<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usThu, 30 Mar 2017 01:25:39 -0400Thu, 30 Mar 2017 01:25:39 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[EPA Denies Petition to Ban Pesticide Used on Crops]]>Wed, 29 Mar 2017 22:08:25 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17018654885149-Scott-Pruitt-EPA-nominee.jpg

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday denied a petition by environmental groups that sought to ban a common pesticide used on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops, reversing a proposal by the Obama administration to revoke all uses of the pesticide on food.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that by not banning chlorpyrifos the agency is providing "regulatory certainty" to thousands of American farms that rely on the pesticide.

"By reversing the previous Administration's steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making - rather than predetermined results," Pruitt said.

The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and experts say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide.

U.S. farms use more than 6 million pounds of the chemical each year — about 25 percent of it in California.

The EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos in 2000 and placed "no-spray" buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

But environmental and public health groups said those proposals don't go far enough and filed a federal lawsuit seeking a national ban on the pesticide.

Environmental groups said Pruitt's decision ignores overwhelming evidence that shows even small amounts of chlorpyrifos can interfere with brain development of fetuses, infants and children.

"EPA's refusal to ban this dangerous pesticide is unconscionable," said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. "EPA is defying its legal obligation to protect children from unsafe pesticides. We will be going back and asking the court to order EPA to take action now, rather than in 5 more years."

In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed revoking the pesticide's use in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The EPA said then that its analysis didn't suggest risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food. But when those exposures are combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, "EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard," it said.

The EPA said Wednesday that the previous administration's proposal relied on a study "whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Dirty Air From Global Trade Kills at Home and Abroad]]>Wed, 29 Mar 2017 17:35:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/china_factory_production_1200x675.jpg

A study that measures the human toll of air pollution from global manufacturing and trade shows how buying goods made far away can lead to premature deaths both there and close to home.

More than 750,000 people die prematurely from dirty air every year that is generated by making goods in one location that will be sold elsewhere, about one-fifth of the 3.45 million premature deaths from air pollution. The study says 12 percent of those deaths, about 411,000 people, are a result of air pollution that has blown across national borders.

"It's not a local issue anymore," said study co-author Dabo Guan, an economist at the University of East Anglia in England. "It requires global cooperation."

It has long been known that that the environmental burden of manufacturing often falls heaviest on countries where companies set up shop to take advantage of low labor costs and relatively loose environmental regulations. But this is the first study to bring together economic, manufacturing, trade, atmospheric and health data to calculate the number and location of premature deaths from air pollution.

It found that people in Western Europe buying goods made elsewhere were linked to 173,000 overseas air pollution deaths a year, while United States consumption was linked to just over 100,000 deaths, according to the study published in Wednesday's journal Nature.

What that looks like in China: 238,000 deaths a year associated with production of goods that are bought or consumed elsewhere. That number is 106,000 deaths in India and 129,000 deaths in the rest of Asia.

"We have a role in the quality of the air in those areas," study co-author Steven Davis, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Irvine, said in an interview. "We're taking advantage of our positon as consumers, distant consumers."

Still, the study says three-quarters of the 1 million air pollution deaths in China — and the nearly half a million deaths in India — are from production of goods that are consumed locally.

China and India also have pollution that travels elsewhere and kills between 65,000 and 75,000 people in other countries, the study said. India's migrating pollution kills more because China's pollution, which hits Japan and South Korea, often heads over the Pacific Ocean where its effects dissipate over the miles, Davis said. India's pollution heads directly to more populous neighboring countries.

The study starts by looking at the 3.45 million deaths a year that this and other studies say are triggered by tiny airborne particles often called soot or smog. About 2.5 million of those deaths are associated with making and consuming of goods, including the energy needed to produce and ship them. The rest are due to natural factors like dust and fires and other causes that can't be tracked, said study lead author Qiang Zhang, an atmospheric chemist at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Like smoking, air pollution increases the risk of getting diseases like heart disease and stroke, said study co-author Michael Brauer, a public health professor at the University of British Columbia. Using well-established methods, researchers calculate death estimates using health statistics, pollution levels, and other factors.

Dr. Howard Frumkin, a former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now at the University of Washington, was not part of the study, but praised it. He said the calculations done by the study are crucial for understanding the larger problem.

"This is a moral question as much as a scientific one," Frumkin wrote in an email. "But the scientific approach here — linking data on manufacturing and associated pollution emissions, import and export flows, pollutant movement across national boundaries, and the health impact of pollution exposure — is exactly what's needed."

Producing more goods locally would change where deaths occur and potentially reduce overall deaths — if local emissions rules are tighter. Bringing back manufacturing to the United States, as President Donald J. Trump and politicians from both parties want, would bring more air pollution deaths to the U.S., but reduce deaths worldwide because pollution laws are stricter, Davis and others said.

Production is likely to remain concentrated in Asia, however, and it will have to be up to those countries to better regulate their own industrial emissions, said Peter Adams, an engineering professor and air pollution expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who wasn't part of the study. "Relying on consumer altruism," he said, won't be enough.

___

Follow Seth Borenstein at http://twitter.com/borenbears and his work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/seth-borenstein .

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves 1st Drug for Aggressive Multiple Sclerosis]]>Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:29:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medications_generic_1200x675.jpg

U.S. regulators have approved the first drug for an aggressive kind of multiple sclerosis that steadily reduces coordination and the ability to walk.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Ocrevus late Tuesday after a large study found it slowed progression of the neurological disease and reduced symptoms.

While there are more than a dozen treatments for the most common form of MS, there's been nothing specifically for people with the type called primary progressive MS. That type of MS is relatively rare, affecting about 50,000 Americans.

The drug was also approved for relapsing forms of MS, which progress more slowly.

It's given intravenously every six months. The drug was developed by Genentech, part of Swiss drugmaker the Roche Group. Genentech, based in South San Francisco, California, said the initial list price without insurance will be $65,000 a year.

In primary progressive MS, the disease's course varies among patients, but symptoms gradually worsen from the start and there usually are no periods when symptoms subside. Most of the estimated 400,000 Americans with MS have the relapsing-remitting type, in which symptoms can wane for months, even years, between flare-ups.

Symptoms are caused by the immune system attacking the fatty coverings on nerves in the brain and spinal cord that protect them, much like insulation on electrical wiring. As the coverings deteriorate, nerve "messages" aren't properly transmitted, disrupting movement and muscle control.

For patients with primary progressive MS, life span on average is shortened by six years, said Dr. Fred Lublin, director of the MS center at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.

Since 1993, 14 drugs have been approved to slow the most common form of MS, but everything tested against primary progressive MS failed until now, said Lublin, a consultant to Genentech who was on the committee overseeing the study.

"This therapy not only provides another treatment option for those with relapsing MS, but for the first time provides an approved therapy for those with primary progressive MS," Dr. Billy Dunn, director of the FDA's Division of Neurology Products, said in a statement.

In the study testing Ocrevus for primary progressive MS, which involved 732 patients, Ocrevus had a "modest but definite slowing effect on the rate at which people develop disabilities," said Lublin.

Compared to study participants getting dummy infusions, patients given Ocrevus infusions had slower declines in walking ability and slower disability progression over nearly 2 ½ years. The Ocrevus group also had fewer new brain-damaging lesions develop but slightly higher rates of certain side effects, including upper respiratory tract infections and tumors developing in various parts of the body.

The drug was also tested in two large studies involving 1,656 patients as a treatment for relapsing forms of MS. In those 96-week studies, patients given Ocrevus had lower relapse rates and reduced worsening of disability compared to participants given Rebif, a standard drug for relapsing MS, according to the FDA.

Ocrevus will be available in the U.S. within two weeks, Genentech said, noting the average price of MS medicines has quadrupled over the past 12 years. As a "first step" in reversing that trend, the company said, it priced Ocrevus 25 percent below Rebif's list price.

The price shouldn't limit access, analyst Jeffrey Holford at Jefferies LLC wrote to investors on Wednesday. He forecasts peak sales of $5 billion a year.

___

Follow Linda A. Johnson at https://twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mom Tells Son's Story in Fight for NIH Funding]]>Tue, 28 Mar 2017 23:43:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/220*120/2017-03-28_2340.png

Pediatric cancer research is one of the least funded and proposed budget cuts to NIH will deplete it even more. A family whose child died from pediatric cancer is testifying on Capitol Hill Wednesday, March 29, to save the funding. Tammi and Jason Carr in Michigan founded the ChadTough Foundation to honor their son Chad, who died at age 5 after battling a brain tumor. News4’s Shomari Stone reports.

Photo Credit: Tammy Carr]]>
<![CDATA[States Push to Protect Birth Control Despite Failed GOP Bill]]>Tue, 28 Mar 2017 19:02:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/plannedparenthoodprotest_1200x675.jpg

Even with the Republican failure to repeal Barack Obama's health care law, Democratic lawmakers in some states are pressing ahead with efforts to protect birth control access, Planned Parenthood funding and abortion coverage in case they are jeopardized in the future.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives withdrew a bill last week that would have repealed Obama's Affordable Care Act. It would have halted federal funding for Planned Parenthood and curtailed the ability of many low-income women to obtain affordable birth control.

Despite that setback for the GOP, several Republicans said Congress might revisit health care in the future, and anti-abortion leaders have stressed they will not abandon their campaign to defund Planned Parenthood. The group is the No. 1 abortion provider in the U.S. but also offers extensive birth control and health-screening services.

In Nevada, state lawmakers and health advocates say they will continue to promote bills that would allow women to access 12-month supplies of birth control and require all health insurers to cover contraceptives at no extra charge, regardless of religious objections.

Another Nevada proposal seeks to provide alternative funding to help organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Some government-run clinics that rely on federal grants and are on the brink of closure also would benefit.

"Nevadans need these protections regardless of what's happening in Congress," said Elisa Cafferata, president of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. "Family planning and preventative health care are still very much threatened."

Democratic state Sen. Julia Ratti said it was important to establish protections in state law "so that, regardless of what future federal provisions come through, we know we're doing the right thing in Nevada."

It's unclear whether Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, will sign or veto the bills if they reach his desk.

Majority Democrats in the Maryland Legislature, with backing from some Republicans, passed a bill that would maintain family planning services provided by Planned Parenthood if the group ever lost federal funding.

The state Senate approved the bill Tuesday on a 32-15 vote, after it previously cleared the House of Delegates. It now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Asked whether the governor would sign or veto the bill, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse wrote in an email that the bill would be reviewed.

"The governor has consistently funded health care organizations in each of the administration's three budgets," Chasse wrote. "This legislation will be part of the governor's bill review process that includes hundreds of bills."

It would direct $2 million from Maryland's Medicaid budget and $700,000 from the state's general fund to family planning services. The bill's chief sponsor, state Delegate Shane Pendergrass, said Maryland would be unwise to assume that congressional Republicans were finished with efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"Could this come back in six months? Maybe," she said. "Do we want to make sure we're prepared if something happens? You bet we do."

In Oregon, Democratic state Rep. Jeff Barker said deliberations would continue on a bill he is sponsoring that would require health insurers to cover a full range of services, drugs and products related to reproductive health, including contraceptives, with no co-pay or deductible.

It also would prohibit any government interference in a woman's choice to have an abortion.

"It will be contentious, but I believe it will pass," Barker said. "We want to be sure that women have all their reproductive health needs taken care of."

The bill, which is awaiting referral to a House committee, could be up for a floor vote sometime next month.

"Our plan is to still move it forward," said House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat. "It's really important to a lot of people on this particular area of health care."

Kotek also expressed no interest in tweaking the bill's language to the liking of Providence Health Plans, a Catholic-sponsored organization covering 260,000 Oregon residents. Last week, Providence threatened to pull out of the Oregon insurance market if the abortion proposal passes.

At the national level, Planned Parenthood celebrated the collapse of the GOP health care overhaul effort yet acknowledged that it will remain a target of the anti-abortion movement and its allies.

"We know this is the beginning, not the end," said Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards.

U.S. law already prohibits federal money from being used to pay for most abortions, but the GOP health overhaul would have cut off more than $400 million in Medicaid reimbursements and other federal funding to Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services. That includes birth control provided to about 2 million women annually.

Kristi Hamrick of Americans United for Life, in an email, said the push to defund Planned Parenthood would continue.

"Too early to say how this might play out," she wrote.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NBC 4 New York & NY Giants Health & Fitness Expo]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 18:17:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/225*120/300x160_HFE.jpg]]><![CDATA[José Olé Taquitos Recalled for Possible Rubber, Plastic]]>Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:54:45 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jose-ole-taquitos.jpg

Ajinomoto Windsor, Inc. is recalling more than 35,000 pounds of frozen "José Olé" taquito products that may be contaminated with rubber and plastic, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

The Lampasas-based company recalled 60-ounce packages of the frozen beef taquitos produced on Dec. 30, 2016. The recalled items include the case codes 3366365A, 3366365B, 3366365C and 3366365D and a "best by" date of Dec. 30, 2017.

The company initiated the recall after receiving two complaints of foreign material in its ready-to-eat beef products earlier this month. The foreign materials were pieces of rubber with white plastic that originated from the establishments processing equipment.

According to the USDA, there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The items were shipped to retail locations in California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas.

Consumers who have purchased this product are urged to throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.



Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture]]>
<![CDATA[Rat-Borne Disease Kills Dogs in New Jersey]]>Mon, 27 Mar 2017 23:01:26 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dog+disease.jpg

The same rat-borne disease that killed a man in the Bronx is killing dogs in New Jersey, and veterinarians are warning pet owners to be on alert.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection dogs can catch from wildlife like squirrels and rats. The disease passes through urine, which pets may lick up when drinking from puddles or other standing water.

River Edge resident Shawn Kucharski often takes his dog Hershey for a morning walk. He said he was taken aback by the number of dogs who have contracted the disease in recent months.

“It is concerning because they go around and sniff everything and touch everything,” Kucharski said.

Veterinarians at Blue Pearl in Paramus say they’ve seen a clear upsurge in cases.

"We’ve probably had five or six cases of leptospirosis over the course of the winter," Dr. Tara Fetzer of Blue Pearl said. "A much higher number than we normally see."

Veterinarians believe the rise in cases is likely due to a warm winter — people have taken their dogs outside more often than they normally would during the cold months.

Still, two dogs have died, and humans can get leptospirosis too. A man in the Bronx recently died after contracting the disease from a rat.

The New Jersey Dept. of Health doesn't track cases of leptospirosis in dogs, but it says there haven't been any human cases in the state in the last five years.

Pet owners should look for signs and symptoms of the disease in their dogs, such as fever lethargy, loss of appetite, increased urination and inability to urinate. It’s also a good idea to be careful at dog parks, where dogs congregate and can pass along illnesses.

To avoid getting leptospirosis, people should practice good hand hygiene and avoid contact with pet urine.

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<![CDATA[Now What? Options for Consumers as Health Law Drama Fades]]>Sun, 26 Mar 2017 03:43:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Speaker-Ryan-health-test.jpg

As the political drama over health care legislation in Washington fades, the rest of the country faces a more immediate concern: Getting insurance for next year.

The Republican health plan designed to replace the Obama-era health law known as the Affordable Care Act would not have taken full effect for a few years anyway — and now it's dead.

"We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday.

That means millions of Americans will have to navigate a current federal health care system that, while not "imploding" as President Donald J. Trump has said, is at least in flux.

Mary Vavrik, a 57-year-old freelance deposition court reporter from Anchorage, Alaska said she was relieved that the current health law will remain because she's happy with the coverage she gets through her exchange — even as she acknowledged that reforms are needed.

"It's not a perfect plan but I'm really grateful to have what I do have," she said.

Prices for insurance plans offered on the public insurance exchanges set up by the health care law have soared in many markets, and choices for customers have dwindled. That's because insurers have faced sizable financial losses on the exchanges in recent years, and have responded by either hiking prices or pulling out of certain markets altogether.

Now, attention will turn to administrative changes underway in Washington designed to stabilize the exchanges by preventing more insurer defections.

The open enrollment period to sign up for insurance for 2018 is slated to start this fall, but insurers are making decisions now about whether to participate. What kinds of plans will be available and how much they will cost will depend on a few key decisions by insurers and regulators in the coming weeks.

Will I have plans to choose from?
It depends on where you live. Choices are dwindling, but chances are at least one insurer will sell in your market. That company may offer several plans.

Generally, big cities will have more choices than rural areas where there may not be enough customers to attract insurers.

As of now, there are 16 counties in a region of Tennessee around Knoxville that have no insurers committed to sell coverage on the exchange next year. About a third of the nation's 3,100 counties are down to just one insurer.

Insurers have been pulling back, and more are expected to leave, but health care researchers are not predicting mass defections.

"For most consumers, (2018) will look a lot like '17," said Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere.

Customers can try to find coverage outside their exchange, but then they won't be able to use tax credits to help pay the bills, which may be particularly painful since many markets have seen prices soar.

Are there fixes in store?
Last month, the Health and Human Services Department, which runs exchanges in many states, proposed some adjustments to try to stabilize these marketplaces.

For example, insurers want greater scrutiny of people who sign up for coverage outside of the open enrollment period. Customers are supposed to be allowed to do so only if they have a life-changing event like the birth of a child, a marriage, or the loss of a job that provided coverage, but insurers have found that people are just waiting to sign up when they need care.

Another proposed adjustment would let insurers design cheaper plans tailored to younger people who may not need lots of health care but want to be protected in the event of a big injury or sickness. That could be very helpful, because insurers say they have struggled to attract younger and healthier customers to the marketplaces to balance out the claims they pay from those who use their coverage.

Those changes are expected to be finalized in the next month or so.

When will insurers make their decisions on 2018?
Some have said they want to see the final version of the proposed federal adjustments before deciding where and what kinds of coverage they will offer.

But insurers generally have to decide by this spring whether they will participate in order to leave enough time for regulatory approvals and marketing before enrollment starts next fall.

Aetna, the nation's third largest insurer, has set an April 1 deadline for deciding on 2018. The company has already pared its marketplace participation down to 4 states this year from 15 because of heavy financial losses.

Customers won't know for certain who is selling on their exchanges until early next fall. While insurers have to apply to sell coverage on their exchanges generally by late spring or early summer, they can drop out later.

Is the Affordable Care Act "imploding," as President Trump has said on Twitter?
No. The marketplaces are not expected to dissolve next year, even though choices have dwindled.

While there's debate over the law's tax burdens and its impact on government budgets, the federal plan has covered more than 20 million people.

About 11 million are covered through an expansion of Medicaid, the health program designed to help poor Americans. Another 12 million buy private insurance through the law's marketplaces, most with help from subsidies based on income. 

Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen contributed from Anchorage.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, AP]]>
<![CDATA[Robot Helps Boy Go to School]]>Sat, 25 Mar 2017 03:10:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Max+Robot.jpg

Despite a degenerative disease that makes going to school a life-threatening situation, a three-year-old Maryland boy attends classes every day thanks to technology allowing him to connect with his classmates, make friends and even join them for lunch.

Max Lasko and his mother operate a Beam telepresence robot from home, several miles from school.

“When Max first started, every time Max would beam in on the robot, they would be really excited and yell, ‘It's the robot! It's the robot!’” teacher Allyson Levine said. “But after about a week or two, it became, ‘Max is here.’”

Max was born with spinal muscular atrophy, which makes it difficult for him to move, breathe and eat. He can’t be in a classroom for fear of catching a cold or flu, which could be life-threatening for him.

“We felt that it was really important -- since Max's cognition is fully intact, his social intelligence is fully intact -- we wanted him to be able to interact with his peers but we wanted to do so safely,” said his mother, Kristen Lasko.

Max's mother is a teacher, and his father, Jonathan Lasko, is a computer scientist. They applied for and won a grant to cover the costs of the robot, and they asked the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville to accept Max into class.

“What our role is is just to be accepting of everyone,” said Ora Cohen Rosenfeld, head of the Bender JCC Early Childhood Center. “And I think this is teaching our children to see Max as a child just as they are with the same needs. He’s different and yet he's very much the same.”

Max is on a ventilator, and his mother puts "angel arms" on him so he can move his hands and participate in activities like coloring for a friend’s birthday picture book.

Max vocalizes but lacks strength for articulation. His mother understands everything he says.

Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Max surprised his mother when he replied he wants to be a teacher like she is.

“A teacher?” his mother reacted. “You want to be a teacher? I didn’t know that. Wow.”

“I’m glad he has these teachers as role models,” Jonathan Lasko said. “He's looking ahead and imagining himself in the role of teacher, and just like any of us, he's not going to let his different abilities get in the way of doing what he is passionate about.”



Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Some Parts of 'Obamacare' Working Well, Problems With Others]]>Sat, 25 Mar 2017 05:09:28 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/obamacare-que-pasara-thumbnail.jpg

Once again, "Obamacare" has survived a near-death experience. It won't be the end of the political debate, but House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledges, "We're going to be living with 'Obamacare' for the foreseeable future."

Ryan pulled the "repeal and replace" bill drafted by House Republican leaders and blessed by President Donald Trump after it failed to muster enough support. It was the latest attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act, which already beat two Supreme Court challenges.

Trump blamed Democrats for the failure and repeated his dire predictions for the Obama-era law. "It's imploding, and soon will explode, and it's not going to be pretty," he said.

While some parts of the law have obvious problems, others are working well and have brought the country's rate of uninsured people to a record low.

The ACA has added coverage in two main ways: a Medicaid expansion to cover more low-income adults, and subsidized private health insurance through online markets such as HealthCare.gov. That's helped push the nation's uninsured rate below 9 percent.

But premiums and other costs are rising faster than expected, and insurers have pulled out of markets in many areas, reducing options for consumers.

A status check on the ACA's major elements, and the outlook for each:

___

MEDICAID

Status: Thirty-one states have expanded Medicaid. The federal-state health program for low-income people now covers about 1 in 5 people in the United States, from newborns to elderly nursing home residents. About half of the expansion states have Republican governors. Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, says it has allowed his state to offer "a stable source of care" for the working poor, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill. Although Medicaid is a notoriously stingy payer, hospitals have strongly supported the expansion as preferable to treating uninsured patients.

Outlook: The Medicaid expansion, which covers about 11 million people, remains in place. Other states may now want to take advantage of its generous federal payment rate for new enrollees. Rising costs are likely to be a problem both for states and the federal government.

Medicaid also will remain as an open-ended entitlement program, with the federal government matching a share of what each state spends on care for beneficiaries. The national average is about 60 percent.

Overhaul efforts will continue, but state governors will take the lead. Expect the federal Health and Human Services department under Secretary Tom Price to be receptive.

___

INDIVIDUAL HEALTH INSURANCE

Status: The health law was meant to expand and stabilize the market for individual health insurance, through which roughly 20 million people get coverage. It's been a roller-coaster ride instead. As sicker, costlier customers came into the market, premiums and deductibles shot up. Consumers eligible for the law's income-related subsidies were cushioned, but millions who still pay their own way are in shock. Former President Bill Clinton, in a candid moment, called it a "crazy system." Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has pronounced the ACA's health insurance markets in a "death spiral."

Outlook: Unclear, with analysts offering different opinions. The "glass-half-full" view is that this year's premium increases will help stabilize the market, and 2018 probably won't bring another wild ride. The "glass-half-empty" view is that the markets continue to struggle to attract young, healthy customers, and that's going to keep pushing premiums higher, making coverage unattractive.

In the mix is a political wild card. The Trump administration will have to decide whether to continue paying billions in cost-sharing subsidies that help reduce deductibles for more than half of the consumers using markets like HealthCare.gov. The GOP House has challenged the subsidies in court. Insurers say the system would be unworkable without the money.

Finally, no one seems to have an answer for the problems of people who pay the full cost of their individually purchased health insurance policies. They get no help from the government to shield them from rising premiums. And they complain of fewer available low-premium options as a consequence of federal regulation.

Consumers using HealthCare.gov have also found they have fewer choices as some insurers exited the markets. About one-third of counties currently have just one marketplace insurer.

___

COVERAGE PENALTY

Status: As a way to get healthy people into the insurance pool, the ACA imposes tax penalties on uninsured people deemed able to afford coverage. Last year 6.5 million people paid penalties averaging $470, according to the IRS. An additional 12.7 million people claimed exemptions for financial hardship and other reasons. Some young adults in good health decide to pay the fine because they can't squeeze $100 a month for premiums out of their already tight budgets. Experts argue about whether the unpopular requirement has been particularly effective.

Outlook: The penalty remains the law of the land, but the Trump administration isn't likely to make enforcement a priority.

___

OLDER ADULTS

Status: Obama's law limited what insurers could charge their oldest, pre-Medicare customers to no more than three times what they charge young adults.

Outlook: That limitation remains in place for now. Congressional Republicans will keep looking for ways to loosen it, arguing that it would help lower premiums for young adults and help make insurance markets stronger. A budget bill could provide a vehicle for changes.

___

ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS

Status: The ACA requires insurers to cover "essential benefits," including outpatient care, emergency services, hospitalization, pregnancy, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitation, laboratory and diagnostic tests, preventive and wellness services, and pediatric care, including dental and vision services for kids.

The benefits are considered especially important for women, since birth control and other routine services are now covered as preventive care, at no charge.

Outlook: The ACA's benefits requirement remains in place. Republicans say it drives up costs, but convincing consumers of that will be difficult.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Compare the Withdrawn GOP Health Bill With Obama-Era Law]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:43:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/650498064-Paul-Ryan-American-Health-Care-Act.jpg

The now-withdrawn House health care bill repeals major parts of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, or ACA, as Republicans push to scale back the federal government's role in health care.

The bill, short of votes, has been withdrawn Friday afterday.

Some elements of the Obama-era law are maintained in the pulled House GOP legislation. For example, parents can keep young adult children on their plans until age 26. And insurers can't turn away people with pre-existing medical problems. But Republicans hoped to scrap other requirements, including essential benefits such as maternity care coverage.

How the House bill, called the American Health Care Act, would have compared with the ACA:

COVERAGE

    ACA: About 11 million people are covered by expanded Medicaid in the 31 states that accepted it. Nationwide, an additional 12 million buy private health insurance through government-sponsored markets that offer subsidized premiums, catering to consumers who don't have job-based coverage. The uninsured rate is below 9 percent, a historic low. But people who make too much to get subsidies — those in the solid middle class and above — have seen steep premium increases and fewer options.
  • House GOP: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Republican bill will result in 24 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026, compared to the ACA.

OLDER ADULTS

  • ACA: Insurers can charge their oldest customers no more than 3 times what they charge young adults. That benefits older adults more prone to illness but has made coverage costly for young people, who maybe just need a prescription for allergy medicine. ACA tax credits to help pay premiums are keyed to income and the cost of insurance in local communities. Obama's law also offers cost-sharing subsidies that help low-to-moderate income people with out-of-pocket medical expenses, cutting deductibles from several thousand dollars to several hundred.
  • House GOP: Insurers can charge older customers 5 times what they charge young adults, more if a state allows it. Tax credits are keyed to age, with people over 60 but still too young for Medicare getting $4,000, double what someone under 30 would get. Still, groups like AARP say the combination of higher premiums and less aid for those with modest incomes translates to an "age tax" on older adults. They're concerned that age-based tax credits may be unsuitable for areas of the country with high medical costs. They're also worried about the repeal of cost-sharing subsidies in the GOP plan.

House Republicans acknowledge there's more work to be done to improve the math for older adults, and they have taken steps in their legislation to free up additional financing that the Senate can tap for that purpose. They've also created a big market stability fund for states, and they say money from the fund can be used to provide cost-sharing subsidies if states so choose.

MEDICAID

  • ACA: States that accept expanded Medicaid receive a generous federal match. The expansion covers people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,640 for an individual. Most new beneficiaries are low-income adults with no children at home.

Medicaid is now the country's largest health insurance program, covering more than 70 million people. The federal-state program remains an open-ended entitlement, allowing states to draw down federal money for a portion of health costs incurred by low-income people.

  • House GOP: Ends the higher federal match for Medicaid expansion beneficiaries; Republicans say it makes no sense to provide more generous payments for able-bodied adults than for children or the disabled. States that already expanded Medicaid can continue to receive some enhanced federal payments, but only for "grandfathered" enrollees already covered.

Of much greater significance, the bill would overhaul the underlying framework of Medicaid, ending its open-ended federal financing. Each state would receive a limited, per-beneficiary amount based on enrollment and costs. Federal payments would be increased according to a measure of medical inflation, with higher increases for elderly, blind and disabled beneficiaries.

States would also be able to select a block grant to finance their Medicaid programs. And they could impose work requirements on able-bodied adults.

The budget office says the bill would reduce projected federal Medicaid spending by about $840 billion from 2017-2026, and roughly 14 million fewer people would be enrolled by 2026.

ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS

  • ACA: Requires insurers to cover "essential benefits," including outpatient care, emergency services, hospitalization, pregnancy, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitation, laboratory and diagnostic tests, preventive and wellness services, and pediatric care, including dental and vision services for kids. The benefits are considered especially important for women, since birth control and other routine services are now covered as preventive care, at no charge.
  • House GOP: Repeals essential benefits at the federal level, returning that responsibility to the states, where it previously resided. Republicans say they're not out to gut consumer protections, but that without federal requirements many consumers could find plans with lower premiums. For example, an older married couple might not be interested in a plan that provides maternity benefits. Doctors groups say consumers who buy limited insurance plans take a risk.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Forces a Vote on Health Care Bill ]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:18:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HealthCareAM0324_MP4-149036463772500001.jpg

President Trump has issued an ultimatum to House Republicans on the health care bill designed to repeal and replace "Obamacare": vote today or no deal. If there's no deal, then Obamacare stands. In the option on the table, conservatives want to get rid of guaranteed coverage for maternity leave, mental health and emergencies. Some 32 Republicans were ready to vote no, enough to keep the bill from passing, but jockeying for support continued Friday ahead of the vote.]]>
<![CDATA[Critics Scoff at All-Male Photo of GOP Health Care Talks]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:26:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/VP-Freedom-Caucus-Meeting-Men.jpg

A lack of women in a photo of negotiations over the Republicans' health care bill that was tweeted out by the vice president is drawing criticism from Democrats and other critics concerned over the bill's repercussions for women's health.

The photo shows Vice President Mike Pence at the center of a conference table during negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus. About two dozen men can be seen in the photo and not a single woman.

Washington U.S. Sen. Patty Murray drew attention to the absence of women in the room by retweeting the photo and sarcastically adding, "A rare look inside the GOP's women's health caucus."

A repeal of a maternity care requirement is among the concessions the Freedom Caucus is demanding in exchange for support of the bill.

There were more sources of outrage for supporters of government funding for women's health care on Thursday.

A Republican senator had to apologize for a comment about the possibility the bill would ease federal requirements on coverage of basic services like mammograms.

"I wouldn't want to lose my mammograms," said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas when asked about the bill's potential changes in an interview with a reporter for Talking Points Memo.

He later tweeted an apology: "I deeply regret my comments on a very important topic. Mammograms are essential to women's health & I never intended to indicate otherwise."

The comment had drawn flak on social media, as did another on women's health issues by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

Asked about the issue, he said, "I think if you're an older man, you probably won't need maternity coverage."

There were 10.5 million children born in the U.S. with fathers between 40 and 44 years old between the years 2006 and 2010, according a National Health Statistics report.

President Donald Trump had his youngest child at the age of 59.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: @VP / Twitter]]>
<![CDATA[No Repeal for 'Obamacare' in Humiliating Defeat for Trump]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 23:20:00 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ryan-trump-healthcare.jpg

In a humiliating failure, President Donald Trump and GOP leaders pulled their bill to repeal "Obamacare" off the House floor Friday when it became clear it would fail badly — after seven years of nonstop railing against the law. Democrats said Americans can "breathe a sigh of relief." Trump said the current law was imploding "and soon will explode."

Thwarted by two factions of fellow Republicans, from the center and far right, House Speaker Paul Ryan said President Barack Obama's health care law, the GOP's No. 1 target in the new Trump administration, will remain in place "for the foreseeable future."

It was a stunning defeat for the new president after he had demanded House Republicans delay no longer and vote on the legislation Friday, pass or fail.

His gamble failed. Instead Trump, who campaigned as a master deal-maker and claimed that he alone could fix the nation's health care system, saw his ultimatum rejected by Republican lawmakers who made clear they answer to their own voters, not to the president.

He "never said repeal and replace it in 64 days," a dejected but still combative Trump said at the White House, though he repeatedly shouted during the presidential campaign that it was going down on Day One of his term.

The bill was withdrawn just minutes before the House vote was to occur, and lawmakers said there were no plans to revisit the issue. Republicans will try to move ahead on other agenda items, including overhauling the tax code, though the failure on the health bill can only make whatever comes next immeasurably harder.

Trump pinned the blame on Democrats.

"With no Democrat support we couldn't quite get there," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "We learned about loyalty, we learned a lot about the vote-getting process."

The Obama law was approved in 2010 with no Republican votes.

Despite reports of backbiting from administration officials toward Ryan, Trump said: "I like Speaker Ryan. ... I think Paul really worked hard."

For his part, Ryan told reporters: "We came really close today but we came up short. This is a disappointing day for us." He said the president has "really been fantastic."

But when asked how Republicans could face voters after their failure to make good on years of promises, Ryan quietly said: "It's a really good question. I wish I had a better answer for you."

Last fall, Republicans used the issue to gain and keep control of the White House, Senate and House. During the previous years, they had cast dozens of votes to repeal Obama's law in full or in part, but when they finally got the chance to pass a repeal version that actually had a chance to become law, they couldn't deliver.

Democrats could hardly contain their satisfaction.

"Today is a great day for our country, what happened on the floor is a victory for the American people," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who as speaker herself helped Obama pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place. "Let's just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief for the American people."

The outcome leaves both Ryan and Trump weakened politically.

For the president, this piles a big early congressional defeat onto the continuing inquiries into his presidential campaign's Russia connections and his unfounded wiretapping allegations against Obama.

Ryan was not able to corral the House Freedom Caucus, the restive band of conservatives that ousted the previous speaker. Those Republicans wanted the bill to go much further, while some GOP moderates felt it went too far.

Instead of picking up support as Friday wore on, the bill went the other direction, with several key lawmakers coming out in opposition. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chairman of a major committee, Appropriations, said the bill would raise costs unacceptably on his constituents.

The defections raised the possibility that the bill would not only lose on the floor, but lose big.

The GOP bill would have eliminated the Obama statute's unpopular fines on people who do not obtain coverage and would also have removed the often-generous subsidies for those who purchase insurance.

Republican tax credits would have been based on age, not income like Obama's, and the tax boosts Obama imposed on higher-earning people and health care companies would have been repealed. The bill would have ended Obama's Medicaid expansion and trimmed future federal financing for the federal-state program, letting states impose work requirements on some of the 70 million beneficiaries.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican bill would have resulted in 24 million additional uninsured people in a decade and lead to higher out-of-pocket medical costs for many lower-income and people just shy of age 65 when they would become eligible for Medicare. The bill would have blocked federal payments for a year to Planned Parenthood.

Republicans had never built a constituency for the legislation, and in the end the nearly uniform opposition from hospitals, doctors, nurses, the AARP, consumer groups and others weighed heavily with many members. On the other side, conservative groups including the Koch outfit argued the legislation did not go far enough in uprooting Obamacare.

When Ryan made his announcement to lawmakers at a very brief meeting, he was greeted by a standing ovation in recognition of the support he still enjoys from many in Congress.

When the gathering broke up, Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that helped write the bill, told reporters: ""We gave it our best shot. That's it. It's done. D-O-N-E done. This bill is dead."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Science Says: Who and What is to Blame for Cancer?]]>Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:33:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancercells_generic_1200x675.jpg

Cancer patients often wonder "why me?" Does their tumor run in the family? Did they try hard enough to avoid risks like smoking, too much sun or a bad diet?

Lifestyle and heredity get the most blame but new research suggests random chance plays a bigger role than people realize: Healthy cells naturally make mistakes when they multiply, unavoidable typos in DNA that can leave new cells carrying cancer-prone genetic mutations.

How big? About two-thirds of the mutations that occur in various forms of cancer are due to those random copying errors, researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported Thursday in the journal Science.

Whoa: That doesn't mean most cases of cancer are due solely to "bad luck." It takes multiple mutations to turn cells into tumors — and a lot of cancer is preventable, the Hopkins team stressed, if people take proven protective steps.

Thursday's report is an estimate, based on a math model, that is sure to be hotly debated by scientists who say those unavoidable mistakes of nature play a much smaller role.

But whatever the ultimate number, the research offers a peek at how cancer may begin.

And it should help with the "why me" question from people who have "done everything we know can be done to prevent cancer but they still get it," said Hopkins' Dr. Bert Vogelstein, a pioneer in cancer genetics who co-authored the study. "They need to understand that these cancers would have occurred no matter what they did."

GENE MUTATIONS CAUSE CANCER BUT WHAT CAUSES THE MUTATIONS?

You might inherit some mutations, like flaws in BRCA genes that are infamous for causing aggressive breast and ovarian cancers in certain families.

More commonly, damage is caused by what scientists call environmental factors — the assault on DNA from the world around us and how we live our lives. There's a long list of risks: Cigarette smoke, UV light from the sun, other forms of radiation, certain hormones or viruses, an unhealthy diet, obesity and lack of exercise.

Then there are those random copy errors in cells — what Vogelstein calls our baseline rate of genetic mutations that will occur no matter how healthy we live.

One way to think of it: If we all have some mutations lurking in our cells anyway, that's yet another reason to avoid known risks that could push us over the edge.

 

HOW CELLS MAKE TYPOS

New cells are formed when an existing cell divides and copies its DNA, one cell turning into two. Every time DNA is copied, about three random mutations occur, Vogelstein said.

We all harbor these kinds of mutations and most don't hurt us because they're in genes that have nothing to do with cancer or the body's defense mechanisms spot and fix the damage, said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society, who wasn't involved in the new research.

But sometimes the errors hit the wrong spot and damage genes that can spur cancerous growth or genes that help the cell spot and fix problems. Then the damaged cells can survive to copy themselves, allowing important mutations to gradually build up over time. That's one reason the risk of cancer increases with age.

 

THE STUDY FINDINGS

Thursday's study follows 2015 research by Vogelstein and statistician Cristian Tomasetti that introduced the idea that a lot of cancer may be due to "bad luck," because those random DNA copying mistakes are more common in some kinds of cancer than others. Cancer prevention advocates worried the idea might sway people to give up on healthier lifestyles.

This time around, the duo analyzed mutations involved in 32 types of cancer to estimate that 66 percent of the gene flaws are due to random copy errors. Environmental and lifestyle factors account for another 29 percent, while inherited genes made up just 5 percent of the mutations.

 

DIFFERENT ORGANS, DIFFERENT RISKS

The same person can harbor a mix of mutations sparked by random DNA mistakes, heredity or environmental factors. And which is the most common factor differs by cancer, the Hopkins team said.

For example, they estimate that random cell errors account for 77 percent of critical mutations in pancreatic cancer — while still finding some caused by lifestyle risks like smoking. And the random DNA mistakes caused nearly all the mutations leading to childhood cancers, which is not surprising because youngsters have had little time to be exposed to environmental risks.

In contrast, most lung cancer mutations were the result of lifestyle factors, mainly from smoking. And while lung tissue doesn't multiply frequently, the small number of mutations caused by chance DNA errors might explain rare cases of never-smokers who still get sick.

"This paper is a good paper," said the cancer society's Brawley. "It gives prevention its due respect."

 

OTHER SCIENTISTS SEE MORE TO THE STORY

Estimates from Britain suggest 42 percent of cancers are potentially preventable with a healthy lifestyle, and the Hopkins team says their mutation research backs that idea.

But Dr. Yusuf Hannun, Stony Brook University's cancer center director, contends that's just the number known to be preventable today — researchers may discover additional environmental risks we can guard against in the future.

He said the Hopkins paper exaggerates the effect of the unavoidable DNA mistakes. His own 2015 research concluded they account for 10 to 30 percent of cancer cases.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Death Rates Up For Middle Age Whites With Little Education]]>Thu, 23 Mar 2017 17:52:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/employmenyt-application_1200x675.jpg

A sobering portrait of less-educated middle-age white Americans emerged Thursday with new research showing them dying disproportionately from what one expert calls "deaths of despair" — suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related diseases.

The new paper by two Princeton University economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, concludes that the trend is driven by the loss of steady middle-income jobs for those with a high school diploma or less.

The economists also argue that dwindling job opportunities have triggered broader problems for this group. They are more likely than their college-educated counterparts, for example, to be unemployed, unmarried or suffering from poor health.

"This is a story of the collapse of the white working class," Deaton said in an interview. "The labor market has very much turned against them."

Those dynamics helped fuel the rise of President Donald Trump, who won widespread support among whites with only a high school diploma. Yet Deaton said his policies are unlikely to reverse these trends, particularly the health care legislation now before the House that Trump is championing. That bill would lead to higher premiums for older Americans, the Congressional Budget Office has found.

"The policies that you see, seem almost perfectly designed to hurt the very people who voted for him," Deaton said.

Case and Deaton's paper, issued by the Brookings Institution, follows up on research they released in 2015 that first documented a sharp increase in mortality among middle-aged whites.

Since 1999, white men and women ages 45 through 54 have endured a sharp increase in "deaths of despair," Case and Deaton found in their earlier work. These include suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths such as liver failure.

In the paper released Thursday, Case and Deaton draw a clearer relationship between rising death rates and changes in the job market since the 1970s. They find that men without college degrees are less likely to receive rising incomes over time, a trend "consistent with men moving to lower and lower skilled jobs."

Other research has found that Americans with only high school diplomas are less likely to get married or purchase a home and more likely to get divorced if they do marry.

"It's not just their careers that have gone down the tubes, but their marriage prospects, their ability to raise children," said Deaton, who won the Nobel prize in economics in 2015 for his long-standing work on solutions to poverty. "That's the kind of thing that can lead people to despair."

The issues identified by Case and Deaton are likely contributing to a slight reversal in a decades-long trend of improving life-expectancy data. It's not entirely clear why these trends have affected whites much more than they have African-Americans or Hispanics, whose death rates are improving.

Case and Deaton note that many Hispanics are "markedly better off" than parents or grandparents who were born abroad, enabling a greater sense of optimism. African-Americans, they add, may have become more resilient to economic challenges given their long-standing disadvantages in the job market.

Other researchers have said that whites may have an easier time obtaining painkillers that are behind an epidemic of drug overdoses.

The data is clear, though: In 1999, the death rate for high school-educated whites ages 50 through 54 was 30 percent lower than the death rate for all African-Americans in that age group. By 2015, it was 30 percent higher.

The educational split is also growing. Even while the death rate for whites without a college degree is rising, the rate for whites who are college graduates is falling, Case and Deaton found.

The trends cut across diverse regions of the country, the researchers found. While the worst-hit spots include Appalachian states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, they also include such areas as Maine, Baltimore and eastern Washington state. The patterns are evident in rural sections and smaller cities as well as in some large metro areas, the research found.

Americans with less education are also faring much worse when compared with adults in other countries, Case and Deaton concluded. Death rates in Europe for people with limited education are falling — and in most countries, they're falling faster than death rates for those with more education.

For those reasons, Case and Deaton discount the notion that government disability benefit programs are responsible for some of these problems by enabling more Americans to stop working. Social welfare programs in Europe are typically more generous yet haven't caused a rise in death rates.

Given the long-running nature of these trends, many of which stem from the 1970s, reversing them could take years, Case and Deaton write. But there are immediate steps that could be taken, Deaton said in the interview. Routine prescriptions for opioids should be cut back.

And, "Europe has a much better safety net than we do, and they're not seeing the same sort of problems as we are," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Bird Flu Outbreak Nation's Worst Since 2015: Expert]]>Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:55:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/EggPricesChickens-AP_16197600754915.jpg

A bird flu outbreak that has led officials to euthanize more than 200,000 animals in three Southern states already is the nation's worst since 2015 and new cases are still popping up, an expert said Wednesday.

Agriculture officials are trying to limit the damage, but it's unclear whether quarantines, transportation bans and mass killings will stop the spread, said Joseph Hess, a poultry science professor at Auburn University.

The disease was first confirmed in southern Tennessee earlier this month and has since been detected in northern Alabama and western Kentucky.

"We're at the point where it's a little here and a little there. It could fade away, but it could blow up into something bigger," said Hess, who also works with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

State officials say no infected birds have entered the nation's poultry supply, and the U.S. food chain isn't at risk.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it was temporarily banning the transportation of poultry after a low-pathogenic form of the disease was found in a commercial flock of 22,000 hens in western Kentucky. The farm was placed under quarantine and the birds were killed.

The announcement came as the state of Alabama confirmed the presence of low-pathogenic bird flu in two flocks there, where more than 42,000 animals have been euthanized. High-pathogenic bird flu, a deadlier form of the illness, was previously detected in Tennessee, where 145,000 birds were put to death.

Hess said the illness is carried by waterfowl, which don't get ill but can pass along the disease to poultry.

The current outbreak has affected large commercial poultry houses, where at-risk birds often are put to death by the thousands with foam that smothers them, and smaller, backyard operations.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said a flock of 84,000 turkeys had been confirmed with a low-pathogenic bird flu virus in Wisconsin.

The viruses in the current outbreaks are different from the high-pathogenic virus that resulted in the loss of nearly 50 million birds in the Midwest chicken egg and turkey industry in 2015.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: File, AP/Charlie Neibergall]]>
<![CDATA[Seniors Worry About Loss of Meals Under Trump Budget Plan]]>Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:27:02 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/IMG_82502.jpg

Dale Lamphier, 97, never married and her closest living relatives―three nephews―live across the country. About two years ago, she moved to a senior housing complex in Westwood, New Jersey, a town she has lived in her whole life. She has been using the meal delivery service Meals on Wheels since her brother died about three years ago.

"Meals on Wheels is important because I can't do much shopping―very little," she said. "And I can't carry things. There are a lot of people here that can't."

There is a Trader Joe's about a block from her complex, which she walks to, but not often. She relies on her daily meal delivery.

North Jersey is just one of the thousands of Meals on Wheels branches that could see cuts to its funding under President Donald Trump's proposed budget plan. Jeanne Martin, the executive director of Meals on Wheels North Jersey, said her program reaches about 220 senior citizens across 30 towns in northern Bergen County. If Trump's budget plan passes, her branch will lose about $32,000―10 percent of her annual budget―and potentially more money from other Department of Health and Human Services grants.

As a whole, the national Meals on Wheels organization receives about 35 percent of its funding from the federal government. Trump is proposing to end the Community Development Block Grants, one of many federal grants that fund the program. Other cuts to Health and Human Services, the parent agency for Meals on Wheels, also could affect the program negatively, but the magnitude of those cuts is unknown. 

Martin has been the executive director of Meals on Wheels in North Jersey for 12 years. She said she has never seen a federal cut this large.

"I don't see any room for us in that budget," she said. "I haven't seen any positive things coming from [the Trump administration] in the social services or the senior service so far."

"It is going to impact our program," she said. "We're not going to be able to offer the subsidies to our clients that they really need."

Andre Sitbon, a Holocaust survivor in his early 90s, has been using Meals on Wheels for more than five years out of the Westwood seniors complex. Around three years ago Sitbon's wife died and he started having severe eye problems, which interfered with his love of cooking. He said the program "receives you with arms open," with extremely friendly staff and good food. On Monday he received meatloaf, mashed potatoes and mixed greens.

Another senior, a 65-year old mentally disabled man, had virtually nothing in his fridge except the two meals―one hot, one cold―that Martin delivered to him Monday morning. The only other parcels were an apple and a small carton of milk, which were given to him by Meals on Wheels the day before.

Martin estimated that about 30 percent of the seniors in her program are no longer visited by family and, like Lamphier, are isolated. Martin said the 550 local volunteer drivers who deliver the meals are often the ones who report health problems and find fallen or sick seniors. Meals on Wheels, she said, is "more than just a meal."

"We're helping people stay in their homes, which is where they want to stay," she said. "It's keeping people out of nursing homes. And they want to spend the rest of the time they have on this world in their homes and we're doing the best we can to give them that."

When Martin became director there were about 100 seniors in the program. The number has more than doubled during her tenure, though she thinks that there are hundreds more seniors who need assistance but are too isolated or too worried about appearing needy to receive help.

If Martin loses funding she would have to make changes to the program's model. The food is now prepared by four local nursing homes to meet federal guidelines. But if the program no longer receives federal funds, it would be free to receive donated meals from volunteers.

"It seems to me that all of the programs that support our most needy, vulnerable populations are the ones that are being jeopardized," said John Birkner Jr., the mayor of Westwood. He also said that recent comments made by Trump administration officials "trivialize" the importance of programs like Meals on Wheels.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, called Meals on Wheels a program that is "just not showing any results." 

"We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good," he said at a news conference last Thursday. "Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that's a state decision to fund that particular portion, to take the federal money and give it to the states, and say look, we want to give you money for programs that don't work."

Martin called Mulvaney’s comments "insulting" and said he "couldn’t be more wrong."

Supporters have cited studies to back their case. A University of Illinois review in 2013 of home-delivery programs for seniors found that they "significantly improve" the nutritional quality of diets, as well as increased chances for socialization and an overall "higher quality of life."

Another study in 2015 by Brown University researchers found multiple benefits of Meals on Wheels for senior citizens, including reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness, an increased feeling of security and fewer falls and hospitalizations.

Martin said the cost of a year's worth of meals from her program was $1,500. She compared that to the cost of a one-day hospitalization. 

"So, if we're keeping someone well-nourished and doing a well-check on them, we're saving the government money by keeping them out of the hospital," Martin said. 

Meals on Wheels has about 5,000 local and state delivery programs that supply food to isolated, disabled or poor seniors. In 2016, they served about 2.4 million people, including more than 500,000 veterans.

National Meals on Wheels spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette confirmed to NBC that the program has seen a significant spike in donations since Mulvaney’s comments last Thursday. On a typical day, the nonprofit receives about $1,000 in individual online donations.

Three days after the preliminary budget was released, Meals on Wheels had received about $140,000 in donations. On Tuesday, the nonprofit told The Associated Press that it had received an additional $50,000 donation from NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 

Bertolette said the organization was "thrilled about the public’s passionate support" but also said the additional donations could not replace what it gets from the federal government.

The portion of Meals on Wheels' budget that comes from the federal government is part of the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, which falls under Health and Human Services. Trump is calling for an 18 percent cut to the department.

Each state uses Community Block Development Grants differently, so the amount that funds Meals on Wheels per branch varies widely. For example, one program in the suburbs of Detroit could lose 30 percent of its budget; on the other end, New York City's Meals on Wheels is funded through other grants, so it is not affected by the potential loss of Community Block Development Grants.

The program is also funded by private money.

"Cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America," Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, said in a statement.

The cuts are no sure thing. Congress must pass the budget that Trump has outlined and there has already been support from both sides of the aisle for Meals on Wheels.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted that cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels "jeopardizes the health and safety of the poor."

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., told CNN he would "never vote to cut even one dollar" of Meals on Wheels.

Since Mulvaney's comments last week, Martin has gained three more volunteers and an additional donor. 

Even if the budget doesn't cut as much as the 10 percent that is currently threatened, to Martin "a cut is a cut." 



Photo Credit: Shannon Ho
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<![CDATA[High Court Bolsters Rights of Learning-Disabled Students]]>Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:08:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17081573502374.jpg

A unanimous Supreme Court on Wednesday bolstered the rights of millions of learning-disabled students in a ruling that requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards. The court struck down a lower standard endorsed by President Donald Trump's nominee to the high court.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is not enough for school districts to get by with minimal instruction for special needs children. The school programs must be designed to let students make progress in light of their disabilities.

The ruling quickly led to tough questions at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the high court had just tossed out a standard that Gorsuch himself had used in a similar case that lowered the bar for educational achievement.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court sided with parents of an autistic teen in Colorado who said their public school did not do enough to help their son make progress. They sought reimbursement for the cost of sending him to private school.

The case helps clarify the scope of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that requires a "free and appropriate public education" for disabled students. Lower courts said even programs with minimal benefits can satisfy the law.

Roberts said the law requires an educational program "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances." He did not elaborate on what that progress should look like, saying it depends on the "unique circumstances" of each child. He added that there should also be deference to school officials.

"When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all," Roberts said. "For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out."

At Gorsuch's hearing, Durbin said the nominee had gone beyond the standards of his own appeals court by adding the word "merely" in his 2008 opinion approving the "de minimis" — or minimum — standard for special needs education. Durbin suggested that Gorsuch had lowered the bar even more.

Gorsuch, handed a copy of the ruling during a break on the third day of his hearings, noted that his panel reached its decision unanimously based on a 10-year-old precedent.

Durbin also said Gorsuch had ruled against disabled students in eight out of 10 cases dealing with the IDEA.

"To suggest I have some animus against children, senator, would be a mistake," Gorsuch said.

Later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed Gorsuch again, saying he added the word "merely" to the standard "to make it even more narrow."

Gorsuch responded: "I disagree."

Disability advocacy groups argued that schools must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs.

The ruling does not go as far as the parents wanted. They had argued that educational programs for disabled students should meet goals "substantially equal" to those for children without disabilities. Roberts rejected that standard, saying it was "entirely unworkable."

