First Edition: Jan. 18, 2023

Linda Rider

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

After A Brief Pandemic Reprieve, Rural Workers Return To Life Without Paid Leave

When Ruby B. Sutton found out she was pregnant in late 2021, it was hard to envision how her full-time job would fit with having a newborn at home. She faced a three-hour round-trip commute to the mine site where she worked as an environmental engineer, 12-plus-hour workdays, expensive child care, and her desire to be present with her newborn. Sutton, 32, said the minimal paid maternity leave that her employer offered didn’t seem like enough time for her body to heal from giving birth or to bond with her firstborn. Those concerns were magnified when she needed an emergency cesarean section. (Orozco Rodriguez, 1/18)

What Older Americans Need To Know About Taking Paxlovid 

A new coronavirus variant is circulating, the most transmissible one yet. Hospitalizations of infected patients are rising. And older adults represent nearly 90{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of U.S. deaths from covid-19 in recent months, the largest portion since the start of the pandemic. What does that mean for people 65 and older catching covid for the first time or those experiencing a repeat infection? (Graham, 1/18)

Numbers Don’t Lie. Biden Kept His Promise On Improving Obamacare

In a speech on Nov. 2, 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden promised, “I’ll not only restore Obamacare; I’ll build on it.” Two years and counting since then, how is he doing in meeting that promise? KHN has teamed up with our partners at PolitiFact to monitor 100 key promises — including this one — made by Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. The pledges touch on issues related to improving the economy, responding to calls for racial justice, and combating climate change. (Appleby, 1/18)

The Biggest, Buzziest Conference For Health Care Investors Convenes Amid Fears The Bubble Will Burst 

Health care’s business class returned to its San Francisco sanctuary last week for JPMorgan’s annual health care confab, at the gilded Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square. After a two-year pandemic pause, the mood among the executives, bankers, and startup founders in attendance had the aura of a reunion — as they gossiped about promotions, work-from-home routines, who’s getting what investments. Dressed in their capitalist best — ranging from brilliant-blue or pastel-purple blazers to puffy-coat chic — they thronged to big parties, housed in art galleries or restaurants. But the party was tinged with new anxiety: Would the big money invested in health care due to covid-19 continue to flow? Would investors ask to see results — meaning profits — rather than just cool ideas? (Tahir, 1/17)

The Washington Post:
Harvard Medical School Withdraws From U.S. News Rankings

Harvard Medical School is ranked No. 1 in the country for research by U.S. News. … Among several highly ranked medical schools The Washington Post contacted Tuesday, none revealed immediate plans to follow the lead of their counterparts at Harvard. Some declined to take a position. Johns Hopkins University’s medical school is still sending information to U.S. News, a spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine said, “but, as we do each year, we will consider our future participation.” (Svrluga and Anderson, 1/17)

Covid Measures Helped Families Pay Medical Bills, Study Shows

Fewer American families struggled to pay their medical bills in 2021, according to a new report, a sign that efforts to broaden access to health care and insurance are succeeding. About 11{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of people belonged to families that had trouble paying medical bills in 2021 — down from 14{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, according to a study of thousands of US households by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. (Meghjani, 1/18)

Pandemic Years Saw A Reduction In Medical Debt

Researchers said the CARES Act, American Rescue Plan Act, and other pandemic relief legislation may have indirectly softened the blow of medical debt by providing direct monetary payments, increasing the percentage of people covered by insurance using COBRA premium subsidies and expanding eligibility for subsidies in Affordable Care Act markets, among other things. (Bettelheim, 1/18)

Modern Healthcare:
Gallup: More Patients Delayed Healthcare Over Costs In 2022

A record number of patients delayed medical care because of high costs last year, according to survey results Gallup published Tuesday. Gallup found that 38{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of respondents or a family member delayed treatment over costs in 2022, a 12 percentage point increase compared to 2020 and 2021. The upswing coincided with economywide inflation reaching a 40-year high. (Berryman, 1/17)

DeSantis Pushes To Make Covid-19 Changes Permanent 

At an event that featured a dermatologist who spreads Covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said he will push Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature to make permanent many of his pandemic-era policies that have made him a star with many in the GOP and a potential 2024 presidential candidate. The proposal, announced during a press conference in Panama City, would put into state law many of the policies DeSantis implemented through executive order or were temporarily passed during a 2021 special legislative session. (Dixon, 1/17)

