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KHN First Edition: July 12, 2018

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First Edition

Thursday, July 12, 2018                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Outrageous Or Overblown? HHS Announces Another Round Of ACA Navigator Funding Cuts
The Trump administration’s decision Tuesday to slash funding to nonprofit groups that help Americans buy individual health insurance coverage sparked outrage from advocates of the Affordable Care Act. Using words like “immoral” and “cold-hearted,” they saw it as the Republicans’ latest act of sabotage against the sweeping health law. But as the ACA’s sixth open-enrollment period under the health law approaches in November, the lack of in-person assistance is unlikely to be a disaster for people seeking coverage, insurance and health experts say. (Galewitz, 7/12)

Kaiser Health News: A Hospital’s Human Touch: Why Taking Care In Discharging A Patient Matters 
The kidney doctor sat next to Judy Garrett’s father, looking into his face, her hand on his arm. There are things I can do for you, she told the 87-year-old man, but if I do them I’m not sure you will like me very much. The word “death” wasn’t mentioned, but the doctor’s meaning was clear: There was no hope of recovery from kidney failure. Garrett’s father listened quietly. “I want to go home,” he said. (Graham, 7/12)

California Healthline: Insurers Fall Short In Catching And Reporting Medicaid Fraud, Inspectors Find
Despite receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer money, Medicaid insurers are lax in ferreting out fraud and neglect to tell states about unscrupulous medical providers, according to a federal report released Thursday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office said a third of the health plans it examined had referred fewer than 10 cases each of suspected fraud or abuse to state Medicaid officials in 2015 for further investigation. Two insurers in the program, which serves low-income Americans, didn’t identify a single case all year, the report found. (Terhune, 7/12)

California Healthline: California Clinic Screens Asylum Seekers For Honesty
Dr. Nick Nelson walks through busy Highland Hospital to a sixth-floor exam room, where he sees patients from around the world who say they have fled torture and violence. Nelson, who practices internal medicine, is the medical director of the Highland Human Rights Clinic, part of the Alameda Health System. A few times each week, he and his team conduct medical evaluations of people who are seeking asylum in the United States. The doctors listen to the patients’ stories. They search for signs of trauma. They scrutinize injuries, including electrocution scars, bullet wounds and unset broken bones. (Gorman, 7/10)

Reuters: Democrats Refocus Fight Against Trump's Supreme Court Nominee On Healthcare
Democrats on Wednesday were reorienting their uphill push to block U.S. Senate confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, moving healthcare to the center of their strategy and putting less emphasis on abortion rights. While the two issues are closely linked, the change aligns with polling that shows healthcare is a major concern for swing-state voters ahead of November's congressional elections, with abortion rights more divisive. (7/11)

Politico: Dems Pitch Mixed Messages In Supreme Court Fight
As they start a Supreme Court battle with control of the Senate on the line, Democrats want to talk about Obamacare. And Roe v. Wade. And the special counsel’s investigation into President Donald Trump. That’s not to mention Democratic concerns about how Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would rule on guns, unions, voting rights and more. While the GOP is promoting Trump’s pick with a singular message — touting Kavanaugh’s ample qualifications — Democrats are offering multiple arguments against him that each speak to multiple parts of their base and the electorate. The multi-part strategy reflects a perennial challenge for a party that has struggled to succinctly communicate its agenda to voters. (Schor and Caygle, 7/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law Is An Issue In Fight Over Supreme Court Pick Brett Kavanaugh
Almost any nomination to the high court spurs debates about abortion, affirmative action, and similar social issues. In this case, Democrats see the health-care issue as a particularly effective way to galvanize opposition to the Kavanaugh nomination, while the judge’s supporters say it shows the weakness of their case against him. “They will have, if they get this nominee, a Supreme Court ready to rule against protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.). Organizations supporting the ACA plan to hold rallies and events in key battleground states such as Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio, hoping to mirror the strategy used to block the ACA repeal last year. (Armour and son, 7/11)

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Lauded Late Chief Justice Rehnquist For Dissenting In Roe Vs. Wade And Supporting School Prayer
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, gave a revealing speech last fall in which he lauded former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for having dissented in Roe vs. Wade and for rejecting the notion of “a wall of separation between church and state.” He also praised the late chief justice’s unsuccessful effort to throw out the so-called “exclusionary rule,” which forbids police from using illegally obtained evidence. (Savage, 7/11)

