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Political Cartoon: 'Long Arm Of The Law?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Long Arm Of The Law?'" by Ann Telnaes.

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Those boomers now see
The “mainstreaming” of pot as
Reason for a toke.

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Summaries Of The News:

Health Law

30M Would Be Uninsured If 'Replace' Stalls After 'Repeal' Goes Through, Report Finds

The Urban Institute study found that 22.5 million people would lose coverage directly due to repeal of the law, while another 7.3 million would become uninsured because of the ripple effects of market upheavals.

The Associated Press: Study: 'Obamacare' Repeal-Only Would Make 30M Uninsured
Repealing President Barack Obama's health care law without a clear replacement risks making nearly 30 million people uninsured, according to a study released Wednesday. Republicans say that won't happen because they are working on replacement legislation for a President Donald Trump to sign. Nonetheless, the complex two-stage strategy the GOP Congress is contemplating has raised concerns. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 12/7)

The Hill: Study: Uninsured Rate Could Rise Above Pre-ObamaCare Levels Under Repeal 
Repealing ObamaCare would drive the nation’s uninsured population to levels even higher than before the law went into effect, according to an Urban Institute study released Wednesday. The number of uninsured people would more than double to 29.8 million people by the end of President Trump’s first term, with the biggest impact hitting lower-income families, the nonpartisan analysis found.  (Ferris, 12/7)

The Washington Post: How Repealing Obamacare Would Punish The Working Class
The number of people without health insurance could more than double under Republican plans to repeal President Obama's Affordable Care Act, reaching nearly 59 million — or more than one in four Americans, according to a new analysis published Wednesday. The figures illustrate the challenges for newly empowered Republicans who, having won the presidential election after pledging to ease the financial burdens on the American working class, must work out the details of how they will deliver on their promises. (Ehrenfreund, 12/7)

Insurers Fire Warning Shot With List Of Demands For Replacement Plan

The companies say they need a firm commitment from Republicans that the government will continue offsetting some costs for low-income people and that rules encouraging young and healthy people to sign up will be kept in place. However, they did say they're willing to relent on the individual mandate.

The New York Times: Health Insurers List Demands If Affordable Care Act Is Killed
The nation’s health insurers, resigned to the idea that Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act, on Tuesday publicly outlined for the first time what the industry wants to stay in the state marketplaces, which have provided millions of Americans with insurance under the law. The insurers, some which have already started leaving the marketplaces because they are losing money, say they need a clear commitment from the Trump administration and congressional leaders that the government will continue offsetting some costs for low-income people. (Abelson, 12/6)

Bloomberg: Health Insurers Willing To Give Up A Key Obamacare Provision 
U.S. health insurers signaled Tuesday that they’re willing to give up a cornerstone provision of Obamacare that requires all Americans to have insurance, replacing it with a different set of incentives less loathed by Republicans who have promised to repeal the law. Known as the “individual mandate,” the rule was a major priority for the insurance industry when the Affordable Care Act was legislated, and also became a focal point of opposition for Republicans. In a position paper released Tuesday -- the first since President-elect Donald Trump’s victory -- health insurers laid out changes they’d be willing to accept. (Tracer, 12/6)

Reuters: U.S. Insurer Lobby Group Seeks Delay In 2018 Obamacare Deadline
The largest lobbying group for health insurers has asked U.S. lawmakers weighing the fate of Obamacare to push back the due date for 2018 individual insurance submissions to regulators in hopes of obtaining greater clarity on the program's future later on. Republican leaders including President-elect Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they are keen to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health insurance program, the Affordable Care Act, which provides coverage to millions of Americans. (Humer, 12/6)

Repeal Could Trigger 'Unprecedented Public Health Crisis,' Hospitals Warn

It would “decimate hospitals’ ability to provide services, weaken local economies and result in massive job losses," The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals say in a new report.

The Washington Post: Hospitals Warn Trump, Congress Of Massive Losses With Affordable Care Act Repeal
The nation’s hospital industry warned President-elect Trump and congressional leaders on Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act could cost hospitals $165 billion by the middle of the next decade and trigger “an unprecedented public health crisis.” The two main trade groups for U.S. hospitals dispatched a letter to the incoming president and Capitol Hill’s top four leaders, saying that the government should help hospitals avoid massive financial losses if the law is rescinded in a way that causes a surge of uninsured patients. (Goldstein, 12/6)

The Hill: Hospitals Gear Up For Major Offensive Against ObamaCare Repeal 
A powerful coalition of hospitals is previewing a fierce attack against GOP leaders if lawmakers follow through on their promise to repeal ObamaCare next year. The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals on Tuesday fired off a damning new report warning that its industry stood to take a massive financial hit under the repeal of ObamaCare. (Ferris, 12/6)

Modern Healthcare: Hospitals Warn Of Job Losses, Billions In Cuts If Trump Repeals ACA 
The nation's hospital lobbying groups are warning that President-elect Donald Trump's promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act could lead to massive service cuts, layoffs and hospital closures if an adequate replacement is not developed. Assuming Congress uses the most recent ACA repeal bill, H.R. 3762, the loss of coverage would have a net negative impact on hospitals of $165.8 billion from 2018 to 2026. If the ACA's Medicare reductions are maintained, hospitals will suffer additional losses of $289.5 billion from reductions in their inflation updates, according to a report prepared by healthcare economics firm Dobson DaVanzo & Associates on behalf of the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals. (Dickson, 12/6)

CQ HealthBeat: Hospitals Expect Job Losses If Obamacare Is Killed, Not Replaced
Hospital groups unveiled one of their opening arguments against Congress repealing the 2010 health care law, warning that it could trigger widespread job cuts for medical professionals. The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals on Tuesday called on President-elect Donald Trump and members of Congress to protect federal funding for hospitals and their patients when they consider legislation to replace or revamp much of that law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). The two influential lobbying groups together released a consultant’s report which estimated that repeal, without any replacement efforts, would have a net negative impact of $165.8 billion from 2018 to 2026. Many patients could lose insurance coverage if the law is changed. (Young, 12/6)

Morning Consult: Hospital Groups Say ACA Repeal Could Cost Them Billions, Diminish Care
Two major hospital groups are raising concerns that repealing the Affordable Care Act could cause hospitals to lose billions of dollars if Congress doesn’t reverse cuts to hospital payments that were meant to finance the 2010 law. The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals on Tuesday released two reports they hope will persuade the incoming Trump administration and congressional Republicans to reverse cuts to hospital payments. (McIntire, 12/6)

Senate's To-Do List For Day One: Repeal Health Law

The rest of the details are still murky, though, following a meeting between Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Republican leadership. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have one message: Bring it on. "They don’t know what to do. They’re like the dog that caught the bus," Sen. Chuck Schumer says.

