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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

The health insurance rate is holding steady

Health insurance rates stayed steady in the first half of 2018, according to new data released this morning by the CDC. Just under 9 percent of people in the U.S., or 28.5 million people, didn't have health insurance in the first six months of the year. Broken down by age, 12.5 percent of adults and 4.4 percent of kids were uninsured during that time. The age group most likely to lack insurance: adults ages 25 to 34.

Meanwhile, this year's open enrollment seems to be off to a slow start, according to federal data. Just under 1.2 million people signed up for an Obamacare plan in the first 10 days of open enrollment, compared to nearly 1.5 million in the first 11 days last year. But experts say it's still too early to tell whether enrollment numbers will drop in 2019. 

The latest on the Ebola outbreak in DRC

The Ebola case count in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to climb. Here’s the latest on the outbreak:

  • The case count: This week, health officials announced they confirmed 31 new cases of Ebola between Nov. 5 and Nov. 11, bringing the total number of confirmed and probable cases to 333.

  • The details: Among the new cases were seven newborns and babies under age 2, three children ages 2 to 17, three women who were pregnant or breastfeeding, and three health workers.

  • On a related note: Merck announced earlier this week that it has started submitting the evidence on its experimental Ebola vaccine to the FDA. The company says it hopes to finish its application for approval sometime next year.

Inside STAT: Can brain implants translate thoughts into words?

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(eros dervishi for stat)

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ashesh Mehta is trying eavesdrop on the brain with the help of tiny electrodes implanted on its surface. Mehta is using those microelectrodes to capture the electrical impulses that happen when a person hears in her "mind's ear" what words she intends to say out loud. Then, those signals will be transmitted wirelessly to a computer that decodes the message. The big-picture goal of the experiment: translate thoughts into speech. If all goes well, the system could become the first “brain-computer interface” — and might one day give people with paralyzing conditions the ability to talk again. STAT's Sharon Begley has the story here.

Michigan's Medicaid program can now pay for drugs based on how well they work

Michigan just became the second state to get the government’s permission to try an experimental approach to paying for medications. CMS announced that it approved Michigan’s request to set up value-based purchasing in its Medicaid program. Under that kind of program, the state and a drug maker will agree on a set price the state will pay for a drug if — and only if — it works as well as the company says it will. If the drug isn’t as effective as advertised, the state will only fork over a fraction of the payment. CMS approved a similar program in Oklahoma in June. 

What is it like to care for a celebrity patient?

Taking care of a famous person who needs surgery is a tricky business: There's security detail, media requests, and, in some cases, the temptation to overdo a patient's care. In a new paper, two doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles detail those challenges and offer some guidance about how to handle high-profile cases in a hospital. Their biggest pieces of advice: Follow standard procedures, don't do unnecessary testing or designate unnecessary staff, and make sure all the extra attention doesn't interfere with the care of other patients. They also say it might be a good idea to admit famous patients under an alias and keep tabs on who is viewing their medical records to prevent leaks.

Women weigh in on access to medication abortion

A new survey suggests that some U.S. women support alternate ways of accessing medication abortion. Currently, U.S. women have to obtain mifepristone at a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital, and the provider must have completed a certification process. The survey of 7,000 U.S. women asked about support for three methods of obtaining abortion medication: in advance from a doctor, over the counter from a drugstore, and online without a prescription. Nearly half supported at least one of those three methods, often citing the convenience and privacy of those options. Women who had previously had an abortion or said they'd experienced barriers to reproductive care were more likely to support the ideas.

What to read around the web today

  • To curb wasteful health spending, Walmart to send employees traveling for spine surgery. Wall Street Journal
  • A giant insurer is offering free Apple Watches to customers who meet walking goals. CNBC
  • AbbVie deal to sell a hepatitis C pill in poor countries meets criticism. STAT Plus
  • When hospitals merge to save money, patients often pay more. New York Times

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

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