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KHN First Edition: January 31, 2018

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First Edition

Wednesday, January 31, 2018                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Expert Advice For The Corporate Titans Taking On Health Care
An announcement Tuesday by three of the nation’s corporate titans — Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — that they are joining forces to address the high costs of employee health care has stirred the health policy pot. It immediately sent shock waves through the health sector of the stock market and reinvigorated talk about health care technology, value and quality. Though details regarding the undertaking are thin, the companies said in a release that their partnership’s intent is to improve employee satisfaction and hold down costs by bringing “their scale and complementary expertise to this long-term effort.” (1/31)

The New York Times: Trump Issues Appeal For Unity In First State Of The Union
President Trump challenged Democrats on Tuesday night to join him in overhauling immigration policies and in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure in his first State of the Union address. Speaking to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump hailed what he called the “extraordinary success” of his administration’s first year, and largely steered clear of the nationalist rhetoric, political attacks and confrontational tone that have been his calling cards both as a candidate and as a commander in chief. (Hirschfeld Davis and Shear, 1/30)

The New York Times: 2018 State Of The Union Fact-Check
Reporters from The New York Times checked the facts, falsehoods and statements in need of context from President Trump’s first State of the Union address. Watch a replay along with real time analysis here and an annotated transcript of the speech. (1/30)

The Associated Press Fact Check: Trump On Obama's Health Care Law
Congress did repeal the unpopular requirement that most Americans carry insurance or risk a tax penalty but that takes effect next year. It's a far cry from what Trump and the GOP-led Congress set out to do last year, which was to scrap most of the sweeping Obama-era health law and replace it with a Republican alternative. The GOP blueprint would have left millions more Americans uninsured, making it even more unpopular than "Obamacare." (1/30)

The Hill: Trump Makes No Calls For ObamaCare Repeal In State Of The Union 
President Trump made no mention of repealing or replacing ObamaCare during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, cementing how far the issue has fallen off of the GOP’s agenda. Republicans on Capitol Hill have largely moved away from gutting former President Obama’s signature health-care law, and Trump wasn’t expected to speak about repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in his speech Tuesday. (Roubein, 1/30)

The Associated Press Fact Check: Trump On Opioid Epidemic
According to the U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 percent of the opioid deaths in 2016 involved prescription painkillers. Those drugs are made by pharmaceutical companies. Some are abused by the people who have prescriptions; others are stolen and sold on the black market. The flow of heroin into the U.S. from Mexico is a major problem, but drugs that are brought from other countries don't all come over land borders. (1/30)

Politico: Trump State Of The Union 2018 Transcript: Live Analysis & Fact Check
Trump pledged repeatedly to halt the opioid epidemic, vowing in October to “liberate” Americans from the “scourge of addiction.” But neither the administration nor Congress has taken the major steps public health experts say are necessary fight the crisis – namely, pouring far more money into the effort. Trump in October decided against a national emergency that would have freed up new federal resources, opting inside to settle for declaring a “public health emergency” that only allowed the redirection of existing resources. Since then, he’s yet to propose any new plan for tackling the epidemic and left key health and drug jobs vacant – prompting experts to conclude that not much of consequence is being done. (1/30)

Stat: In State Of The Union, Trump Endorses 'Right To Try' For Terminally Ill Patients
In a wide-ranging State of the Union address Tuesday evening, President Trump endorsed Congress’s efforts to pass a bill allowing access to experimental treatments for patients with terminal conditions. So-called “right-to-try” legislation was passed by the Senate last fall, but the effort has since stalled in the House. Vice President Mike Pence has endorsed a right-to-try bill. In February Trump gave his support to the legislation but he had not spoken publicly about the issue prior to Tuesday’s address. (Swetlitz, 1/30)

The New York Times: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway And JPMorgan Team Up To Try To Disrupt Health Care
Three corporate behemoths — Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase — announced on Tuesday that they would form an independent health care company for their employees in the United States. The alliance was a sign of just how frustrated American businesses are with the state of the nation’s health care system and the rapidly spiraling cost of medical treatment. It also caused further turmoil in an industry reeling from attempts by new players to attack a notoriously inefficient, intractable web of doctors, hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies. (Wingfield, Thomas and Abelson, 1/30)

