First Edition: March 31, 2022

Linda Rider

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

‘The Danger Is Still There’ ― As Omicron Lurks, Native Americans Are Wary Of Boosters 

When covid-19 vaccines first became available, Native Americans acted swiftly and with determination to get their shots — as though they had everything to lose. Covid hospitalization and death rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives had skyrocketed past those of non-Hispanic whites. Leveraging established systems like the Indian Health Service and tribal organizations, Native Americans urgently administered vaccines. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed they achieved the highest vaccination rates of any race or ethnicity. (Pradhan, 3/31)

Tennessee Offers To Expand Dental Schools As Medicaid Coverage Stretches Need 

More than 600,000 additional Medicaid patients in Tennessee may soon be covered with comprehensive dental benefits under a proposal by Republican Gov. Bill Lee. But the state, one of the last to extend dental coverage to adults, is also trying to make sure those Medicaid enrollees can find dentists willing to treat them. Along with $75 million to extend Medicaid dental benefits to adults, Tennessee is considering $94 million to help its two dental schools expand. About a third of the money would help pay off the student loans of graduates who agree to work in high-need areas, with the idea that they would treat more Medicaid patients. (Farmer, 3/31)

Despite Doctors’ Concerns, Pharmacists Get More Leeway To Offer Treatment With Testing

When Reyna or Justin Ansley or one of their three kids feels sick and needs to be tested for strep throat or flu, there’s a good chance they’ll head to their local pharmacy in Hemingford or Alliance, Nebraska. Dave Randolph, the proprietor of both locations of Dave’s Pharmacy, can do a rapid test, give them medicine if they need it, and send them on their way. “I’m a cattle rancher,” said Reyna Ansley, whose family lives about 15 miles outside Hemingford. “You don’t necessarily have the time to drive to the doctor and sit in the waiting room. It’s really quicker through Dave.” (Andrews, 3/31)

Pandemic Funding Is Running Out For Community Health Workers 

As a community health worker, 46-year-old Christina Scott is a professional red-tape cutter, hand-holder, shoulder to cry on, and personal safety net, all wrapped into one. She works in an office in the shadow of the steel mill that employed her grandfather in this shrinking city in the Greater St. Louis area. Gone with many of the steel jobs is some of the area’s stability — almost a fifth of Granite City’s residents live in poverty, far higher than the national average. (Weber, 3/31)

White House Launches ‘One-Stop’ Website For COVID-19 Needs 

President Joe Biden today announced the launch of, a new one-stop shop for finding COVID-19 vaccines, masks, tests, and treatments by county on an easy-to-use website. “We are in a new moment in this pandemic, it does not mean it’s over, it means it no longer controls our lives,” Biden said, before announcing he was getting his second booster dose of vaccine later this afternoon. “Thanks to the foundation we have laid, America has the tools to fight the virus.” (Soucheray, 3/30)

A New Federal Website Aims To Solve A Key COVID Problem: Where To Get Antiviral Pills

The search for COVID vaccines, tests and treatments could get easier Wednesday with the White House launch of, a website meant to be a one-stop shop for everything from free high quality masks to antiviral pills. “We could not have done this six or eight months ago because we didn’t have all the tools we have now,” said White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients in an interview with NPR. With the website launch, the White House is following through on a promise President Biden made in his State of the Union address. In that speech he announced a test-to-treat program “so people can get tested at a pharmacy, and if they’re positive, receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost.” (Keith, 3/30)

NBC News:
Many People Eligible For Second Booster Shot Don’t Need To Race, Experts Say

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized a second Covid-19 booster shot for people ages 50 and older, but several public health experts said younger, healthier members of that group don’t necessarily need a fourth shot as soon as they become eligible. “This is one of those where I don’t think anyone needs to race,” Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC’s “TODAY” show on Wednesday. “This is one of those things where people should think thoughtfully.” (Li, 3/30)

