Nov 03, 2023

First Edition: Aug. 30, 2023

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations. Note to readers: KFF Health News' First Edition will not be published Aug. 31 through Sept. 4. Look for it again in your inbox on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

KFF Health News: Artificial Intelligence May Influence Whether You Can Get Pain Medication Elizabeth Amirault had never heard of a Narx Score. But she said she learned last year the tool had been used to track her medication use. During an August 2022 visit to a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Amirault told a nurse practitioner she was in severe pain, she said. She received a puzzling response. “Your Narx Score is so high, I can’t give you any narcotics,” she recalled the man saying, as she waited for an MRI before a hip replacement. (Miller and Whitehead, 8/30)

KFF Health News: 5 Things To Know About The New Drug Pricing Negotiations The Biden administration has picked the first 10 high-priced prescription drugs subject to federal price negotiations, taking a swipe at the powerful pharmaceutical industry. It marks a major turning point in a long-fought battle to control ever-rising drug prices for seniors and, eventually, other Americans. Under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, Congress gave the federal government the power to negotiate prices for certain high-cost drugs under Medicare. The list of drugs selected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will grow over time. (Allen, Pradhan and Hilzenrath, 8/30)

KFF Health News: A Move To Cut Drug Prices Has Patients With Rare Diseases Worried For people with cystic fibrosis, like Sabrina Walker, Trikafta has been a life-changer. Before she started taking the drug, she would wind up in the hospital for weeks at a time until antibiotics could eliminate the infections in her lungs. Every day, she would wear a vest that shook her body to loosen the mucus buildup. (Hawryluk, 8/30)

KFF Health News: Exclusive: CMS Study Sabotages Efforts To Bolster Nursing Home Staffing, Advocates Say The Biden administration last year promised to establish minimum staffing levels for the nation’s roughly 15,000 nursing homes. It was the centerpiece of an agenda to overhaul an industry the government said was rife with substandard care and failures to follow federal quality rules. But a research study the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services commissioned to identify the appropriate level of staffing made no specific recommendations and analyzed only staffing levels lower than what the previous major federal evaluation had considered best, according to a copy of the study reviewed Monday by KFF Health News. Instead, the new study said there was no single staffing level that would guarantee quality care, although the report estimated that higher staffing levels would lead to fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits, faster care, and fewer failures to provide care. (Rau, 8/29)

KFF Health News: Listen To The Latest ‘KFF Health News Minute’ This week on the KFF Health News Minute: A gas station company is the latest retailer looking to cash in on the urgent care boom, and the U.S. pediatric mental health system’s shortcomings are affecting the health of parents and caregivers. (8/29)

The Hill: Unexpected Drugs Make First Round Of Medicare Negotiations A few of the choices announced Tuesday were not foreseen by the projections. Entresto, a heart failure medication made by Novartis that was named by CMS on Tuesday for negotiation, had not shown up in projections. Up until recently, Medicare claims data had not indicated Entresto as being among the highest cost drugs covered by Part D, but use of the drug has risen substantially in recent years according to the company, which allowed it to anticipate CMS’s ultimate decision. (Choi, 8/29)

The Hill: 5 Things To Know About The First 10 Drugs Chosen For Medicare Negotiation This announcement essentially places the ball in the manufacturers’ court. Drugmakers will have until Oct. 1 to sign an agreement to negotiate — unless courts grant an injunction that could suspend the law pending decisions in myriad lawsuits. While companies have the option of opting out of negotiations, it’s unlikely many of those who were named Tuesday will forgo signing agreements. This would mean terminating their relationships with Medicare — a sizable source of income for the pharmaceutical industry — for all their medications covered by the program or facing excise tax penalties. (Choi, 8/29)

Axios: Medicare Drug Pricing Negotiations May Have A Limited Impact At First Depending on who you ask, the first-ever Medicare drug negotiations announced yesterday will either mean huge pocketbook relief for seniors or the demise of America's pharmaceutical industry — but the immediate impact will likely be relatively small, experts told Axios. (Owens, 8/30)

