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KHN First Edition: February 1, 2018

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First Edition

Thursday, February 01, 2018                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: As States Target High Drug Prices, Pharma Targets State Lawmakers
It was expected to be a perfunctory statehouse meeting — three lobbyists and a legislator discussing a proposal to educate Louisiana doctors about the price of drugs they prescribe. The bill seemed like a no-brainer in a country where even decades-old medicines can cost thousands and consumers are urged to make smart choices in buying health care. The legislation simply required pharmaceutical sales reps promoting medicines at doctors’ offices to also reveal a price. No one expected the industry scrum that materialized. (Hancock and Luthra, 2/1)

Kaiser Health News: Podcast: ‘What The Health?’ The State Of The (Health) Union
In his first State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump told the American public that “one of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs.” But that message could barely begin to sink in before other health news developed: The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forced to resign Wednesday after conflict-of-interest reports. (1/31)

Politico: Why The CDC Director Had To Resign
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had planned to send a clear message to Congress and his new boss in the White House that he would not tolerate ethically questionable behavior. That opportunity came faster than expected after POLITICO reported Tuesday that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had traded in tobacco stocks while she led the agency. (Cancryn and Haberkorn, 1/31)

Politico: CDC Director Who Traded Tobacco Stock Resigns
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald's resignation comes one day after POLITICO reported that one month into her tenure as CDC director, she bought shares in a tobacco company. Fitzgerald had long championed efforts to cut tobacco use, which is the leading cause of preventable death. (Ehley and Karlin-Smith, 1/31)

The Associated Press: CDC Director Resigns Over Financial Conflicts Of Interest
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald's complex financial investments presented conflicts that made it difficult to do her job, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC. In an ethics agreement filed in September, Fitzgerald had said that legal and contractual restrictions prevented her from selling the two investments. The new HHS head, Alex Azar, who took office on Monday, accepted her resignation Wednesday after discussing the investments with her and their effect on her work. (1/31)

The Washington Post: CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald Resigns Because Of Conflicts Over Financial Interests
Fitzgerald, 71, a physician who served as the Georgia public health commissioner until her appointment to the CDC post in July, said in an interview late last year that she already had divested from many stock holdings. But she and her husband were 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. (Sun, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: CDC Director Quits After Report She Bought Tobacco Stocks
Lawmakers in Washington had grown increasingly frustrated over Dr. Fitzgerald’s conflicts from the health-care-related investments, after she was forced on a few occasions to recuse herself and send deputies to testify before Congress on the nation’s opioid crisis and emergency-preparedness issues. Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the senate Health Committee’s top Democrat, said Dr. Fitzgerald’s resignation represents “yet another example of this Administration’s dysfunction and questionable ethics.” Dr. Fitzgerald has said that she was trying to divest the holdings, and that she was able to engage in policy work. (McKay and Hackman, 1/31)

Los Angeles Times: CDC Director Resigns Over Financial Conflicts Including Stock In Tobacco, Beer And Soda Companies
Fitzgerald, though praised by some in public health after she was appointed, has maintained a relatively low profile as CDC director, particularly compared to many of her predecessors who have been outspoken champions for issues such as smoking cessation. Dr. Tom Frieden, for example, who headed the CDC under President Obama, already was a leading national champion for cutting tobacco use and tackling obesity, both of which he had done as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Fitzgerald, in contrast, canceled her first scheduled appearance before Congress last fall to discuss the opioid epidemic, citing potential conflicts of interest because she continued to hold investments in companies involved in the public health crisis. (Levey, 1/31)

The Hill: CDC Loses Director Amid Flu Outbreak
The abrupt resignation Wednesday of the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) comes at a difficult time for the agency, with officials fighting a deadly flu outbreak even as they seek to beat back proposed budget cuts from the White House. The CDC is always on the front lines dealing with public health threats, and it has been working overtime this year to address drug shortages and an unusually active flu season. (Hellmann, 1/31)

The Hill: House GOP Warming To ObamaCare Fix 
Key House Republicans are warming to a proposal aimed at bringing down ObamaCare premiums, raising the chances of legislative action this year to stabilize the health-care law. House GOP aides and lobbyists say that top House Republicans are interested in funding what is known as reinsurance. The money could be included in a coming bipartisan government funding deal or in another legislative vehicle. (Sullivan, 2/1)

CQ: Health Centers Push For Long-Term Funding
Community health centers are increasingly nervous about their funding, months after it expired last fall. As the March 31 end of many centers’ grant contracts inches closer, some states are experiencing problems with retaining and hiring staff. Funding for community health centers, or CHCs, ended Sept. 30 along with funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and several other safety net programs. However, while CHIP funding was renewed for six years as part of the last continuing resolution (PL 115-120), no steps were taken to fund the centers. (Raman, 1/31)

