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If you feel the “Bern”
It might be a health issue.
Is it contagious?

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Spending And Fiscal Battles

Obama Leans On Health Care Savings, Targets Opioid Abuse And Cancer In $4.15 Trillion Budget

The Department of Health and Human Services's funding would bump up to $1.1 trillion and the National Institutes of Health would get $33.1 billion. The president also proposes deep health program cuts to save $375 billion over the next 10 years.

The New York Times: Obama’s Last Budget, And Last Budget Battle With Congress
President Obama on Tuesday sent his final annual budget proposal to a hostile Republican-led Congress, rejecting the lame-duck label to declare that his plan “is about looking forward,” with new initiatives that include $19 billion for a broad cybersecurity plan. Mr. Obama’s proposed 10-year savings would push deficits down again for a couple years and offset costs of the president’s proposed initiatives. Then deficits would begin increasing again with the retirement and health costs of aging Americans. (Calmes, 2/9)

The Washington Post: HHS Budget Would Rise To $1.1 Trillion And Encourage States To Expand Medicaid
Spending for the Department of Health and Human Services would increase to $1.1 trillion under a proposal that would add large mandatory expenditures for cancer research and fighting drug addictions while slightly decreasing the department’s discretionary programs. The budget furthers the administration’s efforts to move toward new payment methods in Medicare, including a new competitive bidding system for private Medicare Advantage health plans. (Goldstein, 2/9)

The Associated Press: A Look At Obama's Final Budget Proposal
President Barack Obama proposed a record $4.1 trillion budget on Tuesday. Here's a look at each agency and department. ... [Department of Health and Human Services is] up 3 percent. Responding to an epidemic of heroin addiction and abuse of prescription painkillers, Obama's budget would provide $1 billion in new funding over the next two years for states to help more people get and complete treatment. The money would be allocated to states based on the severity of the epidemic and the strength of their strategy. The budget also includes $500 million in new funding to increase access to treatment for people with serious mental health problems. (2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama’s Budget Has Modest Provisions For Affordable Care Act
The Obama administration stopped short of writing a detailed prescription for its signature health law into the president’s final budget, but called for growth for the nation’s premier agency for biomedical research for the first time in a decade. In the fiscal 2017 budget proposal, widely seen as a template for a Democratic successor, officials stuck to modest recommendations for the Affordable Care Act aimed at encouraging more states to expand their Medicaid programs as part of the law, and tweaking its so-called ‘Cadillac tax’ on high-cost health plans. (Radnofsky and Burton, 2/9)

Bloomberg: Wall Street Partners Targeted For Obamacare Tax In Budget Plan
Some high-earning partners in hedge funds, private-equity firms and other businesses organized as so-called pass-throughs would pay a 3.8 percent health-care income tax under President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget request. The proposal would extend a “net investment income tax” for Medicare that’s been in place since 2013 to taxpayers who have successfully characterized their income in ways the tax doesn’t reach, according to Obama administration officials. Combined with another provision, which is designed to require more business owners to pay self-employment taxes, the change is projected to raise $271.7 billion over the next decade. (Browning, 2/9)

The Washington Post: Budget Breakdown: What The White House Wants To Spend Money On
The CDC is seeking $15 million in new funding to improve health and wellness for Native Americans and $30 million in mandatory funding for suicide prevention. The latter is part of the administration’s proposal to boost federal mental health spending by $500 million over two years to improve access to care and prevent suicides. ... Funding for Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot,” advances in precision medicine and research on the complexity of the brain highlight the president’s $33.1 billion proposed 2017 budget for the National Institutes of Health. About $680 million would expand clinical trials to include more minorities and others who suffer from higher cancer rates. (Sun and Bernstein, 2/9)

Bloomberg: Obama Targets Drug Costs In Health Section Of Final Budget
President Barack Obama proposed $375 billion in spending cuts to U.S. health programs in his fiscal 2017 budget, including deep reductions to rates the U.S. pays drugmakers for their products, and changes to how doctors and hospitals care for patients. The proposals are part of the $4.1 trillion budget that the Obama administration is proposing, which starts Oct. 1. Some items -- like cuts to drug spending under Medicare -- have been proposed before. With a Republican-controlled Congress, it’s unlikely that many, or any, of them will become law. The proposed savings would be realized over 10 years. (Tracer, 2/9)

USA Today: Obama's Last Budget Proposal Would Spend $4.1 Trillion
"The budget that we’re releasing today reflects my priorities and the priorities that I believe will help advance security and prosperity in America for many years to come," President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House. "It adheres to last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. It drives down the deficit. It includes smart savings on health care, immigration, tax reform." (Korte, 2/9)

Campaign 2016

Trump, Sanders Win New Hampshire

With the results, voters sent a clear anti-establishment message Tuesday night.