The Washington Post: Pharma Companies Say Medicare Drug Negotiations Cost Them, But Stocks Rose Drugmakers unleashed a broadside at the Inflation Reduction Act as Medicare on Tuesday unveiled the first 10 drugs to face price caps under the law, but most affected companies won’t feel the sting for years. In one measure of the law’s projected impact, seven companies that each own at least one of the selected drugs saw their stock prices jump as trading began on Wall Street, and most ended the day in positive territory. Most of the drugs are already expected to face competition from cheaper generic versions within two years of the price caps taking effect in 2026, meaning the law will only slightly quicken the decline of their earnings. (Gilbert, 8/29)

CNBC: Medicare Pricing Deal To Play Key Role In Biden 2024 Campaign Pitch President Joe Biden is placing a priority on reducing individual health-care costs as he seeks reelection in a country where medical spending accounts for 18.3% of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (Kinery, 8/29)

Bloomberg: Warren, Jayapal Call On FDA To Clear Patent Hurdles For Generic Drugs Democrats Warren, of Massachusetts, and Jayapal, of Washington, wrote Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf on Monday urging the agency to do more to stop brand-name drugmakers from keeping lower-cost generic drugs off the market. In their letter, the lawmakers called for changes to rules that “pharmaceutical companies have exploited to rake in billions in profits.” (Edney, 8/29)

Politico: ‘Go After It’: GOP Strategists Say Republicans Need To Hit Biden On Drug Pricing As President Joe Biden touts the first 10 drugs subject to Medicare price talks, Republicans are searching for their own message that would resonate with voters on the downsides of his signature domestic achievement. Piggybacking on the pharmaceutical industry’s strategy, Republicans are working to persuade Americans that the Biden plan will stifle innovation and lead to price controls, several strategists say. (King, 8/29)

Politico: Biden's NIH Pick Gives Elizabeth Warren A Major Concession President Joe Biden’s pick to run the National Institutes of Health has agreed to a pair of major ethics demands made by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to help jumpstart her stalled candidacy for the top medical research job. Monica Bertagnolli, who was nominated more than three months ago, pledged to not seek employment or compensation from any of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies for four years after she leaves government, according to a letter sent to the Massachusetts Democrat and obtained by POLITICO. (Cancryn, 8/29)

The Washington Post: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise Diagnosed With Blood Cancer House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced Tuesday that he has a “very treatable” form of blood cancer and has begun treatment that will last the next several months. “After a few days of not feeling like myself this past week, I had some blood work done,” Scalise said in a statement. “The results uncovered some irregularities and after undergoing additional tests, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a very treatable blood cancer.” (Wang and McGinley, 8/29)

Modern Healthcare: No Surprises Act Ruling Further Disrupts Disputed Claims Process The Texas Medical Association notched another win in its legal challenges to the No Surprises Act, further complicating the law's implementation. Judge Jeremy D. Kernodle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas last Friday issued a ruling largely in favor of the association, which argued that flawed methodology compromised the calculated median rate insurers pay for a service in a particular market, also known as the qualified payment amount. (Kacik, 8/29)

AP: Migrant Woman Dies After A 'Medical Emergency' In Border Patrol Custody In South Texas, Agency Says A migrant woman died in South Texas after spending less than a day in federal custody, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced Tuesday. Border agents encountered the 29-year-old woman and her family in the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday afternoon, according to a statement from the agency. While she was in custody, she experienced a “medical emergency” and was treated by an on-site medical team and then taken to a hospital in Harlingen where she was pronounced dead, the agency said. (8/29)

The Washington Post: Canada Travel Advisory Warns LGBTQ People Of U.S. State Laws Canada has updated its travel advisory for the United States to warn LGBTQ travelers that they are at risk of being affected by state and local laws, amid a recent surge in state-level legislation targeting the community. (Li, 8/30)

AP: New Mexico Supreme Court Will Hear Oral Arguments On Local Abortion-Ban Ordinances New Mexico’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding a request to strike down recent abortion-ban ordinances in several cities and counties. The high court on Tuesday announced it will hear arguments in December and agreed to consider legal briefings filed by an array of advocacy groups. (8/29)

