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Healthcare Industry Regulation

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UnitedHealth Group says it has completed its acquisition of Change Healthcare, closing the roughly $8 billion deal a couple weeks after a judge rejected a challenge from regulators. UnitedHealth is merging the technology company with its Optum segment. The health care giant said the combination will simplify clinical, administrative and payment processes for care providers and bill payers. The Justice Department had sued to block the deal. Regulators argued it would put too much information about health care claims in the hands of one company. But U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols issued an order last month denying the government’s request.

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The University of Oklahoma Medical Center says it is ceasing some gender-affirming treatments after state lawmakers threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funding. OU Health said in a statement Wednesday that it is stopping “certain gender medicine services." Officials did not confirm exactly which medical treatments it was halting. The Republican-controlled Legislature returned for a special session Wednesday to appropriate $1.87 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Legislature this year has targeted transgender young people with new laws that restrict their ability to play sports or use school bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

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Biogen has agreed to pay $900 million to resolve allegations that it violated federal law by paying kickbacks to doctors in the form of speakers and consulting fees to persuade them to prescribe its multiple sclerosis drugs. Federal prosecutors in Boston say the agreement announced Monday settles a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former Biogen employee. Under the settlement, Biogen will pay more than $843 million to the federal government and more than $56 million to 15 states for overbilling Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs. Biogen said the settlement is not an admission of liability and believes at all times it acted lawfully.

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Experts say the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade appears to be sending more teens to their doctors in search of birth control, including long-acting reversible forms like intrauterine devices and implants. Waits for appointments are growing in some areas, Planned Parenthood is getting a flood of questions and doctors report demand even among teens who aren’t sexually active. Some patients are especially fearful because some of the new abortion laws don’t include exceptions for sexual assault. Dr. Peggy Stager said dedicated spots for insertion of the Nexplanon implant are consistently filled at her Ohio practice and requests for contraceptive refills have increased 30% to 40% since the Court's June ruling.

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An Arizona judge says the state can enforce a near-total ban on abortions that has been blocked for nearly 50 years. Friday’s ruling by a judge in Tucson came after the state’s Republican attorney general sought an order lifting an injunction that was issued shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Roe was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Friday's ruling means clinics across Arizona will likely stop providing abortions. The law was first enacted decades before Arizona became a state in 1912. The only exception is if the mother’s life is in danger. Another law that bans abortions after 15 weeks takes effect Saturday.

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Indiana abortion clinics have resumed seeing patients a day after a judge put the state's abortion ban temporarily on hold. One patient who went to an Indianapolis clinic Friday was a woman who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity due to privacy concerns. She said it was for her second abortion. She is 31 years old now. Her first was at 16, when she was afraid of caring for a child and worried what her parents would think about her being pregnant. Under Indiana’s ban, which has exceptions, abortion clinics would have lost their licenses and been prohibited from providing any abortion care, leaving such services solely to hospitals or outpatient surgical centers owned by hospitals.

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The White House and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say a Republican-led proposal to ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks would endanger the health of women and have severe consequences for physicians. The measure introduced last week by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proposes a nationwide ban that would allow rare exceptions. The legislation has almost no chance of becoming law in the Democratic-controlled Congress. GOP leaders didn't immediately embrace it and Democrats are pointing to the proposal as an alarming signal of where Republicans would try to go if they were to win control of the Congress in November.

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called for an investigation into a pediatric transgender health clinic after videos surfaced on social media of staffers touting that gender-affirming procedures are “huge money makers." Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh posted a series of tweets Tuesday accusing the hospital of opening its transgender health clinic because it was profitable. He also criticized some of the treatments VUMC provides to minors. Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti did not rule out an investigation when reached by AP on Wednesday. In a statement, VUMC said it follows all state laws. They added that the hospital started its transgender health clinic in 2018 because transgender people face higher risks for mental and physical health issues.

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Expectations that a Medicaid expansion agreement in North Carolina are nigh have been short-circuited for now as Senate leader Phil Berger called an offer by the state's hospitals “not a serious proposal.” The North Carolina Healthcare Association proposed an expansion plan that contained changes to medical construction and service regulations, which Senate Republicans have said are necessary. Berger told reporters Tuesday those provisions aren't good enough. The House and Senate passed competing expansion proposals in June, and Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore later expressed their commitment to work toward an agreement. The House has been cool to incorporating certificate of need into an expansion bill.

