KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'In The Shadows?'" by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch.

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Summaries Of The News:

Capitol Hill Watch

GOP Efforts To Repeal-And-Replace Obamacare Resurface

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) says his sweeping proposal is "about the only game left in town." On the House side, members of the conservative Freedom Caucus on Friday filed a discharge petition that, with a simple 218-vote majority, would trigger a floor vote on a two-year Affordable Care Act repeal -- with no replacement -- as early as September. Meanwhile, on the other side of the issue, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is preparing to introduce his Medicare-for-all plan and other Democrats are shopping around a Medicare buy-in plan that would begin at age 50.

The (Baton Rouge, La.) Advocate: Sen. Bill Cassidy: My Obamacare Repeal-And-Replace Plan The 'Only Game Left In Town'
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy says a sweeping proposal to overhaul health care he's co-sponsoring with two Republican colleagues is "about the only game left in town" to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Cassidy, a physician and Louisiana Republican, said he hopes to push forward the plan — which he's working on with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller — by the end of September. (Stole, 8/14)

Dallas Morning News: Two Texans Join Conservative Push To Force Obamacare Repeal Vote On House Leadership
With President Donald Trump pressuring GOP lawmakers to return to the Affordable Care Act fight, a pair of Texas Republicans are backing a call to force an Obamacare repeal in the House. ... Tyler Rep. Louie Gohmert and Austin Rep. Roger Williams lauded the measure, arguing that House Republicans should heed President Trump’s calls for Congress to stay focused on dismantling the Affordable Care Act. (Kelly, 8/14)

The Fiscal Times: One More Try? Why Obamacare Repeal Is On The Horizon Again
The effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which many assumed was dead or at least in a state of suspended animation for the foreseeable future, may be showing some stirring of life after all. After the Senate’s attempt to pass a bill that few members of the body wanted to become law failed by a single vote in July, top leaders in the chamber have been signaling that it is time to move on to tax reform and other priorities. (Garver, 8/14)

The Associated Press: Sanders Plans To Introduce 'Medicare For All' Plan Soon
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told a group of seniors that the solution to the country's health care crisis is to make Medicare available to all, a proposal he plans to introduce shortly after Congress reconvenes in September. ... He acknowledged that a "Medicare for all" bill likely won't pass in the Republican-controlled Congress and with Trump as president. But he said change takes time, and would involve organizing effectively in every state to make it happen. (Rathke, 8/14)

Hartford (Conn.) Courant: In Manchester, Larson And Courtney Pitch Medicare Buy-In At Age 50
At Manchester Memorial Hospital Monday, Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney proposed what they see as a common sense solution to the health care debate that has ensnarled Congress: a Medicare buy-in beginning at age 50. Under the proposal, customers ages 50-64 in the individual insurance market would have the option to pay premiums and buy Medicare insurance coverage. Small businesses could also buy Medicare coverage for their older employees. (Blair, 8/14)

In other Capitol Hill developments —

The Hill: Dems Want GAO To Look At ObamaCare Mandate
Two top House Democrats are asking the government’s watchdog to evaluate the Trump administration’s enforcement of the individual mandate, which is a key facet of ObamaCare. The ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), and the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), made the request to the Government Accountability Office in a letter. (Roubein, 8/14)

CQ Roll Call: Health Care Stabilization Bill Will Likely Be Slim
A Senate bill to stabilize the health insurance exchanges will likely be narrowly focused, given the time constraints and political divides Congress will have to confront after the August recess. The measure will almost certainly include funding for the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that President Donald Trump is threatening to cancel. The next payments are due around Aug. 21, and industry observers expect the White House to allow the money to go to insurers in the near term. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will hold hearings on a potential insurance package starting next month. (Clason, 8/14)

The Hill: CBO To Release Report Tuesday On Ending ObamaCare Insurer Payments 
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release a report Tuesday afternoon on the impact of halting key payments to insurance companies, which President Trump has threatened to do, CBO announced Monday. The nonpartisan agency will analyze the effects stopping these payments would have on the federal budget, health coverage, marketplace stability and premiums. (Roubein, 8/14)

