KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

In This Edition:

From Kaiser Health News - Latest Stories:

Kaiser Health News Original Stories

Political Cartoon: 'Pot Meet Kettle?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Pot Meet Kettle?'" by Jeff Danziger.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

CALIFORNIA INSURERS NEED TO FACT-CHECK THEIR PROVIDER DIRECTORIES

Who is in network?
Health plans – do better! Fix those
Flawed directories.

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Summaries Of The News:

Administration News

Price Sworn In As HHS Secretary After Contentious Nomination Process

While Republicans praised new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price as having a "thorough understanding of health care policy and the damage that Obamacare has caused," others continued to speak out against him. "This guy is a wrecking ball,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said. “He is not a secretary. He is going into this agency to destroy it."

The New York Times: Tom Price Is Sworn In As Health Secretary Amid Senate Disunity
President Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, took office on Friday with a promise to fix what he called a “broken health care system” that was “harming Americans and their families.” Mr. Price was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence just hours after the Senate, by a party-line vote of 52 to 47, confirmed his nomination in the early hours of Friday morning. (Pear and Rappeport, 2/10)

Reuters: With Eye On Obamacare, Price Takes Helm As U.S. Health Secretary
As head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Price has the authority to rewrite rules implementing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He could move quickly to rework the regulations while waiting for Republicans in Congress to keep their pledge to scrap the law entirely. (Cornwell, 2/13)

The Wall Street Journal: As HHS Head, Price Has Wide Latitude To Shape Obamacare’s Fate
Tom Price’s swearing-in as secretary of health and human services Friday means he is now in position to dismantle key parts of the Affordable Care Act, even if repeal efforts in Congress bog down. But it isn’t clear Dr. Price will quickly gut parts of the law. Instead, the Trump administration is expected to issue a proposed rule soon to appease insurers and help stabilize the individual insurance market for 2018, giving Republicans breathing room to continue working on their overhaul plans. (Armour and Hackman, 2/10)

The Washington Post: Polarizing HHS Secretary Sworn In After Senate’s Party-Line Vote
The new secretary offered no remarks following his swearing-in hours later by Vice President Pence. But the biggest challenge he faces — one on which progress in Congress seems uncertain for now, despite GOP lawmakers’ pledges for immediate action — was the first subject Pence mentioned in his introduction. “President Trump has made it the top priority of this new Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with health-care reform that will lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government,” Pence said. (Goldstein and Sullivan, 2/10)

Modern Healthcare: New HHS Secretary Tom Price Faces A Crushing Inbox
Newly confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price likely will spend his first few days focusing on efforts to stabilize the individual health insurance market as Republicans work to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Following the pattern of strictly party-line votes on two previous nominees—Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos for education secretary—the former congressman from Georgia was approved on a 52-47 vote. (Meyer and Dickson, 2/11)

The Hill: Women's Healthcare Groups Worry About Price Confirmation 
Liberal women's health organizations are worried about the confirmation of Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), citing his past statements and positions on abortion, birth control and ObamaCare. “A vote for Tom Price is a vote against affordable birth control, access to reproductive health care, and a vote against Planned Parenthood," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. (Hellmann, 2/10)

Immigration Ban Highlights Just How Much U.S. Relies On Foreign-Born Doctors

Doctors studying in the United States are given the option to either return home or work for three years in an area that is medically underserved. Meanwhile, the ban has forced one doctor to cancel a trip to Iran to perform life-saving surgeries.

NPR: Foreign-Born Doctors Provide Care In Underserved Area
[Dr. Muhammad] Tauseef was born and raised in Pakistan. After going to medical school there, he applied to come to the U.S. to train as a pediatrician. It's a path thousands of foreign-born medical students follow every year — a path that's been around for more than half a century. And, like most foreign-born physicians, Tauseef came on a J1 visa. That meant after training he had two options: return to Pakistan or work for three years in an area the U.S. government has identified as having a provider shortage. (Silverman, 2/11)

The Associated Press: Trump Travel Ban Kills Surgeon’s Lifesaving Trip To Iran
A Houston surgeon has canceled a trip to Iran to perform lifesaving surgeries because of uncertainty over the future of President Donald Trump’s refugee and immigration travel ban. Dr. Alireza Shamshirsaz is an Iranian-born professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He specializes in fetal surgery, and he has already had devastating video chats with two sets of parents who expected him to operate on their unborn children. (2/10)

Meanwhile, Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali faces a possible death sentence in the next few days over accusations of espionage —

Stat: Alarmed Colleagues Mobilize To Free Doctor Accused Of Spying In Iran
It was only in October that his colleagues would learn what had happened: [Dr. Ahmadreza] Djalali had been imprisoned in Tehran, accused of espionage. Now, after being held for nearly 11 months, Djalali could be sentenced to death over the next few days — in part because he refused to sign a confession saying that he was a spy for a “hostile government,” according to an Amnesty International report.His friends in the disaster medicine and human rights communities are urgently organizing a campaign to free Djalali, hoping that publicity will pressure Iran to change course. They have started a petition, which currently has over 200,000 signatures. (Boodman, 2/10)

Health Law

Republicans May Want To Erase Health Law But First They Have To Save It From Collapsing

With all the uncertainty swirling around the future of the health law, Republicans are caught in the position of having to stabilize a marketplace that they never wanted in the first place. Meanwhile, some proposed plans are trying to curb overly generous coverage and are drawing a reaction similar to how the "Cadillac Tax" was received.

