Tagged Health Industry

Viewpoints: Executive Orders, Obamacare Replacements And Cold, Hard Facts; Medicare’s Challenges In Health Law Debate

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Wall Street Journal: The ObamaCare Holdouts
Republicans are getting battered at town halls on ObamaCare, with constituents — or least protestors — yelling about the benefits they’ll lose if the entitlement is repealed. But maybe the better measure of public sentiment is the choices that the people who are subject to ObamaCare have made in practice. (2/23)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Trump’s Executive Order On Health Care — Can It Undermine The ACA If Congress Fails To Act?
Within hours after taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump executed his first official act: an executive order redeeming his campaign pledge to, on “day one,” begin repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The New York Times characterized his action as itself “scaling back Obamacare,” and the Washington Post said the order “could effectively gut [the ACA’s] individual mandate” to obtain health insurance coverage. But consumer advocate Ron Pollack dismissed Trump’s action as “much ado about very little.” To put these divergent assessments into perspective, it’s important to examine the actual executive order, recognize the departures from the Obama administration that it contemplates, and assess the scope and significance of changes the administration can lawfully make by executive order or other administrative actions. (Timothy Stoltzfus Jost and Simon Lazarus, 2/22)

Vox: John Boehner Told Republicans Some Inconvenient Truths On Obamacare
Didn’t Boehner hold repeal vote after repeal vote? Didn’t he win back the House in 2010, and hold it thereafter, promising to repeal Obamacare? Didn’t he participate in the government shutdown over Obamacare in 2013? He did. But to interpret Boehner generously, Obamacare is in a very different place now than it was in 2010, 2012, or even 2013. It’s delivering benefits to about 30 million people. Dozens of states have built budgets around Medicaid dollars flowing in from the federal government. Health systems nationwide have reorganized themselves around its provisions. (Ezra Klein, 2/23)

RealClear Health: Repeal & Replace: Missing The Medicare Forest For The Obamacare Trees
The Trump Administration has promised to deliver to the American people a healthcare plan that is, in President Trump’s own words, “much less expensive and far better” than Obamacare. But While Obamacare is expected to spend over $900 billion from 2018 to 2027, focusing solely on the Obama administration’s signature achievement ignores bigger fiscal challenges; Namely, the Medicare program. (Yevgeniy Feyman, 2/24)

Tribune News Service/Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star: A Simple Solution On Health Care
But the largest contributing factor to the voter anger directed at Republican senators and representatives didn’t require sly scheming — because it is very real, and even frightening to many voters. They are frightened about what they are NOT hearing from Trump and most Republicans in Congress about what will happen when they succeed in repealing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Republicans haven’t shown voters how they will replace it or sufficiently addressed what its elimination might mean to middle class folks who voted for Trump as an act of blind trust. (Martin Schram, 2/24)

Topeka Capital Journal: Medicaid Expansion Lives In Kansas
Considering how much disagreement there is on the economic and practical dimensions of Medicaid expansion – as well as the massive impact it has on the people of Kansas – didn’t it deserve a full debate in the Legislature? To Ward, Rep. Susan Concannon (a Beloit Republican who introduced the Medicaid amendment to HB 2044) and the legislators who voted in favor of expansion: Thank you for representing the interests of your fellow Kansans. While we’re not saying legislators should vote for a bill simply because it’s popular, they do have a responsibility to take their constituents’ concerns seriously and give critical issues their full attention. The lawmakers who tried to kill the Medicaid expansion bill in committee did the opposite. (2/23)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Protecting The Tired, The Poor, The Huddled Masses
During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and transition period, I worried that the climate of xenophobia and the widespread misunderstanding of the immigrants and refugees already in our country would dissuade others from seeking asylum here. … as a person who believes that health is a human right and that ensuring basic human rights promotes health, I remain terrified for the world’s well-being. The suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days was poorly planned and discriminatory, and it has only intensified the fear and anxiety of people who are fleeing terror, bombings, domestic abuse, and other types of persecution because of their religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic background. … Moreover, many U.S. clinicians have noted that their patients who are already here are refraining from seeking the medical care they need or using other vital public services for fear of being incarcerated and deported. (Katherine Peeler, 2/22)

The Washington Post: Sean Spicer Seemed To Tie Marijuana Use To Opioids. The Evidence Isn’t On His Side.
The epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States has been well documented. A staggering 33,000 people died in 2015 from overdosing on prescription painkillers, heroin or similar drugs, on par with the number killed by firearms and in car accidents. The epidemic is growing, but its general causes are not in dispute. Nearly all research on the issue shows that excessive and improper prescriptions are what’s causing more people to become addicted. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday appeared to link the surge in opioid abuse to another factor: recreational marijuana use. (Derek Hawkins, 2/24)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Try Something New To Deal With Drug Crisis
In 2016, Milwaukee County saw a record high in deaths from drug overdoses, when at least 340 people died. Many of the drugs involved in this crisis such as oxytocin, vicodin and oxycodone are at first prescribed legally to treat physical pain. When users become addicted and lose avenues to these prescribed drugs, they often turn to illegal drugs. Bravo to Gov. Scott Walker, who has called for a special session of the Legislature to address this crisis. (Jerry Schultz, 2/23)

Stat: The Power — And The Fear — Of Knowing Your Cancer Genome
When it comes to cancer, all knowledge is power — even when that knowledge is scary. Knowing as much as you can about cancer lets you and your health care team act decisively in devising your treatment strategy. Even more important, it lets you act specifically in selecting treatments or clinical trials that might be best in treating your disease. … For me, learning everything about my disease has been essential to discovering how to attack and treat my cancer and, I believe, why I went into a surprising but welcome long-lasting remission. (Kathy Giusti, 2/23)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: The Perils Of Trumping Science In Global Health — The Mexico City Policy And Beyond
During his first week in office, President Donald Trump reinstated an executive order banning U.S. aid to any international organization that supports abortion-related activities, including counseling or referrals. The so-called Mexico City Policy — colloquially referred to as the “global gag rule” on women’s reproductive health — is allegedly intended to reduce the number of abortions around the world, in accordance with an antiabortion agenda. Scientific evidence suggests, however, that the policy achieves the opposite: it significantly increases abortion rates. The policy defunds — and in so doing, incapacitates — organizations that would otherwise provide education and contraceptive services to reduce the frequency of unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions. (Nathan C. Lo and Michele Barry, 2/22)

Seattle Times: Ethics And Trust Paramount In Physician, Patient Relationship
dramatic and complex changes in the health-care environment have placed a strain on medical professionalism and on physicians’ ability to exercise independent clinical judgment. We must ensure that doctors’ professionalism and independent judgment remain protected, even in our quest to have a healthy bottom line. (Jennifer Lawrence Hanscom, 2/22)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Recreational Cannabis — Minimizing The Health Risks From Legalization
The cannabis-policy landscape is undergoing dramatic change. Although many jurisdictions have removed criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis and more than half of U.S. states allow physicians to recommend it to patients, legalizing the supply and possession of cannabis for nonmedical purposes is a very different public policy. Since the November 2016 election, 20% of the U.S. population lives in states that have passed ballot initiatives to allow companies to sell cannabis for any reason and adults 21 or older to purchase it. Although other states may move toward legalization, uncertainty abounds because of the federal prohibition on cannabis. The Obama administration tolerated these state laws; it’s unclear what the Trump administration will do. (Beau Kilmer, 2/22)

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

Research Roundup: Beverage Tax In Mexico; Health Care Access Survey; State Marketplaces

Each week, KHN compiles a selection of recently released health policy studies and briefs.

Health Affairs: In Mexico, Evidence Of Sustained Consumer Response Two Years After Implementing A Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax
Mexico implemented a 1 peso per liter excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on January 1, 2014, and a previous study found a 6 percent reduction in purchases of taxed beverages in 2014. In this study we estimated changes in beverage purchases for 2014 and 2015. We used store purchase data for 6,645 households from January 2012 to December 2015. … Purchases of taxed beverages decreased 5.5 percent in 2014 and 9.7 percent in 2015, yielding an average reduction of 7.6 percent over the study period. Households at the lowest socioeconomic level had the largest decreases in purchases of taxed beverages in both years. … Findings from Mexico may encourage other countries to use fiscal policies to reduce consumption of unhealthy beverages. (Cochero et al., 2/22)

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report/CDC: Surveillance for Health Care Access and Health Services Use, Adults Aged 18–64 Years — Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2014
This report summarizes 2014 BRFSS [Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System] data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia on health care access and use of selected [clinical preventive services]. … The findings … indicate substantial variations in health insurance coverage; other health care access measures; and use of CPS …. In 2014, health insurance coverage, having a usual source of care, having a routine checkup, and not experiencing unmet health care need because of cost were higher among adults living below the poverty level (i.e., household income <100% of FPL) in states that expanded Medicaid than in states that did not. Similarly, estimates of breast and cervical cancer screening and influenza vaccination were higher among adults living below the poverty level in states that expanded Medicaid than in states that did not. (Okoro et al., 2/23)

Pediatrics: Pediatric Resident Burnout And Attitudes Toward Patients
Burnout occurs in up to 75% of resident physicians. Our study objectives were to: (1) determine the prevalence of burnout, and (2) examine the association between burnout and self-reported patient care attitudes and behaviors among pediatric residents. … A total of 39% of respondents … endorsed burnout. Residents with burnout had significantly greater odds … of reporting suboptimal patient care attitudes and behaviors, including: discharging patients to make the service more manageable … not fully discussing treatment options or answering questions …, making treatment or medication errors …, ignoring the social or personal impact of an illness …, and feeling guilty about how a patient was treated. (Baer et al., 2/23)

The Kaiser Family Foundation: Pre-ACA Market Practices Provide Lessons For ACA Replacement Approaches
One of the biggest changes that the ACA made to the non-group insurance market was to eliminate consideration by insurers of a person’s health or health history in enrollment and rating decisions. … Proposals for replacing the ACA such as Rep. Tom Price’s Empowering Patients First Act and Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” policy paper would repeal these insurance market rules, moving back towards pre-ACA standards where insurers generally had more leeway to use individual health in enrollment and rating for non-group coverage. … [This discussion] focuses on some of the issues faced by people with health issues in the pre-ACA non-group insurance market. These pre-ACA insurance practices highlight some of the challenges in providing access and stable coverage for people and some of the issues that any ACA replacement plan will need to address. (Claxton, Levitt and Pollitz, 2/16)

Brookings: How Has Obamacare Impacted State Health Care Marketplaces?
[O]ur five states had four years of experience in the open enrollment periods from 2014 through 2017. The states array themselves in a continuum of apparent success in enhancing and maintaining competition among insurers. California and Michigan appear to have had success in nurturing insurer competition, in at least the urban areas of their states. Florida, North Carolina, and Texas were less successful. This divergence is recent, however. As recently as the 2015 and 2016 open enrollment periods, all of the states had what appeared to be promising, if not always robust, insurance competition. Large changes occurred in the run-up to the 2017 open enrollment period. (Morrisey et al., 2/9)

Here is a selection of news coverage of other recent research:

CNN: Chronic Knee Pain Eased With The Help Of Skype
Exercise, an online pain-coping skills program and Skype sessions with a physiotherapist helped relieve patients’ chronic knee pain, according to a study published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. … The new study was designed to investigate “the efficacy of a combined internet delivered treatment package including education, Skype-delivered exercise physiotherapy and an Internet-based interactive pain-coping skills training program,” said Kim Bennell, lead author of the study and a research physiotherapist and professor at the University of Melbourne. (Scutti, 2/20)

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

State Highlights: Minn. Plans Online Resource To Help Consumers Compare Assisted-Living Facilities’ Quality; Calif. Proposal Would Require Problem Docs To Be Transparent

Outlets report on news from Minnesota, California, Georgia, California, Massachusetts, Kansas, Alabama and Michigan.

