Tagged Public Health

Viewpoints: Executive Orders, Obamacare Replacements And Cold, Hard Facts; Medicare’s Challenges In Health Law Debate

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Wall Street Journal: The ObamaCare Holdouts
Republicans are getting battered at town halls on ObamaCare, with constituents — or least protestors — yelling about the benefits they’ll lose if the entitlement is repealed. But maybe the better measure of public sentiment is the choices that the people who are subject to ObamaCare have made in practice. (2/23)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Trump’s Executive Order On Health Care — Can It Undermine The ACA If Congress Fails To Act?
Within hours after taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump executed his first official act: an executive order redeeming his campaign pledge to, on “day one,” begin repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The New York Times characterized his action as itself “scaling back Obamacare,” and the Washington Post said the order “could effectively gut [the ACA’s] individual mandate” to obtain health insurance coverage. But consumer advocate Ron Pollack dismissed Trump’s action as “much ado about very little.” To put these divergent assessments into perspective, it’s important to examine the actual executive order, recognize the departures from the Obama administration that it contemplates, and assess the scope and significance of changes the administration can lawfully make by executive order or other administrative actions. (Timothy Stoltzfus Jost and Simon Lazarus, 2/22)

Vox: John Boehner Told Republicans Some Inconvenient Truths On Obamacare
Didn’t Boehner hold repeal vote after repeal vote? Didn’t he win back the House in 2010, and hold it thereafter, promising to repeal Obamacare? Didn’t he participate in the government shutdown over Obamacare in 2013? He did. But to interpret Boehner generously, Obamacare is in a very different place now than it was in 2010, 2012, or even 2013. It’s delivering benefits to about 30 million people. Dozens of states have built budgets around Medicaid dollars flowing in from the federal government. Health systems nationwide have reorganized themselves around its provisions. (Ezra Klein, 2/23)

RealClear Health: Repeal & Replace: Missing The Medicare Forest For The Obamacare Trees
The Trump Administration has promised to deliver to the American people a healthcare plan that is, in President Trump’s own words, “much less expensive and far better” than Obamacare. But While Obamacare is expected to spend over $900 billion from 2018 to 2027, focusing solely on the Obama administration’s signature achievement ignores bigger fiscal challenges; Namely, the Medicare program. (Yevgeniy Feyman, 2/24)

Tribune News Service/Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star: A Simple Solution On Health Care
But the largest contributing factor to the voter anger directed at Republican senators and representatives didn’t require sly scheming — because it is very real, and even frightening to many voters. They are frightened about what they are NOT hearing from Trump and most Republicans in Congress about what will happen when they succeed in repealing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Republicans haven’t shown voters how they will replace it or sufficiently addressed what its elimination might mean to middle class folks who voted for Trump as an act of blind trust. (Martin Schram, 2/24)

Topeka Capital Journal: Medicaid Expansion Lives In Kansas
Considering how much disagreement there is on the economic and practical dimensions of Medicaid expansion – as well as the massive impact it has on the people of Kansas – didn’t it deserve a full debate in the Legislature? To Ward, Rep. Susan Concannon (a Beloit Republican who introduced the Medicaid amendment to HB 2044) and the legislators who voted in favor of expansion: Thank you for representing the interests of your fellow Kansans. While we’re not saying legislators should vote for a bill simply because it’s popular, they do have a responsibility to take their constituents’ concerns seriously and give critical issues their full attention. The lawmakers who tried to kill the Medicaid expansion bill in committee did the opposite. (2/23)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Protecting The Tired, The Poor, The Huddled Masses
During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and transition period, I worried that the climate of xenophobia and the widespread misunderstanding of the immigrants and refugees already in our country would dissuade others from seeking asylum here. … as a person who believes that health is a human right and that ensuring basic human rights promotes health, I remain terrified for the world’s well-being. The suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days was poorly planned and discriminatory, and it has only intensified the fear and anxiety of people who are fleeing terror, bombings, domestic abuse, and other types of persecution because of their religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic background. … Moreover, many U.S. clinicians have noted that their patients who are already here are refraining from seeking the medical care they need or using other vital public services for fear of being incarcerated and deported. (Katherine Peeler, 2/22)

The Washington Post: Sean Spicer Seemed To Tie Marijuana Use To Opioids. The Evidence Isn’t On His Side.
The epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States has been well documented. A staggering 33,000 people died in 2015 from overdosing on prescription painkillers, heroin or similar drugs, on par with the number killed by firearms and in car accidents. The epidemic is growing, but its general causes are not in dispute. Nearly all research on the issue shows that excessive and improper prescriptions are what’s causing more people to become addicted. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday appeared to link the surge in opioid abuse to another factor: recreational marijuana use. (Derek Hawkins, 2/24)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Try Something New To Deal With Drug Crisis
In 2016, Milwaukee County saw a record high in deaths from drug overdoses, when at least 340 people died. Many of the drugs involved in this crisis such as oxytocin, vicodin and oxycodone are at first prescribed legally to treat physical pain. When users become addicted and lose avenues to these prescribed drugs, they often turn to illegal drugs. Bravo to Gov. Scott Walker, who has called for a special session of the Legislature to address this crisis. (Jerry Schultz, 2/23)

Stat: The Power — And The Fear — Of Knowing Your Cancer Genome
When it comes to cancer, all knowledge is power — even when that knowledge is scary. Knowing as much as you can about cancer lets you and your health care team act decisively in devising your treatment strategy. Even more important, it lets you act specifically in selecting treatments or clinical trials that might be best in treating your disease. … For me, learning everything about my disease has been essential to discovering how to attack and treat my cancer and, I believe, why I went into a surprising but welcome long-lasting remission. (Kathy Giusti, 2/23)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: The Perils Of Trumping Science In Global Health — The Mexico City Policy And Beyond
During his first week in office, President Donald Trump reinstated an executive order banning U.S. aid to any international organization that supports abortion-related activities, including counseling or referrals. The so-called Mexico City Policy — colloquially referred to as the “global gag rule” on women’s reproductive health — is allegedly intended to reduce the number of abortions around the world, in accordance with an antiabortion agenda. Scientific evidence suggests, however, that the policy achieves the opposite: it significantly increases abortion rates. The policy defunds — and in so doing, incapacitates — organizations that would otherwise provide education and contraceptive services to reduce the frequency of unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions. (Nathan C. Lo and Michele Barry, 2/22)

Seattle Times: Ethics And Trust Paramount In Physician, Patient Relationship
dramatic and complex changes in the health-care environment have placed a strain on medical professionalism and on physicians’ ability to exercise independent clinical judgment. We must ensure that doctors’ professionalism and independent judgment remain protected, even in our quest to have a healthy bottom line. (Jennifer Lawrence Hanscom, 2/22)

The New England Journal Of Medicine: Recreational Cannabis — Minimizing The Health Risks From Legalization
The cannabis-policy landscape is undergoing dramatic change. Although many jurisdictions have removed criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis and more than half of U.S. states allow physicians to recommend it to patients, legalizing the supply and possession of cannabis for nonmedical purposes is a very different public policy. Since the November 2016 election, 20% of the U.S. population lives in states that have passed ballot initiatives to allow companies to sell cannabis for any reason and adults 21 or older to purchase it. Although other states may move toward legalization, uncertainty abounds because of the federal prohibition on cannabis. The Obama administration tolerated these state laws; it’s unclear what the Trump administration will do. (Beau Kilmer, 2/22)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Research Roundup: Beverage Tax In Mexico; Health Care Access Survey; State Marketplaces

Each week, KHN compiles a selection of recently released health policy studies and briefs.

Health Affairs: In Mexico, Evidence Of Sustained Consumer Response Two Years After Implementing A Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax
Mexico implemented a 1 peso per liter excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on January 1, 2014, and a previous study found a 6 percent reduction in purchases of taxed beverages in 2014. In this study we estimated changes in beverage purchases for 2014 and 2015. We used store purchase data for 6,645 households from January 2012 to December 2015. … Purchases of taxed beverages decreased 5.5 percent in 2014 and 9.7 percent in 2015, yielding an average reduction of 7.6 percent over the study period. Households at the lowest socioeconomic level had the largest decreases in purchases of taxed beverages in both years. … Findings from Mexico may encourage other countries to use fiscal policies to reduce consumption of unhealthy beverages. (Cochero et al., 2/22)

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report/CDC: Surveillance for Health Care Access and Health Services Use, Adults Aged 18–64 Years — Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2014
This report summarizes 2014 BRFSS [Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System] data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia on health care access and use of selected [clinical preventive services]. … The findings … indicate substantial variations in health insurance coverage; other health care access measures; and use of CPS …. In 2014, health insurance coverage, having a usual source of care, having a routine checkup, and not experiencing unmet health care need because of cost were higher among adults living below the poverty level (i.e., household income <100% of FPL) in states that expanded Medicaid than in states that did not. Similarly, estimates of breast and cervical cancer screening and influenza vaccination were higher among adults living below the poverty level in states that expanded Medicaid than in states that did not. (Okoro et al., 2/23)

Pediatrics: Pediatric Resident Burnout And Attitudes Toward Patients
Burnout occurs in up to 75% of resident physicians. Our study objectives were to: (1) determine the prevalence of burnout, and (2) examine the association between burnout and self-reported patient care attitudes and behaviors among pediatric residents. … A total of 39% of respondents … endorsed burnout. Residents with burnout had significantly greater odds … of reporting suboptimal patient care attitudes and behaviors, including: discharging patients to make the service more manageable … not fully discussing treatment options or answering questions …, making treatment or medication errors …, ignoring the social or personal impact of an illness …, and feeling guilty about how a patient was treated. (Baer et al., 2/23)

The Kaiser Family Foundation: Pre-ACA Market Practices Provide Lessons For ACA Replacement Approaches
One of the biggest changes that the ACA made to the non-group insurance market was to eliminate consideration by insurers of a person’s health or health history in enrollment and rating decisions. … Proposals for replacing the ACA such as Rep. Tom Price’s Empowering Patients First Act and Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” policy paper would repeal these insurance market rules, moving back towards pre-ACA standards where insurers generally had more leeway to use individual health in enrollment and rating for non-group coverage. … [This discussion] focuses on some of the issues faced by people with health issues in the pre-ACA non-group insurance market. These pre-ACA insurance practices highlight some of the challenges in providing access and stable coverage for people and some of the issues that any ACA replacement plan will need to address. (Claxton, Levitt and Pollitz, 2/16)

Brookings: How Has Obamacare Impacted State Health Care Marketplaces?
[O]ur five states had four years of experience in the open enrollment periods from 2014 through 2017. The states array themselves in a continuum of apparent success in enhancing and maintaining competition among insurers. California and Michigan appear to have had success in nurturing insurer competition, in at least the urban areas of their states. Florida, North Carolina, and Texas were less successful. This divergence is recent, however. As recently as the 2015 and 2016 open enrollment periods, all of the states had what appeared to be promising, if not always robust, insurance competition. Large changes occurred in the run-up to the 2017 open enrollment period. (Morrisey et al., 2/9)

Here is a selection of news coverage of other recent research:

CNN: Chronic Knee Pain Eased With The Help Of Skype
Exercise, an online pain-coping skills program and Skype sessions with a physiotherapist helped relieve patients’ chronic knee pain, according to a study published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. … The new study was designed to investigate “the efficacy of a combined internet delivered treatment package including education, Skype-delivered exercise physiotherapy and an Internet-based interactive pain-coping skills training program,” said Kim Bennell, lead author of the study and a research physiotherapist and professor at the University of Melbourne. (Scutti, 2/20)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

State Highlights: Minn. Plans Online Resource To Help Consumers Compare Assisted-Living Facilities’ Quality; Calif. Proposal Would Require Problem Docs To Be Transparent

Outlets report on news from Minnesota, California, Georgia, California, Massachusetts, Kansas, Alabama and Michigan.

