CDC: Signs point to an early start for flu season, with cases already ticking up in parts of the U.S.
October 17, 2022 - Before the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, influenza trackers would begin reading tea leaves around this time of the year, looking for signs of whether there would be an early start to the flu season in the northern hemisphere and which of the various flu viruses might be responsible for the most cases over the coming winter. Flu transmission has been low since the start of the pandemic, but an odd spurt of activity in April, May, and even early June of 2022 — which coincided with the onset of an early and robust flu season in Australia — suggests that flu may be making its way back. In fact, the influenza trackers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are seeing signs that flu activity is picking up in parts of the country. STAT talked on Friday with Lynnette Brammer, a flu epidemiologist and team lead for domestic surveillance in the CDC’s influenza division, to get a sense of what the agency is seeing. Read the full article here.
Under federal $1 billion agreement, Oregon will expand Medicaid coverage
September 29, 2022 - Under a new agreement, the federal government will give Oregon $1.1 billion to guarantee continued free health care coverage to tens of thousands of young children in households with low incomes and offer wider coverage to low-income young adults, especially those with special needs. The agreement, announced Wednesday in a conference call with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officials and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, also includes expanding Medicaid coverage to include housing and food support. Read the full article here.
U.S. Supreme Court to reopen to public after long COVID closure, reports say
September 13, 2022 - The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the public to hear arguments in person for the first time in about 2-1/2 years following a closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Justice John Roberts said late on Friday, according to media reports. The court's nine justices - all of whom have been vaccinated against COVID-19 - will begin hearing a new round of cases when the court's next term kicks off on Oct. 3. Roberts announced the public reopening while speaking at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado Springs, CNN and local media outlet Colorado Politics reported. Read the full article here.
New dental residency program to bring dentists to rural health centers in N.H.
New Hampshire Public Radio
Auugst 8, 2022 - Stephanie Pagliuca used to joke that she would retire once New Hampshire got a dental residency program, but now, she’s finally getting her wish. “It turns out I'm not ready to retire yet,” said Pagliuca, who does workforce development for Bi-State Primary Care Association, which works with health centers across New Hampshire and Vermont. New Hampshire’s first dental residency program could be up and running as soon as next month, bringing three new dentists per year to rural New Hampshire clinics that are short staffed in areas like Keene and Bristol. These clinics see many of the state's low-income and older patients with significant dental issues. Read the full article here.
Medicaid expansion breakthrough within reach in N. Carolina
August 1, 2022 - After a decade of vigorous opposition, most North Carolina Republicans have now embraced the idea of expanding the state’s Medicaid program to cover hundreds of thousands of additional low-income adults. Legislative approval finally appears within reach. During the General Assembly session that ended July 1, the GOP-controlled House and Senate passed separate, bipartisan measures by wide margins that would put the state on the path to Medicaid expansion. Some details remain to be worked out, but there’s a real opportunity to hammer out a compromise by year’s end. Read the full article here.
WHO: No guarantee monkeypox won’t spread beyond specific communities
July 26, 2022 - The global outbreak of monkeypox should not be expected to stay confined to specific groups, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Monday. Though cases of the virus have been predominantly reported among men who have sex with men, diseases commonly begin in one community before spreading to others. “This really might be the canary in the mine that’s alerting to us of a new disease threat that could spread to other groups,” Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at the WHO, said Monday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.” Read the full article here.
Why Covid is still a pandemic, says Dr. Jha: 'We got the biological science right, but we didn't get the social science right'
July 11, 2022 - Dr. Ashish Jha has a theory about why, after two years and counting, the Covid-19 pandemic still isn't over. According to Jha, the White House's Covid response coordinator, scientists and public health officials have mostly nailed the medical response to the pandemic: As experts have learned more about the coronavirus, the U.S. has continually adapted its safety guidelines and treatment plans accordingly. The problem, Jha said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, last week, is that those experts often fail to communicate effectively about those shifts — leading many Americans to mistrust the science and turn to social media for health information over publicly appointed doctors and scientists. Read the full article here.
Should North Carolina operate its Medicaid oral health program as fee-for-service or transition to managed care?
North Carolina Health News
June 14, 2022 - As lawmakers ponder whether to expand Medicaid to add some 600,000 more people to the rolls, the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative is looking at a different aspect of the federal- and state-sponsored insurance program. Nearly a year ago, North Carolina transformed its Medicaid program from a fee-for-service-based plan to a system managed by private insurers. The oral health portion of the program, however, was not part of the Medicaid transformation. It is still managed by the state. Read the full article here.
