- KFF Health News Original Stories 3
- Scientists Search for Cause of Mysterious Covid-Related Inflammation in Children
- California’s Mental Health Crisis: What Went Wrong? And Can We Fix It?
- ‘They Treat Me Like I’m Old and Stupid’: Seniors Decry Health Providers’ Age Bias
- Political Cartoon: 'Coupon!'
- Science And Innovations 1
- 'It's A Big, Big Deal': In Milestone, Pig Kidney Successfully Tested In Human
- Covid-19 3
- If You're Pregnant, Your Baby's Gender Influences Your Response To Covid
- Hawaii Ready To Welcome Travelers Again; Idaho Case Counts Flatten
- Study Rules Out Possible Anti-Covid Benefits From Interferon, Colchicine
- Prescription Drug Watch 2
- Why Attempts At Lowering Prescription Drug Prices May Flop
- Perspectives: The Allure — And Traps — Of Big Pharma
From KFF Health News - Latest Stories:
Scientists treating kids for MIS-C point to rare genes, leaky guts and a “superantigen.” (Liz Szabo, )
KHN’s Angela Hart leads a lively discussion on the challenges facing California’s mental health care system and potential solutions. The panel was part of a broader symposium on mental health and addiction hosted by the Sacramento-based publication Capitol Weekly. ( )
Ageism in health care settings, which can result in inappropriate or dangerous treatment, is getting new attention during the covid pandemic, which has killed more than half a million Americans age 65 and older. (Judith Graham, )
KFF Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Coupon!'" by Clay Bennett.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
WHY WON'T POLICE OFFICERS GET VAXXED?
Can this be a joke?
They will face bullets for us,
But not a small poke.
- Timothy Kelley
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.
Calling all pandemic poets! It's that spooky time of year again — send us your best scary health care haiku for our third annual Halloween Haiku contest. The deadline is 5 p.m. Oct. 27. Click here to enter.
Summaries Of The News:
For decades, the FDA has regulated hearing aids as medical devices, which adds to the cost and effort of getting fitted for one. The FDA's draft rule, which still faces a 90-day comment period before it's finalized, would allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter.
FDA Announces ‘Landmark’ Action To Make Hearing Aids Cheaper
The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday took a major step toward bringing down the cost of hearing aids by making them available over the counter. The freedom to buy hearing aids without a fitting or test by a specialist is likely to make them cheaper and the market more competitive. The cost of hearing aids can run into the thousands. They often are not covered by insurance companies or traditional Medicare, the federal health program for people over 65, although private Medicare Advantage plans sometimes cover them. (Kopp, 10/19)
FDA Moves To Allow Hearing Aids To Be Sold Over The Counter
People with mild or moderate hearing loss could soon be able to buy hearing aids without a medical exam or special fitting, under a new rule being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration. The agency says 37.5 million American adults have difficulty hearing. "Today's move by FDA takes us one step closer to the goal of making hearing aids more accessible and affordable for the tens of millions of people who experience mild to moderate hearing loss," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said as he announced the proposed rule on Tuesday. There is no timeline yet for when consumers might be able to buy an FDA-regulated over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid. The proposed rule is now up for 90 days of public comment. (Chappell, 10/19)
Cheaper, Sleeker Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids May Hit Shelves Next Year
Millions of Americans with mild-to-moderate hearing loss may soon be able to buy high-quality — and cheaper — hearing aids at their local drugstore. That's because the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued long-awaited draft rules for selling such hearing aid devices over the counter, in addition to what the agency calls "sound amplification" products. Now that the proposed rules are out, it could take about a year for new hearing aids to hit the market, according to experts. (Layne, 10/19)
Sen. Warren On Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids And FDA’s Independence
The move was mandated by a 2017 law written by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). ... Warren told STAT in an interview that she’s “celebrating” the new regulations, but that they were long overdue. “The only people who were benefiting by that delay were the manufacturers, who were still scooping up huge profits while consumers were overpaying for hearing aids or not getting those aids at all — and that is about to change,” she added. (Florko, 10/19)
The organ was transplanted into a brain-dead woman at N.Y.U. Langone Health. It was successfully attached and found to work normally, although the longevity of the organ is still in question. The surgery could offer hope to the more than 90,000 people who are on waiting lists for a kidney.
The New York Times:
In A First, Surgeons Attached A Pig Kidney To A Human — And It Worked
Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients. Although many questions remain to be answered about the long-term consequences of the transplant, which involved a brain-dead patient followed only for 54 hours, experts in the field said the procedure represented a milestone. (Rabin, 10/19)
Pig Kidney Transplant Successfully Tested On Deceased Woman
A pig kidney was successfully tested on a dead patient at a hospital in New York last month for the first time without being immediately rejected. While pig organs are similar to human ones, a sugar in pig cells triggers organ rejection. "It had absolutely normal function," said Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the surgical team at NYU Langone Health. "It didn’t have this immediate rejection that we have worried about." Researchers have turned to pigs to help with the kidney donor shortage. Around 12 patients die a day waiting for a kidney. (Stimson, 10/20)
Pig Kidney Organ Transplant Into Human A Milestone For Science
Dr. Robert Montgomery planned for this moment for three years. On an operating table in front of the transplant surgeon was a woman’s body donated precisely for this purpose. The kidney he was about to attach to her came from a pig bred for this day. If the surgery worked, it would show pig organs could be safely used to save human lives. Clamps separated her bloodstream from the pig kidney. Once he released them, the organ would fill with blood. In the worst case scenario, it would rapidly turn blue, a sign her immunity "soldiers" were flooding in to fight off the foreign organ. That could set his field back for years. (Weintraub, 10/20)
Pig-To-Human Transplants Come A Step Closer With New Test
Surgeons attached the pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient so they could observe it for two days. The kidney did what it was supposed to do — filter waste and produce urine — and didn’t trigger rejection. “It had absolutely normal function,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the surgical team last month at NYU Langone Health. “It didn’t have this immediate rejection that we have worried about.” (Johnson, 10/20)
Surprising new research shows that carrying a male fetus can lead to much lower levels of covid antibodies detected in the blood than if the fetus is female. Other media outlets report on different covid issues related to pregnancy, plus MIS-C in children.