The Washington Post: Trump Notches An Easy Victory In New Hampshire’s Republican Primary
Donald Trump resoundingly won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary Tuesday night, giving the billionaire mogul his first victory in an improbable and brash campaign that already has turned American politics upside down. On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders notched a decisive win over Hillary Clinton in a state she had won in 2008. (Rucker and Costa, 2/10)

Politico: Trump Vs. Sanders?
There is no ignoring it now, the American electorate’s disregard for establishment politicians promising incremental change. If the country’s fatigue with the prospect of a Clinton-Bush presidential matchup has hovered above this 2016 race like a latent current of electricity, Tuesday’s New Hampshire results were the long-awaited lightning strike. (Stokols, 2/10)

The Seattle Times: Election Night Highlights New Hampshire's Heroin Crisis; How Does King County Compare?
In the run-up to today’s presidential primaries in New Hampshire, candidates, voters and the national media have focused attention on the state’s growing heroin and opiate problem. In USA Today, Manchester, N.H.’s police chief called the state’s heroin problem “an apocalypse.” NBC News billed the state’s “heroin crisis” as a “hidden war.” Fox Business labeled it an “epidemic.” (Bush, 2/9)

NBC News: New Hampshire Primary Could Fundamentally Change Both Political Parties
[Donald] Trump is essentially creating a political wing of his own, defined by his outlandish promises to singularly change American government with his leadership and business acumen and his ability to tap into the concerns many Americans have about illegal immigration, the threat of home-grown terrorism, the rising cost of health care and other threats to the middle class. [Sen. Bernie] Sanders has pushed well beyond the liberalism of past progressive candidates like Bill Bradley and Howard Dean, directly arguing America should be more like countries in Western Europe that have much larger safety nets and define themselves as socialist, not capitalist. (Bacon, Jr., 2/10)

Meanwhile, The Washington Post looks at veteran health care claims made by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Susan B. Anthony List find something to agree on —

The Washington Post's Fact Checker: Democrats’ Claims That A Koch-Backed Group Wants To ‘Privatize’ The VA
During an exchange about veterans’ health care, moderator Rachel Maddow asked the two candidates: “How will you win the argument on that issue given the problems that have been exposed at the V.A. in the last few years? What’s your argument that the V.A. should still exist and should not be privatized?” Maddow cited efforts to “abolish” or privatize large portions of the VA. Then, just days after the debate, Clinton was quoted referring to the plan to “abolish the Veterans’ Administration.” Such an effort is most closely associated with Concerned Veterans for America, a veterans advocacy group in the Koch brothers’ political network. What exactly is the group’s proposal to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs? (Ye Hee Lee, 2/10)

Politico: Why An Anti-Abortion Group Is Applauding NARAL
Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List announced its support for pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, on at least one thing. On Monday NARAL sent an email to supporters asking them to sign a petition requesting that the hosts of Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Milwaukee, PBS’ NewsHour's Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, ask the candidates about abortion rights. (Collins, 2/9)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

Nebraska Medicaid Chief To Testify Against Bill To Expand The Program

The official says he believes the cost of expanding Medicaid under the federal health law would make the program "ultimately not sustainable." Also, a key lawmaker who opposes expansion in Kansas stages a vote to show that the proposal does not have support in the legislature.

Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star: HHS Opposes Expanded Health Care With Medicaid
A proposal that would expand health care insurance coverage for more than 100,000 Nebraskans by accessing available federal Medicaid dollars would cost the state more than an estimated $100 million a year over a 10-year period, state senators were told Tuesday. Calder Lynch, state Medicaid director for the Department of Health and Human Services, said he will testify in opposition to the legislative bill (LB1032) at its public hearing on Wednesday. At a briefing for news media representatives in conjunction with distribution of a 19-page analysis to members of the Legislature, Lynch said he believes the proposal may be "ultimately not sustainable." (Walton, 2/9)

Wichita (Kan.) Eagle: Kansas Senator’s Attempt To Force Medicaid Vote Is Shot Down
An attempt to force a vote on Medicaid expansion in the Kansas Senate was blocked Tuesday. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the Senate’s most ardent opponent of Medicaid expansion, offered an amendment to expand the program in an attempt to show supporters it cannot pass in the Senate. Pilcher-Cook, the Senate Public Health and Welfare chair, said expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act would lead to higher taxes and higher health care costs. (Lowry, 2/9)


Acquisitions, Prescription Drug Sales Help Boost CVS Profit

The drugstore operator and pharmacy benefits manager's postings were in line with analysts' predictions for the fourth quarter.

The Wall Street Journal: CVS Profit Grows On Higher Sales Of Prescription Drugs
CVS Health Corp. reported higher profit and sales in its fourth quarter, as rising sales of prescription drugs offset a slight drop in sales in the front-end of its stores, where traffic continues to erode. ... The results were also boosted by two recent acquisitions that allow CVS to cover more patients: Omnicare Inc., which dispenses drugs to places like nursing homes; and Target Corp.’s pharmacy business, which gives CVS nearly 1,700 more locations. As both those acquisitions become integrated, CVS plans to market them aggressively to help sign up more clients to its network. (Dulaney and Ziobro, 2/9)

Bloomberg: CVS Profit In Line With Estimates As Pharmacy Sales Increase
CVS Health Corp. earnings matched analysts’ earnings estimates in the fourth quarter, after the August acquisition of nursing-home pharmacy Omnicare helped drive sales growth at its drugstores. Earnings were $1.53 a share excluding one-time items, the Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based company said in a statement, reiterating its 2016 earnings forecast. Fourth-quarter sales in the retail-pharmacies division rose 12 percent, with about half of the increase coming from the long-term care business bought as part of Omnicare. That deal also boosted revenue at the pharmacy benefit management business, which contracts with health insurers and employers. (Langreth, 2/9)

