- KFF Health News Original Stories 3
- Drug Industry Spent Millions To Squelch Talk About High Drug Prices
- No Sweeteners Added To Tax Bill To Spread Use Of Health Savings Accounts
- Not-So-Happy New Year: Alabama Set To Toss Kids Off Insurance Plan Starting Jan. 1
- Political Cartoon: 'Clam Up?'
- Health Law 1
- The Life And Death Of The Individual Mandate: Will Scrapping 'Toothless' Penalty Make A Difference?
- Capitol Watch 1
- Health Industry Growing Increasingly Alarmed That Tax Bill Is 'Leaving Too Many Patients Behind'
- Administration News 3
- HHS Says Employees Misconstrued Guidelines For Budget Writing As A Banned List Of Words
- Government Asks Supreme Court To Intervene In Case Of Pregnant Immigrant Girl Seeking Abortion
- Homeopathic Treatments On Fringe Of Mainstream Medicine To Be Targeted By FDA
- Marketplace 1
- Frenzy Of Hospital Mergers Reveals Frantic Attempt To Court Patients In Competitive Landscape
- Capitol Watch 1
- Braced For The Worst, States Plan To Freeze CHIP Enrollment, Think About Shuttering Programs
- Public Health 2
- This Chemical Formula Helped U.S. Win WWII. But Now It's Poisoning Americans.
- Everyone Agrees Opioid Epidemic Is A Problem. But Ideas On How To Treat It Are Hotly Debated.
- State Watch 1
- State Highlights: Iowans Voice Deep Disapproval Over State's Handling Of Health Care Issues; New Leak At Calif. Gas Facility Sparks Health Concerns
From KFF Health News - Latest Stories:
Last year, the pharma industry’ biggest trade group raised millions to change the conversation about drug pricing. (Jay Hancock, )
These accounts are exempt from taxes and linked to high-deductible health plans. Republicans tried last summer in their unsuccessful efforts to replace the health law to make the accounts more enticing for consumers, but they didn’t make those changes in the current tax bill. (Michelle Andrews, )
Funding for the joint federal-state Children’s Health Insurance Program expired Oct. 1, and Congress has not yet agreed to a plan to continue the popular coverage. (Phil Galewitz, )
KFF Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Clam Up?'" by J.C. Duffy.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
THE DEATH OF THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE
Tax deal kills mandate.
What will keep enrollment up?
In(ertia) We Trust
- Ernest R. Smith
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if we can include your name. Haikus follow the format of 5-7-5 syllables. We give extra brownie points if you link back to an original story.
Opinions expressed in haikus and cartoons are solely the author's and do not reflect the opinions of KFF Health News or KFF.
Summaries Of The News:
The individual mandate has become a symbol of something much greater than itself for both sides, and now the tax package wipes it out in two simple sentences. But it's not entirely clear what the exact ramifications of getting rid of it will be, since it was always enforced with “a muffled bark and a toothless bite." Meanwhile, some states are thinking about taking their own steps to preserve it.