Pfizer To Sell All Its Drugs In Low-Income Countries At Non-Profit Price 

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc. said on Tuesday it will offer its full portfolio of drugs, including off-patent medicines such as chemotherapies and oral cancer treatments, on a not-for-profit basis to 45 low-income countries in the world. In an expansion of the company’s “An Accord for a Healthier World” program, which is aimed at increasing access to innovative treatments in some of the world’s poorest countries, Pfizer said it will now offer a total of 500 products. (1/17)

Moderna CEO Says He Wants To Have MRNA Factory On Every Continent 

Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel said he would like to have factories making vaccines based on its messenger RNA technology on every continent as the U.S. company prepares to build four facilities. … The company is building or planning to build factories in Canada, Australia, Britain and Kenya, he said. (1/18)

CBS News:
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Says She Would “Nudge” GOP Governors, Including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, To Do More To Restrict Abortion

When asked whether she would “nudge” DeSantis to do more to restrict abortion in Florida, Noem replied, “I would nudge every governor to do what they can to back up their pro-life record. I think that talking about situations and making statements is incredibly important, but also taking action and governing and bringing policies that protect life are even more important because that’s what truly will save lives.” (Costa, Ewall-Wice and Navarro, 1/17)

Billings Gazette:
Bill Would Say In State Law Constitution’s Privacy Provision Doesn’t Include Abortion Access

The 1999 state Supreme Court decision that found the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy ensures access to abortions is in the sights of some Republican lawmakers, along with a package of other bills to limit access to the procedure. Democrats have their own slate of legislation that will attempt to put the right to abortion in state law, along with a series of other bills focused on elevating the discussion around reproductive health. (Michels, 1/17)

Women Living In States With Abortion Bans Suffer Greater Economic Insecurity

Women living in states that restrict or ban abortion face greater economic insecurity than those living in states where they have access, new research finds. Since the nearly seven months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, half of all states – 26 in total – have implemented new abortion restrictions or all-out bans. In nearly all 26 states, there are lower minimum wages, unionization levels, access to Medicaid and unemployment benefits, as well as higher rates of incarceration than states with more lenient abortion policies, according to new research by the Economic Policy Institute. (Yurkevich, 1/18)

The New York Times:
Arson At Illinois Planned Parenthood Causes Extensive Damage, Authorities Say

The authorities in Peoria, Ill., are investigating a reported firebombing that they said caused extensive damage to a Planned Parenthood clinic on Sunday, just days after sweeping abortion protections were signed into law in Illinois. The fire at the Peoria Health Center was reported to the police by a bystander, who noticed an “unknown suspect throwing a flammable item into a public building,” said Semone Roth, a spokeswoman for the Peoria Police Department. (Albeck-Ripka, 1/17)

The Boston Globe:
Workers At Brigham And Women’s Faulkner Hospital Stage A Walkout

Workers at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain staged a walkout Tuesday to demand higher wages and job security amid a union contract negotiation that has lasted six months. Those who participated are among the lowest-wage employees at the hospital, including personal care attendants, service techs, dietary workers, housekeepers, mental health workers, and administrative staff — many make as little as $15.45 an hour. (1/17)

St. Louis Public Radio:
St. Louis Children’s Hospital Sees Increase In Gun Injuries

More children and teens in St. Louis are being treated at Children’s Hospital for gun injuries since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study by Washington University and the University of Missouri. Using emergency room data from between 2015 and 2022, researchers found the average number of people 19 and under treated for gunshot wounds in hospital’s emergency department rose by more than 50 percent in the first two years of the pandemic. They found the additional injuries were driven in part by an increase in assaults and homicides. (Fentem, 1/18)

Prosecutor: Paramedics Killed Man By Strapping Him Facedown

Two Illinois paramedics face first-degree murder charges, having been accused of strapping a patient facedown on a stretcher while taking him to a hospital last month. Illinois authorities filed the charges against Peggy Finley and Peter Cadigan on Jan. 9, nearly a month after 35-year-old Earl Moore died. Under Illinois law, a first-degree murder charge can be filed when a defendant “knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm.” (Foody, 1/17)

The New York Times:
Sickle Cell Cure Brings Mix Of Anxiety And Hope 

This year, people with sickle cell may have the option of finally living without the damage the disease causes. Two drug companies are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for gene therapies that may provide what amounts to a cure. But the decision to take the medication — should it become available — it turns out, is not so simple. After a life adapted to their illness, some are unsure of how to begin again as healthy people. (Kolata, 1/17)

