First Edition: April 3, 2023 (2023)

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

KHN:States Step In As Telehealth And Clinic Patients Get Blindsided By Hospital Fees
When Brittany Tesso’s then-3-year-old son, Roman, needed an evaluation for speech therapy in 2021, his pediatrician referred him to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. With in-person visits on hold due to the covid-19 pandemic, the Tessos met with a panel of specialists via video chat. The specialists, some of whom appeared to be calling from their homes, observed Roman speaking, playing with toys, and eating chicken nuggets. They asked about his diet. (Hawryluk, 4/3)

KHN:Minnesota Overhauled Substance Use Treatment. Rural Residents Still Face Barriers.
For nearly a decade, behavioral health providers in Minnesota pushed to increase access and reduce wait times for substance use disorder treatment for low-income residents. To do so, state officials reworked a system in place for more than 30 years — one that required low-income people seeking treatment to sometimes wait more than a month to receive state-funded care. (Saint Louis, 4/3)

KHN:'An Arm and a Leg': A Doctor’s Love Letter To ‘The People’s Hospital’
Could a charity hospital founded by a crusading Dutch playwright, a group of Quakers, and a judge working undercover become a model for the U.S. health care system? In this episode of the podcast “An Arm and a Leg,” host Dan Weissmann speaks with Dr. Ricardo Nuila to find out. (4/3)

CNBC:Biden Administration Appeals Texas Court Decision Striking Down Free Obamacare Coverage Of Preventive Care
The Biden administration on Friday appealed a Texas federal judge’s decision to strike down free Obamacare coverage of preventive health-care services ranging from screenings for certain cancers and diabetes to HIV prevention drugs. ... “Preventive care is an essential part of health care: it saves lives, saves families money, and improves our nation’s health,” said Kamara Jones, a Health and Human Services spokesperson, on Thursday evening after the judge’s ruling. “Actions that strip away this decade-old protection are backwards and wrong.” The case will now go to U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A majority of the judges on that court were appointed by Republican presidents. (Kimball, 3/31)

The New York Times:Medicare Delays A Full Crackdown On Private Health Plans
The Biden administration on Friday finalized new rules meant to cut down on widespread overbilling by private Medicare Advantage insurance plans, but softened the approach after intense lobbying by the industry. Regulators are still moving forward with rules that will lower payments to insurers by billions of dollars a year. But they will phase in the changes over three years, rather than all at once, and that will lessen the immediate effects. (Sanger-Katz and Abelson, 3/31)

Bloomberg:Medicare Moderates Cut For Health Insurers In Final Rate
The final rate notice for 2024 will mean a 1.12% cut for Medicare plans, after stripping out the expected impact of how plans report patient illnesses. The rate is slightly more favorable than what regulators proposed two months ago, which would have meant a 2.3% cut without the adjustment for patient illnesses. When including the effect of that adjustment, Medicare says average payments to plans will increase. (Tozzi, 3/31)

Axios:Medicare Signals Crackdown On Hospice Fraud
Medicare administrators are cracking down on hospice fraud, releasing a proposal to require physicians who order hospice services to be enrolled in or validly opted out of Medicare in order to get paid. ... The proposal could strengthen the integrity of physician certifications for Medicare beneficiaries going into hospice services, CMS said in the rule. (Goldman, 4/3)

Axios:Medicare Advantage's Complicated Tradeoffs
A fiscal 2024 Medicare Advantage rule released on Friday aims to crack down on what experts say are inappropriate — and at times potentially fraudulent — insurer billing practices, and could force plans to decide between cutting benefits and lowering their own profits. (Owens and Goldman, 4/3)

(Video) GMA Regional TV Early Edition: April 3, 2023

AP:Medicare, Social Security Could Fall Short Over Next Decade
The financial safety nets millions of older Americans rely on — and millions more young people are counting on — will run short of money to pay full benefits within the next decade, the annual Social Security and Medicare trustees report released Friday warns. Medicare, the government-sponsored health insurance that covers 65 million older and disabled people, will be unable to pay full benefits for inpatient hospital visits and nursing home stays by 2031, the report forecast. And just two years later, Social Security won’t have enough cash on hand to pay out full benefits to its 66 million retirees. (Seitz and Hussein, 3/31)

The Washington Post:Social Security Funding Crisis Will Arrive In 2033, U.S. Projects
Benefits won’t stop when the programs reach insolvency, but the government will be able to pay only a portion of the amount to which people are entitled. The trustees report predicts that, starting in 2033, Social Security’s old age and survivors insurance trust fund will be able to pay 77 percent of that amount. Starting in 2031, Medicare’s hospital insurance will be able to pay 89 percent of the scheduled benefits for hospital services, the report states. (Stein and Goldstein, 3/31)

