First Edition: May 19, 2017

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May 19 2017

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

Kaiser Health News: UnitedHealth Doctored Medicare Records, Overbilled U.S. By $1 Billion, Feds Claim
Fred Schulte reports: “The Justice Department on Tuesday accused giant insurer UnitedHealth Group of overcharging the federal government by more than $1 billion through its Medicare Advantage plans. In a 79-page lawsuit filed in Los Angeles, the Justice Department alleged that the insurer made patients appear sicker than they were in order to collect higher Medicare payments than it deserved. The government said it had “conservatively estimated” that the company “knowingly and improperly avoided repaying Medicare” for more than a billion dollars over the course of the decade-long scheme.” (Schulte, 5/17)

California Healthline: California To Pay About $1.3 Billion For Medicaid Expansion In First Year Of State Contributions
Emily Bazar reports: “California will contribute about $1.3 billion to its Medi-Cal expansion this year, a new expenditure that will further strain an already burdened health care budget. This year marks the first time states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will have to pitch in to help fund their expansion of the program. Their share of the overall price tag compared with federal contributions is small — 5 percent of the cost to cover newly eligible enrollees — but that still equates to real money in the Golden State.” (Bazar, 5/18)

Kaiser Health News: Like Hunger Or Thirst, Loneliness In Seniors Can Be Eased
Judith Graham reports: “It’s widely believed that older age is darkened by persistent loneliness. But a considerable body of research confirms this isn’t the case. In fact, loneliness is the exception rather than the rule in later life. And when it occurs, it can be alleviated: It’s a mutable psychological state.” (Graham, 5/18)

California Healthline: Putting A Lid On Waste: Needless Medical Tests Not Only Cost $200B — They Can Do Harm
Chad Terhune reports: “It’s common knowledge in medicine: Doctors routinely order tests on hospital patients that are unnecessary and wasteful. Sutter Health, a giant hospital chain in Northern California, thought it had found a simple solution. The Sacramento-based health system deleted the button physicians used to order daily blood tests. “We took it out and couldn’t wait to see the data,” said Ann Marie Giusto, a Sutter Health executive.” (Terhune, 5/19)

Kaiser Health News: California Bill Addresses Safety Concerns At Dialysis Clinics
Anna Gorman reports: “Saying they are concerned about safety in California’s dialysis clinics, a coalition of nurses, technicians, patients and union representatives is backing legislation that would require more staffing and oversight. The bill, introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), would establish minimum staffing ratios, mandate a longer transition time between appointments and require annual inspections of the state’s 562 licensed dialysis clinics.” (Gorman, 5/19)

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Plan Big Obamacare Rate Hikes — And They Blame Trump
Health insurers across the country are making plans to dramatically raise Obamacare premiums or exit marketplaces amid growing exasperation with the Trump administration’s erratic management, inconsistent guidance and seeming lack of understanding of basic healthcare issues. At the same time, state insurance regulators — both Democrat and Republican — have increasingly concluded they cannot count on the Trump administration to help them ensure that consumers will have access to a health plan next year. (Levey, 5/18)

Reuters: Democratic Attorneys General Seek To Intervene In Obamacare Case
More than a dozen Democratic attorneys general on Thursday sought to intervene to defend a key part of the Obamacare healthcare law – subsidy payments to insurance companies – which is under threat in a court case. The 16 attorneys general, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, filed a motion to intervene in the case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (5/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Democratic Attorneys General Seek To Preserve Affordable Care Act Subsidies
The group, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, filed a motion to intervene in a House Republican lawsuit over the payments. GOP lawmakers have asserted that the payments to insurers are illegal because Congress never appropriated the funding. … “Millions of families across the country—including hundreds of thousands right here in New York—rely on these subsidies for their basic health care,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement about the motion, which was filed in the pending case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (Armour, 5/18)

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Lock Onto Insurance Troubles In Push To Topple Health Law
Republicans are seizing on early signs of premium increases and diminishing insurer participation on next year’s insurance exchanges as proof the Affordable Care Act is floundering and must be overturned, pitting them against Democrats who say the GOP repeal effort itself is to blame. The finger-pointing is taking on new urgency as Republican lawmakers cite the ACA’s problems to drum up support for their legislation to topple the law, often called Obamacare. A bill passed the House earlier this month, and the Senate is now trying to craft its own version. (Armour, Wilde Mathews and Radnofsky, 5/18)

