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Brainstorm Health Daily: July 12, 2017

Happy Wednesday, fellow Dailies. Back in June, just after Senate leaders released their version of Trumpcare, I asked: “Did Senate Republicans Knowingly Craft Their Health Care Bill to Fail?” My answer to that question then was that, despite seven year’s worth of rancorous rhetoric over Obamacare, a substantial core of GOP senators didn’t truly want to be saddled with owning its replacement—particularly, an unpopular and inadequate one. And rather than continue to waste their dwindling political capital ramming through a massive cut in health coverage that an equally massive chunk of the country says it doesn’t want, they would effectively stage a vote on an unpassable bill, blame everyone (but themselves), and then move on to what they really care about: corporate tax reform.

I still believe that. But Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has introduced a new wrinkle that might appear to undercut the theory. The chamber’s principal has canceled recess—or at least postponed it. Instead of taking the month of August off like the rest of the American workforce (hey, wait a minute…), senators will now have to stay on the job and focus on passing an apparently-revised-but-still-mysterious healthcare reform bill, like it or not.

In short, it’s harder for senators to back away now.

But then, maybe not. In theory, McConnell could achieve the same end by offering up two new versions of the ACA replacement bill Republicans introduced in June, the awkwardly named “Better Care Reconciliation Act.” BCRA-A would satisfy hard-line conservatives by all-but-eliminating a health coverage entitlement; BCRA-B would be a kindler, gentler version that would keep some widely liked Obamacare provisions (such as ensuring affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions), trim Medicaid more gradually, and win the support of teetering moderates.

Neither bill, in the end, would likely secure the 50 votes necessary for passage, but the process might give the 52 nervous GOPers in the senate a face-saving way out of this mess.

The idea seems to have gotten enough traction to be whispered about. Whether it will happen depends on how eager Republicans are for a legislative win on taxes by year’s end—and, of course, how badly McConnell’s charges want to go on recess this summer.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


A Zio patch/algorithm combo may prove more effective than a cardiologist: study. Stanford researchers have published a study claiming that an algorithm which analyzes ECG readings taken via iRhythm’s Zio patch “exceeds the performance of board certified cardiologists in detecting a wide range of heart arrhythmias from electrocardiograms recorded with a single-lead wearable monitor.” The study authors had six Stanford cardiologists examine several weeks’ worth of ECG data and hunt for arrhythmias; according to the researchers, they didn’t fare as well as the algorithm, which was trained to spot irregular heartbeats via machine learning. (medGadget)

Weight loss in a pill. That has a balloon in it. Allurion Technologies has raised $27 million to fund its Elipse inflatable balloon system for weight loss—a product that the company hopes to win U.S. regulatory approval as a first-of-its kind device that doesn’t require surgery, anesthesia, or endoscopy. The system involves swallowing a pill that contains an inflatable balloon which is then filled up with liquid via a detachable catheter. Eventually, about four months out, the balloon deflates and exits the user’s body the old-fashioned way. The company says that, beyond eliminating the risks of surgery, the option will prove far cheaper than other weight loss methods beyond diet and exercise. (Fortune)


An unusual victory for Pfizer as the FDA changes course on its leukemia drug. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has done a bit of a U-turn on Pfizer’s Mylotarg, an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment that the company voluntarily withdrew from the market after follow-up research failed to prove its safety and efficacy. Now, an FDA advisory panel has voted to recommend a new formulation of the drug in combination with other cancer treatments. “We are extremely pleased with the Committee’s recommendation and believe this is an important step toward our goal of making MYLOTARG available to patients with newly-diagnosed AML,” said Pfizer’s Dr. Mace Rothenberg in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the FDA as we continue the regulatory process.” (pharmaphorum)


10 House Democrats are introducing their own Obamacare legislation. While Senate Republicans continue their Sisyphian and potentially doomed struggle to dismantle Obamacare, as Cliff describes in his essay today, a slew of House Democrats are introducing a very different kind of plan—one meant to shore up the health law’s very real trouble spots. The legislation would reportedly create a major fund to help insurers that are stuck with high-cost plan holders and allow older Americans to opt into Medicare, among other provisions. (Vox)

True Blood star Nelsan Ellis’ death can teach us something about addiction. My colleague Ellen McGirt has an important piece about the tragic and untimely death of True Blood star Nelsan Ellis. Although Ellis technically died of heart failure, his family notes that he had suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for many years and had recently tried to wean himself off of alcohol. Ellen delves into some of the tactics that companies can employ to help workers who are struggling with addiction, including recruiting people who have personal experience with such issues to lead addiction-fighting programs. (Fortune)

It looks like coffee drinkers actually may live longer. In news that has pretty much all generations rejoicing, a pair of large new studies suggests that drinking coffee is correlated with longer life and reduced risk for heart and gut diseases. Of course, here at Brainstorm Health, we take our science reporting seriously—which means mentioning the caveats. “[C]offee wasn’t necessarily the differentiating factor that reduced the risk of premature death. The study didn’t control for everything—according to the BBC, it did not consider socio-economic status or social habits, for example. Speaking with CNN, Marc Gunter, one of the European study’s authors, floated the idea that coffee drinkers are healthier to begin with, as many people who avoid the drink do so because of existing health problems,” writes my colleague Laura Entis. (Fortune)


Nevada Marijuana Sales Are Outpacing Supplyby Grace Donnelly

Tech Firms Unite for ‘Day of Action’ to Save Net Neutralityby Jeff John Roberts

Fed Chair Janet Yellen: Expect Gradual Rate Increasesby Reuters

Why Apple Shouldn’t Follow Amazon’s Leadby Alexander Chernev

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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