KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Viewpoints: CDC’s Response To Opioid Abuse; Analysts Sour On Valeant

A selection of opinions from around the country.

The New York Times: A Strong Response To The Opioid Scourge
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week released well-reasoned guidelines for how doctors should prescribe opioid painkillers. The voluntary standards could make a difference in curbing the alarming increase in prescription drug deaths. ... To reduce this high toll, the C.D.C. is advising doctors not to prescribe opioids for chronic pain in most situations. Studies have found no evidence that the long-term use of opioids is beneficial, and in fact, exercise, physical therapy and over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen can be more effective. The guidelines do not apply to cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life care, situations in which opioids are often the only way to reduce pain. (3/17)

Bloomberg: Valeant Analysts Finally Wake Up
Valeant analysts are leading from behind. Sell-side analysts, many of whom have been Valeant's staunchest defenders, belatedly started to sour on the company Wednesday. It's akin to pouring a dixie cup on the remains of a bonfire. But after the spit-roasting of Valeant's stock -- down 50 percent -- and the company's shambolic earnings call on Tuesday, some analysts finally came to terms with exactly how broken this company is. (Max Nisen, 3/16)

Bloomberg: Drug Trials And Bank Heists
Back when it was a hedge fund, one thing that SAC Capital did was learn some negative results of a clinical trial of a drug about two weeks before those results were publicly announced, and then sell its stock in the drug company before the announcement. In a narrow sense this was a good trade, and SAC avoided several hundred million dollars of losses by getting out of the stock before the announcement. In a broader sense, this trade led to the end of SAC, which had to pay $600 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, plead guilty to insider trading, and stop being a hedge fund because of it. Also the analyst responsible for the trade went to prison for nine years. (Matt Levine, 3/16)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Health Care Tax Inversions — Robbing Both Peter And Paul
On November 23, 2015, Pfizer announced that it would merge with Ireland-based Allergan. The resulting organization, valued at about $160 billion, will be the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. The chief motive for the merger is financial: to avoid paying higher corporate taxes, U.S. companies have started to merge with smaller companies based in countries with lower tax rates to effectively become foreign companies. This strategy is known as “corporate inversion” or “tax inversion,” and it’s become particularly attractive for health care companies. (Haider Javed Warraich and Kevin A. Schulman, 3/17)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Scandal As A Sentinel Event — Recognizing Hidden Cost–Quality Trade-Offs
In 2014, Americans reacted with outrage to reports that personnel at Veterans Health Administration (VA) medical centers had schemed to feign compliance with targeted waiting times for appointments. Whistle-blowers outed miscreants, alleging that clinical delays had caused scores of avoidable deaths. Political leaders blamed bad actors — and each other. Investigations led to firings — and congressional fury that not enough heads were rolling. The prevailing narrative was one of breakdowns of character and culture: dishonesty, callousness, and ineptitude. (M. Gregg Bloche, 3/17)

Louisville Courier-Journal: Former Apple CEO: Better Health Through Tech
When former Apple CEO John Sculley first joined that seminal company, he was struck by co-founder Steve Jobs’ vision of changing the world through the “noble cause” of personal computing. Now, he said, he’s “totally excited and passionate about” a new noble cause – using high-level technology to transform health care. (Laura Ungar, 3/17)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Beyond The VA Crisis — Becoming A High-Performance Network
Overhauling the health care system for Americans who answered the call of duty by serving in the military is a national priority. In the spring of 2014, the Veterans Health Administration (VA) faced a crisis with regard to veterans’ access to care. Systemic problems in scheduling processes had been exacerbated by leadership failures and ethical lapses. Demand for services was outstripping capacity. The result was that veterans did not have timely access to the health care they had earned. (David J. Shulkin, 3/17)

Lexington Herald Leader: Alvarado’s Shameful Amendment
Ironies abound whenever the General Assembly meets, but Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, has provided one of the most profound and disturbing of this session. Alvarado, a physician, assured that more dirty hypodermic needles will be in circulation, spreading deadly blood-borne infections. He did this by attaching a noxious amendment in the Senate to a simple bill that had easily passed the House. (Timothy D. Easley, 3/16)

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