The Hill: Conservatives, Liberals Both Agree: Nominee A Pivotal Vote On Abortion 
Conservatives and liberals alike think Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh could shift the Supreme Court further right on abortion issues. The question, they say, is not whether Kavanaugh’s addition to the court would be a shift, but whether it will lead to a complete overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion or the upholding of restrictions that would make the decision obsolete. (Hellmann, 7/11)

The New York Times: Democrats Zero In On Kavanaugh’s Defense Of Presidential Power
Democrats who once saw health care and abortion as their best lines of attack against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, are recalibrating their approach to go after him for his view that a sitting president should not have to answer questions in a criminal case, much less face indictment. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in an interview on Wednesday that Judge Kavanaugh’s belief in broad presidential authority was “just off the deep end.” (Stolberg, 7/11)

The Associated Press: Smile! Supreme Court Nominees And The Art Of The Schmooze
Brett Kavanaugh's wooing of the Senate is part of a time-honored tradition, including awkward grip-and-grin photo ops and light conversation that skirts the contentious issues that lie ahead. Here's what to watch for as Kavanaugh makes the rounds on Capitol Hill ahead of his confirmation hearing to become the next Supreme Court justice. (7/11)

The Washington Post: Every Current Supreme Court Justice Attended Harvard Or Yale. That’s A Problem, Say Decision-Making Experts.
It is not hard to see similarities between President Trump’s last two Supreme Court nominees: They are both white male conservatives who attended Ivy League law schools, clerked for retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and went to the same exclusive private prep school. The elite background does not end with them. If the Senate approves Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, every justice sitting on the Supreme Court will have attended either Yale's or Harvard’s law school. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg started at Harvard and transferred to another Ivy, Columbia.) (Wan, 7/11)

The Associated Press: 2 Supreme Court Nominations Made, Trump May Have None To Go
What would it take for President Donald Trump to get yet another Supreme Court pick? Probably the death of a justice. Trump has speculated that he could appoint a majority of the nine-member court. But it has been three decades since a president has been able to name more than two justices to their life-tenured posts, and Trump tied that number this week. The court's oldest remaining justices, two liberals and a conservative who are 85, 79 and 70, haven't suggested they're going anywhere and appear in fine health. (7/12)

The New York Times: Trump Administration To Speed Reunions Of Families Separated At Border
Facing pressure to expedite the reunion of migrant families separated at the border, the Trump administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will streamline the process, immigration advocates say. The government will stop requiring a litany of steps before a child can be released from a shelter, the American Civil Liberties Union confirmed. It has sued the government over the family separations. (Jordan, 7/12)

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Battle Over Migrants Crossing Border Illegally
Congress' fight over President Donald Trump's abandoned policy of separating migrant families has stirred anew, drawing fresh attention to an issue that has divided Republicans and that Democrats hope will propel voters their way in the midterm elections. The battling at the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday underscored how both parties still see vast political potency in immigration, even as congressional votes have shown that partisan differences and divisions within the GOP make it unlikely anything will reach Trump's desk soon. (7/12)

Reuters: Tech Issues Plague U.S. Web Portal Tracking Separated Children
In late June, attorney Sebastian Harley tried to log into a U.S. government web portal to check on a Guatemalan child who had been separated from his parent at the border. He got an error message saying there were too many users. “I just couldn’t get in,” he said. “The system appeared to be down.” (7/11)

Politico: House GOP Appropriators Block Funding For Gun Violence Research
House Republican appropriators Wednesday rejected a proposal to designate millions of dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for gun violence research, voting 32-20 to keep the language out of a fiscal 2019 spending bill. The party-line vote marked Democrats’ latest failed bid to spur studies into preventing firearm-related injuries and deaths — and comes despite a bipartisan agreement earlier this year that the CDC is permitted to conduct such research. The agency's ability to study gun violence had been limited by a 1996 provision that prevented the CDC from collecting data to advocate for gun control. (Cancryn, 7/11)

Stat: What Pfizer, Trump, And Consumers Got Out Of A Surprising Deal
After months of pledging he would get pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices, President Trump can now say that he pressed the CEO of a major drug maker, Pfizer, to back down on a series of price hikes. Pfizer, in turn, has earned glowing praise from Trump and his administration and will likely not suffer much, if at all, financially. (Merhson and Swetlitz, 7/11)

The Hill: Top Dem Demands More Details On Pricing Deal Between Pfizer And Trump
The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is demanding details on an agreement between President Trump and drug company Pfizer to temporarily hold off on drug price increases. ...Pfizer announced Tuesday evening it would defer previously announced price increases on 100 drugs following "an extensive discussion" with Trump to give the administration more time to work on its plan to lower costs. (Hellmann, 7/11)

