Media outlets report on news from Maryland, Arizona, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Historically, psychiatrists didn’t consider medical diseases traumatic events, but parents of sick children can often have PTSD symptoms such as reliving the experience, avoiding reminders of the event or condition, feeling numb or detached from others, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and being constantly on the lookout for danger. In other public health news: a depression treatment, genetic testing, heart health, women’s safety and healthy diets.
Even though background checks are required to purchase guns, the overtaxed system doesn’t always work in a timely fashion. More weapons are getting into the hands of dangerous people, The Wall Street Journal reports. Then, understaffed federal and state agencies struggle with how to take away those guns. In other news on gun control efforts, some companies are installing gunshot detectors.
As the number of people infected has topped 120 in three states, the media looks at the seriousness of the disease and how it is transmitted. News about the outbreak comes out of Iowa, California and Washington, as well.
The recent attempts from social media companies to limit antivaccination posts highlights both the struggles of trying to monitor such content and the impact the tech leaders can have on the national conversation. In other health and technology news: the limits of artificial intelligence, exposure of personal health information, and a mental health app that can help with loneliness.
Recent moves by red state Republicans to block voter-approved Medicaid expansion, as well as threats from some Republican governors to slash funding highlight the fact that both sides are still fighting the Medicaid expansion battle. Medicaid news comes out of Georgia and Texas, as well.
Human resource directors often rely on independent health insurance brokers to guide them through confusing benefit options offered by insurance companies. But what many don’t fully realize is how the health insurance industry steers the process through lucrative financial incentives and commissions, the cost of which are built into premiums. In other health industry and cost news: affordability, the business of specialty surgeries, health record costs, and more.
After reviewing thousands of pages of documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act, researchers also found that both the FDA and drug companies became aware of what was happening but took no action to stop it. “The whole purpose of this distribution system was to prevent exactly what we found,” said Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. In other news on the national opioid crisis: the Oklahoma court case, copycat drugs, marijuana and car crashes.
PLANO, Texas — In February 2017, a school nurse in this Dallas suburb began counting women murdered by men.
Seated at her desk, beside shelves of cookbooks, novels and books on violence against women, Dawn Wilcox, 54, scours the internet for news stories of women killed by men in the U.S.
For dozens of hours each week, she digs through online news reports and obituaries to tell the stories of women killed by lovers, strangers, fathers, sons and stepbrothers, neighbors and tenants.
“I’m trying to get the message [across] that women matter, and that these women’s lives mattered, and that this is not acceptable in the greatest country in the world,” Wilcox said.
Her spreadsheet, a publicly available resource she calls Women Count USA, is a catalog of lives lost: names, dates, ages, where they lived, pictures of victims and their alleged killers, and the details that can’t be captured by numbers.
For Wilcox, these women are more than statistics.
She wants you to know Nicole Duckson, a 34-year-old Columbus, Ohio, woman whose friends “remembered her as a prayerful person and a loving mother.”
And Duckson’s 4-year-old daughter, Christina, who was stabbed to death alongside her mother, “a polite, happy little girl.”
And Claire Elizabeth VanLandingham, 27, a Navy dentist fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend. She had appeared in a video for Take Back the Night, the organization known for fighting dating violence, sexual violence and domestic violence on college campuses nationally. Her mother said, “Her heart was kind; her spirit generous; her soul wise. She gave her smile to everyone who needed it; to everyone who hadn’t even realized they did.”
Those are just a few of the nearly 2,500 women listed in Wilcox’s album during the past two years.
“Where is the outrage? Where are the marches, the speeches? I know where the silence is. It is everywhere and it is deafening,” Wilcox said.
Her crusade, Wilcox said, was spurred in part by the media frenzy about the shooting death of a gorilla, Harambe, at the Cincinnati Zoo and the uproar over the killing of Cecil the Lion, shot by a Minnesota dentist as a trophy.
As an animal lover, she was horrified by those killings. But as she saw the social media fury and the online petitions spread, she asked herself: “But what about women?”
“Women are people and they deserve to have their lives valued,” she posted on Facebook in 2016 after Harambe’s death. “They deserve our voices speaking out on their behalf. And when they are abused, assaulted, murdered and erased they deserve our attention and our outrage.”
Tracking The Data
The FBI releases crime data every year, including the number of women who have been killed by men, but local police are not required to file reports to the federal agency, so some state figures are missing.
Florida, for example, has not provided its data to the FBI since 1996, according to reports by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates to stop gun violence. Numbers from Alabama and Illinois have also been unavailable or limited in certain years.