Sex Of The Fetus Influences The Mother’s Response To Covid-19 Infection, New Research Shows
In April 2020, as SARS-CoV-2 was first beginning to spread through New England, researchers at two hospitals in Boston — Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s — began attending deliveries in the Covid units to collect blood and placenta samples from pregnant patients who’d caught the dangerous new infectious disease. That biorepository, which has since grown to house samples from more than 1,000 people, including dozens who received either the Moderna or Pfizer Covid shots, is now helping to answer important questions about the response to the vaccines and coronavirus infection during pregnancy. (Molteni, 10/19)
In other news about pregnancy and covid —
COVID-19 And Pregnancy: Women Regret Not Getting The Vaccine
Sometimes when she’s feeding her infant daughter, Amanda Harrison is overcome with emotion and has to wipe away tears of gratitude. She is lucky to be here, holding her baby. Harrison was 29 weeks pregnant and unvaccinated when she got sick with COVID-19 in August. Her symptoms were mild at first, but she suddenly felt like she couldn’t breathe. Living in Phenix City, Alabama, she was intubated and flown to a hospital in Birmingham, where doctors delivered baby Lake two months early and put Harrison on life support. (Chandler, 10/19)
Doctor Says Half-Dozen Unvaccinated COVID Patients Have Had Miscarriage Or Stillbirth
U.S. health officials have recorded more than 125,000 COVID-19 cases and 161 deaths in pregnant women over the course of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now, hospitals and doctors in places where the virus runs rampant are seeing an increase in severely ill pregnant women with the virus, the Associated Press reported. (Cagnassola, 10/19)
The Wall Street Journal:
ESPN Reporter Allison Williams Quits Over Vaccine Mandate, Fertility Concerns. Many Share Her Fears.
ESPN reporter Allison Williams’s decision to leave the network over a Covid-19 vaccine requirement underscores the battle that doctors say they are waging to convince pregnant women, and those planning a pregnancy, to get the shots. Ms. Williams, 37, shared her decision in a recent Instagram video. She said she wants a second child and is concerned that the vaccine may affect her fertility or pregnancy. While scientists have found no link between Covid-19 vaccines and fertility problems or miscarriage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors say they are seeing many women who share Ms. Williams’s concerns. (Petersen and Abdel-Baqui, 10/19)
Scientists Search For Cause Of Mysterious Covid-Related Inflammation In Children
Like most other kids with covid, Dante and Michael DeMaino seemed to have no serious symptoms. Infected in mid-February, both lost their senses of taste and smell. Dante, 9, had a low-grade fever for a day or so. Michael, 13, had a “tickle in his throat,” said their mother, Michele DeMaino, of Danvers, Massachusetts. At a follow-up appointment, “the pediatrician checked their hearts, their lungs, and everything sounded perfect,” DeMaino said. Then, in late March, Dante developed another fever. After examining him, Dante’s doctor said his illness was likely “nothing to worry about” but told DeMaino to take him to the emergency room if his fever climbed above 104. (Szabo, 10/20)
Hawaii's governor signals that the region has seen covid case counts and hospitalizations fall. But Idaho's case counts remain so high the state is still worse than when it started using crisis standards of care management — but case rates are leveling off.
Hawaii's Governor Welcomes Travelers As COVID Counts Drop
Hawaii’s COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have declined to the point where the islands are ready to welcome travelers once again, the governor said Tuesday. Gov. David Ige said vacationers and business travelers are welcome to return to the islands starting Nov. 1. (McAvoy, 10/20)
Idaho Health Officials Say COVID Case Numbers Are Flattening
Idaho’s COVID-19 case numbers are so high that the state is still worse off than when it first entered crisis standards of care, but public health officials said Tuesday that some hope is on the horizon. “For the first time since July, things are headed in a better direction,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said during a public briefing, noting that the number of new cases was flattening out. “It also means that we are not out of the woods yet.” (Boone, 10/19)
Montana Leads Country In COVID Cases Per 100k
Montana became the state with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the country Tuesday morning. The New York Times COVID tracker moved Montana into the top slot as the state hit 97 cases per 100,000 people per day. Idaho and Wyoming follow with 78 cases and 75 cases per 100,000 people respectively. Alaska, which had been number one over the weekend, has moved down to fourth in the country with 71 cases per 100,000 people. “We are the hottest spot and Yellowstone County is leading with the number of cases in the state,” said Public Health Officer John Felton during a Tuesday meeting of the County Commissioners. (Schabacker, 10/19)
US Homeland Security Secretary Tests Positive For COVID
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19 and is isolating at home, the agency said. The secretary has been fully vaccinated and is experiencing only “mild congestion,” DHS said in a statement. The agency said he will work from home under the protocols recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention. (10/19)
Fox News's Neil Cavuto Tests Positive For Breakthrough COVID-19 Case
Fox News host Neil Cavuto, who has been open about his health struggles with multiple sclerosis, announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. Cavuto did not host his Fox show "Your World" on Tuesday due to the diagnosis. "While I'm somewhat stunned by this news, doctors tell me I'm lucky as well," Cavuto said in a statement shared with The Hill. "Had I not been vaccinated, and with all my medical issues, this would be a far more dire situation. It's not, because I did and I'm surviving this because I did." (Prieb, 10/19)
Virginia Gov. Northam Has Had Long COVID For More Than A Year
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam still has long COVID-19 symptoms more than a year after his initial infection, he said in an interview with the Virginian-Pilot. The Democratic governor is one of millions of Americans suffering from symptoms of long COVID, which could have serious implications for employers and social programs if enough people can no longer work because of it, per Axios' Caitlin Owens. (Garfinkel, 10/19)
CNN's John King Says He Has MS, Grateful For Vaccinations
CNN’s John King revealed during an on-air discussion of COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Tuesday that he has multiple sclerosis. “I’m going to share a secret I’ve never spoken before,” King said while leading a panel discussion on his “Inside Politics” show. “I’m immunocompromised. I have multiple sclerosis. So, I’m grateful you’re all vaccinated.” King and his guests were talking about mandates in the context of the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died Monday of COVID complications despite being vaccinated because he had cancer that compromised his immune system. (10/19)
A study reported in CIDRAP notes clinical trials found no link between a combination of interferon beta-1a, remdesivir and colchicine, and reduced deaths or risk of hospital treatments from covid infections. Separately, a potential antiviral anti-covid pill from Atea Pharmaceuticals also failed.
Trials Find No Benefit Of Interferon, Colchicine In COVID Hospital Patients
New clinical trials detail the failure of two COVID-19 treatments—a combination of interferon beta-1a and remdesivir and the drug colchicine—to reduce death by 28 days, length of hospital stay, or risk of requiring invasive mechanical ventilation or dying in hospitalized adults. Both trials were published yesterday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. (Van Beusekom, 10/19)
Atea’s Antiviral Pill Fails To Clear Covid-19, Forcing A Re-Think
Atea Pharmaceuticals said Tuesday that its antiviral pill for Covid-19 failed to combat the virus in a mid-stage trial, leading the company to delay its pivotal study by a year. The disappointing news follows a far more hopeful October update from Merck, whose similar antiviral reduced the chances that patients newly diagnosed with Covid-19 would be hospitalized by about 50% in a Phase 3 study. (Garde and Herper, 10/19)
The Washington Post:
Rep. Andy Harris, A Doctor, Says He’s Prescribed Ivermectin As A Covid-19 Treatment
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a practicing anesthesiologist, said he has prescribed ivermectin, a medication typically used to treat parasites in livestock and humans, as a covid-19 treatment, and he lashed out at pharmacies for not making the drug readily available, according to a recent radio interview. Harris made the comments during a call-in radio program that he and his wife, Nicole, co-hosted last month on WCBM, an AM radio station in the Baltimore area. (Wiggins and Flynn, 10/19)
The Washington Post:
What Is Molnupiravir, Merck’s Covid-19 Treatment Pill?
