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Health News For You, Updated Weekly!


First Edition

Tuesday, February 05, 2019                       Visit Kaiser Health News for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Ideas To Curb Surprise Medical Bills Percolate With Rare Bipartisan Push 
Surrounded by patients who told horror stories of being stuck with hefty bills, President Donald Trump recently waded into a widespread health care problem for which almost everyone — even those with insurance — is at risk: surprise medical billing. Trump’s declaration that taming unexpected bills would be a top priority for his administration echoed through the halls of Congress, where a handful of Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been studying the problem the past couple of years. (Luthra and Huetteman, 2/5)

California Healthline: For California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Resistance Is Personal 
When President Donald Trump demands a border wall or threatens to deport young unauthorized immigrants, one of the loudest opposition voices comes from the son of Mexican immigrants — who also happens to be California’s top lawyer. Democrat Xavier Becerra, the state’s first Latino attorney general, is not only one of Trump’s biggest critics, he is an unrelenting adversary in court, striking at Republican efforts to overturn federal rules not just on immigration, but on health care, birth control, climate change and more. (Young, 2/4)

California Healthline: Task Force Outlines Strategy To Address California’s Shortfall Of Health Workers 
Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed bold steps to ensure more Californians have health coverage, but a new report underscores that his success may depend in part on large-scale investments to expand the state’s health care workforce. A coalition of health, labor and education leaders, in a report released Monday, cited a dearth of health care workers in many regions of the state and recommended spending up to $3 billion over 10 years to address the shortfall. It’s not clear where that money would come from, though the report cited several possible sources. (Gorman, 2/4)

The New York Times: Trump Expected To Announce Plan To Stop Spread Of H.I.V. In The U.S. By 2030 
President Trump is expected to announce in his State of the Union speech a national commitment to end transmission of the virus that causes AIDS, with a goal of stopping its spread in this country by 2030. A senior administration official with knowledge of Mr. Trump’s preparations confirmed the plan on Monday, in advance of the address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening. Government scientists have been working for months on the plan, which calls for an expanded effort to prevent infections and to treat those with H.I.V. (Pear and Rogers, 2/4)

The Washington Post: Trump Is Planning Campaign To Halt Transmission Of HIV In U.S. By 2030 
Few other details were available Monday, but any effort to eradicate new HIV diagnoses would almost certainly have to focus on black and Hispanic men who have sex with other men, people between the ages of 25 and 34 and residents of Southern states. Those groups have for years borne a disproportionate share of new HIV diagnoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, there were 38,739 new HIV diagnoses in the United States, according to the CDC. An estimated 1.1 million people had the virus in 2015, the CDC said, with about 15 percent of them undiagnosed. (Bernstein, Sun and Goldstein, 2/4)

The Hill: Five Things To Watch At Trump’s State Of The Union 
Trump’s team has indicated the president may make overtures to Democrats by delivering a “unifying” message that contains proposals they could support, such as reforming prescription drug pricing, a commitment to end AIDS in the U.S. by 2030 and an infrastructure package. But it’s unclear how much of the speech will be dedicated to bipartisan themes compared with appeals to Trump’s base, typically the president’s go-to move in times of crisis. (Fabian, 2/5)

The Associated Press: Separating Fact Vs Fiction In Trump's State Of The Union 
A guide to separating fact from fiction on subjects Trump is expected to address in Tuesday night's speech: What a difference a year makes. From predicting that the Affordable Care Act would "implode" and "explode," Trump now regularly claims credit for stable premiums under the health law. He's likely to keep repeating it, even though he's wrong. "The average benchmark exchange premium will decline for the first time in 2019 thanks to President Trump's policies," states a Jan. 20 White House information sheet, referring to the marketplace exchanges set up under "Obamacare." (2/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Trump To Call For Bipartisanship As He Threatens To Declare Emergency 
The White House primarily sees the speech—his second address to the nation on border security in the past month—as key to its efforts to win a public-relations battle in the standoff with congressional Democrats over border-wall funding, which led to the 35-day shutdown that left 800,000 workers without pay for weeks. (Ballhaus, 2/4)

Politico: Everything You Need To Know About The 2019 State Of The Union 
Trump's first State of the Union address, delivered last January, was the third-longest ever delivered, clocking in at 1 hour and 20 minutes. That’s a near-historic amount of time, and just nine minutes shy of the overall record, which goes to President Bill Clinton’s final State of the Union address in 2000. Clinton also claims the No. 2 spot with his 1995 address, which lasted 1 hour and 25 minutes. (Forgey, 2/4)

The Associated Press: Among 2020 Democrats, A Debate Over 'Medicare-For-All' 
"Medicare-for-all" is quickly becoming a rallying cry for many Democratic White House hopefuls, but there are growing questions about how to pull off such a dramatic switch to a government-run health care system. The debate over scrapping private insurers has heated up in recent days since Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a supporter of "Medicare-for-all," told CNN's Jake Tapper, "Who of us has not had that situation, where you've got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don't know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on." (2/4)