The Star Tribune: State Plans Online ‘Report Card’ For You To Gauge Assisted-Living Facilities 
For decades, Minnesota families seeking senior living arrangements for their elderly loved ones have found themselves casting about in an informational void. But a proposal by the Minnesota Department of Human Services would create the state’s first standardized system for measuring the quality of assisted-living homes — a fast-growing but lightly regulated industry that now serves more than 50,000 Minnesotans in nearly 1,200 facilities. (Serres, 2/23)

The Star Tribune: Rochester Set To Remove 180-Plus Students Over Failure To Follow Vaccination Law
More than 180 public school students in Rochester will be removed from school March 1 if they are not vaccinated or officially exempted from the state law that requires them to be immunized. School officials said this week that they have worked “diligently” since January to inform families that students must be vaccinated to attend school or provide documentation for an exemption. (Smith, 2/23)

The Star Tribune: HCMC Cutting 131 Jobs Through Layoffs Amid Budget Pinch 
Hennepin County Medical Center leaders announced the layoff of more than 131 workers this week, saying they believe it will resolve a projected financial crisis at the hospital caused by worsening reimbursements for patient care. The announcement drew angry responses from affected employees, including a protest by cleaners and clerical workers Thursday afternoon and criticism by a bioelectronics technician, who predicted that the hospital will end up spending more by outsourcing critical tasks. (Olson, 2/23)

Los Angeles Times: Political Spending Of AIDS Nonprofit Comes Under Fire
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation oversees a global philanthropic empire that extends from its Hollywood headquarters to 15 states and 38 countries. The 30-year-old nonprofit organization treats hundreds of thousands of patients. It hands out tens of millions of condoms annually. And it puts up provocative billboards urging people to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. But in recent months, it has become known for the kind of activism usually associated with homeowner groups, spurring criticism that it has strayed too far from its mission. (Reyes and Zahniser, 2/24)

Boston Globe: City Seeks Private Partner To Rebuild Former Bromley-Heath Complex
The roofs leak, the elevators malfunction, and the heating system is old. Tenants of the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments complain about people sleeping in the hallways or doing drugs, and sometimes they find used needles scattered about. But there is no federal money to repair or rebuild the Jamaica Plain housing development’s 804 units of federally subsidized public housing, Boston Housing Authority officials say. So on Wednesday, the authority announced it is seeking proposals from private developers to tear down and rebuild a portion of the complex: six dilapidated buildings on Centre Street, Parker Street, and Lamartine Street. (Allen and Gans, 2/23)

Sacramento Bee: Muslims Seek Mental Health Aid After Mosque Attacks, Travel Ban 
Coming at the same time as other anti-Muslim attacks and a presidential order banning entry by people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, many Muslim Americans are asking themselves whether they still are welcome in this country while they worry about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones. In response, mosques, student groups and mental health agencies around the Sacramento region are stepping up and offering Muslims a safe place to share their anxieties and receive professional help. (Caiola, 2/23)

KCUR: Osteopathic Med Schools Like Kansas City University Answer The Call For More Doctors 
With the United States facing a shortage of physicians over the next decade, health care groups and lawmakers are scrambling to increase the number of doctors – primary care providers in particular – to serve an aging population. Kansas meets only about 65 percent of its physician needs, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. Missouri is even worse off, meeting only about 30 percent of its physician needs. Many Missouri counties are designated Health Professional Shortage Areas, meaning they have only one provider in the area to serve at least 3,500 people. (Worth, 2/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Alabama Doctors Convicted In Health-Care Fraud Case
Two Alabama doctors were convicted Thursday of health-care fraud, taking kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics Inc. and prescribing opioid painkillers for no medical purpose, among other crimes. John Couch and Xiulu Ruan were each convicted on more than 10 criminal counts brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Mobile, Ala. (Walker, 2/23)

KCUR: Osawatomie Contract Bidder Has History Of Safety Issues At Its Florida Psychiatric Facilities 
Correct Care Solutions, a Tennessee-based company that is the sole bidder for a contract to operate Osawatomie State Hospital, has a history of safety problems at the state psychiatric facilities it runs in Florida. Officials with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services declined to provide details this week on Correct Care’s bid to operate Osawatomie State Hospital, one of two state facilities for people deemed a danger to themselves or others. The department is evaluating the proposal and hasn’t given a timeline for whether or when it would bring it before the Legislature. Under a law they approved last year, lawmakers must approve the contract before KDADS can move forward. (Wingerter, 2/23)

Detroit Free Press: Tick-Borne Lyme Disease Exploding Into Michigan; Human Cases Up 5-Fold
All it took was an unusual February warm spell this past week for the tiny insects causing an increasingly big problem in Michigan to become active once again, beginning their hunt for blood…The ticks are of interest because of what they often carry with them: the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. When the ticks bite an animal, seeking a blood meal, that bacteria can transfer. And that bacteria, in dogs, horses and humans, can cause Lyme disease, a serious affliction that can be permanently debilitating for people when it’s not treated early and well. (Matheny, 2/23)

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

Viewpoints: Taking Stock Of The GOP Repeal-Replace-Repair Effort; Anti-Vaxxers See A Friend In President Trump

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Washington Post: Republicans Suddenly Realize Burning Down The Health-Care System Might Not Be A Great Idea
The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is not going well, in large part because it turns out that making sweeping changes to a system that encompasses one-sixth of the American economy turns out to be rather more complicated than they imagined. Their backtracking has an interesting character to it, in particular how they’ve been gobsmacked by the transition from shaking their fists at the system to being responsible for it. (Paul Waldman, 2/22)

JAMA Forum: Replacing ACA Would Harm Economically Vulnerable Persons And The Health Care Safety Net
The US Congress recently took its first steps toward repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Congressional Budget Office projected that repeal would increase the number of uninsured by 18 million people initially, and by 27 million after funding for Medicaid expansion and subsidies are eliminated. Repealing the ACA also threatens the safety net critical to health care access for economically vulnerable individuals and families. (Roy Grant, 2/20)

The Washington Post: Under Trump, Obamacare’s Medicaid Enrollments May Actually Go Up
Much of the media coverage and public political battle has focused on regulations and subsidies that impact middle America and those with coverage. The program targeted at the poor — Medicaid —has received less attention but demands more. For now, it looks as if the Republican Congress will end up leaving the structure of Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program intact and that Tom Price — President Trump’s secretary of health and human services — will use his administrative powers to grant states greater discretion in running their Medicaid programs. (Timothy Callaghan and Lawrence R. Jacobs, 2/22)

Modern Healthcare: Fierce Medicaid Critic Joins Trump’s ACA Repeal Team
A fierce critic of Medicaid expansion has joined the White House team working on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. White House staffers are expected to play a key role in helping craft the upcoming budget reconciliation bill to repeal and replace the ACA. One of those key aides is Brian Blase, who recently left the conservative Mercatus Center at George Mason University to serve as health policy adviser to Gary Cohn, director of President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council and former president of Goldman Sachs. (Harris Meyer, 2/22)

The New York Times: The Anti-Vaccine Movement Gains A Friend In The White House
Vaccine opponents, often the subject of ridicule, have found fresh energy in the election of a president who has repeated discredited claims linking childhood immunizations to autism and who has apparently decided to pursue them. With President Trump’s support, this fringe movement could win official recognition, threatening lives and making it urgent that health officials, educators and others respond with a science-based defense of vaccines. Vaccines have saved lives by protecting children and adults from diseases like measles, polio, smallpox, cervical cancer and whooping cough. And there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines or a preservative used in flu shots cause autism. (2/23)

JAMA Forum: Vaccines And The Trump Administration
Writing recently in the New York Times, infectious disease physician Peter Hotez warned: “It’s looking as if 2017 could become the year when the anti-vaccination movement gains ascendancy in the United States and we begin to see a reversal of several decades in steady public health gains. The first blow will be measles outbreaks in America.” (Joshua M. Sharfstein, 2/22)

Stat: Scientists Can’t Cower In The Face Of Trump Policies That Threaten Research
Fear of speaking and debating openly on controversial issues and inquiry is antithetical to science. So it has been chilling for me to listen to the fear expressed by medical students, resident physicians, faculty members, and administrators engendered by Trump’s actions. I’ve heard medical students say they are worried about speaking out because they might be branded as “activists” by residency programs. Faculty members worry about how their opposition to the Trump agenda may be perceived by philanthropists who fund their work. Administrators fear overstepping the line in response to Trump and struggle to balance supporting their staff’s concerns about how new policies affect their colleagues and families while avoiding perceived political conflict. (Duncan Maru, 2/22)

JAMA: Revamping the U.S. Federal Common Rule: Modernizing Human Participant Research Regulations
On January 19, 2017, the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), Department of Health and Human Services, and 15 federal agencies published a final rule to modernize the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (known as the “Common Rule”).1 Initially introduced more than a quarter century ago, the Common Rule predated modern scientific methods and findings, notably human genome research. (James G. Hodge and Lawrence O. Gostin, 2/22)

The Washington Post: A Health-Care Change That Could Prove Catastrophic
While a handful of high-profile policy questions have preoccupied Americans since the election, one potentially catastrophic health-care change has quietly been taking shape without much media attention. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education — the professional body charged with overseeing the nation’s physician training programs is poised to eliminate the 16-hour limit on work shifts for first-year resident physicians (referred to as interns) that it implemented in 2011. It proposes allowing interns to return to working extreme shifts of 28 hours — twice each week. (Christopher P. Landrigan and Charles A. Czeisler, 2/22)

Bloomberg: That Free Health Tracker Could Cost You
Using big data to improve health might seem like a great idea. The way private insurance works, though, it could end up making sick people — or even those perceived as likely to become sick — a lot poorer. Suppose a company offers you an insurance discount and a free FitBit if you agree to share your data and submit to a yearly physical. You’re assured that the data will be used only in aggregate, never tied back to specific identities. If that makes you feel safe, it shouldn’t. (Cathy O’Neil, 2/23)

The Washington Post: If Abortion Rights Fall, LGBT Rights Are Next
We represent the organizations that won leading Supreme Court cases in recent years on sexual and reproductive rights: Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which secured legal protections for the marriage of same-sex couples, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, which struck down Texas’s attempt to use sham health regulations to shut down 75 percent of the state’s abortion clinics. President Trump has taken sharp aim at the rights affirmed in those cases. During the campaign, he attacked the Obergefell opinion and repeatedly and unambiguously promised to put justices on the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. According to the president, it’s the government, not each individual, that should hold the power to decide who can get married and whether women can terminate a pregnancy. (Nancy Northup and Rachel B. Tiven, 2/22)

The Des Moines Register: Lawmakers, You Still Owe Us For Illegal Health Plans
Iowa Code allows state lawmakers to enroll in health insurance plans offered to executive branch employees “excluded from collective bargaining.” Those workers pay 20 percent of the total cost of their monthly premium. A few weeks ago, The Des Moines Register reported that legislators are instead enrolled in health plans negotiated by unions on behalf of union-covered state employees. Many lawmakers are paying as little as $20 in monthly premiums when they should be paying hundreds of dollars. (2/22)

Louisville Courier-Journal: Dangers Lurking In E-Cigs
During my nursing career, I have come across numerous heroes, but my first was Surgeon General Everett Koop. More than 50 years ago, he published the first report on Smoking and Health. … Today, my new hero is another Surgeon Gen. Vivek Murthy, who released the first report on E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults in December 2016. We now have data and ammunition to halt the debate that e-cigarettes are harmless. The report lays out in clear, indisputable terms that e-cigarette use increases the risk of nicotine addiction, harm to brain development and future use of other tobacco products for young users. (Janie Heath, 2/22)

The Washington Post: Helmets Save Lives So Why Don’t All States Require Them?
A new report from the World Health Organization suggests we’ve made some progress in reducing traffic fatalities through seat belt laws, improved highway and vehicle design, and campaigns to reduce drunk or drug-impaired driving. But motorcycles are bucking the trend, even in the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries, including the United States. (Fredrick Kunkle, 2/22)

Stat: Global Health Is An Investment We Can’t Afford To Pass Up
More than at any time in history, good health for all is a real possibility. The technology, scientific advancement, and remarkable understanding of disease now available to the medical and nursing community show the progress we have made. As a career physician, I have seen modern medicine rescue people from the brink of death with the power of machines, medicines, and smart minds. The successes aren’t just in developed countries — they’re global. For example, the number of people newly infected with HIV around the world has stopped growing. There are now 18.2 million people undergoing treatment for HIV, up from 15.8 million in the last year alone. Equally encouraging, new infections in children are down 50 percent since 2010. (Vanessa Kerry, 2/22)

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

State Highlights: In N.Y., Cuomo Feels Push Back On Proposed Public Health Program Cuts; Texas Lawmakers Revisit Bid To Crack Down On Bad Nursing Homes

Outlets report on news from New York, Texas, Arizona, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and Ohio.