Biden Warns U.S. Won’t Have Enough Covid Vaccine Shots Without Aid From Congress

President Joe Biden warned Wednesday that the U.S. will not have enough Covid vaccine shots this fall to ensure free and easy access for all Americans if Congress fails to pass the $22.5 billion in additional funding the administration has requested. Biden said the U.S. has enough supply to ensure people eligible for fourth shots have access to them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week recommended an additional Pfizer or Moderna dose for people ages 50 and older, as well as certain younger individuals who have compromised immune systems. Biden, 79, received his fourth dose on live television after his remarks. (Kimball, 3/30)

The Hill:
Senators Shrinking Size Of COVID Deal Amid Disagreements

A group of senators negotiating a potential deal for new coronavirus relief is preparing to scale back the overall size of the package amid a disagreement over how to pay for it, sources told The Hill.  The bipartisan group has been negotiating for days over how to revive the $15.6 billion in coronavirus aid that got stripped out of a government funding bill earlier this month, with senators indicating earlier Wednesday that they agreed on the size of a potential deal. (Carney, 3/30)

The Hill:
Senators Trade Offers In Scramble For Coronavirus Deal 

Senators are swapping offers as they scramble to try to get a deal on coronavirus relief before they leave for a two-week break in a matter of days. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) met Wednesday with Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.), who are negotiating for Republicans. He then met for a second time with members of the group and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, on Wednesday night. (Carney, 3/31)

The Next Phase Of Covid Depends On The Senate 

Here’s a scary thought: America’s ability to face the pandemic’s next phase may depend on a handful of senators. The talks between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) entered their most urgent stage yet on Wednesday, as the two spearhead an effort to allocate $15.6 billion to fight the pandemic. The Democratic leader and Republican centrist convened a larger group on Wednesday afternoon to see if there is a real chance at a bipartisan bill before the April 9 congressional recess; the meeting broke without a deal but a vow to keep talking. (Everett and Levine, 3/30)

Private Concerns Mount About Biden’s New Covid Czar 

When President Joe Biden tapped Ashish Jha as the new leader of his coronavirus response, he hailed the well-known public health expert as the “perfect person” to steer the nation through the next phase of the pandemic. Not everyone is as convinced as Biden. In the weeks since Jha’s announcement, administration officials’ surprise over the selection has given way to skepticism, with some privately questioning how an academic well known for his television commentary will manage a complex operation that touches every part of the federal bureaucracy. (Cancryn, 3/30)

Biden Administration Plans To End Pandemic Border Restrictions In May, Sources Say 

The Biden administration is planning to end Trump-era pandemic restrictions on the US-Mexico border by May 23 that have largely blocked migrants from entering the US, according to three US officials. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is finalizing its assessment of the public health authority, known as Title 42, according to CDC spokeswoman Kathleen Conley, and is expected to announce a decision this week on whether to repeal, modify or extend the authority. The Biden administration has been under mounting pressure from Democrats and immigrant advocates to end the public health authority, which critics say was never justified by science and puts migrants in harm’s way. (Alvarez, Collins, Liptak and Goodman, 3/30)

CDC Drops Risk Advisory For Cruise Ship Travel, 2 Years Into The COVID Pandemic

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has lifted its risk advisory for cruise ship travel Wednesday following two years of issuing warnings to travelers about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 onboard a cruise. In an update posted online, the agency removed its “Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice,” a notice that recommended individuals against traveling onboard cruise ships. Three months ago, the CDC increased its travel warnings for cruises to Level 4 — the highest level — following investigations of ships that had COVID outbreaks. While the CDC has lifted its travel health notice, officials say it’s up to the passengers to determine their own health risks before going onboard a cruise ship. (Franklin, 3/30)

The New York Times:
Ivermectin Does Not Reduce Risk Of Covid Hospitalization, Large Study Finds 

The anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, which has surged in popularity as an alternative treatment for Covid-19 despite a lack of strong research to back it up, showed no sign of alleviating the disease, according to results of a large clinical trial published on Wednesday. The study, which compared more than 1,300 people infected with the coronavirus in Brazil who received either ivermectin or a placebo, effectively ruled out the drug as a treatment for Covid, the study’s authors said. “There’s really no sign of any benefit,” said Dr. David Boulware, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota. (Zimmer, 3/30)