The New York Times: Senate Republican Leaders Vow To Begin Repeal Of Health Law Next Month
Senate Republican leaders, after meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, said on Tuesday that they would move immediately next month to start repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite qualms among some of their members. ... Republicans have not fleshed out a plan to replace the 2010 health care law, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. But on Tuesday they laid out their principles for a replacement plan and said they would try to minimize disruption for the 20 million people who have gained coverage under the law. (Pear, 12/6)

Politico: GOP Still Splintered Over Obamacare After Pence Meeting
After meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Tuesday to hash out plans to repeal Obamacare, top Senate Republicans are no closer to resolving an issue that’s splintering the GOP heading into the start of Donald Trump’s presidency: how long to give themselves to replace the law. Pence communicated that the incoming administration is prepared to work closely with Congress on the issue, senators said, but did not dictate how long the transition period should last. That decision will affect millions of Americans’ health care and send insurance companies scrambling to adjust. (Everett and Haberkorn, 12/7)

The Hill: McConnell: We'll Start Obamacare Repeal On Day One 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act will be the first order of business in the new Congress. McConnell announced the agenda Tuesday, after meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Senate GOP colleagues over lunch."When we come back Jan. 3 we'll be moving to the ObamaCare replacement resolution, the ObamaCare repeal resolution will be the first item up in the New Year," McConnell said, referring to repeal legislation that is expected to pass with a simple majority vote under special budgetary rules. (Bolton, 12/6)

Reuters: Repealing Obamacare To Be First On Senate Agenda In 2017
Repealing Obamacare will be the first order of business in the U.S. Senate in January, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said on Tuesday. Republicans will replace President Barack Obama's signature health insurance program that provides coverage to millions of Americans "step by step," said Senator John Thune, another member of the Republican leadership. (Cornwell, 12/6)

Roll Call: Milder Persona, Same Hard Line From New Freedom Caucus Chairman
[Rep. Mark] Meadows served notice that the emerging congressional GOP plan for tackling the 2010 health care law is a non-starter with the Freedom Caucus. The group has more than enough voting strength to stop anything the House GOP high command hopes to pass along party lines .... The emerging GOP plan for the health care law is to enact a repeal in time for Trump’s signature soon after taking office, but with language phasing out many aspects of the complicated statute over three years .... Meadows says the deadline for replacement should be the end of the 115th Congress, but preferably before the open insurance enrollment next fall. Any timetable allowing deliberations beyond 2018, he says, would subject the GOP Congress in the next campaign to worthy criticism about breaking a central 2016 campaign promise. (Hawkings, 12/7)

Bloomberg: Senate Democrats Reject GOP Overtures On Replacing Obamacare 
Incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer taunted Republicans Tuesday over their plans to replace Obamacare, insisting they have no solution and vowing that his party won’t go along with their attempts to unravel the law. "Bring it on," the New York Democrat said. "They don’t know what to do. They’re like the dog that caught the bus." Republicans say they intend to advance plans to undo President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement early next year. But they lack consensus on what to replace it with and how to go about it, even as they’re asking Democrats to work with them. (Kapur, 12/6)

In other news on Republicans' plans to dismantle the health law —

Politico Pro: HHS Staff Mourn Obamacare, Brace For Trump Era
In CMS regional offices around the country, health insurance workers are nervously preparing for a hiring freeze. At Medicare’s new innovation center in Baltimore, more than 300 staffers are trying to figure out if Republicans will eliminate their office. And at HHS headquarters in Washington, dozens of political appointees are still trying to determine whether Donald Trump’s surprising victory will upend their years of work expanding health insurance to millions. (Diamond, 12/6)

Morning Consult: Health Groups Push to Keep Value-Based Care In Trump Era
Before the Trump administration takes office and the promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act begins, dozens of health care groups this week wrote to leaders of the next Congress and administration and urged them to keep moving away from fee-for-service health care and towards payment models that encourage value. “At this critical time of the industry’s transformation, bipartisan support is critical to help consumers and businesses fully realize the goal of a sustainable, person-centered health care system that promotes choice, quality, and affordability,” the letter, first shared with Morning Consult, says. “This is not the time for policymakers to waiver or reverse course, which would send a negative message to the industry and chill ongoing transformation efforts.” (McIntire, 12/7)

The Fiscal Times: Here’s The Problem With Trump’s Plan To Sell Health Insurance Across State Lines 
The 2010 Obamacare law carefully prescribes ground rules for insurers participating in the subsidized health insurance program, including a prohibition against taking into account a person’s pre-existing medical conditions before determining whether to accept an applicant. The insurers can only consider an applicant’s age and location in setting premium prices, and they are obliged to offer every applicant a basic menu of coverage and benefits. Trump’s idea – echoed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Budget Chair Tom Price (R-GA), who has been nominated to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services -- is that by cutting through detailed regulations tied to state insurance regulations, insurance companies will be able to offer national plans with lower premiums and reduced administrative costs. (Pianin, 12/6)

Capitol Hill Watch

Pence Says GOP Will Repeal Health Law 'Lock, Stock And Barrel'

In addition, the vice president-elect said Republicans plan to push legislation to move Medicaid funding to block grants for states to give them more flexibility. Also on Capitol Hill, Democrats are gearing up for a fight on GOP plans to overhaul Medicare, a fact checker questions some Democratic lawmakers' claims about a veterans group, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seeks funding for a coal miners' health program and negotiations break down on a child nutrition standards bill.

Roll Call: Pence Signals Busy First 100 Days, Including More Military Spending
Trump administration officials envision a busy first 100 days, when they hope to repeal the 2010 health care law, overhaul Medicaid, and send Congress a bill that would boost military spending, said Vice President-elect Mike Pence. ... He vowed that the Trump administration will repeal the health care law “lock, stock and barrel,” adding “the No. 1 priority of the administration is to keep that promise to the American people.” He did not, however, describe what the GOP would replace it with, saying only that the party will propose “free-market reforms that reduce the costs of health care without growing the size of government.” (Bennett, 12/6)

Boston Globe: Democrats Relish Battle With GOP Over Medicare 
Now, a new fight over the popular entitlement program is shaping up to be an early battle between Democrats on one side and Trump and the Republicans on the other. Battered Democrats and their allies, in need of political reinvigoration after Trump and Republicans stunned them in last month’s elections, are readying their powerful, emotional lobbying efforts to stave off changes in Medicare.(McGrane, 12/7)