The New York Times:
Without The Insurance Mandate, Health Care’s Future May Be In Doubt
For years, the Obama administration said the health care system as constructed by the Affordable Care Act could not survive without a mandate that most Americans have health insurance. With surgical precision, the sweeping tax bill that Republicans plan to pass this week will do away with that mandate. What comes next for health care is unclear. (Pear, 12/18)
Insurers Brace For Repeal Of Individual Mandate
The GOP tax proposal, slated for a vote on Tuesday, would ax the Affordable Care Act's requirement that most individuals enroll in an insurance plan or pay a financial penalty starting in 2019. The potential repeal of the individual mandate, which is looking like a sure thing, has some health insurers worried and already thinking about potential rate hikes that would be needed to keep them from losing their shirts. Even though open enrollment for 2018 individual coverage ended last week, insurers already have their eyes on 2019. Initial requests for 2019 individual market coverage are due in the spring. (Livingston, 12/18)
The CT Mirror:
Tax Bill Eliminates Health Insurance Mandate, But CT May Impose Its Own
As Congress is about to vote on a tax overhaul that will gut the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most Americans have health insurance, a number of states, including Connecticut, may consider a state-based penalty to encourage people to obtain coverage. Nearly 60,000 individuals and families in Connecticut paid a federal tax penalty last year because they did not have health insurance coverage in 2015, a penalty imposed by the ACA’s “individual mandate.” (Radelat, 12/18)
San Francisco Chronicle:
As Congress Prepares To Repeal Health Law Mandate, California To Explore ‘All Options’
Congressional Republicans appear to be moving full speed ahead in repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, prompting debate among California health care experts on how the state could continue encouraging residents to buy health insurance — including imposing a state-level requirement to purchase coverage. (Ho, 12/18)
And in other news —
MNsure On Track For ‘Modest’ Increase In Signups As Enrollment Deadline Nears
Having the state-run health care exchange MNsure means Minnesotans who buy insurance on the individual market have more time to enroll in a plan than much of the rest of the nation. But if they want to be covered by Jan. 1, they had better act fast. Wednesday is the deadline to enroll for coverage that’s effective the beginning of the year. Procrastinators have until Jan. 14 to pick a plan, but it won’t be effective until Feb. 1. Allison O’Toole, MNsure CEO, said Minnesota had new flexibility to set its open enrollment window this year and set a 10-week window after consultation with providers and health advocates. (Magan, 12/18)
Apart from repealing the individual mandate, the Republicans' tax package may force tens of millions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare program and open a $1.5-trillion hole in the federal deficit that could put pressure on government health care programs such as Medicaid. Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) reiterates her confidence that GOP leadership will keep the promise to shore up the Affordable Care Act exchanges in return for her "yes" vote on the tax legislation.
Los Angeles Times:
Republican Tax Bill Fuels Anxiety Across The Nation's Healthcare System
Doctors, hospitals, patient advocates and others who work in the nation's healthcare system are growing increasingly alarmed at the Republican tax bill, warning that it threatens care for millions of sick Americans. The legislation – which GOP leaders are rushing to pass this week – will eliminate beginning in 2019 the Affordable Care Act penalty on consumers without health coverage, a move many experts warn will weaken insurance markets in parts of the country. (Levey, 12/18)
Final GOP Tax Cut Bill Has Big Loss And Smaller Wins For Healthcare Stakeholders
As part of their tax cut bill, House and Senate Republicans have agreed to preserve tax-exempt, municipal private-activity bonds as a way for hospitals and other not-for-profit organizations to raise capital for construction projects. (Meyer, 12/15)
Kaiser Health News:
No Sweeteners Added To Tax Bill To Spread Use Of Health Savings Accounts
The ongoing uncertainty about congressional changes to the health law — and their impact on insurance and the online marketplaces — continues to raise questions among consumers. Here are answers to recent queries. (Andrews, 12/19)
The Wall Street Journal:
GOP Gets A Key ‘Yes’ Vote For Its Tax Bill
Republican leaders planning to put their tax package to a vote in coming days got a boost late Monday when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who had yet to commit to backing the proposal, said she would be a ”yes.” ... Ms. Collins said she was encouraged that the House and Senate negotiators had retained several provisions she had pushed to get into the Senate bill, including retaining a deduction for medical expenses that the House bill had originally scrapped. The final tax bill allows people to deduct medical expenses above 7.5% of their income for 2017 and 2018, down from 10% under current law. Ms. Collins reiterated her confidence, which has come under question recently, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and President Donald Trump would honor an agreement they made with her on two bills addressing cost-sharing payments to insurers and high-cost claims. (Hughes and Rubin, 12/18)
GOP Senator Says Must-Pass Funding Bill To Include ObamaCare Fix
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says that his bipartisan ObamaCare insurer fix will be added to a government funding bill this week, potentially setting up a showdown with House conservatives who oppose the measure. Alexander told local reporters on Friday that the bill aimed at stabilizing insurer markets — from him and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — would be added to a stop-gap government funding bill that must pass before this Friday's funding deadline, according to a pledge from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (Sullivan, 12/18)
McConnell Lays Out Senate Stopgap Priorities
McConnell, R-Ky., also said he wants to include a waiver from provisions of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 (PL 111-139), which if left unchecked would cut as much as $90 billion from a wide range of mandatory benefit programs, including $25 billion from Medicare. Those cuts would otherwise start in January as a result of the $1.5 trillion, 10-year deficit increase in the comprehensive tax bill (HR 1). The "paygo" waiver, as well as the health insurance market stabilization measures,were part of the price extracted for Sen. Susan Collins' backing for the tax bill. The Maine Republican wants to see inclusion of a draft bill by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would, among other things, provide funding for the law’s controversial cost-sharing reduction payments, and another from Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to provide funding for states to set up high risk pools or reinsurance programs. (Shutt, 12/18)
The agency has come under fire for providing employees with words that should be avoided as they prepare for the Fiscal Year 2019 budget process. Many took it as a banning the words that included "vulnerable" and "diversity." But the Department of Health and Human Services says that is not the case.