Houston Chronicle: Lawmakers Renew Effort To Crack Down On Bad Nursing Homes
Two years after falling short in a high-profile bid to crack down on bad nursing homes, some Texas state lawmakers are trying again. State Sen. Charles Schwertner kicked off the effort by introducing a trio of bills to make it harder for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and home and community services agencies to avoid discipline and lawsuits when they are found to have done wrong. (Rosenthal, 2/22)

Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate OKs Bill That Would Let Providers Opt Out Of ‘Right To Die’ Efforts​
Despite growing concerns that Arizona legislation to protect the religious freedoms of health-care workers could undermine patients’ end-of-life decisions, the Senate approved the bill Wednesday. Senate Bill 1439, which is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, and pushed by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, would protect from discrimination a health-care provider that refuses to participate in any service or provide any item that results in the death of an individual. (Beard Rau, 2/22)

Health News Florida: PTSD Coverage For First Responders Could Expand Under New Bill 
Democratic State Senator Victor Torres filed a bill Tuesday to allow first responders to get worker’s compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder. The bill makes PTSD and mental conditions more easily eligible, and it removes the requirement that first responders also be hurt physically. Jessica Realin’s husband was diagnosed with PTSD after cleaning up the Pulse Night Club tragedy. (Aboraya, 2/22)

KQED: After Introduction Of New Bill, Nurses Rally For Universal Health Care 
Chanting “Medicare for all is our fight, health care is a human right,” nurses and healthcare activists rallied in Sacramento Wednesday to support a new bill that would create universal health coverage for Californians. State Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced Senate Bill 562 last week. The bill would cover all residents of the state, even those who are undocumented. (Klivans, 2/22)

The Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com: Nurses At Delaware County Memorial Call Two-Day Strike
Nurses at Delaware County Memorial Hospital will go on strike for two days next month to protest stalled labor contract bargaining and unfair labor practices, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals said Wednesday. The union, known as PASNAP, won the right a year ago to represent 370 registered nurses and technical employee at the Drexel Hill facility, which was purchased in July 2016 by Prospect Medical Holdings Inc. as part of the hedge-fund backed firm’s acquisition of Crozer-Keystone Health System. (Brubaker, 2/22)

Boston Globe: Doctor Says He Brought Needed Care To Bermuda 
When he returned to his native Bermuda in the early 1990s to open a medical clinic, Dr. Ewart Brown felt as if he had stepped back in time. On the small island, care that was readily available to patients he treated in one of LosAngeles’s poorest neighborhoods was out of reach. That stark portrait eventually led Brown to a partnership with Lahey Hospital and Medical Center — one that is now the subject of a civil racketeering lawsuit that has uncovered a little-noticed relationship between the Burlington-based hospital and the small British territory. (Murphy and Dayal McCluskey, 2/23)

New Orleans Times-Picayune: These High-Tech Mannequins Help LSU Medical Students Learn How To Save Your Life
…Faculty and staff at LSU’s Health Sciences Center (HSC) considered the flight simulators used by airplane pilots. The LSU team realized that a similar training system could be used in medical education, in order to more efficiently and ethically judge students’ competency. As a result, in 2001, LSUHSC began using high-tech medical mannequins to simulate human patients. LSU faculty and staff helped develop life-size mannequins that breathe and blink, have heartbeats and blood pressure, talk and even have names. The mannequins are programmed to simulate various medical conditions and injuries, allowing medical students to engage with mock patients in a low-risk, controlled environment. (Harrison, 2/22)

The CT Mirror: School-Level Immunization Data Could Be Released Under Proposal 
Wondering how many children at your kid’s school aren’t vaccinated? If you live in Connecticut, there’s no way to find out.But that could change under a legislative proposal favored by the state Department of Public Health, which is currently prohibited from releasing data on immunization rates by school. The state health department already gets data from schools on the number of vaccine-exempt students, the number who have been fully immunized and those who have received some but not all vaccines. (Levin Becker, 2/22)

Tampa Bay Times: In Harm’s Way: Gun Injuries And Deaths Among Florida Kids Have Spiked. One Child Is Shot Every 17 Hours.
Gun injuries are a growing problem for Florida’s children, rising along with the increasing availability of firearms across the state, the Tampa Bay Times has found. To determine how many kids are shot each year — accidentally, intentionally or during the commission of a crime — the Times looked at millions of hospital discharge records for patients across Florida, as well as data collected by the state’s 24 medical examiners. The analysis found that, between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids age 17 and under were killed or injured by firearms. Put another way, a child in Florida was shot, on average, every 17 hours. (McGrory and Humburg, 2/23)

New Hampshire Union Leader: Iranian Doctor At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Reunites With His Wife 
A resident doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said he was “shocked, relieved, happy” when he was able to hug his Iranian wife Wednesday for the first time in nine months. Dr. Omid Moghimi said President Trump’s ban on residents of seven countries to travel to the United States meant his wife, Dorsa Razi, couldn’t get her final immigration interview in late January or a required visa needed to come to the United States. But a federal court blocked the travel ban, giving her a reprieve to gain the necessary approvals. Moghimi said he had worried he might not see his wife “for several more months if not for a year. (Cousineau, 2/23)

Columbus Dispatch: Fifth Child Dies As Flu Spreads Across Ohio
Despite the relatively mild 2016-2017 winter so far, Ohio is close to matching the number of children — six — who died during the 2014-15 flu season. One child died last flu season and none in 2013-2014. Adult flu deaths are not reported in Ohio, and health officials could not release whether the children who died had received a flu vaccine. (Viviano, 2/22)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Chronic Pain Considered For Medical Marijuana Use In New Jersey
Chronic pain may be added to the list of ailments that qualify for medical marijuana treatment in New Jersey, according to the chairman of a Health Department advisory panel that took emotional testimony from patients Wednesday in a crowded meeting room at the War Memorial. The panel will decide in the coming months whether to recommend that the health commissioner expand the list, which now has about a dozen ailments, including terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. (Hefler, 2/22)

Iowa Public Radio: Medical Marijuana Bill Advances; Similar Bill Failed Last Year 
Patients and their advocates made a return trip to the Iowa Capitol Wednesday, arguing once again for the legalization of medical marijuana in Iowa. A new bill is under consideration in the House to regulate the growing, manufacturing, and distribution  of cannabis oil. This is a working vehicle. -Rep. Jared KleinEarlier legislation is about to expire. It allows epilepsy patients to travel out of state to acquire the drug, which has created numerous obstacles. (Russell, 2/22)

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Atlanta-Area Hospital System To Take Over 27 Walgreens Retail Health Clinics In City

Also in Georgia, a turf war reignites among the state’s hospitals over a cancer center’s designation. And in Maryland, Johns Hopkins partners with a health real estate firm to explore future developments.

Modern Healthcare: Piedmont Taking Over 27 Walgreens Clinics In Atlanta 
Piedmont Healthcare, a seven-hospital system in Atlanta, has agreed to take over and operate 27 Walgreens in-store retail clinics in the metropolitan area, the two companies announced Wednesday. Piedmont joins other hospital systems such as Advocate Health Care in Chicago and Providence Health in Renton, Wash., that have bought or leased retail clinics that Walgreens and other chains have opened inside their stores to provide convenience for patients with minor ailments. (Barkholz, 2/22)

Georgia Health News: Piedmont To Run Clinics At 27 Atlanta Area Walgreens Locations 
Piedmont Healthcare will operate 27 retail health clinics in Walgreens stores across the Atlanta area. The transition to Piedmont management is planned for August, and the clinics will be known as Piedmont QuickCare at Walgreens. It’s the latest move by Atlanta-based Piedmont to extend its reach across metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Last year, Piedmont acquired Athens Regional Medical Center as its seventh hospital. (Miller, 2/22)

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Hospital Battle Brewing In Georgia Legislature
With a new wave of advertising and a new bill at the Georgia General Assembly, Cancer Treatment Centers of America has re-ignited its ongoing turf war with the rest of Georgia’s hospitals. The “destination cancer hospital” is again seeking to change the terms of a 2008 legislative deal that permitted the cancer-only hospital to come to Georgia, arguing that more in-state patients should be allowed to get treatment at the Newnan facility. (Teegardin, 2/22)

The Baltimore Sun: Hopkins Partnership With Health Real Estate Firm Aims To Expand Service To The Elderly
Johns Hopkins Medicine said Wednesday it will work with health real estate firm Welltower Inc. to come up with programs and explore developing facilities to serve and treat the elderly. Welltower develops assisted-living centers, memory care facilities and other medical institutions for the elderly. Company officials said programs and technology developed in those facilities said could be useful to Johns Hopkins, particularly as the trend in health care is to do more treatment outside hospitals. (McDaniels, 2/22)

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Theranos’ Arizona Lab Hit With Some Of CMS’s Harshest Penalties

The startup is also facing federal civil and criminal probes, and lawsuits brought by former retail partner Walgreen Co., investors and patients, including some who had tests done at the Arizona facility.

The Wall Street Journal: Second Theranos Lab Has Blood-Testing License Revoked
An Arizona lab run by blood-testing firm Theranos Inc. put patients at risk and failed to quickly fix its deficiencies, the main U.S. lab regulator found, triggering a new round of sanctions last month against the company. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services imposed some of the harshest penalties in its arsenal on the Arizona lab. The agency revoked the lab’s U.S. testing license, barred it from billing Medicare and ordered it to alert customers of its problems, according to a Jan. 27 letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal in a public records request. (Weaver, 2/22)

In other health industry news —

The Associated Press: Health Insurer Aetna To Spend $3.3B Buying Back Stock
Aetna will spend $3.3 billion to buy back more than 20 million shares of its stock after the health insurer’s board authorized more repurchases last week. The nation’s third largest insurer said Wednesday that it entered into accelerated buyback agreements with two dealers for about 10.4 million shares from each. Aetna will pay each dealer $1.65 billion and is using available cash to fund the deals. (2/22)

Denver Post: DaVita Steered Poor Dialysis Patients To Private Insurers To Pump Up Profits, Lawsuit Says
Dialysis giant DaVita is accused in a federal lawsuit of misleading shareholders in an elaborate effort to inflate its financials by intentionally steering poor patients toward private insurers that paid 10 times more for dialysis treatments than the government. The lawsuit, by the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia, claims Denver-based DaVita persuaded Medicare and Medicaid patients to dump the government plans for private insurance — some of it via Obamacare — and then directed the patients to apply for premium assistance from the American Kidney Fund, to which DaVita was a heavy benefactor. (Migoya, 2/22)

San Francisco Chronicle: Fitbit Fell Short In 2016, Now Looks To Smartwatch, Health Care 
After failing to meet its financial goals for 2016, Fitbit is shifting its strategy to focus more on health care services and developing a smartwatch, marking a departure for the San Francisco company, which got its start making basic fitness trackers that counted steps. The company reported $2.1 billion in revenue in 2016, up from $1.9 billion in 2015. But growth slowed throughout the year, indicating that Fitbit is hitting market saturation. (Ho, 2/22)

