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KHN First Edition: December 21, 2017

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First Edition

Thursday, December 21, 2017                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Unregulated Herpes Experiments Expose ‘Black Hole’ Of Accountability
Recent revelations that a U.S. researcher injected Americans with his experimental herpes vaccine without routine safety oversight raised an uproar among scientists and ethicists. Not only did Southern Illinois University researcher William Halford vaccinate Americans offshore, he injected other participants in U.S. hotel rooms without Food and Drug Administration oversight or even a medical license. Since then, several participants have complained of side effects. (Taylor, 12/21)

The Associated Press: Congress Deals Pair Of Blows To 'Obamacare'
Two Republican senators abandoned their fight Wednesday for legislation this year to help contain premium costs by resuming federal subsidies to insurers, as Congress dealt a pair of blows to President Barack Obama's health care law. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Tennessee's Lamar Alexander ran into opposition from both parties to inserting the language into a must-pass bill preventing a weekend federal shutdown. They said they'd pursue the effort early next year, though there is no guarantee it would succeed. (12/20)

The Hill: Collins Lets McConnell Slide On Promise To Shore Up Insurance Markets In 2017 
Collins acknowledged on Wednesday that McConnell and Vice President Pence won’t be able to keep their promise to enact the insurance stabilization legislation in exchange for voting for tax reform. Collins and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement Wednesday that they will introduce the insurance market stabilization proposal “after the first of the year when the Senate will consider the omnibus spending bill” and other priorities such as reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and funding for community health centers. (Bolton, 12/20)

Politico: Republicans Drop Obamacare Fix In Rush To Avert Shutdown
The two chambers had been on a collision course for days over the subsidies bill, with House rank-and-file Republicans staring down Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Even with the Obamacare flash point out of the picture, House Republican leaders will have a hard sales job to persuade their fractured conference to swallow another kick-the-can spending bill. And in the Senate, the suggestion of including provisions that would provide temporary leeway for certain defense funding is already deterring Democratic support. (Ferris, Caygle and Haberkorn, 12/20)

The Hill: WH: Trump Wants Congress To Pass Bipartisan ObamaCare Fixes In January
President Trump supports the passage of bipartisan legislation designed to shore up ObamaCare, the White House said Wednesday. “Yes,” a senior White House official said when asked if Trump wants the bills passed in January. The official expressed confidence that Republicans could overcome opposition in the House, where conservatives are objecting to the fixes. (Fabian, 12/20)

The Hill: Broken Health Care Pledge Tests Collins-McConnell Relationship 
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will be a crucial swing vote for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) next year, but it may be tougher to strike deals with her after McConnell failed to fulfill a pledge on health care. The moderate senator told reporters this month that she had an “ironclad” commitment from McConnell and Vice President Pence to pass legislation by the end of the year to stabilize ObamaCare premiums. She wanted that assurance before committing her vote for tax reform. (Bolton, 12/21)

The Hill: Senate Republicans Look To Address Concerns About Abortion Language In ObamaCare Bills 
Senate Republicans are looking for ways to ensure that two ObamaCare funding bills they're trying to pass don't put money toward insurance plans that cover abortions. "There were some questions that were raised in the pro-life community, and we want to make sure we get those addressed so that all conservatives feel comfortable voting for this transition out of ObamaCare, which is what this is all about," said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). (Hellmann, 12/20)

The Associated Fact Check: Trump Says 'Obamacare' Is Repealed. It Isn't.
President Donald Trump has prematurely declared "Obamacare" dead and displayed a misunderstanding of where the money comes from to make the health law work. A look at his remarks Wednesday about the tax plan he will soon sign into law and its effect on President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul. (12/20)

The New York Times Fact Check: Trump Falsely Claims To Have ‘Repealed Obamacare’
“When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is being repealed,” Mr. Trump said in a cabinet meeting. “We have essentially repealed Obamacare, and we will come up with something that will be much better. ”Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he kept two key campaign promises with one bill is not accurate. Effectively, the tax bill does repeal the individual mandate beginning in 2019. The mandate is a core component of the Affordable Care Act and fines people who do not have health insurance. But the tax bill leaves every other vital part of the current health care law intact. (Qiu, 12/20)

The Hill: Trump: GOP Tax Bill 'essentially' Repeals ObamaCare
Despite Trump’s claim, the tax bill does not repeal ObamaCare entirely. People will still be able to purchase insurance through individual marketplaces, Medicaid expansion is preserved and consumer protections remain in place. But health-care experts worry that without the mandate, premiums in the individual insurance market could spike, competition could decrease and more people will become uninsured. (Fabian, 12/20)