The Associated Press: CVS Meets 4Q Profit Forecasts, Reaffirms 2016 Outlook
Acquisitions helped CVS Health's fourth-quarter profit climb 13 percent, and leaders of the drugstore operator and pharmacy benefits manager said Tuesday that they expect to reap more gains from their deal making later this year. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company spent more than $10 billion to buy pharmaceutical distributor Omnicare in a deal that closed last summer and about $1.9 billion to take over the pharmacy and clinic business of retail giant Target Corp. (Murphy, 2/9)

Reuters: CVS Health Forecasts First-Quarter Profit Below Estimates
CVS Health Corp (CVS.N), the No.2 U.S. drugstore chain by store count, forecast current-quarter profit below analysts' estimates as customer traffic to its retail stores slows. Shares of the company, which sells items such as personal care products, over-the-counter drugs and snacks at its retail stores, fell 2.4 percent in premarket trading on Tuesday. (Patnaik, 2/9)

Centene Profits Continue To Grow; Blue Shield Of California Is Top Pick On State Exchange

Also, CBS News details how health savings accounts work.

The Wall Street Journal: Centene Profit Continues To Grow With Membership
Centene Corp., a Medicaid-focused health insurer, reported its profit rose 5.7% in the final quarter of the year as a key measure of the company’s medical costs fell and the company boosted its number of managed care members, but it also lowered its guidance for the year.The company said that its Medicaid business grew 30% to include 3.5 million members. (Steele, 2/9)

Kaiser Health News: Blue Shield Top Choice On California Exchange
For the first time in three years, Blue Shield of California leads enrollment in the state’s insurance exchange while Oscar, a closely watched newcomer, experienced a slow start. The Covered California exchange said it won’t release enrollment figures by company until later this month, and insurers declined to share specifics until then. But interviews with industry officials indicate some insurers, such as Blue Shield and Molina Healthcare Inc., picked up more business while others lost ground during the Affordable Care Act’s third open enrollment. (Terhune, 2/10)

CBS News: How To Save Taxes By Saving For Medical Bills
If you have a high-deductible health plan -- and an increasing number of Americans do -- it may be time to open a Health Savings Account. It lets you save on your income taxes because contributions to an HSA are deductible, just like contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts. (Kristof, 2/9)


Cigna, Novartis Reach Pay-For-Performance Deal For Heart Drug

The agreement between the U.S. insurer and Swiss drug maker is one of the few such performance-based arrangements that have been made public. Also in the news, Sanofi's call on a new inhalable insulin approach misses the mark and Regeneron's results continue to create expectations.

Reuters: Insurer Cigna And Novartis Set Heart-Drug Price Based On Health Outcome
U.S.-based health insurer Cigna Corp and Novartis AG have agreed on a performance-based price for the Swiss drugmaker's new heart drug, Entresto, Cigna said on Monday. The agreement is one of the few performance-based deals that have been made public by drugmakers and U.S. managed-care companies, who say they have been having more discussions about linking price to health outcome in order to cut unneeded drug spending. (2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: How A Sanofi Diabetes Bet Went Wrong
The history of inhalable insulins for diabetes care is full of disappointments, but Sanofi SA thought a new approach would turn all of that around. It was wrong. The French drugmaker last month ended a licensing pact with MannKind Corp. for the rights to sell the insulin inhaler Afrezza, saying that despite substantial marketing efforts, the product was unlikely to reach even the lowest patient levels anticipated. Sanofi’s bet on inhaled insulin shows the strain pharmaceutical chiefs are under to acquire innovative products when their own pipelines aren’t delivering. (Roland and Bisserbe, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Regeneron: Good Results, Great Expectations
Despite some bumps in the road, the growth story is still intact at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Trouble is, a solid outlook isn’t enough to push shares higher in this unforgiving market. Regeneron reported fourth-quarter revenue of $1.1 billion and adjusted earnings per share of $2.83 on Tuesday. Both grew solidly while also falling short of expectations. (Grant, 2/9)

FDA Panel Recommendation On Arthritis Drug Knockoff Could Clear Way For More Biosimilars

The non-binding approval of the lower-cost version of Johnson & Johnson's drug Remicade could signal the Food and Drug Administration will use looser criteria for marketing approval than some people expected, analysts say. In other FDA news, the agency cracks down on a Florida stem cell clinic.

The Wall Street Journal: Panel Recommends FDA Approval Of Remicade Knockoff
A U.S. regulatory panel vote on Tuesday is a win for companies developing lower-cost copies of pricey biotechnology drugs, but it could be a while before patients see them. An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend the agency approve the sale of a knockoff version of Johnson & Johnson’s arthritis drug Remicade, which had U.S. sales of $4.45 billion last year. The copy was developed by Celltrion Inc. and licensed to Pfizer Inc. (Loftus, 2/9)

The Associated Press: FDA Panel Backs Lower-Cost Version Of J&J's Top-Selling Drug
Federal health advisers on Tuesday endorsed a lower-cost version of Johnson & Johnson's blockbuster Remicade, a pricey biotech medicine used to treat a number of inflammatory diseases. The non-binding recommendation could clear the way for the cheaper medication from Celltrion, which would only be the second in a new class of quasi-generic biotech drugs to reach the U.S. market. These drugs, already available in Europe, have the potential to generate billions of dollars in savings for insurers, doctors and patients in coming years. (Perrone, 2/9)

