- California Healthline Original Stories 3
- Democrats Say Cabinet Choice Tom Price 'Misled' The Public. Here's What We Know.
- Repeal Ripples: Five Obamacare Exchange Chiefs Contemplate An Uncertain Future
- Demand For Popular Short-Term Insurance Plans Could Surge If Health Law Is Relaxed
- Covered California & The Health Law 1
- California Extends Open Enrollment: 'We Do Not Want To Leave Anyone Behind'
- Veterans Health Care 1
- For Many Therapists, The Gun Culture So Important To Vets They Treat Is Unfamiliar Territory
- Public Health and Education 2
- Officials Confirm LA Patient Was Infected With Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
- Breathing Polluted Air Nearly Doubles Chance Of Dementia In Women
Latest From California Healthline:
Concerns over U.S. Rep. Tom Price’s answers about stock trades led Senate Democrats to boycott a committee vote that would have moved his nomination to the Senate floor. (Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News, 2/1)
Despite political peril, Obamacare business is brisk in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Colorado. (2/1)
Consumer advocates warn that these policies don’t have important safeguards that customers need. (Michelle Andrews, 2/1)
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Summaries Of The News:
Customers will have to have started the process no later than Jan. 31, but they now have until Saturday to complete the paperwork.
Covered California Extends Jan. 31 Deadline For Health Insurance
Anticipating a last-minute surge in enrollments, Covered California extended its Jan. 31 sign-up deadline, saying it would help more Californians “cross the finish line” to health care coverage. “We expect a surge in large numbers in these last hours,” said Covered California spokesman Roy Kennedy, “and we want to be sure that everyone can get the coverage they need and the benefits they deserve. ”To qualify for the extended paperwork deadline, Californians must start the enrollment process by midnight on Jan. 31, but have until Saturday to finish the paperwork. (Buck, 1/31)
The San Diego Union-Tribune:
Covered CA Offers Four More Days To Finish Obamacare Enrollments
As it has every year since it started selling Obamacare policies in 2013, Covered California has added a little padding to its open enrollment deadline, announcing Tuesday that it will give an extra four days to complete applications to anyone who started the process by the end of the day. This maneuver has become common on the last day of January as the health exchange sees droves of applicants suddenly show interest in the plans it sells just as time runs out to pick a policy. In a statement, Peter Lee, Covered California’s director, said anyone who started the enrollment process by midnight Tuesday will have until Feb. 4 to finish. (Sisson, 1/31)
Covered California Extends Deadline Amid Uncertainty About Health Law
The deadline to enroll in Covered California is Tuesday night at midnight, but consumers who start the process now are being given four extra days to complete it. ... Consumers who finish their applications between Feb. 1 and Feb. 4 will have their coverage begin March 1, according to the exchange. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act, experts say people should sign up for health insurance — and people appear to be listening. (Plevin, 1/31)
Despite Possibility Of Repeal, People Continue To Sign Up For Insurance Through ACA
Despite plans by President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, enrollment in health insurance under the act hasn't slowed down. More than 8.8 million Americans signed up for 2017 coverage through HealthCare.gov as of Jan. 14. That's slightly more than last year. And the number doesn't include people who signed up under state plans like Covered California. (Cavanaugh and Ruth, 1/31)
The Desert Sun:
Following Obamacare, Many More In Palm Springs Area Have Health Insurance
Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, new research shows the amount of Coachella Valley adults lacking health insurance has plummeted by more than half. Roughly one in seven local adults said they lacked health insurance last year, compared to one in three in 2013, according to results released Tuesday by the Palm Desert nonprofit HARC Inc. as part of its triennial community health survey. The survey found 13.9 percent of locals between the ages of 18 and 64 did not have insurance, "a sharp and significant drop" from the 33.6 percent found in 2013 when HARC last conducted the survey, the agency said in its report on the results. (Newkirk, 1/31)
Veterans and other advocates are trying to get therapists more comfortable talking to their patients about guns.
Talking Is Easy For Therapists, Except When It’s About Guns. Veterans Want To Teach Them How.
[Jay] Zimmerman is a peer counselor at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, Tennessee. He also travels to conferences all over the country, sharing his story with therapists and with other vets. He tries to set an example that it’s okay to ask for help. Even today, if he’s not doing well, he disassembles his guns and stores them separately from ammunition, so he can’t make any rash decisions. If things get really bad, Zimmerman has a special arrangement with a few friends. (Dembosky, 2/1)
The startup struggled last year after being fined by the state for allowing unlicensed employees to sell health insurance.
