Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

Obamacare repeal bill gains traction

The last-ditch Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare is gaining steam in the Senate. Here’s your rundown:

  • What the bill does: The Graham-Cassidy bill would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate and offer states a block grant to spend on health care programs, though experts say it'll be tough for states to establish anything close to Obamacare. It would also allow states to waive certain ACA regulations that stop insurers from charging higher premiums or denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
  • What needs to happen: GOP leaders have been pushing to get the 50 votes needed to pass the measure using the budget reconciliation process by Sept. 30. It’s not clear yet whether they’ll get those votes. The Senate finance committee is holding a hearing on the bill Monday. The Congressional Budget Office has said it can’t get the bill scored by the end of the month. 
  • What the medical community thinks: The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and other medical groups have come out against the measure. In a letter to Senate leaders, the AMA's leader said the bill "violates the precept of 'first do no harm.'"
  • What else is on the table: A bipartisan Senate effort to stabilize the ACA markets has hit the brakes after GOP leaders moved to squash any alternative to Graham-Cassidy. A group of governors from either side of the aisle sent Senate leaders a letter urging them to consider a bipartisan fix. 

Jimmy Kimmel accuses Cassidy of lying about health bill

Jimmy Kimmel didn't pull any punches on his show last night when it came to the health care bill and its sponsor, Sen. Bill Cassidy, who was on Kimmel's show in May. The host's infant son had undergone open heart surgery, and Cassidy promised on the show that he'd only support a health care plan that made sure any child like Kimmel's would get the coverage needed. Cassidy dubbed it the "Jimmy Kimmel test." But Kimmel says the new health plan doesn't meet that standard — it would allow states to waive regulations that require insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions. Kimmel wrapped his monologue by telling Cassidy there's another test he might try: "It's called a lie detector test." Watch the full segment here

Florida nursing home deaths spark Senate hearing

A week after eight residents died in a Florida nursing home that lost air conditioning after Hurricane Irma, the Senate committee on aging is meeting to figure out how to avoid similar disasters in future emergencies. Florida Governor Rick Scott set new emergency requirements for the state’s nursing homes after the deaths. Testifying today: Dr. Karen DeSalvo, a public health expert who helped rebuild New Orleans' public health infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina. More than half of the victims in the 2005 hurricane were elderly. The committee will look at what’s been learned from those past disasters and what can be done to better protect vulnerable older adults during emergencies. 

New details on Facebook's brain-typing project

The scientist leading Facebook's little-known "thought-to-typing" project has revealed new details about how his team at the company's Building 8 — its secretive year-old hardware group — is hoping to build a "silent speech interface." Neuroscientist Mark Chevillet told an audience at an MIT conference yesterday that while people love using voice recognition to send texts, they don't like doing so within earshot of others. Facebook's solution: "Type directly from your brain."

That would require noninvasive sensors to detect brain signals that accompany the thought of a word, an algorithm to figure out the intended word, and likely, an AI component to figure out which of several possible words is the right one. Chevillet's team is leaning toward a technology called diffuse optimal tomography, which works by shining near-infrared light on living tissue and pinpointing the tissue's properties based on how that light scatters — in this case, looking at the neuronal states that correlate with the thought of a particular word.  

Inside STAT: Med school stirs outrage with embrace of alternative therapies

When California billionaires and holistic medicine enthusiasts Susan and Henry Samueli this week announced their $200 million donation to the University of California, Irvine, to launch an “integrative health” campus, they were met with a standing ovation. But among those who have been watching the steady creep of alternative therapies into academic medicine, the announcement wasn’t good news. “It’s putting emphasis and the imprimatur of a university on things that have been discarded as medical fraud for 50 years,” says Dr. Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist. But the physicians who will lead the new initiative argue that medical schools can be open to new approaches in a way that’s grounded in science. STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling has the story here.

WHO sounds a new alarm on antibiotic resistance


a close-up look at mrsa, the methicillin-resistant bacteria that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections and other problems. (NIAID)

A new report this morning adds to the growing stack of evidence that we’re rapidly running out of antibiotics that can combat the growing threat of drug-resistant bacteria. The pipeline isn’t looking promising: There are very few potential treatments in progress that can make a big impact on the looming crisis, the experts who penned the new report say. There are 51 new treatments in the works, but the report concludes only eight of those therapies have the potential to be of real value in the fight against those types of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The WHO is calling on the drug industry and scientists to throw their weight behind research into alternatives to current antibiotics. 

Tom Price meets with tribal leaders

Health secretary Tom Price is visiting with members of the Pawnee and Cherokee Nations this week to talk with tribal leaders about the health care needs in their communities. Price is also leading a meeting of the Secretary's Tribal Advisory Committee — which aims to forge a better connection between tribal governments and HHS — during the trip. But despite that goal, this week's meeting is actually the first time the health department committee has met in Indian country since it was established in 2010. Price's office says he'll also discuss nationwide public health challenges like the opioid crisis. For more on how the opioid epidemic has impacted Cherokee Nation, read this

What to read around the web today

  • Price’s private-jet travel breaks precedent. Politico
  • One of America's biggest food banks cut junk food by 84 percent in a year. NPR
  • While premiums soar under Obamacare, costs of employer-based plans are stable. New York Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Have a news tip or comment you want to send me?

Send me an email