KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: September 13, 2017

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

Kaiser Health News: Uninsured Rate Falls To A Record Low Of 8.8 Percent
Three years after the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion took effect, the number of Americans without health insurance fell to 28.1 million in 2016, down from 29 million in 2015, according to a federal report released Tuesday. The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau showed the nation’s uninsured rate dropped to 8.8 percent. It had been 9.1 percent in 2015. Both the overall number of uninsured and the percentage are record lows. (Galewitz, 9/12)

Kaiser Health News: Postcard From The Hill: Senators Shelve Histrionics In Search Of Obamacare Fix
After a summer of flame-throwing over the Affordable Care Act’s repeal, Republicans and Democrats are now engaged in a serious collaborative effort to find a legislative solution that would ward off predicted premium rate hikes this year. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and his colleagues are up against a tight deadline to craft a bill to steady premiums in the Affordable Care Act’s shaky markets. Insurers must nail down plans late this month for the coming enrollment season. (Bluth, 9/12)

California Healthline: Kaiser Permanente Names Dean Of New California Medical School
When health policy expert and pediatrician Mark Schuster searched for a book to help parents speak easily and accurately with their children about sex and sexual health, he couldn’t find one he liked. So, the Harvard professor — a leader in research on child, adolescent and family health — enlisted the help of a medical school classmate to write the 2003 guide for parents  “Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask).” (O'Neill, 9/12)

The New York Times: Deal Struck To Extend Financing For Children’s Health Program
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the top Democrat on the panel announced on Tuesday night that they had reached agreement on a plan to prevent the imminent exhaustion of federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The current appropriation runs out at the end of this month, and many states will exhaust their allotments of federal money later this year or early next year. (Pear, 9/12)

The Associated Press: Senate Bargainers Say Deal Reached On Children's Health
In a concession to Republicans, the agreement would phase out extra federal funds that have gone to states for the program since the additional money was mandated as part of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law. Money for the federal-state program is due to expire at the end of September. The program provides health coverage to around 8 million low-income children and pregnant women. It was initially unclear how the agreement would fare in the Senate and the House. (Fram, 9/12)

Politico: Senate Finance Leaders Announce 5-Year CHIP Deal
"Not only does this proposal provide uninterrupted funding for CHIP, but it also provides certainty and increased flexibility for states to administer the program," Hatch said in a statement. The proposed legislation would maintain Obamacare's 23 percent increase in the federal matching rate to states for 2018 and 2019 and begin to ratchet it down in 2020, according to GOP and Democratic aides. The bump is set at 11.5 percent in 2020 and would be totally eliminated starting in 2021. (Pradhan, 9/12)

Reuters: Congress Revisits Obamacare, This Time With A Bipartisan Twist
The U.S. Congress was wrestling with healthcare again on Tuesday, as lawmakers from both parties considered some approaches beyond simply repealing and replacing Obamacare. The widened healthcare discussion appeared unlikely to yield dramatic changes soon, but marked a shift from the long-running, Republican effort to gut 2010's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known. (Cornwell, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Health Bills Struggle To Win White House Backing
Two Senate bills aimed at shaping the future of the Affordable Care Act are facing uncertainty, as the White House voices tepid support for an ACA repeal effort and opposition to a bipartisan bill to shore up insurance markets. Republican senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Wednesday plan to release the text of a bill letting states largely decide what to do about the 2010 health law known as Obamacare, following the collapse of a Republican bid to undo it. The senators see their proposal as the party’s last hope to fulfill a pledge to strike much of the law and enact conservative proposals in its place. (Radnofsky and Armour, 9/13)

Politico: GOP Split Over Fixing Or Gutting Obamacare As Deadline Looms
Republicans are paralyzed over what to do about health care, caught between a bipartisan effort to shore up Obamacare and the opportunity to take one last swing at their years-long promise to repeal the law. Leaders of both efforts have less than three weeks to gather enough support to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to either take another partisan shot at the Affordable Care Act or begin bipartisan reforms. Key procedural powers for the GOP to repeal the law expire on Sept. 30, and insurance companies desperate for certainty have until Sept. 27 to decide whether to participate in Obamacare markets next year. (Everett and Haberkorn, 9/12)