The Washington Post: Kids’ Health Insurance Hangs In Balance, And Parents Wonder What’s Wrong With Congress
The lingering uncertainty in Congress over the fate of the Children’s Health Insurance Program has left Ashlee and Levi Smith torn between optimism and anxiety. As the parents of two young children who have relied on the government-backed health-care plan, the Smiths are unsure whether they should stretch their finances to put their boys, 3 and 3 months, on a private plan — or have faith that a polarized Congress will work it out. “$1,200 for the four of us,” Ashlee Smith, 26, said, estimating the plan’s monthly cost from their two-bedroom townhouse outside Salt Lake City, where she crafts necklaces as part of the family business. “We can’t pay that and save for a mortgage, or save anything at all.” (Samuels, 12/20)

Politico: State Officials Panicked Over Children’s Health Program
Families are becoming increasingly panicked about children losing health insurance without new funding from Congress, state officials warned Wednesday as a new report showed nearly 2 million kids could be dropped from coverage next month. Roughly 1.9 million children across the country could lose insurance in January if Congress fails to renew Children's Health Insurance Program funding, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. Another 1 million could lose coverage by the end of February if the congressional stalemate drags on. (Pradhan, 12/20)

CQ HealthBeat: Delay In Children's Health Funding Worries States And Advocates
Children's advocates and state officials are dismayed that long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program may be delayed until next year, with a short-term fix likely to keep states going until then. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, hinted at a further delay in a press release earlier Tuesday about a separate stall in action on market stabilization legislation. (Raman, 12/20)

The Washington Post: Trump Administration Targets Certain Words, And The Bureaucracy Pushes Back
The Trump administration is waging a linguistic battle across official Washington, seeking to shift public perception of key policies by changing the way the federal government talks about climate change, scientific evidence and disadvantaged communities. The push drew fresh attention after employees at the Department of Health and Human Services were told to avoid certain words — including “vulnerable” “entitlement” and “diversity” — when preparing requests for next year’s budget. But the effort to disappear certain language and replace it with other terms is much broader, sparking resistance from career officials in multiple federal agencies, outside experts and congressional Democrats. (Eilperin and Sun, 12/21)

Stat: FDA Chief Has No Qualms About Using Words Like 'Evidence-Based'
A report that the Trump administration discouraged officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using seven words — including “vulnerable” and “evidence-based” — in its budget submissions sparked outrage over the weekend in the scientific and public health community. It also got us wondering: How often — and in what context — do these words get used in other government agencies focused on health and science? (Robbins, 12/20)

The Hill: Health Panel Dems Demand Answers From Azar On Banned Words 
Democrats on the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday released a letter asking Alex Azar, the Trump administration's nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, how he would deal with a reported prohibition on the use of certain words at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Given your pending nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services, we seek your reaction to this reported new administration policy, as well as additional information about how you would plan to address these communications restrictions if confirmed,” the Democrats wrote. (Weixel, 12/20)

NPR/ProPublica: Waste Not? Ideas For Curbing Unneeded Health Care Spending
Earlier this year, the Gallup organization set out to identify the top concerns everyday Americans have about money. Researchers asked more than a thousand people across the country, "What is the most important financial problem facing your family today?" Their top answer: the cost of health care. Increases in medical costs have substantially outpaced economic growth for decades. In recent months, ProPublica has shown that it doesn't have to be this way. (Allen, 12/21)

Stat: Lawmakers Demand Answers On A Huge Price Hike For An Old Drug
Several lawmakers are targeting the sky-high price of an old drug that cost just $50 for a bottle of 100 pills a little more than a decade ago but goes for $15,000 today. The drug, which was once called Daranide and is now known as Keveyis, was originally approved in 1958 to treat glaucoma, although it was more recently approved to combat periodic paralysis and received orphan status. This means the drug was endorsed for a rare disorder affecting a small group of people — about 5,000 in the U.S. — and also several years of market exclusivity. (Silverman, 12/20)

Stat: Drug Makers Dodged $1.3 Billion In Payments To Medicaid, Report Finds
Drug makers dodged more than $1.3 billion in Medicaid drug rebates between 2012 and 2016 because they inappropriately or mistakenly miscategorized brand-name products as generics, which qualify for lower rebates. Some $1.17 billion of that figure was associated with miscategorizations for just two drugs, according to a new report from the Health and Human Services Department’s independent inspector general, which did not name the products or their manufacturers. Had the 10 most expensive of the drugs been classified appropriately, state Medicaid programs would have saved that $1.3 billion figure, the report said. Instead, they collected just $199 million for those drug rebates. (Mershon, 12/20)

Stat: Trump's Zeal For Deregulation Could Gum Up The FDA, Experts Say
President Trump quite literally cut a stretch of red tape last week to emphasize his slash-and-burn stance on government deregulation. But what would sweeping regulatory change mean for public health? And could changes by his administration wind up creating even more red tape? A new analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that stifling an agency’s rulemaking ability “could have potentially disastrous consequences” for the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies that protect public health. Proponents of deregulation, however, say that the current regulatory system hampers economic growth and puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage with foreign competitors. (Keshavan, 12/20)