The Washington Post:
Debate Erupts Within HHS About 'Words To Avoid' Such As 'Vulnerable,' 'Diversity' And 'Entitlement'
Health and Human Services Department officials confirmed Monday that they had singled out a handful of words that should be avoided in the upcoming budget process, but said they had not blocked employees from using them outright. A department spokesman further said that the guidance came from within HHS, not from the Office of Management and Budget. (Eilperin and Sun, 12/18)
Dems Fuel Uproar Over ‘Banned’ CDC Words
Democrats in the House and Senate are demanding answers from the Trump administration after a report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was banned from using some words and phrases in official documents. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that senior CDC officials in charge of the budget told the agency’s policy analysts of a list of words they shouldn’t use in documents they are preparing for next year’s budget. The banned terms included “fetus,” “transgender” and “science-based.” (Weixel and Roubein, 12/18)
In other news from the Health and Human Services Department —
HHS Defends Withholding Comments Critical Of Abortion, Transgender Policy
HHS is defending its decision to withhold more than 10,000 public comments on a proposal that could affect access to abortion and care for transgender patients. “There has been a voluminous response to the [request for information], and the center’s team is working through a review of the submissions,” Shannon Royce, who leads the agency’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is overseeing the proposal, said in a statement on Monday night. (Diamond, 12/18)
The government acquiesced to the judge's orders to allow one of the girls to get the procedure, but is still fighting the other one's attempts. Officials only cited "differing circumstances" as to why they gave in on one.
Los Angeles Times:
Judge Tells Trump Officials To Allow Two 17-Year-Old Immigrants To Obtain Abortions; Government Concedes In One Case
Trump administration officials must allow two pregnant teenage immigrants being held in detention facilities to see doctors about having abortions, a federal judge ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington issued a temporary restraining order that bars administration officials from preventing the two 17-year-olds from leaving the shelters. One of the immigrants is 10 weeks pregnant and the other is in her 22nd week, according to the judge's order. (Savage, 12/18)
Judge Orders Trump Admin To Allow Abortions For Two Undocumented Immigrants
The administration had argued that the two women could leave the country or “find a suitable sponsor” in order to obtain an abortion. “The minors in this case—who entered the country illegally—have the option to voluntarily depart to their home country or find a suitable sponsor. If they choose not to exercise these options, HHS does not believe we are required to facilitate the abortion," the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement about the case last week. (Thomsen, 12/18)
Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court To Block Abortion For Immigrant Teen
The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court on Monday to block an abortion for a teenage girl in immigration custody, even as federal officials gave up their fight to prevent another undocumented immigrant teen from terminating her pregnancy. The moves came just hours after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to permit abortions as soon as Tuesday evening for both pregnant 17-year-old girls being held in federally funded shelters in different states. (Gerstein and Rayasam, 12/18)
In other news on abortion —
The Associated Press:
Governor Vetoes Bill To Add Abortion Restrictions
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have limited abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and, according to opponents, outlawed the most common method of second-trimester abortion. Wolf, who supports abortion rights, rejected what Planned Parenthood said would have been the nation's most restrictive abortion law. (12/18)
Pennsylvania Governor Vetoes 20-Week Abortion Ban
Under current Pennsylvania law, abortions aren't permitted after 24 weeks, but there are exceptions if the life of the mother is endangered. Supporters argue that with advances in technology and medicine, fetuses can now survive after 20 weeks, while opponents argue the decision should be left to the parents. “We thank Governor Wolf for standing strong to protect women’s health and rights," said Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. (Hellmann, 12/18)
Officials have announced that the Food and Drug Administration is going to be cracking down on these treatments that many scientists view as modern-day snake oil. The agency plans to focus on the ones that carry the biggest safety risks, including those marketed for children or for serious diseases.
