KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: July 13, 2017

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

Kaiser Health News: DNA Links Deadly Germs, Tainted Heart Surgery Devices To German Factory
Contamination at a German factory that makes crucial machines used during open-heart surgery is the likely source of a global outbreak of deadly infections tied to the devices, the largest analysis to date shows. Scientists using whole-genome sequencing matched the DNA fingerprints of samples taken from infected heart-surgery patients from several countries, including the U.S., to samples from the devices, called heater-cooler units, in multiple hospitals — and at the production site. (Aleccia, 7/12)

Kaiser Health News: Senators Grill Top Indian Health Officials About Trump Budget
Leaders of the Indian Health Service struggled Wednesday at a Senate hearing to defend the Trump administration’s plans to slash funding to the agency, which is reeling from quality of care problems at several of its hospitals, a doctor shortage and facilities showing their age. The lack of answers infuriated both Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations subcommittee. (Galewitz, 7/12)

The New York Times: Senate Republicans, Preparing New Health Bill, Have No Votes To Spare
The likely defection of two Senate Republicans has left their leaders no margin for error as they move on Thursday to unveil another version of their bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act — without an assurance that they have the votes even to begin debate next week. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky flatly declared on Wednesday that he would not vote to take up the bill, which he said left too much of President Barack Obama’s health law in place. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has gone almost as far, saying that the bill cuts too much and that only major revisions could win her over. (Pear and Kaplan, 7/12)

The Wall Street Journal: McConnell Faces Increasing Pressure Over Health Bill As Timetable Tightens
The revised bill is expected to include $45 billion more to combat the opioid epidemic, allow people to use funds from their health-savings accounts to pay insurance premiums, and retain the ACA’s two taxes on high-income households. Mr. McConnell responded Wednesday by warning Republicans about the perils of not coming together to pass a bill. “If we sit on our hands, families will continue to suffer,” he said on the Senate floor. (Armour, Peterson and Radnofsky, 7/12)

USA Today: Senate Health Care Troubles Spawn Bipartisan Talks
Senate Republican leaders are plowing ahead with their goal to pass a GOP-only bill to repeal and replace Obamacare next week, but behind the scenes a bipartisan group of senators is discussing how to move forward if the bill fails. “We’ve had great conversations — a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., told reporters Wednesday. Carper said he's been talking specifically with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and they have agreed on the need to draft a bill in public with opportunities for amendments and a full debate. (Collins and Greene, 7/12)

Politico: Bipartisan Fixes Won't Come Easily If GOP's Repeal Effort Collapses
[M]any in the GOP privately say they might need a break between seven years of repeal attempts and a sudden repair effort. And some Democrats are already calling for single-payer health care — an automatic non-starter for Republicans. The sharp political divide underscores just how hard it would be for the parties to come together amid the ashes of a failed repeal. (Haberkorn and Cancryn, 7/12)

The Washington Post: Trump: ‘I Will Be Very Angry’ If GOP Senators Don’t Pass A Health-Care Bill
The comments, coming in an interview at the White House with televangelist Pat Robertson of CBN News, intensified public pressure on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who plans to release a revised version of his health-care legislation Thursday morning. “I am sitting in the Oval Office with a pen in hand, waiting for our senators to give it to me,” Trump said. “It has to get passed. They have to do it. They have to get together and get it done.” (Sullivan, Wagner and Snell, 7/12)

Politico: Trump: I'll Be 'Very Angry' If The GOP Health Care Bill Fails
Trump noted how often Republicans have touted repealing the landmark 2010 health care bill. “They’ve been promising it for years. They’ve been promising it ever since Obamacare which is failed,” Trump said. “It’s a failed experiment. It is totally gone. It’s out of business and we have to get this done.” (Tesfamichael, 7/12)

Politico: Senate Moderates Sidelined In New Obamacare Repeal Bill
In a closed-door meeting of Senate Republican chairmen Wednesday, Lisa Murkowski ripped GOP leaders’ attempt to scale back Medicaid spending in their Obamacare repeal bill. The two matters were unrelated, she argued, because the Affordable Care Act did not change Medicaid spending levels across the entire program. The independent-minded Alaska senator was backed up by Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, a Republican generally aligned with leadership, according to senators and people familiar with the conversations. (Everett and Pradhan, 7/12)

The New York Times: A Risky Mix: Cutting Taxes For The Rich And Aid For The Poor
The tough lessons are piling up for Republicans as they struggle to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but one stands out as a harbinger of things to come: Tax cuts for the rich, paired with reduced services for the poor, are a politically unpalatable combination. Unable to get the first version of their health care bill off the ground, Senate Republicans are expected to release a revised bill on Thursday that would keep two of the taxes on the wealthy that were imposed by President Barack Obama’s health law: the 3.8 percent tax on investment income and the 0.9 percent surcharge on Medicare taxes, both imposed on high-income earners. (Rappeport, 7/12)

