Tagged Pharmaceuticals

Must-Reads Of The Week (Some Flying Below The Radar)

Your wonderfully entertaining compiler of “The Friday Breeze,” Brianna Labuskes, is off today, so I’m jumping in to keep you abreast of this week’s vital health care news. Here’s what I found most fascinating, some of it far away from the headlines.

Let’s dive into my “Department of Health Studies,” where I found several worthy of your time.

First, the scourge of fentanyl drug overdoses is rising most sharply among African-Americans. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, which did the study, said the synthetic opioid is also a factor in the rise of death rates across other demographic groups.

The Washington Post: Fentanyl Drug Overdose Deaths Rising Most Sharply Among African Americans

A group of academics studying anti-vaccination posts on Facebook found that it’s not just the unfounded fear of autism driving the sentiment. While 86 percent of the posters were women, their motivation varied from conspiracy — as in poliovirus does not exist and pesticides caused the clinical symptoms of polio — to a belief in alternative medicine — eating yogurt cures human papillomavirus.

Science Direct: It’s Not All About Autism: The Emerging Landscape of Anti-Vaccination Sentiment on Facebook

Many news outlets reported on a study on the Apple Watch and its heavily promoted ability to detect an irregular heartbeat. The Apple-funded study, which has not been published or peer-reviewed, concluded the watch works.

CNN: Apple Watch App Could Detect Life-Threatening Irregular Heartbeat, Study Says


Moving on to data, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued its county health rankings this week. It’s a user-friendly display of a matrix of health indicators that lets you spot the country’s trouble spots. This year’s report, the foundation explains, tried to get at the relationship of the cost of housing to health. “The research reveals that in the most segregated counties nearly one in four black households spends more than half their income on housing, compared with one in 10 white households.”

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: How Healthy Is Your Community?

Doctors will like this one: a study comparing hospital CEO salaries — nonprofit hospital CEOs, mind you — with physician salaries. CEO salaries are five times higher than surgeons’ salaries, up from a ratio of 3-to-1 only 10 years earlier.

Healthcare Dive: CEO Salaries at Nonprofit Hospitals Up 93% Since 2005


Drug prices remain the hot topic this week in health care news. The BBC looked at the high drug prices in the U.S. compared with the prices in Great Britain and chortled a bit.

BBC News: The Human Cost of Insulin in America

Elisabeth Rosenthal, the editor-in-chief of KHN, wrote an analysis in The New York Times of Eli Lilly’s baffling public relations move to cut insulin prices in the U.S. with an “authorized generic.” She writes, “It is, perhaps, a sign of how desperate Americans are for something — anything — to counteract the escalating price of drugs that Lilly’s move was greeted with praise rather than a collective ‘Huh?’”

The New York Times: Why Should Americans Be Grateful for $137 Insulin? Germans Get It for $55


While we are on the topic of the high cost of health care, the federal government’s General Accountability Office issued a report on air ambulances and the sky-high bills the companies send patients. (KHN featured the problem in its “Bill of the Month” series and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did some excellent pieces on the problem last year.) Bob Herman of Axios noted that the report found that the median price of medical helicopter transport in 2017 was $36,400.

Government Accountability Office: Air Ambulance: Available Data Show Privately-Insured Patients Are at Financial Risk


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a fabulous article by another KHN staffer, Fred Schulte, who with Erika Fry of Fortune magazine wrote about the mess that electronic health records have become. It’s long, but so good at illuminating a problem that is largely invisible to patients.

Fortune: Death by a Thousand Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong

The Baltimore Sun produced a great graphic, a live map of sewage pollution in the city. The accompanying article says: “More than 14 million gallons of sewage-tainted water has washed into Baltimore streams over the past two months, but city officials haven’t alerted the public of the contamination.”

The Baltimore Sun: Baltimore Launches Live Map of Sewage Pollution — and Temporarily Stops Alerting the Public to Contamination

Enjoy the weekend with this selection of things to read.

In Op-Ed, Azar And Gottlieb Call On Industry To Make ‘Meaningful’ Changes To Address Teen Vaping Epidemic

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote that the government will step in if even further than it already has if the e-cigarette industry doesn’t take an active role in curbing the epidemic. Meanwhile, in a podcast, Gottlieb talks about his work at the agency and if he’ll ever return to the government.

In Op-Ed, Azar And Gottlieb Call On Industry To Make ‘Meaningful’ Changes To Address Teen Vaping Epidemic

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote that the government will step in if even further than it already has if the e-cigarette industry doesn’t take an active role in curbing the epidemic. Meanwhile, in a podcast, Gottlieb talks about his work at the agency and if he’ll ever return to the government.