The Associated Press:
US Health Officials To Target High-Risk Alternative Remedies
U.S. health officials plan to crack down on a growing number of unproven alternative remedies, focusing on products containing dangerous ingredients that have occasionally been linked to serious injury and death. The Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued a new proposal for regulating homeopathic medicines that have long been on the fringe of mainstream medicine. The agency plans to target products that pose the biggest safety risks, including those marketed for children or for serious diseases. (12/18)
The Washington Post:
FDA Takes More Aggressive Stance Toward Homeopathic Drugs
Homeopathy is based on an 18th-century idea that substances that cause disease symptoms can, in very small doses, cure the same symptoms. Modern medicine, backed up by numerous studies, has disproved the central tenets of homeopathy and shown that the products are worthless at best and harmful at worst. Under U.S. law, homeopathic drugs are required to meet the same approval rules as other drugs. But under a policy adopted in 1988, the agency has used “enforcement discretion” to allow the items to be manufactured and distributed without FDA approval. Agency officials don't plan to begin requiring that homeopathic products get approval — officials say that would be impractical — but they are signaling stepped-up scrutiny for items deemed a possible health threat. (McGinley, 12/18)
FDA Unveils Policy To Target Risky Homeopathic Treatments
"In recent years, we've seen a large uptick in products labeled as homeopathic that are being marketed for a wide array of diseases and conditions, from the common cold to cancer," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement announcing the new policy. "In many cases, people may be placing their trust and money in therapies that may bring little to no benefit in combating serious ailments, or worse — that may cause significant and even irreparable harm because the products are poorly manufactured, or contain active ingredients that aren't adequately tested or disclosed to patients," Gottlieb says. (Stein, 12/18)
In other public health news from the administration —
Los Angeles Times:
EPA Says Herbicide In Roundup Weed Killer Doesn't Cause Cancer, Contradicting California Regulators
The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said glyphosate, the primary ingredient in the weed killer Roundup and one of the most widely used herbicides in agriculture, likely does not cause cancer. The assessment contradicts the conclusion of a European scientific panel as well as California regulators, who have included the chemical on the Proposition 65 list of probable carcinogens. (Mohan, 12/18)
Patients are increasingly relying on walk-in clinics, urgent care centers or an app on their cellphone over the more costly hospital emergency room or doctor’s office. This leaves hospitals competing for fewer patients in a fairly unstable health care marketplace.
