<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usSun, 20 Aug 2017 21:26:39 -0400Sun, 20 Aug 2017 21:26:39 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Docs Criticize Move by Top Drug Middleman to Limit Opioids ]]>Thu, 17 Aug 2017 11:54:02 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Opioid-Pills1.jpg

The nation's largest pharmacy benefit manager will soon limit the number and strength of opioid drugs prescribed to first-time users as part of a wide-ranging effort to curb an epidemic affecting millions of Americans.

But the new program from Express Scripts is drawing criticism from the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians and medical students in the U.S., which believes treatment plans should be left to doctors and their patients.

About 12.5 million Americans misused prescription opioids in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 33,000 deaths that year were blamed on opioid overdoses.

Express Scripts launched a yearlong pilot program in 2016 aimed at reducing patients' dependency on opioids and the risk of addiction, said Snezana Mahon, the Missouri-based company's vice president of clinical product development.

Mahon said analysis of 106,000 patients in the pilot program showed a 38 percent reduction in hospitalizations and a 40 percent reduction in emergency room visits, compared to a control group. The program is scheduled to take effect nationwide on Sept. 1 for Express Scripts members whose employer or health insurer has enrolled to participate.

Under the program, new opioid users are limited to seven-day prescriptions, even if the doctor orders scripts for much longer. Mahon said the average prescription is for 22 days.

The program also requires short-acting drugs for first-time opioid prescriptions, even though many doctors prescribe long-acting opioids. Dosage is also limited, and the company will monitor and try to prevent for patterns of potential "pill shopping," where a patient goes from doctor to doctor to collect prescriptions.

The program does not apply to patients in hospice or palliative care, or to cancer patients.

A competitor, CVS Caremark, has a similar program.

"A lot of times physicians are prescribing these drugs blindly," Mahon said. "They don't know that a patient may be going to see multiple prescribers."

She said some physicians "are actually appreciative and saying, 'Thank you, I didn't know this was happening.'"

But Dr. Patrice Harris, an Atlanta psychiatrist who chairs the American Medical Association's Opioids Task Force, said doctors are already working toward addressing the opioid epidemic.

Harris said doctors have reduced such prescriptions by 17 percent over the past couple of years and are directing patients to other forms of pain management, including physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

"We want to be pro-active in making sure the alternatives are available, versus a sort of blunt, one-size-fits-all-all approach regarding the number of prescriptions," Harris said. "The AMA's take has always been that the decision about a specific treatment alternative is best left to the physician and their patient."

Express Scripts said that if a doctor wants a patient to have more than a seven-day supply of medication, he or she can request it. Harris said those additional steps create an administrative burden for the doctor, "but more importantly they delay care for the patient."

Harris said the AMA has not contacted Express Scripts to raise concerns about the program or taken any action to stop it.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already requires label warnings about misuse on all prescription medications, but Express Scripts will take the additional step of sending a letter to new opioid patients warning about the dangers of misuse and addiction.

CVS Caremark already has a 10-day limit on opioids and limits the dosage, the company said. Patients must start on short-acting drugs, and physicians are required to regularly assess patients using opioid prescriptions.

CVS Caremark also has a monitoring process to identify pill shopping and other forms of misuse or fraud, and works with its retail pharmacies to review "prescribing trends and irregular behavior and with physicians to ensure appropriate therapy for patients with chronic pain," spokeswoman Christine Cramer said in an email.

Express Scripts also is providing data analytics as part of Missouri's new prescription drug-monitoring program. Republican Gov. Eric Greitens announced details last month at the Express Scripts corporate headquarters in suburban St. Louis. Missouri was the last state without a program to track prescription drugs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: John Moore / Getty Images ]]>
<![CDATA[Teen Overdose Death Rate Doubles]]>Thu, 17 Aug 2017 11:21:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_teenoverdoses0816_1500x845.jpg

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a steep increase in fatal drug overdoses involving teenagers ages 15 - 19 since 2015 after years of decline. Deaths from fatal drug overdoses doubled, with most cases stemming from opioid use. ]]>
<![CDATA[Overdoses on the Road: Drugged Driving Rises as a Menace]]>Thu, 17 Aug 2017 11:13:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-517238888.jpg

An SUV crashed after all four occupants overdosed on heroin in North Carolina. The same day, a man in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, grabbed the steering wheel after his grandson lost consciousness while driving. Police in the city of 30,000 responded to 11 other overdose reports that day, including a woman who crashed her car just before a highway entrance.

The next day in Cleveland, a rescue squad found an unconscious 43-year-old man who had driven off the road and hit a pole. An overdose antidote brought him back around, police say. He was seriously hurt from the crash and was cited for driving under the influence.

Car crashes caused by overdosing drivers are becoming so commonplace, authorities say, that some rescue crews immediately administer the antidote, naloxone, to any unresponsive driver they find at an accident scene.

People who use heroin and related drugs are sometimes so eager to get high, or so sick from withdrawal, that they'll shoot up in the car as soon as they get their hands on more, police say. Often they're back on the road before the overdose takes hold, and they lose consciousness, a recipe for traffic accidents.

"There's no waiting period like we used to see with other drugs where you go buy it, then go home and get high, or go to a party and get high," said Scott Houston, a major with the sheriff's office in Pamlico County, North Carolina, where the SUV crashed June 29. "We don't see that anymore."

Police in New Hampshire charged a man with driving under the influence June 7 after he allegedly shot up heroin before crashing into a parked tractor-trailer in Manchester.

A man who shot up in a Kmart parking lot in Iowa City, Iowa, in March crashed his car and was revived with naloxone. Last month, according to police, he led them to the dealer who sold him heroin laced with the potent opioid acrylfentanyl.

In June 2016 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a man named Charles Pickett Jr. allegedly took a handful of pain pills and muscle relaxers and plowed his pickup truck into a group of bicyclists , killing five of them. Police at the scene said he was "completely out of it."

Pickett's attorney said he intends to use an insanity defense against charges that include second-degree murder. Pickett's trial is set for Sept. 18. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Two years ago, Koriann Evans had just picked up her 2-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter from her mother's when her dealer reached out to her. She shot up in a parking lot in Fremont, Ohio, and then headed down the road.

Within a few minutes, she couldn't breathe. With her children in the back, Evans managed to stop in the middle of the road with her foot on the brake before passing out. Nearby residents pulled her and her children from the car and called authorities. Rescuers told her she would have died quickly without the naloxone she was given.

Now more than two years sober, the 36-year-old Evans works in a vinyl siding factory while trying to become a substance abuse counselor. She lost custody of her children but sees them regularly.

"I knew from that point on that something had to change within me, because the reality is that my addiction, my use almost killed me, my two kids and possibly somebody else," Evans said.

Drunken-driving deaths are on the decline, dropping 24 percent since 2006, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Meanwhile, deaths in crashes involving drugs are soaring.

Ohio saw 4,615 drug-related crashes last year, an increase of more than 21 percent since 2013, according to the state Department of Transportation. The data aren't broken down by type of drug. Pennsylvania saw a similar spike, with drugged-driving crashes jumping from 3,019 in 2011 to 4,078 last year.

Nationally, fatalities in crashes where drugs were involved soared from 2,003 in 1993 to 7,438 in 2015, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The data reflect only the presence of drugs in a driver, not whether the drugs caused the crash.

In Columbus, the number of emergency runs by the fire department involving naloxone administered to someone in a vehicle has jumped each of the past three years and is headed for another record this year, according to fire department statistics.

Many of the runs involve people overdosed in parked cars, whether in parking lots, near their homes or sitting in the middle of an intersection after they nodded off.

Some people using drugs are known to purposely shoot up in running cars with their foot on the brake, figuring that if they pass out, the car will move and alert someone to their condition, said James Davis, assistant fire chief.

Fire-rescue personnel are "carting naloxone and giving it blindly up the nose in a nasal-spray type of delivery system," said Kennard Skaggs, a national representative for the labor union International Association of EMTs and Paramedics. "They don't know exactly whether or not the person is taking (opioids), but it can't hurt."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Arkansas Can Block Planned Parenthood Money: Federal Court]]>Wed, 16 Aug 2017 16:26:19 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/arkansasabortion_1200x675.jpg

A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, two years after the state ended its contract with the group over videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group.

In a 2-1 ruling, an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel vacated preliminary injunctions a federal judge issued preventing the state from suspending any Medicaid payments for services rendered to patients from Planned Parenthood. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended the state's Medicaid contract with the organization in 2015.

The court ruled the unnamed patients suing the state did not have the right to challenge the defunding decision. The panel did not directly address Arkansas' reason for terminating the contract.

The decision could potentially lead to a showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court over efforts by Arkansas and several other states to defund Planned Parenthood that have been blocked by other courts. In a dissenting opinion to Wednesday's ruling, Judge Michael Melloy noted that several other federal courts have ruled the opposite way on defunding and said the patients have a right to challenge the end of Planned Parenthood's contract.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker initially ordered the state to continue the payments to three patients who had sued over the move and later expanded that order to anyone who seeks or wants to obtain services from the organization's health centers in Arkansas.

Planned Parenthood said it's evaluating options for challenging the appeals court's decision. The ruling does not take effect until the court issues its mandate in about one to two weeks, and Planned Parenthood said it's still serving Medicaid patients in Arkansas.

"We will do everything in our power to protect our patients' access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other lifesaving care," Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "Extreme politicians are trying to defund and shut down Planned Parenthood — and this is not what Americans want. Every person deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy life and access care at a provider they know and trust, no matter who you are or where you live."

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the court's ruling.

"The Court found that Planned Parenthood and the three patients it recruited could not contest in federal court Arkansas's determination that a medical provider has engaged in misconduct that merits disqualification from the Medicaid program," Rutledge, a Republican, said in a statement. "All patients should have access to ethical, quality and responsible health care, and should never be beholden to a company that is only seeking to protect its profits."

The state has said Planned Parenthood received $51,000 in Medicaid funds in the fiscal year before Hutchinson's decision to terminate the contract. None of the money paid for abortions. Planned Parenthood operates health centers in Fayetteville and Little Rock.

Republican lawmakers and governors around the country targeted the organization after several videos were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. The center said the videos showed that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood said the videos were heavily edited and denied seeking any payments beyond legally permitted reimbursement of costs. A Texas grand jury that looked into the videos cleared Planned Parenthood of misusing fetal tissue

The decision is the latest in a series of federal court fights over efforts in solidly Republican Arkansas to limit abortion.

Baker last month blocked Arkansas from enforcing four new abortion restrictions, including a ban on a common second-trimester procedure. Another federal judge is weighing whether to halt another new law that would allow Arkansas to suspend or revoke an abortion clinic's license for any violation. In a separate case, the 8th Circuit last month vacated another preliminary injunction Baker issued preventing Arkansas from enforcing new limits on how the abortion pill is administered.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Danny Johnston]]>
<![CDATA[If Trump Cuts Obamacare Subsidies, Premiums Will Spike: CBO]]>Tue, 15 Aug 2017 14:45:28 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17206719818863.jpg

The Congressional Budget Office says Obamacare premiums will increase by 20 percent next year and by 25 percent in 2020 — if President Donald Trump ends key federal subsidies to the program.

The CBO report released Tuesday also found that if the administration moves to cut the billions in subsidies to insurers, that would leave about 5 percent of Americans living in areas with no access to individual health care plans.

As CNBC reports, Trump has repeatedly threatened to end the billions of dollars in payments to insurance companies that sell individual health plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Insurers have warned they will be forced to raise premiums sharply to make up for the loss of cost-sharing reductions payments, or CSRs, if Trump cuts them off.



Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP (File)]]>
<![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[Apple, Aetna Meeting to Bring Apple Watch to Aetna: Sources]]>Mon, 14 Aug 2017 14:25:56 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/applewatchcolorful-1200x675.jpg

Apple and Aetna held secret meetings last week to bring Apple's health- and fitness-tracking device, Apple Watch, to Aetna customers, according to three sources who spoke with CNBC. 

Aetna, which covers an estimated 23 million people, is negotiating a deal with Apple to either provide the smartwatch for free or at a discounted rate to its members. 

Recently, Apple has focused on developing new health sensors for people with chronic disease, according to a CNBC report in April.

Apple Watch recently surpassed Fitbit as the top-selling health-tracking device, after shipments reached an estimated 22 million in early 2017. 



Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[A Stronger Medicaid Emerges From GOP Health Overhaul Debate]]>Mon, 14 Aug 2017 08:32:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/809452094-Medicaid-protests.jpg

Medicaid, a 1960s Great Society pillar long reviled by conservatives, seems to have emerged even stronger after the Republican failure to pass health overhaul legislation.

The federal-state health insurance program for low-income Americans hasn't achieved the status of Social Security and Medicare, considered practically untouchable by politicians, like an electrified "third rail." But it has grown to cover about 1 in 5 U.S. residents, ranging from newborns to Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes, and even young adults trying to shake addiction. Middle-class working people are now more likely to personally know someone who's covered.

Increased participation — and acceptance — means any new GOP attempt to address problems with the Affordable Care Act would be unlikely to achieve deep Medicaid cuts.

"This was an important moment to show that people do understand and appreciate what Medicaid does," said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, a nonpartisan group that represents state officials. "The more people understand what Medicaid is and what it does for them, the less interested they are in seeing it undermined."

With Republicans in control of the White House, both chambers of Congress, and 34 out of 50 governorships, it would have been hard to imagine a more politically advantageous alignment for a conservative overhaul of Medicaid.

President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, many of them working jobs without health insurance. Thirty-one states have accepted the ACA's expansion, covering about 11 million people.

The GOP bills would have phased out funding for the Obama expansion, but they also placed a limit on future federal spending for the entire program — a step now seen as overreach.

The per-beneficiary spending caps in the House and Senate bills translated to deep cuts that divided Republicans.

Also, GOP governors who had expanded the program couldn't swallow the idea of denying coverage to hundreds of thousands of constituents. Some Republican governors went public with their opposition, while others quietly warned their congressional delegations about dire consequences.

"I think there is a recognition among many that Medicaid is not just a welfare program but an underpinning of our social system," said Diane Rowland of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

An AP-NORC poll taken last month found the public overwhelmingly opposed to GOP Medicaid cuts, by 62-22.

"You just can't do this to people who are in situations that they didn't put themselves in," said Sara Hayden of Half Moon Bay, California. Unable to work as a data journalist due to complications of rheumatoid arthritis, she was able to get health insurance when her state expanded Medicaid.

Hayden estimates that one of the medications she takes for the disease would cost about $16,000 a month if she were uninsured. She pays nothing with Medi-Cal, as the Medicaid program is known in California.

"If they are going to repeal and replace, then I am dead in the water," she said.

Brian Kline of Quakertown, Pennsylvania, works as a customer service representative, and got coverage after his state expanded Medicaid in 2015. Early last year he was diagnosed with colon cancer following a colonoscopy. After treatment that Medicaid paid for, his last CT scan was clear.

"You just wonder if the Republican bill had passed...what would have happened to me?" said Kline. "Would I have had access to my doctors and the tests to make sure my cancer didn't come back? I'm not sure what the answer to that question would have been."

Many Republicans view Obama's Medicaid expansion as promoting wasteful spending, because the federal government pays no less than 90 percent of the cost of care, a higher matching rate than Washington provides for the rest of the program.

"That is not a good recipe for encouraging states to implement better, lower-cost models of care," said Mark McClellan, who oversaw Medicare and Medicaid under former President George W. Bush.

Nonetheless, the debate showed Congress can't just elbow its way to a Medicaid overhaul.

'You are going to have to be gentle and thoughtful, working in a bipartisan way to see what ideas will reach across the aisle," said Republican economist Gail Wilensky, also a former Medicare and Medicaid administrator.

The push for Medicaid changes will now shift to the states. Some on the political right are seeking federal approval for work requirements and drug testing. But activists in the 19 states that have not yet expanded their programs are contemplating revived campaigns.

An area that could find bipartisan support is health promotion, since Medicaid beneficiaries tend to have higher rates of smoking and other harmful lifestyle factors.

Katherine Hempstead, who directs health insurance research for the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says Medicaid has come out a "winner" in the debate.

"Medicaid has shown itself to be very much appreciated by a broader constituency than we might have originally thought," she said. "And that is an important takeaway."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Student Seeking Paramedic Internship Saves Choking Man]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 13:50:16 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ambulance+GettyImages-478895016.jpg

A man who started choking in a coffeehouse was saved by a California State University, Sacramento student who was waiting to interview for a paramedic internship.

Coastal Peaks Coffee owner Mike Knight tells The Tribune he was leaving his office Wednesday to go into the San Luis Obispo establishment's cafe area when he heard someone choking and saw a young man quickly come to the man's aid.

The student, Will Stewart, was waiting with other candidates for internships with San Luis Ambulance.

He tells the newspaper he saw the man choking and performed the Heimlich maneuver.

Fred Motlo, a San Luis Ambulance field supervisor, says Stewart didn't mention the incident during the internship interview and they did not find out about it until later.

Stewart got the internship.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Looking into the Future: Online Eye Exams]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:12:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/MD02F_1200x675_1022508099586.jpg

An online eye exam that you can take on a computer, in the comfort of your home. Seems like the perfect solution for busy people who may not have time to see the eye doctor. Yet, the increasingly popular tests have left many in the medical community skeptical.]]>
<![CDATA[5 Die After Being Fitted With Obesity Devices, FDA Says]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:16:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms794.jpg

At least five people have died after receiving gastric balloons to help them lose weight, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday. 

It’s unclear whether the balloons or the surgery to implant them could have caused the deaths, but the FDA issued an alert to doctors to monitor patients who have the devices, according to NBC News. The balloons are intended to treat severe obesity by reducing how much a person can eat by filling the stomach, closing off part of the stomach or surgically reducing stomach volume.

Two different balloon devices have been involved in reports of the deaths, which came as quickly as a day after surgery: one made by Apollo Endo-Surgery, the other by ReShape.

Apollo said the company has sold 180,000 of Orbera balloon devices worldwide.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File]]>
<![CDATA[1 in 3 Cancer Patients Face Unexpected Costs: Study]]>Thu, 10 Aug 2017 14:34:05 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/Screen+Shot+2017-08-10+at+11.30.52+AM.png

A Duke University study found more than a third of cancer patients with health insurance faced out-of-pocket costs that were more than they expected. Researchers say patients with unexpected costs are less willing to pay for care and may skip or opt out of necessary treatments.]]>
<![CDATA[The Freshman 15 Is a Myth]]>Thu, 10 Aug 2017 10:19:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/freshman15.jpg

Incoming college students have long feared the freshman 15, the alleged 15 pound weight gain common among first year students. But studies suggest this concept is nothing more than a myth, NBC News reported.

Only 10 percent of students end up gaining 15 pounds or more. Fluctuation in weight is still common for freshmen, but students typically gain an average of 7.5 pounds.

For some students, stress and other factors can actually trigger weight loss. It’s worth noting that the peak age for eating disorders is 18 to 21, right around the time students first enter college.

There are many measures students can take to maintain a healthy weight as they leave home for the first time. Establishing a routine meal schedule and limiting snacking will help make the adjustment easier. Getting a good night’s sleep and working to keep stress levels low will also help.



Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images ]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Actions Trigger Health Premium Hikes for 2018: Study]]>Thu, 10 Aug 2017 07:35:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/821754746-Trump-Victims-of-Obamacare.jpg

The Trump administration's own actions are triggering double-digit premium increases on individual health insurance policies purchased by many consumers, a nonpartisan study has found.

The analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mixed signals from President Donald Trump have created uncertainty "far outside the norm," leading insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case.

The report comes with Republicans in Congress unable to deliver on their promise to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Trump, meanwhile, insists lawmakers try again. The president says "Obamacare" is collapsing, but he's also threatened to give it a shove by stopping billions of dollars in payments to insurers. Some leading Republicans are considering fallback measures to stabilize markets.

Researchers from the Kaiser foundation looked at proposed premiums for a benchmark silver plan across major metropolitan areas in 20 states and Washington, D.C. Overall, they found that 15 of those cities will see increases of 10 percent or more next year.

The highest: a 49 percent jump in Wilmington, Delaware. The only decline: a 5 percent reduction in Providence, Rhode Island.

About 10 million people who buy policies through HealthCare.gov and state-run markets are potentially affected, as well as another 5 million to 7 million who purchase individual policies on their own.

Consumers in the government-sponsored markets can dodge the hit with the help of tax credits that most of them qualify for to help pay premiums. But off-marketplace customers pay full freight, and they face a second consecutive year of steep increases. Many are self-employed business owners.

The report also found that insurer participation in the ACA markets will be lower than at any time since "Obamacare" opened for business in 2014. The average: 4.6 insurers in the states studied, down from 5.7 insurers this year. In many cases insurers do not sell plans in every community in a state.

The researchers analyzed publicly available filings through which insurers justify their proposed premiums to state regulators. To be sure, insurers continue to struggle with sicker-than-expected customers and disappointing enrollment. And an ACA tax on the industry is expected to add 2 to 3 percentage points to premiums next year.

But on top of that, the researchers found the mixed signals from the administration account for some of the higher charges. Those could increase before enrollment starts Nov. 1.

"The vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the administration," the report said. Once premiums are set, they're generally in place for a whole year.

Insurers who assumed that Trump will make good on his threat to stop billions in payments to subsidize copays and deductibles requested additional premium increases ranging from 2 percent to 23 percent, the report found.

Insurers who assumed the IRS under Trump will not enforce unpopular fines on people who remain uninsured requested additional premium increases ranging from 1.2 percent to 20 percent.

"In many cases that means insurers are adding double-digit premium increases on top of what they otherwise would have requested," said Cynthia Cox, a co-author of the Kaiser report. "In many cases, what we are seeing is an additional increase due to the political uncertainty."

That doesn't sound like what Trump promised when he assumed the presidency.

In a Washington Post interview ahead of his inauguration, Trump said, "We're going to have insurance for everybody."

"There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it," he added. "That's not going to happen with us."

People covered under Obama's law "can expect to have great health care," Trump said at the time. "It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better."

But the White House never produced the health care proposal Trump promised. And the GOP bills in Congress would have left millions more uninsured, a sobering side-effect that contributed to their political undoing.

The Trump administration sidestepped questions about its own role raised by the Kaiser study.

Spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said rising premiums and dwindling choices predate Trump.

"The Trump administration is committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare and will always be focused on putting patients, families, and doctors, not Washington, in charge of health care," Marre said in a statement.

The ongoing political turmoil for people who buy individual health insurance stands in sharp contrast to relative calm and stability for the majority of Americans insured through workplace plans. The cost of employer-sponsored coverage is expected to rise around 5 or 6 percent next year, benefits consultants say.

Associated Press Health Writer Tom Murphy contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Lawsuit: CVS Charges More for Drugs Paid for With Insurance]]>Thu, 10 Aug 2017 06:16:34 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cvsgeneric_1200x675.jpg

A California woman sued CVS Health Corporation Monday, accusing the company of charging customers more when they use insurance to pay for certain generic prescriptions, NBC News reported.

Megan Schultz claims in the lawsuit that she paid $165.68 for a prescription at CVS, America's largest pharmacy chain. Had she bought the same drug without using insurance, she said it would have only cost $92.

"CVS never told her that paying in cash would allow her to pay 45% less for the drug," the complaint says, claiming that the higher costs come from the pharmacy overcharging and remitting the excess payments to its pharmacy benefit manager, which negotiates between the insurance company and pharmacy.

CVS denied the allegations, responding in a statement that they "are built on a false premise and are completely without merit."



Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Americans’ Use of Alcohol Is on the Rise: Study]]>Thu, 10 Aug 2017 09:36:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT_NAT_ALCOHOL_INCREASE_080917-150230034019500001.jpg

A new study has found an 11 percent increase in alcohol use among Americans between 2002 and 2012. There was an even bigger jump in high-risk drinking and alcohol-use disorders. Women, older adults and racial minorities were found to have increased their alcohol use and abuse the most.]]>
<![CDATA[Infant Mortality Rates Up in Appalachia vs Rest of US: Study]]>Tue, 08 Aug 2017 13:37:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/appalachia-infant-mortality.jpg

Placing much of the blame on smoking, a study chronicling the ongoing health crisis in Appalachia has concluded that the 13-state region suffers from a growing disparity in infant mortality and life expectancy, two key indicators of "a nation's health and well-being."

The study, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, compared infant mortality and life expectancy rates in Appalachia with the rest of the United States between 1990 and 2013. It found while the rates were similar in the 1990s, by 2013 infant mortality across Appalachia was 16 percent higher than the rest of the country while life expectancy for adults was 2.4 years shorter.

While the region has been the focus of the opioid epidemic in recent years, the study found one of the biggest culprits was likely the prevalence of smoking and the region's tendency to be "more accepting of tobacco use as a social norm."

Gopal K. Singh, a co-author of the study and a senior health equity adviser with the Health Resources and Services Administration, noted nearly 20 percent of Appalachian women report they smoked during pregnancy. In the rest of the country, it's 8 percent.

"Smoking takes a tremendous toll on the health of Appalachians," the authors wrote.

The study used the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to define the region, which covers 428 counties across 13 states. It includes all of the counties in West Virginia along with some counties in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Heart disease, cancer and other respiratory illnesses were among the leading causes of death throughout the study period, all of which can be caused by using tobacco. Kentucky and West Virginia have some of the highest smoking rates in the nation coupled with some of the lowest cigarette taxes.

In Kentucky, state lawmakers passed a law requiring health insurance companies to cover tobacco cessation medications that have been approved by federal regulators. But they failed to pass a bill that would have banned tobacco products from public school campuses. Just 36 percent of Kentucky's 173 public school districts ban all tobacco products on campus and at school-sponsored events.

"What this report shows is the extreme damage tobacco is causing our people and how we are getting hammered by it worse than any other place in this country," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

The study found that drug overdoses accounted for 6.3 percent of the life expectancy gap between 2009 and 2013, and it was a likely explanation for why the life expectancy of white women declined between 1990 and 2004 while increasing among white women among the rest of the country.

Singh noted the study only includes date through 2013. Since then, drug overdose deaths in Kentucky and elsewhere have soared because of the availability of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is much more powerful than heroin.

"The contribution of drug overdoses could be higher for the most recent time period," he said.

Other causes included accidental deaths, such as car wrecks. The study noted 30 percent of "unintentional injury deaths" in Appalachia are from car wrecks, which "contributes substantially to the life expectancy gap."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Researchers Detail Heroin, Drug Use at Underground US Haven]]>Tue, 08 Aug 2017 15:09:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_110511068014-heroin-injection-site-Vancouver.jpg

A safe haven where drug users inject themselves with heroin and other drugs has been quietly operating in the United States for the past three years, a report reveals.

None were known to exist in the U.S. until the disclosure in a medical journal, although several states and cities are pushing to establish these so-called supervised injection sites where users can shoot up under the care of trained staff who can treat an overdose if necessary.

In the report released Tuesday, two researchers said they've been evaluating an underground safe place that opened in 2014. As a condition of their research, they didn't disclose the location of the facility — which is unsanctioned and potentially illegal — or the social service agency running it.

The researchers offered little data, and their main finding was that no one died while injecting at the safe place. There were two overdoses on site, which were reversed by staff members using the overdose medication naloxone.

Advocates and some politicians in recent years have called for government-sanctioned injection sites as the U.S. grapples with the opioid epidemic. More than 52,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015 — the most ever — fueled by soaring abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers. Government statistics for the first nine months of last year, also released Tuesday, show overdose death rates continuing to spiral.

Some say the new report could have an impact on efforts to establish safe injection sites around the U.S. Such sites have been backed by lawmakers in New York, California and other states, along with officials in cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Ithaca, New York.

"It shows people that it's possible" to operate one of these in the U.S., said Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney with Drug Policy Alliance who has helped draft safe haven legislative proposals in six states.

Injection sites are legal in countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland where medical professionals monitor drug users. They also provide clean needles to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis C. Ideally, they also steer users into treatment and other services.

Some experts say new approaches are needed to fight the opioid epidemic, including safe havens. But they've faced legal and political hurdles. Critics have argued these places may undermine prevention and treatment, and seem to fly in the face of laws aimed at stopping use of deadly illicit drugs.

Safe injection sites are different from syringe exchange programs, which were once controversial but now exist in 33 states.

The underground safe haven is open between four and six hours a day, five days a week, according to Alex Kral, a San Francisco-based researcher with RTI International, and Peter Davidson of the University of California, San Diego. Their report was published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The space consists of two rooms — an "injection room" with five stainless steel stations with mirrors and stools and a room next door where users are monitored afterward. There are trained staff on hand, but no one who is medically licensed, according to the researchers. Smoking is not allowed there, but drugs like heroin, pain pills, cocaine and methamphetamine are.

Use of the space was by invitation only. Most visitors are white, homeless men. It was used 2,500 times over two years by over 100 people, although researchers say the exact number of participants isn't known because the facility relies on anonymous surveys.

There's no data on deaths or drug use by clients who injected when the site was closed and it's not known whether any went into treatment, Kral said.

The study also didn't look at issues opponents worry about, like whether creation of a safe place is associated with an increase in people beginning to try drugs, said Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University who nonetheless applauded the organization's effort to try to stop overdose deaths.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck, File]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Overdoses Have Been Higher Than Thought: Study]]>Tue, 08 Aug 2017 06:40:56 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17171822298733-hypodermic-needles-syringes-everywhere-.jpg

Deaths from heroin and opioid overdoses may have been underreported by more than 20 percent, according to a new study from the University of Virginia.

Researchers looking into the nation's deadly drug overdose epidemic revisited thousands of death certificates between 2008 and 2014 and found that mortality rates for opioids were 24 percent higher than previously reported, while the mortality rate for heroin was 22 percent higher than previously reported, according to NBC News.

"Opioid mortality rate changes were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona," according to the study, published this week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. "Increases in heroin death rates were understated in most states, and by large amounts in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, Louisiana and Alabama."

The presidential opioid commission, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has urged President Donald Trump to "declare a national emergency" to deal with the crisis that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, killed nearly 35,000 across the United States since 2015.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File]]>
<![CDATA[Transgender Medical Center Opens For Kids]]>Thu, 03 Aug 2017 08:53:34 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_transgenderclinic0802_1500x845.jpg

Transgender kids in the St. Louis, Missouri, area now have somewhere to go for medical care and counseling. A transgender medical center opened Tuesday, and it's the first of its kind in the region. The medical facility is expected to help hundreds of children and their families throughout the region with comprehensive health care.]]>
<![CDATA[Public Lactation 'Pods' Open for Nursing Moms in 5 Boroughs]]>Thu, 03 Aug 2017 08:53:32 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lactation+pod.jpg

The city's Health Department has officially opened five public "lactation pods" -- one in each borough -- for nursing moms. 

Each pod is 4 by 8 feet and a self-contained mobile unit equipped with comfortable benches, a table, an electrical outlet for plugging in breast pumps and a door that can be locked for privacy. 

The lactation pods are now available to the public at Health + Hospitals’ Queens Hospital Center and Harlem Hospital Center; the Bronx Zoo; the Staten Island Children’s Museum; and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. 

The new pods are part of the city's ongoing efforts to promote and support breastfeeding in communities with the lowest rates of nursing, and to ensure that mothers feel comfortable pumping and breastfeeding in whichever setting they choose. 

In August 2016, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation requiring the Administration for Children’s Services, New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish lactation rooms in select locations where social services are offered to the public. There are now more than two dozen locations open, and authorities say they plan to open additional ones as well. Here's a complete list of the public lactation room and pod locations in the city. 

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life until one year of age or longer. Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, diarrhea and respiratory problems, health officials say. When done in partnership with safe sleep practices, breastfed babies are also at lower risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While the exact cause of SIDS is unknown, breast milk may help build a baby’s immune system to fight SIDS-related infections. Mothers who breastfeed for 12 months or more have a lower risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

“Breastfeeding is the most complete and natural form of nutrition for babies, and it also provides health benefits for new mothers,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a statement. “We are fortunate to live in a city that protects a mother’s right to breastfeed anywhere, anytime. We’re happy to provide a comfortable option for women who prefer to breastfeed or pump in a private space.”



Photo Credit: Handout]]>
<![CDATA[Amrita Protein Bars Recalled for Listeria Risk]]>Thu, 03 Aug 2017 06:43:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/necn+recall+generic.jpg

A brand of protein bars has been recalled by its manufacturer because it may be contaminated with listeria.

Amrita Health Foods, which is based in Pleasantville, New York, voluntarily recalled a limited number of Amrita Bars after a supplier reported that sunflower seeds and sunflowers seed butter sold to the company could be contaminated.

The recalled Amrita Bar were distributed to retail stores across the country. The following products have been recalled:

  • Amrita Chocolate Maca Bar, 60g (UPC 853009004056) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Dark Chocolate Quinoa, 60g (UPC 853009004438) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Sunflower Seed Butter, 60g (UPC 853009004414) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Chocolate Chip Coconut, 50g (UPC 853009004391) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Mango Coconut, 50g (UPC 853009004018) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Apricot Strawberry, 50g (UPC 853009004056) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Pineapple Chia, 50g (UPC 853009004025) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Apple Cinnamon, 50g (UPC 853009004049) : Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018
  • Amrita Cranberry Raisin, 50g (UPC 853009004032): Best Buy date between 04/24/2018 to 05/31/2018


Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious infections in young children, the elderly, and anyone with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, nausea and diarrhea.

Anyone with questions about the recall can call Amrita Health Foods Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4p.m. at 1-888-728-7779. Or click here for more information.  



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Repair Gene in Human Embryos for First Time]]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 13:33:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/embryosfeuerherd.jpg

Altering human heredity? In a first, researchers safely repaired a disease-causing gene in human embryos, targeting a heart defect best known for killing young athletes — a big step toward one day preventing a list of inherited diseases.

In a surprising discovery, a research team led by Oregon Health and & Science University reported Wednesday that embryos can help fix themselves if scientists jump-start the process early enough.

It's laboratory research only, nowhere near ready to be tried in a pregnancy. But it suggests that scientists might alter DNA in a way that protects not just one baby from a disease that runs in the family, but his or her offspring as well. And that raises ethical questions.

"I for one believe, and this paper supports the view, that ultimately gene editing of human embryos can be made safe. Then the question truly becomes, if we can do it, should we do it?" said Dr. George Daley, a stem cell scientist and dean of Harvard Medical School. He wasn't involved in the new research and praised it as "quite remarkable."

"This is definitely a leap forward," agreed developmental geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge of Britain's Francis Crick Institute.

Today, couples seeking to avoid passing on a bad gene sometimes have embryos created in fertility clinics so they can discard those that inherit the disease and attempt pregnancy only with healthy ones, if there are any.

Gene editing in theory could rescue diseased embryos. But so-called "germline" changes — altering sperm, eggs or embryos — are controversial because they would be permanent, passed down to future generations. Critics worry about attempts at "designer babies" instead of just preventing disease, and a few previous attempts at learning to edit embryos, in China, didn't work well and, more importantly, raised safety concerns.

In a series of laboratory experiments reported in the journal Nature, the Oregon researchers tried a different approach.

They targeted a gene mutation that causes a heart-weakening disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, that affects about 1 in 500 people. Inheriting just one copy of the bad gene can cause it.

The team programmed a gene-editing tool, named CRISPR-Cas9, that acts like a pair of molecular scissors to find that mutation — a missing piece of genetic material.

Then came the test. Researchers injected sperm from a patient with the heart condition along with those molecular scissors into healthy donated eggs at the same time. The scissors cut the defective DNA in the sperm.

Normally cells will repair a CRISPR-induced cut in DNA by essentially gluing the ends back together. Or scientists can try delivering the missing DNA in a repair package, like a computer's cut-and-paste program.

Instead, the newly forming embryos made their own perfect fix without that outside help, reported Oregon Health & Science University senior researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov.

We all inherit two copies of each gene, one from dad and one from mom — and those embryos just copied the healthy one from the donated egg.

"The embryos are really looking for the blueprint," Mitalipov, who directs OHSU's Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy, said in an interview. "We're finding embryos will repair themselves if you have another healthy copy."

It worked 72 percent of the time, in 42 out of 58 embryos. Normally a sick parent has a 50-50 chance of passing on the mutation.

Previous embryo-editing attempts in China found not every cell was repaired, a safety concern called mosaicism. Beginning the process before fertilization avoided that problem: Until now, "everybody was injecting too late," Mitalipov said.

Nor did intense testing uncover any "off-target" errors, cuts to DNA in the wrong places, reported the team, which also included researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California and South Korea's Institute for Basic Science. None of the embryos was allowed to develop beyond eight cells, a standard for laboratory research.

Genetics and ethics experts not involved in the work say it's a critical first step — but just one step — toward eventually testing the process in pregnancy, something currently prohibited by U.S. policy.

"This is very elegant lab work," but it's moving so fast that society needs to catch up and debate how far it should go, said Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn.

And lots more research is needed to tell if it's really safe, added Britain's Lovell-Badge.

"What we do not want is for rogue clinicians to start offering treatments" that are unproven like has happened with some other experimental technologies, he stressed.

Among key questions: Would the technique work if mom, not dad, harbored the mutation? Is repair even possible if both parents pass on a bad gene?

Mitalipov is "pushing a frontier," but it's responsible basic research that's critical for understanding embryos and disease inheritance, noted University of Pittsburgh professor Kyle Orwig.

In fact, Mitalipov said the research should offer critics some reassurance: If embryos prefer self-repair, it would be extremely hard to add traits for "designer babies" rather than just eliminate disease.

"All we did is un-modify the already mutated gene."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya]]>
<![CDATA[2 From Queens Apt Building Hospitalized With Legionnaires']]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 06:33:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/LEGIONNAIRES2.jpg

Two residents of an apartment building in Flushing were hospitalized after they contracted Legionnaires' disease, and one of them is still being treated as the city tests the building’s water supply, health officials said.

The residents with Legionnaires’ disease were diagnosed 10 months apart over the past year, according to officials, who said one of them has been discharged and the other is recovering at a hospital. 

“The Health Department is currently investigating two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at Latimer Gardens that occurred within the same building over a year period,” the New York City Health Department said in a statement Tuesday.

Until results of the building's water tests are available, and out of an abundance of caution, NYCHA is installing a copper silver ionization system to disinfect the water, officials said.

The building — 34-20 137th St. — does not have a cooling tower, a common breeding ground for the Legionella bacteria, according to officials.

Last week, members of the Health Department went door to door to notify residents. Health officials also held meetings with tenants and senior center attendees on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Residents of the apartment building told News 4 that they're fearing the worst after building staff put notices on every door saying they will be randomly testing the water. 

Officials said residents can still use and drink the water at Latimer Gardens, but tenants with compromised immune systems should take a number of precautions, including minimizing the amount of water vapor in the air by not taking showers and slowly filling tubs and sinks, starting with cool water. It's also recommended that residents use cold water when possible. 

Barbara Tyce-Butler has lived in the building for 13 years. She says she has been taking baths and not using the shower. 

"Some people are still taking showers. I wouldn't do it," she said.

Another resident said she's been taking showers at a friend's house. 

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia and is treatable and not contagious. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. 

There are 200 to 400 cases of the disease in New York City every year, according to a 2016 report by the health department.

Clusters of Legionnaires’ have cropped up around the city in recent years. This case is not a cluster, as more than three people have not been infected.

Last month, the Health Department concluded its investigation into a Legionnaires’ disease cluster in Manhattan, ordering dozens of cooling towers to be disinfected after one person died and six others were hospitalized in June.

Days before that, a Harlem police officer contracted the disease, apparently at his or her precinct in Harlem.

In the summer of 2015, the largest Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in New York City history sickened more than 120 people, killing 12 of them, in the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx. Another person died after a separate cluster emerged in the neighborhood in the following weeks; more than a dozen were sickened in the second cluster.

]]>
<![CDATA[Glitter iPhone Cases Recalled for Burn Risk]]>Thu, 03 Aug 2017 15:05:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/iphone-cases.jpg

Decorative iPhone cases sold at Victoria's Secret, Nordstrom Rack and other stores have been recalled by their manufacturer because a liquid glitter inside the cases can cause skin irritation and chemical burns.

MixBin Electronics recalled 24 styles of cases for iPhone 6, 6S, and 7. Over 260,000 affected cases were sold at websites and stores for Victoria's Secret, Nordstrom Rack, Amazon, Tory Burch, Henri Bendel and MixBin.

Worldwide, 24 cases have been reported of the liquid inside the cases causing skin irriation or chemical burns, including 19 cases in the U.S., according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

One consumer reported permanent scarring from a chemical burn, and another reported chemical burns and swelling to her leg, face, neck, chest, upper body and hands.

Only fluid released from a cracked or broken case may cause skin irritation. If you come into contact with the liquid glitter, immediately wash affected areas with warm soapy water and seek medical attention if irritation continues.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cases and contact MixBin Electronics for a full refund at 855-215-4935 or online here.



Photo Credit: US Consumer Product Safety Commission]]>
<![CDATA[1 in 3 Americans Took Prescription Opioids in 2015: Survey]]>Tue, 01 Aug 2017 13:31:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lucha+opioides.jpeg

About one in three Americans used prescription opioid painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin in 2015, according to a survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NBC News reported.

The NIDA study calculated 91.8 million Americans used prescription opioids, with nearly five percent of adults surveyed saying they took them without their doctor’s permission.

“The most commonly reported sources were friends and relatives for free,” the study reported. “Or a physician.”

Also Monday, a presidential opioid commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released an interim report that said the U.S. "is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks." The report urged President Donald Trump to "declare a national emergency."

The commission suggested expanding treatment facilities across the country, educating doctors about the proper way to prescribe pain medication, equipping all police officers with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone, developing new fentanyl detection sensors, and improving data-sharing among law enforcement agencies.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Xtreme Eating Awards: 2017's Calorie-Filled Recipients]]>Mon, 31 Jul 2017 17:18:43 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Chillis+Ultimate+Smokehouse+Combo.jpg

Most people won't consider eating five bacon double cheeseburgers from Burger King, but that's the calorie equivalent of one Buffalo Wild Wings Cheese Curd Bacon Burger with fries.

That's just one of the "nutritional nightmares" the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest has called out in its latest Xtreme Eating Awards.

The annual awards "dishonors" chain restaurant meals that exceed the recommended daily allowances of calories (2,000), sodium (2,300 mg), saturated fats (20 g) and added sugar (50 g).

"These meals are extreme, but even the typical dishes served at restaurants are a threat to Americans' health because they increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more," CSPI Senior Nutritionist Lindsay Moyer said in a statement.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act included provisions requiring calorie counts on the menus and menu boards of chains with 20 or more outlets. The Food and Drug Administration had scheduled the rules to go into effect on May 5 of this year. But less than a week before that deadline, lobbyists for pizza chains, supermarkets, and convenience stores convinced the Trump administration to delay the implementation date.

The decision prompted the CSPI to confer its first-ever Xtreme Putting Profits Before Public Health Award to Domino’s Pizza — the loudest industry voice opposing calorie labeling.

"Who cares about the obesity and diabetes epidemics, as long as the cash keeps rolling in to one of the nation’s premier purveyors of white flour and cheese?" the group said in a news release.

From the belt-busting Carnivore Pizzadilla to the caloric Flying Gorilla cocktail milkshake, here are some of the worst offenders of 2017.

Worst Cheese in a Leading Role: Buffalo Wild Wings' Cheese Curd Bacon Burger

A regular burger with deep fried cheese curds, bacon, American cheese, and something called “cool heat sauce,” Buffalo Wild Wings’ cheese curd bacon burger comes with a side of fries and contains 53 g of saturated fat and 1,950 calories, according to CSPI.

Worst Visceral Effects: Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo

A sort of create-your-own-adventure meal, Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo contains a little bit of everything. Diners choose three meat from a list that includes BBQ chicken breast, jalapeño-cheddar smoked sausage, battered Chicken Crispers, or a half rack of baby back ribs, plus four sides.  That's 2,440 calories, 41 g of saturated fat and a ridiculous 7,610 mg of sodium. While CSPI notes that this meal contains enough sodium for nearly four days, it is also possible that the sheer quantity of this meal could last for the same amount of time. 

Least Original Breakfast: IHOP Cheeseburger Omelette With Pankcakes

IHOP’s cheeseburger omelette is loaded with chunks of ground beef, hash browns, tomatoes, onions, American cheese, and topped with ketchup, mustard and pickles and comes with a stack of buttermilk pancakes on the side. The meal contains just about an entire day's worth of calories (1,900) and added sugar (44 g), plus double the amount of saturated fat (45 g) and sodium (4,580 mg), and a whopping three-days worth of cholesterol (1,005 mg). As CSPI notes, “it’s the equivalent of eating four McDonald’s Sausage Egg McMuffins drizzled with two tablespoons of syrup.”

In a statement, an IHOP spokesperson said that while it applauds the CSPI's efforts, "it's misleading to single out the highest meal combinations without informing people of the wide range of choices offered at our restaurants that meet a variety of dietary needs. Our commitment is to offer guests flavorful, inventive all-day breakfast dishes that can be enjoyed as they see fit - whether it's every day or occasionally depending on how they choose to live a balanced lifestyle."

Worst Adapted Pasta: The Cheesecake Factory Pasta Napoletana

The Cheesecake Factory, which has appeared on the list every year since it began in 2007, is on the list this time twice: for worst cocktail for its Flying Gorilla, and worst pasta dish for the Pasta Napoletana.

How do you turn a meat lover’s pizza into a pasta? Start with a mountain of spaghetti, then heap it with Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, bacon, butter and cream, of course. The Cheesecake Factory's Pasta Napoletana is like eating a Pizza Hut Meat Lover's Personal Pan Pizza, but with an additional cup of pasta and a cup of heavy cream,  the CSPI says.

"With more than 250 menu items, The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices," said spokeswoman Aletha Rowe, in a statement to NBC. "Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories. Others want to share their dish - and we love it when guests share - that's a great sign that our portions are generous - and a large percentage of our guests take home leftovers for lunch the next day."

"For our calorie conscious guests we have our award-winning SkinnyLicious menu featuring nearly 50 delicious choices with 590 calories or less - which is actually larger than many restaurants entire menus," Rowe added.

Worst Original Appetizer: Dave & Buster’s Carnivore Pizzadilla

What’s the most calorie-dense portmanteau of a food item imaginable? The award goes to Dave & Buster’s Carnivore Pizzadilla. The 12-inch pizza quesadilla hybrid with cheese, pepperoni, and Italian sausage. The dish packs 67 grams of saturated fat and 4,700 mg of sodium, the equivalent of 100 slices of pepperoni layered atop two Taco Bell Cheese Quesadillas or half a stick of butter melted over three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese, the CSPI said.

Most Damage From Supporting Vegetable: Texas Roadhouse Prime Rib, Loaded Sweet Potato, Ceasar Salad

The Texas Roadhouse’s Loaded Sweet Potato was voted worst side at (770) and comes covered in marshmallows and caramel sauce. It's one of two sides diners can get with the 16 oz prime rib (1,570). Add a Caesar salad as your second side, and it’s like eating two of the chain’s 12 oz. New York strip steak dinners, according to the CSPI.

"We are proud of our made-from-scratch food and the vast menu options that we offer our guests," a Texas Roadhouse spokesperson said in a statement to NBC. "We also list calories on our menu and online, which allows our guests to choose what they feel is best for them."

Most Ridiculous Ending: Uno Pizzeria & Grill Ridiculously Awesome, Insanely Large Chocolate Cake

Truly both awesome in the literal sense of the word and insane in the colloquial one, a slice of Uno Pizzeria’s “Ridiculously Awesome, Insanely Large Chocolate Cake” weighs over a pound and contains an estimated 168g of sugar and 1,740 calories, according to CSPI. And while it may be appealing to hard core chocolate lovers, this confection is not for the faint of heart, literally.

NBC's Danielle Abreu contributed to this story.



Photo Credit: Courtesy Chilli's]]>
<![CDATA[US Hospitals Treating Heart Attacks at Record Speed]]>Mon, 31 Jul 2017 15:37:27 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/heart-attack-care.jpg

There's never been a better time to be treated for a heart attack. U.S. hospitals have set a record for how quickly they open blocked arteries, averaging under one hour for the first time since these results have been tracked.

More than 93 percent of patients now have their arteries opened within the recommended 90 minutes of arrival.

"Things have definitely improved" from a decade ago, when less than half of heart attack patients were treated that fast, said Dr. Fred Masoudi, a University of Colorado cardiologist who led a recent report examining response times.

It's based on records from about 85 percent of U.S. hospitals that do the artery procedure, angioplasty . Through a blood vessel in the groin or an arm, doctors guide a tube to the blockage causing the heart attack. They inflate a tiny balloon to flatten the clog, and leave behind a mesh tube called a stent to prop the artery open.

The sooner blood flow is restored, the less chance of permanent damage.

