RealClearHealth Morning Scan -- 03/01/2016

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Administration Backs Off on Rules for 2017 Plans
Bob Herman, Mod. HC
In a major win for the industry, health insurers will not be forced to have minimum quantitative standards when designing their networks of hospitals and doctors for 2017, nor will they have to offer standardized options for health plans.

What's in the Benefit & Payment Parameters Rule
Timothy Jost, HA Blog
I analyzed the notice or proposed rulemaking (NPRM) payment rule when it was issued in November and the draft letter to issuers when it was released in December. The final payment rule and letter include most of the provisions proposed earlier, but differ in important respects. I will be analyzing the final rule and letter in detail over the next couple of days, but now offer a few headlines, focusing on issues of particular interest to health insurance consumers.

New Agreement to Improve Digital Records
Jayne O'Donnell, USA Today
Federal health officials announced a deal Monday that should make digital health records easier for consumers and regulators to access and address safety issues linked with the data. Nearly all of the companies that provide digital health records and 16 of the largest hospitals and health systems agreed to stop the practice of “information blocking," to adopt a universal language and to improve the systems so patients can easily monitor their health information.

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EHR Transition & Concerns about Medical Errors
Shefali Luthra, KHN
The mouse slips, and the emergency room doctor clicks on the wrong number, ordering a medication dosage that’s far too large. Elsewhere, in another ER’s electronic health record, a patient’s name isn’t clearly displayed, so the nurse misses it and enters symptoms in the wrong person’s file. These are easy mistakes to make. As ER doctors and nurses grapple with the transition to digitalized record systems, they seem to happen more frequently.

High Court to Hear Texas Abortion Case
Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico
The Supreme Court this week will hear arguments on whether Texas can limit abortions to surgical centers and to doctors affiliated with nearby hospitals — potentially reshaping the national landscape on abortion during a presidential election year. Eight justices will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most significant abortion case to come before the court since 1992, and among the most significant constitutional tests since the court upheld abortion rights in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Sizing Up Insurance Mega-Mergers
Richard Mark Kirkner, Managed Care
In trying to get a read on how regulators will examine the alignment of the Anthem–Cigna and Aetna–Humana mega-mergers, antitrust attorney Matthew Cantor found his prism in, of all things, the food service industry.

Valeant Hit with Another SEC Probe
Ed Silverman, Pharmalot
Valeant Pharmaceuticals is being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with a previously undisclosed probe, a company spokeswoman said. Further details are not known, but the investigation is not connected to another earlier SEC inquiry into possible securities law violations by Salix Pharmaceuticals, which Valeant acquired last year, concerning inventory accounting. The disclosure comes amid accelerating difficulties at Valeant.

New Tests May Help Curb Antibiotic Overuse
Sumathi Reddy, WS Journal
Duke University researchers are working on an intriguing idea—a blood test to determine whether a respiratory infection is caused by a virus or bacteria. If it is developed, the test could make prescribing treatment easier and more accurate. Nearly three-fourths of patients with acute respiratory illnesses are prescribed antibiotics even though their infections are usually viral, studies have found. There is no treatment for most viruses.

Cancer Pain May Rise as Finances Dwindle
Dennis Thompson, HealthDay
Cancer patients skating near financial ruin will likely suffer more pain and worse symptoms than those who have some savings to fall back on, a new study reports. Lung or colon cancer patients with two or fewer months of financial reserves had a significantly poorer quality of life than those who had more than a year of funds, according to a study involving more than 3,400 patients.

The Opioid Treatment Business Is Booming
Deborah Becker, WBUR
Hundreds of new treatment beds are being created in New England this year alone. One of the largest projects — which also represents one of the biggest private equity investments in addiction treatment — is now under construction in Danvers. Recovery Centers of America (RCA) is spending some $20 million to renovate the former Hunt Hospital into what will eventually be a 210-bed substance use treatment center. It’s set to open Aug. 1. Brad Greenstein, CEO of Recovery Centers of America, Danvers, says the center will help with the state’s opioid crisis.

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