San Francisco Business Times:
Zenefits Scores Lyft, Box As Partners Despite Terrible 2016
HR startup Zenefits today released an update to its platform, adding nine partners and several features as it tries to come back from a disastrous 2016. Last year, Zenefits paid millions of dollars in settlement fines after violating state laws by allowing unlicensed employees to sell health insurance. The biggest fine came out of a settlement with the California Department of Insurance at $7 million. It also parted company with its original CEO and co-founder, Parker Conrad. The company is now seeking its third CEO. David Sacks, who replaced Conrad early last year, said in December he would step down and was reportedly joining tech investor Peter Thiel’s transition team for then-President-elect Donald Trump. Sacks will stay on as chairman when his replacement takes over. (Siu, 1/31)
When the first colistin-resistant superbug was reported last year, Dr. Tom Frieden, then-director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “it is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently.”
Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Patient Was Infected With Drug-Resistant E. Coli
Scientists were alarmed last year when they found that a woman in Pennsylvania had been infected with bacteria that was resistant to colistin, an antibiotic that is considered the last line of defense against particularly nasty illnesses. It was a scary reminder that bacteria are increasingly able to survive antibiotics, making some infections extremely difficult or even impossible to treat. Now California is on a list of six states where patients have been infected with bacteria that contains a gene known as mcr-1, which makes it resistant to colistin. (Karlamangla, 1/31)
Bacteria Resistant To Last-Resort Antibiotics Identified In LA County
A drug-resistant E. coli bacteria has been identified in a Los Angeles County resident, according to the county Department of Public Health. It's the first time that bacteria containing a specific gene, known as mcr-1, has been reported in the state. The patient is an older person who likely contracted the organism during international travel, according to the health department. It said there is no evidence the organism has spread within local hospitals or clinics, but declined to reveal further details about the case. (Plevin, 1/31)
While scientists have long tallied the health costs of air pollution in asthma, lung disease and cardiovascular disease, the impact of air pollutants on brain health has only begun to come to light.
Los Angeles Times:
The Surprising Link Between Air Pollution And Alzheimer’s Disease
With environmental regulations expected to come under heavy fire from the Trump administration, new research offers powerful evidence of a link between air pollution and dementia risk. For older women, breathing air that is heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulates nearly doubles the likelihood of developing dementia, finds a study published Tuesday. And the cognitive effects of air pollution are dramatically more pronounced in women who carry a genetic variant, known as APOE-e4, which puts them at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. (Healy, 1/31)
In other public health news —
The Bakersfield Californian:
Kern County Reports First Flu-Related Death Of Season
A Kern County resident died of the flu this week, a first for the season, and three others are hospitalized in Intensive Care Units as a severe strain of the flu sweeps throughout the state, county public health officials announced Tuesday. The person who died will not be identified, and public health officials are barred by a federal patient privacy act from disclosing gender or age, except to say he or she was younger than 65. (Pierce, 1/31)
Capital Public Radio/KXJZ:
Groups Sue California Department Of Pesticide Regulation
A Ventura County farmworker and two environmental justice groups are suing the California Department of Pesticide Regulation over how it issued new rules on the use of the fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene, sold as Telone. The fumigant is widely used on crops such as strawberries. The suit claims that the Department failed to follow recommendations of scientists at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Attorneys for the groups say it's a requirement under state law. The pesticide is listed as a carcinogen in California. (Quinton, 1/31)
Many lawmakers are skeptical about whether the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation will actually be ready to handle regulating the industry next year.
Capital Public Radio/KXJZ:
Chief Of Pot Bureau Tells Lawmakers Marijuana Permits Will Be Phased In
The head of the agency tasked with drafting recreational pot regulations told lawmakers this week they will "phase in" business licensing starting January 1 2018. Prop 64 legalized recreational pot use for adults and set a deadline for state agencies to establish rules for growing, manufacturing and selling marijuana. Lori Ajax is head of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation. She encountered skepticism from state Senators about whether the bureau would be ready to start licensing marijuana businesses by January 1 2018. (Mitric, 1/31)
In other news from across the state —
Untreated Toothache Suddenly Kills Sacramento Truck Driver, 26
A simple toothache turned deadly last week for a long-haul trucker from Sacramento, and now his family is trying to raise money to bring his body back home. Vadim Anatoliyevich Kondratyuk was just 26 and had two young children. He was driving a truck route from Truckee to New York last Tuesday when he started to feel pain in the lower left side of his mouth, said his wife, Nataliya Kondratyuk. He pulled over in Oklahoma to see a dentist, who diagnosed an infection and prescribed antibiotics. (Caiola, 1/31)
The Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee were boycotting Rep. Tom Price, the HHS nominee, because they wanted more information on his stocks.
Senate Panel Backs Price As Health Secretary, Mnuchin For Treasury
The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to confirm Representative Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and banker Steven Mnuchin to be treasury secretary, sending the nominations to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Democrats tried to block the committee vote for a second day by boycotting the meeting, but Republicans changed the rules that had required Democrats to be present for quorum. (2/1)
Senate Panel Jams Through Price, Mnuchin Nominations
Senate Finance Committee Republicans Wednesday morning used a procedural maneuver to jam through the nominations of Rep. Tom Price for HHS secretary and Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary without any Democrats present to object. The Republicans voted to temporarily suspend committee rules requiring at least one Democrat present to conduct business. The move came after Finance Committee Democrats boycotted scheduled votes on both nominations Tuesday, citing concerns over whether Price and Mnuchin made misleading statements during their testimony. (Cancryn, 2/1)
The president met with the heads of some of the country's biggest drugmakers on Tuesday. He said that they need to lower drug costs, but that he also plans to roll back regulations and help streamline the approval process to make things easier for the industry.