Why the War in Ukraine Might Make Root Canals More Difficult
June 6, 2022 - Russia’s assault on Ukraine is being felt worldwide, and the U.S. health care system is not immune. Both Russia and Ukraine are powerhouses in supplying certain commodities — in this case, ammonium nitrate and natural gas. These commodities, after being refined, can produce two gases crucial for the health care system: nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas, and helium. They are used in millions of procedures each day. And crimped supplies could make every root canal that much more painful and every MRI scan that much pricier. The disruption also represents more turbulence for the U.S. health care system’s supply chain. Read the full article here.
NC health bill with Medicaid expansion gets first Senate OK
June 2, 2022 - A wide-ranging health care access bill penned by Republicans that includes covering hundreds of thousands of additional North Carolina adults through Medicaid received initial approval Wednesday from the state Senate. Support was nearly unanimous in the chamber for the measure, which also loosens practice restrictions on specialty nurses and eases government scrutiny of medical construction and equipment. The bill’s anchor — Medicaid expansion — represents a dramatic turn for its prospects in North Carolina after being blocked for a decade by GOP elected officials. Still, House Republicans aren’t interested in considering expansion during the annual work session expected to end around July 1, Speaker Tim Moore said recently, potentially leaving the issue for the fall or 2023. A final Senate vote is expected Thursday before the bill moves to the House. Read the full article here.
FDA: Pharmacists and wholesalers can import drugs from Canada
May 27, 2022 - Pharmacists and drug wholesalers can import prescription medicines from Canada for up to two years as part of state programs aimed at bringing down drug costs, according to final FDA guidance released Thursday. Why it matters: With President Biden's drug pricing agenda still stalled, the FDA is further clarifying how states could take advantage of lower drug costs abroad without the need to limit prices in the U.S. Background: Both the Biden and Trump administrations embraced limited importation to bring down health costs, though experts view the policy as having limited impact. The FDA in April began discussions with five states — Florida, Colorado, Vermont, Maine and New Mexico. Read the full article here.
$25M donation to help establish College of Dentistry
May 10, 2022 - An anonymous donor gave a $25 million gift to the University of Pikeville, school officials said. University of Pikeville President Burton Webb said the gift will help establish a College of Dentistry and expand access to health services in Appalachia. Webb announced the donation Saturday during the health professions commencement ceremony, WYMT-TV reported. “This is needed,” University of Pikeville Board of Trustees Chair Terry Dotson said. “The founding of a dental program in these mountains will lead to better healthcare outcomes for a historically medically underserved population.” Read the full article here.
Biden eyes long-awaited student debt relief starting at $10,000 per borrower
May 2, 2022 - President Biden plans to move forward with student loan debt forgiveness, with two sources telling The Hill he is considering action to expunge at least $10,000 per borrower. The debt forgiveness would be through executive action and follows the president asking the Education Department to look into his authority to act unilaterally on student loans a year ago, the results of which have not been publicly announced. Bloomberg first reported that Biden is weighing forgiving at least $10,000 in student loans per borrower, citing people familiar with the matter. “But the door has been open to possibly larger,” a source told The Hill. “Lots of options on the table. They are doing a lot of listening right now.” The source added that there’s been no timeline set yet on when the president will act. Read the full article here.
Plan to ban menthol cigarettes prompts late lobbying blitz
April 22, 2022 - As federal officials finalize a long-awaited plan to ban menthol cigarettes, dozens of interest groups have met with White House staffers to try to influence the process, which has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives while wiping out billions in tobacco sales. Biden administration officials have heard from tobacco lobbyists, anti-smoking advocates, civil rights groups, small business owners and conservative think tanks. The lobbying push underscores the far-reaching impacts of banning menthol, which accounts for over one-third of the U.S. cigarette market. Read the full article here.
CDC weighs new opioid prescribing guidelines amid controversy over old ones
April 9, 2022 - Doctors will soon have new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how and when to prescribe opioids for pain. Those guidelines – currently under review as a draft – will serve as an update to the agency's previous advice on opioids, issued in 2016. That advice is widely blamed for leading to harmful consequences for patients with chronic pain. Federal officials have acknowledged their original guidance was often misapplied; it was supposed to serve as a roadmap for clinicians navigating tricky decisions around opioids and pain — not as a rigid set of rules. But the 2016 version was used as the basis for sweeping policy decisions, as lawmakers and health leaders struggled to contain the nation's overdose crisis. Many states adopted laws and regulations that set limits on prescribing, and health insurers also crafted policies to that effect. Read the full article here.