Health News Florida: FDA: Florida Stem Cell Clinic Violates Law
A South Florida clinic that promotes controversial stem-cell treatments for a wide range of ailments is among the centers receiving a written warning that it is violating federal public health laws. The U.S Food and Drug Administration’s letter was addressed to Dr. Thomas A. Gionis, owner and chief surgeon of the Miami Stem Cell Treatment Center located in Boca Raton. Gionis also owns a stem cell treatment center in Irvine, Calif. (Gentry, 2/9)


Medicare Is Considering New Method To Pay For Drugs Administered By Doctors

Federal officials may set up a pilot program that would test how limiting reimbursement affects doctors’ choice of drugs. Also in Medicare news, a federal court revives a hospital industry's lawsuit over the long wait for appeals on payment disputes, and the government details how changes in Medicare prescription drug policy has saved money for seniors.

Bloomberg: Medicare Weighing Changes To Doctor Drug Payments, Memo Shows
The U.S. is mulling changes to how the Medicare program pays physicians for administering expensive cancer drugs and other medications given in doctors’ offices, according to a memo from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The memo tells Medicare contractors who process payments to set up a system allowing the government to vary by geographic location how much it reimburses doctors for the drugs they administer. The government could then set up a pilot program to test how limiting reimbursement in Medicare Part B, which pays for seniors’ medical services and supplies, affects doctors’ choice of drugs, according to the memo that was posted on the CMS website. (Tracer and Damouni, 2/9)

Reuters: D.C. Circuit Revives Hospitals' Lawsuit Over Medicare Appeal Delays
A federal appeals court has reopened a lawsuit by the country's leading hospital industry group against the U.S. government over delays in deciding appeals of Medicare reimbursement determinations. Judge David Tatel of the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was "caught between two Congressionally assigned tasks" - deciding Medicare appeals within set time limits while also carrying out an antifraud program that has caused the number of appeals to skyrocket. (Pierson, 2/9)

Modern Healthcare: Ruling Gives Hospitals Hope On RAC Appeals Backlog
Hospitals persuaded a federal appeals court to give new life to their legal fight to force HHS to work more quickly through a backlog of disputed findings by Medicare's controversial recovery audit contractors. A lower court had dismissed the case in December 2014, saying the delay in processing RAC appeals wasn't unreasonable enough to elicit an order from the court and that HHS and Congress should work together to resolve the issue. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that decision Tuesday (PDF) and sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration. (Schencker, 2/9)

Modern Healthcare: Medicare Beneficiaries Have Saved $20 Billion On Prescription Drugs Since 2010
Nearly 10.7 million Medicare beneficiaries have received discounts totaling over $20.8 billion on prescription drugs, an average of $1,945 per beneficiary, since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. According to new HHS data released Monday, nearly 5.2 million seniors and people with disabilities received discounts of over $5.4 billion, for an average of $1,054 per beneficiary in 2015 alone. The savings in 2015 is a 12% increase compared to the amount saved in 2014, when 5.1 million Medicare beneficiaries received discounts of $4.8 billion. That equaled an average of $941 per beneficiary in 2014, the report said. (Sandler, 2/8)

Health IT

New Digital Ventures Let Consumers Comparison Shop To Find Lowest Drug Prices

GoodRx and Blink Health want to utilize technology to let patients find the cheapest generic options available. In other health IT news, The Washington Post examines how the problems at Zenefits reflect the larger disconnect when Silicon Valley startups try to revolutionize the health care industry, and a former Google executive is tapped to lead a cancer diagnostics firm.

The New York Times: Taming Drug Prices By Pulling Back The Curtain Online
Americans have come to rely on their smartphones to help them do seemingly everything, like hailing a taxi and comparing prices of dog food. But when it comes to buying prescription drugs, consumers still find the process maddeningly antiquated. Now, a few entrepreneurs say they are aiming to fundamentally change the way people buy drugs, bringing the industry into the digital age by disclosing the lowest prices for generic prescriptions to allow comparison-shopping. (Thomas, 2/9)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: What The Turmoil At Zenefits Reveals About Silicon Valley’s Big Problem With Health Care
Zenefits was reportedly one of the fastest-growing companies in Silicon Valley, a region famous for giving birth to companies that undergo tremendous growth spurts. The startup, which distributes free administrative software to businesses and works as a health insurance broker, was dealt a serious blow last fall when a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that the company had not been obtaining licenses necessary to sell insurance in individual states. ... Zenefits is just the latest example of a high-flying startup trying to revolutionize the health-care space, only to discover along the way that Silicon Valley's philosophy of disruptive innovation can be more difficult to apply to health care than in the digital world. (Johnson, 2/9)

Reuters: Former Google Executive To Lead Cancer Diagnostics Firm
Grail, a healthcare firm developing a blood test for early cancer detection, named former Google X Senior Vice President Jeff Huber as its CEO Wednesday. Huber said he wants to apply his experience building large-scale data systems to improve the gene sequencing technology used by Grail to detect cancerous material in patients who show no symptoms of the disease. (Todd, 2/10)

Veterans' Health Care

Study Finds VA Hospitals Providing 'High-Quality Care'

Researchers looked at death and readmission rates and found the ones at Veteran's Affairs hospitals were similar to those of other facilities. In other news, the House passes legislation aimed at improving mental health and suicide prevention services for female veterans and a bill to increase oversight over VA construction projects following a funding debacle at a Colorado hospital.