The New York Times: Republicans, Aiming To Kill Health Law, Also Work To Shore It Up
After denouncing the Affordable Care Act as an abomination for seven years, Republicans in Congress, working with the Trump administration, are urgently seeking ways to shore up health insurance marketplaces created by the law. While President Trump said as a candidate that “Obamacare is certain to collapse of its own weight,” Republicans fear such an outcome because, now that the fate of the health law is in their hands, they could be blamed by consumers and Democrats. (Pear, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Employers Balk At Curbs On Generous Health Plans
The Affordable Care Act’s tax on high-cost employer health plans faced sharp opposition from employers and unions. Now, Republicans are drawing equal fire for ACA replacement proposals that those groups say would have some of the same effects. The ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax is levied on the value of employer health plans above a certain threshold, in part to discourage what backers argue are overly generous plans and high usage of costly care. It is one of the few aspects of the law that Congress has tweaked, delaying its impact until 2020. (Wilde Mathews, 2/13)

Meanwhile, Republicans are facing a trillion-dollar dilemma over taxes —

The Associated Press: GOP Must Decide What To Do With Health Law Taxes
Republicans love cutting taxes, especially if they were authored by a president named Barack Obama. But as they push their wobbly effort to erase his health care overhaul, they're divided over whether to repeal the levies the law imposed to finance its expanded coverage for millions of Americans. (2/13)

The Associated Press: A Look At Taxes Imposed By Obama's Health Care Law
A look at the $1.1 trillion in taxes over 10 years imposed by former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The revenue helped pay for the law's expansion of coverage to millions of Americans. The revenue estimates are by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. They could differ significantly from whatever Republicans propose in their effort to erase the law and replace it. (2/13)

GOP Town Halls Drawing Raucous Crowds Demanding Answers On Health Law

In meetings across the country, constituents are showing up in droves to make their voices heard.

The Washington Post: Swarming Crowds And Hostile Questions Are The New Normal At GOP Town Halls
Republicans in deep-red congressional districts spent the week navigating massive crowds and hostile questions at their town hall meetings — an early indication of how progressive opposition movements are mobilizing against the agenda of the GOP and President Trump. Angry constituents swarmed events held by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Diane Black (Tenn.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). They filled the rooms that had been reserved for them; in Utah and Tennessee, scores of activists were locked out. Voters pressed members of Congress on their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on the still-controversial confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even on a low-profile vote to disband an election commission created after 2000. (Snell, Schwartzman, Friess and Weigel, 2/10)

CNN: The Folks Packing Republican Town Halls
These days, Deborah Johnson is on edge. She says she's worried she won't qualify for Social Security disability benefits, anxious about her middle son's recovery from a car accident last year, and feeling the pervasive effects of her complex post-traumatic stress disorder that dates back to an abusive childhood. But by her mid-morning coffee on a recent Thursday, Johnson was feeling pretty good. Her phone call to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander's district office had gone through."I usually get a voicemail, but I talked to a staffer," Johnson, 39, told CNN at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. "And I said I wanted a call back and he wouldn't take my number and I said, 'You're going to take my number. I'm one of his constituents.'" Her urgent message: Repealing Obamacare would devastate her family. (Lee, 2/13)

Cincinnati Enquirer: Pro-Obamacare Protest In Clermont County Goes Viral
Pro-Obamacare protests in Clermont County went viral Friday, as a woman attempted to interrupt a speech by U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and dozens of other protesters gathered outside. Wenstrup, R-Columbia Tusculum, spoke Friday at the Clermont Chamber of Commerce luncheon, filling in for Sen. Rob Portman, a Terrace Park Republican. (Thompson, 2/11)

The Hill: Sanders, Schumer Call For Nationwide Pro-ObamaCare Rallies 
Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Saturday called for nationwide rallies in support of ObamaCare, calling GOP efforts to repeal and replace the healthcare legislation “chaos.” “We are encouraging Democratic senators to lead rallies in their states. This is not a Democratic issue, a Republican issue or an Independent issue,” the senators said in a letter. (Shelbourne, 2/11)

Patients And Providers Alike Anxious Over Future Of Health Care Coverage

Many are worried that if the health law is dismantled, they'll lose their coverage.

USA Today: Obamacare Overhaul Proposals Create Uncertainty For Patients, Providers
Once its patients were insured by the Affordable Care Act, the community health center in Whitesburg, Ky. opened on the weekends in 2014 and added optometrists and a dental clinic in 2015. Van Breeding, the primary care doctor in charge of the clinic, says if his patients lose coverage in any ACA replacement, he’ll have to close on weekends and get rid of the newer services. Patients like Lee Sexton, an 88-year-old banjo player with black lung disease, will have to head to the far more expensive emergency room if they need care on the weekends. (O'Donnell, 2/12)

Arizona Republic: Fact Check: How Many Arizonans Would Lose Health Coverage With An 'Obamacare' Repeal?
President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” on “day one” of his presidency. As president, he signed last month an executive order affirming his intention... A news release about the ad campaign stated 709,000 Arizonans would lose health coverage if the ACA is repealed. To back up that figure, it cites a report from the left-leaning Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on social and economic policy research. (Jarvis, 2/10)

And in other health law news from the states —

Kaiser Health News: Obamacare Came To Montana Indian Country And Brought Jobs
The Affordable Care Act created new health coverage opportunities more than half a million Native Americans and Alaska Natives — and jobs have followed on its coattails.In Montana, this is playing out at the Blackfeet Community Hospital. It’s the only hospital on the Blackfeet reservation, and has been mostly funded — and chronically underfunded — by the Indian Health Service, which has been in charge of Native American health care since its founding in the 1950s. But now, many Native Americans have been able to afford health insurance on the Obamacare exchange, and last year, Montana expanded Medicaid. Now, about one in seven reservation residents gets Medicaid. (Whitney, 2/13)

California Healthline: For California’s Smallest Businesses, Obamacare Opened The Door
Under Republican-led plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, hundreds of thousands of self-employed people in California are at risk of losing their ability to buy affordable insurance. Some business owners welcome the rollback of the law, but the smallest of California businesses — entrepreneurs and contract workers who buy insurance on their own through Covered California — have the most to lose under a repeal.That worries small business advocates who favor the Affordable Care Act. They say putting health care coverage out of reach of the self-employed could threaten Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit and burden people who create jobs and take on financial risk. (Bartolone, 2/13)

Medicare

Schumer Vows Democrats Will Work To Keep GOP From Putting Medicare 'On Chopping Block'

The leader of the Senate Democrats points to concerns that Republicans will seek to change Medicare to be a voucher program. Echoing those concerns about the future of the program, AARP has initiated online and TV ads supporting Medicare.