Politico: Cecile Richards To Democrats: Stand Firm On Abortion
Abortion is exactly the kind of debate Democrats don’t want right now: visceral, internally divisive, and more about hypotheticals than any actual candidate or race. ... The latest round of infighting was inadvertently kicked off by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, who said in an interview at the beginning of the month that abortion wouldn’t be a “litmus test” in backing candidates for next year’s existential battle for the House majority. Abortion rights activists erupted, and Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, couldn’t be clearer on how wrong she thinks Luján is. “It’s a shocking sort of misunderstanding of actually where the country is … which is overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights and also, who are the ground troops that kind of fuel the election of candidates,” Richards told me in an interview at her office in Lower Manhattan. (Dovere, 8/15)

Health Law

Administration Is Coy About Whether It Will Partner With Advocates For Enrollment Push

The Obama administration reached out to numerous groups to help foster its efforts to get millions of Americans insured through the health law's marketplaces, but it's not clear if the Trump administration will follow suit. In other insurance news, a Colorado group is asking state officials to restrain premium increases, and Reuters reports that some investors are turning cool on insurance stocks.

CNBC: Trump Administration Could Zap Obamacare Enrollment By Dropping Outreach Deals
The Trump administration refused Monday to commit to partnering with outside groups to promote enrollment in Obamacare health plans, potentially reversing four years of those cooperative efforts. The administration's stance, coupled with its similar refusal to commit to key Obamacare subsidies to insurers through next year, could result in fewer people signing up for health coverage in the individual insurance plans for 2018 after open enrollment starts in November. (Mangan, 8/14)

Denver Post: Colorado Group Pushes Back Against Proposed Health Insurance Premium Increases 
A Colorado health care advocacy group has asked state regulators to restrain proposed 2018 health insurance premium increases, saying the higher rates are not justified. In a letter, leaders of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative urged state Commissioner of Insurance Marguerite Salazar to push insurers to accept lower premium increases in the individual market, where people buy health insurance on their own. The group said the proposed increases — an average of 27 percent across all insurers and the entire state — are too high based on cost trends in the state. It also argued that insurers provided contradictory information in asking for the high increases. (Ingold, 8/14)

Reuters: Big-Name U.S. Hedge Funds Shed Healthcare Stocks During The Rally In Second-Quarter
Several big-name hedge fund investors trimmed their stakes in healthcare companies in the second quarter as the sector led the broad U.S. stock market higher, rallying amid a Republican effort to repeal and replace President Obama's signature healthcare law. ... Healthcare stocks have underperformed since the current quarter began on July 1, dipping 0.5 percent compared with a 1.9 percent gain by the broad S&P 500, suggesting that the move by hedge fund managers could signal the end of the rally. (Randall and Hunnicutt, 8/14)

NPR: Trump Administration Extends Deadline For Insurers To Decide On Obamacare Markets
The extension comes as insurance companies wait for President Trump to decide whether he will continue to make payments to insurance companies that are called for under the Affordable Care Act but that some Republicans have opposed. The payments — known as cost-sharing reduction payments — reimburse insurance companies for discounts on copayments and deductibles that they're required by law to offer to low-income customers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the payments this year would be about $7 billion. (Kodjak, 8/14)

Administration News

Trump Blasts Merck CEO After He Quits White House Panel Over Charlottesville Response

In a quick response to the announcement from Merck's chief Kenneth Frazier, the president tweeted that the decision would give Frazier “more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

Stat: 7 Things To Know About The Pharma CEO Who Incurred Trump's Wrath
[Kenneth] Frazier, the CEO of drug giant Merck, announced that he was resigning from a council of business leaders advising Trump, citing “a responsibility to take a stand against violence and extremism” after Trump’s failure to denounce the actions of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. Within an hour, Trump personally rebuked him on Twitter, saying Frazier’s departure would give him “more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” And at the end of the day, in another tweet, Trump added another accusation: “taking jobs out of the U.S. Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!” (Robbins, 8/14)

The Washington Post: Merck CEO Takes A Stand And Draws Trump’s Ire
It is unclear whether Trump’s tweet could portend negative repercussions for Merck or the pharmaceutical industry generally. Trump has repeatedly promised to bring down drug prices and has used harsh language to describe the industry, but has not taken any strong actions. (Johnson and McGregor, 8/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Three CEOs Quit Trump Advisory Council After Charlottesville Violence
Drugmaker Merck issued a statement Monday morning on Twitter from Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier, saying, “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.” ... Almost an hour later, President Donald Trump posted on Twitter: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” (Loftus, 8/14)

