RealClearHealth Morning Scan -- 02/11/2016

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Insurers Under Pressure to Improve Margins
Anna Wilde Mathews, WSJ
After most health insurers racked up financial losses on Affordable Care Act plans in 2014, many companies’ results for last year worsened, creating heavy pressure to improve performance this year. An analysis of filings by not-for-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers—among the biggest players in the law’s exchanges for buying individual insurance—shows the challenge facing the industry as it seeks a turnaround in the individual business. They paid out more for health care in the first three quarters of 2015 than they took in from premiums on their individual plans.

HHS Considering Action on Drug Patents over Prices
Peter Sullivan, Hill
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday that her department is considering issuing guidelines on an executive action known as “march-in rights” as a way to fight high drug prices. At a Ways and Means Committee hearing on Wednesday, Burwell was asked about a letter from more than 50 House Democrats last month urging HHS to issue guidelines on the administrative action.

Waiting Lists Grow for Opioid Addiction Rx
Christine Vestal, Stateline
Nationwide, a shortage of doctors willing to prescribe buprenorphine, which reduces drug cravings, and a federal limit on the number of patients they can treat, prevents many who could benefit from the addiction medication from getting it. Less than half of the 2.2 million people who need treatment for opioid addiction are receiving it, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said this month, previewing President Barack Obama’s new budget, which was released Tuesday and proposes $1.1 billion to expand the availability of buprenorphine and other opioid-addiction medications.

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Amid Federal Gridlock, Lobbying Rises in States
Whyte & Wieder, CPI
Across America, lobbyists for drugmakers — including Enbrel’s maker Amgen — have worked at a feverish pace to push state laws that make it harder for pharmacists to substitute cheaper biosimilars for brand-name biologic drugs, as is commonly done with regular generic drugs. The laws in many cases require the pharmacist to take extra steps before dispensing the cheaper drugs, including notifying the doctor, retaining extra records or, in some cases, getting patient consent.

Senators Debate Details of Mental Health Bills
Shannon Muchmore, MH
Senators on Wednesday expressed strong bipartisan support for bills that would improve the interactions of the mentally ill and the police, but clashed on how to pay for the reform and how it might affect gun ownership. A hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee was the stage for the debate, one that's historically stalled efforts to reform the mental health system.

Refugee Mental Health Needs Could Overwhelm
Philip Marcelo, AP
For the thousands of Syrian refugees expected to arrive in the U.S. in coming months, the first order of business will be securing the basics - health care, jobs, education and a safe home. But what organizations helping resettle them might not be prepared for, and what refugees themselves might be in denial about, is the need to treat the mental scars of war, experts said.

Vitter Questions ACA Exemption for Hill Staff
Mary Ellen McIntire, MC
Tax season has alerted Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to a new way to investigate a provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows congressional members and staffers to avoid the federal exchanges. The Internal Revenue Services has sent 1095-C forms to congressional staffers and members in recent weeks stating that Congress is considered a large employer. That statement is at odds with a rule allowing members and their staffs to purchase insurance plans on an exchange for small business with less than 50 employees.

Abortion Politics Threatens to Derail Zika Funding
Sheila Kaplan, Stat
Two Republican lawmakers leading a congressional hearing on the Zika virus Wednesday said they hope pregnant women who become infected will not have abortions to avoid giving birth to children with a birth defect. By linking abortion politics to the Zika virus, Representatives Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and Christopher Smith of New Jersey raised a prospect that worries public health advocates: that President Barack Obama’s request for $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight the virus could get derailed by battles over whether the money could be used for abortions.

Clinics Fight for Right to Deny Abortion Information
Erik Eckholm, NYT
The clinic is one of more than 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers around the country that are operated by religious opponents of abortion, with the heartfelt aim of persuading women to choose parenting or adoption. Now it and others in California are in a First Amendment battle with the state over a new law that requires them to post a notice that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available to low-income women through public programs, and to provide the phone number to call.

U.S. Dementia Rates Seem to Be Falling
Dennis Thompson, HealthDay
U.S. seniors may be developing dementia less often and at later stages of life, a decades-long study suggests. More than 5,000 people followed for almost 40 years starting in the mid-1970s experienced an average 20 percent reduction in their risk of developing dementia, the researchers said.

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