Ivermectin Failed To Cut Covid Hospitalizations In Large Study

Scientists in Brazil who followed more than 1,300 patients assigned to take either the drug or a placebo for three days also found that ivermectin treatment didn’t help with a number of other health measures such as viral clearance after a week, speed of recovery or risk of death. The study results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Fourcade, 3/31)

The New York Times:
Covid Vaccines Did Not Protect Adolescents As Effectively During The Omicron Surge 

In yet another twist to the debate over how best to protect children against the coronavirus, researchers reported on Wednesday that Covid vaccines conferred diminished protection against hospitalization among children 12 and older during the latest Omicron surge. Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization held steady in children aged 5 to 11 years, however, and among adolescents ages 12 to 18 years, two doses of the vaccine remained highly protective against critical illness requiring life support. (Mandavilli, 3/30)

Omicron More Severe For Unvaccinated Children Than Other Strains

The omicron variant of Covid-19 has been linked to more hospitalizations, severe complications and deaths of young children than previous waves of the virus, suggesting the highly contagious strain may not be as mild as initially thought, according to a Hong Kong-based study. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong and Princess Margaret Hospital reviewed child hospitalizations during different stages of the pandemic. They found that cases were far more severe in the omicron wave that continues to sweep through the city in its worst outbreak of the pandemic. (Lew, 3/31)

Houston Chronicle:
Houston Sees Rise In BA.2, COVID Omicron Subvariant Expected To Become Dominant Here

Houston is seeing an uptick in the number of BA.2 cases, with genome sequencing and wastewater testing picking up higher levels this week compared to last week. The more contagious omicron subvariant was identified in 24 percent of patients who were sequenced at Houston Methodist, a jump from the 1 to 3 percent previously reported. BA.2 was also detected at six wastewater treatment plants on March 21 — the most recent day for which data is available — after the Houston Health Department last week said it had not been detected at any plants. (Gill, 3/30)

Des Moines Register:
COVID-19 Cases Keep Falling In Iowa, But Hospitalizations Rise Over Previous Week

The number of people hospitalized in Iowa with COVID-19 rose for the first time in ten weeks, but remained low, according to data released Wednesday by the Iowa Department of Public Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Last week, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell below 100 for just the second time since the pandemic ramped up in 2020. It remained below 100 this week, but increased slightly, from 67 to 74. The number of people requiring intensive care for COVID-19 complications also rose this week, from 11 to 15. Both numbers are much lower than they’ve been for most of the pandemic. (Webber, 3/30)

Bangor Daily News:
A More Contagious Version Of Omicron Is Rising Quickly In Maine

A more contagious strain of the omicron variant is growing more prevalent in Maine after improvements in the state’s case and hospitalization numbers have largely stalled out. The BA.2 variant — sometimes referred to as “stealth omicron” — was first identified in Maine in late February. It is estimated to be roughly 30 percent more contagious than the original omicron variant that emerged last fall, and has been cited as a major contributor to rising virus rates in much of Europe. (Piper, 3/31)

Modern Healthcare:
Hospital COVID-19 Mortality Rates Double For Native Americans

American Indian and Alaska Native populations experienced in-hospital COVID-19 mortality rates two to three times higher than all other races, as well as some of the top COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality rates in the U.S. overall, a new study found. Despite having proportionally lower comorbidity risk scores than Black and white patients, American Indian and Alaska Native patients were more likely to die in the hospital due to COVID-19 than Black or white patients at every level of comorbidity risk, according to a JAMA Network Open report on Wednesday. (Devereaux, 3/30)

Missouri Governor Declares `The COVID-19 Crisis Is Over’ 

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday declared “the COVID-19 crisis is over,” announcing that the state will soon begin handling the coronavirus like influenza and other ongoing diseases that occasionally flare up. Parson said the state will officially start treating the coronavirus as an endemic on Friday. One result is that the public will receive less frequent updates about the number of deaths, hospitalizations and cases attributed to COVID-19.“The COVID-19 crisis is over in the state of Missouri, and we are moving on,” the Republican governor said at a Capitol news conference, a little over two years since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020. (Lieb, 3/30)

