First Edition: March 6, 2023

Linda Rider

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

Struggling To Survive, The First Rural Hospitals Line Up For New Federal Lifeline 

Just off the historic U.S. Route 66 in eastern New Mexico, a 10-bed hospital has for decades provided emergency care for a steady flow of people injured in car crashes and ranching accidents. It also has served as a close-to-home option for the occasional overnight patient, usually older residents with pneumonia or heart trouble. It’s the only hospital for the more than 4,500 people living on a swath of 3,000 square miles of high plains and lakes east of Albuquerque. (Tribble, 3/6)

Despite Pharma Claims, Illicit Drug Shipments To US Aren’t Full Of Opioids. It’s Generic Viagra.

For years, the FDA has defended its efforts to intercept prescription drugs coming from abroad by mail as necessary to keep out dangerous opioids, including fentanyl. The pharmaceutical industry frequently cites such concerns in its battle to stymie numerous proposals in Washington to allow Americans to buy drugs from Canada and other countries where prices are almost always much lower. (Galewitz, 3/6)

Virtual Or In Person: Which Kind Of Doctor’s Visit Is Better, And When It Matters 

When the covid-19 pandemic swept the country in early 2020 and emptied doctors’ offices nationwide, telemedicine was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Patients and their physicians turned to virtual visits by video or phone rather than risk meeting face-to-face. During the early months of the pandemic, telehealth visits for care exploded. (Andrews, 3/6)

Journalists Discuss Insulin Prices, Gun Violence, Distracted Driving, And More 

Midwest KHN correspondent Bram Sable-Smith discussed the Eli Lilly news on insulin prices on “PBS NewsHour” and insulin prices on Slate’s “What Next” on March 1. … KHN contributor Andy Miller discussed Georgia’s legislative wrap-up including Medicaid work requirements on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Lawmakers” on Feb. 28. He also discussed health care for foster children on WUGA’s “The Georgia Health Report” on Feb. 3. (3/4)

The Washington Post:
Diabetes And Obesity Rising In Young Americans, Study Finds

Diabetes and obesity are rising among young adults in the United States, an alarming development that puts them at higher risk for heart disease, according to a study of 13,000 people between 20 and 44 years old. The authors of the study, published Sunday in a major medical journal, warn the trends could have major public health implications: a rising generation dying prematurely of heart attacks, strokes and other complications. And Black and Hispanic people, particularly Mexican Americans, would bear the brunt. (Nirappil, 3/5)

Diabetes And Obesity Are On The Rise In Young Adults, A Study Says

The prevalence of diabetes climbed from 3{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} to 4.1{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c}; obesity shot up from 32.7{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} to 40.9{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c}, based on the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Sunday, which uses data from 2009 to 2020. (Bowman, 3/6)

The Obesity Revolution: New Weight Loss Drugs Change The Narrative

A two-part message is permeating the halls of medicine and the fabric of society, sliding into medical school lectures, pediatricians’ offices, happy hours and social feeds: Obesity is a chronic biological disease — and it’s treatable with a new class of medications. (Chen and Herper, 3/5)

ABC News:
Eating Disorder Experts Are Worried About Ozempic

The popularity around weight loss drugs like Ozempic is worrying eating disorder experts, who say the conversation risks making recovery harder and could put others at risk of developing disorders. “My fear is that there is now a belief that anyone can and should achieve a certain body shape and size with the help of these medications, so there’s going to be an even greater drive towards a certain body type,” said Tracy Richmond, director of the eating disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital. (Wetsman, 3/6)

Can’t Take Statins? New Pill Cuts Cholesterol, Heart Attacks 

In a major study, a different kind of cholesterol-lowering drug named Nexletol reduced the risk of heart attacks and some other cardiovascular problems in people who can’t tolerate statins, researchers reported Saturday. Doctors already prescribe the drug, known chemically as bempedoic acid, to be used together with a statin to help certain high-risk patients further lower their cholesterol. The new study tested Nexletol without the statin combination — and offers the first evidence that it also reduces the risk of cholesterol-caused health problems. (Neergaard, 3/4)

After Its Drug Was Shown To Prevent Heart Attacks, What’s Next For Esperion?