When Drug Costs Get Too High, Patients Are Skipping Doses Or Just Not Taking Medication

Experts are worried this behavior could be extremely dangerous for the patients. “We have lots of treatments where if you don’t take them exactly as prescribed, you might be doing more harm than good,” said Stacie Dusetzina, a health policy researcher at Vanderbilt University. Other ways patients are trying to control costs are by asking for cheaper drugs from doctors or seeking out alternative therapies. Meanwhile, Ohio’s attorney general is suing UnitedHealth’s OptumRx unit alleging it overcharged the state for prescription drugs.

New Ads Accuse Trump Of Wanting To ‘Slash Our Health Care To The Bone’ With Proposed Medicaid, Medicare Cuts

The ad is the latest example of Democratic attacks on the Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020. Democrats saw health care as a winning issue in the midterms, and are hoping to repeat that success in upcoming elections. Other Medicaid news comes out of Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia and Idaho.

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ The Karma Of Cutting Medicare

Like those of his recent predecessors, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in October will not be adopted by Congress. Still, a presidential budget plan is an important indicator of the administration’s priorities.

The Trump administration’s priority for health is for the federal government to spend less. In some cases much less, as evidenced by its proposed funding for the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also this week, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., heard arguments in a case challenging work requirements for some Medicaid enrollees in Arkansas and Kentucky. This is the same judge who struck down an earlier version of Kentucky’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb is stepping down, but this week he issued more rules intended to prevent minors from purchasing flavored e-cigarette products.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Alice Ollstein of Politico and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Trump’s budget may turn the tables on the Republican Party. It calls for more than $500 billion in reductions to Medicare, much of that in payments to providers. That is similar to what Democrats proposed to help fund the Affordable Care Act — a tactic that Republicans used to whip up widespread opposition to the law and gain control of the House of Representatives. Count on Democrats to return the favor in coming campaigns.
  • Some Republicans, including Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a key Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, signaled concerns about budget cuts recommended by the administration, especially for NIH.
  • On Medicaid, the budget suggests that states be allowed to administer many parts of the program as they see fit. But opponents are likely to ask courts to stop any efforts to weaken federal requirements for coverage.
  • House Democrats have begun an investigation of the marketing and benefits of short-term insurance plans to see if they are denying promised coverage to consumers. The lawmakers are concerned that what they call “junk plans” are confusing consumers who would be better off with policies from the ACA’s marketplace. But any efforts to rein in the plans — which have the blessing of the Trump administration — could run into opposition from Republicans.
  • A federal appeals court this week ruled that Ohio may exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in several small federal health programs that provide money to the state to distribute. The case does not involve either Medicaid or the federal family planning program, but the participation of four judges appointed by Trump could signal a judicial trend.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: Buzz Feed News’ “Military Doctors Told Them It Was Just ‘Female Problems.’ Weeks Later, They Were In The Hospital,” by Ema O’Connor and Vera Bergengruen.

AND

The New York Times’ “Treated Like a ‘Piece of Meat’: Female Veterans Endure Harassment at the V.A.,” by Jennifer Steinhauer.

Rebecca Adams: Kaiser Health News’ “’Medicare-For-All Gets Buzzy In Unexpected Locales,” by Shefali Luthra.

Stephanie Armour: Kaiser Health News’ “Understanding Loneliness In Older Adults – And Tailoring A Solution,” by Judith Graham.

Alice Ollstein: HuffPost’s “These Citizen Activists Fought Hard to Expand Health Care. Then Their Lawmakers Rebuked Them,” by Jeffrey Young.

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher or Google Play.

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ The Karma Of Cutting Medicare

Like those of his recent predecessors, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in October will not be adopted by Congress. Still, a presidential budget plan is an important indicator of the administration’s priorities.