Molnupiravir is an antiviral pill by pharmaceutical giant Merck that aims to prevent mild to moderate cases of covid-19 from becoming severe cases that result in hospitalization or death. People who have covid-19 take the drug twice a day for five days, starting within five days of the onset of symptoms. It was shown in an international clinical trial of 775 high-risk, unvaccinated people to cut the risk of hospitalization and death in half (the participants had at least one risk factor for severe covid-19, such as obesity or advanced age). (Pietsch, 10/18)
In related news —
New CMS Rule Could Hold Up Organ Supply Amid Rising Demand
Lawmakers are worried a new CMS rule aimed at holding organ procurement organizations accountable for the first time will come too late for many Americans. A growing number of Americans are in need of a heart, lung or kidney transplant, many due to COVID-related factors, which experts say may overwhelm the transplant system. (Fernandez, 10/20)
Meanwhile, the vaccination rate is slipping in Wisconsin, Florida and other parts of the nation — but not at the Cincinnati Zoo, where 80 animals recently got the shot.
CDC Data Finds Pfizer Vaccine 93 Percent Effective Against Hospitalization For Youth
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been found to be 93 percent effective against hospitalization for 12- to 18-year-olds, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research from when the delta variant was predominant. Researchers calculated the vaccine efficacy using data from 464 hospitalized patients, including 179 with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and 285 controls without the virus, across 19 pediatric hospitals between June and September. (Coleman, 10/19)
Pfizer Shot 93% Effective Avoiding Hospitalization For COVID For 12-18
Even in the throes of the summer spike in coronavirus cases across the U.S. fueled by the delta variant, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine proved 93% effective at keeping adolescents 12 to 18 out of the hospital, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday. The report may help boost uptake of the vaccine among children ages 5-11 once it's authorized, likely in the coming weeks. "Findings reinforce the importance of vaccination to protect U.S. youths against severe COVID-19,'' the authors wrote. (Ortiz, Miller and Tebor, 10/19)
In other news about vaccine development —
J&J Still Expects $2.5 Billion Of COVID-19 Vaccine Sales This Year
Johnson & Johnson registered $502 million of global revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine in the third quarter, bringing year-to-date vaccine sales to $766 million. J&J, which is selling the vaccine at a not-for-profit price of $7.50 per dose, still expects to generate $2.5 billion of COVID vaccine sales this year, executives said Tuesday. But that total will still dwarf the use and sales of the vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. (Herman, 10/19)
The Washington Post:
In Secret Coronavirus Vaccine Contracts With Governments, Pfizer Took Hard Line In Push For Profit, Report Says
The rapid proliferation of the [Pfizer] vaccine, under contracts negotiated between the company and governments, has unfolded behind a veil of strict secrecy, allowing for little public scrutiny of Pfizer’s burgeoning power, even as demand surges amid new negotiations for one of the world’s most sought-after products. A report released Tuesday by Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group that gained access to a number of leaked, unredacted Pfizer contracts, sheds light on how the company uses that power to “shift risk and maximize profits,” the organization argues. (Taylor, 10/19)
‘They Rushed The Process’: Vaccine Maker’s Woes Hamper Global Inoculation Campaign
The world’s vaccine distributor has been counting on U.S. companies to provide more than 2 billion doses to lower and middle-income countries by the end of 2022 — a crucial step in ending the Covid-19 pandemic. But the campaign run by the international consortium known as COVAX, which has already been delayed significantly because of production lags, is now likely to fall short by more than 1 billion doses as a key supplier faces significant hurdles in proving it can manufacture a shot that meets regulators’ quality standards, according to three people with direct knowledge of the company’s problems. (Owermohle, Banco and Cancryn, 10/19)
And more news on the vaccine rollout —
Cincinnati Zoo Announces COVID-19 Vaccination Of 80 Animals
The Cincinnati Zoo announced on Monday that 80 animals have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The zoo said they have been preparing the animals for months by making them comfortable with what they would see and feel when they were given the Zoetis COVID-19 vaccine. (Lonas, 10/19)
Puerto Rico Leads U.S. COVID Vaccination Rates
Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in the United States as of Oct. 19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The island has managed to accomplish such feats amid frequent power outages, earthquakes and high dependence on imports of health technologies from outside the region. (Reyes, 10/19)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Average Daily COVID-19 Vaccine Doses At Lowest Mark Since 2020
The state Department of Health Services reported a seven-day average of just under 4,200 COVID-19 vaccine doses a day Tuesday — the lowest mark since the vaccine was first available. The state reported a seven-day average of more than 6,000 doses a day on Oct. 1. On Monday, the state reported 2,500 vaccine doses were administered in Wisconsin. Just shy of 55% of all Wisconsinites are fully vaccinated, according to the state. (Bentley, 10/19)
COVID Vaccinations Hit A New Low In Duval County
Fewer Duval County residents got vaccinated against COVID-19 last week than at any time since May. The 2,700 people vaccinated show that vaccination rates have fallen stagnant since COVID cases and vaccinations spiked at the beginning of August. Just 63% of Duval residents over age 12 have been vaccinated, compared with 72% statewide. (Heddles, 10/19)
Covid Vaccine Misinformation: These Doctors Are Part Of The Problem
She was a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show -- an Ivy League-educated OB-GYN who often spoke about women's health and holistic medicine. She was a media darling, and in 2013 made Reader's Digest's annual list of 100 most trusted people in America. If you go to Dr. Christiane Northrup's Facebook page, her posts dispensing advice on health and aging to her 558,000 followers seem consistent with that persona of several years ago. But Northrup also uses her Facebook page to direct followers to Telegram, where another side of her is apparent. (Kuznia, Bronstein, Devine and Griffin, 10/19)
The Biden administration threatened to revoke authority for Arizona, South Carolina and Utah to handle their own workplace safety enforcement over refusals to adopt rules protecting health care workers from covid. Vax mandates, worker firings and more are reported in other news.
