KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: October 12, 2017

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

Kaiser Health News: Video: Health After A Hurricane
If a hurricane strikes where you live, how does it affect your health and well-being? In this Kaiser Health News video, senior correspondent Julie Appleby and Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, discuss the ongoing public and environmental health concerns resulting from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — and the latest natural disaster of wildfires in California. (10/11)

California Healthline: California Slaps Surcharge On ACA Plans As Trump Remains Coy On Subsidies
California’s health exchange said Wednesday it has ordered insurers to add a surcharge to certain policies next year because the Trump administration has yet to commit to paying a key set of consumer subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The decision to impose a 12.4 percent surcharge on silver-level health plans in 2018 means the total premium increase for them will average nearly 25 percent, according to Covered California. Taxpayers, not consumers, will bear the brunt of the extra rate hike because federal premium assistance for policyholders, which is pegged to the cost of coverage, will also increase. (Terhune, 10/11)

California Healthline: Giving Birth Is Hard Enough. Try It In The Middle Of A Wildfire.
Days before there was any sign of fire, Nicole and Ben Veum of Santa Rosa, Calif., had been waiting and waiting for their baby to arrive. Nicole’s due date came and went. Her doctor called her into the hospital — Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital — to induce labor. That was Friday. “So we were very excited at that point,” she said. “And then, day after day after day with not a whole lot of progress.” (Dembosky, 10/11)

Kaiser Health News: Dementia Patient At Center Of Spoon-Feeding Controversy Dies
An Oregon woman with Alzheimer’s disease, whose husband claimed she was kept alive with spoon-feeding against her written wishes, has died. Nora Harris, 64, died early Wednesday at the Fern Gardens senior care center in Medford, Ore. Her husband, Bill Harris, said the death marks the end of an eight-year battle with the progressive, debilitating disease, which included an unsuccessful court fight to withdraw all food and liquid. (Aleccia, 10/12)

The New York Times: Foiled In Congress, Trump Moves On His Own To Undermine Obamacare
President Trump, after failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Congress, will act on his own to relax health care standards on small businesses that band together to buy health insurance and may take steps to allow the sale of other health plans that skirt the health law’s requirements. The president plans to sign an executive order “to promote health care choice and competition” on Thursday at a White House event attended by small-business owners and others. (Pear and Abelson, 10/11)

The Wall Street Journal: In Start To Unwinding The Health Law, Trump To Ease Insurance Rules
President Donald Trump is planning to sign an executive order Thursday to initiate the unwinding of the Affordable Care Act, paving the way for sweeping changes to health-insurance regulations by instructing agencies to allow the sale of less-comprehensive health plans to expand. Mr. Trump, using his authority to accomplish some of what Republicans failed to achieve with their stalled congressional health-care overhaul, will direct federal agencies to take actions aimed at providing lower-cost options and fostering competition in the individual insurance markets, according to a Wall Street Journal interview with two senior White House officials. (Radnofsky, Armour and Wilde Mathews, 10/11)

The Hill: Officials Detail Trump Executive Order On Healthcare Coming Thursday
The order will ease rules on small businesses banding together to buy health insurance, through what are known as association health plans, and lift Obama administration limits on short-term health insurance plans, according to a source on a call with administration officials Wednesday night. The order will direct the Department of Labor to "modernize" rules to allow small employers to create association health plans, the source said. Small businesses will be able to band together if they are within the same state, in the same "line of business," or are in the same trade association. (Sullivan, 10/11)

Politico: Fed Up With Congress, Trump Whacks Obamacare With His Pen
It's not yet clear how far the administration will go, or how quickly it can implement the president's order. But if successful, the new rules could upend the way businesses and individuals buy coverage — lowering premiums for the healthiest Americans at the expense of key consumer protections and potentially tipping the Obamacare markets into a tailspin. "Within a year, this would kill the market," said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation who previously worked at former President Barack Obama’s HHS Department. (Cancryn, 10/12)

Reuters: Trump Healthcare Order Could Face Strong Legal Objections
U.S. President Donald Trump's expected plan to let Americans buy insurance across state lines could violate federal law governing employee benefit plans and will almost certainly be challenged in court, several legal experts said. Trump said on Tuesday he would likely sign an executive order this week allowing people to cross state lines to obtain "great, competitive healthcare" that would cost the United States "nothing." (Pierson and Raymond, 10/12)