The Wall Street Journal: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Join Forces To Pare Health-Care Costs
“The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Berkshire Chief Executive Warren Buffett said in prepared remarks. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. ”The new company will focus on technological solutions that can provide simplified and transparent health care for the three companies’ U.S. employees at a lower cost. (Lombardo, Stevens and Friedman, 1/30)

Los Angeles Times: Amazon, JPMorgan And Berkshire Hathaway Team Up To Lower Healthcare Costs For Their Workers — And Maybe Everyone
Although the companies said their focus mainly would be on providing improved healthcare for their own U.S. workers, which total nearly 1 million, the move immediately triggered speculation that any solutions they develop could spread throughout the industry. (Peltz, Puzzanghera and Levey, 1/30)

Stat: Amazon Pleges To 'Disrupt' The Health Care Industry. Experts Doubt It 
When news broke Tuesday morning that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase are forming an independent health care company for their employees, headlines hailed the idea as a way to “disrupt” health care. ...But many health care experts were far more skeptical — noting both the near-total absence of details in the announcement and the fact that the history of the health care industry is littered with examples of players who have pledged to disrupt the field but ultimately failed. (Thielking, 1/30)

Politico: Amazon's New Health Care Business Could Shake Up Industry After Others Have Failed
Skepticism appears warranted, however, about the prospects for Amazon and its new partners achieving significant changes in a sector that’s proven largely impervious to major reform efforts over decades. “We’ve seen these deals before,” said Sam Glick, a partner in the health and life sciences division at Oliver Wyman. He cited Walmart and Intel as two companies that have sought to provide health care for employees while cutting out the insurance middleman. “It’s not news that jumbo employers are frustrated with escalating costs and lousy experiences in the health care system.” (Demko, 1/30)

Bloomberg: Buffett-Bezos Health Plan Will Hinge On Buying Power, Technology 
Prices for prescription drugs, which move through a complex chain of pharmacy-benefit managers and wholesalers before reaching patients, are especially hard to understand. Even big employers often have to travel to secure rooms in the offices of pharmacy-benefit managers to learn the secret discounts they are getting on brand-name medications. The new joint venture could make pricing information more accessible--and drive down profit margins for drug-plan managers such as Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp., and wholesalers including AmerisourceBergen Corp. and McKesson Corp. (Langreth and Tracer, 1/30)

Bloomberg: Amazon Health-Care Move May Be Next ‘Home Run’ Like Cloud Services Inc.’s foray into health care won’t be the first time it has disrupted an entire industry by starting with an effort inside the company. Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is teaming up with fellow billionaires Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon to revamp health care for the 2.4 million workers and dependents of the companies they run. The move fostered widespread speculation the trio will eventually make their approach to medical care available to companies far and wide. (Soper, 1/31)

Bloomberg: Who Could Lead A New Health-Care Company For Three Billionaires? 
Wanted: Chief executive for health-care startup. Must be able to reinvent an industry, reduce spiraling costs and improve care for one million people -- and possibly the entire nation. Reply to: Three billionaires. Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are teaming up to try to solve the seemingly insurmountable mess that’s the U.S. health-care system. Their venture raises a crucial question of who could run such an enterprise. (Melin and Abelson, 1/30)

The New York Times: ‘Dr. Alexa, I’ve Been Sneezing And My Throat Is Sore’
The fledgling plan from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to create an independent health care system for their American employees is just as bare-bones as it is bold. The companies, all titans in their respective industries, gave few details Tuesday when they announced the joint effort. The group said its strategy will focus first on technology as a way to provide simplified, affordable access to medical services. (Hsu, 1/30)

The New York Times: How Amazon Rattles Other Companies
Amazon’s ambitions have few limits, and the mere specter of its entry into a particular industry can shape markets. When the company has appeared interested in expanding into a new business, it has spooked investors in potential competitors, leading to large sell-offs. (Russell and Wingfield, 1/30)