Newsday: Sen. Schumer: Medicare In Grave Danger With New HHS Secretary
Sen. Chuck Schumer said that Medicare as we know it is in grave danger, just two days after Tom Price’s confirmation as Health and Human Services Secretary. At a Sunday news conference, Schumer pledged to use his new role as Senate Democratic Leader to block “efforts to weaken, wound and destroy Medicare.” ... Price’s Friday confirmation testimony suggests that under his administration, Medicare might be converted to a fixed amount voucher-based program, instead of the more flexible “modest, earned benefits for dignity and health security” that these seniors currently collect, Schumer said. (Chung, 2/12)

Columbus Dispatch: AARP Lays Down Marker On Medicare
Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to protect Medicare because so many older Americans depend on the federal program to help cover their health-care costs. One of the most influential senior lobbying groups wants to remind Trump of his promise. And it wants to pressure lawmakers, especially Republicans, into also showing their support. (Pyle, 2/12)

Women’s Health

Both Sides Of Abortion Fight Turn Out In Force At Planned Parenthood Clinics Across Country

Activists in the anti-abortion movement set up rallies at Planned Parenthood clinics for the weekend, but they were met with counter-protesters who came out to support the organization.

The Associated Press: Anti-Abortion Activists, Counter-Protesters Rally Around US
Anti-abortion activists emboldened by the new administration of President Donald Trump staged rallies around the country Saturday calling for the federal government to cut off payments to Planned Parenthood, but in some cities counter-protests dwarfed the demonstrations. Thousands of Planned Parenthood supporters, many wearing the pointy-eared pink hats popularized by last month's women's marches, turned out for a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, separated by barricades from an anti-abortion crowd of a couple hundred people. In Detroit, about 300 people turned up outside a Planned Parenthood office, most of them supporting the organization. In St. Louis, thousands marched, many carrying pink signs that read, "I stand with Planned Parenthood." (2/11)

Reuters: Calls For Protests For And Against Planned Parenthood
Anti-abortion groups called for demonstrations at more than 200 Planned Parenthood locations throughout the United States on Saturday to urge Congress and President Trump to strip the women’s health provider of federal funding. Supporters of Planned Parenthood in turn organized 150 counterdemonstrations outside politicians’ offices and government buildings. (2/11)

Arizona Republic: Rallies For And Against Abortion Rights At Planned Parenthood In Glendale Close Clinic For The Day
A rally in Glendale on Sunday morning calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood drew counterprotesters in support of the organization as well as shut down the clinic for the day. Messages and drawings in chalk were scattered across the sidewalk where hundreds of activists on both sides of the divisive issue stood outside in a light rain near 57th Drive and Eugie Avenue as they took their stances in a peaceful faceoff. (Jeong, 2/12)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Protesters Seek End To Planned Parenthood Funding
With a new grandchild in her family, Becky Sanfelippo said Saturday that she decided to join her first public protest, holding a "Moms for Life" sign and standing with around 70 people gathered outside the Planned Parenthood health center on S. 108th St... The rally was led by Pro-Life Wisconsin and was among more than 200 demonstrations at Planned Parenthood locations across the country. Emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump, who vowed during his campaign to take away federal funding for Planned Parenthood, activists are trying to prod Congress to make good on the promise. (Glauber, 2/11)

San Jose Mercury News: Thousands Rally To Support Planned Parenthood, Women's Rights
As part of a thunderous response to anti-abortion groups targeting Planned Parenthood locations nationwide, thousands of abortion rights demonstrators lined The Alameda on Saturday, rallying in support of the nonprofit that provides abortions and other medical services to women throughout the United States. Wearing many shades of pink and holding posters that read “Stand with Planned Parenthood” and “Keep your religion off my body,” the crowd of about 4,000 people focused on the decades-long debate over whether women should be allowed to decide whether to terminate their pregnancies. (Sanchez, 2/11)

San Francisco Chronicle: Nationwide Planned Parenthood Protests Energize Patients, Opponents 
[Damien] Cox is among those voicing support for the nonprofit reproductive health organization at what could be a critical moment in its history. President Trump and his administration have threatened to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, because the services provided by the clinics include abortions. On Saturday, the debate will crest with nationwide rallies — including at clinics in San Francisco, Redwood City and Napa — calling for the “defunding” of Planned Parenthood. (Ravani, 2/10)

Health News Florida: Protests Spark Over Planned Parenthood And Abortion 
Around the country, thousands of anti-abortion advocates protested at Planned Parenthood facilities, calling for an end to abortion and any government funding for the non-profit. Locally, there were protests in Tampa, Sarasota and St. Petersburg.  Porter, who's in her fifties, said she had three abortions in her twenties. At least one was performed at Planned Parenthood, she said. (Walters, 2/13)

WBUR: Protests Against Planned Parenthood Rouse Dueling Rallies Nationwide 
Anti-abortion rights protesters gathered outside Planned Parenthood clinics across the country Saturday, in a series of rallies calling on politicians to end federal funding for the century-old organization. The activists planned to picket outside roughly 200 Planned Parenthood clinics — but at many of those locations, counterprotesters were there to meet them. The group #ProtestPP, which organized the rallies, says demonstrations have been planned in at least 45 states, according to ABC News. (Dwyer, 2/11)

CQ Roll Call:  Some Republicans Fear A Backlash From Defunding Planned Parenthood
Republicans for years have attempted to strip all federal funds from Planned Parenthood, and the time has come when it might actually happen. The women’s health organization would lose millions of dollars annually in Medicaid reimbursements and family planning grants if Republican plans succeed. The defunding is embedded in a legislative package that also would repeal large portions of the health care law and is set for fast-track consideration by Congress. With President Donald Trump in the White House and ready to sign, it’s likely the bill could become law. (Shutt, 2/13)

Pharmaceuticals

In Midst Of Pharma Trying To Rebrand Image, Company Jacks Up Old Drug's Price To $89,000

Marathon has set the list price of its muscular dystrophy drug at $89,000 a year, 50 to 70 times higher than patients were paying to import the drug from the U.K.