Tennessee Offers to Expand Dental Schools as Medicaid Coverage Stretches Need
Kaiser Health News (NPR)
March 31, 2022 - More than 600,000 additional Medicaid patients in Tennessee may soon be covered with comprehensive dental benefits under a proposal by Republican Gov. Bill Lee. But the state, one of the last to extend dental coverage to adults, is also trying to make sure those Medicaid enrollees can find dentists willing to treat them. Along with $75 million to extend Medicaid dental benefits to adults, Tennessee is considering $94 million to help its two dental schools expand. About a third of the money would help pay off the student loans of graduates who agree to work in high-need areas, with the idea that they would treat more Medicaid patients. Read the full article here.
Biden’s 2023 budget request for science aims high—again
March 28, 2022 - President Joe Biden didn’t forget research today, when he submitted to Congress a 2023 budget request that calls for a 9.5% increase in domestic discretionary spending. Biden is asking for a 19% increase at the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 9.6% boost for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 4.5% more for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, and a 5% hike for NASA’s science missions. But as always when a president submits his annual budget, the hard part will be getting Congress to go along. That process usually runs past the 1 October start of the fiscal year, leading to a temporary freeze on spending at current levels. But with midterm elections in November that could shift control of one or both chambers from Democrats to Republicans, a final agreement could easily be delayed until after the new year. Read the full article here.
The FDA authorizes more e-cigarette products, but there's still no ruling on menthol and other kid-friendly nicotine products
March 24, 2022 - The US Food and Drug Administration gave the official green light Thursday to several tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products from Logic Technology Development LLC. The FDA said it is also "close" to additional decisions about products that make up a larger share of the market. But public health advocates are frustrated, saying the agency has blown past a September deadline set by US District Court in Maryland to decide what e-cigarette products may remain on the market. Though e-cigarette products have been allowed to remain on the market for years, in 2020, the FDA asked the companies to submit applications to keep products on the market. Read the full article here.
Pfizer CEO says a fourth booster shot 'is necessary'
March 13, 2022 - Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Sunday that a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be necessary to continue to help keep hospitalizations manageable and sicknesses more mild. "Right now, the way that we have seen, it is necessary, a fourth booster right now. The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths," Bourla said while appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation." "It's not that good against infections but doesn't last very long. But we are just submitting those data to the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], and then we will see what the experts also will say outside Pfizer," he added. Read the full article here.
House lifting mask mandate ahead of State of The Union address
February 27, 2022 - The House is lifting its mask mandate ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address this week, making mask wearing optional throughout the Capitol complex. In a letter on Sunday, Capitol Physician Brian Monahan shared the changes with lawmakers returning to Washington this week. "Individuals may choose to mask at any time, but it is no longer a requirement," he wrote. Monahan said positive COVID-19 test rates at the Capitol are down to 2.7 percent in the last two weeks, below the current rate for the DC-Metropolitan area (4.7 percent). The Washington, D.C. area is a 'green level,' according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) metrics, meaning that COVID-19 transmission is low. Read the full article here.
Why Millions on Medicaid Are at Risk of Losing Coverage in the Months Ahead
Kaiser Health News
Fenruary 14, 2022 - The Biden administration and state officials are bracing for a great unwinding: millions of people losing their Medicaid benefits when the pandemic health emergency ends. Some might sign up for different insurance. Many others are bound to get lost in the transition. State Medicaid agencies for months have been preparing for the end of a federal mandate that anyone enrolled in Medicaid cannot lose coverage during the pandemic. Read the full article here.
4 states announce they're dropping mask mandates for schools
February 7, 2022 - Oregon is the latest state to set plans to lift its statewide mask mandate for schools, following earlier announcements Monday from New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware. The loosening guidelines are signs that the four states are changing how they manage the COVID-19 pandemic as cases from the omicron surge continue to subside. Oregon health officials announced Monday its end date for indoor mask requirements for public places and inside schools is March 31. Read the full article here.
Mask litter is a worldwide problem with serious environmental ramifications, study shows
Florida Health News
January 30, 2022 - Discarded cigarette butts, cans and bottles have been fouling Florida’s beaches, preserves and parking lots for as long as people have been using such items, and now there is a new scourge being mixed in: discarded masks used to protect the wearer from COVID-19. Masks come in many shapes and sizes, but one commonality is too many of them are being discarded everywhere except in a trash can. Read the full article here.
Fauci Says Too Soon to Say Omicron Heralds End of Pandemic
January 17, 2022 - Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to the U.S. president, said it’s too soon to say whether the omicron variant will herald a shift in the Covid-19 pandemic to endemic. “It’s an open question as to whether or not omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination everyone is hoping for,” Fauci said Monday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda online conference. Other scientists and government officials have expressed optimism that omicron’s rapid spread and milder outcomes could signal an eventual shift to learning to live with the virus, much like the world does with seasonal flu. Pfizer’s Chief Executive Albert Bourla told French newspaper Le Figaro that life could soon return to normal. Read the full article here.
