Health Brief: 14 Health Groups Tell McConnell How to Fix Obamacare

Government Brief

  • Fourteen health organizations sent a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recommending ways to stabilize the individual insurance markets and reduce premiums. The group, led by the American Heart Association, recommended continuing cost-sharing reduction payments and outreach efforts. (The Hill)
  • The Food and Drug Administration is investigating a possible link between the use of gastric balloons for treating obesity and the deaths of five patients. The news comes after a February warning from the agency about potential adverse events related to the procedure. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Senate Democrats delayed a vote on Brett Giroir, President Donald Trump’s nominee for assistant secretary of health, due to concerns about his positions on women’s health care. The lawmakers are insisting on a roll call vote when the Senate returns from recess. (Stat News)

Business Brief

  • A lawyer who represented the whistleblower in the eClinicalWorks case predicts that there are more lawsuits to come for other EHR vendors that participate in some of the practices that got eClinicalWorks in trouble. (Fierce Healthcare)
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation put together a list of proposed insurance prices for 2018 coverage in over 20 large American cities. While the rate increases do not differ significantly from previous rate hikes, insurance companies are blaming the Trump administration’s policy ambiguity for the increase, citing uncertainty over the individual mandate and cost-sharing reduction payments. (The New York Times)
  • The results of a recent survey suggest that gene editing raises complex ethical concerns: While roughly two-thirds of respondents were okay with editing genes in order to prevent or treat disease, only 26 percent approved altering inheritable traits like height, eye color, or intelligence. (NPR News)

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Health groups recommend fixes to ObamaCare
Jessie Hellmann, The Hill

A group of 14 health organizations is asking Congress to “strengthen” ObamaCare instead of repealing it. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led by the American Heart Association, the organizations recommend five ways to stabilize the individual insurance market and bring down premiums and other costs.

Senate Democrats delay HHS nominee over concerns on women’s health funding
Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News

Last week, 65 administration nominees — including four to Health and Human Services — sailed through the Senate confirmation process by unanimous vote without any debate. One candidate left out was Dr. Brett Giroir, a Texas physician, who is the president’s choice for assistant secretary of health.

Trump attacks on McConnell bring rebukes from fellow Republicans
John Wagner, et al., The Washington Post

President Trump aimed a fresh barrage of criticism at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, escalating an extraordinary fight with a key Republican leader that could undermine the party’s ability to regroup and pass shared legislative priorities this fall. In demeaning tweets and public statements, Trump blamed McConnell (Ky.), who remains popular among GOP senators, for the party’s inability to muscle through an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act.

Stock Selloff Deepens on Korea Tension; Oil Slides: Markets Wrap
Eddie Van Der Walt, Bloomberg

European stocks tumbled to a five-month low as volatility soared amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program. The dollar edged stronger as investors awaited the release of U.S. inflation data.


Obamacare Premiums Are Set to Rise. Thank Policy Uncertainty.
Margot Sanger-Katz, The New York Times

Insurers are making final decisions about their Obamacare rates for next year. So far, it looks as if many of them will be building in an uncertainty tax.

Programs That Fight Teenage Pregnancy Are at Risk of Being Cut
Pam Belluck, The New York Times

The pregnancy prevention projects Latavia attended are among hundreds across the country, reaching more than a million youths, that are funded by a program the Trump administration has scheduled for elimination in its proposed budget. If Congress concurs, it will end the Obama-era effort to shift away from decades of reliance on abstinence-only programs, which showed little to no evidence of effectiveness.

Heads Up: Healthcare Is Still in Trouble
Rob Garver, The Fiscal Times

While half the country is looking west to see what develops from the latest escalation of the president’s war of words (for the moment) with North Korea, and the other half is looking east, wondering if there will be any proof that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence in the 2016 election, few seem to be paying attention to the issue that had been dominating public debate at home until just a few weeks ago: healthcare. The issue of the US health insurance system was taken off the front burner with the evident failure of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Envision faces lawsuit for allegedly hiding billing practices
Bob Herman, Axios

Investors have filed a class-action lawsuit against Envision Healthcare, alleging the company and its emergency room outsourcing business EmCare did not disclose that EmCare overcharged patients and sent out surprise medical bills. The company’s “revenues were likely to be unsustainable after the foregoing conduct came to light,” according to the complaint.


