News Headlines

News Headlines
Health care news from around the state and nation

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Court blocks another Trump attempt to undermine Obamacare
CNN

A federal district court judge Thursday blocked another Trump administration effort to undermine Obamacare.

The decision hits a Labor Department rule designed to make it easier for small businesses to band together and buy health insurance in so-called association health plans — one of the Trump administration’s initiatives to weaken Obamacare by offering alternatives to the exchanges.

The order, Trump said at the time, would give “millions of Americans with Obamacare relief.”

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Fractious Democrats band together to defend health-care law from Trump’s attack
Washington Post

House Democrats have spent several weeks battling over some of the most divisive policies, from support for Israel to combating climate change.

But no issue has the potential to sharply split the new majority quite like health care, with more than 100 of the caucus’s most liberal lawmakers advocating a sweeping proposal for universal coverage that would eventually eliminate the employer-provided insurance plans that cover 80 percent of Americans.

Medicare-for-all has also been dominating the nascent 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, serving as an ideological fault line to dete

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Collins asks Justice Dept. to not support strikedown of Affordable Care Act
CNN

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a key swing vote in the Senate, is asking the Justice Department to reverse its recent support of a total strikedown of the Affordable Care Act, saying the job of eliminating aspects of the health care law should be left to Congress.

“Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for the Administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal. The Administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress,” Collins, who represents Maine, wrote in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General William Barr.

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Let’s Unpack Last Week’s 3 Major Developments In Health Policy Lawsuits
HealthLeaders Media

Judges have repeatedly blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to bypass the ACA, as the DOJ declares all-out war on the sprawling Obama-era law.

As anyone who closely watches the interplay between federal court cases and healthcare policy will tell you, last week was noteworthy, to say the least.

As if the Trump administration switching its position in the high-stakes dispute over the Affordable Care Act weren’t significant enough for one week, two federal judges chimed in with headline-grabbing actions of their own, each blocking policies the administration has advanced with much fanfare.

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For American Indians, Health is a Human and Legal Right
The Health Care Blog

Most will be surprised to learn that American Indians and Alaska Natives represent the only populations in the United States with a legal birthright to health care.[1] Even though Article 25 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including…medical care and necessary social services,” U.S. federal policy only guarantees this human right to enrolled tribal members. The source of this juridical entitlement is what the United States Supreme Court has defined as the federal trust responsibility.

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Containing the escalating costs of prescription drug benefits
Sacramento Business Journal

What’s one of the fastest growing components of health care costs?

Prescription drug benefits, and in particular, specialty drugs that are increasingly prescribed by doctors. Specialty drugs are high-cost prescription medications used to treat complex chronic conditions like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Ten years ago, specialty prescription drugs represented only 13% of pharmacy spend, but that percentage is projected to jump to 50% by 2020. While specialty medications represent only 1% to 3% of prescriptions written by medical professionals, they account for 35% to 40% of all pharmacy spend, according to MMA Rx Solutions team member, John Tackman. 

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The Big Number: TB cases drop to 9,029 in the U.S., but the pace has slowed
The Washington Post

Fewer U.S. residents were diagnosed with tuberculosis last year than the year before — down from 9,094 to 9,029, the fewest new cases ever reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, the goal of eliminating TB in the United States is unlikely to become a reality in the 21st century, the CDC says. It attributes that in large part to data showing that the incidence of TB — defined as the number of cases per 100,000 people — is now declining at a slower pace, down 1.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, compared with a 4.7 percent annual decline from 2010 to 2014.  Last year, the incidences of TB was found to be highest in Alaska and lowest in Wyoming. The CDC said that “as has been the case for over two decades,” four states — California, Florida, New York and Texas — accounted for about half of the reported cases of TB in 2018.

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Can genetic testing help doctors better prescribe antidepressants? There’s quite a debate.
The Washington Post

Grit alone got Linda Greene through her husband’s muscular dystrophy, her daughter’s traumatic brain injury, and her own mysterious illness that lasted for three years and left her vomiting daily before doctors identified the cause. But eventually, after too many days sitting at her desk at work crying, she went to see her doctor for help.

He prescribed an antidepressant and referred her to a psychiatrist. When the first medication didn’t help, the psychiatrist tried another — and another and another — hoping to find one that made her feel better. Instead, Greene felt like a zombie and sometimes she hallucinated and couldn’t sleep. In the worst moment, she found herself contemplating suicide.

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Training A Computer To Read Mammograms As Well As A Doctor
National Public Radio

Regina Barzilay teaches one of the most popular computer science classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And in her research — at least until five years ago — she looked at how a computer could use machine learning to read and decipher obscure ancient texts.

“This is clearly of no practical use,” she says with a laugh. “But it was really cool, and I was really obsessed about this topic, how machines could do it.”

But in 2014, Barzilay was diagnosed with breast cancer. And that not only disrupted her life, but it led her to rethink her research career. She has landed at the vanguard of a rapidly growing effort to revolutionize mammography and breast cancer management with the use of computer algorithms.

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Insys Therapeutics Pushed Opioid With Bribes And Lies, Prosecutors Say
National Public Radio

Two months ago, Paul Lara saw a letter from his doctor to his insurance company. He recalls looking at the bottom of the page, next to the doctor’s signature, “It says: Does this patient have cancer? He marked yes.”

Only one problem: Paul Lara has never had cancer.

After decades as a commercial fisherman in Texas, Lara was badly injured on the job. In 2013, his doctor prescribed a high dose of an opioid called Subsys for Lara’s back and neck pain. The fentanyl-based spray can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

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Sutter-Aetna venture brings Stanford into the fold
Sacramento Business Journal

Sutter Health’s new health plan joint venture with Aetna Inc. is adding Stanford Health Care providers to its lineup.

The Sutter Health | Aetna joint venture launched at the end of the third quarter last year to offer self-insured preferred provider organization health plans to companies. Sacramento-based health system Sutter and Hartford, Connecticut-based health insurer Aetna each own 50 percent of the venture.

The recent addition of Stanford Health will see more than 1,500 specialists and about 200 primary care physicians added to the Sutter | Aetna network, bringing its total number of specialists to 9,400 and primary care physicians to 1,700.

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