The Wall Street Journal: Health Care ‘Tapeworm’ Faces New Threat
Tuesday’s health-care stock jolt might not last for long, but the reckoning that the industry has feared is starting to seem a little less hazy., Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase plan to start their own nonprofit company in a bid to reduce health-care spending for their hundreds of thousands of U.S. employees. Express Scripts Holding, CVS Health and UnitedHealth Group fell sharply on Tuesday before rebounding. (Grant, 1/30)

Reuters: U.S. Telehealth Industry Eyes Medicare For Its Next Big Check
After years of lobbying in Washington, U.S. telehealth providers have the first hints that the dam could break on public funding for an industry they say could save taxpayers billions. Four bills that could be signed into law over the next year carry the solutions to barriers that have prevented the United States' huge over-65 health program Medicare from reimbursing doctors' and medical visits, which often start over the phone. (Mathias, 1/30)

The Washington Post: ‘They Treated My Kids’ Health Insurance Like It Was A Game’: The Battle Over CHIP
The government shutdown was over, and Varina Mead finally felt a little at ease. The single mother, 38, smiled as she watched her two children put down their backpacks, curl up under on the red couch and watch “Surf’s Up” while she prepared dinner in the kitchen. No longer was she considering selling the Mazda to help pay for her children’s prescriptions. No longer did she consider downsizing her home to afford a trip to the doctor. (Samuels, 1/30)

Politico: Trump's Top Health Official Traded Tobacco Stock While Leading Anti-Smoking Efforts
The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed. The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made after she took over the agency’s top job, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Fitzgerald has since come under congressional scrutiny for slow walking divestment from older holdings that government officials said posed potential conflicts of interest. (Karlin-Smith and Ehley, 1/30)

The Hill: Trump Health Chief Faces An Early Test On Enforcing ObamaCare 
President Trump’s new health secretary, Alex Azar, is facing an early test of his willingness to enforce the Affordable Care Act. The governor of Idaho moved last week to allow insurers in the state to sell plans that do not meet several ObamaCare requirements, including ones that deal with pre-existing conditions. (Sullivan, 1/31)

The Hill: Oversight Chairman Threatens To Subpoena HHS For Withholding Information 
Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Monday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has failed to fully cooperate with requests for information from his committee, threatening to subpoena the agency. Gowdy wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar Monday that his agency has taken a "posture of nonchalance" to requests from his Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Hellmann, 1/30)

The Hill: Pfizer Plans Investments, Bonuses In Wake Of Tax Law 
Pfizer on Tuesday announced plans for new investments and bonuses following the enactment of the GOP tax law. The pharmaceutical giant said it is going to make about $5 billion in capital investments in the U.S. over the next five years. The company also said it has set aside $100 million for one-time bonuses to be paid to nonexecutive employees in the first quarter of this year. (Jagoda, 1/30)

Stat: To Replace Opioids, Biopharma Bets On Pain Drugs With A Checkered Past
Now, after years of research and perseverance, a handful of biopharma companies believe they’ve found a safe way to relieve pain with NGF treatments, pressing through late-stage trials that will determine whether the old drugs can finally pass FDA muster and provide a much-needed alternative to opioids. ...Regeneron, which is studying its drug in osteoarthritis and chronic lower back pain, expects to disclose results of a late-stage trial this year. Pfizer and Eli Lilly, which have partnered on an NGF drug, plan to release data in osteoarthritis on the same timetable. (Garde, 1/31)

The Hill: Senators Urge New Rule To Combat Opioid Crisis In Rural Areas
Three senators are urging the Trump administration to quickly issue a new rule that would aim to increase access to opioid addiction treatment in rural areas. Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Alaska’s two Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan — are requesting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issue a new regulation that would let certain health-care providers obtain a special registration letting them use telemedicine to prescribe medication for an opioid addiction. (Roubein, 1/30)