Stat: Hospitals Are Revolting Against The Generic Drug Market. Here's Why
In recent years, Robert Ripley has watched spiking drug prices menace his budget like a fast-rising flood. The longtime chief of pharmacy for Trinity Health, a Catholic chain of 93 hospitals from New York to California, said he’s never seen anything like it in his 30-plus years in the business. The eye-popping prices of new branded drugs are one issue. But even worse are the wild price hikes and sudden shortages of generics that have been available for many decades. (Ross, 2/1)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Supports ‘Right To Try’ Law Expanding Access To Experimental Drugs For Terminally Ill
President Donald Trump, in his State of the Union address, gave a boost to so-called Right to Try legislation that would give terminally-ill patients greater access to experimental drugs. Public-health advocates are pushing back, characterizing the Right to Try movement as a solution to a nonexistent problem. Right to Try laws, having passed in 38 states, give access for such patients to as-yet-unproven drugs that are in clinical trials. (Burton, 1/31)

The New York Times: Amazon Wants To Disrupt Health Care In America. In China, Tech Giants Already Have.
Amazon and two other American titans are trying to shake up health care by experimenting with their own employees’ coverage. By Chinese standards, they’re behind the curve. Technology companies like Alibaba and Tencent have made health care a priority for years, and are using China as their laboratory. After testing online medical advice and drug tracking systems, they are now focused on a more advanced tool: artificial intelligence. (Wee and Mozur, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: Amazon Is Now A $700 Billion Stock-Market Gorilla Inc. is pushing its weight around in the stock market. The e-commerce giant’s rapid climb in recent years has only accelerated in 2018, pushing the company’s market cap above $700 billion for the first time on Wednesday. That puts it in rarefied territory alongside Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc., and Microsoft Corp. (Eisen, 1/31)

Bloomberg: Half Of Post-9/11 Vets Aren’t Getting Mental Health Care, Report Says 
About half of U.S. veterans who served during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t get the mental health care they need, according to a new report that recommends changes to improve the care delivered by the Veterans Affairs health system. While many veterans receive good mental health care through the VA, it’s inconsistent across the system, according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—nonprofit institutions that inform public policy. The detailed, 439-page assessment of the VA’s mental health services was ordered by Congress in 2013 and completed by a committee of 18 academics. (Tozzi, 1/31)

The Washington Post: Opioid Epidemic: Tiny West Virginia Was Town Flooded With Millions Of Painkillers, Congressmen Say
Over the past decade, nearly 21 million prescription painkillers have been shipped to a tiny town in West Virginia, a state where more people have overdosed on opioids and died than in any other in the nation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been investigating the opioid epidemic, revealed that 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills have been delivered to Williamson, W.Va., a town with a community college, a rail yard — and fewer than 3,200 residents, according to the most recent Census figures. (Bever, 1/31)

The Wall Street Journal: To Deal With A Flu Onslaught, Emergency Rooms Expand Into Waiting Rooms And Hallways
Emergency departments across the U.S. have been slammed in recent weeks by an onslaught of flu visits, forcing hospitals to devise new spaces to house patients, to restrict visitors and to postpone elective surgeries. Visits to hospital emergency departments, urgent care centers and other outpatient clinics by people with flu symptoms have been skyrocketing for several weeks. As of mid-January, such visits had surpassed every flu season except 2009-10, when a new flu strain caused a global pandemic. The dominant strain this season, H3N2, is particularly virulent, and the vaccine isn’t very effective against it. (Toy, 2/1)

The Associated Press: Coroner: Teen Is First Flu-Related Child Death In Georgia
A Georgia county coroner says a 15-year-old girl is the state's first flu-related child death this season. Coweta County Coroner Richard Hawk told news outlets that Kira Molina died Tuesday at an Atlanta hospital. He says the Newnan High School student had initially tested negative for the flu upon developing symptoms last week, but was found unresponsive on Sunday. She was hospitalized in Newnan and then airlifted to Atlanta. (2/1)

The Washington Post: Breast Cancer Treatments Can Raise Risk Of Heart Disease, American Heart Association Warns
The American Heart Association issued a stark warning Thursday for women with breast cancer: Life-saving therapies like chemotherapy and radiation can cause heart failure and other serious cardiac problems, sometimes years after treatment. The organization said patients and doctors shouldn’t avoid the treatments but instead take steps to prevent or minimize the cardiac risks. And it stressed that breast cancer survivors can improve their chances of a long, healthy life by exercising regularly and sticking to a healthy diet. (McGinley, 2/1)