The court's decision to require a more demanding test for progress has major implications for about 6.4 million disabled students who want to advance in school and rely on special programs to make that happen. School officials had cautioned that imposing higher standards could be too costly for some cash-strapped districts. They warned that it could also lead parents to make unrealistic demands.

The case involved a boy known only as Endrew F. who attended public school outside Denver from kindergarten through fourth grades. He was given specialized instruction to deal with his learning and behavioral issues.

But Endrew's parents decided to send him to private school in 2010 after complaining about his lack of progress. They asked the school district to reimburse them for his tuition — about $70,000 a year — on the basis that public school officials weren't doing enough to meet their son's needs.

The Colorado Department of Education denied their claim, saying the school district had met the minimum standards required under the law. The federal appeals court in Denver upheld that decision, ruling that the school district satisfied its duty to offer more than a "de minimis" effort.

Disability advocacy groups cheered the ruling, saying it raises the expectations for learning-disabled students.

"It is now clear that schools must provide students with disabilities the supports they need to help them achieve meaningful and substantive educational goals," said Ira Burnim, legal director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said the court had issued a "measured" decision "that isn't really upsetting the apple cart." He said it would lead to schools more carefully tracking the progress of special needs students. But he praised the court for saying it would defer to the judgment of educational officials.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Born With 4 Legs, 2 Spines Survives Risky Surgery]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:59:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dominique+2.jpg

A 10-month-old baby born with four legs and two spines is recovering well after undergoing a complex and risky medical procedure in Chicago, doctors say.

Young Dominique came to Chicago from the Ivory Coast in West Africa with an extremely rare parasitic conjoined twin.

Doctors say the bottom half of her not-fully-developed twins’ body was protruding from the infant’s neck and back.

“It’s very rare because it was attached at the back of her spine,” said Dr. John Ruge, a pediatric neurosurgeon. “It was as if the twin from the waist down had been attached to the back of Dominique’s neck and there was a pelvis and bladder and functional legs that moved and feet coming out the back of Dominique’s neck. This was very dangerous for Dominique.”

Ruge said the parasitic twin caused Dominique’s heart and lungs to do the work for two bodies and could have ultimately paralyzed her.

The child was brought to Chicago in February with the help of an organization called Children’s Medical Missions West and has been living with a host family while doctors at Advocate Children’s Hospital meticulously studied her case.

“It’s really hard to even put a number on how rare it is,” said Dr. Robert Kellogg.

Despite her condition, her host family said the child had a bubbly personality and was a “very happy baby” when she arrived in the U.S.

“If you can say love at first sight I think that’s true for us,” said Nancy Swabb, who has been caring for Dominique since her arrival.

The Swabbs said the decision to take in the child was made quickly, with Dominique arriving at their home about a week after they learned of her case.

“I saw a picture of Dominique with her extra limbs and one concern that we had before we met her was what can she wear?” Swabb said.

The family later learned Dominique had difficulties balancing and sitting up because of the added weight from the extra limbs.

After weeks of planning, on March 8, Dominique underwent a six-hour surgery that involved five surgeons and 50 clinicians.

“The surgery went very well,” said Kellogg. “There were no complications. We expect her to make a full recovery and live an essentially normal life from here on.”

Dominique continues to recover at her host family’s Edgebrook home. Doctors say once the recovery process is complete, the infant can return home to her family in Africa.

“She is about 2 pounds lighter and she sits up and she’s raising her hands and she reaches for things and she’s doing really well,” Swabb said.

Doctors said Dominique is now “essentially a normal baby” and are confident she can go on to live a healthy life.

“I think it is very unique but it was a unique child that brought us together,” Kellogg said.



Photo Credit: Advocate Children's Hospital
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<![CDATA[Here Are the Republicans Who May Reject Health Care Bill]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 17:25:59 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/649341198-GOP-Health-Care-Bill.jpg

President Donald Trump campaigned on the promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and replace it with "something terrific." Now, House Republicans are in danger of losing a vote on their health care bill, the American Health Care Act — a defeat that would cause setbacks for the party and for the president.

According to a tally by NBC News, as of Tuesday afternoon at least 25 Republicans have said they will vote against or are leaning toward voting against the bill. Voting is expected to occur Thursday.

Republican leadership has been busy trying to secure the 216 votes needed to pass the bill, which means they can lose the support of only 21 Republicans. After traveling to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning in an attempt to close the deal, Trump has invited about nine moderate, undecided Republicans to the White House Tuesday afternoon in another attempt at persuasion.



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA: Breast Implants Can Cause Rare Form of Cancer]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:03:40 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/implants-new.jpg

Breast implants can cause a rare form of cancer that may have killed at least nine people, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday, NBC News reported.

The cancer is called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) and the FDA is checking into more than 350 reports linking it with both silicone and saline breast implants.

ALCL, which is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, can take about 10 years to develop on average after the implant first goes in and usually stays in the area right around the implant, World Health Organization researchers reported last year in the journal Blood. But it can break out and spread.

"All of the information to date suggests that women with breast implants have a very low but increased risk of developing ALCL compared to women who do not have breast implants," the FDA said in a statement.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Infant Mortality Rates Fall 15 Percent in US]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:58:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/babypacifier_1200x675.jpg

Fewer babies are dying in the United States than a decade ago, according to NBC News.

The U.S. infant mortality rate, which is higher than in other developed countries, is down 15 percent over the last 10 years, federal researchers reported Tuesday.

"Infant mortality is considered a basic measure of public health for countries around the world," wrote Anne Driscoll and T.J. Mathews of the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers pointed to a high teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S. compared to other countries as one of several factors behind the comparatively high rate of babies dying. Teenagers are more likely to have small and premature babies.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump to GOP: Pass Health Care Bill or Seal Your Fate]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 21:06:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Trump-Price-AHCA.jpg

Time for talk running out, President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned wavering House Republicans that their jobs were on the line in next year's elections if they failed to back a GOP bill that would overhaul Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

The countdown quickened toward an expected vote Thursday on legislation undoing much of the law that provided health coverage to some 20 million Americans. Trump huddled behind closed doors with rank-and-file Republicans just hours after GOP leaders unveiled changes intended to pick up votes by doling out concessions to centrists and hardliners alike.

"If we fail to get it done, fail to (meet) the promises made by all of us, including the president, then it could have a very detrimental effect to Republicans in '18 who are running for re-election," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. "If it fails, then there will be a lot of people looking for work in 2018."

Trump's message to Republicans: "If you don't pass the bill there could be political costs," said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.

The outlook for House passage remains dicey even with the revisions.

The GOP bill would scale back the role of government in the private health insurance market, and limit future federal financing for Medicaid. It would also repeal tax cuts on the wealthy that Democrats used to pay for Obama's coverage expansion. Fines enforcing the Obama-era requirement that virtually all Americans have coverage would be eliminated.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 24 million fewer people will have health insurance in 2026 under the GOP bill.

Trump warned House Republicans they'd seal their political doom if they waver, with the party potentially losing majority control of the House. Still, several conservatives were steadfast in their opposition even after the session with Trump and the leadership's changes.

"The president wouldn't have been here this morning if they have the votes," said Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, a member of the Freedom Caucus who complained that the GOP bill leaves too much government regulation in place.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he was convinced to back the bill in part by Trump's urging and the changes.

"I think a vote 'no' is a vote for Obamacare," Bacon said. "We can vote for this, and continue to make it better. I intend to vote 'yes' Thursday."

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters that if Republicans pass the legislation, "people will reward us. If we don't keep our promise, it will be very hard to manage this."

If the bill advances, prospects are uncertain in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority. Six GOP senators have expressed deep misgivings including Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who said Tuesday he cannot support the House bill.

In an Associated Press interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled he'd use Trump's clout to pressure unhappy Republicans in his chamber. McConnell said he's optimistic that in the end no Republican senator will want to be held responsible for "Obamacare's" survival.

"I would hate to be a Republican whose vote prevented us from keeping the commitment we've made to the American people for almost 10 years now," McConnell said.

The House GOP bill would end Obama-era subsidies based on peoples' incomes and the cost of insurance. A Medicaid expansion to 11 million more low-income people would disappear.

Instead, the bill would provide tax credits based chiefly on age to help people pay premiums. But insurers could charge older consumers five times the premiums they charge younger people instead of Obama's 3-1 limit, and would boost premiums 30 percent for those who let coverage lapse.

The revisions by House GOP leaders to round up votes come at a cost — literally. Congressional budget experts had projected that the original bill would cut federal deficits by $337 billion over a decade. But that amount is dwindling as top Republicans dole out provisions helping older and disabled people.

To address criticism that the bill would leave many older people with higher costs, GOP leaders have taken an unusual approach. They added language paving the way for the Senate, if it chooses, to make the bill's tax credit more generous for people age 50-64. Republicans said the plan sets aside $85 billion over 10 years for that purpose. And the income tax threshold for deducting medical expenses would be lowered to 5.8 percent, from the current 10 percent.

The leaders' proposals would accelerate the repeal of tax increases Obama imposed on higher earners, the medical industry and others.

On Medicaid, the changes would provide higher federal payments to help states care for older and disabled beneficiaries. States would be able to impose work requirements for able-bodied adults. But the bill would still limit future federal financing for Medicaid, seen by many state officials as a cost shift.

In a bid to cement support from upstate New Yorkers, the revisions would also stop that state from passing on over $2 billion a year in Medicaid costs to upstate counties, though it exempts Democratic-run New York City from that protection.

Democrats remain solidly opposed to the GOP repeal effort.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., said Trump told Republicans he would campaign for them if they backed the bill.

Associated Press reporters Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking, Richard Lardner, Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Iowa contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Goes Outside DC for Support on Revised GOP Health Bill]]>Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:45:42 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tru1AP_17080015521172.jpg

President Donald Trump is deploying an outside and inside strategy to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare," seeking support beyond Washington before making an in-person pitch on Capitol Hill. Top House Republicans unveiled proposed changes in their legislation in hopes of winning support, three days before the big House vote.

Trump rallied supporters Monday night in Louisville, Kentucky, alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after meetings and phone calls in Washington aimed at steadying the troubled legislation designed to erase President Barack Obama's signature health care law. He planned to court House Republicans on Tuesday.

"We want a very big tax cut, but cannot do that until we keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as 'Obamacare,'" Trump told the crowd of thousands in Louisville. "This is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of 'Obamacare.' It's a long-awaited chance. We're going to do it," he said.

With their showpiece bill revamping the 2010 health care law at stake, House GOP leaders released 43 pages of revisions to the legislation in hopes of rounding up votes.

The measure would pave the way for the Senate, if it chooses, to make the bill's tax credit more generous for people age 50 to 65. Details in the documents released were unclear, but one GOP lawmaker and an aide said the language sets aside $85 billion over 10 years for that purpose.

The measure would also accelerate the repeal of tax increases on higher earners, the medical industry and others to this year instead of 2018. It would be easier for people to deduct expenses from their taxes, and older and disabled Medicaid beneficiaries would get larger benefits.

It would also curb future Medicaid growth and let states impose work requirements on some recipients.

Many GOP opponents were unhappy that nonpartisan analysts said their party's legislation would drive up costs for older people. The leaders' changes were aimed at addressing those concerns.

Trump resumed his campaign-style events at the start of a consequential week for his young presidency. Confirmation hearings for his nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, opened Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House was expected to vote Thursday on the GOP-backed health care bill.

Trump's Louisville rally, his third since his inauguration, followed a daylong congressional hearing in which FBI Director James Comey acknowledged for the first time that the agency was investigating whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russian officials seeking to influence the 2016 campaign.

Many hard-line conservatives have pushed for a more complete repeal of Obama's law, including its requirement that policies cover a long list of services, which they say drives up premiums. They also complain that the GOP bill's tax credits create an overly generous benefit the federal government cannot afford.

Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, have said the tax credits are too limited and would hurt low earners and older patients. They also worry the plan would leave too many people uninsured, pointing to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis that estimated 24 million people would lose coverage over 10 years.

At the rally, Trump suggested he wasn't wedded to the current version of bill. "We're going to negotiate. And it's going to go to the Senate and back and forth," he said, assuring that the "end result is going to be wonderful and it's going to work great."

The White House was trying to win over conservatives who are part of the House Freedom Caucus, including the group's chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows joined two Senate conservatives, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, for a weekend meeting at Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, with top White House aide Steve Bannon and other White House officials.

The rally Monday night was the Trump administration's second high-profile event in Kentucky in 10 days and took the president to the home state of one of the most outspoken critics of the plan, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Vice President Mike Pence was in Louisville earlier this month to build support for the Trump-backed bill.

Paul said Monday to a group of Louisville business leaders that he hoped the Republican bill would fail so that "true negotiations" could begin. The senator, who was re-elected last year, has dismissed it as "Obamacare lite" and asserted that the bill had no chance of becoming law.

Paul was not attending the rally, saying he planned to fly back to Washington to continue building a coalition to defeat the plan.

But Trump called him out nonetheless, saying he hoped Paul would come onboard.

"I happen to like a lot Sen. Rand Paul. I do," Trump said. "He's a good guy. And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed, in some form, so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can't do until this happens. So we gotta get this done."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Already in Peril, Rural Hospitals Unsure on Health Care Bill]]>Mon, 20 Mar 2017 12:31:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ruralhospital_Georgia_1200x675.jpg

Talmadge Yarbrough had just sat down at his desk and opened a box of pecans when he let out a gasp that could have been his last breath. He'd gone into cardiac arrest in his office, a co-worker called 911, and an ambulance drove him two miles to the small hospital that serves this rural community in southeast Georgia.

"I would have never lasted to get to Savannah or Statesboro," Yarbrough said of the biggest cities near Claxton — each 30 to 60 miles away. "I firmly believe if that hospital wasn't here, I wouldn't be here."

But like Yarbrough, the 10-bed Evans Memorial Hospital has fought to survive. That story is reflected nationwide — rural hospitals have long struggled, with patients who are older, suffer from chronic illnesses, and face few insurance options, if they're insured at all. Most rural hospitals have a higher-than-normal percentage of Medicaid patients; expected cuts to the federal program for low-income residents will affect facilities everywhere, but experts and administrators are particularly worried about rural areas. Still more rural patients are on Medicare, for those 65 and older, but both programs' reimbursements are lower than the cost of care.

Now, as Republicans in Washington put forward long-anticipated plans to get rid of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, rural hospitals and communities are watching the debate closely. But if they didn't fare too well under the ACA, many question whether they'd be better off under the plan backed by President Donald Trump.

At Evans Memorial, many blue-collar workers are unable to afford insurance but are too well-off for Medicaid, said chief financial officer John Wiggins. Such uninsured patients are perhaps the No. 1 problem for rural hospitals: Evans Memorial has been saddled with $3 million or more in unpaid medical bills in recent years.

But the hospital can't and won't turn away the uninsured — federal law prohibits it in emergencies. Recently, Dr. Kyle Parks performed an urgent gallbladder operation on an uninsured woman. "It is what we've always done — we take care of people, payer or no payer," Parks said. "But we're fighting a struggle to keep our little hospital open."

Evans Memorial, which opened in 1968, has managed to keep operating by seeking new revenue — for example, a new wing for dementia patients scheduled to open soon. But the hospital was in the red for four years before finding itself $50,000 in the black this year.

"We do not have fear of the doors closing, but we remember those days and we never get comfortable," said Nikki NeSmith, the CEO who doubles as chief nursing officer, in part to cut costs. "I don't think we'll be in that comfortable position anytime soon."

Meantime, other rural hospitals have shuttered — 80 since 2010, mostly in the South and Midwest, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. A wave of closures also hit in the 1980s and early '90s with changes in Medicare reimbursement, though Congress eventually increased that.

At Evans Memorial, about half the patients are covered by Medicare; 10 percent are on Medicaid. An uneven, state-by-state expansion of Medicaid has been a problem there and elsewhere. Georgia's among 19 states that didn't expand the program under the ACA. It's never been a popular proposal in rural Georgia, where Trump saw his strongest support in the state. But Evans CFO Wiggins said many of his uninsured patients would have qualified under an expansion.

The ACA was intended to slash the number of uninsured patients seeking care they could never afford at hospitals. It succeeded in rural areas, where overall the rate of uninsured people fell by 8 percent since full implementation of the law in 2014, said Brock Slabach, of the National Rural Health Association. But it fell more in urban areas, in part because of the dearth of choices in the exchanges set up under the ACA. Thirty to 40 percent of rural communities have only one company from which to pick.

Snap Lewis has been selling property and casualty insurance in Claxton for nearly four decades, and he said even he couldn't find affordable coverage after the ACA was implemented. He took a part-time job driving a school bus, with health benefits. He wakes up at 4:45 a.m. for his morning route, then heads to his insurance office at 8. He's back on a bus at 2 p.m. for his after-school route, and then sells insurance for another hour or so.

"I thought it was a very good plan," Lewis said, "if you can stand the hours."

But not all rural residents can — and many can't find jobs with insurance at all. At Evans Memorial, 10 percent of patients are uninsured.

Beyond the insurance, Medicare and Medicaid problems, rural hospitals face death by a thousand paper cuts: a nationwide trend toward outpatient care, trouble recruiting staff, industry consolidation, low-patient volume, and a preference by private-insurance clients for newer hospitals.

When rural hospitals are forced to close, the effects reverberate, a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation study shows. Such hospitals are often the community's largest employer, leading to job losses. Doctors and others leave the area. Closures also make it hard to attract outside employers or investors who want quick access to emergency rooms.

And for many rural health care workers, the GOP's new plan isn't calming nerves. At Evans Memorial, administrators say they haven't heard much in the proposal that sounds beneficial — besides perhaps the chance to allow Americans to shop for insurance across state lines. But officials recognize the tough task legislators have.

"I wouldn't want to be in a position where I needed to say, 'Here's what we need to do to fix it,'" said Parks, the hospital's surgeon. "Because I honestly don't know what that would be." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[How Do Insurers Decide What Medicines to Pay For?]]>Sat, 18 Mar 2017 02:26:17 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-102897463.jpg

How do insurance companies decide what medicines to pay for and when to pay for them?

Insurers and other payers look first at how well the drug works — not its cost — when they decide whether to cover the latest treatments, according to the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager, Express Scripts.

The price patients eventually pay gets determined later, when an insurance company or pharmacy benefits manager decides where a drug fits on a list of covered treatments called a formulary.

The cost of prescription drugs has become a growing source of concern with doctors and patients, but it's not a factor considered by an independent committee used by Express Script to determine coverage of a new drug, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Miller said.

That committee — 15 doctors and a pharmacist — reviews the information that federal regulators used to approve a drug and then decides whether it should be covered.

Some payer coverage decisions come with qualifications like a requirement that patients meet specific criteria or try other treatments first. That can limit patient access. Doctors say some patients have had trouble getting a new cholesterol-lowering drug, Repatha, that costs $14,000 a year, because of the restrictions.

Insurers largely use pharmacy benefits managers to set up the lists that determine how much a patient ends up paying. Some lists are divided into tiers, with drugs on the bottom generally being generic or least expensive. Those on the highest tier might include specialty medicines that could cost the patient hundreds of dollars even with coverage.

Whether a drug even gets on the list can depend on whether a similar medicine is already in the market. When the ground-breaking hepatitis C treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni from Gilead Sciences debuted a few years ago, Express Scripts had to include them. They cost more than $80,000 for a course of treatment, but the drugs essentially cure a debilitating disease and they had no competition.

But once the drugmaker AbbVie produced a third option, Viekira Pak, with a similar cure rate, Express Scripts was able to negotiate a price discount and switched to covering only Viekira Pak.

The nation's two largest pharmacy benefits managers, Express Scripts and CVS Health Corp., both say they cover Repatha.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Drug Cuts Cholesterol by Half]]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 17:11:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_cholesteroldrug0317_1500x845.jpg

A new drug proven to slash bad cholesterol by more than half of a patient's initial level may prove to be a boon to those worried about heart attacks and strokes. Repatha, a drug that could lower the risk of heart attack or strokes by 20 percent, is a $14,000 a month drug that is injected once or twice a month - a price point health insurance companies may not approve of.]]>
<![CDATA[Jurors Begin Deliberations in Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Trial]]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:07:37 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17075485521393.jpg

Jurors began deliberations Friday in the trial of a former executive charged in a 2012 U.S. meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and injured about 700 others in 20 states.

No verdict was reached Friday, and the jury will return to court on Monday morning.

Barry Cadden, the co-founder and former president of the New England Compounding Center, is charged in a massive racketeering indictment with second-degree murder in the deaths of 25 people, as well as fraud and other charges.

During closing arguments on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan told the jury that Cadden ran the company in an "extraordinarily dangerous" way, leading to contaminated steroids being shipped around the country, where doctors - trusting they were safe - injected them into patients who then became sick or died.

"It was preventable, but it happened because this man - Barry Cadden - decided to put profits before patients," Strachan said.

She said Cadden cut corners and failed to follow industry regulations for cleanliness and sterility in the so-called "clean rooms" at NECC, where drugs were manufactured. She said NECC did not sterilize drugs long enough, didn't test large enough samples and shipped out drugs before receiving the results of sterility tests.

Cadden's lawyer, Bruce Singal, told jurors that Cadden is not responsible for the deaths.

"As horrible as each of these stories is, there is nothing that shows that Mr. Cadden did something that the government can link to the death of that person," Singal said.

Singal said Glenn Chin, the supervisory pharmacist, was responsible for the day-to-day operations in the clean rooms and repeatedly allowed employees to cut corners, going against instructions from Cadden to "do it right." Chinn, who faces similar charges, is expected to go on trial after Cadden. He has pleaded not guilty.

Singal said prosecutors have "massively piled on" and appealed to the jurors' emotions to try to convict Cadden of murder.

"This is indeed a tragic death case, but it is not a murder case, and there is a big, big difference between the two," Singal said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Given Police Escort in Snowstorm 'Resting Comfortably']]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 12:08:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/The+Gingerlowskis.jpg

A 23-month-old Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, boy who was escorted by snowplows and state troopers for an emergency procedure during this week's snowstorm was resting comfortably Friday in a hospital. 

Bentley Gingerlowski has a rare congenital heart defect and on Tuesday he needed an emergency treatment. But it was at the height of a powerful snowstorm and the doctors equipped to do the procedure were 80 miles from where the boy was staying to Geisinger Medical System's Janet Weis Children's Hospital in Danville, Pennsylvania.

That's when seemingly the best of Pennsylvania's emergency personnel kicked in and provided a special escort in the blinding snow.  

The National Guard and Pennsylvania State Police teamed up with PennDOT.

Even Gov. Tom Wolf said state snowplows and troopers got the boy from Mt. Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg to Geisinger.

“We’re very grateful for each and every member of the team who provided service to get our son here safely,” said mom Nicole Gingerlowski, adding that Geisinger medical personnel helped coordinate the emergency transport.

On Friday, Bentley was "resting comfortably" with his parents, Nicole and Brian, the hospital said in a statement.

“To finally get here was a relief,” Nicole said. “To see your son that way was scary. He’s always been a fighter, but not knowing what would happen to him really was the scariest part.”

His parents rushed him to a nearby hospital initially because of a low platelet condition that caused external bleeding, the hospital said. The life-threatening condition has been stabilized, according to Geisinger, where Bentley was born.

The storm dropped more than 20 inches of snow and sleet in parts of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Geisinger Medical System
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<![CDATA[Cholesterol Drug Cuts Heart Risks, Spurs New Debate on Cost ]]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 10:29:28 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/repatha_cholest_prescription_1200x675.jpg

A long-acting cholesterol medicine cut the risk of having a heart attack or some other serious problems by 15 to 20 percent in a big study that's likely to spur fresh debate about what drugs should cost.

Statins such as Lipitor and Crestor are cheap and lower LDL or bad cholesterol, but some people can't tolerate or get enough help from them. The new drug, Amgen's Repatha, is given as a shot once or twice a month and is part of a novel class of medicines that drop LDL to unprecedented levels.

It costs more than $14,000 a year, and insurers have balked at paying without proof that it lowers heart risks, not just the cholesterol number. The new study gives that evidence, but the benefit is not as great as some doctors had hoped.

For every 200 people treated with Repatha for roughly two years, three fewer people would suffer a heart attack, stroke or heart-related death. But looked at by themselves, deaths were not reduced by the drug.

"That's a big benefit," said Dr. Marc Sabatine, the study leader, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. For millions of people with heart disease or high risk for it like those in the study, "it's worth it to be on this medicine."

But Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, preventive medicine chief at Northwestern University and an American Heart Association spokesman, called the results modest and "not quite what we hoped or expected."

Dr. Mark Hlatky, a Stanford University cardiologist and cost effectiveness researcher, said, "people were hoping for a breakthrough, a lot bigger result than 20 percent."

For patients like Susan Goodreds, whose insurance copay for Repatha is $356 a month, it's not an easy choice.

"It's an expensive, expensive drug," the 74-year-old Florida woman said. "You have to make some real decisions about whether to stay on it."

The results were published Friday by the New England Journal of Medicine and discussed at an American College of Cardiology conference.

Repatha and a similar drug, Praluent, called PCSK9 inhibitors, were approved in 2015 for people with inherited risk for high cholesterol, or heart disease that had already caused a problem such as a heart attack. The study tested Repatha in more than 27,500 people like this who had LDL above 70 (the recommended upper limit for such patients) despite maximum statin use.

After about two years, Repatha, used along with statins, reduced LDL from a median of 92 to 30. It also proved safe — side effects were similar to those from a dummy drug.

Repatha cut by 20 percent the combined risk of having either a heart attack, stroke or a heart-related death. That happened to nearly 6 percent of people on Repatha versus more than 7 percent on the dummy drug. The benefit grew with longer use, and was 25 percent the second year, said Sabatine, who consults for Amgen and other drugmakers.

The drug cut by 15 percent a broader set of problems — the ones above plus hospitalization for chest pain or an artery-opening procedure. Nearly 10 percent of folks on Repatha had one versus more than 11 percent on the dummy drug.

This last result is something insurers care about — preventing costly health care.

"That's the biggest issue — whether they're worth all the money," Hlatky said of the drugs. If they cost 50 times as much as statins, "are they 50 times better? I don't think so."

For now, "we should still probably reserve these for the highest risk patients where statins are not doing a good enough job — at least at the price they are currently offered," said Lloyd-Jones.

Amgen said the drug's value justifies its cost, and offered more deals for insurers, including refunds for people who have a heart attack or stroke after using Repatha for at least six months.

Dr. Seth Baum, president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology, said records from IMS Health, an information services company, show 83 percent of patients had claims rejected in the first year Repatha and Praluent were sold, and 26 percent of them won on appeal.

They include his patient, Goodreds, who was denied for seven months despite high genetic risk and a heart bypass.

"It's hard not to give that drug" to patients now that a benefit has been shown, said Baum, who consults for Amgen and Praluent's makers — Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi SA.

A study testing whether Praluent also lowers heart risks will wrap up later this year. The companies also are in a patent war over the drugs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Falls Are Taking a Huge and Rising Toll on Elderly Brains]]>Thu, 16 Mar 2017 18:06:13 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/elderly_people_1200x675.jpg

Elderly people are suffering concussions and other brain injuries from falls at what appear to be unprecedented rates, according to a new report from U.S. government researchers.

The reason for the increase isn't clear, the report's authors said. But one likely factor is that a growing number of elderly people are living at home and taking repeated tumbles, said one expert.

"Many older adults are afraid their independence will be taken away if they admit to falling, and so they minimize it," said Dr. Lauren Southerland, an Ohio State University emergency physician who specializes in geriatric care.

But what may seem like a mild initial fall may cause concussions or other problems that increase the chances of future falls — and more severe injuries, she said.

Whatever the cause, the numbers are striking, according to the new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in every 45 Americans 75 and older suffered brain injuries that resulted in emergency department visits, hospitalizations, or deaths in 2013. The rate for that age group jumped 76 percent from 2007. The rate of these injuries for people of all ages rose 39 percent over that time, hitting a record level, the CDC found.

The report, which explored brain injuries in general, also found an increase in brain injuries from suicides and suicide attempts, mainly gunshot wounds to the head. Brain injuries from car crashes fell.

But the elderly suffered at far higher rates than any other group.

It's well known that falls among the elderly are common. Older people are more likely to have impaired vision, dizziness and other de-stabilizing health problems, and are less likely than younger people to have the strength and agility to find their feet once they begin to lose their balance. The CDC had already reported that falls were the top cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older people; an estimated 27,000 Americans die each year from falls.

But even experts on elderly falls said the new numbers were striking.

Health officials have been increasing their focus on brain injuries among all ages, especially younger people. CDC investigators thought the overall rise in brain injuries might be mainly caused by rising awareness of sports-related head injuries in kids and young adults, and more diagnosis of injuries in that group that in the past were not recorded.

"But when we dug a little bit more into the numbers, we found the larger driver is older adult falls," said the CDC's Matt Breiding, a co-author of the new report.

The toll from elderly falls has been under-recognized by physicians and by seniors themselves, Southerland said. When falls do occur, older people tend to downplay it, she said.

But one fall can quickly lead to others. In a study published last year, Southerland and other Ohio State researchers found that more than a third of older adults with minor head injuries end up back in the ER within 90 days.

Even when they see a doctor, the future risk may be missed. In hospital emergency departments, it's not unusual for a 25-year-old athlete who fell on his head to get a more thorough evaluation for concussion than an elderly retiree, said Southerland, who is trying to develop a standard for assessing concussions in geriatric ER patients.

___

Online:

CDC report: http://tinyurl.com/gm5kuf3

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Critics Warn 'Phase 2' Won’t Save Health Care Plan]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 19:12:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/paulryan_healthcare_1200x675.jpg

Things aren't looking great for the Republican health care bill after the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would lead to 24 million more people without insurance and skyrocketing costs for older customers, NBC News reported.

But the White House and GOP leaders say that's only part of the story. 

The Republicans' "American Health Care Act" is only "Phase One" of their plan. In "Phase Two," the White House will lower premiums with tweaks to regulations. In "Phase Three," they'll pass new legislation to fill in gaps that can't be addressed through the budget process.

"The fact of the matter is with our whole plan every single American will have access to coverage," Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said on the "Today" show.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mental Health Groups Worry New GOP Plan Will End Coverage]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:19:32 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/naloxone-kit.jpg

Mental health groups say the new GOP health care bill would terminate mental health care and efforts to combat the opioid crisis, NBC News reported.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report on the bill on Monday, stating that billions of dollars would be saved in federal health spending, by way of cutting $880 billion from Medicaid. In addition to health groups, parents of children with special needs are also rallying against the proposed plan.

“Medicaid is the single largest payer of mental health and addiction treatment services in the country, paying 25 percent of all mental health and 20 percent of all addiction care,” the National Council for Behavioral Health said in a statement.

Without Medicaid’s subsidies, said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the council, people could wind up “homeless, in jail or dead.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that the bill does not intend to leave states out in the cold in combating the opioid epidemic.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Over 12M Signed Up for 'Obamacare' This Year: Gov't Report]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 17:59:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pryan-acha.jpg

A substantial 12 million people have enrolled for coverage this year under the very health care statute that President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress want to erase, the government said Wednesday.

With a crunch-time House vote on a GOP bill replacing that law planned for next week, Vice President Mike Pence ensured conservative lawmakers that the administration was open to changes.

Pence's trip to the Capitol, and an evening all-hands meeting of House Republicans to count votes, came as GOP leaders strained to win backing for besieged legislation that's uniformly opposed by Democrats. The bill would strike down much of former President Barack Obama's 2010 overhaul and reduce the federal role, including financing, for the nation's health care consumers.

"Where is the sweet spot, that's what we're working on," said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., among the conservatives who met with Pence. He said the vice president's pitch was: "The process is open, we're still working on it, bring your ideas forward and let's get a bill done."

With opposition from conservative and moderate GOP lawmakers endangering the measure in the House and Senate, President Donald Trump was expected to urge lawmakers to back the bill in remarks in Nashville, Tennessee. Health secretary Tom Price was using phone calls to lobby Republican governors, some of whom — with home-state GOP members of Congress — oppose the bill's phaseout of Obama's expansion of Medicaid to 11 million additional lower-income Americans.

Underscoring GOP leaders' push-and-pull problem, around 60 conservatives who met with Pence proposed revisions in the other direction, including a hastening of the Medicaid expansion phaseout to 2018 instead of the legislation's 2020.

"He gave us a lot of hope," said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., leader of the group that met with Pence.

The White House, GOP leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers were negotiating over modifications that could be made when the bill reaches the House floor. On CNN, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said changes might give states more "flexibility" to oversee Medicaid.

In the Senate, the GOP's 52-48 edge and widespread dissension leaves leaders little leeway. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed worries about higher costs on seniors and predicted the Senate would reject the bill without changes.

Conservatives want deeper cuts in the overall Medicaid program than the Republican bill plans and a work requirement for able-bodied constituents. They're also seeking less generous tax credits for people's health care costs and elimination of Obama's insurance requirements, including mandatory coverage of specified services like drug counseling.

Every one of those proposals would endanger support from moderates.

"This is going to take a lot of political capital from the president" and congressional leaders, said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.

The bill would enfeeble Obama's individual mandate — the requirement that Americans buy coverage — by abolishing the tax fine on violators. It would end subsidies that help low-income people with high insurance premiums the most and replace them with tax credits that are bigger for older people. It would cut Medicaid, repeal the law's tax increases on higher earning Americans and allow 30 percent higher premiums for consumers who let coverage lapse.

The latest government sign-up numbers missed Obama's target of 13.8 million people for 2017. The figures represent initial enrollment, and there's usually significant attrition over the course of a year.

Nonetheless, experts said the report undercuts Republican claims that the health law's insurance markets are teetering toward collapse, which they say makes repealing the law crucial.

"While there's a big debate in Washington about the future of the Affordable Care Act, the law remains in place for now and is covering millions of people," said the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt, using the formal name of Obama's statute.

The official national figure of 12.2 million excludes 765,000 people signed up under a related Obama-era law used by New York and Minnesota.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the figures a day before the House Budget Committee plans to advance the GOP bill in a potentially tight vote. The committee can't make significant changes, but Republicans were expected to approve non-binding suggestions to nail down votes.

GOP support became scarcer when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found this week that the legislation would push 24 million Americans off coverage in a decade and shift out-of-pocket costs toward lower income, older people. That's 4 million more than the 20 million who've gained either Medicaid or insurance coverage under Obama's law.

Hundreds of conservative activists rallied outside the Capitol in sub-freezing weather to call on congressional leaders and Trump to abandon the GOP bill and fully repeal Obama's law. The rally was organized by FreedomWorks, a conservative group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.

"They're telling us that you campaigned for Obamacare light and you want partial repeal!" said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., among conservative lawmakers who say the House GOP bill is too timid.

"No!" the crowd replied.

Nevada GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, who expanded Medicaid coverage to over 300,000 additional people in his state, said in a phone call, Price promised "flexibility" in administering the program.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Leaders Acknowledge Health Bill Changes, May Delay Vote ]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 21:28:17 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17068637615881-paul-ryan-american-health-care-act.jpg

Their health care overhaul imperiled from all sides, the White House and top House Republicans acknowledged Wednesday they would make changes to the legislation in hopes of nailing down votes and pushing the party's showpiece legislation through the chamber soon.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declined to commit to bringing the measure to the House floor next week, a fresh indication of uncertainty. Republican leaders have repeatedly said that was their schedule, but opposition mushroomed after a congressional report concluded this week that the measure would strip 24 million people of coverage in a decade.

Ryan told reporters that GOP leaders could now make "some necessary improvements and refinements" to the legislation, reflecting an urgency to buttress support. The measure would strike down much of former President Barack Obama's 2010 overhaul and reduce the federal role, including financing, for health care consumers and is opposed uniformly by Democrats.

"We're going to arbitrate, we're all going to get together, we're going to get something done," President Donald Trump promised a crowd at a rally in Nashville.

At an all-hands meeting Wednesday evening of House GOP lawmakers, Vice President Mike Pence and party leaders urged their rank-and-file to unite behind the legislation.

"'It's our job to get it out of here and get it to the Senate,'" Pence told the Republicans, according to Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla. That would let Trump pressure "Democrats in these red states to come on board,'" Ross said, referring to Republican-leaning states where Democratic senators face re-election next year.

Health secretary Tom Price was using phone calls to lobby Republican governors, some of whom — with home-state GOP members of Congress — oppose the bill's phase out of Obama's expansion of Medicaid to 11 million additional lower-income Americans.

Amid the maneuvering, a government report said more than 12 million people have signed up for coverage this year under the very statute that President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans want to repeal. That figure underscored the potential political impact of the GOP's next move.

Pence met repeatedly with House Republicans but rebels still abounded. Conservatives were unhappy the measure doesn't erase enough of Obama's law while at the other end of the party's spectrum, moderates were upset the bill would strip millions of health coverage.

"Oh heck, yes," said one conservative leader, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked if the GOP legislation needed changes to win his support.

Conservatives want to end Obama's expansion of Medicaid to 11 million additional low-income people next year, not 2020 as the bill proposes. They say a GOP proposed tax credit to help people pay medical costs is too generous, and they want to terminate all of Obama's insurance requirements, including mandatory coverage of specified services like drug counseling.

Underscoring the push-pull problem GOP leaders face in winning votes, moderates feel the tax credits are too stingy, especially for low earners and older people. They oppose accelerating the phaseout of the Medicaid expansion and are unhappy with long-term cuts the measure would inflict on the entire program.

Terminating the Medicaid expansion in 2020 and not 2018 "is sacrosanct to me," said moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J.

In a new complication, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the measure lacked the votes to pass in the Senate, where Republicans hold a precarious 52-48 majority. That left House members angry over being asked to take a politically risky vote for legislation likely to be altered.

Moderates "don't like the idea of taking a vote in the House that may go nowhere in the Senate," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

The bill would enfeeble Obama's individual mandate, the requirement that Americans buy coverage, by abolishing the tax fine on violators. It would end subsidies that help low-income people with high insurance premiums the most and replace them with tax credits that are bigger for older people. It would cut Medicaid, repeal the law's tax increases on higher earning Americans and require 30 percent higher premiums for consumers who let coverage lapse.

GOP support became scarcer when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the legislation would push 24 million Americans off coverage in a decade and shift out-of-pocket costs toward lower income, older people. That' surpasses the 20 million who've gained Medicaid or insurance coverage under Obama's law.

Hundreds of conservative activists rallied outside the Capitol in sub-freezing weather to call on congressional leaders and Trump to abandon the GOP bill and fully repeal Obama's law. The rally was organized by FreedomWorks, a conservative group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.

The 2017 government sign-up numbers missed Obama's target of 13.8 million people. Experts said the figures undercut Republican claims that the health law's insurance markets are teetering toward collapse.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Loud Sound May Pose More Harm Than We Thought]]>Tue, 14 Mar 2017 14:30:36 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ear_noise_1200x675.jpg

Matt Garlock has trouble making out what his friends say in loud bars, but when he got a hearing test, the result was normal. Recent research may have found an explanation for problems like his, something called "hidden hearing loss."

Scientists have been finding evidence that loud noise — from rock concerts, leaf blowers, power tools and the like — damages our hearing in a previously unsuspected way. It may not be immediately noticeable, and it does not show up in standard hearing tests.

But over time, Harvard researcher M. Charles Liberman says, it can rob our ability to understand conversation in a noisy setting. It may also help explain why people have more trouble doing that as they age. And it may lead to persistent ringing in the ears.

The bottom line: "Noise is more dangerous than we thought."

His work has been done almost exclusively in animals. Nobody knows how much it explains hearing loss in people or how widespread it may be in the population. But he and others are already working on potential treatments.

To understand Liberman's research, it helps to know just how we hear. When sound enters our ears, it's picked up by so-called hair cells. They convert sound waves to signals that are carried by nerves to the brain. People can lose hair cells for a number of reasons — from loud noise or some drugs, or simple aging — and our hearing degrades as those sensors are lost. That loss is what is picked up by a standard test called an audiogram that measures how soft a noise we can hear in a quiet environment.

Liberman's work suggests that there's another kind of damage that doesn't kill off hair cells, but which leads to experiences like Garlock's.

A 29-year-old systems engineer who lives near Boston, Garlock is a veteran of rock concerts.

"You come home and you get that ringing in your ears that lasts for a few days and then it goes away," he said.

But after he went to Las Vegas for a friend's birthday, and visited a couple of dance clubs, it didn't go away. So he had the audiogram done, in 2015, and his score was normal.

Last fall, he came across a news story about a study co-authored by Liberman. It was a follow-up to Libermans' earlier work that suggests loud noise damages the delicate connections between hair cells and the nerves that carry the hearing signal to the brain.

The news story said this can cause not only persistent ringing in the ears, but also a lingering difficulty in understanding conversations in background noise. After the Vegas trip, Garlock sensed he had that problem himself.

"I notice myself leaning in and asking people to repeat themselves, but I don't notice anybody else doing that," he said.

Garlock emailed one of Liberman's colleagues and volunteered for any follow-up studies.

It's hard to be sure that Garlock's situation can be explained by the research. But the seeming contradiction of hearing problems in people with perfect hearing tests has puzzled experts for years, says Robert Fifer of the University of Miami's Mailman Center for Child Development.

He's seen it in Air Force personnel who worked around airplanes and in a few music-blasting adolescents.

"We didn't have a really good explanation for it," said Fifer, who's an official of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

But the work by Liberman and others helps solve the mystery, he said.

The connections between hair cells are called synapses, and a given hair cell has many of them. Animal studies suggest you could lose more than half of your synapses without any effect on how you score on an audiogram.

But it turns out, Liberman says, that losing enough synapses erodes the message the nerves deliver to the brain, wiping out details that are crucial for sifting conversation out from background noise. It's as if there's a big Jumbotron showing a picture, he says, but as more and more of its bulbs go black, it gets harder and harder to realize what the picture shows.

The study Garlock noticed is one of the few explorations of the idea in people. Researchers rounded up 34 college students between ages 18 and 41 who had normal scores on a standard hearing test. The volunteers were designated high-risk or low-risk for hidden hearing loss, based on what they said about their past exposure to loud noise and what steps they took to protect their hearing,

The higher-risk group reported more difficulty understanding speech in noisy situations, and they scored more poorly on a lab test of that ability. They also showed evidence of reduced function for hearing-related nerves.

It's a small study that must be repeated, Liberman says, but it adds to evidence for the idea.

One encouraging indication from the animal studies is that a drug might be able to spur nerves to regrow the lost synapses, said Liberman, who holds a financial stake in a company that is trying to develop such treatments.

In the meantime, he says, the work lends a new urgency to the standard advice about protecting the ears in loud places.

"It isn't awesome to have your ears ringing. It's telling you (that) you did some damage," he said.

Liberman's own hearing scores are pretty good, but at age 65, he sometimes can't understand his kids in a loud setting. He figures some of that may be from his years of handyman chores, like using a belt sander or a table saw.

"I wear earplugs when I mow the lawn now."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Effort to Replace Planned Parenthood Stumbles]]>Tue, 14 Mar 2017 08:15:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-499277954.jpg

In pushing a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that cuts off funds for Planned Parenthood, Republicans are out to reassure women who rely on the major health care organization that other clinics will step up to provide their low-cost breast exams, contraception and cancer screenings.

Texas is already trying to prove it. But one big bet is quietly sputtering, and in danger of teaching the opposite lesson conservatives are after.

Last summer, Texas gave $1.6 million to an anti-abortion organization called the Heidi Group to help strengthen small clinics that specialize in women's health like Planned Parenthood but don't offer abortions. The goal was to help the clinics boost their patient rolls and show there would be no gap in services if the nation's largest abortion provider had to scale back.

The effort offered a model other conservative states could follow if Republicans make their long-sought dream of defunding Planned Parenthood a reality under President Donald Trump. Several states are already moving to curtail the organization's funds.

But eight months later, the Heidi Group has little to show for its work. An Associated Press review found the nonprofit has done little of the outreach it promised, such as helping clinics promote their services on Facebook, or airing public service announcements. It hasn't made good on plans to establish a 1-800 number to help women find providers or ensure that all clinics have updated websites.

Neither the group nor state officials would say how many patients have been served so far by the private clinics.

The Heidi Group is led by Carol Everett, a prominent anti-abortion activist and influential conservative force in the Texas Legislature.

In a brief interview, Everett said some of the community clinics aren't cooperating despite her best efforts to attract more clients.

"We worked on one Facebook site for three months and they didn't want to do it. And we worked on websites and they didn't want to do it," Everett said of the clinics. "We can't force them. We're not forcing them."

Everett said that advertising she planned was stalled by delays in a separate $5.1 million family planning contract.

Everett proposed helping two dozen selected clinics serve 50,000 women overall in a year, more than such small facilities would normally handle. Clinic officials contacted by the AP either did not return phone calls or would not speak on the record.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which awarded the funding to the Heidi Group, acknowledged the problems. Spokeswoman Carrie Williams said in an email that the agency had to provide "quite a bit" of technical support for the effort and make many site visits. She disputed that the contract funding has been as slow as Everett alleged.

"The bottom line is that we are holding our contractors accountable, and will do everything we can to help them make themselves successful," she said.

In August, the state had lauded Everett's pitch for taxpayer funds as "one of the most robust" received.

Planned Parenthood and its supporters say the failures show the risks of relying on unproven providers to serve low-income women, and that Republicans' assurances about adequate care are only political rhetoric.

"Every time they try to relaunch one of these women's health programs, without some of the most trusted providers in women's health, every single time they come up short," said Sarah Wheat, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman in Texas. "And they show their lack of understanding and respect for what women need."

On Tuesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 15 percent of low-income people in rural or underserved areas would lose access to care if Planned Parenthood loses funding. The analysis also projected several thousand more births in the Medicaid program in the next year.

The Heidi Group is an evangelical nonprofit that started in the 1990s and is best known for promoting alternatives to abortion. It operates with a relatively small budget, taking in about $186,000 in grants and donations in 2015, according to tax records, and had not been doing patient care.

State officials say the year-old women's health program includes about 5,000 providers. Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are banned from participation.

Federal dollars comprise nearly half of the Planned Parenthood's annual billion-dollar budget, and although government funds don't pay for abortions, the organization is reimbursed by Medicaid for non-abortion services that it says the vast majority of clients receive. Missouri is planning to reject federal funding just to keep some of it away from Planned Parenthood, and Iowa is also considering giving up millions in federal Medicaid dollars to create a state-run family planning program that excludes abortion providers.

U.S. House Republicans' health care bill would freeze funding to Planned Parenthood for one year. House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested other clinics will pick up the slack.

"It ends funding to Planned Parenthood and sends money to community centers," Ryan said last week.

Democrats argue that other clinics are already overloaded and wouldn't be able to meet increased demand.

After Texas state funding was cut off to abortion providers in 2011, 82 family planning clinics closed in the state, a third of which were Planned Parenthood affiliates. A state report later found that 30,000 fewer women were served through a Texas women's health program after the changes. Planned Parenthood now has 35 clinics in Texas and served more than 126,000 individual patients last year, including those seeking abortions. The state has provided no estimates of low-income women served by other clinics.

Asked whether the Heidi Group would meet the patient targets in her contract, Everett said her own goal was to serve 70,000 women.

However, "it's not as easy as it looks because we are not Planned Parenthood. We are working with private physicians and providers," Everett said after leaving a committee hearing this week at the Texas Capitol. She said the clinics she is working with are busy seeing 40 to 50 women a day. "They don't have time to go out and do some of the things that we would really like to help them do. But we're there if they want to. And we're there when the need it. And we're in their offices and we're helping them."

She had been at the Capitol to support a bill that would require abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[City Sues Drugmaker for Letting OxyContin Flood Black Market]]>Tue, 14 Mar 2017 11:45:36 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16273781823723oxy.jpg

As deaths from painkillers and heroin abuse spiked and street crimes increased, the mayor of Everett took major steps to tackle the opioid epidemic devastating this working-class city north of Seattle.

Mayor Ray Stephanson stepped up patrols, hired social workers to ride with officers and pushed for more permanent housing for chronically homeless people. The city says it has spent millions combating OxyContin and heroin abuse — and expects the tab to rise.

So Everett is suing Purdue Pharma, maker of the opioid pain medication OxyContin, in an unusual case that alleges the drugmaker knowingly allowed pills to be funneled into the black market and the city of about 108,000. Everett alleges the drugmaker did nothing to stop it and must pay for damages caused to the community.

Everett's lawsuit, now in federal court in Seattle, accuses Purdue Pharma of gross negligence and nuisance. The city seeks to hold the company accountable, the lawsuit alleges, for "supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious pharmacies and physicians and enabling the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market" and into Everett, despite a company program to track suspicious flows.

"Our community has been significantly damaged, and we need to be made whole," said Stephanson, who grew up in Everett and is its longest-serving mayor, holding the job since 2003.

He said the opioid crisis caused by "Purdue's drive for profit" has overwhelmed the city's resources, stretching everyone from first responders to park crews who clean up discarded syringes. The lawsuit doesn't say how much money the city is seeking, but the mayor says Everett will attempt to quantify its costs in coming months.

Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma says the lawsuit paints a flawed and inaccurate picture of the events that led to the crisis in Everett.

"We look forward to presenting the facts in court," the company said in a statement.

Purdue said it is "deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication," and noted it leads the industry in developing medicines with properties that deter abuse, even though its products account for less than 2 percent of all U.S. opioid prescriptions.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma and its executives paid more than $630 million in legal penalties to the federal government for willfully misrepresenting the drug's addiction risks. The same year, it also settled with Washington and other states that claimed the company aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors while downplaying the addiction risk. As part of that settlement, it agreed to continue internal controls to identify potential diversion or abuse.

While numerous individuals and states have sued Purdue, this case is different because Everett is getting at the results of addiction, said Elizabeth Porter, associate law professor at the University of Washington.

She thinks Everett may have a shot at winning, though it will have to overcome some legal burdens, including showing that diverted OxyContin from rogue doctors and pharmacies was a substantial factor in the city's epidemic.

Stephanson said he was "absolutely outraged" after the Los Angeles Times reported last summer it found Purdue had evidence that pointed to illegal trafficking of its pills but in many cases did nothing to notify authorities or stop the flow. That newspaper investigation prompted the city's lawsuit.

In response to the newspaper's reporting, Purdue said in a statement that in 2007, it provided LA-area law enforcement information that helped lead to the convictions of the criminal prescribers and pharmacists referenced by the Los Angeles Times. The company also pointed to court documents that showed a wholesaler alerted the Drug Enforcement Administration about suspicious activity at a sham clinic noted in the newspaper's story.

Still, Everett contends Purdue created a market for addicts that didn't exist until the company let its pills flood the streets.

The region saw two spikes in overdose deaths: first from OxyContin and other opioid painkillers in 2008 and then, after the drug was reformulated in 2010, a spike from heroin as people switched to a potent but cheaper alternative, officials said.

The city contends Purdue's wrongful conduct fueled a heroin crisis in Everett. Between 2011 and 2013, nearly one in five heroin-related deaths in Washington state occurred in the Everett region.

In response to the drug epidemic, Everett last year began sending social workers on routine patrols with police officers. Sgt. Mike Braley says the community outreach and enforcement team strikes a balance between enforcement and connecting people to addiction treatment, mental health and other services.

"We understand that we can't arrest our way out of problems that addiction is causing our city," Braley said.

Sometimes it takes many follow-ups and hours of handholding to get people help. On their first stop one morning, Braley and his team check under a street overpass, a popular hangout for addicts. They find plenty of needles, drug packaging and mounds of garbage but none of the people they had encountered there recently.

They swing by a woody vacant piece of city property to follow up with a homeless man who told social workers he was on a housing list. He previously was reluctant to talk but opens up this time.

Social worker Kaitlyn Dowd offers to check on the man's housing status with a local nonprofit provider and then punches her number into a cellphone he recently got.

"You can call me, and I have your number," she tells him.

Social worker Staci McCole said they come across many cases where highly functioning residents were introduced to opiates or heroin. "So many of these people — somehow it's taken a hold of them, and their lives now have forever changed," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Injuries Rise in Common Infant Products]]>Mon, 13 Mar 2017 19:55:47 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/BabyInjuries0310_MP4-148944776988400001.jpg

A new study finds a growing number of young children are being injured while using infant products like carriers, strollers and cribs. Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at the number of kids across the country under age 3 who had to go to an emergency room after such an injury. "There's an average of 128 a day, or about one every eight minutes," says Tracy Meahn of the Center for Injury Research and Policy. "And the concerning thing is that these numbers are going up."



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<![CDATA[What the Budget Analysts Say About GOP Health Care Bill]]>Mon, 13 Mar 2017 19:07:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/understand-gop-health-care-replacement.jpg

The Republican bill to replace major portions of Barack Obama's health care law and restructure Medicaid would leave 24 million people uninsured over the next decade, according to projections from the Congressional Budget Office. A look at what the CBO said Monday in its estimates of the House GOP plan that's backed by President Donald Trump:

— The bill would reduce the deficit by $337 billion over a decade. The largest savings would come from reductions in money for Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income Americans, and elimination of the Affordable Care Act's subsidies for non-group health insurance.

