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KHN First Edition: December 12, 2017

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First Edition

Tuesday, December 12, 2017                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Experts Tell Congress How To Cut Drug Prices
The nation’s most influential science advisory group will tell Congress today that the U.S. pharmaceutical market is not sustainable and needs to change. “Drugs that are not affordable are of little value and drugs that do not exist are of no value,” said Norman Augustine, chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s committee on drug pricing and former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. (Tribble, 12/12)

Kaiser Health News: Sign-Up Deadline Is Friday, But Some People May Get Extra Time
Open enrollment on the federal health law’s marketplace ends Friday, and most people who want a plan for next year need to meet the deadline. But some consumers who miss the cutoff could be surprised to learn they have the opportunity to enroll later. “While a lot of people will be eligible … I am still worried that a lot of consumers won’t know it,” said Shelby Gonzales, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Andrews, 12/12)

Kaiser Health News: An Overlooked Epidemic: Older Americans Taking Too Many Unneeded Drugs
Consider it America’s other prescription drug epidemic. For decades, experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons. Researchers estimate that 25 percent of people ages 65 to 69 take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions, a figure that jumps to nearly 46 percent for those between 70 and 79. Doctors say it is not uncommon to encounter patients taking more than 20 drugs to treat acid reflux, heart disease, depression or insomnia or other disorders. (Boodman, 12/12)

The New York Times: An Obamacare Surprise In The Mail: New Insurers And New Costs
Meg and Robert Holub were surprised to receive a letter last week welcoming them to a new health insurance plan and telling them to pay $3,483 by Jan. 8. “We have received your application for individual and family coverage effective 1/1/2018,” the letter said. The only problem: They never applied for the coverage, did not want it and could not afford it. “I worried, did someone hack my account to sign me up for this?” Mr. Holub said. “And I wondered, what are the implications if I don’t pay for this plan? Will I be hounded by a credit agency?” (Pear, 12/11)

The Associated Press: Some Glitches Seen In Deadline Week For 'Obamacare' Sign-Ups
Consumer advocates reported some glitches Monday in the final days for "Obamacare" sign-ups, although the Trump administration largely seemed to be keeping its promise of a smooth enrollment experience. In Illinois, some consumers who successfully completed an application for financial assistance through got a message saying they would likely be eligible to buy a health plan, "but none are available to you in your area." (12/11)

The Hill: Obama Urges ObamaCare Signups Ahead Of Deadline
Former President Barack Obama on Monday urged people to sign up for ObamaCare ahead of Friday’s deadline and denounced Republican efforts to roll back the law. Obama joined a call with navigators and volunteers who help people sign up for coverage under the law, his office said, and made an appeal on Twitter and Facebook. (Sullivan, 12/11)

The Hill: Ex-CMS Staffer Buoys ObamaCare
Since leaving the administration, [Lori] Lodes and other Democrats have come to believe that the Trump administration is actively working to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and health coverage gains made under Obama. The White House has moved to shorten ObamaCare’s enrollment period, cut its advertising budget by 90 percent and reduced by 41 percent funding for outside groups assisting with sign-ups — all while pushing Congress to repeal and replace the law. (Roubein, 12/12)

The Washington Post: Jimmy Kimmel Holds His Baby Son, Post-Heart Surgery, In Emotional Health-Care Monologue
Jimmy Kimmel was absent from his ABC late-night show last week while his 8-month-old son, Billy, recovered from his second heart surgery. Ever since Billy was born with a heart defect and required immediate surgery, Kimmel has become an outspoken advocate for universal health care, occasionally using his monologue to plead with (or deliver scathing criticisms of) members of Congress. “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” he said tearfully in May. On Monday, Kimmel returned to the stage with his son in his arms. Billy, wearing a tiny sweater vest, stayed remarkably calm on camera as Kimmel choked up once more while talking about his son. (Yahr, 12/12)

The Washington Post: Senate Republicans Are Divided Over Whether To Pursue Medicare Cuts In 2018
Senate Republicans are divided over whether they should use the months before the 2018 elections trying to cut spending on social programs, including Medicare. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, said that Congress should consider reducing long-term spending on these federal programs next year. “If we’re going to do something about spending and debt, we have to get faster growth in the economy — which I hope tax reform will achieve. But we have also got to take on making our entitlement programs more sustainable,” including Medicare, Thune said on Thursday. “I think there is support, generally, here for entitlement reform.” (Stein, 12/11)

The Hill: Maine Governor Lays Out Demands For Medicaid Expansion Voters Approved
An expansion of Medicaid in Maine must be paid for without raising taxes or tapping the state’s budget stabilization fund, Gov. Paul LePage (R) told the state Legislature in a letter Monday. The letter reiterated demands that LePage first made in November, after voters in the state overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative to accept the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. (Weixel, 12/11)

NPR: Parents Worry Congress Won't Fund The Children's Health Insurance Program
It's a beautiful morning in Pittsburgh, but Ariel Haughton is stressed out. She's worried her young children's health insurance coverage will soon lapse. "So, we're like a low-middle-class family, right?" she says. "I'm studying. My husband's working, and our insurance right now is 12 percent of our income — just for my husband and I. And it's not very good insurance either." (Kodjak, 12/12)