Social Isolation Linked To Increased Risk Of Dementia, New Study Finds

Socially isolated older adults have a 27{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} higher chance of developing dementia than older adults who aren’t, a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers found. “Social connections matter for our cognitive health, and it is potentially easily modifiable for older adults without the use of medication,” Dr. Thomas Cudjoe, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and a senior author of the study, said in a news release. (Radde, 1/17)

Mississippi Nursing Schools Turn Away Students Amid Shortage 

Amid a nursing shortage that is worsening poor health outcomes in Mississippi, nursing programs at the state’s public universities are turning away hundreds of potential students every year because of insufficient faculty sizes. Alfred Rankins Jr., Mississippi’s commissioner of higher education, said at a legislative hearing Tuesday that nursing programs have struggled to retain faculty members because of the state’s lower-than-average salaries for public university employees. (Goldberg, 1/17)

South Dakota GOP Lawmakers Push Trans Youth Health Care Ban 

A group of South Dakota Republican lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday to outlaw gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, pushing the state to join at least a dozen others considering anti-transgender legislation this year. The South Dakota bill, unveiled at a state Capitol news conference, aims to keep children younger than 18 from accessing puberty-blocking drugs, hormone therapy or surgeries that enable them to present as a gender different from the sex on their birth certificate. It would also punish doctors who provide the care by revoking their medical license and exposing them to civil litigation. (Biraben and Groves, 1/17)

Boulder Reporting Lab:
Boulder To Provide Housing For Methamphetamine Recovery

Two months before the use of methamphetamines shut down the library last month, the City and County of Boulder started implementing a program to help people wean off the highly addictive stimulant that has communities scrambling for solutions. The relatively cheap and readily available drug contributes to homelessness, overdose deaths and incarceration rates. (Herrick and Larson, 1/18)

Mix-It-Yourself Wegovy? Some Try Risky Sources For Obesity Drugs

With a few clicks, Daniel added the chemical to his online cart and ordered it. In less than a week, a vial containing white powder arrived at his house. He used a syringe to measure out sterile water and eject it into the vial to dissolve the powder. Then, with a different syringe, he drew up about a quarter of a milliliter of the solution and injected it into his lower abdomen. (Chen, 1/18)

ABC News:
Reducing Overall Calories May Promote Weight Loss More Effectively Than Intermittent Fasting, AHA Study Finds

Researchers at three major health care systems — Johns Hopkins Health System, Geisinger Health System and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center — studied weight trends, daily food intake and sleeping/eating time intervals charted in a mobile app over the course of six months for 547 adult men and women with a range of medical conditions and Body Mass Index (BMI) categories. (Miao, 1/18)

The Washington Post:
The Most Contaminated Things In Your Kitchen Might Be Your Spice Jars 

If you had to guess the germiest spot in your kitchen, you might think of the refrigerator handle, the cutting board or maybe the inside of your sink. But a new study shows that icky bacteria could be more likely to be lurking in an unexpected spot: your spice drawer. Researchers in a recent study commissioned by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service examined how people preparing turkey burgers cross-contaminated various surfaces in a kitchen. (Heil, 1/17)

CBS News:
MSG: Chefs On Why The Controversial Seasoning Is Making A Comeback

While it is associated with being found in Asian dishes, it is also a common ingredient in American foods. It also occurs naturally in foods such as tomatoes and cheese, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The safety of MSG first came into question in 1968 when a doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” said chef and author J. Kenji López-Alt. The study was not based on science but on symptoms, Alt said, and soon started an MSG backlash. (George and Novak, 1/17)

The Washington Post:
Do Mocktails Really Help You Drink Less Alcohol? 

For people who have moderate to severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), defined by the National Institutes of Health as the inability “to stop or control alcohol use” despite the consequences, these nonalcoholic drinks are generally discouraged because they might actually create a craving for alcohol, not cut it. “It really is, basically, a no,” said George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The cues created by a mocktail can “trigger relapse and re-engagement in excessive drinking.” (Amenabar, 1/17)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
New Study Links Urban Pollution To More Asthma Attacks In Children

Urban air quality poses a major threat to asthma sufferers, according to a study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The study, which involved two groups of roughly 200 children, confirmed a long-standing theory associating higher levels of air pollution in low-income urban environments with an increased risk of asthma attacks. (Shelbourne, 1/17)

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

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