Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

New CDC Opioid Guidelines: Too Little, Too Late For Chronic Pain Patients? 

Jessica Layman estimates she has called more than 150 doctors in the past few years in her search for someone to prescribe opioids for her chronic pain. “A lot of them are straight-up insulting,” said the 40-year-old, who lives in Dallas. “They say things like ‘We don’t treat drug addicts.’” Layman has tried a host of non-opioid treatments to help with the intense daily pain caused by double scoliosis, a collapsed spinal disc, and facet joint arthritis. But she said nothing worked as well as methadone, an opioid she has taken since 2013. (Whitehead and Miller, 3/15)

Two Counties Square Off With California Over Mental Health Duties 

Sacramento and Solano counties are in a standoff with the state over mental health coverage for a portion of Medicaid patients in those counties — a dispute that threatens to disrupt care for nearly 50,000 low-income residents receiving treatment for severe mental illness. The Department of Health Care Services, which administers Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, says Sacramento and Solano counties must take over managing and providing specialty mental health care for thousands of Medi-Cal patients enrolled in Kaiser Permanente plans. It insists on shifting the responsibility because California’s remaining 56 counties already operate this way. State officials argue the switch would simplify the state’s disjointed mental health system and is needed to implement a larger transformation of Medi-Cal, an initiative known as CalAIM. (Hart, 3/15)

Listen To The Latest ‘KHN Health Minute’

The KHN Health Minute this week looks at the risks of a social-media craze, the Brazilian butt lift, and what Eli Lilly’s slashing of insulin prices could mean for folks with diabetes. (3/14)

Novo Nordisk Plans Price Cuts For Several Insulins

The price cuts go into effect Jan. 1. A vial of NovoLog and NovoLog Mix 70/30 will drop 75% to $72.34 from $289.36. FlexPen options will fall to $139.71 from more than $500. Levemir and Novolin vials and FlexPens will drop 65% from their current list prices. (Murphy, 3/14)

The Washington Post:
Novo Nordisk Becomes Latest Producer To Slash Insulin Prices 

Novo Nordisk declined to make an executive available for an interview. Asked why it is now deciding to lower prices, the company said in a statement that the plans were made months ago, “but due to increased stakeholder interest, we accelerated to announce now.” … Sanofi, the other major insulin manufacturer, said in a statement Tuesday that it is “continually listening to patients, patient advocates, caregivers and others to better understand additional actions we could take to address access or affordability challenges.” It also provided a list of its programs to help cover costs of its insulin. (Gilbert, 3/14)

Biden Admin To Fine Drug Makers For Price Hikes

The Biden administration will fine drugmakers who hiked prices faster than the rate of inflation on 27 medications administered in physicians’ offices, the agency said Wednesday. Pfizer had the most drugs on the list of any manufacturer, with five. Seagen’s bladder cancer drug Padcev, which also garnered penalties, will likely soon be in Pfizer’s portfolio, too, after the pharma giant completes its $43 billion acquisition of the Washington state company. (Cohrs, 3/15)

PhRMA Chief Dings Health Insurers Over Drug Prices

The head of the brand drug lobby used an in-person health insurance industry conference to blame insurers for making people pay too much for drugs. America’s Health Insurance Plans CEO Matt Eyles, interviewing PhRMA President Stephen Ubl, asked for examples of policies that would benefit both industries. Ubl responded by suggesting that insurers lower cost sharing for drugs. (Wilkerson, 3/14)

Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Biden To Talk About Lowering Drug Costs At UNLV Event

President Joe Biden is expected to speak at the UNLV College of Hospitality on Wednesday about his administration’s efforts to lower prescription drug costs for Americans. Biden, who landed in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening and attended a private Democratic National Committee reception and fundraiser, is scheduled to address provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that will help lower costs for people on Medicare, and how his proposed budget will lower prescription drugs costs for all Americans. (Hill, 3/14)

U.S. Proposes Limits For Cancer-Causing Chemicals In Drinking Water 

Under the new standard, the agency will require public water systems to monitor for six PFAS chemicals, inform the public if PFAS levels exceed proposed standards in the drinking water supply, and take action to reduce PFAS levels. Chemical companies sell PFAS for use in products ranging from paper to pans, enabling them to be stain-resistant, water-repellent and grease-proof. They are also used in industrial processes and discharged into waterways. (Volcovici, 3/14)

