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Health Highlights: Birth control costs drop, assisted suicide bill stalls

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This week's top consumer health stories are about drugs and dying. Check them out and let me know about other health stories you're reading this week.

A proposed tool to help doctors, patients weigh value of cancer treatments

I reported this week on a draft framework that the American Society of Clinical Oncology has developed for assessing the value of cancer treatment options. The society recommends that doctors and patients work together to weighing the clinical efficacy, toxicity and cost of various treatments.

I also discussed this new approach during our weekly Impatient segment on Take Two.

Are you currently weighing different cancer treatment options, or have you recently gone through this process? If so, please share your story below or e-mail me at

Women are saving money thanks to expanded birth control coverage

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover most forms of prescription contraceptives with no additional out-of-pocket costs. That provision has allowed women to save a significant amount of money, Julie Rovner reports for NPR. She writes that in the first year after the requirement took effect, the average birth control pill user saved $255 and average user of an intrauterine device (IUD) saved $248, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs. Rovner points out that "those savings represented a significant percentage of average out-of-pocket costs."

She reports that spending "barely budged" for the vaginal ring or hormonal patch, possibly because insurers initially balked at covering those methods for free.

Medicare to cover end-of-life counseling

Medicare now says it plans to pay doctors to counsel patients about end-of-life care. Matt Sedensky and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar write for AP:

That's a turnabout for the idea that sparked accusations of "death panels" and fanned a political furor over President Barack Obama's health care law six years ago.

The policy change takes effect on January 1.

California physician-assisted suicide bill stalls amid religious opposition 

A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to some terminally ill Californians who request it has been pulled from consideration by a key state legislative committee.

KPCC's Stephanie O'Neill explains that the authors of SB 128 said this week they would not present the assisted suicide bill to the Assembly Health Committee. This is the second time they have delayed a vote in that committee, apparently because they did not have enough votes for passage.

It's unlikely the measure will be considered again this year. But the head of Compassion and Choices, the main group backing the bill, insists the fight is not over. The measure has faced considerable opposition from the Catholic Church; the Los Angeles Archdiocese lobbied local Latino members of the health committee.

Share your thoughts on any of these stories in the comments section below or ping me on Twitter.