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S&P 500, Dow industrials and Nasdaq close at record highs

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Investors extended a rally through a holiday-shortened day and pushed the S&P 500 index to its third straight record high close on Wednesday. Other major indexes also closed at record highs.

The rally follows a slight easing of trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Both nations have agreed to refrain from new tariffs while they open a new round of negotiations. The development relieved some pressure on the market, though the trade war still looms over global economic growth.

The S&P 500 rose 22.81 points, or 0.8%, to close at 2,995.82. The third record high close in as many days also pushed the index closer to breaching the 3,000 mark.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average also reached a record, gaining 179.32 points, or 0.7%, to close at 26,966.

Technology stocks led the gains, helping the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite join the record-breaking club. The Nasdaq rose 61.14 points, or 0.8%, to 8,170.23.

“Clearly the trade truce with China has been a catalyst for the market even though there remain uncertainties,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.

Technology companies, which tend to do a lot of business with China, have been particularly sensitive to the trade war between the U.S. and China. The sector has been broadly higher this week.

Cybersecurity software company Symantec surged 13.6% and did much of the heavy lifting on Wednesday as media reports suggest it is considering a sale to chipmaker Broadcom. Microsoft and Apple also made gains.

A broad mix of health care companies lifted that sector. Johnson & Johnson rose 1.5% and Merck rose 1.6%.

Communications and internet companies were also among the biggest gainers, with strong pushes from Facebook and Netflix.

Tesla rose 4.6% after telling investors that it delivered more electric cars in the second quarter than any three-month period in its history. The upbeat trading comes as the electric car maker struggles to meet production promises and to consistently make money.

Every sector in the S&P 500 made gains.

The records are adding to a yearlong rally. The S&P 500 is up more than 19% so far, while the Dow is up more than 15%. The Nasdaq is now up 23% for the year.

The market will be closed Thursday for the Independence Day holiday.

Investors will be on the lookout for the government’s closely watched monthly jobs report scheduled for Friday. The results of that report will likely be a factor in the Federal Reserve’s meeting later this month. The central bank has already said it is prepared to cut rates to shore up the U.S. economy if trade disputes crimp growth.

“The market is going to expect a rate cut if there is a weak report,” Krosby said.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.95% from 1.97% Tuesday.

In commodities trading, benchmark crude oil rose $1.09 to settle at $57.34 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, rose $1.42 to close at $63.82 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline rose 5 cents to $1.92 per gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.90 per gallon. Natural gas added 5 cents to $2.29 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar rose to 107.87 Japanese yen from 107.84 yen on Friday. The euro fell to $1.1278 from $1.1291.

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TV pitches for prescription drugs will have to include price

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TV pitches for prescription drugs will soon include the price, giving consumers more information upfront as they make medication choices at a time when new drugs can carry anxiety-inducing prices.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday the Trump administration has finalized regulations requiring drug companies to disclose list prices of medications costing more than $35 for a month’s supply.

“What I say to the companies is if you think the cost of your drug will scare people from buying your drugs, then lower your prices,” Azar said. “Transparency for American patients is here.”

In a tweet, President Donald Trump celebrated the announcement, saying: “Historic transparency for American patients is here. If drug companies are ashamed of those prices—lower them!”

Drug companies responded that adding prices to their commercials could unintentionally harm patients.

“We are concerned that the administration’s rule requiring list prices in direct-to-consumer television advertising could be confusing for patients and may discourage them from seeking needed medical care,” said the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main trade group.

But one major firm — Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey — has already started disclosing the cost of its blood thinner Xarelto in TV advertising. And polls indicate many patients are not taking their medications as prescribed because of cost.

Drug pricing details are expected to appear in text toward the end of commercials, when potential side effects are disclosed. TV viewers should notice the change later this year, perhaps as early as the summer.

The government is hoping that patients armed with prices will start discussing affordability with their doctors, and gradually that will put pressure on drugmakers to keep costs of brand-name drugs in check.

Pricing disclosure was part of a multilevel blueprint President Donald Trump announced last year to try to lower prescription drug costs .

Democrats say it still won’t force drugmakers to lower what they charge, and they want Medicare to negotiate on behalf of consumers.

Leigh Purvis, a pharma expert with AARP’s research division, said disclosure will help dispel a “cloak of darkness” around prices and encourage more informed discussions between patients and their doctors. But she cautioned against expecting too much.