The New York Times:
Hospital Giants Vie For Patients In Effort To Fend Off New Rivals
It’s all about the patient. Or at least about keeping patients and the revenue generated for their medical care. As health care is rocked by deals aimed at shattering traditional boundaries between businesses, some of the nation’s biggest hospital groups are doubling down on mergers that seem much more conventional. Skeptics say some of these hospital deals are more of the same: systems seeking to increase their leverage with insurance companies and charge more for care. (Abelson, 12/18)
In other hospital news —
A Hospital Giant Discovers That Collecting Debt Pays Better Than Curing Ills
The amount of past-due medical debt in the U.S. is about $75 billion, spread among 43 million people, according to estimates from economists at MIT, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. About half of all collections lines on credit reports are related to medical debt, a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showed. (Tozzi, 12/18)
Some California Hospitals Seek To Cut Charity Care By More Than Half
Not long after California's attorney general was sworn in at the beginning of this year, hospitals got to work renewing pleas his predecessor had shot down to more than halve their charity-care obligations. The California Hospital Association said it's in talks with Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office on behalf of a handful of not-for-profit hospitals that need his permission to cut charity care. Kamala Harris, who preceded Becerra, denied four such requests before leaving her post to serve in the U.S. Senate. This fall, requests from the same four hospitals trickled back in, but the CHA says it knows of roughly 15 that want to make the change. (Bannow, 12/18)
Los Angeles Times:
After 157 Years In Chinatown, Los Angeles’ Oldest Hospital Shuts Its Doors
Xiaoyuan Yang was pregnant and her husband Weiming Lei needed a job when they moved more than 20 years ago from Guangzhou, China, to Los Angeles. "We knew nothing, and we didn't understand anything," Lei said. "Someone told us to live in Chinatown. "There, Yang found work at a Chinese restaurant, and their neighbors told them about a hospital just down the street where the staff spoke not only Mandarin and Cantonese, but the Toishan and Zhongshan dialects as well. (Shyong, 12/18)
Group Fighting Beth Israel-Lahey Deal Has Ties To Rival Hospital Network
A self-described grass-roots coalition opposed to the proposed merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health is backed by a high-profile Beacon Hill lobbying and consulting firm with ties to a competing hospital system. Executives of Boston-based Northwind Strategies established the Make Healthcare Affordable Coalition last month, according to public records filed with the secretary of state’s office. (Dayal McCluskey, 12/19)
Mass. General Hospital Raises Red Flag About National Shortage Of I.V. Fluids
They're a staple of hospital treatment: the clear plastic bags of saline solution hanging on poles above the patients' beds. ...And they're now in short supply around the country — including at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is raising a red flag about the ongoing inconsistency in supplies of intravenous fluid. (Goldberg, 12/18)
The renewal deadline to refund CHIP passed in September, and states have been cobbling together money ever since. But for many, those back-up funds will run out in March at the latest.
States Freeze CHIP Enrollment, Get Ready To Move Kids To New Plans
As federal lawmakers continue to bicker over how to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program moving forward, states across the country are freezing enrollment and preparing for the worst. CHIP funding lapsed Sept. 30 and has yet to be renewed by Congress, leaving states to patch together funding with monies redistributed by the CMS. But most of those dollars will run out by March at the latest, and states will have to finish processing all claims by the end of January and find a new plan to cover CHIP-enrolled children. (Luthi, 12/18)
Alabama To Freeze Enrollment In Children's Health Program In Two Weeks
Alabama will freeze enrollment in its children's health insurance program soon if Congress doesn't reauthorize funding for the program. The state announced Monday that it would no longer enroll children in its "ALL Kids" program for low-income children, starting on Jan. 1, because Congress has not yet reauthorized funding for the program. (Hellmann, 12/18)
Kaiser Health News:
Not-So-Happy New Year: Alabama Set To Toss Kids Off Insurance Plan Starting Jan. 1
Citing Congress’ failure to restore federal funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Alabama plans to drop 7,000 kids from coverage on New Year’s Day, the first step to shutting down coverage for everyone, state officials said Monday. Those children, who are up for their yearly renewal in January, will not be allowed to continue in the program, and the state also plans to freeze enrollment at the same time. Then, unless Congress acts, Alabama would close CHIP for all 84,000 children on Feb. 1. (Galewitz, 12/19)
Meanwhile, community health clinics share a similar fate —
Congress Won’t Act; Now Community Health Centers Weigh Closures
Unless Congress provides funding before the end of the year, many of the nation’s 9,800 community health clinics will face service cuts or closure — potentially crippling a vital part of the health system that provides care in poor and underserved communities across every state. And the fallout could mean the loss of more than 160,000 jobs and a hit to state economies of more than $15 billion as staff cutbacks and layoffs ripple through the country. California alone could lose up to 15,841 jobs and nearly $1.7 billion next year. (Ollove, 12/18)
At bomb-making plants and ordnance testing ranges across the United States, RDX has spread into the soil and contaminated water supplies. ProPublica investigates the chemical formula and its negative health consequences. In other public health news: college students and mental health; loneliness; dementia; and the brain's destructive impulses.