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Industry Goes Boldly Into New Minefield
Last month, the pharmaceutical industry, under pressure from the president among others for persistent price hikes, launched an ad campaign to highlight its drug research. Called “Go Boldly,” an allusion to poet Dylan Thomas, the campaign was intended to bolster the industry’s reputation after pricing scandals involving companies such as Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and Turing Pharmaceuticals. It took just a few weeks for another pharma company to ignite a controversy and set off the requisite tales of patients unable to afford the treatment. (Grant, 2/10)

The Washington Post: An Old Drug Gets A New Price To Fight A Rare Disease: $89,000 A Year
An old steroid treatment, long available outside the United States, received approval this week for a rare disease that afflicts about 15,000 Americans. Though not previously approved in the United States, the drug, deflazacort, has for years been available to patients suffering from the devastating and fatal disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy; families can import it from abroad for about $1,200 per year on average. The new list price for the drug? $89,000 a year. (Johnson, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Marathon Pharmaceuticals To Charge $89,000 For Muscular Dystrophy Drug After 70-Fold Increase
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Marathon’s drug, a corticosteroid called deflazacort, to treat a rare type of muscular dystrophy that affects some 12,000 boys in the U.S., most of whom die in their 20s and 30s. The drug isn’t a cure, but it has been shown to improve muscle strength, the FDA said in a statement announcing the approval. The drug wasn’t sold in the U.S. mainly because no company thought it would be profitable enough to warrant the effort of seeking FDA approval. (Walker, 2/10)

Meanwhile, one senator is looking into loopholes surrounding orphan drugs —

Stat: Grassley Opens Investigation Into Loopholes In Orphan Drug Law
Amid rising concern over prescription drug pricing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has begun an investigation into whether drug makers are exploiting loopholes to widen the market for so-called orphan drugs. The move comes after accelerating scrutiny of this lucrative corner of the pharmaceutical market. Under the Orphan Drug Act, which was passed in 1983, the Food and Drug Administration began approving medicines to treat rare diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people. The incentives to fill these unmet medical needs include tax credits and seven years of exclusive marketing rights. (Silverman, 2/10)

Kaiser Health News: Grassley Launches Inquiry Into Orphan Drugs After KHN Investigation
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has opened an inquiry into potential abuses of the Orphan Drug Act that may have contributed to high prices on commonly used drugs. In a statement, Grassley said the inquiry is “based on reporting from Kaiser Health News” and strong consumer concern about high drug prices. (Tribble, 2/10)

Public Health And Education

As White America Comes Out Of Shadows On Opioid Abuse, People Of Color Remain Hidden

More and more, white Americans are putting faces to the opioid epidemic through explicit obituaries, interviews and letters to lawmakers. However, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans are noticeably absent, which represents a larger trend with the crisis itself. Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act helped expand treatment for substance abuse, and some worry what will happen if the law is dismantled.

Stat: 'We Never Talked About It': As Opioid Deaths Rise, Families Of Color Stay Silent
There’s a new honesty these days about drug abuse. In obituaries, media interviews, and letters to lawmakers, families that have lost loved ones to overdoses are naming the drugs that killed them. As more and more people emerge from the shadows to put a face on the nation’s opioid epidemic, however, faces of color are notably absent. In part that reflects the makeup of the epidemic itself: While deaths among white Americans have soared, those among blacks and Latinos have stayed relatively steady. (Samuel, 2/13)

The New York Times: Addiction Treatment Grew Under Health Law. Now What?
Chad Diaz began using heroin when he was 12. Now 36 and newly covered by Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, he is on Suboxone, a substitute opioid that eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and he is slowly pulling himself together. “This is the best my life has gone in many, many years,” Mr. Diaz, a big man wearing camouflage, said as he sat in a community health center here. If Congress and President Trump succeed in dismantling the Affordable Care Act, he will have no insurance to pay for his medication or counseling, and he fears he will slide back to heroin. (Seelye and Goodnough, 2/10)

In other news on the epidemic —

Stat: Former Rep. Frank Guinta Seen As Possible Trump 'Drug Czar'
Frank Guinta, a former New Hampshire lawmaker who helped create an opioid crisis task force in Congress, has discussed serving as President Donald Trump’s “drug czar” with Trump’s team, according to several individuals familiar with the discussions. Since the election, Guinta has spoken with top Trump aides about serving as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — a position colloquially known as the nation’s “drug czar”—  multiple individuals, speaking on condition of anonymity, told STAT this week. (Scott, 2/10)

The Wall Street Journal: New Jersey Finds Challenge To Combating Addiction Crisis
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has staked his final year as governor on tackling the state’s addiction crisis, but efforts under way in the state show how difficult that task is. Citing long waiting lists at many treatment centers, Mr. Christie wants to increase the availability of both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. The governor has urged the state legislature to pass laws limiting the quantity of opioids doctors can prescribe and mandating insurance coverage for addiction treatment. (King, 2/11)

Boston Globe: Taunton Confronts Opioid Epidemic As Deaths Continue To Rise In City 
As the opioid epidemic escalated three years ago into a statewide public health emergency, Taunton boldly came forward and confronted the problem in a public way. A key moment came in February 2014, when Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey and the White House drug czar held a press conference about the crisis at a city fire station. As if to underscore the situation’s urgency, firefighters were dispatched to a reported overdose during the session. Despite the city’s direct approach, the number of people killed every year by opioids has grown over the past three years. (Crimaldi, 2/10)

Columbus Dispatch: State Task Force Recommends Schools Educate All Grade Levels On Substance Abuse
Teaching students of all ages social and emotional learning is a crucial step toward combating Ohio's drug addiction crisis, Attorney General Mike DeWine suggests. The Ohio Joint Study Committee on Drug Use Prevention Education issued 15 recommendations Friday for schools across the state. These include requiring schools to report how they are teaching students to resist drug abuse. (Tenbarge, 2/10)

Depression In Teens Is Soaring -- And It's Hitting Girls Particularly Hard

There's now about a half million more depressed teens than in the early 2000s, and three-fourths of those participants in the study were girls. In other public health news, the fight against C. diff, FluMist, baby boxes, art therapy and fear of death.

