December 9, 2023

Health Insurance

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023 | California Healthline

Feinstein Will Not Seek Reelection: On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, announced she would not seek reelection to the Senate next year but would finish out her term, which ends in 2024. The San Francisco Democrat is the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Senate. Though critics have questioned her mental fitness for office in recent years, friends said she made the decision on her own timetable. The New York Times takes a look at what her retirement means for California, while the Los Angeles Times digs deeper into who might replace her. And Politico discusses the moments that will define her legacy.

UCSF Heart Transplant Makes History: Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Amy Fiedler recently led what may have been the world’s first confirmed all-woman heart transplant. The patient, the surgeon, the cardiac anesthesiologist, the perfusionist, and all the fellows and nurses were female. Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Below, check out the roundup of California Healthline’s coverage. For today’s national health news, read KHN’s Morning Briefing.

San Francisco Chronicle:
WHO Shelves Its Investigation Into Origins Of COVID-19 Pandemic

The World Health Organization has quietly shelved the second phase of its investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of cooperation from the Chinese government. “Their hands are really tied,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, told the scientific journal Nature. Without access to China, researchers said it may be impossible to understand how the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 first infected people. (Vaziri, 2/14)

Los Angeles Times:
What Happens To COVID Vaccines And Drugs After Health Emergency?

On May 11, the central pillar of the country’s pandemic response — the declaration of a national emergency that began March 1, 2020 — will come down. But Americans will continue to have access to the vaccines, drugs and medical devices that were authorized for emergency use against COVID-19, so long as they remain sufficiently safe and effective in the view of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Healy, 2/14)

COVID Antivirals Not Tied To Rebound Or Worse Outcomes 

Rates of COVID-19 rebound were similar among hospitalized patients infected with the Omicron BA.2.2 variant who did and didn’t receive oral antiviral drugs, and relapse wasn’t tied to worse clinical outcomes, suggests a study published yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Rebound is a re-emergence of symptoms and an uptick in viral load after a period of recovery. The antiviral drug nirmatrelvir-ritonavir (Paxlovid) was associated with COVID-19 rebound in some previous research, while some newer research has concluded that it is not unique to Paxlovid. (Van Beusekom, 2/14)

Federal Workers Not Entitled To COVID Hazard Pay -U.S. Appeals Court 

A divided U.S. appeals court on Tuesday said federal workers are generally not entitled to extra pay for being exposed to COVID-19 through their jobs. In a 10-2 decision with potentially “far-reaching” ramifications, the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against 188 current and former correctional employees at a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. (Stempel, 2/14)

U.S. Proposes Medicare, Medicaid Programs To Cut Drug Costs, Including $2 Generics 

The U.S. health department proposed on Tuesday three new pilot projects aimed at lowering prescription drug prices for people enrolled in government health insurance plans, including offering some essential generic drugs for $2 a month. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) said it would test the models in the Medicare health program for people age 65 or over and the disabled and the Medicaid program for the poor. (Aboulenein, 2/15)

The Administration’s Next Crack At Lower Drug Prices

The Biden administration unveiled three drug payment programs Tuesday aimed at helping reduce patients’ out-of-pocket costs, including one that would potentially lower Medicare payments for promising treatments approved by the FDA before clinical trials are complete. The models wade into some of the most timely drug pricing issues of the day, and could boost President Biden’s political arsenal for 2024. (Goldman and Owens, 2/15)

Biden Admin Pitches 3 Big New Drug Pricing Reform Experiments

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced three new drug pricing policy experiments that would standardize how much Medicare patients pay for certain generic drugs, pilot new ways for Medicaid to pay for pricey cell and gene therapies, and test ways to pay for drugs approved without proven clinical benefit to patients. (Cohrs and Wilkerson, 2/14)

Doctors Prod Congress To Do More On Medicare Pay

Top doctors groups are pressing Congress to overhaul the way Medicare pays physicians just as lawmakers are getting pulled into the politically charged debate over possible cuts to entitlement programs. The new appeals serve notice that there’s political risk if provider cuts become part of conservative-led efforts to balance the federal budget or a deal on raising the debt limit. (Dreher, 2/15)