On Saturday a new study showed that Nexletol, the cholesterol-lowering medicine made by Esperion Therapeutics, prevented heart attacks among people who cannot or will not take potent cholesterol-lowering statins. The question now is whether those benefits are going to be enough to make sales of Nexletol take off. They have been basically dead in the water since the oral medicine was approved three years ago. (Herper, 3/6)

‘Keto-Like’ Diet May Be Associated With Heart Disease, According To New Research

A low-carb, high-fat “keto-like” diet may be linked to higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and double the risk of cardiovascular events such as blocked arteries, heart attacks and strokes, according to new research. “Our study found that regular consumption of a self-reported diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat was associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol – or “bad” cholesterol – and a higher risk of heart disease,” lead study author Dr. Iulia Iatan with the Healthy Heart Program Prevention Clinic, St. Paul’s Hospital and University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver, Canada, said in a news release. (Hassan and LaMotte, 3/6)

The New York Times:
New Treatment Could Help Fix The Heart’s ‘Forgotten Valve’ 

For the first time, patients with damaged tricuspid valves in their hearts might have a safe treatment that actually helps. More than 1 million mostly older Americans have seriously leaking tricuspids, a valve on the right side of the heart that lets deoxygenated blood flow between the right atrium and the right ventricle. When the valve leaks, blood flows backward. As a result, fluid accumulates in vital organs while legs and feet get swollen. The eventual outcome is heart failure. (Kolata, 3/4)

The New York Times:
Lesion Removed During Biden’s Physical Was Cancerous 

President Biden had a cancerous lesion removed from his chest during his physical last month, the president’s doctor said Friday. The existence of the lesion was included in the summary of Mr. Biden’s physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in mid-February. On Friday, Dr. Kevin C. O’Connor, the president’s longtime physician, said a biopsy confirmed that it was basal cell carcinoma, a common and relatively unaggressive form of skin cancer. (Rogers, 3/3)

What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma, The Skin Cancer Biden Just Had 

Just over two weeks ago, President Biden had skin cancer, but today, he doesn’t. According to a White House physician’s memo on Friday, doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center removed a lesion off his chest on Feb. 16, treated the area around the tumor site, and that was that. The president’s cancer might be cause for more concern were it not for the type: basal cell carcinoma. (Chen and Cohrs, 3/3)

Washington, Oregon To End Health Care Settings Mask Mandate

Washington and Oregon will soon drop mask requirements in health care settings, state health officials said Friday, moving to lift the last major masking requirements meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. Mandates in both states will end on April 3, meaning health care workers, patients and visitors will no longer be required to wear a mask in facilities including hospitals, urgent care centers and dental and doctors’ offices. Washington’s mask requirements in correctional facilities will also end April 3. (3/3)

The Boston Globe:
Five People Are Dead At A South Yarmouth Nursing Home After A COVID-19 Outbreak

Five residents of a South Yarmouth nursing home died in recent days following an outbreak of COVID-19, which also caused more than 90 additional cases among residents and staff. The state Department of Public Health has ordered Pittsfield-based Integritus Healthcare, which operates Windsor Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in South Yarmouth, to cease admissions of new residents while officials respond to the outbreak. (Hilliard, 3/4)

San Francisco Chronicle:
All Pandemic Origin Theories Remain Viable, Says WHO

Officials from the World Health Organization on Friday said that all COVID-19 origin theories remain viable despite recent U.S. reports promoting the idea that the deadly virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. “If any country has information about the origins of the pandemic, it is essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing. (Vaziri, 3/3)

Utah Governor Says He Plans To Sign Abortion Clinic Ban 

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Friday that he plans to sign a measure that would effectively ban abortion clinics from operating in the state, meaning hospitals will soon be the only places where they can be provided in the state. After passing through the state Senate on Thursday with minor amendments, it returned to the Utah House of Representatives Friday morning, where it was approved and then sent to the governor for final approval. The move comes less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, returning the power to regulate abortions to states. (Metz, 3/4)

The Implications Of Walgreens’ Decision On Abortion Pills 

Rite Aid Corp. said it was “monitoring the latest federal, state, legal and regulatory developments” and would keep evaluating its policies. The Associated Press also sought comment from CVS Health Corp., retail giant Walmart and the grocery chain Kroger. Some independent pharmacists would like to become certified to dispense the pills, said Andrea Pivarunas, a spokeswoman for the National Community Pharmacists Association. She added that this would be a “personal business decision,” based partly on state laws. The association has no specifics on how many will do it. (Murphy, 3/3)

