News Headlines for April 26, 2018

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For the first time in years, new groups may vie to run organ transplant network
Washington Post

For 32 years, the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing has held the federal contract to run the complex U.S. transplant system, a round-the-clock operation that matches donated organs with the sick people who need them.

The Richmond-based UNOS has grown substantially and become more entrenched as transplantation has expanded. It collected nearly $58 million in revenue in 2015, according to federal tax records. But it has not faced competition from any other bidder since before 2005.

This year, with the contract up for renewal, at least two groups are exploring a bid against UNOS. They have criticized the organization as inefficient and slow to change — two reasons why nearly 115,000 people are on waiting lists for organs, they say. Some patients have been seeking kidneys, livers, lungs and other organs for years.

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Healthcare could cost couples $280K in retirement
Employee Benefit News

Employers better step up their employee retirement planning efforts: According to Fidelity Investments’ latest annual cost estimate, a 65-year-old couple retiring this year would need $280,000 to cover healthcare and medical expenses throughout their retirement. That’s a 2% increase from 2017, and a whopping 75% increase from Fidelity’s first estimate in 2002.

Women are projected to need more money in retirement than men because they have longer life expectancies. In Fidelity’s estimate, a man would need $133,000 for healthcare expenses in retirement, while a woman would need about $147,000.

“Despite this year’s estimate remaining relatively flat, covering healthcare costs remains one of the most significant, yet unpredictable, aspects of retirement planning,” says Shams Talib, executive vice president and head of Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “It’s important for individuals to educate themselves and take steps while working to ensure they are prepared to address these costs. Otherwise, people risk having to dip into more of their savings than originally anticipated, potentially impacting their overall retirement lifestyle.”

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Certain common medications tied to 30% higher dementia risk, study finds

Many older adults know that long-term use of certain medications can negatively affect cognition and increase one’s risk of dementia.

But a new study suggests that some classes of anticholinergic drugs — particularly those used to treat depression, Parkinson’s and urinary incontinence — carry a higher risk than others.

Anticholinergic drugs function by blocking the effects of acetylcholine, a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerves and muscles.  They are prescribed to 20% to 50% of older adults in the United States to treat a variety of neurological, psychiatric, gastrointestinal, respiratory and muscular conditions, according to a 2009 study. In the UK, 34% to 48% of older adults take them, another study found.

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Panel Recommends FDA Approval of Epilepsy Drug Derived from Marijuana
Scientific American

An expert panel on Thursday unanimously recommended that the Food and Drug Administration approve a new medicine for two rare and devastating forms of epilepsy, paving the way for the authorization of what would be the country’s first medication made from marijuana.

The 13-0 vote from the FDA advisory committee is not binding, and the agency is expected to announce its decision by the end of June. But in documents this week, FDA officials wrote they supported the approval of the drug, Epidiolex, after concluding that it cut the number of seizures in patients in clinical trials.

“This is clearly a breakthrough drug for an awful disease,” said Dr. John Mendelson, a panel member and senior research scientist at Friends Research Institute.

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The debate over the ACA may have ended — at least for this election cycle
Employee Benefit News

Addressing members of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America gathered here for their annual legislative conference last week, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told the attendees that the debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act has finally ended—at least for this election year.

With at least three Republican senators and 25 congressmen—including House Speaker Paul Ryan—retiring at term’s end, Hoyer says new Republican legislative initiatives will most likely slow to a halt.

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State Employee Health Plans Key for Driving Value-Based Initiatives
The Health Care Blog

2018 has brought renewed attention to high and rising employer health care costs, especially among employees. Teacher strikes across the country, motivated in part by rising health costs that have essentially canceled out small yearly raises, demonstrate the impact of these cost increases, which impact workers in all sectors of the economy. Over the last five years, the employer share of health care costs for family coverage increased by 32%, while employees’ share increased 14%. Average premiums have almost tripled since 2000.

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CMS says forget ‘meaningful use.’ Now call it ‘promoting interoperability’ for patients, providers
Modern Healthcare

Following in the footsteps of Apple, the CMS wants to make it easier for patients to get their health data from providers and to possibly gather all that information in a single place.In a rule announced Tuesday, CMS regulators set out a plan to give the meaningful use program a makeover—or at least a new name, “promoting interoperability.” The goal is to boost interoperability between patients and providers, a move that mirrors the government’s MyHealthEData initiative to give patients more control over their health information.