— Fourteen million more people would be uninsured next year. That increase would include 6 million who don't get coverage on the individual market, some 5 million people under Medicaid and about 2 million with employment-based coverage.

— The CBO estimates that the number of uninsured would rise to 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026. Much of the increase in uninsured would be due to changes in Medicaid enrollment as states end their expansion of eligibility.

— In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured compared with 28 million under Obama's law.

— Average premiums in the insurance market for individuals would rise in 2018 and 2019 by 15 percent to 20 percent, compared with current law, because Republicans would eliminate the penalties designed to induce people to buy insurance coverage, leading to higher costs for those who remain.

— Beginning in 2020, premiums would begin to fall in comparison with current law, and by 2026 average premiums for people buying individual coverage would be roughly 10 percent lower than current law. However, premiums would vary significantly for people of different ages because of a change Republicans would make allowing old people to be charged more for insurance coverage, compared with young people, than allowed under Obama's law.

— The GOP health care bill prohibits funds for Planned Parenthood for one year, and the CBO estimates the number of births in the Medicaid program would increase by several thousand.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Cardboard Boxes as Cribs? Safety Sleep Program Expands]]>Sat, 11 Mar 2017 13:29:47 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17065757102076-Baby-Box-SIDS-SUIDS.jpg

Cardboard boxes certainly aren't new technology. But when they're linked to a practice that started in Finland decades ago to help babies sleep safely, they're taking on a new purpose as so-called baby boxes make their way to the U.S.

Parents are beginning to take baby boxes home from hospitals along with their newborns. A Los Angeles-based company has partnered with health officials to give the boxes away for free and an online initiative offers advice aimed at reducing sudden unexpected infant deaths. New Jersey and Ohio were the first to participate statewide in the program.

"To new moms: (SUID) was one of my biggest fears and then it happened,'' said 35-year-old Chauntia Williams, of Maple Heights, Ohio.

Williams is an advocate for safe sleeping and the boxes after she unexpectedly lost her 33-day-old daughter Aaliyah nine years ago. Williams said her daughter went to sleep in a crib with cushiony bumpers, stuffed animals and an added blanket beneath the fitted sheet and never woke up. She said the coroner determined the bedding caused the death.

She now uses a box with her son, Bryce, though he's getting a little too big for it. Her message to new parents: Educate yourselves on safe sleep habits.

"Open your mouth and say I'm concerned about this so you can get the assistance,'' Williams said.

Sudden unexpected infant death is a broad category that includes sudden infant death syndrome and accidental suffocation and strangulation that could come from overcrowded bassinets or cribs. The boxes aren't the only option for safe sleeping, of course, but health officials say they're a useful part of a broader safe-sleep education program.

Ohio on Wednesday joined New Jersey in offering the cardboard boxes, which double as bassinets, for free. Each box comes filled with a mattress, fitted sheet, onesie and diapers.

The Baby Box Co. is also handing out the boxes in Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Francisco, with the goal of expanding to all 50 states. The for-profit company also operates in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Baby Box University, a nonprofit, maintains a website that coordinates the educational component of the program.

The idea for baby boxes started in Finland in the 1930s, and is tied to a sharp drop in sudden infant deaths, according to Dr. Kathryn McCans, a pediatrician who chairs New Jersey's Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board. The boxes provide a clutter-free sleep space that has been shown to reduce accidental and unexpected deaths, she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. rate of sudden unexpected infant deaths has been declining since the 1990s when public health officials began recommending parents put infants to sleep on their backs. About 3,700 sudden unexpected infant deaths were reported in the country in 2015.

The boxes are a new idea for many Americans.

"The thought of putting the baby in a box, I was like 'wow that's weird,''' said Dolores Peterson, of Camden, New Jersey, who became a first-time mom recently and was among the first to bring home a box.

Peterson's daughter, Ariabella, just turned 3 months old. She said the program was eye-opening for how much information she learned about how to prevent sudden unexpected infant death.

McCans says the complimentary items like diapers and onesies are nice, but the more important objective behind the boxes is bringing down infant deaths and grounding parents on safe sleep practices: Place babies on their backs to sleep; don't use bumpers in cribs; keep stuffed animals and blankets out of infants' sleep spaces; avoid sleeping in the same bed as infants.

"No one brings their baby into bed with them because they want their baby to die,'' she said. "They do it because they want to be nurturing and they are, but it's not safe.''

To get the boxes, prospective moms can register through babyboxuniversity.com, watch a handful of videos on sleep safety and pass a quiz. Parents can then take their digital or printed-out certificates to a participating hospital for their boxes. The boxes can also be sent in the mail, if a nearby hospital is not designated as a distribution center.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Hospitals Worry About Caring for Newly Uninsured in GOP Plan]]>Sun, 12 Mar 2017 22:07:27 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-600361148.jpg

When Colorado expanded Medicaid coverage under former President Barack Obama's health care law, the largest provider in the Denver region hired more than 250 employees and built a $27 million primary care clinic and two new school-based clinics.

Emergency rooms visits stayed flat as Denver Health Medical Center directed many of the nearly 80,000 newly insured patients into one of its 10 community health centers, where newly hired social workers and mental health therapists provided services for some of the county's poorest residents. Demand for services at the new primary care clinic was almost immediate.

The hospital system, like others around the country, now is facing enormous uncertainty under the health care overhaul proposed by congressional Republicans.

The GOP plan would scale back the Medicaid expansion and take away direct federal subsidies to help consumers pay their health insurance premiums, replacing them with age-adjusted tax credits.

Denver Health could see revenue losses between $50 million and $85 million by 2020, which is between 5 and 9 percent of their annual revenue, according to the hospital's chief financial officer. Adding to the financial anxiety is that Denver Health and many other hospital systems and medical providers across the country still would be required to care for many of the same patients, even if they lost their health coverage. That would leave hospitals, state and local governments, or privately insured patients to foot the bill.

"If it's full removal of Medicaid expansion, we would have to make cuts on our system, and I really think that those cuts would roll back our progress and could paradoxically increase the cost of care by driving care back to where it shouldn't be — in the emergency rooms," said Dr. Bill Burman, interim chief executive for Denver Health.

Similar sentiments are being shared by hospital CEOs across the country as President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans make good on their promise to undo the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican plan would limit the amount of federal money available to states that opted to expand Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health coverage to the poor and lower-income people. It also would overhaul the framework of Medicaid generally so that in the future states would receive a limited amount per person based on enrollment and costs. Health care advocates have said such a change would mean less Medicaid money for the states.

The Republican proposal would boost one revenue stream for hospitals that had been cut under Obama's plan — a pool of money helping hospitals that care for a disproportionately high share of uninsured patients. But hospital CEOs say that money will not come close to making up for the revenue lost if large numbers of people lose their health coverage.

The American Hospital Association, which represents nearly 5,000 institutions nationwide and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the nation's largest not-for-profit health provider, wrote Congress warning that the bill would lead to significant cuts in a program that provides services to the most vulnerable.

"We are likely looking at situations where hospitals would close down service lines, shorten clinic hours and lay off staff," said Beth Feldpush, a senior vice president at America's Essential Hospitals.

The Affordable Care Act sought to get more people covered and give them access to primary care doctors, theoretically increasing the number of paying customers for hospital systems while diverting those people away from emergency rooms where they are more expensive to treat. About 22 million people have gained coverage through Medicaid and by buying private health insurance in the government-sponsored marketplaces that offer plans with subsidized premiums.

The national uninsured rate is below 9 percent, a historic low.

Moody's Investors Service said it expects that the legislation's provision to cap federal Medicaid payments to the states, starting in 2020, will cause states to reduce payments to hospitals. The legislation also would saddle hospitals with more unpaid bills and uninsured patients, particularly older ones who could now face much-higher premiums, according to Moody's.

"We believe that the effect of older enrollees losing coverage will outweigh the positive effect of younger people gaining coverage, given that older people have greater health care needs and as they lose coverage, hospitals would incur greater uncompensated care and bad-debt costs," the report states.

S&P Global Ratings wrote that the bill would add to existing stresses on hospitals, including rising costs for salaries and prescription drugs.

NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest public health system in the country that serves mostly low-income people, made a rare decision to create its own insurance plans to help maximize revenue in the changing health climate. One of its plans, granted under the Affordable Care Act, offered premiums of $20 or less per month to 70,000 low-income enrollees. An additional 96,000 people gained coverage in another insurance plan under Medicaid expansion.

One plan would be eliminated entirely under the bill and tens of thousands would lose coverage on the other under the Republican bill.

Stanley Brezenoff, the health system's interim president, says it's "particularly appalling" for the expanded Medicaid patients who spent years going without insurance. Many of them have substantial medical needs and finally were able to get into a routine of receiving regular medical care.

"It is a brutal assault on the health care system, especially as it applies to the people in greatest need with historically the least access to care," he said.

Rural hospitals are particularly at risk.

One of the most likely ways hospitals will make up for revenue losses is by increasing the amount they charge privately insured patients. But rural hospitals have less bargaining power to negotiate rates with insurers because they have such a small number of insured patients to begin with, said Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association.

At Jackson Health, a 100-bed hospital in rural Marianna in the Florida Panhandle, 90 percent of patients are receiving charity care because they are uninsured or on Medicaid. They are the working poor who make too little to qualify for subsidies under Affordable Care Act plans and too much to qualify for Medicaid under Florida's stringent standards, where you must be a pregnant woman, child or disabled for the most part to qualify.

Nearly 60 percent of the hospital's patients work in agriculture, growing peanuts and fresh produce. Emergency room visits there continue to creep up every year by 2 to 3 percent, said chief financial officer Kevin Rovito.

"If they keep cutting the reimbursements for the hospital one way or another and we do disappear, then where are these patients going to go?" he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pence Appeals for Complete GOP Support for Health Overhaul ]]>Sat, 11 Mar 2017 19:32:55 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17061754105215-Pence.jpg

Vice President Mike Pence appealed for total GOP congressional support for a White House-backed health overhaul during a brief visit Saturday to Kentucky, where the Republican governor and junior senator are among the plan's skeptics.

"This is going to be a battle in Washington, D.C. And for us to seize this opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all, we need every Republican in Congress, and we're counting on Kentucky," Pence said at an energy company where business leaders had gathered.

He said President Donald Trump would lean on House Republicans — including two Kentucky lawmakers in the audience, Reps. Andy Barr and Brett Guthrie — to vote to replace former President Barack Obama's law.

Pence's trip was part of an effort to reassure conservatives who have raised objections to the House plan. In a sign of the high stakes, Pence's motorcade passed a long line of demonstrators who chanted, "Save our care."

Almost at the time Pence landed in Louisville, Trump tweeted: "We are making great progress with health care. ObamaCare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get job done!"

The former Indiana governor has been the chief salesman for Trump's push to jettison the Affordable Care Act. The House is expected to vote on the bill in less than two weeks, but faces resistance from critics within the GOP, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has called the initial draft "Obamacare Lite."

Even before the legislation was released, Paul placed a copy machine outside the room where House Republicans were drafting the bill and asked for a copy — all to draw attention to the secrecy of the plan.

GOP Gov. Matt Bevin has said his state cannot afford to pay for a growing Medicaid program, which has cost Kentucky millions more than initially expected and now covers more than 25 percent of the state's population. He has dismantled Kentucky's state-based exchange but indicated he would not favor eliminating the federal health insurance exchange.

Bevin told reporters Friday that, like Paul, he was not impressed with the initial proposal in the House.

But on Saturday he said that while there were different views on how to change the law, "ultimately these differences of opinion will be rectified." He said all could agree that "change has to come — the system is broken."

"Now I know that not every politician in Kentucky supports our plan," Pence said, mentioning former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear but neither Paul nor Bevin.

After greeting Pence at the airport, Bevin and his children and their friend got an impromptu tour of Air Force Two, and Pence later told business leaders: "I was for Matt Bevin before it was cool."

Democrats have praised Beshear's use of the health care law to drive down the state's uninsured rate and his smooth rollout of kynect, the state-run exchange, even while Obama struggled with the national release of healthcare.gov.

The event at the Harshaw Trane facility was in the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom Pence praised as "a true friend to me, to our president, and to the people of America."

McConnell, however, did not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: John Minchillo, AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Feel Stressed? Stop Checking Your Phone, Study Says]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 20:23:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SmartphoneStress0309a_MP4-148918974502400001.jpg

A recent study finds mobile users who check their phones frequently feel more stressed. According to the American Psychological Association, we are a nation of "constant checkers" and it's taking a toll. Some experts consider this a behavioral addiction.
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<![CDATA[Doctors Remove 140-Pound Tumor From Pa. Woman]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 16:34:13 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Mary+140LB+Tumor+BEFORE+AFTER+pic.jpg

Mary Clancey said she was resigned to being a "fat little old lady." Over 15 years, she kept getting bigger despite dieting. But with her health deteriorating, her son persuaded her to go to the hospital.

What doctors found astounded them: A cyst in one of her ovaries had grown into a 140-pound tumor.

Doctors at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown removed the cancerous, Stage 1 mass in a five-hour operation on Nov. 10.

Clancey weighed 365 pounds heading into the operation. After five hours in surgery, she lost 180 pounds of tumor and tissue, about half her weight, the doctors said.

"You can't imagine in your wildest dreams something that huge," she told NBC10.

As she was gaining weight, Clancey, 71, of St. Clair, Pennsylvania, said doctors told her just to watch what she ate. At just over 5 feet tall, she said she felt destined to become "a short round, fat little old lady."

The tumor didn't really cause her pain. "It just made itself comfortable in there," she said.

But by the time she went to the hospital, it had become difficult for her to walk and even stand.

Dr. Richard Boulay, who performed the operation, said the mass was so big it didn't even fit in the picture taken by a CT scan.

"It was slowly killing her," Bouley said Thursday during a news conference at the hospital.

To help in the removal of the tumor, a second table had to be moved next to the one on which Clancey was lying so the mass could be rolled out without it rupturing, The Morning Call reported.

Made up predominantly of water, the tumor was "slippery and nasty," Boulay said.

After nearly a month in recovery, Clancey is back home, working to regain her balance as a lighter woman.

She weighs less than 150 pounds and said she feels great.

Doctors said tests show she is cancer-free and does not need further treatment, The Call reported.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Under New Rules, Rookie Doctors Can Work 24-Hour Shift]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 14:18:37 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Doctor+Generic1.jpg

Rookie doctors can work up to 24 hours straight under new work limits taking effect this summer — a move supporters say will enhance training and foes maintain will do just the opposite.

A Chicago-based group that establishes work standards for U.S. medical school graduates has voted to eliminate a 16-hour cap for first-year residents. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education announced the move Friday as part of revisions that include reinstating the longer limit for rookies — the same maximum allowed for advanced residents.

An 80-hour per week limit for residents at all levels remains in place under the new rules.

Dr. Anai Kothari, a third-year resident on a council panel that recommended the changes, says he only occasionally works 24-hour shifts. The extra hours give him time to finish up with patients instead of being sent home in the middle of a case, said Kothari, who works at Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago.

But first-year resident Dr. Samantha Harrington thinks it will endanger the safety of residents and patients.

Harrington says her 14-hour shifts this winter at Cambridge Hospital near Boston are already plenty long. To stay awake while driving home after work, she sometimes rolls down the window to let the freezing air blast her in the face.

Harrington says the grueling hours are "based on a patriarchal hazing system," where longtime physicians think "'I went through it, so therefore you have to go through it too.'" She is a member of the Committee of Interns and Residents, a union group that opposes the work-shift changes. So does the American Medical Student Association.

Dr. Kelly Thibert, the group's president, says putting a 16-hour cap on all residents' work shifts would be a safer way to even the playing field.

There are more than 120,000 U.S. doctors-in-training including rookies.

The accreditation council has for years wrestled with ensuring that doctors are adequately trained but not over-worked.

The 1984 death of an 18-year-old college student in a New York hospital while under the care of medical residents working long hours put a national spotlight on the issue. Medication error and inadequate supervision were cited in that case, which prompted a lengthy investigation and state limits for residents' work hours.

In 2003, the council implemented national standards that established the 24-hour shift cap and 80-hour work week for all residents. After an Institute of Medicine report raised additional safety concerns about sleep-deprived residents, the council in 2010 shortened work shift caps for first-year residents to 16 hours and strongly recommended "strategic napping."

Critics of the shorter limit said it short-changed rookie doctors. Dr. Karl Bilimoria, a Northwestern University surgery professor, said some residents have complained that they've had to leave work in the middle of surgeries.

Bilimoria led a study published last year suggesting that first-year residents could work longer without endangering patient safety or their own well-being. The research was among published findings that helped persuade panel to recommend lifting the 16-hour cap. The council's board approved the recommendation in a vote last month. The group delayed announcing the vote until its annual education conference, which ends Sunday in Orlando, Florida.

"We all agree that nobody wants tired physicians" said Dr. Rowen Zetterman, board chairman.

He said the new rules give training programs more flexibility, help eliminate abrupt handoffs of patients and will enhance teamwork among new doctors and their supervisors. The rules say rookie doctors must have supervisors nearby, and those more experienced doctors can step in if a new resident is exhausted, Zetterman said.

U.S. doctor training generally includes an undergraduate science-related degree followed by four years of medical school. After that, newly minted doctors pursue several years of on-the-job training as medical residents, usually in hospitals. Fellowships or extra training in medical specialties may follow after that.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/File]]>
<![CDATA[Women's Health Services Face Cuts in GOP Bill]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 08:48:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/650498064-Paul-Ryan-American-Health-Care-Act.jpg

Women seeking abortions and some basic health services, including prenatal care, contraception and cancer screenings, would face restrictions and struggle to pay for some of that medical care under the House Republicans' proposed bill.

The legislation, which would replace much of former President Barack Obama's health law, was approved by two House committees on Thursday. Republicans are hoping to move quickly to pass it, despite unified opposition from Democrats, criticism from some conservatives who don't think it goes far enough and several health groups who fear millions of Americans would lose coverage and benefits.

The bill would prohibit for a year any funding to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women's health services, restrict abortion access in covered plans on the health exchange and scale back Medicaid services used by many low-income women, among other changes.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said the legislation is a "slap in the face" to women. She said it would shift more decisions to insurance companies.

"You buy it thinking you will be covered, but there is no guarantee," Murray said.

House Republican leaders said the bill, which is backed by President Donald Trump, will prevent higher premiums some have seen under the current law and give patients more control over their care.

"Lower costs, more choices not less, patients in control, universal access to care," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday.

The abortion restrictions and cuts to women's health care could draw opposition from some Republican women.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have both said that a prohibition on Planned Parenthood funding shouldn't be part of the bill. Last month, before the legislation was released, Murkowski told the Alaska state legislature that she doesn't believe that taxpayer money should go toward abortions but added, "I will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides."

Support from Collins and Murkowski will be crucial once the bill moves to the Senate, since there are 52 Republicans and the GOP will need 50 votes to pass it.

Here's a look at how the bill would affect women's health care:

PLANNED PARENTHOOD
Republicans have tried for years to block federal payments to the group, but weren't able to do so with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House. Now that Republican Donald Trump is president, they are adding the one-year freeze in funding to their bill.

Most GOP lawmakers have long opposed Planned Parenthood because many of its clinics provide abortions. Their antagonism intensified after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos in 2015 showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they sometimes provide fetal tissue to researchers, which is legal if no profit is made.

Federal dollars comprise nearly half of the group's annual billion-dollar budget. Government dollars don't pay for abortions, but the organization is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services, including birth control, cancer screenings and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The group has said the vast majority of women seek out those non-abortion services.

Ryan boasted this week that the bill is a "conservative wish list," as it "ends funding to Planned Parenthood and sends money to community centers." Democrats argue that many of the other clinics are already overloaded and would not be able to meet the increased demand for screenings and other services.

ABORTION COVERAGE
Under Obama's health law, health plans on the exchange can cover elective abortions, but they must collect a separate premium to pay for them so it's clear that no federal funds are used. The GOP bill would go further, prohibiting the use of new federal tax credits to purchase any plan that covers abortions.

That could make it more difficult for women covered under the federal exchange to find a plan that covers abortions at all, because many companies may just drop the abortion coverage if it disqualifies the entire plan from the tax credits.

Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, a Democrat, said during the Energy and Commerce Committee's debate on the bill Thursday that he is concerned those prohibitions will extend to hospitals that do abortions, as well.

MEDICAID AND 'ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS'
The bill would phase out the current law's expanded Medicaid coverage for more low-income people that 31 states accepted, which is almost completely financed by federal funds. That could affect women's health care services, including mammograms and prenatal care, for those who would lose that coverage. The legislation also repeals the requirement that state Medicaid plans must provide "essential health benefits" that are currently required, including pregnancy, maternity and newborn care for women.

The legislation will still require that private health plans fund the essential health benefits, but those insurers will have more leeway as to how much is covered.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., complained during the committee debate about the current law's requirements that certain services be covered.

"What about men having to purchase pre-natal care?" Shimkus said in response to a question from a Democrat who asked him what mandates he was concerned about. "Is that not correct? And should they?"

Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bottled Water Beats Soda as No. 1 Drink in US: Industry Analyst]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 08:10:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/634599298-bottled-water-generic.jpg

An industry tracker says bottled water overtook soda as the No. 1 drink in the U.S. by sales volume last year.

Bottled water has been enjoying growth for years, while sales of traditional sodas have declined. Research and consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corp. says Americans drank an average of 39.3 gallons of bottled water in 2016, and 38.5 gallons of carbonated soft drinks. In 2015, bottled water was at 36.5 gallons while soda was at 39 gallons.

Other industry trackers define categories differently, so may see the cross at different times. Beverage Marketing includes sparkling waters in bottled waters and excludes energy drinks in sodas. Another tracker, Beverage Digest, says by its metrics bottled water will surpass soda this year.

The estimates don't include tap water.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Health Bill Would Cut CDC's $1B Disease Fighting Fund]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 06:49:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cdcGettyImages-456691988.jpg

A proposal to replace the Obama health care law would cut out a pillar of funding for the nation's lead public health agency, and experts say that would likely curtail programs across the country to prevent problems like lead poisoning and hospital infections.

The Republican bill calls for the elimination of a $1 billion-a-year fund created for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The fund's goal: Pay for public health programs designed to prevent illness and, therefore, reduce health care costs.

Bureaucracy-slashing bills are nothing new in Washington, and many never pass. Introduced this week, the GOP's plan to overhaul former President Barack Obama's health care law is being hashed out in the House of Representatives before it goes to the Senate.

But some health experts say what's being discussed now is far graver than the funding debates seen in other years.

The results "will be a major turning point" in how the nation promotes health and addresses health care needs, said John Auerbach, president of Trust for America's Health, a Washington-based public health research and advocacy organization.

Some Republican legislators have championed the demise of the fund, equating it to a "slush fund." They say they want more control over how public health funds are spent.

"We shouldn't cede that to the executive branch," said U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who is an anesthesiologist. He sits on the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees health spending.

CDC officials declined to comment Thursday about the possibility of losing the fund.

"Until we know more about the final budget, we can't say how we'll be affected," said agency spokeswoman Kathy Harben.

The CDC's total budget is around $11.8 billion, but about a third of that is for specific projects mandated by Congress. Those programs, for example, pay for vaccines for poor children and monitor the health of survivors of the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster.

What's left is the core of the agency's budget. The Atlanta-based agency has received the special funding for seven years, and currently it accounts for about 12 percent, or about $900 million, of the core budget, according to the CDC.

Much of the money is passed on to state and local health departments. That funding bolsters vaccination programs, upgrades state laboratories that monitor for Zika and other infectious diseases and pays for a push to reduce infections spread in hospitals. It supports programs to save people from diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke. And it completely finances the CDC's lead poisoning prevention program.

"The elimination of the fund would be devastating to state and local health departments," said Laura Hanen, chief of government affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Those health departments lost local funding during and after the 2007-2009 recession, said Michael Fraser of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Today, the average state health department gets about 55 percent of its budget from federal money. In some states, it's as much as 75 percent, he said.

Harris, the Maryland Republican, said that federal budget constraints mean that at some point more public health costs are going to shift to the states. Local public health officials and advocates "are not lobbying their legislatures adequately," he said.

But eliminating the fund "will create a hole that states won't be able to fill," said Fraser.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Lawmakers Want to Repeal HIV Criminalization Laws]]>Thu, 09 Mar 2017 19:59:10 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*128/AP_17068048820399.jpg

Exposing a person to HIV is treated more seriously under California law than infecting someone with any other communicable disease, a policy some lawmakers say is a relic of the decades-old AIDS scare that unfairly punishes HIV-positive people based on outdated science.

Several lawmakers are promoting a bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that would make it a misdemeanor instead of a felony to intentionally expose someone to HIV, the virus that causes the immune system-weakening disease AIDS. The change would treat HIV like other communicable diseases under California law.

Under current law, if a person who knows they are infected with HIV has unprotected sex without telling their partner they have the virus, they can be convicted of a felony and face years of jail time. Intentional transmission of any other communicable disease, even a potentially deadly condition like hepatitis, is a misdemeanor.

"These laws were passed at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when there was enormous fear and ignorance and misinformation around HIV," Wiener said. "It's time for California to lead and to repeal these laws to send a clear signal that we are going to take a science-based approach to HIV not a fear-based approach."

Wiener's bill, SB239, would also repeal California laws that require people convicted of prostitution for the first time to be tested for AIDS and that increase penalties for prostitution if the sex worker tested positive for AIDS in connection with a previous conviction.

The original laws were passed during the 1980s and 1990s based on incomplete and outdated science, said Dr. Edward Machtinger, director of the Women's HIV Program at the University of California, San Francisco. Transmission rates are much lower than people believed when the laws were enacted. Modern treatment dramatically reduces the effects of the virus and chances for transmission, he said.

Although modern treatments are highly effective, the current laws deter people from getting tested for HIV and seeking treatment, Wiener said.

Between 1988 and 2014, at least 800 people were arrested, charged or otherwise came into contact with the criminal justice system related to their HIV status, according to a study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study found "HIV criminalization" laws disproportionately affected women and people of color.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[New Tech Could Change Food Nutrition Labels ]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:54:08 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_labels0307_1500x845.jpg

New smart glasses developed by researchers at Colorado State University could change how food labels are printed on boxes and cans in your local grocery store. The FDA is looking to roll out this new tech by 2018.]]>
<![CDATA[Industry Groups Oppose GOP Health Bill, Ryan Seeks Unity ]]>Thu, 09 Mar 2017 01:47:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/649341198-GOP-Health-Care-Bill.jpg

Hospitals, doctors and consumer groups mounted intensifying opposition to the Republican health care bill as GOP leaders labored Wednesday to rally a divided party behind their high-stakes overhaul drive. Lawmakers cast Congress' initial votes on the legislation as House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the proposal as "what good, conservative health care reform looks like."

The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and AARP, the nation's largest advocacy group for older people, were arrayed against the GOP measure. Seven years ago their backing was instrumental in enacting President Barack Obama's health care statute, which President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are intent on erasing.

The hospitals — major employers in many districts — wrote lawmakers complaining about the bill's cuts in Medicaid and other programs and said more uninsured Americans seem likely, adding, "We ask Congress to protect our patients." Groups representing public, children's, Catholic and other hospitals also expressed opposition.

America's Health Insurance Plans, representing insurers, praised GOP provisions like erasing health industry taxes but warned that proposed Medicaid changes "could result in unnecessary disruptions in the coverage and care beneficiaries depend on."

In epic sessions that stretched past midnight into Thursday morning, leaders began pushing the legislation toward passage by two House committees — Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce.

GOP leaders faced rebellion within their own ranks, including from conservative lawmakers and outside conservative groups. Top Republicans knew if the upheaval should snowball and crush the legislation it would be a shattering defeat for Trump and the GOP, so leaders hoped approval by both House committees would give them momentum.

In words aimed at recalcitrant colleagues, Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters: "This is what good, conservative health care reform looks like. It is bold and it is long overdue, and it is us fulfilling our promises." The last was a nod to campaign pledges by Trump and many GOP congressional candidates.

Outnumbered Democrats used the panels' meetings for political messaging, futilely offering amendments aimed at preventing the bill from raising deficits, kicking people off coverage or boosting consumers' out-of-pocket costs. They tried unsuccessfully to insert language pressuring President Donald Trump to release his income tax returns, and failed to prevent Republicans from restoring insurance companies' tax deductions for executive salaries above $500,000 — a break Obama's law killed.

There were signs of growing White House engagement, and perhaps progress.

Trump met at the White House late Wednesday with leaders of six conservative groups that have opposed the GOP legislation, and several voiced optimism afterward.

"I'm encouraged that the president indicated they're pushing to make changes in the bill," said David McIntosh, head of the Club for Growth, though he provided no specifics.

Underscoring Trump's potential impact, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said of GOP holdouts, "A lot of them, they maybe haven't felt the inertia that comes with Air Force One landing in their district."

The legislation would defang Obama's requirement that everyone buy insurance — a provision deeply disliked by Republicans — by repealing the tax fines imposed on those who don't. That penalty has been a stick aimed at pressing healthy people to purchase policies. The bill would replace income-based subsidies Obama provided with tax credits based more on age, and insurers would charge higher premiums for customers who drop coverage for over two months

The extra billions Washington has sent states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program would begin ending in 2020, and spending on the entire program would be capped at per-patient limits. Around $600 billion in 10-year tax boosts that Obama's statute imposed on wealthy Americans and others to finance his overhaul would be repealed. Insurers could charge older customers five times more than younger ones instead of the current 3-1 limit, but would still be required to include children up to age 26 in family policies, and they would be barred from imposing annual or lifetime benefit caps.

"We will answer President Trump's call to action," said Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, adding later, "Relief is on the way."

Democrats said the Republicans would yank health coverage from many of the 20 million Americans who gained it under Obama's statute, and drive up costs for others because the GOP tax breaks would be skimpier than existing subsidies. And they accused Republicans of hiding bad news by moving ahead without official estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on the bill's cost to taxpayers and anticipated coverage.

"The bill sabotages the marketplaces where close to 10 million Americans today get coverage and starts a death spiral from which we will never recover," said Ways and Means' top Democrat, Richard Neal of Massachusetts.

On the Republican side, conservatives in particular were up in arms, saying the tax credits would be too expensive and the phase-out of Obama's Medicaid expansion too slow. One conservative group, FreedomWorks, was launching digital and social media ads opposing the legislation, while others like Americans for Prosperity, backed by the wealthy Koch brothers, were working against the legislation.

Numerous GOP centrists and governors were also antagonistic, worried their states could lose Medicaid payments and face higher costs for hospitals having to treat growing numbers of uninsured people.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pot for Pets: Owners Treating Sick Animals With Cannabis]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 08:09:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17047766471893-Cannabis-extract-pets.jpg

Michael Fasman's 12-year-old dog, Hudson, limps from pain caused by arthritis and an amputated toe, but Fasman doesn't want to give her painkillers because "they just knock her out."

So the San Francisco resident has turned to an alternative medicine that many humans use to treat their own pain and illness: marijuana.

On a recent morning, Fasman squeezed several drops of a cannabis extract onto a plate of yogurt, which the Portuguese water dog lapped up in seconds. It's become part of Hudson's daily routine.

"We think it's really lifted her spirits and made her a happier dog," Fasman said. "It's not that she's changed. She's just back to her good old self."

As more states legalize marijuana for humans, more pet owners are giving their furry companions cannabis-based extracts, ointments and edibles marketed to treat everything from arthritis and anxiety to seizures and cancer.

Most of these pet products, which aren't regulated, contain cannabidiol or CBD, a chemical compound found in cannabis that doesn't get pets or humans high. They contain little or no tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the cannabis compound known for its psychoactive effects.

But veterinarians say there isn't enough scientific data to show cannabis is safe and effective for treating animals. Although medical marijuana is legal in 28 states, it remains illegal under federal law, so there has been relatively little research into its potential medical benefits for humans or animals.

Veterinarians in California and other states are legally barred from prescribing or recommending cannabis. They risk losing their veterinary licenses if they do.

"Our hands really are tied," said Ken Pawlowski, president of the California Veterinary Medical Association. "Definitely we're getting more questions from clients asking about it for their pets, but unfortunately we don't have any answers for them."

Karl Jandrey, a veterinarian who teaches at the University of California, Davis, said he tells his clients they "use them at their own risk with the potential to spend money for no improvement, or a risk of adverse side effects."

Despite the lack of scientific data or veterinary guidance, many pet owners are convinced cannabis has improved their animals' health and well-being, based on their own observations.

Lynne Tingle, who runs a pet adoption center and animal sanctuary, regularly gives cannabis edibles and topical ointments to older dogs with health or behavior issues, including her own elderly dogs Chorizo and Alice.

"You just see a real difference in their spirit. They're just not in pain, so they're happier and they're moving better," said Tingle, who founded the Richmond-based Milo Foundation. "They just get a new lease on life."

San Francisco-based TreatWell Health is one of a growing number of companies marketing cannabis products for pets despite questions over their legality.

TreatWell sells cannabis tinctures — extracted from marijuana plants in Humboldt County — that can be added to food or dropped directly into an animal's mouth. Co-founder Alison Ettel works directly with clients and their pets, recommending different formulations based on the animals' ailments.

TreatWell pet tinctures can help treat anxiety, poor appetite, pain, inflammation and seizures, as well as kidney and liver problems, cancer and glaucoma, according to its website. They also are used in end-of-life care.

"What we find is a lot of the animals are coming to us when there are no other options and pharmaceuticals haven't worked for that animal," Ettel said. "They're at that last resort, and cannabis is really good for those types of situations."

Barbara Stein is one of TreatWell's most enthusiastic customers. She said the cannabis tinctures helped treat anxiety and digestive problems in her 13-year-old cat, Willie. And she believes the drug helped Willie's sister Prudence maintain her weight and stay comfortable when she was battling cancer.

Stein, a retiree who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Concord, said she got a medical marijuana card so she could buy cannabis for her cats. She has since recommended cannabis to many friends with aging and sick pets.

"All I know is that none of the traditional medications she got from the vet worked, but the cannabis did," Stein said. "I swear by the stuff."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[How GOP Plans to Make Health Care Plan Into Law: Analysis]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 05:17:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-649341364.jpg

After more than 60 votes and seven years of promises, Republicans offered their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Now, the real work begins. Republicans must navigate a complicated path to turn their 123-page proposal from legislation to law.

A look at the process and the politics:

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Republicans have set an aggressive timetable for moving the bill.

Two House committees — Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce — plan to take up the legislation on Wednesday. Republican leaders hope the committees will approve the measure this week, allowing the full House to pass the bill before lawmakers leave for the spring recess in early April.

The legislation will then move to the Senate, where a tighter Republican majority makes the outlook even more uncertain.

Normally, legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate. But because Republicans hold just 52 seats, they plan to use a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill on a simple majority.

Even that may be difficult. Senate rules require that any bill passed by reconciliation cannot increase the deficit over the long term.

Republicans said on Tuesday that they'd not received official estimates on the costs of bill from the Congressional Budget Office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Tuesday he wants to pass the bill before the April recess, sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature. President Barack Obama signed the health care bill 14 months after entering office.

A TIGHT MARGIN?
How the congressional process unfolds will depend on how Republicans maneuver through some complicated intra-party politics.

Conservative Republicans are worried about the cost of the overhaul, fearing the GOP would essentially be replacing one mandatory federal program with another.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, dubbed an early draft "Obamacare Lite." On Tuesday, influential conservative groups — Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and Freedom Partners — came out against the proposal.

Moderate lawmakers, meanwhile, fear their constituents could lose access to health care.

On Monday, Republican senators from Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado and Alaska signed a letter saying the House bill didn't sufficiently protect "the country's most vulnerable and sickest" in 31 states that accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage under the law.

Provisions to reverse taxes on the wealthy and deny federal funding for one year to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women's health services, could also open swing state lawmakers to criticism.

Democrats, under pressure from their base to resist every part of Trump's agenda, are expected to lend little help.

With no Democratic support, Republicans can't lose more than two votes in the Senate and 21 in the House.

That's a margin that makes even some top Republicans admit their party has little wiggle room.

"I am going to be very anxious to hear how we get to 51 votes and how the House gets to 218," Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, vice chairman of the Senate GOP, told reporters on Tuesday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sleepy Students Allowed to Nap at Some NM Schools]]>Tue, 07 Mar 2017 16:46:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/470425888-pillow-generic.jpg

A handful of high schools in New Mexico are letting their students sleep in school, NBC News reported.

Not during class, though. The schools in Las Cruces are letting students take 20-minute naps between classes in sleeping pods, so they can focus better on their education.

"They wouldn't be listening, they wouldn't be paying attention" if students weren't getting enough sleep, said New Mexico State University sleep researcher Linda Summers.

Teens need a lot of sleep but get little. The National Institutes of Health recommends they get 9-10 hours every night, but only a third of teens are sleeping even 8 hours.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Conservative Groups Give 'RyanCare' Negative Reviews]]>Tue, 07 Mar 2017 19:13:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/649197060-American-Health-Care-Act-Brady.jpg

The reviews are starting to come in on the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as "ObamaCare," and aside from the Trump administration, they aren't very good to start out. 

Major conservative lobbying groups have registered their displeasure with the bill, deeming it "Obamacare-lite," "Obamacare 2.0" and "RyanCare." It's been criticized by some key members of the party in Congress, not to mention Democrats.

The 100-page bill would eliminate the Affordable Care Act's mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance, the fines imposed on those who don't carry health insurance and Medicaid expansion for some beneficiaries after 2019, among other changes.

It was rolled out by House Republicans Monday, and the Trump administration threw its support behind the bill Thursday, with the president calling it "wonderful" in an early morning tweet. 

But that was before statements started coming in from influential groups like Americans for Prosperity and Club for Growth. Here are selections from their statements, which all registered opposition to the bill:

  • "As the bill stands today, it is Obamacare 2.0. Passing it would be making the same mistake that President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi made in 2010. Millions of Americans would never see the improvements in care they were promised, just as Obamacare failed to deliver on its promises." –letter from Koch brothers-affiliated Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity
  • "Republicans should be offering a full and immediate repeal of Obamacare's taxes, regulations, and mandates, an end to the Medicaid expansion, and inclusion of free-market reforms, like interstate competition." –Club for Growth president David McIntosh, in a letter calling the bill "RyanCare"
  • "Many Americans seeking health insurance on the individual market will notice no significant difference between the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act. That is bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy." –American Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham

Those comments were echoed by some influential GOP lawmakers, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. 

"The House leadership plan is Obamacare Lite. It will not pass. Conservarives (sic) are not going to take it. #FullRepeal," Paul tweeted.

"We don't know how many people would use this new tax credit, we don't know how much it will cost, and we don't know if this bill will make health care more affordable for Americans," Lee said at a news conference.

Four other Republican senators, from Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado and Alaska, took issue with the way the new bill affects Medicaid funding, arguing that while Obamacare needs to be replaced, this replacement "does not provide stability and certainty for individuals and families in Medicaid expansion programs or the necessary flexibility for states."

Notes of caution also came from GOP governors, the Associated Press reported, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich arguing that phasing out expanded Medicaid coverage without a viable alternative is "counterproductive" and Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois' saying he was "very concerned" that people will be "left in the lurch" under the House GOP plan.

Members of the administration sought to assure the party, and the American people, that the bill was strong and would pass.

"This is the beginning of the process and we look forward to working with them and others," Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said, when asked about the opposition of conservative groups.

Price said the bill was following the principles of affordability, accessibility, quality care, incentivizing innovation, and empowering patients.

Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that interstate competition was coming in another phase of the health care rollout, which members of the administration echoed later. 

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said he was sure the bill will bring "tremendous long-term savings" by giving states more control over Medicaid.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hasn't yet determined the cost of the new health care bill.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fewer Heavy Americans Are Trying to Lose Weight: Study]]>Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:12:26 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OBESITY_AP_16195512447159.jpg

Fewer overweight Americans have been trying to lose weight in recent years, and researchers wonder if fat acceptance could be among the reasons.

The trend found in a new study occurred at the same time obesity rates climbed.

"Socially accepted normal body weight is shifting toward heavier weight. As more people around us are getting heavier, we simply believe we are fine, and no need to do anything with it," said lead author Dr. Jian Zhang, a public health researcher at Georgia Southern University.

Another reason could be people abandoning efforts to drop pounds after repeated failed attempts, Zhang said.

The researchers analyzed U.S. government health surveys over nearly two decades from 1988 through 2014. The surveys involved in-person physical exams and health-related questions including asking participants if they'd tried to lose weight within the past year. More than 27,000 adults aged 20 to 59 were included. They were not asked to explain their answers.

In the early surveys, about half the adults were overweight or obese. Those numbers climbed to 65 percent by 2014. But the portion of overweight or obese adults who said they were trying to slim down fell from 55 percent to 49 percent in the study.

Body mass index, a measure of height and weight, determines weight status. Those with a BMI of 25 to 29 are considered overweight; 30 and above is obese. A BMI of 30 generally reflects being about 50 pounds above your ideal weight.

The study results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Scott Kahan, director of a weight-loss clinic in Washington, said the study is important and echoes previous research. He acknowledged that it has become more acceptable in some circles to be overweight, but that many patients still feel stigmatized. He said many come to his center after repeated attempts to lose weight and some give up for a while out of frustration.

The study found obesity was most common among black women — 55 percent were obese in the most recent survey years, and there was a big decline in black women trying to lose weight. Whether that's because of fat acceptance, dieting frustration or other reasons is not known.

Zhang said there's a positive side to fat acceptance, if it means people feel less ridiculed for their weight. But obesity can increase risks for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other ailments.

The findings "are a very serious concern," he said.

"We should forget the words 'fat' or 'obesity,'" Zhang said, adding that a healthy lifestyle may be an effective way to help people lose weight.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, file]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Congressman Suggests Buying Health Care, Not Phone]]>Tue, 07 Mar 2017 12:39:40 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/trump-rechazo-10.jpg

Rep. Jason Chaffetz advised consumers concerned about changes to the health care system under the long-awaited Republican health care plan that they may want to choose between to putting money aside for their health instead of "getting that new iPhone."

The Utah Republican soon walked his comment back as not perfectly phrased, but it had already sparked ridicule on social media, from citizens who have paid far more than the cost of an iPhone for health care to a Senate Democrat who said Chaffetz's own phone and health care plan are funded by low-income taxpayers.

The plan, announced Monday, puts more emphasis on health savings accounts at the expense of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which offers more generous subsidies of insurance premiums.

To make his point, on CNN's "New Day," Chaffetz advised consumers that "Americans have choices" and they'll have to make one on for their health.

"And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should go and invest in their own health care," he said.

Later, Chaffetz responded went on Fox News to say "maybe I didn't say as smoothly as I possibly could, but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance."

Many people who reacted to his comments online pointed out that health care is often much more expensive than the roughly $600 cost of an iPhone.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Travel Order Could Hit Doctor Supply in Trump Territory: Researchers]]>Tue, 07 Mar 2017 11:17:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17060083101353.jpg

President Donald Trump's new executive order suspending new visas to the United States for people from six Muslim-majority nations could reduce the number of doctors in areas that voted Trump into office, NBC News reported.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and MIT looked at data about physicians from those countries in the U.S. and found that swaths of Appalachia and the Rust Belt could be disproportionately affected.

Residency programs are a pathway for foreign-born doctors to become physicians in the U.S. Many work in rural and low-income areas, where they have played a critical role in preventing doctor shortages.

As many as several hundred doctors will be affected by the order, unable to begin medical residencies this year unless granted waivers, Atul Grover, executive vice president of The Association of American Medical Colleges, told NBC News.



Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Offers Planned Parenthood Funds If It Stops Abortions]]>Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:38:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-499277954.jpg

President Donald Trump has offered to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood if the group stops providing abortions. Its president spurned the proposal and noted that federal money already is not allowed to be used for abortion.

Trump confirmed Monday there had been discussions after The New York Times inquired about what it described as an informal proposal. In a statement to the newspaper, Trump said polling shows most Americans oppose public funding for abortion.

"As I said throughout the campaign, I am pro-life and I am deeply committed to investing in women's health and plan to significantly increase federal funding in support of nonabortion services such as cancer screenings," he said.

Trump added: "There is an opportunity for organizations to continue the important work they do in support of women's health, while not providing abortion services." 

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in response: "We will always stand for women's ability to make decisions about their health and lives, without interference from politicians in Washington, D.C."

Anti-abortion activists want the federal government to cut off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Nearly $400 million in Medicaid money goes to the group and pulling it back would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

In one of his first acts as president, Trump banned U.S. funding to international groups that perform abortions or even provide information about abortions.

Vice President Mike Pence strongly opposes abortion, citing his Roman Catholic beliefs, and the newly confirmed health secretary, Tom Price, has supported cutting off taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Andrew Burton, Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[DNA Scan Uncovers 18 Genes Newly Associated With Autism]]>Mon, 06 Mar 2017 19:22:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DNA+Generic+Double+Helix.jpg

A new genetic analysis has uncovered 18 genes associated with autism, NBC News reported.

The study observed people with autism and their relatives, and found that people with autism often had dozens of mutations that could have caused their symptoms. There was an average of 73 unique mutations, according to the team at Autism Speaks.

The study adds to evidence that autism is a condition caused by genetics, and that each person with autism has his or her own pattern of DNA changes. The 18 genes that were identified have not been previously linked with autism, however, they are all involved in brain cell communications.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Birth Defects Rise 20 Times in Zika-Affected Pregnancies: CDC ]]>Fri, 03 Mar 2017 09:10:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pregnant+woman+generic1.jpg

Babies in Zika-affected pregnancies in the United States are about 20 times more likely to have birth defects compared with the proportion of pregnancies seen in 2013-2014, before Zika was introduced into the Americas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The types of birth defects associated with Zika include brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly, neural tube defects and other early brain malformations, eye defects and other central nervous system problems.

Those defects were seen in about three of every 1,000 births in 2013-2014 in the U.S., but in 2016, the proportion of infants with these same types of birth defects born to women with Zika virus infection during pregnancy rose to about 6 percent, or nearly 60 of every 1,000 completed pregnancies with Zika infections, according to a CDC report. 

These findings demonstrate the importance of having monitoring systems that collect data on birth defects, as well as why pregnant women and their partners should be educated about them, doctors say.

"There's been such a massive improvement in taking care of these birth defects, that, however terrifying it is, it's important for mothers to get their follow-up appointments and their doctors, and make sure they're delivering in a center where people know how to take care of the defects," says Dr. Tala Nasr, a neonatologist the Pediatrix Group at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas.

The CDC researchers analyzed 2013-2014 data from three birth defect surveillance programs in the United States (in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia) to provide the baseline frequency for Zika-related birth defects. To assess the effect of Zika virus infection during pregnancy, the scientists compared that 2013-2014 baseline number with previously published numbers among pregnancies with Zika virus infection from the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry (USZPR) from 2016.

They identified 747 infants and fetuses with one or more of these defects from programs in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia from 2013-2014. Brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly were the most frequent conditions reported.

Data from the USZPR identified 26 infants and fetuses with these same birth defects among the 442 completed pregnancies of women with possible Zika infection from January through September 2016.

Studies have shown that Zika's arrival to Brazil at least doubled the birth defect rate there, even though the mosquito-borne virus only seriously affected small areas, NBC News reported.



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[About 680,000 Baby Rattles Recalled Over Choking Hazard]]>Fri, 03 Mar 2017 08:40:01 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/baby-rattle-recall.jpg

Hundreds of thousands of baby rattles made by Kids II have been recalled due to the possibility that small beads can pose a choking hazard if part of the rattles break.

Kids II has received 42 reports of the plastic disc that contains the beads breaking in Oball Rattles. Three children were reported to be gagging, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and two other children were reported to have the beads in their mouths.

The CPSC advises that consumers take the rattles away from children and contact Oball for a full refund.

The full recall affects about 680,000 rattles sold nationwide at Target, Walgreens and Walmart, as well as online at several retailers, between January 2016 and February 2017.

The recalled rattles are four-inch-wide pink, blue, green and orange balls with about two dozen finger holes and clear plastic discs that contain beads.

They can be identified by model number 81031, but only rattles with certain date codes — T0486, T1456, T2316, T2856 and T3065 — are included in the recall. The date codes can be found on a small triangle on the inner surface of the rattle.

For more information, contact Kids II at 877-243-7314 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit www.kidsii.com and click on "recalls" at the bottom of the page.



Photo Credit: CPSC]]>
<![CDATA[Click for Candy: How Online Retailers Boost Impulse Buys]]>Wed, 01 Mar 2017 13:17:25 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/adtargetingforonlineshopping.jpg

Supermarket layouts are carefully calibrated to tempt people into impulsive purchases, and now food makers are trying to adapt their strategies as people do more of their shopping online.

Part of the worry for companies is that shoppers won't get to see their products as they would at a store, where people often decide they want an item only after walking past it on shelves or in displays . When shoppers order from a website, the thinking is that they aren't as susceptible to tossing extra goodies into their carts.

"They don't buy so many Snickers and Skittles online as they would in the store," said David Ciancio, head of North American marketing at dunnhumby, a shopping analytics company.

So companies are using targeted ads, like to frequent cookie buyers, or suggesting add-ons like gum if someone is just short of getting free shipping. It's still a relatively new arena for packaged food makers, with less than 2 percent of groceries being purchased online, but that figure is expected to keep growing. Here's some of what customers might encounter.

OFFERS THAT PIGGYBACK ON DELIVERIES

A shopper who's just shy of the minimum order necessary to get free delivery might see a selection of traditional checkout lane "impulse products" that would get them to the threshold.

That's what candy maker Mars says it did in China, under a partnership with online retail giant Alibaba that helped it sell more gum. Mars said the array of impulse products presented to each shopper was determined by an algorithm, which drew from about 500 options.

Andrew Clarke, chief marketing officer for Mars, said the company's gum was a good fit because gum is such a "highly impulsive" purchase.

KITCHEN HELPERS

People who might be searching for dinner ideas could see promotions for recipes or preparation tips.

General Mills, for instance, says it promotes "how to" cooking videos featuring its products on grocery sites. So if someone was shopping for chicken on Amazon Fresh, the company said a video for tacos recipes with its Old El Paso products might pop up in an area that suggests additional items.

Last year, Hershey also started offering dessert recipes featuring its chocolates through online meal-kit company Chef'd. The company said it was a way to test and learn about ways to expand sales online, with grocery shopping increasingly becoming about "meal inspiration."

A CLICK FOR COOKIES

Candy and cookie makers are trying to tap into people's impulsive tendencies online the same way they do in stores.

Mondelez uses "big data" to follow people it knows are "Oreo users" with targeted ads, said Tim Cofer, the company's chief growth officer. And the ads are tailored depending on whether people are thought to be frequent buyers or "lapsed users," he said.

Last year, Mondelez also started putting a "shop now" button in the ads on various sites that took them to Amazon where they could buy Oreos.

THE RIGHT MIX

Shoppers might see different products or package sizes online than they would in stores.

On Amazon, for instance, Mondelez said it takes into account that people who aren't Prime members might be looking for larger package sizes that will qualify them for free delivery. Offering the right packages helps ensure the product is purchased frequently, the company said, which turn helps it move up in the search rankings on sites.

Mars also said it created five larger packs for its chocolates for Amazon.

Plus, stores have a finite amount of space, meaning only the most popular items get stocked. Online, Campbell Soup said, its more obscure items, such as Spaghetti-Os with Sliced Franks, have found a receptive audience.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Colon, Rectal Cancer on the Rise for Millennials ]]>Tue, 28 Feb 2017 19:03:17 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_cancer0228_1500x845.jpg

A new study by the American Cancer Society is showing a shocking increase in cancer among millennials. People in their 20s and 30s have double the risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer, as well as quadruple the risk for rectal cancer as their parents' generation did at the same age. ]]>
<![CDATA[New Help for That Bane of Middle-Age: Blurry Close-Up Vision]]>Tue, 28 Feb 2017 12:39:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/eye-surgery.jpg

An eye implant that takes about 10 minutes to put in place is the newest surgical repair for the blurry close-up vision that is a bane of middle age.

Dr. Shilpa Rose says the Raindrop inlay won't restore vision you had in your 20s. But the Washington ophthalmologist says it decreases the need for reading glasses to send texts or read email.

Nearly everybody will experience presbyopia at some point, usually starting in the mid-40s.

While surgery always carries some risk, corneal inlays implanted into the eye's clear front surface are getting attention because they're removable if necessary.

Dr. Deepinder K. Dhaliwal of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center says patients have to remember it's not one and done, but requires post-surgical exams and care.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Gene Therapy to Fight a Blood Cancer Succeeds in Major Study]]>Tue, 28 Feb 2017 12:44:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancer6.jpg

An experimental gene therapy that turns a patient's own blood cells into cancer killers worked in a major study, with more than one-third of very sick lymphoma patients showing no sign of disease six months after a single treatment, its maker said Tuesday.

In all, 82 percent of patients had their cancer shrink at least by half at some point in the study.

Its sponsor, California-based Kite Pharma, is racing Novartis AG to become the first to win approval of the treatment, called CAR-T cell therapy, in the U.S. It could become the nation's first approved gene therapy.