Since 1996, between 1,613 and 2,129 women were murdered by men each year, FBI data show. In 2017, the latest year for which data are available, the FBI counted 1,733 women. An overwhelming majority of those women were killed by a man they knew.
“If you just go by the raw numbers, it is undoubtedly an undercount of domestic violence homicides,” said April Zeoli, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University and an expert on domestic violence homicides and gun laws. Still, she added, “it’s the most accurate picture we have.”
Wilcox, however, is doing something the FBI does not: putting faces to the cases. Recording the correct number of women murdered isn’t the only goal of Wilcox’s effort. Her work is about searching for their stories, finding their photos, trying to learn who they were, so that these women aren’t forgotten.
Touched By Abuse
Wilcox is no stranger to violence against women.
When she was 21, she began dating a man she met in a bar in Dallas. She’ll never forget the first time he hurt her.
On a night out at a dance club, Wilcox’s boyfriend stepped into the restroom. When he came back, she said, he sprayed cologne into her face, burning her eyes as she groped her way to the bathroom to rinse it out. It was an accident, she said he told her. But Wilcox knew it was an attempt to humiliate her.
The violence escalated, Wilcox said, culminating in a night that left a deep scar on the inside of her arm and a memory of abuse that echoes the stories of the lost women for whom she searches.
It was hot and the power had gone out, leaving her with no air conditioning as she read a book by candlelight in her apartment. The man began kissing her leg, she said, but soon she felt his teeth digging into her as he bit her. She told him to stop, but he put his hand to the base of her throat, pushed her down onto the bed and, after telling her he wanted to taste her blood, bit into the crook of her arm, tearing out skin, she said.
Wilcox went to a hospital emergency room and then fled to her mother’s home. She eventually ended the relationship with the man.
He was subsequently convicted of sexual assault and kidnapping after he raped two women before forcing them into his car, driving them to a secluded, wooded area, knocking them out and threatening to kill them. The women managed to escape.
Wilcox considers herself lucky. “I could’ve easily ended up one of the women on my own list.”
Today, she is married to a man who said his wife’s work has opened his eyes to the pervasiveness of violence against women.
“She’s inspired me,” said Mike Nosenzo, who married Wilcox in 2018. “The amount of time that she spends on it, the dedication that she puts into it. I don’t see how I could feel any other way.”
As her project nears the two-year mark, Wilcox wants to dig deeper to find more details on the lives of these women before their deaths: How many of the women had a protective order? And how many cases involved a prior history of domestic violence?
She is here, she said, not only to remember these women, but to make people care about their fate, with the hope of raising awareness to save others.
“I feel like these women were completely failed by all of us, really,” Wilcox said. “A lot of these women did everything you’re supposed to do to keep themselves safe. They told people, they went to the police, they got protective orders, and it still was not enough.”
This story was reported by Schreyer partly during her tenure at The Fuller Project, a nonprofit journalism organization that covers issues affecting women and girls.
Editorial writers focus on women’s health care issues.
Media outlets report on news from California, New York, Ohio, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida and Arizona.
More and more hospitals are transitioning toward private rooms as the standard, reflecting a growing sentiment that patient comfort is an essential part of the hospital business. Hospital news comes out of California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, and Kansas, as well.
States across the country have been beefing up their response to the opioid crisis by investing in treatment infrastructure, building databases, offering clean syringes and more. News on the crisis comes out of Maryland and Florida, as well.
More than 200,000 patients age 65 and older receive dialysis and are often told they’d die without it, yet few are informed about a conservative option that helps manage the disease. Public health news also looks at spanking; gay Catholic priests; CBD oil; a CRISPR patent; unsafe radiation exposure; presidents’ public speech patterns; new Ebola treatments and more.
The change in estrogen doesn’t just effect fertility, scientists are beginning to understand. It also effects how the brain is protected from aging. In other women’s health news: heart attacks, genetic testing, pregnancy and breast cancer.
Although the antivaccination movement has grown in the past few years, thanks in part to social media, there has always been a fierce outcry against compulsory shots for as long as vaccines have been used. Experts are hoping to leverage the recent outbreak in the Pacific Northwest to change minds. And some recent trends suggest that it might be the case.
An investigation this month has revealed that the Indian Health Service mishandled allegations against a doctor who was allowed to continue practicing for years following the accusations. Now Sen. Mike Rounds wants a broader assessment of the problems at the department. “Come hell or high water, we’re going to get to the bottom of what the problems are,” he said.
