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POLITICO New York Health Care: Health Republic's bounced checks; OD deaths are up

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written by Dan Goldberg

BOUNCED CHECKS — At least 22 physician practices have received bad checks from Health Republic Insurance of New York, the insolvent co-op that stopped serving customers at the end of November. The checks bounced because state officials ordered all Health Republic payments be stopped even though some checks had already been sent out, according to a spokeswoman for the Medical Society of the State of New York, which represents physicians. Doctors and hospitals say the insurer's demise has cost them nearly $200 million in unpaid claims, and on Monday insurance agents and brokers announced they also haven't been paid for their work. The underwriters say, given the magnitude of the total loss, the state should dip into its $1 billion surplus to pay physicians, hospitals and brokers what they are owed. Cuomo has not committed but would not take the option off the table.

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HOMELESS ADVOCATES CALL OUT CUOMO — A group of housing activists and advocates say Governor Andrew Cuomo is more concerned about his feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio than he is with finding solutions to the city's homeless problem. More than a dozen advocacy groups, including VOCAL-NY and Make the Road New York, signed a letter sent to Cuomo’s Albany office, calling on the governor to match a commitment made by de Blasio last month to create and pay for 15,000 new units of supportive housing over the next 15 years. POLITICO New York’s Laura Nahmias has more:

NOW WE KNOW — “Lady brains” are not a real thing and neither are “man brains,” according to an article in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

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OVERDOSE DEATHS INCREASE — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced a new program to increase the availability of life-saving drugs to prevent heroin and prescription drug overdoses, as the city revealed new data showing the number of unintentional drug deaths across the city increased in 2014 from the prior year. Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett signed a standing order authorizing city pharmacies to make the anti-overdose drug Naloxone available over the counter without a prescription at major area pharmacies. The city also plans to train an additional 1,000 new health care providers to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug that helps treat cravings and prevent overdose in people with opioid addictions. A total of 797 city residents died from an overdose in 2014, up from 788 the prior year.

IBO REPORT Mayor Bill de Blasio's five-point plan to improve mental health in the city's jails is expected to cost $134 million over four years, according to the Independent Budget Office. The majority of that money — $94 million — will be funded by the city. The largest expense will be new services provided in jails, such as crisis intervention training and special help for adolescents. Additionally, more than $38 million will be spent connecting inmates to Medicaid and improving discharge planning. See a breakdown of the spending here:

NEW POSITION — The New York City Health + Hospitals' inspector general's office will now report to the city's Department of Investigation. The new office will take the place of Health + Hospitals existing inspector general's office, which had reported to the H+H CEO and board. Health + Hospitals will continue to pay for current employees and pay to expand the 23-person staff, which could double over the next 18 months.

PHARMA REPORT: Purdue Pharma, the biggest player in the painkiller business on Monday announced a $350,000 to fund a National Sheriff's Association pilot initiative to train police in the use of naloxone.


-HOOKED AND HELPLESS — Reuters has a must-read investigation on babies born dependent on opioids. In the United States, a baby is born hooked on opioids every 19 minutes. “A 12-year-old federal law calls on states to take steps to safeguard babies … after they leave the hospital. That effort is failing across the nation.Reuters identified 110 cases since 2010 that are similar to Brayden’s: babies and toddlers whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy and who later died preventable deaths. Being born drug-dependent didn’t kill these children. Each recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital. What sealed their fates was being sent home to families ill-equipped to care for them.”

-OPINION — Dr. B. Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has a provocative op-ed in the Washington Post. If Pfizer wants to pay Ireland’s tax rate, should U.S. customers be allowed to pay Irish prices for Pfizer drugs? This isn’t just about what consumers pay. Think of it this way: “The federal government stands to lose a large portion of annual taxes Pfizer pays, which totaled $1.2 billion in 2014. It would also lose perhaps as much as $48 billion in deferred taxes the company will eventually pay if it repatriates dollars that are already overseas.” But “letting Pfizer's drug prices here fall to Irish levels would actually compensate the federal government, which is a major purchaser of Pfizer’s drugs through Medicare, Medicaid and the VA, for the lost tax revenues.” So, how about it?

-TOURIST TRAP — The New York Times reports: “The number of cases of dengue fever in Hawaii rose to 136 this week, prompting health authorities to warn residents and travelers to the popular winter vacation destination take precautions to avoid contracting the virus. In a statement published Sunday, the County of Hawaii said that 119 residents and 17 visitors on Hawaii Island, the largest of the state’s eight main islands, have been confirmed to have dengue fever.”

-HUMAN ERROR — Austin Frakt examines the benefits and drawbacks of machines replacing, or aiding, doctors. Here’s one reason why human doctors might need a bit of help. “One in about 100,000 operations is on the wrong body part. In one in 10,000, a foreign object — like a surgical tool — is accidentally left inside the body.”

-CMS IN A BIND — POLITICO reports: "The 2013 Michigan law expanding Medicaid included a provision requiring CMS to approve a waiver with drastically conservative changes by the end of this year. The waiver would require Medicaid enrollees earning above the poverty line to make a choice after four years of Medicaid coverage: Either enroll in a private subsidized plan on, or stay in Medicaid and pay up to 7 percent of household income toward health care costs - notably higher than the 5 percent ceiling CMS has held other states to."

TODAY'S TIP — Comes from the state’s health department: “Keep matches and lit objects out of children’s reach this Hanukkah. Never leave the menorah unattended. Celebrate safely.”


-RISKY BUSINESS — Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found young men who have sex with men, and have detectable levels of HIV were less likely to use a condom during anal intercourse with a partner not infected with HIV, compared with virologically suppressed young men who have sex with men, according to an article in JAMA Pediatrics.

-MOTIVATIONAL INTERVIEWING — Yu-Ping Chang, a University at Buffalo psychiatric nursing researcher found motivational interviewing to be an effective tool at curbing opioid abuse, according to an article in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care.

MISSED A ROUNDUP? Get caught up here: 12/7, 12/4, 12/3, 12/2, 12/1

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