"It's one of the few things in medicine where time, literally seconds, is of the essence. It's where the phrase 'time is muscle' comes from," said Dr. Ajay Kirtane, director of the lab that performs angioplasties at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

The risk of dying goes up 42 percent if care is delayed even half an hour beyond the 90 minutes that U.S. guidelines say patients should be treated after arrival.

In 2005, this "door-to-balloon" time averaged a dismal 96 minutes, and the American College of Cardiology led a drive to get hospitals to improve. The report shows it plunged to 59 minutes in 2014.

It was only 24 minutes for George Smith at UConn John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, Connecticut. The 82-year-old woke up on March 31 with intense jaw pain, the same kind he had during a heart attack two years ago. His wife called 911. An ambulance whisked him to the emergency room, and "they were all waiting for me" at the door, he said.

An hour later he was sitting up in bed with a new stent. "I was amazed," he said. "Such a blessing."

One reason UConn is so fast — its median door-to-balloon time was 56 minutes last year, and only 39 minutes during one recent quarter — is the work it has done to make its emergency responders part of the cardiac care team, said the hospital's EMS coordinator, Peter Canning.

"We used our paramedics to extend our hospital into the patient's home," where they do an extensive electrocardiogram of the heartbeat and call results ahead to the hospital to get the angioplasty room ready, he said. "Calling from 25 minutes out instead of 5 minutes out can be a savings of 20 minutes of heart muscle."

But all that speed by the hospital won't do much good unless patients act fast, too, and call 911 if they think they might be having a heart attack.

The warning signs:

—Discomfort in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

—Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

—Shortness of breath, which might include breaking out in a cold sweat, or feelings of nausea or lightheadedness.

"For women, the symptoms may not be the same. It may not be the typical chest pain" but rather abdominal pain, nausea or unusual tiredness, said Dr. Annapoorna Kini, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

What to do? "Get medical help," she said. "It's better to worry after" about whether it was really a stomach problem rather than a heart attack.

Angioplasty also is done for non-emergency conditions, to treat chronic chest pain caused by arteries that are clogged but not severely blocked, and its use in that setting is more questionable. Often medicines and other things can be tried first, and angioplasty can be avoided or delayed.

The report shows that fewer people are getting these procedures inappropriately. In 2014, about one third of angioplasties were elective, for non-emergency situations. Just over half were deemed to be done for clearly appropriate reasons and another one third were classified "may be appropriate" under guidelines from the cardiology college and others. About 14 percent were deemed "rarely appropriate" — less than other research has found in the past.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]]>
<![CDATA[2017 Xtreme Eating Awards Announced by The Center for Science in the Public Interest]]>Mon, 31 Jul 2017 09:14:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_extremeeating0728_1500x845.jpg

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has released its 2017 Xtreme Eating awards. Most people wouldn't dream of eating five bacon double cheeseburgers from Burger King all at once, but at Buffalo Wild Wings you'd consume even more calories by eating just one Cheese Curd Bacon Burger and fries.]]>
<![CDATA[Higher Prices, Fewer Options Likely After Health Bill Fail]]>Fri, 28 Jul 2017 16:49:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/health-protest.jpg

The health care law of the land has survived for now, but it needs help — and it needs it soon.

Soaring prices and fewer choices may greet customers when they return to the Affordable Care Act's insurance marketplaces this fall, in part because insurers are facing deep uncertainty about whether the Trump administration will continue to make key subsidy payments and enforce other parts of the existing law that help control prices.

Assurances don't look to be coming anytime soon. "As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!" President Donald Trump tweeted early Friday, soon after the Senate narrowly rejected the latest push to dismantle the Obama-era health care law.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a statement after the Senate vote that the Trump administration would pursue its health care goals through regulation.

That kind of uncertainty rattles insurers, many of whom have already stopped selling policies through public insurance markets established by the health law because they were losing money.

Their main concern now is that the Trump administration will stop paying crucial subsides called for in the law that help reduce costs like deductibles for people with low incomes. The subsidies, estimated at $7 billion a year, have been challenged by Republicans in court, and Trump has only guaranteed them through this month.

If they stop, insurers will have to raise prices for coverage, known as premiums, because by law they must still offer the same reduced deductibles for their low-income customers.

Leerink analyst Ana Gupte surveyed several states and has said that insurers are asking for price hikes of around 36 percent when they assume the subsidies go away, compared with about 18 percent if they stay.

People with low incomes might be shielded from these hikes in part because the law provides tax credits that cover much of the premium.

But those who make too much to qualify for that help — and tend to vote Republican — could get hit hard, noted health care consultant Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive.

"(Trump's) hurting his own people," Laszewski said.

Of course, all shoppers will be hurt if insurers leave markets, noted Urban Institute health economist Linda Blumberg.

"Then there's nowhere to use your subsidy," she said.

The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem has already withdrawn from markets in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. CEO Joseph Swedish said Wednesday the company may cut back further if it doesn't get certainty on the subsidies "quickly."

Insurers have until the middle of next month to finalize their 2018 prices, industry officials say. They must leave enough time for the rates to be submitted to the marketplaces, and then for the on-line exchanges that sell the coverage to be tested before enrollment for next year's plans begins on Nov. 1.

If insurers want to back out of a market, they have until about late September to do so.

Options already have grown thin. About a third of the U.S.'s approximately 3,000 counties have only one insurer selling coverage on their exchange, which is the only place where shoppers can get tax credits based on their income to help buy coverage. Those credits are separate from the subsidies for low-income customers.

Nearly 40 counties currently have no choices for next year on their exchanges.

Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere, says there is some hope that the Trump administration could yet shore up the system. He thinks the administration could recognize that it will be held accountable by voters for the condition of the law's marketplaces. Further deterioration "would be very negative for them," he said.

"I think in the end they're going to have to stabilize these markets," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA to Target Addictive Levels of Nicotine in Cigarettes]]>Fri, 28 Jul 2017 17:56:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/050517+cigarettes+generic.jpg

For the first time, the federal government is proposing cutting the nicotine level in cigarettes so they aren't so addictive.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb on Friday directed the agency's staff to develop new regulations on nicotine. The FDA has had the power since 2009 to regulate nicotine levels but hasn't done so. Stocks of cigarette makers plunged after the announcement.

As part of the new strategy, the FDA is giving e-cigarette makers four more years to comply with a review of products already on the market, Gottlieb said. The agency intends to write rules that balance safety with e-cigarettes' role in helping smokers quit, he said.

"A renewed focus on nicotine can help us to achieve a world where cigarettes no longer addict future generations of our kids," Gottlieb said in a speech to staff in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Tar and other substances inhaled through smoking make cigarettes deadly, but the nicotine in tobacco is what makes them addictive.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable heart disease, cancer and death in the United States, causing more than 480,000 deaths annually. Smoking rates, though, have been falling for decades and are at about 15 percent.

Gottlieb said he has asked the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products to explore whether lowering nicotine could create a black market for higher nicotine products and what role e-cigarettes and other products play in reducing harm from smoking. Battery-powered e-cigarettes turn liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor. He also wants new rules to address flavored tobacco products and kids.

The FDA announcement is great news, said Eric Donny, a University of Pittsburgh researcher who has studied what happens when smokers puff on cigarettes with lower levels of nicotine. Donny and other researchers found that reducing nicotine substantially — by around 90 percent — leads to smokers being less dependent on cigarettes and smoking fewer of them.

There have been concerns that smokers might react to lower nicotine levels by smoking more. But the research shows that's not what happens — not if enough nicotine is taken out, Donny said.

"Most of the harm associated with smoking is related not to the nicotine but everything else in the smoke. Reducing nicotine doesn't make a cigarette safe, it just makes it less addictive," said Donny, director of Pitt's Center for the Evaluation of Nicotine in Cigarettes.

There's additional research underway to see how often people who smoke lower-nicotine cigarettes switch to e-cigarettes or other, less harmful tobacco products, he said.

Kenneth Warner, a retired University of Michigan public health professor who is a leading authority on smoking and health, said he was pleasantly surprised to learn of the FDA announcement.

"If you can separate the nicotine people are craving from the smoke that's killing them, then you may be doing something very important," Warner said.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew Myers praised the overall approach as "a bold and comprehensive vision" but called the e-cigarettes delay "a serious error."

"This long delay will allow egregious, kid-friendly e-cigarettes and cigars, in flavors like gummy bear, cherry crush and banana smash, to stay on the market with little public health oversight," Myers said in a statement.

Altria Group, which sells Marlboro, other brands and e-cigarettes in the U.S., said it would be "fully engaged" in FDA's rule-making process.

"It's important to understand that any proposed rule such as a nicotine product standard must be based on science and evidence, must not lead to unintended consequences and must be technically achievable," the company said in a statement.

Gottlieb touched on premium cigars in his announcement, saying the agency wants to hear from the industry about their patterns of use and public health impacts. He said the FDA will "seriously consider" new data relevant to how premium cigars should be regulated.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CTE Reports, Concussions Deter Parents From Youth Football]]>Mon, 31 Jul 2017 08:24:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-499666996.jpg

Lori Anderson grew up with a big, traditional, football-loving family in Austin, Texas, and moved her own family to midwest Michigan. There, she did what was once unthinkable: She did not let her 13-year-old son play football.

"I feel it is my job as a parent to make those hard decisions and this was one of them," she said. "I told him that there were studies that showed that some hits injured the brain, and that I didn’t want him to possibly have problems later in life."

Most of the brains of deceased football players analyzed in a study of professional and non-professional athletes released this month found the existence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. The disease was even found in some high school players.

While the National Football League is the professional authority on the sport, the future of American football relies on the engagement of young children. It seems revelations from CTE studies are deterring some parents from starting their children in the sport. Some, though not all, leagues say they have had declining participation rates in football. And youth organizations like Pop Warner have responded to the fears by making more concerted efforts to protect their young players with rule changes and more training for coaches.

Anderson said she sat her son down when he was 9 or 10 years old and explained to him that it wasn't going to be safe for him to play football. When he was 12, his friend was badly injured and ended up in a neck brace. That "hit home for him," Anderson said. After that, her son began looking up CTE for himself on the internet and made peace with not being allowed to play. 

Over 1 million high school students played football in the 2015-16 season, according to an annual participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). But participation has steadily decreased since the 2008-09 season. The most recent report shows a 2.5 percent drop, or about 28,000 fewer players than nine years ago.

The report published July 25 by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that 177 of the 202 deceased football players had CTE. The disease was found in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players; seven of eight Canadian Football league players; and three of 14 high school players.

"Essentially this says it's a problem for football, it's a problem at all levels at high school and above," said the study's lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "We need to now look for ways to detect it in living people, and most importantly, to treat it in living people."

CTE is linked to repeated blows to the head, resulting in irreversible changes to the brain, including memory loss, depression and dementia. As of now, the disease has no known treatment.

Anderson's 13-year-old son is on the track team and runs for the cross country team. She said he also swims and wants to play golf next year.

"He still has the teamwork aspect, which I do feel is important to experience at his age," she said. "He is still learning about hard work and time management."

Dr. Barry Kosofsky is the chief of child neurology at Weill Cornell in New York City and director of the pediatric concussion clinic. His general rule about receiving concussions while playing sports is "three strikes, you're out." But that should not apply to children under 14, who, in his opinion, should not play tackle football in any capacity.

"Football is not safe for children to play, no," he said. "Football is bad for your brain."

While the JAMA study represents a skewed sample, Kosofsky said it still managed to make breakthroughs on CTE. 

"They've shown, which no one else has shown, that you can get it at earlier ages with less football exposure," he said. 

USA Football, the national governing body for amateur football, uses numbers provided in the Sports and Fitness Industry Association's Topline Participation Report for tackle and flag football, for players ages 6-17. The report’s trend since 2012 has shown a drop in enrollment by 1.7 percent, a smaller percentage decline than shown by the NFHS survey.

"The youth game is taught and played differently today than it was a few short years ago," a USA Football representative said in response to questions about the latest CTE report.

Carrie Bembry is a mother of three in Centerville, Ohio. Her youngest is 10 years old and he is passionate about football. He has played since kindergarten, she said, and she does not intend to keep her son from the sport, unless he receives another concussion.

Bembry's oldest child is 17 years old and he stopped playing football after his freshman year of high school. He was sidelined by a series of concussions that lead to noticeable cognitive difficulties. Bembry said her once-honor roll, popular son is now withdrawn, depressed and struggles in school. He has difficulty completing multi-step tasks. Doctors have correlated the recent issues to concussions.

"Of course I worry about concussions with my youngest playing football, but even with my oldest son's post-concussion problems, it is a risk that we are willing to take because he loves the game so much," Bembry said. "[But] yes, it for sure weighs heavily on my mind."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is fighting against CTE in Congress, calling for legislation to protect players. Last year, as a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, she pressed a NFL spokesman to note the link between CTE and football. In a statement following Tuesday's report, she said, "The time for denying facts and looking the other way is over."

"We must now actively seek out ways to protect the health and well-being of players, from Pop Warner to the NFL and every league in between," Schakowsky said. "It is also imperative to ensure that the American people are informed about the dangers associated with playing football."

Pop Warner, a youth football program with players across the country, is one of the oldest and largest of its kind. According to spokesman Brian Heffron, enrollment has remained steady over the past five years. Their last significant drop in enrollment was from 2010-12, when "certainly the concussion issue played a role."

Heffron attributes their since-steady participation to Pop Warner's aggressive campaign for player safety, including banning kickoffs and head-on blocking, and mandating a coaching education.

"As an organization driven by player safety, we're grateful for the scientific community's focus on the issue," Heffron said. "We think there are valuable learnings in this study, but even the researchers point out that this was a narrow study."

The JAMA report is a continuation of research that began eight years ago and serves as the largest update on the study. The subjects of the study were not randomly chosen; they were submitted by players themselves or their families because of repeated concussions and/or troubling symptoms before death.

Dr. Greg Landry is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ sports council, and co-authored the guidelines on concussions and return to play. The son of a football coach, Landry played from ages 11 to 22, and was a team doctor for the University of Wisconsin for 25 years.

The JAMA study, he said, leaves many questions from the "biased sample" and he believes "youth football is low risk." But "coaches and officials need to do more to help football players protect their heads," he said. 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the JAMA study was "important to further advancing the science and progress related to trauma."

"As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE," McCarthy said. "The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries."

The NFL pledged $100 million to research on neuroscience-related topics last year, after settling a $1 billion concussion lawsuit brought forth by former players.

Christina Barrett, of Macomb, Michigan, said all the reports on CTE and the movie "Concussion" were enough to convince her that her 10-year-old son should not play football.

"No sport is worth endangering a child’s health," she said. "While sports are important, they aren’t more important than my child’s health or academics. His future successes will be dependent upon his brain, not his athletic skills."



Photo Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mexico Responds to US Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Papayas]]>Fri, 28 Jul 2017 01:31:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Untitled-1261.jpg

Mexico's food safety agency says it is "premature" to point to Mexican papayas as the source of a salmonella outbreak in the U.S.

One person in New York has died of the disease and 46 have fallen ill in 12 other states.

A Thursday statement by Mexico's Agriculture Department says agency technicians have begun collecting samples from across Mexico. The agency say it will not be possible to pinpoint the origin of the outbreak until a laboratory analysis is completed.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the illness had been tracked to the Caribena brand Maradol papayas. The FDA has categorically advised consumers to avoid these.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and fever, especially in older adults or those with weakened immune systems.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Oregon Scientists Do First Human Gene Embryo Editing in US]]>Thu, 27 Jul 2017 17:05:46 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/embryosfeuerherd.jpg

For the first time in the United States, scientists have edited the genes of human embryos, a controversial step toward someday helping babies avoid inherited diseases.

The experiment was just an exercise in science — the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were never intended to be implanted into a womb, according to MIT Technology Review, which first reported the news.

Officials at Oregon Health & Science University confirmed Thursday that the work took place there and said results would be published in a journal soon. It is thought to be the first such work in the U.S.; previous experiments like this have been reported from China. How many embryos were created and edited in the experiments has not been revealed.

The Oregon scientists reportedly used a technique called CRISPR, which allows specific sections of DNA to be altered or replaced. It's like using a molecular scissors to cut and paste DNA, and is much more precise than some types of gene therapy that cannot ensure that desired changes will take place exactly where and as intended. With gene editing, these so-called "germline" changes are permanent and would be passed down to any offspring.

The approach holds great potential to avoid many genetic diseases, but has raised fears of "designer babies" if done for less lofty reasons, such as producing desirable traits.

Last year, Britain said some of its scientists could edit embryo genes to better understand human development.

And earlier this year in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine said in a report that altering the genes of embryos might be OK if done under strict criteria and aimed at preventing serious disease.

"This is the kind of research that the report discussed," University of Wisconsin-Madison bioethicist R. Alta Charo said of the news of Oregon's work. She co-led the National Academies panel but was not commenting on its behalf Thursday.

"This was purely laboratory-based work that is incredibly valuable for helping us understand how one might make these germline changes in a way that is precise and safe. But it's only a first step," she said.

"We still have regulatory barriers in the United States to ever trying this to achieve a pregnancy. The public has plenty of time" to weigh in on whether that should occur, she said. "Any such experiment aimed at a pregnancy would need FDA approval, and the agency is currently not allowed to even consider such a request" because of limits set by Congress.

One prominent genetics expert, Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, said gene editing of embryos is "an unstoppable, inevitable science, and this is more proof it can be done."

Experiments are in the works now in the U.S. using gene-edited cells to try to treat people with various diseases, but "in order to really have a cure, you want to get this at the embryo stage," he said. "If it isn't done in this country, it will be done elsewhere."

There are other ways that some parents who know they carry a problem gene can avoid passing it to their children, he added. They can create embryos through in vitro fertilization, screen them in the lab and implant only ones free of the defect.

Dr. Robert C. Green, a medical geneticist at Harvard Medical School, said the prospect of editing embryos to avoid disease "is inevitable and exciting," and that "with proper controls in place, it's going to lead to huge advances in human health."

The need for it is clear, he added: "Our research has suggested that there are far more disease-associated mutations in the general public than was previously suspected."

Hank Greely, director of Stanford University's Center for Law and the Biosciences, called CRISPR "the most exciting thing I've seen in biology in the 25 years I've been watching it," with tremendous possibilities to aid human health.

"Everybody should calm down" because this is just one of many steps advancing the science, and there are regulatory safeguards already in place. "We've got time to do it carefully," he said.

Michael Watson, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, said the college thinks that any work aimed at pregnancy is premature, but the lab work is a necessary first step.

"That's the only way we're going to learn" if it's safe or feasible, he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya]]>
<![CDATA[What’s Next: Health Care ‘Vote-a-Rama’ and the End Game]]>Wed, 26 Jul 2017 22:07:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17207774939980.jpg

What can be expected from the health care bill? More debating. Senate leaders are expected to have 20 hours debate before a final vote.

When the debate is done, the Senate moves on to what is unofficially called the "Vote-a-Rama," possibly as early as Thursday. During this period, senators from both parties can offer an unlimited number of amendments which are voted on without debate.

But there are limits: Their amendments have to be relevant to the bill and they can’t increase the deficit. They also can’t use the process to filibuster a bill by speaking indefinitely.

What's the end game? It’s not certain, but the most prominent idea being floated right now is a "skinny repeal" bill that would eliminate Obamacare’s requirements that individuals buy insurance and employers provide it, along with the law’s medical device tax.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite]]>
<![CDATA[Plunging Sperm Counts Called a 'Major Public Health' Crisis]]>Wed, 26 Jul 2017 10:27:03 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-674416385-sperm.jpg

A recent meta-analysis found a 40-year decline in sperm count in a large sample of men across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, NBC News reported.

Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Icahn School of Medicine in New York reviewed 185 studies from 1973 to 2011, and observed a 52 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59 percent decline in total sperm count.

"For couples who are trying to conceive, this is a very severe problem and it's difficult psychologically, but in the big scheme of things, this is also a major public health issue," said Dr. Shanna Swan, an author of the study and professor of environmental medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine.

The paper doesn’t give reasons for the decline and cause-and-effect is unclear. But Dr. Joseph Alukal, a urologist and director of male reproductive health at NYU Langone Health, recommends that men can increase their count with a healthy diet, exercise, by not smoking and getting sleep.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Libraray]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Build DNA From Scratch to Alter Life's Blueprint]]>Wed, 26 Jul 2017 09:52:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dna9.jpg

At Jef Boeke's lab, you can whiff an odor that seems out of place, as if they were baking bread here.

But he and his colleagues are cooking up something else altogether: yeast that works with chunks of man-made DNA.

Scientists have long been able to make specific changes in the DNA code. Now, they're taking the more radical step of starting over, and building redesigned life forms from scratch. Boeke, a researcher at New York University, directs an international team of 11 labs on four continents working to "rewrite" the yeast genome, following a detailed plan they published in March.

Their work is part of a bold and controversial pursuit aimed at creating custom-made DNA codes to be inserted into living cells to change how they function, or even provide a treatment for diseases. It could also someday help give scientists the profound and unsettling ability to create entirely new organisms.

The genome is the entire genetic code of a living thing. Learning how to make one from scratch, Boeke said, means "you really can construct something that's completely new."

The research may reveal basic, hidden rules that govern the structure and functioning of genomes. But it also opens the door to life with new and useful characteristics, like microbes or mammal cells that are better than current ones at pumping out medications in pharmaceutical factories, or new vaccines. The right modifications might make yeast efficiently produce new biofuels, Boeke says.

Some scientists look further into the future and see things like trees that purify water supplies and plants that detect explosives at airports and shopping malls.

Also on the horizon is redesigning human DNA. That's not to make genetically altered people, scientists stress. Instead, the synthetic DNA would be put into cells, to make them better at pumping out pharmaceutical proteins, for example, or perhaps to engineer stem cells as a safer source of lab-grown tissue and organs for transplanting into patients.

Some have found the idea of remaking human DNA disconcerting, and scientists plan to get guidance from ethicists and the public before they try it.

Still, redesigning DNA is alarming to some. Laurie Zoloth of Northwestern University, a bioethicist who's been following the effort, is concerned about making organisms with "properties we cannot fully know." And the work would disturb people who believe creating life from scratch would give humans unwarranted power, she said.

"It is not only a science project," Zoloth said in an email. "It is an ethical and moral and theological proposal of significant proportions."

Rewritten DNA has already been put to work in viruses and bacteria. Australian scientists recently announced that they'd built the genome of the Zika virus in a lab, for example, to better understand it and get clues for new treatments.

At Harvard University, Jeffrey Way and Pamela Silver are working toward developing a harmless strain of salmonella to use as a vaccine against food poisoning from salmonella and E. coli, as well as the diarrhea-causing disease called shigella.

A key goal is to prevent the strain from turning harmful as a result of picking up DNA from other bacteria. That requires changing its genome in 30,000 places.

"The only practical way to do that," Way says, "is to synthesize it from scratch."

The cutting edge for redesigning a genome, though, is yeast. Its genome is bigger and more complex than the viral and bacterial codes altered so far. But it's well-understood and yeast will readily swap man-made DNA for its own.

Still, rewriting the yeast genome is a huge job.

It's like a chain with 12 million chemical links, known by the letters, A, C, G and T. That's less than one-hundredth the size of the human genome, which has 3.2 billion links. But it's still such a big job that Boeke's lab and scientists in the United States, Australia, China, Singapore, and the United Kingdom are splitting up the work. By the time the new yeast genome is completed, researchers will have added, deleted or altered about a million DNA letters.

Boeke compares a genome to a book with many chapters, and researchers are coming out with a new edition, with chapters that allow the book to do something it couldn't do before.

To redesign a particular stretch of yeast DNA, scientists begin with its sequence of code letters — nature's own recipe. They load that sequence into a computer, then tell the computer to make specific kinds of changes. For example one change might let them rearrange the order of genes, which might reveal strategies to make yeast grow better, says NYU researcher Leslie Mitchell.

Once the changes are made, the new sequence used as a blueprint. It is sent to a company that builds chunks of DNA containing the new sequence. Then these short chunks are joined together in the lab to build ever longer strands.

The project has so far reported building about one-third of the yeast genome. Boeke hopes the rest of the construction will be done by the end of the year. But he says it will take longer to test the new DNA and fix problems, and to finally combine the various chunks into a complete synthetic genome.

Last year, Boeke and others announced a separate effort, what is now called Genome Project-write or GP-write . It is chiefly focused on cutting the cost of building and testing large genomes, including human ones, by more than 1,000-fold within 10 years. The project is still seeking funding.

In the meantime, leaders of GP-write have started discussions of ethical, legal and social issues. And they realize the idea of making a human genome is a sensitive one.

"The notion that we could actually write a human genome is simultaneously thrilling to some and not so thrilling to others," Boeke said. "So we recognize this is going to take a lot of discussion."

___

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer]]>
<![CDATA[Chipotle's Norovirus Outbreak the Result of Lax Sick-Policy]]>Wed, 26 Jul 2017 19:00:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms872.jpg

Chipotle Mexican Grill's recent norovirus outbreak in Virginia was the result of lax sick policy enforcement by store managers, the company confirmed on Tuesday.

The company said in their earnings conference call that they believe an employee was the cause of the outbreak.

"We conducted a thorough investigation, and it revealed that our leadership there didn't strictly adhere to our company protocols. And we believe someone was working while sick. And we took swift action and made it clear to the entire company that we have a 0 policy -- or a 0-tolerance policy for not following these protocols," CEO Steve Ells said during the conference call.

It has been about two years since an E. coli outbreak rattled the food chain. In Oct. and Dec. 2015, at least 60 people were infected with the illness after eating at locations across the country. At least 22 people were hospitalized.

CLARIFICATION (July 26, 2017, 6:58 p.m. EST): An earlier version of this story implied that a direct quote was made from a Chipotle executive about the cause of the outbreak.



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[6 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 12:45:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-639191848.jpgCute puppies and furry cats make great additions to the family, and they can even help boost their owners' health. Studies show that animals can help people make healthy choices and lead positive lifestyles. Here are six ways your pet can boost your health.

Photo Credit: fizkes/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Nearly All NFL Players in Brain Study Had CTE]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 18:47:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Brain-Generic.jpg

Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

It's the largest update on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain disease that can cause a range of symptoms including memory loss.

The report doesn't confirm that the condition is common in all football players; it reflects high occurrence in samples at a Boston brain bank that studies CTE. Many donors or their families contributed because of the players' repeated concussions and troubling symptoms before they died.

"There are many questions that remain unanswered," said lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "How common is this" in the general population and all football players?

"How many years of football is too many?" and "What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years," she noted.

It's also uncertain if some players' lifestyle habits - alcohol, drugs, steroids, diet - might somehow contribute, McKee said.

Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, emphasized that the report is based on a selective sample of men who were not necessarily representative of all football players. He said problems other than CTE might explain some of their most common symptoms before death - depression, impulsivity and behavior changes. He was not involved in the report.

McKee said research from the brain bank may lead to answers and an understanding of how to detect the disease in life, "while there's still a chance to do something about it." Currently, there's no known treatment.

The strongest scientific evidence says CTE can only be diagnosed by examining brains after death, although some researchers are experimenting with tests performed on the living. Many scientists believe that repeated blows to the head increase risks for developing CTE, leading to progressive loss of normal brain matter and an abnormal buildup of a protein called tau. Combat veterans and athletes in rough contact sports like football and boxing are among those thought to be most at risk.

The new report was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 percent of brains studied. That includes 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.

A panel of neuropathologists made the diagnosis by examining brain tissue, using recent criteria from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, McKee said.

The NFL issued a statement saying these reports are important for advancing science related to head trauma and said the league "will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes."

After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in a $1 billion settlement to compensate former players who had accused the league of hiding the risks.

The journal update includes many previously reported cases, including former NFL players Bubba Smith, Ken Stabler, Dave Duerson and Ralph Wenzel.

New ones include retired tight end Frank Wainright, whose 10-year NFL career included stints with the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. Wainright died in April 2016 at age 48 from a heart attack triggered by bleeding in the brain, said his wife, Stacie. She said he had struggled almost eight years with frightening symptoms including confusion, memory loss and behavior changes.

Wainright played before the league adopted stricter safety rules and had many concussions, she said. He feared CTE and was adamant about donating his brain, she said.

"A lot of families are really tragically affected by it - not even mentioning what these men are going through and they're really not sure what is happening to them. It's like a storm that you can't quite get out of," his wife said.

Frank Wycheck, another former NFL tight end, said he worries that concussions during his nine-year career - the last seven with the Tennessee Titans - have left him with CTE and he plans to donate his brain to research.

"Some people have heads made of concrete, and it doesn't really affect some of those guys," he said. "But CTE is real."

"I know I'm suffering through it, and it's been a struggle and I feel for all the guys out there that are going through this," said Wycheck, 45.

In the new report, McKee and colleagues found the most severe disease in former professional players; mild disease was found in all three former high school players diagnosed with the disease. Brain bank researchers previously reported that the earliest known evidence of CTE was found in a high school athlete who played football and other sports who died at age 18. He was not included in the current report.

The average age of death among all players studied was 66. There were 18 suicides among the 177 diagnosed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Medicaid is a Matter of Life or Death for a 2-Year-Old in Pennsylvania]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 10:46:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Claire+Concilio.jpg

The health care debate played out closer to home Monday as Senate Republicans continued to weigh which version of their bill will be brought to a vote Tuesday.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who supports replacing and repealing former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), told NBC10 it was not clear if his party has enough votes to push through legislation.

“If we do nothing, if we keep the design as it is now, if we keep the Obamacare expansion in exactly the form it is, if we do nothing else, then someday ... this is going to blow up,” he said. “The federal government cannot continue to run the kinds of deficit, rack up the kind of debt, it has.”

One way or another, it won’t be the end of the fight, he said.

But to one Mount Airy family, the federal deficit is not the problem. Instead, they wonder if their 2-year-old daughter will ever walk or run.

Claire Concilio's parents use Medicaid coverage to access treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for spinal muscular atrophy, a rare neuromuscular disorder that can lead to death.

The disorder didn’t surface in the young girl until six months after her birth. That’s when Concilio’s parents noticed their daughter moving slowly and unable to lift her head. Her pediatrician thought weight gain was to blame until several more months passed and Concilio became increasingly incapacitated.

At her one year check-up, doctors found the problem.

"If Claire were to lose Medicaid, we'd lose more than the hope of her ever having a normal life,” Amy Concilio, Claire’s mother, said. “We would lose her."

Without treatment, the 2-year-old cannot hold herself in a sitting position. She would likely never walk, let alone run or skip with her friends.

Sen. Mitch McConnell's health care legislation would uproot much of Obama's health care law, eliminating its tax penalties on people not buying policies, cutting the Medicaid health care program for the poor and providing less generous health care subsidies for consumers, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The burden, some say, is too great for some families to bear. 

“We’re going to fight and we’re going to hope she can walk with a walker or crutches someday,” Concilio said.

“Thank you, CHOP, and thank you, Medicaid, for saving my daughter. Thank you for giving her a chance, and thank you, Pennsylvania, for not taking that chance away.” 

More than 80 percent of patients at CHOP's Karabot Center receive health insurance through Medicaid, a program that could be substantially reduced under a new health care bill.

“If you’re surprised by that number, you’re not alone,” Madeline Bell, president of CHOP, said. “Medicaid is the largest children’s health program in the United States. Many of these children have no other options for health insurance.”

Throughout the state, more than 1.1 million people receive coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion, Gov. Tom Wolf said while touring CHOP Monday afternoon.

Roughly 32,000 patients at CHOP and its West Philadelphia Karabots Pediatric Care Center are on Medicaid, the hospital’s largest insurance payer, according to Bell. Nationally, more than 33 million kids depend on Medicaid.

“Everything we have seen proposed up to this time significantly cuts Medicaid and benefits for those children,” Bell said.

“When you start thinking about the fact that we support buildings and jobs, not to mention very vulnerable children, it would have a very devastating impact on CHOP, the local economy in Philadelphia. It’s those talking points that sometimes get missed.”

A spokesperson from Toomey's office said the Senate bills being considered would not impact children with disabilities. 



Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Twins Born Conjoined at the Heart]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 10:55:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Joined_at_the_heart-150093339088500001.jpg

Twin baby girls Paisleigh and Paislyn Martinez were born conjoined at the chest, with their hearts fused together. Doctors from University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital used groundbreaking technology to separate them.]]>
<![CDATA[Burr-Hamilton? Angry Lawmaker Singles Out 'Female Senators']]>Mon, 24 Jul 2017 19:06:01 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/TXrepBlakeFarenthold_1200x675.jpg

Passions are running high on Capitol Hill — but pistols at 10 paces over health care?

GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas is angry with some fellow Republicans in the Senate who are balking at parts of legislation to overturn "Obamacare." After GOP promises to repeal the law, that "is just repugnant to me," he says.

Who's to blame?

"Some of the people that are opposed to this, there are some female senators from the Northeast," Farenthold said.

And it's a good thing they're women, according to the congressman from Corpus Christi.

"If it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask them to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style," he said. That was a reference to the 1804 firearms duel in which Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

Who are those female senators from the Northeast?

Farenthold named no names. But Susan Collins of Maine has been consistent in opposing the GOP replacement for Obamacare. She remains concerned about deep cuts in Medicaid and has criticized the bill-writing process, with about a dozen men crafting the measure behind closed doors. Under the latest iteration of the bill, 22 million more people would become uninsured by 2026, many of them Medicaid recipients, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Asked about Farenthold's comments, Collins said: "In the 20 years that I've been in the Senate, I've heard a lot of suggestions for how to resolve disagreements. But this is the first time that anyone has suggested a duel. And as far as I know, dueling is illegal in every state. He'll be disappointed, I guess."

Other female senators who have expressed reservations are Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, some distance from the Northeast.

Farenthold made his comments in a radio interview Friday with Bob Jones of Corpus Christi radio "1440 Keys."

In a statement late Monday, the Texas lawmaker said: "This was clearly tongue in cheek. That being said, I'm extremely frustrated with Senate Republicans who are breaking their promise to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare."

For weeks, Senate Republicans have struggled to agree on a bill to repeal and replace much of the 2010 law. Lacking support, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has postponed votes twice but hopes to bring the latest measure up again on Tuesday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File]]>
<![CDATA[Girl's HIV Infection Seems Under Control Without AIDS Drugs]]>Mon, 24 Jul 2017 22:34:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HIVvirsucell_1200x675.jpg

A South African girl born with the AIDS virus has kept her infection suppressed for more than eight years after stopping anti-HIV medicines — more evidence that early treatment can occasionally cause a long remission that, if it lasts, would be a form of cure.

Her case was revealed Monday at an AIDS conference in Paris, where researchers also gave encouraging results from tests of shots every month or two instead of daily pills to treat HIV.

"That's very promising" to help people stay on treatment, the U.S.'s top AIDS scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said of the prospects for long-acting drugs.

Current treatments keep HIV under control but must be taken lifelong. Only one person is thought to be cured — the so-called Berlin patient, a man who had a bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor with natural resistance to HIV.

But transplants are risky and impractical to try to cure the millions already infected. So some researchers have been aiming for the next best thing — long-term remission, when the immune system can control HIV without drugs even if signs of the virus remain.

Aggressive treatment soon after infection might enable that in some cases, and the South African girl is the third child who achieved a long remission after that approach.

She was in a study sponsored by the agency Fauci heads, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that previously found that early versus delayed treatment helped babies survive.

The girl, who researchers did not identify, started on HIV drugs when she was 2 months old and stopped 40 weeks later. Tests when she was 9 1/2 years old found signs of virus in a small number of immune system cells, but none capable of reproducing. The girl does not have a gene mutation that gives natural resistance to HIV infection, Fauci said, so her remission seems likely due to the early treatment.

The previous cases:

—A French teen who was born with HIV and is now around 20 has had her infection under control despite no HIV medicines since she was roughly 6 years old.

—A Mississippi baby born with HIV in 2010 suppressed her infection for 27 months after stopping treatment before it reappeared in her blood. She was able to get the virus under control again after treatment resumed.

At least a dozen adults also have had remissions lasting for years after stopping HIV medicines.

A study underway now is testing whether treating HIV-infected newborns within two days of birth can control the virus later after treatment stops. It started in 2014 in South America, Haiti, Africa and the United States, and some of the earliest participants might be able to try stopping treatment later this year.

Treatment might get easier if two large studies underway now confirm results reported Monday from a study testing a long-acting combo of two HIV drugs — Janssen's rilpivirine and ViiV Healthcare's cabotegravir.

Cabotegravir is experimental; rilpivirine is sold now as Edurant and used in combination with other drugs for treating certain types of HIV patients.

After initial treatment to get their virus under control, about 300 study participants were given either daily combination therapy pills or a shot every four or eight weeks of the long-acting drug duo to maintain control.

After nearly two years, 94 percent on eight-week shots, 87 percent on four-week shots and 84 percent on daily pills had their infections suppressed, with similar rates of side effects.

"The results were good regardless of whether people came monthly or every two months for their treatment. This has important policy implications," said Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker, deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and a co-leader of the conference.

The study was sponsored by the drugmakers. Results were published in the British medical journal Lancet.

Two large studies aimed at winning approval to sell the treatment are testing the monthly shots. Janssen said in a statement that good results from eight-week shots warrant reconsidering the longer approach.

If it works, "this will have a huge impact on how we manage that very important group of people who are not able to access and take drugs on a day-to-day basis," such as those with mental health or drug abuse problems, said Dr. Steven Deeks, an AIDS specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tractor-Trailer Deaths in Texas Highlight Danger of Heat]]>Sun, 23 Jul 2017 21:22:42 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/KevinSmith.gif

Experts say the temperature inside of the tractor-trailer where smuggled immigrants died and many others were left in dire health would have quickly become unbearable in the Texas heat.

Authorities said they found more than three dozen people, including eight who were dead, in the truck's trailer after an employee at the San Antonio Walmart where it was parked overnight called the police. One later died at a hospital. San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said Saturday that the trailer didn't have a working air conditioning system and the victims "were very hot to the touch."

Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told The Associated Press that based on initial interviews with survivors, there may have been more than 100 people in the truck at one point, including some who were picked up by other vehicles or who fled.

This and other tragic instances of human smuggling, including a 2003 case in Victoria, Texas, in which 19 immigrants died, highlight the dangers that extreme heat poses to would-be immigrants.

TREACHEROUS TRAILER
With a high of 101 degrees (38 Celsius) in San Antonio on Saturday, the temperature inside a parked car would have reached 120 degrees (49 Celsius) in 10 minutes, said Jan Null, a meteorology professor at San Jose State University who tracks U.S. child deaths in vehicles on his website, www.NoHeatStroke.org. Within 20 minutes, the temperature would have risen to 130 degrees (54 Celsius).

The lack of windows on the trailer in San Antonio may have reduced the temperature inside by a couple degrees because of the lack of direct sunlight, but the heat and moisture from the bodies of everyone inside would have added heat and humidity.

Enduring those temperatures for any length of time is dangerous, said Dr. Eric Ernest, assistant professor of emergency medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

"Those are very brutal conditions that the human body wasn't meant for," he said.

HEAT HAZARDS
When heatstroke sets in after a person's body heat rises above 104 degrees (40 Celsius), perspiration shuts down, eliminating the body's primary method of cooling itself through the evaporation of sweat.

At this point, a person's skin begins to feel hot and appear red, and a person suffering heatstroke may appear confused, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Around 107 degrees (42 Celsius), cells start to die and organs can begin to fail. Once that happens, a person's health can deteriorate quickly.

"The body loses its ability to deal with heat," Ernest said.

Higher humidity makes things worse because perspiration won't evaporate as quickly.

One of the best ways to avoid heat-related illnesses is by drinking plenty of fluids, which authorities say weren't available to those on the truck.

"In 100 degree temperatures, you almost can't drink water fast enough," Null said.

DANGEROUS HEAT
Children, the elderly and people who are ill are most susceptible to heat-related problems because their bodies can't cool themselves as effectively as a healthy adult's can.

The CDC says about 618 people die in the U.S. each year from heat-related illnesses. Roughly 37, on average, are children who die in vehicles, according to Null's count.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Health Care Bill Still a Mystery Before Planned Vote]]>Mon, 24 Jul 2017 06:46:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/818430998-Mitch-McConnell-Health-Care-Bill.jpg

The Senate will move forward with a key vote this week on a Republican health bill but it's not yet known whether the legislation will seek to replace President Barack Obama's health care law or simply repeal it.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will make a decision soon on which bill to bring up for a vote, depending on ongoing discussions with GOP senators. Thune sought to cast this week's initial vote as important but mostly procedural, allowing senators to begin debate and propose amendments. But he acknowledged that senators should be able to know beforehand what bill they will be considering.

"That's a judgment that Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote," Thune said, expressing his own hope it will be a repeal-and-replace measure. "But no matter which camp you're in, you can't have a debate about either unless we get on the bill. So we need a 'yes' vote."

He said the procedural vote will be held "sometime this week."

President Donald Trump has said he wants Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, but would accept a straight-repeal of the law if senators couldn't reach agreement. In a sign of the high stakes involved, Trump exhorted senators anew Sunday night to pass health legislation. "If Republicans don't Repeal and Replace the disastrous ObamaCare, the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand!" Trump tweeted.

The Republican-controlled House in May narrowly passed its version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare."

Senate Republicans are now considering two versions of similar legislation, one that would repeal and replace, and another that would simply repeal "Obamacare" with a two-year delay for implementation to give the Senate more time to agree on a replacement.

Both versions encountered opposition from enough GOP senators to doom the effort, but McConnell, R-Ky., is making a last-gasp attempt this week after Trump insisted that senators not leave town for the August recess without sending him some kind of health overhaul bill to sign.

In the Senate, Republicans hold a 52-48 majority. They can only afford to have one of their senators defect and still prevail on a health bill. That's because Republican Sen. John McCain is in Arizona dealing with brain cancer, while Democrats are standing united in opposition. Vice President Mike Pence would cast a tie-breaking vote.

Thune said no matter the outcome of the upcoming vote, senators would continue working to pass health legislation no matter how long it took, having promised voters they would do so.

"We are going to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare," he said, arguing that it was better if done sooner rather than later. "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when."

Still, at least two Republican senators Sunday appeared to reaffirm their intention to vote against the procedural motion if it involved the latest version of the GOP's repeal-and-replace bill.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she continued to have concerns about reductions to Medicaid and criticized the Republican process, saying lawmakers were being unfairly kept in the dark. Under McConnell's plan, 22 million more people would become uninsured by 2026, many of them Medicaid recipients. She wants to hold public hearings and work with Democrats.

"We don't know whether we're going to be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill, a new version of the Senate bill, or a 2015 bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act," Collins said. "I don't think that's a good approach to replacing legislation that affects millions of people."

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would only support a repeal-only bill. That version would reduce government costs but lead to 32 million additional uninsured people over a decade. At least three senators including Collins have previously expressed opposition to that plan.

"The real question is what are we moving to? What are we opening debate to? Last week, Senate leadership said it would be a clean repeal ... and I think that's a good idea," Paul said. "The other alternative is the Senate leadership bill that doesn't repeal Obamacare, is Obamacare light and is loaded with pork. ... I'm not for that."

Thune appeared on "Fox News Sunday," Collins was on CBS' "Face the Nation," and Paul spoke on CNN's "State of the Union."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[5 Reasons the Health Care Bill May Fail, 3 Why It May Not]]>Sun, 23 Jul 2017 17:39:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-495314721-doctor.jpg

There are many reasons why the Senate will probably reject Republicans' crowning bill razing much of former President Barack Obama's health care law. There are fewer why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might revive it and avert a GOP humiliation.

Leaders say the Senate will vote Tuesday on their health care legislation. They've postponed votes twice because too many Republicans were poised to vote no. That could happen again.

The latest bill by McConnell, R-Ky. — and it could change anew — would end penalties Democrat Obama's health care law slapped on people without insurance, and on larger companies not offering coverage to workers. It would erase requirements that insurers cover specified medical services, cut the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and shrink subsidies for many consumers.

IT FAILS:

AWFUL POLL NUMBERS
In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this month, 51 percent supported Obama's statute while just 22 percent backed GOP legislation.

Perhaps more ominously for Republicans, the AP-NORC poll found that by a 25-percentage-point margin, most think it's the federal government's responsibility to ensure all Americans have coverage. That's a growing view — there was just a 5-percentage-point gap in March. It underscores a harsh reality for the GOP: It's hard to strip benefits from voters.

AWFUL CBO NUMBERS
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says under McConnell's plan, 22 million more people would be uninsured by 2026, mostly Medicaid recipients and people buying private policies. For single people, the typical deductible — out-of-pocket expenses before insurance defrays costs — would balloon that year to $13,000, up from $5,000 under Obama's law.

Note to the entire House and one-third of the Senate, which face re-election in 2018: 15 million would become uninsured next year. And though CBO says average premiums should fall in 2020, they'll head up in 2018 and 2019.

Oh, yes. The bill would let insurers charge people approaching retirement age higher prices than they can now, boosting premiums "for most older people," CBO says.

Older people like to vote.

AWFUL SENATE NUMBERS
With a 52-48 GOP majority, the bill would survive if no more than two Republicans oppose it. With the indefinite absence of the cancer-stricken Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., McConnell's margin of error shrinks to one.

At least a dozen senators have expressed opposition to the legislation or been noncommittal. Lawmakers and aides say others haven't publicly surfaced.

Moderate senators from states with vast Medicaid populations want to protect those voters. Conservatives consider it their mission to eliminate the law they've campaigned on abolishing for years. These aren't easily resolved disputes.

PRESIDENTIAL DRAG
President Donald Trump wants "Obamacare" repealed.

He also has public approval ratings below 40 percent — Bad! — and a propensity for turning on people.

Just ask House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

After Ryan labored for months before the House approved its health care bill and earned a Rose Garden celebration, Trump called the measure "mean." Trump said he wouldn't have picked Sessions for his job had he known he'd recuse himself from investigations into Russian meddling in last year's campaign.

Some lawmakers might not be blamed for declining to carry Trump's water.

Trump expressed frustration with Republicans Sunday on Twitter. He said: "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President."

While he didn't directly say why he was upset with GOP lawmakers, Trump's tweet came as lawmakers are struggling to reach agreement on health care.

LEMONS INTO LEMONADE

The bill's rejection would still let lawmakers cast votes showing their positions. Supporters could say they honored their repeal "Obamacare" pledges, foes could say they protected their states or adhered to conservative principles.

Defeat would let the Senate refocus on tax cuts or other initiatives, though it's unclear what major issues don't divide Republicans.

A loss means there won't be a GOP law voters might blame for health care problems they encounter. Though Republicans may already own the issue in the public's eye, since they run the government.

IT PASSES:

THE UNTHINKABLE
This isn't happening, right? Republicans have run on repealing "Obamacare" for years.

The administration won't let the effort fail without a fight.

Trump lunched with senators at the White House last week and tweeted that Republicans "MUST keep their promise to America!"

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence urged leaders of conservative, anti-abortion and business groups to pressure senators. Medicaid administrator Seema Verma has tried luring senators unhappy with Medicaid cuts, including Ohio's Rob Portman and West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito, with more flexibility for governors to use Medicaid funds to help pay expenses for beneficiaries shifting to private insurance.

MCCONNELL
The health bill's floundering has tarnished McConnell's reputation as a legislative mastermind. Many Republicans privately say if the votes were gettable, he'd have gotten them already.

But the 33-year Senate veteran is wily and doesn't want his record stained with this failure. He understands what GOP senators need and has time, and if anyone can rescue the legislation, it's him.

TRUMP FACTOR
GOP senators cross Trump at their own peril. Eight in 10 Republicans still rate him favorably. In the 2018 midterm elections, when turnout is traditionally down, those loyal voters could make a difference.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Yorker Dead Amid Papaya Salmonella Outbreak]]>Mon, 24 Jul 2017 14:11:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Untitled-1261.jpg

A New Yorker has died from Salmonella they contracted from eating papayas, federal health officials say, and at least 25 people in New Jersey and New York have been infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared a multi-state Salmonella outbreak from yellow Maradol papayas, a fruit with green skin that turns yellow when ripe.

Twelve people in New Jersey and 13 people in New York have been infected, officials say — more than any other states affected by the outbreak, which has also hit 10 other states, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland.

So far, the CDC has reported 47 people of all ages with Salmonella from the 12 states. Twelve of the people who were infected reported being hospitalized, but the only fatality is the person from New York City, officials say. It’s unclear if they are a man or a woman, or from what borough they hailed.

Public health officials identified the first Salmonella cluster in Maryland. Lab evidence suggested that the yellow Maradol papaya from a common grocery store was the root of the bacteria outbreak.

Reports of Salmonella in the fruit first cropped up in mid-May. Cases have continued into the summer, officials say.

The symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, which can appear up to three days after eating the fruit, according to the CDC. However, it takes an average of two to four days for people to report the illness.

For now, the CDC recommends that consumers stop eating yellow Maradol papayas, and restaurants and retailers stop selling it until further notice.