The Washington Post:
Trump Calls For Lower Drug Prices, Fewer Regulations In Meeting With Pharmaceutical Executives
President Trump met with leaders of some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies Tuesday and emphasized the need to lower “astronomical” drug prices, decrease regulations and bring more drug manufacturing into the United States. Trump offered no specific policies, but mentioned increasing competition and “bidding wars” as a way to bring down prices. In the past, he has lashed out at the pharmaceutical industry for “getting away with murder” and threatened to use the government’s bargaining power to force down drug prices for programs like Medicare. (Johnson, 1/31)
In other administration news —
The Associated Press:
Trump Taps Conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch For Supreme Court
President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a fast-rising conservative judge with a writer's flair, to the Supreme Court Tuesday night, setting up a fierce fight with Democrats over a jurist who could shape America's legal landscape for decades to come. (Pace and Sherman, 1/31)
The Washington Post:
Trump Picks Colo. Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch For Supreme Court
Gorsuch has not ruled on abortion. But activists on both sides of the issue believe they know where he stands. They point to language in his book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” in which he opines that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Additionally, his rulings on behalf of those who challenged the Obamacare mandate that employee insurance coverage provide all approved contraceptives seemed instructive. He noted the provision would require the objecting businesses to “underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.” (Barnes, 1/31)
Has The Drug Industry Been Cowed Into Silence By The Tweeter-In-Chief?
Titans of the automotive, banking, and technology industries have spoken out in recent days against President Donald Trump’s move to block arrivals from seven Muslim-majority nations. But the pharmaceutical sector, which relies disproportionately on immigrant labor, has been almost universally silent — perhaps in a bid to avoid rousing Trump’s ire before a crucial meeting Tuesday morning at the White House. STAT reached out to the 15 biggest drug companies about the immigration ban; only Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Novartis responded with statements — and they simply expressed support for affected employees, without taking a stance on Trump’s action. (Garde, 1/31)
The House subcommittee looked at specific issues such as third-party liabilities and excess spending but didn't tackle some of the larger questions on whether to keep the health law's expansion of Medicaid or turning to a block grant program. Also, Democrats complained about claims by some conservatives that the expansion left many disabled people on waiting lists for services.
Republicans Consider Broader Medicaid Changes As They Weigh Its Future
Republicans are eyeing how they can reform Medicaid, and health insurers that offer Medicaid plans want them to look beyond questions of funding and expansion. A hearing before the Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee Tuesday offered some insight into how lawmakers on a key health care panel want to change the federal program for low-income Americans, such as making it more efficient. But the hearing offered no details on the biggest question facing Republicans: whether to repeal an Affordable Care Act provision that expands Medicaid, which 31 states and D.C. have signed up for. There was also no clarity on President Donald Trump’s suggestion to use block grants to expand the program’s coverage. (McIntire, 1/31)
Dems Say GOP Is Using 'Alternative Facts' To Justify Ending Medicaid Expansion
Democratic lawmakers say a key GOP talking point that Medicaid expansion is leaving disabled and mentally ill individuals without care is an example of “alternative facts” and has no bearing on reality. During a House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing Tuesday, a witness chosen by GOP lawmakers appeared to link the decision of 31 states to expand Medicaid to a phenomenon in which disabled adults and children are left waiting to access home and community-based services. (Dickson, 1/31)
The Washington Post:
Paul Ryan’s Claim That ‘More And More Doctors Just Won’t Take Medicaid’
During a town hall on Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Ryan described the need for changes to the Medicaid program at the state level. Some states made changes so that low-income enrollees could get coverage and access to care, but not all states did, he said. Ryan claimed that “more and more doctors just won’t take Medicaid because they lose money on Medicaid.” He also said during the town hall that his concern was that Medicaid is “so over-regulated and so bureaucratic that physicians just won’t take Medicaid patients. And so our concern is that people on Medicaid can’t get a doctor, and if you can’t get a doctor, what good is your coverage?” We explored the facts. (Lee, 2/1)
Slow Pace Of Obamacare Repeal Leaves House Conservatives Fuming
Party members emerged from a closed-door retreat in Philadelphia last week frustrated at the lack of progress in uniting around a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Numerous health-care alternatives have been offered by Republicans, but none have won consensus in the party. GOP leaders and committee chairmen have yet to get behind a legislative alternative, although House Speaker Paul Ryan has put forward a series of broad ideas in a blueprint released last year, including refundable tax credits and high-risk pools. (Kapur, 1/31)