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Monday, January 23, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to Monday, everyone. Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news. 

Republicans consider abortion funding measure again

The House Committee on Rules meets this evening to consider the latest version of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Federal funding for abortions is already prohibited through the Hyde Amendment, which was first passed in 1976 and is re-upped every year in an appropriations bill. The bill, H.R. 7, aims to make that ban into a permanent law. Lawmakers have written in an exception that allows for abortion funding in cases of rape or incest or if a pregnancy threatens the physical health of a woman. The bill would also make ineligible for ACA tax credits any small businesses that offer employee health plans that cover abortion. The bill has been passed by the House three times already but has previously failed to be signed into law. 

WHO's executive board meeting gets underway

The WHO’s executive board meeting kicks off today. On the agenda: the threat of polio, antimicrobial resistance, and migrant health. The two-day meeting will also address the need for a global consensus on blood donation guidelines and the WHO’s response to significant health emergencies. The meeting serves as preparation for the next World Health Assembly, which takes place in late May. The next director-general of the WHO — to succeed its current leader Dr. Margaret Chan — will be elected at that assembly. This week, the board will be interviewing five finalists, and come Wednesday, it will announce its three nominees for the job.

Contraceptive coverage questioned ahead of Price vote

As the Senate Finance Committee readies to hold a confirmation hearing tomorrow on Trump’s pick to lead HHS, the president is working to make sure Tom Price will have plenty to do on his first day if confirmed. One of the president’s first acts after his inauguration Friday was to issue an executive order pushing the new administration to lighten the regulations of Obamacare. But what that looks like depends on how HHS, which has significant regulatory authority, interprets that order. It’s possible that the mandate that insurers cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception will be an early target, STAT’s Dylan Scott reports.

Inside STAT: A push to make a poison a medicine

Choi holds a CPAP mask, like those used to administer carbon monoxide gas. (Alice Proujansky for stat)

Carbon monoxide is known far and wide as a dangerous poison. But for the past two decades, Dr. Augustine Choi has toiled away to figure out if it can also be a medicine. Most of his research is quite early stage, much of it conducted in animals with a few small clinical trials underway. But companies — including one Choi founded — are looking into whether it’s possible to deliver small amounts of carbon monoxide to heal damaged tissues. Choi is working on a Phase 1 clinical trial now to test the safety of small doses of carbon monoxide to treat patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a potentially fatal lung condition. But outside experts say much more research is needed — STAT contributor Wudan Yan has the story here.

Are cervical cancer death rates higher than we think?

A new method of calculation suggests the risk of death from cervical cancer might be higher than experts previously realized — and black women are at a particularly high risk. The analysis, to be published in Cancer, excluded women who’ve had a hysterectomy, a procedure that 20 percent of US women have undergone. Women who’ve had hysterectomies are still at risk of vaginal cancer, but not cervical cancer. Hysterectomy rates are higher among black women than white women, so including women who’ve had hysterectomies in mortality data could skew death rate calculations. The new analysis found the mortality rate was for black women was 10.1 and for white women 4.7 per 100,000. Researchers had previously calculated those rates as 5.7 and 3.2, respectively.

Biotech and pharma companies release earnings

This week kicks off a slew of earnings calls in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. We’re expecting to hear how companies including Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Biogen, and Bristol-Myers Squibb did in the past year. Other companies, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Celgene, will announce their earnings again after first rolling out the numbers at the J.P. Morgan health care conference. The earnings calls come as analysts eye how the new administration will take on the contentious issue of drug pricing. (If you’re interested in more biotech news, sign up for The Readout.)

New study renews concern about e-cigs and kids

Researchers looking for evidence that e-cigarettes might actually help push down youth smoking rates report they weren’t able to turn up that evidence. A new paper out in Pediatrics this morning looks at CDC data collected from more than 140,000 middle and high school students between 2004 and 2014. Cigarette smoking did decline during that time frame. But it didn’t decline any faster after e-cigarettes hit the market between 2007 and 2009. The study also found that kids who were only using e-cigarettes didn’t share the same risk factors — such as living with a smoker — as kids and adults who use traditional tobacco products. The study’s authors say that backs up the idea that e-cigarettes are drawing in low-risk individuals who otherwise might not take up nicotine use.

The science behind a star quarterback's longevity

Tom Brady and the Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl to play the Falcons, but the 39-year old quarterback is something of an anomaly. In a new collaboration between STAT and the Boston Globe, we break down what science suggests the average 39-year-old body might be like — and how Brady might be defying those expectations. Read here

What to read around the web today

  • How Trump can use Obamacare to kill Obamacare. Politico
  • Iowa's nursing homes demand relief. Des Moines Register
  • Meet the Republican governors who don't want to repeal all of Obamacare. NPR

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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