US Labor Department Warns 3 GOP States Over COVID Rules
The Biden administration threatened Tuesday to revoke the authority for three Republican-controlled states to handle their own workplace safety enforcement because they have refused to adopt rules to protect health care workers from COVID-19. The threats were sent to Arizona, South Carolina and Utah as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration prepares to adopt much more far-reaching vaccination and testing rules affecting 80 million Americans. In nearly half the states, it will have to rely on state labor regulators for enforcement. (Cooper, 10/20)
Salt Lake Tribune:
Utah Failed To Adopt A Federal Standard To Protect Health Care Workers From COVID. Now The Feds May Step In
The U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday they were moving to revoke Utah’s state-run program for enforcing workplace safety standards. The decision is the result of a strategic blunder by the Cox administration, which could derail a plan by lawmakers to push back on a federal mandate for private businesses. Utah is one of 22 states the federal government has authorized to run their own workplace safety enforcement program, with the requirement that any deviation from federal regulations must be “at least as effective” as the federal rules. Utah gets $1.6 million in grant funding from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the state plan. (Schott, 10/19)
In updates from the transportation industry —
Dallas Morning News:
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Won’t Fire Employees Who Apply For Vaccine Exemptions
American Airlines and Southwest Airlines won’t fire or suspend employees who file for exemptions to comply with federal orders that all workers be vaccinated, even those whose applications are rejected. Fort Worth-based American and Dallas-based Southwest told employee unions in recent days that employees granted religious exemptions will be allowed to keep working as long as they agree to extra health protocols, such as wearing masks and regular testing. Employees who refuse to submit proof of vaccination or apply for an exemption could still be fired at American. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said on Good Morning America recently that “we’re not going to fire any of our employees over this.” (Arnold, 10/19)
Union Pacific And Its Unions Sue Each Other Over Vaccine
Union Pacific and its labor unions are suing each other to determine whether the railroad has the authority to require its employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The unions argue that the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad should have negotiated with them before announcing it would require all employees to get the shots. The railroad contends in its own lawsuit that it believes it has the authority to require the vaccine under its existing contracts because it can set standards for when employees are fit for duty. (Funk, 10/20)
In other news about covid mandates —
Supreme Court Declines To Block Maine Health Care Workers Vaccine Mandate
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an emergency appeal of a vaccine mandate for Maine health care workers. The mandate, which was announced in August by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, says that Maine health care workers need to be vaccinated by Oct. 29 or risk losing their jobs and not qualifying for unemployment benefits. Justice Stephen Breyer rejected the emergency appeal by the Liberty Counsel, which said it is representing 2,000 health care workers who do not want to be vaccinated. (Garfinkel, 10/19)
GE To Mandate COVID Vaccinations For U.S. Workers
General Electric will require all of its workers in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Biden's executive order for federal contractors, the company confirmed to Axios on Tuesday. General Electric is the latest in a slew of major companies to mandate the vaccine for workers, following in the footsteps of American Airlines, Tyson Foods and Microsoft, among others. (Saric, 10/19)
Tucson Employees Face Firing If They Don't Get Vaccinated
The Tucson City Council voted Tuesday to require that all city employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1 or face getting fired. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and council members Lane Santa Cruz, Karin Uhlich and Steve Kozachik voted for the measure while Paul Cunningham, Nikki Lee and Richard Fimbres opposed. Council members cited high levels of the coronavirus persisting in Pima County. (10/20)
21 Chicago Cops Put On 'No Pay Status' In Vaccine Standoff
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said Tuesday that 21 officers have been placed on “no pay status” for refusing to comply with the city’s order to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status. Brown said that the refusals have not affected staffing. Brown, who disclosed that three members of his own family who he described as “anti-vaxxers” have died of complications from the virus in recent weeks, said he is simply trying to protect officers and the public from harm. (Tareen and Babwin, 10/19)
San Francisco Shuts Burger Spot For Not Checking Vaccination
The In-N-Out hamburger chain is sizzling mad after San Francisco shut down its indoor dining for refusing to check customers’ vaccination status. The company’s Fisherman’s Wharf location — its only one in San Francisco — was temporarily shut by the Department of Public Health on Oct. 14. Authorities said it refused to bar clients who couldn’t show proof of vaccination to dine indoors, as required by a city mandate that took effect Aug. 20. (10/20)
Senator's Call To Suspend Pentagon Vaccine Mandate Sets Up Clash
A senior Senate Republican’s call for a suspension of mandatory coronavirus vaccines for U.S. troops and Pentagon civilians could fuel partisan divisions over the pandemic and add a defense element to the debate. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, in a letter Monday to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III called the Pentagon’s vaccine mandates “haphazardly implemented and politically motivated.” (Donnelly, 10/19)
Walmart Donated To Texas Gov. Greg Abbott As He Fought Biden Vaccine Mandate
Walmart’s political action committee donated to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection campaign last month, as he geared up to fight a federal Covid-19 vaccine mandate, according to a new federal filing. The donation came as the retail industry has expressed concerns about the mandate weighing on operations as the holiday shopping season approaches and America faces labor shortages. (Schwartz, 10/19)
The Wall Street Journal:
Some Workers Want Covid-19 Recovery Accepted As Evidence Of Immunity
Some workers opposed to vaccine mandates on the job are increasingly pointing to the same reason for their objection: They already had Covid-19. Nurses, factory workers and professional athletes are among employees asking that immunity from prior Covid-19 infection be recognized alongside vaccination as sufficient protection against the virus. (Whelan, 10/19)
The policy bans the Department of Health and Human Services from penalizing individuals and organizations for noncompliance with agency guidance and requires the agency only carry out civil enforcement actions using standards that are publicly stated, Modern Healthcare reports.
HHS Proposes Withdrawing Trump 'Good Guidance' Rules
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced plans to withdraw Trump-era rules that make it harder for regulators to punish individuals and organizations for not following Health and Human Services Department guidance. The rules, issued in the final months of the Trump administration, ban HHS from penalizing individuals and organizations for noncompliance with agency guidance and requires the agency only carry out civil enforcement actions using standards that are publicly stated. HHS proposed withdrawing the rules Tuesday, arguing it creates "unnecessary hurdles" to issuing guidance and bringing enforcement actions and is inconsistent with the goals of the Biden administration. (Hellmann, 10/19)
In other news about the Biden administration —
Dr. Rachel Levine Becomes The Country's First Transgender Four-Star Officer
Dr. Rachel Levine is once again making history, becoming the first openly transgender four-star officer to serve in any of the country's eight uniformed services. During a ceremony Tuesday, Levine was sworn in as an admiral — the highest-ranking official of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Levine's appointment to the USPHS Commissioned Corps also made her the organization's first female four-star admiral. Previously she became the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate for a federal office. (Franklin, 10/19)
Rep. Jim Banks Faces Criticism For Tweets About Dr. Rachel Levine
Indiana Congressman Jim Banks is facing criticism after sharing a pair of derogatory tweets about the nation's first openly transgender four-star officer. The LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ officials, called the tweets bigoted. Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary of health, was sworn in as an admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps on Tuesday, making her the first openly transgender four-star officer and first female four-star officer. (Lange, 10/19)
Axios and Bloomberg report on the HLTH conference, one of the first big health care professional meet-ups since the pandemic began. University of Oklahoma nursing education, a Texas nurse accused of murdering four men, age bias against seniors in health care and more are also in the news.
