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KHN First Edition: January 25, 2018

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First Edition

Thursday, January 25, 2018                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: A Push To Get Older Adults In Better Shape For Surgery
Surgery can be hard on older adults, resulting in serious complications and death far more often than in younger patients. But many seniors aren’t adequately prepared for the risks they might face. Innovative hospitals such as Duke University Medical Center, the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center and Michigan Medicine are working to change that. In the week leading up to surgery, they prescribe exercise to seniors, make sure they’re eating healthy foods and try to minimize anxiety and stress, among other initiatives. (Graham, 1/25)

The New York Times: Senate Confirms Trump Nominee Alex Azar As Health Secretary
The Senate confirmed Alex M. Azar II on Wednesday to be secretary of health and human services, clearing the way for President Trump’s second health secretary to begin controlling more than a trillion dollars a year in spending on medical insurance coverage for about one-third of all Americans. The vote was 55 to 43. (Pear, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Senate Confirms Alex Azar As Trump's New Health Secretary
A 50-year-old Ivy League-educated lawyer, Azar says he has four main priorities for the Health and Human Services Department: help curb the cost of prescription drugs; make health insurance more affordable and available; continue bipartisan efforts to focus Medicare payments on quality; and confront the opioid addiction epidemic. (1/24)

The Wall Street Journal: Alex Azar Confirmed As Health And Human Services Secretary
Republicans praised Mr. Azar as a detail-oriented lawyer familiar with the workings of government and the health industry. Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Azar in November, saying in a tweet that “he will be a star for better health care and lower drug prices!” Democrats, noting that Mr. Azar recently headed an affiliate of Eli Lilly & Co., warned he would do little to bring down drug prices and would undermine the ACA. (Armour, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Alex Azar Confirmed By Senate As New Head Of Health And Human Services
Azar, 50, will take over as policies in the sprawling department, with its budget of more than $1.1 trillion, are tilting to the right. A new civil rights division has just been created to protect health-care workers who refuse to provide contraception and other services inconsistent with their moral or religious beliefs. For the first time, new rules allow states to impose work requirements as part of their Medicaid programs. Other priorities Azar will oversee include trying to control rampant opioid addiction that is ravaging many U.S. communities. He will be under pressure to find ways to constrain drug prices — a realm in which suspicions of him run high given his years as a top executive of Eli Lilly. In addition, he will be at the vortex of the ongoing political feud over the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law that has spread insurance to millions of Americans and is a main target of the administration and congressional Republicans. (Goldstein, 1/24)

NPR: Alex Azar Confirmed As HHS Secretary
He'll take over the agency at a time when rising drug prices are a huge political issue. Azar acknowledged as much in his confirmation hearing in early January. He told members of the Senate Finance Committee that dealing with high drug prices would be a priority. But Azar won't have the power to get Congress to change the law to let Medicare negotiate prices directly with manufacturers. He told senators that allowing the insurance companies that contract with Medicare is more effective. "These are incredibly powerful negotiators who get the best rates available," he said. (Kodjak, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Medicaid Recipients Sue To Block New Work-Requirement Rules
Fifteen people in Kentucky who get their health insurance through Medicaid have sued the federal government, asking a judge to block new first-in-the-nation rules that would make them work to keep their taxpayer-funded benefits. The lawsuit , filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by three nonprofit groups, is the first legal challenge of a Medicaid waiver granted by the Trump administration. (1/24)

Reuters: U.S. Sued Over Approval Of Kentucky Medicaid Work Provisions
The proposed class action lawsuit, filed in Washington federal court against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), says the agency exceeded its authority under the federal Medicaid law when it approved Kentucky's requirements earlier this month. A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the branch of HHS that oversees Medicaid, declined to comment. The office of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Pierson, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Opponents Of Medicaid Work Requirement File Lawsuit To Try To Stop Kentucky Plan
The 80-page complaint says that, in granting Kentucky a “waiver” from regular Medicaid rules, the Trump administration has “effectively rewritten the statute . . . overturning a half-century of administrative practice, and threatening irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country.” The suit was filed by the National Health Law Program, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, it names as defendants the Department of Health and Human Services, its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and top officials at both. (Goldstein, 1/24)