The Bomb That Went Off Twice
From the first reports of RDX contamination on American soil, the Pentagon has either ignored or actively sought to discount RDX’s threat to public health and the environment, according to ProPublica’s review of thousands of pages of EPA and Pentagon documents and the accounts of more than 23 current and former officials and lawmakers. (Lustgarten, 12/18)
College Students With Mental Health Challenges Often Feel Alone. Not Here
Taking time off from college for mental health problems is a loss. It’s a loss of independence, of routine, of friends, of a place, a purpose, and a clear-cut goal. NITEO fills that gap. It gives the students a peer group and a place to go three days a week. It gives them assignments, accountability, and a personal coach to cheer them on. It gives them a path forward. It also gives students an explanation for their absence from campus. It’s not easy to tell friends they’re home for the semester due to a mental health issue. Instead, they can say, “I’m taking classes at Boston University this semester.” And it’s true. (Thielking, 12/19)
The Washington Post:
Loneliness Can Make You Sick
Loneliness can tank your mood, but can it affect your health, too? All signs point to yes. It turns out that feeling lonely can do more than make you sad: It can predict the way your body will respond to and bounce back from various health challenges. Lonely people are more likely to get sick, and researchers want to know why. (Blakemore, 12/18)
Los Angeles Times:
Preventing Dementia: The Promising, The Disappointing And The Inconclusive
What's proven to prevent the development of dementia after the age of 80? Not brain training, not medication, not regular exercise, not a healthier diet and not a busy social calendar, according to a series of reports published Monday. But ask the question a bit differently, and the answer is not quite as discouraging: What should you be doing anyway right now that might delay or prevent the development of dementia late in life? (Healy, 12/18)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Dementia Cannot Be Prevented By Various Interventions, New Research Says
Last July, an international commission optimistically concluded that one-third of dementia may be preventable.With an aging population headed into the period of prime risk for developing Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia, that seemed like good news. But a comprehensive set of papers published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine reached a seemingly opposite conclusion: There is no proven intervention for preventing late-life dementia. (Fauber, 12/18)
Could A Zap To The Brain Derail Destructive Impulses?
Picture this: While reaching for the cookie jar — or cigarette or bottle of booze or other temptation — a sudden slap denies your outstretched hand. When the urge returns, out comes another slap. Now imagine those "slaps" occurring inside the brain, protecting you in moments of weakness. (Landhuis, 12/18)
Clean needle exchanges, for example, often bring opinions on either side. "We don't have a free-case-of-beer-a-month program for alcoholics," says Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. But others point to research that shows the programs are helpful.
Fight The Opioid Epidemic, All Agree. But What Works Best?
It's no secret why drug users come to George Patterson in a mall parking lot just outside Phoenix to get their clean needles, syringes and other supplies on Tuesday afternoons, instead of heading to the pharmacy down the street. "It's really low-barrier the way we are doing it," Patterson says. "All you have to do is find us." (Stone, 12/19)
In other news on the crisis —
Aunt Who Saved Family Torn By Addiction Seeks Yuletide Help
In what has emerged as one of the nation’s largest public health threats, the problem of drug addiction — and opioid dependence, specifically — has in just a few years cost thousands of Massachusetts residents their lives. ...Fortunately for some, there are relatives willing to step in before the state takes at-risk children away from their families. (Tangney, 12/19)
Media outlets report on news from Iowa, California, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Georgia, Texas, Ohio and Massachusetts.