Reuters: South Carolina High Court Will Not Reconsider Abortion Ban Decision South Carolina's top court on Tuesday declined to reconsider a recent ruling upholding the state's ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which opponents say will prevent women from terminating pregnancies after about six weeks. The South Carolina Supreme Court on a 4-1 vote rejected a request by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to reconsider its Aug. 23 ruling, which they said left unanswered what constitutes a "fetal heartbeat" under the Republican-backed law. (Raymond, 8/29)

Stateline: Abortion-Ban States Pour Millions Into Pregnancy Centers With Little Medical Care After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Louisiana Republican state Sen. Beth Mizell looked for a way to address her state’s abysmal record on infant and maternal mortality, preterm births and low birth weight. Louisiana has one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Mizell and her colleagues borrowed an idea from neighboring Mississippi: a state tax credit program that sends millions each year to nonprofit pregnancy resource centers, also called crisis pregnancy centers. They’re private anti-abortion organizations, often religiously affiliated, that typically offer free pregnancy tests, parenting classes and baby supplies. They are not usually staffed by doctors or nurses, though some offer limited ultrasounds or testing for sexually transmitted infections. (Vollers, 8/29)

The Washington Post: Antiabortion Activist Who Kept Fetuses Convicted Of Blocking Clinic An antiabortion activist who kept fetuses in a Capitol Hill home was convicted Tuesday of illegally blockading a reproductive health clinic in D.C. Lauren Handy was on trial with four others who were charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a 1994 law that prohibits threats to and obstruction of a person seeking reproductive health services or providers. A U.S. District Court jury in D.C. found Handy and all four of her co-defendants guilty on all counts. (Alexander, 8/29)

The New York Times: Do Expired Covid Tests Work? What To Know During The Surge Before you rip open a test that has been in your medicine cabinet since 2020, check the expiration date. If the test has expired, you can’t always trust the result. “I don’t think it’s like having an old Ibuprofen or something,” said Dr. Marc Sala, co-director of the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Covid-19 Center. “I think you really need to take that seriously.” (Blum, 8/29)

CIDRAP: Long-COVID Patients With Severe Fatigue Report Little Relief By 20 Months Patients diagnosed as having long COVID and myalgic encephalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) reported that most symptoms remained severe up to 20 months after SARS-CoV-2 infection, while those with long COVID alone reported improvement, according to a recent observational study in eClinicalMedicine. (Van Beusekom, 8/29)

The Washington Post: He Was Arrested For A Covid Joke. It Was Free Speech, Court Rules. More than three years after Waylon Bailey faced a felony terrorism charge for making a joke on Facebook, an appeals court ruled that he was arrested wrongfully. (Melnick, 8/30)

Reuters: Exclusive: Walmart Cuts Pharmacist Pay, Hours While Workload Piles Up Walmart is asking some of its 16,000 pharmacists across the U.S. to voluntarily take pay cuts by reducing their working hours in a bid to lower costs, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The cuts, which haven't been previously reported and are aimed at pharmacists in higher wage brackets, highlight the new pressures at Walmart pharmacies, where shoppers are lining up to buy weight-loss drugs that drag on profits, despite their high price. (Cavale, 8/29)

Modern Healthcare: Google Widens Access To Generative AI Model Med-PaLM 2 Google Cloud, the big tech’s company’s cloud arm, is adding more organizations to test its large language model for healthcare, the company said Tuesday. The model, named Med-PaLM 2, will be made available as a preview to an unspecified number of additional Google Cloud healthcare and life sciences customers. (Perna, 8/29)

The Boston Globe: Narcan Covered By Insurance: Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Mass. Announces Coverage Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is taking another step to combat the opioid crisis by covering the cost of the overdose reversal medication Narcan for over-the-counter use, the company said Tuesday. ... “Naloxone has become the standard treatment for opioid overdose, and making it available more widely is a key strategy in controlling the overdose crisis,” Dr. Sandhya Rao, Blue Cross’s chief medical officer, said in the statement. (Fox and Bartlett, 8/29)

