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This new governor-elect pledged health care overhaul but don’t hold your breath

This is a Kaiser Health News story.

Californians on Tuesday elected a governor who campaigned for..

This is a Kaiser Health News story.

Californians on Tuesday elected a governor who campaigned for a complete overhaul of how people get their health coverage — but they shouldnt hold their breath.

Rather, as Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and the Democratic-controlled legislature take steps to provide more people with health insurance, theyll likely approach it piecemeal over several years.

Newsom himself is already tempering expectations about Californias move to a single-payer system, saying it will take more than the will of one person to realize.

“Im not going to hesitate to be bold on this issue, and I also want to set expectations,” Newsom told reporters last week at a campaign stop in Sacramento. “Its a multiyear process.”

The Democratic lieutenant governor easily routed Republican John Cox in the governors race Tuesday, with Newsom vowing to stand up to President Donald Trump and restore the “California Dream” by addressing affordable housing, health care and income inequality in the nations most populous state.

Newsoms views are in stark contrast to Coxs, who maintained that government should largely stay out of health care. The free-market businessman said single-payer would send health care costs soaring while diminishing quality, and warned that it “is a sure way to destroy the California economy.”

Like many Democrats, Newsom has described health care as a right and vowed to defend the Affordable Care Act as governor. He also criticized the legislature last year when it held up a single-payer bill that would have created one government-run public insurance program for all Californians.

He won the endorsement from the politically powerful California Nurses Association for vigorously advocating single-payer. Going slow on single-payer could test his relationship with the union, which launched a brutal attack against the Democratic state Assembly speaker when he shelved the measure last year.

It could also upset progressive Democrats and donors who are counting on action.

“This is the governor who has the best shot to get this done,” said Stephanie Roberson, the unions director of government relations. “It takes political will and courage, and Im going to cash in on what he said to my association.”

Now Newsoms attitude is cautious — many say realistic — even in a state that aims to set national trends and relishes its role at the forefront of the resistance to the Trump administration.

Last week, Newsom called single-payer the most “effective and efficient” strategy to achieve universal coverage, but he questioned whether it could be achieved at the state level, given the Trump administrations opposition to the concept.

Trumps top Medicare and Medicaid official, Seema Verma, last summer firmly rejected the idea that the federal government would grant the essential exemptions from federal rules to try single-payer, which she called “unaffordable” and “something thats not going to work.” The exemptions, or waivers, are necessary because the state relies heavily on federal health care dollars that would be needed to pay single-payer costs.

Undaunted, the California Nurses Association said it intends to bring another single-payer bill before the legislature next year and has launched a national campaign to pass single-payer in other states and convince Congress of its merits.

But its unlikely that a single-payer bill will make it to Newsoms desk next year, in part due to the price tag: A single-payer system could cost an estimated $400 billion annually. Lawmakers earlier this year directed a council to study the feasibility of a publicly funded health insurance plan, and its findings arent due until 2021 — giving the new governor and lawmakers time to punt on the issue.

Still, Democrats who head the key legislative health committees see Newsom as a partner who will be more engaged on health care than fellow Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown has been these past eight years.

“Health care has not been one of the issues that hes been particularly focused on,” Assemblyman Jim Wood, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, said of Brown. “I think weve missed some opportunities to really move forward on some policies that would be good for all Californians.”

Brown this year blocked measures that would have expanded health care coverage to some low-income unauthorized immigrants — not because he philosophically opposed the idea, lawmakers say, but because it would have required new state spending.

He also raised cost concerns about bills that would have provided state-funded tax credits and subsidies to people who buy coverage through Covered California, the states insurance exchange.

With a new governor, those proposals are back on the table. Newsom was, after all, the San Francisco mayor who signed off on the nations first universal health care program for city residents without insurance, including undocumented immigrants. And, as he has reminded reporters, he did it during a recession.

“Its a question of what do you value, what you prioritize,” he said last week when asked how the state could afford both universal health care and his call for universal preschool.

Newsoms campaign did not respond to questions about how he would expand coverage absent single-payer. But, earlier this year, his spokesman told California Healthline that proposals to give coverage to undocumented immigrants and earmarking state dollars to help consumers buy insurance coverage were “two major parts” of his plan to deliver health coverage to all state residents. The states estimated 1.8 million unauthorized immigrants, for example, make up roughly 59 percent of the states remaining uninsured residents, according to Covered California.

The Democratic-dominated legislature would have to approve these moves.

“Were going to be looking at a variety of ways that we might be able to get everyone covered,” Wood said. But, he added, “it will be significantly expensive to do that.”

Wood and state Sen. Richard Pan, chair of the Senate Health Committee, said lawmakers should look at the structural issues in health care — how prices for services and pharmaceuticals are regulated and how efficiencies, improved access and curbs on costly care of chronic diseases might be achieved.

“I think its clear the health care landscape is a focal point for the California legislature,” said Erin Trish, associate director of health policy at University of Southern Californias Schaeffer Center. “They dont have to push for a single-payer system to push for expanded coverage.”

Expanding health care coverage would require more state spending, but that wouldnt necessarily mean a hit to the state economy, experts said.

After California implemented the Affordable Care Act (albeit with significant federal assistance), the states economy continued to grow and the number of uninsured residents fell to 7.2 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Weve expanded coverage and our economy has continued to flourish,” said Dr. Andrew Bindman, a primary care physician who is also a professor at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, who helped draft the federal health care law. “These things are achievable, and I think California is a model of that.”