The Hill: House Panel To Begin Hearings On Bills To Fight Opioid Crisis 
The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Tuesday that it will begin holding legislative hearings on measures to fight the opioid crisis the week of Feb. 26, a step forward in addressing the epidemic. The panel said that there will be multiple hearings to consider legislation aimed at fighting opioid abuse, an issue that has received bipartisan attention amid a rising number of deaths. (Sullivan, 1/30)

The Washington Post: FDA Wants To Curb Abuse Of Imodium, 'the Poor Man's Methadone'
The Food and Drug Administration is asking manufacturers of over-the-counter anti-diarrhea treatments to change the way they package their products to curb abuse by people with drug addictions. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Tuesday that the agency was taking the “novel” action because of growing concerns that abuse of Imodium A-D and similar medications was adding to the death toll of the nation's opioid epidemic. (McGinley, 1/30)

The Hill: Sessions: DEA To Target Pharmacies, Prescribers In Crackdown 
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) plans to target the nation's pharmacies and prescribers in a nationwide crackdown against opioid abuse, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday. Sessions told agents in Louisville, Ky., that over the next six weeks the DEA will begin a nationwide investigation of pharmacies and drug prescribers that are issuing "unusual or disproportionate" numbers of opioid prescriptions. (Bowden, 1/30)

The New York Times: Complaint Accuses Contractor Of Underpayment At Medicare Call Centers
A federal contractor systematically underpaid workers in call centers that serve beneficiaries of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, and could owe those employees as much as $100 million in back wages, a labor union said in a complaint filed on Friday with the Labor Department. The union, the Communications Workers of America, along with 1,600 workers, has accused the contractor, General Dynamics Information Technology, of essentially misclassifying workers to pay them lower wages. (Tankersley, 1/30)

The New York Times: Like Fevers, The Number Of Flu Patients Is Rising
Student absences. Contagious colleagues at work. Time-draining hospital visits. Thousands of Americans nationwide are grappling with what officials say is turning out to be the worst flu season in nearly a decade. And New Yorkers are falling ill, too. On the third week of January, there were 7,779 confirmed influenza cases and 1,759 people hospitalized in New York, the highest weekly numbers since the state began reporting them in 2004, according to the New York State Department of Health. (Ferre-Sadurni, 1/30)

The New York Times: Binge Eating At Night? Your Hormones May Be To Blame
Most dieters know the hard truth: Sticking to a weight loss regimen gets more difficult as the day wears on. But while those who give in to food cravings and binge at night may blame flagging willpower, a new study suggests the problem could lie in the complex orchestra of hormones that drive hunger and signal feelings of satiety, or fullness. (Rabin, 1/30)

The Washington Post: A Woman Tried To Board A Plane With An 'Emotional Support Peacock.' United Airlines Wouldn't Let It Fly.
K-9s, felines . . . and peacocks. Airlines that have begun talking about tightening restrictions on a proliferating array of “emotional support” animals on commercial flights may have found their case bolstered this week after a picture of a peacock that was reportedly denied a seat aboard a United Airlines flight traveled far and wide. (Bever and Rosenberg, 1/30)

The Washington Post: Canadian Couple Contracts Hookworms After Vacation In Punta Cana
It started with an itch after a stroll on a Caribbean beach, but in just a few days it had morphed into a gut-churning travel nightmare. In mid-January Eddie Zytner and Katie Stephens, a couple from Windsor, Ontario, went on a vacation to Punta Cana, a resort town on the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic. At some point, they assumed they had been bitten by bugs during one of their walks because their feet wouldn't stop itching. (Wootson, 1/30)

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County Urges State To Expand Definition Of 'Gravely Disabled'
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion Tuesday that asks California lawmakers to change the way the state defines "grave disability" in order to give officials more power to forcibly treat mentally ill homeless people. The motion comes amid concern about the growing number of deaths of the homeless in L.A. County. According to data from the Los Angeles County coroner's office, 831 homeless people died in 2017, compared with 458 in 2013. (Etehad, 1/30)

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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