The Washington Post Fact Checker: Democrats’ Misleading Claim That Concerned Veterans For America Wants To ‘Privatize’ VA
The two Democrats, who serve on the Senate and House committees on veterans affairs, are resurrecting the stale Democratic talking point that Concerned Veterans for America wants to “privatize” the Department of Veterans Affairs. Concerned Veterans for America, or CVA, is a veterans advocacy group in the Koch brothers’ political network and has been one of the most vocal critics of VA since the 2014 wait-time scandal. (Lee, 12/7)

Morning Consult: McConnell Insists On Extending Coal Miners’ Health Benefits In Funding Bill
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is pushing to include an extension of health benefits for retired coal miners in a must-pass government funding measure. More than 16,000 retired coal miners stand to lose their health benefits at the end of the year. The Kentucky Republican, speaking on the Senate floor, said he has spoken with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) about addressing the issue in a continuing resolution to extend government funding past Friday. (Reid, 12/6)

CQ HealthBeat: Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill Punted to Next Congress
Reauthorization of a child nutrition law will have to wait for the next Congress. The Senate Agriculture chairman announced Tuesday that negotiations could not overcome concerns by some Democrats or resolve differences with House legislation for school lunch and other programs that feed millions of children. "We are nearing the end of this legislative calendar, and we have not been able to overcome minority objections and additionally those in the House,” said Chairman Pat Roberts in a statement. "It is unfortunate that certain parochial interests and the desire for issues rather than solutions were put ahead of the well being of vulnerable and at-risk populations and the need for reform.'' (Ferguson, 12/6)

Despite Widespread Support For Bill To Overhaul FDA, Some Consumer Advocates Raise Concerns

The 21st Century Cures Act has been hailed by Democrats and Republican alike as a way to advance treatments for some of the nation's biggest health concerns, such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and opioid addiction. But some consumer advocates are concerned that it may lower safety standards.

WBUR: How The 21st Century Cures Act Could Affect The FDA 
The 21st Century Cures Act is a $6.3 billion piece of legislation that would be the biggest health reform bill since the Affordable Care Act. Proponents, including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say that the bill will help unlock cures for cancer, Alzheimer's and opioid addiction. Opponents, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, say that the bill has been "hijacked" by the pharmaceutical industry. We speak to the co-chair of the National Physicians Alliance Food and Drug Administration Task Force about what the bill might mean for the FDA. (O'Keefe and Chakrabarti, 12/6)

Stat: Will 21st Century Cures Lower Standards And Harm Patients?
Congressional lawmakers are championing the 21st Century Cures Act as a “watershed moment” that will go a long way toward helping patients, but some consumer advocates and academics warn the legislation contains a provision that may usher in a new era of lower approval standards. Here’s why: The bill requires the Food and Drug Administration to develop a program for evaluating the use of so-called “real world evidence” for approving additional uses of medicines, as well as for any follow-up studies that may be required. (Silverman, 12/6)

Roll Call: Obamacare Repeal Could Undercut Mental Health Effort
The Senate is expected this week to clear the “21st Century Cures” package, a medical innovation bill that also includes provisions designed to make it easier for patients to access mental health treatment. Some of the bill’s supporters lament that the provisions wouldn’t increase federal funding for inpatient treatment, but there is widespread support for other items that would integrate mental health into primary care services, train new behavioral health providers and train law enforcement and the legal system to better deal with crime related to mental health problems. All of that would be less meaningful if Republicans roll back President Barack Obama’s health care law and people lose coverage, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey who, as ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, played a major role reaching a compromise on the mental health legislation. (Siddons, 12/6)


For Women, Living Longer Means $35,000 More In Medical Costs Than Men

Women live on average two years longer than men, so they will need to save more to cover their premiums and out-of-pocket costs for later in life care.

The Wall Street Journal: Women Face 20% Higher Health-Care Costs In Retirement, Survey Finds
When it comes to saving for health-care costs in retirement, women need to set aside more—almost 20% more, on average—to cover their medical bills in the final years of their lives. That is the conclusion of a report released Wednesday by HealthView Services, a Danvers, Mass., company that provides retirement health-care cost data and tools to financial advisers. The reason for the gap is simple: longevity. On average, women live about two years longer than men. As a result, a 65-year-old woman has a life expectancy of 89, versus 87 for a man of the same age. (Tergesen, 12/7)

In other marketplace news —

The Wall Street Journal: For Cash-Strapped Workers, ‘Insurance On Insurance’
As health insurance deductibles rise, employers are offering workers special policies to help cover out-of-pocket costs. For many workers, paying for health care has become such a difficult budgeting exercise that the insurance industry is marketing additional products to help. So-called gap insurance, also known as supplemental or voluntary insurance, provides extra coverage for things like hospital stays, unexpected accidents or treatment for acute illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. The policies help cover the cost of high deductibles or copays for treatment—the gap that employees face before their health insurance kicks in. (Silverman, 12/6)

Latest Kickback Scheme At Hospital Reveals A DOJ Keen To Go After Individual Offenders

Media outlets report on other hospital news from Tennessee and Illinois.

Modern Healthcare: Execs, Physicians At Doc-Owned Luxury Hospital Chain Indicted In Alleged Kickback Scheme
The federal indictment of executives and physicians charged in a $200 million bribery and kickback scheme at a ritzy Dallas-based hospital signals the U.S Justice Department remains hungry for holding people liable for widespread healthcare fraud. It shows the federal government is “not only going to look for corporate responsibility but individual liability as well,” said Troy Barsky, an attorney in the healthcare group at Crowell & Moring in Washington. The indictments also reinforce long-standing questions surrounding the potential for self-dealing practices at physician-owned facilities. (Livingston, 12/6)

Nashville Tennessean: Tap To Get A Vanderbilt Hospital Nurse Practitioner At Your Door
Nurse practitioners from Vanderbilt University Medical Center will now make house calls. Really — if the patient is in Davidson County. Vanderbilt Health OnCall is a new VUMC pilot that sends nurse practitioners to a home, office, hotel — wherever the patient needs treatment for common issues such as colds and minor illnesses. The on-demand service from the city's academic hospital underscores how health systems and provider groups are trying to inject consumer-friendly, and tech-driven, initiatives into the existing delivery model. Anyone 18 to 64 can download the OnCall app or use an online form to schedule an appointment. (Fletcher, 12/6)

Chicago Tribune: 10 Illinois Hospitals Earn Top Honors In Patient Safety 
Ten Illinois hospitals drew top honors this year for patient safety as part of the Leapfrog Group's annual ratings.Hospitals that completed surveys for The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit that evaluates hospital performance for consumers and employers, were judged on a number of patient safety measures. Hospitals with intensive care units, for example, had to make sure those units were managed by doctors trained in critical care medicine. Hospitals had to receive a patient safety grade of A from Leapfrog. And hospitals had to comply with Leapfrog's policy for responding to errors that should never occur — a protocol that includes apologizing to the patient and family, waiving costs, reporting the event to an external agency and analyzing why the event occurred. (Schencker, 12/6)