The New York Times: Under Armour And Intel C.E.O.s Follow Merck Chief, Quitting Panel In Rebuke To Trump
On Sunday, Mr. Frazier, the son of a janitor and grandson of a man born into slavery, watched news coverage of white nationalists clashing with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, and of Mr. Trump’s ambiguous response to the violence. That evening, he informed his board members that he was preparing to resign from Mr. Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, one of several advisory groups the president formed in an effort to forge alliances with big business. (Gelles and Thomas, 8/14)

POLITICO Pro: Trump Gives Heartburn To American CEOs
[Kenneth] Frazier appeared at the White House on July 20 to celebrate a new jobs initiative, where the president hailed him as a “great, great business leader” and thanked Merck for investing in American jobs. But on Monday, the president blasted Frazier after the executive announced he was leaving a White House advisory council over Trump’s failure to condemn the hate groups that demonstrated in Charlottesville, Va. (Diamond, 8/14)


Reporting Requirements For Drug Manufacturers Can Create Headaches For Investors

In other pharma industry news, the Food and Drug Administration issues new prescription advisories and recalls.

The Wall Street Journal: Why Early Peeks At Drug Trials Are Giving Investors Whiplash
Roche Holding AG shares jumped 6.5% on a single day in early March when the drugmaker said its new breast-cancer treatment, Perjeta, helped prolong average patient survival in a clinical study. But the stock gave up nearly all those gains three months later, when the Swiss company disclosed full details of the trial at a medical conference. The study, dubbed Aphinity, showed what some doctors said was only a marginal benefit for Perjeta .... The episode throws light on the peculiar drip-feed way drug companies often disclose the results of clinical trials. (Loftus and Roland, 8/14)

Miami Herald: FDA Calls Out PharmaTech, 22 Liquid Drug Products Recalled
For the second time in 10 months, the FDA has issued an advisory to avoid liquid drug products made at Davie company PharmaTech after finding Burkholderia cepacia contamination in the products. And three drug companies issued a sweeping all-lots, all-expiration-dates wholesale and retail recall of 22 over the counter liquid medications made by PharmaTech. (Neal, 8/14)


Apple, Aetna Discuss Deal To Distribute Free Or Discounted Watches To Insurance Beneficiaries

The move could cover 23 million insured by Aetna. In health care industry consolidation news, Google will buy Senosis health and Allscripts will acquire a part of billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong's NantHealth.

The Hill: Report: Aetna In Talks To Get Apple Watches To Its Customers 
Apple and Aetna held previously undisclosed meetings last week to discuss distributing Apple Watches to the millions of people who use the health insurance giant, CNBC reported Monday. The two companies allegedly discussed offering free or discounted watches to the 23 million individuals covered by Aetna. (Breland, 8/14)

The Hill: Google Buys Health Monitoring Startup 
Google on Monday bought Senosis Health, a startup that creates products used to monitor diseases. The startup makes tools focused on tracking lung function, taking hemoglobin counts and helping treat newborn jaundice, according to Geekwire. The acquisition is only the latest move involving a tech company expanding into healthcare. (Breland, 8/14)

Chicago Tribune: Allscripts Acquires Parts Of Patrick Soon-Shiong's Business 
Chicago-based Allscripts has signed an agreement to acquire parts of Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong's NantHealth business. Health care technology firm Allscripts will exchange 15 million of its shares in NantHealth for certain "technology assets" and client relationships now owned by NantHealth. NantHealth said in a news release late last week that the sale will allow it to better focus on using artificial intelligence to help fight cancer. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year. (Schencker, 8/14)

Public Health And Education

Enough Painkillers Sold In One Town To Medicate Every Man, Woman, Child For 136 Days

A first-time release of CDC prescribing data shows vast regional disparities. Stateline reports on the numbers and the town -- Martinsville, Va. -- that topped the list. In other news on the national opioid epidemic: Massachusetts police test a new overdose database; experts wait on the impact of White House action; and the deaths of two sons drive one mother's mission to fight back.