An investigation into the Salmonella outbreak is ongoing. For more on the outbreak, head to CDC.gov.

]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer Patients' Gray Hair Turned Dark in New Drug Trials]]>Fri, 21 Jul 2017 14:08:05 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancer-hair-color.jpg

Cancer patients' gray hair unexpectedly turned youthfully dark while taking novel drugs, and it has doctors scratching their heads.

Chemotherapy is notorious for making hair fall out, but the 14 patients involved were all being treated with new immunotherapy drugs that work differently and have different side effects. A Spanish study suggests that may include restoring hair pigment, at least in patients with lung cancer.

With the first patient, "we thought it could be an isolated case," said Dr. Noelia Rivera, a dermatologist at Autonomous University of Barcelona.

But she said the research team found the same thing when they asked other patients for photos from before treatment.

The 14 cases were among 52 lung cancer patients being followed to see whether they developed bad side effects from the drugs — Keytruda, Opdivo and Tecentriq.

While most patients did not have a color change, the 14 cases suggest it's not an isolated finding. In 13 patients, hair turned darkish brown or black. In one patient, it turned black in patches.

In another odd twist, the same drugs have been linked previously with hair losing color in patients with another cancer, melanoma.

All but one of the 14 patients in the Spanish study had at least stable disease and responded better to treatment than other patients, suggesting that hair darkening might be an indication that the drugs are working, the researchers said.

Rivera said they are continuing the study to search for an explanation and to see if the cases are just a fluke.

"It's a fascinating report — one of those things that comes out of the blue," said Dr. June Robinson, a Northwestern University research professor in dermatology. Robinson is also editor of the medical journal JAMA Dermatology, which published the study online this month.

She said the results deserve a deeper look but cautioned that it's way too soon to suggest that they might lead to new treatments for gray hair.

Rivera noted that the study drugs have serious side effects that make them unsafe for healthy people. But if it's confirmed that they do change hair color, a different drug could be developed to treat gray hair, she said.

The pharmaceutical industry has previously capitalized on unexpected drug side effects; examples include the male pattern baldness drug Propecia, the eyelash growing drug Latisse, and Botox anti-wrinkle injections. Active ingredients in these drugs were initially approved to treat enlarged prostates, eye pressure problems, and eye muscle spasms.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: JAMA via AP Photo]]>
<![CDATA[Abortion Fight Rages in Kentucky, Which Has Just 1 Clinic]]>Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:40:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/antiabortionkentuckycourts_1200x675.jpg

Both sides in the abortion fight raging in Kentucky agree on one thing: The stakes are as high as ever in a state that could become the first in the nation without an abortion clinic.

Political pressure has intensified since the Kentucky GOP took control of state government and moved quickly to pass new restrictions on abortions. And Republican Gov. Matt Bevin makes no apologies for waging a licensing fight against a Louisville clinic that is the last remaining facility performing abortions in the state.

Another battle-tested participant joins the fight this weekend. Operation Save America, a Christian fundamentalist group, plans to mobilize hundreds of activists to protest against EMW Women's Surgical Center.

The group's leaders state their purpose unequivocally: to rid Kentucky of its last abortion clinic. Some of the group's followers were arrested during a protest outside EMW in the spring. The group has said it won't use those same tactics in the coming days, but a federal judge on Friday ordered the creation of a "buffer zone" to keep protesters out of an area in front of the clinic. The pre-emptive move was requested by federal prosecutors to prevent protesters from blocking access to the surgical center.

"We have never been under siege like this," Dr. Ernest Marshall, a co-founder of the clinic open since the early 1980s, recently told The Associated Press. "We have never had any question as to whether we would exist."

For years, protesters have been a fixture outside Marshall's clinic, a plain brick building in Louisville's bustling downtown. Blinds are drawn to keep people from peeking inside.

Volunteers in bright orange vests stand watch near the clinic, walking patients past sign-waving activists. On a recent morning, as a demonstrator held a sign that said: "Abortion an American Holocaust," a child walking nearby asked a woman what holocaust means.

As a volunteer whisked another woman past a handful of protesters, a demonstrator clutching a rosary told the patient's male companion: "Men don't kill their babies. Man up." The man turned and glared but said nothing.

The demonstrator, Chuck Jones, defended his harsh words.

"This is the last chance we'll get to talk to them before they go in," the retired sheet-metal worker from Indiana said. "I just wanted him to think about what he's doing. If anybody believes in God, they can't be for abortion, in my opinion."

The 66-year-old Marshall — the father of three grown children and grandfather of eight — said he attends church every Sunday and is a former Sunday school teacher. He said abortion protesters don't have a "monopoly on morals." He condemned their tactics as "very harassing, very judgmental," taking a toll on patients and staff.

"Some of the things I see out in front of our clinic, to me, by the pro-life people, don't represent good Christianity," Marshall said. "I just don't think Jesus would harass people or name-call people or call doctors murderers."

The number of protesters is expected to surge this weekend when Texas-based Operation Save America converges on Louisville for a weeklong vigil, with the long-term goal of making Kentucky a national model in its push to end abortion. The group urges state officials to ignore the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion.

Its activists plan to demonstrate outside the clinic, elsewhere downtown and in the neighborhoods where the clinic's doctors live, organizers said.

The buffer zone in front of the clinic won't deter those vigils, said Rusty Thomas, the group's national director.

Brigitte Amiri, an attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the buffer zone gives patients a "small measure of relief," ensuring they can enter.

The clinic has been on the defensive since Bevin's election in 2015 put a social conservative and ardent abortion foe in the governor's office. Last year, the GOP finished its takeover of Kentucky's legislature by winning control of the House of Representatives. They have been in charge of the state Senate for years.

Early this year, abortion opponents pushed through two bills signed by Bevin. One measure banned abortions in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life is in danger. The other requires the abortion doctor or a "qualified technician" to perform an ultrasound and then try to show fetal images to the pregnant woman before she provides consent to an abortion. Women are allowed to avert their eyes. The procedure also seeks to detect the fetal heartbeat.

The ultrasound law is being challenged in federal court.

It's one of two pending legal fights in Kentucky over abortion.

The other was sparked when abortion rights supporters say Bevin's administration tried to shut down EMW earlier this year. State officials said the clinic was out of compliance with state requirements related to its agreements with a hospital and ambulance service. EMW sued in federal court, and Bevin's administration agreed to renew the clinic's license until after the lawsuit is resolved. A September trial is scheduled.

EMW's legal team points to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Texas regulations that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Though the types of regulations differ, the EMW case "falls squarely" within the Texas ruling because the Bevin administration's efforts would put an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions, said Heather Gatnarek, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. The Kentucky case is even "more stark," she said, because a revocation of EMW's license would leave the state without an abortion facility.

The Supreme Court has found that access to an abortion must be guaranteed, but it remains to be seen whether eliminating every clinic in a single state would pass that test.

"I can't imagine being a female and being ... forced to have a baby that I didn't want," Marshall said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Coffee Recalled for Viagra-Like Ingredient]]>Fri, 21 Jul 2017 06:56:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/BESTHERBS-COFFEE-RECALL.JPG

Coffee from a North Texas company was recently recalled for containing an ingredient similar to the drug in Viagra, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

Bestherbs Coffee LLC, in Grand Prairie, voluntarily recalled all of its "New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Herbs Coffee" after an FDA lab analysis detected desmethyl carbodenafil, which is structurally similar to sildenafil, according to the FDA notice.

Sildenafil is the active ingredient in the FDA-approved prescription drug Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction.

Desmethyl carbodenafil may react with nitrates found in some prescription drugs, lowering blood pressure to dangerous levels, the FDA said. The drug poses a risk to men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease.

The instant coffee packs also include milk, but the potential allergen is not included on the labels.

The coffee was sold nationwide online, with each box containing 25, 13-gram packs of coffee, and was officially recalled on July 13.

People who purchased the recalled coffee can return it to the Bestherbs office for a full refund. The address is listed below:

Bestherbs Coffee LLC
4250 Claremont Drive
Grand Prairie, TX 75052



Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[What Competing in the Tour de France Can Do to Your Legs ]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 17:42:34 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pawGettyImages-805284696.jpg

Polish cyclist Pawel Poljanski gave his Instagram followers a glimpse into the toll that riding 1,758 miles can take on one’s body.

On Tuesday, after riding in the 16th stage of the Tour de France, Poljanski posted a picture of his legs and added: “After sixteen stages, I think my legs look a little tired.”

Medical experts say Poljanski’s condition is caused by a massive amount of blood moving through the veins, Today reported.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[GOP Health Bill Adds 22 Million Uninsured: Budget Office]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 15:25:57 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/818430998-Mitch-McConnell-Health-Care-Bill.jpg

A revised Republican health care bill would drive up the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Thursday in a report unlikely to help GOP leaders persuade their party's senators to back the reeling legislation in an upcoming showdown vote.

An earlier projection by Congress' nonpartisan budget analysts on the initial version of the GOP legislation projected the same number of people losing coverage. That figure has already proven to be enough to make some Republican senators unwilling to support the legislation.

In another blow to Republicans, the report estimates that single people buying a typical individual plan would face an annual deductible — out-of-pocket expenditures before benefits kick in — of $13,000 in 2026. That is far above the $5,000 deductible they'd be expected to pay under current law.

The $13,000 would engulf such a large amount of peoples' earnings that "many with low income would not purchase any plan even if it had very low premiums," the budget office wrote.

The reworked bill would increase average premiums over the next two years, but reduce them starting in 2020 by 30 percent, the report estimated. But the policies would typically offer less coverage.

And because the GOP measure would also eliminate federal subsidies that let insurers lower out-of-pocket costs for low-earners, there would be fewer lower-income people with coverage, the budget office said.

The report was released a day after President Donald Trump spurred GOP senators to resume trying to resuscitate their bill to erase and replace much of President Barack Obama's health care law.

White House officials and Senate leaders have been suggesting new changes aimed at winning over Republicans, but there's no evidence so far that those efforts have worked. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants a vote on the legislation next week.

The budget office's new estimate does not include the impact of the most important change McConnell made in the legislation in an attempt to gain votes from conservatives. Language added by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would let insurers sell low-premiums policies with minimal coverage, an option he and his supporters say would drive down premiums.

The coverage impact of Cruz's proposal is unclear. Many think it would increase the number of healthy people buying policies, but drive down the number of consumers with serious pre-existing conditions who could afford to purchase coverage.

McConnell's other changes included adding $45 billion to help states combat the abuse of drugs including opioids, extra money to help insurers curb cost increases and retention of tax increases Obama's law aimed at higher-income people.

GOP leaders' effort to win support for their bill may face even longer odds because of Sen. John McCain's jarring diagnosis of brain cancer.

Nursing a slender 52-48 majority, McConnell has been unable to muster the 50 votes he'd need to approve his party's health care overhaul. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tiebreaking vote.

But with McCain, R-Ariz., receiving treatment back home for an uncertain period of time, McConnell's numerical advantage has dwindled. In McCain's absence, if just two Republicans defect it would sink Trump's and the GOP's banner legislative priority, and more than that have said they are ready to do so.

After a face-to-face lecture from Trump, around two dozen GOP senators staged a nearly three-hour bargaining session Wednesday night to resolve their disputes. When it was over, none offered specific examples of any progress.

Also attending Wednesday's private meeting were health secretary Tom Price and Seema Verma, the Medicaid and Medicare administrator. It was interrupted by prayer after the lawmakers learned that McCain, 80, had a cancerous brain tumor.

Earlier Wednesday at the White House, Trump told them they must not leave town for their August recess without sending him an "Obamacare" repeal bill to sign.

Earlier in the week, the latest Senate GOP health care plan collapsed, leading Trump to call for simply letting Obama's law fail.

McConnell indicated he was prepared to stick a fork in the Republican bill and move on to other issues including overhauling the tax code. But, plunging into the issue after a period of lackadaisical involvement, Trump pressured McConnell to delay the key vote until next week, and he invited Republican senators to the White House for lunch.

There, with cameras rolling in the State Dining Room, Trump spoke at length as he cajoled, scolded and issued veiled threats to his fellow Republicans, all aimed at wringing a health care bill out of a divided caucus that's been unable to produce one so far.

McConnell has failed repeatedly to come up with a bill that can satisfy both conservatives and moderates in his Republican conference. Two different versions of repeal-and-replace legislation fell short of votes before coming to the floor, pushing him to announce Monday night that he would retreat to a repeal-only bill that had passed Congress when Obama was in office.

But that bill, too, died a premature death as three GOP senators announced their opposition on Tuesday, one more than McConnell can lose in the closely divided Senate.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Panel Finds Lifestyle Changes Could Stave Off Alzheimer's]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 10:32:32 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_03100701524-brain.jpg

There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.

How? It has to do with lifestyle factors that may make the brain more vulnerable to problems with memory and thinking as we get older. They're such risks as not getting enough education early in life, high blood pressure and obesity in middle age, and being sedentary and socially isolated in the senior years.

Thursday's report in the British journal Lancet is provocative — its authors acknowledge their estimate is theoretical, based on statistical modeling. A recent U.S. report was much more cautious, saying there are encouraging hints that a few lifestyle changes can bolster brain health but little if any proof.

Still, it's never too early to try, said Lancet lead author Gill Livingston, a psychiatry professor at University College London.

"Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before," she noted.

Early next year, a $20 million U.S. study will begin rigorously testing if some simple day-to-day activities truly help older adults stay sharp. In the meantime, Alzheimer's specialists say there's little down side to certain common-sense recommendations.

"Increased health of the body supports increased health of the brain," said cognitive neuroscientist Laura Baker of Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, who will lead the upcoming U.S. study.

Consider physical activity, crucial for heart health. "If in fact it should also improve the prospects for cognitive function and dementia, all the better," said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the U.S. National Institute on Aging and an avid exerciser.

Here's the latest from this week's Alzheimer's Association International Conference on possible ways to guard your brain:

KEY RISKS
A Lancet-appointed panel created a model of dementia risks throughout life that estimates about 35 percent of all cases of dementia are attributable to nine risk factors — risks that people potentially could change.

Their resulting recommendations: Ensure good childhood education; avoid high blood pressure, obesity and smoking; manage diabetes, depression and age-related hearing loss; be physically active; stay socially engaged in old age.

The theory: These factors together play a role in whether your brain is resilient enough to withstand years of silent damage that eventually leads to Alzheimer's.

DOES CHANGING THESE OR OTHER LIFESTYLE FACTORS REALLY HELP?Last month, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported there's little rigorous proof. That report found some evidence that controlling blood pressure, exercise and some forms of brain training — keeping intellectually stimulated — might work and couldn't hurt.

Why? What's good for the heart is generally good for the brain. In fact, high blood pressure that can trigger heart attacks and strokes also increase risk for what's called "vascular dementia."

And exercising your gray matter may bulk up the brain, whether it's from childhood education or learning a new language as an adult. The more you learn, the more connections your brain forms, what scientists call cognitive reserve. Some U.S. studies have suggested that generations better educated than their grandparents have somewhat less risk of dementia.

Other factors have less scientific support. Studies show people with hearing loss are more likely to experience memory problems, and have speculated that it's because hearing loss leads to depression and social isolation — or even makes the brain work harder to deal with garbled sound, at the expense of other thinking skills. But so far there aren't studies proving hearing aids reverse that risk.

In fact, the strongest evidence that lifestyle changes help comes from Finland, where a large, randomized study found older adults at high risk of dementia scored better on brain tests after two years of exercise, diet, cognitive stimulation and social activities.

HUNTING PROOF
Would those strategies help Americans, who tend to be sicker, fatter and more sedentary than Scandinavians? The Alzheimer's Association is funding a study to find out, with enrollment of 2,500 cognitively healthy but high-risk older adults to begin next year.

Want to try on your own? They'll test:

  • Walking — supervised, so no cheating. Wake Forest's Baker puts seniors on treadmills at the local YMCA to avoid bumpy sidewalks. She starts exercise-newbies at 10 minutes a day for two days a week and works up to longer walks on more days.
  • A diet that includes more leafy greens, vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry than the typical American menu.
  • Certain brain games and what Baker called an "intellectual stimulation barrage," outings and other steps that keep people social, not sitting home on a computer, while they exercise their brains.
  • Improving control of medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes that are toxic to the brain.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Duprey, File]]>
<![CDATA[For 1st Time, Over Half of People With HIV Taking AIDS Drugs]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 07:36:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/aidsribbonfeuerherd.jpg

For the first time in the global AIDS epidemic that has spanned four decades and killed 35 million people, more than half of all those infected with HIV are on drugs to treat the virus, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday.

AIDS deaths are also now close to half of what they were in 2005, according to the U.N. AIDS agency, although those figures are based on estimates and not actual counts from countries.

Experts applauded the progress, but questioned if the billions spent in the past two decades should have brought more impressive results. The U.N. report was released in Paris where an AIDS meeting begins this weekend.

"When you think about the money that's been spent on AIDS, it could have been better," said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in global health politics at Queen Mary University in London.

She said more resources might have gone to strengthening health systems in poor countries.

"The real test will come in five to 10 years once the funding goes down," Harman said, warning that some countries might not be able to sustain the U.N.-funded AIDS programs on their own.

The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut in contributions to the U.N. starting in October.

According to the report , about 19.5 million people with HIV were taking AIDS drugs in 2016, compared to 17.1 million the previous year.

UNAIDS also said there were about 36.7 million people with HIV in 2016, up slightly from 36.1 million the year before.

In the report's introduction, Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS' executive director, said more and more countries are starting treatment as early as possible, in line with scientific findings that the approach keeps people healthy and helps prevent new infections. Studies show that people whose virus is under control are far less likely to pass it on to an uninfected sex partner.

"Our quest to end AIDS has only just begun," he wrote.

The report notes that about three-quarters of pregnant women with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, now have access to medicines to prevent them from passing it to their babies. It also said five hard-hit African countries now provide lifelong AIDS drugs to 95 percent of pregnant and breast-feeding women with the virus.

"For more than 35 years, the world has grappled with an AIDS epidemic that has claimed an estimated 35 million lives," the report said. "Today, the United Nations General Assembly has a shared vision to consign AIDS to the history books."

The death toll from AIDS has dropped dramatically in recent years as the wide availability of affordable, life-saving drugs has made the illness a manageable disease. But Harman said that "Ending AIDS" — the report's title — was unrealistic.

"I can see why they do it, because it's bold and no one would ever disagree with the idea of ending AIDS, but I think we should be pragmatic," she said. "I don't think we will ever eliminate AIDS, so it's possible this will give people the wrong idea."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Aaron Favila]]>
<![CDATA[Health Plan's Fall Brings Dread for 'Obamacare' Recipients]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 16:07:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17198746409580.jpg

One American was able to afford her toddler's latest heart operation. Another had the means to go back to college to pursue her dreams.

They and thousands of others were able to do so as beneficiaries of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. And while Republicans in Congress failed this week to craft a new health care plan, they did succeed in shaking the confidence of those who rely on the act the most. President Donald Trump's "Let Obamacare fail" remark did nothing to assuage their fears.

Here's a snapshot of their concerns from around the country:

'THE WIND KNOCKED OUT OF ME'
Alison Chandra sobbed with relief Monday night when she heard that the Republican health care plan appeared doomed.

It meant she could still afford medical bills for her 3-year-old son, Ethan, who suffers from heterotaxy syndrome — a rare genetic disorder that causes organs to form incorrectly or in the wrong place.

But Chandra's anxiety swept back when she heard about the GOP effort to repeal the health plan with no replacement.

"That felt like getting the wind knocked out of me," said Chandra, a resident of Middlesex, New Jersey.

Chandra's story drew attention in June when she shared a photo of one of Ethan's hospital bills on Twitter. It showed a list of charges topping $230,000 for her son's latest heart operation at Boston Children's Hospital. At the bottom, it listed what she owed after insurance payments: $500.

Chandra worries about losing the law's ban on lifetime limits. Before the law, many health plans capped what they would pay for an individual's medical care over a lifetime, typically at $1 million or $2 million.

Repeal, Chandra said, "just doesn't work for families with medically fragile children like ours."

'SAVED MY LIFE AND SANITY'
Dawn Erin went to her first round of physical therapy Tuesday to treat painful bladder infections she's suffered for two decades. Her copay was $20 and her health plan covers the rest.

Physical therapy might seem mundane for some, but the 46-year-old from Austin, Texas, was ecstatic.

As a self-employed massage therapist who had hepatitis C, her pre-existing condition made it impossible for her to afford insurance before the Affordable Care Act.

"This is care I have needed all my adult life, but insurance didn't cover it and I couldn't afford to pay out of pocket," said Erin, who voted for Hillary Clinton in November.

Erin relies on a government subsidy to help pay for her plan. She also was able to get expensive medication to cure her hepatitis C.

"I really wish some GOP senator would call me and explain to me how the (Affordable Care Act) is failing because this insurance reform has saved my life and sanity," she said.

'A REALLY HORRIFYING LOTTERY'
Alexandra Flores, 29, a library assistant at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, was astonished with Trump's "Let Obamacare fail" declaration and his further insistence that "I'm not going to own it."

"To say that he 'won't own it' now when his party owns the House, Senate and White House is preposterous," Flores said. "The president of the United States should not be treating health care this way."

Flores is pursuing a master's degree in library science. She credits the Affordable Care Act for her decision to go back to school rather than be locked into her previous office job. She pays $77 a month for her health plan. The government kicks in about $100.

"Trump is acting like those who currently benefit from the ACA are wrong and will be punished for the simple act of having health insurance," Flores said, adding that she feels he's using her health care coverage "as a bargaining chip."

"I'm not sure there is a way to plan" for the future, she said. "It's like we're playing a really horrifying lottery."

'IT'S NOT A GAME'
Matt Mason, 48, of Omaha, Nebraska, says the Affordable Care Act radically reduced the costs of treating his Type I diabetes. Before it, he had to rely on state-subsidized coverage and buy a separate policy for his wife and two children.

By the time Obama signed the law in 2010, rising costs had forced Mason to take a plan with a $10,000 deductible. His family now shares one plan that he purchased through the federal exchange. The small nonprofit that employs him does not offer health care benefits.

Mason knows the ACA has its problems: Every year it's more expensive, and every year he's had to change carriers and policies because fewer insurers participate in the exchanges.

"Just repealing and saying, 'We'll replace it in two years,' that's just playing like it's a game," Mason said. "For me, it's not a game."

'I'M MORE CAUTIOUS'
Deborah deMoulpied, 62, of Concord, New Hampshire, owned a small home goods store and struggled to afford insurance when she first purchased a plan through the Affordable Care Act. She has since sold the store and is "semi-retired," though her premiums have risen about 25 percent a year.

She worries that her age and pre-existing condition — thyroid cancer — would make it impossible to pay for a plan under what Republicans have proposed. So she's thinking about what health tests she might schedule in the next few months — and what she might do without — in case she loses coverage.

"I'm sort of watching my pennies more," deMoulpied said. "It has made me pull back on spending. I'm more cautious."

'A LOT MORE DAY-TO-DAY STRESS'
Jake Martinez, 32, of the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray, Utah, is a social work student who also works two part-time jobs. He takes medication for his epilepsy that can cost hundreds of dollars a month. The Affordable Care Act, he said, made it possible to get affordable coverage for himself, his wife and their three children. Without it, he may decide to drop out of college so he can afford insurance.

"If I can't treat my epilepsy, I can't drive, I can't go to work. Things that are day-to-day activities become health hazards," Martinez said.

He and his wife, who owns a home day care business, have been trying to create a bare-bones budget they could live under if they can no longer buy health care on exchanges with help from subsidies. It's not easy, he said.

"We live now a life of a lot more day-to-day stress," Martinez said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta]]>
<![CDATA['Repeal Now, Replace Later' Would Impact Consumers Quickly]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 09:08:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/repeal-now-replace-later.jpg

Consumers would feel the impact immediately if Republicans repeal "Obamacare" with no replacement.

Problems could start this fall for customers buying individual health policies, say independent experts, with more insurers likely to exit state markets around the country, and those remaining seeking higher rates.

Low-income people who qualified for expanded Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, might be shielded for a year or two. But then federal funding for their coverage would stop and states would have to decide whether to keep those able-bodied adults on the rolls.

Though the latest approach seems doomed to fail, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists he'll move to a vote.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has floated another idea: to "just let Obamacare fail." But that could also backfire, since his administration is unlikely to escape at least some of the blame.

With no good options for Republicans, here's a look at the potential consequences for consumers:

'RECIPE FOR CHAOS'
The repeal bill that McConnell is contemplating would not fully repeal the 2010 law enacted under President Barack Obama, and that wrinkle immediately starts creating problems.

The ACA requirement that individuals carry insurance would disappear right away. That would be followed in two years by the tax credits that help individuals pay their insurance premiums, as well as the money to subsidize state coverage for adults eligible for expanded Medicaid.

But ACA rules that make insurance more costly would remain in place for the foreseeable future. Those include protections for people with pre-existing conditions, standard benefits, and a limit on how much insurers can charge older adults.

That head-scratching outcome would stem from Senate rules that limit the kinds of "Obamacare" provisions Republicans can repeal with just 51 votes.

"It's a recipe for chaos," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "It's worse in terms of coverage and premiums."

Combine that with uncertainty about the Trump administration's intentions, and "there would be an increased number of insurers exiting the market, leaving more counties without any coverage," Levitt added.

Conservative policy expert Jim Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute doesn't see it as a good move either.

"The insurance markets would become quite a bit more unstable in the near term," said Capretta. "Even before the subsidy structure is fully withdrawn the uncertainty would probably unravel the thing."

'LET IT FAIL'
If Congress can't get it done, Trump is suggesting maybe the answer is to "just let Obamacare fail." That might get Democrats clamoring for action, he says, and a deal might finally be in sight.

But not all of "Obamacare" is teetering. Medicaid expansion in 31 states basically operates on autopilot. And private insurance markets are stable in most areas, albeit with less consumer choice. Finally, voters might not blame Obama for the problems and instead turn their ire on Trump and the Republicans.

Insurers say their major worry currently is the reluctance of the White House and Congress to guarantee billions of dollars in "cost sharing" subsidies that help cover deductibles and copayments for low-income consumers. In the past Trump has suggested withholding the money to force Democrats to negotiate, but his administration has continued to make subsidy payments to insurers from month to month.

Some insurers have cited the lack of a guarantee on the subsidies as a factor behind requested premium increases for next year.

BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina blamed the problem for most of its nearly 23 percent premium increase for 2018. With a guarantee that Washington would continue honoring the subsidies, the insurer said it would have sought a hike of just under 9 percent.

Insurers make their final decisions for 2018 by the end of September.

"With open enrollment ... only three months away, our members and all Americans need the certainty and security of knowing coverage will be available and affordable for them," said Justine Handelman, top Washington lobbyist for the BlueCross BlueShield Association. "We have consistently urged that there be immediate, certain funding for the cost-sharing reduction program."

The subsidies are under a legal cloud because of a lawsuit filed by House Republicans when Obama was president.

AN 'IOU' FROM CONGRESS
In theory "repeal now, replace later," would create space for orderly health care negotiations while Congress attends to other pressing business, such as raising the federal borrowing limit. Funding for expanded health insurance coverage would be continued for another two years, thereby setting a deadline for lawmakers to act.

But in the current unsettled political climate, that could work in just the opposite way.

"You've got an IOU for health system change, and we don't really know what will happen," said Dan Mendelson, CEO of the consulting firm Avalere Health. "It would just create a situation of great uncertainty for consumers and health care providers."

And Congress does not have a good record of meeting deadlines.

With past similar schemes, "Washington has been incapable of acting," said GOP adviser Lanhee Chen, who served as policy director for 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Even with another two years there's no guarantee Republicans will be able to resolve their internal differences. "You'll still have a group of Republicans who like the Medicaid expansion, and another group that wants a complete repeal," said Chen.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Brain Scans May Change Care for Some People With Memory Loss]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:56:00 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/brain-scan-photos.jpg

Does it really take an expensive brain scan to diagnose Alzheimer's? Not everybody needs one but new research suggests that for a surprising number of patients whose memory problems are hard to pin down, PET scans may lead to changes in treatment.

The findings, reported Wednesday, mark a first peek at a huge study under way to help determine if Medicare should start paying for specialized PET scans that find a hallmark of Alzheimer's — a sticky plaque called amyloid.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, and classic symptoms plus memory tests often are enough for a reliable diagnosis. But unusual symptoms could mark another form of dementia that, while there are no cures, could require different symptom care. And on the other end of the spectrum, it's hard to tell if mild memory loss might be an early Alzheimer's signal, a more treatable condition such as depression, or even age-related decline.

"We're not accurate enough," said Dr. Gil Rabinovici of the University of California, San Francisco, who is leading the new research.

"Patients know there's something wrong. Often they can sense in their gut that it's not normal aging," he added. Without a clear-cut test, "doctors are very reluctant to make the diagnosis in many cases."

Until a few years ago, amyloid build-up could only be seen during autopsies. Older types of PET scans show what region of the brain appears most affected, of limited help.

Yet it's not clear how best to use the new amyloid-detecting scans, which can cost up to $6,000. They can rule out Alzheimer's if there's little amyloid. But cognitively healthy seniors can harbor amyloid, too, and Medicare won't pay for the new scans outside of a few research studies.

One of those is the IDEAS study, which is testing the impact of amyloid-detecting PET scans in more than 18,000 Medicare beneficiaries. To enroll, patients either must have atypical dementia with an unclear cause — or have particularly puzzling "mild cognitive impairment," or MCI, early memory problems that raise the risk of later developing dementia. Researchers check if doctors' initially recorded treatment plans — medications, counseling or additional testing — were altered by patients' PET results.

That happened in about two-thirds of the cases, according to preliminary findings from nearly 4,000 patients who were the first to enroll.

Most changes involved medications that can temporarily ease Alzheimer's symptoms, said Rabinovici, who presented the findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London. The PET scans found 70 percent of the dementia patients indeed had amyloid build-up, pointing out those who might benefit from those drugs and those who won't.

More intriguing, just 54 percent of the MCI patients had amyloid build-up, putting them at higher risk for later Alzheimer's. For the rest, "Alzheimer's disease was effectively ruled out, so it's something else," Rabinovici said.

The early findings don't prove PETs affect health outcomes.

But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services helped plan the research and insisted on this midpoint check to be sure the study should continue, said Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer's Association's chief medical officer. Researchers also will compare the 18,000 study participants with Medicare records of similar patients who didn't get PET scans, seeking final evidence of benefit.

"To get that right diagnosis, that's really important," said Cynthia Guzman of Napa, California, whose initial Alzheimer's diagnosis was ruled out in an earlier PET scan study.

Guzman had unusual fluctuating memory problems. Some days she functioned normally. Others, she'd stop her car at a stop sign without knowing how she got there or where she was going. Eventually, tremors and hallucinations led specialists to conclude she has Lewy body dementia. Knowing, Guzman said, has allowed her to avoid a list of common medications that could worsen her symptoms.

While any treatment changes today may be modest, researchers are hunting drugs that eventually might at least slow Alzheimer's rather than just treat symptoms, more impetus for a precise diagnosis.

"We all hope for a day when this will be critically important," said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, who wasn't involved with the IDEAS study.

For now, in addition to people who qualify for the IDEAS study, the Alzheimer's Association and Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging say:

—Unusually young dementia patients, younger than 65, also might be candidates for a PET scan.

—The scans shouldn't be used as a screening tool for people without symptoms or who worry they're at risk.

—Nor are they for people who can be diagnosed by standard means, or to determine disease severity. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg]]>
<![CDATA[Boy, 10, Among Youngest Fla. Victims of Opioid Crisis: Officials]]>Tue, 18 Jul 2017 20:41:27 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/071817+alton+banks.jpg

A 10-year-old boy from a drug-ridden Miami neighborhood apparently died of a fentanyl overdose last month, becoming one of Florida's littlest victims of the opioid crisis, authorities said Tuesday. But how he came in contact with the powerful drug is a mystery.

Fifth-grader Alton Banks died June 23 after a visit to the pool in the city's Overtown section. He began vomiting after coming home and was found unconscious that evening. Preliminary toxicology tests show he had fentanyl in his system, authorities said.

"We don't believe he got it at his home," Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. "It could be as simple as touching it. It could have been a towel at the pool."

She added: "We just don't know."

The case has underscored how frighteningly prevalent fentanyl has become — and how potent it is. Exposure to just tiny amounts can be devastating.

Investigators said Alton may been exposed to the drug on his walk home in Overtown, a poor, high-crime neighborhood where Assistant Miami Fire Chief Pete Gomez said he has seen a spike in overdoses in the past year and where needles sometimes litter the streets.

"There is an epidemic," Gomez said. "Overtown seems to have the highest percentage of where these incidents are occurring."

Detectives are still trying to piece together the boy's final day. Rundle appealed to the public for information.

"This is of such great importance. We need to solve this case," she said. "I believe this may be the youngest victim of this scourge in our community."

The boy's mother, Shantell Banks, was informed of the preliminary findings last week. A distraught Banks told The Miami Herald that her son was a "fun kid" who wanted to become an engineer and loved the NFL's Carolina Panthers, especially Cam Newton.

Jessie Davis, who lives in an apartment house next to the building where Alton lived, said her grandchildren, ages 8, 9 and 10, regularly make the same walk to the nearby park with a swimming pool. She said she initially thought the pool water made Alton sick and was shocked by news reports that he had been exposed to fentanyl.

"Where would a 10-year-old baby get something like that?" Davis said.

Thinking about her own grandchildren going to the pool, Davis said, "I'm going to tell them, 'Don't touch nothing.' I don't know whether they think it's candy, but somebody needs to tell these kids something. I don't know how you just by touching contract it or whatever. We need to know more."

Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that has been in use for decades to treat cancer patients and others with severe pain, through use of a patch. But recently it has been front-and-center in the U.S. opioid abuse crisis.

Perhaps best known as the drug that killed pop star Prince, it is many times stronger than heroin and is often mixed with heroin by dealers.

"It's heroin laced with fentanyl, that's what is killing people," Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg said in a recent interview.

Fentanyl is so powerful that some police departments have warned officers not to even touch the drug. Last year, three police dogs in Broward County got sick after sniffing the drug during a federal raid, officials said.

Gomez said his crews wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, coveralls, gloves and masks, while handling fentanyl.

"You never want to start reaching into people's pockets," he said, adding that crews often cut people's pockets open for fear of pricking themselves with needles.

The Florida Legislature addressed the epidemic, passing a law that imposes stiff minimum mandatory sentences on dealers caught with 4 grams (0.14 ounces) or more of fentanyl or its variants.

The law also makes it possible to charge dealers with murder if they provide a fatal dose of fentanyl or drugs mixed with fentanyl. The law goes into effect Oct. 1.

Nearly 300 overdose deaths in Miami-Dade County last year involved variants of fentanyl, according to the medical examiner's office. Statewide, fentanyl and its variants killed 853 people in the first half of 2016. Of those, only nine were under age 18.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, Facebook
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<![CDATA[Chipotle in Va. Reopens After Closure, Reports of Illness]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 13:27:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Chipotle-GettyImages-509063322.jpg

A Chipotle restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, is back open after being closed for two days because people said they got sick after eating there. 

Chipotle said Tuesday that it temporarily closed the restaurant, marking a possible setback in the chain's efforts to recover from past food scares.

The company said it became aware of a "small number" of reported illnesses. The reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus, for which symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. 

The restaurant was back open Wednesday morning. 

The specific cause of the outbreak has not been found, the Loudoun County Health Department said in a statement Wednesday. 

"We are encouraged that those affected are starting to feel better, and we are focused on preventing any new infections," the statement said.

The health department did not release information on how many people said they got sick. 

Other Chipotle locations in the D.C. area remained open. 

Beth Oteyza said she and her daughter got severely ill after they shared a salad with chicken from the Chipotle location in Sterling on Friday.

"We decided to call the ambulance because I couldn't even sit up," Oteyza said. "The ambulance took me to Leesburg hospital. My daughter came and my husband came, and as they were waiting for me in the ER, she started throwing up."

"They both diagnosed us with the same thing, which is gastroenteritis. And when we compared our notes, we determined that the one thing we had both eaten in common was the Chipotle carryout food," Oteyza continued.

On Tuesday afternoon, she said she still felt sick. 

Customer Chris Lee said he also got sick after he ate at the restaurant on Friday. He also ordered a salad with chicken.

"About 7 o'clock on Saturday, really bad stomach pains. I just got better today," he said Tuesday afternoon.

The Denver-based company said norovirus does not come from its food supply and it is safe to eat at its restaurants.

"We take every report of illness seriously. In accordance with our established protocols, our team is working to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, including voluntarily closing the restaurant yesterday to conduct a complete sanitization," Jim Marsden, executive director for food safety, said in a statement issued Tuesday. 

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus you can get from contaminated food, surfaces or people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food workers can spread the virus through poor hygiene practices.

Chipotle said Tuesday morning that it planned to reopen the restaurant later that day after a "complete sanitization." A Loudoun County health inspector at the restaurant Tuesday afternoon said she believed the restaurant would not reopen Tuesday.

Chipotle has been working to bounce back from food scares that included an E. coli outbreak in the fall of 2015 and a norovirus case in Boston later that year. Among the changes the company has announced are tweaks to cooking methods and training for employees to prevent such cases.

In addition to reassuring customers of the safety measures it has taken, Chipotle had been giving away coupons for free burritos and stepping up marketing to win back customers. For the first three months of this year, sales were up 18 percent at established locations. That followed a 20 percent decline in 2016.

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infected employees are frequently the source of the outbreaks, the CDC says, often by touching foods such as raw fruits and vegetables with their bare hands before serving them.

Anyone who at at the Sterling location and fell ill is encouraged to call the county health department at 703-771-5411. 

Chipotle Mexican Grill's shares fell more than 5 percent Tuesday, after Business Insider reported the closure in Virginia.

One Chipotle customer outside the restaurant on Tuesday said she'll return no matter what.

"I love Chipotle," she repeated and laughed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA['Let Obamacare Fail,' Trump Says After GOP Plan Collapses]]>Tue, 18 Jul 2017 21:45:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/818159534-Trump-Let-Obamacare-Fail.jpg

President Donald Trump declared Tuesday it's time to "let Obamacare fail" after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a party that has vowed for years to abolish the law.

In a head-spinning series of developments, rank-and-file Republican senators turned on McConnell and Trump for the third time in a row, denying the votes to move forward with a plan for a straight-up repeal of "Obamacare." This time, it was three GOP women — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — who delivered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McConnell's initial all-male working group on health care.

McConnell, who could afford to lose only two votes in the narrowly divided Senate, had turned to the repeal-only bill after his earlier repeal-and-replace measure was rejected on Monday. That had followed the failure of an earlier version of the bill last month.

The successive defeats made clear that despite seven years of promises to repeal former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, Republicans apparently cannot deliver. Nonetheless, McConnell insisted he would move forward with a vote on his measure to repeal the law, effective in two years, with a promise to work — along with Democrats — to replace it in the meantime.

The vote to move ahead to the bill will take place early next week, McConnell announced late Tuesday. It appears doomed to fail, but GOP leaders want to put lawmakers on record on the issue and move on.

At the White House, Trump appeared to recognize defeat, at least for the moment, while insisting he bore none of the blame.

"I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail," the president said. "We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they're going to say, 'How do we fix it?'"

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday night that all GOP senators have been invited to the White House tomorrow for lunch to discuss the way forward on health care.

Despite the current law's problems, most health care experts do not believe it is at immediate risk of outright failure, and Democratic cooperation to adjust the law is far from assured.

Nor does it appear likely that Republicans can escape owning the problems with the law and the health care system overall, now that they control the House, Senate and White House, partly on the strength of campaigning against the law.

"They seem to have this notion that they can be a majority party, and have control of the White House, and not be responsible for bringing down the health care system," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. "It doesn't work that way."

Asked how he would justify the GOP's failure on health care to voters, McConnell responded: "Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice" — suggesting inaction on health care would be forgiven because of that success along with some regulatory roll-backs.

As the day began Tuesday, McConnell was hunting for votes to open debate on a revived version of legislation Congress sent to Obama's desk in 2015 that would have repealed major portions of Obamacare, with a two-year delay built in. He had turned to that approach after getting stunned Monday night by defections by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on a repeal-and-replace bill.

Many Republicans support the repeal-only approach, and they questioned how senators who voted for the legislation two years ago could oppose it now.

"We're going to find out if there's hypocrisy in the United States Senate in the next few days I'm afraid," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia.

But for others, the implications were too severe now that the bill could actually become law with a Republican president in the White House ready to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30 million people would lose insurance over a decade under the legislation.

Collins voted against the legislation in 2015 while Murkowski and Capito both supported it. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act without the promise of a replacement would cause uncertainty and chaos.

"To just say repeal and 'Trust us, we're going to fix it in a couple of years,' that's not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaskan families are feeling right now," she said.

Said Capito: "I did not come to Washington to hurt people."

What's next? Go back to the committee room and work on a bipartisan basis "in a way that the public feels that we are really working toward their best interests," Murkowski said. "It's where we should have started. ... And yes, this is hard."

Sure enough, later in the day health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced he planned hearings on the issue in the next few weeks, a step Senate Republicans have not taken to date.

The GOP's struggles over the latest measures came down to differences between moderates who feared the implications of a full-blown repeal, and conservatives who wanted nothing less. Speaker Paul Ryan managed to bridge those divides in the House in May, barely passing a bill that would have eliminated the coverage mandates and tax hikes in the Affordable Care Act, while unwinding the Medicaid expansion and removing insurance coverage for millions.

But the GOP bills polled poorly, and Trump never tried to sell them to the country. Meanwhile, Obama's law grew steadily more popular in polls, and Republicans learned anew that a benefit, once given, is hard to take away.

Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher, Richard Lardner and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['Raining Needles': Drug Crisis Creates Syringe Pollution]]>Mon, 17 Jul 2017 07:55:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17171822298733-hypodermic-needles-syringes-everywhere-.jpg

They hide in weeds along hiking trails and in playground grass. They wash into rivers and float downstream to land on beaches. They pepper baseball dugouts, sidewalks and streets. Syringes left by drug users amid the heroin crisis are turning up everywhere.

In Portland, Maine, officials have collected more than 700 needles so far this year, putting them on track to handily exceed the nearly 900 gathered in all of 2016. In March alone, San Francisco collected more than 13,000 syringes, compared with only about 2,900 the same month in 2016.

People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles, raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

It's unclear whether anyone has gotten sick, but the reports of children finding the needles can be sickening in their own right. One 6-year-old girl in California mistook a discarded syringe for a thermometer and put it in her mouth; she was unharmed.

"I just want more awareness that this is happening," said Nancy Holmes, whose 11-year-old daughter stepped on a needle in Santa Cruz, California, while swimming. "You would hear stories about finding needles at the beach or being poked at the beach. But you think that it wouldn't happen to you. Sure enough."

They are a growing problem in New Hampshire and Massachusetts — two states that have seen many overdose deaths in recent years.

"We would certainly characterize this as a health hazard," said Tim Soucy, health director in Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city, which collected 570 needles in 2016, the first year it began tracking the problem. It has found 247 needles so far this year.

Needles turn up in places like parks, baseball diamonds, trails and beaches — isolated spots where drug users can gather and attract little attention, and often the same spots used by the public for recreation. The needles are tossed out of carelessness or the fear of being prosecuted for possessing them.

One child was poked by a needle left on the grounds of a Utah elementary school. Another youngster stepped on one while playing on a beach in New Hampshire.

Even if adults or children don't get sick, they still must endure an unsettling battery of tests to make sure they didn't catch anything. The girl who put a syringe in her mouth was not poked but had to be tested for hepatitis B and C, her mother said.

Some community advocates are trying to sweep up the pollution.

Rocky Morrison leads a cleanup effort along the Merrimack River, which winds through the old milling city of Lowell, and has recovered hundreds of needles in abandoned homeless camps that dot the banks, as well as in piles of debris that collect in floating booms he recently started setting.

He has a collection of several hundred needles in a fishbowl, a prop he uses to illustrate that the problem is real and that towns must do more to combat it.

"We started seeing it last year here and there. But now, it's just raining needles everywhere we go," said Morrison, a burly, tattooed construction worker whose Clean River Project has six boats working parts of the 117-mile (188-kilometer) river.

Among the oldest tracking programs is in Santa Cruz, California, where the community group Take Back Santa Cruz has reported finding more than 14,500 needles in the county over the past 4 1/2 years. It says it has gotten reports of 12 people getting stuck, half of them children.

"It's become pretty commonplace to find them. We call it a rite of passage for a child to find their first needle," said Gabrielle Korte, a member of the group's needle team. "It's very depressing. It's infuriating. It's just gross."

Some experts say the problem will ease only when more users get treatment and more funding is directed to treatment programs.

Others are counting on needle exchange programs, now present in more than 30 states, or the creation of safe spaces to shoot up — already introduced in Canada and proposed by U.S. state and city officials from New York to Seattle.

Studies have found that needle exchange programs can reduce pollution, said Don Des Jarlais, a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital in New York.

But Morrison and Korte complain poor supervision at needle exchanges will simply put more syringes in the hands of people who may not dispose of them properly.

After complaints of discarded needles, Santa Cruz County took over its exchange from a nonprofit in 2013 and implemented changes. It did away with mobile exchanges and stopped allowing drug users to get needles without turning in an equal number of used ones, said Jason Hoppin, a spokesman for the Santa Cruz County.

Along the Merrimack, nearly three dozen riverfront towns are debating how to stem the flow of needles. Two regional planning commissions are drafting a request for proposals for a cleanup plan. They hope to have it ready by the end of July.

"We are all trying to get a grip on the problem," said Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini. "The stuff comes from somewhere. If we can work together to stop it at the source, I am all for it."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa]]>
<![CDATA[Preventive Care, Screenings Could Be Compromised by GOP Bill]]>Mon, 17 Jul 2017 07:29:59 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/health-care-preventive.jpg

President Donald Trump has often said he doesn't want people "dying in the streets" for lack of health care.

But in the United States, where chronic conditions are the major diseases, people decline slowly. Preventive care and routine screening can make a big difference for those at risk for things such as heart problems and cancer, especially over time.

That edge is what doctors and patients fear will be compromised if Republican efforts to repeal the Obama-era health law lead to more uninsured people. The uninsured tend to postpone care until problems break through.

It's a message that lawmakers are hearing from doctors' groups and constituents, in letters and emails, and at town hall meetings.

About 10 years ago, Cathy Cooper of Ocala, Florida, was battling a blood cancer. Against doctor's advice, she continued to work full time as a paralegal, through chemotherapy and radiation, just to preserve her health insurance. Cooper said she would schedule chemo on Fridays, spend the weekend sick from side effects and report back to work Monday.

Now in her early 30s, Cooper is healthy. She has her own business as a photographer specializing in maternity, newborns, families and seniors, and a family of her own. Her health insurance is through HealthCare.gov. With her cancer history, Cooper is worried about changes under debate that may reduce options for people with medical conditions. She said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.

"The 'dying in the streets' thing — it's an over-time process," said Cooper. "If I didn't have insurance, it (cancer) could just keep forming inside me and I wouldn't know. Then I'd go into the hospital, and there's nothing they could do. And then, yeah, I could die in the street. But that's because I wouldn't have had insurance to get things checked out prior to that point."

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. Octavia Cannon said that's basically what happened to one of her patients several years ago. The patient, a working mother with three young children and more than one job, was uninsured after losing previous Medicaid coverage. She went to Cannon, an osteopathic ob-gyn, because of abnormal bleeding. Cannon said she knew something was horribly wrong on the basis of her initial physical examination. The pathology lab confirmed advanced cervical cancer.

"In six months, she was dead," Cannon recalled. "All I could think was 'Who is going to take care of these babies?' If she had only come in for a Pap smear."

Such stories are swirling around the Senate debate as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushes toward a vote on legislation rolling back much of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The GOP bill has been facing headwinds since the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would lead to 22 million more uninsured people by 2026.

Administration officials say the nonpartisan budget office has been wrong before about health coverage, and its analytical methods may give too much weight to the current requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines. (Republicans would repeal that immediately.) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Trump's goal is more people with health insurance, not fewer.

"Nobody is looking at it in its totality," Price said recently on NBC. "We will bring down premiums, we will increase coverage, we'll increase choices. And I believe we'll increase the quality of care provided in this nation."

There's not much debate about the negative consequences of being uninsured.

Studies by the National Academies have found that the uninsured are more likely to receive too little care, and too late; be sicker and die sooner; and receive poorer care in the hospital.

But surprisingly, there are questions about whether gaining coverage produces tangible health benefits.

Major government surveys have documented clear improvements to family finances associated with Obama's coverage expansion. On health itself, the evidence is mixed.

Medicaid expansions in New York, Maine and Arizona in the early 2000s were associated with a 6 percent decline in death rates in those states, compared with neighboring states that did not expand coverage for low-income people. A study of Massachusetts found a similar trend.