University Of California Faces Uphill Fight In CRISPR Patent Challenge

Patent judges hear arguments by the school system, which is arguing to overturn a 2015 decisions awarding key patents to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Stat: CRISPR Hearing Puts University Of California On The Defensive
If the number and tenor of questions addressed to each side during oral arguments in the CRISPR patent fight is any indication of what the patent judges are thinking, the University of California has a steep hill to climb if it wants to overturn the 2014 decision awarding key CRISPR patents to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and win them for itself. A 45-minute hearing on Tuesday morning before a three-judge panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, the arm of the US Patent and Trademark Office that hears challenges to patent decisions, offered the only oral arguments in the bitter fight over whether UC or the Broad deserves key patents on the CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology. (Begley, 12/6)

Women’s Health

Ohio's 'Heartbeat Bill' Would Make State's Abortion Laws Strictest In Nation

The legislation is on Gov. John Kasich's desk. In other news, Texas officials are criticized for distributing a pamphlet about a link between cancer and abortion that has no basis in science.

Cleveland Plain Dealer: 'Heartbeat Bill' Abortion Ban Clears Ohio House, Headed For Gov. John Kasich 
A bill that would make Ohio's abortion laws the strictest in the nation is on its way to Gov. John Kasich's desk just hours after Republicans slipped the "heartbeat bill" into a child welfare bill. The Ohio House approved Senate amendments to the bill late Tuesday night, mostly along party lines, in a 56-39 vote. Earlier in the day, Senate Republicans added language banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, commonly known as the "heartbeat bill," to an unrelated measure. That could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before a woman might find out she's pregnant. (Borchardt, 12/6)

CNN: Ohio's 'Heartbeat' Abortion Bill Awaits Gov. Kasich's Signature
Now Republican Gov. John Kasich, who this year lost his White House bid, must decide whether to approve a law that would ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest -- likely dragging the state into a litany of court challenges -- or veto the bill. The bill would be one of the toughest restrictions on abortions in the country. (Blau and Debucquoy-Dodley, 12/7)

The Washington Post: Texas Tells Women Abortion Might Cause Cancer. Science Says Otherwise.
Texas health officials are under fire for releasing a booklet suggesting that having an abortion could increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, despite research showing no such link. State law requires that the pamphlet, called “Women’s Right to Know,” be given to women at least 24 hours before a scheduled abortion. It includes detailed information about a developing fetus and cites potential risks of the procedure, as well as complications associated with giving birth. (Somashekhar, 12/6)

Public Health And Education

The Other Side Of A Crisis: Living In Pain In The Midst Of The Opioid Epidemic

Guidelines meant to curb opioid abuse are taking a toll on those who have chronic pain issues.

Denver Post: Chronic Pain Patients Say They Are Hurt By Colorado’s Opioid Prescription Guidelines 
Colorado announced new guidelines in 2014 for doctors prescribing opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed with its own even more cautious guidance last spring. Now, across Colorado and the rest of the nation, these policies intended to address opioid abuse have unexpectedly harmed patients who depend on the drugs to treat chronic conditions, pain specialists and patient advocates say. The policies are supposed to offer guidance — helpful advice to doctors to be cautious in prescribing more than a certain amount of opioids to any one patient. (Ingold, 12/6)

And in other news —

The Baltimore Sun: As Harford's War On Heroin Rages, Money To Fight It Becomes An Issue
Despite the efforts of law enforcement and public health and local school officials, as well as many elected officials, fatal overdoses this year are on pace to be about double those from last year. And, the sheer volume of them is forcing the county's lead law enforcement agency to shift some of its investigative priorities on drug incidents because of the costs involved. As of Monday (Dec. 5), 19.7 percent of the 248 heroin overdoses in Harford this year have been fatal, compared with 13 percent of the 201 total overdoses in 2015 (49 people have died so far this year versus 27 in all of last year). Local police attribute the increase in the number of fatal overdoses to the rise in the use of the powerful opioid fentynal mixed with heroin. (Butler and Anderson, 12/6)

The Washington Post: A Shocking Video Captured A Man’s Overdose. He Calls It ‘The Best Thing That Happened To Me.’
The viral video that showed Ronald Hiers bent over a bench, overdosing on a batch of heroin that nearly killed him, has turned him into many things: a parable on the horrors of drug abuse, a recovering addict, a punchline. But as Hiers stared at the TV and watched the low point of his addiction, he said most people missed the most important thing the scene shows. “I am a son. A husband. A brother. A grandfather. A father. I'm a human being,” he told Memphis CBS-affiliate WREG. “That's what so many people missed about it. Those were two human beings.” (Wootson, 12/6)

Med Students Have Higher Prevalence Of Depression, But They're Not Seeking Help

“There is this tendency in medical culture to see psychological issues as not real health issues," says Marco Ramos, a medical and doctoral student at Yale. In other news, a program in Georgia looks to get medical students out of the classroom and into real-life training.

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Making The Grade: Medical Program Gets Students Into Field Sooner
For students interested in a health care career, the options are more extensive than many often realize. At Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, programs that train medical assistants and nurses are offered, along with another opportunity that has been steadily growing. The Patient Care Assistant certificate program is designed to get students out of the classroom and into the job market after one semester of study and hands-on training. (Cauley, 12/6)

And in other news —

Health News Florida: How To Cope: Students Experience Extra Holiday Stress 
The holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends. However, this can also be a stressful time for people, including college students. Mental health experts have some help regarding the difficulties of the holidays and how to cope with them. Dr. David Josephs is a psychologist and clinical director of Lake View Center. Josephs admitted that people are so stressed out during the holiday season is that they're so busy. (Morency, 12/6)

The Star Tribune: How University Of St. Thomas Students Are Sleeping Their Way To Better Grades
[Tarynn] Theilig is part of a campuswide initiative, in which the St. Thomas faculty and staff aim to set healthy sleep patterns by demonstrating to students the link between slumber, achievement and overall health. On campuses nationwide, college wellness efforts advise students on healthy habits regarding nutrition, exercise, tobacco, sex and more. At St. Thomas, wellness includes pushing the value of sleep. Through seminars and dorm chats, personalized programming and nudges from newly trained resident assistants and peer sleep advocates, St. Thomas students are given evidence that pulling all-nighters is counterproductive to their GPA. (Burger, 12/6)

Health News Florida: 'Sensory Rooms' And Students With Autism/ESE Needs
The Autism Society reports a growing number of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses across the country. That's seen an increase in the need for exceptional student education, or ESE, in Florida and elsewhere. Students with autism and other disabilities require special education plans, trained staff, and sensory rooms to help them calm down and deal with the stress of the classroom. (Smith, 12/6)

State Watch

Coverage For Gender-Transition Care Goes Into Effect In New York

Medically necessary hormone treatment and surgeries for transgender youths are now covered by Medicaid.