NPR: Depression Hits Teen Girls Especially Hard, And High Social Media Use Doesn't Help
It's tough to be a teenager. Hormones kick in, peer pressures escalate and academic expectations loom large. Kids become more aware of their environment in the teen years — down the block and online. The whole mix of changes can increase stress, anxiety and the risk of depression among all teens, research has long shown. But a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests many more teenage girls in the U.S. may be experiencing major depressive episodes at this age than boys. (Neighmond, 2/13)

The New York Times: Doctors See Gains Against ‘An Urgent Threat,’ C. Diff
Tom Bocci’s encounter with a bacterium he had never heard of began in April, when his doctor suggested a test for prostate cancer. Because the results appeared slightly abnormal, Mr. Bocci underwent a biopsy, taking antibiotics beforehand as a standard precaution against infection. There was no problem with his prostate, it turned out. But a few days later, Mr. Bocci developed severe diarrhea, fever and vomiting. He grew dehydrated. Five days afterward, in a hospital emergency room, doctors diagnosed a Clostridium difficile infection. (Span, 2/10)

Stat: FluMist Mystery: Why Was It So Weak, And Only In US Studies?
It’s been a perplexing puzzle in the flu vaccine world — what’s going on with FluMist? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said last June that the live-attenuated vaccine, made by MedImmune (a division of AstraZeneca) should not be used this flu season because some US studies from three recent years suggested it offered poor or no protection in children aged 2 to 17. (Branswell, 2/13)

The New York Times: Baby In A Box? Free Cardboard Bassinets Encourage Safe Sleeping
Jernica Quiñones, a mother of five, was the first parent in New Jersey to get her free baby box — a portable, low-tech bassinet made of laminated cardboard. But first, she had to take an online course about safe sleeping practices, which experts say can sharply reduce the chances of sudden infant death syndrome. “Basically, you want to have the baby on the mattress, and that’s it,” she said after watching a 20-minute series of videos. (Foderao, 2/12)

The New York Times: Karen Pence Picks A Cause, And Art Therapists Feel Angst
Although art therapy is offered by a number of established medical centers, many Americans don’t know much about it. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy where mental health professionals use art materials to help patients explore feelings that may not be easy to express in words. Almost overnight, the field has attracted new attention because of a connection with the Trump administration. On Inauguration Day, Karen Pence, the second lady, announced on the newly revamped White House website that she wants to shine a “spotlight on the mental health profession of art therapy.” (Saint Louis, 2/10)

Kaiser Health News: Death Doesn’t Have To Be So Scary
Most people prefer not to think about death, much less plan for it. In a tech-crazed world, where time is commonly measured in 140 characters and 6-second sound bites, life would appear to be dissected into so many bite-sized morsels that discussion of death doesn’t even seem to fit into the equation. “Everybody has a fear of death, no matter what culture, religion or country they come from,” said Kelvin Chin, author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death” and founder of the Overcoming the Fear of Death Foundation and the non-profit turningwithin.org. “Fear is simply an emotion caused by the anticipation of unhappiness.” (Horovitz, 2/13)

Marketplace

States Begin To Assess Effects Of Judge's Decision To Block Anthem-Cigna Merger

Officials and news outlets in Colorado and New Hampshire, two states that opposed the merger, review the situation.

Denver Post: A Judge Blocked The Anthem-Cigna Health Insurance Merger. What Does That Mean For Colorado?
Individual insurance plans account for only about 8 percent of the market in Colorado. But Anthem, and to a lesser extent Cigna, are also players in the employer-sponsored insurance world — which is 50 percent of the state’s insurance market. In 2014, Anthem — listed under its previous name, Wellpoint — was the largest insurer in the state’s small group market and the second-largest in the large group market, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that is not affiliated with the insurer and health care provider Kaiser Permanente. (Ingold, 2/11)

New Hampshire Union Leader: Anthem Pushes Appeal, NH AG Celebrates Cigna Merger Defeat 
New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster said it marks a big victory for consumers, since his office, along with the AGs from 10 other states and the District of Columbia, brought the civil lawsuit, aimed at torpedoing the merger. "The court's decision is a tremendous win for consumers, employers, health-care providers, and other health insurers who compete in this state," Foster said in a statement. "New Hampshire already has too few competitors in the health insurance market. Anthem and Cigna directly compete in important segments of the New Hampshire market, offering different approaches for fostering improved health care at lower costs." (Landrigan, 2/11)

Hospital Roundup: Preventing Avoidable Errors; Executive Incentives To Improve Quality

Other industry news relates to a Chinese eye hospital chain planning to enter the U.S. market, Ohio facilities joining to create a new trauma care network and a Florida hospital partnering with a Brazilian company to help patients with disabilities.

