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Friday, March 10, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking
Congrats on making it to Friday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

Changes coming to mental health care 

The House Energy and Commerce committee has passed the Republicans' ACA replacement plan, dubbed the American Health Care Act, in a marathon session that stretched for more than a day. Representatives expressed concern during the meeting about the impact of the replacement plan on patients — including a provision that would no longer require Medicaid to cover mental health services.

The VA, meanwhile, is expanding its mental health care to service members who left with an "other-than-honorable" discharge. Those individuals don't currently receive VA health care but veterans advocacy groups and the American Public Health Association have for years pushed for them to receive mental health care. Part of the reason: Service members may get such a discharge for behavior related to PTSD symptoms. Limited services will be available once the plan is finalized in early summer, and are expected to include those provided at a VA emergency department, veterans center, or the veteran crisis line. 

Joe Biden talks cancer research at SXSW

Former Vice President Joe Biden is headed to South by Southwest this weekend to talk about his new push to boost cancer research and care. He'll be talking at the festival on Sunday in Austin, Texas. Biden has said he wants to work with community groups to help cancer patients access the care they need. He also wants to press pharma companies and health insurers to make sure treatments are affordable. “Too many Americans are forced to sell their homes, to go into bankruptcy, so their loved ones can get care and hope for a cure," Biden said to a group of biopharma investors and execs earlier this year. 

Spinning a hydrogel to fix damaged fluids in the eye

the hydrogel quickly forms into a gelatinous consistency. (university of tokyo)

Scientists have created an elastic gel that’s designed to replace the jelly-like fluid inside the eyeball, pointing toward a potential new route for advancements in eye surgery. Patients with eye diseases or injuries sometimes require surgery to replace the vitreous, a thick fluid that sits between the retina and the eye lens. Current substitutes for vitreous, including silicone oil, don't exactly match the consistency of the original. Hydrogels have been studied as an alternative, but with time they expand and put too much pressure on the nearby eye tissue. So researchers at the University of Tokyo developed a new type of hydrogel with a lower polymer concentration, which prevents the substitute gel from swelling up in the eye. They injected it into rabbits' damaged eyes as a liquid and within 10 minutes it firmed up into a gel that replaced the vitreous. The rabbits didn’t show any signs of eye problems more than a year after treatment.

Inside STAT: GOP bill lets employers see genetic info

There's a bill quietly moving through Congress that would allow companies to force their employees to undergo genetic testing or risk a hefty fine — and that would let employers see their genetic and health information. Right now, that kind of power is banned by legislation including a landmark 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law called GINA. But the new bill would skirt around those laws by explicitly stating that if the genetic tests are part of a "workplace wellness" program, those legal protections don't apply. The bill was approved this week by a House committee, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed. STAT's Sharon Begley has more here

What are legislators telling the public about the ACA?

STAT, ProPublica, Kaiser Health News, and Vox are teaming up on a new project to fact-check what legislators are telling their constituents about the Affordable Care Act. Have you corresponded with a member of Congress or senator about the Affordable Care Act? We’d love to see the response you received. 

Parents make teens less likely to talk about STD risks

More than 10 percent of young adults who are sexually active say they wouldn’t seek out sexual or reproductive health care out of concerns that their parents might find out, according to a new analysis from the CDC. The group most likely to steer clear of services? Young women between ages 15 and 17. The same analysis also looked at how having alone time with a doctor — without a parent in the room — changed the conversation. They found that 71 percent of youths who had alone time received a sexual risk assessment, compared to 37 percent of youths who didn’t. Sexually transmitted diseases are most common among young people, the authors note. That makes STD screening in this group essential for reducing infection rates and catching disease early to prevent long-term health harms.

An alternate suggestion to controversial CDC advice

The CDC came under fire last year for recommendations that women who could become pregnant and aren’t using contraception should avoid drinking alcohol at all — intended as a way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome. Critics called the recommendation condescending and impractical. In a new paper, Dr. Katherine Hartmann of Vanderbilt offers up a different public health approach. Hartmann and her colleagues studied maternal alcohol consumption and found that the majority of pregnant women — whether their pregnancies were planned or unplanned — quit drinking once they found out they were pregnant.

Hartmann argues that it makes more sense to promote early pregnancy awareness than it does to go after such a broad swath of women to rein in alcohol consumption. Her idea: Provide easy access to low-cost pregnancy tests to make sure women know they’re pregnant as early as possible. Her work will be published soon in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

What to read around the web today

  • NFL teams broke laws governing prescription drugs and ignored guidance on distributing them, sealed court filings say. Washington Post
  • First results of CRISPR gene editing of normal embryos released. New Scientist
  • What hospitals waste. ProPublica
  • A death in the I.C.U. New York Times

More reads from STAT

Thanks so much for reading! If you like this newsletter, tell a friend to sign up. Enjoy your weekend, 

Megan

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