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Brainstorm Health Daily: February 24, 2017

John Boehner is right. Yesterday, in a clip played ’round the Interwebs, the former Speaker of the House and well-tanned Congressman scoffed at the notion that his fellow Republicans would shoot and bury the Affordable Care Act, as they’ve long promised. “I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen,” said Boehner at the giant annual confab of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. “They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.”

To repeat: No tearing down the old house. Forget about that new neighbor-riling McMansion. (Who needs that kind of space anyway?) Let’s just do a modest rehab with a fresh coat of red-state paint.

I predicted the same at the start of the year in this newsletter (see “My Crystal Ball Reading for Obamacare”).

And the reasons are straightforward, if not simple.

1) Americans like—indeed, really like—the core elements of the ACA. They just haven’t liked the name so much. And you know what? Increasingly, people are even starting to like the name, too. The latest poll from the respected nonpartisan Pew Research Center shows that 54% of U.S. adults approve of the former president’s health care law, while 43% remain against it—a shift toward favorability that has been largely echoed in other recent polls.

2) People don’t like it when you take something away from them, even if they’re not 100% happy with the thing you took. You may hate how sluggish the transmission is on your 2010 Camry and feel like your gas mileage is half what it should be—but you’d still be cursing to the hilltops if the car got impounded or stolen…or even gently bumped in the supermarket parking lot. In a month, the ACA will turn seven years old. That’s long enough to get used to the thing, blemishes and all.

3) The people that are most used to Obamacare—and I use “people” here in the sense of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission—are the healthcare providers, insurers, and hospital systems who are deeply embedded in it. Go ahead, ask any of these “folks” if they want a full-out repeal. I’ve been asking around and I have yet to find a single ACA-entwined player who wants to throw it out and start all over again.

4) Republican lawmakers may dismiss the recent angry town halls in their home districts as the work of outside agitators—but they’re afraid of them (no matter what the party leadership says).

And then there’s this—which ex-Speaker Boehner told his audience yesterday as well:

5) “In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever one time agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like. Not once.”

As Boehner concluded, “Most of the Affordable Care Act, the framework, is going to stay there.”

Yes, my friends, it will. How the new Congress and Administration spin that is anybody’s guess.

Enjoy your well-deserved weekend.

Clifton Leaf
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Takeda is using Apple Watch to launch a depression study. Japanese pharma giant Takeda is partnering with Cognition Kit Limited to launch a small scale study of cognitive impairment in people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). “By combining wearable technology with world leading neuroscience, we’ve created an app that collects real time passive and active high-frequency mental health data,” said Cognition Kit’s Jenny Barnett in a statement. “Being able to access data regularly from daily life can help clinical decision making. Healthcare professionals can obtain patient data and increase patient engagement in their treatment.” The main purpose of the study is to see whether or not – and in what ways – recording patients’ mood and cognitive abilities via a smartwatch app produces different results and medical decision compared to more conventional forms of patient self-reporting. The results are expected by this summer.

The companies leading the health care AI revolution. Fortune is out with our list of the 50 startups leading the AI revolution – and four health care-focused firms made the cut: Israel’s Zebra Medical Vision; the U.K.’s Babylon Health and BenevolentAI; and China’s iCarbonX. (While U.S. companies make up the bulk of the list, none of the health-related outfits are from America.) Zebra is tackling the relative shortage of radiologists compared with increasing demand for health care services by teaching computers how to read and interpret medical imaging such as brain scans and x-rays; Babylon has an all-encompassing telemedicine platform that allows U.K. patients to connect with doctors, who use AI-fueled tech to diagnose symptoms; BenevolentAI harnesses machine learning to fuel scientific discovery by giving researchers a digital analytics assist; and iCarbonX is aiming to create a high-tech database to store all of your health information, including genomic sequencing, medical history, and day-to-day health tracking. Check out the full list here. (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

Roche reports patient death in hemophilia trial. An experimental Roche therapy to treat the blood clotting disorder hemophilia A is facing safety concerns after the company disclosed a patient death in a late-stage trial of the drug, emicizumab aka ACE910. Investigators aren’t attributing the death directly to the drug; but it’s a worrying sign given multiple other adverse events that have occurred in ACE910 studies, such as two instances of thrombotic microangiopathy (a disorder of the smallest blood vessels). And although Roche plans to forge ahead with its trial procedures, the lingering concerns could prove a boon to its major competitors in the space, Novo Nordisk and Shire. (BioPharma Dive)

Novartis’ Zykadia nabs FDA priority review. Pharma giant Novartis has been granted a Food and Drug Administration priority review for the cancer drug Zykadia as a first-in-line, go-to option to treat a rare form of lung cancer. The company had previously unveiled data showing that the treatment was significantly more effective than chemotherapy for this type of lung cancer, which can also metastasize to the brain. But Novartis still has its work cut out when it comes to securing a first-to-market advantage seeing as rival Roche’s treatment Alecensa is likely closer to the regulatory finish line. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

Opioids the culprit in nearly three quarters of all overdose deaths. New figures from the Centers for Disease Control highlight the toll of the American heroin and opioid addiction epidemic. In 2015, one in four overdoses involve opioids, and a staggering 73% of all overdose deaths involved opioids. That’s opposed to the 57% rate seen in 2010. And in a somber milestone, overdose deaths crossed the 50,000 threshold for the first time ever in 2015. While heroin use continued to be a major cause of overdoses, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have also become increasingly deadly for public health, contributing to 18% of all overdose deaths in 2015 – more than double the rate in 2010.

REQUIRED READING

The White House Expects “Greater Enforcement” of Marijuana Lawsby Tom Huddleston, Jr.

Amazon Argues Free Speech in Alexa Murder Caseby Jeff John Roberts

5 Roadblocks Donald Trump’s Economic Plan Could Face in Congressby Shawn Tully

CloudFlare Leaked Sensitive Data Across the Internet for Monthsby Robert Hackett

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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