The Associated Press: VA Hospitals Compare Favorably On Deaths, Readmission Rates
Veterans' hospitals compare pretty favorably with others when it comes to treating older men with three common conditions — heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia, according to a study on death rates and readmissions. Chances for dying or being readmitted within 30 days of treatment for those conditions varied only slightly for patients hospitalized within the VA system versus at outside hospitals, the 2010-2013 study found. (2/9)

Reuters: Veterans' Hospital Performance Similar To Other U.S. Hospitals
For older men with heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia, being treated at a Veteran’s Affairs (VA) hospital carries similar risks of death or hospital readmission compared to other facilities, according to a new study. Rates of death from any cause within 30 days of admission were slightly lower at VA hospitals, and hospital readmission rates were slightly higher, but the differences were very small, researchers found. (Doyle, 2/9)

Los Angeles Times: House Passes Bill Focused On Mental Health Of Female Veterans
Under a House bill passed Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs would have to look closely at whether its mental health and suicide prevention programs meet the needs of the growing number of female veterans. A study released over the summer found that women who have served in the military commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of those in the civilian population. (Wire, 2/10)

The Associated Press: House Approves Bill To Tighten Control On VA Construction
The House on Tuesday approved a bill to increase oversight and management of large construction projects at the Department of Veterans Affairs after a new VA hospital outside Denver tripled original cost estimates. The bill requires the VA to allow the Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies to manage projects that cost more than $100 million. The VA also would be required to keep Congress closely informed about large projects. Money could not be spent on advance planning or design until 60 days after Congress is notified. (2/9)

Women’s Health

Texas Abortion Clinics Launch State-Wide Campaign To Stay Open

Meanwhile, more than 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers around the country are operated by religious opponents of abortion and are waging a legal fight to continue their mission to persuade women to choose parenting or adoption.

Reuters: Texas Abortion Providers Launch Campaign To Keep Clinics Open
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide the legality of strict Texas abortion restrictions, women's healthcare providers have launched a campaign across the state trying to win support to keep their clinics open. On Tuesday, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, Whole Woman's Health, opened a San Antonio clinic to media as part of week-long campaign of rallies called the "Truth Tour." (Forsyth, 2/9)

The New York Times: Pregnancy Clinics Fight For Right To Deny Abortion Information
“Free Pregnancy Testing,” reads the large sign in front of the East County Pregnancy Care Clinic, on a busy intersection of this impoverished city east of San Diego. ...The clinic is one of more than 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers around the country that are operated by religious opponents of abortion, with the heartfelt aim of persuading women to choose parenting or adoption. Now it and others in California are in a First Amendment battle with the state over a new law that requires them to post a notice that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available to low-income women through public programs, and to provide the phone number to call. (Eckholm, 2/10)

Public Health And Education

Johns Hopkins Is First Hospital Approved For HIV-Positive To HIV-Positive Organ Transplants

It's estimated that such procedures could benefit 600 recipients and shorten the transplant lists for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients. In other public health news, some pharmacists are becoming de facto drugs cops in the face of the opioid epidemic.

The Washington Post: Johns Hopkins Becomes First Center In Country To Offer HIV-Positive To HIV-Positive Organ Transplants
Johns Hopkins announced this week that it had received approval from the nation's organ-sharing authority to become the first hospital in the United States to conduct transplants involving HIV-positive donors and HIV-positive recipients. “This is an unbelievably exciting day for our hospital and our team, but more importantly for patients living with HIV and end-stage organ disease. For these individuals, this means a new chance at life,” Dorry L. Segev, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. (Eunjung Cha, 2/9)

Meanwhile, Joe Biden picks a point man on his cancer "moonshot" initiative —

And in mosquito-borne virus news, media outlets report on the latest Zika research efforts and a dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii —

NPR: Virus Profilers Race To Figure Out What Makes Zika Tick
When Carolyn Coyne's lab at the University of Pittsburgh recently tried to order a sample of Zika virus from a major laboratory supplier, they were told it was out of stock. "They are actually back-ordered until July for the virus," Coyne says. "At least that's what we were told." She ended up obtaining Zika from another source, and it arrived at her lab Tuesday. She's just one of a growing number of lab researchers who are racing to investigate Zika virus in the wake of reports that it may be linked to some cases of microcephaly, the birth defect that leaves babies with small heads and brains. (Greenfieldboyce, 2/9)

NPR: State Of Emergency On Hawaii's Big Island Over Dengue Fever Outbreak
The mayor of Hawaii County has declared a state of emergency on Hawaii's Big Island over an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever. The island has seen nearly 250 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus since September 2015. State health officials first reported two cases that originated there in late October 2015, Mayor Billy Kenoi says in his declaration. (Kennedy, 2/9)

State Watch

Federal Officials Approve Alabama's Plan To Revamp Medicaid Program

The state is seeking to set up regional managed care systems to handle the health care program for low-income residents. New outlets also report on Medicaid news in Minnesota, Washington and North Carolina.