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Viewpoints: Health Policy Moves Back To Town Halls; GOP Wrestles With Medicaid Debate

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

Chicago Tribune: To The GOP On Obamacare: This Spud’s For You
Health care policy as a political hot potato has become a popular metaphor. Writers at Vox, CNBC, the American Constitution Society and elsewhere have compared Obamacare to a fresh-from-the-oven tuber that’s too painful to hold and must be tossed back across the aisle as quickly as possible. Noting growing concerns about inherent flaws in the complex structure of Obamacare — formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — libertarian Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle argued in a Feb. 15 essay that Congress is no longer “arguing about whether (and how) the exchanges can be saved, but playing hot potato as both parties vie to avoid being stuck with the blame for the ensuing disaster.” Nice try. (Eric Zorn, 2/21)

Roll Call: Town Hall Winners And Losers So Far
We’re halfway through the Presidents Day recess, the first during President Donald Trump’s first term in office. … it’s no surprise that town halls would become a focal point for the anger swirling on the left. Some members have plainly refused to meet with groups they think will be hostile to them. Others have flung open the sashes and let the emotions fly. Others have worked assiduously to restrain something that is inherently not theirs to control — the reaction of voters to their government’s actions in Washington. With half of the recess still left to play out, here are the winners and losers so far. (Patricia Murphy, 2/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Repeal And Replace Panic
In the 2009 ObamaCare debate, White House aide David Plouffe told nervous Democrats “no bed-wetting,” meaning keep calm and all will be well. House Democrats went on lose 63 seats in 2010, but the double irony is that Mr. Plouffe’s advice now applies to those reporters and liberals who seem to be invested in the failure of the GOP’s version of health-care reform. Every day brings a new story about Republicans in disarray, the “mirage” of the GOP’s reform and the impossibility of change. … The reality is that Congress is on schedule, progress is underway, and the many potential problems are avoidable. (2/21)

Forbes: Cassidy-Collins Patient Freedom Act Looks Better As Other Reform Efforts Falter
In a different political climate, the “Patient Freedom Act” introduced last month by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins would be getting close scrutiny and perhaps some significant support. It is — and I apologize for language that appears to have become profane in these polarized times — a compromise. The bill recognizes that an outright repeal and replacement of Obamacare is going to be politically challenging for at least the next two years. It likewise recognizes that the persistence of Obamacare nationwide is likely to be challenging and expensive. (Seth Chandler, 2/21)

Bloomberg: A GOP Tax Idea Would Upend Health Insurance 
Last week brought thwarted mergers, threats by insurers to leave the Affordable Care Act’s individual exchanges, and the release of a (very) rough sketch of a possible GOP repeal-and-replace plan for the ACA. What’s missing in that skeletal outline is how to pay for new initiatives, such as an expanded tax credit to help people buy insurance, while also repealing the new taxes established by the ACA. Some in the GOP are floating one possible solution: capping the federal tax breaks workers and companies get for employer-provided health insurance. (Max Nisen, 2/21)

WBUR: Caring For Immigrant Patients When The Rules Can Shift Any Time
Knowing patients’ immigration status and the reasons they came to this country can affect the services they are eligible for, the relative costs of medications, the fears that may keep them from returning for needed services, and even the diagnosis of unexplained symptoms. Immigration policy, Marlin told us, “is no longer a spectator sport” for us or for our patients. But it is not simple to practice medicine under these new and uncertain circumstances. (Elisabeth Poorman, 2/21)

Bloomberg: ‘Right To Try’ Laws Don’t Help The Dying 
A national “right to try” law, supported by Vice President Mike Pence and scores of Republicans in the the House and Senate, is meant to circumvent the FDA’s regulatory authority by giving patients who are terminally ill the right to use drugs that the agency hasn’t yet approved. The idea sounds reasonable; in the past few years, bipartisan majorities in two-thirds of state legislatures have passed essentially the same law. In reality, however, these laws give patients no new rights at all. They do nothing to compel drug makers to provide experimental medicines to the dying, or insurers to pay for them. They merely eliminate a patient’s right to sue for any injuries that might arise — that is, if any patient ever gets an untested drug in this way. (2/21)

Boston Globe: Did Dana-Farber Pay Too High A Price For Its Mar-A-Lago Fund-Raiser?
When asked why he robbed banks, the legendary bank robber Willie Sutton said, “Because that’s where the money is.” That’s also why the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute holds fund-raisers at Mar-a-Lago, the posh Palm Beach resort that serves as President Trump’s Florida home. It’s where the money is. The most recent gala, held over the past weekend, raised $2.2 million. All for a good cause. But at what cost? (Joan Vennochi, 2/21)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Turn Off The Drug Spigot In The St. Louis Region
Heroin and opioid overdoses have increased to the point where they claim more lives regionally than homicides. State and local lawmakers need to focus greater efforts on combating a growing epidemic. Gov. Eric Greitens’ pledge to help create a statewide prescription drug database is a good start, but a more comprehensive law enforcement effort would go even further to push down the number of drug-related deaths. (2/21)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Overprescribed: Curbing The Easy Fix Of Psychiatric Meds For Seniors
With many communities still struggling to manage the opioid epidemic, the last thing the nation needs is a new drug-related problem — the overprescribing of psychiatric and other medications to senior citizens. A new report in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine raises a red flag about the trend, saying it appears to be particularly common in rural areas where patients with symptoms of mental illnesses might have less access to talk therapy and other nondrug treatments. But even in these communities, there are alternatives to medications that can and should be explored. (2/20)

Stat: Patient Reviews Published Online Can Help Improve Health Care
It’s no secret that the US health care system needs to improve. Consumers — in this case patients and employers — have more collective power to influence change than they realize by choosing how, where, and from whom they get health care. Uber, Nordstrom, and many other companies seek their customers’ opinions and respond to them. Health care needs to follow suit to become the patient-centered service industry that it should be. The University of Utah, where I work, began collecting patient feedback early on and was the first health system in the US to publicly post patients’ reviews of their providers. It has paid off in many ways. (Vivian S. Lee, 2/21)

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Perspectives: Drug Prices Are Meaningless — And That’s The Problem

Read recent commentaries about drug-cost issues.

Los Angeles Times: Big Pharma Really, Really Doesn’t Want You To Know The True Value Of Its Drugs
The latest poster child for cruel and inhuman drug pricing is Kaleo Pharma, maker of an emergency injector for a med called naloxone, which is used as an antidote to save the lives of people who overdose on painkillers. As America’s opioid crisis reaches epidemic levels, Kaleo has jacked up the list price for its Evzio auto-injector by 600%, soaring from $690 several years ago to $4,500, according to lawmakers. (David Lazarus, 2/17)

The Wall Street Journal: How Other Countries Freeload On U.S. Drug Research
President Trump says American companies have been getting “systematically ripped off” by foreign governments and firms. He’s right. Yet he has backed a proposal that would make the problem even worse—permitting Americans to buy prescription drugs from overseas retailers, a practice known as importation. This policy wouldn’t help American consumers much, but it would gut American pharmaceutical companies. The negotiator-in-chief should instead use his skills to open foreign markets for American firms. (Peter Pitts, 2/21)

The Hill: Allowing Medicare To Directly Negotiate Drug Prices Will Hurt Seniors’ Access To New Drugs 
President Trump’s recent attack on pharmaceutical companies as “getting away with murder” is the stuff of headlines. He also commented that the federal Medicare program could save billions of dollars if the program negotiated prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. But lawmakers and the public should understand what direct Medicare drug price negotiations might mean for seniors’ access to needed treatments. (Rafael Fonseca, 2/17)

National Review: Donald Trump & Prescription Drug Costs: Harder To Lower Than They Seem
Keeping track of Donald Trump’s shifting policy positions could make even the most balanced of observers dizzy. Take, for example, the president’s position on prescription-drug prices. Candidate Trump garnered bipartisan plaudits by criticizing the pharmaceutical industry for the high cost of prescription drugs. Shortly after becoming president, he reached out to Democrats such as Representative Elijah Cummings with a promise to lower drug costs. But not long after that, he met with drug company CEOs and backed away from that promise. (Michael Tanner, 2/15)

Health Affairs: Can Employers Take A Bigger Role In Controlling Drug Costs?
An estimated 150 million Americans receive insurance through their employer — and employees and employers alike continue to suffer from “sticker shock” for prices for new drugs, despite several years of debate and threatened congressional action to control the high prices of pharmaceutical products. While considerable attention has been paid to potential actions by Medicare or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there has been less focus on the role of private payers to solve the issue. Employers sponsoring health benefits are not bound by the same statutory constraints that apply to Medicare and can decide with fewer restrictions what is covered and how much of the cost employees pay for each service. However, employers are sensitive to making changes to health benefits that could interfere with employee recruitment and this article will discuss employers’ options to address high drug prices more aggressively in that context. (Rober Galvin and Troyen Brennan, 2/17)

Albany Times Union: Why We Get Frustrated With Prescription Drug Prices!
This weekend as I was thumbing through some items in the pharmacy, I came  across the manufacturers information on the reintroduction of Auvi-Q to the market.  Auvi-Q is a autoinjector of epinephrine which is more publicly known as Epi-Pen. The drug is made by Kaleo who you might remember as they recently made news with their new product for narcan for drug overdose know as Evzio.  Evzio as was noted in this interview by Asa Stackel at WNYT 13, comes in at a price of $4,920 per unit which significantly more expensive than other naloxone products which are in the $100 range on average.  As a reminder the Evzio was about $690, came off the market and then back on at $4,920. Well history is repeating itself…..Auvi-Q, which last time we dispensed it was about $465 in early 2016 is back on the market at $4,200.  Yes, a ten fold increase! (New York Assemblyman John T. McDonald, 2/20)

Bloomberg: Alexion Needs New Bets
Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. is the latest in a long line of biopharma dealmakers to wish for a time machine. Its $8.4 billion acquisition of Synageva in 2015 was meant to help resolve its dependence on its leading rare-disease drug Soliris. It’s not working. (Max Nisen, 2/16)

The Motley Fool: Thanks, Martin Shkreli, For The Dumbest Advice Ever On Drug Pricing
Martin Shkreli is the epitome of everything the American consumer loves to hate. Shkreli, formerly the CEO of privately held Turing Pharmaceuticals, found himself in the spotlight in Sept. 2015 after his company acquired the rights to Daraprim, a life-saving, infection-fighting drug for AIDS and cancer patients. Despite not changing the formulation of Daraprim (which happened to be more than six decades old), or altering its manufacturing process one iota, Shkreli raised its per-pill price from $13.50 to $750 overnight, a nearly 5,500% increase. (Sean Williams, 2/17)

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When Giving ‘Hope To The Hopeless’ Comes At A Sky-High Price

News outlets report on stories related to pharmaceutical drug pricing.