The Hill: Mississippi Pushes For Medicaid Work Requirements
Thousands of Medicaid recipients in Mississippi would be required to work to be eligible for the program if the Trump administration approves a controversial state waiver request that recently opened for public comment. The proposal is likely to set off a firestorm of criticism from Democrats and health advocates, who argue that work requirements, combined with Mississippi’s strict Medicaid eligibility requirements, will result in thousands of people losing their coverage. (Weixel, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Idaho Says No Obamacare Needed For Some New Insurance Plans
Concerned about soaring health care costs, Idaho on Wednesday revealed a plan that will allow insurance companies to sell cheap policies that ditch key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. It's believed to be the first state to take formal steps without prior federal approval for creating policies that do not comply with the Obama-era health care law. Health care experts say the move is legally dubious, a concern supported by internal records obtained by The Associated Press. (1/24)

The Washington Post: Trump Administration Seeks New Ways To Allow People To Dodge Obamacare’s Individual Mandate
The Trump administration is exploring ways to excuse more Americans from the requirement that they prove they’re insured in the remaining months before the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is laid to rest. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is working on guidance expanding the “hardship” exemptions from the 2010 health-care law’s mandate that people purchase health plans, according to two people familiar with the effort. Agency officials haven’t yet finalized the guidance, but aim to increase the number of reasons people could cite as justifications for not showing they’re insured when they file their tax returns. (Winfield Cunningham and Eilperin, 1/24)

The Hill: Cruz Pushes To Revisit ObamaCare Repeal This Year 
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday that he is pushing to revisit the repeal of ObamaCare this year. Cruz told reporters that he thinks GOP leadership is interested "if we can get 50 votes." "We have to bring the conference together to be able to move forward," he added. (Sullivan, 1/24)

The New York Times: Apple, In Sign Of Health Ambitions, Adds Medical Records Feature For IPhone
In the latest indication of Apple’s growing ambitions in the digital health market, the tech giant on Wednesday unveiled a new feature that would allow users to automatically download and see parts of their medical records on their iPhones. The feature is to become part of Apple’s popular Health app. It will enable users to transfer clinical data — like cholesterol levels and lists of medications prescribed by their doctors — directly from their medical providers to their iPhones, potentially streamlining how Americans gain access to some health information. (Singer, 1/24)

The New York Times: This Tiny Robot Walks, Crawls, Jumps And Swims. But It Is Not Alive.
Researchers in Germany have developed a robot that is about a seventh of an inch long and looks at first like no more than a tiny strip of something rubbery. Then it starts moving. The robot walks, jumps, crawls, rolls and swims. It even climbs out of the pool, moving from a watery environment into a dry one. ... The robot hasn’t been tested in humans yet, but the goal is to improve it for medical use — for instance, delivering drugs to a target within the body. (Gorman, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Cecile Richards Expected To Step Down From Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is expected to step down after 12 years at the abortion rights and women’s health-care organization, with an announcement coming as soon as next week. “Cecile plans to discuss 2018 and the next steps for Planned Parenthood’s future at the upcoming board meeting,” the organization said in a statement. (Weigel, 1/24)

Politico: Cecile Richards To Depart Planned Parenthood
Richards navigated the group through the fallout from a series of activist videos in 2015 that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing sales of fetal tissue, which sparked congressional and state probes into the organization. No investigation found any wrongdoing, but the Trump administration recently indicated it may be conducting its own review. Richards, daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, has served as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group's political arm, since 2006. (Rayasam, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Agencies Target 'Illegal, Unapproved' Products That Claim To Treat Opioid Addiction
Federal regulators said Wednesday that they are cracking down on marketers and distributors selling a dozen products that “illegally” claimed to treat or cure opioid addiction and withdrawal. In letters sent earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission cited products that target people desperate to find relief from their addictions. They include “Opiate Freedom 5-Pack,” “CalmSupport” and “Soothedrawal.” Most of the 12 items are marketed as dietary supplements, while two are homeopathic remedies, the FDA said. (McGinley, 1/24)