The Wall Street Journal:
Judith Heumann, Disability-Rights Activist, Dies At 75

Judith Heumann, a renowned activist who helped secure legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities, has died. She was 75 years old. Ms. Heumann died Saturday in Washington, D.C., according to a statement from her family. Over decades of activism, Ms. Heumann played a role in developing national disability-rights legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. She was also involved in the passage of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Otis, 3/5)  

The Hill:
Biden Remembers Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann As ‘Rolling Warrior’

President Biden on Sunday remembered disability rights activist Judith Heumann, who passed away on Saturday at 75, as a “trailblazer” and a “rolling warrior.” … “Judy Heumann was a trailblazer – a rolling warrior – for disability rights in America. After her school principal said she couldn’t enter Kindergarten because she was using a wheelchair, Judy dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for the inherent dignity of people with disabilities,” Biden said in a statement. (Sforza, 3/5)

Another Mississippi Hospital Will Stop Delivering Babies

A hospital on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will suspend labor and delivery services April 1 because of a shortage of obstetricians, further decreasing health care access in a state that has seen other hospitals shut down birthing centers or intensive care for newborn babies. Singing River Gulfport said in its announcement Thursday that hospital leaders hope the suspension of services will be temporary, WXXV-TV reported. (3/3)

Novant Hospital Merger In North Carolina Raises Antitrust Concerns

Hospital systems are turning to cross-market mergers to satiate their thirst for growth and avoid antitrust heat. But hospitals are also still signing other lower-profile deals, which experts believe inevitably lead to higher insurance premiums and create more medical bill stress for people in those communities. “Smaller mergers just don’t get the attention they deserve because they affect fewer people,” said Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University who studies hospital consolidation. (Herman, 3/6)

Modern Healthcare:
4 Takeaways From Health Systems’ 2022 Earnings Reports

Labor shortages, rising expenses and poor performance in the financial markets led to a money-losing year many in the industry would like to forget. “When you look back at 2022, for a sizable portion for the sector, it’s going to go down again as really one of, if not the worst, operating income years ever,” said Kevin Holloran, senior director at Fitch Ratings. “Some people got better as the year went on … but not everybody.” (Hudson, 3/3) 

Nevada Crash Is 3rd Fatal One Tied To Air Medical Service 

The company that owns the medical transport aircraft that crashed in northern Nevada last week, killing all five people aboard, has been tied to two other fatal crashes in the last four years. A review of records shows that with the latest crash, 11 people total have now died on planes owned and operated by Guardian Flight, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Friday. The company is also now facing its fourth National Transportation Safety Board probe since 2018, said Bruce Landsberg, NTSB vice chairman. (3/3)

Eli Lilly Will Avoid Big Medicaid Rebates After It Cut Insulin Prices

Eli Lilly would’ve had to pay Medicaid about $150 for each vial of insulin used in the program if it hadn’t dramatically cut the list prices for some of its older products this week. The company was about to run into a Medicaid penalty for hiking the price of its drugs faster than the rate of inflation. Now that it plans to lower the list price of the insulin Humalog 70{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c}, it won’t trigger that penalty. Lilly also is lowering the price of Lispro, a biosimilar of Humalog, to $25 a vial. (Wilkerson, 3/6)

MRNA Vaccine For HPV-Associated Cancers Shows Promise In Mice

The HPV vaccine is a slam dunk in preventing the vast majority of cancers related to the infection — namely tumors of the head and neck, anus, penis, vagina, and cervix. But that’s only for people who got shots early enough to prevent HPV infection. Everyone else must hope for other vaccines that scientists are developing to treat existing HPV-associated cancer. A new study on that front offers some promising, if early, results in mice. (Chen, 3/3)

The Colorado Sun:
Colorado Psychologists Eligible To Prescribe Medications Under New Law

Psychologists in Colorado will be allowed to write prescriptions if they’re willing to obtain an additional two-year degree, under a new law signed Friday by Gov. Jared Polis. The measure is intended to increase access to mental health care in Colorado, which has a severe shortage of mental health professionals. Psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, fought the legislation. (Brown, 3/3)

The Washington Post:
Florida Bills Would Ban Gender Studies, Limit Trans Pronouns, Erode Tenure 