But in Oregon a Medicaid expansion study that found a marked reduction in depression failed to detect significant improvement in blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Cyrus Hamidi, a solo family medicine practitioner in Sparks, Maryland, said having insurance is a start, reducing barriers to access for patients.

"If you have to pay to go to the doctor, then you worry about payment instead of what you need to do to reduce the risk of dropping dead," he said.

Gaywin Day, a union electrician from Austin, Texas, said being able to get coverage under Obama's law in the aftermath of a medical crisis has been "a lifesaver."

Day, in his early 60s, was between jobs and uninsured when he had a stroke in March. A couple of months later, a "special enrollment period" enabled him to get subsidized coverage through HealthCare.gov, opening doors to physical therapy and follow-up medical care.

Now, Day no longer uses a walker or cane. He's thinking about returning to work.

"Nobody wants anybody dying in the streets, but if I hadn't got this. ... I could just be shriveling up in my bed," he said.

He didn't cast a ballot last year. "I don't vote," said Day. "I do a lot of praying."

___

Associated Press writer Sheila Burke in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux]]>
<![CDATA[Health Plan Hinges on the Young, a Tough Sell: Analysis]]>Mon, 17 Jul 2017 19:27:10 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-495314721-doctor.jpg

Julian Senn-Raemont isn't convinced he needs to buy health insurance when he loses coverage under his dad's plan in a couple of years — no matter what happens in the policy debate in Washington, or how cheap the plans are.

The 24-year-old musician hasn't known a world without a health care safety net. But he hates being forced by law to get coverage, and doesn't think he needs it.

"I'm playing the odds," said Senn-Raemont, who lives in Woodstock, Illinois. He will go without insurance, he said, until he starts a family or gets a job with benefits. "I feel comfortable I could get care if I needed it."

Senn-Raemont's outlook could pose a major problem for Republicans who await a delayed vote on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Insurers need young and healthy enrollees like him to buy insurance because they keep premiums down for everyone. The current law attempts to do that by mandating that everyone get coverage. The Republican plan replaces that mandate with penalties for those who let coverage lapse, and aims to entice young adults by allowing insurance companies to sell bare-bones coverage that could be cheaper.

But cheap isn't free, which turns off people like Senn-Raemont. And other young adults worry that opening the door to these bare-bones plans will make the more comprehensive coverage they know now too expensive or even unavailable.

In Houston, 29-year-old Jimmieka Mills pays $15 a month for a government-subsidized "Obamacare" health plan. She fears Congress will weaken the health law's guarantees of free preventive care, so she made an appointment to get a birth control implant that will last for years.

"I'm scared," Mills said. "I'm like a bear getting ready for hibernation. That's how I feel."

Language is still being nailed down in the retooled bill, but it includes a proposal from conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, which would let insurers sell plans with minimal coverage, as long as they also sell policies that meet strict coverage requirements set by the Obama-era health care law. Insurers could deny the slimmer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charge them more.

Georgetown University health policy researcher Sabrina Corlette said young adults may find the "Cruz plans" more affordable, but they should "read the fine print."

"You may end up with unexpected costs," Corlette said. "And if, God forbid, you do end up needing better coverage, you will be blocked from that coverage for six months." To encourage continuous coverage, the GOP plan installs a six-month waiting period for anyone with a two-month gap in coverage. The skimpy policies wouldn't qualify as continuous coverage.

The insurance industry also sharply questioned this approach. In a statement last week, the industry group America's Health Insurance Plans said the proposal would create an "un-level playing field" that would lead to "unstable health insurance markets."

Other features of the proposal aimed at young adults include allowing them to stay on their parents' insurance until they turn 26, as they can now, and shifting costs to older enrollees.

Current law restricts how much insurers can charge for insurance based on age. "Obamacare" limits the ratio to 3-to-1, meaning a 50-year-old can be charged only three times as much as a 20-year-old. The Republican plan shifts that ratio to 5-to-1.

More flexible pricing could attract young adults, the Congressional Budget Office said in a review of a previous draft of the Senate plan. But other provisions, including cuts to Medicaid, would result in 22 million people losing insurance over the next decade. All ages and income levels would have higher uninsured rates. For low-income young adults, CBO said, the uninsured rate would double.

A CBO analysis was expected Monday but has been postponed, according to the Senate Budget Committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced late Saturday he was delaying the vote on the bill while Sen. John McCain recovers from surgery.

"On the whole, the bill is bad for young people," said Jen Mishory, executive director of the youth advocacy group Young Invincibles. "It is particularly concerning for the most vulnerable young people, those who are low-income and folks with pre-existing conditions."

Young Americans, ages 18-34, remain more likely to be uninsured than older age groups, but the rate of uninsured young Americans dropped under "Obamacare" to 16 percent from 29 percent.

Obama's health law also gives them job flexibility because good health insurance was no longer tied to employment, said Republican labor economist Craig Garthwaite of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

"That gives young adults the opportunity to find a first job that's right for their talents," Garthwaite said.

Alexandra Flores, 29, works as a library assistant at University of South Florida in St. Petersburg while pursuing a master's degree in library science. She credits the Obama health law for her decision to go back to school rather than be locked into her previous office job. She pays $77 a month for her "Obamacare" health plan. The government kicks in about $100.

"Without health care, I wouldn't feel comfortable growing my career the way I have," Flores said.

Republican proposals to ban federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a year would affect 34-year-old Renee Wsol of Chicago. A Medicaid beneficiary, she received a free IUD for long-acting birth control from the organization this year. Planned Parenthood is now her regular source of women's health care, including cancer screenings.

"I feel comfortable and safe at Planned Parenthood," she said. "It makes no sense to pluck that care away from people who already have limited choices."

Jackie Todd, 28, of Chicago, feels hemmed in by the health care debate because she would like to pursue a master's in filmmaking, but doesn't want to risk losing the insurance she has through her job. She has an implanted device for a heart rhythm problem, which will need to be replaced in two years, "and I cannot be uninsured when that happens."

"The GOP doesn't think I deserve a shot at an even playing field because being sick is somehow my fault," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[More Hurdles as Senate Again Delays Vote on GOP Health Bill]]>Sun, 16 Jul 2017 18:46:41 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/johnmccainefeuerherdII.jpg

The Senate delayed a highly anticipated vote this coming week to repeal and replace the nation's health care law after Sen. John McCain's announced absence due to surgery, an enormous setback as time dwindles for Republicans to pass the signature legislation after years of promises.

The decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late Saturday came not long after McCain's office disclosed that he had undergone surgery to remove a blood clot from above his left eye. He's expected to be out for the week, recovering in Arizona.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Congressional Budget Office also indicated on Sunday it no longer expected to release its analysis on Monday on the estimated cost and scope of insurance coverage under the latest GOP bill, which has the support of President Donald Trump.

The No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Cornyn of Texas, said he still expected the Senate to move quickly, holding a vote as soon as McCain returns. But amid growing public unease over the bill, some Republicans suggested the delay will make McConnell's task of winning enough support even harder.

In a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, McConnell can lose no more than two GOP votes and still prevail.

"There are about eight to 10 Republican senators who have serious concerns about this bill. And so at the end of the day, I don't know whether it will pass," said moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. She has made clear she would vote against the bill, citing proposed cuts to the Medicaid health program for the poor and elderly.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is also opposed, said doubts also are increasing among Republicans who want to see a fuller repeal of the Affordable Care Act. "The longer the bill's out there, the more conservative Republicans are going to discover that it's not repeal," he said.

The White House said Sunday that Trump was "monitoring what's going on with health care" but did not otherwise weigh in on the growing uncertainty. "We wish Sen. McCain a speedy recovery," said Helen Aguirre Ferre, director of media affairs.

McConnell last week had refashioned the legislation to attract additional GOP votes. The new package added language letting insurers sell discount-priced policies with minimal coverage aimed at winning over conservatives, and revised funding formulas that would mean federal money for states including Louisiana and Alaska — home to four GOP senators who are uncommitted on the measure.

But the health care legislation was already hanging by a thread. McCain's absence meant it would become impossible for the majority leader to round up the votes needed this week to proceed on the bill.

It was the second time that McConnell was forced to call off a planned vote, even with heavy lobbying by Trump administration officials. A vote was postponed last month also due to limited support. Democrats are unanimously opposed to the bill, as are the nation's major medical groups and insurers.

"While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act," McConnell, R-Ky., said on Saturday. He has already said the Senate will work through the first two weeks of the August recess, citing a need to finish a slate of unfinished business.

McConnell did not indicate when he would aim to return to the health care bill, but Cornyn made clear Sunday that moving quickly is important.

"I believe as soon as we have a full contingent of senators, that we'll have that vote," he said.

Cornyn acknowledged that if the Senate is unable to attract enough GOP votes that it will "keep trying" but will eventually have to come up with a different plan. "We're willing to do what we can to shore up the system now, to stabilize it to make health care available to people now, but we want reforms to go along with it," he said.

The Senate bill, like legislation the House passed earlier, repeals mandates requiring individuals to carry insurance and businesses to offer it, and unravels an expansion of the Medicaid program enacted under President Barack Obama's law. Analyses of the earlier version of the Senate bill found it would result in more than 20 million additional uninsured Americans over a decade compared to current law.

The newest version attempts to attract conservative support by allowing insurers to offer skimpy coverage plans alongside more robust ones, but also reaches out to moderates by adding billions in help for the opioid crisis and to defray high costs for consumers.

In Phoenix, Mayo Clinic Hospital doctors said McCain underwent a "minimally invasive" procedure to remove the nearly 2-inch (5-centimeter) clot and that the surgery went "very well," a hospital statement said. McCain was reported to be resting comfortably at his home in Arizona.

Pathology reports on the clot were expected in the next several days.

McCain, 80, is a three-time survivor of melanoma. Records of his medical exams released in 2008 when he was the GOP candidate for president showed that he has had removed precancerous skin lesions, as well as an early stage squamous cell carcinoma, an easily cured skin cancer.

Cornyn appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," Collins was on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union," and Paul was on "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]]>
<![CDATA[White House Pitches Health Bill to Skeptical US Governors]]>Sat, 15 Jul 2017 15:57:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/governorshealthbill.jpg

The Trump administration is struggling to get support from skeptical U.S. governors for a revised health care bill before the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma made their pitch Saturday morning during a closed-door meeting of the bipartisan National Governors Association. Vice President Mike Pence also met several of the governors privately after his public address at the Rhode Island conference on Friday.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, one of the bill's most prominent Republican skeptics, said Saturday it's unlikely they changed anyone's mind.

"I am struggling to validate the numbers that are being presented to me by the administration, versus what I'm hearing from independent (experts), what I'll likely hear from the (Congressional Budget Office), what I'm hearing from back home," Sandoval said after the governors-only meeting.

Sandoval has expressed concerns about the legislation's cuts to the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled. His position is important because of the pressure he could place on Nevada's Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a possible swing vote.

With two GOP senators already opposed to the legislation, one more "no" vote would kill the bill outright in a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats. Sandoval said "Sen. Heller's his own man" but he's trying to give him the best information about how the legislation would affect their state.

"He's the United States senator. At the end of the day, he's the one who pushes the button," Sandoval said. "I'm going to inform him about how I feel about the bill."

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said the mood at the Saturday breakfast meeting was "tense" and "there are a lot of Republican governors who apparently have a neck problem, because they were all looking down."

Malloy added that a few Republican governors did ask questions. Others said they raised their concerns to the White House in one-on-one meetings.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker said he had an "extensive meeting" Friday with Pence and Price and "we're hopeful they're going to get to a point where they're going to have a repeal-and-replace that works." Walker declined to say if he supports the current version.

"I haven't read through it all yet so I've still got to look at it," Walker said. "It just came out yesterday."

Participants said the meeting with governors included an appeal from Democratic Delaware U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who is a former governor, asking the Trump administration to put the debate on hold and look for a bipartisan solution.

The conference's host, Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, said she didn't think anyone's mind was changed.

"If the federal government is trying to save hundreds of billions of dollars, the money's got to come from somewhere, and it either means it's coming from taking health insurance away from people who are now insured under the Medicaid expansion, or it means shifting the financial burden to the states," she said. "Either way, that's bad for Rhode Island and bad for many of the states whose governors were represented at that meeting."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia]]>
<![CDATA[Trump, Administration Press Republicans to Back Health Bill]]>Fri, 14 Jul 2017 16:11:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mitchmcconnellfeuerherdIIIVVV.jpg

From both sides of the Atlantic, President Donald Trump and other administration officials lobbied Republicans Friday to support the Senate GOP's reworked health care bill, with the president saying wavering senators "must come through" to keep the measure from collapsing.

But the bill, repealing much of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, hovered near failure as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strained to keep more Republicans from deserting. Complicating the effort, Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich called the revised measure "still unacceptable," largely because of its cuts to Medicaid, the same concern that's been voiced by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, one of the holdouts.

McConnell, R-Ky., released the measure Thursday, a plan that caps seven years of his party's promises to obliterate Obama's 2010 law.

But two GOP senators immediately said they'd vote "no" on a crucial vote planned for next week. Facing uniform Democratic opposition, a third Republican defection would sink it — a reality not lost on Trump.

"After all of these years of suffering thru ObamaCare, Republican Senators must come through as they have promised!" the president tweeted from Paris, where he was attending Bastille Day ceremonies.

Also under pressure, indirectly, was Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who opposed McConnell's initial bill last month, also citing its Medicaid reductions. Heller, who faces a tough re-election next year, has stood arm-in-arm with his state's popular GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval in opposing cuts to that program for the poor, disabled and nursing home patients.

In an interview Friday, Sandoval said his initial understanding of the new bill was that it "really doesn't change the dynamic" about the Medicaid cuts, and "that's a big concern for me."

Sandoval said he expected to meet privately with Vice President Mike Pence and Health Secretary Tom Price at governors' meetings he is attending in Providence, Rhode Island, and had already heard from both men. Republicans consider winning over Sandoval a key to gaining Heller's vote.

The nation's largest doctors' group dealt another blow Friday, saying the plan falls short on coverage and access, particularly for low-income people on Medicaid. The American Medical Association said Medicaid cuts and "inadequate subsidies" will lead to "millions of Americans losing health insurance coverage."

The AMA said GOP leaders took a "positive step" by adding $45 billion for treatment to help victims of the opioid epidemic. But it pointed out that people dealing with addiction also need regular health insurance, and that many would lose it if Republicans succeed in rolling back Medicaid financing.

McConnell's reworked bill aims to win conservatives' support by letting insurers sell low-cost, skimpy policies. At the same time, he seeks to placate hesitant moderates by adding billions to combat opioid abuse and help consumers with skyrocketing insurance costs.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters she had informed McConnell she would be voting against beginning debate on the bill, citing in part cuts in the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has repeatedly complained that McConnell's efforts don't amount to a full-blown repeal of Obama's law, also announced he was a "no."

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, said in an interview he is hoping for the climactic vote Tuesday or Wednesday. "I'm optimistic we'll get there," he said of prevailing.

McConnell could cancel next week's vote if he's short of support, something he did last month when his original legislation was headed toward defeat. He and other GOP leaders are urging senators to at least vote in favor of opening debate, which would open the measure up to amendments.

Like legislation earlier passed by the House after struggles of its own, the Senate bill would get rid of the law's mandates for individuals to buy insurance and for companies to offer it, repeal taxes and unwind the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act. Analyses by the Congressional Budget Office have found the House bill and the earlier Senate version both would eliminate insurance coverage for more than 20 million people over the next decade.

The new bill contains language demanded by conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas letting insurers sell plans with minimal coverage, as long as they also sell policies that meet strict coverage requirements set by Obama's 2010 statute.

The retooled measure retains McConnell's plan to phase out the extra money 31 states have used to expand Medicaid under Obama's statute, and to tightly limit the overall program's future growth.

The rewritten package would add $70 billion to the $112 billion McConnell originally sought that states could use to help insurers curb the growth of premiums and consumers' other out-of-pocket costs. And it has an added $45 billion for states to combat the misuse of drugs like opioids.

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Mary Clare Jalonick, Julie Bykowicz, Matthew Daly and Kevin Freking in Washington, Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Will Take Health Care Credit or Cast Blame: Analysis]]>Fri, 14 Jul 2017 07:22:41 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17124741528885.jpg

If congressional Republicans succeed in repealing and replacing "Obamacare," expect a big Rose Garden celebration with President Donald Trump taking credit.

If they fail? Trump has already indicated he will hold Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responsible, setting up an intraparty blame game that could be devastating for the GOP.

Trump made it clear this week the onus for delivering a major Republican achievement and fulfilling seven years of GOP promises is on the six-term Kentucky senator, who is battle-hardened by legislative negotiating — not on the president and author of "The Art of the Deal."

"Mitch has to pull it off. He's working very hard. He's got to pull it off," Trump said in an interview for the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club."

Trump has cast himself as a bystander in the monthslong process, saying he's sitting in the Oval Office waiting to sign a bill erasing much of the 2010 Obamacare law. He is reminding GOP lawmakers who promised so often to repeal and replace, and voted repeatedly but never finally to do it, that they better not blow this best shot.

And if they do, "I will be very angry about it, and a lot of people will be very upset," the president says.

After brokering deals with individual lawmakers before a health care bill barely made it through the House in May, Trump has largely stayed on the sidelines as the Senate has dealt with the issue.

That's partly because McConnell had made his preference clear that Trump keep out of Senate business, according to associates. Trump has mostly acceded to the request, partly because McConnell had earned his respect by shepherding conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court confirmation in April. That still stands as Trump's most significant achievement since taking office.

But McConnell's stewardship of the health care issue has proved less adroit. He had to abruptly cancel a vote last month on a bill he drafted largely in secret after it became clear support was lacking. He's now struggling to nail down votes to pass the latest version next week.

The president has shown some patience with McConnell's predicament, telling reporters on Air Force One en route to France that "the only thing more difficult than peace between Israel and the Palestinians is health care." He then repeated his confidence in a successful outcome.

But he has delivered no major speech in six months on health care either before Congress or outside Washington, addressing it only in a few tweets and a couple of asides at rallies in Iowa and elsewhere.

Pressed on what the president is doing to secure the votes for the Senate bill, White House aide Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration has provided "technical assistance throughout the process."

In comparison, Obama aggressively used the bully pulpit of the presidency to secure passage of his Affordable Care Act, with at least five town halls in Wisconsin, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia, prime-time speeches to Congress, health care summits at the White House and elsewhere, and personal lobbying of lawmakers.

GOP lawmakers insist that Trump has been helpful, though sometimes they've struggled to depict exactly how. But his distance from the process could help him to avoid blame if failure is the outcome.

And now, Trump's words signal that if Congress fails, lawmakers can expect his wrath and that of his followers — a relative minority of the population but an important slice of the GOP base that has the ability to punish Republicans who cross the president. In last year's elections, the two major Republican Senate candidates who lost their races, then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, did so after withdrawing their support from Trump. Winning Republicans stuck with him.

For many GOP lawmakers, the greatest fear is not a Democratic opponent but a primary challenge from the right. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was one of Trump's most outspoken critics throughout last year's campaign, has grown much quieter about the president as he faces re-election next year and a primary opponent who has embraced Trump and taunted Flake for his stances.

Now Flake is looking like a likely "yes" vote on the health care bill. He said Thursday he was still considering it, but he applauded inclusion of an amendment by conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that would allow insurers to sell skimpy, low-cost health care.

"I like the consumer freedom amendment in it, you've got to get relief to Arizonans that just don't have insurance," Flake said.

Most Republicans say that even though the GOP's health care bills have polled poorly, and they will be forced to defend yanking insurance coverage from millions, a worse result would be failing to repeal. That would undermine the GOP's ability to present itself as a governing party, while breaking seven years of promises.

The Republican in the White House might be able to dodge the finger-pointing that would surely follow. But he might be the only one.

"I think the whole party is going to be responsible so everyone with that label is probably going to have to bear responsibility no matter what they go home and claim," said conservative former Sen. Jim DeMint.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[This Is How the GOP Plan Would Change Health Care Coverage]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 20:57:32 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-813943998.jpg

Senate Republican leaders released a new version of their health care bill on Thursday and they hope to vote on it as soon as next week. Here’s what you need to know about how it would affect your health care:

Premiums and deductibles: Like Obamacare, the Senate bill provides subsidies to buy insurance on the individual market based on a person’s income. But they’re less generous overall and encourage people to buy plans that cover fewer out-of-pocket costs.

Pre-existing conditions: The Senate bill would weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and push sicker customers toward more expensive plans and healthier customers toward cheaper, less generous plans.

Medicaid: The Senate bill would reduce Medicaid spending dramatically compared to current law.



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Keep Your Cool This Summer: Safety Tips for the Heat]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 13:32:18 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17186795988820.jpg

With temperatures in some parts of the country soaring as high as 120 degrees this summer, combating the heat is no easy task. Last year, 94 people suffered from heat related deaths, more than double the number from 2015, according to data from the National Weather Service.

Here are tips from the National Weather Service you can use to help keep cool and stay safe during this summer.


Track the Heat
If you’ve been outside for long enough it can be hard to tell how hot is too hot to be outdoors. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have created a mobile app that calculates the heat risk index of any given location.

What to Know About Fans
During times of extreme heat risk, limit the time you spend outside as much as possible. If you can’t get access to air conditioning, fans can help. But try not to point the fan directly at you because the dry air can make you become dehydrated faster, according to the National Weather Service.

Reapply Sunscreen
If you must go outside, stay in the shade and apply sunscreen at least every two hours. Reapply immediately after swimming. 

Warmer Water Is Better Than Icy
Make sure to drink plenty of water, even if you aren’t thirsty. Excessive sweating will cause you to lose fluids at a rapid pace. Although ice water may feel refreshing, opt for room temperature fluids. When water is especially cold your body will exert more energy trying to adjust to the temperature.

Watch Out for Seatbelts
The inside of a car can be one of the most deadly places during a heat wave. Before you buckle up, check the metal on the seatbelt to avoid burns. Never leave a child or animal unattended in a vehicle even if you have the window rolled down. To ensure your children don’t accidentally trap themselves inside, keep the doors and trunk locked at all times.

Know The Signs
It can be easy to confuse heat stroke and heat exhaustion, so knowing what to look for is crucial. Heat stroke is more serious and common symptoms include a throbbing headache, no sweating, red, hot, or dry skin, nausea and vomiting. If you or someone around you exhibits any combination of these signs, call 911 immediately.


Check out more hot weather resources here



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Investors: 'Pharma Bro' Shkreli Was Shady -- and Profitable]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 12:59:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/shkreli2.jpg

The jury at the securities fraud trial of "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli has heard investors accuse the quirky former biotech CEO of repeatedly giving them the runaround when they tried to pull their money out of his failing health care hedge fund.

But the government witnesses have made a concession that the defense hopes plays in its favor: In the end, they made a killing.

Whether jurors at the trial that began June 26 in federal court in Brooklyn will see Shkreli's clients as victims of a crime is central to a case that's featured odd subplots, including a self-serving rant by the defendant to reporters and email evidence by a mentor about wanting to touch his "soft skin."

Testimony was to resume Thursday with the government still in the middle of its case.

The lack of clear-cut financial harm separates the alleged fraud from others like Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme, which wiped out the nest eggs of ordinary investors. Prosecutors have argued it doesn't matter because Shkreli still broke the law by blowing investors' funds with bad stock picks and then lying to them for months - or even years - while he cooked up a way to get out of it.

"I don't think it mattered to him - it was just what he thought he could get away with," said Richard Kocher, a New Jersey construction company owner who invested $200,000 in with Shkreli in 2012. "It was insulting."

Darren Blanton, a Dallas-based investment firm founder, testified Shkreli stalled for three years when he tried to redeem his $1.3 million investment.

Over time, "I was worried Martin might be lying to me and not credible," Blanton, who notified the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Shkreli, 34, was arrested in 2015 after he already had gained notoriety by using his drug company to raise the price of a life-saving medication by 5,000 percent and for his nonstop posturing and trolling on social media, a compulsion that spawned the "Pharma Bro" nickname.

Federal authorities focused instead on his MSMB Capital hedge fund, accusing him of lying to investors by boasting about too-good-to-be-true returns at a time when he had lost more than $7 million on a 2011 trade and let the fund dwindle to about $2 million in assets. He's also charged with starting a new drug company, Retrophin, and looting it for $11 million to pay his investors back.

An unrepentant Shkreli has denied wrongdoing, complaining to reporters last month that prosecutors "blame me for everything. They blame me for capitalism." The comments prompted the judge to order him to shut up about the case in and around the courthouse.

On cross-examination, the investor witnesses have admitted that Shkreli made settlement deals that ultimately proved profitable. Blanton got $2.6 million - $200,000 in cash and the balance from shares of Retrophin he sold, and in addition still holds shares worth $3 million; Kocher made an estimated $350,000 the same way; a third witness, Schuyler Marshall, doubled his initial $200,000 investment.

Marshall, another Dallas-based financier, testified that Shkreli reminded him of "Rain Man," but that didn't mean he was making fun of him, as the defense has suggested.

Marshall saw Shkreli as more of a potential rainmaker "who was intensely focused on one small segment of the stock market, and just lived it day and night, and that was his investing advantage," he said.

The trial got got personal this week when another investor, former American Express executive Steven Richardson, testified about growing close to Shkreli after meeting him at cocktail party, helping him launch Retrophin and becoming the company's chairman before Shkreli was fired in 2014.

The 63-year-old gay witness testified Shkreli made him uncomfortable with comments about gay sex and sought assurances that their relationship was platonic, even as he told him he loved him as a friend and bought him clothes to clean up his "disheveled" appearance.

Richardson struggled on cross-examination to explain emails he wrote saying he'd with Shkreli "only if I can touch your soft skin" and another asking, "I'm drunk, where are you?" He insisted he was referring to how a rash on Shkreli's neck had cleared up and that he couldn't remember writing the "drunk" email.

He also testified that his $400,000 stake in Retrophin is now worth $1.9 million.

"That's a good investment, fair to say?" Shkreli's lawyer asked.

He could only answer "Yes."


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Connecticut Doctor Arrested While Feds Search for Other in Major Health Fraud Scheme]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 19:39:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Family+Health+Urgent+Care+Doctor+Rhamil+Mansourov.JPG

Federal officials have located a Connecticut doctor accused of fleeing the country after being named a suspect in an investigation into what authorities are calling the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force in the country.

Dr. Bharat Patel, 70, of Milford, and 47-year-old Dr. Ramil Mansourov, of Darien, are accused of running a “pill mill” and selling prescriptions for drugs, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, to addicts and drug dealers, who would then sell the drugs on the streets.

In all, 412 defendants have been charged across the country, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings.

Patel was arrested at his Milford home Wednesday, has been detained and is scheduled to appear in court on July 17.

Federal authorities were searching for Mansourov, who they believed fled to Canada. He was taken into custody at a Marriott in Montreal Thursday.

The local investigation began after allegations that the two doctors might be writing prescriptions outside the scope of legitimate medical practice.

Patel and Mansourov operated out of Family Health Urgent Care, at 235 Main Street in Norwalk, which is closed until further notice.

Some of those addicts they are accused of selling to referred to the defendants’ medical practice as “The Candy Shop,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Patel owned the previous practice, which was known as Immediate Health Care, and sold it in 2012 to Mansourov, who renamed it, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Authorities said Patel regularly provided prescriptions for narcotics, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, to patients he knew were addicted or had been arrested for distributing or possessing controlled substances.

On several occasions, he sold the prescriptions to patients under the table for $100, including to some who used a state Medicaid card, then distributed the drugs, officials said.

In some instances, Patel wrote prescriptions for people who were not his patients in exchange for cash, federal officials said, and Mansourov provided Patel’s patients with unnecessary prescriptions.

In 2014 alone, more than $50,000 in cash was deposited into Patel and his wife’s bank accounts and some of that money went to buy the house Patel currently lives in, according to federal authorities.

These two doctors are charged with violating their oaths and recklessly prescribing highly addictive painkillers,” U.S. Attorney Deidre Daly said in a statement. “Dr. Patel is alleged to have regularly sold to addicts solely for his own profit. Many of these patients filled the prescriptions using state healthcare benefits, and then turned around and sold the pills on the street, contributing to our devastating opioid epidemic.”

Mansourov is accused of defrauding the state’s Medicaid program of more than $4 million between November 2013 and December 2016 and moving some of that money to a bank account in Switzerland.

He is accused of billing for home visits he never made, billing for nursing home visits he never made, billing for office visits that never happened and billing for visits that he claimed took place on dates on which he was actually out of state or out of the country, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement about the nationwide crackdown.

“Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion dollar criminal enterprises. They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost, and graveyards. While today is a historic day, the Department's work is not finished. In fact, it is just beginning. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are,” Sessions added.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com and the U.S. Department of Justice]]>
<![CDATA[US Charges Hundreds in Health Fraud Schemes Worth $1.3B]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 10:48:01 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jeffsessions400charged_1200x675.jpg

More than 400 people have been charged with taking part in health care fraud and opioid scams that totaled $1.3 billion in false billing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday.

Sessions called the collective action the "largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history" and said it indicates that some doctors, nurses and pharmacists "have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients."

Among those charged are six Michigan doctors accused of a scheme to prescribe unnecessary opioids. A Florida rehab facility is alleged to have recruited addicts with gift cards and visits to strip clubs, leading to $58 million in false treatments and tests.

Officials said those charged in the schemes include more than 120 people involved in illegally prescribing and distributing narcotic painkillers. Such prescription opioids are behind the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. More than 52,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2015 — a record — and experts believe the numbers have continued to rise.

"In some cases, we had addicts packed into standing-room-only waiting rooms waiting for these prescriptions," acting FBI director Andrew McCabe said. "They are a death sentence, plain and simple."

Nearly 300 health care providers are being suspended or banned from participating in federal health care programs, Sessions said.

"They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves, often at the expense of taxpayers, but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start," Sessions said.

Health care fraud sweeps like Thursday's happen each year across the country, but law enforcement officials continue to grapple over the best way to fight the problem.

The people charged were illegally billing Medicare, Medicaid and the health insurance program that serves members of the armed forces, retired service members and their families, the Justice Department said. The allegations include claims that those charged billed the programs for unnecessary drugs that were never purchased or given to the patients.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]]>
<![CDATA[McConnell Reveals New Health Bill; Will His GOP Support It?]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 17:15:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/812745510-McConnell-Health-Care-Bill-Release.jpg

Republican leaders unveiled a new health care bill Thursday in their increasingly desperate effort to deliver on seven years of promises to repeal and replace "Obamacare." They immediately lost two key votes, leaving none to spare as the party's own divisions put its top campaign pledge in serious jeopardy.

President Donald Trump declared a day earlier that failure would make him "very angry" and that he would blame Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But talking with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to France, Trump also acknowledged the challenges lawmakers face.

"I'd say the only thing more difficult than peace between Israel and the Palestinians is health care," Trump said. "But I think we're going to have something that's really good and that people are going to like."

The reworked bill McConnell presented to fellow Republicans aims to win conservatives' support by letting insurers sell low-cost, skimpy policies. At the same time, he seeks to placate hesitant moderates by adding billions to combat opioid abuse and help consumers with skyrocketing insurance costs.

But it was not clear whether the Republican leader has achieved the delicate balance he needs after an embarrassing setback last month when he abruptly canceled a vote in the face of widespread opposition to a bill he crafted largely in secret.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters she had informed McConnell she would be voting against beginning debate on the bill, citing in part cuts in the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has repeatedly complained that McConnell's efforts don't amount to a full-blown repeal of Obamacare, also announced he was a "no."

That means McConnell cannot lose any other Republican senators. With Democrats unanimously opposed in a Senate split 52-48 in favor of the GOP, he needs 50 votes, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie, to get past a procedural hurdle and begin debate on the bill.

The showdown vote is set for next week, though McConnell could cancel again if he's short of support. He and other GOP leaders are urging senators to at least vote in favor of opening debate, which would open the measure up to amendments. And GOP leaders express optimism that they are getting closer to a version that could pass the Senate.

"It's in the best shape it's been in so far," said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. "Now that members actually have paper in their hand they can look at what is likely to be very close to the final bill we'll be voting on and move forward."

McConnell said the 172-page legislation is the senators' opportunity to make good on years of promises.

"This is our chance to bring about changes we've been talking about since Obamacare was forced on the American people," he said.

Many Republicans believe the party could face electoral catastrophe if it alienates GOP voters by failing to deliver after taking control of both chambers of Congress and the White House while vowing to get rid of former President Barack Obama's law.

"It could be the biggest political broken promise in many years," said conservative former Sen. Jim DeMint, former president of the Heritage Foundation, as he passed through the Capitol.

Throughout the day McConnell huddled in his office with holdouts, including Dean Heller of Nevada, the most endangered Senate Republican in next year's midterms, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio and John Hoeven of North Dakota.

The lawmakers wanted details and numbers on how the bill would impact rural and Medicaid-dependent people in their states. All had opposed McConnell's earlier bill, but this time around several exited their meetings saying they were undecided and needed more time to evaluate the legislation.

Hoeven said of McConnell: "He's asking everybody to work with him, and a lot of us are saying 'yeah,' and we've got more work to do."

Like legislation earlier passed by the House after struggles of its own, the Senate bill would get rid of Obamacare's mandates for individuals to buy insurance and for companies to offer it, repeal taxes and unwind the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act. Analyses by the Congressional Budget Office have found the House bill and the earlier Senate version both would kick more than 20 million people off the insurance roles over the next decade.

The new bill contains language demanded by conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas letting insurers sell plans with minimal coverage, as long as they also sell policies that meet strict coverage requirements set by Obama's 2010 statute. Moderate Republicans have objected that that would make policies excessively costly for people with serious illnesses because healthy people would flock to the cheaper coverage.

The Cruz provision appears in the legislative text in brackets, meaning specific language is still being composed. That could give McConnell, Cruz and other conservatives time to work out a provision with broader support.

The retooled measure retains McConnell's plan to phase out the extra money 31 states have used to expand Medicaid under Obama's statute, and to tightly limit the overall program's future growth. Since its creation in 1965, Medicaid has provided open-ended federal funds to help states pay the program's costs.

The rewritten package would add $70 billion to the $112 billion McConnell originally sought that states could use to help insurers curb the growth of premiums and consumers' other out-of-pocket costs.

It has an added $45 billion for states to combat the misuse of drugs like opioids. That's a boost over the $2 billion in the initial bill, an addition demanded by Republicans from states in the Midwest and Northeast that have been ravaged by the drugs.

To help pay for the added spending, the measure would retain three tax increases Obama's law slapped on higher- earning people.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Consumer Choice Idea Could Raise Premiums for Sick]]>Thu, 13 Jul 2017 22:37:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tedcruzinAustin_1200x675.jpg

A health care proposal from Senate conservatives would let insurers sell skimpy policies provided they also offer a comprehensive plan. It's being billed as pro-consumer, allowing freedom of choice and potential savings for many.

But critics including the insurance industry say it would split the sick and the healthy, leading to unsustainably high premiums for people with medical problems and pre-existing conditions, who may get priced out of the market unless taxpayers bail them out.

Senate Republican leaders trying to resolve differences between moderates and conservatives ahead of a health care showdown are taking a close look at the proposal from Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, dubbed the Consumer Freedom Amendment. No final text has been made public, but the concept has been endorsed by Vice President Mike Pence.

A health care factoid can help frame the issue: U.S. health care spending is highly skewed toward the sickest people. According to government estimates, 5 percent of the population accounts for nearly half of health care spending. And half the population — the healthier half — accounts for only about 3 percent of spending. The traditional idea behind insurance is that the healthy subsidize the sick.

The Cruz-Lee proposal would affect people who buy individual health insurance policies, not those covered by employers. Under current law — the 2010 overhaul passed by former President Barack Obama — insurers cannot turn away people with medical problems, or charge them more, and policies have to provide comprehensive benefits. That has made coverage more robust, but it's also raised premiums for relatively healthy people.

The Cruz-Lee amendment would technically leave in place Obama-era insurance rules and consumer protections. But it would also allow insurers to offer plans that don't follow those rules, provided the insurer also sells a plan that complies. Insurers could offer plans with reduced benefits, no maternity coverage, for example.

Cruz says his approach can bring down premiums for most people, delivering on a core promise by Republicans in their quest to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

"You the consumer, you the patient, should have the freedom to choose the insurance you want," Cruz said recently on CBS. "It shouldn't be the government dictating what insurance you can buy."

Several conservative groups said Wednesday the Cruz-Lee option must be included for the Senate bill to have their support. The Club for Growth, Tea Party Patriots, and FreedomWorks said that without an option for individuals to opt out of current insurance rules, the Senate bill would amount to perpetuating "Obamacare."

But critics say the plan would siphon premium dollars paid by healthy people out of the insurance pool that covers the sick. Premiums for those who need comprehensive coverage would shoot up. The two main insurance industry lobbying groups, America's Health Insurance Plans and the BlueCross BlueShield Association have joined in opposing the plan.

"You have the possibility of two different risk pools," explained economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a longtime Republican adviser. The markets functioning under Obama-era rules "turn into expensive high-risk pools. If they are not heavily subsidized, they run the risk of becoming unsustainable and going into a death spiral."

GOP leaders might want to think that over, added Holtz-Eakin. "It would seem like an undesirable outcome for an exercise intended to rescue Obamacare (markets) that are melting down," he said.

A former Obama administration official agrees that the Cruz-Lee idea could create new problems. Insurance expert Karen Pollitz, now with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said several states tried a similar approach in the past, and it didn't go well.

"When you create an uneven playing field in health insurance regulation, you create instability," said Pollitz. "People who need (comprehensive) benefits go to those policies, which become more expensive. People who think they can live without those protections go to the cheaper policies and take with them their premium dollars."

Cruz says that doesn't have to happen. Both the Senate and House GOP bills would set up a pool of money that states can tap to stabilize insurance markets. Those funds could be used to subsidize premiums for people with health problems. But critics say that would depend on how much money is provided.

The insurance industry says the Cruz-Lee approach is bad policy. "The 'Consumer Freedom Option' is unworkable as it would undermine pre-existing condition protections, increase premiums and destabilize the market," BlueCross BlueShield President Scott Serota wrote the senators in a letter released Wednesday.

Senate Republican leaders plan to unveil their revised bill on Thursday, with the goal of holding a vote next week on legislation that would roll back much of the Obama-era health law.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dayton Hospital Calls on Volunteers to Cuddle Opioid Babies]]>Wed, 12 Jul 2017 11:38:43 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_cuddleprogram0710_1500x845.jpg

As the opioid epidemic grips Ohio, one Dayton hospital is making sure their youngest victims are in good hands. Each year, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Miami Valley Hospital see an average of 90 babies born addicted to opioids and experiencing the painful symptoms of withdrawal called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. The hospital has called on local volunteer cuddlers to to ease the babies' symptoms. ]]>
<![CDATA[How Ongoing 'Toxic Stress' Can Affect a Child's Brain]]>Wed, 12 Jul 2017 08:06:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17192441853371-Toxic-Stress.jpg

A quiet, unsmiling little girl with big brown eyes crawls inside a carpeted cubicle, hugs a stuffed teddy bear tight, and turns her head away from the noisy classroom.

The safe spaces, quiet times and breathing exercises for her and the other preschoolers at the Verner Center for Early Learning are designed to help kids cope with intense stress so they can learn. But experts hope there's an even bigger benefit — protecting young bodies and brains from stress so persistent that it becomes toxic.

It's no secret that growing up in tough circumstances can be hard on kids and lead to behavior and learning problems. But researchers are discovering something different. Many believe that ongoing stress during early childhood — from grinding poverty, neglect, parents' substance abuse and other adversity — can smolder beneath the skin, harming kids' brains and other body systems. And research suggests that can lead to some of the major causes of death and disease in adulthood, including heart attacks and diabetes.

"The damage that happens to kids from the infectious disease of toxic stress is as severe as the damage from meningitis or polio or pertussis," says Dr. Tina Hahn, a pediatrician in rural Caro, Michigan. She says her No. 1 goal as a physician is to prevent toxic stress. Hahn routinely questions families about stresses at home, educates them about the risks and helps them find ways to manage.

Mounting research on potential biological dangers of toxic stress is prompting a new public health approach to identifying and treating the effects of poverty, neglect, abuse and other adversity. While some in the medical community dispute that research, pediatricians, mental health specialists, educators and community leaders are increasingly adopting what is called "trauma-informed" care.

The approach starts with the premise that extreme stress or trauma can cause brain changes that may interfere with learning, explain troubling behavior, and endanger health. The goal is to identify affected children and families and provide services to treat or prevent continued stress. This can include parenting classes, addiction treatment for parents, school and police-based programs and psychotherapy.

Many preschoolers who mental health specialist Laura Martin works with at the Verner Center have been in and out of foster homes or they live with parents struggling to make ends meet or dealing with drug and alcohol problems, depression or domestic violence.

They come to school in "fight or flight" mode, unfocused and withdrawn or aggressive, sometimes kicking and screaming at their classmates. Instead of adding to that stress with aggressive discipline, the goal is to take stress away.

"We know that if they don't feel safe then they can't learn," Martin said. By creating a safe space, one goal of programs like Verner's is to make kids' bodies more resilient to biological damage from toxic stress, she said.

Many of these kids "never know what's going to come next" at home. But at school, square cards taped at kids' eye level remind them in words and pictures that lunch is followed by quiet time, then a snack, then hand-washing and a nap. Breathing exercises have kids roar like a lion or hiss like a snake to calm them. A peace table helps angry kids work out conflicts with their classmates.

The brain and disease-fighting immune system are not fully formed at birth and are potentially vulnerable to damage from childhood adversity, recent studies have shown. The first three years are thought to be the most critical, and children lacking nurturing parents or other close relatives to help them cope with adversity are most at risk.

Under normal stress situations — for a young child that could be getting a shot or hearing a loud thunderstorm — the stress response kicks in, briefly raising heart rate and levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. When stress is severe and ongoing, those levels may remain elevated, putting kids in a persistent "fight or flight" mode, said Harvard University neuroscientist Charles Nelson.

Recent studies suggest that kind of stress changes the body's metabolism and contributes to internal inflammation, which can raise risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. In 2015, Brown University researchers reported finding elevated levels of inflammatory markers in saliva of children who had experienced abuse or other adversity.

Experiments in animals and humans also suggest persistent stress may alter brain structure in regions affecting emotions and regulating behavior. Nelson and others have done imaging studies showing these regions are smaller than usual in severely traumatized children.

Nelson's research on neglected children in Romanian orphanages suggests that early intervention might reverse damage from toxic stress. Orphans sent to live with nurturing foster families before age 2 had imaging scans several years later showing their brains looked similar to those of kids who were never institutionalized. By contrast, children sent to foster care at later ages had less gray matter and their brains looked more like those of children still in orphanages.

Toxic stress is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a distinct mental condition that can result from an extremely traumatic event, including combat, violence or sexual abuse. Experts say it can occur in adults and children who live with persistent toxic stress, including children in war-torn countries, urban kids who've been shot or live in violence-plagued neighborhoods, and those who have been physically or sexually abused.

The toxic stress theory has become mainstream, but there are skeptics, including Tulane University psychiatrist Dr. Michael Scheeringa, an expert in childhood PTSD. Scheeringa says studies supporting the idea are weak, based mostly on observations, without evidence of how the brain looked before the trauma.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the theory and in 2012 issued recommendations urging pediatricians to educate parents and the public about the long-term consequences of toxic stress and to push for new policies and treatments to prevent it or reduce its effects.

In a 2016 policy noting a link between poverty and toxic stress, the academy urged pediatricians to routinely screen families for poverty and to help those affected find food pantries, homeless shelters and other resources.

"The science of how poverty actually gets under kids' skin and impacts a child has really been exploding," said Dr. Benard Dreyer, a former president of the academy.

Some pediatricians and schools routinely screen children and families for toxic stress, but it is not universal, said John Fairbank, co-director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. "That's certainly an aspiration. It would be a big step forward," said Fairbank, a Duke University psychiatry professor.

Much of the recent interest stems from landmark U.S. government-led research published in 1998 called the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. It found that adults exposed to neglect, poverty, violence, substance abuse, parents' mental illness and other domestic dysfunction were more likely than others to have heart problems, diabetes, depression and asthma.

A follow-up 2009 study found that adults with six or more adverse childhood experiences died nearly 20 years earlier than those with none.

Some children seem resistant to effects from toxic stress. Harvard's Nelson works with a research network based at Harvard's Center on the Developing Child that is seeking to find telltale biomarkers in kids who are affected — in saliva, blood or hair —that could perhaps be targets for drugs or other treatment to prevent or reduce stress-related damage.

That research is promising but results are likely years off, says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, the center's director.

Alvin and Natalie Clarke brought their young grandchildren into their Cass City, Michigan home after their parents jailed on drug charges. The 6-year-old grandson hits, yells, breaks toys, misbehaves in school. His 4-year-old sister used to have nightmares and recoil in fear when her baby doll was left alone on the floor — signs her therapists say suggest memories of neglect.

The Clarkes had never heard the term "toxic stress" when they were granted guardianship in 2015. Now it's a frequent topic in a support group they've formed for other grandparent-guardians.

Their grandson's therapists say he has PTSD and behavior problems likely stemming from toxic stress. Around strangers he's sometimes quiet and polite but the Clarkes say he has frequent tantrums at home and school and threatens his sister. He gets frightened at night and worries people are coming to hurt him, Natalie Clarke said.

Weekly sessions with a trauma-focused therapist have led to small improvements in the boy. The Clarkes say he needs more help but that treatment is costly and his school isn't equipped to offer it.

The little girl has flourished with help from Early Head Start behavior specialists who have worked with her and the Clarkes at home and school.

"Thank God she doesn't remember much of it," Natalie Clarke said. "She's a happy, loving little girl now."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Chuck Burton]]>
<![CDATA[Actor’s Death Spotlights Risk in Detoxing Alone]]>Tue, 11 Jul 2017 21:37:03 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_100608010193.jpg

Actor Nelsan Ellis, best known for his role as Lafayette Reynolds on the HBO series "True Blood," died suddenly this week at the age of 39. The actor struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for many years, NBC News reported.

Ellis’ manager said the actor's death was a result of heart failure after an attempt to quit drinking on his own.

The ease and low expense of managing detox at home can be tempting to individuals who struggle with addiction, but the process, if done quickly and without professional supervision, can be dangerous.

Between 5 and 25 percent of people who go through extreme alcohol withdrawal die as a result, according to a report in Alcohol Health & Research World.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles]]>
<![CDATA[Coffee Drinkers Seem to Live Longer, According to Researchers]]>Wed, 12 Jul 2017 09:52:25 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Coffee+Generic.PNG

Go ahead and order that second cup.

Studies have found that people who frequently enjoy a cup of joe could live longer lives, according to researchers at the University of Southern California.

"We cannot say drinking coffee will prolong your life, but we see an association," said Veronica W. Setiawan, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author of a new study, which will be published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of death due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and respiratory and kidney disease for African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos and whites, according to the study that used data from the Multiethnic Cohort Study.

"Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants and phenolic compounds that play an important role in cancer prevention," Setiawan said. "Although this study does not show causation or point to what chemicals in coffee may have this 'elixir effect,' it is clear that coffee can be incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle."

Don't do caffeine? The study still stands regardless of whether you enjoy regular or decaffeinated coffee.

People who drink one cup daily were 12 percent less likely to die from these diseases. People who drink up to three cups a day had an 18 percent lower risk of death.

A separate study of more than 520,000 healthy people in 10 European countries, meanwhile, also found coffee drinkers were associated with lower risk for death, specifically from digestive and circulatory diseases, the "Today" show reported. That study was also published in Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday. 

But an editorial in the journal cautioned "it’s 'premature' to recommend that people drink coffee to live longer or prevent disease," the "Today" show reported.

Coffee drinkers could have other things in common that factor into their health.

The editorial instead notes at a takeaway that moderate daily coffee intake "is not associated with adverse health effects in adults and can be incorporated into a healthy diet." 

The Multiethnic Cohort Study, which a team from USC conducted in collaboration with the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, is an ongoing study that proclaims itself as the most ethnically diverse study that examines lifestyle risk factors that may lead to cancer. It has more than 215,000 participants.

The study is important because "lifestyle patterns and disease risks can vary substantially across racial and ethnic backgrounds, and findings in one group may not necessarily apply to others."

But it's safe to say the association applies to other groups, Setiawan said, since it was seen in four different ethnicities.

"If you like to drink coffee, drink up!" Setiawan said.

]]>
<![CDATA[New GOP Health Bill Likely Keeping Obama Tax Boosts on Rich]]>Tue, 11 Jul 2017 19:13:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mitchmcconelGOP_1200x675.jpg

A revised Senate Republican health care bill will likely retain a pair of tax boosts President Barack Obama imposed on wealthier Americans that have helped finance his law's expansion of coverage, a leading Senate Republican said Tuesday.