Arizona Governor Ends 2-Year-Old Virus State Of Emergency 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday ended the state of emergency he declared at the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years ago. The formal end of the statewide emergency came as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations dip to levels not seen since summer 2020. But deaths are falling at a slower pace. (Christie, 3/30)

Indiana Dropping County COVID-19 Risk Map From Website 

Indiana health officials are dropping the state’s color-coded map that rated each county’s risk of COVID-19 spread in favor of relying on a different federal rating system. That is one of the significant changes that the Indiana Department of Health announced Wednesday for its online dashboard tracking COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the state. The agency has been updating the dashboard each weekday but will switch to Monday, Wednesday and Friday updates. (3/30)

Los Angeles Ends Its Business Vaccine Verification Mandate 

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to end its mandate for many indoor businesses and operators of large outdoor events to verify that customers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, joining a wave of big U.S. cities that have relaxed the restriction. The measure by council President Nury Martinez received enough votes to pass as an urgent measure so it can take effect quickly after it receives the mayor’s signature and is published by the city clerk. (Antczak, 3/30)

Kansas Won’t Enforce Vaccine Rule For Nursing Home Workers

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s says Kansas won’t enforce a federal mandate that nursing home workers get vaccinated against COVID-19, acknowledging Wednesday that it conflicts with an anti-mandate state law she signed four months ago. Nursing home workers must still get vaccines, but the federal government will charge Kansas nearly $349,000 a year to have federal teams survey nursing homes for compliance. (Hanna, 3/31)

The Wall Street Journal:
Boston Will Limit Protesting Near Officials’ Homes After Picketing Over Covid Rules 

The Boston City Council voted to limit picketing at private residences after officials faced protests at homes over pandemic-related rules. The council, whose members are all Democrats, voted 9 to 4 in favor of an ordinance banning targeted residential picketing from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. It was filed by Mayor Michelle Wu, who has had loud early-morning protesters outside her duplex since early January, when she announced a vaccine mandate for city employees. (Levitz, 3/30)

End Of COVID May Bring Major Turbulence For US Health Care 

When the end of the COVID-19 pandemic comes, it could create major disruptions for a cumbersome U.S. health care system made more generous, flexible and up-to-date technologically through a raft of temporary emergency measures. Winding down those policies could begin as early as the summer. That could force an estimated 15 million Medicaid recipients to find new sources of coverage, require congressional action to preserve broad telehealth access for Medicare enrollees, and scramble special COVID-19 rules and payment policies for hospitals, doctors and insurers. There are also questions about how emergency use approvals for COVID-19 treatments will be handled. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 3/31)

FDA Panel Narrowly Sides Against Experimental ALS Drug 

Federal health advisers on Wednesday narrowly ruled against an experimental drug for the debilitating illness known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a potential setback for patient groups who have lobbied for the medication’s approval. Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted 6-4 that a single study from Amylyx Pharmaceuticals failed to establish the drug’s effectiveness in treating the deadly neurodegenerative disease ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. (Perrone, 3/30)

The Boston Globe:
FDA Advisory Vote Casts Pall Over The Future Of Amylyx’s Experimental ALS Drug

An independent panel of neurologists that advises the US Food and Drug Administration voted 6 to 4 Wednesday against recommending the agency approve a Cambridge company’s experimental therapy for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The drug, produced by Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, slowed progression of the disease by 25 percent and improved survival a median of 4.8 months compared with placebo, according the the company. In what many described a difficult decision, a narrow majority of panel members were not convinced that Amylyx’s small clinical trial, which involved 137 ALS patients, proved the drug’s effectiveness. (Cross, 3/30)

San Francisco Chronicle:
San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital Faces Potential Closure After Patient Overdoses Trigger State Review