“The overall idea of reducing drug prices is something for which there is no silver bullet,” said Purvis. “This is just one step, one tool in what will have to be a very big arsenal.”

Other ideas from the Trump administration include regulations affecting Medicare and legislative proposals in Congress. With the cost of medicines a top concern for voters, Trump and lawmakers of both major political parties want accomplishments they can point to before the 2020 elections.

Drugmakers also complained that the price reveal will infringe on their First Amendment free speech rights by forcing them to disclose prices. It’s unclear if that will prompt a court challenge, but Azar points out that the government has for decades required carmakers to post their sticker prices on vehicles.

“Prices of automobiles are vastly less important to your health and affordability than drugs,” he said.

According to the latest government figures, the 10 most commonly advertised drugs have prices ranging from $488 to $16,938 per month or for a usual course of therapy.

The disclosure requirement will not apply to print or radio ads for the foreseeable future. It encompasses all brand name drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid, which is nearly all.

In a twist, enforcement of the rule will rely on drug companies suing each other over violations under a longstanding federal law that governs unfair trade practices.

“There are very large legal practices built on pharma companies suing each other,” Azar said, calling it a “quite effective mechanism.”

Most people count on lower-cost generic drugs to manage their health problems, but the advent of highly effective and extremely expensive medications for once-fatal or intractable diseases has put consumers on edge. Some genetic and cellular-based treatments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, straining on the budgets of insurers and government programs.

A recent poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 1 in 3 Americans said they haven’t taken medications as prescribed because of costs. People who take four or more medications, those who spend $100 a month or more on meds, patients in fair to poor health and middle-aged adults are more likely to report affordability problems.

Although most patients do not pay the full list prices that will be included in ads, experts say those are still important. Patient copays are often based on list prices. And many people who have high-deductible insurance plans pay list prices because their insurance doesn’t start covering until patients spend several thousand dollars of their own money.

In other economically advanced countries, governments negotiate drug prices to keep medications more affordable for patients. But the U.S. has held back from government-set prices.

Azar, who is leading Trump’s efforts on prescription drugs, is a former drug company executive. He held senior posts with Indianapolis-based insulin maker Eli Lilly and Co. after an earlier stint in government service during the George W. Bush administration.

The regulations will take effect 60 days after they’re published in the Federal Register.

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Washington state lawmaker’s comments raise ire of nurses

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A Washington state lawmaker has angered nurses and spawned a flurry of viral hashtags and memes on social media by saying that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in small, rural hospitals.

State Sen. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representing College Place, Washington, made the comments this week while debating a Senate bill that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses. The bill would also provide mandatory overtime protections for nurses.

Walsh wants an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the breaks, The Olympian on Friday.

Small, rural hospitals that literally serve a handful of individuals will have trouble staying open and nurses in those settings probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day, the newspaper quoted Walsh as saying.

A Washington State Nurses Association blog about the comments drew so many readers Friday that the site crashed. The group called the comment disrespectful and patronizing.

The hashtags #maureenwalsh and #nursesplaycards went viral on social media. Comedian Kathy Griffin joined the fray Friday, tweeting that her mother worked in a hospital.

Thank you of alerting me to a group that even I am not stupid enough to piss off. Ever, Griffin tweeted.

Walsh didnt respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.

Recruiting nurses to rural facilities already is difficult and exempting them from laws requiring uninterrupted breaks and subjecting them to mandatory overtime would make recruiting more difficult, the Washington State Nurses Association said.

The bill passed the state Senate with the amendment excluding small hospitals. It had previously passed the House without the amendment.

The different House and Senate versions of the bill will have to be reconciled before being signed into law.

The bill specifically requires that nurses and some other staff, such as surgical technologists and diagnostic radiologic technologists, be provided uninterrupted meal and rest periods, except when there is an unforeseeable circumstance.

If a rest break is interrupted before 10 complete minutes, an additional 10-minute break is required. It also would prohibit health care facilities from using what the nurses association considers a legal loophole to require overtime.

The association said it has tried to address the issues of skipped breaks and mandatory overtime with individual contract bargaining and litigation, but the problem remains pervasive.

Rest breaks are proven to address fatigue, which can lead to medical errors, it said.

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