Bloomberg:Will I Get Social Security? Insolvency Seen Coming 2033, Year Sooner Than Before
Congress has assorted options—like increasing taxes and reducing benefits—to reduce or eliminate both programs’ long-term financing shortfalls, but lawmakers have made it clear action isn’t imminent. Some Republicans initially called for a debt-limit deal this summer to also address entitlement solvency, possibly setting up a bipartisan panel to negotiate policy changes. But President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have since said changes to Social Security and Medicare aren’t under discussion in debt-limit talks. (Pugh and Fitzpatrick, 3/31)

The Washington Post:They Pushed Back When Their Insurers Refused To Cover Costly Treatments
Shortly after I shared the story of my family’s struggle to obtain medicine for my 3-year-old son in The Washington Post, more than 200 readers wrote to us about their health insurance ordeals. Health insurance battles are a perennial hot topic — lawmakers in dozens of states have passed legislation aimed at reforming some of the barriers insurers erect, and for years, surveys and studies have detailed the administrative burden on doctors and nurses. (Johnson, 4/2)

The Washington Post:As Pandemic Benefits Wind Down, A Reckoning For Households And Economy
Rhonda Smith is already struggling to get by on her fast-food salary. She’s behind on rent and cellphone payments, and she can no longer afford fresh fruits or vegetables. Now the 54-year-old in Bristol, Va., is among millions of Americans who may lose Medicaid coverage in the coming months, following a rollback in pandemic-era policies on Friday that adds uncertainty and strain to her finances. “My insulin’s $3,000 a month and, without Medicaid, that’s just not possible,” Smith said. “I’m barely getting by as it is, eating hot dogs and oatmeal most days. There’s nowhere left to cut.” (Bhattarai, 4/2)

The Washington Post:No, Moderate Drinking Isn’t Good For Your Health
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol every day does not — as once thought — protect against death from heart disease, nor does it contribute to a longer life, according to a sweeping new analysis of alcohol research. The review, which examined existing research on the health and drinking habits of nearly 5 million people, is one of the largest studies to debunk the widely held belief that moderate drinking of wine or other alcoholic beverages is good for you. Last year, researchers in Britain examined genetic and medical data of nearly 400,000 people and concluded that even low alcohol intake was associated with increased risk of disease. (Cimons, 3/31)

NBC News:Having A Drink Or Two Per Day Is Not Healthier Than None: Study
Researchers at the University of Victoria pooled the results of 107 studies involving more than 4.8 million participants and determined that, compared to lifetime nondrinkers, people who drink moderately — less than 25 grams of alcohol, or fewer than two drinks, per day —did not have a lower mortality risk. (Bendix, 4/1)

Fortune:‘Everyone Is Kind Of Tired And Has Given Up’ On COVID. But This New Variant Is ‘One To Watch,’ The WHO Says
The World Health Organization has its eye on a new COVID variant thought to be driving a new surge of cases in India—at a time when reported cases are down in much of the rest of the world. XBB.1.16, dubbed “Arcturus” by variant trackers, is very similar to U.S. dominant “Kraken” XBB.1.5—the most transmissible COVID variant yet, Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead for the WHO, said earlier this week at a news conference. But additional mutations in the virus’s spike protein, which attaches to and infects human cells, has the potential to make the variant more infectious and even cause more severe disease. For this reason, and due to rising cases in the East, XBB.1.16 is considered “one to watch,” Van Kerkhove says. (Prater, 3/31)

CIDRAP:WHO Tracking Omicron XBB.1.16 Subvariant, Rising Cases In Some Countries
At a Mar 29 press briefing, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said XBB.1.16 has a similar profile to XBB.1.5 but has an additional changes in the spike protein. She said XBB.1.16 has replaced other circulating subvariants in India. So far, there are about 800 sequences from 22 countries, mostly from India. Van Kerkhove said in lab studies, XBB.1.16 has shown signs of increased infectivity as well as potentially increased pathogenicity. "So this is one to watch. It's been in circulation for a few months," she said. "We haven't seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that's why we have these systems in place." (Schnirring, 3/31)

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Bay Area News Group:COVID: Major Study Says Florida's Death Rate Is Lower Than California's
California officials boast that the state’s extended pandemic lockdowns and health mandates saved tens of thousands of lives from COVID-19, compared to states like Florida that reopened early. But a major study of all U.S. states’ pandemic performance found that while masks and social distancing drove down infection rates, they didn’t influence death rates, which were driven more by population age, health, poverty, race, education, health care access, vaccination and public trust. (Woolfolk, 4/2)

CIDRAP:Study: Long COVID Could Involve Factors Other Than SARS-CoV-2 Infection
Researchers who compared rates of long COVID symptoms in young people with and without a history of mild SARS-CoV-2 infection found prevalence was equally high in the control group, suggesting contributions of other factors. Researchers from Norway using a prospective cohort study design examined patients ages 12 to 25 from two counties who were enrolled between Dec 24, 2020 and May 18, 2021, a time when the Alpha variant was circulating. They included 404 people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and 105 who tested negative. The team published its findings yesterday in JAMA Network Open. (Schnirring, 3/31)