The Washington Post:
EPA Cracks Down On PFAS ‘Forever’ Chemicals In Drinking Water

The proposal would require water utilities to detect and reduce PFAS contamination at 4 parts per trillion. The agency had warned in June that the compounds pose a greater danger to human health than regulators previously thought, compromising people’s immune and cardiovascular systems at a lifetime exposure of between just 0.004 to 0.02 parts per trillion, depending on the type of compound. (Puko, 3/14)

Capital & Main:
Health Officials Delayed Report Linking Fluoride To Brain Harm

Last May, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a federal research agency, was set to release its eagerly awaited report into the cognitive and neurodevelopmental impacts on humans from fluoride exposure. The report was anticipated for several reasons, including its review of studies linking fluoridated water to cognitive harm in children. Water fluoridation is the long-established public policy of adding fluoride to drinking water to fight tooth decay. The report was also set to play a key role in an ongoing lawsuit, filed by government accountability nonprofit Food & Water Watch, to get the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate water fluoridation because of fluoride’s possible neurotoxic harm. More than two years ago, the judge put the case on hold in expectation of the NTP report’s public release. (Ross, 3/14)

Biden Mourns With Families Of California Shooting Victims And Moves To Close Gun Loophole 

A solemn President Joe Biden signed an executive order to close gun registration loopholes as he delivered what amounted to a eulogy for 11 people shot to death as they celebrated the Lunar New Year in a Southern California suburb. Biden recited names of the mostly immigrant victims, recalling the love of family and community that brought them to the dance hall in January, as well as the pain that will linger with their families and made the small city another in a long line of places made infamous by violence. (Nieves and Ward, 3/14)

The Wall Street Journal:
Biden Issues Executive Order To Strengthen Gun Background Checks

Mr. Biden said his executive actions are designed to move the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without the passage of legislation in Congress, where partisan divides have left most gun-safety legislation stalled. The president, in his Tuesday remarks, said his executive order isn’t a substitute for congressional action. “Enough,” Mr. Biden said, directing his remarks to lawmakers. “Do something. Do something big.” (Siddiqui and Restuccia, 3/14)

The Washington Post:
Biden Announces New Order On Gun Violence, But Options Are Limited 

In addition to the background checks, Biden’s executive order directs his Cabinet to develop a proposal on how the federal government can better assist communities after a mass killing, aiming to mobilize resources for human-caused disasters in the way that Washington already does for natural disasters. Biden is also urging the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report that would analyze how gun manufacturers market firearms to minors. Together, the actions amount to the president’s latest attempt to use his executive authority to crack down on gun violence, efforts that necessarily are narrower in scope than measures urged by gun-control activists that would require congressional approval. (Viser, 3/14)

What To Watch For At Wednesday’s Hearing In Medication Abortion Lawsuit

A federal judge in Texas will consider at a high-stakes hearing on Wednesday whether he should block the US government’s approval of the drug used for medication abortions. The case, brought by anti-abortion doctors and medical associations, is arguably the most significant legal dispute concerning abortion since the Supreme Court ended nationwide abortion protections with its overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer. Depending on how US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk handles the medication abortion lawsuit, access could be cut off nationwide to the most common method of abortion in the United States. (Sneed, 3/15)

The Washington Post:
Texas Judge To Question Lawyers In Abortion Pill Mifepristone Case 

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is expected to question lawyers in the case that seeks to restrict access to mifepristone, the medication first approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago. The high-stakes hearing, for which the judge has allotted up to four hours, will be the first time the judge engages directly with lawyers for the Justice Department, representing the FDA; the company that manufactures and distributes the drug; and the antiabortion group challenging the medication. Kacsmaryk could rule at any time following the hearing, potentially disrupting access to the widely used drug, including in states where abortion is legal. (Stein, Kitchener and Marimow, 3/15)

Abortion Pill Access Case: Judge Wants ‘Less Advertisement’

A federal judge overseeing a high-stakes case that could threaten access to medication abortion across the nation asked lawyers for the “courtesy” of not publicizing upcoming arguments, according to a court record released Tuesday that reveals new details of a move experts say is outside the norm for the U.S. judicial system. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk — who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and is known for conservative views — told attorneys during a status conference by telephone on Friday that because the case has prompted death threats and protests, “less advertisement of this hearing is better,” according to a transcript of the meeting. (Murphy and Bleiberg, 3/14)