The New York Times: In Utah And Idaho, G.O.P. Looks To Curb Medicaid Expansions That Voters Approved 
The voters of Utah and Idaho, two deeply Republican states, defied the will of their political leaders in November and voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Now those leaders are striking back, moving to roll back the expansions — with encouragement, they say, from the Trump administration. Utah’s ballot measure, approved with support from 53 percent of voters, would expand Medicaid to cover people with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level — up to about $16,750 a year for an individual — and pay the state’s share with a small increase of the sales tax. Under the ballot initiative, 150,000 people are expected to gain coverage, starting April 1. (Pear, 2/4)

The Hill: Utah Senate Passes Bill To Scale Back Voter-Approved Medicaid Expansion  
Republicans in the Utah state Senate on Monday passed a bill to roll back the Medicaid expansion that voters approved in November in a controversial move opposed by Democrats. The Senate voted 22-7, with all six Democrats and one Republican opposed, to pass a bill shrinking the Medicaid expansion to a smaller group. (Sullivan, 2/4)

The New York Times: Demand For Long-Acting Birth Control Rose After Trump’s Election Amid Insurance Concerns, Study Shows 
In the days after President Trump was elected, some women saw his victory as a reason to worry: Would he fulfill his campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act? And if so, would it eventually become harder and costlier to obtain birth control? News organizations sounded the alarm: “Get an IUD Before It’s Too Late,” a Daily Beast headline warned. “Here’s Why Everyone Is Saying to Get an IUD Today,” said a New York Magazine piece. (Caron, 2/4)

The Hill: Demand For Certain Forms Of Contraception Increased After Trump's Election: Study  
The authors of the study said the increase could be attributed to fears that Trump would follow through on his campaign promise to repeal ObamaCare, which requires employers cover 18 types of contraception in their insurance plans with no copays for beneficiaries. The cost of an IUD without insurance coverage can range from $500 to $1,000, according to Planned Parenthood. (Hellmann, 2/4)

Stat: Long-Acting Contraceptive Use Jumped Right After The 2016 Election  
But the findings come with several big caveats. The study doesn’t prove that the election caused the uptick in LARCs. The researchers only looked at women who had been enrolled in commercial insurance for at least a year, so the results can’t be applied to women with public health coverage, no health insurance, or newly commercially insured women. It also only looked at the month following the election. That means the study might not capture women who sought LARCs after the election but hadn’t yet received one a month after the election. (Thielking, 2/4)

The Hill: Senate Dems Block Sasse Measure Meant To Respond To Virginia Bill  
Senate Democrats blocked abortion-related legislation on Monday night in the wake of a political firestorm sparked by a Virginia abortion-rights bill last week. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) tried to pass legislation that penalizes doctors who fail to "exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion."  (Carney, 2/4)

The Hill: Sanders Asks Why Once-Free Drug Now Costs $375,000 A Year 
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday asked a pharmaceutical company why a drug that was once free for patients now costs as much as $375,000 annually. Catalyst Pharmaceuticals informed investors in December about the new pricing for Firdapse, which is used to treat the rare neuromuscular disorder Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), Sanders wrote in a letter to the company. (Daugherty, 2/4)

Stat: Sanders Calls Price Of A Rare Disease Drug 'Immoral Exploitation' 
In a blistering letter, Sanders accused Catalyst of “corporate greed” for charging a $375,000 list price for Firdapse, which is used to contain Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome or LEMS. Until December, patients could obtain an unapproved version for free from Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small, family-run company, thanks to a compassionate use program overseen by the Food and Drug Administration. A spokesman for Catalyst later in the day wrote us that its “top priority is improving patient care in the LEMS community” and will respond to Sanders “in a timely manner and provide information about Firdapse and the programs that we have in place to raise awareness of LEMS, facilitate accurate and timely diagnosis, and broaden affordable patient access to an FDA-approved treatment.” (Silverman, 2/4)

The Hill: Bipartisan Senate Panel Leaders Ask 7 Major Drug Companies To Testify On Their Prices 
The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee on Monday invited seven major drug company CEOs to testify at a hearing later this month in what could become a tense confrontation over drug prices. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Monday sent letters to the companies asking them to testify at a hearing on Feb. 26. (Sullivan, 2/4)

Stat: Congress Wants These 7 Drug Company CEOs To Testify About Prices 
At a hearing last week, both Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed disappointment that pharmaceutical companies executives had declined their invitations to testify. Grassley, the committee chairman, said then he would be “more insistent” that executives show up at a subsequent hearing. “Pharmaceutical companies receive billions of dollars a year from federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” Grassley and Wyden said. “This is an opportunity for companies that produce life-saving treatments to explain how they price these treatments and whether the status quo is acceptable. Patients and taxpayers deserve to hear from leaders in the industry about what’s behind this unsustainable trend and what can be done to lower costs.” (Facher, 2/4)