Pan, the chair of the Senate Health Committee, said he looks forward to engaging Newsom, someone who proved he could move beyond rhetoric by signing the San Francisco measure that offered more city residents health coverage.

“Hopefully, we have an opportunity to get something done,” Pan said.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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The organization helping to bring new drugs for rare diseases to market

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval o..

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval on Friday to begin a clinical trial for a new pediatric brain cancer drug, one that might have ended up overlooked by pharmaceutical companies.

The lead researcher on the team, Dr. Teresa Purzner has already beat impossible odds. The neurosurgeon and mom of three managed to get the approval in record time and with little money thanks to the help of a team of scientific altruists called SPARK.

The development of new medications in the United States is driven by pharmaceutical companies; researchers at universities rarely bring their discoveries to the bedside. For every 10,000 potential new medicines sitting on laboratory shelves around the country, only one will ever reach patients in need, according to the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because the process can take 10 to 15 years, costing upwards of a billion dollars per drug.

As a result, the number of new medications approved by the FDA has remained stagnant at about 31 per year over the past 10 years. The majority of these medications are similar to already existing ones, and many target diseases for which there are large markets — like hypertension and high cholesterol — and therefore, a return on investment.

Enter SPARK, a non-profit program created in partnership between Stanford University and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and investment industries, which helps academic researchers bring their discoveries to patients. Since its founding, SPARK has given special consideration to projects typically neglected by pharmaceutical companies, including rare diseases and diseases affecting children.

Purzner put her neurosurgery practice on pause to study medulloblastoma, a type of childhood brain cancer. Compared to diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol, which affect millions of Americans, medulloblastoma is rare, affecting only 250 to 500 children every year.

“Theres something especially poignant about seeing children —beautiful, wonderful, innocent things — and seeing the impact of the therapies we are giving them. The medications, the radiation therapies impact their cognition, their quality of life and their ability to function as independent adults in the future,” Purzner said in an interview with ABC News.

Purzner had a clear goal: to find a targeted therapy that could shut down the basic biochemical pathway responsible for the development of this cancer, and she did. She tested the potential drug in mice with good results, and she just received FDA approval to test it in clinical trials, which she will do through the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. She did it all in five years and for a price tag of $500,000.

“To get from my initial findings in the lab to the point where the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium picked it up for clinical trials would have never happened without the help of SPARK… they gave me a clear pathway and made me believe it was possible,” said Purzner.

Every year, SPARK provides 10 teams with funding and expert mentorship to promote efficient and cost-effective drug development. (more…)

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Widowed father works with congresswoman on legislation to prevent maternal deaths

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

“I was overjoyed. I reme..

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

"I was overjoyed. I remember thinking my family is complete," Charles Johnson told ABC News.

But then he looked down and saw his wife Kiras catheter turn pink and then red with blood.

April 12, 2016 was supposed to be a joyous day for the Johnson family, but it turned into a "nightmare."

Ten hours later, Kira Johnson died as a result of internal bleeding following a cesarean section.

Now, two years later, Johnson is raising two children on his own and advocating to rectify the country's maternal health policies and regulations to prevent anyone else from sharing the same tragedy. Johnson took to Capitol Hill to share his wife's story before members of Congress, working alongside a congresswoman who experienced her own personal difficulties during pregnancy.

Charles and Kira Johnson welcomed their first son Charles V. in 2014. He was delivered via C-section. Two years later, the Johnson family relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles and learned they were expecting their second baby boy.

"Kira and I had always wanted two boys," Johnson said. "I was excited."

The Johnsons decided to have Langston delivered at Cedars Sinai medical center, a non-profit hospital that is currently ranked as the eighth best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Charles Johnson said his wife was in exceptional health and that she took all the necessary prenatal measures to ensure their second child would be born healthy. Since their first son was born via C-section, the doctor suggested the same for their second. (more…)

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States look to breathalyze convicted drunk drivers to reduce fatalities

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that ha..

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that have laws requiring drivers with drunken-driving convictions to install breathalyzers in vehicles they own or operate.

Researchers, public health advocates and political leaders believe these laws are helping reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

The gadgets, known as ignition interlock devices, are mounted on the steering wheel of a vehicle and prevent it from starting if the drivers blood-alcohol reading is above a predetermined level.

In California, the breathalyzers are mandatory only for repeat offenders. Five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana and Ohio — have similar laws. Thirty-two states and D.C. require the devices even for first-time offenders.

The advent of such laws across the United States in the past 15 years has been accompanied by some good news: Deaths involving drunken driving are only about half of what they were in the early 1980s, though they have ticked back up in recent years. The long-term decline is largely attributable to greater public awareness, stricter seat belt enforcement and the establishment in 2000 of a nationwide legal blood-alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent — far below the 0.15 percent standard commonly used before then.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the author of the California law, said breathalyzers in cars will make roads safer than under the current law, which generally relies on license restrictions and suspensions.

“Weve seen people on a suspended license continue to drive and continue to cause destruction,” said Hill, who lost his best friend to drunken driving in the 1980s.

There is some evidence that the breathalyzers have an impact. Nationally, from 2006 to 2016, ignition-locking breathalyzers prevented 2.3 million attempts to drive by people with a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for driving under the influence — according to a 2017 report by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Emma McGinty, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that laws requiring interlocks for all DUI offenders were associated with a 7 percent drop in the rate of fatal crashes caused by drunken drivers. Another study found that laws covering all offenders were associated with 15 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities compared with states that have less stringent laws. (more…)

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