First Edition: Oct. 27, 2022

Linda Rider

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

Employers Are Concerned About Covering Workers’ Mental Health Needs, Survey Finds 

Almost three years after the covid-19 pandemic upended workplaces, mental health coverage remains a priority for employers, according to an annual employer survey fielded by KFF. Nearly half of surveyed large employers — those with at least 200 workers — reported that a growing share of their workers were using mental health services. Yet almost a third of that group said their health plan’s network didn’t have enough behavioral health care providers for employees to have timely access to the care they need. (Andrews, 10/27)

Montana Backs Away From Innovative Hospital Payment Model. Other States Are Watching.

Montana is signaling it might step away from an innovative way of setting the prices its public employee health plan pays hospitals for services, an approach that has saved the state millions of dollars and become a model for health plans nationwide. The plan gained national renown among employers and health care price reform advocates when, in 2016, it established maximum amounts the health plan would pay for all inpatient and outpatient services. Those amounts were pegged to Medicare reimbursement rates. The adoption of that model, known as reference-based pricing, has saved the state tens of millions of dollars. Taxpayers help fund the medical plan, which insures public employees and their families, for a total of about 28,800 people. (Houghton, 10/27)

Readers And Tweeters Take Positions On Sleep Apnea Treatment 

KHN gives readers a chance to comment on a recent batch of stories. (10/27)

The Hill:
Americans Die Younger In States With Conservative Policies: Study

Americans die younger in states with more conservative policies, while states with more liberal policies are associated with lower mortality rates, according to a new study published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS One. Researchers analyzed mortality rates for all causes of death in all 50 states from 1999 to 2019 among adults aged 25 to 64. They compared that to state data on policy measures such as gun safety, labor, marijuana policy, economic taxes and tobacco taxes. (Dress, 10/26)

OTC Birth Control Pill Delayed As FDA Postpones Expert Meeting For Perrigo Drug

The FDA has pushed back a decision date on a proposed over-the-counter switch of Perrigo’s prescription birth control drug Opill by 90 days, Perrigo said Wednesday. Perrigo had previously expected an approval in the first half of 2023, but the exact original FDA action date was never disclosed. Perrigo’s HRA Pharma applied for the Rx-to-OTC switch on July 11, and such reviews typically take 10 months. In addition to its decision delay, the FDA also postponed a planned joint meeting by its Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee and the Obstetrics, Reproductive and Urologic Drugs Advisory Committee to discuss Perrigo’s application. The conference was previously scheduled for Nov. 18. No new date has been set, Perrigo said. (Liu, 10/26)

FDA Postpones Meeting To Review Over-The-Counter Birth Control Pills

“Protection of women’s health is of high importance to FDA,” an FDA spokesperson told Axios. “The postponement does not indicate or affect any decision regarding the application,” the spokesperson said, and added that the agency “remains committed to a timely review of this application.” (Gonzalez, 10/26)

Abortion Providers Challenge Medicaid Ban In Pennsylvania 

Abortion providers across Pennsylvania urged the state’s highest court on Wednesday to overturn a longtime ban on Medicaid funding for the procedure. Planned Parenthood and other providers say the 1982 law violates the state’s Equal Rights Amendment by treating women’s health care needs differently than those of men. (Dale, 10/26)

Scientific American:
These Drugs Could Restore A Period Before Pregnancy Is Confirmed

Imagine this situation: A woman misses her period and worries she might be pregnant. She doesn’t want to be, so she schedules an appointment with a health care provider and tells them she wishes to get her period back. The provider prescribes her a course of “period pills.” She gets her period again, and that’s the end of it. Such a scenario is not purely hypothetical. Period pills are the same ones used in medication abortion—misoprostol alone or in combination with mifepristone—which could imply that menstrual regulation is just another name for early abortion. But the drugs might not be considered abortion medication because the patient never learns whether they were pregnant in the first place. (Lenharo, 10/26)

Lawmakers And Public Health Advocates Call For Congress To Finally Ban Asbestos

Days after ProPublica detailed dangerous working conditions at a chlorine plant that used asbestos until it closed last year, public health advocates and two U.S. lawmakers are renewing calls for Congress to ban the carcinogen. “American workers are dying from asbestos. It is way past time to end its use,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon. “This ProPublica report confirms our worst fears: workers dealing with asbestos are often left vulnerable to this deadly, dangerous substance.” Merkley and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., are sponsoring the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, which would permanently ban the importing and use of asbestos. (Bedi and McGrory, 10/27)