The Star Tribune: State Plans Online ‘Report Card’ For You To Gauge Assisted-Living Facilities 
For decades, Minnesota families seeking senior living arrangements for their elderly loved ones have found themselves casting about in an informational void. But a proposal by the Minnesota Department of Human Services would create the state’s first standardized system for measuring the quality of assisted-living homes — a fast-growing but lightly regulated industry that now serves more than 50,000 Minnesotans in nearly 1,200 facilities. (Serres, 2/23)

The Star Tribune: Rochester Set To Remove 180-Plus Students Over Failure To Follow Vaccination Law
More than 180 public school students in Rochester will be removed from school March 1 if they are not vaccinated or officially exempted from the state law that requires them to be immunized. School officials said this week that they have worked “diligently” since January to inform families that students must be vaccinated to attend school or provide documentation for an exemption. (Smith, 2/23)

The Star Tribune: HCMC Cutting 131 Jobs Through Layoffs Amid Budget Pinch 
Hennepin County Medical Center leaders announced the layoff of more than 131 workers this week, saying they believe it will resolve a projected financial crisis at the hospital caused by worsening reimbursements for patient care. The announcement drew angry responses from affected employees, including a protest by cleaners and clerical workers Thursday afternoon and criticism by a bioelectronics technician, who predicted that the hospital will end up spending more by outsourcing critical tasks. (Olson, 2/23)

Los Angeles Times: Political Spending Of AIDS Nonprofit Comes Under Fire
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation oversees a global philanthropic empire that extends from its Hollywood headquarters to 15 states and 38 countries. The 30-year-old nonprofit organization treats hundreds of thousands of patients. It hands out tens of millions of condoms annually. And it puts up provocative billboards urging people to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. But in recent months, it has become known for the kind of activism usually associated with homeowner groups, spurring criticism that it has strayed too far from its mission. (Reyes and Zahniser, 2/24)

Boston Globe: City Seeks Private Partner To Rebuild Former Bromley-Heath Complex
The roofs leak, the elevators malfunction, and the heating system is old. Tenants of the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments complain about people sleeping in the hallways or doing drugs, and sometimes they find used needles scattered about. But there is no federal money to repair or rebuild the Jamaica Plain housing development’s 804 units of federally subsidized public housing, Boston Housing Authority officials say. So on Wednesday, the authority announced it is seeking proposals from private developers to tear down and rebuild a portion of the complex: six dilapidated buildings on Centre Street, Parker Street, and Lamartine Street. (Allen and Gans, 2/23)

Sacramento Bee: Muslims Seek Mental Health Aid After Mosque Attacks, Travel Ban 
Coming at the same time as other anti-Muslim attacks and a presidential order banning entry by people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, many Muslim Americans are asking themselves whether they still are welcome in this country while they worry about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones. In response, mosques, student groups and mental health agencies around the Sacramento region are stepping up and offering Muslims a safe place to share their anxieties and receive professional help. (Caiola, 2/23)

KCUR: Osteopathic Med Schools Like Kansas City University Answer The Call For More Doctors 
With the United States facing a shortage of physicians over the next decade, health care groups and lawmakers are scrambling to increase the number of doctors – primary care providers in particular – to serve an aging population. Kansas meets only about 65 percent of its physician needs, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. Missouri is even worse off, meeting only about 30 percent of its physician needs. Many Missouri counties are designated Health Professional Shortage Areas, meaning they have only one provider in the area to serve at least 3,500 people. (Worth, 2/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Alabama Doctors Convicted In Health-Care Fraud Case
Two Alabama doctors were convicted Thursday of health-care fraud, taking kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics Inc. and prescribing opioid painkillers for no medical purpose, among other crimes. John Couch and Xiulu Ruan were each convicted on more than 10 criminal counts brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Mobile, Ala. (Walker, 2/23)

KCUR: Osawatomie Contract Bidder Has History Of Safety Issues At Its Florida Psychiatric Facilities 
Correct Care Solutions, a Tennessee-based company that is the sole bidder for a contract to operate Osawatomie State Hospital, has a history of safety problems at the state psychiatric facilities it runs in Florida. Officials with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services declined to provide details this week on Correct Care’s bid to operate Osawatomie State Hospital, one of two state facilities for people deemed a danger to themselves or others. The department is evaluating the proposal and hasn’t given a timeline for whether or when it would bring it before the Legislature. Under a law they approved last year, lawmakers must approve the contract before KDADS can move forward. (Wingerter, 2/23)

Detroit Free Press: Tick-Borne Lyme Disease Exploding Into Michigan; Human Cases Up 5-Fold
All it took was an unusual February warm spell this past week for the tiny insects causing an increasingly big problem in Michigan to become active once again, beginning their hunt for blood…The ticks are of interest because of what they often carry with them: the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. When the ticks bite an animal, seeking a blood meal, that bacteria can transfer. And that bacteria, in dogs, horses and humans, can cause Lyme disease, a serious affliction that can be permanently debilitating for people when it’s not treated early and well. (Matheny, 2/23)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Sorry, Kids: FluMist May Not Be Coming Back Any Time Soon

The efficacy of the nasal mist was called into question last year, and it might be a long road back for this vaccine method. In other public health news, a mumps outbreaks, transgender teenagers, air pollution, smokers, gun wounds and heart disease.

Stat: Nasal Vaccine FluMist May Not Be Recommended For Use For Years
Once a darling of pediatricians and parents, the nasal mist vaccine was not recommended for use in the United States this winter because studies showed it offered limited protection in recent years. On Wednesday, officials from MedImmune, the division of AstraZeneca that makes the vaccine, reported on their efforts to fix the vaccine during a meeting here of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the expert panel that counsels the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccine use. (Branswell, 2/23)

The Washington Post: Rise In Mumps Outbreaks Prompts U.S. Officials To Weigh Third Vaccine Dose
Federal health officials are evaluating the benefit of an additional dose of the mumps vaccine because of the increasing number of mumps outbreaks since 2006. More than 5,000 cases of the contagious viral illness were reported last year in the United States, the most in a decade. Among the outbreaks in recent years, 19 occurred last year on college campuses. Arkansas has been battling an outbreak that began in one community last summer and has since infected 2,815 people, the largest recorded in that state. (Sun, 2/23)

The New York Times: One In Every 137 Teenagers Would Identify As Transgender, Report Says
Nearly 150,000 American teenagers from 13 to 17 years old — or one out of every 137 — would identify as transgender if survey takers asked, according to an analysis of state and federal data that offers an answer to a question that has long eluded researchers. The figure stands to inform the fierce debate over the rights of transgender youth, reignited on Wednesday by President Trump’s decision to rescind an Obama administration policy that protected the rights of students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. (Chokshi, 2/23)

The Washington Post: Air Pollution Affects Preterm Birthrates Globally, Study Finds
A pregnant woman’s exposure to air pollution has adverse effects on her fetus, according to a new international study, with prolonged exposure associated with nearly 1 in 5 premature births globally. The study, published recently in the journal Environment International, is the first global estimate of preterm births associated with pollution caused by fine particulate matter. This matter, known as PM2.5, is identified by the size of the microscopic particles and droplets it contains (2.5 micrometers in diameter or less), and it can reach deep into the respiratory tract. It is emitted by man-made sources such as diesel engines, industrial plants and the cooking fuels used mostly in parts of Asia, as well as by natural sources such as chemical reactions occurring in the atmosphere. (Naqvi, 2/23)

Miami Herald: Kids Are Developing Heart Disease At An Early Age Due To Their Weight 
Obesity, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits, has given rise to children developing at least three of the most dangerous risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, large waistlines or high blood sugar levels. Dr. Anthony Rossi, a pediatric cardiologist specializing in critical care at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, didn’t worry about kids contracting type 2 diabetes when he started his career. It didn’t exist in children. (Medina, 2/23)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

‘Unique Threat Of Fentanyl’ Has Lawmakers Seeking Answers From Nation’s Drug Czar

The powerful opioid is responsible for nearly 20 percent of fatal overdoses, and lawmakers want assurance that the federal government recognizes the lethal threat. In other news on the crisis, researchers try to understand why there are so many relapses when it comes to opioid addiction, Virginia’s governor takes steps to address the problem, lawmakers ask for an investigation into a rash of overdoses at Connecticut “sober homes,” and hundreds rally to support preserving substance abuse treatment.

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. House Committee Presses Drug Czar On Fentanyl
U.S. House lawmakers are pressing the nation’s drug czar for more data on the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl, including how it is trafficked and how many people it has killed, in the latest effort to thwart a spiraling drug crisis. The four-page letter from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, signed by bipartisan committee leaders and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, calls the fentanyl crisis a top oversight priority. Addressed to Kemp Chester, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and sent Thursday, the letter includes 15 questions such as how much fentanyl comes into the U.S. through the mail and how many counterfeit fentanyl pills authorities have seized. (Kamp and Campo-Flores, 2/23)

Stat: Fatal Drug Overdoses In US On The Rise, CDC Says
Fatal drug overdoses continued their depressing climb in 2015, while the opioid crisis shifts from taking lives with painkillers like oxycodone to more lethal compounds like heroin and fentanyl, new data released Friday show. Overall, the rate of fatal overdoses from all drugs has increased more than 2.5 times since 1999, rising from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people then to 16.3 deaths in 2015, according to the new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Joseph, 2/24)

Stat: Backers Of White House Drug Policy Office Scramble To Protect It
With the US opioid crisis the subject of increased political focus, advocates in the recovery community had been quietly hoping President Trump might elevate the White House “drug czar” to his Cabinet. Now they are mobilizing to ensure the drug czar’s office won’t be eliminated entirely. A recent report that the White House may propose axing the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has sparked a scramble among leaders in the recovery community and among law enforcement. The National Fraternal Order of Police has already prepared a letter to Trump urging him to reject any proposal to eliminate the office. Advocates in the recovery community have drafted their own letter expressing support for the office. (Scott, 2/23)

The Washington Post: Many People Keep Taking Prescription Opioids During Addiction Treatment
The grip of opioid addiction is so strong that many people who undergo treatment relapse repeatedly. Now a study by Johns Hopkins University researchers offers new clues about why treatment is so difficult. The researchers discovered that 43 percent of people receiving buprenorphine, a widely used anti-addiction medication, filled at least one prescription for opioids — which they presumably consumed or diverted to others. (Bernstein, 2/23)

The Associated Press: Governor Signs Bills Aimed At Stemming Opioid Epidemic
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a set of bills that aim to stem Virginia’s growing opioid epidemic. McAuliffe’s office said in a statement Thursday that among the measures he signed into law is one allowing community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug. Another measure mandates that all opioid prescriptions be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020. (2/23)

Richmond Times Dispatch: McAuliffe Signs Four Bills To Address Virginia’s Opioid Crisis 
Noting that opioid overdose deaths are likely to have topped 1,000 in 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed four bills into law Thursday that are meant to address the state’s ongoing epidemic. The bills put into action syringe-services programs; initiatives to increase access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone; changes to opioid prescription policies; and processes for providing services to infants exposed to opioids in utero. (Demeria, 2/23)

CT Mirror: Murphy Presses For Federal Probe Of ‘Sober Homes’ After Overdose Deaths 
A rash of overdoses in “sober homes” in Connecticut and other states has prompted Sen. Chris Murphy and a bipartisan group of his colleagues to ask federal investigators to determine if additional oversight is needed of these residences for people recovering from substance abuse. Murphy is leading an effort that has been joined by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Orrin Hatch R-Utah; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The senators this week wrote the U.S. Government Accountability Office, asking it to investigate state and federal oversight of these homes. (Radelat, 2/23)

The Baltimore Sun: Hundreds Rally For Mental Health And Drug Treatment 
Hundreds of people packed Lawyers Mall in Annapolis Thursday to urge lawmakers to “keep the door open” for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Sen. Guy Guzzone, a sponsor of the Keep the Door Open Act, said that too often mental health and substance abuse treatment are considered the “stepchild” of the healthcare system…Guzzone’s bill would increase the rate that the state pays to state-funded community clinics and organizations that offer behavioral health treatment and would guarantee future increases. It would cost the state about $16.75 million to raise the rates as required by the bill, according to a nonpartisan analysis. (Wood, 2/23)

New Hampshire Union Leader: NH Substance Abuse Advocate To Be Hassan’s Special Guest For Trump Speech 
A substance abuse advocate from Dover will be the guest of honor of Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., when President Donald Trump gives a speech to the Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday. Ashley Hurteau lived with addiction for nearly a decade, but was helped when the state’s expansion of Medicaid gave her health insurance coverage for substance abuse, Hassan said. The new senator and former governor met Hurteau at the Farnum Center in Manchester last month where they both served on a panel to discuss changes to the Affordable Care Act. (2/23)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Sen. Murkowski Will Not Vote For Health Law Repeal That Also Defunds Planned Parenthood

In other news on women’s reproductive health, St. Louis takes steps to preempt an anti-abortion measure that is moving through the Missouri Legislature. And a group of doctors call on the FDA to loosen regulations surrounding the “abortion pill.”