AL. com: Medicaid: Feds Approve Test Drive Of New Way In Alabama To Pay For It
Alabama has received permission from the federal government to test drive a different plan to provide health care through Medicaid to the one million mostly poor Alabamians who depend on it. Gov. Robert Bentley announced today that the state has received a waiver from the feds that will allow Alabama to deliver Medicaid services differently. The waiver will allow the state to transition from a fee-for-service model to one closer to managed care through entities called regional care organizations or RCOs. RCOs are locally-led managed care systems that will ultimately provide healthcare services to most Medicaid enrollees at an established cost under the supervision and approval of the Alabama Medicaid Agency. (Dean, 2/9)

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser: Feds Give Alabama Go-Ahead For Medicaid Changes
The federal government gave Alabama the go-ahead to change the delivery of Medicaid and move to a managed care system advocates hope will control cost growth and lead to better outcomes. Gov. Robert Bentley, flanked by Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar and legislative leaders Tuesday, said the state had received an 1115 waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which administers the Medicaid program. The waiver will allow the state to create 11 regional care organizations (RCOs), which will enroll Medicaid patients with the goal of encouraging preventive care and cutting costs. (Lyman, 2/9)

Minnesota Public Radio: Sheriffs, Franken Criticize Medicaid Gaps For Jail Inmates
Sheriffs organizations in Minnesota and elsewhere criticized policies that allow those who are able to post bail maintain Medicaid coverage, while others who remain in custody lose it. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken urged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to revise access to Medicaid for pretrial detainees who've been arrested but not tried or convicted. (Feshir, 2/9)

Northwest Public Radio: Ninety One Thousand Apple Health Medicaid Clients Affected By Data Breach
[Washington] State Health Care officials say they'll be notifying 91,000 Medicaid clients they've been affected by a data breach. Officials with the Washington State Health Care Authority today said they discovered that the private information of 91,000 Apple Health clients was mishandled by two employees. The information includes clients’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, Apple Health client ID numbers and private health information. (Henderson, 2/9)

The Seattle Times: 91,000 State Medicaid Clients Warned Of Data Breach
More than 91,000 people enrolled in Washington state’s Apple Health Medicaid program are being notified that their medical records may have been handled improperly, officials said Tuesday. Two state employees — a woman who worked for the state Health Care Authority (HCA) and her brother, who worked for the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) — apparently exchanged emails for nearly two years that contained private health information from Medicaid clients, said Steve Dotson, HCA risk manager. (Aleccia, 2/9)

Winston-Salem Journal: N.C. Medicaid Program Projected To Be Under Budget For Third Straight Fiscal Year
The state’s Medicaid program is on pace to come in under budget for the third consecutive fiscal year, state health officials told legislators Tuesday. Trey Sutten, the finance director for the state Medicaid program, said the program was $181 million, or 9.3 percent, under budget through Dec. 31. Medicaid covers about 1.9 million North Carolina residents and is a $14 billion a year program. Sutten said there are three factors for the current budget status: lower service consumption by beneficiaries; flat enrollment levels being below budget projections; and lower costs driven by changes in population profile, clinical policy and legislation. (Craver, 2/9)

The Associated Press: North Carolina Medicaid $181M Under Budget At Year Midpoint
North Carolina's Medicaid finances are continuing to run under budget thanks to essentially flat enrollment growth and less-than-anticipated medical expenses and use of services. The Division of Medical Assistance told a General Assembly oversight committee Tuesday state spending on Medicaid was $181 million below the nearly $2 billion set aside for the first six months of the fiscal year ending Dec. 31. (2/9)

Flint Investigator: Involuntary Manslaughter Charges Could Be On The Table

The Legionnaires' disease outbreak that occurred after Flint, Michigan changed its water source resulted in nine deaths in 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to request $195 million to help bring residents safe drinking water.

The Associated Press: Flint Counsel Says Manslaughter Charge Harshest Possible
Flint's water crisis, after a switch in the source allowed dangerous levels of lead and potentially caused deadly cases of Legionnaires' disease, could result in criminal charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter, a top investigator said Tuesday. The emergency will prompt Gov. Rick Snyder to propose another $195 million in aid in his annual budget proposal on Wednesday, including $25 million to potentially replace old lead and copper pipes. The proposal comes on top of $37 million in emergency funding already set aside to address the crisis. (Eggert, 2/9)

The Detroit Free Press: State Defends Legionnaires' Response In Flint Crisis
State health officials today defended their response to the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Flint, discounting concerns that infighting hurt public health. "We rely on strong relationships with our partners at the local level including primary care providers, community organizations, health plans, and most importantly our local health departments,” Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. (Wisely and Anderson, 2/9)

The Detroit Free Press: Snyder To Propose $195M More For Flint Water Crisis
Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday is expected to request an additional $195 million to bring back safe drinking water to Flint and treat its impacted residents after highly corrosive water drawn from the Flint River leached lead throughout the city's drinking water system, according to a person familiar with the budget. (Dolan, Gray and Spangler, 2/9)

State Highlights: Ohio Insurer's Late Notice About Network Changes Draws Ire; Florida Rural Hospital Measure Makes Progress

News outlets report on health issues in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois.