Stat: Allergan Asks The ITC To Investigate Its New Botox Rivals For Stealing Secrets 
As new competition arrives for its best-selling Botox treatment, Allergan (AGN) is asking the International Trade Commission to investigate a pair of rival companies for allegedly stealing trade secrets for a new version of its medicine. In its complaint, Allergan contended a former employee at Medytox, which has a deal to supply the drug maker with a newer wrinkle-smoothing treatment that is still being tested, stole detailed information and provided the material to Daewoong Pharmaceuticals. Late last week, meanwhile, Daewoong and Evolus (EOLS) won Food and Drug Administration approval for Jeuveau, a Botox competitor due to become available this spring. (Silverman, 2/4)

The Washington Post: Despite Low Performance, Organ Collection Group Gets New Federal Contract 
Federal regulators in June took the unusual step of announcing they would shut down a New York-based nonprofit organization responsible for recovering human organs for transplantation. On Friday, regulators reversed that decision even though the organization, LiveOnNY, has received poor performance scores for nearly a decade and its organ recovery rates remain among the lowest in the nation. LiveOnNY, the second largest of 58 federally designed organ procurement organizations, confirmed Monday that its contract with the federal government was renewed. The organization declined interview requests and said it would not comment on how it plans to boost organ donation in the New York region. (Kindy and Bernstein, 2/4)

Bloomberg: Ketamine Could Soon Be Used To Treat Suicidal Ideation 
But there is, finally, a serious quest for a suicide cure. Ketamine is at the center, and crucially the pharmaceutical industry now sees a path. The first ketamine-based drug, from Johnson & Johnson, could be approved for treatment-resistant depression by March and suicidal thinking within two years. Allergan Plc is not far behind in developing its own fast-acting antidepressant that could help suicidal patients. How this happened is one of the most hopeful tales of scientific research in recent memory. (Koons and Langreth, 2/5)

The New York Times: Vitamin Or Mineral Supplements Don’t Prevent Dementia 
A large review of studies has found no solid evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements have any effect in preventing cognitive decline or dementia. The meta-analysis, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, included 28 trials with more than 83,000 cognitively healthy people 40 and older. The reports covered a wide range of vitamins and minerals, alone and in combination, in various dosages, with follow-ups as long as 18 years. Eight studies looked at the antioxidants beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. (Bakalar, 2/4)

Stat: Clinicians Scramble To Save Twins From The Disease That Took Their Brother 
While she was still pregnant, [Alyssa Martin] and a team of doctors devised a plan to try to save the twins. The boys’ best hope was an experimental drug — a form of copper injected under the skin twice a day — designed to counteract the effects of that mutated gene, which wreaks such havoc on the body’s copper levels that it often kills boys before age 3. If the medication was to have a chance of working, doctors believed, it was crucial that the twins get it within weeks after birth — so time was of the essence. (Robbins, 2/5)

The Wall Street Journal: Doctors Surprised By Scope Of Adult-Onset Food Allergies 
Alecia Domer has had seasonal pollen allergies since she was a child. But she’s never had to carefully watch what she eats. That is, until the age of 42, when she had lunch one day and shortly afterward, her throat and stomach felt like they were on fire and her face turned beet red. “I didn’t know what I had eaten, it was so insane,” says Ms. Domer, 51 years old, a resident of Needham, Mass. (Reddy, 2/4)

NPR: Women's Brains Age More Slowly Than Men's 
Women tend to have more youthful brains than their male counterparts — at least when it comes to metabolism. While age reduces the metabolism of all brains, women retain a higher rate throughout the lifespan, researchers reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Hamilton, 2/4)

Los Angeles Times: CRISPR Revolutionized Gene Editing. Now Its Toolbox Is Expanding 
The gene-editing tool that has revolutionized biology is becoming even more powerful. CRISPR, as the system is known, allows scientists to target and snip a specific sequence of letters on a strand of DNA with unprecedented precision. That has opened up new possibilities for treating genetic diseases, helping plants adapt to global warming and even preventing mosquitoes from spreading malaria. (Netburn, 2/4)

The Washington Post: Intimacy And Sex Are Important For Well-Being For Older Adults 
The benefits of a healthy sex life aren’t limited to young adults, according to a British study that found intimacy and sexual activity are important for older adults’ well-being, too. In the study of nearly 7,000 men and women, ages 50 to 89, quality of life was higher in those who reported any kind of sexual activity in the past year, such as kissing, researchers found. Being emotionally close to one’s partner during sex also resulted in higher scores on the quality of life questionnaire for both men and women. (Mishra, 2/5)