The Hill: GOP Senator Won’t Vote To Defund Planned Parenthood 
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she will not vote for an ObamaCare repeal bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. In her address to Alaska’s state legislature Wednesday, the moderate Republican offered her firmest commitment yet that she will not support defunding Planned Parenthood. “I, for one, do not believe that Planned Parenthood has any place in our deliberations on the Affordable Care Act,” she said. (Hellmann, 2/23)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Doctors Urge FDA To Loosen Restrictions On Abortion Pill
A group of reproductive health experts has called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to loosen regulation of the “abortion pill” so women can get it by prescription in pharmacies without necessarily seeing a doctor. The commentary, in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, comes as the Trump administration, which has been hostile to abortion rights, prepares to appoint a new FDA commissioner. The FDA last year updated the prescribing information for the abortion pill, mifepristone, marketed as Mifeprex, to let women use it later in pregnancy, with two visits to the doctor rather than three. But special restrictions still prohibit the sale of the drug in pharmacies; it can only be dispensed in clinics, hospitals, and medical offices by health-care providers  who undergo a certification process. (McCullough, 2/23)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Viewpoints: Taking Stock Of The GOP Repeal-Replace-Repair Effort; Anti-Vaxxers See A Friend In President Trump

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Washington Post: Republicans Suddenly Realize Burning Down The Health-Care System Might Not Be A Great Idea
The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is not going well, in large part because it turns out that making sweeping changes to a system that encompasses one-sixth of the American economy turns out to be rather more complicated than they imagined. Their backtracking has an interesting character to it, in particular how they’ve been gobsmacked by the transition from shaking their fists at the system to being responsible for it. (Paul Waldman, 2/22)

JAMA Forum: Replacing ACA Would Harm Economically Vulnerable Persons And The Health Care Safety Net
The US Congress recently took its first steps toward repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Congressional Budget Office projected that repeal would increase the number of uninsured by 18 million people initially, and by 27 million after funding for Medicaid expansion and subsidies are eliminated. Repealing the ACA also threatens the safety net critical to health care access for economically vulnerable individuals and families. (Roy Grant, 2/20)

The Washington Post: Under Trump, Obamacare’s Medicaid Enrollments May Actually Go Up
Much of the media coverage and public political battle has focused on regulations and subsidies that impact middle America and those with coverage. The program targeted at the poor — Medicaid —has received less attention but demands more. For now, it looks as if the Republican Congress will end up leaving the structure of Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program intact and that Tom Price — President Trump’s secretary of health and human services — will use his administrative powers to grant states greater discretion in running their Medicaid programs. (Timothy Callaghan and Lawrence R. Jacobs, 2/22)

Modern Healthcare: Fierce Medicaid Critic Joins Trump’s ACA Repeal Team
A fierce critic of Medicaid expansion has joined the White House team working on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. White House staffers are expected to play a key role in helping craft the upcoming budget reconciliation bill to repeal and replace the ACA. One of those key aides is Brian Blase, who recently left the conservative Mercatus Center at George Mason University to serve as health policy adviser to Gary Cohn, director of President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council and former president of Goldman Sachs. (Harris Meyer, 2/22)

The New York Times: The Anti-Vaccine Movement Gains A Friend In The White House
Vaccine opponents, often the subject of ridicule, have found fresh energy in the election of a president who has repeated discredited claims linking childhood immunizations to autism and who has apparently decided to pursue them. With President Trump’s support, this fringe movement could win official recognition, threatening lives and making it urgent that health officials, educators and others respond with a science-based defense of vaccines. Vaccines have saved lives by protecting children and adults from diseases like measles, polio, smallpox, cervical cancer and whooping cough. And there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines or a preservative used in flu shots cause autism. (2/23)

JAMA Forum: Vaccines And The Trump Administration
Writing recently in the New York Times, infectious disease physician Peter Hotez warned: “It’s looking as if 2017 could become the year when the anti-vaccination movement gains ascendancy in the United States and we begin to see a reversal of several decades in steady public health gains. The first blow will be measles outbreaks in America.” (Joshua M. Sharfstein, 2/22)

Stat: Scientists Can’t Cower In The Face Of Trump Policies That Threaten Research
Fear of speaking and debating openly on controversial issues and inquiry is antithetical to science. So it has been chilling for me to listen to the fear expressed by medical students, resident physicians, faculty members, and administrators engendered by Trump’s actions. I’ve heard medical students say they are worried about speaking out because they might be branded as “activists” by residency programs. Faculty members worry about how their opposition to the Trump agenda may be perceived by philanthropists who fund their work. Administrators fear overstepping the line in response to Trump and struggle to balance supporting their staff’s concerns about how new policies affect their colleagues and families while avoiding perceived political conflict. (Duncan Maru, 2/22)

JAMA: Revamping the U.S. Federal Common Rule: Modernizing Human Participant Research Regulations
On January 19, 2017, the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), Department of Health and Human Services, and 15 federal agencies published a final rule to modernize the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (known as the “Common Rule”).1 Initially introduced more than a quarter century ago, the Common Rule predated modern scientific methods and findings, notably human genome research. (James G. Hodge and Lawrence O. Gostin, 2/22)

The Washington Post: A Health-Care Change That Could Prove Catastrophic
While a handful of high-profile policy questions have preoccupied Americans since the election, one potentially catastrophic health-care change has quietly been taking shape without much media attention. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education — the professional body charged with overseeing the nation’s physician training programs is poised to eliminate the 16-hour limit on work shifts for first-year resident physicians (referred to as interns) that it implemented in 2011. It proposes allowing interns to return to working extreme shifts of 28 hours — twice each week. (Christopher P. Landrigan and Charles A. Czeisler, 2/22)

Bloomberg: That Free Health Tracker Could Cost You
Using big data to improve health might seem like a great idea. The way private insurance works, though, it could end up making sick people — or even those perceived as likely to become sick — a lot poorer. Suppose a company offers you an insurance discount and a free FitBit if you agree to share your data and submit to a yearly physical. You’re assured that the data will be used only in aggregate, never tied back to specific identities. If that makes you feel safe, it shouldn’t. (Cathy O’Neil, 2/23)

The Washington Post: If Abortion Rights Fall, LGBT Rights Are Next
We represent the organizations that won leading Supreme Court cases in recent years on sexual and reproductive rights: Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which secured legal protections for the marriage of same-sex couples, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, which struck down Texas’s attempt to use sham health regulations to shut down 75 percent of the state’s abortion clinics. President Trump has taken sharp aim at the rights affirmed in those cases. During the campaign, he attacked the Obergefell opinion and repeatedly and unambiguously promised to put justices on the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. According to the president, it’s the government, not each individual, that should hold the power to decide who can get married and whether women can terminate a pregnancy. (Nancy Northup and Rachel B. Tiven, 2/22)

The Des Moines Register: Lawmakers, You Still Owe Us For Illegal Health Plans
Iowa Code allows state lawmakers to enroll in health insurance plans offered to executive branch employees “excluded from collective bargaining.” Those workers pay 20 percent of the total cost of their monthly premium. A few weeks ago, The Des Moines Register reported that legislators are instead enrolled in health plans negotiated by unions on behalf of union-covered state employees. Many lawmakers are paying as little as $20 in monthly premiums when they should be paying hundreds of dollars. (2/22)

Louisville Courier-Journal: Dangers Lurking In E-Cigs
During my nursing career, I have come across numerous heroes, but my first was Surgeon General Everett Koop. More than 50 years ago, he published the first report on Smoking and Health. … Today, my new hero is another Surgeon Gen. Vivek Murthy, who released the first report on E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults in December 2016. We now have data and ammunition to halt the debate that e-cigarettes are harmless. The report lays out in clear, indisputable terms that e-cigarette use increases the risk of nicotine addiction, harm to brain development and future use of other tobacco products for young users. (Janie Heath, 2/22)

The Washington Post: Helmets Save Lives So Why Don’t All States Require Them?
A new report from the World Health Organization suggests we’ve made some progress in reducing traffic fatalities through seat belt laws, improved highway and vehicle design, and campaigns to reduce drunk or drug-impaired driving. But motorcycles are bucking the trend, even in the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries, including the United States. (Fredrick Kunkle, 2/22)

Stat: Global Health Is An Investment We Can’t Afford To Pass Up
More than at any time in history, good health for all is a real possibility. The technology, scientific advancement, and remarkable understanding of disease now available to the medical and nursing community show the progress we have made. As a career physician, I have seen modern medicine rescue people from the brink of death with the power of machines, medicines, and smart minds. The successes aren’t just in developed countries — they’re global. For example, the number of people newly infected with HIV around the world has stopped growing. There are now 18.2 million people undergoing treatment for HIV, up from 15.8 million in the last year alone. Equally encouraging, new infections in children are down 50 percent since 2010. (Vanessa Kerry, 2/22)

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State Highlights: In N.Y., Cuomo Feels Push Back On Proposed Public Health Program Cuts; Texas Lawmakers Revisit Bid To Crack Down On Bad Nursing Homes

Outlets report on news from New York, Texas, Arizona, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and Ohio.

Houston Chronicle: Lawmakers Renew Effort To Crack Down On Bad Nursing Homes
Two years after falling short in a high-profile bid to crack down on bad nursing homes, some Texas state lawmakers are trying again. State Sen. Charles Schwertner kicked off the effort by introducing a trio of bills to make it harder for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and home and community services agencies to avoid discipline and lawsuits when they are found to have done wrong. (Rosenthal, 2/22)

Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate OKs Bill That Would Let Providers Opt Out Of ‘Right To Die’ Efforts​
Despite growing concerns that Arizona legislation to protect the religious freedoms of health-care workers could undermine patients’ end-of-life decisions, the Senate approved the bill Wednesday. Senate Bill 1439, which is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, and pushed by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, would protect from discrimination a health-care provider that refuses to participate in any service or provide any item that results in the death of an individual. (Beard Rau, 2/22)

Health News Florida: PTSD Coverage For First Responders Could Expand Under New Bill 
Democratic State Senator Victor Torres filed a bill Tuesday to allow first responders to get worker’s compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder. The bill makes PTSD and mental conditions more easily eligible, and it removes the requirement that first responders also be hurt physically. Jessica Realin’s husband was diagnosed with PTSD after cleaning up the Pulse Night Club tragedy. (Aboraya, 2/22)

KQED: After Introduction Of New Bill, Nurses Rally For Universal Health Care 
Chanting “Medicare for all is our fight, health care is a human right,” nurses and healthcare activists rallied in Sacramento Wednesday to support a new bill that would create universal health coverage for Californians. State Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced Senate Bill 562 last week. The bill would cover all residents of the state, even those who are undocumented. (Klivans, 2/22)

The Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com: Nurses At Delaware County Memorial Call Two-Day Strike
Nurses at Delaware County Memorial Hospital will go on strike for two days next month to protest stalled labor contract bargaining and unfair labor practices, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals said Wednesday. The union, known as PASNAP, won the right a year ago to represent 370 registered nurses and technical employee at the Drexel Hill facility, which was purchased in July 2016 by Prospect Medical Holdings Inc. as part of the hedge-fund backed firm’s acquisition of Crozer-Keystone Health System. (Brubaker, 2/22)

Boston Globe: Doctor Says He Brought Needed Care To Bermuda 
When he returned to his native Bermuda in the early 1990s to open a medical clinic, Dr. Ewart Brown felt as if he had stepped back in time. On the small island, care that was readily available to patients he treated in one of LosAngeles’s poorest neighborhoods was out of reach. That stark portrait eventually led Brown to a partnership with Lahey Hospital and Medical Center — one that is now the subject of a civil racketeering lawsuit that has uncovered a little-noticed relationship between the Burlington-based hospital and the small British territory. (Murphy and Dayal McCluskey, 2/23)

New Orleans Times-Picayune: These High-Tech Mannequins Help LSU Medical Students Learn How To Save Your Life
…Faculty and staff at LSU’s Health Sciences Center (HSC) considered the flight simulators used by airplane pilots. The LSU team realized that a similar training system could be used in medical education, in order to more efficiently and ethically judge students’ competency. As a result, in 2001, LSUHSC began using high-tech medical mannequins to simulate human patients. LSU faculty and staff helped develop life-size mannequins that breathe and blink, have heartbeats and blood pressure, talk and even have names. The mannequins are programmed to simulate various medical conditions and injuries, allowing medical students to engage with mock patients in a low-risk, controlled environment. (Harrison, 2/22)