Stat:White House Covid Adviser Calls On Docs To Combat Misinformation
The coordinator of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response team called on doctors to take a leadership role with patients to battle medical misinformation and disinformation, linking the continuing death toll in part to such erroneous messaging. Speaking to an audience of physicians at a conference near Boston Friday, Ashish Jha reminded them they are skilled at dealing with uncertainty, just as when they explain to a patient they don’t know whether what a medical scan shows will be terrible or not, but that they will guide them through it. The uncertainty of the pandemic is no different, he said, but since people have so many different sources of information to consult now, doctors need to step up. (Cooney, 4/2)

AP:New Mexico Supreme Court Blocks Local Abortion Ordinances
The New Mexico Supreme Court blocked local anti-abortion ordinances Friday pending the outcome of a case centered on constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The ruling granted a request by Democratic state Attorney General Raúl Torrez and follows the state’s recent adoption of a new abortion rights bill signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham just weeks ago that overrides any local ordinances aimed at limiting access to abortion procedures and medications. (Bryan, 3/31)

The Boston Globe:Ohio Is Gearing Up For What Could Be The Biggest Abortion Battle Of The Year
Thousands of red-clad fans teemed around downtown on the day the Cincinnati Reds were set to open their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kathy, a volunteer, mingled among them. Armed with a clipboard and pen, the longtime Cincinnati resident saw the fans not as fans, but as voters who could help add a proposal to protect abortion rights to the November ballot. (Villa de Petrzelka, 4/2)

AP:Activists' Network In Mexico Helps U.S. Women Get Abortions
Marcela Castro’s office in Chihuahua is more than 100 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, yet the distance doesn’t prevent her from assisting women in the United States in circumventing recently imposed bans on abortion. From the headquarters of Marea Verde Chihuahua, an organization that has supported reproductive rights in northern Mexico since 2018, Castro and her colleagues provide virtual guidance, as well as shipments of abortion pills for women who want to terminate a pregnancy on their own. (Hernandez, 4/2)

AP:Missouri Planned Parenthood Sues Over Transgender Inquiry
Missouri’s state attorney general is investigating gender-affirming care provided by Planned Parenthood, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by the St. Louis health provider. Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey demanded documents from Planned Parenthood after finding out that the clinic provides “life-altering gender transition drugs to children with any therapy assessment,” spokeswoman Madeline Sieren said in a statement. She described that as a departure from standard care. (Ballentine, 3/31)

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The New York Times:Are Abortion Pills Safe? Here’s The Evidence
More than 100 scientific studies, spanning continents and decades, have examined the effectiveness and safety of mifepristone and misoprostol, the abortion pills that are commonly used in the United States. All conclude that the pills are a safe method for terminating a pregnancy. (Walker, Corum, Khurana and Wu, 4/1)

Politico:Fetterman Released From Inpatient Treatment For Depression
John Fetterman has returned home after more than a month of inpatient treatment for depression, the Pennsylvania senator said Friday. “I am so happy to be home,” the Democratic senator said in a statement following his release from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near D.C. “I am extremely grateful to the incredible team at Walter Reed. The care they provided changed my life.” (Howie, 3/31)

The Hill:Fetterman Outlines ‘Downward Spiral’ That Led To Depression Diagnosis
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who was released from the hospital last week following treatment for clinical depression, detailed the “downward spiral” that led to him seeking help for his depression in February. “It’s like, you just won the biggest race in the country,” Fetterman said to CBS Sunday Morning in his first interview since checking into treatment. “And the whole thing about depression is that objectively, you may have won, but depression can absolutely convince you that you actually lost. And that’s exactly what happened. And that was the start of a downward spiral.” (Neukam, 4/2)

CNN:CDC Team Studying Health Impacts Of Ohio Train Derailment Fell Ill During Investigation
Seven US government investigators briefly fell ill in early March while studying the possible health impacts of a toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed to CNN on Thursday. The investigators’ symptoms included sore throats, headaches, coughing and nausea – consistent with what some residents experienced after the February 3 train derailment that released a cocktail of hazardous chemicals into the air, water and soil. (Goodman, 3/31)

AP:Wellstar Agrees To Takeover Of Augusta University Hospitals
Georgia officials have approved the takeover of the Augusta University hospitals associated with the state’s only public medical school. The state Board of Regents on Friday approved agreements to transfer control of the hospitals to Marietta-based Wellstar Health System, saying the deal may take effect in late summer. (Amy, 3/31)