CQ HealthBeat: Lawmakers Expect New Opioid Funds But Amount Is Under Debate
Senators on both sides of the aisle say they expect Congress to provide new funding for the opioid epidemic as part of a spending caps deal, but it’s not clear how much will be appropriated. Most lawmakers aren’t saying how much money they would like to see given for opioid treatment and prevention, although they have a laundry list of areas that money could go toward. But they are confident it will be addressed in the coming weeks as Congress deals with immigration and budget fights. (McIntire, 1/24)

The New York Times: Online Sales Of Illegal Opioids From China Surge In U.S.
Nearly $800 million worth of fentanyl pills were illegally sold to online customers in the United States over two years by Chinese distributors who took advantage of internet anonymity and an explosive growth in e-commerce, according to a Senate report released on Wednesday. A yearlong Senate investigation found that American buyers of the illegal drugs lived mostly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. (Nixon, 1/24)

The New York Times: New Findings Could Save Lives Of More Stroke Patients
Many more stroke victims than previously thought can be saved from disability or death if doctors remove blood clots that are choking off circulation to the brain, a new study has shown. “These striking results will have an immediate impact and save people from lifelong disability or death,” Dr. Walter J. Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in a statement. “I really cannot overstate the size of this effect.” (Grady, 1/24)

The Washington Post: New Research Will Radically Change Response To Strokes
The research is upending doctors’ long-held belief that they have just six hours to save threatened brain tissue from lack of blood flow when a major vessel to the brain is blocked. The new findings suggest they may have as long as 16 hours in many cases; a study published three weeks ago with a different group of stroke victims put the outer limit at 24 hours for some. Both studies showed such dramatic results that they were cut short to speed up reporting of the information to physicians. (Bernstein, 1/24)

NPR: Flu Increases Risk Of Heart Attack, Study Finds
The flu doesn't just make you feel lousy. A study published Wednesday finds it can increase your risk of having a heart attack, too. "We found that you're six times more likely to have a heart attack during the week after being diagnosed with influenza, compared to the year before or after the infection," says study author Dr. Jeff Kwong, an epidemiologist and family physician with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario in Canada. (Aubrey, 1/24)

Stat: Flu Infection Raises Risk Of Heart Attack In Week After Diagnosis
People over 35 who have a confirmed case of influenza are at increased risk of having a heart attack in the week after their flu diagnosis, according to a new study, published in the midst of a particularly nasty flu season. The notion that a bout of flu increases the risk of other illnesses, including heart attack, is not new. But lead author Dr. Jeffrey Kwong said this study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the first to positively link heart attacks to laboratory-confirmed cases of flu. (Branswell, 1/24)

Stat: What Can We Learn From The Latest Alzheimer’s Drug Failure?
The corpse was already cold, but now it is well and truly buried: Researchers finally published the final results of the final clinical trial of Eli Lilly’s (LLY) experimental Alzheimer’s drug solanezumab. The bottom line — failure — has been known since Dr. Lawrence Honig of Columbia University unveiled the sad details at the 2016 Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference. But the reaction of outside experts, plus little asides in the New England Journal of Medicine paper, offer an intriguing glimpse into the sorry state of Alzheimer’s drug development. (Begley, 1/24)