The Washington Post: Liberal Groups Plan To Hammer Vulnerable Republicans On Birth Control
Liberal groups are seizing on Republican attempts to roll back health coverage and limit access to birth control, as they seek to galvanize women voters ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Emily’s List believe the Trump administration handed them a potent political issue Friday when it carved out wide exceptions to the Affordable Care Act’s promise of no-cost contraception. Activists plan to link this action to congressional Republicans’ repeated attempts to undercut the ACA in ways that could have caused millions to lose health insurance, as part of a broader strategy focused on defeating moderate GOP members and buttressing vulnerable Democrats. (Viebeck, 10/11)

The Associated Press: Women's Health Docs Say Trump Ignores Birth Control Science
The Trump administration's new birth control rule is raising questions among some women's health experts, who say it overlooks known benefits of contraception while selectively citing data that raise doubts about effectiveness and safety. "This rule is listing things that are not scientifically validated, and in some cases things that are wrong, to try to justify a decision that is not in the best interests of women and society," said Dr. Hal Lawrence, CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which represents women's health specialists. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 10/11)

The Hill: New York Warns HHS Over Children's Health Care Funding Delay 
New York will have to convene a special legislative session to address a nearly $1 billion shortfall if Congress doesn’t quickly renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the state’s health department said Wednesday. In a letter to Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan, the state’s health commissioner warned about the consequences if CHIP funding is not renewed “in the next few weeks.” (Weixel, 10/11)

The Hill: Senate Dems Urge NIH To Renew Gun Research Grants 
Senate Democrats are calling on the National Institutes of Health to renew recently-lapsed funding for gun violence research following the Las Vegas concert shooting. In a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), and 21 others joined Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in saying that continuing the program is urgent. (Weixel, 10/11)

Stat: An FDA Program To Approve Old Drugs Causes Higher Prices And Shortages
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration launched a program to require drug makers to win approval of medicines that — believe it or not — were being sold without the agency’s imprimatur or remove them from the market. At the time, hundreds of treatments were readily available because some companies failed to comply with a 1962 law mandating companies prove drugs were effective. ...More medicines may have received needed regulatory approval, but often enough, shortages ensued, prices rose, and there was no new clinical evidence to support the vast majority of the medicines that were approved, according to a new study published in the Journal of Managed Care & Specialty Pharmacy. (Silverman, 10/11)

Stat: An Anarchist Takes On Big Pharma — By Promoting DIY Prescription Drugs
Swaggering, charismatic, and complex, Michael Laufer has become a fixture in the growing biohacker movement ever since he published plans last year for a do-it-yourself EpiPencil — a $35 alternative to the pricey EpiPen. It’s not clear whether anyone has actually ever used a homemade EpiPencil to prevent anaphylactic shock. But that seems almost an afterthought to Laufer’s bigger goal — trying to build a DIY movement to attack high pharma pricing and empower patients. (Piller, 10/12)

Stat: D.C. Pharmacist Has Something To Say About That Alzheimer’s Remark
The pharmacist who prepares prescription drugs for Congress would like you to know that he does not know of any members with Alzheimer’s. And if he did, he wouldn’t tell you. “I am not aware of any member that actually has Alzheimer’s and would certainly not disclose any such information if I did know,” Mike Kim said, adding that “patient privacy is a very serious matter that I am committed to upholding.” (Mershon, 10/11)

The New York Times: The Bronx’s Quiet, Brutal War With Opioids
The bodies turn up in public restrooms, in parks and under bridges, skin tone ashen or shades of blue. The deceased can go undiscovered, sometimes for hours, or days if they were alone when they injected heroin and overdosed. Terrell Jones, a longtime resident of the Bronx, was pointing to the locations where overdoses occurred as he drove through the East Tremont neighborhood, the car passing small convenience stores, rowhouses and schools. (DelReal, 10/12)

CQ: Lawmakers Urge More Action On Opioids
More than 50 lawmakers testified Wednesday at a House committee hearing on the nation’s opioid epidemic, describing how the crisis has devastated their communities and proposing solutions. While many applauded bipartisan legislation passed last year that included hundreds of millions of dollars targeting opioid abuse, they emphasized that more needs to be done. More than 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses each day, said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. (Williams, 10/11)