Darin Selnick, a senior Veterans Affairs adviser, flew to Washington, D.C. from California for two weeks out of every month, at taxpayers’ expense. Reports show that the costs for the six trips during the time period between Oct. 21, 2018, and Jan. 19, 2019 included: $3,885.60 for six round-trip flights in coach, $5,595.46 for 23 nights in hotels and $1,976 for meals. In other news, an army veteran is suing over defective earplugs.
Democrats with 2020 presidential aspirations are courting the party’s increasingly influential progressive wing and staking out ambitious policy platforms.
Front and center are three words: Medicare. For. All.
That simple phrase is loaded with political baggage, and often accompanied by vague promises and complex jargon. Different candidates use it to target different voter blocs, leading to sometimes divergent, even contradictory ideas.
“People are talking about this as a goal, as a commitment, as a value as much as a specific program,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.
In championing “Medicare-for-all,” politicians often put forth a general idea: universal health care, or some system in which everyone can afford medical care. But their visions for achieving that vary wildly.
Sometimes Medicare-for-all is meant to promise a single-payer health care system —meaning everyone is covered by one, often government-run health plan. In other cases, politicians who say they support “for all” actually mean “for more.”
Every proposal brings its own trade-offs.
“There’s not just one easy answer to what a single-payer system would do to the United States,” said Jodi Liu, an economist at the nonprofit Rand Corp. who studies single-payer proposals. “What happens depends on how that change is being designed, and how it’s being implemented.”
Here’s a primer on the Medicare-for-all debate. Keep it in your back pocket: This argument won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Isn’t Medicare-for-all what it sounds like? Medicare for everybody?
Not quite. But also, kind of.
Politicians talking about Medicare-for-all typically mean one of two things. It’s either a specific proposal in which every American is covered by the same, single health plan, or the general idea that anyone has the option to get health care through Medicare.
The first understanding is outlined in a bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Co-sponsors include Senate Democrats like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. All have either announced a run for president or indicated they are strongly considering one.
And they are talking about this on the campaign trail.
Sanders’ bill would outlaw private insurance where it competes with the public plan and change Medicare substantially by eliminating copays and other cost sharing, while expanding the program to cover long-term care, prescription drugs, dental care and vision. (As the bill is written, it’s hard to see what would be left for private plans to cover.)
The program would phase in over four years and cover every American. And it’s worth noting that, though many countries run a single-payer system, none offers all of those “expanded” benefits because the expense could be enormous. Also, many single-payer programs do require a degree of cost sharing, involving small copayments or deductibles.
In other cases, the “Medicare-for-all” phrase has been repurposed.
The midterms saw a wave of Democrats campaigning on it. But beyond the buzzwords, what they were actually talking about was lowering Medicare’s eligibility age or giving people the option to buy in or join the program. This would leave the private insurance industry intact. It would also preserve Medicare Advantage, in which the government pays private companies to run Medicare plans.
For many voters, it’s less about granular details and more about the principle, Lake suggested: “The highest level of support is when you talk about [Medicare-for-all] generally.”
So are Democrats saying we should get rid of private insurance?
Democrats who have signed on to Sanders’ bill have endorsed legislation that would outlaw virtually all private health insurance. That’s controversial.
Private insurance covers the largest share — 56 percent in 2017 — of Americans. And voters are often afraid of losing what they have if it’s uncertain they’ll get something better in exchange. Just ask then-President Barack Obama, whose Affordable Care Act-related promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it” sparked sharp backlash after proving untrue.
This gets at a key question: Can Medicare-for-all advocates convince voters they’ll replace their health plans with something better?
After all, most Americans say they support Medicare-for-all. But some of the same polls indicate that most people with employer-sponsored insurance think their coverage would be unaffected by the switch. That’s false.
Critics also say eliminating private insurance could gut a major sector of the health economy. As of December 2018, private health coverage was directly responsible for almost 540,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists note, though, that predicting how many jobs would go away — versus how many could be absorbed by the new system — is difficult, as is projecting any macroeconomic impact.
The magnitude of such a change underscores why some Democrats are trying to tread lightly for fear of land mines.
When probed on Medicare-for-all, Harris said she supported eliminating private insurance — while also saying she would, in the interim, back other bills that expand access to health care. Warren, in a televised interview, sidestepped specifics altogether. And Booker told reporters he would not outlaw private health care, noting that many other countries have achieved universal coverage without taking this step.
For example, Germany has universal health care but leaves private insurance intact, while heavily regulating the industry and requiring plans be not-for-profit.
So what other options are Democrats talking about?
Voters should get familiar with two other ideas: lowering Medicare’s eligibility age, and the “public option,” either through a Medicare or Medicaid buy-in.
These concepts are decidedly not Medicare-for-all — think “Medicare for more“ or “Medicaid for more.”
