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KHN First Edition: January 18, 2018

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First Edition

Thursday, January 18, 2018                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Home Care Agencies Often Wrongly Deny Medicare Help To The Chronically Ill
Colin Campbell needs help dressing, bathing and moving between his bed and his wheelchair. He has a feeding tube because his partially paralyzed tongue makes swallowing “almost impossible,” he said. Campbell, 58, spends $4,000 a month on home health care services so he can continue to live in his home just outside Los Angeles. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” which relentlessly attacks the nerve cells in his brain and spinal cord and has no cure. (Jaffe, 1/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Bet Health-Care Funds Shuffle Will Help Get Spending Bill Passed
Republicans are hoping to land support for a short-term spending bill by agreeing to delay some Affordable Care Act taxes and renewing funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a gamble that shows the continuing resonance of health-care issues in the national debate. House GOP leaders, seeking to soften Democratic opposition to the spending bill, have included six years of renewed funding for CHIP, which Democrats urgently want. At the same time, they have inserted a repeal of ACA taxes on medical devices, generous employer plans, and health insurance, likely to appeal to conservatives. (Armour, 1/17)

Politico: Republicans Lack Votes To Prevent A Shutdown
House Republicans are short of the votes they need to avoid a government shutdown, but Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP leaders remain confident they will pass a stopgap funding measure when it comes to the floor on Thursday. President Donald Trump is personally leaning on GOP lawmakers to fall into line, especially hard-line conservatives who are opposed to virtually anything Ryan and his leadership team propose. (Bresnahan, Ferris and Caygle, 1/17)

The Hill: Senate Dems Push For Health Center Funding In Spending Bill
Senate Democrats are pushing for additional health-care measures like funding for community health centers to be included in a short-term funding bill this week ahead of a impending government shutdown. Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said at a press conference with Democratic leaders on Wednesday that he wanted the community health center funding added, as well as an extension of programs for home visits from nurses and for rural healthcare. (Sullivan, 1/17)

The Hill: Lawmakers Weigh Measure To Fight High Drug Prices 
Lawmakers are considering adding a measure aimed at fighting high drug prices to an upcoming spending deal, in what would be a rare defeat for the powerful pharmaceutical industry. The measure, known as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act, is intended to prevent branded drug companies from using tactics to delay competition from cheaper generic drugs. It is co-sponsored by a set of unusual bedfellows in both parties. (Sullivan, 1/17)

The Hill: Opponents Urge Congress To Suspend ObamaCare Tax This Year 
Opponents of a tax on health insurance are urging lawmakers to suspend the ObamaCare tax starting this year after House Republican leadership unveiled a stopgap spending measure that included a one-year delay only for 2019. GOP leaders unveiled the measure late Tuesday as part of their plan to avoid a government shutdown. It included a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as a two-year delay of a tax on high-cost insurance plans knows as the Cadillac tax and a medical device tax in an effort to get their members on board with another short-term spending bill. (Roubein, 1/17)

The Hill: Kimmel Spars With Ryan Staffer Over CHIP
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel sparred with a spokesman for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday over legislation to fund a children's health program. Doug Andres, the press secretary for Ryan, included Kimmel on his retweet of a health-care reporter who said it would be "interesting" to see how many Democrats will vote against a short-term spending bill that could include a six-year extension for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a longtime Democratic objective. (Delk, 1/17)

Stat: How A Government Shutdown Could Affect Drug Safety, Flu Response, And More
Unless Republicans coalesce this week around a short-term spending deal, the federal government will shut down — a scenario that will likely have widespread and long-lasting consequences for public health. The Food and Drug Administration would likely have to forego updating mislabeled medications or conducting routine food safety inspections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would furlough key staff amid one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. And the National Institutes of Health might have to stop enrolling hundreds of patients in clinical trials. (Mershon and Swetlitz, 1/17)

The New York Times: Fed Up With Drug Companies, Hospitals Decide To Start Their Own
For years, hospital executives have expressed frustration when essential drugs like heart medicines have become scarce, or when prices have skyrocketed because investors manipulated the market. Now, some of the country’s largest hospital systems are taking an aggressive step to combat the problem: They plan to go into the drug business themselves, in a move that appears to be the first on this scale. “This is a shot across the bow of the bad guys,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, the chief executive of Intermountain Healthcare, the nonprofit Salt Lake City hospital group that is spearheading the effort. (Abelson and Thomas, 1/18)