Stateline: New Numbers Reveal Huge Disparities In Opioid Prescribing
Using 2015 data from retail pharmacy receipts, the CDC for the first time reported the volume and potency of pain tablets sold in the nation’s drugstores and calculated per capita rates of morphine equivalent doses sold at the county level. Martinsville drugstores came out on top, selling enough Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin and other opioid painkillers to medicate every man, woman and child in the city for 136 days, nearly seven times the national average. (Vestal, 8/14)

The Associated Press: Police Try Out New Database For Documenting Opioid Overdoses
Police in Massachusetts are testing a new database for documenting opioid overdoses they hope will help departments share information in real time and get people into treatment. The database was developed by criminal justice experts Sean Varano at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, and Pam Kelley with Kelley Research Associates in Massachusetts. (McDermott, 8/14)

CQ Roll Call: Trump's Plan For Opioid Emergency Declaration Murky
President Donald Trump's order to his administration last week to use extraordinary authorities to respond to opioid abuse and addiction has left experts puzzling over how an emergency declaration could be applied to a simmering problem, unlike more typical disaster scenarios. If he declares an emergency, Trump would be following the recommendation of a presidential commission on opioid abuse led by Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. (Siddons, 8/14)

Stat: In One Night, She Lost Two Sons To Opioids. Now She's Fighting To Save Lives
Nick and Jack Savage both died of an accidental overdose of oxycodone and alcohol. The next month, two teenagers were charged with providing the pills and drinks that killed them. [Their mother Becky] Savage felt the bottom drop out of her life. She has since made it her mission to talk about the dangers of opioid abuse to anyone who will listen. She talks at school rallies and parent meetings, and to strangers who approach her while she’s out to dinner. (Thielking, 8/15)

Standard Advice On Finishing Antibiotics Is Being Challenged By Disease Experts

The infectious disease specialists are making the case that taking the drugs once they are not needed may be helping lead to antibiotic resistance. In other public health news, some big-name companies are working to destigmatize mental health problems, Amazon recalls some solar eclipse glasses, music may help some dementia patients and articles on the benefits of work and alcohol.

The Wall Street Journal: Why Some Companies Want You To Take A Mental-Health Day
More companies are trying to destigmatize mental illness and encourage workers to use mental-health days for their original intent. EY, or Ernst & Young, has an initiative called “r u ok?”, which encourages workers to check in with each other and offer support to those who might be struggling. American Express Co.’s employee-assistance program offers on-site access to mental-health professionals and free counseling. Prudential Financial Inc. gives employees flexible work arrangements and access to mental-health professionals. (Fontana, 8/15)

PBS NewsHour: Amazon Recalls Potentially Hazardous Solar Eclipse Glasses
As customers prepare for next week’s total solar eclipse, Amazon has issued a recall for some of the eclipse glasses sold on its internet marketplace, saying it was unable to confirm whether the protective ware was made by a recommended manufacturer. NASA and the American Astronomical Society have been urging solar gazers to use glasses engineered by reputable vendors that carry the international safety standard number “ISO 12312-2.” (Akpan, 8/14)

KQED: Can Joining A Band Fight Cognitive Decline? Just Ask ‘The 5th Dementia’
When you think of the debilitating, painful trauma of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, you probably don’t think of people climbing onstage to belt out feel-good classics from the Great American Songbook. But then you’re probably not thinking of The 5th Dementia, a Los Angeles group that keeps folks with neurodegenerative disease in the moment by playing music of the past — with help from a few teenage musicians. (Gilstrap, 8/14)

NPR: Work Can Be Stressful, Dangerous And Sometimes Great
If you think your job is more stressful than it should be, you're not alone. Americans work hard, and it takes a physical and mental toll, not to mention that it frequently cuts into personal time, according to a comprehensive survey on working conditions the nonpartisan RAND Corporation published Monday. But having a good boss and good friends on the job can make work feel less taxing. (Fulton, 8/14)

Los Angeles Times: Drink To Your Health? It Depends On How Much Drinking You Do, Study Shows
This just in, and it’s definitive (for now): People who drink alcohol in moderation — especially older people, women and non-Latino white people — are less likely to die of any cause than are teetotalers or people who consume heavy doses of alcohol either on occasion or in an average week. In follow-up periods that hovered around eight years, moderate drinkers were no less likely than alcohol abstainers to die of cancer. But they were roughly a quarter less likely to die of heart disease or stroke than were people who never consumed alcohol. (Healy, 8/14)

Veterans' Health Care

More VA Doctors Can Practice In N.H. Hospitals As Governor Loosens Licensing Requirements

Gov. Chris Sununu signs an executive order amidst a state of emergency at Manchester VA Medical Center due to flooding. In other veteran health care news, a VA enrollment office in Atlanta is hit with controversy over unprofessional and racially charged instant messages by a staffer.