Lowering the eligibility age loops more people into the current system and is seen by advocates as a potential step toward single-payer, said Alex Lawson, head of the left-leaning Social Security Works, who has been involved in drafting Medicare-for-all legislation.
The public option lets people purchase coverage through Medicare or Medicaid. It has attracted criticism from Democrats aligned with the Sanders wing, who argue it’s settling for less.
Senate Democrats have introduced bills advancing such ideas — including Merkley, who pushed a Medicare-based public option to let individuals and employers buy Medicare coverage, while also attaching himself to Sanders’ measure. A proposal from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) would extend that option only to individuals. (Bennet is also purportedly weighing a 2020 bid.)
Said Liu, the health economist: “The devil is in the details.”
Shouldn’t we consider who would pay? Would this make things better?
Any health system comes with trade-offs, winners and losers. Would Medicare-for-all mean higher taxes? Probably. Opponents would definitely say it does, an argument that, polling shows, weakens support.
Would the average person pay more? That’s hard to know.
People would not pay what they currently do for health insurance, an outlay that’s only getting more expensive. They would also likely get more generous health coverage. And lawmakers are pitching various other bills — see Warren’s wealth tax, Sanders’ estate tax or the 70 percent marginal tax on the wealthy touted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — that backers argue would generate revenue to pay for something like Medicare-for-all.
Perhaps more significant, at least politically, are the implications for health care stakeholders like hospitals, insurers and drugmakers. All stand to lose under single-payer, especially if it’s used to bring down health care costs. They’re already working to make their opposition felt. (That said, opposition from the health industry is not universal.)
When Democrats say they want Medicare-for-all, then do they really mean single-payer?
There has been a lot of brouhaha on this.
Take the backlash when Harris, after backing single-payer, said she also supported “Medicare-“ and “Medicaid for more”-type policies. Her spokesman compared that to “wanting a burrito” while being willing to accept tacos in the meantime.
Of course, Harris isn’t the only one to straddle those plans. Merkley, Gillibrand, Booker and Warren have put their names to multiple health reform bills. So, in fact, has Sanders, who voted to support, among other bills, the Affordable Care Act — decidedly not single-payer.
So are Democrats wavering? Is saying “Medicare-for-all,” or even single-payer, a hook to win votes, or a bargaining strategy to end up with a public option instead?
It just isn’t that simple.
“None of us can see into the hearts of anybody. And it’s not a low-bar thing to sponsor a bill,” said Lawson of Social Security Works. In a presidential campaign, though, “people will want to hedge.”
But, he added, Medicare-for-all’s popularity — even as a concept — shows something significant.
“There is a consensus that the current system needs to fundamentally transform,” he said. “There’s a commitment to do that. Then we have to argue out the details.”
Happy Friday! Did you guys get as big a kick out of the #healthpolicyvalentines hashtag as I did? (I feel I’m talking to the right crowd here.) They’re quite delightful, including this timely one from KHN’s own Rachel Bluth: “Not even a PBM could get in the middle of our love.”
On to the news from the week.
Thursday was a somber day for many as the country marked the anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.
On the eve of the anniversary, the House Judiciary Committee approved two bills that would expand federal background checks for gun purchases. Although the legislation faces certain demise in the Senate, it is the first congressional action in favor of tightening gun laws in years. In the votes you see echoes of a recent trend: Lawmakers are no longer treating gun control as “the third rail in politics.” The difference is stark if you look at just over 10 years ago when then-candidate Barack Obama was sending out mailers assuring voters he supported the Second Amendment.
There were too many heartbreaking anniversary stories to highlight just one, but a project worth checking out is one from The Trace, a nonprofit news organization that reports on gun violence. In the year since Parkland, nearly 1,200 more children have lost their lives to guns. The Trace brought together more than 200 teen reporters from across the country to remember those killed not as statistics, but as human beings with rich histories.
A handy reference: The good people at The Tampa Bay Times and the AP put together a useful list of all the gun laws that have been enacted in the country since the shooting.
There are some lawmakers on the Hill who are almost giddy to hold hearings on “Medicare-for-all” — and they’re not Democrats. Republicans have been struggling to find a winning stance on health care, ever since Dems’ midterm victories, which were attributed in part to their stance on the issue.
For the previously floundering GOP lawmakers, MFA is practically a gift-wrapped present that fell right into their laps. They’re confident they can frame the idea as reckless, radical and expensive, and pick off moderate voters who want to keep their insurance the way it is. Democratic leadership blasted the GOP’s calls for hearings as “disingenuous,” but MFA supporters were raring to duke it out — verbally, of course. “They think it’s going to be a ‘gotcha’ moment,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in Politico’s coverage. “But they have been wrong on this and continue to be wrong on it.”