The New COVID Conference Normal
After more than 18 months in their respective bubbles, thousands in the health care industry returned this week for what was, for many, their first in-person health care conference since the pandemic began. As the Delta variant wanes and more events actually occur in person, each comes with its own health protocols and awkward navigation of health-friendly business etiquette. (Reed, 10/19)
Health Pros Get Benched At Conference Until Covid Tests Clear
This week, the main lobby of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center includes a central purgatory: dozens of white chairs in a holding pen where visitors await Covid-19 test results. Some 6,500 people have registered for in-person attendance at HLTH, a digital health conference where more than 5,000 have already checked in on-site. To enter, attendees must show proof of vaccination and the results of a recent PCR test. No recent test to show? Then get swabbed, take a seat, and wait roughly a half hour for results, depending on the line. (Goldberg and Griffin, 10/18)
In other health industry news —
OU Partners With Hospitals In Norman, Duncan Expand Nursing Education
Health systems are offering large bonuses in an attempt to retain the staff they do have and launch new programs to add reinforcements to the field. Now, the University of Oklahoma is expanding its nursing education program, partnering with hospitals in Norman and Duncan to offer additional sites for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing. It's a boon both for the college and the hospitals, which hope to reach more students interested in nursing careers and retaining nurses educated in their own communities. (Branham, 10/20)
Texas Nurse Convicted Of Killing 4 Men With Air Injections
A Texas nurse was convicted Tuesday of capital murder in the deaths of four patients who died after prosecutors say he injected them with air following heart surgeries. The Smith County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding William George Davis, of Hallsville, guilty of capital murder involving multiple victims. Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty during the sentencing phase, which was scheduled to start Wednesday. (10/19)
This Doctor Was One Of Fibromyalgia Patients' Few Allies. Or Was He?
Cindy Bradley-Graziadei almost didn’t take the test. By the time she saw it advertised, in 2017, she was pretty much past the point of mustering any hope. Her pain had changed everything. She’d had to give up working, hiking, long-distance motorcycling. She could no longer trust her grip, and so drank only out of plastic cups. Sometimes her skin hurt too much to put on clothes. (Boodman, 10/20)
‘They Treat Me Like I’m Old And Stupid’: Seniors Decry Health Providers’ Age Bias
Joanne Whitney, 84, a retired associate clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of California-San Francisco, often feels devalued when interacting with health care providers. There was the time several years ago when she told an emergency room doctor that the antibiotic he wanted to prescribe wouldn’t counteract the kind of urinary tract infection she had. He wouldn’t listen, even when she mentioned her professional credentials. She asked to see someone else, to no avail. “I was ignored and finally I gave up,” said Whitney, who has survived lung cancer and cancer of the urethra and depends on a special catheter to drain urine from her bladder. (An outpatient renal service later changed the prescription.) (Graham, 10/20)
Axios reports that J&J has acted as expected and split part of the company responsible for handling claims over whether its baby powder products harmed people into a separate company, which is now filing for bankruptcy. The Theranos trial, global medical device sales and more are also reported.
J&J Pulls Trigger On Texas Loophole To Protect From Baby Powder Claims
It's official: Johnson & Johnson has invoked a Texas legal loophole in an attempt to protect the bulk of its corporate assets from claims that its baby powder caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. It's the biggest and boldest invocation yet of the so-called Texas two-step defense. But it's still not clear whether it's going to work. (Salmon, 10/19)
In other pharmaceutical and biotech industry news —
The Wall Street Journal:
The Elizabeth Holmes Trial: Former Product Manager Details Shortcuts As Devices Failed
Testimony from a former Theranos Inc. product manager in the criminal fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes has shed light on the startup’s race to court investors and business partners and the shortcuts it took when its blood-testing devices failed. Daniel Edlin has testified over two days about the five years he spent at Theranos, starting with his recruitment by Ms. Holmes’s brother, Christian Holmes, a friend from Duke University. He stayed until December 2016, a year after The Wall Street Journal began reporting on problems with Theranos’s technology. (Randazzo, 10/19)
Philanthropist-Funded Study Raises Questions About Clinical Research
The opportunity seemed too good to pass up. It was 2020, and the CEO of a blood-test company was addressing fibromyalgia patients through their television screens. His firm, EpicGenetics, wasn’t exactly a household name, but its product could help get you in the door at Massachusetts General Hospital. “With a positive test,” Bruce Gillis, the CEO, said, “you can volunteer for an FDA-approved clinical trial for an investigational new treatment to reverse the disease and eliminate your symptoms.” The hospital, though, wasn’t so sure about that pronouncement. (Boodman, 10/20)
Global Device Sales Stay Steady Amid Delta Variant
The Delta variant and hospital labor shortages didn't crush sales of medical devices, earnings reports from Johnson & Johnson and Intuitive Surgical show. The resurgent coronavirus forced some hospitals and patients to delay care, like spine and knee procedures. But deferred care across the world was nothing like it was at this time last year. (Herman, 10/20)
A team of South African researchers has found that simple breathing may be a bigger contributor to spreading tuberculosis than the traditionally accepted method of spreading by coughs — making it similar to covid in some regards. Mental health, salmonella and more are also in the news.
The New York Times:
Tuberculosis, Like Covid, Spreads In Aerosols, Scientists Report
Upending centuries of medical dogma, a team of South African researchers has found that breathing may be a bigger contributor to the spread of tuberculosis than coughing, the signature symptom. As much as 90 percent of TB bacteria released from an infected person may be carried in tiny droplets, called aerosols, that are expelled when a person exhales deeply, the researchers estimated. The findings were presented on Tuesday at a scientific conference held online. (Mandavilli, 10/19)
In other public health news —
Pediatric Groups Declare 'National Mental Health Emergency'
Leading pediatric healthcare organizations warn the surge of behavioral healthcare issues among children since the start of the pandemic has risen to the level of a national public health crisis. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children's mental health on Tuesday. The organizations are asking for more federal funding to ensure access to mental healthcare services, telemedicine, and more support for school-based care which often is the first point of care. Schools provide an estimated 70% of their behavioral healthcare services, according to the School-Based Health Alliance. (Ross Johnson, 10/19)
California’s Mental Health Crisis: What Went Wrong? And Can We Fix It?