Stat: A Millionaire's Mission: Get Hospitals To Stop Killing Their Patients
Joe Kiani likes to point out that the most worn spot on most medical monitoring devices is the mute button. ... His tech fix — if widely implemented — could bring order to the cacophony of beeps, buzzes, and blaring alarms that can so overwhelm nurses and doctors that they push “mute” and miss true emergencies. It could make it easier for staff to monitor patients with complex needs. And it could flag, in advance, potentially fatal errors like incorrect dosing and drug allergies. (McFarling, 2/13)

Modern Healthcare: Paying For Population Health
Trinity Health system executives take home heftier paychecks when they keep patients healthy and out of the hospital. The annual incentive pay for each executive, including the 93-hospital system's CEO, is docked if Trinity's total patient population doesn't show reduced rates of obesity, smoking, readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions. Hitting financial targets, on the other hand, receives little weight in the incentive plan. Trinity's strategy is a sharp departure from the status quo of CEO pay packages where financial incentives have long dominated. But it is a surefire way to focus top leaders' attention on the health system's mission to deliver better outcomes and lower costs to patients in the 22 states where it operates. (Livingston, 2/11)

Nashville Tennessean: Dr. Ming Wang To Lead Chinese Eye Hospital Chain's U.S. Expansion
Fast-growing Chinese eye hospital chain Aier Eye Hospital plans to enter the U.S. market this year, with headquarters in Nashville and a long-term goal to open eye clinics across the country. Leading eye surgeon Dr. Ming Wang of Wang Vision Institute has been tapped as CEO of Aier-USA. The company established a holding company in the U.S., with a starting fund of $50 million. Wang’s association with Aier dates back 15 years, when the company was a small private eye hospital trying to gain a foothold in China’s health care market, where the vast majority of hospitals are controlled by the government. (Alfs, 2/10)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Major Hospitals Join Together For A Trauma Care Network: Strong Points 
Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth and University Hospitals have joined together to create a new Northern Ohio Trauma System (NOTS), which will provide coordinated trauma care to patients throughout Cuyahoga County and the seven-county Northeast Ohio region. As part of this enhanced trauma network, University Hospitals is adding its trauma expertise to NOTS. The NOTS network was originally formed in 2010 between MetroHealth and Cleveland Clinic, and NOTS assisted the City of Cleveland public safety forces to get the right patient to the right place at the right time for their care. (MacFarland, 2/10)

Orlando Sentinel: Florida Hospital Partners With Brazilian Company Livox 
In the speech and language impairment world, Livox falls under the umbrella of augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC. The systems help people with disabilities and impaired communication express themselves despite conditions such as autism, stroke, cerebral palsy or even cancer. The devices can be sophisticated and expensive, such as the one Stephen Hawking uses. Or they can be much simpler apps with images, which produce sentences and phrases when pressed by the user. Livox is more user-friendly and easier to customize than other apps available on the market, according to families and speech therapists who use it. (Miller, 2/13)

Medicaid

Providers Warn Mass. Gov. That Plan To Cut Medicaid May Affect Home Health Services

Home health agencies say the governor's plan to rein in Medicaid spending with a trim in reimbursements would mean that they would stop sending nurses to homes to check on patients with chronic illnesses and that would shift more people into long-term care facilities. Also, news outlets report on Medicaid developments in Kansas and New Jersey.

Boston Globe: Medicaid Cut Could Scale Back Nurses’ Visits To Patients’ Homes 
The Baker administration wants to cut how much the state pays for long-term home nursing care, a move to contain medical spending. But that may leave thousands of patients without the services they need, home health agencies warn. Leaders of several agencies said the proposed 25 percent rate cut would make it unaffordable for them to continue sending nurses to the homes of people with complex, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and schizophrenia. Patients may lose access to nursing services at home, and they could end up in nursing homes, the agencies said. (Dayla McCluskey, 2/12)

KCUR (Kansas City, Mo., Public Radio): KanCare Expansion Opponents Urge Lawmakers To Learn From Other States’ Mistakes 
The message delivered to a legislative committee Thursday by opponents of expanding Medicaid eligibility in Kansas boiled down to this: Expansion has been a disaster in the states that have enacted it, so don’t do it. Gregg Pfister, legislative relations director for the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability, ticked through a list of expansion states where costs and enrollment significantly exceeded projections. (McLean, 2/10)

NJ Spotlight: Audit Confirms What Patients Have Long Said: Medicaid Doctors Hard To Find 
Advocates for low-income patients have long insisted that medical care is harder to find than it looks on paper. A recent state audit seems to have proved them right, identifying numerous inaccuracies on lists of Medicaid providers that insurance companies have submitted to regulators and posted online for policy holders. In reviewing filings from recent years, State Auditor Stephen Eells — whose office is part of the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services — discovered hundreds of situations where doctors, dentists and other specialists were not practicing at the locations listed in insurance materials provided to the state or available to patients. (Stainton, 2/13)

State Watch

State Highlights: Ga. Provider Fee Renewal Legislation Gains Final OK; In N.J., Religious Exemptions For Childhood Vaccinations On The Rise

Outlets report on news from Georgia, New Jersey, District of Columbia, California, Minnesota, Kansas, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Texas and Connecticut.

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Hospital 'Provider Fee' Gains Final Legislative Approval
Legislation needed to renew a fee on Georgia hospitals to help close a more than $900 million gap in Medicaid funding is on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk. The state House on Friday voted 152-14 to give final approval to Senate Bill 70, which authorizes the Department of Community Health board to levy the fee for another three years. The board is expected to do so quickly if Deal signs the bill into law, as expected. (Gould Sheinin, 2/10)

The Associated Press: House Moving To Block DC ‘Death With Dignity’ Law
A House committee is taking up an unusual resolution that would invalidate a local law in the nation’s capital. The House Oversight Committee will vote Monday on whether to send a resolution to the House floor blocking the District of Columbia’s “Death with Dignity” law. Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has vowed to stop the law, calling it “misguided” and immoral. (2/13)

Stat: California's Criminal Penalties For HIV Transmission Could Be Rolled Back
The state legislature decided in 1988 that somebody who donated blood while knowingly HIV-positive could be punished with up to six years in prison. Ten years later, it became a felony to have unprotected sex with the intent of transmitting HIV to a partner. Now, in 2017, a group of Democratic state lawmakers say times have changed — not that those behaviors shouldn’t be illegal, but that HIV/AIDS shouldn’t be singled out. Under California’s newly introduced Senate Bill 239, intentionally transmitting any infectious or communicable disease, including HIV, would be a misdemeanor, not a felony. (Facher, 2/13)