Sacramento Bee: Orphan Drugs Offer Hope For Treating Rare Diseases, Despite High Price Tags 
At Sutter Children’s Center in Sacramento this week, the 7-year-old was given an injection of Spinraza, the first drug approved in the U.S. to treat spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA. … With Spinraza, each thumb-sized 5-milliliter vial – about a teaspoon’s worth – costs $125,000. The recommended dosage is four “loading” injections within about two months, followed by maintenance shots every four months for life. For families such as the Goepperts, that price tag is staggering: roughly half a million dollars just for the initial series of Spinraza shots and $375,000 a year thereafter. (Buck, 2/20)

USA Today: New Patient Group Focuses On Drug Prices Amid Bipartisan Concern
A new patient advocacy group launches Wednesday that distinguishes itself by focusing only on drug prices and eschewing money from the pharmaceutical industry at a time when drug makers are pouring millions into a campaign fighting efforts to regulate them. The formation of Patients for Affordable Drugs (PFAD) comes as local officials and members of Congress are decrying the latest huge drug price hikes, this time by drugmaker Kaléo for its version of the overdose antidote naloxone. (O’Donnell and Shesgreen, 2/22)

Stat: The Latest Voucher Deal Suggests Prices Are Finally Falling
In a noteworthy deal, Gilead Sciences agreed to pay $125 million to Sarepta Therapeutics for a priority review voucher. But one Wall Street analyst expressed disappointment over the price tag and suggested the deal raises questions about how much these controversial vouchers can fetch going forward. (Silverman, 2/21)

San Francisco Chronicle: Pharma CEO Insists $89,000 Drug Will Be Affordable For Patients 
When Marathon Pharmaceuticals’ $89,000 price for a year’s supply of its newly approved muscular dystrophy drug sparked outrage this month, the company’s CEO responded with another figure: $20. That’s how much he expects Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients to pay per prescription of the drug, he wrote in a letter posted on the company’s website. Insurers would cover the medication, and patients would pay only their typical co-pays. He touted the company’s patient assistance program to help patients defray out-of-pocket costs. (Schencker, 2/21)

Stat: Q&A: Pharmacy Middlemen Are ‘Monopolistic Terrorists’
Recent debates about drug pricing have tended to focus on manufacturers and patients, but Doug Collins is among the few legislators looking at the middlemen. Collins, a Republican congressman from Georgia, railed against the country’s three major pharmacy benefit managers in an interview with STAT, expressing his desire for a drug-pricing debate that centers on what he views as the true power centers instead of  “Pharma bro” and the push to allow drug-price negotiation under Medicare Part D. (Facher, 2/20)

Boston Globe: Harvard Pilgrim Expands Use Of Novel Drug Purchasing Deals 
Leveraging its buying power as one of the state’s largest health insurers, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has struck two more deals to pay for expensive drugs based on how effectively they treat patients, an emerging strategy aimed at reining in medical spending. Harvard Pilgrim, which has 1.3 million members, said the agreements cover the rheumatoid arthritis medicine Enbrel, made by Amgen Inc., and Eli Lilly & Co.’s osteoporosis medicine Forteo. (McCluskey and Woodward, 2/22)

Stat: Here’s Why J&J Won The Bidding For Actelion – And Sanofi Didn’t
As big-game hunting goes, Sanofi chief executive Olivier Brandicourt is 0-for-2. Two months ago, Sanofi appeared to be on the verge of acquiring Actelion Pharmaceuticals, which would have been a notable accomplishment for a couple of reasons: Johnson & Johnson had just backed out of negotiations to acquire Actelion and Sanofi had recently lost out on bidding for Medivation, a stinging defeat in a growth strategy that relies on big deals. (Silverman, 2/16)

Stat: PhRMA CEO: ‘FDA Review Process Is The Gold Standard’
The CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Tuesday came out strongly in favor of a rigorous Food and Drug Administration. His remarks come as the Trump administration weighs potential candidates to lead the agency who have suggested they would radically change how it vets new drugs. Asked by STAT about the notion that the FDA should no longer evaluate drugs for effectiveness, the industry trade group’s Stephen Ubl was unambiguous: “We believe that the FDA review process is the gold standard and should remain so.” (Robbins, 2/21)

LancasterOnline: Pennsylvania Proposal Would Make Prescription Drug Manufacturers Reveal Costs
Some state lawmakers are proposing to give the Insurance Department more teeth to tackle the problem of skyrocketing prescription drug prices. House Bill 161 would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the cost of drugs — including materials, research, clinical trials, marketing and advertising.The bill is co-sponsored by Lancaster city Democrat Mike Sturla and Jim Cox, a Republican who represents part of northern Lancaster County. (Stauffer, 2/21)

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State Highlights: N.H. Health Budget Would Give Nurses A Raise; Texas Lawmaker Moves To Outlaw Guns At State Mental Hospitals

Outlets report on news from New Hampshire, Texas, Florida, Oregon, California, Missouri and Minnesota.

New Hampshire Union Leader: DHHS Budget Calls For $10M In Raises For Nurses 
A 15 percent raise for nurses working in the Department of Health and Human Services will cost the state $10 million over the next two years, but is necessary to attract and retain health care professionals in an increasingly competitive market, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers. The head of the state’s biggest agency presented a $1.4 billion two-year spending plan for fiscal years 2018-2019 to House budget-writers on Tuesday. He said increased pay for nurses and other providers is a top priority. (Solomon, 2/21)

Austin Statesman: Legislator Seeks To Keep Guns Out Of State Psychiatric Hospitals
One year after state psychiatric hospitals began letting people carry guns on campus, a Republican legislator is pushing a bill that reverses course. House Bill 14, filed by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, outlaws firearms at Texas’ 10 state-run mental health hospitals, which care for people with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other illnesses. (Ball, 2/21)

Health News Florida: Flu Widespread In Florida, With Extra Bug 
Influenza season is at its peak nationwide, and Florida is no exception. That’s obvious on the map at the Centers for Disease Control website. Warren McDougle, epidemiology manager for the Hillsborough County Health Department, says the flu shot apparently did a good job of covering the predominant strain, A (H3). But unfortunately, there’s another mean virus going around, according to anecdotal reports. (Gentry, 2/21)

Register-Guard: Oregon Plan Would Provide Insurance To Unauthorized Kids 
Now, both women are advocating for a new state law — dubbed “Cover All Kids” by supporters — that would extend government-funded health insurance in Oregon to many unauthorized immigrants under the age of 19. The proposal would give government-funded health insurance to an estimated 17,600 unauthorized immigrants, at a cost of $55 million in the biennium that starts July 1. Critics blast the concept and the price tag, especially given state government’s cash crisis.But supporters say it’s a humane and sensible idea. (Hubbard, 2/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Bidder Says Los Angeles-Area Hospital Didn’t Need To Close
A health-care firm that offered to buy Gardens Regional Hospital and Medical Center Inc., a Los Angeles-area hospital that cared for low-income residents before shutting down, told a bankruptcy judge that its purchase efforts were unfairly ignored. In court papers, Le Summit Healthcare LLC officials told Bankruptcy Judge Ernest Robles that they are still willing to operate the nonprofit hospital while they obtain the new licensing and permits to restart its operations. They say Gardens Regional Hospital’s lawyers closed the 137-bed hospital unnecessarily. (Stech, 2/21)

St. Louis Public Radio: Homer G. Phillips Hospital: ‘They Were Not Going To Be Treated As Second-Class Citizens’ 
In the first half of the 20th century, segregation touched virtually every part of American life. Black residents of St. Louis weren’t just barred from schools, lunch counters and drinking fountains reserved for whites. Even hospitals could refuse to admit black patients. But the hospitals that were built to serve African-American patients hold a special place in medical history. The facilities employed and trained thousands of black doctors and nurses. In St. Louis, Homer G. Phillips Hospital quickly became a trusted household name. Today marks the 80th anniversary of its dedication ceremony on Feb. 22, 1937. (Bouscaren, 2/22)

The Star Tribune: Minnesota Medical Professionals Work To Close Health Gaps For LGBT Patients 
[Deb] Thorp, medical director of the Park Nicollet Gender Services Clinic in Minneapolis, is taking part in a rare national conference next week to address health disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. She and other researchers say the LGBT community is more vulnerable to some diseases, and has poorer access to, and a lower quality of, health care compared with the general population — in part because of fear. (Shah, 2/21)

The Star Tribune: Minnesota Parents Lobby For Kids At ‘Dyslexia Day’ At State Capitol 
On Tuesday, the advocacy group’s annual rally spread across the Capitol rotunda, where several hundred parents and children called attention to a hidden disability that affects as many as one in 10 children. Dyslexia wasn’t even recognized as a specific learning disability by the Minnesota Department of Education until 2015. Children who spoke at Tuesday’s rally said they wished schools understood more. (Hopfensperger, 2/21)

St. Louis Public Radio: Chemical Companies To Pay $15 Million To Clean Up Sauget Superfund Site 
Four chemical companies could have to pay $14.8 million to clean up a federal Superfund site in Sauget. The settlement, which needs court approval, would address groundwater contamination, cap some of the waste and install a well monitoring system. Industrial waste has been dumped in six sites within the Sauget Area 1 Superfund from the 1930s until the 1980s. The Environmental Protection Agency has been investigating the site since the early 1980s. (Chen, 2/21)

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Delays Still Plague Some Applications In Kansas For Medicaid’s Long-Term Care Coverage

The state has worked to clear up many other Medicaid backlogs, but applications for long-term care are often complicated and the decisions still lag, KCUR reports. Other outlets also report on Medicaid news in Minnesota and Colorado.

KCUR: For One Family, Move To Kansas Meant Medicaid Delays 
All that Michael Sykes has to show for his months-long quest to get his mother’s nursing home bed covered by Medicaid is a pile of paperwork. Kansans like Sykes have been facing long waits to find out if they qualify for health coverage under KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. The state has cleared up much of the backlog over the past year, but thousands of applications for long-term care coverage remain hung up. That has left applicants frustrated and forced nursing homes to absorb months of delayed payments. (Marso, 2/22)

KCUR: What’s The Matter With KanCare? Challenges On Four Fronts
KanCare is a $3 billion program that provides health insurance to more than 425,000 Kansans — complex and bureaucratic by its nature. And lately it seems the privatized Medicaid program has drawn more than its share of complaints from Kansas medical providers, beneficiaries and applicants. Some are the result of a switch in 2013 to management not by the state but instead by three private insurance companies, while others stem from court rulings or policymaker decisions. (Marso, 2/22)

The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune: Report Calls For Stronger Oversight Of Medicaid Spending For Disabled, Elderly 
Minnesota does not collect adequate information to monitor programs that spend more than $2 billion annually on care and services for the elderly and people with disabilities, according to a legislative auditor report released Tuesday. … However, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) does not provide adequate financial oversight of the organizations that provide the services, nor does it adequately regulate the workers who go into people’s homes, the report said. (Serres, 2/21)

Colorado Public Radio: Grand Junction Shows How To Lower Medicaid Costs While Improving Care
Medicaid provides health insurance for more than a million Coloradans, who comprise about a fifth of the state population. Medicaid is also one of the largest parts of the state budget, and costs rise each year. That spurred lawmakers to support an experiment by a health care collaborative in the Western Slope, Rocky Mountain Health Plans. … Patrick Gordon, associate vice president at Rocky Mountain Health Plans, spoke to Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. (2/21)

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Changes To Medicare’s Primary-Care Payment Model Could Deter Physician Participation

Also, another look at what it means for a Medicare beneficiary to be “under observation.”