The New York Times: Trump’s Physical Revealed Serious Heart Concerns, Outside Experts Say
Cardiologists not associated with the White House said Wednesday that President Trump’s physical exam revealed serious heart concerns, including very high levels of so-called bad cholesterol, which raises the risk that Mr. Trump could have a heart attack while in office. Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral and the White House physician, said Tuesday in his report on the president’s medical condition that Mr. Trump was in “excellent” cardiac health despite having an LDL cholesterol level of 143, well above the desired level of 100 or less. (Shear and Kolata, 1/17)

Stat: Will Trump's 'Incredible Genes' Keep Protecting His Health?
Unless someone swipes one of President Trump’s used forks from the Mar-a-Lago dining room and sends it to 23andMe for DNA analysis, the world will simply have to guess what the White House physician meant when he told reporters on Tuesday that Trump “has incredible genes, I just assume.” “Incredible genes” may seem like hand-waving, but there’s no question some genetic variants protect against heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other killers. And Trump chose his parents well: His father died of pneumonia at 93 after developing Alzheimer’s disease but apparently avoiding cancer and heart disease. His mother lived to 88; her cause of death was not reported, but her only known ailment was osteoporosis. (Begley, 1/17)

The Associated Press: What About The Memory Test Trump Aced? It's Not For Everyone
Drawing a clock. Counting backward by sevens. Rattling off words that begin with "F'' before a minute's up. They may not sound like difficult tasks, but they're part of a cognitive exam that's getting a lot of attention because President Donald Trump aced it. For all their apparent simplicity, 10-minute quizzes like the Montreal Cognitive Assessment offer doctors a snapshot of someone's memory and certain other neurologic functions, one piece of information to help determine if trouble's brewing. (1/17)

The Associated Press: Senate Panel Advances Trump Health Secretary Pick
A Senate committee has signed off on President Donald Trump's pick for health secretary, clearing the way for final confirmation of Alex Azar. The Finance Committee voted 15-12 on Wednesday to send Azar's nomination to the full Senate. Although the panel's vote was largely along party lines, Azar's confirmation hearings weren't nearly as contentious as the deliberations over his predecessor, Tom Price. (1/17)

The Washington Post: Senate Finance Committee Advances Alex Azar’s Nomination To Head HHS
If approved by the full Senate, Azar, a former executive for the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company, would succeed President Trump’s first HHS secretary, Tom Price. The former congressman from Georgia resigned under pressure in September during an investigation of his use of private charter planes at taxpayer expense to attend official events. “Mr. Azar is well-credentialed to lead such a critical department at a time America’s health care system is facing difficult challenges,” Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a written statement. (Bernstein, 1/17)

Los Angeles Times: Senate Panel Endorses Trump's Pick For Health Secretary
Azar — who as head of the mammoth agency will oversee the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has pledged to prioritize key issues important to both Republicans and Democrats, including the opioid epidemic, the burden of healthcare costs on Americans and the rising price of pharmaceuticals. "Drug prices are too high," Azar told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in November, pledging to look at ways to increase competition and stop drugmakers from gaming the system. But Azar's work at Lilly, which dramatically raised prices on its insulin product while he was at the company, has made many consumer advocates skeptical he will take on the powerful pharmaceutical industry. (Levey, 1/17)

The Washington Post: New HHS Civil Rights Division To Shield Health Workers With Moral Or Religious Objections
The Trump administration will create a new conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department to ease the way for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs. Specific details are scheduled to be announced Thursday. But the new policy appears to be broad and aimed at protecting health-care workers who cite those reasons for refusing to take part in abortions, treat transgender patients or participate in other types of care. (Eilperin and Cha, 1/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump To Let Health Providers Skip Procedures On Religious Grounds
The Department of Health and Human Services sent the proposal on Friday to the White House for review, said a person on Capitol Hill familiar with the matter. The HHS will also establish a division of “conscience and religious freedom protections” within its Office for Civil Rights, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Trump might take the opportunity to tout the changes when he addresses the March for Life on the National Mall by satellite on Friday, the White House said. Friday’s march is this year’s version of an annual event by antiabortion activists to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that broadly established a right to an abortion. If not Mr. Trump, acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan may announce the new initiative on Thursday, officials said. (Armour and Radnofsky, 1/17)