The Star Tribune: Advocates For Disabled Send A Distress Signal To Legislators 
A group of individuals with disabilities, many in wheelchairs, testified at a state Senate hearing last week that Minnesota needs urgent measures to expand the supply of workers who care for tens of thousands of vulnerable adults and children in their homes. The state-funded personal care assistance program, they argue, has not kept pace with burgeoning demand and a more competitive labor market, thrusting many people with complex health needs into life-or-death situations. (Serres, 2/11)

KCUR: More Funding For Mental Health, Disability, Senior Services In Kansas: None Of The Above? 
A Kansas House committee overseeing budgets for social services offered appreciation to programs serving the elderly and people with disabilities or mental illnesses. Legislators may not be able to offer much more than that. Rep. Barbara Ballard, ranking minority member on the House Social Services Budget Committee, suggested members approve $250,000 to fund services for seniors, such as bathing and assistance with housework. The funds wouldn’t begin to make up for $2.1 million in cuts to Senior Care Act services last year, she said, but would help Area Agencies on Aging chip away at their waiting lists. (Wingerter, 2/10)

Orlando Sentinel: UCF Helps First Responders Fight PTSD, Pulse Flashbacks 
For some, it’s the scent of tequila or the sound of an iPhone ringing. Hearts race, breathing sharpens, palms sweat and suddenly, they’re back at the scene of the most traumatic event most are lucky enough never to have to see. Some Pulse nightclub terror attack first responders say post-traumatic stress disorder triggers can show up in everyday settings, but the University of Central Florida’s Dr. Deborah Beidel says they don’t have to stop sufferers from living their lives. (Doornbos, 2/10)

Columbus Dispatch: State Aid To Vastly Expand Ohio State Program For Victims Of Traumatic Stress
Crawford was seeing a counselor, but it wasn't helping. Then her husband told her about the Stress, Trauma and Resilience program, or STAR, at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, where Crawford learned ways to cope with her anxiety so she could function again. "It absolutely changed my life," said Crawford, now 30.The program, started eight years ago, offers psychological treatment to people affected by crime and other traumas. It's on the verge of expanding with an $839,335 grant from the Ohio attorney general's office that will more than quadruple the budget. (Viviano, 2/12)

Des Moines Register: Health Care Stripped From Collective Bargaining As Statewide Insurance Plan Takes Shape
Sweeping changes proposed to Iowa’s collective bargaining laws would block most public-sector unions from negotiating over health insurance, though they stop short of instituting a mandatory statewide health insurance system Gov. Terry Branstad has floated. Republican leaders say they considered including such a plan in the legislation, but felt it could be too restrictive. Instead, the bill leaves open the possibility for a voluntary statewide health insurance program that employers could opt into. (Pfannenstiel, 2/10)

California Healthline: California Regulator Slams Health Insurers Over Faulty Doctor Lists
California’s biggest health insurers reported inaccurate information to the state on which doctors are in their networks, offering conflicting lists that differed by several thousand physicians, according to a new state report. Shelley Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, said 36 of 40 health insurers she reviewed — including industry giants like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare — could face fines for failing to submit accurate data or comply with state rules. (Terhune, 2/10)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Painesville's Latino Community Rallies Around Neighbor After Brain Surgery
Juan [Horta] was diagnosed with xanthoastrocytoma, an uncommon and aggressive brain tumor. Stage three. A surgeon at University Hospitals removed the tumor, and Juan was sent to a nursing home to recover. Caesar, and his mother, Maria Guillen, visited daily. They noticed what Caesar called "a ball" on the back of Juan's neck, and it was getting bigger by the day. On the fifth day, Juan was unresponsive. The "ball" was filled with cerebrospinal fluid, and Juan needed another surgery to insert a shunt... As an undocumented immigrant, he is not qualified for public benefits, including Medicaid. Government programs require proof of legal immigration. Once that proof is supplied, it is still five years before immigrants can apply for assistance. (Ischay, 2/11)

Texas Tribune: How Texas Pimps Recruit And Sell Underage Girls For Sex 
Texas Tribune reporters talked to three convicted traffickers to try to understand the power they wield over victims and the attraction of what they call "the lifestyle." They explained how vulnerable kids end up in the sex trade and how the business works. The interviews also revealed a common thread between pimps and their victims: the poverty and violence in their backgrounds. (Walters, Satija and Smith, 2/13)

New Haven Independent: Cigarette Tax Hike: Promoting Health Or Penalizing The Poor?
The two New Haven state representatives offered those takes Wednesday after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed proposed a $40.6 billion two-year budget that included raising the taxes on a pack of cigarettes by 45 cents, to bring the total cost to $4.35... The problem, argued Rep. Porter, whose district includes New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, is that it can also end up punishing poor people for their patterns of addiction without offering alternative treatment programs or therapies, like smoking cessation counseling. Lower-income people smoke at disproportionately higher rates. (Gellman, 2/13)

Editorials And Opinions

Perspectives On Obamacare And The Current State Of Health Policy Chaos, Confusion, Shifts And Opportunities

Opinion writers take stock of where things stand with the GOP's effort to undo the health law.