New Hampshire Union Leader: Sununu Order Opens Doors For VA Docs At Other Hospitals 
Veterans Affairs physicians and physician assistants who aren’t licensed in New Hampshire will be able to provide care to veterans in medical facilities throughout the state, under an executive order that Gov. Chris Sununu signed Monday afternoon. Sununu signed the executive order in a board room of Catholic Medical Center, where he was surrounded by medical staff, CMC administrators, and VA staff. (Hayward, 8/14)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: VA Leader Tolerates Staffer Who Talks Of Sending Hippies To ‘The Ovens’
The head of VA’s national health care enrollment office in Atlanta exchanged a series of unprofessional and racially charged instant messages with another VA employee — raising new doubts about the leadership of the enrollment system that serves millions of veterans nationwide. ... The messages are the latest black eye for the national enrollment office, which has more than 200 employees overseeing the health care enrollment system for the entire Veterans Health Administration. The center for years has been plagued by management failures and system breakdowns that has led to hundreds of thousands of backlogged veterans health care applications exposed in 2014 by whistleblowers and an AJC investigation. (Schrade, 8/14)

State Watch

Funding For N.H.'s Medicaid Expansion Now In Jeopardy

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services informed New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu that a fund helping to pay expansion costs, which is partially supported by voluntary donations from hospitals, violates federal law. Meanwhile, federal officials approved changes that will allow Nebraska to continue its Health Insurance Premium Program, through which the state's Medicaid program helps people pay the costs of private health insurance. Also, Mississippi's Medicaid director is in the hot seat.

Modern Healthcare: Hospital Donations Put N.H. Medicaid Expansion In Jeopardy 
New Hampshire's Medicaid expansion may end next year, because of the state's use of voluntary donations from hospitals to fund the program. State lawmakers approved creating a fund in 2015 to pay for Medicaid expansion after federal funding started to drop in 2016. The fund is partially furnished by voluntary donations from hospitals. (Dickson, 8/14)

Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger: Job Offer Or Misinterpretation? Medicaid Director Accused Of Conflict With Company Awarded Billion-Dollar Contract
Two years before winning a billion-dollar Medicaid contract, Molina Healthcare offered the agency's director a job. At least that's what attorneys said they could prove in court Monday before never getting the chance. The Mississippi Division of Medicaid awarded Molina Healthcare of Mississippi a contract to run MississippiCAN, the state's managed care program, in June alongside incumbent companies UnitedHealthcare and Magnolia Health. ... "That statement is false," said Carl Gardner, a Molina legal representative. "We did not offer Dr. Dzielak a job or anyone else at the division." As far as the emails, which the judge sealed, "(The attorney) is reading them out of context," Gardner said. (Wolfe, 8/14)

Ga. Rural Hospitals Seek Partnerships To Survive Financial Challenges; Serious Mistakes Made At D.C.'s United Medical Center Led To OB Ward Shutdown

In other hospital news, hospital and health system executives' compensation continues to soar; a Kansas official details the privatization plan for Osawatomie State Hospital; and more.

The Washington Post: Dangerous Mistakes Led To Shutdown Of United Medical Center Obstetrics Ward
D.C. regulators ordered the only full-service hospital in Southeast Washington to stop delivering babies last week because of dangerous mistakes the hospital’s staff made with multiple pregnant women and newborns, a letter obtained by The Washington Post shows. In one case, the hospital’s staff members did not take critical steps to prevent the transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her newborn .... In another, a morbidly obese woman who was about 35 weeks pregnant and had come to the hospital with trouble breathing was not properly monitored or treated, despite a history of potentially fatal blood-pressure problems. (Jamison and Nirappil, 8/14)

Modern Healthcare: C-Suite Pay Raises Target Transformational Healthcare Leaders 
Hospital and health system executives' compensation continues to soar and will likely maintain that pace as organizations search for a narrowing set of qualified executives to lead more complex operations across a consolidating healthcare landscape. The most significant annual pay hikes are being doled out to executives who are believed to be best qualified to navigate the path to a system that increasingly favors value over volume. Incentive packages tend to focus on systemwide metrics, including reducing variation in care and unnecessary procedures, patient satisfaction and other measures that follow new reimbursement models. (Kacik, 8/14)