Florida legislators have proposed a spate of new laws that would reshape K-12 and higher education in the state, from requiring teachers to use pronouns matching children’s sex as assigned at birth to establishing a universal school choice voucher program. The half-dozen bills, filed by a cast of GOP state representatives and senators, come shortly before the launch of Florida’s legislative session Tuesday. Other proposals in the mix include eliminating college majors in gender studies, nixing diversity efforts at universities and job protections for tenured faculty, strengthening parents’ ability to veto K-12 class materials and extending a ban on teaching about gender and sexuality — from third grade up to eighth grade. (Natanson, Rozsa and Svrluga, 3/5)

How Common Is Transgender Treatment Regret, Detransitioning? 

In updated treatment guidelines issued last year, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health said evidence of later regret is scant, but that patients should be told about the possibility during psychological counseling. Dutch research from several years ago found no evidence of regret in transgender adults who had comprehensive psychological evaluations in childhood before undergoing puberty blockers and hormone treatment. (Tanner, 3/5)

Legionnaires’ Disease Found In 2 Past Las Vegas Hotel Guests

Las Vegas area health officials say Legionnaires’ disease was found in two people who stayed at the same hotel in recent months. The Southern Nevada Health District announced Friday it is looking into two cases reported in guests who stayed at The Orleans Hotel & Casino a few miles west of the Strip. One guest visited there in January. The other in December. The hotel is informing current and past guests going back to Dec. 16 of possible exposure. (3/3)

NBC News:
Norovirus Is Spiking: Symptoms To Watch For And How To Prevent It

Norovirus appears to be at a 12-month high, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of norovirus tests coming back positive, averaged over three weeks, was around 17{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} as of the end of last week. That’s the highest it has been at any time in the last year. (Varinsky and Ede-Osifo, 3/9)

Officials: Person Dies After Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection

A person in southwest Florida has died after being infected with an extremely rare brain-eating amoeba, health officials said. The Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County confirmed the death Thursday. The agency had previously issued an alert last month, warning residents about the Naegleria fowleri infection. (3/3)

Connecticut Public:
Warming Northeast Winters Benefit Deer Ticks, Raising Health Concerns

Every year, deer ticks bite thousands of people in the Northeast. And as winters in the region become more mild, adult deer ticks are becoming more active at a time when they’re normally dormant — causing a bigger public health risk. “It’s becoming a year-round, check-yourself-for-ticks situation,” said Dr. Toni Lyn Morelli with the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. (Savitt, 3/4)

USA Today:
Cronobacter Sakazakii Infections Can Be Deadly For Babies, CDC Warns

Following an infant death linked to a contaminated breast pump last year, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are continuing to warn parents about rare infections caused by Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria. In a report published on Friday, the CDC notes that C. sakazakii infections can cause severe illness and death in newborns. (Grantham-Philips, 3/3)

The Washington Post:
Regular Laxative Use Correlated With Higher Dementia Risk In U.K. Study 

Regular laxative use may be correlated with dementia, according to research published in the journal Neurology in February. The study looked at a cohort of 502,229 British adults participating in UK Biobank, a long-term initiative that gathered extensive genetic and health information from 40- to 69-year-olds in England, Wales and Scotland between 2006 and 2010. The participants had no history of dementia. Researchers compared those who reported no regular laxative use with those who said they used laxatives most days of the week for the past four weeks in surveys. (Blakemore, 3/4)

CBS News:
FDA Warns Of False Negative Results For Food Allergies After Skin Test Recall

All skin tests doctors commonly use to check for food allergies can provide false negative results, the Food and Drug Administration has concluded — meaning people with potentially life-threatening allergies could mistakenly be told they are not at risk. The tests will now be required to include a warning urging doctors to consider double-checking the test with more accurate approaches. (Tin, 3/3)

CDC Warns Of Risk To Travelers From Chikungunya Outbreak In Paraguay

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday issued a Health Alert Network (HAN) Health Advisory to clinicians and public health officials warning that US travelers could be affected by a growing chikungunya outbreak in Paraguay. Since the chikungunya outbreak began in October 2022, the Ministry of Health in Paraguay has reported 71,748 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne alphavirus, with 29,362 of those cases being probable or confirmed. Most cases have been reported in the capital district of Asuncion and the neighboring Central department. Further increases in case counts are expected. (Dall, 3/3)

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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