A hopeful sign: the number in complete remission at six months — 36 percent — is barely changed from partial results released after three months, suggesting this one-time treatment might give lasting benefits for those who do respond well.

"This seems extraordinary ... extremely encouraging," said one independent expert, Dr. Roy Herbst, cancer medicines chief at the Yale Cancer Center.

The worry has been how long Kite's treatment would last and its side effects, which he said seem manageable in the study. Follow-up beyond six months is still needed to see if the benefit wanes, Herbst said, but added, "this certainly is something I would want to have available."

The therapy is not without risk. Three of the 101 patients in the study died of causes unrelated to worsening of their cancer, and two of those deaths were deemed due to the treatment.

It was developed at the government's National Cancer Institute and then licensed to Kite. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society helped sponsor the study.

Results were released by the company and have not been published or reviewed by other experts. Full results will be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in April.

The company plans to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of March and in Europe later this year.

The treatment involves filtering a patient's blood to remove key immune system soldiers called T-cells, altering them in the lab to contain a gene that targets cancer, and giving them back intravenously. Doctors call it a "living drug" — permanently altered cells that multiply in the body into an army to fight the disease.

Patients in the study had one of three types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, and had failed all other treatments. Median survival for such patients has been about six months.

Kite study patients seem to be living longer, but median survival isn't yet known. With nearly nine months of follow-up, more than half are still alive.

Six months after treatment, 41 percent still had a partial response (cancer shrunk at least in half) and 36 percent were in complete remission (no sign of disease).

"The numbers are fantastic," said Dr. Fred Locke, a blood cancer expert at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa who co-led the study and has been a paid adviser to Kite. "These are heavily treated patients who have no other options."

One of his patients, 43-year-old Dimas Padilla of Orlando, was driving when he got a call saying his cancer was worsening, chemotherapy was no longer working, and there was no match to enable a second try at a stem cell transplant.

"I actually needed to park ... I was thinking how am I going to tell this to my mother, my wife, my children," he said. But after CAR-T therapy last August, he saw his tumors "shrink like ice cubes" and is now in complete remission.

"They were able to save my life," Padilla said.

Of the study participants, 13 percent developed a dangerous condition where the immune system overreacts in fighting the cancer, but that rate is lower than in some other tests of CAR-T therapy. The rate fell during the study as doctors got better at detecting and treating it sooner.

Roughly a third of patients developed anemia or other blood-count-related problems, which Locke said were easily treated. And 28 percent had neurological problems such as sleepiness, confusion, tremor or difficulty speaking, but these typically lasted just a few days, Locke said.

"It's a safe treatment, certainly a lot safer than having progressive lymphoma," and comparable to combination chemotherapy in terms of side effects, said the cancer institute's Dr. Steven Rosenberg, who had no role in Kite's study. The first lymphoma patient Rosenberg treated this way, a Florida man, is still in remission seven years later.

There were no cases of swelling and fluid in the brain in this or any other study testing Kite's treatment, company officials said. That contrasts with Juno Therapeutics, which has had a CAR-T study put on hold twice after five patient deaths due to this problem.

Company officials would not say what the treatment might cost, but other types of immune system therapies have been very expensive. It's also being tested for some other types of blood cancer. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trans Students Face ‘Detrimental’ Health Effects: Experts]]>Sun, 26 Feb 2017 04:55:37 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17055026714973.jpg

LGBTQ advocates say President Donald Trump sent a worrying message when his administration withdrew Obama administration guidance on transgender student protections in public schools.

"It makes me feel unimportant. It makes me feel angry. It makes me feel invisible," 16-year-old transgender student Grace Dolan-Sandrino told NBC Out.

The American Academy of Pediatrics was one of many health organizations that released a statement opposing the White House's decision.

"Policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being," the statement read.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 40 percent of respondents reported attempting suicide in their lifetimes, nearly nine times the rate in the U.S. population.



Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Study Builds Case Linking Autism, Infections During Pregnancy]]>Thu, 23 Feb 2017 08:14:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/embarazo22588.jpg

Women with active genital herpes infections early in their pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with autism than women who did not, according to a study released Wednesday.

NBC News reported that the study, published in the journal mSphere, adds to evidence that some cases of autism may be caused by the mother's immune response to infections.

The team from Columbia University and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health believe that the mother's reaction to herpes infection may be crossing the placenta and affecting the fetus' developing brain. A 2013 study found a similar rise in autism rates in pregnant women who had flu.

"We are now looking at other triggers. We think that a wide range of different types of infections can cause this," said Dr. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia epidemiologist and infectious disease expert who oversaw the research.



Photo Credit: Media for Medical/UIG via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Can't Cut Planned Parenthood]]>Tue, 21 Feb 2017 21:59:28 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mv+planned+parenthood.jpg

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Texas can't cut off Medicaid dollars to Planned Parenthood over secretly recorded videos taken by anti-abortion activists in 2015 that launched Republican efforts across the U.S. to defund the nation's largest abortion provider.

An injunction issued by U.S. District Sam Sparks of Austin comes after he delayed making decision in January and essentially bought Planned Parenthood an extra month in the state's Medicaid program.

Texas is now at least the sixth state where federal courts have kept Planned Parenthood eligible for Medicaid reimbursements for non-abortion services, although a bigger question remains over whether President Donald Trump will federally defund the organization.

Sparks' decision preserves what Planned Parenthood says are cancer screenings, birth control access and other health services for nearly 11,000 low-income women. Texas originally intended to boot Planned Parenthood in January but Sparks told the state to wait pending his ruling.

Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also had similar efforts blocked.

Like in those states, Texas health officials accused Planned Parenthood officials of making misrepresentation to investigators following the release of secretly recorded and heavily edited videos by an anti-abortion group last year. Investigations by 13 states into those videos have concluded without criminal charges, and Planned Parenthood officials have denied any wrongdoing.

A Houston grand jury indicted two activists behind the videos over how they covertly gained access inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, but a judge later dismissed the charges.

Planned Parenthood serves only a fraction of the 4.3 million people enrolled in Medicaid in Texas.

Anti-abortion activists emboldened by a new Trump administration are looking for the federal government to cut off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. That would cut nearly $400 million in Medicaid money to the group and result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

In one of his first acts as president, Trump last month banned U.S. funding to international groups that perform abortions or even provide information about abortions. Vice President Mike Pence strongly opposes abortion, citing his Catholic beliefs, and the newly confirmed health secretary, Tom Price, has supported cutting off taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Rise in Premiums Lays Bare 2 Americas on Health Care]]>Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:58:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Obamacare-Website-AP_249581118509.jpg

Michael Schwarz is a self-employed business owner who buys his own health insurance. The subsidized coverage "Obamacare" offers provides protection from life's unpredictable changes and freedom to pursue his vocation, he says.

Brett Dorsch is also self-employed and buys his own health insurance. But he gets no financial break from the Affordable Care Act. "To me, it's just been a big lie," Dorsch says, forcing him to pay more for less coverage.

Schwarz and Dorsch represent two Americas, pulling farther apart over former President Barack Obama's health care law. Known as the ACA, the law rewrote the rules for people buying their own health insurance, creating winners and losers.

Those with financial subsidies now fear being harmed by President Donald Trump and Republicans intent on repealing and replacing the ACA. But other consumers who also buy their own insurance and don't qualify for financial help feel short-changed by Obama's law. They're hoping repeal will mean relief from rising premiums.

The ACA sought to create one big new market for individual health insurance in each state. It required insurers to accept all customers, regardless of medical problems. And it provided subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people afford premiums.

These newly vested ACA customers joined consumers already in the market, to make a new insurance pool. Policies offered to all had to be upgraded to meet new federal standards for comprehensive benefits, raising premiums. And many of the new customers turned out to be sicker than insurers expected, pushing rates even higher.

Consumers who didn't qualify for government financial help wound up bearing the full cost of premiums. They also faced the law's new requirement to carry health insurance or risk fines.

"One (group) is angry and one is incredibly grateful," said Robert Blendon of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. If Trump and congressional Republicans aren't careful, their actions could stoke fresh grievances without solving longstanding problems of access and cost.

Consider what happened to Schwarz and Dorsch this year, as premiums for a standard plan through HealthCare.gov jumped an average of 25 percent.

Schwarz and his wife are in their mid-20s and live in Tampa, Florida. He has his own commercial photography business and she's pursuing a graduate degree in speech-language pathology.

The sticker price of their HealthCare.gov policy went up about 20 percent, but what they pay monthly is about $115 lower than last year. Not only did their subsidy cover the rise in premium, they're also getting more help because their income went down when Schwarz's wife returned to school full time.

"Being uninsured is not an option," said Schwarz. If Republicans take away his subsidy, "I would have to change careers and find a job that offered health insurance," he said.

Dorsch and his wife live in Wilmington, Delaware, and are in their mid-50s. He has a wholesale business supplying electronics to retail stores and has been buying his own health insurance for years. He gets no financial help from the ACA.

Dorsch said their insurance company wanted to raise the monthly premium to $2,050, or nearly $25,000 a year. They settled for a skimpier plan that still costs $1,350 a month and has a very high deductible.

"In four years my health insurance has more than doubled and I have less coverage," said Dorsch. "It's ludicrous."

He voted for Trump. "He saw the reality that Obamacare has been a nightmare for most Americans, unless you are poor or in a very difficult situation," said Dorsch.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the pool of people buying individual health insurance is basically split down the middle among subsidized customers like Schwarz and those who get no help, like Dorsch.

Republican proposals to tie tax credits to age, not income, would help Dorsch. But they may not be generous enough for Schwarz.

"It's trying to find the way to help the one without hurting the other that's really tricky," said Nicholas Moriello, a health insurance broker from Newark, Delaware. "If we had a way to help the person whose premium has become unaffordable without hurting the person we are currently subsidizing."

Caroline Pearson, of the consulting firm Avalere Health, studied consumers on government marketplaces like HealthCare.gov — where nearly 90 percent get subsidies — and compared them with those who purchase directly from an insurer and pay full cost.

Among Avalere's findings:

  • The majority of consumers in the government marketplaces live in lower-income neighborhoods with high unemployment. However, among those who purchase directly from an insurer, about 30 percent live neighborhoods with a median income of $100,000 or more.
  • Consumers in the subsidized market are generally costlier to cover. For those with a standard plan, per-person medical claims averaged $376 per month in 2015, compared to $312 for unsubsidized customers who bought policies directly from an insurer.
  • The subsidized market is important in states that voted for Trump. In Florida, for example, 70 percent of individual policyholders purchase through HealthCare.gov.

"Obamacare helped a lot of lower-income people with high health needs who previously couldn't afford insurance," said Pearson. "It overlooked the fact that there are a lot of people who are relatively healthy and who didn't want the increased benefits. More sick people drove up premiums, which is resulting in some people feeling like they are worse off."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[NIH Testing Mosquito Saliva Vaccine as Way to Fight Illness]]>Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:28:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-543392276-Mosquito.jpg

Wanted: 60 people willing to be bitten by mosquitoes to test a new kind of vaccine — one that acts against the bugs' saliva.

Rather than separate vaccines against Zika or other mosquito-borne diseases, the new approach aims to protect against multiple infections by triggering the immune system to rev up in response to the bite itself.

The National Institutes of Health is recruiting volunteers for a safety study of the experimental vaccine, being developed by two London companies.

Researchers at NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will give volunteers either vaccine or dummy shots. The volunteers must return later to NIH's Bethesda, Maryland, hospital to be bitten by mosquitoes through a special netted device. The mosquitoes are infection-free; researchers will track the volunteers' immune responses.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Face Transplant Links Men Touched by Tragedy]]>Tue, 21 Feb 2017 11:31:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17045844162882-s.jpg

He'd been waiting for this day, and when his doctor handed him the mirror, Andy Sandness stared at his image and absorbed the enormity of the moment: He had a new face, one that had belonged to another man.

His father and his brother, joined by several doctors and nurses at Mayo Clinic, watched as he studied his swollen features. He was just starting to heal from one of the rarest surgeries in the world — a face transplant, the first at the medical center. He had the nose, cheeks, mouth, lips, jaw, chin, even the teeth of his donor. Resting in his hospital bed, he still couldn't speak clearly, but he had something to say.

He scrawled four words in a spiral notebook:

"Far exceeded my expectations," he wrote, handing it to Dr. Samir Mardini, who read the message to the group.

"You don't know how happy that makes us feel," Mardini said, his voice husky with emotion as he looked at the patient-turned-friend he had first met nearly a decade earlier.

The exchange came near the end of an extraordinary medical journey that revolved around two young men. Both were rugged outdoorsmen and both just 21 when, overcome by demons, they decided to kill themselves: One, Sandness, survived but with a face almost destroyed by a gunshot; the other man died.

Their paths wouldn't converge for years, but when they did — in side-by-side operating rooms — one man's tragedy offered hope that the other would have a second chance at a normal life.

__

It was two days before Christmas in 2006 when Andy Sandness reached a breaking point.

He'd been sad and drinking too much at that time. That night after work while "super, super depressed," he grabbed a rifle from a closet. He stared at it for a while, then put a round in the chamber. He positioned the barrel beneath his chin, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.

Instantly, he knew he'd made a terrible mistake. When the police arrived, an officer who was a friend cradled him in his arms as Sandness begged, "Please, please don't let me die! I don't want to die!"

He was rushed from his home in eastern Wyoming, treated at two hospitals, then transferred to Mayo Clinic. When he woke, his mother was holding his hand. She'd always been a strong woman but that day, her face was a portrait of unfathomable pain. The bullet had obliterated his mouth, so he motioned for a pen and paper.

"I'm sorry," he wrote.

"I love you," she replied. "It's OK." But all Sandness could think about was how he'd hurt his family — and just wonder what was next.

The answer came quickly when he met Mardini, a plastic surgeon whose specialty is facial reconstruction. As a newcomer at Mayo, the doctor was on call Christmas Eve. Over the next few days, he reassured Sandness that he'd fix his face as best he could.

"I just need you to be strong and patient," he said.

It would take time and much surgery. And despite their skills, the doctors couldn't miraculously turn him back into that guy with the orthodontist-perfected smile.

Sandness couldn't bear to see himself, so he covered his hospital room mirror with a towel. He had no nose and no jaw. He'd shot out all but two teeth. His mouth was shattered, his lips almost nonexistent. He'd lost some vision in his left eye. He needed breathing and feeding tubes at first.

Mardini and his team removed dead tissue and shattered bones, then connected facial bones with titanium plates and screws. They reconstructed his upper jaw with bone and muscle from the hip; they transferred bone and skin from a leg to fashion the lower jaw. They used wires and sutures to bring together his eyelids, which had been spread apart by the powerful blast.

They made progress, even if it didn't always look that way.

After about eight surgeries over 4½ months, Sandness returned home to Newcastle, Wyoming, a hamlet of 3,200, where friends and family embraced him. He worked at a lodge, in the oil fields and as an electrician's apprentice.

But his world had shrunk. When he ventured to the grocery store, he avoided eye contact with children so he wouldn't scare them. Occasionally, he heard them ask their mothers why he looked that way.

He sometimes lied when folks asked what had happened. "I would tell them it was a hunting accident," he says. "I felt like they didn't need to know."

He had almost no social life; on a rare night out to shoot pool, a guy taunted him about his appearance. He retreated to the hills, where he could hunt elk and fish walleye, unseen.

"Those were real tough times for him,' says his father, Reed. "He was insecure. Who wouldn't be?"

Sandness learned to adapt. His mouth was about an inch wide — too small for a spoon — so he tore food into bits, then sucked on them until he could swallow the pieces. He wore a prosthetic nose but it constantly fell off outdoors; he carried glue to reattach it. It discolored often, so he had to paint it to match his skin.

"You never fully accept it," he says. "You eventually say, 'OK, is there something else we can do?'"

There was, but the prospect of 15 more surgeries Mardini had mapped out scared him. He didn't want more skin grafts, more scars or dental implants. Even then, he'd still look deformed.

Over the next five years, Sandness made yearly visits to Mayo. Then in spring of 2012, he received a life-changing call.

Mardini told him it looked like Mayo was going to launch a face transplant program and Sandness might be an ideal patient. The doctor had already begun traveling to France, Boston and Cleveland to meet doctors who'd done face transplants.

Mardini tried to temper his patient's enthusiasm. "Think very hard about this," he said. Only about two dozen transplants have been done around the world, and he wanted Sandness to understand the risks and the aftermath: a lifelong regimen of anti-rejection drugs.

But Sandness could hardly contain himself. "How long until I can do this?" he asked.

He followed Mardini's advice to research the surgery. It was far more complicated than he'd imagined, but he was undeterred.

"When you look like I looked and you function like I functioned, every little bit of hope that you have, you just jump on it," he says, "and this was the surgery that was going to take me back to normal."

___

Three more years passed as Sandness waited.

By then, Mayo Clinic had completed a long internal review to get the face transplant program approved. Sandness had to undergo a rigorous psychiatric and social work evaluation to address, among other things, a key question: Should this surgery be performed on someone who'd attempted suicide?

Several factors were in his favor: His resilience and motivation, a strong support network of family and friends, a long-standing rapport with Mardini and a gap of several years since the shooting.

"I don't think there's anybody who doesn't deserve a second chance," Mardini says.

Asked by the doctors what he expected from the transplant, to make sure he had realistic goals, Sandness said he wanted a working nose, the ability to bite, swallow, chew, and to "get good stares as opposed to bad stares."

These incremental steps benefited everyone, says Dr. Hatem Amer, Mayo's medical director of reconstructive transplantation.

"He wasn't rushing us, and we weren't rushing him," he says. "He really understood what he was embarking upon."

Sandness says he was concerned both about the possibility of rejection and potential side effects of anti-rejection drugs, including skin cancer, infection, diabetes and weakening of the bones.

Mardini and his team devoted more than 50 Saturdays over 3½ years to rehearsing the surgery, using sets of cadaver heads to transplant the face of one to the other. They used 3-D imaging and virtual surgery to plot out the bony cuts so the donor's face would fit perfectly on Sandness.

In January 2016, Sandness' name was added to the waiting list of the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Mardini figured it would take up to five years to find the right donor: a man with matching blood and tissue types, roughly the same size as Sandness, within a 10-year age range and a close skin tone.

But just five months later, Mardini got a call: There might be a donor. He phoned Sandness, cautioning it was just a possibility.

The next day, Mardini got the final word: The donor's family had said OK.

___

The decision came from a 19-year-old newlywed mourning the sudden loss of her husband.

In early June, Calen "Rudy" Ross fatally shot himself in the head. His devastated widow, Lilly, was eight months pregnant.

Despite her grief, she was committed to carrying out her husband's wishes: On his driver's license, Ross, who lived in Fulda, Minnesota, had designated he wanted to be an organ donor. Lilly met with a coordinator from LifeSource, a nonprofit group that works with families in the upper Midwest to facilitate organ and tissue donation.

Since Ross had been healthy and just 21, his heart, lungs, liver and kidneys could be donated. But additional screening determined he could do even more: He was a good match for a man awaiting a face transplant at Mayo Clinic.

In a second conversation, LifeSource broached the idea to Lilly.

"I was skeptical at first," she says. "I didn't want to walk around and all of a sudden see Calen." She was reassured the donor had his own eyes and forehead and would not be recognizable as her husband. After consulting with her husband's best friend, she gave her consent.

A CT scan, other tests and a photo sent to Mardini by LifeSource confirmed the two men were a good match. Mardini said when the doctors studied Ross' photo, "we got chills when we actually saw how close they were in hair color, skin — just the overall look. It could be his cousin."

Late on June 16, Sandness was wheeled into surgery, accompanied by Mardini, who was showing him photos of his two small children. Over the years, the two say they've become as close as brothers.

"There was not a second of doubt that everything was going to go well," Sandness says.

"Everybody went into this totally knowing their role, knowing what to expect," Mardini recalls. "Every step has been thought out 1,000 times."

Mardini had a parting message: "We're looking forward to seeing you with a new face."

In adjoining operating rooms, some 60 surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and others had gathered for what would be a 56-hour marathon.

__

The surgery that started shortly before midnight Friday was over early Monday morning.

It took about 24 hours to procure the donor's face, which involved taking bone, muscle, skin and nerves, and almost the same time to prepare Sandness. His entire face was rebuilt below his eyes, taking an additional 32 hours. The medical team rotated, many taking four-hour breaks through the weekend.

One of the most intricate parts of the surgery was identifying facial nerve branches on both men and stimulating them with an electric current to determine their function. That allowed doctors to make the correct transfers, so when Sandness thinks about smiling or closing his eyes, for example, those movements actually happen.

After the surgery ended, Mardini proclaimed it "a miracle."

Sandness, who was sedated for several days, wasn't allowed to see himself immediately. His room mirror and cell phone were removed. His father, Reed, served as his eyes.

"I said, 'Andy, I've never lied to you. I'm telling you you're going to be happy with what you see,'" he recalls. "He was quizzing me and the nurses all the time."

Three weeks later, when he finally did see his face — a scene captured on a Mayo video — his father says it "was just a real tearful, hard-to-hold-back time ... beyond our wildest dreams."

Sandness was overwhelmed. "Once you lose something that you've had forever, you know what it's like not to have it," he says. "And once you get a second chance to have it back, you never forget it."

Just having a nose and mouth are blessings, he says. "The looks are a bonus."

Months earlier, both he and Lilly Ross had expressed interest in learning about each other. She particularly wanted him to know about her husband, an adventurous, spontaneous guy.

Last fall, she wrote to Sandness and the five others who received her husband's organs. She described Ross, her high school sweetheart, as a "giving person" who loved hunting, trapping and being with his dog, Grit. "I am filled with great joy knowing that he was able to give a little of himself to ensure a better quality of life for someone else," she wrote.

As for the face transplant, she thought of her baby son when she agreed to it. "The reason that I decided to ... go through with it was so that I can later down the road show Leonard what his dad had done to help somebody," she said in a video produced by LifeSource.

Lilly was given photos of Sandness before and after the transplant. That's when she learned of uncanny similarities between the two men — not just their passion for the outdoors, but the way they stood in their hunting photos. "It was amazing how good he looked and how well he's doing,'" she says of Sandness. "I'm excited for him that he's getting his life back."

She also noticed one small detail — a small bare patch in the middle of his bearded chin, just as on her husband's face.

Both she and Sandness hope to meet one day. For now, he wrote her a letter of appreciation. Referring to her husband's favorite things, he said: "He's still going to continue to love hunting and fishing and dogs — through me."

___

Andy Sandness can pinpoint the day he looked normal.

About three months after the transplant, he was in an elevator when a little boy glanced at him, then turned to his mother without appearing scared or saying anything. "I knew then," he says, "that the surgery was a success."

Last December, he had follow-up surgery to tighten skin on his face and neck and build up bone around his eyes so they're not so recessed.

His facial muscles are growing stronger. He received speech therapy to learn to use his tongue in a new mouth and jaw, and enunciate clearly.

He's thrilled to smell again, breathe normally and be eating foods that were off-limits for a decade: apples, steak and pizza that he shared with his doctors.

His transformation isn't just visible. After the shooting, he says, when he dreamed, he still had his old face. Now, his new face appears in his dreams.

Sandness, now 31, plans to return to Wyoming, work as an electrician and, he hopes, marry and have a family someday.

For now, he savors his anonymity. Recently, he attended a Minnesota Wild game. He bought some popcorn. He watched some hockey. He didn't see any stares or hear any whispers.

He was, as he says, "just another face in the crowd." Just thinking about that makes him smile. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Drugs Vanish at Some VA Hospitals: AP]]>Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:52:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17048604060654-shulkin.jpg

Federal authorities are stepping up investigations at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers due to a sharp increase in opioid theft, missing prescriptions or unauthorized drug use by VA employees since 2009, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press.

Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff at federal hospitals — the vast majority within the VA system — siphoned away controlled substances for their own use or street sales, or drugs intended for patients simply disappeared.

Aggravating the problem is that some VA hospitals have been lax in tracking drug supplies. Congressional auditors said spot checks found four VA hospitals skipped monthly inspections of drug stocks or missed other requirements. Investigators said that signals problems for VA's entire network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics, coming after auditor warnings about lax oversight dating back to at least 2009.

"Drug theft is an area of concern," Jeffrey Hughes, the VA's acting assistant inspector general for investigations, told the AP. He said the monthly inspections could help the VA uncover potential discrepancies and root out crime.

Both the inspector general's office and the Drug Enforcement Administration said they have increased scrutiny of drug thefts from the VA, with the DEA reporting more criminal investigations.

It's not clear if the problem is worse at the VA than at private facilities, where medical experts and law enforcement officials say drug theft is also increasingly common in a time of widespread opioid abuse in the U.S. But the VA gets special scrutiny from lawmakers and the public, given Americans' esteem for ex-servicemembers served by the agency and because of past problems at the VA, especially a 2014 wait-time scandal in which some patients died.

"Those VA employees who are entrusted with serving our nation's wounded, ill and injured veterans must be held to a higher standard," said Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The drug thefts will be among the challenges facing newly confirmed VA Secretary David Shulkin, who served as the department's undersecretary of health while the drug problem was growing. At his confirmation hearing this month, Shulkin said he was proud that the VA identified the opioid addiction problem before others did and "recognized it as a crisis and began to take action."

Still, the VA acknowledges it has had problems keeping up with monthly inspections and said it was taking steps to improve training. It also said it was requiring hospitals to comply with inspection procedures and develop plans for improvement.

It did not respond to AP requests made three weeks ago to provide a list of VA facilities where drugs had been reported missing or disciplinary action was taken, saying it was still compiling the information.

Reported incidents of drug losses or theft at federal hospitals jumped from 272 in 2009 to 2,926 in 2015, before dipping to 2,457 last year, according to DEA data obtained by AP. "Federal hospitals" include the VA's more than 1,100 facilities as well as seven correctional hospitals and roughly 20 hospitals serving Indian tribes.

The inspector general's office estimates there are nearly 100 open criminal probes involving theft or loss of VA controlled substances.

Three VA employees were charged this month with conspiring to steal prescription medications including opioids at the Little Rock, Arkansas, VA hospital. The inspector general's office says a pharmacy technician used his VA access to a medical supplier's web portal to order and divert 4,000 oxycodone pills, 3,300 hydrocodone pills and other drugs at a cost to the VA of $77,700 and a street value of $160,000.

Christopher Thyer, the U.S. attorney overseeing the case, said the employees were abusing their position to steal from taxpayers and "poison the communities we live in with dangerous drugs."

The drug thefts from VA also raise the possibility that patients will be denied medication they need or that they will be treated by drug-impaired staff.

In one case, a former VA employee in Baltimore pleaded guilty on charges that he injected himself with fentanyl intended for patients heading into surgery, then refilled the syringes with saline solution. Patients received solution tainted with the Hepatitis C virus carried by the employee.

Dr. Dale Klein, a VA pain management specialist, said some of his patients suspected they weren't getting the drugs they needed, including one patient with an amputated leg who had to do without morphine because a VA pharmacy said it did not have enough in supply.

Klein, who is part of a whistleblowers network called VA Truth Tellers, ran a VA pain clinic from 2015 to 2016 and has filed a retaliation claim against VA, saying the VA restricted his work after he voiced complaints. The VA has said it was looking into the claims.

Klein described several of VA's inventory lists as inconsistent or a "slapdash rush job." That concern was underscored by the findings from the Government Accountability Office, released last week, that drug stockpiles were not always being regularly inspected. Klein's attorney, Natalie Khawam, says she's heard similar complaints from other clients at their VA hospitals.

The GAO review, covering January 2015 to February 2016, found the most missed inspections at VA's hospital in Washington, D.C., according to a government official familiar with confidential parts of the audit. Monthly checks were missed there more than 40 percent of the time, mostly in critical patient care areas, such as the operating room and intensive care units. That adds to the risk of veterans not receiving their full medications.

The Washington hospital also missed inspections of the facility's pharmacy for three straight months, violating VA policy, according to the official, who insisted on anonymity to reveal findings that weren't public. In the last year, the hospital had at least five incidents of controlled substances that were "lost" or otherwise unaccounted for, according to the DEA.

Other problems were found in VA hospitals in Seattle, Milwaukee and Memphis, Tennessee. Milwaukee had the fewest, which the GAO attributed to a special coordinator put in place to ensure inspection compliance.

Responding to the findings, the House Veterans Affairs Committee planned a hearing on the inspection issue. Its chairman, Rep. Phil Roe, a physician, said failing to follow protocol is serious and "should not be tolerated within VA."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, Carolyn Kaster]]>
<![CDATA[Gore: Climate Change Poses Dangerous Health Consequences]]>Thu, 16 Feb 2017 17:16:56 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17047583778829-gore.jpg

Former Vice President Al Gore on Thursday said more attention must be paid to the dangerous health consequences of climate change, and he called on scientists, health officials and health care providers to work together to find solutions to the crisis.

Gore made the comments Thursday during the Health and Climate Meeting at The Carter Center in Atlanta. Gore helped organize the conference after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly canceled its own conference on climate change and health.

A number of CDC employees were attending, however, including Patrick Breysse, who leads the agency's efforts to investigate the relationship between environmental factors and health. CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben said Breysse was there to represent the CDC but that some agency officials were attending on their own time.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were also attending.

Public health experts have long said that climate change is a man-made problem that contributes to a range of health issues and illnesses, including heat stroke, respiratory illness and diseases spread by tropical insects.

The problems are already here, the Noble Peace Prize Winner said in his keynote speech, noting infectious diseases like zika are now spreading to areas where they previously were not found.

"It's hard to focus on some of these horrific consequences of the climate crisis on health, but hope is justified," Gore said. "We are going to win this.”

Gore also said the effects of climate change are falling hardest on the poor. Outbreaks of cholera, an acute intestinal illness caused by ingesting infected food and water, have in recent years struck places like Haiti and Niger. Cholera causes severe diarrhea and can lead to death by dehydration, sometimes within hours.

"Cholera likes warmer water," Gore said. "There are lots of examples of temperature spikes with water that had high levels where cholera becomes much worse and much worse of a problem."

In 2012, President Donald Trump tweeted that the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. He later said he was joking, but during the presidential campaign referred to global warming as "a hoax."

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has been met with opposition from environmental groups and some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Wednesday that she's going to vote against Pruitt because she has "significant concerns" over his active opposition to EPA policy and his lawsuits against the agency on policies important to Maine.

"We are now facing a new headwind," Gore said of the situation in Washington. " ... This is not the first time that there has been an unexpected obstacle. We will win this."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, Alex Sanz]]>
<![CDATA[China Carfentanil Ban a 'Game-Changer' in US Opioid Epidemic]]>Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:10:40 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DEA-Badge-Generic.jpg

So deadly it's considered a terrorist threat, carfentanil has been legal in China— until now. Beijing is banning carfentanil and three similar drugs as of March 1, China's Ministry of Public Security said Thursday, closing a major regulatory loophole in the fight to end America's opioid epidemic.

"It shows China's attitude as a responsible big country," Yu Haibin, the director of the Office of the National Narcotics Control Committee, told the Associated Press. "It will be a strong deterrent."

He added that China is actively considering other substances for sanction, including U-47700, an opioid marketed as an alternative to banned fentanyls. China said the March 1 ban will also apply to carfentanil's less-potent cousins furanyl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl and valeryl fentanyl.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called China's move a potential "game-changer" that is likely to have a big impact in the U.S., where opioid demand has driven the proliferation of a new class of deadly drugs made by nimble chemists to stay one step ahead of new rules like this one. After China controlled 116 synthetic drugs in October 2015, seizures in the United States of compounds on that list plunged.

"It's a substantial step in the fight against opioids here in the United States," said Russell Baer, a DEA special agent in Washington. "We're persuaded it will have a definite impact."

Legally used as an anesthetic for elephants and other large animals, carfentanil burst into the North American drug supply last summer, causing hundreds of unsuspecting drug users to overdose. The DEA confirmed more than 400 seizures of carfentanil across eight U.S. states from July through October. So lethal an amount smaller than a poppy seed can kill a person, carfentanil was researched for years as a chemical weapon and used by Russian forces to subdue Chechen separatists at a Moscow theater in 2002.

New data from DEA laboratories suggests the supply of furanyl fentanyl is now surging. DEA labs identified 44 samples of furanyl fentanyl in the last three months of 2016, up three-fold from the prior quarter.

Though Beijing has said U.S. assertions that China is the top source of fentanyls lack evidence, the two countries have deepened cooperation as the U.S. opioid epidemic intensifies. Beijing already regulates fentanyl and 18 related compounds, even though they are not widely abused domestically. Since 2016, China has arrested dozens of synthetic drug exporters, destroyed eight illegal labs and seized around 2 tons of new psychoactive substances, according to the Office of the National Narcotics Control Committee.

But the battle against rapidly evolving synthetic drugs is complicated by the deeply global nature of the narcotics trade and the deeply national nature of law enforcement. Some online drug vendors host their websites on servers abroad to thwart police. All benefit by submerging their illicit packages in the vast tides of legitimate commerce shipped or sent by courier from China.

One example of the kind of global coordination needed to take down synthetic drug barons is the case of Zhang Lei, whom the U.S. Treasury Department designated a drug kingpin in 2014. China shared 4,221 clues with 58 countries and areas in the hunt for Zhang, Chinese drug control authorities said Thursday. Zhang was sentenced to 14 years in Chinese prison last year, according to one of his lawyers, Fan Renzhong.

In October, the AP identified 12 Chinese companies willing to export carfentanil around the world for a few thousand dollars a kilogram (2.2. pounds), no questions asked. That same month China began evaluating whether to ban carfentanil and the three other drugs. Usually, the process can take nine months. This time, it took just four. Good international cooperation and effective early warning systems to track the emergence of novel drugs helped speed the process, Chinese drug control officials said Thursday.

China's action is "a hopeful sign of political and strategic law enforcement cooperation," said Jeremy Douglas, a regional representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok. "But having legislation is a first step. The law will need to be enforced effectively."

Offers for carfentanil from Chinese vendors were scarce Thursday, but the AP quickly secured five offers to export furanyl fentanyl to the United States. Some vendors also pushed U-47700.

"One news I just got is that the carfentanil and furanyl fentanyl etc opioid analogs will be controlled in China on March 1 effective," one vendor called Ete wrote in an email. "So if you need them pls make it before that day. After that day it will be unavailable."

The vendor did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AP.

Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report from Shanghai.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: NBC San Diego, File]]>
<![CDATA[Would You Let Someone Who's Not a Dentist Pull Your Teeth?]]>Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:43:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17046749125354-dentist.jpg

Need a tooth pulled or a cavity filled? Forget the dentist. A number of states are allowing or considering letting "dental therapists," professionals with a lower level of training, do the job.

In dozens of countries and a handful of U.S. states, dental therapists also sometimes called advanced dental hygiene practitioners help fill gaps in access to oral care for low-income, elderly and disabled people, and in rural areas where few dentists practice, according to many public health advocates.

In Massachusetts, a group that lobbies on behalf of dentists has for the first time signaled a willingness to embrace the concept, though its proposal is viewed as unnecessarily restrictive by sponsors of a competing bill in the Legislature.

Dentists have long opposed the midlevel position, citing concerns over safety and supervision.

"We are not a silver bullet for helping access to dental care, but we are a great tool," said Christy Jo Fogarty, a dental therapist in Minnesota, which in 2009 became the first state to broadly authorize and establish educational and training criteria for therapists. Often compared to a nurse practitioner, the therapist can perform more common procedures than dental hygienists, while leaving more complex tasks to licensed dentists.

Fogarty, a dental hygienist for 13 years before training to become a dental therapist, said her work includes fillings, temporary crowns and extractions. She regularly provides care in schools, Head Start centers and other community settings without a dentist physically present.

"We have kids who don't have to go to an emergency room for a toothache anymore," said Fogarty, one of more than 60 therapists in Minnesota.

In Massachusetts, with a higher rate of dentists per 100,000 residents than any other state, there were more than 36,000 visits to emergency rooms in 2014 for "preventable oral health" issues, costing the health care system as much as $36 million, according to an estimate by the state's Health Policy Commission.

Dentists often do not accept Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates, and dental procedures covered by the government insurance program vary from state to state.

"I can't tell you how many times I had to take my kids to an emergency room because of an abscessed tooth," said Maura Sullivan, who works for The Arc of Massachusetts, a group that advocates for people with disabilities and supports dental therapists. She said she struggled for years to find preventative dental care for her two sons, both with autism, in part because many dentists in her area would not accept Medicaid disability benefits.

Alaska has allowed dental therapists to work in tribal areas since 2004, and two other New England states, Maine in 2014 and Vermont in 2016, have since joined Minnesota in authorizing statewide programs. Proposals also are being considered in Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. One recent North Dakota study found that Medicaid recipients suffered disproportionately from tooth decay and tooth loss, and conditions such as severe gingivitis.

Massachusetts dentists broke from the American Dental Association, a national organization that opposes the midlevel position, by filing a bill in January that would allow limited use of public health dental practitioners as part of a broader approach to improved oral health care.

"They could do any procedure that a dental hygienist can do, but if there is anything beyond that scope, it should be under direct supervision, which means a dentist needs to be there at the facility in case they develop a problem with an extraction or something like that," said Raymond Martin, president of the Massachusetts Dental Society.

The legislation would require practitioners to have at least two years of post-graduate level training and restrict them to serving only Medicaid patients or residents of "underserved" counties with a documented shortage of dentists.

Under a separate bill backed by Pew Charitable Trusts and other advocacy groups, dental therapists would work collaboratively with dentists but would be allowed to perform procedures under "general" rather than direct supervision — meaning a dentist would not have to be physically present. The measure would not specify the level of education for therapists but requires them to meet standards of a national dental accrediting commission.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, Dawn Villella]]>
<![CDATA[Brain Scans May Detect Signs of Autism in Infants]]>Wed, 15 Feb 2017 21:57:36 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-5248112111.jpg

It may be possible to detect autism in babies before their first birthdays, a much earlier diagnosis than ever before, a small new study finds.

Using magnetic-resonance imaging scans, researchers at the University of North Carolina were able to predict — with an 80 percent accuracy rate — which babies who had an older sibling with autism would be diagnosed with the disorder, NBC News reported.

The brain imaging scans, taken at 6 months, at 12 months and again at 2 years, showed significant growth in brain volume during the first year in babies who would later meet the criteria for autism, such as not making eye contact, delaying speech or other displaying other developmental delays.

Parents who have a child with autism have a 2 percent to 18 percent increased risk of having a second child who is also affected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Photo Credit: Sally Anscombe/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[South Florida Company Turns Cobra Venom Into Healing Treatment]]>Wed, 15 Feb 2017 20:42:41 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/021417+cobra+venom.jpg

When you think about Cobra venom, eventual death comes to mind. A South Florida company is changing the perception of the deadly venom.

Nutra Pharma Corp., a biotechnology company specializing in the acquisition, licensing and commercialization of pharmaceutical products and technologies,  has turned the toxin in the venom into treatment for pets and people.

The treatment fills medicine bottles at the facility in Plantation.

Tom Crutchfield, a herpetologist, says there’s really no need to be afraid of this potentially deadly snake.

“I always knew they were special even as a kid, because when I was a kid everybody hated snakes,” said Crutchfield.

He raises and handles the slithering creatures in his farm in Homestead.

Twice a month, Crutchfield milks the venom that will be used to help people and pets with chronic pain.

“The biodiversity on this planet never ceases to amaze me. And, the more we look, the more we find, the more medicines we find when we look at venoms and poisons and things like that. It’s amazing,” said Crutchfield.

The venom is taken to the Nutra Pharma lab, where it undergoes a process converting it from fluid to powder.

The product is then sold and marketed as Nyloxin, selling for $24.95.

“All the principle work has been in humans. So, the Nyloxin product is amazing. It’s non-addictive, no opiate, non-narcotic. In the last model, it outperformed morphine. It lasted six hours longer than morphine without any of the side effects,” explained Rik Deitsch, CEO of Nutra Pharma Corp.

Deitsch said the extracted venom is also good for pets. It’s sold as Pet Pain Away.

“The problem with pain medication for dogs and cats is there aren't a lot of choices,” said Deitsch.

The product comes as a spray and topical gel. The South Florida-based company says it has three patents on this specific healing formula.

Nutra Pharma says there are 46 published clinical studies about the product.

Nyloxin and Pet Pain Away are all natural and can also be used for auto immune diseases, viruses and pain. Every time the lab milks a cobra, more than 100 bottles of product are made.



Photo Credit: NBC Miami]]>
<![CDATA[Sore Back? Try Heat and Exercise First, Guidelines Say]]>Tue, 14 Feb 2017 12:56:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/212*120/Back-Guy.jpg

Prescription drugs should only be a last resort as a treatment for lower back pain, a leading doctors' group said Monday.

NBC News reported on the new guidance from the American College of Physicians, which says doctors should tell patients to try heat wraps and exercise first, then over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen (Tylenol has been shown to do little for back pain), before they prescribe opioids.

"Given that most patients with acute or subacute low back pain improve over time regardless of treatment, clinicians and patients should select nonpharmacologic treatment with superficial heat massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation," the group says in its new guidance, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Among the therapies that may help and have little risk of harm are tai chi, yoga and cognitive behavioral therapy, the group said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Aetna, Humana Call Off $34 Billion Deal]]>Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:50:03 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16229419820877.jpg

Aetna and Humana called off a $34 billion proposal to combine the two major health insurers after a federal judge, citing antitrust concerns, shot down the deal.

The announcement Tuesday comes several days after another federal judge rejected a tie-up between two other massive insurers. Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem is attempting to buy Cigna for $48 billion. Anthem has vowed to appeal that decision.

Aetna, the nation's third largest insurer, had announced its bid for Humana in 2015. The deal would have given Aetna the opportunity to significantly expand its presence in the fast-growing market for Medicare Advantage plans, privately run versions of the federal Medicare program for people who are over 65 or disabled.

But Aetna's attempt to gobble up the nation's fifth largest health insurer brought in the Department of Justice, which sued to block the deal last summer.

U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote in the decision last month that neither new competition nor plans to shed some of the combined company's businesses would be enough to ease antitrust concerns. Federal regulation would likely be "insufficient to prevent the merged firm from raising prices or reducing benefits," Bates ruled.

Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini said in a company release Tuesday that "the current environment makes it too challenging to continue pursuing the transaction."

Humana is entitled to a $1 billion breakup fee, which would amount to about $630 million after taxes. The Louisville, Kentucky, insurer says it will announce its 2017 forecast and provide an update on its strategic plan after markets close Tuesday.

Aetna is based in Hartford, Connecticut.

The two deals blocked in federal courts would have melded the nation's five largest insurers into three, with UnitedHealth Group Inc. currently the biggest.

The insurers have argued that growing through acquisitions would allow them to better negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctor groups that also are merging and growing larger. They also expect to cut expenses and add more customers, which helps them spread out the cost of investing in technology to manage and improve care.

Insurers have also said that combining would help them stabilize their business on the Affordable Care Act's public insurance exchanges.

But the American Medical Association said last week, after the Anthem-Cigna deal was shot down, that a merger would have created a health care behemoth too large to regulate and with too much control over the lives of consumers.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Firstborns Get Intellectual Advantage Over Siblings: Study]]>Mon, 13 Feb 2017 17:04:28 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*122/GettyImages-73781080.jpg

Firstborn children are set up for more academic and intellectual success, according to a new study that delved into nearly 40 years of data.

Today.com reported that firstborn babies and toddlers started scoring better on cognitive tests than their younger siblings at the same age, and the advantage continued through their lives.

The study was published in the Journal of Human Resources and based its findings on the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of the Youth, which included information on thousands of Americans 14-21 years old who were interviewed several times starting in 1979.

“First-time parents tend to want to do everything right and generally have a greater awareness of their interactions with and investments in the firstborn," co-author Jee-Yeon K. Lehmann, an economist at the Analysis Group in Boston, told "Today."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Shoveling Snow Can Be Deadly for Men: Study]]>Mon, 13 Feb 2017 15:45:47 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-462353044.jpg

Men are more likely to have a heart attack after a snowfall, probably from shoveling snow, according to Canadian researchers.

NBC News reported that researchers found a slight increase in heart attacks and deaths following a storm in Quebec. With each day of snow, these likelihoods increased. A single day of snowfall raised a man’s risk of heart attack by just less than one percent, the researchers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“Men are potentially more likely than women to shovel, particularly after heavy snowfalls,” researchers wrote. “Snow shoveling is a demanding cardiovascular exercise require more than 75 percent of the maximum heart rate, particularly with heavy loads.”

The study found that men were one-third more likely to die after an eight-inch snowfall compared to a dry day. Researchers did not find a similar trend with women.



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Woman Praises 911 Dispatcher]]>Sun, 12 Feb 2017 07:29:37 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/258*120/170211-911-dispatcherJPG.JPG

There were happy tears all around Saturday at the Corona Police Department when a woman met the 911 dispatcher who helped save her husband’s life.

On Jan. 21, Carolyn Evans called 911. Her husband, 65-year-old Jeff Evans, had suffered a heart attack and wasn’t breathing.

“His face is turning purple,” Carolyn Evans can be heard saying to the dispatcher in the 911 call.

Elise Rodriguez, the voice on the other end, kept Carolyn Evans calm and walked her through two rounds of CPR until paramedics arrived four minutes later.

“I want you to put the heel of your hand on the breast bone in the center of his chest,” Rodriguez instructed. “I want you to count out loud with me."

Even as the paramedics arrived and continued to administer life-saving care, Evans said Rodriguez deserves tremendous credit.

"She really walked me through the whole thing. I’d never done it,” Evan said. “I’ve been told about it. My daughter told us, but I've never done it. And [Rodriguez] perfectly walked me through it.”

For Rodriguez, it’s all part of the job, but she said it’s nice to hear about the end result and meet Evans’ family.

“When I found out from one of the officers initially on scene that he survived, I was really excited about that,” Rodriguez said. “You always hope for the best, but you have no idea what happens once they've been taken away.”

Jeff Evans had two stints put in and was put into a medically induced coma. But three weeks after his heart attack, he’s recovering well.

On Saturday, Evans, his wife and his 11 grandchildren wanted to thank the dispatchers and first responders who helped make that recovery possible.

“I’m able to read and comprehend,” Jeff Evans said. “It’s a miracle. I don’t understand it, but I’m good.”



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV ]]>
<![CDATA[US Judge Blocks Anthem-Cigna Health Insurance Merger]]>Thu, 09 Feb 2017 05:17:29 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gavel-generic-stock.jpg

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected Anthem Inc.'s bid to buy rival health insurer Cigna Corp., saying the merger would likely lead to higher costs, less competition and diminished innovation.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the merger would significantly reduce competition in the already concentrated insurance market, particularly for large national employers. Cigna and Anthem are two of just four insurers selling to companies with 5,000 employees spread across multiple states, and they compete aggressively for business, the judge wrote.

Berman Jackson was unconvinced by Anthem's argument that the merged company could save money for customers by combining the two insurers' different approaches to cost saving. Anthem has negotiated lower payments to doctors and hospitals, while Cigna has higher upfront expenses for wellness in the hopes of reducing future health expenses.

"Eliminating this competition from the marketplace would diminish the opportunity for the firms' ideas to be tested and refined, when this is just the sort of innovation the antitrust rules are supposed to foster," she wrote.

Anthem officials are reviewing the decision, spokeswoman Jill Belcher said. She declined to comment.

Last month, another federal judge rejected Aetna's roughly $34-billion bid to buy rival Humana, citing in part concerns about competition in hundreds of Medicare advantage markets.

Washington, D.C.-based U.S. District Judge John Bates said in an opinion filed Jan. 23 that federal regulation would probably be "insufficient to prevent the merged firm from raising prices or reducing benefits." He added that neither new competitors nor an Aetna plan to sell some of the combined company's business to another insurer, Molina Healthcare Inc., would be enough to ease competitive concerns.

An Aetna spokesman has said the company is strongly considering an appeal.

The Justice Department had sued last summer to block both deals, and the cases went to trial late last year.

The two deals would have consolidated the nation's five largest insurers into three, a list that includes UnitedHealth Group Inc., currently the largest.

The insurers have argued that by getting bigger they will be able to negotiate better prices with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctor groups that also are growing. They also expect to cut expenses and add more customers, which helps them spread out the cost of investing in technology to manage and improve care.

Industry experts have said any consumer impact from these deals would take years to materialize and could lead to savings in some areas, along with higher costs elsewhere.

The American Medical Association cheered the ruling, saying the merger would have created a health care behemoth too big to regulate and with too much control over consumers' lives.

"In a David vs. Goliath battle between consumers and mega insurers, a federal judge today ruled that Anthem's proposed acquisition of Cigna poses a clear and present threat to the quality, accessibility and affordability of health care in the United States," Dr. Andrew Gurman, the AMA president, said in a statement.

Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish also has said the $48-billion Cigna deal would help stabilize pricing in the volatile public exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. He has said that would enable his company to keep its commitment to the public exchanges, a statement seen by some as a sign that Anthem might slash that business if the deal falls through.

The Indianapolis-based insurer, which sells Blue Cross-Blue Shield coverage in key markets like California and New York, offers plans on exchanges in 14 states and covers 839,000 people.

Many insurers have struggled developing their business on the exchanges. Swedish said on Feb. 1 that his company is waiting to see whether the government can make some sort-term fixes for these markets before it decides how much it will participate next year.

He said Anthem is concerned about a health insurance tax and special enrollment periods that expensive customers use to sign up for coverage only when they need insurance, among other issues.

The Justice Department has pushed aggressively in recent years to block deals in several industries that they say will reduce competition. The Swedish company Electrolux and oil and gas service provider Haliburton both walked away from multi-billion-dollar deals after being sued by regulators.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Clinic Falsely Told Dozens They Had Alzheimer's, Suits Say ]]>Wed, 08 Feb 2017 11:05:40 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17027638904199-sm.jpg

Shawn Blazsek knew a string of concussions from high school football and boxing was catching up with him. He would go days without sleeping and was forgetting how to tie his shoes. Still, at age 33, he was stunned after being told he had Alzheimer's disease.

He started planning out who would take care of his four kids if something happened to his wife, and thought about how hard it would be for them when he could no longer recognize his family. So he stuffed fistfuls of sleeping pills into a bottle and wrote himself a note, vowing to swallow all of them when he wasn't able to remember the names of his children.

That day never came. Nine months later, he learned that the memory-loss center director who diagnosed him didn't have a medical or psychology license needed to do so. Then another test confirmed he did not have Alzheimer's.

He is one of more than 50 people suing the now-closed clinic's former director and its owner, saying they, too, were told they had Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Most now know it's not true, while a few are awaiting confirmation.

Some say they spent months undergoing treatment while planning out their final years. Some quit their jobs, sold possessions or took one last special trip. One killed himself.

Blazsek crammed years of fatherly advice into a matter of months, showing his son how to check the oil on a car and teaching his wife about the household finances.

"I was preparing her to be a single mom," he said.

The couple figured he had no more than 10 years to live and even less time before his memory was gone.

"Here I am, thinking I'm going to be a widow at 43. What am I going to do?" said his wife, Jennifer. "Who's going to teach my boys how to shave? Who's going to play ball with them?"

So far, the case has yet to result in any charges against Sherry-Ann Jenkins, who opened the Toledo Clinic Cognitive Center in early 2015 through the Toledo Clinic, a multi-specialty medical center with more than 150 doctors.

Attorneys on both sides would not say whether there is a criminal investigation, although court records indicate the Ohio Medical Board has talked with some of the patients.

The lawsuits say that Jenkins, who has a doctorate degree in physiological science, wasn't authorized to order medical tests and that her husband, a licensed doctor who is a partner in the Toledo Clinic, signed off on the tests and was sometimes listed as the referring physician on billing even though he did not see any of the patients.

An attorney for the couple would not answer questions about the cognitive clinic, which abruptly shut down after about a year in early 2016. Jenkins and her husband did not respond to messages seeking comment.

In court filings responding to the lawsuits, each of which seeks more than $1 million in damages, their attorney did not dispute that Jenkins was unlicensed but denied most of the other allegations.

The former patients have sued the Toledo Clinic, as well, saying it should have known Jenkins lacked the training and credentials to treat and diagnose patients. Michael D'Eramo, chief administrative officer of the Toledo Clinic, said he could not comment.

Some describe her as compassionate and easy to talk with, saying she ended therapy sessions by telling them to give her a hug. At her suggestion, a few patients appeared in articles touting the benefits of her holistic treatments, which included memory games and daily doses of coconut oil. But they also say she fought hard against medication and getting a second opinion.

Nearly all of those diagnosed by Jenkins began seeing her after suffering traumatic brain injuries or worsening cognitive issue. Some, like Blazsek, are continuing treatment with other doctors.

Attorney David Zoll, who is representing those suing Jenkins, said that it's not clear how many patients she saw and that others might not know they were misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's. More than 30 people added their names to the lawsuits late last month.

He said he believes she was motivated by greed, saying several patients were overbilled. The cognitive clinic grew rapidly, he noted.

"Many times she would see the first person and have them bring in their whole family," Zoll said. "And many times she would diagnose the whole family."

Kay Taynor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's on her second visit to Jenkins and then referred five or six friends and family members to her office, including her husband of 48 years. All were told they had the disease, she said, but her husband, Gary, took it hardest.