Gov. Gavin Newsom is steering a major transformation of California’s behavioral health care system, with much at stake in the years ahead. On Oct. 6, the Sacramento-based publication Capitol Weekly invited KHN’s Angela Hart to moderate an expert panel tackling the origins of the state’s broken system and potential solutions ahead. The lively discussion featured health care leaders with deep experience in the political, provider and research aspects of mental health and addiction. The panelists were Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of MLK Community Healthcare; former state Sen. Jim Beall, a Santa Clara County Democrat who spearheaded mental health legislation during his tenure in the legislature; Michelle Doty Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California; and Janet Coffman, a researcher and faculty member with Healthforce Center at the University of California-San Francisco. (10/20)
Blood Pressure Medication Recalled Over Possibly Containing Cancer-Causing 'Impurity'
A Lupin Pharmaceuticals Inc. blood pressure medication is being recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for potentially containing a "probable human carcinogen." The voluntary recall includes the company's Irbesartan tablets and Hydrochlorothiazide tablets at the consumer level. In an Oct. 14 release, the agency said it made the assessment based on results from laboratory testing. (Musto, 10/19)
USDA Looks To Cut Salmonella Contamination In Poultry After Repeated Failures
The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Tuesday that it is kicking off an effort to substantially reduce the number of people each year who get sick from poultry products contaminated with salmonella. The context: The move comes after consumer advocates have repeatedly pressed the department to take a more aggressive approach to reducing salmonella in various chicken and turkey products. The country failed to meet its 2020 goals for cutting salmonella infections, although some testing data has suggested poultry products are less contaminated than they were previously. (Evich, 10/19)
The New York Times:
How Lifelong Cholesterol Levels Can Harm Or Help Your Heart
LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. Now a new study suggests that, like smoking, it has a cumulative effect over a lifetime: The longer a person has high LDL, the greater their risk of suffering a heart attack or cardiac arrest. Coronary heart disease, also known as “hardening of the arteries,” is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries that narrows the vessels and blocks the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. Often, people have no symptoms and remain unaware they have the disease for years until they develop chest pain or suffer a catastrophic event like a heart attack. (Bakalar, 10/18)
Ahead of Thursday's Supreme Court deadline for submitting briefs in the federal challenge to Texas' abortion law, pro-abortion rights supporters from scholars to medical groups and former prosecutors have filed suit. The AP wonders if abortion can motivate local Democratic support in Virginia.
Big Virginia Abortion Test: Can It Energize Democratic Base?
When Planned Parenthood canvassers stopped by Megan Ortiz’s house, the 32-year-old therapist was getting ready to head out and too distracted to talk for long. But after they left, she thought better of it. She jumped in her minivan and drove the streets of her suburban Richmond neighborhood until she tracked down the canvassers. “I want to volunteer for you!” she proclaimed, eliciting cheers. What changed her mind? Texas, she said. “It’s just really scary, ” Ortiz said, of the state’s new law that bans most abortion. “It’s important that women’s voices be heard.” (Weissert and Whitehurst, 10/19)
Dallas Morning News:
Scholars, Medical Groups And Former Prosecutors File Supreme Court Briefs Against Texas Abortion Law
Filings continued rolling in Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court deadline for submitting briefs in the federal government’s challenge to Texas’ new abortion law, and opponents have dominated the filings so far. When the Department of Justice filed an emergency application on Monday asking the Supreme Court to halt enforcement of Texas’ six-week abortion ban, the court gave Texas until noon ET Thursday to respond to the request. In the meantime, interested parties are submitting briefs that provide additional information or insight to try to sway court justices. These briefs, known as amicus briefs, are submitted by “friends of the court,” typically a person or group who is not involved in the legal action itself but has a strong interest in the matter. (Caldwell, 10/19)
Fresh Take Florida:
The Future Of Florida’s Abortion Bill Remains Unclear
The high-stakes court fight unfolding over the off-again, on-again abortion law newly passed in Texas threatens to throw into confusion plans by Florida lawmakers to pass a similarly restrictive law banning abortions after a physician can detect a fetal heartbeat. Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature already has failed twice in the past two years to pass a so-called "heartbeat” bill. Efforts in Florida in 2019 and 2020 died before any hearings or votes could be scheduled. (Hernandez De La Cruz and Wilder, 10/19)
In other news from across the U.S. —
Los Angeles Times:
Odor In Carson Prompts Warning To Avoid Outdoor Activities
After more than two weeks of breathing noxious fumes that can cause headaches and nausea, Carson-area residents are now being advised to avoid prolonged outdoor exercise at night and in the early morning. The amount of hydrogen sulfide gas emanating from decaying vegetation and marine life in the Dominguez Channel has exceeded state nuisance thresholds in some locations but is not considered “imminently dangerous,” Los Angeles County public health officials said Tuesday. (Martinez, 10/19)
Many Texas Children Miss Out On Required Lead Testing, Report Finds
As volunteers and researchers just begin to document the scope of potential lead poisoning in Texas homes and water pipes, federal authorities say that more than a third of the state’s children from low-income families never receive a test to check for lead in their blood, as required by federal rules. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s report offers the latest evidence that the nation’s problem with lead, which can damage the brain and cause lifelong developmental and behavioral problems in children, may be larger than anyone knows. (Wermund, 10/20)
Some Philadelphia School District Schools Have No Nurses, And Families Are Worried
Agyili Mitchell sends her daughter to Richard Wright Elementary every day holding her breath. Aaila, 5, loves school, but the kindergartner has sickle cell anemia, asthma, and allergies that can send her into anaphylactic shock, and Wright, in North Philadelphia, has a school nurse only one day a week. More than a dozen of the Philadelphia School District’s 220 schools lack a full-time nurse. Some of those schools share nurses, receiving care one or two days a week. Some aren’t covered at all. (Graham, 10/20)
WLRN 91.3 FM:
Facing The Cost And Challenges Of Caregiving In Florida
Marcia Dattoli's mom was 95 when she got into a car crash. She was driving and no one was injured, but she decided it was time for her to move into an independent living facility. "She's a warrior, a tough cookie," Dattoli said. Even before her mom moved into a facility, Dattoli had been researching caregiving options, so she was ready when her mom was ready. (Hudson, 10/19)
A congressional panel will recommend the president be charged with crimes against humanity over his handling of the pandemic, including allegations of intentionally letting people fall ill. Separately, surges in U.K., Russia and Turkey mean Europe was the only region to report a covid rise last week.
