KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: December 22, 2016

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

Kaiser Health News: Obamacare Enrollment Is Beating Last Year’s Early Pace
The surge in sign-ups on the federal marketplace mirrors activity on several state-run Obamacare exchanges, according to figures obtained from states independently by Kaiser Health News. Minnesota, with more than 54,000 enrollees as of Monday, doubled the number of sign-ups it had at the same time last year. Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington had enrollment growth of at least 13 percent compared to a year ago. (Galewitz, 12/21)

Kaiser Health News: Latest Hospital Injury Penalties Include Crackdown On Antibiotic Resistant Germs
The federal government has cut payments to 769 hospitals with high rates of patient injuries, for the first time counting the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs in assessing penalties. The punishments come in the third year of Medicare penalties for hospitals with patients most frequently suffering from potentially avoidable complications, including various types of infections, blood clots, bed sores and falls. This year the government also examined the prevalence of two types of bacteria resistant to drugs. (Rau, 12/21)

Kaiser Health News: Alleged Scheme To Fix Generic Drug Prices Started At Dinners And ‘Girls Nights Out’
The high prices Americans pay for generic drugs may have been cooked up by pharmaceutical salespeople on golf courses, at a New Jersey steakhouse or over martinis at a “Girls Nights Out” in Minnesota. Details emerging from an ongoing investigation show that drug company employees gathered regularly at such swanky locations and conspired to keep prices and profits high, according to interviews and a complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court by Attorneys General in 20 states. (Szabo, Aleccia and Zdechlik, 12/22)

Kaiser Health News: California Hopes $3 Billion Experiment Will Improve Health Of Neediest
Riverside County plans to connect former inmates with health clinics and social services. Orange County hopes to get homeless residents into housing — and help them stay there. Placer County is opening a respite center where homeless patients can go after they leave the hospital. Those are just some of the pilot projects in a $3 billion experimental effort officials hope will improve the health of California’s most vulnerable populations. The effort is a recognition that improving people’s health will take more than just getting them insured. (Gorman, 12/22)

The New York Times: Health Exchange Enrollment Jumps, Even As G.O.P. Pledges Repeal
About 6.4 million people have signed up for health insurance next year under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration said Wednesday, as people rushed to purchase plans regardless of Republican promises that the law will be repealed within months. The new sign-ups — an increase of 400,000 over a similar point last year — mean the health care coverage of millions of consumers could be imperiled by one of the first legislative actions of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. (Pear, 12/21)

The Associated Press: 'Obamacare' Holding Its Own: 6.4M Signed Up So Far
"Obamacare" seems to be holding its own. The administration said Wednesday that 6.4 million people have enrolled for subsidized private coverage through HealthCare.gov, ahead of last year's pace. Despite rising premiums, dwindling insurers and the Republican vow to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law, about 400,000 more people signed up through Monday than for a comparable period in 2015, the Health and Human Services Department said. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 12/21)

USA Today: First Obamacare Deadline Had Big Late Rush
About 4 million of those who signed up so far this year were renewing coverage, but Burwell said she expects more of the people who enroll ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline for 2017 coverage will be new customers. ACA critics charge the law has mainly attracted sicker people who have driven up the rates for others. (O'Donnell, 12/21)

The Associated Press: Democratic Governors Warn Congress On Health Care Repeal
Democratic governors Wednesday warned top Republicans in Congress that repealing the Obama health care law would stick states with billions of dollars in costs for providing medical care to residents made newly uninsured. The Democratic Governors Association wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Governors estimated that states could face nearly $69 billion in costs for uncompensated care over the next 10 years if the health law is repealed. States traditionally shouldered a hefty share of such costs. (12/21)

The Associated Press: Lawmaker Says Son's Broken Arm Was Bad Health Care Example
A conservative GOP lawmaker says he "made a poor choice of words" when citing a decision to delay treatment of his son's broken arm to point out the benefits of a health care system in which consumers bear a greater share of out-of-pocket costs. Rep. Bill Huizenga stirred up controversy earlier this week after telling Michigan news site MLive.com that he and his wife opted to place a splint on their son's arm and wait until the next morning to take him to the doctor rather than seek immediate but more costly treatment at an emergency room. (12/21)

USA Today: Senate Report Shows Martin Shkreli Is Just As Bad As You Think He Is
Staggering hikes  — in some cases higher than 5000% — in prices of prescription drugs threaten the health and economic stability of Americans who can't afford vital medicines, a congressional report warned Wednesday. The findings by the Senate Special on Aging summarize the panel's 2016 investigation of records from four pharmaceutical companies and public hearings that focused on sudden price spikes in decades-old medications and the pricing decisions imposed by drug industry entrepreneur Martin Shkreli and other industry executives. (McCoy, 12/21)