The Trump administration’s priority for health is for the federal government to spend less. In some cases much less, as evidenced by its proposed funding for the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also this week, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., heard arguments in a case challenging work requirements for some Medicaid enrollees in Arkansas and Kentucky. This is the same judge who struck down an earlier version of Kentucky’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb is stepping down, but this week he issued more rules intended to prevent minors from purchasing flavored e-cigarette products.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Alice Ollstein of Politico and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Trump’s budget may turn the tables on the Republican Party. It calls for more than $500 billion in reductions to Medicare, much of that in payments to providers. That is similar to what Democrats proposed to help fund the Affordable Care Act — a tactic that Republicans used to whip up widespread opposition to the law and gain control of the House of Representatives. Count on Democrats to return the favor in coming campaigns.
  • Some Republicans, including Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a key Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, signaled concerns about budget cuts recommended by the administration, especially for NIH.
  • On Medicaid, the budget suggests that states be allowed to administer many parts of the program as they see fit. But opponents are likely to ask courts to stop any efforts to weaken federal requirements for coverage.
  • House Democrats have begun an investigation of the marketing and benefits of short-term insurance plans to see if they are denying promised coverage to consumers. The lawmakers are concerned that what they call “junk plans” are confusing consumers who would be better off with policies from the ACA’s marketplace. But any efforts to rein in the plans — which have the blessing of the Trump administration — could run into opposition from Republicans.
  • A federal appeals court this week ruled that Ohio may exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in several small federal health programs that provide money to the state to distribute. The case does not involve either Medicaid or the federal family planning program, but the participation of four judges appointed by Trump could signal a judicial trend.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: Buzz Feed News’ “Military Doctors Told Them It Was Just ‘Female Problems.’ Weeks Later, They Were In The Hospital,” by Ema O’Connor and Vera Bergengruen.

AND

The New York Times’ “Treated Like a ‘Piece of Meat’: Female Veterans Endure Harassment at the V.A.,” by Jennifer Steinhauer.

Rebecca Adams: Kaiser Health News’ “’Medicare-For-All Gets Buzzy In Unexpected Locales,” by Shefali Luthra.

Stephanie Armour: Kaiser Health News’ “Understanding Loneliness In Older Adults – And Tailoring A Solution,” by Judith Graham.

Alice Ollstein: HuffPost’s “These Citizen Activists Fought Hard to Expand Health Care. Then Their Lawmakers Rebuked Them,” by Jeffrey Young.

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher or Google Play.

Questions Over Retrieving A Deceased Person’s Sperm Pit Grief-Stricken Families Against Medical Ethicists

Families say the decision to retrieve the sperm of a loved one should be left to them, while doctors and ethicisits worry about the wide-ranging moral complications of starting a life that would otherwise not exist if not for medical technology. In other public health news: eating out while being overweight, medical devices, mental health, parenting, the immune system, infant tongue-ties, exercising, and more.

Insurance Giant UnitedHealthcare Will Require All New Employer-Sponsored Health Plans To Pass Drug Discounts To Consumers

Pharmacy benefit managers typically negotiate rebates from pharmaceutical companies to help offset the high initial prices set for many drugs. But those discounts rarely flow directly to the people filling prescriptions. The rebate system has come under intense scrutiny as of late as lawmakers take aim at high drug prices and pharma companies point the blame elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee plans to call executives from five pharmacy benefit managers–the middlemen who operate within the rebate system–to testify in front of Congress next month.

How Much Difference Will Eli Lilly’s Half-Price Insulin Make?

When Erin Gilmer filled her insulin prescription at a Denver-area Walgreens in January, she paid $8.50. U.S. taxpayers paid another $280.51.

“It eats at me to know that taxpayer money is being wasted,” said Gilmer, who has Medicare and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes while a sophomore at the University of Colorado in 2002.

The diagnosis meant that for the rest of her life she’d require daily insulin shots to stay alive. But the price of that insulin is skyrocketing.

Between 2009 and 2017 the wholesale price of a single vial of Humalog, the Eli Lilly and Co.-manufactured insulin Gilmer uses, nearly tripled — rising from $92.70 to $274.70, according to data from IBM Watson Health.

Six years ago, Gilmer qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance — and thus, Medicare — because of a range of health issues. At the time, the insulin she needed cost $167.70 per vial, according to IBM Watson Health.

“When it’s taxpayer money paying for medication for someone like me, it makes it a national issue, not just a diabetic issue,” Gilmer said.

Stories about people with Type 1 diabetes dying when they couldn’t afford insulin have made headlines. Patient activists like Gilmer have protested high prices outside Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

Elizabeth Pfiester, founder of T1International, addresses a crowd outside the Indianapolis headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. in September.(Bram Sable-Smith/NPR)

Last October in Minnesota, state Attorney General Lori Swanson sued insulin manufacturers, alleging price gouging. Pharmaceutical executives were grilled about high drug prices by the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 26.

This is the backdrop for Lilly’s announcement last week that it is rolling out a half-priced, generic version of Humalog called “insulin lispro.” The list price: $137.35 per vial.