Modern Healthcare: Insurers, Startups See Opportunity In Exchange-Based HRAs Health insurers with big exchange marketplace operations such as Centene and Oscar Health are partnering with newly formed companies to take a bite out of the lucrative employer health benefits market through a relatively new form of coverage. These exchange carriers are betting big premium increases will push more employers to adopt individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements, or ICHRAs, as an alternative to group coverage. (Tepper, 8/29)

Modern Healthcare: AdventHealth Sells Nursing Homes As Finances Recover AdventHealth is refocusing on its core operations. The system sold 10 skilled nursing facilities this year: one in Texas and one Kansas in March, each to CareTrust REIT, and eight in Florida in June to Infinite Care for a combined $161.17 million, according to financial documents released Monday. (Hudson, 8/29)

Modern Healthcare: MOVEit Data Breach Hit John Hopkins, Other Providers In 2023: Emsisoft A sweeping series of data breaches involving the file transfer software product MOVEit has affected at least 88 provider organizations. ... “This isn't simply people's logins, passwords or even social security numbers,” said Brett Callow, a threat analyst at Emsisoft. “It’s a mix of health records, legal records stolen from law firms, information stolen from government, information stolen from banks, so it really is cross sector and a huge variety of data.” (Turner, 8/29)

The Boston Globe: Brown Medical School Withdraws From U.S. News Rankings The medical school at Brown University is withdrawing from the U.S. News & World Report education rankings, joining a long list of universities this year that said they would no longer provide data to the publication. Officials at The Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown said Tuesday the rankings “do not align” with the university’s values, including Brown’s measures of what constitutes quality preparation for medical students. (Gagosz, 8/29)

CIDRAP: CEPI Announces New Funding For 'Disease X' Vaccine The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Oxford have committed $80 million to the development of a vaccine targeting "Disease X," or unknown pathogens with the potential to cause pandemics. The money will be used to work on vaccine prototypes against viral families most at risk for becoming pathogens that threaten human health at the pandemic scale. (Soucheray, 8/29)

CIDRAP: Study: Children's Health System Wasted $230,000 Worth Of Antibiotics In 2 Years A pediatric hospital system wasted 58,607 antibiotic doses worth more than $230,000, including drugs in limited US supply, in 2 years, finds a study today in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. A team led by Emory University researchers calculated the number of wasted antibiotic doses dispensed at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta from January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2021. The system has three hospitals with more than 600 beds. (Van Beusekom, 8/29)

The Hill: Medicaid-Eligible People Who Aren’t Enrolled Far More Likely To Delay Care Adults who are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled in the program are more likely to delay care due to costs, according to an analysis published Tuesday by the Urban Institute. The survey found 21.4 percent of non-Medicaid enrolled individuals delay medical care due to the cost, compared to only 7.3 percent of enrollees and 9.5 percent of Medicaid-eligible individuals with private insurance. (Nazzaro, 8/29)

AP: Court Rejects Connecticut Officials' Bid To Keep Secret A Police Report On Hospital Patient's Death Police reports about deaths and other incidents in public hospitals cannot be kept secret, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, citing the importance of government transparency and the public’s right to know what happened. A majority of the justices rejected an attempt by state officials to prevent the release of a police report about a patient who reportedly choked to death on food in 2016 while being restrained by staff members at Connecticut’s only maximum-security psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. (Collins, 8/29)

Philadelphia Inquirer: Pennsylvania Paramedics Call For More Funding, Say ‘EMS Is Dying’ “EMS is dying,” said Heather Sharar, the executive director of the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania, which represents 220 EMS agencies. “How long can you exist if no one is paying you the cost for your service?” The funding shortfall has led a number of EMS agencies to close, with three in Pennsylvania closing in the last three months — leaving a ripple effect that will require other agencies in the region to pick up the need. (McGoldrick, 8/30)

Fox News: Massachusetts Sees First Two Cases Of Deadly West Nile Virus Two Massachusetts residents have contracted the mosquito-born West Nile virus in the state's first human cases of the year. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced Tuesday, August 29 that one woman in her 70s was exposed to the virus in another area of the country and a man in his 40s was exposed in Middlesex County in Massachusetts. (Rumpf-Whitten, 8/29)

