Monday, December 4, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Monday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

CVS is buying Aetna. What could it mean for health care?

CVS has agreed to purchase Aetna, one of the nation's largest health insurers, for $69 billion. The landmark deal, which still needs to be approved by shareholders and regulators, would combine the vast network of CVS pharmacies, walk-in clinics, and its pharmacy benefits management business with Aetna’s health plans, which cover more than 22 million Americans. STAT's Ed Silverman explains that the Aetna purchase would give CVS a way to provide a broader range of services to more people while lessening its reliance on drug-store sales. That could help CVS fend off future competition from Amazon if the online giant enters the pharmacy business. What's not clear yet: whether the purchase will go through, and to what extent it could lower costs for consumers if it does. 

Biomedical research wins big at Breakthrough Prizes

Four biomedical researchers took home Breakthrough Prizes — which come with a trophy and a cool $3 million —  at last night’s star-studded awards ceremony in Silicon Valley. Winners include:

  • Peter Walter, University of California, San Francisco, for shedding light on the unfolded protein response, which helps cells detect unfolded proteins that could cause disease. (Read more about Walter’s work here.)
  • Kazutoshi Mori, Kyoto University, for his work on the quality control system in cells that corrects unfolded proteins.
  • Kim Nasmyth, University of Oxford, for figuring out how 6.5 feet of DNA coils up inside each cell without getting tangled.
  • Don Cleveland, University of California San Diego, for his discoveries on neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS.

Yemen's health facilities are short on fuel and water

The WHO’s director-general and other top United Nations officials have joined the growing calls to lift a blockade that’s preventing medical supplies and aid from being delivered to Yemen’s Red Sea ports. Less than half of all health facilities in the war-torn nation are functioning, and health officials say more are at risk of closing if more fuel and water can’t get into the country. The crisis has also compromised sewage networks in six major cities. There’s concern that more nonfunctional sewer systems could lead to a renewed rise in the country’s cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 2,000 people.

Sponsor content by Amgen and Novartis

Discovering online communities dedicated to advocacy

Lindsay Ballard has dealt with the debilitating effects of migraine from a young age. Through blogs and social media, she has found a supportive community who not only share her struggles, but have encouraged and empowered her to share her own experience. Read her story. 

Inside STAT: Investors see big money in infertility


investors are changing the infertility industry. (APSTOCK)

Investors looking for the next way to make big money in medicine have hit upon an age-old problem: infertility. The money isn’t just in treating older women who have spent years trying to conceive. It’s also in persuading young women in their 20s to start worrying about their fertility as soon as possible — and to pay for pricey tests and services to guard against potential future problems. Private equity and venture capital firms are pouring money into building national chains of fertility clinics and developing specialized tests. Those investors say clinical practice decisions are up to physicians, but they’re still transforming an industry that’s long been led by standalone clinics. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins dives into the benefits and drawbacks of that shift — read here.

How the tax plan could impact health care

The Senate passed its massive tax bill in the wee hours of Saturday morning. And while House and the Senate still need to reconcile their versions, it's clear that the final measure will have an impact on health care. The legislation would dramatically increase the budget deficit — which, in turn, could result in cuts to Medicare and other public health programs. In a letter to the Senate last week, AARP said that “such sweeping cuts would be detrimental to an already vulnerable population.”

The Senate’s version also does away with the individual insurance mandate, sparking serious concerns about how that’ll affect health insurance markets. There are two bipartisan Senate bills currently in the works designed to stabilize the markets. In announcing her vote for the tax bill, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to support those measures.

CHIP funding is running low in several states

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services just announced a $569 application fee for health care practices that want to accept CHIP next year — even though it’s not clear whether there will be funding to pay for that care. Colorado last week became the first state to notify families that kids covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Program are at risk of losing their coverage. Vermont health officials announced this weekend that the state’s CHIP funds would run out early next year, joining a growing group of states scrambling to figure out a Plan B.  Nearly 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women are covered by CHIP, which has widespread bipartisan support. Congress let federal funding for the program lapse in September.

What to read around the web today

  • Patients call this addiction center a mere jail. Boston Globe
  • GOP Medicaid work rules imperil care for people who abuse opioids. Politico
  • Health risks to farmworkers increase as the work force ages. Kaiser Health News

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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