Federal regulators have threatened to pull critical funding from San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital after two patients overdosed at the facility last year, a dramatic measure that could force the hospital to shut down. Officials with San Francisco’s health department, which runs Laguna Honda, said Wednesday that the hospital had fallen out of regulatory compliance, putting its funding from Medicare and Medicaid in jeopardy. Laguna Honda, one of the largest skilled nursing facilities in the country, is run by the city and cares for more than 700 patients, including people with dementia, drug addiction and other complex medical needs, who live on the hospital’s campus. (Swan, 3/30)

Des Moines Register:
University Of Iowa’s Delayed OT For Health Care Workers Ruled Illegal

The University of Iowa owes damages to as many as 11,000 current and former health care workers for delays in paying overtime and other compensation, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. It’s not clear how much the university will owe the workers, some of them highly paid, but an attorney representing them said the amount could be substantial. Representatives of the Iowa Board of Regents and University of Iowa Health Care declined to comment on the decision. (Morris, 3/30)

Modern Healthcare:
Hospitals Hike Prices For Evaluation And Management Services

Hospital charges for services like emergency department visits and initial hospital care continue to grow faster than other types of care, according to a new study. Hospitals boosted their median charges for evaluation and management services by 7{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} and related negotiated rates rose 5{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c}, according to FAIR Health’s analysis of November 2020 to November 2021 high-frequency claims from their database of more than 36 billion claims. Hospital E/M charges and negotiated rates—excluding facility fees—increased the most over that span out of the six categories FAIR Health studied: office E/M services; non-E/M services like psychiatric care, dialysis and immunizations; radiology; surgery; and pathology and laboratory. (Kacik, 3/30)

Modern Healthcare:
Anthem Fined $5M By Georgia Insurance Commissioner

The Georgia insurance commissioner is hitting Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield with a $5 million fine—the largest in agency history— over claims processing errors. Anthem failed to comply with state laws on a number of occasions between 2015 and 2021, insurance commissioner John King (R) announced Tuesday. Those included improper claims settlement practices, violations of the state Prompt Payment Act, a lack of timely responses to consumer complaints, inaccurate provider directories and provider contract loading delays, according to the regulator. (Devereaux, 3/30)

Nurses: Guilty Verdict For Dosing Mistake Could Cost Lives 

The moment nurse RaDonda Vaught realized she had given a patient the wrong medication, she rushed to the doctors working to revive 75-year-old Charlene Murphey and told them what she had done. Within hours, she made a full report of her mistake to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Murphey died the next day, on Dec. 27, 2017. On Friday, a jury found Vaught guilty of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect. (Loller, 3/30)

Abortion Providers Ask Idaho Supreme Court To Block State’s New 6-Week Ban 

Abortion providers are asking the Idaho Supreme Court to strike down the state’s new six-week abortion ban which mimics a controversial Texas law. The providers said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that the Idaho law violates several provisions of the state constitution. They’re asking the state Supreme Court to intervene before April 22, when the law goes into effect. The law poses a “massive liability threat” to providers that is “so significant that the few remaining abortion providers in Idaho would have to cease the majority of abortions,” Rebecca Gibron, the interim CEO of the Planned Parenthood affiliate bringing the lawsuit, told reporters Wednesday. (Sneed, 3/30)

NBC News:
Planned Parenthood Sues To Block Idaho’s Six-Week Abortion Ban

In the petition, health care providers urged the state Supreme Court to block the policy from taking effect, calling it an “unprecedented power grab by the Idaho Legislature” that would wreak “havoc on this State’s constitutional norms and the lives of its citizens.” The law bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected — usually around six weeks of pregnancy — except in cases of rape and incest. It also allows family members of fetuses to sue doctors for a minimum of $20,000 within four years of abortions. The bill, which was signed into law last week, is scheduled to take effect April 22. (Atkins, 3/30)

Arizona Governor Signs Bills Limiting Abortion, Trans Rights

Arizona’s Republican governor signed a series of bills Wednesday targeting abortion and transgender rights, joining a growing list of GOP-led states pursuing a conservative social agenda. The measures signed by Gov. Doug Ducey will outlaw abortion after 15 weeks if the U.S. Supreme Court allows it, prohibit gender confirmation surgery for minors and ban transgender girls from playing on girls and women’s sports teams. (Christie and Cooper, 3/30)