NPR: Life Expectancy Drops As Opioid Deaths Surge
"I'm not prone to dramatic statements," says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. "But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it." (Stein, 12/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Overdose Deaths Drive Down U.S. Life Expectancy—Again
The last time the U.S. experienced a back-to-back fall in life expectancy, in 1962 and 1963, a bad flu season was to blame, Bob Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, said in an interview. The previous consecutive-year decline was in 1925-26, which was likely due to infectious disease, he said. (Whalen, 12/21)

Stat: Life Expectancy In The U.S. Is Falling — And Overdose Deaths Are Soaring
Heart disease was the leading cause of death, followed by cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide. One key point: Unintentional injuries climbed to the third leading cause of death in 2016, swapping spots with chronic lower respiratory diseases. It’s worth noting that most drug overdose deaths are classified as unintentional injuries. (Thielking, 12/21)

The Washington Post: CDC Releases Grim New Opioid Overdose Figures: ‘We’re Talking About More Than An Exponential Increase’
The national opioid epidemic escalated in 2016, driven by an unprecedented surge in deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opiates, according to new data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2016, a 28 percent increase over 2015. The number of people fatally overdosing on fentanyl and other synthetic opiates more than doubled, from 9,580 in 2015 to 19,413 in 2016. Deaths due to heroin were up nearly 20 percent, and deaths from other opiate painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, were up 14 percent. (Ingraham, 12/21)

The New York Times: As Overdoses Mount, Cities And Counties Rush To Sue Opioid Makers
Citing a spike in overdose deaths, growing demands for drug treatment and a strained budget, officials here in Summit County filed a lawsuit late Wednesday against companies that make or distribute prescription opioids. On Monday, Smith County in Tennessee did the same. And on Tuesday, nine cities and counties in Michigan announced similar suits. Cities, counties and states across the country are turning to the courts in the spiraling opioid crisis. What began a few years ago with a handful of lawsuits has grown into a flood of claims that drug companies improperly marketed opioids or failed to report suspiciously large orders. (Smith and Davey, 12/20)

The New York Times: Why Sitting May Be Bad For Your Heart
Sitting quietly for extended periods of time could be hurting your heart, according to a surprising new study. It finds that the more people sit, the greater the likelihood that they will show signs of injury to their heart muscles. We all have heard by now that sitting for hours on end is unhealthy, even if we also occasionally exercise. People who sit for more than about nine or 10 hours each day — a group that includes many of us who work in offices — are prone to developing diabetes, heart disease and other problems, and most of these risks remain relatively high, even if we exercise. (Reynolds, 12/20)

NPR: Experiments In Mice Suggest Role For Gene Editing For Deafness
While cautioning that much more research is needed, the scientists said they hope the technique might someday be used to prevent deafness in children born in families with a history of genetic hearing loss. Before that could happen, however, extensive tests would be needed to determine whether the treatment is safe — and whether it would actually work in humans. "We're hopeful that our results will help guide the development of such strategies," says David Liu, a genetic engineer at Broad Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. The results were reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. (Stein, 12/20)

The New York Times: A Salad A Day May Be Good For Brain Health
Eating leafy greens may help slow mental decline. Researchers studied 960 men and women ages 58 to 99 who completed food frequency questionnaires and had two or more cognitive assessments over an average of almost five years of follow-up. (Bakalar, 12/20)

Los Angeles Times: Kale And Other Leafy Vegetables May Make Your Brain Seem 11 Years Younger
In research that gives new meaning to the expression "salad days," a study published Wednesday finds that older people who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day had a slower rate of decline on tests of memory and thinking skills than did people who rarely or never ate these vegetables. The study was published in the journal Neurology.After almost five years, regular consumers of such veggies as kale, spinach, collard greens and lettuce enjoyed a mental edge that was the equivalent of 11 years in age. (Healy, 12/20)

The Associated Press: Virginia Governor-Elect Names Health Appointments
Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has named Dr. Daniel Carey as his incoming secretary of health and human resources. Northam announced Wednesday that Carey, the Chief Medical Officer at Centra Health, will help Northam’s administration expand Medicaid, combat the opioid epidemic and improve mental health care. Northam also named Dr. Jennifer Lee, a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as head of the Department of Medicaid Assistance Services, which administers Medicaid. (12/20)

The Associated Press: Judge: Plastic Surgery Was Wrongly Denied For 3 HIV Patients
A cosmetic-surgery firm that denied breast reduction surgery to three men with HIV violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to consider the medical facts regarding each patient before deciding whether surgery could be safely performed, a judge said Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres issued the written opinion against Advanced Cosmetic Surgery of New York, which has offices in Manhattan and Long Island. (12/20)

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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