18% Drop Since 2020 In People With Reported Medical Debt 

The number of people with medical debt on their credit reports fell by 8.2 million — or 17.9% — between 2020 and 2022, according to a report Tuesday from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. White House officials said in a separate draft report that the two-year drop likely stems from their policies. Among the programs they say contributed to less debt was an expansion of the Obama-era healthcare law that added 4.2 million people with some form of health insurance. Also, local governments are leveraging $16 million in coronavirus relief funds to wipe out $1.5 billion worth of medical debt. (Boak, 2/14)

Governments Target Medical Debt With COVID Relief Funds 

Millions of Americans mired in medical debt face difficult financial decisions every day — pay the debt or pay for rent, utilities and groceries. Some may even skip necessary health care for fear of sinking deeper into debt. To address the problem, an increasing number of municipal, county and state governments are devising plans to spend federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds to eliminate residents’ medical debt and ease those debt burdens. (Pratt, 2/15)

Los Angeles Times:
Mexico, U.S. Officials Call For Action After Investigation Into Counterfeit Medicine

Officials from Washington, D.C., to Mexico City have begun calling for action after an “alarming” Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that some pharmacies in Mexico are selling counterfeit medication laced with powerful narcotics including fentanyl and methamphetamine. Some lawmakers in the U.S. urged federal agencies to investigate, while others advocated pressuring Mexican authorities or considering new legislation. In Mexico, a federal prosecutor said her office plans to investigate the findings, which she described as “a new modus operandi” that raises concerning questions, including whether pharmacies are knowingly breaking the law. (Sheets and Blakinger, 2/15)

Voice of OC:
Should A Public Official Be Making $840,000 Handling Healthcare For OC’s Neediest?

They’re local government officials overseeing public health care for about 950,000 of Orange County’s low income and disabled residents. After a series of salary spikes in recent years under then-Chairman Andrew Do, they’re making more than the President of the United States. The local agency is CalOptima, which manages the publicly-funded health coverage for low-income children, adults, seniors and people with disabilities. And the salary spikes are drawing questions from former top officials. (Gerda, 2/15)

Bay Area Reporter:
Gay Psychiatrist David R. Kessler Dies

A memorial will be held next month for Dr. David Rudolph Kessler, who became the first openly gay psychiatrist at UCSF’s Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital back in the 1970s. Dr. Kessler died November 24, 2022 at the age of 92. His friend Dr. Demetri Polites told the Bay Area Reporter that Dr. Kessler had been in poor health for awhile and died after a long illness while in skilled nursing care at the Sequoias. (Laird, 2/14)

Legislation Would Tie Homelessness Funding To Local Results, A Newsom Priority

A new bill is attempting to bridge disagreements between local elected officials and Governor Gavin Newsom over public spending on homelessness and an apparent lack of progress. Despite more than $15 billion in state spending on homelessness over the past two years, the number of unsheltered people has risen considerably. An annual point-in-time count in 2022 found more than 170,000 people in the state experiencing homelessness. (Nixon, 2/14)

Modesto Bee:
Stanislaus Adds Housing For Homeless With Mental Illness

Stanislaus County supervisors approved a funding agreement Tuesday to provide 38 permanent supportive housing units for people struggling with mental illness, substance use and homelessness. The project, estimated at $10.8 million, is inspired by the “Housing First” concept that stable housing is essential before people can be treated effectively for mental illness or substance use disorder. (Carlson, 2/14)

Los Angeles Daily News:
Tenants Facing Evictions Should Get Free Legal Representation, LA Councilmembers Say

Several Los Angeles city councilmembers are calling for a tenants’ Right to Counsel program to provide free legal representation to lower-income Angelenos facing evictions who can’t afford an attorney. A motion introduced by Councilmember Nithya Raman on Tuesday, Feb. 14, directs the city’s housing department to report back to the council within 60 days with recommendations to create a program for tenants earning 80% or less than the area’s median income. The report is expected to include estimates for staffing needs and costs. (Tat, 2/14)