“Patients, doctors and policymakers are demanding lower list prices for medicines and lower patient costs at the pharmacy counter,” Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks wrote in a blog post about the move. “You might be surprised to hear that we agree – it’s time for change in our system and for consumer prices to come down.”

No Panacea

When Lilly’s Humalog, the first short-acting insulin, came to market in 1996, the list price was about $21 per vial. The price didn’t reach $275 overnight, but yearly price increases added up.

In February 2009, for example, the wholesale price was $92.70, according to IBM Watson Health. It rose to $99.65 in December 2009, then to $107.60 in September 2010, $115.70 in May 2011, and so on.

“There’s no justification for why prices should keep increasing at an average rate of 10 percent every year,” said Inmaculada Hernandez of the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, who was lead author of a January report in Health Affairs attributing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs to accumulated yearly price hikes.

“The public perception that we have in general is that drugs are so expensive because we need to pay for research and development, and that’s true,” Hernandez said. “However, usually research and development is paid for in the first years of life of a drug.”

At $137.35 per vial, Lilly’s generic insulin is priced at about the same level as Humalog was in 2012, 16 years after it came to market.

“We want to recognize that this is not a panacea,” said company spokesman Greg Kueterman. “This is an option that we hope can help people in the current system that we work with.”

It’s worth noting that Humalog is a rapid-acting insulin, but that’s only one of the two types of insulin most people with Type 1 diabetes use every day. The second kind is long-lasting. Lilly makes one called Basaglar. The most popular long-lasting insulin is Lantus, produced by Sanofi. Neither has a lower-cost alternative.

Still, Lilly’s move on Humalog could put pressure on the other two big makers of insulin to act.

Novo Nordisk called Lilly’s lower-priced generic insulin “an important development,” in an emailed statement.

“Bringing affordable insulin to the market requires ideas from all stakeholders,” Novo Nordisk’s Ken Inchausti said in an email, which also listed steps the company has taken, such as a patient assistance program. The statement didn’t say whether Novo Nordisk is considering offering a lower-priced version of its popular insulin Novolog, a rival of Humalog.

A statement from Sanofi, the third major insulin maker, also didn’t say whether the company would offer lower-priced versions of its insulins.

“Sanofi supports any actions that increase access to insulins for patients living with diabetes at an affordable price,” spokewoman Ashleigh Koss said in the email, which also touted the company’s patient assistance program.

A Different Kind Of Generic

One twist in this story is that Lilly’s new insulin is just a repackaged version of Humalog, minus the brand name. It’s called an “authorized generic.”

“Whoever came up with the term ‘authorized generic’?” Dr. Vincent Rajkumar said, laughing. Rajkumar is a hematologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“It’s the same exact drug” as the brand name, he continued.

Typically, Rajkumar said, authorized generics are introduced by brand-name drugmakers to compete with generic versions of their drugs made by rival companies.

But in the case of Humalog and other insulins, there are no generics made by competitors, as there are for, say, the cholesterol medicine Lipitor or even other diabetes drugs, such as metformin.

So when Lilly’s authorized generic comes to market, the company will have both Humalog insulin and the authorized generic version of that medicine on the market.

Rajkumar said it’s a public relations move.

“There’s outrage over the price of insulin that is being discussed in Congress and elsewhere. And so the company basically says, ‘Hey, we will make the identical product available at half price.’ On the surface that sounds great,” Rajkumar said.

“But you look at the problems and you think, ‘OK, how crazy is this that someone is actually going to be buying the brand-name drug?’”

In fact, it’s possible that Lilly could break even or profit off its authorized generic compared to the name-brand Humalog, according to University of Pittsburgh’s Hernandez.

The profit margin would depend on the rebates paid by the company to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. Rebates are getting a lot of attention these days as one factor that pushes drug prices higher. They’re usually not disclosed and increase as a drug’s price increases, providing an incentive to some companies to raise prices.

“Doing an authorized generic is nothing else than giving insurers two options,” Hernandez said: pay the full list price for a brand-name drug and receive a higher rebate, or pay the lower price for the authorized generic and receive a presumably smaller rebate.

“What we really need to get insulin prices down is to get generics into the market, and we need more than one,” Hernandez said, adding that previous research has shown that prices begin to go down when two or three generics are competing in the marketplace.

Even so, Lillly’s Kueterman said the authorized generic insulin “is going to help hopefully move the system towards a more sustainable model.”

“I can guarantee you the reason that we’re doing this is to help people,” Kueterman said, noting the company’s Diabetes Solution Center has also helped “10,000 people each month pay significantly less for their insulin” since it opened in August.