Des Moines Register:
Iowa's Mental Health System Draws Deep Disapproval, New Iowa Poll Shows
Nearly two-thirds of Iowans disapprove of how state leaders are handling mental health issues, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows. More than half of Iowans also disapprove of how state leaders are handling the Medicaid health-care program, K-12 and higher education funding, and taxes, the poll shows. And a large majority of Iowans expect those issues to be major considerations when they vote next fall, the poll says. (Leys, 12/18)
Los Angeles Times:
Residents Report Nosebleeds And Headaches After New Leak At Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Facility
Southern California Gas Co. late Monday reported a leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility during a routine operation to pressurize equipment after maintenance. In a community alert, the company said the leak occurred about 4:55 p.m. and didn't pose any health risks, though it did produce a noticeable odor. (Tchekmedyian, 12/18)
The Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com:
Carlyle Group Buys Control Of MedRisk, A KofP Workers' Comp Software Firm
Carlyle Group, whose investments range from oil refineries to nursing homes, says it has agreed to buy out Boston-based health-care investor TA Associates as majority owner of MedRisk, a King of Prussia-based maker of workers’ compensation software. MedRisk founder Shelley Boyce, chief executive Mike Ryan, and other managers will stay in place and continue to own a minority stake in the company. Carlyle money and know-how “will fuel our next stage of growth,” Boyce said in a statement. Founded in 1994, MedRisk employed more than 400 after a West Coast acquisition in 2013. Seller TA said MedRisk employed 800 as of last year. (DiStefano, 12/18)
Cedars-Sinai Faces Sexual Harassment Suit Over Surgeon's Conduct Toward Nurse
As discussion of sexual harassment in healthcare grows, an ambulatory surgery center charge nurse has sued a prominent Los Angeles eye surgeon and the Cedars-Sinai Health System for battery, sexual harassment and discrimination. Nurse Paula Rickey alleges she was punished and forced to resign for reporting the incident, which was captured on surveillance video, while the surgeon, Dr. Kerry Kourosh Assil, received mild or no punishment. She claims that Cedars-Sinai, which owns the 90210 Surgery Center, failed to prevent or correct the harassment and discrimination. (Meyer, 12/18)
New Hampshire Public Radio:
Investment Account Aims To Help Individuals With Disabilities In N.H.
People living with either physical or intellectual disabilities often face financial hardships. ... A new investment account for New Hampshire residents may ease some of that burden. Similar to a “529” college saving account, qualified participants can now invest money and use those funds on a range of needs. (Bookman, 12/18)
Georgia Health News:
39th And 41st: More Subpar Health Rankings For Georgia
Georgia remained at 41st in a national ranking of the healthiest states compiled by the United Health Foundation. Placing in the 40s is a typical ranking for the Peach State on health measures. (Miller, 12/18)
Many People Sick With Flu In What Could Be Harsh Season
Influenza cases have been increasing in Texas and across the nation since November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ...In the first full week of December, reporting health providers said 7 percent of suspected "influenza-like illness" cases tested positive for the virus, which exceeded this season's baseline for high activity in Texas. (George, 12/18)
Lindner Center Of Hope Gets $75 Million To Boost Cincy's Mental Health
Two prominent Cincinnati families have delivered the largest financial contribution to an Ohio health care facility in more than a decade. The Fath and Lindner families announced Monday they are giving $75 million to the Lindner Center of Hope in Mason to address mental health care across the region. (Saker, 12/18)
San Francisco Chronicle:
Berkeley May Repeal Law That Lets Police Use Pepper Spray During Violent Protests
A civilian commission in Berkeley worried about the health effects of pepper spray is urging the City Council to repeal an ordinance that allows police officers to use the chemical on violent protesters.T he council approved the law in September in response to a series of destructive political clashes between extremist groups in the city. (Veklerov, 12/18)
Mass. Recreational Pot Industry Won't Just Line Pockets Of Big Businesses, Regulators Say
Cannabis cafes, home marijuana delivery, THC-infused spa treatments. All are expected to be realities in the not-too-distant future, as the state's Cannabis Control Commission transforms policy into regulations this week. (Brown, 12/18)
A selection of opinions on health care from news outlets around the country.