USA Today: Donald Trump Could Get Huge Tax Cut With Obamacare Tax Repeal
The elimination of an Affordable Care Act tax could result in a personal tax cut for President Trump of between $1.4 million and $2.8 million a year, according to a liberal advocacy group. Americans for Tax Fairness said the elimination of the 3.8% net investment income tax would, by its estimates, result in the big cut. The group based its estimates on Trump's financial disclosure form. (Estepa, 7/12)

Politico: Insurers Condemn Cruz-Lee Plan To Loosen Insurance Rules
Health insurers are blasting an effort by conservatives to modify the Senate Obamacare repeal bill and set up a two-tier market in which companies could sell plans that don’t meet Obamacare’s coverage requirements. Their big concern, according to documents obtained by POLITICO: The plan by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee would threaten access to coverage for individuals with costly medical conditions. (Demko, 7/12)

The Washington Post: Republicans’ Obamacare Repeal Bill Would Bar Some Immigrants From Buying Insurance On The Exchanges
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants could be locked out of the health insurance marketplaces if the Senate’s new health-care bill becomes law. Buried among the bill’s provisions that roll back the Medicaid expansion and lower marketplace subsidies is a shift in eligibility requirements. Rather than all legal immigrants being able to receive tax credits and buy coverage in the marketplace like under the Affordable Care Act, the new bill — aside from a few, narrow exceptions — allows only permanent residents and people who immigrated for humanitarian reasons to participate. (Soffen, 7/12)

The Associated Press: Governors Gather To Discuss Challenges Facing Their States
More than half of U.S. governors are meeting this week to discuss the biggest challenges facing their states. Those include the possibility of major changes to Medicaid and states' health insurances marketplaces under the Republican health care plan in Congress, the ongoing opioid epidemic and the impact of climate change. (McDermott, 7/13)

The Washington Post: From Hospitals, Doctors And Patients, A Last Gasp Of Opposition To The Senate Health-Care Bill
Just four days after Senate GOP leaders revealed their health-care bill this summer, Tucson Medical Center hosted a town hall thousands of miles away drawing roughly 700 people in person and 1,900 online. In its aftermath, hospital employees, doctors and members of the public sent nearly 2,900 emails to the state’s two senators, Republicans John ­McCain and Jeff Flake, urging them to reject any legislation that would jeopardize patient health care. The move was like nothing the hospital had done before, said Julia Strange, the center’s vice president for community benefit. (Eilperin and Cunningham, 7/12)

Politico: Despite Doomsday Rhetoric, Obamacare Markets Are Stabilizing
“Obamacare is dead,” President Donald Trump frequently declares. But reports of its demise appear to be premature. For the first time ever this year, insurers selling plans in Obamacare’s markets appear to be on a path toward profitability. And despite the drumbeat of headlines about fleeing insurers, only about 25,000 Obamacare customers live in communities facing the prospect of having no insurer next year. (Demko, 7/12)

NPR: Health Insurers Pay More Up Front To Reduce Costs Later
Diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions account for the vast majority of health spending in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost half of American adults have one or more chronic physical or mental health conditions, and spending on them adds up to some $2.3 trillion a year. Some health plans are beginning to offer free maintenance care for people with chronic health problems, hoping that spending a little more early on will save a lot [of] money in the long run. (Zdechlik, 7/12)

The New York Times: F.D.A. Panel Recommends Approval For Gene-Altering Leukemia Treatment
A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease. (Grady, 7/12)

The Washington Post: FDA Panel Recommends Approval Of CAR T-Cell Therapy
The unanimous recommendation from the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee means the treatment could be approved by the FDA by the end of September, forging a new path in the immunotherapy frontier. Timothy Cripe, a panel member who is an oncologist with Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, called the treatment the "most exciting thing I've seen in my lifetime." (McGinley, 7/12)

NPR: FDA Advisors Endorse Genetically Engineered Immunotherapy For Cancer
The treatment takes cells from a patient's body, modifies the genes, and then reinfuses those modified cells back into the person who has cancer. If the agency approves, it would mark the first time the FDA has approved anything considered to be a "gene therapy product." The treatment is part of one of the most important developments in cancer research in decades — finding ways to harness the body's own immune system to fight cancer. (Stein, 7/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Grill Indian Health Service Leader On Failing Care
The Indian Health Service’s top official dodged frustrated lawmakers’ questions about unsafe care at the federal agency and whether proposed budget cuts would worsen the situation during a tense Senate committee hearing Wednesday. Members of the Senate Indian Affairs and Senate Appropriations committees repeatedly cited two articles published last week in The Wall Street Journal on the agency, which provides health care to 2.2 million tribal members. (Weaver and Frosch, 7/12)