Politico/Stateline: 'Katrina Brain': The Invisible Long-Term Toll Of Megastorms
Brandi Wagner thought she had survived Hurricane Katrina. She hung tough while the storm’s 170-mph winds pummeled her home, and powered through two months of sleeping in a sweltering camper outside the city with her boyfriend’s mother. It was later, after the storm waters had receded and Wagner went back to New Orleans to rebuild her home and her life that she fell apart. “I didn’t think it was the storm at first. I didn’t really know what was happening to me,” Wagner, now 48, recalls. “We could see the waterline on houses, and rooftop signs with ‘please help us,’ and that big X where dead bodies were found. I started sobbing and couldn’t stop. I was crying all the time, just really losing it.” (Vestal, 10/12)

Stat: Century-Old Vial Sheds Light On One Of Medicine's Enduring Mysteries
A115-year-old vaccine vial has provided an important clue in the search for an answer to one of medicine’s enduring mysteries: What went into the world’s first vaccine?  Medical legend has it that Edward Jenner — the father of vaccination — used cowpox virus to protect against the dreaded smallpox. But a new report, published Wednesday, shows a virus closely related to the horsepox virus was used in a 1902 smallpox vaccine, providing fresh ammunition to those who believe the history books have it wrong. (Branswell, 10/11)

The Wall Street Journal: Ebola Vaccines Show Promise In New Study
The first placebo-controlled study of two vaccines against the Ebola virus found they both successfully created a powerful antibody response for a year, suggesting they both could be tools to save lives in a future epidemic of the deadly disease. The research, by doctors from the U.S. and Liberian governments and elsewhere, was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study looked at 1,500 patients in Liberia, and took place amid and after the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia from 2014 into 2015. (Burton, 10/11)

The Washington Post: Cancer Researchers Learn More About Toxic Side Effects Of New Treatments
One of the most promising new cancer treatments involves altering patients' own immune cells to attack blood cancers. But it comes with a big downside: It can cause serious side effects, including high fevers and sharp drops in blood pressure as well as potentially fatal brain swelling. Now researchers at two major cancer centers — Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston — are homing in on these toxic complications to better understand why they occur, which patients are most vulnerable to the side effects and how to prevent them. (McGinley, 10/12)

NPR: Do Women Still Need 2 Tests For Cervical Cancer?
A proposal to simplify cervical cancer screening could end up missing some cancers, researchers and patient advocates say. And that could be especially true for minority women. Latina and black women already have the highest rates of cervical cancer in the U.S., and more than half of women with the disease were not screened in the five years before their diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Haelle, 10/11)

NPR: Modifiable Stroke Risks Still Rising Across All Ages, Races
For years, doctors have been warning us that high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, illegal drug use and diabetes increase our chances of having a potentially fatal stroke. And yet, most of the stroke patients showing up at hospitals from 2004 to 2014 had one or more of these risk factors. And the numbers of people at risk in this way tended to grow among all age groups and ethnicities in that time period. (Fulton, 10/11)

The New York Times: High Blood Pressure In Midlife Tied To Later Dementia
Women with high blood pressure in their 40s are at increased risk for dementia in later years, researchers report. But the finding does not hold for men. Beginning in 1964, investigators collected health and lifestyle information on 5,646 men and women when they were 30 to 35 years old, and again when they were in their 40s. From 1996 to 2015, 532 of them were found to have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The study is in Neurology. (Bakalar, 10/11)

NPR: Why Does Sex Exist? This 18-Million-Year-Old Worm Left It All Behind
Abstinence may have found its most impressive poster child yet: Diploscapter pachys. The tiny worm is transparent, smaller than a poppy seed and hasn't had sex in 18 million years. It's basically just been cloning itself this whole time. Usually, that's a solid strategy for going extinct, fast. What's its secret? (Bichell, 10/12)

The Washington Post: Michigan Governor Sticking To Story About Legionnaires’
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is sticking by his congressional testimony about when he learned about a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis, despite a senior aide’s new disclosure that he informed the Republican governor weeks earlier. Some Democrats in Congress are pouncing on the conflict and urging the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate. (White, 10/11)

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