First Edition: February 17, 2017

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Feb 17 2017

NOTE TO READERS: KHN’s First Edition will not be published Feb. 20. Look for it again in your inbox Feb. 21. Here’s today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: Congressman’s Ties To Foreign Biotech Draw Criticism
Rachel Bluth and Emily Kopp report: “When a small Australian biotechnology company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, needed a clinical trial for an experimental drug it hoped to turn into a huge moneymaker, the company landed a U.S. partner where it had high-level connections: Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. The company is partly owned by Rep. Chris Collins, a wealthy Republican entrepreneur from Buffalo, whose enthusiasm for Innate helped persuade others to invest.” (Bluth and Kopp, 2/17)

Kaiser Health News: Treatment Gaps Persist Between Low- And High-Income Workers, Even With Insurance
Michelle Andrews writes: “Low-wage workers with job-based health insurance were significantly more likely than their higher-income colleagues to wind up in the emergency department or be admitted to the hospital, in particular for conditions that with good primary care shouldn’t result in hospitalization, a new study found. At the same time, low-wage workers were much less likely to get preventive care such as mammograms and colonoscopies, even though many of those services are available without cost-sharing under the 2010 health law.” (Andrews, 2/17)

California Healthline: Some Immigrants, Fearful Of Political Climate, Shy Away From Medi-Cal
Emily Bazar reports: “Some foreign-born Californians are canceling their Medi-Cal coverage or declining to enroll in the first place, citing fears of a Trump administration crackdown on immigrants. Among those dropping coverage are people in the country legally but concerned about jeopardizing family members who lack permanent legal status, according to government officials, immigration attorneys and health care advocates.” (Bazar, 2/16)

Kaiser Health News: Right-To-Die Fight Hits National Stage
Melissa Bailey reports: “Opponents of aid-in-dying laws are claiming a small victory. They won the attention of Congress this week in their battle to stop a growing movement that allows terminally ill patients to get doctors’ prescriptions to end their lives. The Republican-led effort on Capitol Hill to overturn the District of Columbia’s aid-in-dying law could fail by Friday. But advocates worry the campaign will catalyze a broader effort to fully ban the practice, which is legal in six states and being considered in 22 more.” (Bailey, 2/16)

The Associated Press: GOP Leaders Unveil New Health Law Outline, Divisions Remain
At a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other party leaders described a broad vision for voiding much of President Barack Obama’s 2010 statute and replacing it with conservative policies. It features a revamped Medicaid program for the poor, tax breaks to help people pay doctors’ bills and federally subsidized state pools to assist those with costly medical conditions in buying insurance. Lawmakers called the ideas options, and many were controversial. One being pushed by Ryan and other leaders would replace the tax increases in Obama’s law with new levies on the value of some employer-provided health plans — a political no-fly zone for Republicans averse to tax boosts. (2/16)

NPR: GOP Health Care Would Cut Coverage For Low-Income Families
The outline plan is likely to take away some of the financial help low-income families get through Obamacare subsidies, and also result in fewer people being covered under the Medicaid health care program for the poor. “In general this is going to result in fewer people covered nationwide,” says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere, a health care consulting group. (Kodjak, 2/16)

The Washington Post: House GOP Discusses Obamacare Replacement Ideas — But Doesn’t Call Them A Plan
According to numerous lawmakers and aides in the room, as well as a policy memo distributed afterward, the House leaders laid out elements of a repeal-and-replace plan — including long-standing Republican concepts like health savings accounts, tax credits and state high-risk pools for the chronically sick. But they did not detail how those elements would fit together or get passed into law. “It’s sort of a smorgasbord right now,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.). (DeBonis and Snell, 2/16)

The Wall Street Journal: House Republicans Lay Out Health-Care Plan
The proposal seeks in addition to revamp the individual insurance market where millions of Americans who don’t get employer coverage buy insurance. It would replace the health-law subsidies with tax credits Americans could use to help pay for private insurance, and it would allow for skimpier health plans not permitted under the ACA, which some say would help bring down costs. (Hackman, Peterson and Armour, 2/16)

The Wall Street Journal: GOP May Trim Tax Break For Employer-Backed Insurance
House Republicans, looking for ways to pay for their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, are considering changing the special tax treatment for employer-provided health benefits. Capping how much of employees’ health benefits can be shielded from income and payroll taxes is one of the ways GOP lawmakers might offset the cost of their emerging health plan. (Peterson and Rubin, 2/17)

Reuters: Trump, Republicans Set Timeframe For Introducing Obamacare Replacement
Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill that House Republicans would introduce legislation to repeal and replace Obama’s program after a 10-day recess that begins on Friday. “After the House returns following the Presidents Day break, we intend to introduce legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Ryan said at a press conference. Presidents Day is on Monday and the House returns on Feb. 27. (Cowan and Morgan, 2/16)