14 Democratic Governors Ask Pharmacies To Clarify Plans For Abortion Pill

Fourteen Democratic governors asked seven leading pharmacy retailers on Tuesday to clarify their plans for dispensing mifepristone — a pill used in medication abortions. The move comes shortly after Walgreens announced that it would not dispense mifepristone in some Republican-led states where abortion remains legal. (Saric, 3/14)

Ohio Supreme Court To Review Block Of Near-Ban On Abortion 

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to review a county judge’s order that is blocking enforcement of the state’s near-ban on abortions, and to consider whether the clinics challenging the law have legal standing to do so. In its split decision, the court, however, denied Republican Attorney General Dave Yost’s request to launch its own review of the right to an abortion under the Ohio Constitution, leaving those arguments to play out in lower court. This means abortions remain legal in the state for now, up to 20 weeks’ gestation. (Smyth, 3/14)

FDA Authorizes Pfizer’s Covid Omicron Booster As Fourth Shot For Kids Under 5

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized Pfizer’s omicron booster shot for kids under five years old who were previously vaccinated with three doses of the company’s original vaccine.  Children six months through four years old who completed their three-dose primary series with Pfizer and BioNTech’s original monovalent shots more than two months ago are now eligible to receive a single booster dose of the updated shot. The new shot is bivalent, meaning it targets the original Covid strain as well as omicron BA.4 and BA.5. (Constantino, 3/14)

Pfizer’s COVID Drug Data Supports Use In High-Risk Patients – FDA Staff

The U.S. health regulator’s staff reviewers said on Tuesday data from Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 drug trials support its use in adults at high risk of progressing to severe disease, bringing the pill closer to a full approval. The Food and Drug Administration made its assessment in briefing documents ahead of a meeting of the agency’s external advisers on Thursday to discuss full approval to use Pfizer’s oral pill for high-risk COVID-19 patients exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms. (Mandowara and Leo, 3/14)

FDA: Paxlovid Not Associated With COVID Rebound

Paxlovid isn’t associated with COVID rebound, in which patients test positive or have symptoms days after a course of the drug is completed, Food and Drug Administration staff said in briefing documents released Tuesday. (Moreno, 3/14)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. Care Facility Operators Charged In 14 COVID Deaths

The operators of an upscale Los Angeles care facility for dementia patients were charged Tuesday with felony elder abuse and other criminal counts related to the deaths of an employee and thirteen residents during the early days of the pandemic. Silverado Beverly Place, near the Fairfax district, specializes in caring for elderly residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and was the site of a COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. (Solis, 3/14)

Mortality Rate For Children And Teens In The US Surged In 2020 And 2021, Study Shows 

The mortality rate for children and teens in the United States surged in 2020 and 2021, driven not by deaths from Covid-19 but from fatal injuries from things like firearms, drugs and cars, according to a study published Monday in JAMA. The pandemic years brought a marked shift to the trends in pediatric mortality, which had previously seen a “period of great progress,” according to the study authors. Pediatric deaths had been ticking up, but the latest annual increases – nearly 11% in 2020 and more than 8% in 2021 – were the largest in decades. (McPhillips, 3/14)

The Hill:
Increase In Mortality Rate Among Kids, Teens Largest In Decades: Research

Most of the increase came from older children, ages 10 to 19, but the rate also increased among children 1 to 10. Only infants younger than 1 did not have a significant increase in mortality during this time. The researchers found that the increase was not strongly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic but a rise in injuries, which are defined as external causes of death such as transportation, firearms and poisoning. This type of fatality was tracked separately from the noninjury causes of death, which are internal, like diseases. (Gans, 3/14)

Modern Healthcare:
Google Search Update Aims To Ease Medicaid Redeterminations

Google is helping people navigate Medicaid redeterminations with the latest update to its search product, the tech giant said Tuesday morning. Google announced several new healthcare initiatives at its annual Check Up event on Tuesday. The updates were related to search, artificial intelligence and interoperability. (Turner, 3/14)

Google To Integrate Artificial Intelligence Into Health-Care Services, Products

Alphabet Inc.’s Google unveiled plans to integrate artificial intelligence into health-related initiatives, including an update on the use of language-generating technology in medical exams and AI-assisted research, ways to help consumers find information faster via internet searches, and tools to help developers build health apps around the world. (Alba and Love, 3/14)