"He's got a smile that just lights up the room, and I never saw it again," she said. "He just sunk in his chair. To me, he never stood up again. He was never tall again. He gave up."

Gary fell into depression, spending his final weeks sitting in a chair with his hands in his lap until he went into their garage and shot himself in the head, she said. An autopsy did not show any signs of Alzheimer's, she said.

Don Tanner said he, too, felt like taking his own life.

He was sent to the clinic for therapy in February 2015 after suffering a severe brain injury in a fall. The trauma of healing while dealing with the devastating diagnosis of Alzheimer's became unbearable.

"She gave me a death sentence," said Tanner, who told his wife he wanted to jump off a bridge and then thought about wandering off into the marsh behind their home with his gun.

He had seen firsthand how Alzheimer's gradually erodes someone while caring for his dad. He spent many days shaving and dressing his father, who died only months before Tanner's own diagnosis.

"It was just cemented in my mind that I wasn't going to put my family through that," he said.

His wife enlisted their daughters and friends to stay with him while she was at work, fearing what she'd find when she returned. "If he had a bad day, I didn't know where that would send him," said his wife, Monica.

It wasn't until last summer — after the clinic had closed — that a new doctor told him there was no way he had Alzheimer's.

"God must have been on my side, because I didn't go out there and get that damn gun," Tanner said. "But man I thought of it. Something kept telling me it's not there yet."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Kids Are Trying Potentially Harmful E-Cigarette Hack]]>Tue, 07 Feb 2017 08:25:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_34020085243.jpg

As many as a quarter of U.S. kids who are using e-cigarettes may be taking them apart and "dripping" — a method that gives them more vapor but a potentially higher hit of nicotine, researchers reported Monday, according to NBC News.

They recommended more research into whether it's more dangerous for kids, and experts said parents should ask their kids if they've tried it.

"E-cigarettes are also being used for 'dripping,' which involves vaporizing the e-liquid at high temperatures by dripping a couple of drops of e-liquid directly onto an atomizer's coil and then immediately inhaling the vapor that is produced," Dr. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin of Yale University and colleagues reported in the journal Pediatrics.

"Among 1,080 ever e-cigarette users, 26.1 percent of students reported ever using e-cigarettes for dripping. Reasons for dripping included produced thicker clouds of vapor (63.5 percent), made flavors taste better (38.7 percent), produced a stronger throat hit (27.7 percent)," they added.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II]]>
<![CDATA[9.2 Million Signed Up for Obamacare in 2017]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2017 22:35:00 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/Obacare.jpg

Facing higher premiums, less choice and a last-minute advertising pullback, fewer people signed up for coverage this year through HealthCare.gov, according to data from a preliminary government report Friday.

About 9.2 million people signed up through HealthCare.gov, the insurance marketplace serving most states, said the Health and Human Services department. That's about 500,000 fewer customers than had enrolled last year in those same 39 states, or slippage of around 5 percent.

The report doesn't include figures from 11 states that run their own health insurance markets — including California and New York — so the final national number will be higher. But the preliminary report is being closely watched, because President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress have vowed to repeal the Obama-era health law and replace it with a plan yet to emerge.

Insurance markets created by former President Barack Obama's law provide subsidized private coverage for people who don't have access to health care through their jobs. Along with a Medicaid expansion aimed at low-income adults, the Affordable Care Act has helped millions get coverage, reducing the nation's uninsured rate to a historic low of about 9 percent.

But even before Trump's election victory, the ACA's markets were facing double-digit premium increases and a sharp drop in insurer participation. Although most customers receive taxpayer subsidies for their premiums, the increases averaged more than 20 percent nationally and much higher in several states.

The night he was inaugurated, Trump signed an executive order directing his administration to provide relief from "Obamacare." That was interpreted as a signal that officials would waive the law's tax penalties meant to nudge uninsured people to sign up. Then last week the administration pulled back about $5 million in ads that were part of a closing bid to woo the uninsured. Former Obama administration officials cried foul.

Trump administration spokesman Matt Lloyd said Friday that "Obamacare has failed" and the new president looks forward to providing relief through "patient-centered solutions that will work for the American people."

But independent analysts said the report also highlights the challenges that Trump and the GOP Congress will face trying to deliver on their promises without disrupting coverage for millions. That includes many people in states that Trump won in November, among them Florida (1.8 million); Texas (1.2 million); North Carolina (549,000); Georgia (494,000), and Pennsylvania (426,000).

"While enrollment is down, this does not exactly paint a picture of a program collapsing," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Enrollment had been tracking on pace with last year, but sign-ups slowed down in the final weeks of open enrollment," said Caroline Pearson of the consulting firm Avalere Health. The controversy over unwinding the health care law may have contributed, she said.

Nonetheless, Pearson said the demand for coverage "remains strong." She added, "Policymakers will need to consider how forthcoming changes will impact those currently purchasing coverage."

Supporters of the health care law, trying to beat back or blunt efforts to repeal it, blamed the Trump administration for the lackluster number.

Ron Pollack, executive director of the advocacy group Families USA, said Trump had tried to "sabotage" enrollment.

"Millions of consumers still got their insurance through the ACA," said Pollack. "The Republican rush to repeal the ACA without a replacement will do real harm to real people."

A final, national enrollment report isn't due until next month. Some of the 11 state-run insurance markets, including California, have extended open enrollment through Saturday. Washington, DC, also runs its own insurance market. HealthCare.gov's sign-up season ended Jan. 31.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: HealthCare.gov]]>
<![CDATA[Laundry Pod-Linked Eye Injuries Surged in Small Kids: Study]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2017 12:12:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-453144893.jpg

Liquid laundry packets are responsible for a surge in eye injuries in young children, according to new medical research.

The pods are already under scrutiny after thousands of incidents of kids mistaking them for toys or candy, the "Today" show reported. But chemical burns to the eyes of preschool-aged kids caused by the packets jumped 32-fold between 2012 and 2015, according to a report published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

The report noted that by the end of 2015, liquid laundry packet-involved eye injuries represented more than one in four chemical eye burns in children 3-4 years old.

An industry group says that voluntary safety standards meant to prevent such injuries were put in place after the period covered in the data.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Insurers Mull Exit From Exchanges or Price Hikes]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 17:52:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Obamacare-AP_30213472209.jpg

The Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges have become too risky for major health insurers, and that's creating further doubt about coverage options consumers might have next year.

Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish said Wednesday his company is waiting to see whether the government makes some short-term fixes to the shaky exchanges before it decides how much it will participate next year. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier is the nation's second largest insurer and sells coverage on exchanges in 14 states.

This is a separate and more immediate concern for consumers beyond whether the ACA will continue to exist. Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have vowed to repeal and replace the law. Republicans have promised they won't strand those now covered under the program, but they also haven't detailed their replacement plan.

Even if parts of the law continue to exist in some form, as many expect, the insurance exchanges through which millions have bought coverage are in peril. Swedish told Wall Street analysts during a conference call that if Anthem doesn't see stability in the exchanges heading into next year, "then we will begin making some very conscious decisions with respect to extracting ourselves."

The enrollment window for 2018 coverage is still several months away, but insurers have to decide by this spring whether they will participate.

Aetna, the nation's third largest insurer, said Tuesday that it will announce by April 1 whether it will stay in any of the four states where it currently sells coverage. Aetna said it lost $450 million last year on its ACA-compliant coverage — a big hit from a small slice of its overall business.

The losses that insurers have taken from coverage sold on these state-based exchanges in recent years have already prompted some to scale back their participation or raise rates, often dramatically. The higher prices and dwindling choices have made the markets unappealing for many consumers.

Insurers say they've struggled to attract young, healthy customers to their risk pools to help keep coverage costs in check. They also say they've been hurt by expensive customers who use special enrollment periods to sign up for coverage only when they need help paying big medical bills.

Swedish, the Anthem CEO, said Wednesday that his company has had extensive talks with Congressional leaders. Anthem would like to see fewer special enrollment periods and better verification of patients who are eligible, as well as the repeal of a health insurance tax and other fixes.

"While the direction in Washington has been positive, we still need certainty about short-term fixes in order to determine the extent of our participation in the individual market in 2018," he said.

Separately, Tennessee insurance commissioner Julie McPeak told a US Senate panel Wednesday that Congress needs to send the industry a clear signal by March to avoid disrupting the individual health insurance market for 2018.

"You need to provide some indication to plans as a quickly as possible," she told the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment on the exchanges.

Congress may wind up addressing several insurer concerns, but short-term fixes may not be enough to guarantee 2018 exchange participation, according to Gary Claxton, an insurance expert at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Claxton thinks insurers also will watch closely the debate over the fate of the ACA and, with it, the long-term prospects of the individual insurance market.

"Insurers really have to believe they see a future for a little while longer to continue to invest," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: ap]]>
<![CDATA[Repeal of Health Law Could Mean Women Pay More For Less]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 15:55:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/ACA.jpg

From a return to higher premiums based on gender, to gaps in coverage for birth control and breast pumps, experts say women could end up paying more for less if the Obama-era health care law is repealed.

The 2010 law ended a common industry practice of charging women more than men for policies purchased directly from an insurer. It made maternity and newborn care a required benefit for individual health plans. And it set a list of preventive services to be provided at no extra cost to women, including birth control and breast pumps used by nursing mothers. That preventive care requirement also applies to most employer plans.

Nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned, and prior to "Obamacare" some women would get pregnant only to learn that their insurance did not cover maternity and delivery, said Dr. John Meigs, a longtime family practitioner in the small town of Centerville, Alabama.

"A lot of women were delaying their prenatal care until they could figure out what to do," said Meigs, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Pregnancy "is one of those things that ought to be covered, because it happens."

Democrats are keying in on the issue as they try to block or blunt the GOP drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act. "We don't want our country going backward when it comes to women's health," said Sen. Patty Murray, ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Women are widely seen as having benefited from the health law. In a recent AP-NORC poll, 44 percent said they thought women were better off as a result of the law, while only 24 percent said women were worse off.

"The ACA set minimum levels of benefits that health plans have to cover and many are highly used, or exclusively used by women," said Usha Ranji, a health policy expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "Repeal and replace could take away that minimum level of benefits, which includes really commonly used services like contraception and maternity care."

Nashville-based singer Rachel Potter worries about what it could mean for her. She says she was lucky to be covered under the ACA when she unexpectedly became pregnant last year.

Bleeding early on and other complications sent her to the doctor's office frequently.

"We were able to monitor the pregnancy really closely," said Potter. "I was able to go to an amazing OB-GYN and I wouldn't have had access to that care if I had not been on this insurance." Her son Jude was born in December and is already on the road with her.

Potter's medical bill came to more than $40,000, but she only paid about $2,000 of that.

She's now thinking about getting a long-lasting form of birth control while her insurer is still required to cover it at no charge to her. "I don't know the future of the health insurance situation," said Potter.

Five doctor groups representing about 500,000 clinicians on Thursday called for maintaining the ACA's women's benefits, along with other protections. The groups include family physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, and the American Osteopathic Association.

A Trump administration spokesman says speculation about components of an "Obamacare" replacement is premature.

Recently introduced legislation that seeks a middle path on health care would keep some of the Obama-era requirements, but make others a state option.

The bill co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would allow states to keep the ACA or substitute an alternative with fewer federal requirements.

Under that approach, insurance plans in states that pick the alternative would not be required to cover maternity and newborn care. However, plans in all states would have to cover the ACA's preventive benefits, including birth control. Collins staff said the draft bill is a starting point.

Some "Obamacare" critics argue that required benefits for women have driven up costs for others, for example young men who don't need maternity care. Other experts say the impact on premiums is modest compared to provisions of the law such as guaranteed coverage for people with medical problems and tighter limits on how much older adults can be charged.

"Relative to other market changes, there is no indication that required coverage for women's health benefits was a primary driver of premium increases," said Caroline Pearson of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

Ranji, of the Kaiser Foundation, says the ACA made significant improvements for women. Before the law:

  • Pregnancy, a prior cesarean-section, a history of domestic violence, or problems with depression could be deemed a pre-existing condition, triggering restrictions on coverage or higher premiums.

  • About one-third of plans on the individual insurance market charged women between the age of 25 and 40 premiums at least 30 percent higher than men of the same age.

  • Only about 12 percent of plans available directly to individuals included maternity care.

  • About 20 percent of women of childbearing age covered by large employers spent some of their own money on birth control pills. Currently it's fewer than 4 percent.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes]]>
<![CDATA[Tackle Food Safety: Keep Your Food Safe on Game Day]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 15:38:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Screen+Shot+2017-02-02+at+2.25.05+PM.pngThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a list of food safety tips for Super Bowl party hosts.]]><![CDATA[Science Could Soon Develop Eggs, Sperm From Skin Cells]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 08:46:46 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/170131-babies-mn-1600.jpg

The world is on the brink of another revolution thanks to an emerging technology called in vitro gametogenesis, or IVG, which would allow doctors to develop eggs and sperm from a surprising source: skin cells, NBC News reported.

These reproductive cells could then be used to create fertilized embryos to be implanted into a woman's uterus (or, someday, an artificial womb).

Researchers in Japan created viable eggs from the skin cells of adult female mice, which were then fertilized with naturally derived sperm from male mice.

Using the same process in people isn't exactly feasible, so scientists need to find another way to turn primordial germ cells into mature eggs in vitro.

"It's a technology that will come someday, but the question is when and whether it will be completely safe," says Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.



Photo Credit: Blaine Harrington III/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tuesday Night Is Deadline for Obamacare Coverage]]>Tue, 31 Jan 2017 09:21:19 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OBAMACARE_AP_16320806519240.jpg

Overnight Tuesday is the deadline to sign up for coverage under the federal health care law. Even if the ultimate fate of Obamacare is uncertain, there's been no change for this year. About 11.5 million people had enrolled as of Dec. 24.

The deadline is midnight Pacific time in the 39 states served by HealthCare.gov, the government said. States with their own insurance websites may have different deadlines.

Although premiums are up significantly this year, more than 8 in 10 customers get subsidies, and more than half qualify for extra help with deductibles and copays.

President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have promised to repeal and replace the Obama-era law, but without creating disruptions for millions already covered.

Consumers can enroll online or call 1-800-318-2596.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[NJ Health Officials: Infant May Have Spread Measles]]>Tue, 31 Jan 2017 07:24:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles3.jpg

Health officials in New Jersey say that an infant with measles may have exposed people in Passaic County to the highly contagious disease.

The New Jersey DOH said that the 7-month-old infant traveled internationally before returning to the state in mid-to-late January.

Locations of potential exposure include:

• St. Joseph’s Wayne Hospital, 224 Hamburg Tpke., Wayne, NJ 07470:

o Jan. 21, between 6:50 a.m. and 1 p.m.

• Pediatric Emergency Department at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, 703 Main St., Paterson, NJ 07503:

o Jan. 23, between 6:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.

Health officials said that anyone exposed to the infant could develop symptoms as late as Feb. 15.

The infant was recovering at home on Monday. Officials said the case is not related to the Hudson County man who got measles while traveling internationally.

The airborne illness can cause serious complications such as pneumonia and swelling of the brain in 20 percent of patients. Measles symptoms include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.

Health officials say children younger than 5 years old and adults older than 20 are especially at risk. Pregnant women who contract the virus can suffer a miscarriage.

Anyone who hasn't been vaccinated or hasn't had measles is at risk if exposed to the virus, officials said.

For more information on what to do if you've been exposed to measles, take a look at this PDF or visit the state's website to learn more about the illness.

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<![CDATA[Little Girls Doubt That Women Can Be Brilliant, Study Shows]]>Fri, 27 Jan 2017 13:02:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/education-nation169271319.jpg

Can women be brilliant? Little girls are not so sure.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science suggests that girls as young as 6 can be led to believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making girls less motivated to pursue novel activities or ambitious careers. That such stereotypes exist is hardly a surprise, but the findings show these biases can affect children at a very young age.

"As a society, we associate a high level of intellectual ability with males more than females, and our research suggests that this association is picked up by children as young 6 and 7," said Andrei Cimpian, associate professor in the psychology department at New York University. Cimpian coauthored the study, which looked at 400 children ages 5-7.

In the first part of the study, girls and boys were told a story about a person who is "really, really smart," a child's idea of brilliance, and then asked to identify that person among the photos of two women and two men. The people in the photos were dressed professionally, looked the same age and appeared equally happy. At 5, both boys and girls tended to associate brilliance with their own gender, meaning that most girls chose women and most boys chose men.

But as they became older and began attending school, children apparently began endorsing gender stereotypes. At 6 and 7, girls were "significantly less likely" to pick women. The results were similar when the kids were shown photos of children.

Interestingly, when asked to select children who look like they do well in school, as opposed to being smart, girls tended to pick girls, which means that their perceptions of brilliance are not based on academic performance.

"These stereotypes float free of any objective markers of achievement and intelligence," Cimpian said.

In the second part of the study, children were introduced to two new board games, one described as an activity "for children who are really, really smart" and the other one "for children who try really, really hard." Five-year-old girls and boys were equally likely to want to play the game for smart kids, but at age 6 and 7, boys still wanted to play that game, while girls opted for the other activity.

"There isn't anything about the game itself that becomes less interesting for girls, but rather it's the description of it as being for kids that are really, really smart."

As a result, believing that they are not as gifted as boys, girls tend to shy away from demanding majors and fields, leading to big differences in aspirations and career choices between men and women. "These stereotypes discourage women's pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance," the authors wrote.

It is still unclear where the stereotypes come from. Parents, teachers and peers and the media are the usual suspects, Cimpian said. But it is evident that action must be taken so that these biases don't curtail girls' professional aspirations. "Instill the idea that success in any line of work is not an innate ability, whatever it is, but rather putting your head down, being passionate about what you are doing," Cimpian said, adding that exposure to successful women who can serve as role models also helps.

Toy companies like Mattel, maker of the Barbie doll, have taken steps to try to reduce gender stereotypes. Mattel's "You can be anything" Barbie campaign tells girls that they can be paleontologists, veterinarians or professors, among other careers. The campaign also holds out the possibility that a girl can imagine herself to be a fairy princess.

Rebecca S. Bigler, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, described Cimpian's study "as exceptionally nice work." She suggested that the stereotypes develop in early elementary school when students are exposed to famous scientists, composers and writers, the "geniuses" of history, who are overwhelmingly men. Bigler said it is important to combine that knowledge with information on gender discrimination.

"We need to explain to children that laws were created specifically to prevent women from becoming great scientists, artists, composers, writers, explorers, and leaders," Bigler added. "Children will then be ... more likely to believe in their own intellectual potential and contribute to social justice and equally by pursuing these careers themselves."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Caiaimage]]>
<![CDATA[NJ Becomes 1st State to Offer New Parents Free ‘Baby Boxes’]]>Fri, 27 Jan 2017 16:57:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/baby+box+new+jersey.jpg

New Jersey has become the first state where expectant parents can get a free "Baby Box" for their newborn.

The Baby Box Co. announced the Baby Box University program on Thursday. The global integrated program looks to reduce Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS) and provide a safe start for newborns in the state by providing their parents with potentially life-saving boxes.

The boxes, which are made from a durable cardboard, can be used as a baby's bed for the first months of life. Inside, the box contains diapers, wipes, and other goodies that are worth about $150. 

Expectant parents in New Jersey just need to complete a short parenting education course online to get their free baby box.

 The Baby

The New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board (CFNFRB) is supporting the program using a grant from the CDC, which reviews fatalities and near-fatalities of children in order to identify their causes, relationship to governmental support systems, and methods of prevention.

The program will distribute approximately 105,000 Baby Boxes in 2017, according to Baby Box Co.

The use of baby boxes has been credited with helping Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

"I'm grateful to the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board for their efforts to promote infant safe sleep," said Commissioner Allison Blake of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. "Through greater awareness and education, and by working together, we can make sleep time safe time for babies."

"Every year we review instances in which infants die suddenly and unexpectedly," said CFNFRB chair Kathryn McCans.

"In a significant proportion of these deaths, an unsafe sleep circumstance is a contributing factor. Baby Box University will help families make safe and healthy choices for their children by educating them about simple changes that will decrease the risk that a death will occur due to an unsafe sleep environment or SIDS."

The use of Baby Boxes has been credited with helping Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates. The initiative is credited with helping to decrease Finland's infant mortality rate from 65 deaths for each 1,000 children born in 1938 to 1.3 deaths per 1,000 births in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

Parents can pick up their baby boxes at Cooper University Healthcare, Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative and other locations. They can also have them delivered to their home.

Here’s how New Jersey parents can get a free baby box:

1. Register for free online at babyboxuniversity.com as a New Jersey resident. Be sure to include your correct contact information, including mailing address.

2. Watch the 10-15 minute New Jersey syllabus at babyboxuniversity.com. After taking a short quiz, you will receive a certificate of completion and be able to select local pick-up or direct delivery of your Baby Box.

3. If you select direct delivery, your Baby Box will ship to the address you provided when you registered on Baby Box University. If you select local pick up, bring your Baby Box University certificate to the closest participating distribution partner to collect your Baby Box.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Baby Box Co.]]>
<![CDATA[Gore Revives Climate, Health Summit Canceled by CDC]]>Thu, 26 Jan 2017 23:21:46 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-519674944.jpg

A conference on climate change and health is back on but apparently minus the U.S. government.

Several organizers including former Vice President Al Gore have resurrected the meeting set for next month in Atlanta.

The government's top public health agency had planned the conference with the American Public Health Association (APHA), then canceled it in December without explanation.

The APHA says Gore, one of two keynote speakers, stepped in to help keep the meeting alive, NBC News reported.

"I was minding my own business and he picked up the phone and called me," APHA executive director Dr. Georges Benjamin told NBC News.

The decision to hold the meeting was hatched by Benjamin's group, Gore, the University of Washington and the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The one-day meeting is moving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Carter Center. 

"It's going to be on climate and health, and in many ways it's going to be a very different meeting," Benjamin said.

Benjamin said he doesn't know if government officials will attend; many had been scheduled to speak at the conference .

An after-hours message to the CDC was not immediately returned.

A recent report by the U.S. government said global warming is a national public health problem. It said climate change is increasing the risk of respiratory problems and spread of disease from insects.

"Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States," the report said.

In 2015, an international global health commission organized by the British medical journal Lancet said that hundreds of thousands of lives a year are at stake as global warming "threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Take First Steps to Growing Human Organs in Pigs]]>Fri, 27 Jan 2017 08:12:13 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pig-embryo-research-salk-institute.jpg

Scientists have grown human cells inside pig embryos, a very early step toward the goal of growing livers and other human organs in animals to transplant into people.

The cells made up just a tiny part of each embryo, and the embryos were grown for only a few weeks, researchers reported Thursday.

Such human-animal research has raised ethical concerns. The U.S. government suspended taxpayer funding of experiments in 2015. The new work, done in California and Spain, was paid for by private foundations.

Any growing of human organs in pigs is "far away," said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, an author of the paper in the journal Cell.

He said the new research is "just a very early step toward the goal."

Even before that is achieved, he said, putting human cells in animals could pay off for studies of how genetic diseases develop and for screening potential drugs.

Animals with cells from different species are called chimeras. Such mixing has been done before with mice and rats. Larger animals like pigs would be needed to make human-sized organs. That could help ease the shortage of human donors for transplants.

The Salk team is working on making humanized pancreases, hearts and livers in pigs. The animals would grow those organs in place of their own, and they'd be euthanized before the organ is removed.

Most of the organ cells would be human. By injecting pig embryos with stem cells from the person who will get the transplant, the problem of rejection should be minimized, said another Salk researcher, Jun Wu.

Daniel Garry of the University of Minnesota, who is working on chimeras but didn't participate in the new work, called the Cell paper "an exciting initial step for this entire field."

Here's what the new paper reports:

Scientists used human stem cells, which are capable of producing a wide variety of specialized cells. They injected pig embryos made in the lab with three to 10 of those cells apiece, and implanted the embryos into sows. At three to four weeks of development, 186 embryos were removed and examined.

Less than 1 in every 100,000 embryonic cells was human, which still comes to about a million human cells, Wu said. That contribution is lower than expected, he said, "but we were very happy to see we actually can see the human cells after four weeks of development."

The cells generated the precursors of muscle, heart, pancreas, liver and spinal cord tissue in the embryos. The researchers said they plan to test ways to focus human cells on making specific tissues while avoiding any contribution to the brain, sperm or eggs.

That addresses ethical concerns that the approach could accidentally lead to pigs that gain some human qualities in their brains, or make human egg or sperm.

There was no sign of that in the new research. The government, meanwhile, has signaled that it may lift the federal funding ban soon but impose extra oversight of any proposed work.

A pig might not always have to be brought to term, Belmonte and Wu said. Even a pig fetus might provide human pancreatic cells to treat diabetes, or kidney cells to repair injuries to that organ, they said.

The University of Minnesota's Garry said the research offers some direction about what kind of human stem cells will work best. And it shows a need for boosting the number of human cells that appear in the embryo, he said.

Hiromitsu Nakauchi of Stanford University said his own unpublished experiments with pig and sheep embryos also found a sparse contribution from injected human cells. That's a challenge for making organs, but it might be surmounted by focusing cells on doing that job, he said.

Ethics experts were also impressed by the results. "It really does give a green light to explore more," said Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Hyun said he understood why some people might object on moral grounds to making animals with human organs.

"It seems kind of creepy," he said. But "this is a strategy to help save human lives" and so it is justified if properly done, he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Salk Institute]]>
<![CDATA[How Far Can $15 Billion Go in Washington?]]>Mon, 27 Feb 2017 11:44:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-617792078_master.jpgIf one believes the back-of-the-envelope estimates by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump's border wall is going to cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. That's a lot of money, even though it's just a minute fraction of a $4 trillion federal budget. For comparison, here are a few examples of how far $15 billion of government funding can go.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[House Passes Abortion Funding Ban Days After Women's March]]>Thu, 26 Jan 2017 17:36:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/my-body-my-choice.jpg

Days after millions of people marched nationwide to bring attention to women’s issues, the Trump administration and Congress have responded with actions against women's reproductive rights.

On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. House passed H.R. 7, anti-abortion legislation, voting 238-183. The bill proposes to permanently ban women from receiving federal financial assistance for abortions. While the bill does not ban abortions outright, it bans all government subsidies of abortions. This ban reaches beyond Medicaid to include private insurers that cover abortions through plans bought on exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. The bill was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey.

“Pro-life Americans struggle for the day when abortion violence will be replaced by compassion and empathy for women and respect for weak and vulnerable children in the womb,” the Republican congressman said on the House floor. “They believe, as do my pro-life colleagues and I, that we ought to love them both--mother and child--and not fund the destruction of children through abortion.” 

The bill extends the provisions the Hyde Amendment, which excludes abortions from federally funded health care provided to low-income people, primarily through Medicaid. The only exceptions in the Hyde Amendment to permit abortions are rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is endangered. 

Most states have followed this provision, but 17 states still fund abortions for low-income women.

If H.R. 7 is signed into law, no state would be permitted to subsidize them. Furthermore, the law will indirectly stop insurance plans from offering abortion coverage by refusing government subsidies to women to choose plans that include abortion coverage under ACA.

“There is no chance this bill will pass the Senate,” said Matt House, senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. "It won't gain enough Democratic support."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office said it had no announcement to make about the legislation or when it might be taken up.

Identical versions of H.R. 7 were passed in 2014 and 2015, but never made it through the Senate and would have likely been vetoed by then-President Obama. However, if the bill passes in the Senate, President Trump could be expected to sign the bill into law, having voiced a strong anti-abortion stance on the campaign trail and through the revival of "The Mexico City Policy."

On Monday, President Trump reinstated the policy, which is an executive order blocking foreign aid or federal funding to any international nongovernmental organization that provides abortions. The “gag” order began with President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Since then, incoming Democratic presidents have rescinded the order and incoming Republican presidents have reinstated the order upon taking office. 

H.R. 7 comes on the heels of the Women’s March on Washington, which took place on Jan. 21 and expanded to sister marches in major cities across the country and around the world. A common theme in speeches and seen on signs at the marches was the phrase “my body, my choice,” referencing women’s reproductive health choices. One women's group, New Wave Feminists, was removed from the official sponsorship of the event after voicing anti-abortion views. 

“Decisions about a woman’s health care should be made in her doctor’s office, not on the House floor,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement about H.R. 7. “The bill passed by the House is a sweeping assault on women’s health that aims to eliminate abortion coverage for millions, make Hyde and other abortion bans permanent and undermine a woman’s ability to make personal decisions about her own health care.” 

Richards also said that the passage of H.R. 7 would disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75 percent of abortion patients are poor or low-income women and 59 percent are women of color.

“The House of Representatives’ vote today on H.R. 7 was a vote to punish women who seek abortions on the basis of how much money they earn, where they live, and how they are insured,” Dr. Willie Parker, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “No woman should be denied the ability to make this personal health decision because she is poor.”



Photo Credit: Toronto Star via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Cancer Death Rate Dips, but Soars in Some Places: Study]]>Tue, 24 Jan 2017 14:29:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/smoking-stock-generic-73160938.jpg

Americans in certain struggling parts of the country are dying from cancer at rising rates, even as the cancer death rate nationwide continues to fall, an exhaustive new analysis has found.

In parts of the country that are relatively poor, and have higher rates of obesity and smoking, cancer death rates rose nearly 50 percent, while wealthier pockets of the country saw death rates fall by nearly half.

Better screening and treatment have contributed to the improvement in the nation as a whole — but the study underscores that not all Americans have benefited from these advances.

"We are going in the wrong direction," said Ali Mokdad, the study's lead author and a professor at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. "We should be going forward, not backward."

Stark differences in regional cancer death rates have been found in previous research, but this one stands out for providing detailed estimates for deaths from nearly 30 types of cancer in all 3,100 U.S. counties over 35 years.

From 1980 to 2014, the U.S. death rate per 100,000 people for all cancers combined dropped from about 240 to 192 — a 20 percent decline. More than 19 million Americans died from cancer during that time, the study found.

The picture was rosiest the Colorado ski country, where cancer deaths per 100,000 residents dropped by almost half, from 130 in 1980 to just 70 in 2014; and bleakest in some eastern Kentucky counties, where they soared by up to 45 percent.

"We all know this is unacceptable ... in a country that spends more than anybody else on health," Mokdad said.

The Affordable Care Act took effect in the study's final years and emphasized prevention services including no-cost screenings for breast, colorectal and cervical cancers. Any resulting benefits wouldn't be evident in the latest results, since cancer takes years to develop. It's unknown whether similar coverage will be part of the replacement system the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans are seeking.

An editorial published with the study by Stephanie Wheeler, a University of North Carolina health policy specialist and Dr. Ethan Basch, a University of North Carolina cancer specialist, notes that many areas with the highest cancer death rates also strongly supported Donald Trump, "raising hopes that future policies developed by the incoming administration will provide resources" for these communities.

Researchers estimated county death rates using U.S. government death records and U.S. Census Bureau data. Results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ahmedin Jemal, an American Cancer Society researcher, said better understanding variations in cancer death rates will help target cancer prevention and control.

Among the more striking disparities:

  • Among counties with the highest 2014 cancer death rates, six of the top 10 were in eastern Kentucky. Six of the 10 lowest rates were in the Colorado Rockies.
  • For lung cancer deaths, four of the five counties with the highest 2014 rates were in eastern Kentucky, with rates up to 80 percent higher than in 1980. Three of the five counties with the lowest 2014 rates were in the Colorado Rockies, where rates dropped by up to 60 percent.
  • Death rates for breast and colorectal cancers increased in Madison County, Mississippi and in 2014 were at least five times higher there than in Summit County, Colorado, where the rates fell. These are among cancers that can be successfully treated if detected early.

Smoking, obesity, physical activity and income explain many of the disparities, said study co-author Dr. Christopher Murray, also at the University of Washington.

But the study also raises questions. For example, relatively high rates of testicular cancer were found in parts of Southern California and far southern Texas for reasons that are unclear. Since treatments for this rare cancer are extremely effective, "almost nobody should die of testicular cancer," Murray said.

The poor showing for eastern Kentucky contrasts with wealthier parts of the state and "is tremendously troubling," said Ben Chandler, president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a nonpartisan group that funds health policy research and advocacy.

Chandler cited poor access to health care and high smoking rates and said the disparities highlight a need for statewide smoke-free laws. The foundation funded a study that found that Kentucky's 2014 Medicaid expansion under the ACA covered costs for many cancer-related preventive health measures including mammograms and colon cancer screenings.

How that expanded access will fare under with the health care law's expected repeal "has been of great concern to us," Chandler said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Police in Glendale, Calif., Give Dementia Patients Trackers]]>Tue, 24 Jan 2017 06:22:25 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/knbc-dementia-tracking-device-project-lifesaver.jpg

Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale are hoping to reduce the time it takes to find missing people diagnosed with dementia by providing patients with tracking devices.

The Glendale Police Department has partnered with the nonprofit group Project Lifesaver to provide tracking devices to families with members who suffer from cognitive issues such as Alzheimer's disease of autism, The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. If that relative wanders away, the device would allow authorities to find that person in minutes instead of hours.

Glendale police Sgt. Traci Fox says 15 people are currently enrolled in the program, which costs $375 per person for the first year.

Fox says the tracker program is a short-term solution for those with wandering relatives. She says families should still look for other ways to keep relatives from walking out.



Photo Credit: Project Lifesaver]]>
<![CDATA[US Health Officials Cancel Climate Conference]]>Mon, 23 Jan 2017 21:21:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/IceMeltingAP_4542707832.jpg

The government's top public health agency has canceled a conference next month on climate change and health but isn't saying why publicly.

But a co-sponsor said he was told by the CDC that it was worried how the conference would be viewed by the Trump administration.

The incoming administration did not ask or order that the meeting be canceled, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

"They had no idea or not whether the new administration would be supportive," said Benjamin. His group was a co-sponsor of the CDC event and has its own climate-themed conference planned for November.

Rather, the decision was "a strategic retreat," intended to head off a possible last minute cancellation or other repercussions from Trump officials who may prove hostile to spending money on climate change science, Benjamin said Monday.

"They decided the better part of valor was to stop and regroup" until it could be discussed with Trump's new health leadership, Benjamin said. A new CDC director has not been named.

The Climate and Health Summit, set for Feb. 14-16, was canceled last month. After media reports began to appear Monday, the CDC issued a statement saying it was looking at rescheduling the meeting, given budget constraints and potential overlap with the November conference.

Benjamin called the CDC's decision understandable but worrisome. He was echoed by Kristie Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle, who was invited to speak at the conference.

"In the long run, climate change is affecting the health of Americans," she said. "At some point, I hope they will go forward with the conference."

Most of the planning for the meeting began only in the fall and could probably benefit from more time, said Dr. Jonathan Patz, a University of Wisconsin professor of health and the environment who was organizing a conference session. "Personally, I would not try to over-interpret this" cancellation, he said.

Public health experts say climate change is a man-made problem that contributes to a range of health issues and illnesses, including heat stroke and diseases spread by tropical insects. The CDC has a $10 million program on climate and health, and published guidelines to help local health officials deal with human vulnerability to climate change.

In 2012, Trump tweeted that the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He later said he was joking, but during the presidential campaign referred to global warming as "a hoax."

Before he took office, Trump met with former Vice President Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, both prominent climate activists. Trump picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt backed away from his own past statements and said climate change is real.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Thibault Camus, AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Obamacare Replacement Plan Would Grant States More Power]]>Mon, 23 Jan 2017 21:05:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/obamacare-que-pasara-thumbnail.jpg

Republican senators introduced a partial replacement to the Affordable Care Act on Monday that would let states keep some aspects of the Obamacare law while eliminating the mandate requiring citizens to carry health insurance.

The measure is being billed as an "Obamacare replacement plan" aimed at empowering states and broadening health insurance access, NBC News reported.

The move comes days after President Donald Trump's issuance of an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Department to "waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay" any ACA requirement that would impose a fiscal burden.

For now, however, the executive order that Trump signed Friday night has changed very little.



Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[WHO on 'High-Alert' Over New Outbreaks of Bird Flu]]>Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:31:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/influenza1.jpg

The World Health Organization is urging all countries to monitor avian influenza and to report any human cases that could indicate the beginning of a flu pandemic, Reuters reported.

About 40 countries have reported new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry and wild birds since November, according to WHO. Several strains of bird flu have been spreading across Europe and Asia, resulting in large-scale poultry slaughters and some human deaths in China.

Due to the rapid pace and expansive nature of these outbreaks, WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said the organization is on "high alert."

The WHO’s 194 member states are required to detect and report human cases promptly, Chan added: "We cannot afford to miss the early signals."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Fighting Winter Allergies]]>Mon, 23 Jan 2017 08:57:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WinterAllergies0120_MP4-148517587405100001.jpgMany people believe that as the spring and fall seasons wrap up, so do their allergies, but that's not always the case once winter rolls around.]]><![CDATA[$12M Costco Pharmacy Settlement]]>Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:41:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-477000903.jpg

Costco Wholesale Corp. has agreed to pay nearly $12 million to settle Justice Department allegations of lax pharmacy controls over a four-year period.

The Issaquah, Washington-based company acknowledges in the settlement announced Thursday that some of its pharmacies improperly filled prescriptions, kept poor records or failed to adequately track inventory between the start of 2012 and the end of 2015.

The case grew out of separate investigations conducted by federal authorities in Washington, Michigan and California.

Seattle U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes says good pharmacy controls are key to battling the nation's prescription drug abuse crisis. Hayes says companies like Costco that deliver huge volumes of the drugs have a responsibility to help keep such drugs from reaching the black market.

Costco has invested in a new, $127 million pharmacy management system and adopted new audit protocols.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Judge Blocks Texas From Cutting Off Planned Parenthood]]>Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:53:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lafile-west-hollywood-planned-parenthood.jpg

Texas was temporarily blocked Thursday from ousting Planned Parenthood from the state's Medicaid program over secretly recorded videos taken by anti-abortion activists in 2015.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks adds Texas to the list of Republican-controlled states that have been thwarted in efforts to cut off Medicaid dollars to the nation's largest abortion provider. But Texas could still prevail -- the court order is not a ruling but effectively a delay that buys Planned Parenthood at least a few more weeks.

Planned Parenthood would have lost the funding Saturday had Sparks not intervened. Faced with that tight deadline, Sparks postponed the ouster until Feb. 21, giving him more time to decide whether Texas can exclude about two dozen clinics that serve about 11,000 low-income women.

"It's unconscionable, in my opinion," said Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, while testifying earlier this week at the start of a three-day hearing in Austin.

Other federal courts have stopped states that similarly tried dropping Planned Parenthood, including Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas. All cited heavily edited videos that claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing, and investigations in 13 states didn't result in criminal charges.

Planned Parenthood receives about $4 million in reimbursements to provide non-abortion services such as cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. State health officials say Planned Parenthood provides services to only a fraction of the more than 4 million Medicaid patients in Texas.

No public money is used in Texas for abortion, but Republican lawmakers in statehouses and Congress have accelerated efforts to try to weaken Planned Parenthood in the wake of the videos.

Sparks is the same judge who put on hold new Texas rules requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains.

He began the hearing on Planned Parenthood this week by scolding attorneys for lingering on the videos, which he said amounted to "baloney" in regards to the issue at stake.

Sparks told attorneys he instead wanted to know about the type of Medicaid services Planned Parenthood provides and how many clinics would be impacted.

It's a continuation of Texas' battle against Planned Parenthood. In 2011, it kicked the organization out of the state women's health program, which Republican leaders say is more robust due to the move. Last year, state health officials gave $1.6 million in taxpayer funding to the nonprofit of a prominent anti-abortion activist to help increase access to women's health care, a contract that was criticized by Planned Parenthood.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV, File]]>
<![CDATA[1 in 4 US Men Have Cancer-Linked HPV Strain]]>Thu, 19 Jan 2017 14:44:32 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HPV-Virus-Image.jpg

The first national estimate suggests that nearly half of U.S. men have genital infections caused by a sexually transmitted virus and that 1 in 4 has strains linked with several cancers.

Most human papillomavirus infections cause no symptoms and most disappear without treatment. And most adults will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives.

But high-risk HPV can cause cancer in the mouth and upper throat, cervical cancer in women and other cancers. Less harmful strains can cause genital warts

Vaccines in pre-teens and young adults can prevent HPV infections but experts say vaccination rates are too low.

The new estimate comes from an analysis of a 2013-14 national health survey. Results were published Thursday in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra]]>
<![CDATA[Mom, Toddler Daughter Fight Cancer at the Same Time]]>Wed, 18 Jan 2017 10:39:13 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancerstrikesmomandtot.jpg

Heather Wilson received some bad news just five days before Christmas.

The 31-year-old mother of three, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor six months earlier, learned that her 14-month-old daughter, London, also had cancer, the Today Show reported.

Doctors found a yolk sac tumor in the area of London's ovaries.

The two have been an inspiration as they bravely face the disease together, rallying friends and family to help ease the financial and emotional burden on the young mom from Covington, Georgia.



Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pam Hunt]]>
<![CDATA[Caffeine May Help Fight Cardiovascular Disease: Study]]>Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:50:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-472209108.jpg

The cup of coffee you have each morning could be doing more than you think in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

According to a study from scientists at Stanford University, caffeine has been found to help people – especially elderly people – who have a "chronic inflammatory process" that may heighten the risk of having the disease.

Scientists used blood samples and studied medical and family history for 100 people in their multi-year study. The research found a connection between the inflammatory process and caffeine consumption – the metabolites in caffeine were seen to counteract inflammatory proteins.

Past studies have shown that those who drink caffeinated coffee are less likely to develop issues such as cardiovascular problems and multiple sclerosis — as well as live longer — than those who don’t have the beverage.

The study was published online in Nature Medicine in January.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[18M Will Lose Health Insurance With ACA Repeal: Analysis]]>Tue, 17 Jan 2017 16:12:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/obaGettyImages-630310534.jpg

About 18 million people would lose or drop their health insurance in the first year after Obamacare is repealed, the Congressional Budget Office reported Tuesday.

The nonpartisan federal agency also found that health insurance premiums would spike another 20 to 25 percent, NBC News reported. Within 10 years, 32 million more people would be without health insurance, the CBO projects.

Without a replacement, health care costs overall would continue to rise every year, as would the number of people going without health insurance, according to the projection

Premiums would continue to go up, as well.



Photo Credit: Getty Images for Moveon.org, File]]>
<![CDATA[Abortions in US at Lowest Level Since Roe v. Wade: Survey]]>Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:06:56 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_558685885003-Abortion-Report.jpg

Even as the election outcome intensifies America's abortion debate, a comprehensive new survey finds the annual number of abortions in the U.S has dropped to well under 1 million, the lowest level since 1974.

The report, which counted 926,200 abortions in 2014, was released Tuesday by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group which supports abortion rights. It is the only entity which strives to count all abortions in the U.S.; the latest federal survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacks data from California, Maryland and New Hampshire.

The total from 2014 represented a drop of 12.5 percent from Guttmacher's previous survey, which tallied 1.06 million abortions in 2011. The decrease was spread nationwide; in only six states did abortions increase over the three-year span.

According to the report, the abortion rate was 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, the lowest rate since abortion was legalized nationally in 1973 by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

Following that ruling, the number of abortions in the U.S. rose steadily — reaching a peak of 1.6 million in 1990 — before starting a decline.

The authors of the new report, Guttmacher researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman, said the latest phase of the decline was likely the result of two main factors: the increased availability of affordable, long-lasting contraceptives that have reduced unintended pregnancies, and the surge of abortion restrictions in many states that have forced some clinics to close and hindered many women's access to the procedure.

Guttmacher's state-by-state breakdown showed big declines in abortions in some liberal states, such as California, that protect abortion rights, and also in some conservative states, such as Texas, that have passed laws to restrict abortions.

Jones noted that the majority of women who get abortions have low incomes, and nearly two-thirds are already parents.

"It can be very difficult for them to arrange for time off from work, transportation and child care," Jones said. "Some of the abortion rate decline is likely attributable to women who were prevented from accessing needed services."

The highest abortion rates were in the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Florida. The lowest rates were in Wyoming, Mississippi and South Dakota, states that had only one abortion clinic operating in 2014.

According to the report, the number of abortion clinics nationwide declined by 6 percent — from 839 in 2011 to 788 in 2014.

The report's release comes 10 days before the anti-abortion movement's annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and at a time when the movement is emboldened by the outcome of the recent presidential, congressional and state elections.

In Congress, majority Republicans in both chambers are seeking to halt federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provided more than one-third of the nation's abortions in 2014, and also to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to sign both measures if they reach his desk, and also says he wants to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with a "pro-life" justice.

One of Trump's top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, is scheduled to speak at the March for Life.

At the state level, tough new restrictions on abortion are being pushed in numerous Republican-controlled state legislatures, including Iowa and Kentucky, where the recent election gave the GOP full control. In Kentucky, lawmakers have already moved swiftly to enact a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and to require doctors to perform ultrasounds prior to abortions.

In some cases, abortion-rights supporters are fighting back with legal challenges, such as an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to block Kentucky's new ultrasound bill.

Abortion-rights leaders also are warning that progress in reducing unintended pregnancies could be derailed by efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, a major supplier of contraceptives, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which greatly expanded health-insurance coverage of contraceptives.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Soup Shipped to Whole Foods Stores Recalled]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:46:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/whole+foods+recall.jpg

A Massachusetts company has recalled chicken soup sold to Whole Foods stores in the tri-state because the soups are mislabeled and contain known allergens, the USDA said.

More than 3,000 pounds of “Mom’s Chicken Soup” were recalled by Kettle Cuisine, which shipped the soup to Whole Foods locations in Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Though labeled as chicken soup, the recalled products actually contain “Italian Wedding Soup with Meatballs,” a soup that contains eggs, milk and wheat, ingredients that are not declared on the label.

The USDA said no adverse reactions to the soup have been reported.

People with concerns about eggs, milk or wheat allergies should check their soup. The affected product comes in 24-ounce cups and has a use by date of Feb. 17, 2017. They bear the establishment number “P-18468.”

For more information, head to the page for this recall on the USDA website.

]]>
<![CDATA[The Pros and Cons of Marijuana Use]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 21:05:46 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_pot0112_1500x845.jpgMarijuana use may help with chronic pain and nausea, but a new study says there are also negative consequences for young children and those at risk for certain mental illnesses. Experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reviewed all research on marijuana published since 1999 to find who should smoke and who shouldn't. ]]><![CDATA[Ziploc Freezer Bags Help Premature Babies Stay Warm: Study]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 11:25:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NICU+Hypothermia+011117.jpg

For premature babies, getting the slightest chill can increase their chance of life-threatening illnesses.

Nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Texas Health Fort Worth developed a program to keep fragile babies warmer.

It has led to a decrease of very low birth weight babies being admitted to the NICU as hypothermic, and potentially increasing their chance of survival.

Premature infants with admission temperatures below 96.8 degrees are at higher risk of mortality and some morbidities, including late-onset sepsis, intraventricular hemorrhage and oxygen toxicity.

The program involves placing the most fragile premature babies, usually less than 32 weeks gestation and 3.3 pounds, into Ziploc freezer bags.

The team cuts a hole at the top of the bag and slides the baby in head first moments after birth.

"It creates kind of a hot house effect so the babies stay warm. So, as they are rolled into the NICU, their admission temperatures are normal," said Stephanie Eidson, B.S.N., clinical educator.

"It sounds so simple that people might wonder why the focus on temperature is just now being addressed, but the process was actually very involved," said Lindsey Cannon, M.S.N., R.N., NICU manager.

Cannon and Eidson put together a team consisting of Labor & Delivery and NICU nurses and leaders, physicians, respiratory therapists and Operating Room, Engineering and Housekeeping staff to work on what's been called the "Hypothermia Eradication from Admission Temperatures "H.E.A.T." study."

The study resulted in interventions like the use of preheated radiant warmers, thermal mattresses, polypropylene bags and plastic shower caps to prevent infant heat loss upon birth.

Additionally, they increased the room temperature of the delivery room from 74 to 76 degrees, using cooling vests to keep staff comfortable.

Within two years, the percentage of hypothermic infants on NICU admission decreased from 20 to 10 percent, and the percentage of infants with normal temperatures increased from 50 to 70 percent, according to the hospital system.

Christine Evans gave birth to her twins girls at 30 weeks gestation in November.

Emma weighed three pounds and her sister, Abigail, weighed two pounds, 11 ounces.

"We are lucky that I came out okay and that they came out of it OK. The outcome could have been vastly different," Evans said.

Seconds after they were born, both girls were placed into Ziploc freezer bags. Elastic bowl covers were placed on their tiny heads.

"Seeing them in Ziploc bags was very odd. I didn't expect that one," said new father, Jason Evans.

"We could have been at any other hospital and not had the same outcome. We don't know. But we were in the right place at the right time," said Christine Evans.



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[CVS Puts Out Cheaper Generic Competitor to EpiPen]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 12:42:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epipen1.jpg

CVS is now selling a rival, generic version of Mylan's EpiPen at about a sixth of its price, just months after the maker of the life-saving allergy treatment was eviscerated before Congress because of its soaring cost to consumers.

The drugstore chain says it will charge $109.99 for a two-pack of the authorized generic version of Adrenaclick, a lesser-known treatment compared to EpiPen, which can cost more than $600.

CVS Health Corp., the nation's second-largest drugstore chain, says it cut the price of the generic version of Adrenaclick nearly in half. The lower price is now available at all CVS stores. The chain runs about 9,600 retail pharmacies in the United States, including several locations inside Target stores.

The emergency treatments are stocked by schools and parents of children with severe allergies. They are used to stop anaphylaxis, the potentially fatal allergic reactions to insect bites and stings and foods like nuts and eggs.

The syringes are filled with the hormone epinephrine, and they expire after a year. That often forces patients to fill new prescriptions even if they never used the old one.

Mylan NV began taking heat late last summer for its EpiPen pricing, which climbed more than 500 percent since 2007. A Congressional panel grilled CEO Heather Bresch in September about the soaring cost, which she has blamed in part on insurers, pharmacy benefits managers and other middlemen that stand between the drugmaker and the customer.

Mylan has since expanded the financial aid it offers customers and launched its own authorized generic in December, priced at $300 per two-pack.

But patients with no health insurance or plans that make them pay a high deductible before covering care can be exposed to the full price of the drug if they aren't aware of that financial aid or if they don't seek it.

CVS says the new price it is charging for the Adrenaclick generic applies to both insured patients and those who pay cash without coverage. It's what customers will pay at the pharmacy counter.

Additionally, Cigna has released a list of prescription drug changes and will no longer cover EpiPen effective Jan. 7, 2017. 

According to CNNMoney, Cigna spokeswoman Karen Eldred said "The generic version, available now in pharmacies, has the same drug formulation and device functionality as the branded medication, but at a substantial cost savings."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Asks Vaccination Skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to Lead Vaccination Safety Commission]]>Tue, 10 Jan 2017 17:17:26 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trumpKennedy.jpg

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vocal vaccination skeptic, said Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump has asked him to "chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity" and that he has accepted.

Both Trump and Kennedy have spread fringe theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject and have warned is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids.

Trump has tweeted previously that he knew a child who developed autism after receiving immunizations, but he did not provide evidence for that claim.

Scientists have debunked the link between vaccines and autism. But Kennedy, the son of the late U.S. attorney general, believes there is connection and has advocated for parents to be allowed to opt out of vaccinations for their children.



Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Sweets Recalled Over Salmonella Concerns]]>Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:46:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/holiday+sweets+recall.jpg

Hostess Brands and Palmer Candy Company have recalled holiday-themed sweets over concern the desserts may be contaminated with the harmful Salmonella bacteria.

Hostess Brands recalled its Holiday White Peppermint Hostess Twinkies in response to Blommer Chocolate Company’s recall of its confectionery coating, which contains milk powder ingredients recalled by Valley Milk Products. 

The milk powder ingredients recalled by Valley Milk Products were also in sweets distributed by Palmer Candy Company, which, like Hostess, issued a voluntary recall as a precaution.

Testing has shown no Salmonellain the milk confectionery coating supplied to Hostess and Palmer Candy. No illnesses have been reported.

All affected products were sold to grocery and convenience stores and other distributors nationwide.

A number of candy packages are in the Palmer Candy recall, including chocolate almond bark, Christmas tree pretzels, peanut brittle and holiday gift bowls. For more details about the recall, head to this FDA recall page.

The only Hostess product affected by the recall is the Holiday White Peppermint Hostess Twinkies. For further details about the recall, go to this FDA recall page.

Palmer Candy Company customer service can be reached at 712-258-5543.

Hostess Brands customer service can be reached at 1-800-483-7253.



Photo Credit: Handouts]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Season Hits Hard Nationwide]]>Fri, 06 Jan 2017 23:47:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_flu0106_1500x845.jpgTwelve states are reporting widespread flu activity as the United States slide into flu season at the start of the year. The Centers for Disease Control say flu activity is higher this season compared to last year. ]]><![CDATA[Cancer Deaths Fell 25 Percent Since 1991]]>Fri, 06 Jan 2017 08:47:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-495314721-doctor.jpg

Fewer Americans are dying of cancer. The latest numbers from the American Cancer Society show a 25 percent drop in cancer deaths since 1991, the peak year for cancer deaths, NBC News reported.

