Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! Welcome to Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the day's news in health and medicine. 

Doctors criticize weakening of climate protections

Doctors are criticizing the Trump administration’s move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that aims to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. A previous EPA analysis found the plan would prevent 90,000 asthma attacks and 1,700 heart attacks each year. "A decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan is a choice that puts American lives at greater risk from unhealthy air and the health harms from climate change," the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health said in a statement. Those concerns were echoed by the American Lung Association and other medical groups. The EPA proposal still has to go through the public comment process and will likely be challenged by environmental groups and some states. 

California passes two landmark health laws

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law overhauling outdated HIV laws now seen as discriminatory. The new law lowers the crimes of knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV and donating blood without notifying the blood bank of HIV-positive status from felonies to misdemeanors. Opponents argued that the laws unfairly singled out HIV, the only communicable disease for which exposure was deemed a felony in the state. The governor also signed a landmark bill yesterday that will require drug manufacturers to give health insurers and government health plans advance notice when they plan to hike the price of a prescription drug more than 16 percent over two years, along with a justification for the increase.

Opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare are often unrestricted

Despite federal guidelines that recommend limiting coverage of prescription opioids, new research finds Medicare plans place few restrictions on such prescriptions. Researchers at Yale combed through Medicare coverage data for all opioid medications except methadone in 2006, 2011, and 2015. Specifically, they were looking at restrictions, like asking patients to try non-opioid therapies before covering opioids. In 2015, one-third of opioid prescriptions were unrestricted, down from two-thirds of prescriptions in 2006. It's good progress, but the study’s authors say there’s more that could be done to help prevent cases of opioid-use disorder. Major insurers are also considering moves to do so— just last week, Cigna announced it'll no longer cover OxyContin prescriptions for customers on its employer-based health plans.

Sponsor content by The Jackson Laboratory

Where the silver screen meets the genome

Whether joining together pieces of film or our genes, splicing controls how information is conveyed. Olga Anczuków is exploring this fundamental process to discover new treatments for breast cancer. Read here.

Inside STAT: A veteran lawyer takes on opioid makers


(chantal heijnen for stat)

In 2003, Paul Hanly’s law firm filed its first lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Four years later — with Hanly representing 5,000 pain patients who alleged the drug maker underplayed the risk of addiction with its medications — Purdue agreed to settle. Now Hanly has set his sights on drug manufacturers again as the opioid crisis rages on. Seemingly every week, more state, county, and city governments launch lawsuits against the drug companies. Hanly is one of the lawyers at the forefront of the movement, representing cities and counties in five states. His plaintiffs allege drug makers sought to create a false perception around opioids, seeding a public health and safety crisis that has cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. STAT's Andrew Joseph has more here

New grants for tracking rare diseases as they progress

The FDA and the NIH are giving out six new research grants to study the “natural history” of rare diseases, or the course a disease takes from its onset to its final outcome without any treatment. The goal: Drum up findings that could be useful for developing new treatments for those diseases. Another possible application? Use natural history models as a way to help fill in for placebo arms of drug studies that target very rare diseases. Recruiting enough patients for the treatment and control groups of those trials can be incredibly tricky. The grants will go to research on sickle cell anemia and osteoporosis related to pregnancy, among other disorders.

NFL expands its cancer awareness campaign

The NFL has launched its annual cancer prevention awareness campaign, long dubbed Pink October. But this year, the football league is branching out to support health interventions for other cancers as well. The NFL’s partnership with the American Cancer Society aims to boost access to breast cancer screenings in underserved communities, but now will also support colorectal and cervical cancer screenings at community health centers, along with funding to help increase HPV vaccination rates. 

What to read around the web today

  • America is surprisingly reliant on foreign medical graduates. New York Times
  • Dallas nursing home chain comes under fire for not evacuating before hurricane. Dallas Morning News
  • Young doctors were put to the test after Vegas mass shooting. NPR

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

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