The Wall Street Journal: New York Expands Transgender Health Care
Medicaid in New York will begin covering gender-transition care for youths under a state regulation that goes into effect Wednesday, health department officials said. The court-ordered expansion of coverage is the latest in a series of changes instituted by the Department of Health in the past two years related to transgender health care. Until last March, a 1998 state regulation banned Medicaid coverage of all transition-related care. (Ramey, 12/6)

The Wall Street Journal: ‘I’ve Always Felt Like I’ve Been A Girl’
By the time John Ballard reached his teens, he had threatened to kill himself with broken glass, had temper tantrums in school and was in and out of a hospital crisis unit. The summer after seventh grade, he taped a note to the steering wheel of his mother’s van: “Mom, I love you and everything you’ve done for me. I don’t want you to hate me after this, but I’ve always felt like I’ve been a girl.” (Ramey, 12/6)

State Highlights: Health Care, Suicide Prevention Likely To Take Hits In Mass. Gov.'s Budget Cuts; In N.Y., 5 Babies Born With Zika-Related Symptoms

Outlets report on health news from Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Maryland, California, Florida, Colorado, Connecticut, Arizona and Minnesota.

Boston Globe: Baker To Cut $98 Million From State Budget 
Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that he is unilaterally slashing $98 million from the state budget to remedy what his administration says is a gap between projected revenue and authorized spending. Cuts will touch a wide swath of government programs. They include health care for the poor, suicide prevention, the State Police crime laboratory, literacy programs, state parks, and the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. But the total amount of spending being axed is small compared to the $39 billion budget. (Miller, 12/6)

The New York Times: New York City Has 5 Babies Born With Zika-Related Brain Issue
At least four babies have been born in New York City with Zika-related brain developmental symptoms since July, the city’s health department said on Wednesday, bringing the total number of such births to five. The numbers were announced in an alert the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sent to doctors, urging them to remain vigilant and to continue to warn pregnant women and sexually active women of reproductive age not using a reliable form of birth control against traveling to places where the virus is spreading. (Marc Santora, 12/7)

Georgia Health News: State Still Faces Shortage Of Caseworkers For Foster Kids 
As the number of foster children in Georgia soars, a state agency continues to struggle with a high turnover rate among the caseworkers who help these kids. Georgia DFCS assigns each foster child a caseworker, and the agency says the annual turnover rate for these workers is about 37 percent. DFCS is recruiting now to fill about 170 positions for child welfare case managers. The turnover rate among the caseworkers, says a DFCS spokeswoman, comes from several factors, including the departure of many for jobs with less stress and better pay. The starting salary for a child welfare case manager is $28,005. (Miller, 12/6)

The Baltimore Sun: University Of Maryland To Engage School Teachers, Students In Childhood Obesity Prevention Efforts 
The University of Maryland School of Medicine will use a $5 million federal grant to tackle childhood obesity by helping teachers, parents and students come up with ways to practice healthy habits in schools. The school will announce Wednesday it has received the funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop ways to help implement wellness policies the schools were required by federal law to establish. (McDaniels, 12/6)

Sacramento Bee: Rideout Health Settles For $2.4 Million In Alleged Drug Management, Record-Keeping Violations 
Rideout Health, the Yuba-Sutter county nonprofit healthcare system, will pay $2.4 million to settle federal claims that it allegedly mishandled records for thousands of drug transactions within three of its healthcare facilities, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice... The alleged violations were first investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration after it received information from the California State Board of Pharmacy that the system’s Fremont Medical Center was operating with an expired DEA registration. (Chavez, 12/6)

Sacramento Bee: Conjoined Twins Eva And Erika Sandoval Begin Separation Surgery 
Fused from the chest down, the twins from Antelope have managed to grow into talkative, playful toddlers while sharing a liver, bladder and some digestive tract as well as a third leg. Their parents and Stanford doctors, however, decided to go ahead with the dangerous surgery because of growing health risks if the twins stayed conjoined. Only a few hundred surgeries have ever been performed successfully to separate conjoined twins, and doctors calculated a 30 percent chance that one or both twins wouldn’t make it through Tuesday’s operation. (Caiola, 12/6)

Health News Florida: Ciguatera Toxin Stalks Florida Reef Fish 
It's the most common marine toxin in the world, but many aren't familiar with the all-too-common ciguatoxin. Even less well known are the severe—and often bizarre—neurological symptoms that accompany exposure. Aside from gastrointestinal distress, ciguatoxin can also cause dizziness, numbness, uncontrollable itching, even an inability to differentiate between hot and cold. In rare cases, it can even be fatal. (Smith, 12/6)

Sacramento Bee: Mothers Donate Breast Milk At A Collection Spot In Sacramento 
Heeding a statewide call for mothers’ milk, a handful of parents came with babies in tow or toting coolers of frozen breast milk to free drop-off events this week in Sacramento. Mila Linhart, 4 months old, was sweetly oblivious as her mother handed over about 400 ounces of frozen breast milk on Tuesday, surplus that Elizabeth Pontarelli wanted to share with preemie babies like her daughter. (Buck, 12/6)

Denver Post: Denver Shelters, Outreach Workers Prepare As Arctic Cold Threatens Homeless Population
With deadly cold weather rolling into Denver, outreach workers are doing their best to persuade those who live on the streets to get inside, and shelter providers are preparing for an influx of homeless people. The first major cold snap of the year is expected to begin Tuesday night, with temperatures falling to 6 degrees combined with a brisk wind that will make it feel like minus-8. More bone-chilling cold is on tap for Wednesday, and snow is expected to fall both days. (McGhee, 12/6)

The CT Mirror: DDS Group Home Privatization Effort Slows Down — For Now
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plans to privatize 40 group homes and lay off nearly 500 Department on Developmental Services employees next year — as well as union efforts to block those actions — have stalled temporarily, but have not gone away. Spokespeople for the administration and two state employee unions confirmed all parties are talking and have delayed a Hartford Superior Court hearing planned for this week, but released few other details. (Phaneuf, 12/7)

Arizona Republic: Breaking Ground: Work Begins On First Place Complex In Phoenix For Adults With Autism
On Tuesday, she [Denise Reznik] and other community leaders finally broke ground on First Place, a living center tailored to adults with autism and related disorders.The $15-million mixed-use development is expected to open in 2018 at Third Street and Catalina Drive. The complex will have 56 apartments with varying layouts, a training academy for residents and a leadership institute for medical professionals and researchers when it is complete. (Polletta, 12/6)