For Erin Gilmer, the news about an authorized generic insulin from Lilly has left her mildly encouraged.

“It sounds really good, and it will help some people, which is great,” Gilmer said. “It’s Eli Lilly and pharma starting to understand that grassroots activism has to be taken seriously, and we are at a tipping point.”

This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Happy Friday! Headline writers across the world (read: yours truly) breathed a sigh of relief this week when the venture formally known as “the health initiative founded by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase” finally picked a name. After more than a year of tight-lipped secrecy, they settled on “Haven.” What do you guys think? I’m just thankful it’s short.

On to what you may have missed this week!

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sent shock waves through Washington and the industry when he announced he’ll be retiring at the end of the month. Gottlieb was a standout in the anti-regulatory, pro-business Trump administration as one of the most activist commissioners in recent years. Over the past two years, he has launched what could be termed a crusade against teen vaping — his most recent action coming just the day before the announcement, when he called out Walgreens and gas stations for selling tobacco products to minors — and cracked down on “miracle cures” and unregulated stem cell clinics and supplements, among other initiatives. Public health advocates are fretting that with him gone, some of the progress they’ve seen will be chipped away.

The departure is also a blow to the administration in that Gottlieb is a highly liked health official who worked well with Congress, winning over even Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Behind the scenes, he was known as someone who was “accessible,” would field lawmakers’ questions and was actively working on things that would make Congress happy. “I’ve never seen an administration official, Republican or Democrat, that has worked with the Hill so well on a bipartisan basis,” a senior congressional aide told Stat.

That’s not to say he didn’t have his critics. A decision on approving a powerful opioid late last year, in particular, drew fire from many advocates.

Gottlieb said his decision to leave was based on the fact that he missed spending time with his family, and White House officials confirmed that President Donald Trump did not seek the resignation.

Now the big question is: Who is going to replace him?

Stat: With Gottlieb’s Resignation, the Trump Administration Loses Its Backroom Whisperer on Capitol Hill

Politico: ‘Something Very Rare’: FDA’s Gottlieb Aggressively Tackled Difficult Issues

Stat: The Likely, Possible, and Longshot Contenders to Replace Gottlieb at FDA


As expected, legal challenges to the administration’s changes to the family planning rules came not in a trickle but a flood. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in his 47th lawsuit against the administration, said the rules restricting abortion referrals were like something out of 1920 and not 2019. Apart from California’s case, 20 states and D.C. announced they will be filing suits. Then came the announcement that Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association will also challenge the restrictions, deeming the changes a “domestic gag rule” and an overreach from the administration.

The New York Times: California Sues Trump Administration to Block Restrictions to Family Planning Program

The Washington Post: Planned Parenthood, American Medical Association Sue Trump Administration Over Abortion ‘Gag Rule’


Facing increasingly intense outrage over insulin prices, Eli Lilly has decided to offer an authorized generic version of its drug for half the cost. Stories of people dying after they rationed newly pricey insulin have been circulating with ever-increasing frequency, and lawmakers have made it their priority to specifically rout out answers about insulin price hikes. In that context, Eli Lilly’s move here seems more damage control than charitable, but it also puts them in good company with drugmakers who have been hotfooting it to avoid whatever worse would come out of Congress if they don’t make some changes.

Stat: Lilly Will Sell a Half-Price Version of Its Insulin. Will It Appease Critics?


Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper officially threw his hat into the narrowing 2020 field this week. Hickenlooper seems to gravitate more toward the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, saying he supports universal health care in principle but refusing to get behind a “Medicare-for-all” plan. His evolution on gun control (as a governor who oversaw a mass shooting in the state where Columbine occurred) is also worth checking out.

The New York Times: John Hickenlooper on the Issues


There has always been a gap swallowing people who make too much for health law subsidies or Medicaid but not enough to comfortably afford insurance through the exchanges. A new county-by-county analysis looks at just how tough it is for the people who fall into the holes created by the ACA. A particularly striking figure? In almost all of Nebraska, a 60-year-old with a $50,000 income would pay from 30 to 50 percent of that income in premiums for the least expensive ACA health plan.

The Washington Post: ACA Premiums Rising Beyond Reach of Older, Middle-Class Consumers

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is interested in bolstering interstate insurance sales despite there being little appetite for it in the past and experts saying it wouldn’t lower premiums. In fact, the practice is already allowed under the health law, and no one does it because insurers think it’s just not worth it.