Politico: House Republicans Still Apart On Obamacare Repeal-Replace
Newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told lawmakers at Thursday’s meeting that President Donald Trump “is all in on” repealing and replacing Obamacare at the same time. Earlier this week, the conservative House Freedom Caucus called on Republicans to repeal the law first and work on a replacement later. “Let’s not miss this opportunity,” Price said, according to a source in the room. “Let’s go shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm.” (Haberkorn, Cheney and Pradhan, 2/16)

The Washington Post: Medicaid Exposes Rifts Within The GOP Over The Program’s Future After The ACA
As congressional Republicans move from talking points to details of how to abolish the Affordable Care Act, behind-the-scenes jockeying over the future of Medicaid demonstrates the delicate trade-offs the GOP faces in trying to steer health policy in a more conservative direction. For years, many Republicans have railed against the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, which has extended coverage to about 11 million people. But now that they have the political power to reverse those gains, internal disagreements have emerged. Some lawmakers want to preserve the federal money their states are getting under the expansion. Others argue that part of that money should be shifted to states that did not broaden their programs — or used for other purposes. (Eilperin, Goldstein and Snell, 2/16)

The New York Times: Trump Health Pick Says Medicaid Needs A Major Overhaul
President Donald Trump’s pick to run the government’s major health insurance programs said Thursday that Medicaid needs a full overhaul but she doesn’t support turning Medicare into a “voucher” plan. Indiana health care consultant Seema Verma testified before the Senate Finance Committee on her nomination to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. The $1 trillion agency oversees programs that cover about 1 out of 3 Americans. (2/16)

Reuters: Trump’s Pick To Lead Health Agency Calls EpiPen Issue ‘Disturbing’
U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice to lead an important health agency said on Thursday that the way pharmaceutical companies classify products as generic or branded needs to be reviewed in order to help hold down government spending, as she cited Mylan NV’s EpiPen emergency allergy treatment. Seema Verma, Trump’s nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), did not answer questions about whether the U.S. government should negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices. (Cornwell, 2/16)

USA Today: Seema Verma, Trump’s Pick To Head Medicare And Medicaid, Avoids Giving Policy Views
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which is vetting her nomination, told Verma she acquitted herself well and would be a strong and skilled leader at CMS. She is expected to be confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate. Still, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat, said Verma needs to be more specific in the follow-up questions he will submit in writing.“It’s important to get more of a sense of how she would approach it,” Wyden told reporters after. “This is an agency that has a lot of discretion.” (Groppe, 2/16)

NPR: Is It Time To Test Presidents For Dementia?
At 70, Trump is the oldest American president to ever take office. Couple his age with a family history of dementia — his father Fred developed Alzheimer’s disease in his 80s — and one could argue that the question of baseline cognitive testing for the U.S. head of state has taken on new relevance. An assortment of fairly simple tests exist that can establish a reference point for cognitive capacity and detect early symptoms of mental decline. (Stetka, 2/16)

The Wall Street Journal: House Votes To Let States Strip Money From Planned Parenthood
House Republicans took the first step Thursday to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, starting what will become a broader battle over funding for the women’s health-services agency. The House voted 230-188 to rescind a regulation that bans states from denying certain funds to health-care providers that perform abortions, in essence freeing states to refuse to give the funds to Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. and similar organizations. (Andrews and Hackman, 2/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Court Issues Temporary Order Keeping Cigna From Terminating Merger With Anthem
A Delaware judge on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order that blocks Cigna Corp. from immediately terminating its troubled $48 billion merger with rival health insurer Anthem Inc. The development is the latest in what could be a long and bitter legal battle between the two companies in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling earlier this month that the proposed merger violates U.S. antitrust law. (Kendall, 2/16)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Authorities Pressed China For Action On Deadly Opioid
China’s crackdown on an extremely potent synthetic narcotic came amid pressure from U.S. authorities and evidence linking it to hundreds of U.S. overdose deaths since it first emerged in Ohio in July. The drug, carfentanil, has been connected to at least 700 fatalities in states including Ohio, Michigan and Florida, according to data compiled by The Wall Street Journal from county medical examiners and NMS Labs, a private laboratory outside Philadelphia that performs toxicology testing for counties around the U.S. (Kamp and Campo-Flores, 2/17)

The New York Times: Florida Doctors May Discuss Guns With Patients, Court Rules
A federal appeals court cleared the way on Thursday for Florida doctors to talk to their patients about gun safety, overturning a 2011 law that pitted medical providers against the state’s powerful gun lobby. In its 10-to-1 ruling, the full panel of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that doctors could not be threatened with losing their license for asking patients if they owned guns and for discussing gun safety because to do so would violate their free speech. (Alvarez, 2/16)

NPR: Brown Recluse Spider Bites Are Often Misdiagnosed
The best way to diagnose a strange skin bump is often to decide what it’s not. So say the researchers who have devised a mnemonic device useful for determining that the lesion or lump isn’t a bite from a brown recluse spider — a diagnosis that can be very common and very false, they say. (Boddy, 2/16)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.