The CT Mirror: Advocates Give Legislators A ‘Mental Health 101’
As a newly elected state representative, David T. Wilson’s “homework” Tuesday included spending two hours in a “mental health 101” session, hosted by advocates hoping to make an impression with lawmakers. The Litchfield Republican and the handful of other newly elected or returning legislators who came heard about legal rights and supportive housing, addiction and recovery, the needs of young adults and holistic healing. They participated in a grounding exercise, raising upturned hands and taking deep breaths. (Levin Becker, 12/6)

The Star Tribune: Abbott Sued After Newborn Was Breast-Fed By Wrong Mother 
A mother whose newborn son was mistakenly turned over by maternity ward staff to another mother and breast-fed has sued the Minneapolis hospital.Tammy Van Dyke, of Apple Valley, sued Allina Health System's Abbott Northwestern Hospital late last week. The suit said the Dec. 5, 2012, mix-up led to "unnecessary medical treatment, tests and expenses, and severe mental injury and emotional pain and suffering." (Walsh, 12/6)

Sacramento Bee: In Sacramento, More Discover Health Benefits Of Fermented Foods 
The surge in popularity of fermented foods in recent years – eating them, creating them at home, exploring different cultures and cuisines – is based largely on the idea that this stuff can be really good for you.In today’s filtered, purified, sanitized, antibacterial world, you might think avoiding bacteria of any kind is a good thing. Turns out, plenty of bacteria, invisible to the naked eye, are plastered all over our food and working on our behalf. (Robertson, 12/6)

Prescription Drug Watch

The Tough New Road To Creating A Blockbuster Drug

News outlets report on stories related to pharmaceutical drug pricing.

The Wall Street Journal: Big Pharma, Short On Blockbusters, Outsources The Science
French drug giant Sanofi SA is betting that a biotech partnership named after a Star Trek premise will help it crack one of the biggest mysteries in pharmaceutical research: molecules that drive diseases, including some cancers, that have been considered “undruggable” because of their shape. Four-and-a-half years in, Sanofi now believes its partnership, Warp Drive Bio, is close to getting its first new drug candidate. But the path has been painful. The venture has gone through three CEOs, two organizational structures, dizzying shifts in priorities—and so far, no marketable products. (Rockoff, 12/6)

Stat: Global Spending On Drugs To Reach $1.5 Trillion By 2021
Global spending on pharmaceuticals is forecast to reach $1.5 trillion by 2021, a whopping 32 percent increase from expected spending this year. Even so, the year-on-year rate of increase is expected to be less than it has been in the recent past, when new, high-priced medicines for treating hepatitis C and some cancers prompted a huge uptick in demand. Indeed, overall spending will rise nearly 1.5 times faster between 2017 and 2021 than between 2012 and 2016, growing by $367 billion compared with $148 billion. But spending is forecast to drop 9 percent in 2016 from the past two years, which represented nearly unprecedented spending growth, and reach anywhere from 4 percent to 7 percent, on a compounded annual basis, between now and 2021. (Silverman, 12/6)

Reuters: Global Prescription Drug Spend Seen At $1.5 Trillion In 2021: Report
Global spending on prescription medicines will reach nearly $1.5 trillion by 2021, although the annual rate of growth will decrease from recent years, according to a forecast by Quintiles IMS Holding released on Tuesday. That figure, based on wholesale pricing, is up nearly $370 billion from estimated 2016 spending. The United States will account for up to $675 billion of the $1.5 trillion. (Berkrot, 12/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Fined $107 Million For Overcharging Britain’s National Health Service For Epilepsy Drug
Pfizer Inc. has been fined £84.2 million ($106.7 million) by the U.K.’s competition regulator for charging the country’s National Health Service excessively high prices for an anti-epilepsy drug. The Competition and Markets Authority said Wednesday that Pfizer and drug distribution company Flynn Pharma broke competition law by charging unfair prices in the U.K. for phenytoin sodium capsules, an anti-epilepsy drug used by around 48,000 patients in the country. (Roland, 12/7)

The Associated Press: UK Fines Companies For Hiking Epilepsy Drug Price 2,600 Pct
British regulators have fined U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and distributor Flynn Pharma almost 90 million pounds ($114.6 million) for increasing the cost of an epilepsy drug by as much as 2,600 percent.The Competition and Markets Authority says Pfizer and Flynn Pharma broke competition law by charging "excessive and unfair prices" for the drug used by some 48,000 people in Britain. Pfizer was fined 84.2 million pounds ($106 million) and Flynn Pharma 5.2 million pounds. (Kirka, 12/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Novo Nordisk Pledges To Limit Price Increases In U.S. For Its Drugs
Novo Nordisk A/S has pledged to limit price increases in the U.S. for its drugs, acknowledging that many diabetes patients struggle to afford its products. Jakob Riis, Novo’s U.S. chief, said the company would limit future increases in list prices of its drugs to no more than single-digit percentages annually. He made the pledge in an article posted on the company’s website last week. (Roland, 12/6)

Bloomberg: Novo To Cap Price Increases As Drug Costs Face Growing Scrutiny
With drug companies under fire over high prices, the world’s largest insulin maker plans to limit increases and join competitors by introducing a model that ties the cost of medicines to the results they deliver. Novo Nordisk A/S expects to make prices dependent on achieving certain outcomes or promising benefits to patients, Chief Executive Officer Lars Rebien Sorensen said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Bagsvaerd, Denmark. That type of pricing should play a bigger role in contract negotiations with purchasers starting early next year, he said. (Paton, 12/5)

The Associated Press: Can't Buy Love? Drug Price Hikes Put Sex Beyond Reach
Imagine not being able to afford one of life's great pleasures — sex. That's true for many older couples, doctors say. Soaring prices for prescription medicines for impotence and other problems have put the remedies out of reach for some. Without insurance coverage, Viagra and Cialis cost about $50 a pill, triple their 2010 list prices. (Johnson, 12/5)

Los Angeles Times: How Free Coupons For Patients Help Drugmakers Hike Prices By 1,000%
Horizon Pharma charges more than $2,000 for a month’s supply of a prescription pain reliever that is the combination of two cheap drugs available separately over the counter. Another company, Novum, sells a small tube of a prescription skin rash cream, containing two inexpensive decades-old medicines, for nearly $8,000. What is key to the companies’ business plan of raising prices by 1,000% or more? (Petersen, 12/5)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. ‘Disappointed’ By Japanese Plan To Cut Drug Costs
The U.S. government has written to a senior aide of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, calling on Tokyo to reconsider a plan that would allow more frequent pharmaceutical price cuts.The letter from Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker describes how the U.S. is “disappointed” by the Japanese plan to reduce drug prices. Tokyo’s policies “raise serious concerns about the incentive structure for health-care products, as well as about the market’s predictability and transparency,” it said. (Warnock and Fujikawa, 12/6)