The two levies — one on investment income and another on the payroll tax that helps finance the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly — are among the biggest that Obama's 2010 statute imposed. Some of the money would be used to increase a fund the GOP bill would disperse to states to help insurers contain consumers' premiums and deductibles, said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas.

Preserving those taxes "seems to be where we're headed," Cornyn told reporters. He said the reworked bill will also provide $45 billion over a decade to help states combat abuse of drugs including opioids, and make it easier for states to get federal waivers to decide how to spend money under their Medicaid health programs for the poor, elderly and nursing home patients.

Cornyn spoke after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he will introduce his party's altered health care bill Thursday and begin trying to muscle it through the Senate next week. The effort comes with the fate of the GOP measure in doubt, with internal divisions threatening to mortally wound their top-tier goal of repealing much of Obama's overhaul.

"Hopefully everything we're doing now helps another member get to 'yes,'" Cornyn said. "There's really no other reason to tweak this thing."

In the face of unanimous Democratic opposition, the health care bill will crash if just three of the 52 GOP senators oppose it. McConnell suddenly canceled a doomed vote last month on an initial version of the legislation, and at least a dozen Republicans have said they oppose the initial package or distanced themselves from it.

Since his June retreat, McConnell has been reshaping the measure in hopes of winning GOP votes. Even so, no GOP leaders were yet predicting passage.

McConnell also said he will delay the chamber's August recess for two weeks, a rare move he said would give lawmakers time to break logjams on health care, defense and executive branch nominations. Growing numbers of Republicans, chagrined at Congress' failure to send any major bills to President Donald Trump, had called on McConnell to make that move.

The GOP bill would ease coverage requirements Obama's 2010 statute placed on insurers, like paying for maternity services; erase his tax penalties on people who don't buy policies and cut Medicaid. The measure will also eliminate most of Obama's tax increases, including boosts on insurers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical device makers.

Obama's law has added around 20 million to the ranks of the country's people with health insurance. An analysis of McConnell's initial bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected it would increase the number of people without coverage by 22 million by 2026.

The updated legislation is also expected to ease some of its earlier Medicaid cuts, a move aimed at assuaging GOP senators from states that expanded the program by millions of people under Obama's law.

According to Cornyn, the refashioned GOP measure will probably keep Obama's 3.8 percent tax boost on investment income for couples earning over $250,000 annually. It would also retain a payroll tax increase of 0.9 percent on the same earners that helps finance Medicare.

Together, retaining the two levies would produce $231 billion over the next 10 years, according to Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Republicans generally oppose tax boosts, and it was unclear whether preserving those tax increases would threaten support by any conservatives for the health bill. But Cornyn said some of the money — perhaps around $50 billion — would be used to buttress around $100 billion already in the measure for states to help insurers hold down insurance costs, and he said the move might help defend against Democratic attacks that the GOP package will help the rich and hurt the poor.

"We're trying to take at least one sharp stick off the table," Cornyn said. "I don't think it will change the narrative."

A study released Tuesday by two bipartisan groups estimated that the country's poorest families would lose more than $2,500 in average annual health care benefits once the GOP legislation was fully phased in. Families making more than $1 million a year would get tax cuts averaging about $50,000, according to the analysis by the Health Policy Center and the Tax Policy Center.

Still at issue is a plan by conservatives led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to let insurers sell low-price policies with bare-bones coverage — if the company also sells a policy covering a list of services like maternity care that Obama's law mandates.

It's received pushback from GOP moderates warning it would inflate premiums for sicker people buying generous plans because younger, healthier customers would flock to skimpier policies. To ease the price boosts people with serious illnesses might face, some Republicans said changes were being discussed that would link the premiums insurers would charge for both types of coverage.

Associated Press reporters Erica Werner, Andrew Taylor and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Insurer Profits Up With Obamacare: Report ]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 18:20:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-657458982-healthcare.jpg

Insurer profits are up this year in Obamacare’s individual exchanges, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

As NBC News reported, the analysis found insurance companies are paying a lower share of premiums out in medical claims than in any period since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, without any significant difference in the health of the group measured.

The new information suggests the insurance market is stabilizing, despite claims from Republicans that Obamacare is collapsing.

However, some insurers have submitted significant premium increases or pulled out of the market, which experts say could be related to uncertainty over health care legislation.



Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Companies Target Sleep With High-Tech Slumber Products]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 08:08:27 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/armus-sleep-number.jpg

Pillows that track your snoozing patterns? A bed that adjusts based on how much you twist and turn? Companies are adding more technology into their products, hoping to lure customers craving a better night's sleep.

Some specialized businesses are making gadgets that promise to measure and improve the quality of slumber, while mass-market retailers like Best Buy are offering simpler ideas like the effect different lighting can have on falling sleep. But with ever-growing options, people may find items that are getting more sophisticated — but may still not be accurate.

The interest in sleep has intensified. The number of sleep centers accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine nearly tripled from 2000 to 2015, the group says. People are more likely to brag about how much they spent for a mattress than on their clothes, says Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America.

"Sleep is the new status symbol," she says.

It's a big business. One of the more expensive products is Sleep Number's 360 Smart Bed, which runs from $3,449 to $4,999. It makes adjustments based on how restless people are while they're sleeping. The Zeeq pillow, which sells for $299 and is from bedding brand REM-Fit, monitors snoring and can gently vibrate to nudge someone into a different sleep position.

"I'm willing to spend more on sleep technology because it will hopefully help me fall asleep quicker, stay asleep longer and be more rested when I wake up," says Frank Ribitch, a self-described gadget junkie from Martinez, California, who tracks his sleep with apps connected to a Sleep Number bed and the Zeeq pillow.

Insufficient sleep is a public health concern, federal officials say, with more than one-third of American adults not getting enough on a regular basis. That can contribute to problems like obesity and diabetes. And a study published by the Rand Corp. put the financial loss to U.S. companies at up to $411 billion a year.

Finding solutions could be a lucrative enterprise. Earlier this year Apple Inc. bought Finland-based Beddit, which was making an app and sleep monitoring device that's placed under the sheet on top of the mattress. The $150 sensor begins tracking when a person lies down, and analyzes data such as the portion of time someone is in bed asleep before waking up. It also monitors heart rate, temperature, movement — and even snoring.

"Previously, it was about the sleeping pill and people didn't want to talk about sleep apnea," Lasse Leppäkorpi, co-founder and now former CEO of Beddit, said before Apple bought the company. "Snoring is embarrassing. But this has been untapped opportunity."

Apple, whose own Apple Watch tracks activity and offers sleep-tracking experiences through third-party apps, declined to talk about the future of Beddit. Leppakorpi noted before the acquisition that Beddit had been working with sleep labs like the MIT Lab, which used the devices to collect data on patients.

At the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, neurologist and medical director Clete A. Kushida tests new therapies and medications. Over the past two years, the analysis has expanded to wearable devices. The scientists assess how well the devices match the center's own overnight sleep studies, which use measures such as heart rate and brain wave activity to determine the length and the stages of sleep.

Kushida's conclusion? "Consumer wearable devices are not there in accurately detecting the stages of sleep," he said. The problem: They focus on motion, which can be deceptive since a person could be lying in bed awake.

In fact, San Francisco-based startup Hello, the maker of a product aimed at tracking sleep via a clip attached to a person's bedsheet, recently announced it was shutting down amid reports the device didn't correctly track sleep patterns.

Still, Kushida believes the consumer products are getting better and will be able to accurately monitor and solve sleep issues in the next five to 10 years.

Separate from gadgets, some stores are highlighting sounds and smells they say can help people sleep better. Longtime insomniac favorite HSN Inc. offers a $299 Nightingale Sleep System that masks indoor and outdoor noises. Best Buy has a Philips Lighting's system that works with devices like Nest and Amazon Alexa to let people choose the colors and brightness of lights and program them to turn off at certain times or respond to the sun.

And a company called Sensorwake is launching a product in the U.S. that releases smells like fresh linen it says can help you sleep better.

If nothing worked and you've had a fitful night, you can at least be woken up more gently. The same company makes a $99 olfactory alarm clock, with scent options that include a strong espresso. But if you let it go for three minutes without shutting it off or hitting snooze, it'll start making noise — good if you have a stuffy nose.

AP Video Journalist Terry Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[US Uninsured Up by 2M This Year as Gains Erode: Survey]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 14:01:40 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mcconnell-mitch.jpg

The number of U.S. adults without health insurance has grown by some 2 million this year, according to a major new survey that finds recent coverage gains beginning to erode.

The new numbers highlight what's at stake as Congress returns to an unresolved debate over Republican proposals to roll back much of former President Barack Obama's health care law.

The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, published Monday, found that the uninsured rate among U.S. adults was 11.7 percent in the second three months of this year, compared with a record low of 10.9 percent at the end of last year. Though small, the change was statistically significant, survey analysts noted.

While "Obamacare" has remained politically divisive, it had helped drive the uninsured rate to historic lows as some 20 million people gained coverage.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to check vital signs on his GOP bill as senators trickle back to Washington from a July 4 break that many spent listening to constituents vent about health care.

McConnell is seen as a master legislative strategist, but there's no sign he's secured enough votes to pass a bill. He can only afford to lose two out of 52 Republican senators.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that at least 22 million more people would become uninsured under Republican legislation.

McConnell has been considering easing some of the bill's Medicaid cuts, beefing up health care tax credits to help people buy private insurance and adding billions of dollars to counter the opioid epidemic. That might comfort GOP moderates. To placate conservatives, McConnell is weighing demands to make it easier for insurers to offer skimpier policies.

He's also admonished fellow Republicans that they may find themselves negotiating with Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York if they don't close ranks. In that case, McConnell said he'd aim for a limited package propping up troubled insurance markets around the country.

The Gallup-Sharecare survey serves as a kind of early indicator, publishing several months before the nimblest government surveys. The most recent government report found that progress reducing the number of uninsured stalled in 2016, after five consecutive years of coverage gains under Obama.

Peering at this year, Gallup-Sharecare found an erosion of progress, with the number of uninsured edging up again. It estimated nearly 2 million dropped out of coverage.

The losses were concentrated among younger adults and people buying their own health insurance policies, the survey found.

That may be a reflection of rising premiums and dwindling choices in the insurance markets created under Obama. "Rising insurance premiums could be causing some Americans to forgo insurance, especially those who fail to qualify for federal subsidies," said Gallup's analysis of the survey.

Also, President Donald Trump has branded his predecessor's leading domestic achievement a "disaster" while pursuing its repeal. Some insurers say Trump administration actions are contributing to double-digit premium increases for next year.

"Uncertainty surrounding the health care law also may be driving the increase," the analysis added. The president's "executive order permitting agencies to waive or delay provisions that 'impose a fiscal burden' on individuals, as well as the prospect of a new health care law, may be causing consumers to question whether the penalty for not having insurance will be enforced."

Gallup-Sharecare found that the uninsured rate rose by 1.9 percentage points among adults aged 18-25 since the end of last year, and 1.5 points among those aged 26-34.

Participation by young adults is considered vital for keeping health insurance premiums in check. But young adults are also likely to enjoy good health and may not recognize value in having coverage.

The Gallup-Sharecare survey is an ongoing effort based on interviews with about 500 people a day. It was previously called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted April 1-June 30, with a random sample of 45,087 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley]]>
<![CDATA[As Drug Resistance Evolves, Gonorrhea Is Getting Harder to Treat]]>Sat, 08 Jul 2017 14:58:46 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/170*120/gonorrea-5.jpg

Gonorrhea infections are becoming harder and harder to treat, according to new data published by the World Health Organization.

The WHO found that ciprofloxacin and azithromycin -- two drugs commonly used to treat gonorrhea -- are not as effective in treating the sexually transmitted illness as they used to be. Due to the shape-shifting nature of the bacterial infection, antibiotics used to fight the infection tend to wear off overtime.

"The bacteria that cause [gonorrhea] are particularly smart," said Dr. Teodora Wi, a medical officer at the WHO. "Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them."

Some cases of gonorrhea have been deemed untreatable by all known antibiotics in some developed countries. This knowledge is attributed to high quality surveillance methods, which poorer countries lack, but where gonorrhea may actually be more common, the WHO said. 

Dr. Wi told the BBC that there have been cases in France, Japan and Spain where the infection was completely untreatable. 

Widespread resistance to the drug ciprofloxacin -- also known as Cipro -- was documented by the WHO Global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme, a laboratory network that monitors trends in drug-resistant gonorrhoea, according to a statement. An increased resistance to gonorrhea was found in the drug azithromycin.

Data from 77 countries was analyzed for the study. From 2009 to 2014, 97 percent of countries reported Cipro-resistant strains of gonorrhea, and 81 percent reported resistance to azithromycin. Sixty-six percent of countries reported resistance to last-resort treatment known as ESCs (extended-spectrum cephalosporins).

Right now, the WHO said ESCs are the only antibiotics that remain effective against gonorrhea. However, due to a lingering potency of the ESCs cefixime and ceftriaxone, the WHO recommends that doctors prescribe a combination of ceftriaxone and azithromycin to treat gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea affects roughly 78 million people per year, according to the WHO. Left untreated, the illness can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility and the formation of scar tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Untreated gonorrhea can also increase the risk of contracting HIV.

The WHO is stressing awareness of antibiotic resistance to gonorrhea and said the illness is "sometimes impossible" to treat, according to a press release issued Friday.

"To control gonorrhea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures," said Dr. Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at the WHO.

CORRECTION (July 8, 2017, 7:32 a.m. EST): An earlier version of this story misidentified gonorrhea as a virus in the second paragraph. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection.



Photo Credit: UIG via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves First New Drug in 20 Years for Sickle Cell]]>Fri, 07 Jul 2017 23:54:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sicklecellcenter_1200x675.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in nearly 20 years for sickle cell, an inherited disease in which abnormally shaped red blood cells can't properly carry oxygen throughout the body, which can cause severe pain and organ damage.

About 100,000 people in the U.S., mostly blacks, have the disorder and about 275,000 babies are born with it each year worldwide.

In a study, the new drug, Endari, cut the number of pain crises and dangerous chest complications, and reduced hospitalizations and the need for transfusions.

It is made by a California company, Emmaus Medical Inc., and approved for adults and children 5 and older.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Are Prescribing Fewer Opioids in Much of US: CDC]]>Fri, 07 Jul 2017 08:26:13 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/armus-opioid-prescriptions.jpg

Overall opioid prescription rates have been falling in recent years, but the powerful drugs have become more plentiful in more than 1 in 5 U.S. counties, a report released Thursday finds.

The amount of opioids prescribed fell 18 percent between 2010 and 2015. But researchers found local differences, with opioid prescribing six times higher in some counties than others.

Rates vary "as much from place to place as the weather," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's the latest to show a decline in opioid prescribing as regulators and others have pushed doctors to cut back on issuing narcotic painkillers. The CDC last year issued the first guidelines to doctors aimed at discouraging prescribing opioids except in cases where they are most needed, like cancer and end-of-life care.

Prescription opioids are behind the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. More than 52,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2015 — an all-time record — and experts believe the numbers have continued to rise.

More and more overdose deaths are from heroin and illicit fentanyl, but the epidemic was triggered by an explosion in prescriptions of powerful painkillers that began about 20 years ago.

The new CDC report analyzed prescriptions from 59,000 pharmacies around the country collected by QuintilesIMS, a pharmaceutical analytics company.

Because opioids come in different strengths, researchers came up with a standard measure to account for all kinds of opioids by comparing to morphine, one of the oldest opioids that's not as powerful as some of the painkillers prescribed today.

Overall, the amount of opioids prescribed nationally peaked at the equivalent of 782 milligrams of morphine per person in 2010 and fell to 640 in 2015. That's an improvement, but it's still three times higher than it was in 1999, Schuchat said.

Prescribing declined in about half of U.S. counties between 2010 and 2015, but rose in many others. Closing pill mills and other factors may have shifted rates from place to place, researchers said.

State policies designed to cut opioid prescribing may have also played a role. For example, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida require doctors to check a drug history database before prescribing opioids to patients, the CDC said.

The report's data reflect where people got their prescriptions and not necessarily where they live. Higher prescribing rates were seen in counties with more medical offices and pharmacies, sometimes serving surrounding rural areas. Rates also seemed to be high in places with concentrations of people who are white, unemployed, and without health insurance or on Medicaid.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Painkiller Maker Stops Sales at FDA Request Because of Abuse]]>Thu, 06 Jul 2017 18:40:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16271837996563.jpg

The maker of opioid painkiller Opana ER is pulling the drug off the market at the request of federal regulators because it's being abused.

Endo International PLC said Thursday it will voluntarily stop selling the pills, approved for use in patients with severe, constant pain, after consulting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It's the first opioid drug that the FDA has sought to remove from the market due to abuse.

The drugmaker said in a statement that the extended-release opioid is safe and effective when used as intended, and that Endo still believes Opana ER's benefits outweigh its risks.

But last month, the FDA said it had concluded the drug is too risky. The agency said it had seen a "significant shift" from people crushing and snorting the pill to get high to injecting it instead. Besides contributing to overdoses, abuse of Opana ER was blamed for a 2015 outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C in southern Indiana linked to sharing needles, according to the FDA.

Opana ER got U.S. approval in 2006. In 2012, Endo changed the drug's formulation to try to make it harder to abuse. The FDA approved sales of the new version but refused to let Endo market it as abuse deterrent.

The agency asked the company to stop selling Opana ER after its advisers, reviewing its safety at a March hearing, voted 18-8 against keeping it on the market.

Dublin, Ireland-based Endo, which has U.S. headquarters in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, said it will work with the FDA to try to minimize disruption for patients, who will need to switch to alternative treatments.

Endo primarily makes generic medicines, as well as a number of brand-name specialty drugs. Endo reported that Opana ER last year posted net sales of $159 million. The company said it will take a pre-tax charge of about $20 million to write off the drug's remaining value.

As of June, there were no generic versions of the reformulated Opana ER on the market, according to the FDA, but two generics of earlier versions are on sale, called oxymorphone.

The agency said it would also review other opioid painkillers and could take further action.

U.S.-traded shares of Endo fell 1.9 percent to $11.17 Thursday, more than twice the rate of decline on a down day for the broader markets. When the FDA urged Endo to pull Opana ER on June 8, company shares plunged 13.4 percent.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File]]>
<![CDATA[Smelling Your Food Leads to Weight Gain: Study]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 15:21:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-106907321.jpg

Joey Tribbiani once famously claimed on "Friends" that, “Half the taste [of food] is in the smell.” And according to a new study, the more delicious that meatball sandwich smells, the higher the likelihood that your body may pack on the pounds.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that mice who could smell gained twice their normal weight compared to smell-deficient mice who ate the same amount of fatty foods.

In addition, mice with boosted scent receptors, “super-smellers,” gained even more weight than those with a normal sense of smell.

The results of the new study were published in the journal Cell Metabolism, and the findings point to an unexplored link between olfactory neurons and weight gain.

The study also found that the genetically-altered rodents who could not smell lost around 16 per cent of their body weight. The study suggests that not being able to smell food could have a surprising effect on the metabolism, potentially helping those struggling with weight loss remain thin even when eating fatty foods.

"Sensory systems play a role in metabolism. Weight gain isn’t purely a measure of the calories taken in; it’s also related to how those calories are perceived," said senior author Andrew Dillin, the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research, professor of molecular and cell biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. "If we can validate this in humans, perhaps we can actually make a drug that doesn’t interfere with smell but still blocks that metabolic circuitry. That would be amazing."

While it seems like something out of the Twilight Zone, Dillin pointed out eliminating a person’s smell may act as a future alternative for gastric bypass surgery.

"This paper is one of the first studies that really shows if we manipulate olfactory inputs we can actually alter how the brain perceives energy balance, and how the brain regulates energy balance," said Céline Riera, a former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow now at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Tumor Gene Testing Urged to Tell if Drug Targets Your Cancer]]>Thu, 06 Jul 2017 13:32:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/tumorwomancancer_1200x675.jpg

Colon cancer. Uterine cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Whatever the tumor, the more gene mutations lurking inside, the better chance your immune system has to fight back.

That's the premise behind the recent approval of a landmark drug, the first cancer therapy ever cleared based on a tumor's genetics instead of the body part it struck first. Now thousands of patients with worsening cancer despite standard treatment can try this immunotherapy — as long as genetic testing of the tumor shows they're a candidate.

"It's like having a lottery ticket," said Johns Hopkins oncologist Dr. Dung Le, who helped prove the new use for the immunotherapy Keytruda. "We've got to figure out how to find these patients, because it's such a great opportunity for them."

Today, doctors diagnose tumors by where they originate — breast cancer in the breast, colon cancer in the colon — and use therapies specifically tested for that organ. In contrast, the Food and Drug Administration labeled Keytruda the first "tissue-agnostic" treatment, for adults and children.

The reason: Seemingly unrelated cancers occasionally carry a common genetic flaw called a mismatch repair defect. Despite small studies, FDA found the evidence convincing that for a subset of patients, that flaw can make solid tumors susceptible to immunotherapy doctors otherwise wouldn't have tried.

"We thought these would be the hardest tumors to treat. But it's like an Achilles heel," said Hopkins cancer geneticist Bert Vogelstein.

And last month FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told a Senate subcommittee his agency will simplify drug development for diseases that "all have a similar genetic fingerprint even if they have a slightly different clinical expression."

It's too early to know if what's being dubbed precision immunotherapy will have lasting benefits, but here's a look at the science.

WHO'S A CANDIDATE?
Hopkins estimates about 4 percent of cancers are mismatch repair-deficient, potentially adding up to 60,000 patients a year. Widely available tests that cost $300 to $600 can tell who's eligible. The FDA said the flaw is more common in colon, endometrial and gastrointestinal cancers but occasionally occurs in a list of others.

"Say, 'have I been tested for this?'" is Le's advice for patients.

MUTATIONS AND MORE MUTATIONS
Most tumors bear 50 or so mutations in various genes, Vogelstein said. Melanomas and lung cancers, spurred by sunlight and tobacco smoke, may have twice as many. But tumors with a mismatch repair defect can harbor 1,500 mutations.

Why? When DNA copies itself, sometimes the strands pair up wrong to leave a typo — a mismatch. Normally the body spell checks and repairs those typos. Without that proofreading, mutations build up, not necessarily the kind that trigger cancer but bystanders in a growing tumor.

THE PLOT THICKENS
Your immune system could be a potent cancer fighter except that too often, tumors shield themselves. Merck's Keytruda and other so-called checkpoint inhibitors can block one of those shields, allowing immune cells to recognize a tumor as a foreign invader and attack. Until now, those immunotherapies were approved only for a few select cancers — Keytruda hit the market for melanoma in 2014 — and they work incredibly well for some patients but fail in many others. Learning who's a good candidate is critical for drugs that can cost $150,000 a year and sometimes cause serious side effects.

In 2012, Hopkins doctors testing various immunotherapies found the approach failed in all but one of 20 colon cancer patients. When perplexed oncologists told Vogelstein, "a light bulb went off."

Sure enough, the one patient who fared well had a mismatch repair defect and a "mind-boggling" number of tumor mutations. The more mutations, the greater the chance that at least one produces a foreign-looking protein that is a beacon for immune cells, Vogelstein explained.

It was time to see if other kinds of cancer might respond, too.

WHAT'S THE DATA?
The strongest study, published in the journal Science, tested 86 such patients with a dozen different cancers, including some who had entered hospice. Half had their tumors at least shrink significantly, and 18 saw their cancer become undetectable.

It's not clear why the other half didn't respond. Researchers found a hint, in three patients, that new mutations might form that could resist treatment.

But after two years of Keytruda infusions, 11 of the "complete responders" have stopped the drug and remain cancer-free for a median of eight months and counting.

Catherine "Katie" Rosenbaum, 67, is one of those successes. The retired teacher had her uterus removed when endometrial cancer first struck, but five years later tumors returned, scattered through her pelvis and colon. She tried treatment after treatment until in 2014, her doctor urged the Hopkins study.

Rosenbaum took a train from Richmond, Virginia, to Baltimore for infusions every two weeks and then, after some fatigue and diarrhea side effects, once a month. Then the side effects eased and her tumors started disappearing. A year into the study she was well enough to swim a mile for a Swim Across America cancer fundraiser.

"Nothing else had worked, so I guess we could say it was a last hope," said Rosenbaum, who now wants other patients to know about the option.

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Ice Bucket Challenge Originator to Get Help With Medical Bills]]>Wed, 05 Jul 2017 11:45:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/210*120/AP_17184427256126.jpg

The man who inspired the ice bucket challenge to raise millions of dollars for Lou Gehrig's disease research will have his own medical bills covered for a while.

The Salem News reports that Pete Frates and his family are being helped by a new program from the ALS Association that covers the uninsured cost of skilled home care for several ALS patients in Massachusetts each year.

Frates' parents have said his medical bills can reach $80,000 to $95,000 each month.

The former Boston College baseball star was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in March 2012 at the age of 27. Since his diagnosis, the entire Frates family has taken an active role in raising awareness and funds for ALS research.

Frates' Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people dump buckets of ice water over their heads, helped raise $220 million to fight the disease since the campaign took off on social media in 2014, The Associated Press reported.

There is no known cure for ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and weakens muscles. The disease affects about 20,000 Americans.

His family said Sunday that he was back in the hospital and resting comfortably.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Steven Senne]]>
<![CDATA[Soy 'Milk'? Even Federal Agencies Can't Agree on Terminology]]>Mon, 03 Jul 2017 15:21:16 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/soymilk1.jpg

Dairy farmers want U.S. regulators to banish the term "soy milk," but documents show even government agencies haven't always agreed on what to call such drinks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture "fervently" wanted to use the term "soy milk" in educational materials for the public, according to emails recently released in response to a lawsuit. That irked the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that oversees the rule defining milk as coming from healthy cows.

It's "not a trivial decision," the FDA warned in one of the 2011 emails about the USDA's desire to use the term.

The sour history over who gets to use "milk" reaches back to at least 1997, when a soy foods group petitioned the FDA to recognize the term "soymilk." A couple of years later, the group pointed out that the FDA itself had used the term. Even now, the National Milk Producers Federation says it's working to build support for legislation directing the FDA to enforce the federal standard. The dairy group says both "soy milk" and "soymilk" are inappropriate ways to describe non-dairy drinks made from soybeans, and that the one-word version is just an attempt to get around the definition.

There are plenty of other food names at issue. A European Union court recently ruled that a company named TofuTown can't describe its products as "cheese." U.S. rice producers have railed against "pretenders " like diced cauliflower and said they may take the issue to the FDA.

But the FDA hasn't even always been able to get other agencies to go along, as illustrated in the emails obtained by the Good Food Institute, which advocates alternatives to industrial animal agriculture. The GFI sued the FDA for public records relating to soy milk.

The email exchange started when a nutrition adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services alerted the FDA that the USDA planned to use "soy milk" in educational materials about dietary guidelines.

"USDA staff are preparing consumer publications and fervently want to use the term 'soy milk' because beverages are widely marketed this way," the adviser wrote.

The FDA bristled and provided the federal definition of milk as a "lacteal secretion" from cows. Therefore, the FDA declared that referring to soy, almond and rice drinks as "milk" would be incorrect. It suggested the other agency say "beverage" or "fortified beverage."

When that didn't put the matter to rest, the FDA warned that the USDA's use of the term could undermine the FDA's regulatory authority.

That apparently didn't stop the USDA, either.

"They are adamant about using the term in consumer publications," the nutrition adviser wrote. The USDA had indicated that it would use "soy beverage" in official policy documents, but it wanted to use "plain language" in materials for the public.

Despite the federal regulation, others may also consider "soy milk" an acceptable term. The Merriam-Webster dictionary doesn't limit milk's definition to cows, saying it is "a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of females for the nourishment of their young."

It also allows for a "food product produced from seeds or fruit that resembles and is used similarly to cow's milk."

Asked how the spat was resolved, the USDA provided materials from 2011 that use both terms by referring to "soymilk (soy beverage)." The agency also uses the term elsewhere, including on its "Choose My Plate" website, which currently says "calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage)" is part of the dairy group.

The National Milk Producers Federation says the USDA's usage of the term shows even other government agencies are confused about how to describe soy beverages in the absence of consistent enforcement by the FDA.

The FDA declined to comment.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Preterm Birth Rates Have Increased in the U.S.]]>Fri, 30 Jun 2017 13:36:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/premiiebaby_1200x675.jpg

Almost 10 percent of newborn babies in the United States are born premature according to a new report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported. 

The report also included the rising births of more low birth weight babies than in previous years and births overall fell across the U.S., while high-risk births became more common, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. 

“The increase in the preterm birth rate is an alarming indication that the health of pregnant women and babies in our country is heading in the wrong direction,” Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, a charity organization, told NBC News.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Hold the Nitrites: Are Hot Dogs Healthier Without?]]>Fri, 30 Jun 2017 14:37:36 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hotdogs_1200x675.jpg

Backyard cooks looking to grill this summer have another option: hot dogs without "added nitrites."

Are they any healthier?

Oscar Mayer is touting its new hot dog recipe that uses nitrite derived from celery juice instead of artificial sodium nitrite, which is used to preserve the pinkish colors of processed meats and prevents botulism. Kraft Heinz, which owns Oscar Mayer, says sodium nitrite is among the artificial ingredients it has removed from the product to reflect changing consumer preferences. The change comes amid a broader trend of big food makers purging ingredients that people may feel are not natural.

But nitrites are nitrites — and the change makes little difference — according to those who advise limiting processed meat and those who defend it.

Kana Wu, a research scientist at Harvard's school of public health, said in an email that it is best to think of processed meat made with natural ingredients the same as those made with artificial nitrites.

Wu was part of a group that helped draft the World Health Organization report in 2015 that said processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon were linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. She notes WHO did not pinpoint what exactly about processed meats might be to blame for the link.

One concern about processed meats is that nitrites can combine with compounds found in meat at high temperatures to fuel the formation of nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens in animals. It's a chemical reaction that can happen regardless of the source of the nitrites, including celery juice.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture caps the amount of artificial nitrites that can be added to meats to prevent excessive use, said Andrew Milkowski, a retired Oscar Mayer scientist who consults for the meat industry. Meat makers also add ingredients to processed meat like bacon that help block the formation of nitrosamines, he said.

Though the terms nitrates and nitrites are used interchangeably, the meat industry says it's mainly sodium nitrite that companies currently use to cure meats such as hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon.

For Oscar Mayer hot dogs, the packages now list ingredients like celery juice that has been treated with bacterial culture. That turns the naturally occurring nitrates in celery juice into nitrites that serve a similar purpose.

While the nitrites derived from celery juice are no better, the switch may nevertheless help address negative consumer perceptions, said Milkowski, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin's department of animal sciences.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest agrees nitrites from natural sources aren't that different from artificial nitrites in processed meats. But the group has cited the WHO report in calling for a cancer warning label on processed meats, regardless of how they're made. It also says nitrite-preserved foods tend to be high in salt and should be limited or avoided anyway. The American Cancer Society also suggests limiting processed and red meat, citing a variety of reasons.

The meat industry has contested the WHO's finding, saying it is based on studies that show a possible link but don't prove a cause, and that single foods shouldn't be blamed for cancer. Many health experts also say there's no reason to worry about an occasional hot dog or bologna sandwich.

And while natural preservatives may not make hot dogs any healthier, they fit with the growing preference for ingredients like celery juice that people can easily recognize.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic.

An interesting wrinkle worth noting is that federal regulations require processed meats without added nitrites or nitrates to be labeled as "uncured" and to state that they have no nitrates or nitrites added — except those naturally occurring in the alternative ingredient. That's the language you'll now find on Oscar Mayer hot dog packages, though the products previously only had added nitrites.

The meat industry has contested the required language of meat being "uncured," because it says the products are still cured, albeit with nitrites derived from other ingredients. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Science Says: Pregnant or Trying? Don't Let Zika Guard Down ]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 17:21:37 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/zikababybrazil_1200x675.jpg

The Zika virus may not seem as big a threat as last summer but don't let your guard down — especially if you're pregnant or trying to be.

While cases of the birth defect-causing virus have dropped sharply from last year's peak in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, Zika hasn't disappeared from the region and remains a potential threat.

It's hard to predict how much risk people face in locales with smoldering infection, or if cases might spike again. For now, pregnant women still are being urged not to travel to a country or area with even a few reported cases of Zika, because the consequences can be disastrous for a fetus' brain.

"It's part of the new reality," said Dr. Martin Cetron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those trying to conceive, and their partners, are advised to check with their doctor on how long to wait after visiting a location with active Zika infection.

There are lingering questions, too, about Zika's risk beyond pregnancy, enough that U.S. scientists just began studying babies in Guatemala to learn if infection after birth also might damage the brain.

The challenge is getting those messages to the people who most need it when Zika is fast receding from the public's radar — even as money may be drying up to track the virus and the babies it injures.

UNCERTAINTY AS MOSQUITO SEASON GETS IN FULL SWING

In the past month, Puerto Rico and Brazil, hard hit by Zika last year, declared their epidemics over. But smaller numbers of infections continue around the region, according to the CDC and the Pan American Health Organization.

"Zika hasn't gone away," said CDC acting director Dr. Anne Schuchat. "We can't afford to be complacent."

The U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry counts 1,963 pregnant women in U.S. states who had lab tests showing Zika infection since officials began counting in 2016, and another 4,107 in U.S. territories.

Since the beginning of June, 271 pregnant women were added to the registry's Zika count, 80 of them in U.S. states and the rest residents of U.S. territories, although it's not clear when they became infected.

What about nonpregnant travelers? CDC has counted 140 cases so far this year in U.S. states, all of them who had symptoms. The vast majority of people who get Zika don't notice symptoms, yet still are potential spreaders of infection if mosquitoes back home bite them and then someone else. That happened late last year in parts of South Florida and Texas, and local health officials remain on alert in case it happens again.

There is no treatment for Zika.

ZIKA'S FULL HEALTH EFFECTS ARE UNKNOWN

Babies born to Zika-infected mothers can experience severe brain-related defects even if mom had no symptoms. Abnormally small heads, called microcephaly, are the most attention-getting defect. Babies also may have hearing or vision loss, seizures, trouble swallowing or restricted limb movement. Zika infection also can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.

What's the risk? About 1 in 20 women with Zika so far have had babies with birth defects in U.S. territories, according to the latest pregnancy registry data. Risk was higher if mom was infected during the first trimester, but even third-trimester infections sometimes led to birth defects.

Another scary issue: Some babies appear fine at birth only to develop health problems later on. What if Zika can harm a newborn's still-developing brain like it does a fetal brain? After all, one way Zika does its damage is by attacking developing brain cells called neural progenitor cells, and babies retain many of those cells for months after birth.

To find out, the National Institutes of Health just funded a new study in Guatemala, where Zika still is spreading, to track the health of 500 newborns and 700 other children ages 1 to 5.

"Our concern is that a developing brain in early life can be impacted significantly," Dr. Flor Munoz of Baylor College of Medicine, who will help lead the study, said in a statement. "It's an important question to address not just for children that live in the endemic areas, but also for children who travel to these areas."

Back in the U.S., public health advocates worry that $1.1 billion Congress approved last year to study and fight Zika is running out — including funding for a birth defects surveillance program intended to monitor affected babies' development and connect them to health services.

That surveillance is critical for knowing what's going on, said Dr. Oscar Alleyne of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. "Otherwise we're flying blind."

WHERE'S THE VACCINE?

The NIH recently began the first large test of a potential vaccine, a study that aims to enroll 2,400 people in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and five Zika-prone countries. There are no signs of safety problems. But if Zika infections remain at low levels, it's likely to take more than one summer of shots to prove if the vaccine really protects.

This kind of virus "almost certainly is not going to disappear completely," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently told Congress.

Several other vaccine candidates are in earlier stages of testing. Further down the pipeline, the NIH also is researching whether it's possible to create a universal vaccine to protect against multiple "flaviviruses" including Zika, dengue, yellow fever and West Nile.

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



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<![CDATA[New CBO Report Finds Deep Medicaid Cuts in GOP Bill]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 18:07:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17178803963393.jpg

The Senate health care bill’s Medicaid cuts would grow even deeper after a decade, according to a new report Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, leaving more people without coverage under the government program.

The new report complements the CBO’s main analysis of the Senate bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which found Medicaid would spend 26 percent less and cover 15 million fewer people in 2026 if the bill passed, NBC News reports. The Senate bill caps Medicaid spending and, starting in 2025, grows it at a rate of inflation that’s expected to be less generous than either current law or the House bill, which included major cuts as well.

While the CBO warns that projecting beyond the first decade is difficult, the new report estimates that the slower growth rate would drive relative spending down even further in the second decade. By 2036, the government would spend 35 percent less on Medicaid than it would under current law.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon]]>
<![CDATA[Large Study Links Key Pesticide to Weakened Honeybee Hives]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 15:02:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/beesinoregon_1200x675.jpg

A common and much-criticized pesticide dramatically weakens already vulnerable honeybee hives, according to a new massive field study in three European countries.

For more than a decade, the populations of honeybees and other key pollinators have been on the decline, and scientists have been trying to figure out what's behind the drop, mostly looking at a combination of factors that include disease, parasites, poor diet and pesticides.

Other studies, mostly lab experiments, have pointed to problems with the insecticides called neonicotinoids, but the new research done in Britain, Hungary and Germany is the largest field study yet.

Researchers planted about 7.7 square miles (2,000 hectares) of fields of rapeseed, which is made into cooking oil, called canola in America. Some of the fields were planted with seeds treated with the insecticide, others with untreated seeds. The researchers followed bees from the spring of 2015 when the seeds flowered to the following spring when new bees were born.

The bee hives in the Hungarian and British fields that used pesticide-treated seeds did worse surviving through the next winter, the researchers found. In Hungary, the honeybee colonies near treated fields had 24 percent fewer worker bees the next spring when compared to those near untreated crops, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science .

But in Germany, the bees didn't seem harmed. Hives there were generally healthier to start and when scientists analyzed the pollen brought back to the hives, they determined that the German bees ate a far broader diet with much less of their nutrition coming from the pesticide-treated rapeseed plants, said study director Richard Pywell. Only about 10 percent of the German bee diet was from neonicotinoid-treated plants, compared to more than 50 percent in Hungary and England, he said.

When hives are weakened by disease, parasites or bad diet — as many hives are worldwide — then the neonicotinoids "pushes them over the edge," said Pywell, a scientist at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in England. So many of the British hives died, in both treated and untreated fields, that scientists couldn't calculate the specific effect of the insecticide, he said.

The same study also found that wild bees were also weakened by the insecticide, but in a bit different ways, Pywell said. And for wild and honeybees, one neonicotinoid brand seemed to cause greater harm.

Europe banned neonicotinoids, or neonics, in 2013 and researchers needed a special exemption to do their study. Another study in the journal, also finds problems with neonicotinoids in a study in Canada.

The European and Canadian studies show that neonicotinoids harm bees, but still may not quite be the leading cause of bee losses, said University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who wasn't part of the study.

"The problem remains complex, like cancer," vanEngelsdorp said in an email.

Neonicotinoids makers Bayer and Syngenta paid for the European study but had no control over the results or the published paper, Pywell said.

Company officials pointed to the results in Germany and the lack of harm to hives there.

"The study shows that when hives are healthy and relatively disease free and when bees have access to diverse forage, neonics do not pose a danger to colony health," Bayer spokesman Jeffrey Donald wrote in an email.

In a statement, Syngenta's Peter Campbell, head of research collaborations, said the study "strongly suggests the effects of neonicotinoids are a product of interacting factors."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[40 Health Bill Demonstrators Arrested Outside Senate Offices]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 06:50:15 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/802118662-Trump-Senate-Health-Care-Aftermath.jpg

The Republican Party's long-promised repeal of "Obamacare" stands in limbo after Senate GOP leaders, short of support, abruptly shelved a vote on legislation to fulfill the promise.

The surprise development leaves the legislation's fate uncertain while raising new doubts about whether President Donald Trump will ever make good on his many promises to erase his predecessor's signature legislative achievement.

"We've given ourselves a little bit more time to make it perfect," Trump said Wednesday, adding that he looks forward to working with Republican senators further.

The bill has many critics and few outspoken fans on Capitol Hill, and prospects for changing that are uncertain.

Forty health care demonstrators were arrested outside offices in the Senate Office Buildings in D.C., Capitol police said.

Senate health bill protesters were arrested outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ariz.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark.; and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo, in an attempt to "convince them to vote no" on the bill, according to a statement by one of the participating organization Rise and Resist.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed Tuesday after it became clear the votes weren't there to advance the legislation past key procedural hurdles. He promised to revisit the legislation after Congress' July 4 recess.

The AFL-CIO labor organization is running ad and social media campaigns in five key states kill the bill outright, President Richard Trumka told reporters Wednesday.

The bill would deprive millions of working people of health insurance, he said, so the federation is running thousands of ads to pressure Senate Republicans in Alaska, Ohio, West Virginia, Nevada and Maine.

After McConnell announced the delay, Trump told Senate Republicans he'd invited to the White House that "this will be great if we get it done, and if we don't get it done it's just going to be something that we're not going to like, and that's OK and I understand that very well."

On Wednesday, Trump took issue with a New York Times story that portrayed him as disengaged in the push to advance the bill, tweeting, "The failing @nytimes writes false story after false story about me" and "Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare. Wrong, I know the subject well & want victory for U.S."

The Times, in its Wednesday editions, said Trump was less involved in the press for the Senate bill than with the earlier House bill — making fewer phone calls to senators, for instance. It cited an unidentified senator, who supports the bill, who left the meeting with Trump at the White House "with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan."

Senate GOP leaders abruptly shelved their long-sought health care overhaul Tuesday, asserting they can still salvage it but raising new doubts about whether President Donald Trump and the Republicans will ever deliver on their promises to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced a delay for any voting at a closed-door senators' lunch also attended by Vice President Mike Pence. McConnell's tone was matter-of-fact, according those present, yet his action amounts to a stinging setback for the longtime Senate leader who had developed the legislation largely in secret as Trump hung back in deference.

Now Trump seems likely to push into the discussion more directly, and he immediately invited Senate Republicans to the White House. But the message he delivered to them before reporters were ushered out of the room was not entirely hopeful.

"This will be great if we get it done, and if we don't get it done it's just going to be something that we're not going to like, and that's OK and I understand that very well," he told the senators, who surrounded him at tables arranged in a giant square in the East Room. Most wore grim expressions.

In the private meeting that followed, said Marco Rubio of Florida, the president spoke of "the costs of failure, what it would mean to not get it done — the view that we would wind up in a situation where the markets will collapse and Republicans will be blamed for it and then potentially have to fight off an effort to expand to single payer at some point."

The bill has many critics and few outspoken fans on Capitol Hill. It was short of support heading toward a critical procedural vote on Wednesday, and prospects for changing that are uncertain. McConnell promised to revisit the legislation after Congress' July 4 recess.

"It's a big complicated subject, we've got a lot discussions going on, and we're still optimistic we're going to get there," McConnell told reporters after the lunch.

It hasn't been easy, as adjustments to placate conservatives, who want the legislation to be more stringent, only push away moderates who think its current limits — on Medicaid for example — are too strong.

In the folksy analysis of John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate GOP vote-counter: "Every time you get one bullfrog in the wheelbarrow, another one jumps out."

McConnell has scant margin for error in the closely divided Senate, and the legislation to eliminate Obamacare's mandates and unwind its Medicaid expansion has shed support practically from the moment it was unveiled last Thursday. By Tuesday morning at least five GOP senators had announced their opposition to a procedural vote on the bill, and after McConnell announced the delay several more went public with their criticism.

McConnell can lose only two senators from his 52-member caucus and still pass the bill, with Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote. Democrats are unanimously opposed, and in recent days they have stepped up protests, delivering speeches on the Senate floor for hours and holding vigils on the Capitol steps.

Medical groups are nearly unanimously opposed, too, along with the AARP, though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the bill.

A number of GOP governors oppose the legislation, especially in states that have expanded the Medicaid program for the poor under former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Opposition from Nevada's popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval helped push GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who is vulnerable in next year's midterms, to denounce the legislation last Friday; Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich held an event at the National Press Club Tuesday to criticize it.

But the Republicans' own divisions are what has stymied them.

In one illustration, an outside political group run by Trump allies has run ads against Heller and threatens more against other GOP senators opposed to the bill. That infuriated McConnell, who called White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to label the attacks "beyond stupid." Heller himself raised the issue in the Tuesday White House meeting, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told reporters later.

The House went through its own struggles with its version of the bill, pulling it from the floor short of votes before reviving it and narrowly passing it in May. So it's quite possible that the Senate Republicans can rise from this week's setback.

But McConnell is finding it difficult to satisfy demands from his diverse caucus. Conservatives like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah argue that the legislation doesn't go far enough in repealing Obamacare. But moderates like Heller and Susan Collins of Maine criticize the bill as overly punitive in throwing people off insurance roles and limiting benefits paid by Medicaid, which has become the nation's biggest health care program, covering nursing home care for seniors as well as care for many poor Americans.

GOP defections increased after the Congressional Budget Office said Monday the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than Obama's 2010 statute. McConnell told senators he wanted them to agree to a final version of the bill before the end of this week so they could seek a new analysis by the budget office. He said that would give lawmakers time to finish when they return to the Capitol for a three-week stretch in July before Congress' summer break.

The 22 million extra uninsured Americans are just 1 million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version. Trump has called the House bill "mean" and prodded senators to produce a package with more "heart."

The budget office report said the Senate bill's coverage losses would especially affect people between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or around $30,300 for an individual.

The Senate plan would end the tax penalty the law imposes on people who don't buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama's so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don't offer coverage to workers.

It would let states ease Obama's requirements that insurers cover certain specified services like substance abuse treatments. It also would eliminate $700 billion worth of taxes over a decade, largely on wealthier people and medical companies — money that Obama's law used to expand coverage.

It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama's expansion of the program. Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ken Thomas, Andrew Taylor and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[GOP Health Care Bill Could Raise Premiums 74 Percent: Study]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:44:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/699666664-Mitch-McConnell.jpg

Health care premiums could rise 74 percent for the average customer under the Republican Senate health care bill, according to a new report.

Older and low-income Americans could face the highest increases for coverage, with Americans between ages 55 and 64 with lower incomes seeing a 294 percent increase in premiums. NBC News reported that the study by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation factored in the price of insurance and the amount of subsidies people would receive. 

The Senate bill, supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., encourages customers to purchase plans with higher deductibles. The subsidies would cover an average of 58 percent of costs, compared to Obamacare’s 70 percent.

In its analysis on Monday, the Congressional Budget Office said that premiums and deductibles could be too high for many low-income customers to buy coverage.



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Lacking Support, GOP Leaders Delay Health Care Bill Vote]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:12:45 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17178803963393.jpg

Senate GOP leaders abruptly shelved their long-sought health care overhaul Tuesday, asserting they can still salvage it but raising new doubts about whether President Donald Trump and the Republicans will ever deliver on their promises to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced a delay for any voting at a closed-door senators' lunch also attended by Vice President Mike Pence. McConnell's tone was matter-of-fact, according those present, yet his action amounts to a stinging setback for the longtime Senate leader who had developed the legislation largely in secret as Trump hung back in deference.

Now Trump seems likely to push into the discussion more directly, and he immediately invited Senate Republicans to the White House. But the message he delivered to them before reporters were ushered out of the room was not entirely hopeful.

"This will be great if we get it done, and if we don't get it done it's just going to be something that we're not going to like, and that's OK and I understand that very well," he told the senators, who surrounded him at tables arranged in a giant square in the East Room. Most wore grim expressions.

In the private meeting that followed, said Marco Rubio of Florida, the president spoke of "the costs of failure, what it would mean to not get it done — the view that we would wind up in a situation where the markets will collapse and Republicans will be blamed for it and then potentially have to fight off an effort to expand to single payer at some point."

The bill has many critics and few outspoken fans on Capitol Hill. It was short of support heading toward a critical procedural vote on Wednesday, and prospects for changing that are uncertain. McConnell promised to revisit the legislation after Congress' July 4 recess.

"It's a big complicated subject, we've got a lot discussions going on, and we're still optimistic we're going to get there," McConnell told reporters after the lunch.

It hasn't been easy, as adjustments to placate conservatives, who want the legislation to be more stringent, only push away moderates who think its current limits — on Medicaid for example — are too strong.

In the folksy analysis of John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate GOP vote-counter: "Every time you get one bullfrog in the wheelbarrow, another one jumps out."

McConnell has scant margin for error in the closely divided Senate, and the legislation to eliminate Obamacare's mandates and unwind its Medicaid expansion has shed support practically from the moment it was unveiled last Thursday. By Tuesday morning at least five GOP senators had announced their opposition to a procedural vote on the bill, and after McConnell announced the delay several more went public with their criticism.