The Hill: McConnell On Last Ditch ObamaCare Repeal: Find The Votes 
Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) met on Tuesday afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to discuss their last-ditch ObamaCare repeal bill. Leaving the meeting in McConnell's Capitol office, Cassidy said the leader's message was that Graham and Cassidy need to find 50 votes for the bill on their own. (Sullivan, 9/12)

The Associated Press: Sanders, GOP Push Banner Health Care Bills
Liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders is ready to unveil his bill for creating a system where the government provides health insurance for everybody. Republican senators are ready to release details of a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's health care law. Besides focusing on health, the rival packages have something else in common. Neither is likely going anywhere soon. (Fram, 9/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Democrats Endorse Single-Payer Health Plan
Single-payer refers to a government-run health insurance system, though details can vary. Mr. Sanders’s bill would create a national Medicare-like insurance system and eliminate most out-of-pocket costs for individuals. The surge in support rests on several factors, political analysts said, including a rise in populist sentiment and a growing acceptance of the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s principle that the government should provide coverage if necessary. Backers of a single-payer plan have also been emboldened by the faltering of the Republicans’ push to repeal the 2010 law, commonly known as Obamacare, which polls suggest grew more popular as a result. (Armour and Hackman, 9/13)

Politico: Bernie Sanders' Single-Payer Push Splits Democrats
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, one of the few Democrats subject to 2020 speculation who has not signed on to the Sanders bill, warned against letting the party’s attention slip to “longer-term health care policy” while the future of the Affordable Care Act remains up for debate. “I think the risk is that we get distracted,” Murphy told reporters. “September’s not done. They can still ram through a repeal bill.” (Schor, 9/13)

The Washington Post: Pelosi: Single-Payer Isn’t A Litmus Test For Democrats
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that single-payer health insurance is not a litmus test for Democrats and that she is focused on protecting health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to endorse “Medicare for All” legislation backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and instead called on Democrats to release a wide range of proposals to fix and improve President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. Her position on health care is the latest evidence that Democrats in the House are willing to ignore pressure from liberal factions aiming to drive the party further to the left. (Snell and Weigel, 9/12)

The Hill: Democratic Leaders Keep Distance From Sanders Single-Payer Plan 
Democratic support for a single-payer health-care system has grown by bounds this year, attracting more lawmaker endorsements than any time in the past. But one group is conspicuously not on board: party leaders. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday previewed the much-anticipated release of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) “Medicare for all” bill by taking the notable step of refusing to throw their weight behind it. (Lillis, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Uninsured Rate Fell In 2016 As More People Aged Into Medicare
The share of people in the U.S. who lacked health insurance for the whole of 2016 declined to 8.8%, the Census Bureau said Tuesday, down from 9.1% the previous year, largely due to Americans aging into the federal Medicare program for people 65 and older. The rate reflects around 28.1 million people without health coverage, a decrease from 29 million a year earlier, hitting a new low that has also been reflected in other government and private surveys. (Radnofsky, 9/12)

Reuters: Anthem Still Considering Presence In Some Obamacare Markets: CEO
Anthem Inc, which has trimmed the number of states and counties in which it will sell individual Obamacare plans in 2018, said on Tuesday it is still working with some state regulators on its market participation for next year. Anthem and other insurers have a deadline of Sept. 27 to finalize their 2018 role in the individual insurance program created as part of former President Barack Obama's national healthcare law, often called Obamacare. Anthem is the No. 2 U.S. health insurer. (Humer, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Centene Agrees To Buy Fidelis Care In $3.75 Billion Deal
Continuing its rapid expansion, Centene Corp. said it would take over nonprofit insurer Fidelis Care in a $3.75 billion deal, vaulting the company to a leading position in the New York Medicaid market. The acquisition announced Tuesday would give Centene, already a giant in the Medicaid managed-care business, more than 1.6 million members in New York, enrolled in product lines including Medicaid, Affordable Care Act exchange plans, and Medicare. In the first half of the year, Fidelis Care generated $4.8 billion in revenue, Centene said Tuesday, and Fidelis Care said its operations have been profitable. (Wilde Mathews and Armental, 9/12)