Vox: The True Story Of America’s Sky-High Prescription Drug Prices
The United States is exceptional in that it does not regulate or negotiate the prices of new prescription drugs when they come onto market. Other countries will task a government agency to meet with pharmaceutical companies and haggle over an appropriate price. These agencies will typically make decisions about whether these new drugs represent any improvement over the old drugs — whether they’re even worth bringing onto the market in the first place. They’ll pore over reams of evidence about drugs’ risks and benefits. The United States allows drugmakers to set their own prices for a given product — and allows every drug that's proven to be safe come onto market. (Kliff, 11/30)

FiercePharma: Are DTC Ads Tipping The Balance In Psoriasis Battle Between Lilly’s Taltz And Novartis’ Cosentyx?
Eli Lilly’s aggressive Taltz DTC advertising seems to be giving the new-to-market drug a boost in the next-generation psoriasis drug battle against Novartis' Cosentyx. While analyst Lynn Price was careful to note that Taltz and Cosentyx market share should eventually stabilize, a new report from her firm Spherix Global Insights indicates the Taltz DTC campaign is having an early impact on uptake of the drug. (Bulik, 12/2)

Perspectives: The Less-Than-Lofty Reasons For Pharma Execs To Attack Price Gouging

Read recent commentaries about drug-cost issues.

Bloomberg: The Numbers Behind A Pharma CEO Shouting Match
When you get a bunch of pharma execs together to talk drug pricing, they're supposed to trade banal and mutually beneficial platitudes about unfair press coverage and the need to pay for innovation. What they're not supposed to do is get into a shouting match, which is exactly what happened between Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. CEO Leonard Schleifer and Pfizer Inc. CEO Ian Read at Forbes's Health Summit on Thursday. While Read defended the industry's price-hiking practices, Schleifer said he hated them, expressed understanding for pharma's radioactive reputation, and declared Pfizer wasn't "entitled to a fraction of GDP." (Max Nisen, 12/2)

The Hill: What Is The Deal With Prescription Drug Costs?
Medications have their price, but as costs continue to rise, more people cannot afford to fill their prescriptions. Whether or not this trend of not taking prescribed medication affects overall morbidity and mortality remains to be seen. However, in the meantime, millions of Americans wonder why they are in the position of having to choose between their medication and food for their family. (Dana Connolly, 12/2)

Bloomberg: Novo's Pricing Pledge Is A Sign Of More To Come
One $80 billion-plus company is a pioneer. Two make a trend that can't be ignored. Novo Nordisk A/S announced on Monday it will no longer raise individual drug prices by more than 10 percent within a year. It joins another pharma giant, Allergan plc, which made a similar pledge in September. The Danish diabetes drugmaker also plans to link the costs of its drugs to the results they deliver for patients. (Max Nisen, 12/5)

NJBIZ: Does A Trump Administration Equal Status Quo For Drug Pricing? Think Again
Like many Americans, I was surprised by the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Many fully expected a Hillary Clinton victory. With that expectation was the belief that drug pricing would remain a key focus of the political debate. With the election of Donald Trump as our next President, is the focus off drug prices? Will things go back to business as usual? Will changes to the Affordable Care Act, the economy, jobs and immigration consume all of the political oxygen in the room, leaving no room for anything else? (Brent Saunders, 12/6)

Mother Jones: What's The Real Reason Drug Prices Are So High In America?
Health insurers are as big as whole countries. ... So why are they unable to negotiate lower drug prices? Medicare may be prohibited from doing this, but private insurers aren't. Are insurers hemmed in by rules requiring them to offer any "medically necessary" drug? Are they, ironically, limited by competition—afraid of losing customers if they don't cover everything? Are they just lousy negotiators because they don't really care? After all, high prices are going to get passed along anyway, so it doesn't hurt them as long as their competitors are in the same boat. Alternatively, do I completely misunderstand how the process works? (Kevin Drum, 12/2)

Editorials And Opinions

Outlooks On Health Policy: Congress Moves On Cures; Making The FDA Great Again

Opinion and editorial writers offer views on a range of health policy topics, including a look at the Aetna-Humana anti-trust trial in the context of Medicare privatization proposals and more.

The Wall Street Journal: Congress’s Cures Breakthrough
Medicine moves faster than government, thank goodness, but every now and again government tries to catch up. After years of thoughtful bipartisan work, Congress is now poised to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill designed to accelerate the development of new medicines and modernize a malfunctioning corner of the regulatory state. (12/6)

Stat: 7 Ways To Make The FDA Great Again, From A Former Agency Official
I now fail to understand several of the FDA’s decisions in the very recent past. In addition to a profound lack of scientific proof, these decisions seem to lack basic common sense. For example, flibanserin worked in only 8 percent to 13 percent of the women in which it was tested. On top of this pathetically poor efficacy, flibanserin can have life-threatening interactions with recreational alcohol consumption and some of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics and antifungals on the market. ... As a former FDA medical officer and erstwhile FDA observer, I offer seven of my many suggestions for fixing the agency. (David Gortler, 12/6)

Forbes: If Paul Ryan Privatizes Medicare, Aetna-Humana Trial Looms Larger
As more seniors choose private Medicare Advantage plans, the clout of the insurance industry has grown and could become even more powerful if Republicans led by Paul Ryan further privatize health benefits for the elderly. A key issue in this week's antitrust trial pitting the U.S. Justice Department against health insurers Aetna and Humana is whether the combined company and the Medicare Advantage plans they sell would have too much power over seniors in 70 counties. The government says the two would create a monopoly and is trying to block the $37 billion deal amid rampant consolidation that also includes the proposed merger of Anthem and Cigna. (Bruce Japsen, 12/6)

WBUR: Narrating Medicine: When You 'Inherit' A Pain Patient On Opioids, You Need Guidelines 
We primary care practitioners want to do what’s best for our patients, including those with chronic pain, who are often some of the most challenging patients to manage. We do not want to overprescribe a potentially addictive and lethal opioid medication. In the primary care setting, all of this decision-making is happening at once and the patient is waiting for your decision. (Kathryn Takayoshi, 12/6)