The Hill:
Fetterman Stroke Sparks Debate Over What’s Seen As A Disability

Advocates for people with disabilities have watched the debate over Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman’s (D) with interest, and say that regardless of his health, it raises questions about how people view those with disabilities.   “I think that most of us … conjure up an image of what it is to be disabled and oftentimes that is some sort of physical mobility disability,” said Emily Blum, executive director of Disability Lead. “That’s an image that a lot of us are very comfortable with because it’s visible.”  (Budryk and Daniels, 10/26)

For Experts On Stroke, Fetterman-Oz Debate Is A Teachable Moment

At a Senate debate Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, at times stumbled over his words, jumbled his answers, and noticeably paused. In the political press, Fetterman’s performance was met with headlines about his “painful debate” and “struggles.” (Joseph, 10/26)

Herschel Walker Faces Abortion Allegation From 2nd Accuser 

A woman came forward Wednesday to accuse Herschel Walker, the anti-abortion Republican running for U.S. Senate in Georgia, of encouraging and paying for her 1993 abortion — an accusation that came just weeks after a former girlfriend said he did the same for her in 2009. Walker dismissed the newest allegation as “foolishness” and “a lie,” similar to his vehement denials earlier this month of the abortion alleged to have happened 13 years ago. … “I also did not kill JFK,” Walker said in a statement later Wednesday. (Barrow and Dazio, 10/27)

Republicans Recast Drug Debate As Issue Of Crime And Borders

On a recent evening, Ryan Hampton stood in front of a crowd of people in Spokane, Wash., urging them to see drugs and addiction as a key issue in the midterm elections. “We see these overdose numbers hitting new historic highs,” Hampton said, referring to the 107,622 Americans who died after using illicit drugs last year. (Mann, 10/27)

The New York Times:
Most Hospitalized Monkeypox Patients In The U.S. Were H.I.V.-Positive 

Nearly all Americans hospitalized for monkeypox infection had weakened immune systems, most often because of H.I.V. infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday. Of 57 hospitalized patients described in the report, 82 percent had H.I.V. More than two-thirds of the patients were Black and nearly one-quarter were homeless, reflecting racial and economic inequities seen in the outbreak overall. (Mandavilli, 10/26)

The Washington Post:
Monkeypox Deaths In U.S. Hit 10; Danger Highest With Untreated HIV 

Monkeypox is causing devastating outcomes for people with severely weakened immune systems, even as new cases continue to decline in the United States, according to a federal report released Wednesday. At least 10 people hospitalized with monkeypox have died. More than 28,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported since the U.S. outbreak began in May. While the vast majority recover within weeks, some patients with untreated HIV experienced especially dire consequences, such as losing function of their brain or spinal cord, eyes and lungs despite being given antiviral medication. (Sun and Nirappil, 10/26)

ABC News:
Some US Hospitals Report Beds Are Full Among Increase In Respiratory Infections In Children

Some hospitals across the United States say their beds are full as cases of respiratory viruses continue to increase among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infections due to respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, have spiked by 69{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} over the last four weeks from 4,667 to 7,917 and are appearing earlier than usual. (Kekatos, 10/27)

The Hill:
What To Know About RSV Symptoms And Transmission 

Adults with RSV typically have symptoms of the common cold, but babies, young children and older adults who are infected with the virus can develop more serious illnesses like pneumonia. … RSV is primarily transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, and less commonly through the air or skin to skin contact. (Hou, 10/26)

San Francisco Chronicle:
BQ.1 And BQ.1.1 Strains Are Now CDC’s ‘Greatest Concern’

U.S. health officials are watching the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 COVID subvariants “very carefully,” said the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the University of Virginia School of Medicine on Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky described the emerging omicron descendents as “our greatest concern right now, both for the number of mutations, but also for the impact and the phenotype that we are worried that they may imply.” (Vaziri, Buchmann and Ravani, 10/26)

The Washington Post:
Still Afraid Of Covid: The People Who Are Still Isolating And Masking 