KCUR: Kansas Official To Outline Privatization Plan For Osawatomie State Hospital 
One way or another, Tim Keck wants to replace the state’s aging Osawatomie State Hospital with a new mental health treatment facility. Though he is meeting with some resistance, the secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is pushing lawmakers to consider privatizing the state-run psychiatric hospital, which in recent years has been beset by operational problems. On Tuesday Keck will outline a privatization plan submitted by a Tennessee-based company to stakeholders and legislators during a 1 p.m. meeting at hospital’s administration building. (McLean, 8/14)

Wyoming Public Radio: Wyoming Hospitals Surveyed For Safety, Quality
Twelve hospitals across the state participated in a survey by the Leapfrog Group, which works with the Wyoming Business Coalition on Health to evaluate providers in the state. ...According to Wyoming’s Leapfrog Program Manager Linda Witko, encouraging providers to evaluate the safety and quality of their facilities will lower the cost of health care by reducing accidents and misdiagnoses. (Elder, 8/14)

KCUR: Work By Kansas City Artists Enhances KU Medical Center's New Education Building 
Amid its ultramodern lecture halls, the University of Kansas Medical Center's new health education building is also a showcase for several Kansas City artists. University leaders say the $82 million facility at the corner of 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard, designed by Helix Architecture + Design, was shaped with student engagement in mind. But the years-long project also included formation of the University of Kansas Medical Center Art Commission. Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of KU's Spencer Museum of Art, and Leesa Fanning, contemporary art curator at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, were among the architects and university administrators charged with locating artists for the project. (Onianwa, 8/14)

State Highlights: Ohio Tensions Rise Over Drug-Pricing Transparency Ballot Measure; Number Of Calif. Dialysis Patients Spikes

Media outlets report on news from Ohio, California, Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Iowa.

Stat: In Ohio, Tension Brews Over Who's Funding A Drug Price-Control Ballot Measure
It was supposed to be a battle over high drug prices, but right now, it’s become a battle over transparency — specifically, which drug makers are funding an effort to block a measure on the ballot in Ohio this November that seeks to rein in drug prices in the state. The proposal in Ohio is similar to the one that California voters shot down last November following a huge oppositional push from drug companies; it’s even backed by the same group, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which runs a nonprofit network of clinics. (Robbins, 8/14)

California Healthline: Number Of Dialysis Patients In California Surges
The number of Californians who are getting care at dialysis centers has spiked in recent years — but not because kidney disease is more prevalent. The reason is that people are living longer with end-stage renal disease, said Anjay Rastogi, a professor of nephrology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. The number of new cases has generally leveled off in recent years, Rastogi said. “The same number of patients are being put on dialysis, but they stay on dialysis,” he said. (Bartolone, 8/15)

Austin American-Statesman: Senate Tentatively OKs $563 Million For Schools, Retired Teachers
With two days left in the special legislative session, the Texas Senate early Tuesday morning approved 25-6 a bill to pump an extra $351 million into the public education system over the next two years — a $1.5 billion cut from what the House had proposed. Tuesday morning’s vote sends the watered-down version of House Bill 21 into conference committee where Senate and House members will continue negotiations that began over the weekend. (Chang, 8/14)

Politico Pro: Latest Texas Abortion Curbs Designed To Avoid Legal Fireworks
Two new abortion curbs the Republican-controlled Legislature fast-tracked for Gov. Greg Abbott's signature over the weekend represent an alternative approach that could avoid the kind of legal fireworks surrounding recent state efforts to limit access to the procedure. ...If the two bills are signed into law, as expected, Texas lawmakers will have passed half a dozen new abortion measures this year. (Rayasam, 8/14)

Austin American-Statesman: Texas Is 18th Most Expensive State To Have A Baby, Online List Says
In WalletHub’s new ranking of the best and worst states to have a baby, the Lone Star State arrived at No. 34 overall, No. 32 in terms of birth costs, No. 35 in terms of health care rank, No. 38 in terms of “baby-friendliness” and No. 29 in terms of “family-friendliness.” Its ranking of No. 34 out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. means that Texas is the 18th most expensive place to have a baby in America. (Harris, 8/14)