The Wall Street Journal: Trump Administration Looks to Jump Start Interstate Health-Insurance Sales


A teenager who got vaccinated against his mother’s wishes was the star witness at a hearing this week sparked in part by the measles outbreak. Ethan Lindenberger, a high school senior, hoisted the blame for his mother’s deeply rooted beliefs squarely on Facebook’s shoulders.

The anti-vaccination movement has long flourished on Facebook, partly because of the site’s search results and “suggested groups” feature. On Thursday, the company announced it has developed a policy to try to curb that culture of misinformation on vaccines, saying it will rank pages and groups that spread that kind of information lower and will keep them out of recommendations or predictions in search.

The Washington Post: Ethan Lindenberger: Facebook’s Anti-Vax Problem Intensified in Congressional Testimony

The New York Times: Facebook Announces Plan to Curb Vaccine Misinformation


After 12 long years, scientists finally announced that a second patient appears to have been cured of HIV. While the news was well-welcomed around the world — “This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” said Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist — there are some practical obstacles to consider. For example, bone marrow transplants (which is how both patients were cured) are extremely risky, especially since there are drugs that exist that can control HIV fairly well.

The New York Times: H.I.V. Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic


In a scathing ruling that could have wide-reaching ramifications for the insurance industry, a judge blasted UnitedHealth Group for policies that he says were aimed at effectively discriminating against patients with mental health and substance abuse disorders to save money. The decision is part of a larger debate over parity in relation to coverage for mental health services versus other illnesses like diabetes. Insurance companies have been getting around parity requirements with internal rules, but advocates are viewing the judge’s ruling as a warning shot that those loopholes will no longer be tolerated.

The New York Times: Mental Health Treatment Denied to Customers by Giant Insurer’s Policies, Judge Rules

The FDA this week approved a cousin of party drug “Special K” to help people with severe cases of depression, marking a shift away from traditional antidepressant medications. While many said the news would give hope to desperate patients, others are worried about the potential for abuse.

The New York Times: Fast-Acting Depression Drug, Newly Approved, Could Help Millions


Honorable mention for International Women’s Day: A veritable “tsunami wave of women veterans” over the past several years is forcing the VA to step up in terms of meeting female-specific health care needs. Among basic issues are seeing to it that doctors are trained to deal with gynecological matters and ensuring that VA facilities have child care services available when female veterans come in for appointments.

The Wall Street Journal: As More Military Women Seek Health Care, VA Pursues Improvements


In the miscellaneous file for the week:

• Nearly 600,000 children have dropped off of states’ Medicaid and CHIP rolls over a one-year span. While states rush to assure anyone asking that it’s because the economy is improving, public health experts are alarmed at the disturbing trend.

Stateline: Child Enrollment in Public Health Programs Fell by 600K Last Year

• In a “craning your neck at the car wreck” sort of way, this profile on disgraced pharma bro Martin Shkreli is a wild read. Through the help of a contraband smartphone, Shkreli is, from his prison cell, still pulling the strings at his old company, schmoozing up his prison friends “Krispy” and “D-Block,” and planning his big comeback.

The Wall Street Journal: Martin Shkreli Steers His Old Company From Prison — With Contraband Cellphone

• Last year, doctors burst onto the gun-debate scene through the help of a viral tweet that directed them to “stay in their lane.” But a new analysis provides an interesting look at which lawmakers are getting the most money from physician-related PACs. (Hint: It’s overwhelming ones who are against tighter gun regulations.)

The Wall Street Journal: Doctors’ PACs Favored Candidates Opposing Gun Background Checks

• In slightly terrifying news, research that was halted over concerns it could create deadly flu viruses that could be used by terrorists was just given the green light again —without any explanation as to why. *Gulp*

The New York Times: Studies of Deadly Flu Virus, Once Banned, Are Set to Resume

• Everyone is expecting a big settlement in the sweeping opioid case against Purdue Pharma. But what happens if the opioid maker declares bankruptcy first?

Stat: If Purdue Pharma Declares Bankruptcy, What Happens to the Opioid Cases?

• Luke Perry’s early death from a stroke this week has many middle-aged Americans worried.

The New York Times: Here’s How Strokes Happen When You’re As Young As Luke Perry

• Drug companies and doctors are in a dirty war over fetal transplants. It may seem click-baity at first, but the issue is highly revealing of how the health industry works when it comes to something that could make people lots of money.

The New York Times: Drug Companies and Doctors Battle Over the Future of Fecal Transplants


That’s it from me! Have a great weekend!