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Health costs in retirement: 5 things you should know and plan for
USA Today

Retirement and health care are intricately linked, though Americans often don’t think of them in the same context.

And just as many people are behind in accumulating the money needed to pay for a comfortable retirement, plenty are falling short in estimating and preparing for out-of-pocket health-related expenses.

Here are a few things to note about health expenses in retirement:

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Male Contraceptive Pill Could ‘Turn Off’ Sperms’ Ability To Swim
Medical Daily

New research suggests that a compound known as EP055 could potentially be developed as a male contraceptive pill without hormonal side effects. It works by binding itself to sperm proteins and slowing down their mobility.

“Simply put, the compound turns off the sperm’s ability to swim, significantly limiting fertilization capabilities. This makes EP055 an ideal candidate for non-hormonal male contraception,” said lead researcher Dr. Michael O’Rand, a retired professor of cell biology and physiology from the University of North Carolina. He is currently the president and CEO of Eppin Pharma, Inc.

The study titled ‘Inhibition of sperm motility in male macaques with EP055, a potential non-hormonal male contraceptive’ was published in the journal PLOS on April 19.

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Facebook Live: Confronting Opioid Addiction
Kaiser Health News

Three medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid addiction: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. But access to them depends largely on where you live.

Methadone and buprenorphine are the two most popular options. But many California communities, particularly rural ones, have neither a methadone clinic nor a doctor who can prescribe buprenorphine.

More than 2,000 Californians died of opioid overdoses in 2016. About 12 percent of those deaths involved fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid painkiller that is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

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Blacks see major drop in premature death rates as racial disparity diminishes
Modern Healthcare

Blacks in the U.S. have experienced a significant drop in premature death over the last 25 years, narrowing the gap in earlier-than-expected deaths between whites and blacks, according to a new study.Premature deaths among black individuals declined by 28% from 1990 to 2014, while white individuals saw a 4% drop over the same period, according to the study published Wednesday in PLOS One and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Hospitals Lure Diabetes Patients With Self-Care Courses, But Costs Can Weigh Heavily
Kaiser Health News

When a routine physical revealed mildly elevated blood-sugar levels, Michael Phillips was strongly encouraged to sign up for a diabetes self-management class.

Phillips never asked about the cost of the two half-day sessions he attended in a conference room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, Ga., and doesn’t recall the instructor mentioning it.

But the 64-year-old retired bank analyst was flabbergasted when he opened his bill after attending.

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Doctor On Demand raises $74M to keep growing its telemedicine offerings
Silicon Valley Business Journal

Goldman Sachs and Princeville Global led the round, which brings Doctor On Demand’s total funding to more than $160 million.

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FDA Panel Affirms Safety Of Painkiller Celebrex
National Public Radio

A prescription painkiller that has been under a cloud for more than a decade is apparently safer than previously believed, a Food and Drug Administration panel concluded Wednesday.

The drug celecoxib, which is sold by Pfizer under the brand name Celebrex, poses no greater risk for causing heart attacks and strokes than two other widely used pain relievers, the committee voted at the end of a two-day hearing. The vote was 15-5. One member abstained.

Based on the committee’s conclusion, the FDA may change the advice about the drug’s safety that it provides to doctors.  The FDA doesn’t have to follow the advice of advisory committees advice but usually does.

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Humana makes improving quality central to new hospital reimbursement program
Modern Healthcare

Humana on Wednesday unveiled a program to reimburse hospitals for improvement on quality measures related to patient safety, experience and outcomes. The Hospital Incentive Program, which went into effect in January, is Humana’s first value-based model that focuses exclusively on hospitals’ inpatient admissions. Humana’s other value-based programs like the total joint replacement episode-of-care model focus on primary or specialty care.

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Anthem’s profit jumps after slashing ACA exchange footprint
Modern Healthcare

Health insurer Anthem’s profit grew 30% in the first quarter of 2018, while revenue stayed flat in the wake of its exiting many regions where it sold Affordable Care Act exchange plans in 2017.Anthem reported net income of $1.3 billion in the first quarter of 2018 on revenue of $22.5 billion.