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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's news in science and medicine. 

Preventive Services Task Force scrutinized

A House committee is meeting today to scrutinize the work of the US Preventive Services Task Force, the independent advisory board of 16 experts tasked with coming up with recommendations for health care practice. The panel is the force behind guidelines such as how often to screen for colon cancer and when to use statins in cardiovascular patients. Obamacare requires that insurers cover any preventive care that’s given an A or B grade from the task force. But the task force and other practicing physicians don’t always see eye to eye — and that’s led to a fierce debate about how the USPSTF should operate.

Urologist and prostate cancer researcher Dr. John Lynch is testifying at the hearing about PSA tests for prostate cancer. The USPSTF recommended against those tests in 2012, saying they could lead to overtreatment. Lynch, himself a prostate cancer survivor, said he and many other urologists strongly disagree with that recommendation. “Due to a lack of inclusion of the specialists who treat the diseases for which the USPSTF makes recommendations, the long-term impacts of its guidance aren’t always clear,” Lynch says. The committee is considering a bill to address that concern by requiring the task force to consult with relevant specialists when they review preventive services.

House preps for 21st Century Cures vote today

The House is gearing up for a vote today on the 21st Century Cures Act, which has been met with much criticism in the past few days. Senator Bernie Sanders went after the medical innovation package yesterday, calling it a “bad bill” that shouldn’t be passed. “At a time when Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, this bill provides absolutely no relief for soaring drug prices,” Sanders said in a statement. Congress is, however, considering whether to tap the brakes on a part of the bill that aims to speed new stem cell treatments to patients by relaxing regulations. More on that here

Fewer families struggling to pay medical bills 

The Number of families struggling to pay medical bills has declined. (CDC)

There’s been a significant decline in the number of households struggling to pay medical bills in the past five years, according to new data released this morning by the CDC. About 16 percent of people in the US under age 65 are in families having difficulty paying for health care, down from more than 21 percent in 2011. Families without health insurance remain the hardest hit, with nearly 29 percent having problems paying medical bills. About 13 percent of those with private insurance were in the same situation. 

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Inside STAT: Anti-vaxxers eye Trump administration

The face of the anti-vaccine movement and discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield met with Donald Trump during the final months of the campaign. He found Trump to be sympathetic to the cause. Now, leaders of the movement are finding fresh energy as Trump prepares to take office, hopeful that they'll find a new way to attack public policies that promote vaccination. “For the first time in a long time, I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry," Wakefield told STAT's Rebecca Robbins. "He didn’t rely upon them to get him elected.” She has the story here

Lack of sleep rings up a steep bill for the economy

A lack of sleep among the US labor force could be costing the nation's economy up to $411 billion a year (at least $10 of which comes from your morning newsletter writer). The new analysis by RAND Europe examines large employee data sets in five countries and calculates absenteeism, lost productivity, and missed days for sleep-related health problems. The time lost to sleep deprivation shook out to more than 1.2 million missed working days each year in the US. Japan, in comparison, stands to lose 600,000 working days, or $138 billion, lost to sleep deprivation each year. That's nearly 3 percent of the country's GDP, compared to 2.3 percent in the US. Those numbers could be cut back significantly if all employees got at least six hours of sleep. One way employers could help, the authors say: Make it easier for employees to keep their phones turned off during non-work hours.

WHO releases new HIV self-testing guidelines

The WHO is out with new guidelines for HIV self-testing as a way to diagnose those who can’t easily access clinics. HIV self-tests use saliva or blood from a finger prick, and they work much like a home pregnancy test. Self-tests have been demonstrated to nearly double the HIV testing rate among men who have sex with men. They’re a powerful diagnostic tool to reach the estimated 14 million people with HIV who aren’t aware they have the condition, who may miss out on much-needed treatment and remain at a high risk of spreading the disease to others. But wide-scale distribution of self-tests remains limited. The WHO wants to see tests handed out for free and has developed information for patients who get a positive result. The agency has previously recommended that every patient diagnosed with HIV should be offered antiretroviral therapy.

Does tennis actually help people stave off death? 

A new study out this morning indicates that racquet sports like tennis and ping-pong are one of the best kinds of exercise for helping stave off death — but don't go getting that racquet restrung just yet. The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, used national health survey data on more than 80,000 adults in the UK and Scotland. Those people were asked, at one time point, which exercises and how much they had done in the previous month. Participants were followed for an average of 9 years, during which time racquet sport players were 47 percent less likely to die than were people who weren't physically active. Swimmers were the next best off, with a 28 percent lower risk of death. But — and here's the catch — there’s no evidence of cause and effect. And the researchers weren’t able to track how physical activity changed over the years, which would definitely impact people's health.

What to read around the web today

  • FDA agrees to new trials to test ecstasy as relief for PTSD patients. New York Times
  • Beyond birth control, women could pay more than men for health care under Trump. Kaiser Health News
  • DEA bans a cousin of deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. Wall Street Journal

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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