Podcast: ‘What The Health?’ Taxes, Medicare And The Year-End Mess

Weeks ago, the tax bill under consideration in Congress became a health bill, too. But now it could also trigger major cuts to the Medicare program.

In this episode of “What the Health?” Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post discuss how a little-known law prohibiting federal deficits could force big cuts to Medicare and many other defense and domestic programs if the tax bill passes as currently configured in the House and Senate.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

If Your Insurer Covers Few Therapists, Is That Really Mental Health Parity?

It’s been nearly a decade since Congress passed the mental health parity act, with its promise to make mental health and substance abuse treatment just as easy to get as care for any other condition. Yet today, in the midst of the opioid epidemic and a spike in the rate of suicide, patients still struggle to access treatment.

That’s the conclusion of a report published Thursday by Milliman Inc., a national risk management and health care consulting company. The report was released by a coalition of mental health and addiction advocacy organizations.

GSK starts big African study of injectable drug to prevent HIV

(Reuters) – ViiV Healthcare, GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s HIV unit, said on Thursday it started an African study to evaluate long-acting injectable drug for the prevention of HIV infection in sexually active women.

FILE PHOTO: A GlaxoSmithKline logo is seen outside one of its buildings in west London, February 6, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

The cabotegravir study seeks to enrol 3,200 women aged 18 to 45 years from sub-Saharan African countries, ViiV Healthcare said in a statement.

The HPTN 084 Phase III study will evaluate injections given every two months, ViiV Healthcare said.

FDA clears first medical device accessory for Apple Watch

(Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday cleared a device embedded in an Apple Inc watch band that monitors a user’s heart rate, detects when something is amiss and prompts the user to take an electrocardiogram.

Apple watches are seen at a new Apple store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/John Gress

The device, made by AliveCor, pairs the ability to take a personal 30 second electrocardiogram (EKG) with a feature that uses artificial intelligence to continuously evaluate the correlation between heart and physical activity.

Patients with rare diseases and congress square off over orphan drug tax credits

November 30, 2017

Taking the credit away, Taylor said, “eliminates the possibility for my child to have a bright and happy future.”

Taylor, whose 9-year-old son, Aiden, has a rare connective tissue disorder, spoke as part of a small rally thrown together this week by the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) — the nation’s largest advocacy group for patients with rare diseases.

Studies provide insights into potential effects of weight on individuals with rheumatoid arthritis

November 30, 2017

New research provides insights on the potential effects of weight on the health of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A study published in Arthritis Care & Research examines how overweight and obesity may affect the likelihood of achieving remission in early RA. A separate study in Arthritis & Rheumatology focuses on weight change in early RA and patients’ subsequent risk of early death.

University Was Tipped Off To Possible Unauthorized Trials Of Herpes Vaccine

WASHINGTON — The university that employed a controversial herpes vaccine researcher has told the federal government it learned last summer of the possibility of his illegal experimentation on human subjects. But Southern Illinois University did not publicly disclose the tip or its findings about researcher William Halford’s misconduct for months, according to a memo obtained by Kaiser Health News.

Last week, Kaiser Health News reported that Halford conducted an experiment in which he vaccinated patients in U.S. hotel rooms in 2013 without any safety oversight and in violation of U.S. laws, according to patients and emails they provided to KHN to support their allegations.

The Ratcheting Cost Of The Pneumococcal Vaccine: What Gives?

Every November, like clockwork, she gets the same letter, said Dr. Lindsay Irvin, a pediatrician in San Antonio.

It’s from the drug company Pfizer Inc., and it informs her that the price tag for the pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13 is going up. Again.

And it makes her angry.

“They’re the only ones who make it,” she said. “It’s like buying gas in a hurricane — or Coke in an airport. They charge what they want to.”

Sign-up pace much slower in week 4 of 2018 Obamacare enrollment

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The pace of people signing up for individual insurance under Obamacare slowed significantly during the fourth week of 2018 enrollment, as nearly 37 percent fewer people signed up for the healthcare plans than in the previous week, a U.S. government agency reported on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that 504,181 people signed up for 2018 Obamacare individual insurance in the 39 states that use the federal government website HealthCare.gov for the week ended Nov. 25, down from 798,829 people in the previous week. New consumer sign-ups fell to 152,243 from 220,323 in the previous week.

U.S. says patient charity helped drugmakers, revokes approval

(Reuters) – One of the largest U.S. patient assistance charities may close after the federal government revoked its authorization, citing findings that the group, mainly funded by pharmaceutical companies, enabled drugmakers to influence prescriptions.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General notified Caring Voice Coalition in a letter on Tuesday that it would rescind the charity’s 2006 authorization after finding that it may have given drugmakers more ability to raise prices while insulating patients from the immediate effects of increases, leaving federal health care programs like Medicare to bear the cost.