Modern Healthcare: Doctors, Payers May Dislike Changes To Primary-Care Model 
A tweak in the way some providers are reimbursed under a new primary-care payment model could deter providers from joining the Medicare initiative. The CMS is looking to expand its ambitious primary-care model known as Comprehensive Primary Care Plus. But there hasn’t been as much interest in the pilot as anticipated, and now the agency wants to pay incentives only to some participating providers and not others. (Dickson, 2/21)

Sun Sentinel: Being In A Hospital ‘Under Observation’ Vs. Admitted Can Limit Vital Benefits For Seniors
Going into the hospital is stressful enough. But if you’re a senior on Medicare, and you stay at a hospital under “observation status,” you may end up with serious financial pain, too. That’s because Medicare may not cover some benefits — including post-hospital rehabilitation care in a nursing home — if a hospitalized patient is classified as being under observation vs. being admitted as an inpatient. (Lade, 2/21)

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

Viewpoints: How Technology Is Advancing Wellness; Moral Questions About Gene Editing

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Innovations Are Coming To Your Digital Device
Mobile phones and tablets have pushed themselves to the center of modern life. Instead of going to the bookstore, readers download the latest novel direct to their devices. Online shopping has left malls quieter than ever. Video chatting helps far-flung families stay in touch. Health care needs this same kind of disruption. … Personal technology can make routine medical care and healthy living easier. (Regina Benjamin and Andrew Thompson, 2/20)

The Washington Post: If We’re Going To Play God With Gene Editing, We’ve Got To Ask Some Moral Questions
The past 30 days have seen several unheralded but consequential strides in the scientific quest for god-like control of our destiny. Last week, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine published a report on human genome editing that allows the manipulation of sperm and egg cells to create changes that could be passed down to offspring. In January, scientists for the first time grew a part-pig, part-human “chimera,” a step toward developing animal embryos with functioning human organs for interspecies transplantation. With Tesla chief executive Elon Musk hinting last month at having made progress on a brain-computer interface, injectable electronics and other forms of human augmentation have clearly entered mainstream discussion as a way for humans to keep up with quickly advancing artificial intelligence. (Christine Emba, 2/20)

Indianapolis Star: Invest In Health, Raise Cigarette Tax
Once again the General Assembly considers raising the cigarette tax. This time the proposal is to increase the tax by a $1.50 per pack. … Unquestionably, Indiana is one of the unhealthiest states in the country.  We rank near the bottom in public health funding; we have one of the highest smoking rates; we have an infant mortality rate that rivals some third world countries; and, Indiana ranks as one of the worst in rates of obesity, cancer, and most measures of the chronic diseases that plague our nation. Despite the great advances in tobacco control that have occurred over the past half-century, tobacco still remains our number one public health issue; tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death. (Richard Feldman, 2/20)

Sacramento Bee: Living And Thriving With A Dementia Diagnosis 
About 80 percent of people with dementia develop Alzheimer’s disease, a particularly insidious form of dementia that leads to death. I am in the early stages of dementia, and they tell me my tests currently clear me of Alzheimer’s, so my experiences have been far less scary by comparison to many others’. My prognosis is for continued regression with no reversal. Otherwise, I am a healthy and physically active guy rapidly approaching 70 and generally enjoying retirement along with my wife of 49 years. (Kent Pollock, 2/20)

San Jose Mercury News: Bring Sanity To Gun Policy For The Mentally Ill
Part of the stigma associated with mental illness is the notion that the mentally ill are uniformly dangerous. It doesn’t help that any time there is a mass shooting, the immediate response is the perpetrator must be crazy. This sad lack of knowledge about the mentally ill is perhaps only eclipsed by our lack of understanding of the underlying causes of gun violence. When the two issues collide, the result is legislative mayhem. (2/20)

Boston Globe: Listening To A Doctor About His Pain 
The opioid epidemic has led to what [Paul] Konowitz believes is a well-intentioned but misguided change in the way doctors prescribe pain medication. Or, more specifically, the way they avoid prescribing pain medication. He thinks there has been an overreaction, an overcorrection, so that many people who really need medication for pain are not getting it. There is evidence backing his theory. (Kevin Cullen, 2/20)

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State Highlights: Ind. House Panel To Revisit Controversial ‘Abortion Reversal’ Bill; Mich. Whooping Cough Cases On The Rise

Outlets report on news from Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Texas and California.

Detroit Free Press: Whooping Cough Cases Keep Climbing In Michigan
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is on the rise in Michigan. The number of cases this year has surpassed 100  and continues to climb, according to preliminary data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Oakland County Health Department. In 2016, there were about 448 cases of whooping cough in the state. In Oakland County last month, there were 31 confirmed and probable cases of the vaccine-preventable disease, compared with four cases in January 2016. (2/17)

The CT Mirror: Insurance Coverage Mandates Would Face More Analysis Under Malloy Proposal 
Patients who testify in support of proposed benefit mandates often share stories about struggles they faced getting needed care or medications. And critics warn legislators that adding mandates increases the cost of insurance premiums. In some cases, they also take issue with the merits of the particular service being considered for mandatory coverage. (Levin Becker, 2/20)

Chicago Tribune: School Workers In State Must Know How To Handle Asthma Crises, New Law Says
Under the new legislation signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in August, all school personnel who work with students must be trained to handle asthma emergencies. School districts must adopt an emergency response protocol for asthma — similar to those used in the case of anaphylaxis or fire. And every child with asthma must have a written “asthma action plan” on file at the school to allow the most efficient and helpful treatment when needed. “Asthma has been a chronic problem for a long time; it did not just rear its ugly head,” said Maureen Damitz, spokeswoman for the Illinois Asthma Consortium which lobbied to get the law passed. “But I think people are more aware that we need to change something.” (Healy, 2/20)

The Associated Press: Doctor-Lawmaker Tries To Restrict Smoking In Tobacco Country
When Dr. Ralph Alvarado was elected to the Kentucky state Senate in 2014, he found his new colleagues had something in common with most of his patients: They knew smoking was bad, they just couldn’t quit. For more than two years, Alvarado has led the effort to restrict smoking in a state with the highest smoking rate in the country. (2/19)

Orlando Sentinel: New Emergency Medical Campaign Aims To Save Lives
Community leaders on Monday announced the launch of a new campaign that they hope will teach bystanders how to intervene during the first crucial minutes to prevent injured people from bleeding to death. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer joined other medical leaders at Orlando Regional Medical Center to promote the national initiative. A person can bleed to death from a serious injury within five to 10 minutes, said Joseph Ibrahim, the trauma medical director. (Russon, 2/20)

WFAA: Doctor Convicted Of Botched Surgery Gets Life Sentence
Life in prison. Those were the words that Christopher Duntsch never wanted to hear. And the words that his patients and their families desperately wanted to hear. The one-time neurosurgeon was sentenced by the 12-member jury to spend the remainder of his life behind bars Monday afternoon. (Eiserer, 2/21)

St. Louis Post Dispatch: Mercy And St. Anthony’s Enter Affiliation Agreement
Mercy and St. Anthony’s Medical Center have entered into an affiliation agreement, hospital officials said Monday. While details of the agreement are still being hashed out, Mercy has agreed to a “substantial capital commitment” at St. Anthony’s, Winthrop Reed, vice chair of St. Anthony’s board, told the Post-Dispatch. For St. Anthony’s, the agreement means one of the last remaining independent hospitals in the St. Louis area will become part of a much-larger health care system. For Chesterfield-based Mercy, with 43 hospitals in four states, the move grows its market share in St. Louis, where it already has four hospitals. (Liss, 2/21)

Arizona Republic: Bleeding, Talking Mannequins Prep Health-Care Workers For Patient Crisis
Volunteers and anatomically correct mannequins that bleed, breathe and talk helped health-care professionals strengthen their lifesaving skills recently in Phoenix. Seventy-five health professionals participated in the intensive two-day training that simulated patients in crisis at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix Center for Simulation and Innovation. (Borgelt, 2/20)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Report: Northeast Ohio Ranks Fourth In Midwest Biomedical Investments
Last year was a big one for the biomedical industry in the Midwest. In the first half of 2016, healthcare startups in the Midwest brought in a record-breaking $1.04 billion. By the end of the year, Midwest healthcare startups brought in $1.7 billion. And Cleveland is near the top of the Midwest, according to a report from BioEnterprise, a Northeast Ohio biomedical business accelerator. Cleveland brought in $198 million dollars in biomedical investments last year, just behind Minneapolis, Chicago and St. Louis. (Bamforth, 2/20)

Cincinnati Enquirer: Disabled Ludlow Teen’s Death From Bedsores, Neglect ‘Makes No Sense’
There was just no holding him back, Terrie Collins-Laytart said last week just days after Joey [Bishop]’s mother and grandparents were charged with manslaughter in his death. The neglect, charges allege, was so severe it led to bed sores that pumped toxins through Joey’s body eventually killing him. The case has seasoned investigators shaking their heads and wondering – like Collins-Laytart – how the 18-year-old became a prisoner in the Ludlow home he shared with his mother and grandparents, why no one seemed to know he lived there and what could have been done to protect him. (Graves and Vogel, 2/20)

Miami Herald: UM’s New LGBTQ Clinic Focuses On Transgender Patients 
UM opened its LGBTQ center in January to serve the needs of the growing population. The new clinic brings together specialists in urology, endocrinology and psychiatry, as well as a team of surgeons to accompany the patient into the operating room. [Christopher] Salgado and other doctors can even perform multiple surgeries on a patient simultaneously, so after a marathon session the patient can emerge with everything done at once. (Harris, 2/20)

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War Of The Words: Accusations Of Sabotage, Harassment Fly As Anthem-Cigna Feud Bubbles Over

The rift that began as the two companies sought federal approval for a mega-merger has grown only deeper after the deal was blocked.

Bloomberg: Anthem, Cigna Blast One Another Over Blocked Insurer Merger 
Cigna Corp. and Anthem Inc. traded accusations of harassment and sabotage in competing lawsuits as the two health companies feud publicly in the wake of a stalled $48 billion merger. Cigna accused Anthem of trying to undermine its business by stealing confidential information and harassing its customers. Anthem blamed Cigna for the deal’s failure, saying its Chief Executive Officer David Cordani sabotaged the companies’ merger when Anthem rejected his demand to be made chief executive officer of the combined entity. (McLaughlin, Harris and Feeley, 2/17)

In other health industry news —

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield To Pay $1.1 Million For Data Breach
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle allegations that it failed to encrypt the personal data of nearly 690,000 policyholders on two laptop computers that were stolen from the company’s Newark, N.J., headquarters in November 2013, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs said Friday. As part of the settlement, Horizon must hire an outside expert to analyze security risks associated with the storage, transmission, and receipt of electronic-protected health information and to submit a report of those findings to the Division of Consumer Affairs within 180 days of the settlement and then annually for two years. (Brubaker, 2/17)

USA Today: Business, Community Groups Boost Health Partnerships
The political divisions that characterize so much of Washington fell away this week, as representatives of business, public health organizations and government said they can work together to improve the health of Americans. Participants at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Health Means Business summit agreed on several ways to boost health to prevent disease and save money, which showed reason for optimism, said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (O’Donnell, 2/17)

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

Despite Costly Failures, Pharma Not Giving Up On Research For Alzheimer’s Medication

Meanwhile, Stat reports on the future landscape for new diabetes treatments and KHN looks at the lethal drugs used in the aid-in-dying cases.

The Wall Street Journal: Alzheimer’s: Pharma’s Great White Whale Is Still Worth Hunting
Alzheimer’s disease is both the largest unmet medical need in the U.S. and the most frustrating challenge for the drug industry. Don’t expect pharma companies to get discouraged anytime soon. Last week marked the latest failed trial of an experimental Alzheimer’s disease treatment when Merck & Co. announced results for verubecestat. Eli Lilly’s solanezumab flunked a clinical trial last November, the third failed late-stage trial for the drug. (Grant, 2/20)

Stat: Where Are All The New Diabetes Drugs?
There are few new drugs on the horizon for diabetes, which affects about 29 million Americans. Most of the treatments in late-stage development are simply improved versions of what’s out there — taken weekly versus daily, or orally instead of by injection. So has pharma run out of ideas in diabetes?  Not exactly. But whether its ideas will ever get to market is another question. There’s plenty of promising science in the early stages of research. Available drugs, however, work pretty well. Given the cost of development and a high bar for approval, pharma can only afford to advance true-blue breakthroughs, and those are hard to come by. (Garde, 2/19)

Kaiser Health News: Docs In Northwest Tweak Aid-In-Dying Drugs To Prevent Prolonged Deaths
Two years after an abrupt price hike for a lethal drug used by terminally ill patients to end their lives, doctors in the Northwest are once again rethinking aid-in-dying medications — this time because they’re taking too long to work. The concerned physicians say they’ve come up with yet another alternative to Seconal, the powerful sedative that was the drug of choice under Death with Dignity laws until prices charged by a Canadian company doubled to more than $3,000 per dose. (Aleccia, 2/21)

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As Health Law Debate Shifts From Theoretical To Tangible, Opponents No Longer Have Loudest Voices

Now that the spotlight is off of the president who created the law, the focus is on the care it provides. The shouts for repeal have quieted as those clamoring for answers about their coverage flood the space. Meanwhile, despite his vocal criticism of the Affordable Care Act, Mike Pence, while governor of Indiana, turned to it when his state was in a crisis.