AP: Five People Hospitalized In E. Coli Outbreak At The University Of Arkansas Health officials are investigating an outbreak of E. coli food poisoning among students at the University of Arkansas, with dozens reporting symptoms and five people needing treatment in the hospital. Among those affected are two 19-year-old sorority members who developed a serious complication that can lead to kidney failure after being infected with the E. coli strain O157:H7. That’s according to Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer who said he reviewed the patients’ medical records after being contacted by the families. (Aleccia, 8/29)

CIDRAP: CDC Issues Malaria Alert After Marylander Infected With Plasmodium Falciparum The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday issued its second malaria alert of the season, which includes new information about locally acquired infections, including one in Maryland that was caused by the mosquito-borne parasite linked to the most severe form of the disease. (Schnirring, 8/29)

The Washington Post: Dogs Are Key To Stopping Spread Of Deadly Tick Epidemic In U.S., Mexico The boy came home from school weakened by fever, his ears burning-hot. Over the next few days, the 7-year-old got sicker — vomiting and complaining of abdominal pain, his mother recalled. Then, the telltale red spots appeared on his hands. But none of the doctors in this rural community along Mexico’s Pacific coast recognized the warning sign for one of the most lethal infectious diseases in the Americas — Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A week later, the boy was dead. The following year, in 2020, the disease killed a 5-year-old boy in a nearby house. Then last October, a few blocks away, another 7-year-old succumbed to the same scourge. (Sun, 8/29)

San Francisco Chronicle: Study On SF Tenderloin Center Shows How To Prevent Drug Overdoses On Tuesday, the International Journal of Drug Policy published a new study on San Francisco’s controversial Tenderloin Center, a drop-in hub for social services that included a place for people to use drugs. During the 46 weeks it was open last year, 333 overdoses were reversed, and no one died on site. (Bishari, 8/29)

NPR: As Teen Fentanyl Deaths Rise, Schools Grapple With Their Role "[Fentanyl's] infiltration into schools is certainly something that cannot be ignored," says Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. LAUSD is one of the largest districts to stock naloxone, a medicine that reverses opioid overdoses, throughout its schools. "We cannot close our eyes. We cannot look the other way," he says. (Nadworny and Gaines, 8/30)

The New York Times: Cannabis Use Disorder ‘Common’ Among Marijuana Users, Study Finds More than one-fifth of people who use cannabis struggle with dependency or problematic use, according to a study published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open. The research found that 21 percent of people in the study had some degree of cannabis use disorder, which clinicians characterize broadly as problematic use of cannabis that leads to a variety of symptoms, such as recurrent social and occupational problems, indicating impairment and distress. In the study, 6.5 percent of users suffered moderate to severe disorder. (Richtel, 8/29)

CBS News: Dirty Air Is Biggest External Threat To Human Health, Worse Than Tobacco Or Alcohol, Major Study Finds Air pollution is more dangerous to the health of the average person on planet Earth than smoking or alcohol, with the threat worsening in its global epicenter South Asia even as China quickly improves, a benchmark study showed Tuesday. Yet the level of funding set aside to confront the challenge is a fraction of the amount earmarked for fighting infectious diseases, said the research from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, known as EPIC. (8/29)

Reuters: England To Rollout World-First Seven-Minute Cancer Treatment Jab Britain's state-run national health service will be the first in the world to offer an injection that treats cancer to hundreds of patients in England which could cut treatment times by up to three quarters. ... "It takes approximately seven minutes, compared with 30 to 60 minutes for the current method of an intravenous infusion," Marius Scholtz, Medical Director at Roche Products Limited said. (8/29)

Noticias Telemundo for Axios: Uruguay To Offer Free Antidepressants To Combat Soaring Suicide Rate Uruguay is tackling its staggering suicide rates by offering free antidepressants and establishing youth social and mental health centers as part of a national plan to promote wellbeing. The country's average suicide rate last year was more than double that in all of Latin America. There were 23 suicides per 100,000 people in 2022, up from 20 in 2019. The regional average last year was 9 per 100,000 people. (Franco, 8/29)

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