The News Service of Florida: Bill Seeks To Boost Hospitals In Rural Areas
A Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill that could help boost efforts to build new or replacement hospitals in rural counties. Approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee, SB 236 would expand an exemption to the state's "certificate of need" regulatory process for hospital construction or expansion projects. The state currently has a narrow exemption that applies to hospitals in counties with populations of 15,000 to 18,000 people and densities of fewer than 30 people per square mile. (2/9)

Health News Florida: WellCare Profits Inch Up In Fourth Quarter
Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans, which covers about 900,000 Floridians in the Medicaid and Medicare programs, saw an uptick in net income during the fourth quarter of 2015, according to an earnings report released Tuesday. WellCare is a major player in Florida's Medicaid managed-care system. As of Dec. 31, it included 781,000 Florida Medicaid beneficiaries, up from 722,000 a year earlier. Its Medicare Advantage plans also included 107,000 people in Florida, the release said. (Shedden, 2/9)

Heartland Health Monitor: Former Osawatomie Superintendent: 'System Has Been Stretched To Absolute Limit'
Steve Feinstein was superintendent of Osawatomie State Hospital from 1994 to 1998. He has a Ph.D. in psychology and got involved in mental health issues when he was hired to run a state mental hospital in eastern Oregon. Although he’s retired now, the Louisburg resident continues to pay close attention to what’s going on at Osawatomie, one of two state-run hospitals for Kansans with severe and persistent mental illness. In a recent interview, he spoke to Dan Margolies about the Kansas hospital’s recent troubles. (Margolies, 2/9)

Minnesota Public Radio: U Of M Study Finds 'Health Care Homes' Model Pays Off
Minnesota's effort to shift primary care from treating illness to improving patient health is paying off — handsomely. A University of Minnesota evaluation of so-called "health care homes" shows the team-based approach to care has saved state and federal taxpayers $1 billion. The evaluation also found that health care homes improve the quality of care. (Benson, 2/9)

The Detroit Free Press: Pontiac Hospital To Be Bought Out Of Bankruptcy
Pontiac's long-struggling Doctors' Hospital of Michigan could soon emerge from bankruptcy after a judge this week approved a reorganization plan that would sell metro Detroit's last remaining independent hospital to a family-run private equity firm. The firm, called Sant Partners, says it intends to expand the hospital's medical services and provide better overall management to return to profitability. The hospital's current CEO will remain in place but take a pay cut. (Reindl, 2/8)

The Daily Southtown: St. James Closing Plan Aired
Faced with ongoing massive operating losses, Franciscan St. James Health aired its plan to end inpatient services at its Chicago Heights hospital to a hearing Tuesday held by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. That board is tentatively scheduled to vote March 29 on the proposal, which calls for boosting outpatient services at that hospital while expanding St. James' Olympia Fields hospital as well as its Franciscan ExpressCare urgent care center in Chicago Heights. (Nolan, 2/9)

The News Service of Florida: Florida Surgeon General Responds To HIV Criticism, Staff Cuts
State Surgeon General John Armstrong, who heads the Florida Department of Health, has faced scrutiny from lawmakers recently on a number of high-profile issues. The issues include the state's rising HIV rate, cuts to county health departments and 9,000 kids who lost places in the Children's Medical Services program --- which serves youngsters with "serious and chronic" conditions --- under a new eligibility screening process last year. (Menzel, 2/9)

The Kansas Health Institute News Service: Sparks Fly At Legislative Hearing On Bill To Ban Teen Tanning
A legislative hearing Tuesday on a bill to prohibit Kansans under 18 from using commercial tanning beds produced emotional testimony from cancer victims and sharp exchanges between lawmakers and the proposal’s lone opponent. And it seemed clear by the hearing’s end that the bill had the support of several lawmakers who normally would be troubled by the prospect of regulating private businesses. (McLean, 2/9)

Editorials And Opinions

Viewpoints: Reactions To The 2017 Obama Budget Proposal; The Sanders' Take On Government Programs

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

The Washington Post: How Our Leaders Could Start Reducing The Federal Deficit Now
President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2017 met instantaneous rejection from the Republican Congress, unsurprisingly, given that it’s basically a blueprint for more active government paid for with higher taxes. Though predictable, the GOP’s refusal to hold a hearing on Mr. Obama’s budget was gratuitously contemptuous; and it was regrettable in substantive terms, as some of Mr. Obama’s structural proposals, such as a 28 percent rate cap on individual tax deductions and $375 billion worth of savings in federal health-care spending, merit debate. Congress may grant some of Mr. Obama’s requests, such as larger tax credits for low-income workers and $1.1 billion in new funding to fight drug addiction. For the most part, though, this document amounts to little more than Mr. Obama’s final statement of fiscal priorities before his successor takes over 11 months from now. (2/9)

The New York Times: Republican Budget Tantrum
Their decision is more than a break with tradition. It is a new low in Republican efforts to show disdain for Mr. Obama, which disrespects the presidency and, in the process, suffocates debate and impairs governing. Mr. Obama’s budget proposes to spend $4 trillion in the 2017 fiscal year (slightly more than for 2016). That total would cover recurring expenses, including Medicare and Social Security, as well as new initiatives to fight terrorism, poverty and climate change, while fostering health, education and environmental protection. If Republicans find those efforts objectionable — as their refusal to even discuss them indicates — they owe it to their constituents and other Americans to say why. (2/9)