Politico: Obamacare Repeal Faces Possible Re-Vote In House
House leaders have yet to send their Obamacare repeal bill to the Senate as they await a budget analysis that could force them to revise — and re-vote on — the high-stakes legislation. A House GOP leadership source indicated that the measure will very likely move to the Senate after the Congressional Budget Office releases its score of the bill early next week. But “out of an abundance of caution,” Republicans have held onto the measure, known as the American Health Care Act, the source said. (Cheney and Haberkorn, 5/18)

The Washington Post Fact Checker: Nancy Pelosi’s Claim That ‘Seven Million Veterans Will Lose Their Tax Credit’ Under The GOP Health Bill
While listing a series of criticisms of the House Republican bill to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, Pelosi described it as “Robin Hood in reverse” that hurts those in need, such as veterans. In its earlier iteration, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) contained a provision protecting tax credits for veterans, regardless of whether or not they were enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system. The version of the bill that was passed in May omitted this provision, meaning some veterans may no longer have access to subsidized private insurance. But Pelosi glossed over the nuances of this issue in her claim, so we dug into it. (Lee, 5/18)

Reuters: U.S. Governors Work Senate As New Power Brokers In Obamacare Repeal
A group of about a dozen Republican governors is pushing for its own set of national healthcare reforms, flexing its considerable muscle in the national debate over the future of Obamacare as the U.S. Senate begins writing its bill. Led by Governor John Kasich of Ohio, the governors are using a nine-page proposal they crafted in February as the platform to shape what they think a critical portion of an Obamacare replacement law should look like, according to a half dozen people who helped write the plan. (5/17)

The Associated Press: Medicaid Recipients Say They Need Health Care To Work
Medicaid recipients in Maine told state regulators Wednesday they shouldn’t be forced to work to continue getting their health care benefits as the Republican governor has proposed. The health care bill recently approved by U.S. House Republicans would let states require certain Medicaid enrollees to work — an unprecedented change to the half-century-old health care program for low-income people run by states. The Senate is considering the bill. (5/17)

The Associated Press: President’s 2018 Budget To Include Paid Family Leave
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal will require states to provide paid family leave programs, a senior budget official said Thursday. The official said the budget — set to be released Tuesday — will include a plan to provide six weeks of paid leave to new mothers, fathers and adoptive parents. A departure from Republican orthodoxy, the proposal expands on a campaign pledge to provide paid maternity leave, which Trump adopted at the urging of his daughter Ivanka. (5/18)

The Washington Post: Blood Tests Significantly Underestimated Lead Levels, FDA And CDC Warn
Federal officials are warning that some blood tests may have “significantly” underestimated lead levels, and they are urging the retesting of some children, as well as pregnant and breast-feeding women. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the tests in question were made by Magellan Diagnostics, a Massachusetts-based testing company whose products are used in laboratories and doctors’ offices throughout the country. The problem may go as far back as 2014, the agency said. The warning applies only to tests in which blood samples are taken from a vein, not the more common, less invasive tests in which fingers or heels are pricked for a blood sample. (McGinley, 5/17)

The Wall Street Journal: FDA Warns On Magellan Diagnostics Lead Blood Tests
At issue are tests for lead in blood taken from people’s veins, made by Magellan Diagnostics Inc. of North Billerica, Mass. Federal officials said that while the company has sold millions of tests in recent years, the great majority of them are heel-stick or finger-stick tests, and not of the type reported as inaccurate. Dr. Patrick Breysse of the CDC estimated that fewer than 1% of lead tests performed on residents of Flint, Mich., were of the venous variety in question. In that city the water system was tainted with lead in a widely publicized case that led to criminal charges against city and state officials and an $87 million payout from the state to replace lead pipes. (Burton, 5/17)

The Washington Post: ‘An Embarrassment’: U.S. Health Care Far From The Top In Global Study
Americans grumble all the time about the quality of our health-care system, but when we’re dealing with serious issues, such as injuries from an auto accident or cancer, we often count our blessings that we live in a wealthy country that has well-trained doctors with access to the latest medical technology. Yet those factors don’t always correlate with staying alive. That’s the distressing finding from a global study of what researchers call “amenable mortality,” or deaths that theoretically could have been avoided by timely and effective medical care. (Cha, 5/18)