Politico: How Mike Pence Used Obamacare To Halt Indiana’s HIV Outbreak
When then-Gov. Mike Pence faced the worst public health crisis to hit Indiana in decades, he turned to Obamacare — a program he vilified and voted against. In 2015, as a rash of HIV infections spread through rural southern Indiana, state health officials parachuted into Scott County and enrolled scores of people into Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program so they could get medical care and substance abuse treatment. Many were addicted to opioids and had contracted HIV by sharing dirty needles. (Ehley, 2/20)

The Washington Post: Obamacare Launched A New Wave Of Start-Ups. Now They’re Bracing For What’s Next.
Four years ago, Noah Lang saw an opportunity in Obamacare. With an eye toward the millions of people set to purchase health insurance on their own for the first time, the 29-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur founded a start-up, Stride Health, that helps them compare and choose between plans — and do it all from a smartphone. Steadily and without fanfare, the Affordable Care Act has created a boom in Silicon Valley. (Dwoskin, 2/20)

The Wall Street Journal: The Affordable Care Act: The View From A Hospital CEO
Health care in the U.S. appears to be heading toward dramatic changes for the second time in less than a decade. As president and chief executive of New York-Presbyterian, Steven Corwin will have to maneuver a system with 10 hospitals and $7 billion in annual revenue through what may be years of regulatory uncertainty and upheaval for U.S. hospitals. (Evans, 2/20)

And in news from the states —

Nashville Tennessean: Amid Health Care ‘Chaos,’ Tennesseans Push Lawmakers For Assurances
With Tennessee’s healthcare.gov market for 2018 at a breaking point, some are ramping up calls on federal lawmakers to take action to make sure people aren’t without health insurance options next year. Since Humana’s decision last week to leave the federally run exchange, the Tri-Cities area is the only region of the state that will have two insurers from which residents can choose in 2018. The Greater Knoxville area will have none. Yet, without progress on repeal-and-replace or repair of the Affordable Care Act in Washington, D.C., the exchange’s existence in the state beyond 2017 will depend on business decisions by insurers BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Cigna. (Fletcher, 2/20)

Texas Tribune: UT/TT Poll: Texans Want A Health Care Program That’s Not Called Obamacare 
Texans want to dump the previous president’s signature health care program, but only a small minority want to move on without replacing it, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. If the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, were to be repealed and replaced, 68 percent of Texans said lawmakers should wait until they have a replacement plan worked out before they repeal the current law. A smaller group — 23 percent — would repeal Obamacare immediately and figure out the details of a replacement plan later. (Ramsey, 2/21)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: I Have Obamacare Insurance. What Do I Do Now?
If you are already enrolled in a plan through the ACA, there are ways to maximize your coverage before any changes happen.  Remember those labs, specialist referrals or imaging that your physician recommended, but maybe you’ve postponed?  Now is the time to follow through with them.  Also, talk to your physician about switching from brand-name medications to generics when possible to cut down on future co-pays.  There are many generics that work as well as brand names, and which certain pharmacies offer through discounted prescription plans. (Chan, 2/19)

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Trump Promises Health Plan Will Be Coming ‘In A Couple Of Weeks’

“Just so you understand, our plan will be much better healthcare at a much lower cost,” the president said. “OK? Nothing to complain about.” Meanwhile, Tuesday is the deadline for the Trump administration to decide the actions it will take on controversial insurer bailouts.

The Hill: Trump: ObamaCare Replacement Coming In ‘A Couple Of Weeks’ 
President Trump said on Saturday that a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act will come “in a couple of weeks.” “We are going to be submitting in a couple of weeks a great healthcare plan that’s going to take the place of the disaster known as ObamaCare,” he said at a campaign rally in Melbourne, Fla. “It will be repealed and replaced.” “Just so you understand, our plan will be much better healthcare at a much lower cost,” he added. “OK? Nothing to complain about.” (Greenwood, 2/18)

CQ Roll Call: Appropriators Watch Trump’s Next Move On Obamacare Lawsuit
The Trump administration faces a key legal deadline Tuesday in the push to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law — and it could prompt Republican lawmakers to appropriate funds for a part of the statute they once sued to stop. The Justice Department will tell a federal appeals court what it sees as the future of a lawsuit over appropriations for subsidy payments to health insurance providers under the law  (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), estimated at $175 billion over 10 years. House Republicans filed the lawsuit in 2014 to stop the payments, as a response to a series of President Barack Obama’s unilateral executive actions that they said were unconstitutional. (Ruger and Mejdrich, 2/21)

The Hill: Trump Officials Weigh Fate Of Birth-Control Mandate 
The era of free birth control for women could be coming to an end. The requirement that insurance companies cover contraception at no cost is believed to be on the chopping block now that Tom Price has taken over the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price opposed the mandate as a member of Congress and could take aim at the regulation — and other rules related to ObamaCare — as Republicans in Congress move to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (Hellmann, 2/21)

And in other news on President Donald Trump —

Stat: Trump Attends Controversial Dana-Farber Fundraiser At Mar-A-Lago
President Trump attended Saturday night’s fundraising ball for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which was held at Mar-a-Lago — his Florida home and so-called winter White House. While the Harvard-affiliated Boston hospital has held the posh annual event at the private club since 2011, and in 2008, this year’s gala drew criticism from Dana-Farber’s staff and Harvard medical students, who saw Trump’s actions, especially his executive order on immigration, as in direct conflict with the hospital’s mission. Dana-Farber declined to cancel, saying it was too late to change plans, but said it would avoid “controversial venues” in the future. (Swetlitz, 2/19)

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Don’t Expect Any ‘Bipartisan Kumbaya Moments’ When It Comes To Repeal, McConnell Says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he does not expect any cooperation from Democrats as Congress works toward dismantling and replacing the health law. Meanwhile, The Associated Press breaks down what’s in the Republicans’ plans, and the intra-party divide on the right continues to grow.

The Associated Press: McConnell Intends To Replace ‘Obamacare’ Without Democrats
Republicans will repeal and replace the health care law and overhaul the tax code without Democratic help or votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday. “It’s clear that in the early months it’s going to be a Republicans-only exercise,” the Kentucky senator said at a news conference before lawmakers left for a weeklong President’s Day recess. “We don’t expect any Democratic cooperation on the replacement of Obamacare, we don’t expect any Democratic cooperation on tax reform.” (Werner, 2/17)

The Associated Press: GOP Health Plan: Lower Costs, Better Care, Or Road To Ruin?
Top House Republicans say their outline for replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law is a pathway to greater flexibility and lower costs for consumers. Democrats see a road to ruin for millions who’d face lost coverage and higher medical expenses, particularly the poor. The plan “ensures more choices, lower costs and greater control over your health care,” according to talking points GOP leaders handed lawmakers heading home to face constituents during this week’s recess. (Fram, 2/20)

Modern Healthcare: GOP Anxiety Rises As Conservatives And Moderates Split On ACA Repeal 
Divisions sharpened last week between hard-right and more pragmatic Republicans over both policy and strategy for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Those differences—along with the apparently slow progress in drafting actual legislation that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office on cost and coverage impact—underscore the tough struggle Republicans face in dismantling Obamacare and establishing an alternative system. (Meyer, 2/18)

Bloomberg: Conservatives Object To Obamacare Replacement’s Tax Credits
Some conservative House Republicans are objecting to a major part of the Obamacare replacement outline presented to them by party leaders, underscoring the party’s continuing inability to agree on an alternative health plan. The proposal would allow Americans who lack insurance to buy coverage with refundable tax credits they can receive before the end of a tax year. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said he and other leaders presented the idea during Thursday’s private conference of the House GOP. (Kapur and House, 2/17)

CQ Roll Call: Key Senator Sees Promise In House GOP Health Care Proposal
A key Republican senator on Friday said the House GOP’s health care proposal was written with input from the Senate, and the House would ultimately pass a bill the upper chamber can accept.  Meanwhile, Democrats are spurring their allies to rally in support of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, which Republicans want to replace. House Republicans on Thursday began their recess with a committee document to help them respond to constituents’ questions about plans to repeal and replace the 2010 law. It outlines proposals for age-based tax credits, an expansion of health savings accounts and transitioning out the Medicaid expansion. (Siddons, 2/17)

CQ HealthBeat: GOP Leaps On Congressional Review Act To Kill Obama Rules
A law that’s been successfully used only once until now is the conduit for a whole lot of action on Capitol Hill. Republicans in Congress are expected to send a stream of bills — most of which require a single sentence — to President Donald Trump’s desk, using a process to repeal agency rules known as the Congressional Review Act (PL 104-121). The act was tucked into 1996 legislation tied to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s famous “Contract With America.” So far, Trump has signed two of the rule repeals into law. (Mejdrich, 2/21)

Meanwhile, insurers weigh in on Republicans’ replace plans and more —

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Voice Concern Over House GOP’s Outline For Health Law Repeal
The new House Republican plan, whose backers include House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), is far from a complete bill, and the limited summary highlighted many GOP divisions over the health overhaul’s future. President Donald Trump has promised to deliver an initial ACA replacement plan next month. Still, insures saw the House document as a key signal and parsed it closely. Many were concerned that they found no answers to some of their most important questions—and some of what they did find was alarming. For instance, insurers said, the outline promised to immediately end enforcement of the ACA’s coverage mandate but appeared to offer no replacement mechanism that would prod healthy consumers to purchase plans. (Wilde Mathews, 2/17)

Kaiser Health News: Health Law’s 10 Essential Benefits: A Look At What’s At Risk In GOP Overhaul
As Republicans look at ways to replace or repair the health law, many suggest shrinking the list of services insurers are required to offer in individual and small group plans would reduce costs and increase flexibility. That option came to the forefront last week when Seema Verma, who is slated to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Trump administration, noted at her confirmation hearing that coverage for maternity services should be optional in those health plans. Maternity coverage is a popular target and one often mentioned by health law critics, but other items also could be watered down or eliminated. (Andrews, 2/21)

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

Research Roundup: Medicaid Block Grants; Job Loss And The ACA; Growing HIV Coverage

Each week, KHN compiles a selection of recently released health policy studies and briefs.