Stat: Why Do Hospitals Bare Butts When There Are Better Gowns Around?
But if everyone agrees that the old garments are horrible, and if fashion designers — working with doctors and nurses, no less — have created better gowns, why are we still having this conversation? The higher cost of new gowns is a big reason why many hospitals still use traditional tie-in-the-back johnnies. In addition, some fans of the old design think the new versions aren’t patient-friendly enough, and the standard ones are just fine; they’re convenient and functional, giving easy access to parts of the body clinicians need to poke and prod (Tedeschi, 1/25)

The New York Times: The Mysterious Interior World Of Exercise
When we exercise, far-flung parts of our bodies apparently communicate with one another, thanks to tiny, particle-filled balloons that move purposefully through the bloodstream from one cell to another, carrying pressing biochemical messages, according to an important new study of the biology of exercise. The study helps to clarify some of the body-wide health effects of working out and also underscores just how physiologically complex exercise is. (Reynolds, 1/24)

NPR: Will States Continue To Fund Stem Cell Research?
The year was 2004, and according to certain TV ads in California, great medical breakthroughs might be just around the corner. In these political ads, celebrities Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve, both facing serious, chronic conditions, touted the promise of stem cell research, which they believed could lead to a plethora of cures for life-threatening diseases. (Gorn, 1/25)

The Wall Street Journal: In California, Where Cancer Warnings Abound, Coffee Is Next In Line
A California court case could turn every cup of coffee here into a jolt of reality on the risks of cancer. Under a state law, cancer warnings already follow Californians when they enter the lobby of apartment buildings, drive into parking garages and sit down at restaurants. They also pop up on products including kitty litter, ceramic plates and black licorice. (Randazzo, 1/24)

The Washington Post: Marijuana-Based Anti-Seizure Drug Could Hit U.S. Market In 2018 After Strong Study Results
A new class of epilepsy medications based on an ingredient derived from marijuana could be available as soon as the second half of 2018 in the United States, pending Food and Drug Administration approval. Officials from GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that developed the drug, on Wednesday announced promising results from a study on 171 patients randomized into treatment and placebo groups. (Cha, 1/24)

The Associated Press: Scientists Successfully Clone Monkeys; Are Humans Up Next?
For the first time, researchers have used the cloning technique that produced Dolly the sheep to create healthy monkeys, bringing science an important step closer to being able to do the same with humans. Since Dolly's birth in 1996, scientists have cloned nearly two dozen kinds of mammals, including dogs, cats, pigs, cows and polo ponies, and have also created human embryos with this method. But until now, they have been unable to make babies this way in primates, the category that includes monkeys, apes and people. (1/24)

The Washington Post: Researchers Clone The First Primates From Monkey Tissue Cells
“Monkeys are nonhuman primates that are evolutionarily close to humans,” said Muming Poo, a neuroscientist and member of the cloning team. He also said: “There is no intention for us to apply this method to humans.” The achievement suggests it is now possible to create research populations of identical, customized monkeys, which Poo and his colleagues said would decrease the number of primates used in laboratory experiments. (Guarino, 1/24)

NPR: Monkey Clones Made By Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer
The researchers hope to use the advance to create genetically identical monkeys for medical research. They describe their work in the journal Cell. "We're excited — extremely excited," Mu-ming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said. "This is really, I think, a breakthrough for biomedicine. "He sees a need to have "genetically identical monkeys for studying many human diseases, especially brain diseases" such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's. (Stein, 1/24)

Stat: The First Cloned Monkeys Are Born. Will They Speed Research?
Scientists in China reported on Wednesday in Cell that they had cloned two healthy long-tailed macaque monkeys from the cells of another macaque, using the Dolly technique. The two clones, born 51 and 49 days ago, were created from a fetus’s cells; so far, the scientists have not been able to make the tricky procedure work when they used cells from adult macaques. That would seem to postpone the dystopian day when cloning children and grown-ups becomes as mainstream as IVF. But because “the technical barrier [to cloning primates] is now broken,” co-author Mu-ming Poo of the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai told reporters, the technique “could be applied to humans” — something he said his team has no intention of doing and sees no reason for. (Begley, 1/24)

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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