The CT Mirror: School-Level Immunization Data Could Be Released Under Proposal 
Wondering how many children at your kid’s school aren’t vaccinated? If you live in Connecticut, there’s no way to find out.But that could change under a legislative proposal favored by the state Department of Public Health, which is currently prohibited from releasing data on immunization rates by school. The state health department already gets data from schools on the number of vaccine-exempt students, the number who have been fully immunized and those who have received some but not all vaccines. (Levin Becker, 2/22)

Tampa Bay Times: In Harm’s Way: Gun Injuries And Deaths Among Florida Kids Have Spiked. One Child Is Shot Every 17 Hours.
Gun injuries are a growing problem for Florida’s children, rising along with the increasing availability of firearms across the state, the Tampa Bay Times has found. To determine how many kids are shot each year — accidentally, intentionally or during the commission of a crime — the Times looked at millions of hospital discharge records for patients across Florida, as well as data collected by the state’s 24 medical examiners. The analysis found that, between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids age 17 and under were killed or injured by firearms. Put another way, a child in Florida was shot, on average, every 17 hours. (McGrory and Humburg, 2/23)

New Hampshire Union Leader: Iranian Doctor At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Reunites With His Wife 
A resident doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said he was “shocked, relieved, happy” when he was able to hug his Iranian wife Wednesday for the first time in nine months. Dr. Omid Moghimi said President Trump’s ban on residents of seven countries to travel to the United States meant his wife, Dorsa Razi, couldn’t get her final immigration interview in late January or a required visa needed to come to the United States. But a federal court blocked the travel ban, giving her a reprieve to gain the necessary approvals. Moghimi said he had worried he might not see his wife “for several more months if not for a year. (Cousineau, 2/23)

Columbus Dispatch: Fifth Child Dies As Flu Spreads Across Ohio
Despite the relatively mild 2016-2017 winter so far, Ohio is close to matching the number of children — six — who died during the 2014-15 flu season. One child died last flu season and none in 2013-2014. Adult flu deaths are not reported in Ohio, and health officials could not release whether the children who died had received a flu vaccine. (Viviano, 2/22)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Chronic Pain Considered For Medical Marijuana Use In New Jersey
Chronic pain may be added to the list of ailments that qualify for medical marijuana treatment in New Jersey, according to the chairman of a Health Department advisory panel that took emotional testimony from patients Wednesday in a crowded meeting room at the War Memorial. The panel will decide in the coming months whether to recommend that the health commissioner expand the list, which now has about a dozen ailments, including terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. (Hefler, 2/22)

Iowa Public Radio: Medical Marijuana Bill Advances; Similar Bill Failed Last Year 
Patients and their advocates made a return trip to the Iowa Capitol Wednesday, arguing once again for the legalization of medical marijuana in Iowa. A new bill is under consideration in the House to regulate the growing, manufacturing, and distribution  of cannabis oil. This is a working vehicle. -Rep. Jared KleinEarlier legislation is about to expire. It allows epilepsy patients to travel out of state to acquire the drug, which has created numerous obstacles. (Russell, 2/22)

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Mass. Nonprofit Financially Helps Patients To Get Treatment For Opioid Abuse

In other news on the painkiller epidemic, a Philadelphia doctor admits to making $5 million by pushing pills on patients. And a Minnesota sheriff’s office offers addicted inmates medication to lessen cravings.

WBUR: Nonprofit Provides Financial Assistance For Opioid Treatment 
Despite efforts to stem the tide of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts, the latest numbers suggest that a record number — some 2,000 people — died of overdoses last year. One of the grassroots groups working to make a dent in this crisis is called Magnolia New Beginnings. It was formed by parents on the North Shore a few years ago to provide support to other parents and to help financially, providing scholarships for long term substance use treatment, which typically is not covered by health insurance. (Mitchell and Becker, 2/22)

The Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com: Drug-Dealing South Philly Doc Admits Earning $5 Million Selling Pills To Patients
They came by the thousands – some from as far away as Cape May, some to wait in lines 100 people deep – seeking the autograph of the man inside a South Philadelphia storefront. The man with the sought-after signature was no movie star, sports phenom, or celebrity, but, rather, a soft-spoken doctor – one who admitted Wednesday that he had turned his substance-abuse clinic into one of the city’s most notorious sources for addicts and drug dealers of highly regulated prescription medications. Federal authorities likened Alan Summers’ now-defunct National Association for Substance Abuse-Prevention and Treatment, near Broad and Wolf Streets, to an open-air drug market. (Roebuck, 2/22)

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Vitamin IVs: A Cure To Hangovers And Jetlag Or Just The Latest Fad?

Like other supplements, IVs that pump vitamins and amino acids directly into the bloodstream are lacking robust scientific evidence to show that they actually work. Also in public health news: ALS, schizophrenia, ADHD, heart screenings and geriatricians.

Stat: Vitamin IVs Make Bold Health Promises. But Where’s The Evidence?
Vitamin IV infusions aren’t anything new. Celebrities from Simon Cowell and Rihanna to the Real Housewives have proclaimed their love for vitamin drips. They’re part of a huge — and wildly popular — supplement industry which goes largely unregulated. Supplement makers aren’t allowed to claim that their products can cure or treat a particular condition, but they are allowed to make sweeping claims that the products promote health. The infusion treatments can be traced back to an intravenous supplement known as the Myers’ cocktail, a slurry of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, and other products developed decades ago by a Baltimore physician. There is a published review on the use of Myers’ cocktail — but it’s just a collection of anecdotal evidence. (Thielking, 2/23)

Stat: FTC Cracks Down On Supplement Maker That Faked Talk Radio Show
Federal and state officials in Maine said Wednesday they had shut down an elaborate scheme to deceptively market dietary supplements in which a company disguised 30-minute radio advertisements as a talk radio show and repeatedly promoted fake print newspapers ads. In fact, according to officials, the promotions for the two products featured fictitious consumers and purported medical experts who endorsed the supplements without actually having endorsed them. (Thielking, 2/22)

The New York Times: In The Face Of A.L.S., Simon Fitzmaurice Finds His Fire Inside
After his short film screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, a euphoric Simon Fitzmaurice was walking the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, when his foot began to hurt. Back home in Ireland that summer, by then dealing with a pronounced limp, he received a shattering diagnosis: motor neuron disease, or M.N.D. (more commonly known in the United States as A.L.S., or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a neurological disorder that causes increasing muscle weakness and eventual paralysis and is, in most cases, fatal. The doctor gave Mr. Fitzmaurice, then 33, three or four years to live. (Shattuck, 2/22)

The Washington Post: Do Pet Cats Cause Schizophrenia? A New Study Suggests No.
As if parents of young children didn’t have enough things to worry about, here’s another: Some scientists think pet cats might increase kids’ risk of developing schizophrenia. But there’s good news out of this growing field of research, which focuses on the links between a cat-borne parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and mental health disorders. A new study of about 5,000 children in the United Kingdom found no evidence that cat ownership during gestation or childhood was associated with psychotic experiences that can be early signs of mental illness — such as hallucinations or delusions of being spied on — when they were teenagers. (Brulliard, 2/22)

The Washington Post: The Best Medicine For ADHD Might Not Be Medicine, At Least At First
Steve and Michelle were desperate. Their 6-year-old son, Sam, was diagnosed with ADHD soon after entering first grade. Sam’s behavior seemed outright defiant: He ignored adults when his name was called and was in constant motion. Sam let out bloodcurdling screams when forced to stop playing a game on the iPad. His teacher had struggled to manage similar behaviors in class, and his guidance counselor said Sam “needed to be on medicine.” Steve and Michelle weren’t so sure, but they wondered if they were being negligent by not putting him on Ritalin or something similar. But despite the relentless advertising for meds, and the occasional coercion by school personnel, your young ADHD child may not need Ritalin. At least not yet. (Griffin, 2/23)

Kaiser Health News: Popular Charity Heart Screenings For Teens May Cause More Problems Than They Solve
Dozens of not-for-profit organizations have formed in the past decade to promote free or low-cost heart screenings for teens. These groups often claim such tests save lives by finding abnormalities that might pose a risk of sudden cardiac death. But the efforts are raising concerns. There’s no evidence that screening adolescents with electrocardiograms (ECG) prevents deaths. Sudden cardiac death is rare in young people, and some physicians worry screening kids with no symptoms or family history of disease could do more harm than good. The tests can set off false alarms that can lead to follow-up tests and risky interventions or force some kids to quit sports unnecessarily. (Jaklevic, 2/22)

Kaiser Health News: Geriatricians Can Help Aging Patients Navigate Multiple Ailments
For months, Teresa Christensen’s 87-year-old mother, Genevieve, complained of pain from a nasty sore on her right foot. She stopped going to church. She couldn’t sleep at night. Eventually, she stopped walking except when absolutely necessary. Her primary care doctor prescribed three antibiotics, one after another. None worked. “Doctor, can’t we do some further tests?” Teresa Christensen remembered asking. “I felt that he was looking through my mother instead of looking at her.” (Graham, 2/23)

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On The Backs Of Devastating Failures, Biotech Pins Hopes On New Alzheimer’s Drug

It’s the disease that has befuddled drugmakers for decades, and a recent string of high-profile setbacks have rocked the industry. But one company is pushing forward in hopes of breaking into a market worth billions.

Stat: Biotech’s Next Alzheimer’s Test May Answer ‘$25 Billion Question’
Moving on from biopharma’s latest setback in Alzheimer’s disease — and the four that preceded it last year — the industry is turning its attention to a tiny pill made by a small company with hopes to succeed where so many have failed. In the third quarter of this year, Axovant Sciences will release Phase 3 data that will determine whether its drug, intepirdine, can improve cognition and function in patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s. Axovant’s readout will follow an outright failure from Merck, disappointing results from Eli Lilly, and a vexing setback for TauRx. (Garde, 2/22)

In other news —

The New York Times: Prolonged Sleep May Be Early Warning Sign Of Dementia
Older adults who started sleeping more than nine hours a night — but had not previously slept so much — were at more than double the risk of developing dementia a decade later than those who slept nine hours or less, researchers report. The increased risk was not seen in people who had always slept more than nine hours. (Rabin, 2/22)

California Healthline: Alzheimer’s Looms Large For Latinos
The number of Alzheimer’s cases in the United States is rising, especially among Latinos — the fastest growing minority in the country. With no cure in sight, diagnoses among U.S. Latinos are expected to increase more than eightfold by 2060, to 3.5 million, according to a report by the University of Southern California’s Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging and the Latinos Against Alzheimer’s network. (de Marco, 2/23)

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Democrats, Worried About Pricing, Beseech Army Not To Grant Exclusive Deal For Zika Vaccine

Lawmakers are concerned that even though taxpayers funded the vaccine’s development, they may be priced out of being able to afford it if Sanofi is given an exclusive license.

Stat: Lawmakers Urge US Army Not To Issue Exclusive License To Sanofi For A Zika Vaccine
Nearly a dozen members of Congress are urging the US Army not to issue an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus over concerns the product may be priced too high for many Americans, even though it was developed with taxpayer funds. “In order to ensure that the investment made by taxpayers was worthwhile, it is critical that we ensure the vaccine to prevent against the Zika virus is accessible to anyone who requires it,” the lawmakers wrote on Wednesday in a letter to Robert Speer, the Acting Secretary of the Army. (Silverman, 2/22)

Kaiser Health News: Sprint To Find Zika Vaccine Could Hinge On Summer Outbreaks
As warmer temperatures herald the arrival of pesky mosquitoes, researchers are feverishly working on several promising vaccines against Zika, a virus notorious for infecting humans through this insect’s bite. The speed and debilitating effects of last year’s Zika outbreak in the Western Hemisphere prompted a sprint to develop a vaccine. Just a little more than a year after the pandemic was declared a global health emergency, a handful of candidates are undergoing preliminary testing in humans.” (Heredia Rodriguez, 2/23)

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Sprint To Find Zika Vaccine Could Hinge On Summer Outbreaks

As warmer temperatures herald the arrival of pesky mosquitoes, researchers are feverishly working on several promising vaccines against Zika, a virus notorious for infecting humans through this insect’s bite.

The speed and debilitating effects of last year’s Zika outbreak in the Western Hemisphere prompted a sprint to develop a vaccine. Just a little more than a year after the pandemic was declared a global health emergency, a handful of candidates are undergoing preliminary testing in humans.