RealClear Health: Leading Opioid-Addiction Treatment Drug Is Itself A Problem
Within a few hours on a late summer day this year, 27 people in the West Virginia town of Huntington were rushed to the emergency room because of heroin, fentanyl, and other opioid overdoses. The problem is a growing one: In 2014 more than 47,000 Americans died from opioid and other drug overdoses and 2.6 million Americans suffer opioid addiction. This costs the nation about $78.5 billion in health care costs, and drug overdoses have claimed eight times as many U.S. lives between 2000 and 2014 as in the Vietnam War—a half million. Last month, the Surgeon General issued a landmark report on “Facing Addiction in America,“ noting that only 1 in 10 of the 20.8 million Americans with a substance-abuse disorder gets treatment. (Andrew Yarrow, 12/6)

Bloomberg: Chicago's Model Health-Care Fix
States’ efforts to contain their retiree health-care liabilities, along with the slowdown in overall health-care cost growth, pushed down costs by 10 percent from 2010 to 2013. Since 2013, though, these state liabilities have started to climb again. Chicago’s have not. On the contrary, from 2013 to 2015, the cost of the city’s post-retirement health benefits fell by more than 20 percent.A big reason for this is that the city has been phasing out subsidies for employees who retired in August 1989 or later. While those who retired earlier will continue to receive subsidies for more than half the cost of their insurance premiums, the later retirees are being shifted into nonsubsidized Medicare and other plans. In addition, recent police and fire collective bargaining agreements include more premiums for retiree health care, to offset some of the city’s costs. (Peter R. Orszag, 12/6)

Stat: How Mice Are Helping Personalize Cancer Treatment
Mice sometimes get blamed for disappointments in cancer research, such as when treatments that were promising in mouse studies do poorly in clinical trials. However, as we learn more about the complex interactions between cancer and the immune system, the need has grown for simple models that allow research into a limited set of factors in a controlled environment. Studies in mice can be a valuable predictor of clinical success as long as mouse models evolve with the science. (Aidan Synnott, 12/6)

The Columbus Dispatch: Ease Rule On Gay Blood Donations
More than 30 years ago, as the AIDS epidemic exploded, the nation’s blood banks banned donations from men who had sex with other men. The logic was sound at the time. Tests of the era couldn’t adequately detect HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. As a result, thousands of people unwittingly contracted HIV from tainted blood during transfusions. (12/7)

Viewpoints: Is The GOP Plan To 'Repeal And Dawdle'?; Democrats' Health Care Dare

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

The Washington Post: Obamacare ‘Repeal And Dawdle’ Policy Is A Political Suicide Mission
The GOP House leadership’s plan to repeal Obamacare and then find a replacement three years from now has generated broad consensus: It’s a terrible idea. The Freedom Caucus’s incoming ringleader, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), says his group will put up major resistance. He thinks Obamacare should be repealed and replaced — just like Republicans promised — all within the 115th Congress. (Jennifer Rubin, 12/6)

The Washington Post: Repealing Obamacare Without Replacing It Would Be A Disaster
In the six years since enactment of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have sworn that, given the chance, they would “repeal and replace” it. Now they need to deliver. Repeal should be relatively simple. Enacting a replacement and implementing it won’t be. And repeal without having an agreed-on plan for replacement in place is a recipe for calamity, as a new Urban Institute study shows. ... Ending those parts of the ACA that can be repealed without the threat of a Senate filibuster and delaying implementation for two years would leave more people without insurance than would have been the case if the law had never been passed, the study finds. Those actions would increase the number of people without health insurance by nearly 30 million in 2019. (Henry J. Aaron and Robert D. Reischauer, 12/7)

JAMA Forum: A Look At Republican Plans For Replacing Obamacare
After campaigning for years on a plan of “repeal and replace Obamacare,” Republicans finally have the means within their grasp to make much of that possible. They control the presidency, the House, and the Senate. The filibuster still poses some potential threats to their plans, but it’s also within their means to abolish its widespread use in such a way that they could both repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something of their own design. What would that be? In contrast to what many say, there are Republican plans out there to consider. (Aaron Carroll, 12/6)

The Huffington Post: GOP Vows Obamacare Repeal To Start 2017. Dems Dare Them.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday announced they plan to act quickly to strip away Obamacare’s funding while leaving elements of the program in place for two or three years. The move would put them in lockstep with House Republicans, and would enable President-elect Donald Trump to sign a bill effectively repealing the program on his first day in office. Democrats promptly warned that the move would destabilize insurance markets in the short term and deprive millions of people of coverage in the long term, causing a “huge calamity” for America as well as for the Republican Party. (Jonathan Cohn and Michael McAuliff, 12/6)

WBUR: Tom Price, And The Cost Of Repealing The Affordable Care Act 
Donald Trump's pick for health and human services secretary has hawked a detailed plan for years on how to replace the Affordable Care Act. While others in his party must answer the question, “Replace with what?” the question for Price is, “Would your replacement work?” In case you haven’t guessed, it wouldn't. (Rich Barlow, 12/7)

Health Affairs Blog: Taking Stock Of Health Reform: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going
Almost from the moment of its inauguration in 2009, the Obama administration has struggled, often against adamant resistance, to enact and implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The 2016 election has brought to power opponents of the ACA who will control the presidency, both houses of Congress, and many state houses and governorships. ACA repeal, or “repeal and replace,” seems to be a very real, indeed likely, possibility. It is important, therefore, to take a sober look at what the ACA has achieved in its nearly six years of existence, and what repeal, or repeal and replacement, might look like. (Timothy Jost, 12/6)

The New York Times: Protecting Reproductive Rights Under Donald Trump
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump sent mixed messages about his position on reproductive rights. Whatever his personal opinion may be, his appointees and their actions could put reproductive health care out of reach for millions of women, especially those living in poverty. Mr. Trump has promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade, but overturning that decision would be a long process, probably requiring two new justices. Even without that change, there are many potent ways to restrict reproductive rights — including not defending them against legal attack. (12/7)

RealClear Health: Why Ben Carson’s Medical Experience Matters At HUD
Carson’s nomination as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development raised some eyebrows, and not just because Carson had recently said he wasn’t interested in running a federal agency. The responsibilities of the job — running a federal agency whose budget in 2016 neared $50 billion and that is responsible for helping local housing authorities manage over a million households — struck some as an odd fit for his training as a neurosurgeon. ... But public health professionals are hoping that he’ll bring his medical lens to the job — pushing for quality housing for low-income people and improving people’s health conditions within public housing. (Ike Swetlitz, 12/6)

The Des Moines Register: More Iowans Sign Up For 'Obamacare' Insurance
Americans who buy health insurance through a job may take for granted the protections of employer-based plans. All eligible workers, whether triathletes or cancer survivors, are offered coverage. A coworker is not denied benefits because he’s had four heart attacks. In group policies, insurers do not single out people with health problems. Everyone is pooled together and everyone shares the cost. The employer usually kicks in a good chunk of money, too. (12/6)