Cancer rates are holding fairly steady, but better screening and better treatments mean that people who get cancer are living longer, the American Cancer Society says in its annual report. And as fewer and fewer people smoke, cancer death rates follow.

It projects that nearly 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and 600,000 will die of it. 

"The continuing drops in the cancer death rate are a powerful sign of the potential we have to reduce cancer's deadly toll," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the group.



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[GOP House Panel: Halt Federal Money for Planned Parenthood]]>Thu, 05 Jan 2017 09:05:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Planned+Parenthood+NH.JPG

A Republican-run House panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood and the world of fetal tissue research has urged Congress to halt federal payments to the women's health organization. Democrats said the GOP probe had unearthed no wrongdoing and wasted taxpayers' money in an abusive investigation reminiscent of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. 

The Republican recommendation was included in the special committee's final report Wednesday and was no surprise. The GOP released the 471-page document just 16 days before Donald Trump becomes president, at the start of a year in which many Republicans hope Congress will finally cut off federal funds for the group. 

Most GOP lawmakers have long opposed Planned Parenthood because many of its clinics provide abortions. Their antagonism intensified after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos in 2015 showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they sometimes provide fetal tissue to researchers, which is legal if no profit is made. 

"Planned Parenthood affiliates and clinics have repeatedly neglected their fiduciary duty requiring good stewardship of federal taxpayer dollars," wrote the panel, which was chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Republicans created the special committee in reaction to the videos. 

The report accused the group of violating federal laws by altering abortion procedures to obtain fetal tissue, disclosing patients' private information to firms that procure the tissue and "a general disinterest in clinical integrity." 

Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and did so again Wednesday. 

"Today's Republican staff report once again demonstrates that this exercise was nothing more than a partisan attack on Planned Parenthood and women's access to safe and legal abortion," Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood's vice president for Public Policy, said in a written statement. 

The group has long said the videos were doctored. 

Girding for GOP assaults on its budget, Planned Parenthood is circulating a petition of support it plans to submit to Congress and has organized events in West Virginia, Washington state and Maine aimed at galvanizing backers. 

Fetal tissue research has strong backing among scientists for its value in studying Down syndrome, eye disease and other problems. Blackburn's report said fetal tissue "makes a vanishingly small contribution to clinical and research efforts, if it contributes at all," and recommended curbing federal grants for such research. 

Democrats accused the panel of squandering $1.5 million in taxpayer funds with a probe that endangered the safety of people involved in abortions and fetal tissue work by providing information about them. They said it was evocative of baseless allegations about communist subversives lodged six decades ago by McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican. 

"The select panel found no evidence of wrongdoing by health care providers, researchers or tissue procurement companies," wrote the Democrats, who were led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. 

The panel also examined tissue procurement firms including StemExpress and research entities like the University of New Mexico. The report cited 15 instances in which the committee has provided information to U.S. and state authorities for possibly violating federal and state laws. 

Planned Parenthood's latest annual report shows that of more than $1.1 billion in yearly revenue, around half — $554 million — comes from government grants and reimbursements. It provides no breakdown. 

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Planned Parenthood receives about $450 million annually in federal funds, mostly $390 million in reimbursements from the Medicaid program for low-income people. 

By law, federal funds cannot be used for abortions except for a handful of rare exceptions. 

The report recommended legislation letting states deny Medicaid and family planning payments to groups that provide abortions. Last month, the Obama administration issued a rule preventing states from blocking family planning funds to such clinics.  

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Peanuts Early and Often]]>Thu, 05 Jan 2017 10:05:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Peanut-baby.jpg

Peanut allergies are a big problem for many kids and their families, but new guidelines published could help protect high-risk tots and other youngsters, too, from developing the dangerous food allergy.

Feeding infants peanut butter when they are as young as four to six months old might prevent them from developing peanut allergies, according to research released from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health mark a change from past recommendations, which urged parents to delay giving children foods containing peanuts in their first few years. Peanut allergies can cause hives, rashes, breathing problems, and in the most severe cases, can even be fatal.

"It's old news, wrong old news, to wait," said Dr. Scott Sicherer, who represented the American Academy of Pediatrics on the guidelines panel.

Thursday's guidelines make that clear, urging parents and doctors to proactively introduce peanut-based foods early.

"Just because your uncle, aunt and sibling have an allergy, that's even more reason to give your baby the food now" — even if they're already older than 6 months, added Sicherer, a pediatric allergist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

One key here is knowing your child’s risk for developing a peanut allergy, as children with the highest risk have eczema and/or an egg allergy.

A doctor or an allergist can test your child for peanut sensitivity. The number of American children allergic to peanuts has risen dramatically in recent decade, but the new guidelines may give new hope that allergy can be avoided.

Parents are advised not to give toddlers actual peanuts, which present a potential choking hazard.

In Columbus, Ohio, one doctor told Carrie Stevenson to avoid peanuts after her daughter was diagnosed with egg allergy. Then Stevenson found an allergy specialist who insisted that was the wrong advice — and offered baby Estelle a taste test of peanut butter in his office when she was 7 months old.

"I was really nervous," Stevenson recalled, unsure which doctor to believe. But, "we didn't want her to have any more allergies."

Now 18 months old, Estelle has eaten peanut butter or peanut-flavored puffs at least three times a week since then and so far seems healthy. Stevenson, pregnant again, plans early exposure for her next child, too.

The guidelines recommend:

  • All babies should try other solid foods before peanut-containing ones, to be sure they're developmentally ready.
  • High-risk babies should have peanut-containing foods introduced as early as 4 to 6 months after a check-up to tell if they should have the first taste in the doctor's office, or if it's OK to try at home with a parent watching for any reactions.
  • Moderate risk babies have milder eczema, typically treated with over-the-counter creams. They should start peanut-based foods around 6 months, at home.
  • Most babies are low risk, and parents can introduce peanut-based foods along with other solids, usually around 6 months.
  • Building tolerance requires making peanut-based foods part of the regular diet, about three times a week.

 

For more information, click this link for more tips.

What's the evidence? First, researchers noticed a 10-fold higher rate of peanut allergy among Jewish children in Britain, who aren't fed peanut products during infancy, compared to those in Israel where peanut-based foods are common starting around age 7 months.

Then in 2015, an NIH-funded study of 600 babies put that theory to the test, assigning them either to avoid or regularly eat age-appropriate peanut products. By age 5, only 2 percent of peanut eaters — and 11 percent of those at highest risk — had become allergic. Among peanut avoiders, 14 percent had become allergic, and 35 percent of those at highest risk.

Whether the dietary change will spur a drop in U.S. peanut allergies depends on how many parents heed the new advice — and if a parent seems skeptical, the guidelines urge doctors to follow up.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[The Best Diet to Fight Brain Shrinkage]]>Wed, 04 Jan 2017 18:28:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_diets0104_1500x845.jpgWhat are the best diets to help prevent brain shrinkage? A new study shows specific diets that may help fight brain volume loss as we age, NBC News reports. ]]><![CDATA[Police Investigating Accidental Poisoning That Killed 4 Kids]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2017 19:29:27 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/poisioning.jpg

A criminal investigation is underway into an accidental poisoning involving a professional-grade pesticide that left four children dead and an Amarillo woman in critical condition, police said Tuesday.

Authorities are looking into why the family had the pesticide pellets, called Weevil-cide, which is only supposed to be sold to people with professional licenses or certification and is marketed for use in rodent control in commercial transport of commodities and animal feed.

The father told first responders through a Spanish language interpreter that he had spread the pellets under the family's mobile home after obtaining the product from a friend, Amarillo Fire Capt. Larry Davis said. Davis said the product is not available for sale to the general public.

Davis said the father does not have that certification as far as he knows. He did not know whether the friend who gave him the product had a certification.

Amarillo police spokesman Officer Jeb Hilton says the department's special crimes unit is investigating because of the child deaths.

Once completed, the investigation will be turned over to the district attorney to determine whether charges will be filed. Hilton said other federal and state environmental regulation agencies may also investigate.

Fire officials said the children who died were three boys, ages 7, 9 and 11, and a 17-year-old girl. Officials have said all four children lived at the home in Amarillo, which is about 350 miles northwest of Dallas.

The children's mother, Martha Balderas, 45, was in critical condition Tuesday at University Medical Center in Lubbock, according to a hospital spokesman.

Five other family members, including the father and four other children, were being treated at BSA Health System in Amarillo and were in stable condition, hospital and fire officials said.

Crews who responded to a 5 a.m. call to the home on Monday originally thought it was related to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Authorities later determined that phosphine gas was likely released when the father took a garden hose at some point Sunday and tried to rinse away some of the pellets because family members had complained of the smell.

The water started the chemical reaction that released the phosphine gas. A visitor arrived early Monday, found everyone sick and called 911.

Phosphine gas can cause respiratory failure and in severe cases can cause a pulmonary edema, which fills the lungs full of fluid.

About 10 first responders from the police, fire and medical response departments were also taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, Davis said.

Two were kept overnight for observation because of headache and nausea but were in good condition Tuesday, he said.

Chip Orton, emergency management coordinator for the city of Amarillo and Potter and Randall counties, says his staff was working with a number of state and federal agencies to decontaminate the home.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has hired a private contractor to help.

Orton said phosphine gas typically casts off in about eight to 12 hours after it's been in contact with water, but emergency workers close to the home were wearing protective breathing equipment and hazmat suits as a precaution.

He said he does not know when the home will be safe for the family to return.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: KAMR]]>
<![CDATA[Dieting Tips for a New Year]]>Wed, 04 Jan 2017 14:18:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/183*120/scale+generic+weight+generic.JPG

We make 'em, we break 'em.

New Year's diet resolutions fall like needles on Christmas trees as January goes on. Genes can work against us. Metabolism, too. But a food behavior researcher has tested a bunch of little ways to tip the scale toward success. 

His advice: Put it on autopilot. Make small changes in the kitchen, at the grocery store and in restaurants to help you make good choices without thinking. 

"As much as we all want to believe that we're master and commander of all our food decisions, that's just not true for most of us,'' said the researcher, Brian Wansink. "We're influenced by the things around us - the size of the plate, the things people are doing...the lighting.'' 

He heads the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, has written books on taking control of food choices, and has had government and industry funding. 

Some tips are gimmicks, and some may not work as well for you as they did in tests. But they "make a lot of sense'' and many are backed by other studies, said one independent expert, Dr. William Yancy, a weight specialist at Duke University's diet and fitness center. 

To start: Make goals that are SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound, Yancy said. Instead of resolving to eat better, plan how to do it, such as having chips once or twice a week instead of every day. Rather than vague vows to get in shape, resolve to walk half an hour every day after dinner. 

Other tips from Wansink and research to support them: 

IN THE KITCHEN
Redo the pantry to put healthy stuff in front. You're three time more likely to eat the first food you see than the fifth one.

Tidy your kitchen before eating. Women asked to wait in a messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies as women in the same kitchen did when it was organized and quiet.

Redo the fridge. Even though it shortens shelf life, move fruits and vegetables out of crisper drawers and put them at eye level. Keep good foods in clear bags or containers and less healthy things like leftover pizza in aluminum foil. In one study, people who put fruits and vegetables on the top shelf ate nearly three times more of them than they did the week before.

Keep no food out except a fruit bowl. Researchers photographed 210 kitchens to see whether countertop food reflects the weight of women in each home. Those who left breakfast cereal out weighed 20 pounds more than neighbors who didn't; those with soft drinks out weighed 24 to 26 pounds more. Those with a fruit bowl weighed 13 pounds less.

AT THE TABLE
Beware the glassware. Use narrower glasses, pour wine when the glass is on the table rather than in your hand, and use a glass that doesn't match the color of the wine. A study found that people poured 12 percent more wine when using a wide glass, 12 percent more when holding the glass, and 9 percent more when pouring white wine into a clear glass versus a colored or opaque one. Pour any glass only half full - this cuts the average pour by 18 percent.

Use smaller plates and pay attention to color. Big plates make portions look small. In one study, people given larger bowls took 16 percent more cereal than those given smaller bowls, yet thought they ate less. People also take more food if it matches the color of their plate. But they eat less when the tablecloth or placemat matches the plate; it makes the food stand out more.

Keep the TV off and eat at a table. A study of dinner habits of 190 parents and 148 children found that the higher the parents' body mass index (a ratio of height and weight), the more likely they were to eat with the TV on. Eating at a table was linked to lower BMI.

Try small portions of "bad'' foods. Eat a bite or two, then distract yourself for 15 minutes to see if you feel satisfied. A study gave people different portions of chocolate, apple pie and potato chips and had them rate hunger and craving before and 15 minutes after eating. Bigger portion folks ate 103 calories more, but didn't feel more satisfied than those given less.

AT THE GROCERY STORE
Divide your shopping cart in half. Use a partition, purse or coat for a visual cue to fill at least half of your cart with fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. In two studies, half of shoppers were given divided carts and told to put healthier items in front. They spent more on produce than those given regular shopping carts.

Be careful when buying in bulk . A study found that people who bought big containers of chips, juice boxes, cookies, crackers and granola bars ate half of it within the first week - twice as fast as they normally would. Tip: Repackage into single-serve bags or containers, or store it out of reach, such as the basement.

Eat an apple first. People given a sample of an apple at the store increased spending on fruits and vegetables versus those given no sample or a cookie. A healthy snack may prime people to buy better foods, not the fast, processed foods they gravitate to when shopping hungry.

Circle every island in the produce section. In a study of 1,200 shoppers, every minute spent in the produce section meant $1.80 more in fruit and vegetable sales.

AT A RESTAURANT
Let the light shine. Researchers checked sales receipts of patrons at four casual chain restaurants. Those in brighter rooms were more likely to order healthier fish, vegetables or white meat rather than fried food or dessert. Diners in dim rooms ordered 39 percent more calories.

Sit near a window. Researchers analyzed 330 diners' receipts after they left. The closer they were to a window, the fewer foods and alcoholic drinks they ordered.

Ask for a to-go box in advance. Half of diners in a study were told before they ordered that the portions were big and that they could have a doggie bag. Those told in advance wound up taking more food home. To-go boxes encourage people to eat about a third less.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Investigation Into Baby Exposed to Fentanyl]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2017 20:36:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Methuenhome.JPG

Police are investigating why a 10-month-old baby stopped breathing twice after being exposed to the opioid fentanyl in Methuen, Massachusetts.

There was drug paraphenalia found in the baby's mother's car, according to police.

Methuen police said they were called to a Treetop Way residence at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday for a report of a baby who was not breathing. 

Upon arrival, emergency personnel immediately began treating the child before transporting her to Lawrence General Hospital, where she stopped breathing twice and had to be revived by hospital staff. The child was later flown to Tufts Medical Center in Boston via MedFlight helicopter and has since been released from the hospital. 

Hospital tests indicated that the baby had fentanyl in her system. The type of drug and amount ingested has not been released. 

The baby lives with her mother and grandparents in Methuen, according to Michael Quinn, an attorney and family friend. 

“There are a lot of questions and they have no answers,” Quinn said. 

Quinn says the mother found the baby unresponsive Saturday after a nap and the grandfather started CPR. 

The baby’s mother has struggled with drugs, but has been clean for several months, according to Quinn. 

“She has no idea how this happened, even before she delivered the baby she was in a program and she has been drug free ever since and that hasn’t changed, she has had negative drug tests the whole time, there hasn’t been anything,” Quinn said. “They are still cooperating with police and whoever wants to talk about it and whatever the investigation shows, they’d like answers as well.” 

"It's disconcerting," Methuen Police Lt. Michael Pappalardo said. "It's heartbreaking, to say the least. It's a 10-month-old baby. It's very difficult to deal with a young child that has become a victim." 

"The opioid epidemic knows no boundaries," added Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni. "We must continue to be vigilant in ensuring that children do not have access to harmful substances and to do everything we can to fight the disease of addiction." 

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid medication that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is often mixed with or substituted for heroin. 

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said his department's focus now is to determine where the drug came from and how it wound up in the baby's system. 

No arrests have been made, but police said charges are still possible.  

The Department of Children and Families is investigating in collaboration with Methuen Police, Massachusetts State Police and the Essex County District Attorney's Office. 

The baby is now in the custody of an aunt. A DCF hearing is scheduled to be held on Tuesday.



Photo Credit: NBC Boston]]>
<![CDATA[Prosecutor in Pa. Tackles Heroin Scourge That Claimed Son]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2017 07:33:41 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bruce17.jpg

The phone at Bruce Brandler's home rang at 3:37 a.m. It was the local hospital. His 16-year-old son was there, and he was in really bad shape.

A suspected heroin overdose, the nurse said.

Brandler didn't believe it. Erik had his problems, but heroin? It seemed impossible.

Nearly 10 years later, the nation is gripped by a spiraling crisis of opioid and heroin abuse — and Brandler, a veteran federal prosecutor recently promoted to interim U.S. attorney, suddenly finds himself in a position to do something about the scourge that claimed his youngest son's life.

Until now, he has never publicly discussed Erik's overdose death. It was private and just too painful. But Brandler, now the chief federal law enforcement officer for a sprawling judicial district that covers half of Pennsylvania, said he felt a responsibility that came with his new, higher-profile job.

"It's easier to cope with the passage of time, but it never goes away," Brandler told The Associated Press in an interview. "And, frankly, this whole heroin epidemic has brought it to the forefront."

Deadly heroin overdoses have more than quintupled in the years since Brandler lost his son. The illicit drug, along with highly addictive prescription pain relievers like oxycodone and fentanyl — a substance more powerful than heroin — now rival car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

Erik's death proved that heroin doesn't discriminate, Brandler said. He urged parents to "open their eyes" to the threat and talk to their kids.

"I want to evaporate the myth that heroin addicts are just homeless derelicts," said Brandler, who, before his son's overdose, held that impression himself. "This epidemic hits everybody, and I think my situation exemplifies that."

The opioid crisis was already taking root when Brandler began having problems with Erik, the youngest of his three children. The teenager's grades dropped, his friends changed and he began keeping irregular hours. Brandler found marijuana in his room and talked to him about it, figuring that was the extent of his drug use.

Then, in spring 2007, Erik overdosed on Ecstasy and had to be treated at a hospital.

"That elevated it to a different level as far as I was concerned, a much more serious level, and I took what I thought were appropriate steps," Brandler said.

He called the police on his son's dealer, who was prosecuted. That summer, Erik completed an intensive treatment program that included frequent drug testing. Brandler thought his son had turned a corner.

He was mistaken.

On the night of Aug. 18, 2007, Erik and an older friend paid $60 for three bags of heroin. After shooting up, Erik passed out. His breathing became labored, his lips pale. But his companions didn't seek medical treatment, not then and not for hours. Finally, around 3 a.m., they dropped him off at the hospital.

At 5:40 a.m., he was pronounced dead.

Five people were charged criminally, including Erik's friend, who received more than five years in prison.

Brandler still doesn't know why his son, who excelled at tennis, went to a good school and had loads of friends, turned to heroin.

"I thought about that, of course, but it's really a waste of energy and emotions to go down that road because I'll never know the answer," Brandler said from his office near the Pennsylvania Capitol, where a framed photo of Erik — strapping, shaggy-haired and swinging a tennis racket — sits on a credenza.

What he can do is join his fellow prosecutors in tackling the problem.

In September, the Justice Department ordered all 93 U.S. attorneys across the country to come up with a strategy for combating overdose deaths from heroin and painkillers. Brandler released his plan, covering 3.2 million people in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, last month. Like others, it focuses on prevention, enforcement and treatment.

He said his office will prioritize opioid cases resulting in death, and aggressively prosecute doctors who overprescribe pain pills.

Additionally, prosecutors will hit the road — bringing physicians, recovering addicts, family members of overdose victims and others with them — to talk to schools and hard-hit communities.

Parents need to know that "if you think it can't happen to you, it can," Brandler said. "If it happened to me as a federal prosecutor, I think it can happen to anyone, and that's really the message I want to get out."

Federal appeals Judge Thomas Vanaskie said it's a message that needs to be heard.

"Education is the most important thing to me," said Vanaskie, who helps run a court program that gets federal convicts back on their feet and who has been working with a former heroin addict who robbed a bank to feed his addiction. "We've got to prevent people from becoming users."

Vanaskie, who has known Brandler for years, commended him for speaking out.

"Hearing it from him becomes so much more powerful," Vanaskie said. "I know it causes great personal pain on his part, but he personalizes, humanizes this matter."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[North Texas Twins Born in Different Years]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2017 12:34:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Sanchez+Twins.jpg

An Arlington family celebrated the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 in an unusual way, with the birth of twin boys in two different years.

Medical City Arlington says Cassandra Martinez was due to deliver her third and fourth babies on Jan. 20, but they came early.

J'aiden Alexander Sanchez was the first to arrive at 11:46 p.m. on Dec. 31 while Jordan Xavier Sanchez arrived at 12:12 a.m. on New Year's Day, making him the first baby born at Medical City Arlington in 2017.

"I definitely was not expecting to spend the holiday in the hospital, but I am glad they're here and healthy," said Cassandra Martinez, the twins' mother.

In addition to having different birthdays, the Sanchez twins are the third set of twins of this generation in their father's family.

The hospital says twin brothers born on different days in different years, may be as rare as a one-in-a-million occurrence, according to some estimates.



Photo Credit: Medical City Arlington]]>
<![CDATA[Q&A: How GOP Could Repeal Health Care Law]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 12:30:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OBAMACARE_AP_16320806519240.jpg

The stakes confronting Republicans determined to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care law were evident in one recent encounter between an Ohio congressman and a constituent. 

"He said, 'Now you guys own it. Now fix it. It's on your watch now,'" recalled GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi, chairman of a pivotal health subcommittee. "And this is a supporter." 

Republicans have unanimously opposed Obama's law since Democrats muscled it through Congress in 2010. They've tried derailing it scores of times but have failed, stymied by internal divisions and Obama's veto power. 

With the Republicans controlling Congress and Donald Trump entering the White House on Jan. 20, their mantra of repeal and replace is now a top-tier goal that the party's voters fully expect them to achieve — starting this week. 

But by unwinding the statute, the GOP would kill or recast programs that provide coverage to 20 million Americans who will be wary of anyone threatening their health insurance. And continuing Republican rifts over how to reshape the law, pay for the replacement and avoid destabilizing health insurance markets mean party leaders have a bumpy path ahead.

Q: What's first?
A: When the new Congress convenes Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his chamber will begin debating a bare bones budget for next year. Most significantly, that would trigger a special procedure letting Republicans repeal much of Obama's law by a simple Senate majority. 

That's big because GOP senators will have only a 52-48 edge. The debate will also be a way for Republicans to signal quickly to voters that they're starting to erase the law, even as they save actually doing it for later. 

Q: And then?
A: Lawmakers will work on legislation actually repealing much of Obama's law. 

The legislation is likely to erase the mandate that people buy insurance or face hefty IRS fines, which Republicans despise. Also facing elimination or reductions: taxes Obama imposed on upper-income people to finance the law, subsidies that help millions afford health care and the expansion of Medicaid health coverage to more lower-earning people. Federal aid to Planned Parenthood would be halted, reflecting GOP opposition to the right to abortion, one of the women's health services provided by the organization.

They hope to pass the bill by late spring, but its provisions probably won't take effect for up to four years to give lawmakers time to craft a replacement.

This won't be easy. Many congressional Republicans are from states like Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania that have added about 10 million people to Medicaid and will oppose abandoning so many voters. Others will be nervous about voting to repeal the overall law without having replacement legislation to show constituents.

Republicans also worry that during the transition to a new system, health insurers — already struggling in some states — might protect themselves by leaving some markets and boosting premiums. To ease that, GOP aides say they're considering including some kind of stabilization fund in the repeal bill to protect insurers against losses. That remains a work in progress.

Q: Will the 20 million people now covered lose their benefits?
A: Some probably will, a byproduct of reducing Medicaid coverage and dropping the requirement that individuals buy insurance.

That could be partly offset by some who'd purchase less expensive policies because the bill will probably let insurers drop coverage for some of the 10 services they now must provide, such as outpatient care and pregnancies.

At a briefing for reporters, top House GOP aides said the goal is "universal access" to health benefits, as opposed to aiming for coverage of all Americans. They said Obama's law ended up with many policies that are too expensive and offer limited access to doctors, but the shift in focus to "access" suggests Republicans don't want to be measured by the number of people actually covered.

The Senate's new minority leader, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said recently that repealing Obama's law without a replacement would mean "huge calamity from one end of America to the other."

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called claims that 20 million people will lose coverage a "big lie." He said Republicans will provide "an adequate transition period to give people piece of mind."

Q: What about the replacement legislation?
A: Its ingredients remain unclear.

Trump, who's been vague, has proposed tax breaks to help people afford insurance, letting insurers sell policies across state lines and freeing states to decide how to spend Medicaid dollars.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has offered similar ideas plus transforming Medicare into a system that offers subsidies for buying policies. He'd tax — for the first time — the most expensive employer-provided health benefits.

The GOP effort might involve several bills, with Republicans pushing measures through Congress as they're ready. And it will probably take years, which would put political pressure on the GOP.

"The American people will want to see change overnight," said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Following Trump's Victory, GOP Hopes to Overhaul Medicaid]]>Thu, 29 Dec 2016 13:33:01 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/175153230-tom-price-paul-ryan.jpg

When President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, Republicans will have the opportunity to pull off something they have wanted to do for years — overhaul Medicaid, the program that provides health care to tens of millions of lower-income and disabled Americans.

Any changes to the $500 billion-plus program hold enormous consequences not only for recipients but also for the states, which share in the cost.

Trump initially said during the presidential campaign that he would not cut Medicaid, but later expressed support for an idea pushed for years by Republicans in Congress — sending a fixed amount of money each year to the states in the form of block grants. Backers say such a change in the Medicaid formula is one of the best ways to rein in spending, but critics say big cuts would follow.

Currently, the federal government pays an agreed-upon percentage of each state's Medicaid costs, no matter how much they rise in any given year.

Republicans have argued that states have little incentive to keep expenses under control, because no state pays more than half the total cost. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump's pick for secretary of health and human services, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, want to switch to block grants.

Key questions facing Republicans will be how the funding is structured and how much flexibility will be given to the states.

"It's exciting because you know it's not going to be the same as it was, and it's nerve-wracking because you know it's not going to be the same as it was," said Terry England, a Republican state lawmaker who chairs the House budget committee in Georgia.

Republican control of Congress and the presidency means the GOP can act on its long-held priorities of reining in entitlement programs and repealing President Barack Obama's health care law, which allowed states to expand the number of people eligible for Medicaid. Thirty-one states have opted for the expansion.

It is not clear what the GOP's replacement plan will look like. Democrats have warned of dire consequences, and any proposed changes are likely to trigger a fight in Congress.

Last week, the Democratic Governors Association warned that repealing the Affordable Care Act would end health coverage for millions of people and shift the financial burden onto the states, costing them $68.5 billion in uncompensated care over the next decade. The group said the Medicaid expansion alone has provided coverage for millions of Americans who lacked insurance and that it had been a critical tool for states in combating the opioid epidemic.

In 2012, a plan by Ryan to reduce the federal deficit included a proposal to convert Medicaid funding into block grants with a cap on the amount the federal government would provide. Advocacy groups warned that that approach would ultimately lead to fewer people receiving coverage.

The Congressional Budget Office concluded that under Ryan's proposal, "states would need to increase their spending on these programs, make considerable cutbacks in them, or both."

Earlier this year, Ryan and Republican leaders offered another, more flexible option: States would receive a fixed amount from Washington for each person enrolled. That approach would allow federal payments to grow if, for example, a recession forced more people onto Medicaid.

More than 70 million are on Medicaid, nearly 10 million of them covered as a result of the expansion.

GOP budget documents say federal spending on Medicaid has increased 200 percent in the past 15 years, and the Congressional Budget Office projects it will climb 68 percent over the next decade to $642 billion. In addition, total state spending on Medicaid is expected to rise from about $216 billion in fiscal year 2015 to more than $337 billion in 2023.

How the GOP overhaul is ultimately structured will be critical, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

"Some of my members are looking at this and saying if this isn't done right, if the money doesn't match what needs to be done, this is potentially the greatest intergovernmental transfer of financial risk in the country's history," he said.

States, many of them struggling with budget shortfalls, could end up covering fewer procedures or medications, instituting work requirements or requiring co-pays or premiums. Those that opted to expand Medicaid could decide it's no longer sustainable.

Among those now covered because of the expansion is 59-year-old Alan Purser of Wynne, Arkansas, who tapped into the program after losing his job in 2014 when the pawnshop where he worked was sold.

A few weeks after signing up, he went to the doctor because of a bad cough. He was diagnosed with blood clots in both lungs and ended up in the hospital for 10 days.

"Honestly, I would be dead without this coverage," said Purser, who is on disability. "I never would have gone to the doctor without insurance."

Purser said he fears having his benefits reduced.

"When you live on $730 a month," he said, "you have to watch where everything goes, and you just can't start paying more and more for your medicines."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Single Shot From Doctor May Be Future of HIV Prevention]]>Thu, 29 Dec 2016 01:34:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/200429890-001.jpg

The Truvada pill is taken daily to prevent HIV and has been touted as a miracle drug responsible for lowering rates of the virus across the United States. But soon, the daily pill may be overshadowed by an even simpler method — a single flu shot-like injection at the doctor's office, once every two months, NBC News reported. 

The National Institutes of Health announced last week that it was entering the first-ever global clinical trial of an injectable HIV-prevention drug called cabotegravir. The trial is taking place in eight countries across three world regions — the Americas, Africa and Asia — and researchers are enrolling 4,500 gay and bisexual men along with transgender women, pulling from groups with the highest rates of new infections.

"The annual number of new HIV infections among young people, especially young men who have sex with men and transgender women who have sex with men, has been on the rise despite nearly flat HIV incidence among adults worldwide," said Raphael J. Landovitz, the protocol chair for the study. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Minnesota Beats Rest of Country to Banning Germ-Killer]]>Sun, 25 Dec 2016 17:43:45 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/triclosan.jpg

Minnesota's first-in-the nation ban on soaps containing the once ubiquitous germ-killer triclosan takes effect Jan. 1, but the people who spearheaded the law say it's already having its desired effect on a national level. 

The federal government caught up to Minnesota's 2014 decision with its own ban that takes effect in September 2017. Major manufacturers have largely phased out the chemical already, with some products being marketed as triclosan-free. And it's an example of how changes can start at a local level.

"I wanted it to change the national situation with triclosan and it certainly has contributed to that,'' said state Sen. John Marty, an author of Minnesota's ban.

Triclosan once was widely used in anti-bacterial soaps, deodorants and even toothpaste. But studies began to show it could disrupt sex and thyroid hormones and other bodily functions, and scientists were concerned routine use could contribute to the development of resistant bacteria. And University of Minnesota research found that triclosan can break down into potentially harmful dioxins in lakes and rivers.

The group Friends of the Mississippi River and its allies in the Legislature, including Marty, got Gov. Mark Dayton to sign a ban in 2014 that gave the industry until Jan. 1, 2017, to comply.

In September, the FDA banned triclosan along with 18 other anti-bacterial chemicals from soaps nationwide, saying manufacturers had failed to show they were safe or more effective at killing germs than plain soap and water. However, the FDA allowed the use of some triclosan products such as Colgate Total toothpaste, saying it's effective at preventing gingivitis.

Marty and Trevor Russell, the water program director for Friends of the Mississippi River, acknowledged they can't take direct credit for the FDA's action because that rulemaking process began in 1978, though it didn't finalize the rule until after a legal battle with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

However, the Minnesota men hope their efforts helped turn opinions against the chemical and are confident the state's ban helped prod manufacturers to accelerate a phase-out that some companies such as Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson had already begun.

Most major brands are now reformulated, said Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, a lobbying group. Soaps containing triclosan on store shelves are likely stocks that retailers are just using up, he said.

Russell noted he recently found Dial liquid anti-bacterial hand soap at two local Wal-Marts, two supermarkets and a Walgreens.

The industry is now submitting data to the FDA on the safety and effectiveness of the three main replacements, benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol.

"Consumers can continue to use these products with confidence, like they always have,'' Sansoni said.

By going first, Russell said, Minnesota can identify any issues with implementing the ban and share it with the rest of the country.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Hey, Wait a Minute: Don't Cut Newborns' Cords Too Fast]]>Thu, 22 Dec 2016 09:40:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pregnant-woman.jpg

Don't cut that umbilical cord too soon: A brief pause after birth could benefit most newborns by delivering them a surge of oxygen-rich blood. 

New recommendations for U.S. obstetricians, the latest in a debate over how quick to snip, suggest waiting "at least 30 seconds to 60 seconds after birth," for all healthy newborns. 

That's double what often happens now. It's common in the U.S. for doctors to cut the cord almost immediately, within 15 to 20 seconds of birth, unless the baby is premature. 

Cutting the cord is a memorable moment in the delivery room, and Wednesday's advice from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists won't interfere if dads want to help. 

An extra half minute may not seem like much, but a lot of oxygen-rich blood reaches the baby through the umbilical cord shortly after birth, said Dr. Maria Mascola of ACOG's Committee on Obstetric Practice. 

It may flow for up to five minutes, she said, but much of the placental blood transfers in that first minute — and there's increasing evidence that it has some health benefits. 

Here are some things to know: 

DOES THE CORD REALLY MATTER ONCE THE BABY BREATHES?
It can give a boost to what Dr. Tonse Raju of the National Institutes of Health calls the amazing transition that happens as the baby takes his or her first breath.

In the womb, the placenta acts as the fetus' lungs. But within seconds of birth, the circulation changes and lungs once filled with fluid inflate as the baby inhales air. Cut access to lingering placental blood in the cord too soon, and the baby misses extra oxygen to supplement those early breaths.

Before the 1960s, it wasn't uncommon to wait five minutes or more to cut the cord. Then, for unclear reasons, doctors began clamping and cutting almost immediately.

"Unfortunately, the value of immediate clamping has never been shown," said Raju, a perinatology specialist at NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He wasn't involved with the new recommendation.

THE LATEST EVIDENCE
Studies began showing that babies born prematurely benefit from longer access to cord blood, with a lower risk of transfusions, anemia and bleeding in the brain. In response, ACOG recommended a pause for them.

Now ACOG cites research showing full-term babies benefit, too, with a lower risk of even mild iron deficiency that can delay cognitive development. One study showed waiting 3 minutes to cut the cord led to slightly better early brain development.

TODAY'S ADVICE
The World Health Organization says to wait one minute; some other groups say it's OK to wait two minutes, or even five. ACOG settled on "at least" 30 seconds to one minute.

However long the pause, it shouldn't interfere with mom holding her baby. NIH's Raju recommends telling parents, "While the baby's nice and warm on your skin, we'll take our time and then clamp."

ARE THERE RISKS?
Doctors won't delay cutting if the baby has problems breathing and needs emergency care.

An initial fear that delayed clamping spurs maternal bleeding has proved unfounded. But babies do need to be monitored for signs of jaundice, a risk for any newborn but one that may be slightly increased with delayed clamping.

WHAT ABOUT CORD BLOOD BANKING?
Some parents bank their child's umbilical cord blood for possible future medical use. Delayed cord cutting means there's less left to store, and ACOG said families should be counseled accordingly.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Cancer-Stricken 'Jeopardy!' Player Wins $103K Before Death]]>Thu, 22 Dec 2016 11:20:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CindyStowell-sm.jpg

Faced with a terminal diagnosis in her battle against colon cancer, Cindy Stowell saw an appearance on "Jeopardy!" in her final months as a "good opportunity" to help others struggling against the disease by donating money she might win to cancer research.

She made the most of it by winning six nights in a row and more than $103,000 in a run that ended on Wednesday's episode.

The Austin, Texas, woman died Dec. 5 at the age of 41, eight days before her first appearance aired on Dec. 13. "Jeopardy!" sent her advance copies of three of her appearances so she could watch them in the hospital, the show said in a statement . It also expedited getting her winnings to her.

Before her August audition for the show, Stowell emailed a "Jeopardy!" producer that she didn't have long to live and that if she were selected she'd like to donate any winnings to charities involved in cancer research.

She passed the audition and was booked for the first available taping on Aug. 31, "Jeopardy!" said. She won four games taped that day and returned for a Sept. 13 taping. She won two more games before finishing second in her final appearance.

"Cindy came on the show with a mission. We gave her the opportunity to fulfill that mission and she made the most of it," said "Jeopardy!" executive producer Harry Friedman.

In a video released by the show Wednesday night, Stowell called her appearance "a line in the sand" that she drew in her battle against the disease.

"I'm dying of cancer," she said. "I really want the money that I win to be used to help others and so this seems like a good opportunity,"

The Cancer Research Institute tweeted its thanks to Stowell on Wednesday for donating winnings and inspiring others to do the same.

Stowell came from behind to win several times during her run, which she said made the experience stressful, yet fun.

"Even when you think the odds are completely against you somehow you know, via luck or something, things can work out."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Jeopardy!
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<![CDATA[Catching Up With the Boy Who Had a Double Hand Transplant]]>Thu, 22 Dec 2016 07:52:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/handAP_16236722740436.jpg

Just two years ago, Zion Harvey thought he'd never throw a baseball again. 

The young boy had lost both his hands and legs after suffering an infection when he was a toddler. Today, a year and a half after he became the world's first child to have a double hand transplant, he says he's a new person.

NBC News has followed Zion's story each step of the way from his surgery to recovery. All the grueling therapy has paid off, his mother Pattie told NBC News. 

It has been a whirlwind year in the spotlight for 9-year-old Zion. Support has poured in from all corners.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[About 70 Employees Get Sick After NM Health Department Party]]>Wed, 21 Dec 2016 12:06:29 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DOC_GettyImages-539738467.jpg

The New Mexico Department of Health said dozens of its employees became sick after its holiday party.

The New Mexican reports that about 70 staff members said they had gastrointestinal issues after the luncheon last week. A spokesman said more than 200 employees attended the catered luncheon at the Harold Runnels Building in Santa Fe.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallgher said Monday that investigators have not identified a specific contaminated food. She told her staff that the outbreak appears likely to have been caused by bacillus cereus or clostridium perfingens. Both can cause food-borne illness.

Epidemiologists are awaiting the results of laboratory test.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images ]]>
<![CDATA[Female Doctors Outperform Male Counterparts: Study]]>Mon, 19 Dec 2016 16:38:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-125767555-Doctor-needle.jpg

Patients treated by women doctors are less likely to die of what ails them and less likely to have to return for more treatment, researchers reported Monday.

Yet, as NBC News reports, women doctors on average are paid less than their male counterparts and are less likely to be promoted. According to one study, white male doctors were found to earn an average $250,000 a year, while white female doctors earned an average $163,000 a year.

The researchers said that if all doctors performed as well as the female physicians included in their study, it would save 32,000 lives every year.



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Family of 1st Puerto Rico Baby With Zika Defect Struggles]]>Mon, 19 Dec 2016 09:58:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16353514291200-zikathmb.jpg

Michelle Flandez had just given birth to her first son, but doctors in this U.S. territory whisked him away before she could see him. 

Perplexed, she demanded him back and then slowly unwrapped the blanket that covered him. 

"My husband and I looked at each other," she recalled. "No one had warned us. No one had given us the opportunity to decide what to do." 

It was mid-October, and in her arms lay what health officials announced as the first known baby born in Puerto Rico with a rare birth defect that has been linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Those with microcephaly have abnormally small heads and often suffer impeded brain growth and other problems. 

The island, already struggling with a shortage of doctors and funds amid a worsening economic crisis, has more than 35,700 Zika cases, including nearly 3,000 involving pregnant women. Some 300 people overall have been hospitalized and five have died, including at least two who developed complications from a paralysis condition linked to Zika known as Guillain-Barre. 

Since the birth of Flandez's son, named Inti after an Inca sun god, four other babies have been born in Puerto Rico with birth defects linked to Zika, including microcephaly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has projected a surge in cases next year. A study by the CDC estimates that up to 10,300 pregnant women in Puerto Rico could be infected with Zika and that between 100 and 270 babies could be born with microcephaly. The U.S. mainland, meanwhile, has reported more than 30 cases of birth defects linked to Zika. 

While Flandez had symptoms of Zika early in her pregnancy, she said she was told that tests showed a false positive. Sonograms in August and September showed no problems. 

Flandez ran a finger through the silky dark hair on Inti's tiny head on Friday as she described the challenges of raising her 3-month-old son on an island in economic crisis. She called several pediatric neurologists after he was born and found just one who accepted Medicaid. The earliest appointment she could get was in October 2017. 

Discouraged, she turned to relatives, one of whom detailed the family's plight on Facebook: "The family has remained quiet for too long. If this message reaches a pediatric neurologist who can help Inti, we will be more than grateful." 

The post was shared 11,000 times, and shortly afterward, an official at Puerto Rico's largest public hospital called and arranged an appointment for Inti. Since then, he has received therapy and now has several appointments scheduled through February with other doctors. 

But hardships persist. Flandez does not have a car, and she sometimes has to walk an hour with Inti to reach the closest bus stop when neighbors or friends cannot drive her to the doctor. Money also is tight for Flandez and her husband, who live in a two-bedroom apartment with no couch. 

"I have to pay rent, I have to eat ... I have to pay for transportation," she said as she cradled a sleepy Inti after breastfeeding him. 

Experts fear babies like Inti could develop other disabilities as they grow, burdening a health care system already breaking under an exodus of doctors fleeing for the U.S. mainland. The cost of treating a baby with Zika is estimated at $3.8 million, said Dr. Cynthia Moore, director of the CDC's division of congenital and developmental disorders. She said a Zika infection can bring many consequences, including poor eyesight or motor skills. 

"The more we learn about it, the more we find new problems," she said. "It's rapidly evolving." 

In Puerto Rico, health officials are pushing to secure more federal funds to fight the Zika epidemic, even as the number of weekly new cases has been dropping. Some of that money might be used as a special bonus for doctors who normally don't accept Medicaid patients, said Dr. Miguel Valencia Prado, director of the Health Department's Division of Children with Special Medical Needs. 

In addition, Valencia said he has established videoconferencing with at least two specialists in the U.S. who serve as consultants, and he is considering requesting that doctors based in the U.S. temporarily work in Puerto Rico on a rotational basis. 

Meanwhile, Flandez said she is taking it day-by-day with Inti, whom his older sister has nicknamed "Starman" because, as she explained to her mother, he is different from the rest and thus comes from the stars. 

Inti likes to have his feet tickled by the family's cat — "She's our emergency therapist," the mother says — and he seems to be soothed by the music of Iron Maiden songs when he cries, Flandez said with a laugh. 

"He's a normal child. I don't see him as someone for whom you should have pity," she said. "You never know how long he's going to live or how long I'm going to live. The most important thing is to do what's best right now."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Drug Overdose Deaths Jump 33% in Past 5 Years]]>Sat, 17 Dec 2016 06:17:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628-opioid-pills.jpg

Drug overdose deaths have increased by 33 percent in the past five years across the country, with some states seeing jumps of nearly 200 percent. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 states saw increases in overdose deaths resulting from the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers, a class of drugs known as opioids. New Hampshire saw a 191 percent increase while North Dakota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine had death rates jump by over 100 percent. 

"Too many Americans are feeling the devastation of the opioid crisis either from misuse of prescription opioids or use of illicit opioids," said Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC. "Urgent action is needed to help health care providers treat pain safely and treat opioid use disorder effectively, support law enforcement strategies to reduce the availability of illicit opiates, and support states to develop and implement programs that can save lives."

Last year, more than 52,000 people died from drug overdoses, with almost two-thirds involving prescription or illegal opioids. Deaths from synthetic opioids, including illicit fentanyl, rose 73 percent, to 9,580. And prescription painkillers took the highest toll but posted the smallest increase. Abuse of drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin killed 17,536, an increase of 4 percent.

In comparison, the number of people who died in car crashes was 37,757, an increase of 12 percent. Gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, totaled 36,252, up 7 percent.

The CDC report also included death certificate data for opioid overdoses in 28 states, finding that 16 saw a jump in death rates from synthetic opioids including illicit fentanyl. New York (135.7 percent), Connecticut (125.9 percent) and Illinois (120 percent) were the hardest hit. As for heroin deaths, 11 states had increases, with South Carolina (57.1 percent), North Carolina (46.4 percent) and Tennessee (43.5 percent) seeing the biggest spike.

"It's certainly disheartening for those of us in public health," said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University epidemiologist who researches drug abuse issues. 

"Part of what has been concerning for many epidemiologists and other public health professionals is the rise in these high-dosage opioids like fentanyl that really are contributing in very pervasive ways to the overdose epidemic," she said. "What you saw in the CDC report is that one of the major categories where you saw an increase in overdoses was when fentanyl is involved. Certainly, that is not a surprise to those of us who have been working in opioid addiction and overdose. But it is a stark reminder that that is the challenge we are facing — these new synthetic opioids."

The Northeast has been hit especially hard by the drug crisis, with New Hampshire among those suffering the most. Just this year, overdose deaths were expected to top 500. The state's congressional delegation was among those supporting a bill that will provide $1 billion in funding to states to fight heroin and opioid abuse.

Heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers are the primary drivers of addiction in recent years.

"Obviously the fact that 500 people are going to succumb to addiction this year is just a terrible tragedy," said Republican Jeb Bradley, the state Senate majority leader. "It reminds us all that we have to make sure that we ... monitor carefully what's working and what isn't and be prepared as we come back in January to address this issue."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mylan to Offer Generic EpiPen for $300 Next Week]]>Fri, 16 Dec 2016 10:15:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epipen-generics.jpg

Mylan is about to start selling a generic version of its EpiPen injector for $300 per two-pack, under half the cost of the name-brand lifesaving drug, the pharmaceutical company announced Friday.

The move comes after 20 state attorneys general launched a federal lawsuit alleging that Mylan and five other generic drug-makers artificially inflated and manipulated prices to reduce competition for an antibiotic and oral diabetes medication.

Mylan has been offering EpiPen, an emergency allergy treatment, for about $608, up more than 500 percent nine years ago, according to the Elsevier Clinical Solutions' Gold Standard Drug Database. The company came under fire this summer for those price hikes, leading to a congressional inquiry.

The $300 cost of the new generic EpiPen two-pack is wholesale for Mylan. It works the same way as EpiPen, the company said, and will arrive in pharmacies next week.

Sen. Bernie Sanders took issue with the announcement Friday morning, calling it a "PR move" that doesn't restore the drug to its 2007 prices.

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch told CNBC in August that lowering the price was not an option, though it also boosted its patient assistance program so that some families wouldn't have to pay out of pocket for the injector.

"Had we reduced the list price, I couldn't ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen gets one," she said.

Connecticut is leading the states' lawsuits over drug pricing. Attorney General George Jepsen, whose office began its investigation more than two years ago into suspicious price increases of certain generic medications, said his staff "developed compelling evidence of collusion and anticompetitive conduct" among many companies that manufacture and market generic drugs.

Jepsen called Heritage Pharmaceuticals "the principal architect of the conspiracies," but said he had evidence of "widespread participation in illegal conspiracies across the generic drug industry."

Both Mylan and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA said they knew of no evidence that they had participated in price fixing. Teva said it "vigorously" denies any allegations of wrongdoing. Aurobindo Pharma USA Inc. declined to comment. The other companies named — Citron Pharma LLC and Mayne Pharma Inc. — didn't return requests for comment Thursday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Mylan
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<![CDATA[Deadline Extended to Sign Up for Obamacare]]>Fri, 16 Dec 2016 10:25:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Obamacare-AP_30213472209.jpg

The Obama administration is giving consumers a few extra days to sign up on HealthCare.gov in time for health insurance coverage to take effect Jan. 1.

The new deadline is 11:59 p.m. Pacific time on Monday, Dec. 19, says Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal health insurance markets.

The unexpected extension was announced after close of business Thursday. Counihan said it's due to strong interest.

The old deadline was Thursday, Dec. 15.

The Obama administration has set a goal of signing up 13.8 million people for 2017, a modest increase. So far enrollment is running about on par with last year, but the share of new customers is down.

Open enrollment ends Jan. 31.

President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP Congress have vowed to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: ap]]>
<![CDATA[Engineered Pink Pineapple Safe to Sell: FDA]]>Thu, 15 Dec 2016 07:31:47 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-503869977.jpg

A strain of pineapple genetically engineered to be pink instead of yellow got the go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday, NBC News reported. 

The pink pineapple, made by Del Monte Fresh Produce, simply has some genes toned down to keep the flesh of the fruit pinker and sweeter, the FDA said. 

"(Del Monte's) new pineapple has been genetically engineered to produce lower levels of the enzymes already in conventional pineapple that convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink, so it is commonly and safely consumed."

The pineapple will be grown in Costa Rica. The company will label it "extra sweet pink flesh pineapple."



Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Huff, Puff and Explode: E-cigarette Fires, Injuries on Rise]]>Wed, 14 Dec 2016 14:48:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ecigarette+woman+smoking.jpg

Katrina Williams wanted a safer alternative to smoking, and e-cigarettes seemed to be the answer until the day one exploded in her pocket as she drove home from a beauty salon.

"It was like a firecracker" as it seared third-degree burns in her leg, blasted through her charred pants and stuck in the dashboard, the New Yorker said. That was in April. Williams, a freight manager, said she still hasn't returned to work. "It was very disturbing."

Similar painful accidents have been recorded with increasing frequency over the past year as use of e-cigarettes has climbed, with faulty batteries seen as the suspected culprit. The industry maintains e-cigarettes are safe when used properly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which started regulating e-cigarettes in May, identified about 66 explosions in 2015 and early 2016, after recording 92 explosions from 2009 to September 2015.

In late November, a clerk at a liquor store in New York's Grand Central Station was casually leaning against a counter when the e-cigarette in his pocket erupted. A security camera captured him frantically trying to snuff out a fountain of white-hot sparks.

Surveillance video also captured an e-cigarette explosion in September at a New Jersey mall that left a woman's Louis Vuitton bag smoking as she stood at a checkout counter.

Police say a teenage girl on a train at the Universal Orlando amusement park suffered burns in October when an electronic cigarette belonging to another visitor exploded and shot a fireball at her.

The numbers kept by the FDA may be an undercount. One hospital, the UW Medicine Regional Burn Center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, says it has seen about 23 patients with e-cigarette burns since it started tracking them informally in October 2015.

"They are extremely dangerous and need to be revamped or revised," said Marc Freund, a New York attorney who represents both Williams and a 14-year-old boy who was partially blinded when an e-cigarette device exploded at a kiosk selling e-cigarettes at a Brooklyn mall.

The problems with the devices are linked to their lithium-ion batteries, which help vaporize liquid nicotine into a mist that distributors and some health experts say is far less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes.

The same types of batteries are used safely in many consumer electronics, but they've also been behind fires in hover boards and smartphones. Last year, the federal Department of Transportation issued a rule prohibiting passengers from packing e-cigarettes in checked luggage to protect against in-flight fires.

Thomas Kiklas, co-founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, argues the devices are safe when used properly. He said the TVECA encourages proper recharging of the batteries as a way to prevent possible injuries.

Euromonitor International, a market research company, noted there were 10.8 million regular e-cigarette users in the U.S. in 2015, generating $3.5 billion in sales.

Gregory L. Bentley, an Irvine, California, attorney, won a nearly $2 million judgment in a product liability lawsuit for a woman burned by an e-cigarette last year. He said he has a growing list of similar cases, most of which involve batteries and other components manufactured in China that have been subject to little safety oversight.

"The problem is defectively manufactured batteries," he said. "Consumers need to know it's next to impossible to sue a Chinese company. If people want to seek compensation they have to target distributors, wholesalers and retailers."

Last week, the U.S. surgeon general called e-cigarettes an emerging public health threat to the nation's youth, although he highlighted the risk of nicotine addiction, not explosions.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer said the FDA should consider a recall.

"It's bad enough that e-cigarettes cause nicotine addiction and may be dangerous to a person's health, but now it seems they're doubling as a ticking time bomb," he said.

FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum said the agency is reviewing the health impacts of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. He said the review will include an evaluation of the use of e-cigarette batteries, including "amperage, voltage, wattage, battery type" and other issues.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Where You Live Determines What Kills You]]>Wed, 14 Dec 2016 12:08:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-515791525.jpg

A new analysis by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a county-by-county breakdown of what kills people in the U.S., NBC News reported.

Drug overdoses shot up 1,000 percent since 1980 in counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, western Pennsylvania and east-central Missouri. Diabetes-related deaths are more prevalent in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Suicides and homicides were most prevalent in the western states.

Meanwhile, heart disease, is particularly high in the southeast of the United States, blamed on poor diet, a lack of exercise and less access to good medical care. 

"We found huge variation in all the leading causes of death," said Dr. Christopher Murray at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Seattle.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Ikon Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fewer Teens Drink or Use Illegal Drugs Now]]>Wed, 14 Dec 2016 07:51:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-AB68607.jpg

Fewer American teenagers are using illegal drugs or drinking alcohol, researchers said. 