But researchers say the uncertainty over whether the Zika epidemic will continue affects their ability to finish testing. They need locations with an active viral outbreak to conduct large-scale human trials and make sure the vaccine actually protects against disease.

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“On one hand, you don’t want to see outbreaks of infection,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “But on the other hand, [without that testing] you might have to wait a long time to make sure that the vaccine works.”

All the vaccines currently being tested are in Phase I clinical trials, which means they are being tested for safety in a small number of people. According to a review paper published Tuesday in the journal Immunity, the vaccines represent a variety of scientific techniques to thwart the disease, ranging from inactivating the virus to manipulating its DNA.

The NIAID announced Tuesday it is launching yet another Phase I trial for a vaccine made out of proteins found in mosquito saliva. The product is intended to trigger a human immune system response to the mosquito’s saliva and any viruses mixed with it. If successful, the product could protect humans against a spectrum of mosquito-transmitted diseases, including Zika.

Col. Nelson Michael, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and co-author of the paper, said he expects preliminary reports on the safety of some of the older vaccines in April. As of now, he said, it is impossible to guess which vaccine will prove most effective in providing immunity.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to predict which horse will win the race,” Michael said.

The NIAID announced Tuesday it is launching yet another phase I trial for a vaccine made out of proteins found in mosquito saliva. (Courtesy of NIAID)

The NIAID is launching a phase I trial for a vaccine made out of proteins found in mosquito saliva. (Courtesy of NIAID)

Zika ― which is spread from infected people to others by mosquito bites or sexual contact, often infects people without showing symptoms. In some cases, it causes flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches and joint pain in adults ― and, in rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis. But it is most notorious for causing some children to be born with microcephaly ― a birth defect in which a child’s head is smaller than the average size ― if their mothers were exposed to Zika.

The virus garnered international attention after hundreds of cases of disabled babies surfaced in Brazil. It quickly swept through South America and the Caribbean before stopping on the southern coast of the U.S.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” on Feb. 1, 2016, then ended the alert on Nov. 18.

Vaccines that meet the safety standard in Phase I clinical trials undergo subsequent rounds of testing to gauge effectiveness. To measure this, researchers rely on the gold standard of administering the vaccine to large number of individuals already exposed to the virus. However, Zika’s recent arrival to the Western Hemisphere means researchers don’t know whether the virus will become a perennial threat, or a one-time explosion.

The uncertainty poses several implications for the surge in Zika vaccine development. A lull in the outbreak could cause significant delays in testing, pushing back the timetable for a commercially available product, Fauci said.

While researchers can use alternative methods to measure efficacy without large-scale testing, a decline in the circulation of the Zika virus could set progress back by years because the vaccine testing would be ineffective.

“If we don’t get a lot of infections this season in South America and Puerto Rico, it may take years to make sure the vaccine works,” he said.

Fauci expects to launch the next round of human trials for a DNA vaccine developed by the NIAID next month.

Michael also worries that a lag in the number of Zika cases could lead the private sector to pull funds from vaccine development. It takes millions of dollars to develop a drug or vaccine, and pharmaceutical companies play a critical role in making and manufacturing them, he said. But those companies have many competing interests, he noted, and if it is hard to test a vaccine this year, the public and private Zika prevention efforts may turn their attention elsewhere.

“This is a constant issue where you put your resources,” he said.

A transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae, is shown. (Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC)

A transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae, is shown. (Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC)

So far, signs suggest that the climate could be ripe for Zika again this year. Warmer-than-usual temperatures are affecting areas across the Western Hemisphere, CBS reported, including hotbeds of the Zika outbreaks in Brazil. The higher temperatures increase the voracity of Zika’s main transmitter, the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

In the United States, areas with populations of the Aedes aegypti are closely monitoring their numbers. Last year, Texas and Florida dealt with locally acquired cases of Zika infection.

In Texas, public health officials have monitored mosquito populations throughout the winter to track their numbers and any presence of the virus. Despite unseasonably warm weather, said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, they have seen lower numbers of the Aedes aegypti and no cases of Zika.

Van Deusen said the state is also monitoring the outbreak in Mexico, since heavy traffic across the border increases the possibility of transmission. Officials are expecting another outbreak of locally transmitted cases of disease, Van Deusen said.

“There’s so many factors that go into it, it’s really impossible to make an ironclad prediction,” he said.

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Viewpoints: Health Policy Moves Back To Town Halls; GOP Wrestles With Medicaid Debate

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

Chicago Tribune: To The GOP On Obamacare: This Spud’s For You
Health care policy as a political hot potato has become a popular metaphor. Writers at Vox, CNBC, the American Constitution Society and elsewhere have compared Obamacare to a fresh-from-the-oven tuber that’s too painful to hold and must be tossed back across the aisle as quickly as possible. Noting growing concerns about inherent flaws in the complex structure of Obamacare — formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — libertarian Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle argued in a Feb. 15 essay that Congress is no longer “arguing about whether (and how) the exchanges can be saved, but playing hot potato as both parties vie to avoid being stuck with the blame for the ensuing disaster.” Nice try. (Eric Zorn, 2/21)

Roll Call: Town Hall Winners And Losers So Far
We’re halfway through the Presidents Day recess, the first during President Donald Trump’s first term in office. … it’s no surprise that town halls would become a focal point for the anger swirling on the left. Some members have plainly refused to meet with groups they think will be hostile to them. Others have flung open the sashes and let the emotions fly. Others have worked assiduously to restrain something that is inherently not theirs to control — the reaction of voters to their government’s actions in Washington. With half of the recess still left to play out, here are the winners and losers so far. (Patricia Murphy, 2/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Repeal And Replace Panic
In the 2009 ObamaCare debate, White House aide David Plouffe told nervous Democrats “no bed-wetting,” meaning keep calm and all will be well. House Democrats went on lose 63 seats in 2010, but the double irony is that Mr. Plouffe’s advice now applies to those reporters and liberals who seem to be invested in the failure of the GOP’s version of health-care reform. Every day brings a new story about Republicans in disarray, the “mirage” of the GOP’s reform and the impossibility of change. … The reality is that Congress is on schedule, progress is underway, and the many potential problems are avoidable. (2/21)

Forbes: Cassidy-Collins Patient Freedom Act Looks Better As Other Reform Efforts Falter
In a different political climate, the “Patient Freedom Act” introduced last month by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins would be getting close scrutiny and perhaps some significant support. It is — and I apologize for language that appears to have become profane in these polarized times — a compromise. The bill recognizes that an outright repeal and replacement of Obamacare is going to be politically challenging for at least the next two years. It likewise recognizes that the persistence of Obamacare nationwide is likely to be challenging and expensive. (Seth Chandler, 2/21)

Bloomberg: A GOP Tax Idea Would Upend Health Insurance 
Last week brought thwarted mergers, threats by insurers to leave the Affordable Care Act’s individual exchanges, and the release of a (very) rough sketch of a possible GOP repeal-and-replace plan for the ACA. What’s missing in that skeletal outline is how to pay for new initiatives, such as an expanded tax credit to help people buy insurance, while also repealing the new taxes established by the ACA. Some in the GOP are floating one possible solution: capping the federal tax breaks workers and companies get for employer-provided health insurance. (Max Nisen, 2/21)

WBUR: Caring For Immigrant Patients When The Rules Can Shift Any Time
Knowing patients’ immigration status and the reasons they came to this country can affect the services they are eligible for, the relative costs of medications, the fears that may keep them from returning for needed services, and even the diagnosis of unexplained symptoms. Immigration policy, Marlin told us, “is no longer a spectator sport” for us or for our patients. But it is not simple to practice medicine under these new and uncertain circumstances. (Elisabeth Poorman, 2/21)

Bloomberg: ‘Right To Try’ Laws Don’t Help The Dying 
A national “right to try” law, supported by Vice President Mike Pence and scores of Republicans in the the House and Senate, is meant to circumvent the FDA’s regulatory authority by giving patients who are terminally ill the right to use drugs that the agency hasn’t yet approved. The idea sounds reasonable; in the past few years, bipartisan majorities in two-thirds of state legislatures have passed essentially the same law. In reality, however, these laws give patients no new rights at all. They do nothing to compel drug makers to provide experimental medicines to the dying, or insurers to pay for them. They merely eliminate a patient’s right to sue for any injuries that might arise — that is, if any patient ever gets an untested drug in this way. (2/21)

Boston Globe: Did Dana-Farber Pay Too High A Price For Its Mar-A-Lago Fund-Raiser?
When asked why he robbed banks, the legendary bank robber Willie Sutton said, “Because that’s where the money is.” That’s also why the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute holds fund-raisers at Mar-a-Lago, the posh Palm Beach resort that serves as President Trump’s Florida home. It’s where the money is. The most recent gala, held over the past weekend, raised $2.2 million. All for a good cause. But at what cost? (Joan Vennochi, 2/21)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Turn Off The Drug Spigot In The St. Louis Region
Heroin and opioid overdoses have increased to the point where they claim more lives regionally than homicides. State and local lawmakers need to focus greater efforts on combating a growing epidemic. Gov. Eric Greitens’ pledge to help create a statewide prescription drug database is a good start, but a more comprehensive law enforcement effort would go even further to push down the number of drug-related deaths. (2/21)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Overprescribed: Curbing The Easy Fix Of Psychiatric Meds For Seniors
With many communities still struggling to manage the opioid epidemic, the last thing the nation needs is a new drug-related problem — the overprescribing of psychiatric and other medications to senior citizens. A new report in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine raises a red flag about the trend, saying it appears to be particularly common in rural areas where patients with symptoms of mental illnesses might have less access to talk therapy and other nondrug treatments. But even in these communities, there are alternatives to medications that can and should be explored. (2/20)

Stat: Patient Reviews Published Online Can Help Improve Health Care
It’s no secret that the US health care system needs to improve. Consumers — in this case patients and employers — have more collective power to influence change than they realize by choosing how, where, and from whom they get health care. Uber, Nordstrom, and many other companies seek their customers’ opinions and respond to them. Health care needs to follow suit to become the patient-centered service industry that it should be. The University of Utah, where I work, began collecting patient feedback early on and was the first health system in the US to publicly post patients’ reviews of their providers. It has paid off in many ways. (Vivian S. Lee, 2/21)

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State Highlights: N.H. Health Budget Would Give Nurses A Raise; Texas Lawmaker Moves To Outlaw Guns At State Mental Hospitals

Outlets report on news from New Hampshire, Texas, Florida, Oregon, California, Missouri and Minnesota.

New Hampshire Union Leader: DHHS Budget Calls For $10M In Raises For Nurses 
A 15 percent raise for nurses working in the Department of Health and Human Services will cost the state $10 million over the next two years, but is necessary to attract and retain health care professionals in an increasingly competitive market, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers. The head of the state’s biggest agency presented a $1.4 billion two-year spending plan for fiscal years 2018-2019 to House budget-writers on Tuesday. He said increased pay for nurses and other providers is a top priority. (Solomon, 2/21)

Austin Statesman: Legislator Seeks To Keep Guns Out Of State Psychiatric Hospitals
One year after state psychiatric hospitals began letting people carry guns on campus, a Republican legislator is pushing a bill that reverses course. House Bill 14, filed by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, outlaws firearms at Texas’ 10 state-run mental health hospitals, which care for people with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other illnesses. (Ball, 2/21)

Health News Florida: Flu Widespread In Florida, With Extra Bug 
Influenza season is at its peak nationwide, and Florida is no exception. That’s obvious on the map at the Centers for Disease Control website. Warren McDougle, epidemiology manager for the Hillsborough County Health Department, says the flu shot apparently did a good job of covering the predominant strain, A (H3). But unfortunately, there’s another mean virus going around, according to anecdotal reports. (Gentry, 2/21)

Register-Guard: Oregon Plan Would Provide Insurance To Unauthorized Kids 
Now, both women are advocating for a new state law — dubbed “Cover All Kids” by supporters — that would extend government-funded health insurance in Oregon to many unauthorized immigrants under the age of 19. The proposal would give government-funded health insurance to an estimated 17,600 unauthorized immigrants, at a cost of $55 million in the biennium that starts July 1. Critics blast the concept and the price tag, especially given state government’s cash crisis.But supporters say it’s a humane and sensible idea. (Hubbard, 2/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Bidder Says Los Angeles-Area Hospital Didn’t Need To Close
A health-care firm that offered to buy Gardens Regional Hospital and Medical Center Inc., a Los Angeles-area hospital that cared for low-income residents before shutting down, told a bankruptcy judge that its purchase efforts were unfairly ignored. In court papers, Le Summit Healthcare LLC officials told Bankruptcy Judge Ernest Robles that they are still willing to operate the nonprofit hospital while they obtain the new licensing and permits to restart its operations. They say Gardens Regional Hospital’s lawyers closed the 137-bed hospital unnecessarily. (Stech, 2/21)