Stat: Heart Group Warns Of Cardiovascular Risks After Breast Cancer Treatment
Cardiologists are not telling women with breast cancer to decline treatment — far from it. But in its first-ever statement on the most common female cancer, the American Heart Association warned on Thursday that breast cancer survivors, especially those treated with common chemotherapies, are at increased risk for heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases. And it called on cancer doctors to weigh the benefits of those treatments against the heart risks they pose. It has been known for years that some breast cancer drugs (including some also used for other cancers) can weaken the heart muscle, causing heart failure. But the group of heart doctors is concerned that if heart symptoms arise years after cancer treatment, the link to chemo may be missed. (Begley, 2/1)

ProPublica: Unnecessary Medical Care Is More Common Than You Think
It’s one of the intractable financial boondoggles of the U.S. health care system: Lots and lots of patients get lots and lots of tests and procedures that they don’t need. Women still get annual cervical cancer testing even when it’s recommended every three to five years for most women. Healthy patients are subjected to slates of unnecessary lab work before elective procedures. Doctors routinely order annual electrocardiograms and other heart tests for people who don’t need them. (Allen, 2/1)

NPR: Anxiety Neurons Found In Brains
Scientists have found specialized brain cells in mice that appear to control anxiety levels. The finding, reported Wednesday in the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to better treatments for anxiety disorders, which affect nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. "The therapies we have now have significant drawbacks," says Mazen Kheirbek, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco and an author of the study. "This is another target that we can try to move the field forward for finding new therapies." (Hamilton, 1/31)

The New York Times: Hits To The Head May Result In Immediate Brain Damage
When a teenager is hit in the head, his brain can begin to show signs, within days, of the kind of damage associated with degenerative brain disease, according to an unsettling new study of young men and head injuries. The findings, which also involve tests with animals, indicate that this damage can occur even if the hit does not result in a full-blown concussion. (Reynolds, 1/31)

The New York Times: Migraines Increase The Risk Of Heart Attacks And Strokes
Having migraine headaches increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases, a new study has found. Using the Danish National Patient Registry, researchers matched 51,032 people with migraines, 71 percent of them women, with 510,320 people in the general population without migraines. The subjects were, on average, age 35 at the start of the study, and researchers followed them for 19 years. (Bakalar, 1/31)

NPR: Who Still Smokes? A Look At The Numbers
Advertising campaigns, tobacco taxes and public bans have lowered rates of smoking significantly in the U.S. since the 1960s. And for people who never smoke or manage to quit, there are major health benefits: lower risk of cancer, heart problems and stroke. But 15 percent of Americans — about 40 million people — continue to smoke. Who are they? And why are they still smoking? (Wilhelm, 1/31)

The New York Times: Pelvic Massage Can Be Legitimate, But Not In Larry Nassar’s Hands
The case of Lawrence G. Nassar, the former doctor for the American gymnastics team who was sentenced last week for systemic sexual abuse of his young patients, raises many uncomfortable questions. One of the more troubling is the way the team doctor duped patients, parents and other physicians into believing that his “treatments” were medically appropriate, even after complaints were lodged. It wasn’t entirely implausible. A form of physical therapy called pelvic floor physical therapy uses internal vaginal soft tissue manipulation, or massage, to relieve pelvic pain by accessing muscles that cannot be reached any other way. (Rabin, 1/31)

The New York Times: Omega-3 Supplements Don’t Protect Against Heart Disease
Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, the oils abundant in fatty fish, are ineffective for the prevention of heart disease, a large review of randomized trials has found. The analysis, in JAMA Cardiology, pooled data from 10 randomized trials in people who had had cardiovascular disease or were at high risk for it. There were 77,917 people in the trials, 61 percent men, and their average age was 64. Studies lasted, on average, 4.4 years, and the dose of omega-3’s ranged from 226 to 1,800 milligrams a day. (Bakalar, 1/31)

Los Angeles Times: This Is How Many Pounds You Can Lose In A Year By Standing For Six Hours A Day Instead Of Sitting
Brace yourself: The calorie-burning benefits of standing versus sitting will not, at first blush, blow you out of your seat. Spend a minute upright instead of seated, and the additional energy expended amounts to less than one-tenth of a calorie (0.04 of a calorie, to be exact). But a new study that combines the best available research on sitting, standing and energy expenditure invites readers (reclining and otherwise) to consider the potential long-term effects of this seemingly marginal difference. (Healy, 1/31)

Bloomberg: Do Standing Desks Really Help You Lose Weight? 
Are standing desks really doing us any good? That question has divided workplaces since sitting started going out of fashion about five years ago. Our sedentary lifestyles were killing us, so standing, the thinking went, was the logical antidote. Sitting too long has been associated with diabetes, hypertension, some forms of cancer, anxiety and a generally greater probability of early death. However, a few years and hundreds of studies later, the naysayers began arguing that the benefits of standing had been exaggerated. (Greenfield, 2/1)

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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