San Jose Mercury News: Trump, GOP Court Health Care Chaos
Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have one thing in common: After years of trashing Obamacare, they don’t have a clue how to craft anything better. So the president is now saying that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act — which he promised to do instantly when he took office — may not happen until next year. Why? Because it’s next to impossible to devise a system based on private insurers that is cheaper, covers as many Americans and provides better medical outcomes than the ACA. (2/10)

Forbes: GOP Grand Scheme On Obamacare Repeal & Tax Reform Quickly Going South
The GOP strategy on quickly repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting tax reform that seemed to be so creative and smart when it was first revealed right after the election may soon become the prime source of legislative hell for House and Senate Republicans. Knowing that a Senate filibuster was virtually certain on ACA repeal and highly probable on tax reform, the GOP plan was to use the reconciliation process -- which prevents filibusters -- to pass them both. (Stan Collender, 2/12)

The Washington Post: Six Steps For The GOP To Get Its Act Together On Obamacare ‘Repeal And Replace’
The Post reports on the confirmation of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. ... This is the sole development to date on the Obamacare front that could be characterized as a win for Republicans, who promised voters they’d repeal every word of the Affordable Care Act — and replace with a system that offers lower costs, more flexibility, better care and repeal of ACA-related taxes. So far, the effort has been semi-disastrous, raising questions about whether Republicans can manage to devise and agree upon a replacement that will attract the eight Democratic senators needed for cloture. Republicans would be well-advised to abide by a number of simple rules. (Jennifer Rubin, 2/10)

The Washington Post: This Remarkable Town Hall Exchange Shows How Much The Obamacare Debate Has Shifted
M.J. Lee of CNN has flagged a great moment at a town hall meeting with GOP Rep. Diane Black that has gone viral because it shows a constituent making an impassioned case for, of all things, the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. As some immediately pointed out, Democrats could learn from this kind of messaging. But the moment is notable for another reason, too: The answer offered by Rep. Black shows how much the debate over the health care law has shifted, in favor of the health law. (Greg Sargent, 2/10)

Stat: Trump Administration's Plan To Tinker With Medicaid Will Be A Tricky Task
Medicaid is a highly complex program that provides vital care for a broad array of individuals. There are no easy solutions when it comes to reducing its costs. Changing Medicaid, just like reforming health care, is at best an incremental process, particularly when one considers the new populations now covered by the program as a result of the ACA, such as families in which an adult is employed but in a lower-income job. It has often been said that there are two ways to lower Medicaid costs: reduce eligibility to the program or cut the services provided. Neither are attractive options. Turning the program into block grants firmly delegates decisions on that dilemma to the states. (Gerard Vitti, 2/10)

Los Angeles Times: With Billions At Stake, A Federal Judge Just Nullified The GOP's Most Cynical Attack On Obamacare
Moda Health, a small Oregon health insurer, just won a $214-million judgment against the federal government. Normally that wouldn’t be worth reporting, except that in awarding Moda the money, the federal judge in the case dismantled the most cynical attack on the Affordable Care Act that Congressional Republicans had devised.The issue was the ACA’s risk corridor program, which was devised to shelter insurers from unexpected losses in covering ACA customers from 2014 through 2016. To encourage insurers to enter an entirely novel market, the program aimed to balance risks by taking profits from insurers that turned out to be unexpectedly profitable and use the funds to cushion others’ losses. (Michael Hiltzik, 2/10)

Miami Herald: Affordable Healthcare A Must In Florida 
The debate about what to do with the Affordable Care Act feels overwhelming to a lot of people. Repeal. Don’t repeal. Replace. With what? What does all this uncertainty mean to us in Florida? As healthcare professionals at Florida’s largest public hospital — Jackson Health System — I and many of my colleagues are frankly terrified by the possibilities. (Martha Baker, 2/10)

Lexington Herald Leader: Health-Law Repeal Means Cuts In Autism Care
In a Jan. 6 letter to Republican representatives in Congress, Gov. Matt Bevin asked them to throw out the Affordable Care Act, saying regulation of health insurance should be given back to individual states. Bevin is advocating sending us back to the time when individuals with chronic medical conditions and disabilities had to beg legislators to get even minimal coverage for their conditions, when insurance-industry lobbyists decided what they could tolerate and then strongly encouraged legislators as to how to vote. (Wendy Wheeler-Mullins, 2/10)

Viewpoints: Drug Companies 'Risky' Idea; Scrapping Rule On Guns And Mental Illness Is 'A Bad Move'

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

Chicago Tribune: Guns And Mental Illness: Don't Scrap This Rule
If someone has a mental illness severe enough that he cannot work or manage his own money, should he be allowed to own a gun? In the waning weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama answered that question. Motivated by Adam Lanza's bloody rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six educators in 2012, Obama imposed a rule that barred gun ownership for people who qualify for Social Security disability insurance because their mental illness keeps them from working, and who cannot manage their benefits. That pool is small — just 75,000 Americans. (2/10)

The Wichita Eagle: Services For Disabled Also In Violation
Not only did federal officials determine last month that KanCare was “substantively out of compliance with federal statutes and regulations,” they determined the previous month that services for people with disabilities were also out of compliance. Yet state lawmakers had to learn about both decisions by reading about them in the newspaper. (2/12)

The Des Moines Register: Legislators Should Repay State For Cheap Health Care
Gov. Terry Branstad said in 2012 he would begin voluntarily paying 20 percent of his state-funded health insurance premiums. He encouraged other state workers, including lawmakers, to follow suit. The next year, the governor said some legislators, who had previously enjoyed premium-free health insurance, had started contributing 20 percent. But not a single lawmaker is paying that share, according to December 2016 data obtained by The Des Moines Register. And it appears they are violating state law. (2/11)

The Columbus Dispatch: More Needed To Fight Overdoses
Ohio lawmakers are asking good questions about the money that Gov. John Kasich's proposed budget would devote to the state's opioid epidemic and the collateral damage from it. Last week, Republican and Democrat legislators said they are concerned that the budget does not do enough. The concern is warranted. Ohio leads the nation in drug-overdose deaths, with 3,050 recorded in 2015, the most recent year with complete statistics. (2/13)

The New York Times: LSD To Cure Depression? Not So Fast
Psychedelics, the fabled enlightenment drugs of the ’60s, are making a comeback — this time as medical treatment. A recent study claimed that psilocybin, a mushroom-derived hallucinogenic, relieves anxiety and depression in people with life-threatening cancer. Anecdotal reports have said similar things about so-called microdoses of LSD. ... I fear that in our desire to combat suffering, we will ignore the potential risks of these drugs, or be seduced by preliminary research that seems promising. (Richard A. Friedman, 2/13)