistate Health Care Fraud Case
Four people have been indicted on multiple counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and aggravated identity theft related to fraudulent claims filed with Medicaid programs in Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, in a news release Thursday, announced indictments against 42-year-old Matthew Harrell, of Atlanta; 42-year-old Nikki Richardson, of Fairburn, Georgia; 42-year-old Tomeka Howard, of Decatur, Georgia; and 42-year-old Andrea Barrett, of Virginia Beach, Virginia. (11/16)

The Washington Post: The Truth Behind The ‘First Marijuana Overdose Death’
A case report about the seizure and death of an 11-month old after exposure to cannabis has prompted headlines about “the first marijuana overdose death” this week. Except that’s not what the doctors meant. “We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child,” said Dr. Thomas Nappe, an author of the report who is now the director of medical toxicology at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem, Pa. (Silverman, 11/17)

Los Angeles Times: Officials Are Still Searching For The Source Of 4 Legionnaires' Cases. Disneyland Cooling Towers Haven't Been Ruled Out
After several people in Orange County fell sick with Legionnaires’ disease in recent weeks, officials said two cooling towers at Disneyland had been linked to the outbreak. Those towers were shut down, and officials say they no longer pose a risk to park visitors. But a key question remains unanswered: How did four people who had not visited Disneyland become infected? (Karlamangla, 11/16)

The Associated Press: Hospital Patient Escaped To Prove He Could Behave Properly
A man who acknowledges killing a woman nearly 40 years ago said he needed to plot and carry out his escape from a Hawaii psychiatric hospital to prove that he could behave properly out in the community. Randall Saito told San Francisco television station KGO-TV in an interview that the Hawaii State Hospital wouldn't give him a chance. He says every time he applied for release, officials made him "sound like a bad guy." (11/17)

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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