KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 22, 2014

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including marketplace news about the Novartis purchase of GlaxoSmithKline's oncology unit for $14.5 billion.

Kaiser Health News: Waiting For Medicaid To Kick In
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman, working in collaboration with The Orange County Register, reports: “For most of Teresa Martinez’s life, buying health insurance has been out of the question. She works at a Koreatown hair salon, earning about $10 per cut – not nearly enough to afford private coverage. With a long list of ailments including dizziness, blurry vision and leg pain, she eagerly applied last year for a county program that would cover her for free until Obamacare set in” (Gorman, 4/21). Read the story and watch the related video by Heidi de Marco.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Readers Ask: Who Is Responsible For An Adult Child's Coverage? Must Insurers Notify Smokers Of Ways To Lower Premiums?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews looks into issues raised by the health law (4/22). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: How Are Insurers Responding To New Health Law Enrollees?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal Monday morning to talk about how insurers are responding to the health law. Hancock said the 8 million new customers have insurers pondering who they, how sick they are and how the new enrollees may affect insurance rates in 2015 (8/21). Watch the video or check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Looking At Costs And Risks, Many Skip Health Insurance
Steve Huber, an affable salesman who is still paying off an unexpected medical bill, was not among the millions of Americans who signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during the enrollment period that ended March 31. After seeing television ads for Kentucky’s new online insurance marketplace, Mr. Huber, 57, made several attempts to explore the website but found it too complicated. Moreover, his income has dropped in recent years, he said, and he felt certain that he could not afford coverage. So he never priced plans or researched whether he qualified for financial assistance (Goodnough, 4/21).

The Associated Press: Affordable Care Act Only Chips Away At A Core Goal
Swan Lockett had high hopes that President Barack Obama’s health overhaul would lead her family to an affordable insurance plan, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, because lawmakers in her state refused to expand Medicaid, the 46-year-old mother of four from Texas uses home remedies or pays $75 to see a doctor when she has an asthma attack (4/21).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Can Democrats Use Obamacare To Persuade Voters?
Are there any voters left who haven’t made up their minds about the Affordable Care Act? Not many, but Democrats are counting on a few at the margins to come their way. Tracking polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggest that support for and opposition to the law have remained about the same over the last six months, even as the law’s impact began to be felt in people’s lives, for better and worse (Hook, 4/21).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: Spinning Obamacare Success: The President Highlights A Less Relevant Number
The Fact Checker was on break last week, but did manage to pass a TV set that aired images of the President’s announcement on April 17 that 8 million people had signed up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. We were struck by a headline in the TV ticker that amplified the president’s message that 35 percent of the enrollees were younger than 35. Why is that important? The “young invincibles” are considered a key to the health law’s success, since they are healthier and won’t requires as much health coverage as older Americans. If the proportion of young and old enrollees was out of whack, insurance companies might feel compelled to boost premiums, which some feared would lead to a cycle of even fewer younger adults and higher premiums (Kessler, 4/22).

Politico: Who Is Dr. Ben Carson? 
That sense of loss of control over the practice of medicine is what has brought many doctors recently to become vocal in discussions of policy. Several dozen are even running for Congress this year, most as Republicans. But it’s Carson who has become one of those curious media stars that often shoots through American politics nowadays—so suddenly popular among conservatives that he bested such 2016 hopefuls as Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio at the CPAC straw poll. Though he does not identify with a political party—he says parties should be dissolved—Carson has spent months speaking to largely GOP audiences, elucidating a deeply Christian, libertarian vision of what the Founding Fathers had in mind (Hamblin, 4/21).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Signs Up The Most Californians Under Health Law
With open enrollment for Obamacare wrapped up, insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross stayed ahead of the pack in California sign-ups and widened its lead over rival Blue Shield of California. Anthem signed up 425,058 people through April 15, or 30.5% of Covered California's exchange market under the Affordable Care Act, new data show. Anthem is a unit of Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., the nation's second-largest health insurer (Terhune, 4/21). 

The Washington Post: Medicaid Expansion In Kansas On Hold Until At Least 2015
If Kansas opts to expand Medicaid, it won’t happen until at least next year. A new measure, signed into law late last week by Gov. Sam Brownback (R), requires that any expansion of Medicaid be explicitly approved by the state legislature, which has finished its regular session for the year (Chokshi, 4/21).

The Associated Press: Va. Gov. McAuliffe Touts First 100 Days In Office
Gov. Terry McAuliffe celebrated his first 100 days in office Monday by highlighting his work to improve the state’s economy and by renewing his call to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income residents (4/21).