Stat: FDA's Gottlieb Plans To Close An Orphan Drug Loophole
Amid rising complaints that drug makers are exploiting loopholes to win approval of so-called orphan drugs, the Food and Drug Administration plans to close at least one of them. In a blog post, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged concerns that the Orphan Drug Act, which allows the agency to approve medicines for treating rare diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 people, needs fixing. As he put it, some drug makers are using orphan designations “as a way to sidestep other important public health goals set out by Congress.” (Silverman, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Companies Tie Costs To Outcomes
For decades, health insurers and patients have paid for prescription drugs based on the volume of pills or vials purchased—whether or not the medicines helped individual patients as intended. Now the outcry over high drug prices has raised the profile of a different approach to paying for prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical companies increasingly are offering to tie a portion of their reimbursements from insurers to how well drugs work in patients. (Loftus, 9/12)

The New York Times: Amid Hurricane Chaos, Domestic Abuse Victims Risk Being Overlooked
Natural disasters like hurricanes Harvey and Irma can displace people and leave them scrambling to find stability and routine. But during catastrophes, victims of domestic violence face a unique challenge: seeking safety from their abusers. Most evacuees are seeking shelter but domestic violence survivors face a “double whammy” of escaping the danger of their abuser and finding safety from the looming disaster, said Ruth Glenn, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (Salam, 9/12)

The New York Times: Frieden’s Next Act: Heart Disease And Preparing For New Epidemics
After running the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for eight years under President Obama, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden is starting a global health initiative that will focus on two big areas: heart health and epidemic preparedness. Called Resolve, it is funded with $225 million over five years by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program will be based at Vital Strategies, a public health nonprofit in New York, the city where Dr. Frieden served as health commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Belluck and Hoffman, 9/12)

The Washington Post: Former CDC Chief Launches $225 Million Global Health Initiative
Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is starting a new initiative to tackle some of global health’s thorniest issues: cardiovascular disease and epidemics. Frieden, a former New York City health commissioner who spent seven years leading the CDC during the Obama administration, said he chose those two issues based on his “unique vantage point of surveying the world and seeing where there were areas that really are at a tipping point.” Strategic investment and action in each of these areas can make substantial differences, he said. (Sun, 9/12)

The Washington Post: Melinda Gates Decries ‘Loss Of U.S. Leadership’ In Global Aid
Melinda Gates is calling on world leaders to step up global aid funding, saying “a loss of U.S. leadership” is resulting in “confusion and chaos” in some of the most vulnerable corners of the planet. The billionaire philanthropist and her husband, Bill, who spoke in separate interviews at the offices of their charitable foundation last week, have deep concerns about the global repercussions of the federal budget debate in Washington. The Trump administration has recommended that the United States — which contributes $12 billion out of the $34 billion spent on foreign assistance each year — reduce its support in almost all areas of public health, including infectious diseases and family planning. (Cha, 9/13)

The Washington Post: Researchers Find Hint Of A Link Between Flu Vaccine And Miscarriage
Researchers studying the impact of the flu vaccine in pregnancy have found a possible link between miscarriage early in pregnancy in women who received the flu vaccine two years in a row. It’s the first study to identify a potential link between miscarriage and the flu vaccine and the first to assess the effect of repeat influenza vaccination and risk of miscarriage. The findings suggest an association, not a causal link, and the research is too weak and preliminary, experts said, to change the advice that pregnant women should get a flu vaccine to protect them from influenza, a deadly disease that can cause serious birth defects. But the study is likely to raise questions about the safety of the vaccine as flu season gets underway. (Sun, 9/13)

The Associated Press: New Law Ensures Disabled Are Eligible For Organ Transplants
[Del.] Gov. John Carney is signing legislation aimed at ensuring that individuals with mental and physical disabilities are not denied access to organ transplant procedures based solely on their disability. The bill being signed Wednesday prohibits health care providers from deeming a person ineligible to receive an anatomical gift or organ transplant, related medical services, or referrals based solely on a physical or mental disability. (9/13)