[Many] Americans are still going very far out of their way to avoid the virus. They don’t dine indoors at restaurants. They continue to practice social distancing. They wear highly protective masks if they must visit a doctor or stop at a pharmacy. Some are home-schooling their kids. Others are refusing to return to the office. They populate the dozens of social media groups whose members identify as “Still COVIDing.” Many of them would like the unmasked masses to know that this isn’t easy and that it’s only gotten harder. (McCarthy, 10/26)

The Boston Globe:
Moderna Nears US Deal To Develop Shots For Ebola, Other Biological Threats

Moderna declined to comment on the pending contract, and financial terms were not available. The company “continues to explore potential Ebola vaccines, based on earlier research conducted with academic partners,” a spokesperson said in an email. Moderna has said earlier that it’s committed to advancing clinical studies of 15 vaccine programs targeting emerging or neglected infectious diseases by 2025. (Muller and Griffin, 10/26)

Some States Push To Limit Health Coverage For Poor Children

About 4 million children in the US have no health insurance. That’s about 5{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} of Americans 18 and younger. The number of uninsured kids declined for years, until it began edging up at the end of the 2010s. New research blames that reversal on state policies that made it harder to get safety-net coverage. That’s likely to have useful lessons for the year ahead. … The debate over who should be permitted to get Medicaid, the safety-net insurance for low-income families, has largely been on hold since the Covid-19 pandemic. (Tozzi, 10/26)

Why Medicaid Is Blocking Patient Home Monitoring

Many state Medicaid offices are stymieing the use of remote patient care, refusing coverage for low-income residents who suffer from chronic diseases at higher rates than Americans with private insurance, POLITICO’s Ruth Reader reports. Even as successive administrations have touted remote patient monitoring programs as a key to improving Americans’ health and reducing unnecessary government spending, many states have declined to pay for them. (Mahr, Payne, Banco and Leonard, 10/26)

Fierce Healthcare:
CMS To Restrict Medicare Advantage TV Ads Amid High Complaints

Starting next year, insurers will not be able to air any television ads for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans before getting approval from federal regulators. The new requirement is part of a larger effort by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to address concerns in MA marketing practices. The new effort, announced in a memo released Oct. 19, comes as a Senate panel is also investigating how MA plans reach customers. (King, 10/26)

NC Nurse Charged With Murder In Deaths Of 2 Patients 

A former nurse at a North Carolina hospital has been charged in the deaths of two patients after officials said he injected them with lethal doses of insulin. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced at a news conference Tuesday that Johnathan Howard Hayes, a registered nurse, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, news outlets reported. Hayes worked at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. (10/26)

The Washington Post:
Watching TV Could Increase Seniors’ Risk Of Dementia, Study Says 

How older adults spend their sedentary time — what they do while sitting — makes a difference in their chances of developing dementia, according to research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that those whose time sitting was primarily spent watching television had a 24 percent increased risk for dementia, whereas those who spent that time on a computer had a 15 percent reduced risk for dementia. The researchers explained that TV watching is cognitively passive, meaning little thinking is required, while computer use is cognitively active, meaning it (like reading) is more intellectually stimulating. (Searing, 10/25)

Jan. 6 Rioter Gets Probation Not Prison After Judge Finds Autism Played A Role

A Jan. 6 rioter who wielded a hatchet and smashed two windows with a flagpole will serve no jail time, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, finding that Asperger’s syndrome made him susceptible to the influence of the mob. Nicholas Rodean of Frederick, Md., attempted to address U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden Wednesday and visibly struggled to complete thoughts and sentences while explaining and apologizing for his Jan. 6 conduct. At one point, he clutched his head in frustration. McFadden ultimately chose to sentence Rodean to 240 days of home confinement. But he said he was convinced that Rodean’s severe mental illness significantly mitigated “the blameworthiness of your conduct.” (Cheney, 10/26)

TikTok Found Not Liable For Child Dying In ‘Blackout Challenge’ 

TikTok isn’t liable for the death of a 10-year-old girl who watched a so-called Blackout Challenge video that encouraged people to choke themselves, a judge ruled.US District Judge Paul Diamond in Philadelphia said a federal law shielded the video-sharing platform from liability in the death of Nylah Anderson, even if the company’s app recommended the video to her. (Burnson, 10/26)

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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