First Edition: July 11, 2022

Linda Rider

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

In America, Cancer Patients Endure Debt On Top Of Disease 

Jeni Rae Peters would make promises to herself as she lay awake nights after being diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. “My kids had lost so much,” said Peters, a single mom and mental health counselor. She had just adopted two girls and was fostering four other children. “I swore I wouldn’t force them to have yet another parent.” (Levey, 7/9)

Medi-Cal’s Reliance On Prisoners To Make Cheaper Eyeglasses Proves Shortsighted

To dodge hefty costs for eyewear, California’s health insurance program for low-income people, Medi-Cal, has an innovative strategy: It contracts exclusively with the state’s prisons, and inmates make glasses for its beneficiaries. But the partnership that began more than 30 years ago has fractured. Medi-Cal enrollees, many of whom are children, and their eye care providers say that they often wait months for the glasses and that sometimes they arrive broken. (DeGuzman, 7/11)

Colorado’s Efforts Are Not Enough To Solve Its Ozone Problem 

A year after health officials issued a record number of alerts for high ozone levels on Colorado’s Front Range, federal and state officials are trying to rein in the gas that can make outdoor activities a health risk. But new Colorado laws aimed at improving air quality along that urban corridor east of the Rocky Mountains aren’t expected to do much to directly reduce ozone, according to experts charged with bringing down the levels. “These are not the magic bullets that will bring us into compliance, but they will be helpful in reducing emissions,” said Michael Silverstein, executive director of the Regional Air Quality Council, the lead air-quality planning organization for nine counties of the Front Range. (Robbins, 7/11)

A 63-Year-Old Transgender Woman Is Caught In Montana’s Birth Certificate Dispute 

At 10 years old, Susan Howard knew she was a girl, even though her birth certificate said otherwise. It wasn’t until last year, at age 62, that the Montana resident came to terms with being transgender. Howard underwent hormone therapy, had gender-affirming surgery, and began changing her name and gender on official documents. “It has been a godsend for me,” Howard said. “I feel so right and at ease with myself for the first time in so many ways.” (Zurek, 7/11)

Journalists Explain The Effects Of ‘Dobbs’ Decision And New Insurer Price Transparency Rules 

KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner discussed how the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion affects contraception on NPR/WAMU’s “1A” on July 6. … KHN senior correspondent Julie Appleby discussed insurer price transparency regulations on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” on July 2. (7/9)

Biden Says He’s Mulling Health Emergency For Abortion Access

President Joe Biden said Sunday he is considering declaring a public health emergency to free up federal resources to promote abortion access even though the White House has said it doesn’t seem like “a great option.” He also offered a message to people enraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that ended a constitutional right to abortion and who have been demonstrating across the country: “Keep protesting. Keep making your point. It’s critically important.” (Fingerhut, 7/10)

Roll Call:
Biden Issues Executive Order Responding To Abortion Ruling

The White House on Friday announced a wide-ranging executive order aimed at protecting abortion rights — its most significant response to a recent Supreme Court decision overturning long-standing precedent guaranteeing the right to an abortion nationwide since the high court made the ruling two weeks ago. … The multipronged order would mainly focus on actions to be taken through the Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, Biden would instruct HHS to take additional actions to expand access to medication abortion, a two-pill regimen used to end pregnancies before 10 weeks — building on actions Becerra announced last week. … It would also direct HHS to take actions to protect all forms of contraception, including emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices, or IUDs.(Raman, 7/8)

The Washington Post:
Inside The White House Struggle To Respond To The Abortion Ruling 

To many increasingly frustrated Democrats, Biden’s slow-footed response on abortion was just the latest example of a failure to meet the moment on a wave of conservative rollbacks, from gun control to environmental protections to voting rights. … This account of the administration’s 14-day struggle to craft a message and policy plan after the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is based on interviews with 26 senior White House officials, Democratic lawmakers, abortion rights activists, Democratic strategists and other Biden allies, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details. (Parker, Abutaleb and Pager, 7/9)

CBS News:
Vice President Kamala Harris Stresses Need For “Pro-Choice Congress” To Protect Abortion Rights

Vice President Kamala Harris underscored the importance of voters casting their ballots in the November midterm elections for a “pro-choice Congress” that will enshrine the right to an abortion into law after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In an interview with “Face the Nation” that aired Sunday, Harris said the ruling from the high court last month cleared the way for states to enact new laws restricting or outright banning abortion. (Quinn, 7/10)