Catholic System Pulls Out Of Connecticut Hospital Merger 

A Catholic-run health care system has withdrawn its application to affiliate with Day Kimball Healthcare, an independent, financially struggling hospital and health care system in northeastern Connecticut. Covenant Health’s decision to terminate its agreement with Day Kimball in Putnam comes weeks before the state’s Office of Health Strategy was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the planned merger. … The proposed merger had raised concerns among residents and Attorney General William Tong about the fate of reproductive health and other services in the mostly rural region of Connecticut that may be at odds with the Ethical and Religious Directives set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an issue that has come to light in other states as well. (3/15)

Health + Hospitals Advances New Strategy To House Homeless Patients 

NYC Health + Hospitals plans to hire an outside organization to help its homeless patients find housing, a $14 million investment that officials said would improve health outcomes and slash costly emergency room visits. The municipal health system has proposed contracting with Coordinated Behavioral Care, a not-for-profit consortium of behavioral health organizations, to work with about 600 unhoused patients annually on finding a permanent home. (Kaufman, 3/14)

Medicaid Agreement In North Carolina Closes In On Passage

The details of a deal reached by North Carolina legislative Republicans to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of low-income adults received overwhelming initial approval from the state Senate on Tuesday. The 43-2 vote on formal legislation comes less than two weeks after House and Senate leaders unveiled an agreement that could cover 600,000 people who make too much to qualify for conventional Medicaid but not enough to obtain highly subsidized private insurance. (Robertson, 3/14)

Sanders Signs Arkansas Trans Care Malpractice Bill Into Law 

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed legislation making it easier to sue providers of gender-affirming care for children, a move that could effectively reinstate a blocked ban on such care. Sanders on Monday signed the new law, which won’t take effect until this summer. It would allow anyone who received gender-affirming care as a minor to file a malpractice lawsuit against their doctor for up to 15 years after they turn 18. Under current Arkansas law, medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years of an injury. (DeMillo, 3/14)

Georgia House Panel: Make Transgender-Care Doctors Liable

A Georgia House committee on Tuesday sought to make it easier to sue doctors, and possibly charge them criminally, if they violate a proposed law barring some kinds of gender-affirming care in the state for anyone younger than 18. The House Public Health Committee voted 12-10 along party lines to pass Senate Bill 140, with majority Republicans passing the measure. The bill, which advances to the full House for more debate, would ban most gender-confirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapies for people under 18. However, unlike laws adopted in some other states, it would still allow doctors to prescribe medicines to block puberty. (Amy, 3/14)

GOP Lawmakers Allow Conversion Therapy For LGBTQ Patients

Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly voted Tuesday to continue allowing therapists and others to attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The discredited practice is known as conversion therapy, and Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have been trying to stop it from being banned. (3/14)

The New York Times:
At Wellesley College, Students Vote To Admit Trans Men 

Wellesley College proudly proclaims itself as a place for “women who will make a difference in the world.” It boasts a long line of celebrated alumnae, including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Nora Ephron. On Tuesday, its students supported a referendum that had polarized the campus and went straight to the heart of Wellesley’s identity as a women’s college. The referendum, which was nonbinding, called for opening admission to all nonbinary and transgender applicants, including trans men. Currently, the college allows admission to anyone who lives and consistently identifies as a woman. (Patel, 3/14)

Conn. Woman 1st Non-Vermonter Granted Assisted Suicide Right

Lynda Bluestein has terminal cancer and knows she’ll likely die soon, but until Tuesday, she didn’t know if she’d be able to choose how or when and whether her family, friends and dog would be with her when the time comes. The 75-year-old from Bridgeport, Connecticut, reached a settlement with the state of Vermont that will allow her to be the first non-resident to take advantage of its decade-old law that allows people who are terminally ill to end their own lives, provided she complies with other aspects of the law. (Rathke, 3/14)

Kentucky Passes Cancer Testing Mandate For Insurers 

Kentucky lawmakers have overwhelmingly passed a bill that would require health insurers to cover “ biomarker tests ” that can help determine the best cancer treatment plans for patients. The bipartisan measure won final passage on Monday, and was hailed as a consequential step in a state long plagued by high rates of cancers. (Schreiner, 3/14)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.


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