Los Angeles Times: How 4 Drug Companies Rapidly Raised Prices On Life-Saving Drugs
U.S. Senate committee detailed in an investigative report Wednesday how drug companies were exploiting the market by acquiring decades-old crucial medicines and suddenly raising their prices astronomically. “We must work to stop the bad actors who are driving up the prices of drugs that they did nothing to develop at the expense of patients just because, as one executive essentially said, ‘because I can,’ ” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee. (Petersen, 12/21)

The Associated Press: Health Stocks Skid, And The Dow Finishes Shy Of 20,000
Stocks finished slightly lower Wednesday as healthcare companies continued to struggle. Energy companies rose as the price of natural gas surged on the first day of winter. Some traders aren't sticking around to see if the Dow Jones industrial average reaches the 20,000-point milestone: Trading volume has fallen sharply this week as the year-end holidays draw near. (12/21)

The New York Times: Statin Drugs Tied To Better Surgery Outcomes
Taking statins, the widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs, may make surgery safer. Researchers examined results in 96,486 surgeries in a Veterans Affairs database. It included a wide range of operations, though not heart surgery. The average age of the patients was 65, and almost all were men. About half were taking statins the day before and the day after their operations. (Bakalar, 12/21)

NPR: Government Pays For Kidney Transplants But Not The Anti-Rejection Drugs
The federal government will pay more than $100,000 to give someone a kidney transplant, but after three years, the government will often stop paying for the drugs needed to keep that transplanted kidney alive. Constance Creasey is one of the thousands of people who find themselves caught up by this peculiar feature of the federal kidney program. (Harris, 12/22)

The Associated Press: Judge: Medical Providers Don't Have To Give Info On Abortion
An Illinois judge has suspended a state requirement that health care providers who oppose abortion must give information or referrals to patients seeking the procedure. Winnebago County Judge Eugene Doherty granted an injunction Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by medical providers who oppose abortion, saying they "raised a fair question as to whether their right to be free from government compelled speech is violated." (12/21)

The Associated Press: Researchers: Nearly 400 Drug Addicts Helped In Police Effort
A novel drug addiction program developed in a small Massachusetts fishing town and since replicated in dozens of cities nationwide was able to place almost 400 addicts into treatment nearly each time they sought it during the first year of operation, researchers say in a report being published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Marcelo, 12/21)

The New York Times: Full Course Of Antibiotics Is Best For Infant Ear Infections, Study Finds
When babies have an acute ear infection, they tug at their ears, get cranky and struggle to sleep through the night. Ear infections are the most common reason doctors prescribe antibiotics to children. Because of the growing threat of drug-resistant bacteria, many physicians had hoped that a shorter course of antibiotics would be as effective as the standard 10 days of treatment for babies. (Saint Louis, 12/21)

NPR: Cutting Back On Antibiotics Doesn't Work For Children's Ear Infections
Researchers looking into whether a shorter course of antibiotics would treat young children's ear infections as well as a longer course found that not only was the shorter treatment less effective but it didn't reduce antibiotic resistance or side effects. The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, comes as physicians and researchers are looking for ways to curb the unnecessary use of antibiotics, including the possibility of using them for a shorter time against some common infections. (Hobson, 12/21)

NPR: Refugees In Texas Get Help With Medical Care From Students
Each Wednesday at St. Francis Episcopal Church on the north side of San Antonio, dozens of refugees from all over the world come for free care at the Refugee Health Clinic. Students and faculty at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio have teamed up to operate one of the only student-run refugee clinics in the country. (Rigby, 12/21)

NPR: Secondhand Racial Discrimination May Affect Health, Too
Doctors have long known that black people are more likely than white people to suffer from diseases such as high blood pressure. A study suggests that racial discrimination may be playing a role in a surprising way. The study, which involved 150 African-Americans living in Tallahassee, Fla., found that knowing someone who had experienced racial discrimination was associated with genetic markers that may affect risk for high blood pressure. (Stein, 12/21)

NPR: After Brain Injury, Sleep Is Essential To Recovery
For patients with serious brain injuries, there's a strong link between sleep patterns and recovery. A study of 30 patients hospitalized for moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries found that sleep quality and brain function improved in tandem, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Neurology. (Hamilton, 12/21)

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