The Wall Street Journal:
Lawsuits To Test Whether State Constitutions Protect Abortion Rights

In North Dakota this week, the only remaining abortion provider in the state challenged a ban on most abortions set to take effect later this month, arguing it violates provisions in the state’s constitution that protect life, safety and happiness. Other litigation is proceeding in more politically mixed states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina, which all have pending cases that could create state constitutional protections for abortion. Courts could play a decisive roll in all three states, which have Democratic governors and Republican-led legislatures and have in recent years been unable to enact significant laws either protecting or restricting abortion. (Kusisto, 7/9)

The Wall Street Journal:
Doctors Struggle With State Abortion Restrictions At Odds With Federal Law 

Doctors and hospitals are rushing to reconcile laws in their states barring abortion with a federal law that may require the procedure as part of emergency treatment. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, laws have taken effect, or soon will, in several states that prohibit abortions except when necessary to save a pregnant women’s life. Yet under federal law, doctors and hospitals may need to perform the procedure in other medical emergencies, such as for women at risk of kidney failure from an infection. (Evans, 7/10)

Arizona Says “Personhood” Abortion Law Can’t Lead To Charges

An attorney with the Arizona attorney general’s office told a judge Friday that a 2021 state “personhood” law that gives all legal rights to unborn children can’t be used to bring criminal charges against abortion providers. The comment from Assistant Solicitor General Kate Sawyer came during a hearing where attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and an abortion rights group representing abortion providers were seeking an injunction blocking the law. (Christie, 7/8)

Lawmakers Move State Abortion Amendment Closer To 2023 Vote 

A proposal to have voters decide whether to add a provision the Pennsylvania Constitution to say it does not guarantee any rights relating to abortion or public funding of abortions passed the Legislature on Friday and could be on the ballot next spring. The language was among five proposed Republican-written amendments that were approved by both the House and Senate after a pair of charged debates among state lawmakers who have promised their voters to fight for or against abortion rights. (Scolforo, 7/8)

Houston Chronicle:
A Floating Abortion Clinic? Medical Team Plans To Launch Ship In Gulf Of Mexico, In Federal Waters

A California doctor has a plan to launch a floating reproductive health clinic in the Gulf of Mexico, where care will be regulated by federal — not state — law. The plan — currently in the fundraising stage — hopes to make surgical abortions, contraception and other reproductive health services available to Gulf Coast patients living in states restricting such services. (Schuetz, 7/9)

CBS News:
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Tests Positive For COVID-19

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has tested positive for COVID-19, his spokesperson confirmed Sunday night. Schumer, who is fully vaccinated and double boosted, is only experiencing “very mild” symptoms, the spokesperson said in a statement. The 71-year-old’s positive test came as part of his regular testing regimen, according to the statement. Per CDC guidance, he will quarantine and work remotely this week. (Albert, 7/10)

Abbott Reopens Michigan Baby Formula Plant After Flooding

One of the nation’s largest suppliers of baby formula has reopened its Sturgis, Mich., plant after severe flooding from heavy rains forced it to temporarily shut down in mid-June. The Abbott Nutrition facility reopened July 1 and began producing EleCare, its specialty baby formula, an Abbott spokesperson told CBS News and other outlets. Abbott is one of the four companies in the U.S. controlling roughly 90% of the multibillion-dollar infant formula market. (Miranda, 7/10)

The New York Times:
The U.S. May Be Losing The Fight Against Monkeypox, Scientists Say

As epidemics go, the monkeypox outbreak should have been relatively easy to snuff out. The virus does not spread efficiently except through intimate contact, and tests and vaccines were at hand even before the current outbreak. Yet the response in the United States has been sluggish and timid, reminiscent of the early days of the Covid pandemic, experts say, raising troubling questions about the nation’s preparedness for pandemic threats. (Mandavilli, 7/8)

West Virginia Announces First Probable Case Of Monkeypox

The first probable case of monkeypox has been announced in West Virginia. The state Department of Health and Human Resources said Friday the case involves a resident of Berkeley County in the Eastern Panhandle. No additional information was released. (7/8)