The Hill: Virginia Warns Children Could Lose Coverage Without Action On CHIP
Virginia is planning to send a letter to enrollees in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) on Tuesday that they could lose their coverage on Jan. 31 if Congress does not renew the funding. CHIP’s authorization expired on Sept. 30, and states are now nearing the point where they will run out of funds. Congress is expected to renew funds for the program either this month or next, but the uncertainty from not having acted yet is leading some states to warn enrollees about the possibility of losing coverage if Congress does not act. (Sullivan, 12/11)

The Hill: Vermont, NH Senators Call For Renewal Of Lapsed Health Center Funding
Vermont and New Hampshire’s senators are urging Senate leaders to work to pass legislation funding community health centers after a major source of their federal dollars lapsed Sept. 30. Community health centers are a large source of comprehensive primary care for some of the nation’s most vulnerable, serving 27 million people. They take any patient who walks in their doors, regardless of if they have insurance, and Congress let a fund expire that represents 70 percent of their federal grant revenue. (Roubein, 12/11)

The Washington Post: New CDC Head Faces Questions About Financial Conflicts Of Interest
After five months in office, President Trump’s new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to divest financial holdings that pose potential conflicts of interest, hindering her ability to fully perform her job. Brenda Fitzgerald, 71, who served as the Georgia public health commissioner until her appointment to the CDC post in July, said she has divested from many stock holdings. But she and her husband are legally obligated to maintain other investments in cancer detection and health information technology, according to her ethics agreement, requiring Fitzgerald to pledge to avoid government business that might affect those interests. Fitzgerald provided The Post with a copy of her agreement. (Sun and Crites, 12/11)

The Hill: Leading Dem: CDC Director's Financial Investments Pose Conflict Of Interest
The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had to recuse herself from involvement in significant health issues because her investments might pose a conflict of interest, says Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Murray, ranking Democrat of the Senate Health Committee, wrote in a letter to CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald that her remaining investments prevent her from engaging in matters relating to cancer and the opioid crisis. (Hellmann, 12/11)

The Wall Street Journal: FDA Plans New Medical-Device Approval Processes
The Food and Drug Administration plans new medical-device approval processes to speed products’ entry to the U.S. market, mirroring the desires of industry and President Donald Trump to clear barriers to new business. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has long espoused speedier steps to promote innovation, in an interview called for “progressive,” or stepped, approvals of certain devices that would allow them to go to market with initial approvals, with further evidence to assess performance coming later. That would entail more risk to patients initially than current procedures where clinical trials or other evidence come before market launch. (Burton, 12/11)

Bloomberg: Hospitals Are Merging To Face Off With Insurers
A spate of hospital deals stands to further remake the U.S. health-care landscape, pushing up prices for consumers and insurers and changing how individuals get care. Just this month, health systems with at least 166 hospitals and $39 billion in combined annual revenue have announced merger plans. There’s likely more to come: The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health, a pair of nonprofits that together have 191 hospitals and nearly $45 billion in annual revenue, are in deal talks. (Tracer, 12/11)

The Wall Street Journal: Despite Mergers, Hospitals Are In Serious Condition
American hospitals have a target on their backs. The latest merger talk is an attempt to rally their strength, but industry payers’ battle against high health-care costs shows no sign of letting up. Two major nonprofit hospital chains, Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health, are in talks to combine, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. A deal would create a chain of 191 hospitals in 27 states with annual revenue of about $45 billion. (Grant, 12/11)

NPR: Native Americans Feel Invisible In U.S. Health Care System
The life expectancy of Native Americans in some states is 20 years shorter than the national average. There are many reasons why. Among them, health programs for American Indians are chronically underfunded by Congress. And, about a quarter of Native Americans reported experiencing discrimination when going to a doctor or health clinic, according to findings of a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (Whitney, 12/12)

The New York Times: People Don’t Take Their Pills. Only One Thing Seems To Help.
For all that Americans spend on prescription drugs — $425 billion last year — you’d think we’d actually take our medicine. But one of the frustrating truths about American health care is that half or more of prescribed medication is never taken. It’s called medication nonadherence, and it’s a well-documented and longstanding problem, particularly for patients with chronic conditions. The drugs they’re prescribed are intended to prevent costly complications, reduce hospitalization, even keep them alive. But even when the stakes are high, many patients don’t take their meds. (Frakt, 12/11)

The New York Times: Birth Control Pills Protect Against Cancer, Too
After a Danish study last week reported finding more breast cancer cases among women who use hormone-based birth control methods, many women were left wondering: How significant is the risk, and what are the alternatives? The answer will be different for each woman and will depend on such factors as her age and general healthand her other risks for breast cancer. But many doctors who prescribe contraceptives say there’s no cause for alarm — and no one should throw away her pills and risk an unwanted pregnancy. (Rabin, 12/11)

Reuters: Medical Lab Trade Group Sues Over U.S. Reimbursement Cuts
A U.S. trade association representing medical laboratories filed a lawsuit on Monday challenging a new reimbursement system used by the federal government that it said would reduce how much Medicare pays for labs by about $670 million in 2018. The American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) in a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., said the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ignored Congressional intent by implementing the new system following the passage of a 2014 law. (Raymond, 12/11)

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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