The New York Times:
Brazilian Leader Accused of Crimes Against Humanity in Pandemic Response
A Brazilian congressional panel is set to recommend that President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with “crimes against humanity,” asserting that he intentionally let the coronavirus rip through the country and kill hundreds of thousands in a failed bid to achieve herd immunity and revive Latin America’s largest economy. A report from the panel’s investigation, excerpts from which were viewed by The New York Times ahead of its scheduled release this week, also recommends criminal charges against 69 other people, including three of Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons and numerous current and former government officials. (Nicas, 10/19)
In other global news about the coronavirus —
WHO: Europe The Only Region With Rise In COVID-19 Last Week
The World Health Organization said there was a 7% rise in new coronavirus cases across Europe last week, the only region in the world where cases increased. In its weekly assessment of the pandemic released late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said there were about 2.7 million new COVID-19 cases and more than 46,000 deaths last week, similar to the numbers reported the previous week. Britain, Russia and Turkey accounted for the most cases. (10/20)
UK Doctors Call For Return Of Covid Restrictions; New Mutation Watched
U.K. medical professionals have issued an urgent plea to the British government to reimpose some Covid restrictions due to the increased level of infections and hospitalizations in the country. Health leaders warned late Tuesday that the U.K. risks “stumbling into a winter crisis” if the government does not enact its “Plan B,” a pledge it made last month in which it said it would reimpose Covid measures if data suggested the National Health Service was “likely to come under unsustainable pressure.” (Ellyatt, 10/20)
South African Regulator Rejects Russia's COVID-19 Vaccine
The South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn’t able to answer. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, or SAHPRA, said in a statement Tuesday that the request for Sputnik V to be authorized could “not be approved at this time,” referring to past failed HIV vaccines that used a similar technology. But the regulator added that its review process was continuing and that it was still open to receiving any further safety data from the Russian manufacturer. (Cheng and Magome, 10/19)
Gates Foundation To Send $120 Million Of COVID Antiviral Pills To Lower-Income Countries
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Wednesday it will funnel up to $120 million worth of molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral COVID-19 treatment from Merck, to lower-income countries. The foundation and others see the antiviral pill's promising results against severe COVID-19 and easy distribution as a way to target countries with low vaccination rates. (Fernandez, 10/20)
Read about the biggest pharmaceutical developments and pricing stories from the past week in KHN's Prescription Drug Watch roundup.
Democrats' Attempt To Lower Private Market Prescription Drug Prices Is Likely To Fail
The Democrats' most significant attempt to rein in health care costs in the private market— specifically prescription drug costs — is increasingly likely to fail. Why it matters: U.S. health care costs have ballooned over the last few decades. But there's fierce industry resistance to allowing the government to step in and regulate private market prices. Plenty of lawmakers hate the idea as well. (Owens, 10/15)
The Build Back Better Act’s Plan On Drug Prices And Medicare, Explained
Congress’s ambitious plans to expand health coverage are crashing up against one of the great questions in health policy: Can they force the pharmaceutical industry to hold down prescription drug prices without sacrificing the medical innovation that could lead to new treatments and cures in the future? Democrats’ Build Back Better reconciliation bill sets a hard cap on the price Medicare would pay for some prescription drugs, ensuring that the program would pay no more than 20 percent more than other wealthy nations. Those prices would also be available to the commercial plans that cover most working Americans. (Scott, 10/13)
Lower CA Prescription Drug Prices? Biden Aims To Limit Costs
Suppose you didn’t have to spend more than $2,000 a year on your prescriptions? Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care advocacy group, estimated that in 2019, there were 154 drugs where Medicare Part D recipients incurred average annual out-of-pocket costs of more than $2,000 for a single drug. In 108 cases, the average cost was more than $3,100.About 1.2 million Americans would save money if the new limit was $2,000, which House Democrats have pushed. If it was $3,100, as has been discussed by Senate lawmakers, about 300,000 would benefit. (Lightman, 10/14)
Ties To Arizona Biotechs Underpin Sinema’s Outspoken Drug Pricing Position
Phoenix is no Kendall Square. Its biotech companies, ventures like OncoMyx Therapeutics and VisionGate, haven’t generated one-tenth the buzz of companies like Moderna or CRISPR Therapeutics. But if congressional Democrats’ drug pricing reforms fail, the tiny biotechs that pepper the Grand Canyon State deserve an outsized bit of the credit. (Florko, 10/19)
Best And Worst States For Medicare Prescription Drug Prices
Maine and Missouri might not stand out as top retirement destinations, but new data suggests that older Americans should consider the pair since they provide the lowest costs of prescription drugs to residents. The average Medicare recipient lays out over $7,500 for prescription drugs annually, according to MedicareGuide, which conducted the study, prompting almost two in three Americans age 65 and over to try to save on prescription drugs in the last year. (Sklar and Asymkos, 10/19)
Read recent commentaries about drug-cost issues.
Is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Addicted To Big Pharma's Money?
Every politician, to one degree or another, is an addict. They get hooked on power. The euphoria. The rush. And once they’ve had it, once they’ve felt it, they develop a need to keep it, to maintain it, to increase it. The dependence can become overwhelming. Captivating. Irresistible. But power does not come cheap. And the drug of choice for anyone strung out on political prestige is … money. Last week, with the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package stalled in Congress, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema went on a fundraising trip to Europe. Nice gig, right? (EJ Montini, 10/17)
San Diego Union-Tribune:
Big Pharma's New Popularity May End Prescription Drug Reform
For decades, few industries in America have been as unpopular as Big Pharma. It’s easy to demonize because prescription drugs cost far more in the United States than in other nations despite the industry’s heavy profits every year. A 2019 House Ways and Means Committee report that noted that the asthma drug Dulera costs $23.95 per dose in the U.S. but averages 49 cents in other nations produced broad outrage. So did the 2015 decision of Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli to raise the price of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill after Turing obtained its manufacturing license. At the same time, critics have mocked pharmaceutical companies’ claims that they need strong profits to fund research into breakthrough drugs, noting how much the companies spent to develop anti-baldness drugs and other treatments that were more about human vanity than saving lives. (Chris Reed, 10/15)
Calling Big Pharma’s Bluff And Making Prescription Drugs More Affordable
Bringing down the cost of prescription drugs ought to be ripe for bipartisan cooperation. Members of both parties talk about how drug prices are too high. And seniors don’t see this as a partisan issue—they see it as a dire budget issue, and sometimes even a life-or-death issue. Yet during the previous administration, despite a lot of lip service from President Donald Trump and some of his allies in Congress, nothing got done. In the first half of 2019 alone, the price of 3,400 drugs increased. And despite bipartisan efforts by the Senate Finance Committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to bring the committee-passed legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs to the Senate floor for consideration and a vote—yet again choosing to stand on the side of big pharmaceutical corporations over American families. (Sen. Sherrod Brown, 10/19)
Why We Can Have Both Innovative Drugs And Lower Drug Prices
America is the undisputed global leader in drug research and development, and pharmaceutical companies warn that imposing controls on drug prices — like those currently being debated in Congress — will stifle that innovation. But many Americans, including the well insured, cannot afford the innovative drugs produced by that research. Consider the situation faced by Louise (not her real name), who emailed me recently asking about treatment options for her husband’s amyloidosis. Amyloidosis is a rare disease where too much of an abnormal protein invades organs, such as the heart and kidneys, leading to damage and frequently death. She was writing for advice because the doctors recommended a drug called tafamidis that even with their insurance would cost them $25,000 a year as their copay. “We can in no way afford $25,000 a year,” she told me. (Ezekiel Emanuel, 10/13)
Editorial pages tackle these public health issues.