Los Angeles Times:
Monkeypox Spreads In L.A., But Vaccine Shortage Persists

As criticism grows from LGBTQ activists and others, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it will expand eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine to certain patients with recent sexually transmitted diseases and to high-risk people at Men’s Central Jail. Still, eligibility will remain limited to the highest-risk people, and officials are reporting a severe shortage of the Jynneos vaccine that probably won’t be resolved for months. (Lin II and Toohey, 7/9)

Officials Note Multiple Sex Partners As Monkeypox Risk 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its first update to its rapid risk assessment of monkeypox, saying that the likelihood of disease spread in people with multiple sexual partners in Europe is high, but the risk to the broader population is very low. (Soucheray, 7/8)

New Coronavirus Mutant Raises Concerns In India And Beyond

The quickly changing coronavirus has spawned yet another super contagious omicron mutant that’s worrying scientists as it gains ground in India and pops up in numerous other countries, including the United States. Scientists say the variant – called BA.2.75 – may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5. (Ungar and Ghosal, 7/11)

Move Over, Measles: Dominant Omicron Subvariants BA.4 And BA.5 Could Be The Most Infectious Viruses Known To Man 

COVID was relatively deadly, but not ultra-transmissible when it burst onto the global scene in late 2019 and early 2020. These days, due a number of factors, the reverse is true: It’s considerably less lethal, but more exponentially transmissible. Globally dominant Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are neck and neck with measles in the competition for the title of most infectious disease known to man, according to an Australian professor of biostatistics and epidemiology. (Prater, 7/9)

The Washington Post:
As BA.5 Variant Spreads, Risk Of Covid Reinfection Grows

America has decided the pandemic is over. The coronavirus has other ideas. The latest omicron offshoot, BA.5, has quickly become dominant in the United States, and thanks to its elusiveness when encountering the human immune system, is driving a wave of cases across the country. The size of that wave is unclear because most people are testing at home or not testing at all. (Achenbach, 7/10)

The New York Times:
What Are The Symptoms Of Omicron Subvariants BA.4 And BA.5? 

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Cleveland Clinic, said people tend to experience upper respiratory symptoms “from the vocal cords to the tip of the nose.” Anecdotally, he said, he has seen more patients with painful sinus congestion and severe sore throats who have tested positive for Covid-19 while BA.4 and BA.5 have been circulating. Some of them thought they had strep throat because they were in so much pain, he said. (Blum, 7/6)

The Boston Globe:
Boston Researchers May Have Found Biomarker For Long COVID

Researchers say they have found the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein circulating in the blood of long COVID patients up to 12 months after they were diagnosed with COVID-19. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital said the findings suggested the spike protein was a potential biomarker that could be helpful in diagnosing and treating long COVID patients. (Finucane, 7/7)

The Wall Street Journal:
Long Covid Is An Elusive Target For Big Pharma

The drug industry developed Covid-19 vaccines and treatments at breakneck speed, saving millions of lives in the process. Yet treatments for the post-viral illness known as long Covid, which is afflicting millions, are nowhere close to being developed. The lack of urgency around developing treatments is both a missed opportunity for the healthcare industry and a drag on the economy as an array of conditions such as dizziness and chest pain force many Americans to at least temporarily stop working. (Wainer, 7/11)

New York City Health Officials Urge Return To Indoor Masking

New York City public health officials on Friday urged residents to return to indoor mask-wearing, noting how they’re seeing high levels of COVID-19 infection. To help slow the spread, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommended in a tweet that “all New Yorkers should wear a high-quality mask, such as an N95, KN95 or KF94 in all public indoor settings and around crowds outside.” (7/8)

New York City Cuts Back On Covid Testing Amid US Surge In Infections

New York City is scaling back on Covid-19 testing sites despite omicron subvariants that are driving a nationwide rise in new case and hospitalization rates. The city’s public health system has been shutting down hundreds of testing sites as public attention to the virus fades, according to its website. Meanwhile, the rate of positive results to total tests, an indicator of the speed of spread, rose to 15.4% this week, about four times what it was in April. (Taylor, 7/9)

San Francisco Chronicle:
COVID Vaccine Uptake For Bay Area Babies, Toddlers Outpaces State And US

In late June, when pediatrician Dr. Nelson Branco opened up COVID vaccine appointments for his youngest patients — babies and toddlers under 5 years old — parents raced to book some 250 slots within the first 48 hours. By late last week, nearly 20% of Branco’s roughly 1,500 patients in this age group had gotten their first shot. The doctor, who practices in Larkspur and Novato, anticipates that over the next few weeks, it will double to 40%. (Ho, 7/10)