St. Louis Public Radio: Homer G. Phillips Hospital: ‘They Were Not Going To Be Treated As Second-Class Citizens’ 
In the first half of the 20th century, segregation touched virtually every part of American life. Black residents of St. Louis weren’t just barred from schools, lunch counters and drinking fountains reserved for whites. Even hospitals could refuse to admit black patients. But the hospitals that were built to serve African-American patients hold a special place in medical history. The facilities employed and trained thousands of black doctors and nurses. In St. Louis, Homer G. Phillips Hospital quickly became a trusted household name. Today marks the 80th anniversary of its dedication ceremony on Feb. 22, 1937. (Bouscaren, 2/22)

The Star Tribune: Minnesota Medical Professionals Work To Close Health Gaps For LGBT Patients 
[Deb] Thorp, medical director of the Park Nicollet Gender Services Clinic in Minneapolis, is taking part in a rare national conference next week to address health disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. She and other researchers say the LGBT community is more vulnerable to some diseases, and has poorer access to, and a lower quality of, health care compared with the general population — in part because of fear. (Shah, 2/21)

The Star Tribune: Minnesota Parents Lobby For Kids At ‘Dyslexia Day’ At State Capitol 
On Tuesday, the advocacy group’s annual rally spread across the Capitol rotunda, where several hundred parents and children called attention to a hidden disability that affects as many as one in 10 children. Dyslexia wasn’t even recognized as a specific learning disability by the Minnesota Department of Education until 2015. Children who spoke at Tuesday’s rally said they wished schools understood more. (Hopfensperger, 2/21)

St. Louis Public Radio: Chemical Companies To Pay $15 Million To Clean Up Sauget Superfund Site 
Four chemical companies could have to pay $14.8 million to clean up a federal Superfund site in Sauget. The settlement, which needs court approval, would address groundwater contamination, cap some of the waste and install a well monitoring system. Industrial waste has been dumped in six sites within the Sauget Area 1 Superfund from the 1930s until the 1980s. The Environmental Protection Agency has been investigating the site since the early 1980s. (Chen, 2/21)

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Maternal Mortality Rates, Obesity Cause U.S. To Lag Behind Developed Countries On Life Expectancy

It is also the only high-income country without universal health insurance coverage and has the largest share of unmet health-care needs due to financial costs. In other public health news: vaccines, heart disease, testosterone, art therapy and post-election stress.

The Washington Post: U.S. Life Expectancy Will Soon Be On Par With Mexico’s And The Czech Republic’s
Life expectancy at birth will continue to climb substantially for residents of industrialized nations — but not in the United States, where minimal gains will soon put life spans on par with those in Mexico and the Czech Republic, according to an extensive analysis released Tuesday. South Korean women and Hungarian men are projected to make the largest overall gains (with South Koreans second among males). There is a better-than-even chance that South Korean women will live to an average of 90 years old by 2030, which would be the first time a population will break the 90-year barrier, according to the research published in The Lancet. (Bernstein, 2/21)

Miami Herald: Russian, Swedish Scientists Discover Artificial Compound That Slows Aging 
Scientists from Lomonosov Moscow State University, working with those from Stockholm University in Sweden, have used a new compound to slow the aging process in mice. The compound is an artificial antioxidant, SkQ1, and it already is sold in Russia as part of an eye drops solution. It is still undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. (Veciana-Suarez, 2/21)

Roll Call: One Thing Congress Agrees On: Vaccines Work
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are stressing the need to highlight benefits of vaccines amid reports of local outbreaks of infectious diseases. “The science is clear: FDA-licensed vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, and save the lives both of those who receive them and vulnerable individuals around them,” the lawmakers wrote in a Tuesday letter sent to their colleagues. “As Members of Congress, we have a critical role to play in supporting the availability and use of vaccines to protect Americans from deadly diseases.” (Bowman, 2/21)

Miami Herald: Don’t Ignore Shortness Of Breath, Lightheadness 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that anywhere from 2.7 to 6.1 million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation and reports that more than 750,000 related hospitalizations occur annually. With 130,000 estimated deaths each year — a rate that has been rising for more than two decades — atrial fibrillation costs the United States about $6 billion each year, according to the CDC. [David] Ancona, who says that patients with superventricular tachycardia appear in the ER daily, believes prevention is key. But the nature of the disease can make that difficult. (Ogle, 2/22)

Miami Herald: Carrie Fisher’s Death Sheds New Light On Women’s Heart Disease 
For years, the National Institutes of Health, which provides most of the money for medical research, has used male mice to study heart disease. Why? Men were the primary research subjects. Women have heart disease, too. In fact, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women (and men). Yet heart disease death rates in the United States have declined steadily for men over the last quarter century. Not so much for women. (Cohen, 2/21)

NPR: Testosterone Has Mixed Results On Older Men’s Health
Many men over 65 with low testosterone levels say their sense of well-being, not to mention sexual function, isn’t what it used to be. That’s why some doctors prescribe testosterone replacement. But the effectiveness of testosterone has been controversial. Studies of the risks and benefits have been mixed, and the Food and Drug Administration beefed up its warnings about cardiac side effects of testosterone supplementation in 2015. (Neighmond, 2/21)

NPR: Testosterone Patients Not Told About Anemia
There’s a lesson about one of the testosterone studies released this week that has nothing to do with testosterone: The study on how testosterone affects anemia was designed with an ethical lapse that nobody noticed until the study was complete. That’s surprising because it was designed and carried out by a couple of dozen of well-regarded scientists. Their protocols were reviewed by 12 university institutional review boards, whose job is to evaluate the ethics of an experiment. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the trial was overseen by a watchdog data safety and monitoring board. But all of those safety features fell short this time. (Harris, 2/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Karen Pence’s Advocacy For Art Therapy Stirs Controversy
As Vice President Mike Pence visited Europe to reassure world leaders, his wife, Karen Pence, pursued her own issue: promoting art therapy. At first blush, it might seem Mrs. Pence’s support for art therapy would win public backing akin to the broad support Barbara and Laura Bush received for their promotion of literacy, instead of the divisive type of response Tipper Gore got for her campaign against offensive music lyrics. But the Donald Trump era is no ordinary time. (Barnes, 2/21)

Kaiser Health News: A New Diagnosis: ‘Post-Election Stress Disorder’
Wally Pfingsten has always been a news junkie. But since President Donald Trump was elected, he’s been so anxious about the political tumult that even just having the TV news on in the background at home is unbearable. “It’s been crippling,” said the 35-year-old San Mateo, Calif., resident and political moderate who has supported both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past. “I feel angry, really, really angry, far more angry than I expected to be. (Gold, 2/22)

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Personal Tragedies A Driving Force For State Lawmakers Aiming To Combat Opioid Crisis

Many lawmakers across the country are motivated by the way their loved ones have been touched by the epidemic. “We’re all here because we have this empty void in our lives,” said Minnesota state Rep. Dave Baker, whose son started out taking prescription drugs for back pain and died of a heroin overdose in 2011. Media outlets report on the crisis out of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Georgia.

The Associated Press: State Lawmakers Channel Grief Into Fight Against Opioids
In statehouses across the country, lawmakers with loved ones who fell victim to drugs are leading the fight against the nation’s deadly opioid-abuse crisis, drawing on tragic personal experience to attack the problem. A Minnesota state senator whose daughter died of a heroin overdose in a Burger King parking lot — a friend hid the needles instead of calling for help — spearheaded a law that grants immunity to 911 callers. In Wisconsin, a state representative has introduced more than a dozen opioid-related bills in the years since his daughter went from painkillers to heroin to prison. A Pennsylvania lawmaker whose son is a recovering heroin addict championed a state law that expanded availability of an antidote that can reverse an overdose. (Potter, 2/21)

New Hampshire Union Leader: Ground Broken On Expanded Treatment Center In Manchester
City and state leaders marked a milestone in combating the opioid, heroin and fentanyl crisis with the ground-breaking Tuesday of an expanded treatment center and new recovery housing. The Families in Transition’s Family Willows Substance Use Treatment Center and Recovery Housing, located in the old Hoitt’s Furniture building on Wilson Street, is focused on one at-risk population: women, and mothers with children. It will provide treatment for an estimated 400 women annually, said Dick Anagnost, a businessman who is chairman of the Families in Transition board of directors. (Tuohy, 2/22)

Boston Globe: ‘Angel’ Opioid Initiative Thrives Despite Exit Of Gloucester Police Chief 
As Gloucester police chief, Leonard Campanello pledged in 2015 that drug users could walk into the police station, hand over heroin, and walk out into treatment within hours — without arrest or charges. The concept of help rather than handcuffs became a national sensation. But when Campanello left office in October, under fire for allegedly lying to city investigators probing complaints by two women against him, questions arose about the future of a program propelled in part by Campanello’s outsize personality. (MacQuarrie, 2/21)

Georgia Health News: House Health Panel Approves Needle Exchange Bill 
House Bill 161 is sponsored by state Rep. Betty Price, a physician. She is the wife of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is also a physician and was until recently a U.S. congressman from Georgia. She backed a similar proposal last year. It was approved by the House but failed to get consideration in the state Senate. (Miller, 2/21)

Meanwhile, lawmakers want answers on drugs that are going missing at VA clinics —

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Urge VA To Explain Rising Cases Of Drug Theft
The heads of two congressional committees said Tuesday they want the Department of Veterans Affairs to better explain its efforts to stem drug theft and loss in light of rising cases of missing prescriptions and other unauthorized use at VA hospitals. Rep. Phil Roe, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said his panel had scheduled a hearing for Monday. The Associated Press reported last Monday on government data showing a sharp increase since 2009 in opioid theft and drugs that had simply disappeared at the VA. (Yen , 2/21)

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Texas Temporarily Blocked From Cutting Off Medicaid Funds For Planned Parenthood

The federal judge said the state did not provide credible evidence that the organization violated medical or ethical standards related to abortion procedures.

Houston Chronicle: Federal Judge Stops Texas From Kicking Planned Parenthood Out Of Medicaid
A federal judge on Tuesday stopped Texas officials from kicking Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program, providing a reprieve that will at least temporarily allow the organization to continue receiving reimbursements for providing non-abortion services to about 10,000 poor residents. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said in a 42-page ruling that he was not swayed by the state’s explanation for the eviction – an undercover video that purported to show that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling the organs of aborted fetuses – and would not allow the move until and unless the state provides a better rationale at a full trial. (Rosenthal, 2/21)

The New York Times: Judge Blocks Medicaid Cuts To Planned Parenthood In Texas
A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked Texas from cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, ruling the state had presented no credible evidence to support claims the organization violated medical or ethical standards related to abortion procedures.The ruling, a preliminary injunction issued by Sam Sparks, a United States District Court judge in the Western District of Texas, means that, for now, 30 health centers that serve about 12,500 Medicaid patients can continue to receive funding from the medical program that serves the poor. The case is set to go to trial, where the judge can rule on its merits. (Mele, 2/21)

The Associated Press: Judge Blocks Texas Cutting Medicaid To Planned Parenthood
An injunction issued by U.S. District Sam Sparks of Austin comes after he delayed making decision in January and essentially bought Planned Parenthood an extra month in the state’s Medicaid program. … Sparks’ decision preserves what Planned Parenthood says are cancer screenings, birth control access and other health services for nearly 11,000 low-income women at 30 clinics. Texas originally intended to boot Planned Parenthood in January but Sparks told the state to wait pending his ruling. Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also had similar efforts blocked. (Weber, 2/21)

Dallas Morning News: Federal Judge Blocks Texas’ Move To Kick Planned Parenthood Out Of Medicaid
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a prepared statement that he will appeal the decision, which he said “is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency.” “Even the remains of the most vicious criminals are treated with respect,” Paxton said. “But the children who never had a chance at life become so-called medical waste or, alternatively, a commodity to be bartered for. No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct. We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.” (Mekelburg, 2/21)