The Washington Post: Trump To Address Friday's March For Life Antiabortion Rally Via Satellite
A year ago, throngs of abortion opponents gathered in Washington for the March for Life on the Mall and to celebrate the promises of a newly sworn-in President Trump — wins they’d been seeking for decades: Defunding Planned Parenthood, permanently banning federal money for abortion, and overturning Roe v. Wade, something he said would happen “automatically” if he got to pick judges he wanted. On Friday, Trump will address the march from the White House Rose Garden via satellite, according to organizers. But as marchers return for the major annual antiabortion gathering, almost none of the core vows the president made have been fulfilled and there’s no clear sign they’ll be attained soon. (Boorstein and Zauzmer, 1/17)

The Hill: WH Delays Spark Fear For Family Planning Groups 
The Trump administration is running months behind in supplying basic information on how organizations that provide birth control and other reproductive health services to low-income women and families can apply for federal family planning grants, raising new uncertainties over the program. The delays at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) are putting additional stress on organizations that depend on funding through Title X, a nearly 50-year-old program focused solely on family planning grants. (Hellmann, 1/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Millions Bought Insurance To Cover Retirement Health Costs. Now They Face An Awful Choice
Long-term-care insurance was supposed to help pay for nursing homes, assisted living and personal aides for tens of millions of Americans when they became unable to take care of themselves. Now, though, the industry is in financial turmoil, causing misery for many of the 7.3 million people who own a long-term-care policy, equal to about a fifth of the U.S. population at least 65 years old. Steep rate increases that many policyholders never saw coming are confronting them with an awful choice: Come up with the money to pay more—or walk away from their coverage. (Scism, 1/17)

The Washington Post: As Opioid Crisis Rages, Walmart Hopes This Powder Packet Will Keep People From Abusing Painkillers
In an effort to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic, Walmart is giving its pharmacy customers a free drug disposal product to help customers safely discard of painkillers they don’t want or need. A small packet of DisposeRX powder will be automatically handed to customers filling new Class II opioid prescriptions, and those with chronic prescriptions will be given a free packet every six months, Walmart announced in a statement Wednesday. Officials said the product is a quick and secure way for people who might be concerned about someone abusing their excess pills to throw them away: Just fill the 2/3rds of the prescription vial with water, add the DisposeRX powder and screw on the cap before shaking the vial for about 30 seconds. (Eltagouri, 1/17)

Los Angeles Times: To Reduce The Risk Of Opioid Addiction, Study Suggests Higher Doses But Fewer Refills
Health experts have an intriguing suggestion for reducing opioid overdoses and deaths — asking doctors to prescribe bigger doses of the powerful painkillers. It may sound counterintuitive, but providing more pain relief to patients right away might allow them to stop taking the pills sooner. And reducing the total amount of time that patients are on opioids could ultimately reduce the risk of addiction and abuse, new research suggests. (Kaplan, 1/17)

Stat: SEC Greenlights AmerisourceBergen Shareholder Proposals Tied To Opioid Crisis
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to allow AmerisourceBergen shareholders to vote on a proposal demanding the wholesaler provide more information on steps taken to manage financial and reputational risks associated with the opioid crisis. The agency also allowed another proposal to proceed in which the company would have to disclose if its board clawed back compensation from senior executives due to misconduct. The decisions are a victory for a coalition of 40 institutional investors that are pressuring drug makers and distributors to investigate how the companies are responding to increased business risks caused by the opioid crisis. The investors noted that AmerisourceBergen (ABC) reached a $16 million settlement last year with the West Virginia attorney general for failing to report suspicious orders of controlled substances. (Silverman, 1/17)

The Hill: Dems Question Decision To End Registry For Substance Abuse, Mental Health Programs 
Top Democrats in the Senate are questioning the Trump administration over its decision to end a national registry for evidence-based mental health and substance abuse programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) ended the contract for the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP) earlier this month, calling it a flawed and ineffective system. (Hellmann, 1/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Eleven Indicted For Trafficking ‘Pray For Death’ Opioids
Nearly a dozen people were indicted Wednesday for trafficking heroin and fentanyl throughout New York City, prosecutors said. The 11 suspects are accused of distributing heroin laced with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid driving fatal overdoses, in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey from 2015 to this month, according to the indictment unsealed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Eight of the 11 suspects were arrested Wednesday morning. (Kanno-Youngs, 1/17)

The Associated Press: Philadelphia Sues Opioid Makers In Response To Epidemic
Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against drug companies that make prescription opioids, saying they’ve created “an unprecedented public health crisis. ”It seeks to halt what the city calls deceptive marketing practices and force the drugmakers to pay for treatment costs and reimburse it for the money it has spent responding to the addiction epidemic. (1/17)