Mississippi Today:Holly Springs Hospital Ends Inpatient Care
Alliance Healthcare System in Holly Springs is Mississippi’s first rural emergency hospital – the first in a trend some say indicates the further decline of health care access in the one of the country’s poorest and sickest states.Hospitals were able to apply for the new federal designation mere weeks ago, when the Mississippi Department of Health rolled out its rules for “rural emergency hospitals.” The federal government finalized the program in November.(Bose, 3/31)

Modern Healthcare:Hospital Float Pools In Flux As Contract Labor Shifts
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, several provider organizations turned to so-called internal staffing agencies or float pools, through which workers are paid a premium to rotate to different facilities within the health system. The organizations using such strategies often do so when they aren’t able to bring on full-time employees. The practice allows them to shift individuals—usually nurses—to the areas of highest need, without having to pay a third party. (Devereaux, 4/3)

Bangor Daily News:Mainers Are Waiting A Year For Dementia Evaluations
Roughly 600 Mainers around the state are waiting a year to get an evaluation at Northern Light Acadia Hospital’s Mood and Memory Clinic. That’s the average wait time that Dr. Clifford Singer, chief of geriatric mental health and neuropsychiatry at Acadia Hospital, estimated. But the range is anywhere from six months to three years, he said Wednesday. His colleague referred a person to the clinic recently who was told the wait would be 22 months, he said.(Royzman, 4/3)

Reuters:Johnson & Johnson Unit Loses Bid To Stay In Bankruptcy During Supreme Court Appeal
A Johnson & Johnson company cannot delay a court order dismissing its bankruptcy, a U.S. court said on Friday, despite the company's planned Supreme Court appeal to use bankruptcy to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits over its talc products. J&J sought to use the bankruptcy of its subsidiary company, LTL Management, to halt more than 38,000 lawsuits alleging the company's Baby Powder and other talc products are contaminated with asbestos. J&J maintains its consumer talc products are safe and asbestos-free. (Knauth, 3/31)

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NPR:Red Meat Allergy Caused By Ticks May Cause Digestive Symptoms Only
"What's new is that we have patients who really just have GI symptoms," explains Dr. Sarah McGill, a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina. McGill says some alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS, patients feel sick to their stomachs after they eat red meat, but never develop more typical allergic symptoms, such as a rash, swelling or trouble breathing. (Aubrey, 4/2)

USA Today:What's The Key To Living Longer? New Study Suggests A Hidden Secret
Throughout history, brilliant minds have tried to figure out the secret behind living longer. Much of the research has credited diet and exercise, but a group of scientists expanded on previous datato suggest another theory.Researchersfrom Boston University and Tufts Medical Center found people who live to be 100 years old or older – called centenarians – may have a unique composition of immune cells that’s highly protective against illnesses, according to a study published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet eBiomedicine. (Rodriguez, 4/3)

AP:Pandemic Pounds Push 10,000 U.S. Army Soldiers Into Obesity
After gaining 30 pounds during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Murillo is finally getting back into fighting shape. Early pandemic lockdowns, endless hours on his laptop and heightened stress led Murillo, 27, to reach for cookies and chips in the barracks at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Gyms were closed, organized exercise was out and Murillo’s motivation to work out on his own was low. “I could notice it,” said Murillo, who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed as much as 192 pounds. “The uniform was tighter.” (Aleccia, 4/2)

Axios:Why Over-The-Counter Narcan May Not Reach Those Most In Need
A life-saving opioid overdose treatment could soon be as common as Tylenol on retail store shelves. The question is whether making it more accessible will get it to the people who need it the most. Why it matters: Wednesday's FDA approval of Narcan for over-the-counter use has a financial cost. And if insurers or governments don't step up, addiction experts fear it could widen health disparities and undercut the FDA’s goals of addressing a "dire public health need." (Moreno, 4/2)

The Washington Post:Why Syphilis Cases Are Soaring Among U.S. Infants
A decade ago, the United States stood on the brink of eliminating the scourge of babies born with syphilis. Now, cases are surging, a phenomenon that is underscoring deep inequities in the nation’s health-care system and reviving concerns about a disease easily controlled with routine antibiotics. The spike, driven in part by the nation’s drug and homelessness crisis, is especially apparent across the Sun Belt, according to public health experts and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Nirappil and Portnoy, 4/2)

AP:UN Food Chief: Billions Needed To Avert Unrest, Starvation
Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12 to 18 months, the head of the Nobel prize-winning U.N. World Food Program warned Friday. David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.” (Lederer, 3/31)

AP:Pope Francis Leaves Hospital; 'Still Alive,' He Quips
A chipper-sounding Pope Francis was discharged Saturday from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, quipping to journalists before being driven away that he’s “still alive.” Francis, 86, was hospitalized at Gemelli Polyclinic on Wednesday following his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square after reportedly experiencing breathing difficulties. The pontiff received antibiotics administered intravenously during his stay, the Vatican said. (D'Emilio, 4/1)

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