Reuters: Pfizer Separates Consumer Health Unit In Business Rejig
Pfizer Inc announced plans on Wednesday to reorganize into three units, separating its consumer healthcare business that the U.S. drugmaker has been trying to sell since last year. The company said it is still looking for options for the lower-margin, non-core consumer healthcare business that makes products ranging from painkiller Advil to lip balms and is worth about $15 billion. (Mishra, 7/11)

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer To Reorganize Business Units
Pfizer has been reviewing strategic options for the consumer health-care business, which sells brands like Advil pain medicine, Centrum vitamins and ChapStick lip balm, since last year. The company expects to make a decision regarding the business this year. Pfizer said the changes will go into effect next year and don’t affect its 2018 guidance or its capital-allocation plans. (Prang, 7/11)

Stat: Lawmaker Probes Trump Official Over Potential Conflicts With CAR-T Maker
A congressional lawmaker is investigating the role that a former Gilead Sciences (GILD) lobbyist played in the Trump administration and its efforts to develop a payment model for a pricey new Novartis cancer drug. The focus of the inquiry is Joseph Grogan, who joined the Trump administration in early 2017 as associate director of health programs at the Office of Management and Budget, where he was working on a “pay-for-performance” program for the Novartis (NVS) drug, called Kymriah. (Silverman, 7/11)

The Washington Post: Companies Shipped 1.6 Billion Opioids To Missouri From 2012 To 2017, Report Says
Three companies shipped approximately 1.6 billion doses of powerful prescription opioids to Missouri pharmacies from 2012 to 2017, according to a congressional report seeking the root causes of the opioid epidemic. The report, released by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), shows that drug distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp. and Amerisource Bergen funneled the equivalent of about 260 opioid pills for every person in Missouri in the five-year period, during which time the opioid epidemic raged there — and nationwide. (Zezima, 7/12)

Stat: System For Reporting Suspicious Opioid Orders Repeatedly Failed, Report Finds
A Senate report released Thursday lays out systematic failures in the reporting system for suspicious opioid orders, faulting some drug distributors and manufacturers for their roles and criticizing the Drug Enforcement Administration for a years-long lull in enforcement actions. The findings, the latest in a series of reports from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the top Democrat on the Senate’s leading oversight committee, pointed in particular to disparities between two leading drug distributors: McKesson and AmerisourceBergen. (Facher, 7/12)

The Hill: DOJ Unveils Proposal Giving Feds More Power To Limit Opioid Production
The Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized a proposal Wednesday giving the agency more power to control how many opioids are produced annually in the U.S. Under the proposal, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could issue stricter limits on certain opioids if federal authorities believe they are being misused. (Hellmann, 7/11)

The New York Times: Swift Gene-Editing Method May Revolutionize Treatments For Cancer And Infectious Diseases
For the first time, scientists have found a way to efficiently and precisely remove genes from white blood cells of the immune system and to insert beneficial replacements, all in far less time than it normally takes to edit genes. If the technique can be replicated in other labs, experts said, it may open up profound new possibilities for treating an array of diseases, including cancer, infections like H.I.V. and autoimmune conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. (Kolata, 7/11)

The Washington Post: With New Genes And An Electric Shock, Scientists Turn Immune Cells Against Cancer
A promising new class of cancer treatments recruits the cells in our blood to fight tumors, using powerful gene-editing tools to transform a type of white blood cell — called a T cell — from an immune cell that normally targets bacterial or fungal infections into a living cancer drug. The genetic alterations could boost immune systems to successfully fight cancers on their own. Researchers remove T cells from patients and slip new genes into the cells. After clinicians return the modified T cells to patients, the cells, like microscopic bloodhounds, lead the immune system on the hunt for tumors. (Guarino, 7/11)

Stat: CRISPR Makes Cancer Cells Turncoats That Attack Tumor, Mouse Study Finds
As an idea for wiping out cancer, it could have been ripped from the pages of a spy thriller: Take cancer cells that have departed the original tumor and spread elsewhere in the body, genome-edit them to be stone-cold killers, then wait for the homesick cells to return and make like émigré assassins. In a study four years in the making, scientists reported on Wednesday that “rehoming” cells that had been CRISPR’d to attack cells in the original tumor improved survival in lab mice with brain cancer, as well as in mice with breast cancer that spread to the brain. (Begley, 7/11)