McConnell can lose only two senators from his 52-member caucus and still pass the bill, with Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote. Democrats are unanimously opposed, and in recent days they have stepped up protests, delivering speeches on the Senate floor for hours and holding vigils on the Capitol steps.

Medical groups are nearly unanimously opposed, too, along with the AARP, though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the bill.

A number of GOP governors oppose the legislation, especially in states that have expanded the Medicaid program for the poor under former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Opposition from Nevada's popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval helped push GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who is vulnerable in next year's midterms, to denounce the legislation last Friday; Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich held an event at the National Press Club Tuesday to criticize it.

But the Republicans' own divisions are what has stymied them.

In one illustration, an outside political group run by Trump allies has run ads against Heller and threatens more against other GOP senators opposed to the bill. That infuriated McConnell, who called White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to label the attacks "beyond stupid." Heller himself raised the issue in the Tuesday White House meeting, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told reporters later.

The House went through its own struggles with its version of the bill, pulling it from the floor short of votes before reviving it and narrowly passing it in May. So it's quite possible that the Senate Republicans can rise from this week's setback.

But McConnell is finding it difficult to satisfy demands from his diverse caucus. Conservatives like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah argue that the legislation doesn't go far enough in repealing Obamacare. But moderates like Heller and Susan Collins of Maine criticize the bill as overly punitive in throwing people off insurance roles and limiting benefits paid by Medicaid, which has become the nation's biggest health care program, covering nursing home care for seniors as well as care for many poor Americans.

GOP defections increased after the Congressional Budget Office said Monday the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than Obama's 2010 statute. McConnell told senators he wanted them to agree to a final version of the bill before the end of this week so they could seek a new analysis by the budget office. He said that would give lawmakers time to finish when they return to the Capitol for a three-week stretch in July before Congress' summer break.

The 22 million extra uninsured Americans are just 1 million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version. Trump has called the House bill "mean" and prodded senators to produce a package with more "heart."

The budget office report said the Senate bill's coverage losses would especially affect people between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or around $30,300 for an individual.

The Senate plan would end the tax penalty the law imposes on people who don't buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama's so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don't offer coverage to workers.

It would let states ease Obama's requirements that insurers cover certain specified services like substance abuse treatments. It also would eliminate $700 billion worth of taxes over a decade, largely on wealthier people and medical companies — money that Obama's law used to expand coverage.

It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama's expansion of the program. Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ken Thomas, Andrew Taylor and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon]]>
<![CDATA[Hot Car Deaths: Scientists Detail Why Parents Forget]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:58:02 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hotweatherPHX_1200x675.jpg

Neuroscientists at the University of South Florida have taken a deep dive into the psychological and biological science behind the "Forgotten Baby Syndrome," NBC News reported.   

Dr. David Diamond has studied the phenomenon of children forgotten in cars and discovered it can be common.

“We all experience when we have a plan to do something in the future and then we forget to complete that plan," he told NBC News.

Diamond's research team has focused on the brain center, which operates on a subconscious level and stores abilities such as riding a bike -- the brain center allowed people to turn on their "autopilot" brain function.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[These Senators Will Make or Break the GOP's Health Care Push]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:31:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/195*120/182286550.jpg

President Donald Trump's campaign promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare" is now in the hands of a key group of GOP senators who are opposing —or not yet supporting — legislation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing.

These lawmakers range from moderate to conservative Republicans, and include senators who were just re-elected and a couple facing tough re-election fights. Their concerns about the legislation vary along with their ideology, from those who say it's overly punitive in ejecting people from the insurance rolls, to others who say it doesn't go far enough in dismantling former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Satisfying one group risks alienating another.

Lacking the votes, McConnell abruptly delayed the vote until after Congress' July 4 recess. Trump was meeting at the White House with Republican senators after he spent part of the weekend phoning senators who supported his candidacy — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

At stake is legislation that would affect health care for millions of Americans, while allowing Trump and GOP leaders to boast of fulfilling a campaign promise seven years in the making.

McConnell has scant margin for error given united Democratic opposition, and can afford to lose only two Republicans from his 52-member caucus.

A look at the key Republican lawmakers:

THE CONSERVATIVES

Cruz, Paul, Johnson and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah jointly announced their opposition to the legislation as written last Thursday, the same day it was released. They said it did not go far enough to dismantle "Obamacare," and Johnson also complained of a rushed process.

"They're trying to jam this thing through," Johnson complained Monday to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Yet Johnson, like many other congressional Republicans, was elected in 2010 on pledges to repeal Obama's health care law and has been making that promise ever since. While looking for tweaks that can satisfy the conservatives, Senate GOP leaders are also arguing that any Republican who fails to vote for the leadership bill will be responsible for leaving Obamacare standing.

Few Senate Republicans expect Paul to vote with them in the end, because of opposition he's long expressed to government tax subsidies going to pay for private insurance, but many expect Cruz could be won over, especially since he's running for re-election.

THE ENDANGERED

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, the only Senate Republican up for re-election next year in a state Hillary Clinton won, surprised Senate GOP leaders by coming out hard against the health legislation at a news conference Friday. Standing next to Nevada's popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Heller said he could not support a bill that that "takes away insurance from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans."

Nevada is one of the states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The GOP bill would unwind that expansion and cap Medicaid payments for the future. Nevada also has a disproportionate share of older residents under age 65 — when Medicare kicks in — who would likely face higher premiums because the GOP bill gives insurance companies greater latitude to charge older customers more.

Heller's fellow moderate Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, faces similar issues of an aging population in neighboring Arizona. He is viewed as the second-most-endangered GOP incumbent next year after Heller.

Flake has not yet taken a stance on the bill but is facing a raft of television ads from AARP and other groups that are opposed.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat seen as a possible Flake challenger next year, said Monday the Senate bill "doesn't make anyone healthier. It doesn't make anyone safer."

But Flake, who was outspoken against Trump during last year's campaign but has grown quieter since his election, also faces a potential primary challenge from the right.

Both Heller and Flake face the uncomfortable prospect of angering their party's base if they don't support the GOP health bill — but alienating general election moderate and independent voters if they do

THE MODERATES

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are fellow moderates who've raised concerns about the Senate health bill for a variety of reasons.

On Monday, after the release of a Congressional Budget Office analysis that the bill will leave 22 million more people uninsured over a decade, Collins announced she would oppose an important procedural vote on the legislation this week. Along with potential opposition from Johnson, Paul and Heller on the vote, that could leave leadership struggling to even advance to a final vote on the health care bill.

Collins said that the bill's Medicaid cuts hurt the most vulnerable and that it doesn't fix problems for rural Maine.

Murkowski has not taken a position but has also expressed concerns about the impacts on a rural, Medicaid-dependent population, as well as funding cuts to Planned Parenthood

THE TWO-ISSUE SENATORS

Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia are generally reliable votes for GOP leadership. In this case, both have two specific, and related, concerns causing them heartburn on the health bill: The prevalence of opioid addiction in their states, and their constituents' reliance on Medicaid.

In many cases, voters with addiction problems rely on Medicaid for treatment help, and Portman and Capito both represent states that expanded Medicaid under Obama's law.

Last year about 100,000 low-income West Virginia residents with Medicaid coverage had drug abuse diagnoses, according to state health officials.

Associated Press writers Bob Christie in Phoenix; Becky Bohrer in Juneau and Michael Virtanen in Morgantown, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Seniors Concerned Health Care Plan is 'Age Tax']]>Mon, 26 Jun 2017 13:22:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/senior-health-care.jpg

A Senate Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act aims to reduce funding for Medicaid, the single largest source of health care coverage in the United States.

Organizations like AARP are concerned that the cuts unfairly target senior citizens.

AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said in a statement that the Senate bill imposes an “age tax” on older adults.

“AARP is adamantly opposed to the Age Tax, which would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more for coverage than everyone else while reducing tax credits that help make insurance more affordable,” LeaMond noted.

The advocacy organization notes on its website that the current law keeps insurers from charging older adults more than three times as much for premiums as they charge those who are younger for the same coverage. Both the Republican House and Senate legislation would "allow insurers to charge older adults five times as much, and states could receive waivers to remove even that limit."

Jerome Mosman agrees with the “age tax” characterization.

Mosman is the CEO of Sixty & Better, a nonprofit that provides nutrition and socialization services to senior citizens at 25 activity centers across Tarrant County in Texas.

“I think it is an Age Tax because there is a presumption that all older people are sicker, and this is not true,” Mosman said.

“To lose that [Medicaid] safety net is frightening. States are ultimately going to have to ration [their allotment] and say, ‘Well, we only get so much from Medicaid, therefore we cannot insure more disabled people, more elderly people.’ It is frightening for those on low income,” Mosman said.

At the age of 71, Anita Strange — a retired school teacher and lifelong Fort Worth resident — was dropped by her health insurance company, Aetna, which Strange believes was a direct result of her age.

Since then, Strange, now 74, has been enrolled in Medicare.

“I’m watching [the developments] but I’m just going to wait and see [before I pass judgment],” Strange said. “There’s got to be a better plan out there for us because we have to have insurance.”

Republicans have been said to be considering a vote this week, though the bill has a narrow path to victory with Democrats united against it and some moderates and conservatives calling for changes. 

A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the number of people likely to keep coverage under the bill is due out this week. Twenty-three million people would lose insurance under the House version of the legislation, the CBO said last month. 

"Republican Senators are working very hard to get there, with no help from the Democrats," Trump tweeted on Monday. "Not easy! Perhaps just let OCare crash & burn!"



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Health Bill Adds 22 Million Uninsured: Budget Office]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 06:59:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/699666664-Mitch-McConnell.jpg

The Senate Republican health care bill would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured in 2026 than under President Barack Obama's health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday, complicating GOP leaders' hopes of pushing the plan through the chamber this week.

Minutes after the report's released, three GOP senators threatened to oppose a pivotal vote on the proposal this week, enough to sink it unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can win them over. The bill will fail if just three of the 52 Republican senators oppose it, an event that would deal a humiliating blow to President Donald Trump and Senate leaders.

The 22 million additional people without coverage is just a hair better than the 23 million who'd be left without insurance under the measure the House approved last month, the budget office has estimated. Trump has called the House version approved last month "mean" and told Senate Republicans to approve legislation with more "heart."

In good news for the GOP, the budget office said the Senate bill would cut the deficit by $202 billion more over the coming decade than the House version. Senate leaders could use some of those savings to attract moderate support by making Medicaid and other provisions in their measure more generous, though conservatives would prefer using that money to reduce federal deficits.

The White House lambasted the nonpartisan budget office in a statement, saying it has a "history of inaccuracy" projecting coverage. But Democrats said the report confirmed their own analysis of the GOP measure.

"This bill is every bit as mean as the House bill," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Of the 22 million without coverage by 2026 under the Senate plan, 15 million would be without it next year, the budget office said. That could be a particular concern to moderate Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces perhaps the toughest 2018 re-election race of any Senate Republican and has said he can't support the measure if huge numbers of people lose coverage.

The budget office report said coverage losses would especially affect people between ages 50 and 64, shy of when they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or around $30,300 for an individual.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would vote against a GOP procedural motion, expected Wednesday, to begin formally debating the legislation. She tweeted that she favors a bipartisan effort to fix Obama's 2010 statute but added, "CBO analysis shows Senate bill won't do it."

In addition, conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would oppose that motion unless the bill was changed. And fellow conservative Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he had "a hard time believing" he'd have enough information to back that motion this week.

Those two — plus fellow conservatives Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas — have said the current measure doesn't do enough to erase Obama's law and reduce premiums. All four said last week they'd oppose the bill without changes, as did Heller.

Most of the disgruntled senators have left the door open to backing the measure if it's changed, and McConnell plans to seek revisions aimed at winning more votes. But taking steps to mollify moderates could alienate conservatives.

"It's going to be very close, but we're working with each one of them in trying to accommodate their concerns without losing other support," said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas.

Vice President Mike Pence invited four GOP senators to dinner Tuesday to discuss the bill, his office said: Lee and Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

The Senate plan, aimed at rolling back much of Obama's 2010 statute, would end the tax penalty that law imposes on people who don't buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama's so-called individual mandate. It would let states ease Obama's requirements that insurers cover certain specified services like substance abuse treatments, and eliminate taxes on wealthier people and medical companies that Obama's law used to expand coverage.

It would also phase out extra federal money that law is providing to 31 states to expand Medicaid to additional low-income earners. And it would put annual caps on overall Medicaid money the government until now has automatically paid states, whatever the costs.

CBO said that under the bill, most insurance markets around the country would be stable before 2020. It said that similar to the House bill, average premiums around the country would be higher over the next two years — including about 20 percent higher in 2018 than under Obama's statute — but lower beginning in 2020.

But the office said that overall, the Senate legislation would increase out of pocket costs for deductibles and copayments. That's because standard policies would be skimpier than currently offered under Obama's law, covering a smaller share of expected medical costs.

In another troublesome finding for the legislation, the budget office warned that in some rural areas, either no insurer would be willing participate in the individual market or the policies offered would be prohibitively expensive. Rural America was a stronghold for Trump in the presidential election.

The American Medical Association, the nation's largest doctors' group, said it opposed the Senate bill, saying some people would lose coverage and others would find it too costly. In a letter to Senate leaders, they said the measure violates the physicians' dictum, "First, do no harm."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[What Trump Has Promised on Health Care]]>Mon, 26 Jun 2017 06:52:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17124741528885.jpg

President Donald Trump is not known for plunging into the details of complex policy issues, and health care is no exception. Since his campaign days, Trump has addressed health care in broad, aspirational strokes. Nonetheless he made some clear promises along the way.

Those promises come under two big headings. First, what Trump would do about the Affordable Care Act, his predecessor's health care law, often called "Obamacare." Second, the kind of health care system that Trump envisions for Americans.

On repealing Obama's law, Trump seems to have a realistic chance to deliver. But he's nowhere close to fulfilling his generous promises of affordable health care for all.

A look at some of the president's major health care promises, and how the Republican legislation advancing in Congress lines up with them:

REPEAL 'OBAMACARE'
Repealing President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement has been a clear and consistent promise from Trump. Under the Obama law, some 20 million people gained coverage through a combination of subsidized private insurance and a state option to expand Medicaid for low-income people. Costs have been a problem, as are shaky insurance markets for people buying their own policies. But the nation's uninsured rate is at a historic low, about 9 percent.

Both the House and Senate GOP bills would largely fulfill Trump's promise to repeal Obama's law.

Both bills end Obama's unpopular requirement for individuals to carry health insurance or risk fines. The legislation also phases down the Medicaid expansion and repeals hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on upper-income people and health care industries, used under Obama to finance coverage. And it opens the way for states to seek waivers of federal health insurance requirements.

Some Republican critics on the right say the congressional bills leave other major parts of "Obamacare" in place, such as subsidies for people buying private insurance, and too many rules. While the subsidy structure would remain, much less taxpayer money is invested in it.

'INSURANCE FOR EVERYBODY'
In a Washington Post interview before his inauguration, Trump distilled his vision for health care into a few visionary goals.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," he said. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

Trump said he was close to finishing a plan of his own that would have "lower numbers, much lower deductibles."

But the White House never delivered a health care plan from the president.

And the congressional plans are likely to increase the number of uninsured people, because even if all Americans have access to coverage, some may no longer be able to afford it.

Deductibles are likely to rise for many people with individual coverage because the congressional plans would end subsidies under Obama's law that reduced out-of-pocket costs for those with modest incomes.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected that, on average, premiums for individual policies would be lower over the long run than under current law. But there would be winners and losers. Younger adults and those in good health are likely to find better deals. Older people and those requiring comprehensive coverage could well end up paying more.

TAKING AWAY THE LINES
During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a system in which insurance plans would compete nationally, offering Americans choice and lower premiums.

"What I'd like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state," he said at one of the presidential debates.

Many experts say Trump's vision of interstate competition is unrealistic because health insurance, like real estate, reflects local prices. In any case, it remains unfulfilled in the GOP legislation.

Some congressional leaders have promised that cross-state insurance will be addressed in follow-on legislation. Such a bill, however, would likely have to meet a 60-vote test in the Senate.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG PRICES
During the presidential campaign, and since becoming president, Trump called for action to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.

The GOP bills in Congress basically sidestep that.

At one point in the campaign, Trump called for giving Medicare the authority to directly negotiate prices with drug makers, an approach favored to some extent by Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Trump also proposed letting Americans import prescription drugs from other countries, where prices are usually lower because of government regulation.

But Medicare negotiations are a nonstarter for most congressional Republicans, and Trump's call for allowing drug importation has faded.

MEDICAID
In a 2015 interview with The Daily Signal, Trump said: "I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid."

But last year, his campaign started backtracking on the Medicaid promise, endorsing the idea of limited federal financing for the federal-state program that covers some 70 million low-income people, from newborns to elderly nursing home residents, from special-needs kids to part-time workers lacking job-based health insurance.

The Republican bills in Congress would phase out Obama's financing for Medicaid expansion and limit future federal payments for the entire program as well. The Congressional Budget Office said the House bill would reduce federal Medicaid spending by $834 billion over 10 years, and the program would cover about 14 million fewer people by 2026, a 17 percent reduction.

Several Republican governors have joined their Democratic counterparts calling that a massive cost-shift to the states.

OPIOID CRISIS
The Trump White House says it's serious about confronting the nation's opioid epidemic, which shows no sign of letup.

"The president is all in," health secretary Tom Price said on a recent visit to New Hampshire. "He has such passion for this issue because he knows the misery and the suffering that has occurred across this land."

But state officials say rolling back Obama's Medicaid expansion would deal a heavy blow to their efforts to treat addiction and get its victims back to jobs and family. Among the group of low-income adults made eligible for Medicaid under Obama are many younger people struggling with drug problems. They've been able to get treatment and support services through Medicaid.

The Senate bill would set up a $2 billion fund to help states fight the epidemic; some GOP senators had sought $45 billion. The House bill does not address it.

Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File]]>
<![CDATA[Medical Groups Hate the 'Heartless' Senate Health Care Plan]]>Fri, 23 Jun 2017 13:11:45 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-699840802.jpg

Both versions of the Republican plan to fix the American health care system would make things worse, not better, according to groups that represent a variety of physicians.

NBC News reported that pediatrician, cancer specialist, cardiologist and family doctor groups were denouncing the Senate version of the bill within hours of its release Thursday.

"The Senate draft health care bill is literally heartless," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said.

Among the reasons so many medical professionals oppose the changes Republicans have proposed to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," is that it reduces funding for Medicaid, the state-federal health plan that covers many low-income, disabled and pregnant people, as well as a large portion of American children.



Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How Senate Health Bill Compares to House Bill, 'Obamacare']]>Thu, 22 Jun 2017 17:54:35 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-699905432.jpg

The Senate Republican health care bill would guarantee immediate assistance for insurance markets that are struggling in many states. Yet overall it would do the same thing as its House counterpart: less federal money for health insurance and a greater likelihood that more Americans will be uninsured.

The bill's impact on personal health care costs would be uneven: Premiums would likely go down for younger people, but older people would pay more. Out-of-pocket costs to cover insurance deductibles and co-payments would go up.

For those who believe the government is too involved in health care, the Senate bill stands as an overdue course correction. But those who believe health care is a right will see it as a step back.

How the Senate bill compares to the House bill and to the Affordable Care Act that Democrat Barack Obama signed into law seven years ago:

MEDICAID
Obama law: States have the option to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. Feds pick up a generous share of the cost, no less than 90 percent. Medicaid covers some 70 million people, from newborns to elderly nursing home residents.

House GOP bill: Reduces the generous federal match for expanded Medicaid to the same rate states get for other beneficiaries, starting in 2020. (The basic Medicaid match rate now averages 57 percent nationally.)

More significantly, ends Medicaid's longtime status as an open-ended entitlement, with Washington paying a share of what each state spends. Places a per-person limit on future federal contributions, starting in 2020.

Senate GOP bill: Stretches phase-out of Medicaid expansion financing. Higher payments would be provided through 2023. Exempts spending on special-needs children from cap on federal Medicaid matching contribution. Uses a less generous inflation adjustment than House bill.

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS
Obama law: People cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing medical problems, nor can they be charged more because of poor health.

House GOP bill: To be protected, consumers must avoid a break in coverage of more than 63 days. Those who let their coverage lapse pay a 30 percent premium penalty for a year. States can seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge higher premiums based on health status under certain circumstances.

Senate GOP bill: There is no penalty for having a break in coverage and no waiting period for consumers to use their insurance. States cannot seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge more based on health.

SUBSIDIES FOR PRIVATE INSURANCE
Obama law: Provides two kinds of subsidies for people who don't have access to coverage on the job. Income-based subsidies help with premiums and with out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and copayments. Premium subsidies keyed to the cost of a midlevel "silver" plan.

House GOP bill: Premium subsidies are keyed to age, not income. Ends cost-sharing subsidies in 2020, while failing to clear up uncertainty about whether they can be paid currently.

Senate GOP bill: Premium subsidies are keyed to income, age and geography, and are more tightly focused on lower-income people. But the benchmark for subsidies would be a bare-bones "bronze" plan. Cost-sharing subsidies are explicitly extended through 2019, an important detail that should help calm insurance markets.

AGE FACTOR
Obama law: Insurers cannot charge their oldest customers more than 3 times what they charge young adults.

House GOP bill: Loosens the age restriction so insurers can charge older adults up to 5 times more.

Senate GOP bill: Generally follows House standard.

MANDATES TO CARRY HEALTH INSURANCE
Obama law: Requires those deemed able to afford coverage to have a policy or risk fines from the IRS. Requires larger employers to offer coverage to full-time workers.

House GOP bill: Repeals coverage mandates immediately.

Senate GOP bill: Same as House.

STANDARD HEALTH BENEFITS
Obama law: Requires all insurance plans to cover services from 10 broad "essential services," including hospitalization, office visits, prescriptions, maternity and childbirth, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, and preventive services, including birth control at no additional charge for women.

House GOP bill: Allows states to seek waivers from the benefits requirement.

Senate GOP bill: Also provides a pathway for states to seek benefit waivers.

OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Obama law: Medicaid expansion has enabled many states to provide comprehensive treatment to people caught in the opioid epidemic.

House GOP bill: No additional money for the opioid epidemic.

Senate GOP bill: Creates $2 billion fund to provide grants to states for substance abuse and mental health treatment. Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman had sought $45 billion over 10 years.

TAXES
Obama law: Raised taxes on upper-income people and health care companies to finance coverage expansion.

House GOP bill: Cuts taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, mostly for corporations and the richest families.

Senate GOP bill: Tax cuts very similar to House bill, though some would be delayed.

ABORTION
Obama law: Private health insurance plans sold to people who receive federal subsidies can cover abortion. However, they must collect a separate premium, strictly segregated from taxpayer funds.

House GOP bill: Forbids abortion coverage by private plans sold to people who receive taxpayer subsidies. Defunds Planned Parenthood.

Senate GOP bill: Forbids abortion coverage by plans sold to people who receive taxpayer subsidies. Defunds Planned Parenthood.

However, under Senate rules, there's a chance abortion restrictions on private insurance plans may be struck down. In that case, Senate leaders plan a workaround. Billions of dollars to stabilize state health insurance markets would be funneled through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which already has strong limitations on abortion funding. The idea is that insurers needing access to the stability fund would essentially have to drop coverage for abortions.

This story has been corrected to say that the Senate bill does not have a penalty for a break in coverage, or a waiting period to use insurance.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hummus Sold At Wal-Mart, Target Recalled for Listeria Risk]]>Thu, 22 Jun 2017 12:40:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/armus-hummus.jpg

A brand of pine nut hummus sold at major retailers including Wal-Mart and Target has been recalled by its manufacturer because it may be contaminated with listeria.

House of Thaller, which is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, voluntarily recalled all 10-ounce packages of hummus products containing pine nut topping, after a supplier reported the possible contamination.

Thaller sells its hummus under the brand names Marketside, Lantana, and Fresh Foods Market across the country, including at large nationwide retailers.

Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that may have contaminated the hummus, can cause serious infections in young children, the elderly, and anyone with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, nausea and diarrhea.

No illnesses have been reported in relation to the product, which was distributed from April 18 to June 13, according to the FDA.

Anyone with questions about the recall can call the House of Thaller customer service center on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST at 855-215-5142. Or click here for more information.  



Photo Credit: US Food & Drug Administration]]>
<![CDATA[5 Key Issues to Look for in the Senate Health Care Bill]]>Thu, 22 Jun 2017 01:44:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mcconnell3.jpg

With Senate Republican leaders expected to release details of their health care bill in a 9:30 a.m. meeting Thursday, NBC News rounded up five big issues that are at the heart of the proposed legislation. 

Medicaid has been a major talking point in the health care debate. Republican leaders have been contemplating a slow winding-down of the program, making it less generous or creating carve-outs so certain groups don't lose coverage, such as children with chronic health problems.

Lawmakers are also looking at taxes. The Senate is trying to correct the House's version of the bill that gives tax credits based on age. But some lawmakers also want to repeal the taxes they believe increase the cost of premiums, including the tax on insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and more.

Opioid treatment could also lose funding, though some senators are weighing the option of creating a pool of money to be available for that purpose. And Planned Parenthood is facing strict opposition from Republicans, but moderates don't want the organization to lose funding.



Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Vaccine Ineffective for People 65 and Older Last Winter]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 18:53:28 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-458535168-flushotnew.jpg

The flu vaccine did a poor job protecting older Americans against the illness last winter, even though the vaccine was well-matched to the flu bugs going around.

U.S. health officials on Wednesday released new vaccine data showing it did a so-so job overall.

The vaccine was about 42 percent effective in preventing illness severe enough to send a patient to the doctor's office. But it was essentially ineffective protecting some age groups. That includes people 65 and older — the group that's hardest hit by flu, suffering the most deaths and hospitalizations.

The flu season that just ended was a long one that peaked in February and was considered moderately severe. But the flu-related hospitalization rate for older adults was the highest it's been since the severe 2014-2015 flu season.

Like that season, last winter was dominated by a kind of flu — Type A H3N2 — that tends to cause more deaths and serious illnesses than other seasonal flu viruses.

In four of the last seven flu seasons, flu vaccine was essentially ineffective in seniors, past studies suggest. The worst performances tend to be in H3N2-dominant seasons.

Health officials say flu vaccine still protects many people. And even if fares poorly against the dominant virus, it can do a good job against other circulating flu strains.

"While it is clear we need better flu vaccines, it's important that we not lose sight of the important benefits of vaccination with currently available vaccines," said Jill Ferdinands, a flu epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement.

The CDC calculates vaccine effectiveness from a sample of flu tests done on patients in five states.

Vaccines against some other infectious diseases are not considered successful unless they are at least 90 percent effective. But flu is particularly challenging. Over the last ten winters, overall flu vaccine effectiveness has averaged about 46 percent.

Last winter's vaccine did well in protecting young children, about 60 percent effective. And it did OK in older children and in adults ages 50 to 64. But it had no clear effect in adults 18 to 49, or among the oldest adults.

Results were presented at a meeting in Atlanta of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which provides vaccine advice to the CDC.

CDC officials said the numbers are preliminary. Investigators are trying to figure out whether past flu vaccinations made a difference in how well the most recent flu shot worked, and whether there's a way to check more people to see how quickly the vaccine's protection is lasting.

Experts also are looking at whether certain brands of vaccine offer more protection than others. About 40 percent of older Americans get a higher-dose flu vaccine that is supposed to work better.

Flu shots are recommended for virtually all Americans age 6 months or older.

Among infectious diseases, flu is considered one of the U.S.'s leading killers. CDC estimates there are tens of thousands of deaths each year from flu and pneumonia.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, file]]>
<![CDATA[Women Keep Dressing Like ‘Handmaids’ at Statehouses]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:02:43 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/handmaidslegislation_1200x675.jpg

Women across the country are using creative methods to get their message on reproductive rights to their local and state legislative bodies by channeling the characters from the dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale," NBC News reported.

Groups of women gather in legislative rooms and hold discussions dressed in long red robes and white bonnets, just like the characters in the Margaret Atwood novel and current Hulu series.

"The Handmaid’s Tale is based on what actually has happened to women throughout history, where women have been essentially narrowed down to their reproductive abilities," said Stephanie Craddock Sherwood, executive director of the Ohio abortion fund Women Have Options (WHO).



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Wants To Stop Pharma From 'Gaming' Generic Drug System]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:30:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pills-generic-03-GettyImages-108339198.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration is trying to stop pharmaceutical companies from "gaming" the system by blocking or delaying generic competition, Reuters reported.

The agency plans a public meeting on July 18 to help it search for ways pharmaceutical companies are using its rules to block generic competition, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a blog post Wednesday.

"We know that sometimes our regulatory rules might be 'gamed' in ways that may delay generic drug approvals beyond the time frame the law intended, in order to reduce competition," he said in the blog post. "We are actively looking at ways our rules are being used and, in some cases, misused."

President Donald Trump and lawmakers in Congress are searching for ways to lower prescription costs.



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Namaste: It's International Yoga Day]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:13:21 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+YOGA+DAY+THUMB.jpg

June 21 is the third annual International Yoga Day, which thousands of yogis across the world marked at mass gatherings. It's estimated that over 36 million Americans practice yoga annually, spending more than $16 billion on classes, clothes and equipment.]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Medicaid Cuts Would Hit States Battling Opioid Epidemic]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:02:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17166699140334-Heroin-Overdose-Survivor.jpg

The Republican drive to roll back Barack Obama's health care law is on a collision course with a national opioid epidemic that's not letting up.

Medicaid cuts resulting from the GOP legislation would hit hard in states deeply affected by the addiction crisis and struggling to turn the corner, according to state data and concerned lawmakers in both parties.

The House health care bill would phase out expanded Medicaid, which allows states to provide federally backed insurance to low-income adults previously not eligible. Many people in that demographic are in their 20s and 30s and dealing with opioid addiction. Dollars from Washington have allowed states to boost their response to the crisis, paying for medication, counseling, therapy and other services.

According to data compiled by The Associated Press, Medicaid expansion accounted for 61 percent of total Medicaid spending on substance abuse treatment in Kentucky, 47 percent in West Virginia, 56 percent in Michigan, 59 percent in Maryland, and 31 percent in Rhode Island. In Ohio, the expansion accounted for 43 percent of Medicaid spending in 2016 on behavioral health, a category that includes mental health and substance abuse.

Those states accepted the Medicaid expansion and represent a cross-section of places hardest hit by the overdose epidemic, which claimed more than 52,000 lives nationwide in 2015. Of the deaths, more than 6 in 10 were due to opioids, from prescription pain relievers like oxycodone to street drugs like heroin and an elephant tranquilizer.

Tracy Plouck, Ohio's director of mental health and addiction services, said Medicaid expansion dollars from Washington have allowed her state to redirect its own resources to priorities like providing recovery housing after detox. Reversing that would have real consequences for people who are trying to straighten their lives out. "If you go back into an environment where people are using, that sets you up with a risk that's nearly insurmountable," Plouck said.

In Youngstown, Ohio, factory mechanic Paul Wright credits sustained help from Medicaid with his survival after he nearly died from a heroin overdose. Wright said he had started using as a teenager and has been drug-free now for 18 months. Before Medicaid expanded, his father's health insurance would pay for detox, but not for long-term treatment. Wright would relapse. With Medicaid, he's been able to get follow-up.

"It's truly sad, but I've been to many funerals since I've been clean," said Wright, who's in his mid-20s. "I just think Medicaid — honestly — it saves people." And he's able to work.

The House GOP bill would end the extra funding states get through expanded Medicaid in 2020, and place a limit on overall federal spending for the program in the future. People already covered like Wright would be grandfathered in as long as they continue to meet eligibility requirements. But that's no comfort to Carolyn Givens, who runs the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center, where Wright gets help.

"If somebody could say to me, 'Carolyn, the crisis is going to be over next week,' I'd feel OK — but I got 40 people on a waiting list," Givens said.

Medicaid cuts have become a major sticking point in the Senate for the GOP's American Health Care Act. Republican leaders can only afford to lose two votes, and several GOP senators from hard-hit states have been critical. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. said Tuesday that senators are considering extending the phase-out by three years, to 2023.

At a recent budget hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price defended the Trump administration and raised questions about how much difference Medicaid actually makes.

The HHS budget for the opioid crisis is more than three times greater than two years ago, $811 million versus $245 million, Price said. That reflects increases approved by Congress beyond what Medicaid spends.

Questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about the consequences of reducing Medicaid's commitment, Price responded that more government spending is not the answer.

"Let me respectfully suggest ... that the programs that are out there by and large are not working," Price said. "We are losing more Americans today than we did last year ... clearly we're moving in the wrong direction."

Price suggested that states would be more effective with the greater flexibility promised by the GOP plan for Medicaid.

Said Leahy: "As a child I believed in the tooth fairy, but I'm a little bit older now."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said it's too early to expect a turnaround in the epidemic. "The resources are just getting to the communities," she said.

In New Hampshire, "we're just beginning to see the benefits of having the expansion of Medicaid to provide treatment for people," Shaheen added.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., wasn't convinced either. "I'm having trouble, as many of us are, reconciling your stated goal (about the opioid crisis) being one of your top three priorities with these dramatic cuts, " she said to Price during the hearing.

Cutting financing for the Medicaid expansion "would create an unsustainable financial obligation" for West Virginia, said Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for the state's health department.

Back in Youngstown, recovering addict Niki Campana says "it's like the apocalypse around here." Campana is helping other women with drug problems.

"I work with a lot of girls that struggle," she said at the Kennedy treatment center. "We can get them on Medicaid in a day and get them in treatment. For that not to be able to happen, that would be horrible."

Associated Press writers Adam Beam, Becky Bohrer, Randall Chase, David Eggert, Morgan Lee, Ben Nuckols, Wilson Ring, Michelle R. Smith, Michael Virtanen and Brian Witte contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Dermer]]>
<![CDATA[They're Back! Numbers of Ticks are High Across New England]]>Tue, 20 Jun 2017 18:03:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tickslymenewengland_1200x675.jpg

Tick numbers are on the rise across New England, raising the prospect of an increase in Lyme and other diseases associated with the blood suckers.

Much of the region got a respite last year as the drought took a toll on ticks, whose numbers drop as the humidity falls below 85 percent. But the drought is largely gone from the region and ticks are taking advantage.

Residents in Maine are complaining they are finding as many as 30 ticks at a time on their clothes, and public health officials in Vermont are reporting an above-average rate of emergency room visits for tick bites in the last three weeks.

"All of sudden everybody you know has got them," said George Africa, owner of Vermont Flower Farm. He's found two black-legged ticks on him in the last several weeks.

Alan Eaton, a tick expert with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said the high numbers he has seen in New Hampshire are in line with what was expected, considering the high moisture levels and short dry periods.

"It's a really bad year," Eaton said.

On top of that, ticks have taken advantage of a proliferation in their favorite hosts, especially mice, chipmunks and other small rodents. But it isn't so much the number of rodents this year that is critical.

Researchers from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, which for the past decade has studied ticks, found that a bevy of acorns one year can lead to a spike in Lyme-infected ticks two years later. They documented a bumper acorn crop in 2015 that resulted in an increase in small-rodent numbers a year later. As a result, they projected that 2017 would be especially bad for Lyme-disease ticks.

"When those mice have a big boom in their population in the summer, that is when new baby ticks are just hatching out of their eggs," said Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist with the Cary Institute. "If there are a ton of mice, many of those baby ticks feed on a mouse. They are likely to survive and come out as nymphs the next year, and those mice are the place those baby ticks get infected with Lyme disease bacteria."

With the explosion in tick numbers in the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in tick-related diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Lyme disease cases has tripled to about 30,000 cases nationwide annually. Cases of anaplasmosis, which can cause fever, headache, chills and muscle aches, have also risen steadily.

Two years ago, Vermont had the highest rate of reported Lyme disease cases nationwide.

How can people limit their exposure to ticks? According to the Vermont Health Department, people should avoid wooded, bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, apply a tick repellent with at least 30 percent DEET and check their body daily for ticks.

Public health officials in New England said it's too early to say what impact all these ticks will have on diseases this year.

Catherine Brown, deputy state epidemiologist for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said it could be "good news" that people are seeing more of the dog tick rather than the black-legged deer tick that carries Lyme. The dog tick, the hardier of the two, carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, but those diseases are rare in New England.

"No matter what happens, there are a lot of ticks in New England," she said. "If there is a few fewer this year or more next year, then from a public health standpoint it doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of ticks and great potential for exposure to the diseases they carry.

Casey reported from Concord, New Hampshire. Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report from Portland, Maine.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[India's No-Meat, No-Lust Advice for Pregnant Women Ridiculed]]>Tue, 20 Jun 2017 07:55:00 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17170329215266-India-Pregnancy-Advice-Doctors.jpg

India's government is advising pregnant women to avoid all meat, eggs and lusty thoughts, but doctors say the advice is preposterous, and even dangerous, considering India's already-poor record with maternal health.

Women are often the last to eat or receive health care in traditionally patriarchal Indian households. Malnutrition and anemia, or iron deficiency, are key factors behind India's having one of the world's highest rates of maternal mortality, with 174 of every 100,000 pregnancies resulting in the mother's death in 2015.

That's better than five years earlier, when the maternal mortality rate was 205 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, but still far worse than China's 27 per 100,000 or the United States' 14 per 100,000, according to UNICEF.

"The government is doling out unscientific and irrational advice, instead of ensuring that poor pregnant women get to eat a nutritious, high-protein diet," said gynecologist Arun Gadre, who is based in the western Indian city of Pune but works in rural areas.

The government booklet, titled "Mother and Child Care," smacks of religious dogma and ignores widely accepted medical evidence that pregnant women benefit from eating protein-rich meats and can safely engage in sex, doctors said.

It says pregnant women should also shun "impure thoughts" and look at pictures of beautiful babies to benefit the fetus.

"Pregnant women should detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred and lust," reads the booklet, released last week by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, a part of the government's ministry that promotes traditional and alternative medicine.

The traditional medicine minister defended the booklet as containing "wisdom accumulated over many centuries," and said it did not advise specifically against sex, only against all thoughts of desire or lust.

"The booklet puts together relevant facts culled out from clinical practice in the fields of yoga and naturopathy," Minister Shripad Naik said.

The advice is unlikely to be followed at the many government-run health centers across India. They are operated by the Health Ministry, which has had past conflicts with the traditional medicine ministry and follows more scientific practices.

The booklet is the latest push for vegetarianism by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government, which already advocates avoiding beef and strictly limits the transportation and slaughter of cows, which are considered sacred by Hindus.

But the latest homily to pregnant women has outraged the medical community.

"This is a national shame. If the calories of expectant mothers are further reduced by asking them to shun meat and eggs, this situation will only worsen," Gadre said. "This is absurd advice to be giving to pregnant women in a country like India."

About a third of India's 1.3 billion people struggle to live on less than $2 a day. Many are lucky to eat more than one full meal a day, and women often give their portions up to their hungry children or husbands.

Malnourished women are more likely to give birth to underweight babies, who then are in danger of being "stunted" or not growing to their full height and weight. A full 48 percent of all Indian children under the age of 5 are considered stunted, according to a 2015 report by UNICEF.

"Undernourished girls grow into undernourished women. Married by their families while still in their teens, these girls become pregnant by the time they are 17 or 18, when their bodies have not matured enough to safely deliver a child," said Amit Sengupta, a physician and health care activist with the Delhi Science Forum, a public advocacy organization.

He said the government's advice to pregnant women betrayed "backward thinking" and hostility toward evidence-based science.

"This kind of advice is detrimental to women's health," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh, File]]>
<![CDATA['Human Project' Study Will Ask 10,000 to Share Life's Data]]>Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:39:02 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17167479729521.jpg

Wanted: 10,000 New Yorkers interested in advancing science by sharing a trove of personal information, from cellphone locations and credit-card swipes to blood samples and life-changing events. For 20 years.

Researchers are gearing up to start recruiting participants from across the city next year for a study so sweeping it's called "The Human Project ." It aims to channel different data streams into a river of insight on health, aging, education and many other aspects of human life.

"That's what we're all about: putting the holistic picture together," says project director Dr. Paul Glimcher, a New York University neural science, economics and psychology professor.

There have been other "big data" health studies, and the National Institutes of Health plans to start full-scale recruitment as soon as this fall for a million-person project intended to foster individualized treatment.

But the $15 million-a-year Human Project is breaking ground with the scope of individual data it plans to collect simultaneously, says Dr. Vasant Dhar, editor-in-chief of the journal Big Data, which published a 2015 paper about the project.

"It is very ambitious," the NYU information systems professor says.

Participants will be invited to join; researchers are tapping survey science to create a demographically representative group.

They'll start with tests of everything from blood to genetics to IQ. They'll be asked for access to medical, financial and educational records, as well as cellphone data such as location and the numbers they call and text. They'll also be given wearable activity trackers, special scales, and surveys via smartphone. Follow-up blood and urine tests - and an at-home fecal sample - will be requested every three years.

Participants get $500 per family for enrolling, plus a say in directing some charitable money to community projects.

Researchers hope the results will illuminate the interplay between health, behavior and circumstances, potentially shedding new light on conditions ranging from asthma to Alzheimer's disease.

Their excitement comes with the responsibility of safeguarding the digital savings of a lifetime.

Protections include multiple rounds of encryption and firewalls. Outside researchers won't be able to see any raw data, just anonymized subsets limited to the information they need. They'll take nothing with them but their analyses - by hand, since the analyzing computers aren't connected to the internet, Glimcher said.

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, credits the Human Project researchers with taking security seriously. But he wonders whether authorities might seek to get at the information for investigations, though Glimcher maintains that the researchers could protect it from anything but major terrorism probes.

Glimcher knows The Human Project aspires boldly. In fact, its frequently-asked-questions list includes: "Is this possible? Are you crazy?"

He points to one of medicine's most storied research efforts: The Framingham Heart Study , launched in 1948. Some 15,000 residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, have been examined over the years. The initiative has fueled more than 1,200 studies and revealed that blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking were linked to heart disease risk.

"If we could be seen as having contributed to American health care and well-being and education in the United States in the way that Framingham did, but magnified a hundredfold by the tools of today's data, what a fantastic accomplishment that would be," says Glimcher.

Nancy Spinale knows what it takes to be part of an accomplishment like that.

Her parents joined the Framingham study in 1948, she in 1971 and her husband and four children since then. Now 75 and living on Cape Cod, the retired teacher still undergoes an hourslong follow-up exam and interview every couple of years.

Her loved ones have gotten some personally useful information from exams. And she's gotten the pride of seeing studies come out, with information that could help everyone's health.

"That's the 'wow' feeling," she says.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan]]>
<![CDATA[Too Hot to Handle: Study Shows Earth's Killer Heat Worsens]]>Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:50:14 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17167791954667-Heat-Wave-Phoenix.jpg

Killer heat is getting worse, a new study shows.

Deadly heat waves like the one now broiling the American West are bigger killers than previously thought and they are going to grow more frequent, according to a new comprehensive study of fatal heat conditions. Still, those stretches may be less lethal in the future, as people become accustomed to them.

A team of researchers examined 1,949 deadly heat waves from around the world since 1980 to look for trends, define when heat is so severe it kills and forecast the future. They found that nearly one in three people now experience 20 days a year when the heat reaches deadly levels. But the study predicts that up to three in four people worldwide will endure that kind of heat by the end of the century, if global warming continues unabated.

"The United States is going to be an oven," said Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii, lead author of a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study comes as much of the U.S. swelters through extended triple-digit heat. Temperatures hit records of 106, 105 and 103 in Santa Rosa, Livermore and San Jose, California on Sunday, as a heat wave was forecast to continue through midweek. In late May, temperatures in Turbat, Pakistan, climbed to about 128 degrees; if confirmed, that could be among the five hottest temperatures reliably measured on Earth, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of Weather Underground.

Last year 22 countries or territories set or tied records for their hottest temperatures on record, said Masters, who wasn't part of the study. So far this year, seven have done so.

"This is already bad. We already know it," Mora said. "The empirical data suggest it's getting much worse."

Mora and colleagues created an interactive global map with past heat waves and computer simulations to determine how much more frequent they will become under different carbon dioxide pollution scenarios. The map shows that under the current pollution projections, the entire eastern United States will have a significant number of killer heat days. Even higher numbers are predicted for the Southeast U.S., much of Central and South America, central Africa, India, Pakistan, much of Asia and Australia.

Mora and outside climate scientists said the study and map underestimate past heat waves in many poorer hot areas where record-keeping is weak. It's more accurate when it comes to richer areas like the United States and Europe.

If pollution continues as it has, Mora said, by the end of the century the southern United States will have entire summers of what he called lethal heat conditions.

A hotter world doesn't necessarily mean more deaths in all locales, Mora said. That's because he found over time the same blistering conditions — heat and humidity — killed fewer people than in the past, mostly because of air conditioning and governments doing a better job keeping people from dying in the heat. So while heat kills and temperatures are rising, people are adapting, though mostly in countries that can afford it. And those that can't afford it are likely to get worse heat in the future.

"This work confirms the alarming projections of increasing hot days over coming decades — hot enough to threaten lives on a very large scale," said Dr. Howard Frumkin, a University of Washington environmental health professor who wasn't part of the study.

Mora documented more than 100,000 deaths since 1980, but said there are likely far more because of areas that didn't have good data. Not all of them were caused by man-made climate change.

Just one heat wave — in Europe in 2003 — killed more than 70,000 people.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: APaAP Photo/Matt York]]>
<![CDATA[Six Experts Resign From President's HIV/AIDS Advisory Panel]]>Sun, 18 Jun 2017 18:40:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-499435366.jpg

Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, explained in a Newsweek op-ed Friday that he and five colleagues decided to leave their posts on the council in protest of the Trump administration, which they allege "has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic."

Schoettes, who is openly HIV positive, added that the White House is also pushing legislation that would harm people with HIV and “reverse gains made in the fight against the disease.”

Lucy Bradley-Springer, Gina Brown, Ulysses W. Burley III, Michelle Ogle and Grissel Granados are the five other members who resigned.

The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.



Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Laundry Pods Can Be Fatal for Adults With Dementia]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 16:14:26 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/detergent-pods-file.jpg

Within the past five years, six adults with cognitive impairment have died from ingesting brightly colored laundry detergent pods. During the same time, two children died from doing the same.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the numbers indicate that the pods, which some argue closely resemble sweets or candy, pose more of a danger to adults with dementia than they do to children.

The deaths were first revealed by independent non-profit consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports after it filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the CPSC. The CPSC told NBC News it was aware of five such deaths in the U.S. and one in Canada.



Photo Credit: Pat Sullivan/AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[App for Air Pollution Could Make City Living a Lot Safer]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:50:53 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/calipollutionx1200x675.jpg

Out of a pollution study an app, that can pinpoint pollution hot spots block by block, is being developed for city dwellers, reported NBC News. 

A study suggests that it might be possible for local authorities to pinpoint air quality that would otherwise go undetected — and help citizens avoid living in or traveling through those areas.

Researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the University of Texas tracked two Google Street View cars rigged with air quality monitoring equipment for levels of black carbon, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide as they drove throughout Oakland, Calif.

The study was published last week in the journal of Environment Science & Technology.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fewer Teens Are Vaping and Smoking, CDC Survey Finds]]>Thu, 15 Jun 2017 15:41:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-647804748.jpg

Teen smoking rates have hit new lows in the U.S. and, for the first time, fewer high school students are trying e-cigarettes, NBC News reported.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows cigarette smoking and vaping rates went down in 2016.

“The decline in use of tobacco products was primarily driven by a drop in e-cigarette use among middle and high school students from 3 million in 2015 to just under 2.2 million in 2016,” the CDC report says.

CDC and anti-smoking groups both said a combination of tobacco restrictions, advertising and taxes has helped reduce smoking rates.



Photo Credit: Sergei Konkov/TASS via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Study Finds Traces of Lead in Some Baby Foods]]>Thu, 15 Jun 2017 11:56:02 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/240*120/061517+generic+baby+food.JPG

A startling new report finds detectable levels of lead in baby food, a finding that may concern parents. But experts say it's important to stay vigilant about bigger sources of lead poisoning in kids.

Crumbling, peeling paint in older homes is one of the nation's biggest sources of lead exposure. Now there's evidence of another, more minor source of lead exposure in some food produced.

"That included fruit juices; baby fruit juices; root vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, and some categories of cookies, like arrowroot biscuits and teething cookies,” said Sarah Vogel from the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Environmental Defense Fund explored data from the Food and Drug Administration, finding what it calls "detectable" levels of lead in some baby food — though there's no information about how much or which brands are involved, and some samples had no lead at all.

"Lead can have an impact on the developing brain. It can have consequences later in life when it comes to issues around attention, behavior," said Dr. Aparna Bole, a pediatrician with UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.

The FDA says the administration set a maximum daily lead intake of six micrograms, which is being reviewed, saying on its website, "lead is in food because it is in the environment and lead cannot simply be removed from food."