The New York Times: Treatment Offers Hope For Imprisoned California Siblings
The California case in which 13 siblings were found imprisoned at home earlier this week is shocking, but not without precedent. Lurid cases have come to light over the years of children locked in closets and basements, held captive by parents who have crumbled under the weight of drugs, extreme religious conviction, personality disorders or their own abusive backgrounds. The good news, trauma experts say, is that recovery is indeed possible. Victims can reclaim their lives. (Hoffman, 1/17)

The Washington Post: 13 Siblings, Some Shackled And Malnourished, Rescued From California House
There were no toys and no bicycles on the front lawn — only weeds that sometimes reached six feet tall. Neighbors rarely saw the 13 siblings who lived inside the home in a quiet neighborhood in Southern California, because they never went outside to play. Instead, authorities said, they were held captive in a dirty and foul-smelling house, some shackled to the furniture with chains and padlocks. (Schmidt and Bever, 1/16)

The Wall Street Journal: With Workplace Suicides Rising, Companies Plan For The Unthinkable
As suicide rates have climbed in recent years, so have instances of employees ending their lives at the workplace. It happened at a Bank of America Corp. call center in New Mexico in November, at a Ford Motor Co. plant outside Detroit in October, and at Apple Inc.’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters in April 2016. Nationwide, the numbers are small but striking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suicides at workplaces totaled 291 in 2016, the most recent year of data and the highest number since the government began tallying such events 25 years ago. (Feintzeig, 1/17)

Stat: First A Dancer, Now A Doctor: When Medicine Is A Second Career
Many physicians will tell you their path to medicine began in their youth. But for others, a career as a doctor was a later-in-life decision, a change of plans, a new challenge — for whatever reason, career number two. Indeed, recent years have seen an increase in first-year medical residents over the age of 29 in the U.S. and Canada, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. As the number of first-year medical residents has increased overall, the percentage of first-year residents over age 29 also increased — from 35 percent of the total to 35.2 percent from 2012 to 2016. That amounts to about 40,000 additional medical trainees who made the later-in-life switch. (Samuel, 1/18)

Los Angeles Times: British Government Targets A Modern Public Health Scourge: Loneliness
The country that put the starch in "stiff upper lip" has made companionship, conversation and human contact a national priority. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the creation of a new ministerial portfolio in her Cabinet: combating loneliness. With more than 9 million British adults reportedly experiencing chronic loneliness — and a stack of studies documenting the corrosive health effects of such social isolation — May said it was time that a high-level government official coordinate a "first-ever strategy" to address the scourge. (Healy, 1/17)

Los Angeles Times: Single-Payer Debate Resurges In California Capitol, As Opposition From Health Providers Ramps Up
The political battle lines over single-payer healthcare in California are growing starker, with an alliance of doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners and other health providers ramping up their opposition to the proposal. In a letter to legislators, the coalition, unveiled Wednesday, blasted Senate Bill 562 as a proposal that “would dismantle the healthcare marketplace and destabilize California’s economy.” (Mason, 1/17)

The Associated Press: 2nd Case Of Measles Confirmed In Person Who Was At O'Hare
Public health officials are reporting a second case of measles in a person who was at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the nation's third-largest airport by passenger volume. The Illinois Department of Public Health said Wednesday that the case is unrelated to one reported last week. The department says there's no measles outbreak at O'Hare, which served 78 million passengers in 2016. (1/17)

The Associated Press: Aetna To Pay $17M Over Mailing That Revealed HIV Meds
Health insurer Aetna has agreed to pay $17 million to settle claims that it breached the privacy of thousands of customers who take HIV medications. Attorneys for the plaintiffs announced the settlement Wednesday in Philadelphia. Court documents say the Hartford, Connecticut-based company sent a mailing in envelopes with large, clear display windows that revealed confidential HIV information. The mailing was sent to about 12,000 customers in at least 23 states. (1/17)

NPR: Aetna Settles Suit Brought By People Whose HIV Status Was Disclosed In Mail
"Through our outreach efforts, immediate relief program and this settlement we have worked to address the potential impact to members following this unfortunate incident," Aetna wrote in a statement. "In addition, we are implementing measures designed to ensure something like this does not happen again as part of our commitment to best practices in protecting sensitive health information." (Gordon, 1/17)

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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