The Associated Press: Late-Life High Blood Pressure May Harm The Brain, Study Says
New research suggests that high blood pressure late in life might harm the brain. Autopsies were done on nearly 1,300 older people, including hundreds of nuns and priests who donated their brains to science. The exams revealed more signs of damage and one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease in those with higher pressure than among those with pressure closer to normal. (7/11)

NPR: A Safety Plan Can Help Suicide Survivors Prevent The Next Attempt
Many people who attempt suicide end up in an emergency room for immediate treatment. But few of those suicide survivors get the follow-up care they need at a time when they are especially likely to attempt suicide again. Now, a study shows that a simple intervention conducted by staff in emergency departments can reduce the risk of future attempts. The intervention involves creating a safety plan for each patient and following up with phone calls after discharge. (Chatterjee, 7/11)

Los Angeles Times: If You're An Adult In America, There's About A 50-50 Chance You've Been On A Diet In The Past Year
Dieting has become the new normal in the U.S. If you doubt this is true, just ask two American adults whether they’ve tried to lose weight in the past year. Odds are, one of them will say yes, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2013 and 2016, 49.1% of Americans ages 20 and up told interviewers with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that they made an effort to shed some pounds in the previous 12 months. (Kaplan, 7/12)

The New York Times: The Power Of Positive People
Are you spending time with the right people for your health and happiness? While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network. (Parker-Pope, 7/10)

NPR: Anti-Aging Drugs In Development Show Positive Early Study Results
Scientists on the hunt for anti-aging drugs say they've made an advance with tantalizing potential: Two experimental drugs appear to safely boost the immune systems of elderly humans. The researchers stress that more research is needed to confirm the findings and show the drugs are safe. And at least one researcher says the findings are based on a relatively small number of people and used methods that could produce misleading results.Still, many researchers say the findings are encouraging. (Stein, 7/11)

The New York Times: Running After A Heart Attack
John Quinn, a retired newspaper editor, likes to wear the teal cotton T-shirt he got from the 2012 Broad Street Run, a 10-mile race in Philadelphia. It was his first 10-mile event, and he’d come a long way to get to that 2012 starting line: losing more than 60 pounds and going from calling himself “John 316,” a reference to his previous weight, to being a dedicated runner. “Getting into shape, it’s not glamorous,” he said. “It’s hard. You can’t fake it.” (Miller, 7/12)

The Washington Post: These Louisiana Physicians Can Monitor Your Blood Pressure — And You Don’t Even Have To Leave Your Living Room
There were termites in the garage and a $2,100 bill to get rid of them. The mechanic had called to say he didn’t know when the car would be fixed. So after a summer day full of aggravations, 73-year-old Ann R. Ware wasn’t surprised to see the result when she sat down on her sofa, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her arm and pressed a button on her iPhone screen to trigger the cuff to take a reading. It was too high. At 8:30 a.m. the next day, she got a call from someone worried about the result. It was Megan McKenzie, a clinical pharmacist at Ochsner Medical Center. (Johnson, 7/11)

The Associated Press: Docs Back DeWine After He Commits To Keep Medicaid Expansion
Ohio's largest organization of doctors backed Attorney General Mike DeWine for governor Wednesday after the Republican committed to supporting — but improving — Medicaid expansion. The Ohio State Medical Association PAC cited DeWine's stance favoring expansion of the government health insurance program in its endorsement. It also said it favors DeWine for his commitment to increasing treatment options for opioid addiction, lowering prescription drug costs and reducing physicians' administrative burdens. (7/11)

The Washington Post: New York Organ Collection Agency, Nation’s Second-Largest, Threatened With Closure
The government is threatening to close one of the country’s largest “organ procurement organizations” for poor performance, a rare move against a nonprofit that collects kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs used in transplantation. In a letter last month to Live­OnNY, which recovers organs in the New York City area, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it “will not renew its agreement with LiveOnNY” when the contract is set to expire Jan. 31. The CMS rejected LiveOnNY’s request for reconsideration Monday. (Bernstein and Kindy, 7/11)

The Associated Press: Report: Cancer Mortality Rates On Decline In Delaware
A recent report by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services says there has been a decline in cancer mortality rates in the state. Citing a Monday agency release, news outlets report there was a 12 percent drop in all-site cancer deaths from the periods of 2000 through 2004 to 2010 through 2014. The release says the nation saw an overall decline of 14 percent when comparing those same periods. Delaware’s national ranking for all-site cancer mortality remains unchanged from last year, with Delaware coming in 16th. The state was ranked second in the 1990s. (7/11)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2018 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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