Urban Institute: What TANF Can Teach Us About Block Granting Social Services
White House officials and congressional leaders have talked about seizing the opportunity to pass sweeping changes to federal antipoverty programs. One potential change is to give block grants of federal funds to states and allow states greater flexibility …. House Speaker Paul Ryan has long contended that expanding the block grant model to other facets of the safety net — such as Medicaid and food stamps — would afford states the flexibility to drive innovation in combating poverty. But examining the results of welfare reform after two decades presents a more cautionary tale …. Simply put, all states ended up with far fewer funds and a diminished ability to meet their residents’ needs. (Hahn and Coffey, 2/7)

The Kaiser Family Foundation: Current Flexibility In Medicaid: An Overview Of Federal Standards And State Options
This brief provides an overview of current federal standards and state options in Medicaid to help inform upcoming debates about increasing state flexibility in the program as part of efforts to restructure Medicaid financing. Today, states operate their Medicaid programs within federal standards and a wide range of state options in exchange for federal matching funds that are provided with no limit. Each state Medicaid program is unique, reflecting states’ use of existing flexibility and waiver authority to design their programs to meet their specific needs and priorities. As proposals to restructure Medicaid financing develop, it will be important to examine what additional flexibilities they would provide to states and what standards, accountability and enrollee protections would remain for states to access federal funds. (Artiga et al., 1/31)

Urban Institute/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Recent Evidence On The ACA And Employment: Has The ACA Been A Job Killer? 2016 Update
We find no evidence to support claims that the ACA has been a job killer. Through 2016, the ACA had little to no adverse effect on employment and usual hours worked per week. For both measures, levels in 2014, 2015, and 2016 are statistically identical to our projections based on patterns existing before 2014, the year the major provisions of the ACA went into effect. Our conclusion applies to the full sample of nonelderly persons and to subgroups of nonelderly persons based on gender and educational attainment. Levels of part-time work (29 or fewer hours per week) have fallen since 2014, but remain at somewhat higher levels than would be expected given recent declines in the unemployment rate and overall economic improvement. (Garrett, Kaestner and Gangopadhyaya, 2/16)

The Kaiser Family Foundation: Insurance Coverage Changes For People With HIV Under The ACA
This brief provides the first national estimates of changes in insurance coverage among people with HIV since the implementation of the ACA. It is based on analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We find that coverage increased significantly for people with HIV due to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion; indeed, increased Medicaid coverage in expansion states drove a nationwide increase in coverage for people with HIV. In addition, the share relying on the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program also increased. (Kates and Dawson, 2/14)

Brookings/USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics: Re-Balancing Medical And Social Spending To Promote Health: Increasing State Flexibility To Improve Health Through Housing
The health impacts of interventions that improve economic conditions such as household income are still the subject of considerable debate. Some economists find little support to show that public transfer payments improve health outcomes, while others argue that federal assistance frees family income to spend on better access to health care, and thereby improves population health. Some researchers have identified evidence that stressful work environments and educational disparities are social mechanisms with a deleterious impact on health, but the evidence that increased public spending targeting these mechanisms will improve health outcomes is nascent. In contrast, the research showing that expenditures that improve access to safe, affordable housing improve population health is relatively strong. (Butler, Matthew and Cabello, 2/15)

Here is a selection of news coverage of other recent research:

MedPage Today: Study: Beware The Snippy, Snarky Surgeon?
The more complaints lodged at surgeons, the more likely it was for their patients to suffer complications after going under the knife, a study found, helping explain why operators with the least favorable reviews get sued the most. Surgeons who had a history of unsolicited patient reviews — often regarding rudeness and intimidation directed at patients and other healthcare professionals alike — were tied to greater risks of: Complications for patients …. Surgical complications …. Patient readmissions. (Lou, 2/15)

Reuters: Salt Reduction Policies Cost-Effective Even Without Healthcare Savings
Government policies designed to reduce how much salt people eat may be cost-effective even without considering the potential healthcare savings, a recent study suggests. That’s because efforts to curb salt use through policies like public education and industry agreements would not cost that much relative to their potential to reduce mortality and disability, researchers estimate. (Rapaport, 2/10)

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

State Highlights: Ga. Senate Panel Amends But OKs Surprise Medical Bill Measure; Conn. Non-Profit Hospitals Fight Bid To Make Them Pay Local Property Taxas

Outlets report on news from Georgia, Connecticut, Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Wisconsin, Ohio and Louisiana.

Georgia Health News: After Tweak In Payment Formula, Senate Committee OKs Remedy For ‘Surprise’ Billing
A Georgia Senate panel Thursday passed legislation to halt ‘’surprise’’ medical billing – but not without a last-minute amendment that changed the contentious payment formula. The Health and Human Services Committee approved Senate Bill 8, which will address those situations in which patients get unexpected bills from providers who are not in their network, even though the hospital is a network facility. (Miller, 2/16)

The CT Mirror: CT Hospitals Launch TV Ad To Protest New Tax Proposal
Connecticut’s hospital industry launched a new television ad Thursday to protest Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to end nonprofit hospitals’ exemption from local property taxation. The Connecticut Hospital Association announced the commercial will air starting today on network and cable television stations, and also can be seen at http://nomorehospitaltax.org. The commercial opens by listing a variety of occupations and one common thread among the people in all of them: they all pay a price when taxes rise on Connecticut hospitals. (Phaneuf, 2/16)

The CT Mirror: Budget Cuts Cost CT Medical Examiner’s Office Full Accreditation 
The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has lost its full accreditation and was downgraded to provisional status because of staffing and facility shortcomings driven largely by budget cuts. The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), which ordered the downgrade, will reassess Connecticut’s status in September, the state office announced this week. (Phaneuf, 2/16)

The Star Tribune: Report On Minnesota Hospital Errors Sees Problems With Lost Tissue Samples 
The misplacing of irreplaceable biological specimens has proved to be a vexing problem for Minnesota hospitals, which reported 31 instances in the 12 months that ended last Oct. 6. The state’s 13th annual report on hospital “adverse events,” released Thursday, included 336 reportable mistakes, including operations on the wrong body parts and disabling medication errors. But few were as common as lost tissue samples, which also can have serious consequences. (Olson, 2/17)

KCUR: House Committee OKs Involuntary Hold Plan For Kansans In Mental Health Crisis 
A bill that would allow treatment centers to detain Kansans in mental health crisis for up to three days moved forward Thursday after months of work to develop a compromise. A similar bill proposed last year raised concerns that it would deprive Kansans with mental illnesses of their due process rights. A committee of law enforcement officers, treatment providers, mental health advocates and others met six times between legislative sessions to come up with a compromise bill that still fulfilled the original goal of providing short-term mental health care. (Wingerter, 2/17)

Stat: Texas Board Recommends Sanctions Against Stanislaw Burzynski
Along-running battle between the Texas Medical Board and controversial Houston doctor Stanislaw Burzynski could be coming to a head. The board said this week that it had proposed $380,000 in fines and a stiff set of sanctions for Burzynski’s failure to adhere to proper medical procedures in treating cancer patients. The decision is preliminary, and will be submitted and formally reviewed on March 3. (Tedeshci, 2/16)

Boston Globe: For This Hospital Chaplain, Work Is A Matter Of Life And Death 
As [Alyssa] Adreani, 41, likes to point out, [she] isn’t hanging out in the Newton hospital’s chapel and doesn’t wear a collar or a cross. She makes the rounds of the neonatal intensive care unit, oncology, ICU, orthopedics, and medical/surgical units, following her personal Golden Rule of chaplaincy: “Wear comfortable shoes.” The Globe spoke with Adreani about how hospital chaplains are considered part of the treatment team, sometimes even improving health outcomes. (Atoji Keene, 2/16)

Seattle Times: State Regulators Investigating Swedish’s Cherry Hill Hospital, Top Surgeon 
State health regulators have launched an investigation into the practices of Swedish Health Services’ Cherry Hill hospital, days after a Seattle Times report uncovered wide-ranging concerns about patient care at the facility. David Johnson, a spokesman with the state Department of Health, said Thursday a case-management team authorized the new investigation after reviewing The Seattle Times’ findings. Johnson added that the state Medical Commission, which handles issues involving specific doctors, was in the process of investigating complaints filed against Dr. Johnny Delashaw. (Baker, 2/16)

Arizona Republic: New Flu-Tracking App Uses Maricopa County As Beta Site
A California-based health diagnostics company has chosen Maricopa County as the pilot testing site for Communidy, a free web app that allows users to see the age and county of people who currently have the flu. The app, which displays real-time data from doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics and labs, may encourage people to get vaccinated early, said Machrina Leach, nurse program manager at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. (Bosch and Jha, 2/16)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: United Community Center Opens Third Residential Treatment Facility
This month, the United Community Center, commonly known as UCC, opened its third residential treatment facility for people working to overcome alcoholism and drug addictions. The $1.1 million residence, named Latinas Unidas II, will enable 16 more women to participate in UCC’s residential treatment program at any given time. The new residence, UCC’s second for women, also will treat women who are pregnant or who have infant children, and the program will include prenatal and post-partum care, child care coordination and parenting classes. (Boulton, 2/16)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Summa Health Gift Establishes Traumatic Stress Chair 
Longtime philanthropists Jim and Vanita Oelschlager have donated more than $4 million to Summa Heath over the last three decades. This week, couple’s foundation provided another donation to Summa Health to establish a Chair in Traumatic Stress. Dr. Patrick Palmieri, director of the Traumatic Stress Center, will serve as the first Oelschlager Chair. As director of the Summa Health Traumatic Stress Center, Palmieri is responsible for the center’s clinical, training and research activities for patients experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. (Becka, 2/16)

Health News Florida: Students Discover Lead In Tap Water May Be Common In Older Homes 
Last semester, the students in Laura Manke’s community cares class embarked on a project, collecting samples of tap water from their homes.  And testing provided by University of South Florida researchers revealed that all of the 46 samples contained lead.Fortunately, the amount of lead in the water in their homes fell below levels that would trigger action under Environmental Protection Agency standards. But experts, including the EPA, say any amount of lead is not good for the body, especially in children under six. Damage can be permanent. (Ochoa, 2/16)

Pioneer Press: Forest Lake Nurse Avoids Jail Time For Stealing Patient’s Medication
A Forest Lake nurse who pretended to check on a patient so he could steal the man’s medication evaded jail time for the offense. Gregory Thomas Welcher, 30, was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court Thursday to five years probation on one count of felony-level theft. He also was ordered to spend one day in jail, but was given credit for the day he already logged at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility. Welcher pleaded guilty to the charge this past December. (Horner, 2/16)

Shreveport Times: Workshop Lets Caregivers Take Care Of Themselves
Social workers seeking a moment of rest from careers steeped in others’ suffering participated in a free “Compassion Fatigue” workshop on Thursday. The workshop, presented by the Noel Memorial United Methodist Church’s arts program, aimed at offering those who take care of others a chance to center and to take care of themselves. (Talamo, 2/16)

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Fla. Law Barring Docs From Discussing Guns With Patients Violates Free Speech, Court Rules

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 10-1 ruling, said, “Florida does not have carte blanche to restrict the speech of doctors and medical professionals on a certain subject.”

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)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Federal Appeals Court: Doctors Can Ask About Guns In The Home
A federal appeals court, in a case that has pitted the First Amendment against the Second Amendment, sided Thursday with free speech. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Florida’s so-called “Docs and Glocks” law, which prohibited doctors from asking patients about guns in the home, violated a physician’s free speech rights. (Cook, 2/16)

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Exclusive CRISPR Licenses ‘Bottleneck’ Innovation, Legal Experts Argue

Licensing deals cut by UC-Berkeley and Massachusetts’ Broad Institute may be limiting the potentially lie-saving applications of this gene-editing technology, according to assertions made by intellectual property experts in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Stat: Exclusive CRISPR Licenses Slow Development Of Therapies, Legal Experts Argue
The exclusive licenses granted to three for-profit companies on key discoveries about the revolutionary genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 threaten to “bottleneck” its use “to discover and develop useful human therapeutics,” patent experts argued in a paper published on Thursday. What the exclusive licenses have done “is give an entire industry to … companies that will never be able to fully exploit it,” Jorge Contreras of the University of Utah, a co-author of the paper in Science, said in an interview. “And that may hold back the development of therapies.” (Begley, 2/16)

San Jose Mercury News: UC-Berkeley CRISPR License Could Hinder Innovation
A smart biotech company could have a great idea for how to use gene editing to develop a new lifesaving therapy — but because of the way licensing deals have been cut by UC-Berkeley and Massachusetts’ Broad Institute, it would never get a chance to try it. That’s the assertion of intellectual property experts in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, who criticize the licensing landscape around the taxpayer-funded and powerful new tool called CRISPR-Cas9, warning it could limit its promise. (Krieger, 2/16)

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Lawsuit Alleges United Healthcare Overcharged Medicare For Advantage Plan Customers

The lawsuit, which was unsealed Thursday after a five-year investigation by the Department of Justice, suggests the company may have improperly collected “hundreds of millions” of dollars by claiming patients were sicker than they actually were.

Modern Healthcare: DOJ Joins Medicare Advantage Fraud Lawsuit Against UnitedHealth
The U.S. Justice Department has joined a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that UnitedHealth Group and affiliated health plans have been gaming the Medicare program and fraudulently collecting millions of dollars by claiming patients were sicker than they really were. The lawsuit, initially brought in 2011 and unsealed Thursday after a five year-long investigation by the Justice Department, alleges that Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth has inflated its plan members’ risk scores since at least 2006 in order to boost payments under Medicare Advantage’s risk adjustment program. (Livingston, 2/16)

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