The Associated Press: Chronic Pain Given As Top Reason For Using Medical Marijuana 
Chronic pain is the most common reason people give when they enroll in state-approved medical marijuana programs. That's followed by stiffness from multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy-related nausea, according to an analysis of 15 states published Monday in the journal Health Affairs. (2/4)

The Associated Press: California Bill Would Limit Genitalia Surgery For Children 
California doctors would be barred from treating or performing surgery on children born with genitals that don't fit a single gender or are otherwise atypical unless it's medically necessary or the child consents, under a bill unveiled Monday. It's the latest effort by state legislators to give minors more control over their bodies and gender identities. (2/4)

The Associated Press: Connecticut Renews Push To Ban Female Genital Mutilation 
Connecticut lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban female genital mutilation, partly because of a U.S. District Court judge's ruling last fall that determined a federal prohibition was unconstitutional. The General Assembly's Public Health Committee heard testimony Monday on one of several bills proposed this session barring the procedure known as female circumcision or cutting. Advocates said 28 states have enacted laws to combat it, and Connecticut needs to join them. (2/4)

The Associated Press: Michigan Governor Revamps Environmental Agency After Flint 
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took steps Monday to restructure and rename the state environmental agency that drew criticism for its handling of the Flint water crisis under former Gov. Rick Snyder. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will become the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The agency will house new public advocacy offices for clean water and "environmental justice" to investigate complaints about water quality and help ensure fair consideration of low-income and minority community interests. (2/4)

The Washington Post: Elwood Superintendent Casey Smitherman Resigns After Using Son's Insurance To Help Sick Student 
The superintendent of a small school district in Indiana has resigned after she took a sick student to the doctor and paid for his treatment with her son’s insurance last month, resulting in a felony insurance fraud charge, police said. Casey Smitherman was arrested in January on charges including official misconduct and identity deception, then released on bail, according to court records. At the time, she was the superintendent of Elwood Community School Corporation in Elwood, Ind., a town of about 8,500, about 45 miles north of Indianapolis. (Wang, Rosenberg and Wootson, 2/4)

Los Angeles Times: $3 Billion Is Needed To Address California's Doctor Shortage, Task Force Says 
California lawmakers will need to grant nurse practitioners across the state more autonomy, increase opportunities to study medicine and expand doctor training programs in order to avoid a looming healthcare crisis, according to a report released Monday by the California Future Health Workforce Commission. The report outlines a $3-billion plan for ensuring the state has enough doctors, nurses and home care workers to meet the needs of Californians at a time when Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to dramatically expand healthcare access for lower-income and immigrant communities. The commission, created by healthcare, education and business leaders and co-chaired by UC President Janet Napolitano, plans to pitch the proposal to Newsom and legislative leaders in the coming weeks. (Gutierrez, 2/5)

The Associated Press: Wildfire Victims Living In RVs Ordered To Leave Properties 
Hundreds of Northern California wildfire victims desperate for housing and living in recreational vehicles on their burned-out lots were ordered off their properties Monday after federal authorities threatened to cut off funding for the state's biggest natural disaster cleanup. The Paradise Town Council unanimously rescinded a two-month-old law allowing residents to live in temporary shelters on their burned-out properties before the lots are cleared and certified safe for habitation. The unanimous vote Monday occurred after an emotional and tense meeting that was the first in Paradise city hall since the Nov. 8 fire destroyed most of the city of 27,000 people. (2/4)

The New York Times: Bud Light Picks Fight With Corn Syrup In Super Bowl Ad 
Bud Light made an enemy of the corn industry on Sunday by boasting in a Super Bowl ad that, unlike its fiercest competitors, it does not brew its beer with corn syrup. While corn lobbyists responded in anger, and competing brands fought back, some viewers were left to wonder: Does it matter if corn syrup is used during fermentation? (Victor and Caron, 2/4)

The Associated Press: Corn Syrup In Beer: It's For Fermenting, Not As A Sweetener 
Bud Light is touting that it doesn't use corn syrup, but that doesn't make it nutritionally much different from its competitors. The best-selling beer in the U.S. ran a medieval-themed Super Bowl ad on Sunday night that mocked rivals Miller Lite and Coors Light for using the sweetener. Social media chatter over the ad got a boost when the National Corn Growers Association expressed its disapproval in a tweet. (2/4)

The Hill: Hawaii Lawmaker Introduces Bill To Eventually Ban Cigarette Sales In State 
A Hawaii state lawmaker has introduced a bill intended to effectively ban cigarette sales statewide. State House member Rep. Richard Creagan’s (D) bill would raise the minimum smoking age incrementally each year to 30 in 2020, 40 in 2021, 50 in 2022, 60 in 2023 and 100 in 2024. The current legal smoking age in Hawaii is 21. (Anapol, 2/4)

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