The New York Times: Is The Era Of Big-Program Liberalism Over?
The essence of Mr. Sanders’s version of liberalism is government programs. Expansive initiatives that provide benefits to “a broad cross-class constituency,” as the Harvard political sociologist Theda Skocpol puts it, such as Social Security and Medicare, are not only good policy, they’re at the heart of liberal politics. They remind citizens of the essential role of government in providing security and economic opportunity. And they anchor voters to the party that backs those programs. ... That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s deeply embedded in Mr. Sanders’s approach. His proposals for single-payer health care, free college tuition and paid family leave financed through a small payroll tax reflect the view that successful programs should be universal and create a connection between individuals and government. (Mark Schmitt, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Explaining Bernie’s ‘Socialism’
We live in a different time. If the U.S. were to embark on a single-payer system today, as Bernie Sanders proposes, it would not be doing so to expand access—though that slogan would still be used—but for a very different reason: to deny and limit care in order to control spending. This agenda would be popular with neither patients nor providers, and therefore would be dead in the water—as liberal authorities, from the New York Times’s Paul Krugman to Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution, have suddenly discovered an urgency to point out to Democratic voters infatuated with Bernie Sanders. Mr. Sanders knows it too. His socialism is farcical in a country that can’t afford the entitlements it already has. (Holman W. Jenkins Jr., 2/9)

Los Angeles Times: Hillary Clinton Tweaks Her 'Safe, Legal And Rare' Abortion Mantra
Is Hillary Clinton recalibrating her position on abortion as she seeks the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination? It sure looks that way. In her last presidential run in 2008, Clinton said that she thought abortion should be “safe, legal and rare, and by rare, I mean rare.” She added that abortion “should not in any way be diminished as a moral issue,” and portrayed the choice to have an abortion as a wrenching one for “a young woman, her family, her physician and [her] pastor.” (Michael McGough, 2/9)

Bloomberg: New Hampshire Tests Candidates On Addiction
Melissa Crews has always voted Democratic, though her husband is a staunch Republican. This year, the family split is coming to an end: Melissa is switching sides, and heroin is the principal reason. Crews is board chair at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, a nonprofit she helped set up last year to battle the state's heroin epidemic. New Hampshire was third in the nation in death rates from overdoses in 2014 (the latest year for which data are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and in the top 10 for the use of illicit drugs other than marijuana. People who work for local nonprofits fighting the rising drug use say at least 100,000 of the state's 1.3 million people need help with addictions. (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/9)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Drug Addiction Defies Racist Labels
It requires a special kind of bigotry to blame black people and Mexicans when whites decide to use drugs. But racial attitudes also drive the current compassion for white drug users. Too bad that empathy wasn't there when addiction was seen as a black thing. (Jones, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: We Reduced Smoking, Why Not Drug Use?
Media coverage of the primary in New Hampshire has underlined an unwelcome and alarming fact: There is an epidemic in the use of heroin in New Hampshire. How come? Haven’t we had a war on drugs for the past 40 years? Why hasn’t it been as effective as the war on smoking? (George P. Shultz, 2/9)

Bloomberg: Drug Pricing And Un-American Trading
The system for pricing prescription drugs in the U.S. is a bit of a disaster. Our reliance on medical insurance means that pricing is not based on consumer demand or ability to pay. Nor is it exactly based on negotiations with insurers: "Medicare, one of the biggest buyers of prescription drugs, is prohibited from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies." The "expensive and time-consuming process of getting F.D.A. approval" to sell generic drugs deters competition and allows approved manufacturers to charge whatever prices they want. These are systemic problems, which were created by legislation and regulation, and which demand legislative solutions. So yesterday a House committee convened a hearing to consider these problems and try to come up with a comprehensive solution. (Matt Levine, 2/8)

Bloomberg: The Fast And Spurious In Tech
The axiom of Silicon Valley is that companies that move fast, break things and grow like weeds are winners. The corollary is that some technology startups move too fast and break.The latest Silicon Valley cautionary tale is Zenefits, which makes software to automate human resources chores for small businesses and sells employee health insurance plans. Following reports by BuzzFeed and other news outlets that Zenefits allowed workers to sell insurance even if they didn’t have state licenses to do so, the company said founder Parker Conrad had stepped down as CEO and as a director. (Shira Ovide, 2/9)

The Wall Street Journal: Applying To Zika The Forgotten Lessons Of Ebola
With the Rio Olympics six months away, Brazil is battling an outbreak of Zika virus that has infected an estimated 1.5 million people. The infection is linked to microcephaly, a congenital condition in which babies are typically born with underdeveloped brains. The World Health Organization has declared the Zika outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern." ... While Ebola ultimately burned out after claiming the most vulnerable victims, Zika’s easier transmission, and less-deadly outcome, means it will propagate much more widely. Ebola revealed that after enormous investment in global public health, we remain unprepared to mobilize the basic resources to isolate and contain infectious diseases. (Scott Gottlieb, 2/9)