The Hill: Judge Blocks Texas Plan To Cut Planned Parenthood Medicaid Funding 
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and state health officials first moved to cut Medicaid funding last year after controversial undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials surfaced. Anti-abortion groups claimed the recordings prove the organization is “harvesting” fetal tissue, while Planned Parenthood has denied allegations surrounding the videos. (Hensch, 2/21)

Meanwhile, in Virginia —

The Associated Press: McAuliffe Vetoes Bill Cutting Abortion Clinics’ Funding
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vetoed a bill that would have restricted funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. The Democrat vetoed the measure Tuesday during an event outside the executive mansion. He vetoed the same measure last year and said Tuesday it would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on Planned Parenthood. (2/21)

Richmond Times Dispatch: McAuliffe Vetoes Bill That Would Defund Planned Parenthood 
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vetoed a bill that would restrict Planned Parenthood from contracting with the state. The bill, sponsored by Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Rockbridge, passed the Senate last week on a 20-19 vote. It would prevent the Virginia Department of Health from providing funds to clinics that provide abortion services to women who are not covered by Medicaid. (Demeria, 2/21)

And a new regulation gains traction in the anti-abortion movement, but scientific evidence for the procedure is lacking —

The Associated Press: Experts: Science Behind ‘Abortion Reversal’ Is Flawed
Lawmakers in several states are considering requirements for doctors to inform women seeking medical abortions about an unproven procedure called “abortion reversal.” Doctors’ groups oppose the bills because of flawed science and ethical concerns. There is no evidence the procedure works and little information about its safety. The procedure involves shots of the hormone progesterone given if a woman changes her mind after the first step of a medical abortion. (Johnson, 2/22)

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Viewpoints: How Technology Is Advancing Wellness; Moral Questions About Gene Editing

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Innovations Are Coming To Your Digital Device
Mobile phones and tablets have pushed themselves to the center of modern life. Instead of going to the bookstore, readers download the latest novel direct to their devices. Online shopping has left malls quieter than ever. Video chatting helps far-flung families stay in touch. Health care needs this same kind of disruption. … Personal technology can make routine medical care and healthy living easier. (Regina Benjamin and Andrew Thompson, 2/20)

The Washington Post: If We’re Going To Play God With Gene Editing, We’ve Got To Ask Some Moral Questions
The past 30 days have seen several unheralded but consequential strides in the scientific quest for god-like control of our destiny. Last week, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine published a report on human genome editing that allows the manipulation of sperm and egg cells to create changes that could be passed down to offspring. In January, scientists for the first time grew a part-pig, part-human “chimera,” a step toward developing animal embryos with functioning human organs for interspecies transplantation. With Tesla chief executive Elon Musk hinting last month at having made progress on a brain-computer interface, injectable electronics and other forms of human augmentation have clearly entered mainstream discussion as a way for humans to keep up with quickly advancing artificial intelligence. (Christine Emba, 2/20)

Indianapolis Star: Invest In Health, Raise Cigarette Tax
Once again the General Assembly considers raising the cigarette tax. This time the proposal is to increase the tax by a $1.50 per pack. … Unquestionably, Indiana is one of the unhealthiest states in the country.  We rank near the bottom in public health funding; we have one of the highest smoking rates; we have an infant mortality rate that rivals some third world countries; and, Indiana ranks as one of the worst in rates of obesity, cancer, and most measures of the chronic diseases that plague our nation. Despite the great advances in tobacco control that have occurred over the past half-century, tobacco still remains our number one public health issue; tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death. (Richard Feldman, 2/20)

Sacramento Bee: Living And Thriving With A Dementia Diagnosis 
About 80 percent of people with dementia develop Alzheimer’s disease, a particularly insidious form of dementia that leads to death. I am in the early stages of dementia, and they tell me my tests currently clear me of Alzheimer’s, so my experiences have been far less scary by comparison to many others’. My prognosis is for continued regression with no reversal. Otherwise, I am a healthy and physically active guy rapidly approaching 70 and generally enjoying retirement along with my wife of 49 years. (Kent Pollock, 2/20)

San Jose Mercury News: Bring Sanity To Gun Policy For The Mentally Ill
Part of the stigma associated with mental illness is the notion that the mentally ill are uniformly dangerous. It doesn’t help that any time there is a mass shooting, the immediate response is the perpetrator must be crazy. This sad lack of knowledge about the mentally ill is perhaps only eclipsed by our lack of understanding of the underlying causes of gun violence. When the two issues collide, the result is legislative mayhem. (2/20)

Boston Globe: Listening To A Doctor About His Pain 
The opioid epidemic has led to what [Paul] Konowitz believes is a well-intentioned but misguided change in the way doctors prescribe pain medication. Or, more specifically, the way they avoid prescribing pain medication. He thinks there has been an overreaction, an overcorrection, so that many people who really need medication for pain are not getting it. There is evidence backing his theory. (Kevin Cullen, 2/20)

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Different Takes On Inside-The-Beltway Health Policy Developments

Opinion writers offer a variety of views on how the plans being advanced by the Trump administration and GOP Congress will shape a range of health concerns — from the effort to repeal, replace or repair the health law effort to federal health programs and Planned Parenthood’s future.

The Washington Post: Obamacare’s Enduring Victory
What’s the holdup, House Republicans? During the Obama administration, you passed literally dozens of bills to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act — knowing that none had any chance of being signed into law. Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, why can’t you seem to pull the trigger? (Eugene Robinson, 2/20)

The New York Times: Ryancare: You Can Pay More For Less!
President Trump promised to replace the Affordable Care Act with something that is better, is cheaper and covers more people. Scratch that. Republican leaders in the House and Mr. Trump’s secretary of health and human services released a plan last week that would provide insurance that is far inferior, shift more medical costs onto families and cover far fewer people. (2/19)

Los Angeles Times: ‘Death Spirals,’ Deceit And Pampering The Rich: The Republicans Face High Noon On Repealing Obamacare
Congressional Republicans who have visited their home districts over the last few weeks have gotten a faceful of constituent rage about their plans to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, which brings health coverage to more than 20 million Americans. If past is prologue, those heading home now for the Presidents Day recess are likely to feel a lot more heat. That may be why House Republicans this week rushed out a “policy brief” on “Obamacare Repeal and Replace.” Unfortunately for the poor souls who will be meeting with constituents, the brief answers none of the key questions about the GOP’s plans for the ACA. (Michael Hiltzik, 2/17)

The Washington Post: Republicans Are Selling Health-Care Reform That People Don’t Want 
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says Obamacare is failing. Club for Growth president David McIntosh warns that voters “gave Republicans the charge to repeal and replace Obamacare,” so the “delays and discussions about repairing Obamacare need to stop.” The problem is that voters fear disruption, don’t want to lose what they have and won’t find what Republicans are selling very attractive. (Jennifer Rubin, 2/20)

The Washington Post: Ryan’s Health-Care Plan Will Be Hard To Defend
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) outlined a health-care plan to his members yesterday. Surprisingly, it did not include much detail, either because the speaker has not gotten that far or because he’s afraid of the reaction when the numbers are revealed. (Jennifer Rubin, 2/17)

Modern Healthcare: Give Seema Verma A Chance
Seema Verma, the Indiana consultant who injected personal responsibility requirements and health savings accounts into that state’s Medicaid program, deserves a shot at working with other states that want to redesign their programs. She repeatedly testified last week that her main goal for the program, if confirmed as CMS administrator, will be to achieve better outcomes for the vulnerable populations served by the program. “This shouldn’t be about kicking people off,” she said. (Merrill Goozner, 2/18)

Fox News: Seema Verma For Medicaid/Medicare Czar Is The Final Piece In The Health Care Puzzle
Seema Verma is a bold pick by President Trump to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She should be approved without further delay. During a hearing by the Senate Finance Committee this week she appeared confident and informed, refusing to take positions on raising Medicare’s eligibility age, price negotiation with drug companies, or caps on Medicaid allotments to the states. She stated that these decisions are up to Congress, showing an understanding of her role’s limits. (Marc Siegel, 2/20)

The Washington Post: Staffing, Budget Shortages Put Indian Health Service At ‘High Risk’
There’s a sliver of good news for a stricken federal agency during the first alarming month of President Trump’s administration: relief from Trump’s hiring freeze for the Indian Health Service (IHS). “This exemption is a step in the right direction,” seven Democratic senators said in a statement Friday. “Indian Health Services facilities face staff vacancy rates of 20 percent or higher, and a hiring freeze would make these challenges even more severe, further impacting access to health care and even patient health.” (Joe Davidson, 2/20)

Stat: Vaccine Programs Threatened By Exemptions, ACA Repeal
Our highly successful vaccination programs will be in danger if they are not factored into the current discussion of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There’s a clear connection between having health insurance and getting vaccinated, so reducing the number of people with health insurance, which could likely happen if the ACA is repealed, will translate into fewer children and adults who get their recommended vaccines. (John Auerbach, 2/17)

Los Angeles Times: An Attack On Abortion Rights And A Handout To The Rich: The Republicans’ New Plan For Repealing Obamacare
Congressional Republicans who have visited their home districts over the last few weeks have gotten a faceful of constituent rage about their plans to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, which brings health coverage to more than 20 million Americans. If past is prologue, those heading home now for the Presidents Day recess are likely to feel a lot more heat. (Michael Hiltzik, 2/17)

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State Highlights: Ind. House Panel To Revisit Controversial ‘Abortion Reversal’ Bill; Mich. Whooping Cough Cases On The Rise

Outlets report on news from Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Texas and California.

Detroit Free Press: Whooping Cough Cases Keep Climbing In Michigan
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is on the rise in Michigan. The number of cases this year has surpassed 100  and continues to climb, according to preliminary data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Oakland County Health Department. In 2016, there were about 448 cases of whooping cough in the state. In Oakland County last month, there were 31 confirmed and probable cases of the vaccine-preventable disease, compared with four cases in January 2016. (2/17)

The CT Mirror: Insurance Coverage Mandates Would Face More Analysis Under Malloy Proposal 
Patients who testify in support of proposed benefit mandates often share stories about struggles they faced getting needed care or medications. And critics warn legislators that adding mandates increases the cost of insurance premiums. In some cases, they also take issue with the merits of the particular service being considered for mandatory coverage. (Levin Becker, 2/20)

Chicago Tribune: School Workers In State Must Know How To Handle Asthma Crises, New Law Says
Under the new legislation signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in August, all school personnel who work with students must be trained to handle asthma emergencies. School districts must adopt an emergency response protocol for asthma — similar to those used in the case of anaphylaxis or fire. And every child with asthma must have a written “asthma action plan” on file at the school to allow the most efficient and helpful treatment when needed. “Asthma has been a chronic problem for a long time; it did not just rear its ugly head,” said Maureen Damitz, spokeswoman for the Illinois Asthma Consortium which lobbied to get the law passed. “But I think people are more aware that we need to change something.” (Healy, 2/20)

The Associated Press: Doctor-Lawmaker Tries To Restrict Smoking In Tobacco Country
When Dr. Ralph Alvarado was elected to the Kentucky state Senate in 2014, he found his new colleagues had something in common with most of his patients: They knew smoking was bad, they just couldn’t quit. For more than two years, Alvarado has led the effort to restrict smoking in a state with the highest smoking rate in the country. (2/19)

Orlando Sentinel: New Emergency Medical Campaign Aims To Save Lives
Community leaders on Monday announced the launch of a new campaign that they hope will teach bystanders how to intervene during the first crucial minutes to prevent injured people from bleeding to death. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer joined other medical leaders at Orlando Regional Medical Center to promote the national initiative. A person can bleed to death from a serious injury within five to 10 minutes, said Joseph Ibrahim, the trauma medical director. (Russon, 2/20)

WFAA: Doctor Convicted Of Botched Surgery Gets Life Sentence
Life in prison. Those were the words that Christopher Duntsch never wanted to hear. And the words that his patients and their families desperately wanted to hear. The one-time neurosurgeon was sentenced by the 12-member jury to spend the remainder of his life behind bars Monday afternoon. (Eiserer, 2/21)

St. Louis Post Dispatch: Mercy And St. Anthony’s Enter Affiliation Agreement
Mercy and St. Anthony’s Medical Center have entered into an affiliation agreement, hospital officials said Monday. While details of the agreement are still being hashed out, Mercy has agreed to a “substantial capital commitment” at St. Anthony’s, Winthrop Reed, vice chair of St. Anthony’s board, told the Post-Dispatch. For St. Anthony’s, the agreement means one of the last remaining independent hospitals in the St. Louis area will become part of a much-larger health care system. For Chesterfield-based Mercy, with 43 hospitals in four states, the move grows its market share in St. Louis, where it already has four hospitals. (Liss, 2/21)