The Boston Globe:
Amid National Erosion Of Access, Abortion Rights Group Endorses Healey In Mass. Governor’s Race 

National abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed Maura Healey for governor Wednesday, citing her record championing reproductive freedoms in Massachusetts and across the country, and her leadership as cochair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association. The high-profile endorsement comes as the US Supreme Court is poised to decide a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, setting the nation up for a potential undoing of the landmark abortion law by the conservative-majority bench, a key reason why NARAL is endorsing candidates months ahead of primary elections. (Gross, 3/30)

Feds: 9 Charged With Blocking DC Reproductive Health Clinic 

Nine people were charged with federal civil rights offenses after they traveled to the nation’s capital and then blocked access to a reproductive health center and streamed it on Facebook, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. The charges include violations of a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or the FACE Act, which prohibits physically obstructing or using the threat of force to intimidate or interfere with a person seeking reproductive health services. The law also prohibits damaging property at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centers. (Balsamo, 3/30)

Insurance Deal Spurs Georgia Mental Health Bill To Passage 

Georgia lawmakers passed sweeping changes to the state’s flagging mental health care system Wednesday after reaching Senate-House agreement on language aimed at forcing health insurers to pay for mental health and substance abuse treatment. House Bill 1013 flew to final passage with a 54-0 vote in the Senate and a 166-0 vote in the House, then was headed to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature or veto. (Amy, 3/30)

Walz Signs ALS Bill By Senator With The Disease 

Gov. Tim Walz signed a $25 million bill to fund research into ALS that was authored by a veteran state senator from the Iron Range who has the neurological disease. Sen. David Tomassoni, 69, of Chisholm, took up the cause after disclosing last year that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His case has progressed rapidly, forcing him to participate in most Senate business remotely this session. Tomassoni said through a computerized speech synthesizer that the Democratic governor and legislative leaders from both parties told him after his diagnosis that they would support whatever he wanted for funding. (Karnowski, 3/30)

WVa Governor Vetoes Health Department Split, Seeks Review

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have split the massive Department of Health and Human Resources into separate agencies, saying he first wants a review of its “issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies.” “I am committed to making the DHHR better, but we cannot afford to play politics when people’s lives hang in the balance,” Justice said in a statement. “We need to be certain before we act.” (Raby, 3/30)

West Virginia Reaches $26M Settlement With Opioid Maker Endo

West Virginia will receive $26 million in a settlement with the opioid maker Endo Health Solutions for the company’s role in perpetuating the state’s drug epidemic, the attorney general’s office said Wednesday. The announcement comes less than a week before the state is set to go to trial on Monday against three opioid manufacturers: Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Allergan. (Willingham, 3/30)

CVS, Teva, And Allergan Reach Deal With Florida Over The Opioid Crisis 

On the eve of a trial, the state of Florida has reached a settlement with a major pharmacy chain and two drug manufacturers over their roles in fomenting the opioid crisis that has gripped the United States for more than two decades. CVS Health will pay $484 million, and Allergan —a unit of AbbVie — agreed to pay $134 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the state. In addition, Teva Pharmaceuticals will pay $195 million, and also provide $84 million worth of its generic version of Narcan, a nasal spray that is used to treat opioid overdoses in emergencies. (Silverman, 3/30)

Patient Assault Draws New Probe Of Montana Psych Hospital 

Federal investigators visited Montana’s state psychiatric hospital for an inspection following an assault that reportedly left a patient with severe injuries. The inspection by officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was reported by the Montana State News Bureau. It comes amid staffing shortages and other problems that resulted in patient deaths and have put the hospital in Warm Springs in jeopardy of losing its federal reimbursement. The female victim of last week’s assault by another patient was life-flighted to a Missoula hospital, the news outlet reported. (3/30)

The Washington Post:
Bruce Willis Stepping Away From Acting After Aphasia Diagnosis 