Meanwhile, Democrats introduced legislation this week that would allow people over 50 to buy in to Medicare. The measure is much more politically palatable than MFA, and its sponsors are selling it is a realistic and incremental step in the direction toward universal coverage.
Here’s something you don’t hear every day: Republicans and Democrats maybe (just maybe!) have found some common ground on the health law. As part of a package of bills to shore up the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are proposing slapping some consumer warnings on short-term plans. The hint of bipartisanship in the air, though, was limited to the advisories — Republicans were not fans of the rest of the changes proposed.
Advocates deem Utah’s move to limit voter-approved Medicaid expansion as a “dark day for Democracy.” The governor and lawmakers who rushed through the restrictions to the expansion, however, say the work requirements and caps are necessary to make it sustainable for the state.
As 2020 comes into focus, the abortion debate is definitely on the front burner for President Donald Trump, who has seized on recent controversies over so-called late-term abortions. This week, Trump and White House officials met with advocates, including Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. While the discussions weren’t open to journalists, Dannenfelser confirmed that Trump was keenly interested in the issue. “The national conversation about late-term abortion … has the power to start to peel away Democrats, especially in battle grounds,” Dannenfelser said in The Hill’s coverage.
There was some movement in the agencies this week that should be on your radar:
— The Food and Drug Administration has announced it’s cracking down on the $40 billion supplement industry, especially targeting diseases that really should require medical care. Right now, that landscape is pretty much the Wild Wild West, where anything goes. And consumers don’t realize that.
— The Environmental Protection Agency has released its plan to address long-lasting toxins in drinking water. Activists were not impressed, saying the “action plan” was quite short on action.
— The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released two major proposed regulations that are meant to help ease patients’ access to their health care records. Right now, many health care providers and hospitals offer patient portals, but they often lack material such as doctor notes, imaging scans and genetic-testing data. Sometimes they’ll even charge for the data. The rules would address restrictions such as those.
In a sign of the growing awareness about the United States’ maternal mortality problem, the task force that sets the standards insurers are required to follow is expanding its guidance when it comes to depression during and after pregnancy. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force already recommends that doctors screen pregnant women and new mothers, but the old guidelines focused on patients who were experiencing symptoms. The new advice is more proactive about addressing women who may be at risk.
It’s a well-established fact that doctors have an unconscious bias when it comes to race and pain — one that leaves many minority patients undertreated and undermedicated. What’s interesting is to see how that disparity has shaped the opioid epidemic in the country — the ones that wreaked havoc on white communities.
While all eyes are on the massive consolidated opioid lawsuit in Ohio that’s being compared to the Big Tobacco reckoning of the ’90s, this little case in Oklahoma might steal its thunder.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• A powerful investigation from The Wall Street Journal and Frontline uncovers the history behind an Indian Health Service doctor who was accused of molesting Native Americans yet allowed to continue practicing for decades. Where did it go wrong?
• Rural hospitals are collapsing everywhere, leaving vulnerable residents stranded in health deserts. It can be devastating for towns to watch their hospitals die. Ducktown, Tenn., offers a snapshot of what’s playing out in states all across the country.
• Employer-sponsored health care is often held up as the gold standard. But is it really that great?
• I vividly remember the global fear surrounding the bird flu back in the aughts. People were panicking and countries were stockpiling medical supplies, as everyone braced for an epidemic reminiscent of the catastrophic 1918 Spanish flu. But then nothing happened. So … where’d it go?
Early numbers show that the flu vaccine is doing a pretty good job this year, so remember it’s not too late to get your shot! And have a great weekend!
Opinion writers weigh in on these and other health topics.
Media outlets report on news from Connecticut, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Hampshire, Texas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Georgia, Louisiana and Oregon.
New data from a CDC survey finds that in up to 19 percent of pregnancies, women are unsure if they want to be pregnant, a state of mind doctors need to be in tune with when counseling them, researchers say. Public health news looks at AIDS death rates in the South; depression’s harmful role in aging brains; looking for treatments in moss piglets and a reason to get off the couch this weekend, as well.
But African Americans still have the highest death rate and the lowest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers. “The message is progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go,” said Len Lichtenfeld, interim chief medical officer for the cancer society.
The antivaccination claims–that childhood illnesses help boost immunity–touted by Darla Shine, the wife of White House communications director Bill Shine, have been debunked by health experts. Meanwhile, Facebook says it is looking for options to remove the antivaccine information that flourishes on its site.