Arizona Republic: Bleeding, Talking Mannequins Prep Health-Care Workers For Patient Crisis
Volunteers and anatomically correct mannequins that bleed, breathe and talk helped health-care professionals strengthen their lifesaving skills recently in Phoenix. Seventy-five health professionals participated in the intensive two-day training that simulated patients in crisis at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix Center for Simulation and Innovation. (Borgelt, 2/20)

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Report: Northeast Ohio Ranks Fourth In Midwest Biomedical Investments
Last year was a big one for the biomedical industry in the Midwest. In the first half of 2016, healthcare startups in the Midwest brought in a record-breaking $1.04 billion. By the end of the year, Midwest healthcare startups brought in $1.7 billion. And Cleveland is near the top of the Midwest, according to a report from BioEnterprise, a Northeast Ohio biomedical business accelerator. Cleveland brought in $198 million dollars in biomedical investments last year, just behind Minneapolis, Chicago and St. Louis. (Bamforth, 2/20)

Cincinnati Enquirer: Disabled Ludlow Teen’s Death From Bedsores, Neglect ‘Makes No Sense’
There was just no holding him back, Terrie Collins-Laytart said last week just days after Joey [Bishop]’s mother and grandparents were charged with manslaughter in his death. The neglect, charges allege, was so severe it led to bed sores that pumped toxins through Joey’s body eventually killing him. The case has seasoned investigators shaking their heads and wondering – like Collins-Laytart – how the 18-year-old became a prisoner in the Ludlow home he shared with his mother and grandparents, why no one seemed to know he lived there and what could have been done to protect him. (Graves and Vogel, 2/20)

Miami Herald: UM’s New LGBTQ Clinic Focuses On Transgender Patients 
UM opened its LGBTQ center in January to serve the needs of the growing population. The new clinic brings together specialists in urology, endocrinology and psychiatry, as well as a team of surgeons to accompany the patient into the operating room. [Christopher] Salgado and other doctors can even perform multiple surgeries on a patient simultaneously, so after a marathon session the patient can emerge with everything done at once. (Harris, 2/20)

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Women’s Heart Attacks Don’t Look Like Men’s

Women’s symptoms during a cardiac event are quite different and less dramatic than men’s, so they can be harder to detect by doctors and tests. The Washington Post offers a series on heart health.

The Washington Post: When It Comes To Heart Attacks, Women Are Different From Men
On that November Sunday in 2015, Stephanie Thomas Nichols was 40 miles into her drive home to Townsend, Del., from her vacation cabin in Western Maryland when she felt an odd sensation in her upper body. “No pain, just pressure, heaviness,’’ recalls Nichols, who owns a software company. She couldn’t catch her breath. Within minutes, her left arm went numb. (Cimons, 2/19)

The Washington Post: Cardiac Rehabilitation Helps Heart Patients, But Many Women Do Without It
Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program of helping heart attack patients and those who have had heart procedures or surgeries adopt behaviors to avoid a recurrence. These programs typically include exercise training, education and stress counseling. They usually are conducted in a clinic or hospital rehab center with input from doctors, nurses, exercise experts, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians and mental health professionals. (Cimons, 2/19)

The Washington Post: Mental Illness And Heart Disease Are Often Found In The Same Patients
Cardiovascular disease and mental illness are among the top contributors to death and disability in the United States. At first glance, these health conditions seem to lie at opposite ends of the medical spectrum: Treating the heart is often associated with lab draws, imaging and invasive procedures, whereas treating the mind conjures up notions of talk therapy and subjective checklists. Yet researchers are discovering some surprising ties between cardiac health and mental health. These connections have profound implications for patient care, and doctors are paying attention. (Morris, 2/18)

The Washington Post: Flabby Heart Keeps Pumping With Squeeze From Robotic Sleeve
Scientists are developing a robotic sleeve that can encase a flabby diseased heart and gently squeeze to keep it pumping. So far it’s been tested only in animals, improving blood flow in pigs. But this “soft robotic” device mimics the natural movements of a beating heart, a strategy for next-generation treatments of deadly heart failure. (Neergaard, 2/18)

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In Midst Of Raging Opioid Epidemic, Some Turn To Marijuana As Alternative Pain Reliever

A 2016 study found that states with medical marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical marijuana laws. Some remain cautious about swapping one drug for another. Media outlets also report more on the crisis out of Maryland, Montana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Virginia.

Stateline: Can Marijuana Ease The Opioid Epidemic?
Nationwide, an estimated 1.4 million patients in 28 states and the District of Columbia use legal medical marijuana for a varying list of conditions. A much smaller number of patients in 16 states use limited extracts of the plant, primarily to treat seizure disorders. In the midst of an opioid crisis, some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillers that led to the epidemic. (Vestal, 2/21)

The Baltimore Sun: Number Of Maryland Babies Born With Drugs In Their System Growing 
Hospitals throughout the state are dealing with a sharp increase in the number of babies born exposed to drugs as the opioid epidemic grows and ensnares the youngest victims while they’re still in the womb. These newborns suffer tremors, have trouble feeding and are not easily comforted — all signs of drug withdrawal. The number of babies born in Maryland with opiates, alcohol, narcotics or other drugs in their systems has increased 56.6 percent in the last nine years to 1,419 cases in 2015, the latest numbers available. (McDaniels, 2/17)

Cincinnati Enquirer: A Jail Where Women Go Willingly To Break Heroin’s Grip
These half-dozen women, ages 18 to 38, are in jail for six months each. But they all want to be here. And once their sentences are over, they will continue being helped for as many as two more years with their addiction recovery. Welcome to the Recovery Unit of the Campbell County jail, a new addition, fashioned by social worker Kristie Blanchet, the jail’s new chemical dependency program manager. (DeMio, 2/20)

The Baltimore Sun: Doctors Are Using Alternatives To Addictive Opioids To Help Patients Deal With Pain 
The change in procedures is occurring as doctors face pressure to prescribe fewer opioids and other narcotics that can lead to addiction in some patients. Opioid addiction is fueling what’s become a nationwide heroin epidemic as addicts turn to the cheaper, more readily available street drug. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced earlier this month that it was instituting new rules for prescribing opioids to Medicaid patients that would force doctors to consider alternative painkillers, start with low doses and better screen patients for risk of abusing prescription drugs. The new rules also encourage doctors to refer more addicted patients to treatment. (McDaniels, 2/18)

NPR: Drugs Should Be A Last Resort To Treat Acute Lower Back Pain
Most of us suffer back pain at some point in our lives. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor. Many of us also probably reach for medication. Now, new guidelines from the American College of Physicians say try exercise, yoga, or massage first. That’s a pretty big change for both doctors and patients, but a welcome one, some doctors say. (Neighmond, 2/20)

NH Times Union: Sununu, HHS Commissioner Detail Their Plan To Combat Opioid Crisis 
Gov. Chris Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers detailed their multi-prong strategy Friday to make use of $6.3 million in federal grants over the next two years to fight the opioid epidemic. State officials have already learned this is what New Hampshire should expect to receive under the 21st Century Cures Act that Congress passed late last year. Federal officials have to approve the applications of each state for how to use their money. (2/18)

The Star Tribune: Could Mandatory Database Curb Opioid Abuse? 
Doctors would be required to check up on most patients before prescribing opioid painkillers under a legislative proposal that will get a warm reception at a Capitol rally on Tuesday. From there, it may face a tougher reception from physicians who view it as overkill and a crimp on their ever-shrinking amount of time to treat patients. But national research suggests that requiring physicians to check state registries of patients’ drug histories can help curb the painkiller epidemic by identifying patients who are abusing opioids and “shopping” among doctors for prescriptions. (Olson, 2/20)

Richmond Times Dispatch: Va. Board Creates New Opioid Prescription Guidelines 
Virginia’s Board of Medicine has approved new emergency regulations that will give it authority to specifically regulate the prescribing of opioids for pain. The board’s decision was made in response to the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic. Opioids are a type of drug that includes both prescription painkillers and illicit drugs such as heroin. (Demeria, 2/20)

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Decrease In Teen Suicide Attempts Linked To Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Feb 21 2017

Laws that have the greatest impact on gay adults may make gay kids feel “more hopeful for the future,” the study’s lead author said. In other public health news, a nutrition pilot program, homeopathic remedies, the anti-vaccination movement and genomic medicine.

USA Today: Study: Teen Suicide Attempts Fell As Same-Sex Marriage Was Legalized
Fewer U.S. teens attempted suicide in states where same-sex marriage was legal in the years leading up to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling upholding gay marriage, according to a new study. Analyzing data from 1999 to 2015, researchers found a 7% reduction in suicide attempts among high school students in the 32 states that legalized same-sex marriage. (Solis, 2/20)

USA Today: Hospitals Target Nutrition, Other Social Needs To Boost Health
Tom Shicowich “really, really, really liked Coca-Cola” before he began a new nutrition program targeting his Type 2 diabetes and weight. Being on a “very tight budget,” he couldn’t afford the fruit and vegetables he cut up for a living at his part-time grocery store job. Dinner was often a pizza or fast food meal he picked up on the way home. Six months after getting free healthy groceries every week through the Geisinger hospital near his rural Pennsylvania home, Shicowich has cut his blood sugar level from nearly 11 to close to a normal level of 7. (O’Donnell, 2/17)

Stat: Homeopathic Remedies Harmed Hundreds Of Babies, Families Say
A review of FDA records obtained by STAT under the Freedom of Information Act paint a far grimmer picture: Babies who were given Hyland’s teething products turned blue and died. Babies had repeated seizures. Babies became delirious. Babies were airlifted to the hospital, where emergency room staff tried to figure out what had caused their legs and arms to start twitching.   Over a 10-year period, from 2006 and 2016, the FDA collected reports of “adverse events” in more than 370 children who had used Hyland’s homeopathic teething tablets or gel, a similar product that is applied directly to a baby’s gums. Agency records show eight cases in which babies were reported to have died after taking Hyland’s products, though the FDA says the question of whether those products caused the deaths is still under review. (Kaplan, 2/21)

The Washington Post: Trump Energizes The Anti-Vaccine Movement In Texas
The group of 40 people gathered at a popular burger and fish taco restaurant in San Antonio listened eagerly to the latest news about the anti-vaccine fight taking place in the Texas legislature. Some mothers in the group had stopped immunizing their young children because of doubts about vaccine safety. Heads nodded as the woman giving the statehouse update warned that vaccine advocates wanted to “chip away” at parents’ right to choose. But she also had encouraging news. “We have 30 champions in that statehouse,” boasted Jackie Schlegel, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice. “Last session, we had two.” Now they also have one in the White House. (Sun, 2/20)

Modern Healthcare: Genomic Medicine Goes Mainstream
After decades of work and ballyhoo, it’s finally happening. Patients, as a regular part of their care, are getting their DNA sequenced, seeing it matched against known genetically related conditions and having their medications checked for genetic suitability. During the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society convention this week in Orlando, Fla., Inova, several other healthcare delivery organizations and their technology partners will tout their pioneering work in clinically applied genomics. Presentations at the show include both full-day and half-day symposia on precision medicine as well as multiple stand-alone educational sessions. (Conn, 2/18)

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Federal Officials Increase Scrutiny As Drug Thefts Plague VA Hospitals

Reported incidents of drug losses or theft at federal hospitals jumped from 272 in 2009 to 2,926 in 2015, before dipping to 2,457 last year, according to DEA data.

The Associated Press: Drugs Vanish At Some VA Hospitals
Federal authorities are stepping up investigations at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers due to a sharp increase in opioid theft, missing prescriptions or unauthorized drug use by VA employees since 2009, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff at federal hospitals — the vast majority within the VA system — siphoned away controlled substances for their own use or street sales, or drugs intended for patients simply disappeared. (Yen, 2/20)

The Associated Press: Cases Involving Alleged Drug Theft At VA Health Facilities
Government data obtained by The Associated Press show that incidents of drug loss or theft at federal hospitals have jumped nearly tenfold since 2009 to 2,457 last year, spurred by widespread opioid abuse in the U.S. Federal authorities report that doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff — mostly in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system — had siphoned away controlled substances, while in other cases, drugs intended for patients simply disappeared. (2/21)

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