Los Angeles Times:
How California’s Colleges Prepare For Active Shooters

The video starts with a simple white background and a phrase that is all too recognizable to American college students: “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.” It’s part of a tool distributed by California State University to prepare students and employees for the possibility of an active shooter on one of its 23 campuses. These directions to run, hide and fight were also sent in text alerts Monday night to thousands of students, staff and others within the campus community at Michigan State University after a gunman opened fire, killing three students and injuring five others. (Truong, Winton and Watanabe, 2/15)

The New York Times:
Elementary School. High School. Now College. Michigan State Students Are No Strangers to Mass Shootings

For a generation of young Americans, mass shootings at schools or colleges once considered sanctuaries for learning have become so painfully routine that some of them have lived through more than one by their early 20s. People a few years older grew up with active shooter drills. Their younger counterparts have become repeat survivors of traumatic violence. Even those who may not have lived through shootings themselves often know people who have. Being keenly aware of the possibility of gun violence has become a trademark of the generation of adults who grew up after the Columbine High School attack of 1999, which left 12 students and one teacher dead and reshaped how Americans viewed mass shootings. (Bosman, Lada, Tully and Mazzei, 2/14)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Net Could Be Delayed By Lawsuit

A long-anticipated Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier, intended to catch jumpers in a web of marine-grade steel, is now mired in a lawsuit that could more than double its cost as construction falls further behind schedule. The contractors building the net sued the Bridge Highway and Transportation District in San Francisco Superior Court, claiming that design flaws, worker safety requirements and “extensive” deterioration of the span have raised the project cost from $142 million to $392 million. (Swan, 2/14)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Proposal Could Make Undocumented Drug Dealers In S.F. Easier To Deport

Some immigrants convicted of selling fentanyl in San Francisco would lose protections from the city’s sanctuary laws, potentially making it easier to deport them, under legislation proposed Tuesday by Supervisor Matt Dorsey. The lawmaker said his proposal is a “hard line” against those selling the super-powerful synthetic opioid that has claimed more than 1,400 lives in San Francisco since 2020. While Dorsey’s proposal aligns with recent moves by the mayor and district attorney to seek more punishment for fentanyl dealers, it may draw opposition from advocates of the sanctuary law, which under most circumstances bars city authorities from assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. (Thadani, 2/14)

Roll Call:
Social Media Companies Put Profits Over Children, Senators Say

Senators sounded off against social media platforms and called for action during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, saying the companies lack accountability and are focused on profits at the expense of children. The hours-long hearing touched on an array of issues, including: the harms of cyberbullying, the scourge of child sexual abuse material on social media, and mental health issues among youth. It also underscored how there is bipartisan support for taking action on social media platforms — even in a narrowly divided Congress. (Tarinelli, 2/14)

USA Today:
Average Penis Size Has Grown, May Impact Fertility: Stanford Study

Studies of men from around the world show that the length of the erect penis has grown 24% over the last 30 years. That sounds like it would be good news but it concerns some male fertility experts. “The million-dollar question is why this would occur,” said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a urologist and male fertility specialist at Stanford Medicine, who led the research, published Tuesday in The World’s Journal of Men’s Health. (Weintraub, 2/14)

The New York Times:
Binge Drinking May Be Curbed With A Pill 

Ever wake up regretting the last round of drinks from the previous night? There’s a medicine that might help. A recent study adds to the evidence that people who binge-drink may benefit from taking a dose of the medication naltrexone before consuming alcohol, a finding that may be welcomed now that alcohol-related deaths in the United States have surpassed 140,000 a year. (Alcorn, 2/14)

AAP’s New Childhood Obesity Guidance Worries Eating Disorder Specialists

Eating disorder treatment specialists are sounding the alarm over new guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics advising doctors to treat obesity earlier and more aggressively, which they say could lead to eating disorders. They say it focuses on weight loss and BMI rather than health, minimizes the risk of disordered eating and could perpetuate deep-rooted, damaging stigmas. (Radde, 2/15)