Aphasia is classified as an “acquired neurogenic language disorder” that often occurs after a stroke or a brain injury, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, affecting the comprehension and expression of written and spoken language. While speech and language therapy can help those suffering from aphasia recover their language skills, it is “usually a relatively slow process,” and although “most people make significant progress, few people regain full pre-injury communication levels. ”It is unclear what brought on Willis’s aphasia or whether the “Die Hard” actor is suffering from any other impairments. (Andrews, 3/30)

Los Angeles Times:
Concerns About Bruce Willis’ Declining Cognitive State Swirled Around Sets In Recent Years

Just days before Bruce Willis was scheduled to turn up on the set of one of his latest action films, the director of the project sent out an urgent request: Make the movie star’s part smaller. “It looks like we need to knock down Bruce’s page count by about 5 pages,” Mike Burns, the director of “Out of Death,” wrote in a June 2020 email to the film’s screenwriter. “We also need to abbreviate his dialogue a bit so that there are no monologues, etc.” (James and Kaufman, 3/30)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Bong Smoke Is Worse Than Secondhand Tobacco Smoke, UC Berkeley Study Finds

Turns out that the lasting stink of bong water spilled onto the carpet is not the only danger to smoking marijuana through a tall tube cooled by water at its base. A study conducted at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and published by the journal JAMA Network Open on Wednesday declared that secondhand cannabis smoke released during bong hits contains fine particulate matter at a concentration dangerously higher than that released by secondhand tobacco smoke. (Whiting, 3/30)

Obesity Can Turn Helpful Drug Into Harmful One, Mouse Study Shows 

Researchers have long known that obesity rewires the immune system. Now a new study suggests these effects can be so profound they could turn a drug meant to treat a common inflammatory disease into one that makes things worse. Scientists discovered that mice with atopic dermatitis, a painful and itchy skin rash often triggered by an allergic reaction, were worse off if they were obese. A closer look at their immune responses led to a surprise finding: Different immune cell types drove the disease in obese versus lean mice. That caused a standard treatment to exacerbate symptoms in heavier animals, but adding another drug that made the immune response of the obese mice resemble those of lean animals made the treatment regimen work again. (Wosen, 3/30)

WHO: COVID Deaths Jump By 40{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c}, But Cases Falling Globally 

The number of people killed by the coronavirus surged by more than 40{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} last week, likely due to changes in how COVID-19 deaths were reported across the Americas and by newly adjusted figures from India, according to a World Health Organization report released Wednesday. In its latest weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said the number of new coronavirus cases fell everywhere, including in WHO’s Western Pacific region, where they had been rising since December. (3/30)

St. Jude Accepts 2nd Group Of Ukrainian Cancer Patients

A second group of Ukrainian children with cancer has arrived for treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee after they fled with their families from the war in their home country, the hospital said. Four children ages 6 to 17 and their 11 family members arrived at the Memphis hospital Monday after a flight on a chartered medical transport airplane departing from Poland, St. Jude said in a news release late Tuesday. (Sainz, 3/30)

UN Report: Nearly Half Of All Pregnancies Are Unintended 

The U.N. Population Fund says new research shows that nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide — 121 million annually — are unintended, which it calls “a neglected crisis.” In its annual State of World Population Report 2022 released Wednesday, the fund said over 60{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of unintended pregnancies end in abortion and an estimated 45{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of abortions are unsafe, causing 5{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} to 13{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of maternal deaths. (Lederer, 3/31)

UK Maternity Scandal Review Finds 200 Avoidable Baby Deaths 

A review into a scandal-hit British hospital group concluded Wednesday that persistent failures in maternity care contributed to the avoidable deaths of more than 200 babies over two decades. The review began in 2018 after two families that had lost their babies in the care of Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust in western England campaigned for an inquiry. (Lawless, 3/30)

The Wanted Singer Tom Parker Dies Of Brain Tumor At 33 

Tom Parker, a member of British-Irish boy band The Wanted, has died after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He was 33. The band announced that Parker died Wednesday, “surrounded by his family and his band mates.” Parker announced his diagnosis in October 2020, and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy. (3/30)

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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