Stat: Sage's Epilepsy Drug Fails To Do Better Than Placebo In Key Clinical Trial
Sage Therapeutics’ closely watched drug, brexanolone, did not do much better than a placebo in helping patients with a severe type of epilepsy, data from a phase 3 clinical trial show. Sage, which is based in Cambridge, Mass. expected brexanolone to lead to its first-ever drug approval. Instead, its shares dropped 25 percent to $66 in pre-market trading. (Feuerstein, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Scientists See Progress For Cancer Vaccines
Conventional vaccines prevent people from getting sick in the first place. Now scientists are testing a new type of vaccine that treats existing cancers by spurring immune cells to go on the attack. These drugs—known as therapeutic vaccines—hold the potential to plunge cancers into remission without causing the side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy. (Gormley, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Myths About Vaccines Are Hard To Dispel
For people who believe myths about vaccines, the facts aren’t very convincing. That’s the result researchers got when they tested if people could be persuaded to change their incorrect beliefs that certain vaccines cause autism or have lesser but still harmful side effects on children. The test subjects stuck to their opinions even after being shown facts about the matter. In fact, their beliefs were stronger afterward, according to Sergio Della Sala, a neuroscience professor at the University of Edinburgh and one of three researchers who conducted the study. (Dizik, 9/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Increasingly Tell Patients To Get Up And Move
To prevent falls that cause injuries, hospitals often encourage patients who haven’t undergone surgery to stay in bed. But some medical experts say that may be a big mistake. Numerous studies have shown that immobility increases the likelihood of muscle atrophy, blood clots, bed scores and delirium. For elderly or very sick patients, the danger is even greater: Being immobilized even for a few days can lead to a permanent functional decline, making it more difficult for patients to return home. (Ward, 9/12)

NPR: Women May Be Able To Choose How To Get Screened For Cervical Cancer
Women ages 30 to 65 may decide how often they want to get screened for cervical cancer depending on the test they choose, according new draft recommendations for cervical cancer screening from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Testing every three years requires a Pap smear, and testing every five years requires a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes nearly all cervical cancers. (Haelle, 9/12)

Bloomberg: Emails Show How The Food Industry Uses ‘Science’ To Push Soda
There are few federal food policies as contentious as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, developed every five years after a report by the independent U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The guidelines not only inform individual consumers about what’s healthy and what isn’t but are also used to develop approaches to everything from food labeling regulations to school lunch menus and food stamp benefits. ... So it’s not surprising that following the 2015 committee report, which had recommended that Americans reduce their consumption of red and processed meat and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, the food and beverage industry scrambled to respond. (Shanker, 9/13)

The Wall Street Journal: Telemedicine Helps Pregnant Women At Risk
Britney Stewart was nervous at first when her obstetrician told her she’d like her to see a specialist in high-risk pregnancies. “Once I know a doctor I like to stick with that doctor,” says the 27-year-old, whose high blood pressure and weight issues put her and her unborn baby at risk. Now she says those appointments—conducted by video link with the specialist, Anne Patterson in Atlanta, a two-hour drive away—saved her baby’s life. (McKay, 9/12)

Stat: California Moves Closer To Adopting A Drug Pricing Transparency Law
A California bill that would require drug makers to report and justify price hikes took a big step toward reality on Monday night. The state Assembly overwhelmingly passed the legislation and it now goes to the Senate for approval, which legislative sources say may occur as soon as today. The bill, which has been vociferously fought by the pharmaceutical industry, could become one of the most comprehensive state efforts to address pricing transparency. For instance, drug makers would have to provide 60-day notice to insurers and government health plans before increasing list prices of a medicine that costs more than $40, by 16 percent in a two-year period. (Silverman, 9/12)

Los Angeles Times: Bill To Create 'Safe Injection Sites' For Drug Users Fails In California Senate
A controversial proposal to allow certain California counties and cities to establish sites where people could inject drugs without legal consequences stumbled in the state Senate on Tuesday night. The measure, by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), would establish a first-in-the-nation program in which users of heroin and other intravenous drugs could inject in settings with clean needles and under the supervision of trained staff. The goal: to stave off overdoses in an era in which heroin use is on the rise. (Mason, 9/12)

Los Angeles Times: Experts At Suicide Awareness Conference Highlight The Brain’s Role In Depression
A conference held in conjunction with Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day drew mental health professionals and lay people to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital where they learned about the biology of the suicidal brain, how genetics are involved, and ways one can support a deeply depressed individual. The Sept. 9 event, which carried the theme, “Shattering the Silence,” was the hospital’s second annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention Conference, and attendance was up this year. (Sanderson, 9/12)

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