More Colleges Discourage Students From Being on Campus in January
Inside Higher Ed
December 21, 2021 - More colleges are adopting policies to discourage—or in some cases ban—students from being on campus in January. Generally, the colleges that are acting start up the first week in January. Institutions with later starts tend to be waiting to decide. DePaul, Harvard and Stanford University students won’t have in-person classes the first weeks of the semester, those universities announced; Pennsylvania State University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the U of Southern California are considering such a move. Read the full article here.
CVS and Walgreens to limit the number of at-home Covid tests you can buy after surge in demand
December 21, 2021 - The two largest pharmaceutical chain stores in the US -- CVS Health and Walgreens -- are limiting the number of at-home Covid kits customers can buy due to huge demand. The rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant ahead of the holidays has sparked the surge -- and there has been anecdotal evidence over the past week of test shortages at stores across the country. CVS Health acknowledged in a statement on Tuesday that tests may be temporarily out of stock at their stores. "To ensure equitable access to tests both in store and digitally, we've added a limit of six test kits per purchase," the company said. Read the full article here.
Boosters give 70%-75% protection against mild disease from omicron, UK says
December 10, 2021 - Booster Covid-19 vaccine shots give an estimated 70% to 75% protection against mild disease from the new omicron variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Friday, citing initial findings from a real-world study. The findings are some of the earliest data on the protection against omicron outside of lab studies, which have shown reduced neutralizing activity against omicron. The early real-world data suggest that while omicron could greatly reduce the protection against mild disease from an initial two-dose vaccination course, boosters restored the protection to an extent. Read the full article here.
Biden vaccine rule for health workers blocked in 10 states
November 29, 2021 - A federal judge on Monday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states that had brought the first legal challenge against the requirement. The court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor. Read the full article here.
COVID-19, flu vaccines safe to give at the same time, study shows
November 11, 2021 - A UK study yesterday in The Lancet finds that flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be safely co-administered. Led by researchers from the Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol, the multicenter phase 4 clinical trial involved 679 adults at 12 UK sites. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three inactivated age-appropriate seasonal flu vaccines and either the second dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2) or AstraZeneca/Oxford (ChAdOx1) COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo from Apr 1 to Jun 26, 2021. The goal was to determine whether co-administration of the vaccines, which would free up healthcare provider time to vaccinate more people, is safe and will provoke an immune response at least as robust as is produced when the two vaccines are given 3 weeks apart. Read the full article here.
FDA review appears to pave the way for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5 to 11
October 22, 2021 - The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine appears poised to become available to children 5 to 11 years old within weeks, after a Food and Drug Administration review found the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks in most scenarios, with the possible exception of when there are very low levels of viral transmission. The review found that for four scenarios that were weighed, “the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine 2-dose primary series clearly outweigh the risks.” But in one, when the virus was at its lowest levels, there could be more hospitalizations related to a rare heart side effect associated with the vaccine than the number of hospitalizations prevented from covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. Read the full article here.
The federal government pledges $100 million to address health care worker shortages
October 15, 2021 - As health care workers face increased pandemic burnout, some states — particularly in underserved areas — have had challenges retaining existing staff and recruiting new clinicians. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now committing $100 million through the American Rescue Plan to help solve the problem. "Our health care workers have worked tirelessly to save lives throughout this pandemic and now it's our turn to invest in them," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "This investment is critical to ensuring state public health officials can continue supporting specific needs across their communities," he said. Read the full article here.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggests Democrats could cut major pieces of Biden’s economic plan
October 12, 2021 - Democrats could slash entire pieces of President Joe Biden’s economic plan to push it through Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday. Party leaders have acknowledged they will likely have to cut $1 trillion or more from their $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate proposal. Trying to pass legislation with a razor-thin majority and no Republican votes, Democrats have to appease centrists who have called for a smaller bill. Read the full article here.
FDA authorizes new rapid COVID-19 test, says capacity will double
October 4, 2021 - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday authorized a new rapid, at-home COVID-19 test, in a move it said is expected to double the availability of such tests in the coming weeks. The FDA said it has authorized a coronavirus test from the company ACON Laboratories. It is not the first authorization of such a test, which can deliver results in as little as 15 minutes, but, amid supply shortages, the move could be key in boosting their availability. Jeff Shuren, a top FDA official, said the move "is expected to double rapid at-home testing capacity in the U.S. over the next several weeks. Read the full article here.