Los Angeles Times:
GOP Tax Bill Also Manages To Needlessly Screw Up The Healthcare System
Republicans are rushing to pass their cruel joke of a tax bill — legislation they claim will assist working families but in reality is an early Christmas present for corporations and the super-wealthy. Voting begins Tuesday. ... But the part that strikes me as most galling, and which has become almost an afterthought amid all the other damage the bill will do, is its incongruous and completely unnecessary repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. (David Lazarus, 12/19)
GOP Tax Bill Will Kill The Affordable Care Act
Congress is quietly handing the American people a huge lump of coal in their holiday stockings: the repeal of the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. ... This will mean that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance coverage and many of us will face much more expensive, but less desirable health insurance options. (Erwin Chemerinsky, 12/18)
The New York Times:
Why New Blood Pressure Guidelines Could Lead To Harm
In the week before Thanksgiving, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines for the diagnosis and management of high blood pressure. This, probably more than anything else, made my blood pressure go up over the holiday. The problem was not the guideline itself but some of the news coverage it prompted, with pronouncements that millions more Americans would need to lower blood pressure or that nearly half of Americans now had high blood pressure. A lot of the coverage made it sound as if something drastic had happened overnight. (Aaron E. Carroll, 12/18)
Congress Must Fund Community Health Centers Now
It’s past time to step up the fight for community health centers in my state of Massachusetts and across the country. Community health centers are a big part of what’s working well in health care today — more coverage at lower cost. They are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. They provide preventive services and chronic disease management. They are taking the stigma out of mental health treatment. And they save money by promoting disease prevention, providing care coordination, and reducing the use of hospital emergency rooms. Across the country, community health centers care for more than 25 million people. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 12/18)
Lexington Herald Leader:
Suicide Is A Community Problem, Not A Personal Failure
State Rep. Dan Johnson’s death last week by suicide seems an inexplicable event. We may be tempted to create a salacious caricature of a man who seemed to have lived an over-the-top life. ... Suicide is a behavior that cuts across all demographics, socio-economic status, personalities and occupations. While the science of why someone would kill themselves lagged for decades, we do know more now than ever. Being male and living in a rural county are risk factors, but, like other risk factors, tell us very little in identifying those who will end up taking their own lives. (Melinda Moore and Julie Cerel, 12/18)
Despite Medical Gains In Fight Against HIV And AIDS, There's Still Stigma
[W]hile HIV is becoming easier to diagnose, manage and prevent, much of the stigma surrounding it remains. In fact, stigma and discrimination are some of the steepest barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, and support. Too often, HIV stigma combines with other stigmas that people with HIV face as members of the LGBTQ, black or Latino communities. (Kim Greene, 12/15)
The Des Moines Register:
Iowa Lawmakers Must Investigate Injuries At Wind-Blade Factory And OSHA's Oversight Role
This doesn’t seem too much to ask: Iowans should expect that their workplace will be safe, and they will be provided the proper equipment to protect them on the job. They should expect that state regulators will look into reports of injuries and make employers follow the rules. ... A Register investigation published Sunday showed that several workers have suffered skin problems at TPI Composites' wind-blade factory in Newton. Logs of Iowa's Occupational Safety and Health Administration show more than 300 recorded cases of skin injuries at TPI from the plant's opening in 2008 through 2016. (12/18)
Faster Concussion Diagnoses Are On The Horizon. Patent Filings Offer A Peek
As these technologies develop, a more robust understanding of the frequency and mechanics of concussions will improve our knowledge of the long-term risks and nature of traumatic brain injuries. This greater understanding of concussions and further development of products should make playing fields much safer for athletes. To support progress in concussion technologies, parents, school leaders, and athletic directors should press to transition these advances from the lab bench to the field so athletes won’t need to weigh their health against the sports they love to play. (Faith Bradley and Daniel Currie, 12/18)