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland School Of Alternative Medicine To Offer New Naturopathic Program 
The Maryland University of Integrative Health is establishing a school of naturopathic medicine and plans to admit the first students to the program next year. The school of naturopathic medicine will be the first in the mid-Atlantic region and one of only a handful of schools nationwide that operate within a regionally accredited university, officials with the university of integrative health said. (McDaniels, 8/14)

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland Regulators Approve Eight New Medical Marijuana Growers 
Maryland’s medical marijuana regulators approved final licenses for eight growing companies on Monday, allowing them to start cultivating the drug. Several companies said they are ready to begin growing immediately, while others say they will take weeks to get started. ...Until Monday, just one of the 15 selected firms had received final permission to start cultivating medical marijuana, which was first legalized in the state in 2013. Even at full capacity, one firm could not produce nearly enough to support 102 planned dispensaries. (Cox, 8/14)

The Philadelphia Inquirer/ Conshy's Symphony Health Drug-Data Firm Sold For $520M
PRA Health Sciences Inc., a North Carolina-based clinical research organization that tests drugs, has agreed to pay $520 million for Symphony Health Solutions Corp., a Conshohocken-based medical data company assembled by Silicon Valley investors from mostly suburban Philadelphia-based firms that collected patients’ drug prescriptions from doctors and sold the information to drug makers. ...With sales of around $200 million a year, Symphony employs around 250, according to PRA. That’s down from 500 in 2012. The company’s profit margin, before financial expenses, was 20 percent last year, PRA chief financial officer Linda Baddour told investors in the conference call. (DiStefano, 8/14)

The San Diego Union-Tribune: Aztecs Cancel Monday Night's Practice As Chickenpox Count Grows To Five Players 
San Diego State postponed Monday night’s football practice amid a rash of chickenpox cases that has increased from three to five Aztecs players. SDSU head coach Rocky Long said the move was made as a precaution in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading even further. ...The SDSU weight room is shared by all the school’s sports teams, including in recent weeks the other fall sports of men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and women’s cross country. School officials said no chickenpox cases outside of the football team have been reported. (Kenney, 8/14)

San Jose Mercury News: Check Your Kids' Vaccine Record As School Year Starts
August — ouch — is National Immunization Awareness Month and the start of school for many, timely reminders why local and state public health​ officials are urging parents to make sure their children are up to speed with their vaccines, preventing diseases like measles and whooping cough that can easily spread in childcare and school settings. Actually, it’s not just a reminder, it’s the law — and one that got even tougher in California starting last summer when parents no longer were allowed to opt out of immunizations for their children, save for legitimate medical exemptions. (Seipel, 8/15)

San Jose Mercury News: Healthcare Workers Rally To Halt Oakland Nurse's Deportation
Health care workers and other community members are rallying at noon Monday in front of Highland Hospital to demand that U.S. immigration officials halt the imminent deportation of registered nurse Maria Sanchez and her husband on Tuesday. The couple, who moved to the Bay Area in the early 1990s from a small town in Mexico, are undocumented immigrants. (Seipel, 8/14)

San Jose Mercury News: Santa Clara County Hiring Transgender Services Manager
Santa Clara County is bolstering its services aimed at the South Bay’s diverse and often marginalized transgender community through a new program manager dedicated to that population — the second such post in the nation. The program manager will serve as a “trainer, mediator and facilitator” for the transgender community, who face unique challenges at school, the workplace, in hospitals, correctional facilities and elsewhere. (Kurhi, 8/14)

Iowa Public Radio: Data On Gunshot Wounds Lacking
Nationally, more people between the ages of 15-24 are shot than any other age group. Dr. Denville Myrie, a trauma surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, says that’s true for the ER he works for in Des Moines. (Moon and Kieffer, 8/14)

Editorials And Opinions

Viewpoints: Short-Term Health Fix; Sabotage To Marketplaces; VA Hospital Director Should Go

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

The Wall Street Journal: A Short-Term ObamaCare Fix
Republicans in Congress haven’t repealed or replaced Obama Care, but the Trump Administration still has an obligation to help Americans facing higher premiums and fewer choices. One incremental improvement would be rescinding regulations on temporary health-insurance plans. (8/14)