Politico: Abortion At Heart Of Ohio Speech Case
The Supreme Court will consider Tuesday whether an anti-abortion group can challenge an Ohio law that could have restricted it from publicly accusing a political candidate of voting for taxpayer-funded abortions in Obamacare. The justices aren’t likely to decide whether the law chills free speech—although Susan B. Anthony List and even the Ohio attorney general say that it does. They’re instead being asked to decide whether SBA List has standing to challenge the law since the group was never prosecuted under it (Winfield Cunningham, 4/22).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Seems Inclined To Bolster Truth-In-Labeling Laws
In a case that could strengthen truth-in-labeling laws, Supreme Court justices on Monday voiced deep skepticism about Coca-Cola's Pomegranate Blueberry juice that is 99.4% apple and grape juice, saying the name would probably fool most consumers, including themselves. The high court is hearing an appeal from Stewart and Lynda Resnick of Los Angeles, makers of a rival pomegranate juice called Pom Wonderful, who complained that the name of the Coca-Cola product, sold under the Minute Maid brand, is false and misleading. … At issue is whether federal law permits selling a product with a name or a label that is almost sure to mislead consumers, and how much latitude manufacturers have in marketing (Savage, 4/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Justices Skeptical Of Coke's Pomegranate Juice Label
Los Angeles-based Pom, which sells juices and juice blends with high content of costly pomegranate juice, claims that Coke is misleading consumers with a Minute Maid product it calls Pomegranate Blueberry Blend of Five Juices. The product, which contains about 0.5% of pomegranate and blueberry juices, highlights the words Pomegranate Blueberry, features a pomegranate and blueberry on its label, and is colored a bluish-purple, altering the natural hue of the less pricey apple and grape juices that make up more than 99% of the beverage (Bravin, 4/21).

NPR: Powerful Narcotic Painkiller Up For FDA Approval
The Food and Drug Administration is trying to decide whether to approve a powerful new prescription painkiller that's designed to relieve severe pain quickly, and with fewer side effects than other opioids (Stein, 4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Novartis Buys GlaxoSmithKline's Oncology Unit For $14.5 Billion
Basel-based Novartis said it is acquiring the oncology unit of Britain's GlaxoSmithKline for around $14.5 billion. The Swiss pharmaceutical giant is also selling its vaccines unit to Glaxo for $5.25 billion. Both deals include provisions for milestone payments that could raise the total values. Novartis and Glaxo are also planning to combine their consumer divisions, which sell medicines that don't require a prescription (Falconi and Plumridge, 4/22).

Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times: Novarits To Buy GlaxoSmithKline Cancer Unit For Up To $16 Billion
Novartis AG agreed to buy GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s cancer-drug business for as much as $16 billion, form a consumer-health venture with Glaxo and sell its animal-health operation to Eli Lilly & Co. for $5.4 billion in an overhaul of the Swiss drugmaker. Novartis also will sell its vaccines business, excluding the flu operations, to Glaxo for $7.1 billion, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said in a statement today. That includes royalties and as much as $1.8 billion payments based on the achievement of certain business goals (4/21).

USA Today: Glaxo, Novartis, Eli Lilly In ‘Major 3-Part’ Deal
British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline announced Tuesday that it will sell its cancer-products business to pharmaceutical giant Novartis, in a deal that will see the firm's Swiss rival pay $14.5 billion for its oncology unit. Basel-headquartered Novartis said separately that it will sell its animal health division to U.S. firm Eli Lilly for $5.4 billion (Hjelmgaard, 4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer-Health Business Unites Big Brands
The new over-the-counter drug and food-supplement business, with sales of around $11 billion, will be called GSK Consumer Healthcare. As the name suggests, Glaxo will control the business, with a 63.5% stake and seven of 11 board directors. Glaxo Chief Executive Andrew Witty will chair its board. The creation of the joint venture is part of a series of transactions announced Tuesday that will reshape both companies (Blumridge, 4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Walk-In Urgent-Care Companies Are Providing Relief to Retail Landlords
People with relatively minor health problems—say, the flu or a deep cut—aren't the only ones getting relief from growing walk-in "urgent care" companies such as CityMD and PM Pediatrics. These companies also are providing a little tonic to retail landlords. In the last four years, more than 20 of these centers have opened in the New York region, offering a no-appointment alternative to the emergency room or doctor's office (Li, 4/21).

NPR: Tennessee Bill Could Send Addicted Moms To Jail
Pregnant women addicted to illegal narcotics or prescription pain pills could soon be jailed in Tennessee under a bill awaiting the governor's signature. The strict proposal enjoys bipartisan support — despite objections from doctor (Farmer, 4/21). 

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