Doctors discourage parents from worrying too much about lead in baby food, saying they can make their own baby food by using local produce when possible and speaking to their pediatricians about the best ways to avoid lead.

"I certainly would not recommend avoiding entire food groups because of a concern about lead exposure," Bole said. "Root vegetables are a really healthy choice for babies."



Photo Credit: NBC]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Health Care Law Could Cost Nearly 1 Million Jobs: Report]]>Wed, 14 Jun 2017 19:14:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-649341364.jpg

The American Health Care Act, the GOP’s answer to Obamacare, could end up costing the U.S. economy close to 1 million jobs, researchers predicted Wednesday.

If the bill passes, it would initially boost jobs and increase economic output, "however, cuts in funding for Medicaid and health subsidies then begin to deepen, triggering sharp job losses and broad disruption of state economies in the following years," said Leighton Ku, director of the Center for Health Policy Research, who led the study team.

Health care jobs are an enormous part of the U.S. economy — making for 18 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product or GDP. Hospitals, clinics, doctors and health care services are major sources of jobs, too.



Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Iraq: Food Poisoning Strikes Hundreds at Camp for Displaced]]>Tue, 13 Jun 2017 18:00:45 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/iraqfoodposioningcamp_1200x675.jpg

Food poisoning at a camp for displaced residents of Mosul has made more than 700 people sick, with hundreds hospitalized, Iraqi officials said Tuesday.

The incident at the Hassan Sham U2 camp, about 20 kilometers (13 miles) east of Mosul, has become part of the ongoing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi media accused a Qatari charity of supplying tainted food to the residents of the desert camp.

Iraqi Health Minister Adila Hamoud told The Associated Press that 752 people in the camp became ill following a Monday night iftar — the meal breaking the dawn-to-dusk fast by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. At least 300 people remain in serious condition, he said.

The Health Ministry reported that no one had died from food poisoning. Two deaths cited earlier were from other causes. The provincial governor said there had been one death. The U.N. refugee agency at first reported one death but later said nobody had died. The conflicting reports could not immediately be reconciled.

Amira Abdulhaliq of the UNHCR said it was unclear when the meals had become contaminated, whether it was during its preparation, packaging, transportation or distribution.

"So far, we have received around 800 cases. Around 200 have been transported to the hospitals in Irbil," she said.

Irbil Gov. Nawzad Hadi said the food was prepared in an Irbil restaurant by a local NGO, Ain el Muhtajeen, and funded by a Qatari charity known as RAF. In Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a recent campaign to isolate Qatar, state media quickly seized on the issue with coverage that implied Qatar was poisoning refugees deliberately.

On Twitter, Saudi state television accused RAF of supplying tainted meals and posted images it said showed the camp's children "poisoned by the terrorist Qatari RAF organization."

An Iraqi lawmaker who visited the camp overnight also accused the Qatari charity of providing the tainted food.

At midday Tuesday, medics were treating patients in a large tent at the edge of the camp. About 20-30 patients, mostly children, lay on blankets on the floor as several more serious cases were taken away in ambulances. Most were suffering from stomach cramps and dehydration resulting from vomiting and diarrhea.

Raad al-Dahlaki, chairman of the Iraqi parliament's immigration and displacement committee, visited the camp overnight and said the meal contained rice, a bean sauce, meat, yogurt and water. He put the number of sick at 850.

Al-Dahlaki said the food was distributed by RAF, adding that Iraqi officials were to meet those from the organization later Tuesday. The Doha-based charity did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At a joint news conference in the camp, Irbil Police Chief Abdulhaleq Talaat said seven people were arrested in connection with the incident.

Since a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia began June 5, Arab media across the greater Persian Gulf have unleashed a daily barrage of reports highly critical of Qatar. Those reports include stories that alleged Qatar has tried to undermine regional security, often presented without attribution or evidence.

RAF is the acronym for the Qatar-based Thani Bin Abdullah Al Thani Foundation for Humanitarian Services, a charity that collects donations for aid work around the world, including meals for needy families during Ramadan.

RAF is also among 12 organizations and 59 people put on what Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini officials described Friday as a list of terrorist entities and individuals.

On Qatari state television, a repeatedly aired program has discussed how the ongoing diplomatic dispute has stopped it from providing meals to Syrian refugees at a major camp in Jordan.

The Hassan Sham U2 camp houses thousands who have fled their homes in and around Mosul after a U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive was launched in October to dislodge the Islamic State group from Iraq's second-largest city. According to the U.N. refugee agency, it is home to 6,235 people.

Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer 2014 as the militants swept over much of northern and western Iraq. Weeks later, the head of the Sunni extremist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Months after the start of the offensive, ISIS militants control only a handful of neighborhoods in and around the Old City, located west of the Tigris River, which divides Mosul into western and eastern sectors.

Salaheddin reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Muhanad al-Saleh in Baghdad; Malak Harb in Doha, Qatar; and Jon Gambrell and Fay Abuelgasim in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Drones Carrying Defibrillators Could Aid Heart Emergencies]]>Tue, 13 Jun 2017 15:06:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-586221528-drone.jpg

It sounds futuristic: drones carrying heart defibrillators swooping in to help bystanders revive people stricken by cardiac arrest.

Researchers tested the idea and found drones arrived at the scene of 18 cardiac arrests within about 5 minutes of launch. That was almost 17 minutes faster on average than ambulances — a big deal for a condition where minutes mean life or death.

Drone-delivered devices weren't used on patients in the preliminary study, but the results are "pretty remarkable" and proof that the idea is worth exploring, said Dr. Clyde Yancy, a former American Heart Association president who was not involved in the study.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 6 million people each year. Most happen at home or in other nonmedical settings and most patients don't survive.

"Ninety percent of people who collapse outside of a hospital don't make it. This is a crisis and it's time we do something different to address it," said Yancy, cardiology chief at Northwestern University's medical school in Chicago.

The researchers reached the same conclusion after analyzing cardiac arrest data in Sweden, focusing on towns near Stockholm that don't have enough emergency medical resources to serve summer vacationers. The analysis found an emergency response time of almost 30 minutes and a survival rate of zero, said lead author Andreas Claesson, a researcher at the Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

To see if care could be improved, Claesson's team turned to drones.

Drones are increasingly being tested or used in a variety of settings, including to deliver retail goods to consumers in remote areas, search for lost hikers and help police monitor traffic or crowds. Using them to speed medical care seemed like a logical next step, Claesson said.

The study was done last October and was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 350,000 Americans had a cardiac arrest in a nonmedical setting last year, the American Heart Association says. The condition is often confused with heart attacks but they're different.

Heart attacks occur when a clot or other blockage stops blood flow to the heart. Cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses controlling the heart's rhythmic pumping action suddenly malfunction. The heartbeat becomes very irregular or stops, preventing blood from reaching vital organs. Death can occur within minutes without treatment to restore a normal heartbeat, ideally CPR and use of a defibrillator.

The researchers used a small heart defibrillator weighing less than two pounds, featuring an electronic voice that gives instructions on how to use the device. It was attached to a small drone equipped with four small propeller-like rotors, a global positioning device and camera.

They launched the drone from a fire station within about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from homes where people had previous cardiac arrests.

In the study's video footage simulating a rescue, a drone soars over residential rooftops and then lands gently in a backyard. A man dashes out of the house, grabs the defibrillator and carries it inside.

There were no crashes or other mishaps during the study, Claesson said. He plans a follow-up study to test drone-delivered defibrillators for bystanders to use in real-life cardiac arrests.

The test results show "a great potential for saving lives," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Fancy Names May Get People to Eat Their Veggies]]>Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:47:59 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP742732234097_Veggies.jpg

Researchers tried a big serving of food psychology and a dollop of trickery to get diners to eat their vegetables. And it worked. 

Veggies given names like "zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes" and "twisted citrus-glazed carrots" were more popular than those prepared exactly the same way but with plainer, more healthful-sounding labels. Diners more often said "no thanks" when the food had labels like "low-fat," ''reduced-sodium" or "sugar-free."

More diners chose the fancy-named items, and selected larger portions of them too in the experiment last fall at a Stanford University cafeteria. 

"While it may seem like a good idea to emphasize the healthiness of vegetables, doing so may actually backfire," said lead author Bradley Turnwald, a graduate student in psychology. 

Other research has shown that people tend to think of healthful sounding food as less tasty, so the aim was to make it sound as good as more indulgent, fattening fare. 

Researchers from Stanford's psychology department tested the idea as a way to improve eating habits and make a dent in the growing obesity epidemic. 

"This novel, low-cost intervention could easily be implemented in cafeterias, restaurants, and consumer products to increase selection of healthier options," they said. 

The results were published Monday JAMA Internal Medicine. 

The study was done over 46 days last fall. Lunchtime vegetable offerings were given different labels on different days. For example, on one day diners could choose "dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets." On other days the same item was labeled "lighter-choice beets with no added sugar," ''high antioxidant beets," or simply "beets." 

Almost one-third of the nearly 28,000 diners chose a vegetable offering during the study. The tasty-sounding offering was the most popular, selected by about 220 diners on average on days it was offered, compared with about 175 diners who chose the simple-label vegetable. The healthy-sounding labels were the least popular. 

Diners also served themselves bigger portions of the tasty-sounding vegetables than of the other choices. 

Turnwald emphasized that "there was no deception" — all labels accurately described the vegetables, although diners weren't told that the different-sounding choices were the exact same item. 

The results illustrate "the interesting advantage to indulgent labeling," he said. 

Dr. Stephen Cook, a University of Rochester childhood obesity researcher, called the study encouraging and said some high school cafeterias have also tried different labels to influence healthy eating. 

"It shouldn't be a surprise to us because marketing people have been doing this for years," Cook said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Dean Fosdick, File]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Reprogram Patients' Own Cells Into Cancer Assassins]]>Mon, 12 Jun 2017 19:14:58 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancertcells_1200x675.jpg

Ken Shefveland's body was swollen with cancer, treatment after treatment failing until doctors gambled on a radical approach: They removed some of his immune cells, engineered them into cancer assassins and unleashed them into his bloodstream.

Immune therapy is the hottest trend in cancer care and this is its next frontier — creating "living drugs" that grow inside the body into an army that seeks and destroys tumors.

Looking in the mirror, Shefveland saw "the cancer was just melting away." A month later doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center couldn't find any signs of lymphoma in the Vancouver, Washington, man's body.

"Today I find out I'm in full remission — how wonderful is that?" said Shefveland with a wide grin, giving his physician a quick embrace.

This experimental therapy marks an entirely new way to treat cancer — if scientists can make it work, safely. Early-stage studies are stirring hope as one-time infusions of supercharged immune cells help a remarkable number of patients with intractable leukemia or lymphoma.

"It shows the unbelievable power of your immune system," said Dr. David Maloney, Fred Hutch's medical director for cellular immunotherapy who treated Shefveland with a type called CAR-T cells.

"We're talking, really, patients who have no other options, and we're seeing tumors and leukemias disappear over weeks," added immunotherapy scientific director Dr. Stanley Riddell. But, "there's still lots to learn."

T cells are key immune system soldiers. But cancer can be hard for them to spot, and can put the brakes on an immune attack. Today's popular immunotherapy drugs called "checkpoint inhibitors" release one brake so nearby T cells can strike. The new cellular immunotherapy approach aims to be more potent: Give patients stronger T cells to begin with.

Currently available only in studies at major cancer centers, the first CAR-T cell therapies for a few blood cancers could hit the market later this year. The Food and Drug Administration is evaluating one version developed by the University of Pennsylvania and licensed to Novartis, and another created by the National Cancer Institute and licensed to Kite Pharma.

CAR-T therapy "feels very much like it's ready for prime time" for advanced blood cancers, said Dr. Nick Haining of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who isn't involved in the development.

Now scientists are tackling a tougher next step, what Haining calls "the acid test": Making T cells target far more common cancers — solid tumors like lung, breast or brain cancer. Cancer kills about 600,000 Americans a year, including nearly 45,000 from leukemia and lymphoma.

"There's a desperate need," said NCI immunotherapy pioneer Dr. Steven Rosenberg, pointing to queries from hundreds of patients for studies that accept only a few.

For all the excitement, there are formidable challenges.

Scientists still are unraveling why these living cancer drugs work for some people and not others.

Doctors must learn to manage potentially life-threatening side effects from an overstimulated immune system. Also concerning is a small number of deaths from brain swelling, an unexplained complication that forced another company, Juno Therapeutics, to halt development of one CAR-T in its pipeline; Kite recently reported a death, too.

And, made from scratch for every patient using their own blood, this is one of the most customized therapies ever and could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's a Model A Ford and we need a Lamborghini," said CAR-T researcher Dr. Renier Brentjens of New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which, like Hutch, has a partnership with Juno.

In Seattle, Fred Hutch offered a behind-the-scenes peek at research underway to tackle those challenges. At a recently opened immunotherapy clinic, scientists are taking newly designed T cells from the lab to the patient and back again to tease out what works best.

"We can essentially make a cell do things it wasn't programmed to do naturally," explained immunology chief Dr. Philip Greenberg. "Your imagination can run wild with how you can engineer cells to function better."

TWO LONG WEEKS TO BREW A DOSE

The first step is much like donating blood. When leukemia patient Claude Bannick entered a Hutch CAR-T study in 2014, nurses hooked him to a machine that filtered out his white blood cells, including the T cells.

Technicians raced his bag of cells to a factory-like facility that's kept so sterile they must pull on germ-deflecting suits, booties and masks just to enter. Then came 14 days of wait and worry, as his cells were reprogrammed.

Bannick, 67, says he "was almost dead." Chemotherapy, experimental drugs, even a bone marrow transplant had failed, and "I was willing to try anything."

GENETICALLY ENGINEERING CELLS

The goal: Arm T cells with an artificial receptor, a tracking system that can zero in on identifying markers of cancer cells, known as antigens. For many leukemias and lymphomas, that's an antigen named CD19.

Every research group has its own recipe but generally, scientists infect T cells with an inactive virus carrying genetic instructions to grow the desired "chimeric antigen receptor." That CAR will bind to its target cancer cells and rev up for attack.

Millions of copies of engineered cells are grown in incubators, Hutch technicians pulling out precious batches to monitor if they're ready for waiting patients.

If they work, those cells will keep multiplying in the body. If they don't, the doctors send blood and other samples back to researchers like Riddell to figure out why.

WHAT'S THE DATA?

Small, early studies in the U.S. made headlines as 60 percent to 90 percent of patients trying CAR-Ts as a last resort for leukemia or lymphoma saw their cancer rapidly decrease or even become undetectable. Last week, Chinese researchers reported similar early findings as 33 of 35 patients with another blood cancer, multiple myeloma, reached some degree of remission within two months.

Too few people have been studied so far to know how long such responses will last. A recent review reported up to half of leukemia and lymphoma patients may relapse.

There are long-term survivors. Doug Olson in 2010 received the University of Pennsylvania's CAR-T version for leukemia. The researchers were frank — it had worked in mice but they didn't know what would happen to him.

"Sitting here almost seven years later, I can tell you it works," Olson, now 70, told a recent meeting of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Bannick, the Hutch patient treated in 2014, recalls Maloney calling him "the miracle man." He had some lingering side effects that required blood-boosting infusions but says CAR-T is "giving me a second life."

SCARY SIDE EFFECTS

"The more side effects you have, that sort of tells everybody it's working," said Shefveland, who was hospitalized soon after his treatment at Hutch when his blood pressure collapsed. His last clear memory for days: "I was having a conversation with a nurse and all of a sudden it was gibberish."

As CAR-T cells swarm the cancer, an immune overreaction called "cytokine release syndrome" can trigger high fevers and plummeting blood pressure and in severe cases organ damage. Some patients also experience confusion, hallucinations or other neurologic symptoms.

Treatment is a balancing act to control those symptoms without shutting down the cancer attack.

Experienced cancer centers have learned to expect and watch for these problems. "And, most importantly, we've learned how to treat them," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society, who is watching CAR-T's development.

FIGHTING SOLID TUMORS WILL BE HARDER

CAR-Ts cause collateral damage, killing some healthy white blood cells, called B cells, along with cancerous ones because both harbor the same marker. Finding the right target to kill solid tumors but not healthy organ tissue will be even more complicated.

"You can live without some normal B cells. You can't live without your lungs," Riddell explained.

Early studies against solid tumors are beginning, targeting different antigens. Time-lapse photos taken through a microscope in Riddell's lab show those new CAR-T cells crawling over aggressive breast cancer, releasing toxic chemicals until tumor cells shrivel and die.

CARs aren't the only approach. Researchers also are trying to target markers inside tumor cells rather than on the surface, or even gene mutations that don't form in healthy tissue.

"It's ironic that the very mutations that cause the cancer are very likely to be the Achilles heel," NCI's Rosenberg said.

And studies are beginning to test CAR-Ts in combination with older immunotherapy drugs, in hopes of overcoming tumor defenses.

HOW WILL PATIENTS GET THE FIRST CAR-T THERAPIES?

If the FDA approves Novartis' or Kite's versions, eligible leukemia and lymphoma patients would be treated at cancer centers experienced with this tricky therapy. Their T cells would be shipped to company factories, engineered, and shipped back. Gradually, more hospitals could offer it.

Because only certain patients would qualify for the first drugs, others would have to search for CAR-T studies to try the treatment. A drug industry report lists 21 CAR-T therapies in development by a dozen companies.

"This is the hope of any cancer patient, that if you stay in the game long enough, the next treatment's going to be just around the corner," said Shefveland, the Hutch patient.

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Obesity Rising in Nations Rich and Poor, Especially in Kids]]>Mon, 12 Jun 2017 14:35:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ObeseChildChina.jpg

The global obesity problem now affects 1 in 10 people in the world, it is rising in countries rich and poor, and in many countries it is increasing faster in children than adults, according to a new study.

The researchers estimated more than 107 million children and 603 million adults are obese.

The research found obesity has tripled in children and young adults in countries like China, Brazil and Indonesia. Those numbers are particularly troubling because it means more young people are on track to become obese adults and develop problems like diabetes, heart disease and a range of cancers, some experts said.

The study was led by a team at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was published online Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at a food science and policy meeting in Stockholm.

Researchers reported on 195 countries, although data was incomplete or nonexistent for many of them. They made assumptions and used mathematical modeling to fill in gaps.

Despite the limitations, "this is the best picture that's out there for global obesity," said Edward Gregg, a diabetes expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

Some of the findings:

  • Obesity rates doubled in 73 countries between 1980 and 2015. Countries where obesity did not increase significantly included Afghanistan, Bulgaria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Worldwide, about 5 percent of children and 12 percent of adults were obese in 2015. In the U.S. about 17 percent of children and 38 percent of adults are obese, according to earlier CDC estimates.
  • Among the 20 largest countries, the United States had the highest level of obesity among children and young adults. Bangladesh had the lowest.
  • Egypt had the highest rate of obese adults. Vietnam had the lowest.
  • But the United States had the largest number of obese adults in 2015, with 79 million. China came in second with 57 million obese adults — even though China has more than four times as many people as the U.S.
  • China had the largest number of obese children, with 15 million. India had 14 million.
  • Globally, about 4 million deaths were attributed to being overweight or obese in 2014, from causes like heart disease and diabetes.

Some good news is that improvements in medications and other kinds of health-care seem to be helping people survive longer even if they have weight-related health problems. Researchers did not find an increase in weight-related rates of death and disability, Gregg observed.

But with obesity levels rising, there is a pressing need for better nutrition and other efforts to prevent unhealthy weight gain, said one of the authors, said Dr. Ashkan Afshin, the study's lead author.

Unfortunately, "there is no single simple solution for the problem of overweight and obesity," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Tyson Recalls 2.4M Pounds of Chicken Due to Allergy Risk]]>Mon, 12 Jun 2017 11:21:00 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Tyson-Foods-generic.jpg

Tyson Foods Inc. is recalling more than 2.4 million pounds of ready-to-eat breaded chicken products because the bread crumbs may contain milk, a potential allergen not included on the label.

The Arkansas-based company said there have been no confirmed cases of illnesses related to the recall.

Affected frozen chicken products were packaged between Aug. 17, 2016, through Jan. 14, 2017, and sold nationwide.

Below is a list of affected products:

• 31.86-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN STRIP-SHAPED CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS-CN” with case code 003859-0928 and production dates of 09/09/2016, 10/05/2016, 10/14/2016, 10/15/2016, 11/09/2016, 12/10/2016, 12/30/2016 and 01/14/2017.
• 31.05-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS-CN” with case code 003857-0928 and production dates of 11/12/2016.
• 30.6-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN BREADED CHICKEN PATTIES-CN” with case code 016477-0928 and production dates of 09/10/2016, 09/16/2016, 09/23/2016, 09/30/2016 and 10/06/2016.
• 30.6-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN CHUNK-SHAPED BREADED CHICKEN PATTIES-CN” with case code 016478-0928 and production dates of 09/16/2016, 09/28/2016 and 10/06/2016.
• 20.0-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, BREADED CHICKEN PATTIES-CN” with case code 005778-0928 and production dates of 09/14/2016, 09/19/2016 and 10/03/2016.32.81-lb. bulk cases of “Tyson FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN GOLDEN CRISPY CHICKEN CHUNK FRITTERS-CN CHUNK-SHAPED CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS” with case code 070364-0928, packaging and production date of 08/17/2016.
• 20-lb bulk cases of “SPARE TIME, Fully Cooked Breaded Chicken Patties” with case code 005778-0861 and production date of 10/03/2016.
• 20-lb bulk cases of “SPARE TIME, Fully Cooked Chicken Pattie Fritters” with case code 016477-0861 and production date of 09/16/2016 and 10/06/2016.

Schools have purchased the products through Tyson's commercial partners, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Affected products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

The recall was limited to foodservice customers, and affected products are not available for purchase in retail stores, according to the news release.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trader Joe's Recalls Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream]]>Mon, 12 Jun 2017 09:35:12 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trader-joes-green-tea.jpg

Trader Joe's is recalling all of its Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream because the products may contain small pieces of metal.

The California-based company said on Saturday that all potentially affected products have been removed from store shelves.

Anyone who's purchased the ice cream shouldn't eat it. You can return it to any Trader Joe's for a full refund.

No one has gotten sick and no injuries have been reported, the grocery chain said.

Trader Joe's customer service can be reached at 626-599-3817 or through email.



Photo Credit: Trader Joe's]]>
<![CDATA[New Frontier in Cancer Care: Turning Blood Into Living Drugs]]>Mon, 12 Jun 2017 06:49:12 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17102598700716-Immune-Therapy-Cancer-Drugs.jpg

Ken Shefveland's body was swollen with cancer, treatment after treatment failing until doctors gambled on a radical approach: They removed some of his immune cells, engineered them into cancer assassins and unleashed them into his bloodstream.

Immune therapy is the hottest trend in cancer care and this is its next frontier — creating "living drugs" that grow inside the body into an army that seeks and destroys tumors.

Looking in the mirror, Shefveland saw "the cancer was just melting away." A month later doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center couldn't find any signs of lymphoma in the Vancouver, Washington, man's body.

"Today I find out I'm in full remission — how wonderful is that?" said Shefveland with a wide grin, giving his physician a quick embrace.

This experimental therapy marks an entirely new way to treat cancer — if scientists can make it work, safely. Early-stage studies are stirring hope as one-time infusions of supercharged immune cells help a remarkable number of patients with intractable leukemia or lymphoma.

"It shows the unbelievable power of your immune system," said Dr. David Maloney, Fred Hutch's medical director for cellular immunotherapy who treated Shefveland with a type called CAR-T cells.

"We're talking, really, patients who have no other options, and we're seeing tumors and leukemias disappear over weeks," added immunotherapy scientific director Dr. Stanley Riddell. But, "there's still lots to learn."

T cells are key immune system soldiers. But cancer can be hard for them to spot, and can put the brakes on an immune attack. Today's popular immunotherapy drugs called "checkpoint inhibitors" release one brake so nearby T cells can strike. The new cellular immunotherapy approach aims to be more potent: Give patients stronger T cells to begin with.

Currently available only in studies at major cancer centers, the first CAR-T cell therapies for a few blood cancers could hit the market later this year. The Food and Drug Administration is evaluating one version developed by the University of Pennsylvania and licensed to Novartis, and another created by the National Cancer Institute and licensed to Kite Pharma.

CAR-T therapy "feels very much like it's ready for prime time" for advanced blood cancers, said Dr. Nick Haining of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who isn't involved in the development.

Now scientists are tackling a tougher next step, what Haining calls "the acid test": Making T cells target far more common cancers — solid tumors like lung, breast or brain cancer. Cancer kills about 600,000 Americans a year, including nearly 45,000 from leukemia and lymphoma.

"There's a desperate need," said NCI immunotherapy pioneer Dr. Steven Rosenberg, pointing to queries from hundreds of patients for studies that accept only a few.

For all the excitement, there are formidable challenges.

Scientists still are unraveling why these living cancer drugs work for some people and not others.

Doctors must learn to manage potentially life-threatening side effects from an overstimulated immune system. Also concerning is a small number of deaths from brain swelling, an unexplained complication that forced another company, Juno Therapeutics, to halt development of one CAR-T in its pipeline; Kite recently reported a death, too.

And, made from scratch for every patient using their own blood, this is one of the most customized therapies ever and could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's a Model A Ford and we need a Lamborghini," said CAR-T researcher Dr. Renier Brentjens of New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which, like Hutch, has a partnership with Juno.

In Seattle, Fred Hutch offered a behind-the-scenes peek at research underway to tackle those challenges. At a recently opened immunotherapy clinic, scientists are taking newly designed T cells from the lab to the patient and back again to tease out what works best.

"We can essentially make a cell do things it wasn't programmed to do naturally," explained immunology chief Dr. Philip Greenberg. "Your imagination can run wild with how you can engineer cells to function better."

TWO LONG WEEKS TO BREW A DOSE
The first step is much like donating blood. When leukemia patient Claude Bannick entered a Hutch CAR-T study in 2014, nurses hooked him to a machine that filtered out his white blood cells, including the T cells.

Technicians raced his bag of cells to a factory-like facility that's kept so sterile they must pull on germ-deflecting suits, booties and masks just to enter. Then came 14 days of wait and worry, as his cells were reprogrammed.

Bannick, 67, says he "was almost dead." Chemotherapy, experimental drugs, even a bone marrow transplant had failed, and "I was willing to try anything."

GENETICALLY ENGINEERING CELLS
The goal: Arm T cells with an artificial receptor, a tracking system that can zero in on identifying markers of cancer cells, known as antigens. For many leukemias and lymphomas, that's an antigen named CD19.

Every research group has its own recipe but generally, scientists infect T cells with an inactive virus carrying genetic instructions to grow the desired "chimeric antigen receptor." That CAR will bind to its target cancer cells and rev up for attack.

Millions of copies of engineered cells are grown in incubators, Hutch technicians pulling out precious batches to monitor if they're ready for waiting patients.

If they work, those cells will keep multiplying in the body. If they don't, the doctors send blood and other samples back to researchers like Riddell to figure out why.

WHAT'S THE DATA?
Small, early studies in the U.S. made headlines as 60 percent to 90 percent of patients trying CAR-Ts as a last resort for leukemia or lymphoma saw their cancer rapidly decrease or even become undetectable. Last week, Chinese researchers reported similar early findings as 33 of 35 patients with another blood cancer, multiple myeloma, reached some degree of remission within two months.

Too few people have been studied so far to know how long such responses will last. A recent review reported up to half of leukemia and lymphoma patients may relapse.

There are long-term survivors. Doug Olson in 2010 received the University of Pennsylvania's CAR-T version for leukemia. The researchers were frank — it had worked in mice but they didn't know what would happen to him.

"Sitting here almost seven years later, I can tell you it works," Olson, now 70, told a recent meeting of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Bannick, the Hutch patient treated in 2014, recalls Maloney calling him "the miracle man." He had some lingering side effects that required blood-boosting infusions but says CAR-T is "giving me a second life."

SCARY SIDE EFFECTS
"The more side effects you have, that sort of tells everybody it's working," said Shefveland, who was hospitalized soon after his treatment at Hutch when his blood pressure collapsed. His last clear memory for days: "I was having a conversation with a nurse and all of a sudden it was gibberish."

As CAR-T cells swarm the cancer, an immune overreaction called "cytokine release syndrome" can trigger high fevers and plummeting blood pressure and in severe cases organ damage. Some patients also experience confusion, hallucinations or other neurologic symptoms.

Treatment is a balancing act to control those symptoms without shutting down the cancer attack.

Experienced cancer centers have learned to expect and watch for these problems. "And, most importantly, we've learned how to treat them," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society, who is watching CAR-T's development.

FIGHTING SOLID TUMORS WILL BE HARDER
CAR-Ts cause collateral damage, killing some healthy white blood cells, called B cells, along with cancerous ones because both harbor the same marker. Finding the right target to kill solid tumors but not healthy organ tissue will be even more complicated.

"You can live without some normal B cells. You can't live without your lungs," Riddell explained.

Early studies against solid tumors are beginning, targeting different antigens. Time-lapse photos taken through a microscope in Riddell's lab show those new CAR-T cells crawling over aggressive breast cancer, releasing toxic chemicals until tumor cells shrivel and die.

CARs aren't the only approach. Researchers also are trying to target markers inside tumor cells rather than on the surface, or even gene mutations that don't form in healthy tissue.

"It's ironic that the very mutations that cause the cancer are very likely to be the Achilles heel," NCI's Rosenberg said.

And studies are beginning to test CAR-Ts in combination with older immunotherapy drugs, in hopes of overcoming tumor defenses.

HOW WILL PATIENTS GET THE FIRST CAR-T THERAPIES?
If the FDA approves Novartis' or Kite's versions, eligible leukemia and lymphoma patients would be treated at cancer centers experienced with this tricky therapy. Their T cells would be shipped to company factories, engineered, and shipped back. Gradually, more hospitals could offer it.

Because only certain patients would qualify for the first drugs, others would have to search for CAR-T studies to try the treatment. A drug industry report lists 21 CAR-T therapies in development by a dozen companies.

"This is the hope of any cancer patient, that if you stay in the game long enough, the next treatment's going to be just around the corner," said Shefveland, the Hutch patient.

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]]>
<![CDATA['Beating Heart in a Box' Promises Major Medical Revolution]]>Fri, 09 Jun 2017 14:57:56 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/182*120/humanheartcopyART_1200x675.jpg

The most current method and technology available for heart transplants is an estimated 50 years old but new technology may revolutionize how heart transplant surgeries may change in the near future, reported NBC News. 

The current method starts by having the organ taken out of the donor then it is flushed with a cold salt solution, which includes preservatives to  keep the organ viable for transplant. It’s then put on ice and sent to a hospital where it is needed. 

But the new technique will allow donated organs to stay healthy outside of a human body for longer periods of time, so they can be sent farther distances to waiting recipients.



Photo Credit: Lester V. Bergman/CORBIS/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Asks Company to Pull Its Opioid Opana Because of Abuse]]>Thu, 08 Jun 2017 20:56:16 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16271837996563.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration has asked Endo Pharmaceuticals to remove Opana ER, an extended release form of the opioid drug oxymorphone made by the drug company, from the market because it has such a high potential for abuse.

"This is the first time the agency has taken steps to remove a currently marketed opioid pain medication from sale due to the public health consequences of abuse," the FDA said in a statement.

The company is pushing back, saying the drug is safe and effective. The FDA says if Endo doesn’t voluntarily pull the drug from the market, it will withdraw approval.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opioid overdoses have hit record highs, killing more than 47,000 people in 2014 — more than the 32,000 who died in road accidents.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File]]>
<![CDATA[Zika Birth Defects in US Territories Similar to Other Places]]>Thu, 08 Jun 2017 18:38:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/zikababygeneric_1200x675.jpg

A report released Thursday shows Zika had about the same impact on birth defects in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories as it did in other places hit by the epidemic.

About 1 in 20 women infected with Zika had babies with birth defects in U.S. territories, according to the report. That's similar to what was seen in the rest of the United States and in Latin America and the Caribbean in the last two years.

The island territories — particularly Puerto Rico — are the U.S. locations hardest hit by the Zika epidemic. The tropical mosquitoes that spread Zika are more widespread there.

Most people infected with Zika don't get sick. It can cause a mild illness, with fever, rash and joint pain. But infection during pregnancy can lead to severe brain-related birth defects.

Thursday's report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. It focused on women infected with Zika whose pregnancies had ended — through birth, miscarriage or abortion — from the beginning of last year through April.

There were 122 birth defects out of more than 2,500 pregnancies. The 5 percent rate is in line with other estimates about the risk of birth defects in Zika-infected pregnancies, including in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC didn't provide a breakdown, saying it was up to each territory to release the figure. It doesn't provide a state breakdown, either.

Last fall, the agency stopped reporting Zika numbers for U.S. territories because of a disagreement with health officials in Puerto Rico over how cases were being counted. Puerto Rico health officials cooperated with the new report, which uses the CDC method. The health department's website still lists only 38 cases of Zika-related birth defects, and health officials Thursday would not give the revised figure.. Other Zika data suggests the count would be closer to 100.

This week, Puerto Rico declared that its Zika epidemic is over. CDC officials on Thursday said they believe mosquitoes there are still carrying the virus and the CDC continues to advise pregnant women not to travel to the island.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[6 Reasons to Celebrate Global Running Day]]>Wed, 07 Jun 2017 16:49:09 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/running-shoes.jpg

Last week had National Doughnut Day. Global Running Day is here Wednesday, giving you a good excuse to work off those treats. 

Here are six reasons why you should join more than 1.2 million people from 185 countries around the world and get moving for the second annual Global Running Day:

Physical and mental health benefits: Physical exercise has long been known to improve health, and running provides an easy way to get active. Studies suggest that running can reduce the risk of heart problems and cancers as well as strengthen bones and joints. A study in PLOS Medicine showed that people who began exercising lived longer. Beyond physical health, running has the power to provide mental health benefits. The “feel-good” hormones associated with physical activity can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Individual, but universal: Running is often solitary—treadmills are not built for two. But the individual nature of the activity does not stop runners from coming together with others who enjoy the sport either to discuss technique or participate in group runs. A runner’s personal goals can be shared and allow for connections with other runners.

Raise money for a good cause: Fundraising when participating in races or signing up for specific charities’ sponsored races has become the new norm among runners and non-runners alike. Online fundraising platforms let runners reach a wide audience when looking to raise money for a cause. The app Charity Miles, a Global Running Day sponsor, connects individuals and corporations with one of their 37 charity partners and allows users to track their distance and earn money for the charity.

You don’t need to be an athlete: Runners come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Even people who steered clear of P.E. class in elementary school learn to run, even if they just begin by walking. People run at all different speeds and distances, and runners of any skill level can reap the physical and mental benefits that come with the sport.

Room for improvement: As with any activity, there are always ways to improve as a runner.

Apps such as Runkeeper or Nike+ Run Club allow runners track their progress on their smartphones, so goals to increase distance or decrease times have become easier than ever to achieve. Signing up for runs in your area can serve as motivation to boost running ability.

All you need to start is a pair of sneakers: Unlike activities that require equipment or a specific venue, running can be done anytime, anywhere. Routes for outdoor runs can easily be accessed online and treadmills are lined up in any local gym. Runners can choose the best time for their exercise in their schedule.

Global Running Day celebrates longtime runners and encourages those who have never run before to start. Take a pledge to run today on the Global Running Day website.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mary Schwalm]]>
<![CDATA[Drugs Score Big Wins Against Lung, Prostate, Breast Cancers ]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 15:31:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/breastcancercells_1200x675.jpg

Drugs are scoring big wins against common cancers, setting new standards for how to treat many prostate, breast and lung tumors. There's even a "uni-drug" that may fight many forms of the disease.

What's striking: The drugs are beneficial in some cases for more than a year, much longer than the few months many new drugs provide.

Here are highlights from the world's largest cancer meeting, the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

PROSTATE CANCER
Janssen Biotech's Zytiga improved survival and delayed cancer growth for 18 months when added to standard care in a study of 1,200 men with advanced prostate cancer. The drug is approved to treat tumors that are resistant to hormone therapy; this study tested it as initial treatment.

The study was stopped early because men on Zytiga were living longer — 66 percent were alive after three years versus 49 percent of a comparison group not given the drug. Zytiga also delayed the time until cancer worsened — 33 months versus 15 months for the others.

In a second study of 1,900 men newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, adding Zytiga to usual treatment also improved survival: 83 percent were alive at three years versus 76 percent of men not given the drug. Zytiga also cut the chance of relapse and serious bone problems.

Zytiga caused more side effects, including high blood pressure, but the benefits outweigh them, doctors said.

The results will change practice "pretty much overnight," said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the group hosting the conference. Most men with prostate cancer that has spread will be eligible for Zytiga — about 25,000 each year in U.S. and more in other countries where more cases are found at a late stage, he said. Zytiga costs about $10,000 a month in the U.S.

LUNG CANCER
Roche's Alecensa stopped cancer growth for 15 months longer than Pfizer's Xalkori did in a study of 303 people with advanced lung cancer and a mutation in a gene called ALK. About 5 percent of lung cancer patients — 12,500 in the U.S. each year — have an ALK mutation, especially younger people and nonsmokers who get the disease.

Alecensa kept cancer from worsening for 26 months versus 11 months for Xalkori. It also penetrates the brain better: only 9 percent of those on it had their lung cancer spread to the brain during the first year of treatment versus 41 percent of those on Xalkori. Serious side effects and deaths were less common with Alecensa.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in December 2015 for ALK-related lung cancers that worsened despite trying Xalkori. The new study tested it as initial treatment and is aimed at getting full approval for that.

Xalkori is around $10,000 a month and Alecensa, about $12,500.

BREAST CANCER
For the first time, a new type of drug called a PARP inhibitor showed promise in a major study of women with inherited BRCA gene mutations that raise their risk of developing breast cancer. PARP inhibitors keep cancer cells from fixing problems in their DNA, and some are approved now for some ovarian cancers.

The study tested AstraZeneca's Lynparza in 302 women with cancers that had spread beyond the breast and were not the type that respond to the drug Herceptin. Half were "triple negative," meaning they are not helped by Herceptin or drugs that block the two main hormones that fuel breast cancer's growth. All had previously tried chemotherapy and some had tried hormone blockers.

Lynparza modestly delayed the time until cancer worsened — 7 months versus 4 months for women given one of three commonly used chemotherapies. Lynparza's main side effects were nausea, fatigue and blood count problems, but serious problems were less common than with chemo. It's too soon to know whether Lynparza improves survival. It costs about $13,000 a month.

A UNI-DRUG?
Loxo Oncology Inc.'s larotrectinib is aimed at many types of cancer with a certain gene abnormality, and in children as well as adults — a first on both counts. The gene problem occurs in less than 1 percent of cancers, so a big question is how these rare gene problems would be found unless widespread tumor-gene testing becomes more common than it is now.

In a study of 50 patients with 17 different kinds of cancer, 76 percent — an unusually high number — responded to treatment and their disease has not worsened. Side effects include fatigue and mild dizziness.

The company will seek FDA approval based on these results. Last month, the FDA said Merck's immune therapy drug Ketruda could be used for any pediatric or adult cancer with certain gene features, but larotrectinib would be the first drug developed from scratch with this approach.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Quickly Reporting Cancer Complications May Boost Survival]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 09:21:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/2092862-cancer-treatment-generic.jpg

If you're being treated for cancer, speak up about any side effects. A study that had patients use home computers to report symptoms like nausea and fatigue surprisingly improved survival — by almost half a year, longer than many new cancer drugs do.

The online tool was intended as a quick and easy way for people to regularly report complications rather than trying to call their doctors or waiting until the next appointment. Researchers had hoped to improve quality of life but got a bonus in longer survival.

"I was floored by the results," said the study leader, Dr. Ethan Basch. "We are proactively catching things early" with online reporting.

Patients were able to stick with treatment longer because their side effects were quickly addressed, he said.

People shouldn't assume that symptoms are an unavoidable part of cancer care, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

"You want to be able to reach your provider as early and easily as possible," because a sign like shortness of breath may mean treatment isn't working and needs to be changed, he said.

The study was featured at the cancer group's annual meeting in Chicago on Sunday and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Earlier studies suggest that doctors miss about half of patients' symptoms.

"Much of this happens between visits when patients are out of sight and out of mind," said Basch, a researcher at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Sometimes patients just put up with a problem until their next exam.

"The spouse will say, 'My husband was laid up in bed, exhausted or in pain,' and I'll say 'Why didn't you call me?'" Basch said.

The study tested whether the online tool could catch problems sooner. It involved 766 people being treated for various types of advanced cancers at Sloan Kettering. Some were given usual care and the rest, the online symptom tool.

Patients were as old as 91, and 22 percent has less than a high school education, but using a computer proved easy. "The older patients really grabbed onto it very quickly," Basch said.

The online group was asked to report symptoms at least once a week — sooner if they had a problem — and given a list of common ones such as appetite loss, constipation, cough, diarrhea, shortness of breath, fatigue, hot flashes, nausea or pain.

Doctors saw these reports at office visits, and nurses got email alerts when patients reported severe or worsening problems.

"Almost 80 percent of the time, the nurses responded immediately," calling in medicines for nausea, pain or other problems, Basch said.

Six months later, health-related quality of life had improved for more of those in the online group and they made fewer trips to an emergency room. They also were able to stay on chemotherapy longer — eight months versus six, on average.

Median survival in the online group was 31 months versus 26 months for the others.

A larger study will now test the online reporting system nationwide.

A colon cancer patient, 53-year-old James Sylvester of New York, is using a version of the one tested in the study to report any problems to his doctors at Sloan Kettering. He hasn't had many side effects, but a rash led to referral to a dermatologist to see if it was related to his cancer medicine.

"The main benefit is they go holistically all over your body" with the list, asking about things that folks may not realize could be due to cancer, such as a rash or trouble with balance, he said.

"Some of the things you might not tell your doctor, or you might forget," Sylvester said. The tool ensures the doctor has that information ahead of time, "so when you have that face time, it's more focused."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[AI Sex Robots Are on Their Way]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 16:54:42 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sexrobots_1200x675.jpg

Robots are becoming smarter and have become a part of our daily lives more than ever, from the work they do in hospitals and restaurants to helping around the house.

But some of these robot personal assistants are going to be more personal than others. Sex doll manufacturers and independent roboticists are now designing and building humanlike robots that people can have sex with, reported NBC News.

One of the early entries into this market is an animatronic head named Harmony that's infused with artificial intelligence to give it a personality and the ability to “learn” about its human partner. Harmony will connect to the silicone body of a RealDoll, a life-sized sex doll that’s been around for 20 years.



Photo Credit: Abyss Creations LLC]]>
<![CDATA[This Device Combats Ebola and Extremists in Africa]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 10:32:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ebolanbcnews_1200x675.jpg

In some villages deep in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where bridges may just be felled trees and there are few roads or telephones, a growing network of solar-powered radios is doing double duty, NBC News reports.

The FM and high-frequency radios, brought in to warn of imminent extremist attacks from a group called the Lord's Resistance Army, also help keep tabs on Ebola outbreaks.

One in May left at least three people dead, but after the second death, radio operators started transmitting warnings, Catholic Relief Services said. They advised people on what to do when they encountered someone who was infected.

"If this project did not exist, people would literally be dying and nobody would know about it until it became a huge crisis. Or nobody would know about it ever," Driss Moumane told NBC News.



Photo Credit: Catholic Relief Services]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer Drug Spending Passes $110 Billion]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 10:34:56 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancerdrugspendingspikes.jpg

Spending on cancer treatments has spiked past the $100 billion mark globally over the past five years, with almost half that amount in the U.S. alone, NBC News reported, citing a report released Thursday. 

The independent QuintilesIMS Institute found that worldwide spending on cancer drugs and supportive medications — such as anti-nausea drugs and blood boosters — grew from $91 billion in 2012 to $113 billion in 2016. Patients in the U.S. accounted for 46 percent of that spending. 

The extra money is largely going to pricey new targeted drugs that are adding years to some patients' lives and transforming the way certain cancers are treated, the report found. 

The report predicts annual growth of between 6 percent and 9 percent through 2021, according to NBC News.



Photo Credit: Toronto Star via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Climate Decision Endangers Human Health: Doctors]]>Thu, 01 Jun 2017 20:04:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-542739377.jpg

President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement will endanger human health and make it hard to prevent even more damage from global warning, medical groups told NBC News.

Many studies clearly lay out the risks from climate change — including respiratory and heat-related illnesses, insect-borne infections, water-borne diseases and threats to safe food and water.

"The elderly, the sick, and the poor are especially vulnerable," the American College of Physicians said.

Heat can raise blood pressure and worsen cholesterol levels. Longer, hotter summers can aid the spread of mosquitoes that carry diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika and yellow fever — and warmer winters may fail to kill off populations of the insects.



Photo Credit: Getty Images, file]]>
<![CDATA[US Officials OK Option for Men With HIV to Father Children ]]>Thu, 01 Jun 2017 17:24:30 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HIVsperm_1200x675.jpg

The nation's top public health agency on Thursday changed its guidance for HIV-infected men who want to father children, saying there's now enough evidence that a lab technique that removes the virus is a safe option.

For many years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was too risky for infected men to have unprotected sex with uninfected women since that is one way the virus spreads. Infection of the baby is considered possible, but far less likely, CDC officials said.

More recently, the agency said some couples can try to conceive if the man has been taking virus-suppressing HIV medications and the woman takes a drug that protects against infection.

But it's been slow to OK a technique called "sperm washing," which has been around for decades and endorsed by other medical organizations. It involves separating sperm from infected cells in seminal fluid and using the sperm for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.

The agency wanted substantial evidence that women weren't becoming infected from washed sperm. After reviewing nearly 4,000 cases worldwide, it's become clear women are not, said the CDC's Dr. Denise Jamieson.

The technique can cost $10,000 or more, and the price has been more of a deterrent than the CDC's slowness to endorse it, said Dr. William R. Short of the University of Pennsylvania, who treats such couples. But the CDC's update probably will help more couples feel comfortable about trying to conceive, he said.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[How a 1980 Letter Fueled the Opioid Epidemic]]>Thu, 01 Jun 2017 11:04:19 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/opioid-pills.jpg

Nearly 40 years ago, a respected doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine with some very good news: Out of nearly 40,000 patients given powerful pain drugs in a Boston hospital, only four addictions were documented.

Doctors had been wary of opioids, fearing patients would get hooked. Reassured by the letter, which called this "rare" in those with no history of addiction, they pulled out their prescription pads and spread the good news in their own published reports.

And that is how a one-paragraph letter with no supporting information helped seed a nationwide epidemic of misuse of drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin by convincing doctors that opioids were safer than we now know them to be.


On Wednesday, the journal published an editor's note about the 1980 letter and an analysis from Canadian researchers of how often it has been cited — more than 600 times, often inaccurately. Most used it as evidence that addiction was rare, and most did not say it only concerned hospitalized patients, not outpatient or chronic pain situations such as bad backs and severe arthritis that opioids came to be used for.

"This pain population with no abuse history is literally at no risk for addiction," one citation said. "There have been studies suggesting that addiction rarely evolves in the setting of painful conditions," said another.

"It's difficult to overstate the role of this letter," said Dr. David Juurlink of the University of Toronto, who led the analysis. "It was the key bit of literature that helped the opiate manufacturers convince front-line doctors that addiction is not a concern."


Hospital databases were so limited in 1980 that we can't be confident there weren't more problems, or cases discovered after patients were discharged, Juurlink said.

The letter was written by Dr. Hershel Jick, a drug specialist at Boston University Medical Center, and a graduate student.

"I'm essentially mortified that that letter to the editor was used as an excuse to do what these drug companies did," Jick told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. "They used this letter to spread the word that these drugs were not very addictive."

Jick said his letter only referred to people getting opioids in the hospital for a short period of time and has no bearing on long-term outpatient use. He also said he testified as a government witness in a lawsuit years ago over the marketing of pain drugs.

Use grew in the 1990s when drugs like OxyContin came on the market, and more people using opioids for chronic pain developed dependence .


The new editor's note in the journal says: "For reasons of public health, readers should be aware that this letter has been 'heavily and uncritically cited' as evidence that addiction is rare with opioid therapy."

The journal's top editor, Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, said, "People have used the letter to suggest that you're not going to get addicted to opioids if you get them in a hospital setting. We know that not to be true."

The journal also published a report from Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, pledging to work with industry to develop new ways to reverse and prevent overdoses, to treat addiction, and to find novel, non-addictive drugs for chronic pain.

In the next six weeks, NIH will hold three workshops with drug company leaders to identify next steps, Collins said. The goal is to cut in half the usual amount of time to develop new treatments — a target borrowed from the Cancer Moonshot project launched by former Vice President Joe Biden to make a decade's worth of progress toward cures in half that time.


Details have not been worked out, but it could resemble similar partnerships on Alzheimer's, diabetes and some other diseases where scientists from government and industry determine pressing needs, develop a work plan and split the cost, Collins said.