The Washington Post:
The Supreme Court Is Getting A Second Chance To Block The Texas Abortion Law. It Should Take It
The Biden administration has offered the Supreme Court a chance for a do-over in the Texas abortion case. For the good of the court itself — if not for the women of Texas and the Constitution — the justices should take it. The court flubbed its first opportunity when it allowed Texas’s patently unconstitutional ban on abortions after six weeks to go into effect. The genius, such as it is, of the Texas law is that it outsources enforcement to private parties — and therefore forestalls abortion providers’ ability to go to court to block it. (Ruth Marcus, 10/19)
The Star Tribune:
Defund The Health Care System
For the security of our citizens and the well-being of our society the argument is being made that we should "defund the police" and transition to a public health approach to community safety. For similar reasons, why not do the same for our health care system? The "defund the police" argument goes as follows: (Edward P. Ehlinger, 10/19)
The Boston Globe:
If The Legislature Wants To Contain Health Care Costs, It Should Empower The Health Policy Commission
Massachusetts is a leader in health care reform. Its pioneering coverage expansion in 2006 achieved near-universal health insurance in the state and served as a basis for the Affordable Care Act of 2010. We still enjoy the nation’s highest level of insurance coverage, at 97 percent. In 2012, the Commonwealth again pioneered with legislation establishing the Health Policy Commission to track health care spending and cajole the payers and providers to restrain cost increases. Both sets of reforms are well resourced and expertly led. Yet, while coverage expansion remains robust, cost containment seems to be stalling. These divergent results suggest the need for yet a third round of reform. (Jon Kingsdale, 10/19)
Telehealth Skeptics Miss The Forest For The Trees
The role of telehealth and its staying power in our health care system is up for debate. As someone working in the telehealth universe, I’ll be the first to say it’s not a panacea: some people are best served by in-person care. The reality, though, is that even before the pandemic emerged, the U.S. health care system struggled with stark limitations in access, vast disparities in outcomes, and out-of-control costs — largely without ever using telehealth to its full potential. (Melynda Barnes, 10/20)
Medicare Can Cover Dental, Vision And Hearing Care Inexpensively
As the cost of President Joe Biden’s spending package shrinks from $3.5 trillion closer to $2 trillion, Senator Bernie Sanders’s proposal to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare has emerged as a sticking point in negotiations. Opposing Sanders are Democrats such as Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina who would like to prioritize spending to benefit low-income people — including by providing health insurance for the poor in states that have refused to expand Medicaid. (Arielle Kane, 10/19)
A Rise In Black Youth Suicides Ties Back To Experiences With Racism
As conversations on racial disparities in physical health have emerged all over the country, the disproportionate burden of mental health disparities on Black children and adolescents is a topic that is worth being widely discussed. This topic is especially important as the United States reflects upon suicide prevention month this September. Alarmingly high suicide and depression rates among Black youth, as documented by the American Psychological Association in 2020, led pediatricians and child psychologists to question if early experiences of racism are responsible for the increase in mental illness amongst Black children. (Adaeze Umeukeje, 10/19)
Nursing Shortage Can No Longer Be Ignored; They’re The ‘Beating Heart’ Of Healthcare
For almost as long as nurses have been working in American hospitals, industry leaders have been worried that we didn’t have enough of them. Reports of nursing shortages date back nearly a century: The 1930s saw a shortage driven by widespread hospital construction and increased healthcare utilization; the 1940s drained nurses from the U.S. workforce in favor of the war effort; the shortage got so bad in the 1960s that the federal government was compelled to pass the Nurse Training Act. (Cynthia Hundorfean and Claire Zangerie, 10/19)
Investing In Caregiving: A Social, Public Health, And Economic Issue
As a working daughter, I recently embarked on a new and uncertain phase of my career: taking paid leave for my seriously ill mother. Without children of my own, I never needed to consider paid leave. This new role in caregiving is making me square cultural norms and values engrained in me as a second-generation South Asian immigrant and as a female only child with my senior leadership role in corporate America. (Paurvi Bhatt, 10/19)
Opinion writers examine these covid and vaccine topics.
New COVID Mandate: Require Air Passengers To Show Proof Of Vaccination
The nation remains locked in a life or death debate with 66 million Americans over the rightness of being vaccinated against COVID-19. About half of the unvaccinated – an estimated 12% to 18% of eligible Americans – stubbornly refuse the shot for reasons ranging from distrust of government or health institutions, to an embrace of conspiracies, to a fear of needles. The rest of the holdouts are those who simply haven't gotten around to it (a dwindling percentage), are in still a wait-and-see frame of mind or will be vaccinated only if required to do so. (10/19)
By Allowing Vaccine Mixing, The FDA Simplifies The Booster Rollout
The U.S. rollout of Covid-19 booster shots has been defined, unfortunately, by confusion. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved additional shots for many people who had received the Pfizer vaccine, but not for anyone who’d gotten Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. And in contrast to health authorities in several other countries, the FDA did not sanction allowing people to get booster shots that didn’t match their original vaccinations. (Max Nisen, 10/19)
The New York Times:
How Will Blue America Live With Covid?
By now, it’s generally understood that we are not going to see the end of Covid on any simple timetable and that what we should expect instead is a world where the disease becomes something that we live with — as an endemic illness transformed by the combination of vaccinations, boosters and immunity from prior infection into a tolerable risk. The conversation about how best to encourage vaccination at the margins is all about how we can hurry up and finally reach that stage. But for areas with high vaccination rates, especially, a crucial question is what happens when we get there. What does adapting permanently to endemic Covid look like in places — especially blue states, and especially their most liberal enclaves — that have relied on stringent measures whenever cases surge? (Ross Douthat, 10/19)