Weight loss surgery tied to fewer hospital visits for COPD
Lisa Rapaport, Reuters

Obese people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who get weight loss surgery may go to the hospital less often with acute breathing problems after their operations, a U.S. study suggests. Among obese adults with COPD who had what’s known as bariatric surgery to lose weight, the proportion of patients who needed emergency room or inpatient hospital care for the lung disorder fell by more than half after the operations, the study found.

Federal audit finds Maine failed to investigate deaths of developmentally disabled patients
Joe Lawlor and Noel K. Gallagher, The Portland Press Herald

State health officials failed to adequately protect developmentally disabled Medicaid patients in Maine, neglecting to investigate 133 deaths and properly report critical incidents including sexual assault, suicidal acts and serious injuries over a 2½-year period, a federal audit report released Thursday said.

Pharma, Biotech and Devices

FDA investigating deaths of patients who had gastric balloon procedure for obesity
Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has alerted physicians and surgeons who treat obesity that it is investigating whether there is a link between gastric balloons — a new-generation weight-loss device — and the deaths of five patients.

People Back Editing Genes To Treat Disease, But Are Wary Of Inheritable Changes
Courtney Columbus, NPR News

People generally think that editing human genes might be OK, but most think that there’s a clear line that’s shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to changing traits that would be passed down to new generations, according to a survey reported Thursday.

Gene Editing Spurs Hope for Transplanting Pig Organs Into Humans
Gina Kolata, The New York Times

In a striking advance that helps open the door to organ transplants from animals, researchers have created gene-edited piglets cleansed of viruses that might cause disease in humans. The experiments, reported on Thursday in the journal Science, may make it possible one day to transplant livers, hearts and other organs from pigs into humans, a hope that experts had all but given up.

Dozens of hospitals slashed use of two key heart drugs after price hikes
Ed Silverman, Stat News

Early last year, a former Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) executive told Congress that, when the company took huge price hikes on two life-saving heart drugs in 2013, the drug maker believed the move “should not reduce patient access.” He was wrong.

How AI Robots Hunt New Drugs for Crippling Nerve Disease
Ben Hirschler, Reuters

Artificial intelligence robots are turbo-charging the race to find new drugs for the crippling nerve disorder ALS, or motor neurone disease. The condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, attacks and kills nerve cells controlling muscles, leading to weakness, paralysis and, ultimately, respiratory failure.

Health IT

Whistleblower attorney expects more false claims lawsuits against EHR vendors
Evan Sweeney, Fierce Healthcare

A D.C. whistleblower attorney involved in the eClinicalWorks case expects to see more lawsuits filed against other EHR vendors that are skirting meaningful use requirements. EHR developers could be staring down some of the same allegations that federal prosecutors levied against eClinicalWorks involving hard-coding drug codes and flaws in the software that impact patient safety.

AMA, medical boards join the Human Diagnosis Project to expand virtual access to specialists
Evan Sweeney, Fierce Healthcare

Two prominent medical boards and the American Medical Association are among the seven organizations that have signed on with a project that provides virtual access to medical specialists through user-generated content and machine learning.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Lives hang in the balance while the FDA bureaucracy churns
Christina Herrin, Washington Examiner

The McLinn family of Indianapolis is still fighting for their seven-year-old son, Jordan, who was diagnosed at the age of 3 with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This is an aggressive disease that results in muscle weakness and loss first attacking the extremities, eventually moving to the heart and other internal organs.

Anatomy of a suddenly sick Obamacare insurer
Walecia Konrad, CBS News

Headlines have been screaming for months about big insurers such as Aetna (AET), United Healthcare (UNH) and Humana (HUM) pulling out of the Obamacare marketplaces because they couldn’t make the exchange business profitable. As a result, dozens of counties throughout the country have been left with only one or no insurance choice on their exchange.

A ‘Vaccine For Addiction’ Is No Simple Fix
Richard Harris, NPR News

It’s always appealing to think that there could be an easy technical fix for a complicated and serious problem. For example, wouldn’t it be great to have a vaccine to prevent addiction?

Research Reports

An Early Look at 2018 Premium Changes and Insurer Participation on ACA Exchanges
Rabah Kamal, Kaiser Family Foundation

Each year insurers submit filings to state regulators detailing their plans to participate on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces (also called exchanges). These filings include information on the premiums insurers plan to charge in the coming year and which areas they plan to serve.