Rates are at a record low for eighth-graders, the team at the University of Michigan and the National Institutes of Health found, but there's a troubling increase in marijuana use among older teens in some states, NBC News reported.

The survey of 45,473 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grade at 372 public and private schools found 48 percent of 12th graders admit to having used a drug illegally in the past year, compared to 49 percent in 2015 and 54 percent in 2000. 

About a third of 10th graders have used any illicit drug and 17 percent of eighth graders have.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Signs Bill Boosting Spending on Cancer Research]]>Tue, 13 Dec 2016 20:38:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-629519988.jpg

On a "bittersweet day" that brought back memories of loved ones lost, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that makes new investments in cancer research and battling drug abuse.

Obama signed the bill Tuesday at a ceremony on the White House campus flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and key lawmakers from both parties. The 55-year-old president recounted that his own mother did not even reach his age, dying of cancer in her early 50s.

"It's not always easy to remember, but being able to honor those we've lost in this way and to know that we may be able to prevent other families from feeling that same loss, that makes it a good day," Obama said. "It's a good day to see us doing our jobs."

The 21st Century Cures Act invests $1.8 billion for a cancer research "moonshot" that is strongly supported by Biden. The vice president's son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015.

The bill also authorizes giving states $1 billion over two years to prevent and treat the abuse of heroin and other opioids and addictive drugs.

Overall, the measure plans $6.3 billion in new spending over the coming decade. The bill also streamlines the approval process for drugs and medical devices at the Food and Drug Administration, which some patient advocacy groups opposed.

Public Citizen said the bill pressures the FDA to approve new medical products and new uses for drugs based on weaker evidence of safety and efficacy.

"This bill remains a bad deal for patient safety, offering a small, temporary and non-guaranteed increase in public research funding at the expense of permanently weakening oversight by the Food and Drug Administration," Public Citizen said.

The signing ceremony represented a rare day in Obama's presidency, where lawmakers from both parties gathered to celebrate bipartisan joy over the passage of consequential legislation.

"I hope this bodes well for what will come next year — that we're back working together" Biden said.

Biden said he believed the bill would inject new urgency into fighting cancer and would give millions of Americans hope that they will be able to have their lives extended through research that will bring about new cures and treatments.

"Every day, millions of people are praying, praying for hope, praying for time," Biden said.

Obama also used the ceremony to make a pitch for his signature health insurance law that expanded coverage for 20 million Americans, but also faces the prospect of repeal in the next administration.

"I'm hopeful in the years ahead that Congress keeps working together in a bipartisan fashion to move us forward, rather than backward in support of the health of our people," Obama said.

Obama was introduced by David and Kate Grubb of West Virginia who lost their daughter Jessica in March to a drug overdose. David Grubb shared his daughter's struggle with addiction when Obama visited the state in October 2015. He said Jessica wanted treatment, but the closest place they could find for treatment was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Grubb said the funding would make it possible for communities "to have the resources, to build the facilities, to do the kind of education that's absolutely needed so we can address this problem."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Signs 21st Century Cures Act]]>Tue, 13 Dec 2016 19:04:17 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Obama_Biden_21st_Century_Cures_act_1200x675_832199235608.jpgThe 21st Century Cures Act increases funding for medical research and hopes to speed approval of experimental treatments.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Oklahoma May Require Restroom Signs in Anti-Abortion Effort]]>Tue, 13 Dec 2016 14:50:46 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AJ-griffin-oklahoma.jpg

Oklahoma plans to force hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state.

The State Board of Health will consider regulations for the signs on Tuesday. Businesses and other organizations will have to pay an estimated $2.3 million to put up the signs because the Legislature didn't approve any money for them.

The provision for the signs was tucked into a law that the Legislature passed this year that requires the state to develop informational material "for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society." The signs must be posted by January 2018.

Groups representing hospitals and restaurants are among those complaining that the new requirements are an expensive, unfunded mandate from the Legislature.

"We don't have any concern about the information they're trying to get out to women about their babies and their pregnancy. This is just the wrong way to do it," said Jim Hooper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. "It's just another mandate on small businesses. It's not just restaurants. It includes hospitals, nursing homes. It just doesn't make sense."

The anti-abortion group Oklahomans for Life requested the bill. The sponsor, Sen. A.J. Griffin, said she may revise the measure in the upcoming legislative session to more narrowly target it to exclude some facilities.

"I do see how it is going to need to be tempered a tad," said Griffin, a Republican from Guthrie. "We need to make sure we have something that's reasonable and still effective."

Under the law, the signs would state: "There are many public and private agencies willing and able to help you carry your child to term and assist you and your child after your child is born, whether you choose to keep your child or to place him or her for adoption. The State of Oklahoma strongly urges you to contact them if you are pregnant." The signs would also include a link to the Health Department's website.

In written comments provided to the Health Department, the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy called the proposed regulations "completely unnecessary and unwanted" and said they would provide a significant financial burden on already stressed state agencies, including the departments of Health and Education.

Don Maisch, an attorney for the State Department of Health who has worked on the rules, said the signage requirements apply to public restrooms of any entity that is regulated by the agency, including hospitals, hotels and motels, nursing homes, residential care facilities and most public schools.

"There is definitely a cost involved in moving forward with this," Maisch said.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association projected it would cost at least $225,000 for signage at the state's 140 licensed hospitals, with the fiscal impact on other licensed industries estimated at about $2.1 million.

Tony Lauinger, executive director of Oklahomans for Life, said the group's intent was for the Health Department to produce the signage, but only if the Legislature appropriated funds to do so.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, Sue Ogrocki]]>
<![CDATA[NJ Clinical Lab Hack Exposes Personal Health Info of 34,000]]>Tue, 13 Dec 2016 08:34:47 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Quest+Diagnostics_21789268.jpg

Clinical laboratory services company Quest Diagnostics announced Monday that it is investigating a third-party hack into an internet application on its network. 

The Madison, New Jersey-based Fortune 500 healthcare company said in a press release that on Nov. 26, an unauthorized third party accessed the MyQuest by Care 360 internet application and obtained health information of about 34,000 patients.

In its statement, the company said the data accessed by the third party "included names, dates of birth, lab results and, in some instances, phone numbers."

None of the compromised information included Social Security numbers, credit card, insurance or other financial information, Quest says. The company says it immediately addressed the hack when it was discovered and has notified all affected individuals.

There is an investigation underway, and the company says it is working with a cybersecurity firm to determine the source and cause of the breach.

Anyone with questions on the incident can call Quest Diagnostics at (888) 320-9970 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

]]>
<![CDATA[97-Year-Old Still Running Strong]]>Tue, 13 Dec 2016 11:14:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_97yo1212_1920x1080.jpgWorld War II veteran Albert Booth is still running marathons at age 97 and has no plans of slowing down.

Photo Credit: WGAL-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Bill Murray, President Obama Talk Cubs, Sox at White House]]>Tue, 13 Dec 2016 07:49:43 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/murray+obama.png

A Cubs fan and a Sox fan walk into the Oval Office… to talk about health care?

That’s the theme of a new video tweeted out by the White House Sunday featuring President Barack Obama and Bill Murray.

The video is aimed at reminding Americans that they can sign up for health care for 2017 until Dec. 15. But it also undoubtedly features a little Cubs-Sox fan rivalry.

“Generally, I don’t let Cubs fans into the Oval Office,” Obama says at the beginning of the clip.

But, in typical Murray style, the Cubs fan, decked out in his beloved team’s gear, is quick to respond.

“It’s probably not a coincidence that your popularity is at an all-time high,” Murray says. “So I would just stick with this if I were you. I would just ride this baby.”

He then turns his arm and begins pointing at the Cubs logo stitched on the side of his sweater.

“It’s not going to happen,” Obama replies.

The conversation takes place as the two play a friendly putting game in the office, trying to hit a golf ball into a glass on the ground.

“It’s going to happen long before you make this putt,” Murray says before calmly hitting the ball right into the cup.

Obama, however, struggles to make it.

At one point, Murray bends down to pick up the ball, revealing that he is having knee problems, but he has no health insurance.

“Well, look Bill, you don’t have to go without health insurance because these days days, because of the Affordable Care Act, anybody can get health insurance, and it doesn’t matter if you already have something wrong with you because insurance companies have to take you even if you have a pre-existing condition,” Obama says.

Murray then asks if mental health is covered too and Obama confirms it is.

“Remember to go to healthcare.gov, shop for health care between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15 if you want healthcare by January 2017,” Obama says.

It’s not the first time Murray has brought his Cubs fandom to the White House.

In October, the celebrity fan crashed a White House press briefing to announce that he believed the Cubs would win the World Series. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.



Photo Credit: White House/Twitter
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<![CDATA[Washington is First State to Sue Monsanto Over PCB Pollution]]>Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:08:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/washington-pcb-suit.jpg

Washington has become the first U.S. state to sue the agrochemical giant Monsanto over pervasive pollution from PCBs, the toxic industrial chemicals that have accumulated in plants, fish and people around the globe for decades. The company said the case "lacks merit."

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the lawsuit at a news conference in downtown Seattle Thursday, saying they expect to win hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars from the company.

"It is time to hold the sole U.S. manufacturer of PCBs accountable for the significant harm they have caused to our state," Ferguson said, noting that the chemicals continue to imperil the health of protected salmon and orcas despite the tens of millions of dollars Washington has spent to clean up the pollution. "Monsanto produced PCBs for decades while hiding what they knew about the toxic chemicals' harm to human health and the environment."

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in many industrial and commercial applications, including in paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids. Monsanto, based in St. Louis, produced them from 1935 until Congress banned them in 1979.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs have been shown to cause a variety of health problems, including cancer in animals as well as effects on the immune, nervous and reproductive systems.

Monsanto spokesman Scott S. Partridge said in a statement that the "case is experimental because it seeks to target a product manufacturer for selling a lawful and useful chemical four to eight decades ago that was applied by the U.S. government, Washington State, local cities, and industries into many products to make them safer. PCBs have not been produced in the U.S. for four decades, and Washington is now pursuing a case on a contingency fee basis that departs from settled law both in Washington and across the country. Most of the prior cases filed by the same contingency fee lawyers have been dismissed, and Monsanto believes this case similarly lacks merit."

In response to a similar lawsuit filed last year by the city of Spokane, Washington, Monsanto said a previous incarnation of the company produced the PCBs, which it said "served an important fire protection and safety purpose."

"PCBs sold at the time were a lawful and useful product that was then incorporated by third parties into other useful products," Charla Lord, a company spokeswoman, wrote. "If improper disposal or other improper uses created the necessity for clean-up costs, then these other third parties would bear responsibility for these costs."

Several other cities — including Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Long Beach and San Diego, California — have also sued Monsanto over PCB pollution, the Attorney General's Office said. Those cases are ongoing.

Ferguson, a Democrat, pointed to internal Monsanto documents that show the company long knew about the danger the chemicals posed. In 1937, an internal memo said testing on animals showed "systemic toxic effects" from prolonged exposure by inhaling PCB fumes or ingestion. In 1969, a company committee on PCBs noted, "There is too much customer/market need and selfishly too much Monsanto profit to go out."

"There is little probability that any action that can be taken will prevent the growing incrimination of specific polychlorinated biphenyls ... as nearly global environmental contaminants leading to contamination of human food (particularly fish), the killing of some marine species (shrimp), and the possible extinction of several species of fish eating birds," a committee memo said.

Nevertheless, Monsanto told officials around the country the contrary. In a letter to New Jersey's Department of Conservation that year, Monsanto wrote, "Based on available data, manufacturing and use experience, we do not believe PCBs to be seriously toxic."

Ferguson said that infuriated him. He noted that his great-grandparents settled along Washington's Skagit River in the late 19th century. The Skagit was one of more than 100 water bodies in the state listed in the lawsuit as being polluted with PCBs.

"That river, the Skagit River, which my family depended on to a great degree in the 19th century as they homesteaded here, is now contaminated by PCBs, as are the fish," he said. "That makes me mad."

Ferguson said his office had been in touch with counterparts in other states, but it remained unclear if other states would follow Washington's lead in suing the company.

Washington's lawsuit seeks damages on several grounds, including product liability for what it described as Monsanto's failure to warn about the danger of PCBs; negligence; and even trespass, for injuring the state's natural resources.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Coke Wants in on 'Foodie' Culture]]>Fri, 09 Dec 2016 11:20:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/coke-instagram.jpg

What beverage goes best with lobster rolls, a bagel sandwich stuffed with whitefish, or a bowl of ramen? Coke wants you to think of soda. 

Coca-Cola is trying to sell more of its flagship beverage by suggesting the cola can accompany a wide range of meals, rather than just the fast food and pizza with which it's a mainstay. It's why a recent TV ad featured a young couple grabbling mini-Cokes while making paella, and why food bloggers were paid to post photos on Instagram of various dishes, paired specifically with glass bottles of Coke that might appeal to the aesthetic of "foodie" culture. One photo showed a bowl of chicken chili with the soda. 

"The ultimate combination of two of my very favorites!" wrote the blogger, who has more than 53,000 followers. The caption disclosed that the post, which got about 430 "likes," was a sponsored ad. 

Although Coke has often been marketed as a good companion for food, the company is trying to make sure it isn't left behind as American tastes evolve and people move away from traditional sodas. The world's biggest beverage maker is particularly trying to update the drink's image among people in their 20s and 30s who may associate soda mainly with places like McDonald's and Domino's. 

"It's an Amateur Move to Limit Coca-Cola to Fast-Food," stated an online ad paid for by Coke on Vox Media sites. The post, which was designed to read like a news story, talked about famous food pairings and how tastes like Coca-Cola "go with everything." A digital video series with Univision also showed people enjoying Cokes with a variety of meals, including sushi. 

An internal briefing about the campaign with Vox Media's creative division, obtained by The Associated Press, said Coke "has long been associated with hamburgers, hot dogs and other classic American dishes," but that the focus of the push was "sharing Coca-Cola with family over a healthy home-cooked meal." 

The briefing said the paid "influencers" who posted on social media should show dishes that are not "grossly unhealthy or over-indulgent." Influencers submitted ideas for recipes and photos for approval. Among the pictures with Coke that made the cut: a poppyseed and chicken salad, steak with salsa verde and an herb-roasted chicken. 

The push comes as Coke faces growing competition in the beverage aisle, as well as criticism over its marketing of sugary drinks. U.S. sales volume for regular Coke is down 14 percent over the past decade, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest, while Diet Coke's volume is down 29 percent. 

In another company development, Coca-Cola announced Friday that its CEO since 2008, Muhtar Kent, would step down on May 1 and be succeeded by its President and Chief Operating Officer James Quincey, CNBC reported. Kent will remain chairman.

To Wall Street, the Atlanta-based company emphasizes its array of beverages and investments in options like bottled teas that have bigger growth potential. And to public health advocates, the company has pledged it will market alternatives that would help reduce the number of calories people drink. 

At the same time, Coca-Cola is trying to shore up its flagship brand in the U.S. The strategy has been to reposition Coke as a more premium drink with packaging like mini-cans and glass bottles. That dovetails with the company's efforts to hitch the cola to a foodie culture that prizes photogenic qualities. 

Stuart Kronauge, senior vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola North America, said the association between Coke and hamburgers and pizza is largely a result of where the drinks have traditionally been sold. She said the recent campaign is a way to update the company's marketing, specifically among millennials, that says Coke goes well with food. 

"We just want to make sure that we expand the sense of it," she said. 

Kronauge also noted that the ad campaign incorporated Coke Zero, which is made with artificial sweeteners, and Coke Life, which is made with stevia. Although Coca-Cola is shifting into marketing for the holidays, Kronauge said the company plans to return to the theme of Coke pairing well with different foods. 

Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst, said Coke's association with foods like burgers and fries contributes to the drink's unhealthy image. 

"If they can break those bounds down and match it up with a Caesar salad or quinoa salad, maybe it breaks down the mental barrier," Dibadj said. 

People associate Coke with pizza and burgers because those pairings are now part of U.S. culture, but also because they actually go well together, said John Fischer, a professor of wine, beverage and hospitality at the Culinary Institute of America. He disagrees with the premise that Coke goes well "with everything," as the Coke ad contends. 

"Coke is a fairly powerful flavor — it could obliterate more delicate flavors," Fischer said. 

Still, Fischer said people who don't have established ideas about food and drink pairings might try out Coke's claim and grow accustomed to having it with different foods. In that sense, he said, the company might try to "say it until it's true."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Life Expectancy Drops for Americans, Rates and Causes Climb]]>Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:18:10 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/er-sign.jpg

A decades-long trend of rising life expectancy in the U.S. could be ending: It declined last year and it is no better than it was four years ago.

In most of the years since World War II, life expectancy in the U.S. has inched up, thanks to medical advances, public health campaigns and better nutrition and education.

But last year it slipped, an exceedingly rare event in a year that did not include a major disease outbreak. Other one-year declines occurred in 1993, when the nation was in the throes of the AIDS epidemic, and 1980, the result of an especially nasty flu season.

In 2015, rates for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death rose. Even more troubling to health experts: the U.S. seems to be settling into a trend of no improvement at all.

"With four years, you're starting to see some indication of something a little more ominous," said S. Jay Olshansky, a University of Illinois-Chicago public health researcher.

An American born in 2015 is expected to live 78 years and 9½ months, on average, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An American born in 2014 could expect to live about month longer, and even an American born in 2012 would have been expected to live slightly longer. In 1950, life expectancy was just over 68 years.

The United States ranks below dozens of other high-income countries in life expectancy, according to the World Bank. It is highest in Japan, at nearly 84 years.

The CDC report is based mainly on 2015 death certificates. There were more than 2.7 million deaths, or about 86,000 more than the previous year. The increase in raw numbers partly reflects the nation's growing and aging population.

It was led by an unusual upturn in the death rate from the nation's leading killer, heart disease. Death rates also increased for chronic lower lung disease, accidental injuries, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, kidney disease and suicide.

The only clear drop was in cancer, the nation's No. 2 killer.

Experts aren't sure what's behind the stall. Some, like Olshansky, suspect obesity, an underlying factor in some of the largest causes of death, particularly heart disease.

But there's also the impact of rising drug overdoses and suicides, he noted. Drug overdose deaths soared 11 percent to more than 52,000 last year, the most ever, driven by increases in deaths from heroin, prescription painkillers and other so-called opioids.

"There are a lot of things happening at the same time," he said.

Some years the CDC later revises its life expectancy estimate after doing additional analysis, including for its 2014 estimate.

Average life expectancy declined for men, falling by more than two months, to 76 years and 3 ½ months in 2015. It fell by about one month for women, to 81 years and 2 ½ months, the CDC said.

Death rates increased for black men, white men, white women, and slightly for Hispanic men and women. But they did not change for black women.

The new CDC report did not offer a geographic breakdown of 2015 deaths, or analysis of death based on education or income. But other research has shown death rates are rising sharply for poorer people — particularly white people — in rural areas but not wealthier and more highly educated and people on the coasts.

"The troubling trends are most pronounced for the people who are the most disadvantaged," said Jennifer Karas Montez, a Syracuse University researcher who studies adult death patterns.

"But if we don't know why life expectancy is decreasing for some groups, we can't be confident that it won't start declining for others," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Drug Overdoses Kill Record Number of Americans in 2015]]>Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:19:34 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/heroin-needle.jpg

More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, the most ever.

The disastrous tally has been pushed to new heights by soaring abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers, a class of drugs known as opioids.

Heroin deaths rose 23 percent in one year, to 12,989, slightly higher than the number of gun homicides, according to government data released Thursday.

Deaths from synthetic opioids, including illicit fentanyl, rose 73 percent to 9,580. And prescription painkillers took the highest toll, but posted the smallest increase. Abuse of drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin killed 17,536, an increase of 4 percent.

"I don't think we've ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times," said Robert Anderson, who oversees death statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new numbers were part of the agency's annual tally of deaths and death rates in 2015.

Overall, overdose deaths rose 11 percent last year, to 52,404. By comparison, the number of people who died in car crashes was 37,757, an increase of 12 percent. Gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, totaled 36,252, up 7 percent.

As part of its annual report the CDC also found that rates for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death rose last year, causing the nation's life expectancy to go down for the first time in more than 20 years. Drug overdoses were a significant factor, but an unexpected increase in the death rate from heart disease, the nation's No. 1 killer, was another major reason.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Conjoined Twins Separated After 17-Hour Surgery in California]]>Fri, 09 Dec 2016 19:47:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/EvaErika.jpg

Erika and Eva Sandoval will be able to share the uncanny connection twins are said to have, but a grueling 17-hour surgery has ensured that they can soon do that safely.

The 2-year-old twins from Antelope, California, were born conjoined, but as of Wednesday were separated by surgeons at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. The surgery began on Tuesday and lasted through early Wednesday, hospital officials said.

The girls are in stable condition, hospital officials said Thursday, although they remain in the intensive care unit. 

Erika and Eva's mother, Aida Sandoval, was overcome with emotion as she spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon. In Spanish, she said that her first words upon seeing the girls emerge from their respective operating rooms were, "You're missing your other part, my daughter. Where is your sister?"

"It still seems very surreal when I see one on one side and the other one on the other side," Aida Sandoval said. "But it brings us all joy to see them, that it happened, that it was a dream come true for everybody." 

Dr. Gary Hartman, a pediatric surgeon who led the medical team that performed the lengthy, complicated procedure, recalled meeting the girls' parents, Aida and Arturo Sandoval in 2014. They had just learned that their twins were conjoined and were experiencing "multiple anomalies," he said.

"From that moment forward, the goal of the family and of all of the providers here at Packard has been the same goal that we have for all of our children — and that is that we end up with two happy, healthy girls," Hartman said. 

Anyone who met Eva and Erika Sandoval prior to Tuesday's surgery "can testify to the happy part. That is entirely the fault of the Sandovals," he quipped.

"We think that this week we made a big step toward the healthy part," Hartman explained.

Aida Sandoval's pregnancy was overseen by Lucile Packard's perinatal center. She was 32 weeks along when the girls were born via emergency C-section, according to Hartman.

Eva and Erika have spent the first two years of their lives closely monitored by Stanford doctors and others closer to the Sandovals' home in Antelope. 

"They were basically joined at the pericardium – which is the sac that covers the heart – joined at the sternum, joined at the liver, they shared parts of the ... small and large bowel, and they shared most of the pelvic organs," said pediatric surgeon Dr. Matias Bruzoni. "So for us it was a big challenge, but little by little and with the help of a lot of people … we were able to, from the top down, finally separate them."

On Tuesday, too, Eva and Erika's surgery depended on about 50 experts in pediatric surgery, orthopedics and anesthesiology as well as plastic surgeons, radiologists, urologists, and more.  

Bruzoni said that once the girls were separated, the medical team split into two groups for Eva and Erika's reconstruction phases, which lasted longer than the separation.

"Everyone is very focused on the separation and all the questions are about the separation," Hartman said. But it "doesn’t matter if you get them separated, if you can't get them reconstructed and get them closed."

Hartman admitted that he was extremely concerned about Erika, the smaller twin. "She basically kept getting smaller. The more calories we gave her, the bigger Eva got," he said.

Doctors were worried about her ability to make it through the "stress of the surgery," but Hartman said the girls were reconstructed so well that Erika has already been taken off the ventilator and is recovering faster than Eva.

Hartman joked that he took it upon himself to add levity to the complex surgery.

"I wanted each girl to have half of [their] belly button so for the rest of their life they can look at that half a belly button and think, 'That was where I was connected to my sister,'" he said. "So that's the goofy thing."

The Sandovals knew, going into Tuesday, that Erika and Eva faced an estimated risk of mortality of up to 30 percent, Hartman said  

But Aida and Arturo Sandoval stuck by their decision. 

"Once you see them, you know their personalities are different," Arturo Sandoval said. "They [got to] have their own lives."

To that, Aida Sandoval added that it was difficult to watch one child feel sick and seek rest and sleep while the other was healthy, happy and wanted to play. She recalled one of the girls experiencing pain when plastic surgeons used tissue expanders to stretch their skin, but her sister simply wanted to "crab walk."

Expressing gratitude to the doctors at Stanford for supporting them, Aida Sandoval said that she had heard "how peaceful it was" in the operating rooms during Eva and Erika's separation and reconstruction.

Now, however, the girls' mother is excited to get "more gray hair."

"They always say, 'When you have twins, you're going to go crazy because one's over here, the other's over there," Aida Sandoval said. "I want to go chasing after one that way and then go chasing after the other. That’s something I do look forward to doing."



Photo Credit: David Hodges / DNK Digital]]>
<![CDATA[Bristol-Meyers Squibb to Pay $19.5M Over Abilify Marketing]]>Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:28:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_050615026049.jpg

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. will pay $19.5 million to settle allegations that it promoted the anti-psychotic drug Abilify for unapproved uses and misled doctors about its dangers, it was announced Thursday.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the settlement of a state business code violations lawsuit on the same day that the final agreement was received by a San Diego court.

New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb denies any wrongdoing but agreed to various marketing restraints.

Abilify is manufactured by another company, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. In a statement, Bristol-Myers Squibb said it has not marketed the drug since 2013.

"We are pleased to put this matter behind us so that we can focus on making transformational medicines for patients battling serious diseases," the statement said.

The lawsuit suit stemmed from an investigation by California, 42 other states and the District of Columbia into the marketing of Abilify for so-called off-label uses.

Abilify is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and Tourette's disorder in adults and children. It generated $5.5 billion in sales in 2014.

California alleged that Bristol-Myers Squibb promoted the schizophrenia drug for unapproved uses on children and for elderly patients with dementia.

An FDA-approved medication guide from Otsuka says medicines such as Abilify can produce an increased risk of death in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis and that antidepressant medicines may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children.

"In addition to incentivizing sales representatives to engage in off-label marketing, the investigation found that the company misled doctors and patients about the drug's risks and side effects and misrepresented the findings of scientific studies concerning the drug in marketing messages," according to the statement from Harris' office.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[Teen Vaping Is Public Health Threat, Surgeon General Says ]]>Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:13:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vapes+3.PNG

The U.S. surgeon general is calling e-cigarettes an emerging public health threat to the nation's youth.

In a report being released Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy acknowledged a need for more research into the health effects of "vaping," but said e-cigarettes aren't harmless and too many teens are using them.

"My concern is e-cigarettes have the potential to create a whole new generation of kids who are addicted to nicotine," Murthy told The Associated Press. "If that leads to the use of other tobacco-related products, then we are going to be moving backward instead of forward."

Battery-powered e-cigarettes turn liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor without the harmful tar generated by regular cigarettes. Vaping was first pushed as safer for current smokers. There's no scientific consensus on the risks or advantages of vaping, including how it affects the likelihood of someone either picking up regular tobacco products or kicking the habit.

Federal figures show that last year, 16 percent of high school students reported at least some use of e-cigarettes — even some who say they've never smoked a conventional cigarette. While not all contain nicotine, Murthy's report says e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco-related product among youth.

Nicotine is bad for a developing brain no matter how it's exposed, Murthy said.

"Your kids are not an experiment," he says in a public service announcement being released with the report.

It's already illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration issued new rules that, for the first time, will require makers of nicotine-emitting devices to begin submitting their ingredients for regulators to review. The vaping industry argues the regulations will wipe out small companies in favor of more harmful products, and likely will lobby the incoming Trump administration to undo the rules.

Murthy's report calls on parents and health workers to make concerns about e-cigarettes clear to young people. He said local officials should take action, too, such as including e-cigarettes in indoor smoke-free policies.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Pfizer Fined $100M for Epilepsy Drug Price Hike in UK]]>Wed, 07 Dec 2016 21:33:42 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PfizerLogo-GettyImages-524975736%281%29.jpg

British regulators fined U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and distributor Flynn Pharma a record 89.4 million pounds ($112.7 million) Wednesday for increasing the cost of an epilepsy drug by as much as 2,600 percent.

Pfizer and Flynn Pharma charged "excessive and unfair prices" for the drug used by 48,000 people in Britain, the Competition and Markets Authority said. Pfizer was fined 84.2 million pounds and Flynn Pharma 5.2 million pounds.

"This is the highest fine the CMA has imposed and it sends out a clear message to the sector that we are determined to crack down on such behavior and to protect customers, including the NHS, and taxpayers from being exploited," Philip Marsden, chairman of the case decision group for the investigation, said in a statement.

The authority said the companies removed the official brand of Epanutin, Pfizer's name for phenytoin sodium capsules, so they could increase the price. As a result, the National Health Service saw the bill for drug increase to 50 million pounds in 2013, from 2 million pounds in 2012.

"The companies deliberately exploited the opportunity offered by de-branding to hike up the price for a drug which is relied upon by many thousands of patients," Marsden said.

Pfizer rejected the ruling, saying that Epanutin was a loss-making product and the deal with Flynn Pharma helped secure supplies of the drug for patients. It plans to appeal, as does Flynn Pharma.

"In this transaction, and in all of our business operations, we approached this divestment with integrity, and believe it fully complies with established competition law," Pfizer said.

Pfizer said the increased price of the drug was still 25 percent to 40 percent lower than the cost of an equivalent medicine by another supplier to the NHS.

"The ruling highlights real policy and legal issues concerning the respective roles of both the Department of Health and the CMA, in regulating the price of pharmaceutical products in the U.K.," the company said. "Pfizer will seek clarity on these issues as part of the appeal process."

Regulators around the world are getting tough on drugmakers amid soaring prices that companies say are justified by years of research and product development.

In one recent case, drugmaker Mylan said it would pay $465 million to settle allegations it overbilled Medicaid, the U.S. program that provides health insurance for poor people, for its EpiPen, used to provide emergency treatment for severe allergic reactions.

In another, Turing Pharmaceuticals' former CEO Martin Shkreli increased the price of Daraprim by 5,000 percent. The drug is the only approved treatment for toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening parasitic infection that mainly strikes pregnant women, cancer patients and AIDS patients.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Grooming Linked to Increased Risk of STIs: Study]]>Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:46:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/disposablerazorfeuerherd.jpg

Grooming pubic hair may be linked to an increased risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Sexually Transmitted Infections journal, surveyed 7,580 people between the ages of 18 and 65. The researches asked the participants whether they trimmed or shaved their pubic hair; how often they did so and what tools they used. Researches also asked the participants how many sexual partners they've had and whether they've had a sexually transmitted infection. 

The results showed that participants who trimmed or shaved their pubic hair had a higher rate of contracting an STI, but did not prove a direct correlation between the two.  

Participants who regularly groomed their pubic hair were 80 percent more likely to report contracting an STI than those who never groomed, according to the study. 

The researchers note small tears in the skin created during grooming could allow STI-causing bacteria to infect someone who shaves their private parts. 

But the correlation could also be accounted for if the people who groom tend to have more sexual partners, thus putting them at greater risk of contracting an STI.

The study had other limitations, like not asking participants if they used condoms during sex, Debby Herbenick, an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington, told Live Science. 



Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Biden Emotional at Cancer Funding Bill Partly Named for Son]]>Tue, 06 Dec 2016 07:34:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16341007670452.jpg

A bipartisan bill to speed government drug approvals and bolster biomedical research cleared its last procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday in an emotional moment for outgoing Vice President Joe Biden, NBC News reported. 

The overwhelming 85-13 vote put the measure on track for final legislative approval by the Senate as early as Tuesday. President Barack Obama has promised to sign the measure, one of the last for the president and the 114th Congress, whose leaders hope to adjourn by week's end after a two-year session that has seen them clash frequently with the president. 

The bill envisions providing $6.3 billion over the next decade, including $1.8 billion for cancer research. Obama had placed Biden in charge of a "moonshot" to find ways to cure and treat the disease, which killed his son Beau, 46, last year. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought approval for renaming a portion of the bill after Beau Biden. The Senate agreed, and lawmakers of both parties applauded and lined up to share quiet words and pats on the shoulder with the vice president, who sat teary-eyed in the presiding officer's chair of the chamber where he served as senator for 36 years. A clerk handed Biden a tissue.



Photo Credit: Senate TV via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Book Links Cancer, Abortion]]>Tue, 06 Dec 2016 08:03:55 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/doctor+medical+generic.jpg

A Texas state agency has released a new edition of a booklet for women considering an abortion that suggests there may be a link between terminating pregnancies and increased risks of breast cancer and depression.

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued the new edition of "A Woman's Right to Know" on Monday.

Since 2003, state law has mandated that pregnant women be provided information when mulling an abortion. The new edition of the booklet contains a section titled "Breast Cancer Risk," despite numerous, peer-reviewed studies that have refuted links between abortion and breast cancer. The booklet also says women who terminate pregnancies can become suicidal and infertile.

The Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Texas' 2013 law placing some of the nation's tightest restrictions on abortion.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/OJO Images RF]]>
<![CDATA[1.9 Million Pounds of Ready-to-Eat Chicken Recalled]]>Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:25:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/217*120/RECALLED+CHICKEN.jpg

Nearly two million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products have been recalled due to concerns over bacteria, the USDA said Sunday.

National Steak and Poultry has recalled 1,976,089 pounds of poultry because the product is labeled “ready-to-eat” but may have been undercooked, and thus is at risk of containing dangerous bacteria.

Though no cases of illness have been reported, the items were shipped to food service locations nationwide and were sold directly to retail consumers, the USDA said.

The issue of possible contamination came to light after a customer complained to an establishment that their chicken appeared under-cooked.

The recall has been classified as a Class I recall by the USDA. A Class I recall is the most critical and involves a health hazard situation where there is reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences.

The products under recall include five-pound bags of product labeled “Distributed by National Steak and Poultry, Owasso, OK Fully Cooked, Diced, Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast Meat with Rib Meat” or labeled “Hormel Natural Choice 100% Natural No Preservatives Fully Cooked Roasted Chicken Breast Strips with Rib Meat Natural Smoke Flavor Added.” The former contains lot code 100416 and case code 70020; the latter contains lot code 100416 and case code 702113.

The recalled products were produced on various dates from Aug. 20, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2016. The cases containing the products subject to recall have the establishment number “P-6010T” inside the USDA mark of inspection, the USDA said.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume or serve them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase, the USDA said.

For more information about the recall, head to the USDA recall page. 

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<![CDATA[In 2015, Health Spending Surges in the U.S. ]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2016 21:00:42 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/170*120/AP_16320836144895-doctor.jpg

In 2015, Americans spent $3.2 trillion on medical expenses, up by 5.8 percent since 2014, NBC News reported.

Experts say there are also indications that health spending increased because people sought medical treatment for diseases they previously ignored because of lack of resources, according to a report released Friday by the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Spending on prescription drugs also surged last year, with a nine percent increase since 2014.

"Recent rapid growth was due to increased spending for new medicines (particularly for specialty drugs such as those used to treat hepatitis C), price growth in existing brand-name drugs, increased spending on generics, and a decrease in the number of expensive blockbuster drugs whose patents expired," the CMS report read.



Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Shkreli Belittles Students Who Recreated His $750 Drug]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:56:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/shkreli.jpg

Martin Shkreli, the infamous former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who hiked the price on a live-saving drug from $13.50 to $750, is making news again. This time, it's for belittling a group of Australian students who replicated the active ingredient in his anti-parasitic medication for just $20, CNN reported.

The drug, Daraprim, is used to treat people with malaria. It is also used for those with weakened immune systems, such as chemotherapy and HIV patients. The group of 17-year-olds recreated the active ingredient in Daraprim, pyrimethamine, in a Sydney Grammar School chemistry lab.

But the 33-year-old so-called “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli was not impressed. He slammed the students’ achievement on Twitter and Periscope.

“These kids who ‘made Daraprim’ reminds me of Ahmed who ‘made the clock,” he tweeted. “Dumb journalists want a feel good story.”

The students worked with scientists from the University of Sydney under the direction of Dr. Alice Williamson and Associate Professor Matthew Todd.

"There were definitely a few obstacles along the way," said Brandon Lee, a Sydney student who took part in the research. "We had to try a lot of different reactions with a lot of different chemicals. But eventually we got there -- it took a bit over a year."  

Daraprim is named on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. They produced about $110,000 worth of the replica, according to Turing’s prices, which are inflated 5000 percent. However, they could not sell it due to FDA regulations and Turing’s marketing rights to the drug.

Shkreli also expressed frustration at “the inability for people to understand how drugs come to be made” as social media users tweeted snarky responses to him. He replied to dozens of tweets, mentioning his patent and the complexities that he believes are being overlooked in the students' replication.

“Labor and equipment costs? Didn’t know you could get physical chemists to work for free?” he wrote. “I should use high school kids to make my medicines!”

And Shkreli had a final, Walter White-esque response to the “Breaking Good” project.

“And never, ever compare your cook game to mine,” he tweeted. “Highest yield, best purity, most scale. I have the synthesis game on lock.”

Shkreli was arrested in December 2015 on allegations of securities fraud. He pleaded not guilty during his hearing in July. His trial date has been set for June 26, 2017.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[World AIDS Day 2016: Activists Urge Testing, Education]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:52:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_405806892642.jpg

Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day. It's a time to remember over 35 million people who have died from the disease since the early-1980s and show support for those who are struggling with it now. It's also a chance for health organizations and charities to raise awareness about testing and treatment.

In the United Kingdom, activists are spreading the message that HIV stigma is “not retro, just wrong.” The U.S. World AIDS Day theme for 2016 is “Leadership. Commitment. Impact,” and the United Nations launched the “Hands up for #HIVprevention” awareness campaign, emphasizing the importance of protecting at-risk demographics like young women and girls. 

Across the globe, approximately 34 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS, including more than 1.2 million who live in the United States. 

A red ribbon is a universal symbol of support and solidarity for those living with HIV or AIDS. Here's how organizations are raising awareness and money to help combat AIDS: 

World Health Organization
For World AIDS Day, the UN agency is advocating that health organizations should make self-testing equipment more readily available. About 14 million people around the world don’t know they have the disease -- one in eight AIDS survivors in the U.S. goes undiagnosed.

Self-testing allows individuals to check their HIV/AIDS status. If they do get a positive test result, they can then explore much-needed medical resources that will improve their standard of living and protect others from infection.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two types of self-HIV tests: the Home Access HIV-1 Test System and the OraQuick In-home HIV test. You can buy a self-testing kit at drug stores like Walgreens and Rite Aid. 

(RED)
When U2’s Bono and activist Bobby Shriver founded (RED) in 2006, they were bent on eradicating HIV/AIDS in Africa. Since then, they’ve raised $365 million for grants to provide survivors with anti-retroviral treatments that can cost as little as 30 cents a day, but that still aren’t accessible to about 18 million people suffering from the disease.

This World AIDS Day, (RED) has partnered with companies to raise money for the Global Fund to Help Fight AIDS. For every handcrafted holiday drink purchased today, Starbucks will donate 25 cents to the cause. Profits from 20 Apple games sold on the iTunes app store are also going toward AIDS prevention, and New Yorkers can swing by the (BANK OF AMERICA)RED pop-up in Bryant Park to buy holiday gifts through Dec. 4.

According to (RED)’s website, “Bank of America will donate $1 for every purchase made with a Bank of America card using Apple Pay, up to $1M” beginning on Dec. 1. This contribution will be doubled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has promised to match the money raised by (RED) this year, up to $78 million.

AIDS.gov
This World AIDS Day, the website’s team is asking Americans to educate themselves about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how it manifests in the U.S. They’ve put together a resource page for readers to peruse, including links to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a timeline of HIV/AIDS, and information about the Affordable Care Act, which has provided coverage to survivors who couldn’t find insurance before because of their pre-existing condition.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA['Magic Mushrooms' May Ease Anxiety, Depression: NYU Study]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:26:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hallucinogenic+mushrooms.jpg

The psychedelic drug in "magic mushrooms" can quickly and effectively help treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients, an effect that may last for months, two small studies show.

It worked for Dinah Bazer, who endured a terrifying hallucination that rid her of the fear that her ovarian cancer would return. And for Estalyn Walcoff, who says the drug experience led her to begin a comforting spiritual journey.

The work released Thursday is preliminary and experts say more definitive research must be done on the effects of the substance, called psilocybin.

But the record so far shows "very impressive results," said Dr. Craig Blinderman, who directs the adult palliative care service at the Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He didn't participate in the work.

Psilocybin, also called shrooms, purple passion and little smoke, comes from certain kinds of mushrooms. It is illegal in the U.S., and if the federal government approves the treatment, it would be administered in clinics by specially trained staff, experts say.

Nobody should try it on their own, which would be risky, said the leaders of the two studies, Dr. Stephen Ross of New York University and Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Psychedelic drugs have looked promising in the past for treating distress in cancer patients. But studies of medical use of psychedelics stopped in the early 1970s after a regulatory crackdown on the drugs, following their widespread recreational use. It has slowly resumed in recent years.

Griffiths said it's not clear whether psilocybin would work outside of cancer patients, although he suspects it might work in people facing other terminal conditions. Plans are also underway to study it in depression that resists standard treatment, he said.

The new studies, published in the Journal of Psychotherapy, are small. The NYU project, which also included psychotherapy, covered just 29 patients. The Hopkins study had 51.

Bazer, who lives in New York, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, when she was 63. Treatment was successful, but then she became anxious about it coming back.

"I just began to be filled with a terrible dread," she said in an interview. "You're waiting for the other shoe to drop. ... (The anxiety) was ruining my life."

She swallowed a capsule of psilocybin in 2012 in the company of two staff members trained to guide her through the several hours that the drug would affect her brain. As she listened to music through headphones, her eyes covered with a sleep mask, the drug went to work.

"Suddenly I was in a dark, terrifying place, lost in space, lost in time," she recalled. "I had no bearings and I was really, really terrified."

Then she saw her dread of a cancer recurrence as a black mass in her abdomen, and she furiously yelled at it to leave.

"As soon as that happened, the fear was gone," she said. "I was just floating in the music ... like being carried in a river."

Then she felt deep love for her family and friends, and sensed their love for her. "It felt like I was bathed in God's love ... I'm still an atheist, by the way, but that really seemed to be the only way to describe it."

Researchers said such mystical experiences appeared to play a role in the drug's therapeutic effect.

Walcoff, 69, a psychotherapist in Rochester, New York, also entered the NYU study because of her anxiety over a cancer recurrence, in her case, lymphoma. (Most participants had active cancer.)

Psilocybin "opened me up to pursue meditation and spiritual searching," Walcoff said, and as a result of that "I have become reassured and convinced that that phase of my life is over and it's not going to come back."

Most funding for the studies came from the Heffter Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports studies of psilocybin and other hallucinogens.

In both studies, psilocybin treatment had more effect on anxiety and depression than a placebo did. For example, by the day after treatment, about 80 percent of the treated NYU patients no longer qualified as clinically anxious or depressed by standard measures. That compares to about 30 percent for the placebo group. That's a remarkably fast response, experts said, and it endured for the seven weeks of the comparison.

The studies took different approaches for formulating a placebo. At NYU, patients were given niacin, which mimics some effects of psilocybin. At Hopkins, the placebo was a very low dose of psilocybin itself.

Researchers in both studies eventually gave full psilocybin treatment to the placebo groups and followed all the patients for about six months. The beneficial effects appeared to persist over that period. But the evidence for that is less strong than for the shorter term, because there was no longer any placebo comparison group.

No severe side effects arose from the treatment.

Dr. William Breitbart, chief of the psychiatry service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who didn't participate in the studies, said they were improvements over prior research on the topic. But there were still enough shortcomings to make him cautious about drawing conclusions, he said.

In any case, Bazer and Walcoff say the treatment affected more than their cancer anxieties. Walcoff said it has helped her work on being less judgmental and more self-accepting. Bazer said it made her a more patient driver and more active socially.

"It really changed everything for me," Bazer said. "And I still do not have anxiety about the cancer coming back."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/File]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Has Its First Local Zika Case]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 22:22:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-543392276-Mosquito.jpg

The first case of locally transmitted Zika virus in Texas has been reported in the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas Department of State Health Services reports.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner. 

The patient is a Cameron County resident who is not pregnant and who was confirmed last week by lab test to have been infected. She reported no recent travel to Mexico or anywhere else with ongoing Zika virus transmission and no other risk factors.

Laboratory testing found genetic material from the Zika virus in the patient’s urine, but a blood test was negative, indicating that the virus can no longer be spread from her by a mosquito.

Through last week, Texas has had 257 confirmed cases of Zika virus disease. Until now, all cases in the state had been associated with travel, including two infants born to women who had traveled during their pregnancy and two people who had sexual contact with infected travelers.

There are no other cases of suspected local transmission at this time, but health officials continue to conduct disease surveillance activities as part of the state's ongoing Zika response.

Cameron County, DSHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working together to investigate and respond to the case. Further investigation will be necessary to attempt to pinpoint how and where the infection occurred, and health officials are also responding in a number of other ways.

DSHS has activated the State Medical Operations Center to support the response and is providing expertise, personnel and equipment for activities from disease investigation to mosquito surveillance to public education.

Cameron County and the City of Brownsville, with help from DSHS, have conducted an environmental assessment at the patient’s home and have been trapping and testing mosquitoes to learn more about activity in the area.

The samples collected will be tested at the DSHS laboratory in Austin.

Brownsville has recently sprayed for mosquitoes in the area and will continue to take action to reduce the mosquito population.

Health workers from Cameron County and DSHS will be going door to door in the area around where the case lived beginning this evening to educate the public about Zika, help people reduce potential mosquito breeding habitat on their property, and collect voluntary urine samples to determine whether other infections are present.

Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, though sexual transmission can occur.

The four most common symptoms are fever, itchy rash, joint pain and eye redness.

While symptoms are usually minor, Zika can also cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, and other poor birth outcomes in some women infected during pregnancy.



Photo Credit: Kevin Frayer, Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Millions May Be Misdiagnosed as Allergic to Penicillin]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 00:41:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pennicillin.jpg

Some 90 percent of those diagnosed with a penicillin allergy can actually tolerate the antibiotics, according to a study presented recently at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

In a finding that many doctors may not be aware of, an estimated 25 to 50 million Americans who may have been told they had the allergy could have been initially misdiagnosed or grown out of it, NBC News reported.

The solution for many is a simple two-step test, followed, as needed, by a low-dose oral penicillin, taken under a doctor's observation.

"The whole process takes about three hours and then we can say they're free to take penicillin in the future," said Dr. Elizabeth Phillips, a professor at Vanderbilt University.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Disfigured Boy Gets Surgery]]>Fri, 25 Nov 2016 15:21:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/ChimpAttack.jpg

A Congolese boy who was severely disfigured in a chimpanzee attack is marveling doctors with his resiliency a year after he was brought to New York to undergo reconstructive surgery. 

Nine-year-old Dunia Sibomana was the lone survivor three years ago when chimpanzees attacked him and two playmates near a preserve in Congo. His 4-year-old brother and a young cousin died. Dunia's face was left a frightening mask. His lips were ripped off, his cheek was torn apart and he was left with muscle damage that made it hard to swallow or communicate. 

In January, Dunia underwent a rare surgery at a Long Island hospital that involved grafting tissue and muscle from his forearm to recreate his lips. 

He still has a lot of healing ahead of him, but nearly a year later, Dunia is thriving with a host family in Brooklyn. He can once again open and close his mouth, eat and talk normally. 

And doctors and his host family say the boy, who was once self-conscious, shy and withdrawn, has blossomed. He has become fluent in English, learned taekwondo, soccer and surfing, and made friends in his new neighborhood. 

"He has a ton of friends. He can't walk down the street without people stopping to give him a high-five,'' said his host father, Kim Chaix. "It's New York City that's really raising this child.'' 

Dunia lives with Chaix, his wife and their 9-year-old daughter Annabelle, who walks to school with Dunia arm in arm. 

On a recent afternoon, Dunia played video games with Anabelle before reading the Dr. Seuss classic "The Cat in The Hat.'' 

"There's a connection between them,'' Chaix said of Dunia and his daughter. Dunia affectionately calls Annabelle "Goldie,'' after her golden hair. She reads him books at bedtime and makes him snacks. 

Dunia, who hadn't attended school in Congo, is now in second grade. 

"A lot of the social stigma that he came with is now gone,'' said Dr. Leon Klempner, an assistant professor of dentistry at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, who helped bring Dunia from Congo last November with the help of the nonprofit foundation Smile Rescue Fund for Kids. "He's got a lot more confidence now. He doesn't get the stares that he used to get.'' 

Dr. Alexander Dagum, the hospital's chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery, said he knows of only three other cases in which the same surgery has been performed. The hospital is covering the cost of the surgery, and the doctors have all donated their time.

Dunia has not lost complete touch with his homeland. He spends weekends with a family from Congo, brushing up on his heritage and native language of Swahili.

Dunia's mother died several years ago. His father still lives in Congo in an area without regular access to phones or internet, but the two communicate via videos they record for each other. Intermediaries deliver the recordings to Dunia's father.

Chaix said it's still unclear what Dunia's future holds - whether he'll stay in the U.S. after the school year or go to a boarding school in Rwanda. Chaix said Dunia once told him he didn't ever want to go back to Congo or speak Swahili again, but after spending time with other people from his home country and buying some traditional African clothing, he's "embraced it.''

"We've all grown from this whole experience,'' Chaix said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Abortion Rate Falls to Lowest Level in Decades: CDC]]>Wed, 23 Nov 2016 20:03:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-483023072-PP.jpg

The number and rate of abortions tallied by federal authorities have fallen to their lowest level in decades, according to new data released Wednesday.

The latest annual report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incorporating data from 47 states, said the abortion rate for 2013 was 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years. That is down 5 percent from 2012, and is half the rate of 25 recorded in 1980.

The last time the CDC recorded a lower abortion rate was in 1971, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right for women to have abortions. Abortion was legal in some states at that time.

The CDC tallied 664,435 abortions in 2013 from the 47 states, down 5 percent from 2012 and down 20 percent from 2004. The CDC does not receive abortion data from California, Maryland and New Hampshire — and thus its total is less than the widely accepted current estimate of more than 900,000 abortions per year in all 50 states.

Back in 1990, when California was supplying data, the CDC recorded a peak of more than 1.4 million abortions.

The CDC's latest findings meshed with an Associated Press state-by-state survey conducted last year — with extensive data from 2014 — showing that abortions had been declining in virtually every state since 2010. There were big declines in conservative states passing laws to restrict abortions and also in more liberal states that protected abortion rights.

The CDC report suggests there are several factors behind the abortion decline, including a sharp drop in adolescent pregnancies, expanded coverage of contraception costs by health care plans, and increased use of effective, long-lasting contraceptive methods such as intrauterine devices and hormonal implants.

Among the CDC's detailed findings:

  • Women in their 20s accounted for more than 58 percent of abortions and had the highest abortion rates. Young women and girls aged 19 and under accounted for 11.7 percent of abortions.
  • Two-thirds of abortions were performed within the first eight weeks of gestation, and nearly 92 percent by 13 weeks. Only 1.3 percent were performed after 20 weeks — a point at which many anti-abortion activists want a federal abortion ban to be imposed. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to support such a ban if legislation reaches his desk.
  • State abortion rates varied widely, from 3.6 per 1,000 women age 15-44 in Mississippi to 24.3 in New York. Mississippi is among a handful of states with only one functioning abortion clinic.
  • Medical abortions — generally using the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol — accounted for about 22 percent of abortions; surgical procedures accounted for nearly all the others.
  • About 15 percent of women who obtained an abortion were married. About 60 percent had previously given birth to at least one child.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Zika-Caused Birth Defect May Become Clear Only After Birth]]>Wed, 23 Nov 2016 08:11:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ZIKA_AP_16284531484792.jpg

Researchers say a severe birth defect caused by Zika infection may not be apparent at birth but develop months afterward, further confirmation that the virus can cause unseen damage to developing babies.

The findings come from a study of 13 Brazilian babies whose heads all appeared normal at birth but then grew much more slowly than normal.

Most people infected with Zika never develop symptoms, but infection during pregnancy can cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly, in which a baby's skull is much smaller than expected because the brain hasn't developed properly.

Microcephaly is diagnosed based on a measurement of the baby's head circumference. It can be done during pregnancy using ultrasound, or after the baby is born. Doctors then compare the measurement to standard sizes of other kids, based on gender and age.

The study focused on 13 babies born in Brazil late last year and earlier this year. All had head heads that were a little small at birth, but within the normal range. Over the next five to 12 months, doctors noted their heads weren't growing at normal rates. Eleven were eventually diagnosed with microcephaly.

Many of the children also developed other problems that have been linked to Zika, including epilepsy, problems swallowing, muscle weakness and inflexible joints.

Dr. Peter Salama, chief of emergencies at the World Health Organization, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that understanding of the complications from Zika continues to evolve. "We are also learning lot every day," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the findings Tuesday. The authors were a team of researchers from Brazil and the United States.

"This is certainly the first detailed description of these kinds of cases," said Dr. Ganeshwaran Mochida, a pediatric neurologist at Boston Children's Hospital.

The study confirms that the absence of microcephaly at birth doesn't mean there are no abnormalities in the children of Zika-infected mothers, CDC officials said.

The findings, while discouraging, are not a surprise to scientists. A study out of Brazil earlier this year suggested that one in five cases of microcephaly likely had head sizes in the normal range at birth.

And microcephaly has also been diagnosed months after birth in cases caused by other germs.

