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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

‘Medicare for All’ and other D.C. health care happenings


Signs and printouts of medical crowdsourcing campaigns cover the doors of the PhRMA headquarters during a protest rally. (NICHOLAS FLORKO/STAT) 

It's a busy day in Washington for health care. Most notably, the House Rules Committee is set to hold a hearing on “Medicare For All,” the policy idea that would cover all Americans under a national health care system. The hearing is the first sign that Congress is considering the increasingly popular idea in earnest. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have already embraced the idea. And yesterday, around 200 progressive activists rallied outside of the Washington headquarters of the industry group PhRMA, accusing drug makers of blocking the policy idea.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill today, the House Judiciary Committee is going to mark up a slew of drug pricing bills and the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is also set to hold a hearing on drug pricing in Medicare.

Measles cases in U.S. top 700

The measles case count in the U.S. has climbed to 704, the CDC just announced. This makes 2019 the year with the most cases in nearly 25 years, including since the disease was considered eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. The cases span 22 states, where 66 children have been hospitalized as a result. Most of the infections have been concentrated in New York, where two outbreaks — in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, north of Manhattan — account for 67% of the total cases nationwide. Nearly three-quarters of the people who have been sickened by measles are unvaccinated, according to the CDC. The outbreak in the Pacific Northwest was declared over yesterday; 71 people fell sick in Southwest Washington, in an episode that cost the local county nearly $865,000. 

Sniffing out the risk of death

A new study finds that a poor sense of smell is linked with a higher risk of death. We’ve known that our ability to smell diminishes with age, and that a poor sense of smell could be an early sign of dementia. Looking at data from nearly 2,300 older adults who were asked to take a smell test, those who got a score of 8 or lower on a 12-odor smell test had a 46% higher risk of mortality at 10 years after the test and a 30% higher risk at year 13 than those whose sense of smell seemed intact. The scientists also found that these higher mortality rates were associated with other conditions, including dementia and weight loss, but only partially explained the higher rates of death. The results only show an association between smell and mortality risk, and more research is needed to better understand the link. 

Inside STAT: Doctors, health officials push to end restrictions on key addiction treatment

Why can’t doctors who prescribe opioids also prescribe drugs to treat opioid addiction? That’s the question on the minds of a group of people that’s looking to expand treatment for those struggling with substance use disorder. The group — which includes 18 state public health directors, a growing group of physicians, and a prominent member of Congress — is pushing to deregulate buprenorphine, which is used to lessen opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, but is highly regulated due to fears that it could be misused. But this week, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) will introduce legislation to allow any medical practitioner licensed to prescribe controlled substances to prescribe buprenorphine, he told STAT’s Lev Facher. Read more on the effort here

Researchers create potential diagnostic for chronic fatigue syndrome

A new study suggests that researchers have found a way to diagnose myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, a disease that affects up to 2.5 million Americans but is still difficult to detect with a simple test. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and Stanford developed a diagnostic to test changes in electrical signals from immune cells in those with ME/CFS and those without the condition. The cells from those with ME/CFS showed a clear spike in electrical signals, indicating a heightened stress response. In contrast, the samples from the control group were fairly level. This diagnostic is still in development, but the “low-cost, rapid, miniaturized, minimally invasive, and highly sensitive” diagnostic could potentially be used in the research and clinical settings, the authors write. 

Study supports earlier testing for autism spectrum disorders

Testing toddlers for autism spectrum disorders at 14 months or older is likely to produce the most consistent results, according to a new study. Most toddlers with ASD are diagnosed and begin treatment at around 4 years old, and the new results open up the possibility of testing treatments at an earlier age. Researchers looked at more than 1,200 toddlers and found that the stability of an ASD diagnosis — the likelihood that future assessments wouldn’t contradict the initial assessment — was weakest at around 1 year of age, but was strongest at 14 months and older. The next challenge, the authors write, is to determine the best treatments and how much of a benefit early detection offers in the long term.

What to read around the web today

  • People are clamoring to buy old insulin pumps. The Atlantic
  • Why your doctor’s white coat can be a threat to your health. The New York Times
  • When measles arrives: breaking down the anatomy of containment. Undark
  • What study findings? Most European universities fail to report clinical trial results. STAT Plus
  • A giant leap for womankind. Nature Medicine

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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