NPR: Common Lead Test Can Give False Results, FDA Warns
The majority of lead tests are not conducted with that kind of blood sample, but rather blood from a heel or finger prick, says Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “We have no evidence that Magellan’s tests, when used with blood obtained from a finger or heel stick, are impacted,” says Shuren. “We believe most people will not be affected by this issue.” (Greenfieldboyce, 5/17)

Los Angeles Times: When The Memory Flickers Out
Facts, faces, experiences: Our brain’s capacity to learn new things, store the memories and summon them up on demand is a marvel. Yet we take it all for granted until the skills start to crumble in those we love, or in ourselves. What goes awry in the brain to make this happen? (Dance, 5/18)

Los Angeles Times: Why Exercise Is The Best Medicine For Your Brain
Given time, any brain can succumb to dementia — memories fade, thoughts scatter, basic abilities wither on the vine. Brains don’t come with lifetime guarantees, but there is one major step you can take to protect yourself from Alzheimer’s or other causes of mental decline: exercise your body. Nothing protects the brain quite like regular exercise, says Jennifer Heisz, a cognitive neuroscientist at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Not crossword puzzles, not supplements, not prescription medications. Exercise seems to beat them all, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline by about 35% to 45%, according to the latest evidence. (Woolston, 5/18)

Los Angeles Times: Eight Things You Can Do Now That Might Reduce Your Odds Of Dementia Later
It’s a safe bet that you’d like to avoid getting Alzheimer’s. But you probably haven’t done the one thing that could make you five times more likely to reach the age of 85 without getting the disease and 7.5 times more likely to have suffered no memory loss or other major cognitive decline. Don’t kick yourself. The only way you could have achieved this spectacular risk reduction was to be born with a genetic variant that’s been found in fewer than 0.5% of people studied. (Ravn, 5/18)

The Washington Post: Women With Advanced Breast Cancer Are Surviving Longer, Study Says
The number of women living with advanced breast cancer is rising substantially in the United States, reflecting improved survival among all ages, according to a study published Thursday. The study found that between 1992 and 1994, and 2005 and 2012, the five-year survival rate among women under age 50 initially diagnosed with advanced disease doubled from 18 percent to 36 percent. The median survival time for that group increased from 22.3 months to almost 39 months. For women ages 50 to 64, the survival time grew from a little more than 19 months to almost 30 months. (McGinley, 5/18)

NPR: Women Skip Pelvic Exams When Told They Have Little Health Benefit
This is a story about conflicting medical advice. One group of doctors, represented by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recommends yearly pelvic exams for all women 21 years of age and older, whether they have symptoms of disease or not. But the American College of Physicians, representing doctors of internal medicine, says that potential harms of the exam outweigh benefits and recommends against performing pelvic examinations unless a woman is pregnant or has symptoms of disease such as bleeding, pain or signs of infection. (Neighmond, 5/18)

Los Angeles Times: When States Have Strong Guns Laws, They Also Have Fewer Fatal Police Shootings
Fatal shootings of civilians by police officers are less common in states with stricter gun laws than they are in states that take a more relaxed approach to regulating the sale, storage and use of firearms, new research says. A study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health has found that fatal police shootings were about half as common in states whose gun laws place them in the top 25% of stringency than they were in states where such restrictions ranked in the bottom 25%. (Healy, 5/18)

NPR: Is Internet Addiction A Thing?
When her youngest daughter, Naomi, was in middle school, Ellen watched the teen disappear behind a screen. Her once bubbly daughter went from hanging out with a few close friends after school to isolating herself in her room for hours at a time. (NPR has agreed to use only the pair’s middle names, to protect the teen’s medical privacy.) “She started just lying there, not moving and just being on the phone,” says Ellen. “I was at a loss about what to do.” (McClurg, 5/18)

Reuters: Planned Parenthood To Close Four Iowa Clinics After Cuts
Planned Parenthood said on Thursday it would shutter four of its 12 clinics in Iowa as a result of a measure backed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad that blocks public money for family planning services to abortion providers. Health centers in Burlington, Keokuk and Sioux City will close on June 30 and one in Quad Cities soon after as a result of losing $2 million in funds under the new measure, said Susan Allen, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. (Kenning, 5/18)

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