Still, it is likely to further worry potentially infected parents who may grow alarmed by signs that their newborn's head is a little small, said Dr. Thierry Huisman, a Johns Hopkins University professor of radiology who has studied Zika-affected children.

The CDC now recommends monitoring babies born to Zika-infected women after birth, but the agency is looking at whether additional imaging should be recommended, said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

Investigators are working to determine what proportion of Zika-infected women have babies with birth defects, and how the risk varies based on when during the pregnancy the infection occurred. Earlier research has suggested that 1 percent to 14 percent of Brazilian mothers infected in the first three months of pregnancy had babies with microcephaly and that the risk falls when infections happens later in the pregnancy.

WHO's Salama called the risk "small but significant, but it's definitely a moving target as well."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Zika Birth Defect May Appear Months After Birth: CDC]]>Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:24:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/zika-2sm.jpg

Babies whose mothers are infected with the Zika virus may develop small heads months after birth, meaning the birth defect may still affect infants who don't immediately present with it, according to new research from the CDC.

Zika-related brain abnormalities can also be found in babies who don't immediately present with smaller heads, a condition known as microcephaly, according to findings from the study, published Tuesday and conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the United States and Brazil

Researchers studied 13 Brazilian babies whose heads all appeared normal at birth but grew much more slowly than normal. Among the infants, 11 later developed microcephaly, which was accompanied by significant neurologic complications.

Among the potentially devastating complications linked to Zika, microcephaly is a condition in which an infant's skull is smaller than expected because the brain hasn't developed properly. The findings of the CDC's study reinforces the health organization's standing guidance that babies born to women who may have been infected with the Zika virus should undergo continuing medical and developmental evaluations of infants who may be infected with the Zika virus.

"CDC continues to recommend that pregnant women not travel to areas with Zika. If a pregnant woman travels to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission, she should talk with her healthcare provider and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual transmission of Zika virus," the organization said in a press release announcing the study.

Most people infected with Zika never develop symptoms.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Heinz Voluntarily Recalls Pork Gravy After Labeling Issue]]>Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:57:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gravy-sm-1.jpg

Heinz is voluntarily recalling about 500 cases of its HomeStyle Bistro Au Jus Gravy because some jars have been mislabeled as Heinz Pork Gravy without mentioning it contains milk and soy.

The labeling issue could present a health risk for people with allergies or sensitivity to milk or soy who consume the gravy. There have been no consumer reports of illness related to this product, according to the FDA recall notice.

Recalled jars can be identified with UPC 013000798907. They wre distributed to retailers across the United States.

“We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed,” Heinz said in a statement about the recall.

The statement recommended consumers return or exchange the product. They can contact the company directly for a full refund by calling 866-572-3808 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET.

The 12 oz jars of Heinz HomeStyle Gravy Bistro Au Jus is the only Heinz product being recalled. No other size or flavor has been mislabeled.



Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Dementia Rates Might Be Declining, New Study Finds]]>Mon, 21 Nov 2016 23:40:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_460730682850-Alzheimers-poster.jpg

Rates of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia appear to have fallen considerably since 2000, and better education may be partly responsible, researchers reported Monday.

Better treatment for diabetes and cardiovascular disease may also be helping, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, NBC News reported.

Dr. Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan and colleagues studied records from 21,000 people with an average age of 75. 

Their study showed the rate of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in adults aged 65 and up dropped to about 9 percent in 2012 from nearly 12 percent in 2000, continuing a decline noted in earlier research.



Photo Credit: Scott Eisen, AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Sabra Recalls Hummus Products Over Listeria Concerns]]>Mon, 21 Nov 2016 08:31:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sabra-hummus.jpg

Sabra Dipping Company has issued a voluntary recall for a variety of its hummus products after Listeria monocytogenes was found at the Colonial Heights, Virginia-based company's manufacturing facility.

The recall affects hummus products that were made before Nov. 8, 2016, and sold across the United States and Canada at supermarkets and other stores.

Listeria monocytogenes was not found in tested finished product. Sabra said Saturday that its recall was issued out of an abundance of caution.

Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The species of bacteria can result in stillbirths or miscarriages among pregnant women.

Healthy people may experience short-term symptoms including high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The recalled products include a range across Sabra's line like hummus with red pepper, garlic, lemon, spinach and artichoke, and more.

Sabra products not included in the recall are: Sabra Organic Hummus, Sabra Salsa, Sabra Guacamole and Sabra Greek Yogurt Dips.

Consumers with a "best before" date up through Jan. 23, 2017, on the lid of these hummus items should discard the product:

 

  • Sabra Hummus Caramelized Onion 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 7OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 30OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 5LB – 6ct
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 2OZ – 48ct: 3 x (16 x 2oz)
  • Sabra Hummus Classic with pretzels 4.56OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 7OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 32OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 30OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic with pretzels 4.56OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Jalapeno 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Olive 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Pine Nut 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Pine Nut 7OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Pine Nut 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Pine Nut 32OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 7OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 32OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 30OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 5LB – 6ct
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper with pretzels 4.56OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Supremely Spicy 7OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Supremely Spicy 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Supremely Spicy 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Spinach & Artichoke 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Sun Dried Tomato 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Spinach & Artichoke 32OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Spinach & Artichoke 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Pine Nut 17OZ – 6ct
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 17OZ – 6ct
  • Sabra Hummus Basil-Pesto 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Tuscan Herb Garden 32OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 32OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic with pretzels 4.56OZ – 8ct
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 23.5OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Bold & Spicy with tortilla chips 4.56OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Garlic 17OZ – 6ct
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 2OZ – 6 x 2oz (12 x 6pks)
  • Sabra Hummus Lemon 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Red Pepper 2OZ – 6 x 2oz (12 x 6pks)
  • Sabra Hummus Tuscan Herb Garden 17OZ
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 2OZ – 16 x 2oz – 12 ct
  • Sabra Hummus Classic 2OZ – 12 x 2oz – 12 ct
  • Sabra Hummus SF Rosemary/Sea Salt 10OZ
  • Sabra Spreads Spicy Chili 8.5OZ – 8ct
  • Sabra Spreads Garlic Herb 8.5OZ – 8ct
  • Sabra Spreads Honey Mustard 8.5OZ – 8ct
  • Sabra Spreads Salt & Pepper 8.5OZ – 8ct
  • Sabra Hummus Taco 10OZ
  • Sabra Hummus 3 Pepper Chili 10OZ

Consumers can reach Sabra Consumer Relations at 1-866-265-6761 for from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET or visit www.sabrahummusrecall.com for information on being reimbursed. 

For more information, click here.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Zika No Longer Emergency, Still 'Enduring' Threat: WHO]]>Fri, 18 Nov 2016 15:57:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mosquitoeszika.jpg

Acknowledging Zika is "here to stay," the United Nations health agency on Friday lifted a 9-month-old emergency declaration and prepared for a longer-term response to the mosquito-borne virus that can result in severe neurological defects in newborns whose mothers were infected.

WHO officials were quick to note that the move does not mean the agency is downgrading the threat of the virus that has spread across Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Nearly 30 countries have reported birth defects linked to Zika, with 2,100 cases of nervous-system malformations reported in Brazil alone.

The officials also emphasized that the now-lifted "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" was declared in February, when Zika clusters were appearing and a sharp increase in research was needed — and with the looming Rio Olympics in mind.

WHO said the emergency measures had led the world to an "urgent and coordinated response," but the virus had continued to spread. It acknowledged that "many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research."

"It is a significant and enduring public health challenge, but it no longer represents an emergency," Dr. David Heymann, who heads the WHO emergency committee on Zika, said after the panel met for the fifth time this year. "There was no downgrading of this."

Heymann said recommendations made in recent months were now being "internalized" at the Geneva-based agency.

"If anything, this has been escalated in importance by becoming activities that will be continued in the long-term in the World Health Organization," he said.

Zika is mainly spread by mosquitoes, but also can be spread through sex. Most infected people don't get sick. It can cause a mild illness, with fever, rash and joint pain.

It also causes microcephaly, or shrunken heads, in newborn children whose mothers were infected, leading to severe developmental problems and sowing grave concerns of would-be parents in countries hit by the virus.

Responding to the WHO announcement, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reiterated its position that pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas with local transmission of Zika.

Dr. Peter Salama, WHO's director of emergencies, said the new phase of fighting the virus requires development donors "to step up to the plate and see this for what it is, which is a long-term problem that the world will have to deal with for many years to come."

"We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay, and WHO's response is here to stay in a very robust manner," Salama said.

Mike Stobbe contributed from New York.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Insulin Prices Double Since 2012]]>Thu, 17 Nov 2016 11:15:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/Insulin_Prices_Increase.jpgIncreases in insulin prices and a lack of generic options are forcing diabetic Americans to cut back on prescribed doses to stretch out their medication.

Photo Credit: KING]]>
<![CDATA['Addiction Is Not a Character Flaw': Surgeon General Report]]>Thu, 17 Nov 2016 09:15:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/murthyAP_968035797730.jpg

In what may be his last significant act as President Barack Obama's surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy released a report Thursday calling for a major cultural shift in the way Americans view drug and alcohol addiction.

The report, "Facing Addiction in America," details the toll addiction takes on the nation — 78 people die each day from an opioid overdose; 20 million have a substance use disorder — and explains how brain science offers hope for recovery. While its findings have been reported elsewhere, including by other federal agencies, the report seeks to inspire action and sway public opinion in the style of the 1964 surgeon general's landmark report on smoking.

With President-elect Donald Trump taking office, it's uncertain whether access to addiction treatment will improve or deteriorate. Trump and the Republican-led Congress are pledging to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which made addiction treatment an essential health benefit.

In an interview Wednesday, Murthy said he hasn't spoken to Trump but looks forward to working with his administration to save lives with expanded access to treatment.

"We have made progress," Murthy said. "How do we keep that progress going? A key part is making sure people have insurance coverage."

The Associated Press reviewed the report ahead of its official release. Here's a look at what's in it and some early reaction: 

MEDICATION MYTHS
The surgeon general's report refutes abstinence-only philosophies as unscientific and supports medications such as buprenorphine and methadone that are used to treat opioid addiction. That may annoy supporters of traditional 12-step programs who see medications as substituting one addiction for another.

Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction can take time. "One study suggested that individuals who receive MAT for fewer than 3 years are more likely to relapse than those who are in treatment for 3 or more years," the report states.

TV-STYLE INTERVENTIONS
Staged interventions, like those depicted on TV, may backfire. Planned surprise confrontations "have not been demonstrated to be an effective way to engage people in treatment," the report says. The trouble with the approach? According to the surgeon general's report, it can heighten resistance and attack the self-worth of the addict. 

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 because mainstream medicine wasn't treating alcohol disorders. That started a legacy of separating addiction treatment from the rest of medicine.

The report makes room for AA and other recovery support services, noting they don't require health insurance and are free, but it also says they "are not the same as treatment and have only recently been included as part of the health care system."

AA gets praise for adaptability. American Indians, for instance, have incorporated Native spirituality and allowed families to attend meetings. Research shows AA to be "an effective recovery resource," the report concludes. 

HIGHER ALCOHOL TAXES
Alcohol tax policies get a nod in a section on evidence-based prevention: "Higher alcohol taxes have also been shown to reduce alcohol consumption." Other policies suggested by research include limiting the density of stores selling alcohol, banning Sunday sales and holding bars liable for serving minors. 

WHAT ABOUT MARIJUANA?
The report suggests learning from alcohol and tobacco policies to find out what works to minimize harm as marijuana becomes legal.

Voters in eight states have approved adult use of recreational marijuana and more than two dozen states have medical marijuana laws. The report cites "a growing body of research" suggesting marijuana's chemicals can help with "pain, nausea, epilepsy, obesity, wasting disease, addiction, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions."

Murthy supports easing existing barriers to marijuana studies, but said Wednesday that he's worried the legalization movement is moving faster than research. "Marijuana is in fact addictive," he said. 

NOT A MORAL FAILING
Addiction is a chronic illness, not a character flaw or a moral failing, the report says. Stigma and shame have kept people from seeking help and weakened public investment.

Murthy issues a call to action in the preface: "How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America. Are we a nation willing to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss?"

RED STATE-BLUE STATE ISSUE
Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation passed this year that creates grants to expand treatment programs, said he hopes the report raises awareness.

"We have to change the way we talk about addiction and break the stigma to help more Americans suffering from this disease get the treatment and recovery they need," Portman said.

Addiction should be a bipartisan issue, said Democratic former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, an addiction treatment advocate.

"This affects all of America, but it really affects the Trump voter," Kennedy said. Red states such as West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky have the highest overdose rates, Kennedy said. Enforcing laws that require insurers to cover addiction treatment will be a test of Trump's "promise to put average Americans ahead of corporate interests," said Kennedy.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Major Grated Cheese Brands Hit by Nationwide Recall]]>Wed, 16 Nov 2016 16:19:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cento+4c+cheese+recall.jpg

Fears of salmonella contamination have led to the recall of major grated cheese brands nationwide. 

4C Food Corp. has voluntarily recalled its 4C Grated Cheese, Homestyle Grated Cheese and Cento Grated Cheese brands over concern the cheeses may contain Salmonella.

4C Food Corp. said that none of the other food or cheese products it produces are affected by the recall.

No illnesses have been reported but 4C Food Corp. is voluntarily recalling the products out of an abundance of caution after FDA testing revealed the cheeses may be at risk.

The recall includes the following products, which were packed in 6-ounce vacuum-sealed glass jars with “best by” dates between November 12, 2016 and November 12, 2018.

4C All Natural Parmesan Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-33126) 
4C All Natural Parmesan/Romano Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-37126) 
4C All Natural 100% Imported Italian Pecorino Romano Cheese (UPC 41387-77126) 
4C HomeStyle All Natural Parmesan Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-32790) 
4C HomeStyle All Natural Parmesan/Romano Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-11627) 
4C HomeStyle All Natural 100% Imported Italian Pecorino Romano Cheese (UPC 41387-12302)  
Cento Parmesan Grated Cheese (UPC 70796-90502) 
Cento Romano Grated Cheese (UPC 70796-90501)  

Consumers with questions can contact 4C Foods Corp. at 866-969-1920.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses.

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<![CDATA[Food Advocates Fear Trump Could Scrap Healthy School Lunches]]>Tue, 15 Nov 2016 11:34:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16319797568195trump-food.jpg

Will President-elect Donald Trump remake school lunches into his fast-food favorites of burgers and fried chicken?

Children grumbling about healthier school meal rules championed by first lady Michelle Obama may have reason to cheer Trump's election as the billionaire businessman is a proud patron of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's while promising to curb federal regulations.

The Obama administration has made healthier, safer and better labeled food a priority in the last eight years, significantly raising the profile of food policy and sometimes drawing the ire of Republicans, farmers and the food industry. The first lady made reducing childhood obesity one of her signature issues through her "Let's Move" campaign.

In addition to the healthier school meal rules, the administration ushered a sweeping food safety law through Congress, pushed through several new food labeling regulations, started to phase out trans fats, added calorie labels to menus and suggested new limits on sodium in packaged foods. The White House has also fended off efforts in the Republican Congress to trim the nation's food stamp program.

"Food advocates are already nostalgic for the Obama era and will be playing defense for the next four years," says Sam Kass, a former White House senior adviser on nutrition and personal chef for the Obamas.

A look at some of the food regulations that could be scrapped — or tweaked — in the new administration:

MAKING SCHOOL MEALS GREAT AGAIN
Trump himself hasn't weighed in on school meal regulations. But Republicans, school nutrition directors and some in the food industry have balked at parts of the administration's rules that set stricter fat, sugar and sodium limits on foods in the lunch line and beyond. While many students have now gotten used to the healthier foods, some schools still complain that they are costly and that it's difficult to meet the standards.

"I would be very surprised if we don't see some major changes on the school lunch program" and some other food issues, said Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees Agriculture Department spending.

Aderholt, who sits on Trump's agriculture advisory committee, says the Obama administration's approach was "activist driven" and people who voted for Trump are looking for a more common-sense approach.

One of many names that have been floated as a possible agriculture secretary is Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner who repealed a state ban on deep fryers and soda machines at schools. Miller recently got in trouble when he used a profanity on Twitter to describe Democrat Hillary Clinton; he blamed a staffer and the tweet was deleted.

THE FOOD POLICE
In September, the Trump campaign pitched rolling back food safety regulations in a fact sheet, arguing they are burdensome to farmers and criticizing increased inspections of food manufacturing facilities as "overkill." The sheet referred to the "food police" at the Food and Drug Administration. The campaign later deleted the proposal from its website.

Congress passed new food safety regulations in 2010, a year after a salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut company killed nine people. Michael Taylor, former FDA deputy commissioner for foods who oversaw the food safety rules, says it wouldn't be popular with consumers to roll them back.

"Consumers are only getting more focused on safety, health and wellness," Taylor says.

Trump himself is a self-professed germaphobe who prefers eating at fast-food restaurants because he believes they have higher food safety standards.

FOOD STAMPS
Congressional Republicans have been examining food stamps since the program's cost grew to almost $80 billion annually after the recession. Participation and costs have dipped since its 2013 high, but conservatives have suggested tightening eligibility standards or increasing work requirements. House Speaker Paul Ryan has for years championed an overhaul to the program.

Democrats in the Senate have consistently objected to any changes to the program, and will still wield influence. But they won't have the backing of a Democratic White House.

OTHER FOOD POLICY
Many other laws are either already in place or close to it, including a revised "nutrition facts" panel on the back of food packages, with a new line breaking out added sugars, a labeling law for genetically modified foods and calorie labeling on restaurant and supermarket menus.

In many cases, the rules are a result of compromise with industry. Kass says that pulling back may just create more cost and uncertainty for businesses.

"Unwinding things is really hard, especially when most of them have been implemented and industry has moved on," Kass says.

He predicts most of the regulations will stay, but that there will be little additional progress. Ongoing administration efforts to reduce sodium in food and antibiotics in meat could be casualties.

Margo Wootan, a lobbyist on nutrition issues for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says advocates will continue to be aggressive at the state and local levels, hoping change will bubble up.

"The public is more interested than ever in nutrition and will continue to press companies," she says.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Prisons Fight Opioids With Injections ]]>Tue, 15 Nov 2016 11:26:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/194*120/Opioids2.jpeg

U.S. prisons are experimenting with a high-priced monthly injection that could help addicted inmates stay off opioids after they are released, but skeptics question its effectiveness and say the manufacturer has aggressively marketed an unproven drug to corrections officials.

A single shot of Vivitrol, given in the buttocks, lasts for four weeks and eliminates the need for the daily doses common with alternatives such as methadone. But each shot costs as much as $1,000, and because the drug has a limited track record, experts do not agree on how well it works.

Proponents say Vivitrol could save money compared with the cost of locking up a drug offender — about $25,000 a year for each inmate at the Sheridan Correctional Center, 70 miles southwest of Chicago.

Dr. Joshua Lee, of New York University's medical school, said more evidence is needed to determine whether the medication can help substantial numbers of people and whether it's worth paying for, but the early results are encouraging.

"It sounds good, and for some of us, it feels like the right thing to do," said Lee, a leading researcher on the treatment.

Vivitrol is emerging as the nation searches for ways to ease an opioid epidemic that affects more than 2 million Americans and an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. prison population. Many experts view prisons — where addiction's human toll can be seen most clearly — as a natural place to discover what works.

Christopher Wolf had already served prison time for nonviolent crimes when he was ordered into treatment for a heroin addiction by a judge who suggested Vivitrol. Three months later, the 36-year-old from Centerville, Ohio, is clean and working full time as a cook.

He now suggests the medication to other addicts.

"I don't have cravings," Wolf said. "I see how much better life is. It gets better really fast."

Vivitrol targets receptors in the brain's reward system, blocking the high and extinguishing urges. In some programs, prisoners get an injection before release, then follow-up shots from any clinic.

For decades, researchers have recognized addiction as a relapsing brain disease with medication an important part of therapy. But most jails and prisons reject methadone and buprenorphine, the other government-approved medications for opioid addiction, because they are habit-forming and can be abused.

Just ask Joshua Meador, 28, an inmate at Sheridan who hopes to get into the Vivitrol program before his release in January. Before incarceration, he abused both older treatment drugs. When given take-home doses of methadone for the weekend, he would sell them for heroin.

"When I'm on Vivitrol, I can't get high," he said. The drug has no street value or abuse potential.

"You couldn't design something better for the criminal justice system," said David Farabee of the University of California at Los Angeles, who leads a Vivitrol study in a New Mexico jail. "There's been pushback with other medications, people saying, 'We're just changing one drug for another.' That argument goes out the window when you're talking about a blocker" like Vivitrol.

Prison systems in Illinois, Vermont, Wyoming and Wisconsin are trying the drug on a small scale. Michigan is offering Vivitrol to parolees who commit small crimes, if addiction is the reason for their new offense. The federal Bureau of Prisons ran a field trial in Texas and plans to expand the program to the Northeast next year. The drug's manufacturer hopes prisons will be the gateway to a larger market.

Also known as extended-release naltrexone, the medication won Food and Drug Administration approval for alcohol dependence in 2006 and in 2010 to prevent relapse in post-detox opioid users.

The evidence for giving Vivitrol to inmates is thin but promising.

In the biggest study, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 300 offenders — most of them heroin users on probation or parole — were randomly assigned to receive either Vivitrol or brief counseling and referral to a treatment program.

After six months, the Vivitrol group had a lower rate of relapse, 43 percent compared with 64 percent. A year after treatment stopped, there had been no overdoses in the Vivitrol group and seven overdoses, including three deaths, in the other group. The results, published in March in the New England Journal of Medicine, have been promoted by the drugmaker, Ireland-based Alkermes, as it markets Vivitrol to U.S. correctional systems.

Yet addiction is stubborn. When the injections stopped, many in the study relapsed. A year later, relapse rates looked the same in the two groups.

"It does suggest six months wasn't enough," said Lee, the lead author.

T.J. Voller was a Vivitrol success story — until he wasn't. After Vivitrol was approved by the FDA, Voller talked about getting the shot with The Associated Press and Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a CNN segment. The 30-year-old was back at work and seemed proud of his recovery. But after 10 months on Vivitrol, he died of a heroin overdose.

"He was alone for the weekend and picked up that needle one last time," said his mother, Kathi Voller of Raynham, Massachusetts.

Advocates argue that inmates have a constitutional right to all FDA-approved addiction medications throughout their incarceration.

"Treatment should be offered from the moment they are brought into the system," said Sally Friedman, legal director of the New York-based Legal Action Center, which is looking for a test case to bring to court.

Physicians have learned to be cautious about pharmaceutical company marketing, said Andrew Kolodny, senior scientist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Not so for criminal justice officials, who may be too trusting, Kolodny said.

"When the drug company sends someone in to give them a talk and buy them pizza, they think they're getting a scientific lecture," he said.

Alkermes spokeswoman Jennifer Snyder said the company's sales team helps educate corrections staff and community care providers only after they have shown interest in Vivitrol.

There's widespread agreement that counseling, support groups and treatment for underlying problems such as depression are crucial for Vivitrol patients, said Dr. Joseph Garbely of Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers, which supports medication-assisted treatment and prefers Vivitrol.

"The disease of addiction is a cunning, baffling and powerful one," Garbely said. "And you need all hands on deck."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women Anxious About Future of Contraception Under Trump]]>Mon, 14 Nov 2016 07:59:10 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-566440215.jpg

More women are asking Planned Parenthood workers about access to birth control and other health care since Donald Trump was elected president, according to the organization's chief medical officer. 

Some women have taken to social media to discuss their concerns about the prospect of affordable access to women’s health care diminishing, with one long-lasting form of birth control called an IUD apparently attracting extra attention. 

Trump has promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as one of his first acts in office, which could mean the end of free, FDA-approved contraception, including birth control pills, diaphragms, IUDs and emergency contraception like Plan B. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Trump said he would consider keeping at least two parts of President Barack Obama's signature health care law: a ban on insurers denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and a provision that allows young adults to stay on their parents' plans. 

“Since the election, we have seen an uptick in questions about access to health care, birth control, and the Affordable Care Act,” said Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood. “While we truly hope that birth control methods will be available, accessible and affordable to all women under the Trump administration, we understand people’s real concerns about losing access to birth control, which is basic health care for women.”

There is a real possibility that health care cuts could come in the months after Trump is inaugurated in January, according to Cindy Pearson, the 19-year executive director of National Women's Health Network.

"It's not an irrational fear," Pearson said. "It's a fear that stems from people who will soon be in charge of Congress and the White House. We're very concerned since Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have supported policies that would leave women in difficult situations."

NBC has reached out Trump's campaign for comment. 

In an appearance on CNN's "State of the Nation" Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan would not answer a question about whether or not new health care legislation would include contraceptive coverage. 

"I’m not going to get into all the nitty-gritty details of these things," Ryan told host Jake Tapper. 

When Tapper pressed Ryan on the issue, the speaker responded: "I’m not going to get into ― I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about legislation that hasn’t even been drafted yet."

Trump has expressed different positions on women's health issues. He voiced disapproval for abortions during the campaign, even telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in March that women who get abortions should be “punished,” though he later backtracked on that statement. As for birth control, Trump said on "The Dr. Oz Show" in September that women shouldn't need a prescription to have access to it. 

There is one safe and effective form of birth control that can last for four years, when another president may be elected, and some women appear to be discussing it. 

The IUD, short for intrauterine device, is a T-shaped object inserted in a woman's uterus, where it can stay for years. It is 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancies — more than condoms, though IUDs do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Hormonal IUDs can last for about 3 to 6 years on average, while non-hormonal IUDs can last for up to 12 years, according to Planned Parenthood.

IUDs have offered a unique appeal for their longevity. Google searches for the term were four times their average on Wednesday night, after Trump was projected to win the presidency.

And women on Twitter have suggested that others get IUDs to last through a Trump presidency.

Kristyn Brandi, MD, OB/GYN and family planning specialist at Boston Medical Center and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health called the Affordable Care Act a "game-changer" for helping women afford contraception.

“We don't really know what will happen with the new administration," she said. "I have heard of several women that are concerned about either access to IUDs or replacing existing ones. We have already seen patients who are seeking contraception based on concerns about what will happen to reproductive health and the Affordable Care Act."

The talk of IUDs may have been prompted by an article in The Daily Beast last week. 

"What Donald Trump has promised to do—and what Mike Pence has actually done during his tenure as governor of Indiana—is to make birth control a lot more difficult for women to access,” Erin Gloria Ryan wrote, advocating that women consider getting an IUD in case Trump were elected.

IUDs are the third most popular form of contraception, according to Planned Parenthood, behind condoms and birth control pills, and they were already becoming more popular. The organization has seen a 91 percent increase in IUD users in the last five years alone.

McDonald-Mosley said Planned Parenthood expects that trend to continue in coming years. 

Democrats have long supported Planned Parenthood, but Republicans have fought in recent years to restrict funding to the organization. Since Trump was elected president, the organization has made it clear that they are there to stay. 

"We now face a very different future, and there is uncertainty ahead," their website read after the race was called. "But one thing is for sure: We will never back down, and Planned Parenthood will never stop providing the care patients need."

Pearson and the NWHN are preparing to "fight like crazy" to stop potential health care cuts, she said.

--Suzanne Ciechalski contributed to this story



Photo Credit: UIG via Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Still Fighting: Vietnam Vets Seek Help for Rare Cancer]]>Fri, 11 Nov 2016 08:15:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/VIETNAM_AP_16308712369800.jpg

They were the lucky ones who managed to make it home from Vietnam. Now, a half-century later, some veterans are finding out they, too, are victims of the war.

The enemy is a known killer in parts of Asia: Parasites ingested in raw or poorly cooked river fish. These liver flukes attach to the lining of the bile duct and, over time, cause inflammation and scarring. Decades after infection, a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma can develop. Symptoms typically do not occur until advanced stages.

Ralph Erickson, who heads post-deployment health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said about 700 cholangiocarcinoma patients have passed through the agency's medical system in the past 15 years. In some instances, the government has acknowledged that the illness is "as likely as not" connected to veterans' time in service. By VA standards, that's enough to make them eligible for benefits.

Less than half of those 700 submitted claims, however, in part because they were unaware of any possible link to service. Of the claims submitted, 3 out of 4 have been rejected, according to data obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.

As a result, some veterans are spending their final days fighting the VA. They say they were never told they could be at risk, even though they were deployed to a region where the worms are endemic.

"Hard to believe," said veteran Michael Baughman, 64, as he sat in his living room in Danville, California, flipping through a photo album from his war days. "I dodged all those bullets, then get killed by a fish."

Baughman was drafted in late 1970 and sent to central Vietnam to do reconnaissance missions near Hue. Thanks partly to growing up hunting in the mountains of West Virginia, he proved gifted at noticing the smallest twig or leaf brushed out of place by the enemy. Walking point and clearing thick jungle with a machete, he was tasked with spotting booby traps and potential ambushes.

Often on long patrols, he said his unit would run out of rations and go fishing for dinner near the border with Laos.

"We would throw a grenade in the water, and then scoop them off the river floor," Baughman said. "We called it 'fish on a stick.'"

The men cooked the makeshift meal as best they could over a tiny, blue smokeless flame, but it never really got done.

He didn't think much of it, until he went for a long-overdue physical three years ago. His blood work indicated there might be a problem with his liver. Further testing revealed he had bile duct cancer.

Baughman's private physician wrote a letter highlighting the connection between liver flukes and bile duct cancer. A VA doctor also acknowledged the parasites are a primary risk factor but was not entirely convinced Baughman's illness was related to his time in Vietnam.

The veteran's claims for benefits were denied twice in 2015. He's awaiting word on his latest appeal.

Liver flukes infect an estimated 25 million people globally. The parasites are found mainly in parts of Southeast Asia, China and South Korea, where residents and tourists alike risk infection from specific types of freshwater fish such as tilapia and carp.

In one location in Laos, researchers found liver flukes — which can survive pickling and fermentation — in about 60 percent of villagers, and in some parts of Vietnam, up to 40 percent were infected.

In northeastern Thailand, where many villagers have a taste for the sour fish dish pla som, new bile duct cancers affect about 84 in 100,000 people, the world's highest recorded rate. Mobile clinics routinely perform bile duct ultrasound screening in hard-hit areas.

In the United States, cholangiocarcinoma is extremely rare, with roughly 5,000 people diagnosed each year, including some Asian immigrants who ate infected fish in their native countries. Liver flukes aren't the only risk factor for the disease; others include hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis and bile duct stones.

VA data, collected following an AP inquiry, show the number of benefit claims for bile duct cancer has increased sixfold since 2003. The requests hit a high of 60 last year, with nearly 80 percent denied. Decisions appear to be haphazard. Some are approved automatically. Others, presented with the same evidence, are denied. Some rejections are based on the fact that parasites were not found in stool samples, but those tests were conducted years after the worms would have died.

VA officials said that while they're sympathetic, it's up to the men to prove the connection to their time in service. They say because the cancer remains rare, it would be unrealistic and onerous to carry out regular screenings.

"We will look at each case and all the evidence that is presented to us and make a determination at that point," said Steve Westerfeld, a spokesman for the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration. "Certainly any veteran has an opportunity to appeal."

Many do, sometimes two or three times before either getting approved or giving up.

How much veterans, or their families, are compensated depends on many factors, including to what degree the illness is affecting their ability to have productive lives. An unmarried veteran can get nearly $3,000 a month, but some spouses said they get about half that amount. For many, it's not about the money. It's about raising awareness, both among veterans and the VA.

If American doctors better understood cholangiocarcinoma and the potential risks to those who served in Vietnam, they could use ultrasound to check veterans for inflammation, and then surgery might be possible for some of them, said Jeff Bethony, a liver fluke expert at George Washington University.

"Early is key," he said, adding he regularly receives desperate letters from veterans' family members. "The VA should be testing for this."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Powder Lawsuit: Woman Awarded More Than $70M]]>Fri, 28 Oct 2016 09:58:55 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Powder-GettyImages-119270124.jpg

A St. Louis jury on Thursday awarded a California woman more than $70 million in her lawsuit alleging that years of using Johnson & Johnson's baby powder caused her cancer, the latest case raising concerns about the health ramifications of extended talcum powder use.

The jury ruling ended the trial that began Sept. 26 in the case brought by Deborah Giannecchini of Modesto, California. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. The suit accused Johnson & Johnson of "negligent conduct" in making and marketing its baby powder.

"We are pleased the jury did the right thing. They once again reaffirmed the need for Johnson & Johnson to warn the public of the ovarian cancer risk associated with its product," Jim Onder, an attorney for the plaintiff, told The Associated Press.

"We deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by ovarian cancer," Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman with Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement. "We will appeal today's verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder."

Earlier this year, two other lawsuits in St. Louis ended in jury verdicts worth a combined $127 million. But two others in New Jersey were thrown out by a judge who said there wasn't reliable evidence that talc leads to ovarian cancer, an often fatal but relatively rare form of cancer. Ovarian cancer accounts for about 22,000 of the 1.7 million new cases of cancer expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.

About 2,000 women have filed similar suits, and lawyers are reviewing thousands of other potential cases, most generated by ads touting the two big verdicts out of St. Louis — a $72 million award in February to relatives of an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer, and a $55 million award in May to a South Dakota survivor of the disease.

Much research has found no link or a weak one between ovarian cancer and using baby powder for feminine hygiene, and most major health groups have declared talc harmless. Johnson & Johnson, whose baby powder dominates the market, maintains it's perfectly safe.

But Onder of the Onder Law Firm in suburban St. Louis, which represented plaintiffs in all three St. Louis cases, cited other research that began connecting talcum powder to ovarian cancer in the 1970s. He said case studies have indicated that women who regularly use talc on their genital area face up to a 40 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Onder has accused Johnson & Johnson of marketing toward overweight women, blacks and Hispanics — the very same women most at-risk for ovarian cancer, he said.

Factors known to increase a women's risk of ovarian cancer include age, obesity, use of estrogen therapy after menopause, not having any children, certain genetic mutations and personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use of talc as "possibly carcinogenic." The National Toxicology Program, made up of parts of several different government agencies, has not fully reviewed talc.

Talc is a mineral that is mined from deposits around the world, including the U.S. The softest of minerals, it's crushed into a white powder. It's been widely used in cosmetics and other personal care products to absorb moisture since at least 1894, when Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder was launched. But it's mainly used in a variety of other products, including paint and plastics.

The two St. Louis verdicts were the first talcum powder cases in which money was awarded. A federal jury in 2013 sided with another South Dakota woman, but it ordered no damages, a spokeswoman for Onder's firm said.

Johnson & Johnson has been targeted before by health and consumer groups over ingredients in its products, including Johnson's No More Tears baby shampoo. The company agreed in 2012 to eliminate 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable carcinogens, from all products by 2015.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Children With 3-Way DNA Are Healthy: Study]]>Thu, 27 Oct 2016 10:31:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16299728950958-dna.jpg

More than 15 years ago, 17 babies were born after an experimental infertility treatment that gave them DNA from three people: Mom, Dad and an egg donor.

Now researchers have checked up on how the babies are doing as teenagers. The preliminary verdict: The kids are all right.

With no sign of unusual health problems and excellent grades in school at ages 13 to 18, these children are "doing well," said embryologist Jacques Cohen of the Institute for Reproductive Medicine & Science at Saint Barnabas in Livingston, New Jersey, where the treatment was done.

That includes Emma Foster, 17, of Red Bank, New Jersey. "I turned out normal," Foster said in an interview Tuesday. A cheerleader since age 10, she is now looking at colleges and thinking of majoring in engineering.

The infertility procedure is no longer performed. But the study of the children is timely because just last month, the first baby was born from a different procedure that also mixed genetic material from three people. That technique is aimed not at infertility but at preventing the child from inheriting harmful genes from the mother. Critics are concerned about its long-term safety.

So finding no problem so far from the infertility treatment is helpful and "a good message" for people considering the disease-prevention procedure, Cohen said. But he emphasized that his findings cannot be taken as proof that the newer procedure is safe and should be performed.

Cells carry DNA in two places: the nucleus, where the chromosomes are, and to a much smaller degree the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the little powerhouses in the cytoplasm, the liquid part of the egg cell outside the nucleus.

Both DNA-mixing procedures involve the mitochondria; the one that recently produced the baby was aimed at replacing a mother's defective mitochondria. Cohen's procedure injected a bit of mitochondria-containing cytoplasm into the mother's egg.

Genes in the mitochondrial DNA don't affect traits like eye and hair color but are important for keeping cells healthy throughout the body.

Cohen's hospital performed the infertility treatment between 1996 and 2001 on 33 couples who failed to conceive after roughly five tries at in vitro fertilization.

"We felt that there was something wrong with the cytoplasm" and that injecting a small amount of it from a healthy egg donor might aid embryo development, Cohen said.

Fourteen of the 33 patients became pregnant, and 13 ultimately gave birth to 18 babies, including two sets of twins and one of quadruplets. (One of the 18 babies was a twin from a standard egg donation; doctors also included data on that child in the follow-up study.)

Cohen and colleagues presented their findings Wednesday in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.

The parents of the quadruplets refused multiple requests for follow-up information; doctors know only that all four are alive and in high school.

In detailed surveys, parents of the 14 other children all reported their kids in good health. One has chronic migraines, two have mild asthma, one is obese, seven have allergies, and one has attention deficit disorder. None of those rates are unusual for that number of children, doctors said. One boy was diagnosed with a borderline developmental disorder at 18 months but not when he was older, and he has an A average in school.

"These children have done well," Cohen said. "It's what we expected or at least had hoped."

At least two other clinics in the U.S. and several in other countries tried the technique after Cohen started it, but the U.S. work stopped after the Food and Drug Administration stepped in to regulate it. Cohen said his group tried to comply with the FDA's requirements for a permit to continue the work but lost funding before it could meet them.

It's not clear why the treatment worked for the 13 couples, Cohen said. One possibility is the infusion of mitochondria, but cytoplasm contains other molecules and structures too, he said.

In any case, it was a success for Emma's parents, Susan and Peter Foster, who had been trying for about seven years to have a baby.

When Cohen's experimental procedure was described to them and they were asked if they were interested, they had no doubts, Peter said.

Susan gave birth at 33. Emma was healthy and has continued that way, her parents say.

Emma is the only child in the survey to have been told about the procedure. She said she has long known her origins were unusual — her mom keeps a book that shows her as an embryo — but she didn't know the specifics until recently.

"I think it's really cool," she said. "It makes me different."

She may no longer carry any trace of the donor. Only two of eight babies tested after birth showed any sign of donor mitochondria, and Emma was one who showed none. Cohen said the tests, which were not as sensitive then as now, might have overlooked some traces.

The follow-up study has some limitations. It's based on a survey of parents, and the accuracy of such second-hand information can be shaky. And it includes just 13 teens, with no comparison group.

Still, Dr. James Grifo, director of infertility treatment at New York University, said the results suggest that criticism of research that mixes DNA from three people appears unfounded.

"The outcomes looked uniformly good ... suggesting that no harm was done," said Grifo, who did not participate in the new study. The donor cytoplasm "certainly may have played a role in allowing their embryo to develop to a stage that allowed a pregnancy."

In 1999, after years of experiments in mice, Grifo and colleagues made embryos with DNA from three people and transferred them to several patients' wombs, but no pregnancy resulted. Then the FDA stepped in and stopped the work.

"I think it should be allowed," Grifo said.

But Dr. Alan Copperman, director of infertility at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said the jury is still out on whether using a third party's genetic material is safe.

"I don't think that we're yet able to declare victory and that we've figured out how to fix an unhealthy egg or embryo," Copperman said. Most eggs that fail to develop normally, especially with older patients, are because of abnormal chromosomes, so tinkering with the cytoplasm is not likely to be a solution for many people, he said.

But it apparently worked for the Fosters.

Emma "is a blessing and a miracle," Susan Foster said, "and medical science made that possible."

___

This story has been corrected to show that the research institution involved was the Institute for Reproductive Medicine & Science at Saint Barnabas.

Marchione reported from Milwaukee. Ritter reported from Livingston, New Jersey. Study: http://bit.ly/2eODF5K

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Experts Hope Mosquito-Borne Bacteria Can Beat Zika Virus]]>Wed, 26 Oct 2016 15:05:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mosquitoeszika.jpg

Researchers are trying to infect mosquitoes in Brazil and Colombia with a type of bacteria that could prevent them from spreading the Zika virus and other dangerous diseases.

British and American governments are teaming up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust to expand field tests in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the city of Bello in northwest Colombia, philanthropist Bill Gates told a conference Wednesday.

The tests revolve around the Wolbachia genus of bacteria, which has been shown to hamper the spread of viruses when it's carried by mosquitoes. The virus doesn't occur naturally in Aedes aegypti — the tropical mosquitoes primarily responsible for spreading viruses such as Zika, yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya — but researchers have spent more than 10 years working to coax the bacteria into infecting that particular breed of insect in a bid to derail the diseases it carries.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gates said the $18 million roll-out would finally test whether the concept can work.

"We'll know within a year, if these mosquitoes we've released, if they're becoming common amongst the population," he said. "Then we'll see simply by the number of people who get sick from either Zika or dengue. If those numbers come down quite substantially in these cities but not in other cities that'll be the proof of this over a decade-long quest to use this intervention."

In a statement, the Eliminate Dengue campaign said the roll-out in Latin America follows earlier field trials in Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia as well as small-scale work in Brazil and Colombia dating back to 2014.

Zika was initially known only to cause flu-like symptoms in some people but has since attracted global concern after a surge of cases in babies born with small heads in northeast Brazil. The virus has since been linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly and become a leading public health worry.

In his AP interview, Gates also spoke about polio— he hopes next year will mark the last reported case of the disease — and the British exit from the European Union, which he said probably wouldn't be dramatic for U.K. science but "could create a little bit of uncertainty and disruption."

Finally, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder poured cold water on talk of a turn toward U.S. politics.

Gates, who was identified in leaked emails as being among those Hillary Clinton's campaign considered for vice president last spring, gave an emphatic "Nope, not me" when asked whether Americans should expect to see his name on the ballot in 2020.

"My full-time work for the rest of my life will be work for the foundation," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Steps Up Warnings About Testosterone Use]]>Wed, 26 Oct 2016 14:38:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16159721727583-fda-generic.jpg

The FDA announced Tuesday that it is increasing warnings against testosterone and other steroids, NBC News reported.

In addition to existing concerns about personality changes and other health issues, the drugs can be easily abused, according to the FDA.

"Reported serious adverse outcomes include heart attack, heart failure, stroke, depression, hostility, aggression, liver toxicity and male infertility," the FDA said in a statement. "Individuals abusing high doses of testosterone have also reported withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, decreased libido and insomnia."

Testosterone, which is used to fight the effects of aging, has been heavily criticized by the FDA. It is currently a $2 billion industry with men purchasing gels, pills and injections. 



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Chipotle Sales Fall Again as It Tries to Win Back Customers]]>Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:15:09 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Chipotle-GettyImages-509063322.jpg

Chipotle is still struggling to bring back customers to its restaurants after a food safety scare last year.

The burrito chain said Tuesday that sales fell 21.9 percent at established restaurants during the third quarter, worse than the 18.3 percent drop Wall Street analysts expected, according to FactSet. It's the fourth straight quarter of sales declines for the company after an E. coli outbreak last year sickened some customers.

Chipotle has given out millions of free burritos, launched a loyalty program and released food safety ads to try and win back customers. But the company is still hurting from the outbreak. Chipotle, which has more than 2,100 restaurants, said its profit plummeted 95 percent in the quarter.

Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. fell 2.4 percent after the market closed Tuesday.

To try to boost sales, Chipotle is cooking up new menu items and upgrading its digital ordering platform. Earlier this month, it started selling chorizo, a spicy pork sausage, at restaurants nationwide. And it announced Tuesday that it is testing two dessert items and plans to add one to its menu in the future — but didn't say what the treats would be. It also hopes that an updated site will lead to more digital orders, which now make up only 6 percent of sales, the company said.

Still, Chipotle said pricier avocados may keep its costs high. The company said a shortage is causing avocado prices to nearly triple from $30 a case to $80 a case.

Overall, Chipotle reported net income of $7.8 million, or 27 cents per share, in the three months ending Sept. 30, compared with $144.9 million, or $4.59 per share, in the same quarter a year ago. Adjusted earnings were 79 cents per share, below the $1.96 per share analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Revenue fell 15 percent to $1.04 billion, below the $1.09 billion analysts expected.

Chipotle said that it also plans to stop investing it its Southeast Asian-inspired chain ShopHouse. The food at that chain, which was started five years ago and has 15 restaurants, wasn't able to attract a big following, Chipotle said. The company said it is seeking "strategic alternatives" for ShopHouse. Instead, it plans to bet on pizza and burgers for growth. The company is an investor in Pizzeria Locale, a fast-cooking pizza chain with seven locations. Earlier this year, it applied for a trademark for "Better Burger."

Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. fell $8.83 to $396.84 in after-hours trading Tuesday. Its stock is down about 40 percent for the year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Babies Should Sleep in Same Room as Parents: Pediatricians]]>Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:22:12 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_sleepstandards1024_1920x1080.jpg

The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for infants to be kept in their parents' bedroom at night for six months to a year to reduce the risk of sleep-related death.

The new recommendations say babies should sleep on a separate surface, in a crib or bassinet, and never on something soft. The guidelines say babies should sleep in the same room as their parents, preferably until they're a year old. The nation's most influential pediatricians' group says it updated its safe-sleep guidance because of studies suggesting that room-sharing reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by as much as 50 percent.

For two decades, the academy has advocated that babies be placed on their backs for sleeping to reduce risks of SIDS. Other recommendations include: avoiding bed-sharing; use of crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys; using pacifiers; and breastfeeding. But SIDS cases have plateaued at 3,500 unexplained deaths each year in the U.S., prompting the updated advice released Monday.

Noting that SIDS' risks are highest in the first six months, the academy says room-sharing but not bed-sharing is most likely to prevent suffocation that can occur when infants sleep with their parents.

"Placing the crib close to the parents' bed so that the infant is within view and reach can facilitate feeding, comforting, and monitoring of the infant," the academy says.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[1 in 4 US Cancer Deaths Linked to Smoking]]>Mon, 24 Oct 2016 11:37:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/108938428e.jpg

Cigarettes contribute to more than 1 in 4 cancer deaths in the U.S. The rate is highest among men in southern states where smoking is more common and tobacco control policies are less strict. 

The American Cancer Society study found the highest rate among men in Arkansas, where 40 percent of cancer deaths were linked to cigarette smoking. Kentucky had the highest rate among women — 29 percent. 

The lowest rates were in Utah, where 22 percent of cancer deaths in men and 11 percent in women were linked with smoking. 

"The human costs of cigarette smoking are high in all states, regardless of ranking," the authors said. 

They analyzed 2014 health surveys and government data on smoking rates and deaths from about a dozen smoking-linked cancers. Lung, throat, stomach, liver, colon, pancreas and kidney cancers were among those included, along with leukemia. The researchers estimated how many cancer deaths were likely attributable to smoking, and compared that with deaths from all cancers. 

Results were published Monday in. JAMA Internal Medicine. 

While U.S. smoking rates have been falling, 40 million U.S. adults are cigarette smokers and smoking is the top cause of preventable deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

NUMBERS
The study found that at least 167,000 cancer deaths in 2014 — about 29 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths — were attributable to smoking. 

Most of the 10 states with the highest rates of smoking-attributable cancer deaths were in the South, while most of the 10 states with the lowest rates were in the North or West. 

Among men, where smoking is generally more common, the cigarette-linked cancer death rate was highest in blacks at 35 percent, compared with 30 percent for whites and 27 percent for Hispanics. Among women, whites had the highest cigarette-linked cancer death rate — 21 percent, compared 19 percent for blacks and 12 percent for Hispanics. 

EXPLANATIONS
The researchers say nine of 14 states with the least comprehensive smoke-free indoor air policies are in the South. The average cigarette excise tax in major tobacco states, mostly in the South, is 49 cents, compared with $1.80 elsewhere. The tobacco industry heavily influences these policies and most of the U.S. tobacco crop is grown in the South, the researchers said. The region also has relatively high levels of poverty, which is also linked with smoking. 

REACTION
Dr. Hilary Tindle of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said the results reflect what she sees as a tobacco researcher and internal medicine specialist in the South. She was not involved in the study. 

Smoking is more of a social norm there, and while her medical center has an indoor smoking ban, she said it's not unusual to walk through cloud of cigarette smoke outside the entrance. 

Tindle said the study results highlight the need for stronger tobacco control measures and show why doctors should discuss smoking at every patient visit, encourage smokers to quit and inform them about effective ways to do so.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Infants, Parents Should Share Room: New Guidelines]]>Mon, 24 Oct 2016 11:35:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_sleepstandards1024_1920x1080.jpgThe American Academy of Pediatrics has released updated guidelines for new parents on infant sleep safety. Experts say room sharing could reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half and recommend babies sleep in a crib or bassinet in the parent's bedroom for at least the first six months and up to age 1. ]]><![CDATA[Pediatrics Group Lifts 'No Screens Under 2' Rule]]>Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:32:41 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-135280995.jpg

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new screen media guidelines for parents with infants and young children, amending its previous recommendation that outright banned screens for children under the age of two.

In its policy statement released Friday, the AAP says it’s OK for children under the age of 18 months to Skype or Face Time with grandma and grandpa, and for older children and teens to do some of their socializing, learning and playing online – as long as they put down their devices long enough to sleep, exercise, eat, and engage in rich offline lives. 

The nation's leading group of pediatricians recommends children under 18 months, with the exception of video chatting, should avoid screens. Children between 18 months and 24 months should only be introduced to digital media that is high-quality and parents should watch it with their children in order to help them process what they’re seeing.

For children ages 2-5, digital media use should be limited to one hour a day. The guidelines again recommend high-quality, education media suited for children, such as Sesame Street and PBS.

Overall, parents should avoid using media to calm a child or replace physical activity. Parents are also recommended by the AAP to have media-free time with their children and media-free zones in the house. Parents should also have conversations with children about online safety and respecting people both on and offline.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Advice: Parents Should Share Screentime with Kids]]>Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:46:47 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_mediakids1020_1920x1080.jpgInstead of playing a constant game of keep-away, parents are now encouraged to join the fun. Updated guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics on kids' media usage represents a shift to making moms and dads "media mentors." Previously the influential group of pediatricians suggested no media before age 2. Now they say there's evidence toddlers as young as 18 months could learn and benefit from some forms of technology, as long as parents are there to guide them and the technology is not overly stimulating.


Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Woman With Cancer: '#JuJuOnThatChemo']]>Thu, 20 Oct 2016 15:21:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/chemo-dance-101916.PNG

A Texas woman is not letting cancer and chemo get her down. Ana-Alecia Ayala, who’s battling a rare form of uterine sarcoma, has joined the viral dance craze — and has a heartwarming message to share.

In a social media post shared Tuesday, Ayala, in her hospital gown and medical tubes attached to her, dances to "JuJu On That Beat" with her friend Danielle Andrus during a chemotherapy session at Baylor T. Boone Pickens Cancer Hospital in Dallas.

"We want to show the world that dancing and laughter is the best medicine," wrote Ayala, who's from Dallas. "#JustForFun #ChemoSucks #CancerAwareness #JuJuOnThatBeat #JuJuOnThatChemo."

Ayala, who has rhabdomyosarcoma, has had two surgeries for tumor removal and port placement since she was diagnosed in December 2015. She has been in chemo since January, according to her GoFundMe.



Photo Credit: Ana-Alecia Ayala]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Touts Health Care Law, Urges Young Adults to Sign Up ]]>Thu, 20 Oct 2016 15:05:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/TLMD-obamacare-website-sutterstock-st.jpg

President Barack Obama on Thursday defended his namesake health care program, long a target of Republicans and recently criticized by some Democrats, saying millions of Americans "now know the financial security of health insurance" because of the Affordable Care Act. 

"It's worked," he said, even while allowing that the program isn't perfect. "No law is."

Obama chalked up the Republican criticism to "nothing more than politics" and GOP envy that "a Democratic president named Barack Obama passed the law. That's just the truth." 

He called on both parties to set aside the "political rhetoric" and "be honest about what's working, what needs fixing and how we fix it." 

Obama said repealing the law, as congressional Republicans repeatedly have failed to do, won't solve the problem "because right off the bat repeal would take away health care from 20 million people" and affect millions of other health care consumers.

Less than two weeks before people can start to enroll in the overhaul's health plans on Nov. 1, Obama used a speech at a Florida college to kick off a push by the administration to encourage more people to sign up, with a particular emphasis on young adults.

Obama wants to burnish his legacy as the president who, after decades of failed attempts by Washington, finally brought health care to millions. But what he attempted Thursday was a difficult sales job, as the 2010 law faces some new and troubling challenges.

Premiums are rising by double digits in many parts of the country and some major insurers have quit the program, leaving consumers with few choices next year and contributing to higher prices. 

Democratic allies recently criticized the law. Former President Bill Clinton, while campaigning in support of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, called the law "the craziest thing in the world." Gov. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said it is "no longer affordable." 

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said this week that she expects 13.8 million people will sign up for 2017 coverage, a modest increase over the 12.7 million consumers who picked health insurance plans during open enrollment for this year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>