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Big-name celebrities are coming back to the White House after boycotting America's most famous address under Donald Trump. Rocker Elton John is bringing his farewell tour to the South Lawn on Friday at the invitation of President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden. Singer James Taylor strummed his guitar and sang at the White House last week to open an event celebrating a new health care and climate change law. Younger pop stars like singer Olivia Rodrigo and South Korean boy band BTS have visited. And Biden has resumed the tradition of hosting a White House reception for the artists receiving honors from the Kennedy Center.

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The North Carolina Cancer Hospital has been formally named for late state Senate leader Marc Basnight. Among those who spoke at the dedication ceremony Monday in Chapel Hill were Gov. Roy Cooper, current Senate leader Phil Berger and former UNC system President Erskine Bowles. Basnight served a record 18 years as Senate president pro tempore through 2010. He died in December 2020 at age 73. During his tenure, the legislature authorized $180 million for the hospital project in 2004. The hospital opened in 2009. The funding came as Basnight's late wife Sandy was being treated for leukemia.

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President Joe Biden spent a good portion of his day Wednesday showcasing his administration’s efforts to promote electric vehicles at the Detroit auto show. Biden is a self-proclaimed “car guy” who owns a 1967 Corvette Stingray. He got behind the wheel of a snazzy new Corvette at the show amid jokes that he might drive it back to Washington. But he journeyed to the auto show mostly to highlight the new climate, tax and health care law that offers tax incentives for buying electric vehicles. He announced approval of the first $900 million in infrastructure money to build EV chargers across 53,000 miles of the national highway system and 35 states.

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French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a national debate meant to broaden end-of-life options. The debate will include exploring the possibility of legalizing assisted suicide, according to a French government statement. A 2016 French law provides that doctors can keep terminally ill patients sedated before death but stops short of allowing assisted suicide. Macron said in a written statement that a panel of citizens will work on the issue in coordination with health care workers while local debates are organized in France's regions. The statement issued Tuesday says the government will hold parallel discussions with lawmakers to find the broadest consensus, with the aim of introducing changes next year.

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Hospitals and abortion clinics in Indiana are preparing for the state's abortion ban to go into effect on Sept. 15. Indiana's Legislature became the first in the nation to approve new abortion restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb quickly signed the ban into law Aug. 5. Starting Sept. 15, abortion clinics will be prohibited from providing any abortion care, leaving such services solely to hospitals or outpatient surgical centers owned by hospitals.

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A federal report says nursing homes and debt collectors are flouting a law that prohibits them from requiring friends and family of care home residents to be responsible for costs of the facilities. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says friends and family members have had to declare bankruptcy, had their wages garnished and their homes repossessed. That's after they signed unenforceable contracts called “admission agreements” with nursing facilities, resulting in them being held liable as third parties for their loved ones’ nursing home stays. Distraught relatives and lawyers for families told federal regulators Thursday about collectors seeking tens of thousands of dollars — even hundreds of thousands — in unpaid nursing home fees.

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A federal judge in Texas has ruled that required coverage of an HIV prevention drug under the Affordable Care Act violates a Texas employer’s religious beliefs and undercut the broader system that determines which preventive drugs are covered in the U.S. The ruling was handed down Wednesday by Fort Worth-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who ruled in 2018 that the entire ACA is invalid. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately overturned that decision. O’Connor’s latest ruling targets a mandate under the law that requires employers to cover the HIV prevention treatment known as PrEP, which is a pill taken daily to prevent infection. The ruling's impact beyond the plaintiffs wasn't immediately clear. The Biden administration is likely to appeal.

Nashville's city council has decided that law enforcement will be prohibited from using license plate readers to enforce Tennessee’s anti-abortion laws. The move comes after Tennessee enacted one of the strictest abortion bans in the U.S. last month. Under the law, almost all abortions are outlawed and doctors who violate the statute risk felony convictions. However, as with several left-leaning cities in Republican-dominated states, Nashville’s city council has attempted to push back on the ban. On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved barring police and other law enforcement from using license plate readers that would assist with “enforcing laws outlawing abortion or outlawing interstate travel to obtain abortion.”

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued a Vermont nursing home over allegations that it allowed patients to racially abuse Black staff members. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Burlington says the long-term care facility Elderwood at Burlington violated federal law by allowing Black nurses and nurse assistants to be subjected to what the suit describes as ongoing and egregious racial harassment. The suit says that starting in 2020, certain white residents of Elderwood repeatedly directed offensive racial slurs at Elderwood’s Black nurses and nurse assistants. Elderwood said in a statement that it cannot comment on ongoing legal matters, but it “does not tolerate harassment of any kind.”

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