U.S. Reaches 75% of Adults With at Least One Vaccine Dose
Sept. 8 - Three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, according to the White House, setting a new milestone in the country’s fight against the pandemic. But with a continued surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the delta variant of the coronavirus, President Joe Biden plans a speech Thursday to outline a “six-pronged strategy” to “get the pandemic under control,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. The U.S. hit 70% of adults with at least one dose in early August, four weeks after Biden’s July 4th target for the achievement. Despite wide availability of free shots, hesitancy among many Americans -- especially political conservatives -- has left the U.S. well behind many other countries in inoculating its population. Read the full article here.
FDA nears day of reckoning on e-cigarettes
Sept. 7 - The Food and Drug Administration is nearing a pivotal deadline for deciding the fate of every e-cigarette on the market — and potentially reshaping the vaping industry. The agency is reviewing millions of applications from e-cigarette makers, and must decide by Sept. 9 whether their products are “appropriate for the protection of public health”: safe for current smokers and not appealing to non-smokers. FDA has already blocked the sale of 55,000 flavored vape products from three companies that did not meet the standard. Read the full article here.
Judge Pushes Back On Protections For The Sacklers In The Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy
August 26, 2021 - A federal bankruptcy judge says he'll rule Friday on the fate of Purdue Pharma and its owners, members of the Sackler family, who are at the center of a national reckoning over the deadly opioid epidemic. Judge Robert Drain signaled he is likely to approve the reorganization plan for the makers of OxyContin. But he also demanded last-minute changes limiting legal immunities granted under the deal to the Sacklers and their associates. Members of the family say they did nothing wrong but have agreed to pay roughly $4.3 billion and give up ownership of their bankrupt company. Read the full article here.
Report shows big spike in mail ballots during 2020 election
August 16, 2021 - Fewer than one-third of voters casting ballots in last year’s U.S. presidential election did so at a polling place on Election Day as the coronavirus pandemic led states to greatly expand mail-in balloting and early voting, according to a federal report released Monday. The report by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission captures just how much the electorate embraced non-traditional voting methods despite repeated attempts by former President Donald Trump to undermine mail voting. While voting by mail has been on the rise in recent years, the 2020 election marked a major shift in the way people cast ballots, at least temporarily. This was driven largely by the pandemic and voters wanting to avoid crowded polling places. Read the full article here.
If You Think Your Kids Are Eating Mostly Junk Food, A New Study Finds You're Right
August 11, 2021 - Kids and teens in the U.S. get the majority of their calories from ultra-processed foods like frozen pizza, microwavable meals, chips and cookies, a new study has found. Two-thirds — or 67% — of calories consumed by children and adolescents in 2018 came from ultra-processed foods, a jump from 61% in 1999, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the medical journal JAMA. The research, which analyzed the diets of 33,795 youths ages 2 to 19 across the U.S., noted the "overall poorer nutrient profile" of the ultra-processed foods. Read the full article here.
Missouri court rules Medicaid expansion must begin immediately
August 10, 2021 - Missouri officials must implement the voter-approved Medicaid expansion immediately, a state judge ruled Tuesday, rejecting a request from the attorney general's office for at least a two month delay. The ruling by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem follows a unanimous ruling by the state's Supreme Court last month in favor of expansion. The Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision by Beetem blocking implementation, and remanded the case back to him to “issue a judgment for the plaintiffs.” Read the full article here.
The surge in coronavirus cases seems to be spurring more vaccinations
August 2, 2021 - However much Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wishes it weren’t so, the coronavirus is ravaging his state. DeSantis (R) has been at the forefront of the Republican effort to find a middle ground between his party’s stated opposition to measures aimed at containing the virus and keeping case totals low. That has meant that he has been more vocal than many about the need for widespread vaccinations, but the emergence of the delta variant (and not, as he has tried to argue, simple seasonality) has meant an alarming spike in new cases in the state. Since the current surge began at the beginning of summer, Florida has seen an increase of nearly 70 new cases per 100,000 residents per day, second only to the surge in Louisiana. The state is now seeing almost as many cases per day as it did during the third surge in cases nationally, which began in September. Read the full artilce here.
Your Dentist Can See You Remotely
North Carolina Health News
July 27, 2021 - Shaun Matthews, an evangelist for telehealth in the United States and abroad, was giving a presentation to the International Association of Dental Research on a Zoom call last week when he learned that North Carolina lawmakers had just approved a bill formalizing the use of teledentistry. As part of his presentation on “The Rise of Teledentistry in Clinical Practice: An Inevitable Response to a Global Pandemic or a False Dawn,” Matthews mentioned work he had done in North Carolina while at the UNC-Chapel Hill dental school. Read the full article here.