Huffington Post: Trump’s Obamacare Tantrum Shows He’s Learned Nothing From Repeal’s Collapse
Ever since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, Republicans have been saying they would repeal “Obamacare.” All they needed, they insisted, was a president willing to sign their legislation. Now here they are, six months into the Trump presidency, and they’ve given him no legislation to sign. But Republicans also made another set of promises ― to provide everybody with better, cheaper health care. And they don’t have a way to do that either. What they have, instead, is a set of plans that would take health insurance away from millions of people, while forcing those with serious or ongoing medical problems to pay a lot more for their care. (Jonathan Cohn, 8/14)

The New York Times: Doctor Shortage Under Obamacare? It Didn’t Happen
As the health law sought to solve one problem, access to affordable health insurance, it risked creating another: too few primary care doctors to meet the surge in appointment requests from the newly insured. Studies published just before the 2014 coverage expansion predicted a demand for millions more annual primary care appointments, requiring thousands of new primary care providers just to keep up. But a more recent study suggests primary care appointment availability may not have suffered as much as expected. (Austin Frakt, 8/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Can Save Lives By Stopping Illegal Opioids At Their Source
Donald Trump last week announced he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency .... , as his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended late last month. ... but the commission won’t succeed in reducing opioid deaths if it doesn’t make suppressing the supply of drugs its leading priority. The report contains no recommendations for reducing the largest supplies of opioids at their sources in Mexico and Asia. Cracking down on doctors who prescribe excessive amounts of legal pain medications is already having an effect, but the surging supply of illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl has negated a lot of the gains. (John P. Walters and David W. Murray, 8/14)

Sacramento Bee: Why Are Opioids A National Crisis, But Smoking A Personal Choice?
About 33,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2015, nearly triple the number who died in 2002, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But opioids are far from the most lethal addiction in America. Smoking results in the deaths of 480,000 Americans a year, making it the top cause of premature death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Karin Klein, 8/14)

The Wall Street Journal: Can the VA Fire Anyone?
Congress’s big reform agenda may be a flop, but in June it did manage to pass a modest success known as the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act that allows for easier dismissal of bad employees. The case of Brian Hawkins shows why the law is needed. Mr. Hawkins was until April director of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C. that serves some 100,000 vets. That was when Inspector General Michael Missal took the extraordinary step of issuing an emergency report on the D.C. facility. Mr. Missal said the hospital was so dysfunctional that he couldn’t endanger patients by waiting to complete his investigation. (8/14)

Modern Healthcare: The Switcheroo That Could Give McConnell Enough Votes To Repeal Obamacare
Just when you thought the Republican drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act was finally dead, there is a plausible new scenario being discussed on how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could resuscitate it. Some congressional Democrats think it's possible, even likely, that President Donald Trump will offer Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia the post of Department of Energy secretary. That would allow Trump to move current Energy Secretary Rick Perry to the Department of Homeland Security .... In this musical-chairs scenario, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice—who just switched from Democrat to Republican—would then appoint a Republican to fill Manchin's Senate seat. (Harris Meyer, 8/14)

Des Moines Register: Iowa's Secret Medicaid Negotiations Unacceptable
Iowa has a new governor and new human services director. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven should seize the opportunity to ditch their predecessors' Medicaid privatization experiment that funnels billions of public dollars to three private, for-profit managed care companies. The continuation of privatization cannot be justified. Neither can the ongoing government secrecy surrounding it. The intentional, irresponsible lack of transparency raises even more suspicions this entire ordeal is a taxpayer-fleecing fiasco. (8/14)

Arizona Republic: The Judge, Not The Corrections Director, Was Out Of Line
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan keelhauled the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Charles Ryan, into court the other day to flog him for a memo he had written that offended the judge. ...Duncan is overseeing the implementation of a settlement over the health care the department provides inmates. (Robert Robb, 8/14)

JAMA Pediatrics: Communicating About Vaccines In A Fact-Resistant World
The continued success of vaccines, one of the most effective public health interventions, depends on high rates of acceptance. Vaccine refusal in the United States has increased since the late 1990s. This trend has coincided with an increase in vaccine safety concerns. Such concerns result from easy recall of adverse events, misinformation, and human tendency to poorly judge probabilities. When a significant proportion of the US population is impervious to scientific facts, such as belief in human-induced climate change, it is difficult to communicate vaccine-related information to patients. (Saad B. Omer, Avnika B. Amin and Rupali J. Limaye, 8/14)