Wastewater Surveillance Tool Detects SARS-CoV-2 Variants Earlier, Cheaper

Scientists at Scripps Research Institute and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have developed a wastewater surveillance tool that—with just 2 teaspoons of raw sewage—can identify the SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in a population and detect new variants of concern up to 2 weeks before clinical sequencing can. (7/8)

Modern Healthcare:
Hospital Price Data Reveals Wide Variation In Facility Fees

Larger, for-profit hospitals charged patients higher facility fees for emergency care than not-for-profit hospitals, a new study found. High-acuity patients who went to for-profit emergency departments were charged an average of $1,218 more for cash price facility fees than not-for-profit providers, according to an analysis of 2021 data from more than 1,600 hospitals. (Kacik, 7/11)

Modern Healthcare:
Healthcare Hiring Surged In June, Jobs Report Shows

Healthcare hiring increased substantially in June, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published Friday. Employers in the sector added an estimated 56,700 jobs, up from 15,300 in May, preliminary data show. The industry contributed 15.2% of the 372,000 hires made across the economy in June and added the third-most jobs among all categories. (Devereaux, 7/8)

The Washington Post:
Retractions Aren’t A Panacea For Bad Research

In a paper published in PNAS last month, researchers say most retractions do not happen soon enough to prevent the spread of faulty science. The team studied nearly 3,000 retracted papers from the past decade, looking at their reach in news publications, social media and elsewhere online. When they compared the discredited papers’ reach with that of 13,500 studies that were not retracted, they found the problematic papers received more attention and were mentioned more often on news platforms than their counterparts, probably because of their compelling results. (Blakemore, 7/9)

Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission To Meet 

A group selected last month to turn a massive settlement into action to combat opioid addiction will meet for the first time this week. The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission will hold its first meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Capital Complex East in Frankfort, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said. The meeting is open to the public and will be livestreamed. (7/11)

Did Minnesota Accidentally Legalize Weed? 

Minnesota just sorta, kinda, almost legalized weed. A law took effect earlier this month allowing anyone at least 21 years old to purchase edibles or beverages with up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving. Those relatively low potency products with up to 50 milligrams per package still pack enough of a psychoactive punch to get most users plenty high. But some key lawmakers who approved the significant change in drug policy were seemingly confused about what they’d done. (Demko, 7/10)

The Washington Post:
Epilepsy Patients Turn To Unregulated CBD Market For Treatment

In 2013, Tonya Taylor says, she was suicidal because her epileptic seizures kept coming even though she was taking a long list of medications. Then a fellow patient at a Denver neurologist’s office mentioned something that gave Taylor hope: a CBD oil called Charlotte’s Web. The person told her the oil helped people with uncontrolled epilepsy. The doctor, however, would discuss it only “off the record” because cannabidiol was illegal under federal law, and he worried about his hospital losing funding, Taylor said. (Berger, 7/10)

Caregiver Acquitted In Accidental Vinegar Death In Spokane

A former caregiver charged in connection with the 2019 poisoning death of a developmentally disabled woman has been acquitted of felony assault. Fikirte T. Aseged mistakenly gave cleaning vinegar instead of colonoscopy prep medicine to her 64-year-old client Marion Wilson. (7/9)

The Boston Globe:
Can Brain-Training Stave Off Dementia? New Studies May Pinpoint Some Answers

There are some things Mario Tardif knows for sure. He’s a procrastinator. He should exercise more. And he should not have a bowl of ice cream every night, as much as he would like to. But what the 68-year-old North Attleborough grandfather doesn’t know is perhaps the thing that most haunts him — whether he will spend the last years of his life lost in a fog of Alzheimer’s dementia, staring out the window and crying, as his mother did. (Lazar, 7/10)

With New Permit, Johns Hopkins Can Keep Up Barn Owl Research 

After securing a new state permit, a Johns Hopkins University researcher will be allowed to continue medical experiments on barn owls that have been criticized by a leading animal rights group. … The experiments involve the placement of electrodes into the brains of the owls. The electrodes do not hurt or damage the birds, though the owls are ultimately euthanized, Eric Hutchinson, director of the university’s Research Animal Resources, told the newspaper. (7/10)

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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