The Washington Post: New CDC Chief Partnered With Coke In State Obesity Program
As Georgia’s top public health official, Brenda Fitzgerald led the fight against childhood obesity in a state with one of the highest rates in the country. The program there, funded in part by the Coca-Cola Foundation, emphasizes exercise and makes little mention of the problems with sugary soft drinks — putting the effort at odds with research and the positions of many experts. (Sun, 7/12)

USA Today: Why Zika Virus Infections Are Way Down In U.S. This Summer
Zika, the virus that sparked widespread concern last year? It’s on the wane, at least for now. The number of people infected with Zika is down substantially this year in the United States, reflecting a precipitous drop in mosquito-borne virus infections in Puerto Rico and other overseas locations. (Orr, 7/12)

The New York Times: The Chemicals In Your Mac And Cheese
Potentially harmful chemicals that were banned from children’s teething rings and rubber duck toys a decade ago may still be present in high concentrations in your child’s favorite meal: macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese. (Rabin, 7/12)

Los Angeles Times: Surgery For Early-Stage Prostate Cancer Does Not Lead To Longer Lives, Study Finds
A long-term study of men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer has confirmed that patients who forgo immediate surgery have the same odds of living another decade or two as patients who have their tumors surgically removed. The results, published in Thursday’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, show that while each approach offers a different mix of benefits and risks, neither is likely to result in death due to prostate cancer. (Abed, 7/12)

NPR: Study Finds Mistakes With Medications On The Rise
When people take medicine at home, mistakes happen. Some people end up taking the wrong dose of a medication or the wrong pill. Sometimes, they don't wait long enough before taking a second dose. Other times, it's a health professional who's at fault. A pharmacist might have dispensed a medication at the wrong concentration, for example. (Columbus, 7/12)

The New York Times: Who Needs Hard Drives? Scientists Store Film Clip In DNA
It was one of the very first motion pictures ever made: a galloping mare filmed in 1878 by the British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who was trying to learn whether horses in motion ever become truly airborne. More than a century later, that clip has rejoined the cutting edge. It is now the first movie ever to be encoded in the DNA of a living cell, where it can be retrieved at will and multiplied indefinitely as the host divides and grows. The advance, reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature by researchers at Harvard Medical School, is the latest and perhaps most astonishing example of the genome’s potential as a vast storage device. (Kolata, 7/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Nurses At Major Boston Hospital Go On Strike
Nurses at a major Boston hospital went on strike Wednesday for the first time in three decades at a time of concerns nationally over labor costs at hospitals. Some 1,200 nurses at Tufts Medical Center staged a one-day strike over a contract dispute centered on the hospital’s efforts to alter retirement benefits by moving nurses who still have traditional pension plans into less costly 401 (k)-style accounts. (Levitz, 7/12)

The Associated Press: Latino Plaintiffs Sue California Alleging Poor Health Care
California is harming medical care for more than 13 million lower-income residents, more than half of them Latinos, by failing to pay doctors enough to provide proper care, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday. The lawsuit alleges the state violates Latinos' civil rights because poorly paid health care providers balk at providing treatment. (Thompson, 7/12)

Los Angeles Times: Medi-Cal Patients Sue State, Claiming Widespread Discrimination
Thomas A. Saenz, an attorney representing the plaintiffs and president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the state is required to provide coverage to low-income Californians through Medi-Cal that’s equivalent to the care other Californians receive through private insurance or Medicare. But Medi-Cal patients have a harder time finding doctors, wait longer for appointments, end up in the emergency room more often and have their diseases diagnosed later than those in other insurance programs, Saenz said. That’s in part because the state mismanages the health program and delays payments to doctors, making them unwilling to see Medi-Cal patients, he said. (Karlamangla, 7/12)

The Associated Press: Doctor Accused In Deaths Of At Least 7 In Oklahoma, Texas
A Texas doctor wrote unnecessary prescriptions for powerful drugs that contributed to the overdose deaths of at least seven people over a four-year period, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday. Howard Gregg Diamond, 56, was arrested Tuesday on charges that include conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and health care fraud. (7/12)

Los Angeles Times: Hepatitis A Outbreak In San Diego County Claims 5th Victim
A fifth person has died in San Diego County’s ongoing hepatitis A outbreak — the state’s largest in two decades, public health officials said Wednesday. The outbreak started in November and has grown among the region’s homeless population. There have been 228 confirmed infections, including 161 people who had to be hospitalized, according to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. (Sisson, 7/12)

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