"Industry's interest in this has been muted until recently," Collins said. Now, "they feel the responsibility and the opportunity to take part in this and they're not going to stand back and watch."

With the Food and Drug Administration wanting to speed work on new pain drugs, "the stars are aligning," Collins said. "I think we can make real progress now."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Calif. Could Fund Universal Health Care With $106B in Taxes: Study]]>Wed, 31 May 2017 21:54:19 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/AP_17151654992452.jpg

A longshot California proposal to replace insurance companies with government-funded health care for all could be paid for with a sales tax hike and a new tax on business revenue that together would generate $106 billion annually, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report was made public by the influential California Nurses Association as the state Senate faces a Friday deadline to vote on the bill, which outlines how a single-payer health care system would function but does not say how it would be funded.

In a study commissioned by the nursing union, researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst suggested a 2.3 percent sales tax and a 2.3 percent gross receipts tax, which would apply to all corporate revenue. Poor residents would get a tax credit to offset the higher sales tax.

Union leaders have said they were waiting on the report to suggest a funding source for the single-payer bill they are aggressively promoting.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Gov. Jerry Brown, both Democrats, have expressed skepticism about the proposal. If it were to clear the Legislature and be signed into law by Brown, it would need cooperation from President Donald Trump's administration to waive rules about federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars.

But California's single-payer proposal has energized liberals at a time when Trump and Republicans in Congress are looking to roll back parts of former President Barack Obama's health care law.

Because California's proposed health care plan would eliminate out-of-pocket health care costs for consumers, like copays and deductibles, the study said overall health care spending would decrease for the middle class while rising for people with higher incomes.

"This bill will be the model for the nation," said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, which represents about 100,000 nurses. She called the measure a "moral imperative."

The report found that providing health coverage for all of California's 39 million residents would cost about $406 billion a year, in line with a forecast by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But the study said improving efficiency and negotiating lower prices for pharmaceutical drugs could reduce the overall cost $75 billion. Existing state and federal health care funding could provide $225 billion, according to the study.

That would leave $106 billion in required funding that California would have to raise with the new taxes.

Two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate would have to approve the tax increases required to fund universal health care, though a vote on the taxes would come later, after the initial simple-majority bill is considered this week.

"We are on a collision course for health care costs," said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, in promoting his bill. "Having one public-run system will reduce inefficiencies and missed prevention opportunities the way we do with Medicare now. Californians will get more and will definitely pay less."

Employers, business groups and health plans have warned that the tax increases would crush businesses and make it harder for them to expand their workforces in California.

The study's authors argue businesses would actually save money under the plan because they would no longer have to cover health insurance for employees.

The new chairman of the California Democratic Party, Eric Bauman, took the unusual step of publicly urging senators to support the proposal. Bauman was elected less than two weeks ago at a convention marked by enthusiastic support among activists for single-payer health care.

"I urge every senator to do all they can to advance the cause of single-payer health care," Bauman said in a statement late Tuesday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]]>
<![CDATA[Taxpayers May Have Overpaid by $1B for EpiPen: Senator]]>Wed, 31 May 2017 16:56:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epipen1.jpg

American taxpayers may have overpaid by as much as $1.27 billion for EpiPen anti-allergy devices over the course of a decade, a U.S. senator said Wednesday. 

That is nearly three times the $465 million that EpiPen’s owner, drugmaker Mylan, last October said it agreed to pay the federal government to settle claims it overcharged the government-run Medicaid system for the devices. 

As CNBC reports, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said it looks like Mylan overcharged taxpayers for years by knowingly classifying the brand-name EpiPen as a generic drug, resulting in the company paying a lower rebate rate to Medicaid.

A spokeswoman for Mylan had no immediate comment.



Photo Credit: AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Leaked Birth Control Rule Would Broaden Religious Exemption]]>Wed, 31 May 2017 17:41:52 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16239685238277.jpg

Women's groups are threatening to take the Trump administration to court after a leaked, draft regulation revealed a plan to let employers opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women for religious and moral reasons.

The White House refused comment, calling the 125-page document posted online by the news site Vox an "alleged draft." A government website shows that a rule on preventive services under the Affordable Care Act — which includes birth control — is under final review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The share of women employees paying their own money for birth control pills has plunged to under 4 percent, from 21 percent, since contraception became a covered preventive health benefit under the Obama-era health law, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Research has shown that contraception promotes maternal health by allowing women to space out their pregnancies, among other findings. The birth control requirement also applies to dependent coverage for wives and daughters.

But the mandate has drawn strong and sustained opposition from social conservatives, who see it as an infringement on freedom of conscience. The Obama administration exempted houses of worship, and set up a workaround for religiously affiliated nonprofits, such as hospitals, universities and social service organizations. The Supreme Court later ruled that closely held private companies were also eligible for the workaround, through which the government arranges contraceptive coverage for the affected women employees.

The leaked draft from the Department of Health and Human Services would allow any employer to opt out of providing birth control as preventive care at no cost to women employees for religious or moral reasons.

"The major thing that it does is broaden the exemption that in the past was only available to houses of worship," said Alina Salganicoff, a women's health policy expert at the Kaiser Foundation, who served on a government advisory panel that recommended birth control be treated as a preventive benefit for women.

Advocates on both sides and leading lawmakers in Congress were treating the draft as an actual administration document, with the caveat that federal regulations can change significantly in the final stage of White House review.

"If this rule is made final, we will file a lawsuit," said Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health with the National Women's Law Center. "Women are going to lose no-cost birth control coverage under this rule."

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the proposal is an "extremely regrettable decision to turn back the clock on women's health."

Social conservatives were optimistic.

"A change in the rule is welcome and good," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "I hope that the leaked draft we're looking at obviously becomes law." The Becket Fund opposes the birth control requirement and represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, a women's religious order that had sued the Obama administration.

It's unclear how corporate America will react if the broader birth control exemption makes it into a final regulation.

"I just can't imagine an employer adding parental leave benefits to attract workers and then dropping this benefit," said economist Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Setting aside the high cost of childbirth, contraception provides an indirect benefit to employers by taking much of the unpredictability out of requests for parental leave. Women have long been an integral part of the workforce at most companies, and some experts have argued that birth control has broader economic benefits.

The Obama-era regulations require employers to cover the full range of FDA-approved contraception, including sterilization and the morning-after pill. Some religious conservatives have specific objections to those.

"This is an invitation to business owners to drop contraceptive coverage for any reason or no reason," said Cindy Pearson of the National Women's Health Network. "I can imagine anti-choice activists pressuring companies to curtail full coverage of all FDA approved methods."

Immediately upon taking office President Donald Trump said his administration would work to loosen health care regulations seen as infringing on religious conscience. There's no timetable for a final regulation.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Health Bill Doesn't Fulfill Trump Promises: Poll]]>Wed, 31 May 2017 12:59:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-678667194.jpg

President Donald Trump has called the House-passed health care bill a "great plan," but a new poll finds that 3 out of 4 people in the United States do not believe it fulfills most of his promises.

The poll out Wednesday from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation also found a growing share of the public concerned that the GOP's American Health Care Act will have negative consequences for them personally by increasing their costs, making it harder to get and keep health insurance, or reducing quality.

In the poll, only 8 percent said the Senate should pass the House bill as it is.

"There is nothing in this poll, that if you were in the Senate, would cause you to rush out and pass the House bill," said Drew Altman, president of the foundation, a clearinghouse for health system information. It was the latest in an ongoing series of Kaiser surveys on health care.

Senators are on break this week, back in their home states sounding out constituents. In Washington, staffers are working on a legislative framework that can get 51 votes.

The House bill would eventually lead to 23 million fewer people covered, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate. While it would reduce average premiums over time, it could also destabilize coverage for people with health problems in some states.

The GOP measure would eliminate former President Barack Obama's Medicaid expansion and limit future federal financing for that safety net program. It would repeal the unpopular requirement that most people get covered or risk fines. It would continue to provide subsidies for private health insurance, but at a reduced level. And it would cut taxes on upper-income people that Democrats raised to finance their Affordable Care Act.

As a candidate and as president, Trump has made reassuring promises about health care. While offering few details, he's promised to improve coverage and cut costs. Days ago the president tweeted, "I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead - the Republicans will do much better!"

But both the House GOP bill and Trump's own budget would make big cuts across a range of health care programs, from insurance to medical research.

In the poll, 3 in 4 people said they don't think the narrowly-passed House bill fulfills most of Trump's promises. Thirty-five percent it fulfilled none of his promises, while 40 percent said the bill fulfills some Trump promises.

Only 4 percent said the GOP bill fulfilled all of the president's promises, while another 10 percent said it delivered on most of his promises.

Drilling down to Republicans, only 30 percent said the bill delivered on all or most of Trump's health care promises. Fifty-one percent said it fulfilled some pledges.

On the plus side for Trump and his congressional allies, the poll found that the GOP base continues to support the House bill, with 67 percent of Republicans saying they view it favorably. And a plurality of Americans — 42 percent — expressed support for Medicaid work requirements favored by the GOP.

Other findings are not so reassuring.

After Trump won, relatively few people saw personal risks from his promised repeal of Obama's health overhaul. Only 28 percent thought it would increase the cost of their own health care, while 21 percent said it would worsen access to health insurance, and 19 percent were concerned about quality.

Now, when asked about the GOP health care bill, 45 percent feared their costs would go up, 34 percent were worried about their ability to get and keep health insurance, and 34 percent were concerned that quality would suffer.

The poll found that Obama's law is more popular than the House plan. Forty-nine percent had a favorable view of Obama's overhaul, compared with 31 percent who had a favorable view of the Republican proposal.

The Kaiser poll was conducted from May 16-22 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,205 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dozens Arrested After Health Care Protest in North Carolina]]>Tue, 30 May 2017 19:31:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Screen-Shot-2017-05-30-at-4.52.23-PM.jpg

The head of the North Carolina NAACP was among more than 30 people arrested Tuesday during a demonstration against Republican lawmakers' refusal to expand Medicaid coverage — the latest in a long string of protests the NAACP and members of the "Moral Monday" movement have waged since the GOP returned to power in 2013.

With zip-ties on their wrists, the Rev. William Barber and 31 other protesters were led away by police as supporters continued protest chants in support of health care for all.

Before Tuesday's arrests, a group comprising doctors, health care workers, clergy and others marched through the hallways and gathered near the offices of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, where other protesters sat outside. Police also arrested some protesters who had entered Brunswick County Republican Sen. Bill Rabon's office.

Demonstrators wanted the General Assembly to expand health coverage to poor and disabled people. They also protested in support of preserving the federal health care law passed under former President Barack Obama.

"We never come to get arrested," Barber told the media. "But what we do come to do is exercise our constitutional right."

The arrests came after complaints received by officers, General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock said. Those taken into custody will face second-degree trespassing charges, Brock added.

In a statement released before the demonstration, Barber said that a universal health care system is a necessity and that health care should be viewed as a human right.

"If you do not consider the poor up front in your policies, according to our Constitution, you are uncivilized and un-Christian," Barber said Tuesday, attacking Republicans' denial of Medicaid expansion and push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

According to an NAACP handout distributed to gatherers, the expansion would save the state $3.9 billion in federal funds per year and prevent up to 1,145 unnecessary deaths annually.

"This is about facts...and it's about real people," Barber said. "It's not just about numbers. But there's a face on the numbers."

Protesters announced a health care rally for Tuesday evening on the lawn outside of the Legislative Building.

Barber, minister of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, launched the "Moral Monday" movement, a series of nonviolent demonstrations held on Mondays at the Capitol to protest Republican policies on education spending, the environment, the minimum wage and fracking. More than 1,000 people have been arrested in the protests since the movement began.

Earlier this month, Barber announced that he was stepping down after 12 years as the NAACP state leader and would focus on a campaign for poor people, just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had begun to do before he was assassinated.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: WRAL
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<![CDATA[Reliving Communist Past Helps East German Dementia Patients]]>Tue, 30 May 2017 12:49:09 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17138429728386-East-German-Dementia-Patients.jpg

Every weekday morning, white-haired women patiently line up before a door at a Dresden retirement home, step in, and quickly step back nearly six decades into their past in Communist East Germany.

Most of the women — in their late 70s at the youngest — are suffering from severe dementia, but the reminders from bygone days trigger memories and skills once thought lost, and produce surprising levels of happiness and comfort.

They park their walkers next to a Kaufhalle sign from the former East German grocery chain, put on their colorfully-patterned nylon aprons and start the day just like they did some 50 years ago. They chop up bell peppers, tomatoes and sausages for the popular Hungarian salad of their youth, wash dishes in an original 1960s metal sink and iron their laundry with old-fashioned pressing irons while happily humming along to schmaltzy East German tunes coming from a record player.

It's hard to imagine that many were — not so long ago — bedridden and unable to eat or use the bathroom on their own, said Gunter Wolfram, the director of the Alexa home in the former East German city of Dresden.

"From the first day on, this room has been a big success story," Wolfram said. "The people are very happy to recognize things from the old times. They immediately feel comfortable."

The 49-year-old, who grew up in East Germany himself, said it was sheer coincidence that he found out that Communist kitsch and other memorabilia brought comfort to some of his 130 residents. The revelation came two years ago when he decided to decorate the home's movie theater with a vintage flashy Troll scooter that was once very popular in East Germany.

"Instead of paying attention to the movie, these people got so excited about the motorcycle. They could all of a sudden remember how to start the ignition, and chatted with bright eyes about outings to the Baltic Sea on their own Trolls a long time ago — it was amazing," Wolfram said.

Inspired by this, he set out to create an entire room in 1960s East German style.

He scoured the region's flea markets and soon had an impressive collection of well-known Ossi — slang for anything and anybody from East Germany, products.

He gathered Spee and Fewa laundry detergents, yellowed magazines and the plastic pepper-and-salt shakers that almost every family in East Germany owned. He also found a wooden wall unit that only the well-to-do could afford at the time. Together with his colleagues, he set up the 1960s room — and the home's residents were so eager to spend time in a place that felt like home they started coming in droves.

Because of the room's success, the waiting list for future residents is full and directors from other retirement homes have called Wolfram, asking for advice.

Soon the demand for the daily trip back into the past had become so popular that Wolfram added a second room, this one designed in East German 1970s style — including psychedelic-patterned curtains, tasseled floor lamps and a bright-orange rotary dial phone.

In West Germany, capitalism ruled and U.S.-style consumerism flourished only a few years after the end of World War II, but materialism was frowned upon in the Communist East and consumer goods were scarce. Since only a few brands were sold in the country's Kaufhalle supermarkets, they have very high recognition value among former East Germans.

Some of the items also feature prominently in the 2003 Golden Globe-nominated German movie "Good-bye Lenin!" in which the son of a woman, who had slipped into a coma before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, desperately tries to re-create the old East Germany after she finally wakes up in a reunited Germany. The boy stacks the home with the famous Spreewald pickles and other products from the DDR — as the German Democratic Republic was called in German — trying to obliterate all signs of capitalism.

Herlind Megges, a gerontologist from Berlin's Charite university hospital who has not been involved in the Alexa home project, said such memory therapy can help improve the capabilities and well-being of dementia patients.

"Memory therapy is often used because it activates exactly what's still there and still working well," Megges said. "It's important for these people, who don't feel well in this world because it doesn't match their current memory, that there's an environment where they feel comfortable."

Objects from earlier phases of a patient's life that are connected to comfortable feelings can lead to physical and cognitive improvement, Megges said. Often patients can still retrieve memories from their childhood and early adulthood even when their short-term memory fails.

Millions of elderly around the world suffer from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in which they lose their ability to respond to their environment. While there's no cure yet, research institutions worldwide are trying to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset and improve the quality of life for dementia patients.

"We're treating the symptoms, we currently cannot treat the causes of the disease," Megges said.

For Gerda Noack, a 92-year-old retired hat maker born and raised in Dresden, the yesteryear room has been a blessing.

The elegant Noack, who always wears a carefully knotted silk scarf around her neck, used to roam the hallways of the retirement home all day, says Wolfram. She was restless and frustrated, always looking for something she thought she had lost — until she started visiting the 1960s DDR room.

While standing in the room's kitchen last week, she peacefully stirred the chopped-up peppers in an old frying pan, then later cleaned up dishes with an expression of contentment. Asked if she was happy, she nodded cheerfully, waiting for the nurses to dish up the Hungarian salad she had helped to prepare.

"These old, routine activities in the company of other women in a familiar environment really make our residents much more at ease with themselves," said Wolfram. "It's almost become like a job for them, where they spend the entire week here with a whole new sense of purpose."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jens Meyer]]>
<![CDATA[The Blame Game Is Upping Health Insurance Costs: Analysis]]>Mon, 29 May 2017 13:01:59 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/20170519+Capitol1.jpg

While the Senate inches toward agreeing on a health care bill, insurers are growing increasingly rattled by congressional inaction and threats of sabotage from the White House, and customers could soon be paying the price, NBC News reported.

Insurance companies are reaching deadlines to submit the cost of their health care coverage, and some will decide whether to sell policies at all. But the uncertainty on how the government will approach health care is driving premiums higher and insurer participation lower.

Insurers are putting in their initial bids for premiums and will finalize their plans in September, but the time may have already passed for Congress to rescue the 2018 market, and the the political fight in Washington could shift to which party is to blame.

"We needed to have the answers three months ago," said Bob Laszewski, president of consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, to NBC News.



Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors in Brazil Using Fish Skin to Help Burn Victims]]>Fri, 26 May 2017 16:17:01 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT_NAT_FISH_BANDAGES_052617_1-149582887236800001.jpg

Doctors in Brazil are using skin from farm-raised tilapia to heal burn victims. According to the doctors, the tilapia skin can cut down on the painful process of changing bandages and can actually help heal wounds faster than traditional bandages.]]>
<![CDATA[How the GOP Bill Could Affect 'Essential Health Benefits']]>Thu, 25 May 2017 12:42:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Congressional-Budget-Office-HR-1628.jpg

If the Republican health reform plan becomes law, states trying to save money on health insurance are likely to seek cuts on services like maternity care, mental health and dentist visits for kids, the Congressional Budget Office found Wednesday.

NBC News reports that health care advocates find the lack of an "essential health benefits" coverage requirement in the bill, passed by the House before the CBO score was released, will leave many patients without adequate coverage.

"Women and their families will pay higher costs and receive less coverage, especially for maternity care, under the American Health Care Act," said Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, which funds research to prevent birth defects.

Essential benefits requirements from "Obamacare" are very popular with American voters. The CBO predicted that some states will opt out of them, so they can seek lower premiums, leaving some people living there likely priced out of the market.



Photo Credit: CBO]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Extract Helps Some Kids With Epilepsy: Study]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 17:01:03 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17143772523848.jpg

A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

"This is the first solid, rigorously obtained scientific data" that a marijuana compound is safe and effective for this problem, said one study leader, Dr. Orrin Devinsky of NYU Langone Medical Center.

He said research into promising medical uses has been hampered by requiring scientists to get special licenses, plus legal constraints and false notions of how risky marijuana is.

"Opiates kill over 30,000 Americans a year, alcohol kills over 80,000 a year. And marijuana, as best we know, probably kills less than 50 people a year," Devinsky said.

The study was published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

For years, desperate patients and parents have argued for more research and wider access to marijuana, with only anecdotal stories and small, flawed studies on their side. The new study is the first large, rigorous test — one group got the drug, another got a dummy version, and neither patients, parents nor doctors knew who took what until the study ended.

It tested a liquid form of cannabidiol, one of marijuana's more than 100 ingredients, called Epidiolex. It doesn't contain THC, the hallucinogenic ingredient, and is not sold anywhere yet, although its maker, GW Pharmaceuticals of London, is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The company paid for, designed and helped run the study, and another doctor involved in the study has related patents.

Patients in the study have Dravet (drah-VAY) syndrome , a type of epilepsy usually caused by a faulty gene. It starts in infancy and causes frequent seizures, some so long-lasting they require emergency care and can be fatal. Kids develop poorly, and their mental impairment seems related to the frequency of seizures — from 4 to as many as 1,717 a month in this study.

Allison Hendershot's 12-year-old daughter Molly was four months old when she had her first. It lasted an hour and a half, and emergency room doctors medically induced a coma to stop it. Molly, who lives in Rochester, New York, has tried more than half a dozen medicines and a special diet, but her seizures continued.

"We literally could not count how many" before she started in the study, her mom said.

It included 120 children and teens, ages 2 to 18, in the U.S. and Europe. They took about a teaspoon of a sweet-smelling oil twice a day (drug or placebo) plus their usual anti-seizure medicines for 14 weeks. Their symptoms were compared to the previous four weeks.

Serious seizures with convulsions dropped from around 12 a month to about six for those on the drug and did not change in the others. Three patients on the drug became seizure-free during the study.

It's no panacea, though. Diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, sleep problems and other issues were more frequent in the drug group. Twelve patients quit the study — nine on the drug and three in the placebo group.

Hendershot thinks her daughter got the dummy medicine because they saw no change in her seizures until the study ended and all participants were allowed to try the drug.

By the second day they saw a difference, and "she went seizure-free for two months. It was pretty remarkable," Hendershot said.

The fact the drug came from marijuana "did not matter to me at all," she said. "If it helps, we're happy. I think people hear 'cannabis' or that it comes from marijuana and immediately there's a stigma attached to it."

For those who swear marijuana helped them, "anecdote has been confirmed by data," Dr. Samuel Berkovic writes in a commentary in the medical journal. He is an epilepsy researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where medical marijuana was legalized last year, and has worked with Devinsky in the past.

The drug is being tested in a second large study in kids with Dravet syndrome, and in studies of some other types of epilepsy.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Kathy Young/AP]]>
<![CDATA[How to Identify Heat Stroke]]>Tue, 18 Jul 2017 17:53:26 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT_NAT_HEAT_STROKE_GUIDE_052417_1-149557390684400001.jpg

With summer here, it's important to know the dangers of high temperatures. Heat stroke can be dangerous. Here are some ways you can identify heat stroke and what you should do when you see some of its symptoms.]]>
<![CDATA[Researchers Discover 40 More Genes for Intelligence ]]>Mon, 22 May 2017 16:30:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/brain_1200x675.jpg

Researchers found 40 new genes linked with intelligence Monday in study, but they say their finding doesn't show any clear genetic pattern for intelligence, NBC News reported. 

Instead, it shows that intelligence is possibly even more complex than anyone thought, and not easily explained. And it means specially designed smart babies are not in anyone's near future.

The study pointed to 52 genes that influence intelligence, some of them previously identified. Yet they account for less than 5 percent of the variation in human intelligence, the research team reports in the journal Nature Genetics.

Many of the genes have other known roles as well, although most are involved in brain development, the international team of researchers found.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kids Under 1 Shouldn't Drink Fruit Juice: Pediatrician Org.]]>Mon, 22 May 2017 18:20:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/217*120/juicegeneric.jpg

Fruit juice, long recommended as a source of vitamin C for children, has no nutritional value for kids under 1 year old and isn't as good as fresh fruit for other kids, according to a leading pediatrician group.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that babies not be fed any fruit juice in the first year of their lives, according to a policy statement released Monday. One-hundred percent fresh or reconstituted juice can be gradually introduced into toddlers' diets, but kids up to 18 should drink at most one cup of it per day.

Fruit juice is lacking in the protein and fiber that is found in fruits, according to the recommendations, being published in the June issue of Pediatrics. That can lead to too much or too little weight gain.

"Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories," said Melvin B. Heyman, co-author of the policy, in a statement. "Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under 1."

It's the first change in the academy's recommendations for 16 years, according to the statement.

Fruit drinks do not have the same value as fruit juice, the pediatricians note, and doctors may prescribe fruit juice in some instances.

The Juice Products Association on Monday saying "U.S. juice manufacturers have long supported the nutrition guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and we agree with the AAP’s recommendation that 100% fruit juice, in both fresh and reconstituted forms, 'can be a healthy part of the diet of children older than 1 year when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.'

"Further, juice manufacturers are aligned with the AAP’s recommendations regarding fruit juice consumption by infants. These guidelines were first published in Pediatrics in July 2015," the statement said.  



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Guidelines Issued on How Much Juice Is Too Much for Kids]]>Mon, 22 May 2017 17:24:59 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/baby-generic-new.jpg

Children younger than the age of 1 should not have any fruit juice — apple, pear, grape or otherwise — in their diets, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

The academy says that while some fortified fruit juices may provide vitamins, they lack the fiber and protein critical for growth and can lead to excessive weight gain and tooth decay. 

The policy statement released Monday and published in the June issue of the journal "Pediatrics," is the first change in recommendations on fruit juice since 2001. The 2001 policy, reaffirmed in 2006, recommended no fruit juice for kids younger than 6 months, 4 to 6 ounces daily for children between ages 1 and 6 and 8 to 12 ounces for kids 7 and older. 

"Since then, however, considerable concern has been expressed about increasing obesity rates and risks for dental caries," the statement says. 

The new policy advises parents give no juice at all to children before age 1 unless "there is a strong clinical basis for it in the management of constipation." The threshold has also increased: a maximum of 4 ounces daily for kids 1 to 3, 4 to 6 ounces for children ages 4 to 6 and 8 ounces for children 7 and older. Rather than juice, AAP says parents should give their children whole fruits and emphasize water and milk. 

"The policy clarifies that there is virtually no role for juice during the first year of life and that expensive juice products designed specifically for infants are not of value," the AAP statement said. "When juice is served to older toddlers, it is important that it not be sipped throughout the day or used to calm an upset child."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Teen With Measles May Have Exposed Others in New Jersey]]>Sat, 20 May 2017 00:16:36 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/Measles_Generic_722x406_19018080101.jpg

A teenager who visited the U.S. while infected with measles may have exposed others to the highly contagious disease during his or her stay at a hotel and a hospital in Bergen County, the New Jersey Dept. of Health said Friday.

The 16-year-old was vacationing in the U.S. between May 12 and May 15, officials said.

The teen stayed at the Ramada Rochelle Park on West Passaic Street from May 12 to May 13, and was hospitalized at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood from May 13 to May 15.

The Valley Hospital is contacting people who may have been exposed to the disease, which is spread through the air, mucus and saliva.

People in contact with the teen could develop symptoms as late as June 5, officials said.

Symptoms of measles include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.

The disease can cause serious complications such as pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Measles infection in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby.



Photo Credit: File photo]]>
<![CDATA[Diarrhea-Causing Parasite on Rise in US Swimming Pools: CDC]]>Fri, 19 May 2017 23:26:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-452286155.jpg

Last year saw more than twice as many outbreaks of the parasitic infection known as "Crypto," which is linked to swimming pools and water parks, than were seen two years before that, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There were at least 32 outbreaks caused by the Cryptosporidium parasite in 2016, up from 16 in 2014, according to preliminary data published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, released Thursday.

It can spread through the feces of another person who is infected, including through pool water that's been contaminated with diarrhea, according to the CDC. Chlorine can't easily kill the parasite, meaning it can last for up to 10 days in water that is otherwise properly treated.

One mouthful of contaminated water can leave a healthy person sick with diarrhea, cramps and vomiting for up to three weeks.

"To help protect your family and friends from Crypto and other diarrhea-causing germs, do not swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea," said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC's Healthy Swimming program, in a statement. "Protect yourself from getting sick by not swallowing the water in which you swim."

In comparison, 20 Crypto outbreaks linked to swimming were reported in 2011, 16 in 2012, and 13 in 2013. It is not clear whether the number of outbreaks has increased or whether better surveillance and laboratory methods are leading to better outbreak detection.

Crypto is the most common cause of diarrhea, illness and outbreaks linked to swimming pools or water playgrounds because it is not easily killed by chlorine and can survive up to 10 days in properly treated water.

Swallowing just a mouthful of water contaminated with Crypto can make otherwise healthy people sick for up to three weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting, and can lead to dehydration.

The CDC provides more information here

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for Laureus]]>
<![CDATA[States Make Move in Fight Over Health Care Reform]]>Thu, 18 May 2017 19:32:40 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/healthcareprotests_1200x675.jpg

Democratic attorneys general in more than a dozen states announced Thursday they would attempt to intervene in a federal lawsuit that threatens to undercut funding for the Affordable Care Act.

The legal move is intended to give the states a foothold in the case that could disrupt the lives of millions of Americans.

The lawsuit was filed by House Republicans against the Obama administration and challenged the constitutionality of aid payments estimated at $7 billion this year.

The insurance subsidies help cover medical expenses for lower-income Americans.

At issue is how the Trump administration will handle the lawsuit.

Speaking in Los Angeles, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said there is no way to predict the direction of the Trump White House in the matter.

"That unpredictability by itself, that instability in the health care marketplace, is what raises costs," he said.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January, Democratic attorneys general have repeatedly contested his administration's proposals, including on softening environmental protections.

The California Medical Association said in a statement that the health care subsidies are "crucial to ensure that low-income families can afford the cost of coverage, doctors' visits and life-saving medical treatment."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently concluded earlier this year that insurance markets would probably be stable in most areas under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. But Trump has predicted it "soon will explode."

Parties in the case are expected to meet next week.

In an earlier ruling, a U.S. district judge in Washington found the law does not explicitly authorize those expenditures.

The case has been on hold by mutual agreement of the House and the Trump administration. Insurers, which are legally obligated to provide assistance to qualifying customers, continue to be reimbursed by the government.

Along with California, states involved in the legal action are New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington state.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Consumer Reports Ranks Top Sunscreens of 2017]]>Fri, 19 May 2017 08:17:49 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-200535755-001.jpg

If you think all sunscreens are created equal, think again.

Consumer Reports has released its annual list of top sunscreens as well as a warning about the SPF number on some bottles: If you put too much faith in them, you could be putting your skin at risk.

SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, measures how well a sunscreen guards against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, the chief cause of sunburn and a contributor to skin cancer.

For the fifth year in a row, Consumer Reports found some sunscreens during testing failed to provide the level of protection promised on the package. In fact, of the more than 60 products tested, 23 were found to have less than half of the labeled SPF number.

The Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to have their products tested to determine the SPF because sunscreens are classified as over-the-counter drugs. However, the agency doesn’t routinely test sunscreens itself and manufacturers don’t have to report their results to the FDA unless the agency requests them.

According to Consumer Reports, an FDA official at a public meeting in June 2016 said the agency only had the resources for 30 employees to cover more than 100,000 over-the-counter drugs, which limits what they can do to oversee sunscreens.

"Manufacturers test sunscreens for SPF before their products hit the market, but unless they are reformulated, that may be the only testing they do. That’s one reason CR tests sunscreens," Trisha Calvo, Consumer Reports Health Editor, said.

The agency found a number of sunscreens that provide solid protection against sunburn, skin cancer and wrinkles and are also a good value.

Below are 14 recommended sunscreens that received excellent overall ratings:


  • LA ROCHE-POSAY - Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, $36
  • EQUATE (Walmart)- Sport Lotion SPF 50, $5
  • PURE - Sun Defense Disney Frozen Lotion, SPF 50, $6
  • COPPERTONE - WaterBabies Lotion, SPF 50, $12
  • EQUATE (Walmart)- Ultra Protection Lotion, SPF 50, $8
  • OCEAN POTION - Protect and Nourish, SPF 30, $8
  • AVEENO - Protect and Hydrate lotion, SPF 30, $8
  • UP and UP (Target)- Sheer Dry-Touch Lotion, SPF 30, $5
  • COPPERTONE - Clearly Sheer Lotion, SPF 50, $7
  • NEUTROGENA - CoolDry Sport Lotion, SPF 30, $9.50
  • NEUTROGENA - Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Lotion, SPF 45, $9.50
  • HAWAIIAN TROPIC - Sheer Touch Ultra Radiance Lotion, SPF 50, $10.50
  • WELL AT WALGREENS - Baby Lotion, SPF 50, $3
  • COPPERTONE - Sport High Performance Lotion, SPF 50, $12




Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Vaccine May Cut HPV Infections, an Oral Cancer Risk, in Men]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 22:54:03 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hpvvaccinegeneric_1200x675.jpg

The HPV vaccine that helps prevent cervical cancer in women also might lower the risk in young men of oral infections that can cause mouth and throat cancers, a new study finds.

These cancers are rising fast, especially in men, and research suggests that HPV, the human papillomavirus, is spreading through oral sex. The actor Michael Douglas brought attention to this risk several years ago when he blamed his cancer on it.

This is the first study of whether the vaccine might prevent oral HPV infections in young men, and the results suggest it can. No men who had received at least one dose were later found to have infections of HPV strains linked to cancer, but more than 2 percent of unvaccinated men had them.

"There may be additional benefits to vaccinating your son or daughter" besides the problems the vaccine already is known to prevent, said Dr. Maura Gillison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Results were released Wednesday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology ahead of presentation at its annual meeting next month.

THE VIRUS

HPV is very common — most sexually active people have been exposed to it. Some types cause genital warts. Usually, the virus causes no symptoms and goes away, but some people develop long-lasting infections of strains that can cause cancer.

The vaccine was approved in 2006 to prevent cervical cancers in women, and later, for some others including anal cancer in men. But acceptance has been slow — only about half of those eligible are getting it now, according to the latest information.

Now, awareness is growing of HPV's other risks — oral infections are blamed for 70 percent of cancers in the mouth and back of the throat. About 11,600 of these occur each year in the U.S. and rates are rising 5 percent per year. They're four times more common in men than women.

There are now more mouth and throat cancers caused by HPV in the U.S. each year than there are cervical cancers.

Oral sex is the main risk factor for getting an HPV infection in the mouth or throat, Gillison said. While "oral sex does not give you cancer," the infection in rare cases can develop into cancer over many years, she explained.

THE STUDY

She led the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute , while previously at Ohio State University. Researchers interviewed 2,627 men and women ages 18 to 33 years in a national health study from 2011 to 2014 about whether they had been vaccinated, and tested oral rinse samples from them for HPV.

Infections with worrisome HPV strains were found in far fewer people who had received any shots — an 88 percent lower risk. The results in men were striking — no infections in the vaccinated group versus 2.13 percent of the others.

The study was observational, so it can't prove the vaccine was responsible. But it may no longer be ethical to do an experiment where one group gets no vaccine, because its benefits for preventing other cancers is known. It might be possible to do such a study in people over 26, the age limit now for HPV vaccination, Gillison said. If a benefit were shown, it might lead to expanding the group for whom the vaccine is recommended.

The bottom line is that the vaccine helps, and "so few people who should be getting it are," said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer of the oncology society who had no role in the study.

WHAT PATIENTS SAY

Scott Courville wishes it existed when he was young. The 43-year-old construction inspector from St. Martinville, Louisiana, was treated last year for HPV-related tonsil cancer that spread to lymph nodes.

"I went through 33 rounds of radiation and six rounds of chemotherapy," lost 100 pounds, and now has damaged taste buds and sinuses, and constant ringing in his ears, he said.

His three teenaged sons and stepsons are getting the vaccine.

"There was no question at all" that they would, only how soon, he said.

Tom Jackson also had an HPV-related tonsil cancer, found in 2013, and works to fight stigma over an infection that is largely sexually spread.

As a school board trustee in Houston, "I believe strongly that all children should receive all vaccinations," Jackson said. "The horror of HPV cancer is tremendous," and not to be "whitewashed" by squeamishness or reluctance to discuss prevention, he said.

THE VACCINES

The vaccines are recommended mostly for young people, ideally before they're exposed to HPV.

Merck's Gardasil is approved in the U.S. for females 9 through 26 to prevent cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers and genital warts. For males ages 9 through 26, it's approved for preventing anal cancer and genital warts. A newer version of Gardasil that includes more HPV virus types is approved for males 9 through 15.

GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix vaccine is approved for females 9 through 25 to prevent cervical cancer.

All require two or three shots, depending on age.

Other ways to help prevent oral HPV infections are limiting the number of sex partners and not smoking. Condoms or dental dams may help.

Signs and symptoms of mouth and throat cancers may include a long-lasting sore throat, earaches, hoarseness, enlarged lymph nodes and pain when swallowing.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Common Lead Test May Be Wrong, FDA and CDC Say]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 15:10:59 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/206*120/AP_551526133025.jpg

As NBC News reports, many children and pregnant women may need to get new lead tests because one of the most common lab tests may have given falsely low readings, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

The blood tests were made by Magellan Diagnostics and it's the only FDA-approved test used in most doctor's offices, the FDA said.

Any adult or child who had blood drawn for a lead test since 2014 may have to be re-tested, the FDA said.

Studies have shown many U.S. public water supplies are contaminated by lead.

Lead kills developing brain cells and the consequences are permanent. That can include lower IQ scores, poor school performance, inattention, impulsive behavior, aggression and hyperactivity.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio]]>
<![CDATA[Teen's Shocking Death Prompts New Questions About Caffeine]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 07:50:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Avoiding_Death_by_Caffeine.jpg

After a teenager died from ingesting too much caffeine, reporter Roseanne Colletti examines how much is considered dangerous.]]>
<![CDATA[Bullying Persists in School, Reports of Sex Crime Up: Study]]>Tue, 16 May 2017 09:18:08 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17136014479847-school-bullying.jpg

One in every 5 middle and high school students has complained of being bullied at school and the number of reports of sexual assault on college campuses has more than tripled over the past decade, according to a federal study released Tuesday.

"There are areas of concern in terms of bullying and rates of victimization being high," said Lauren Musu-Gillette, one of the authors of the report by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Justice Department. "We are seeing a long term decline, but we still want people to be paying attention to areas where rates are still high."

Even though the overall prevalence of bullying has been declining in American schools over the past decade, 21 percent of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied in 2015, the report found. That was slightly below the international average.

"Bullying is a public health issue because it really affects the mental wellness and health of students and as we know at the extreme end it can lead to everything from suicide to reactive violence," said David Osher, vice president at the American Institutes for Research. "Because it happens, it doesn't mean it has to happen."

The picture was bleaker for gay, lesbian and bisexual students. Thirty-four percent of students who identified as LGBT complained of bullying, compared to 19 percent who identified as heterosexual.

"It's a high number and a disproportionate number in comparison. We still have a lot of homophobic bias and it plays itself in schools," said Charol Shakeshaft, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Those students are singled out and isolated and harassed."

Shakeshaft lamented the Trump's administration decision earlier this year to rescind Obama-era guidance on the use of bathrooms and other facilities for LGBT students, which she said helped them feel safer. When rescinding the guidance the Education and the Justice departments said such decisions should be left to the states.

Osher said campaigns to raise awareness can only help so much in helping to fight bullying. He called for programs that build empathy and self-awareness, identity and provide support for students who have mental health problems and foster a positive climate in schools.

"If you directly focus on bullying without addressing overall issues regarding school climate, social and emotional development of students, you are likely .... to hit a ceiling," Osher said.

The report also found a significant rise in reports of sexual assault on university campuses. Such instances jumped from 2,200 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2014. Musu-Gillette cautioned however, that it is not clear from the research whether the number of actual sex crimes has increased or whether victims now feel safer reporting them to authorities.

Sexual misconduct in schools was also a problem. During the 2013-14 school year, 65 percent of public schools recorded one or more violent incidents. Less than 2 percent of those crimes were sexual battery and 0.2 percent were rape or attempted rape.

A year-long AP investigation revealed that there were about 17,000 reports of sexual assaults in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015.

Other statistics are more encouraging, according to the government report. The number of school deaths dropped from 53 in the 2013 school year to 48 in 2014. Non-fatal incidents of violence and theft at schools are also occurring less frequently. There were 841,000 such occurrences in 2014, compared to 850,100 the previous year.

The percentage of high school students who report having been in a physical fight anywhere has decreased from 42 in 1993 to 23 percent in 2015. The percentage of students in grades 9-12 who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the past month at the time when data was collected, fell from 22 percent in 1993 to 16 percent in 2015.

Alcohol consumption has also gone down. In 1993, 48 percent of students reported recent alcohol use, compared to 33 percent in 2015.

Black students were being disciplined more frequently than other students across the board. In 2012, 15 percent of African-American students received out-of-school suspensions, compared to 6 percent of all students.

"There is much work left to be done," said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the NCES. "The data show that many students do not feel safe at school and are victimized physically, verbally and emotionally."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson, File]]>
<![CDATA[Efforts to Reduce US Uninsured Stalled in 2016: CDC]]>Tue, 16 May 2017 06:13:13 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-495314721.jpg

After five consecutive years of coverage gains, progress toward reducing the number of uninsured Americans stalled in 2016, according to a government report that underscores the stakes as Republicans try to roll back Barack Obama's law.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 28.6 million people were uninsured last year, unchanged from 2015. The uninsured rate was 9 percent, an insignificant difference from 9.1 percent in 2015.

The numbers, released Tuesday, suggest that the two main components of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, were reaching their limits in Obama's final year as president. Premiums for private insurance were about to jump, and 19 states continued to refuse the ACA's Medicaid expansion. The number of uninsured could start climbing again under some of the policies now being considered by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

The politically unpopular GOP bill passed narrowly by the House would limit Medicaid financing and curtail subsidies for many consumers buying their own private policies. Republicans also would repeal the requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or risk fines. The legislation would lead to an estimated increase of 24 million uninsured people within 10 years, according to congressional analysts. Under "Obamacare," there are 20 million fewer uninsured since 2010.

"It's disappointing that it's stalled out," said health economist Gail Wilensky, a Republican. "The real question is, will we be able to keep the gains that we have made?" Critical of the ACA and co-author of an alternative plan by GOP policy experts, Wilensky nonetheless supports the goal of expanding coverage. She's concerned about the impact of the House bill on Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income and disabled people.

The latest numbers come from CDC's National Health Interview Survey, which is considered an authoritative source, and publishes findings earlier than the Census Bureau. The survey's estimates for 2016 were based on data for nearly 97,500 people.

The report validates a trend other major surveys have noted. For example, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate for U.S. adults edged up slightly during the first three months of this year, a period for which there's yet no publicly available CDC data.

"It looks like we are kind of sticking a landing and holding on to the gains," said Katherine Hempstead, who directs research on health insurance at the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "To increase coverage, you would have to see more states take up the Medicaid expansion, and some reforms to increase take-up in the individual (private) market."

Could the number of uninsured start rising again? Absolutely, say both Wilensky and Hempstead.

"This release is really timely because it just helps everybody focus on what's at stake," said Hempstead.

The report found a significant increase in the percentage of people under age 65 covered last year through government-sponsored insurance markets like HealthCare.gov. About 11.6 million (4.3 percent) had marketplace insurance in the last three months of 2016, compared with 9.1 million (3.4 percent) in the same period the previous year.

States that expanded Medicaid were more effective at reducing the number of uninsured. Of the 16 states with adult uninsured rates significantly lower than the nation as a whole, 15 expanded Medicaid. In that group, only Wisconsin had not extended coverage for low-income people.

Conversely, of the nine states that had significantly higher uninsured rates, only New Mexico expanded Medicaid.

The CDC numbers do not reflect any changes directly attributable to Trump, who took office this year on Jan. 20.

During the campaign and since then, the president has made some expansive promises about health insurance, talking of coverage for everybody and much more affordable premiums and deductibles. But Trump has also embraced a GOP bill that would make more people uninsured, even if it fulfills his campaign promise to repeal "Obamacare." And he's threatened to stop paying subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles for people with modest incomes.

Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated, had promised to increase government assistance for private insurance costs, and also work to convince holdout states to expand their Medicaid programs.

"This is really pre-election activity" reflected in the CDC survey, said Wilensky. "It's news because people need to know we seem to have reached a plateau." Whether that will look the same a year from now is unclear, she added.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Moderates Hold Bipartisan Health Care Talks]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 21:23:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/211*120/AP_17136032403447.jpg

Moderate senators from both parties met Monday to explore whether they can work on bipartisan legislation overhauling the nation's health care system.

The evening session came as Republican senators have begun closed-door meetings aimed at crafting a GOP bill scuttling much of President Barack Obama's health care law.

With the political stakes high over health care, there seems little chance that a band of moderates from both parties would produce a package that will become the Senate's chief bill, at least until Republicans have exhausted efforts to produce their own legislation.

But Monday's meeting underscored that Democratic and Republican centrists consider it important to show home-state voters that they are seeking middle ground and are not using the issue to score partisan points.

There are already divisions between conservatives and GOP moderates over what their party's bill should look like, with the two factions clashing over issues including Medicaid cuts. Republican leaders are hoping to produce a consensus GOP bill by this summer.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bill Cassidy, R-La., were organizers of Monday's meeting. Attendees included several other Republicans plus three Democrats: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Indiana's Joe Donnelly.

Collins told reporters the meeting was aimed at trying to "get away from the partisanship that has made it very difficult to come up with solutions."

In January, Collins and Cassidy introduced legislation that would give states the option of retaining Obama's law. As an alternative, states could enroll people in low-cost, high-deductible plans or let them purchase more expensive policies.

Cassidy said the bill he sponsored with Collins would be "a good place to start," but said senators were open to other ideas.

An aide to one Democrat who attended the session said the lawmakers discussed health care ideas in "broad strokes."

Manchin, Donnelly and Heitkamp all face re-election next year in states that Donald Trump easily carried in last November's presidential voting.

Republicans have long pledged to repeal Obama's 2010 statute and replace it with GOP policy prescriptions. The legislation is one of President Donald Trump's top priorities, and the party has little interest in easily abandoning its effort to show voters they are addressing their promise.

For their part, Democrats have refused to engage in talks with Republicans unless the GOP drops its repeal mantra and agrees to work toward adjustments in Obama's statute. Democratic leaders are in no rush to help Republicans in their drive to dismantle Obama's overhaul, which has fared poorly in public opinion surveys.

With unanimous Democratic opposition expected, Republicans holding a 52-48 Senate majority would lose if just three GOP senators oppose their party's plans. If they secure 50 Republican votes, the bill would pass because Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie.

Collins and Cassidy said they expected the bipartisan lawmakers to meet again.

Associated Press reporter Erica Werner contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Details Anti-Abortion Ban Over US Global Health Aid]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 20:06:02 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trump64.jpg

President Donald Trump is moving forward with a plan to massively expand a ban on federal dollars going to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information.

Senior administration officials said Monday a plan to expand the so-called "Mexico City Policy" had gone into effect. The policy would apply broadly to organizations receiving U.S. global health assistance, compared with past versions of the ban which specifically targeted international family planning groups.

In all, about $8.8 billion in funding could be impacted, far more than the $600,000 covered under the previous version of the ban, which critics call the Global Gag Rule. The expanded policy is being dubbed "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance." The officials, who requested anonymity and were not authorized to speak on the record, said the ban would apply to groups working on HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal and child health, reproductive issues and global health.

Officials said the new policy would be applied immediately to new funding issued and then to existing arrangements as they are amended. To receive funding, health organizations must pledge not to provide abortions or abortion information or provide support to any groups that do. There is an exemption in cases of rape, incest or when the woman's life is at risk.

Aid to national and local governments will be exempted, as is humanitarian assistance, migration aid and disaster relief. The Secretary of State could also authorize exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Officials said there will be a comprehensive review of the impact of the changes over the next six months.

Trump reinstated the policy — a political football instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984 — days after he took office, promising to expand the scope. Obama had lifted the ban when he took office in 2009.

Just how many groups will be impacted in the short term was not clear. Administration officials declined to speculate on how many organizations would not meet the new criteria. Health experts noted that in many areas, groups partner with each other to provide more services, so those relationships could come under scrutiny.

Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the policy was a significant expansion compared with past Republican administrations.

"Right now there's a lot of unknowns," she said. "This is a much bigger expansion. And the U.S. role in global health has increased over time. The U.S. footprint right now is quite big in global health."

Suzanne Ehlers, president of Washington-based Population Action International which lobbies in the U.S. and developing countries for women's reproductive health, said in a statement that the change would "cause unspeakable damage to integrated care efforts across all health sectors."

"Despite the Trump administration's ludicrous rebranding of the policy, the Global Gag Rule is unmistakably deadlier than ever," said Ehlers.

Anti-abortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the news, saying in a statement that "with the implementation of Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, we have officially ceased exporting abortion to foreign nations."

Some critics noted that the president on Sunday released a statement marking Women's Health Week. He said "we recognize the importance of providing women access to the best, evidence-based health information and care, and growing our medical knowledge through basic and applied research support."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Boy, 16, Dies After Drinking Large Soda, Latte, Energy Drink]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 18:07:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-571245571.jpg

A 16-year-old South Carolina boy who collapsed in a classroom had so much caffeine over a two-hour span that it killed him, a medical examiner said Monday. 

Davis Allen Cripe died April 26 at Palmetto Health Parkridge Hospital after collapsing at Spring Hill High School. He drank a large diet soda, a latte and an energy drink in the two hours before he fell ill, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said in a press conference Monday. 

Watts officially ruled the cause of death as a caffeine-induced cardiac event. He said Cripe had no family history that would have compounded the effects of caffeine and said the boy was otherwise healthy when he died. 

"We lost Davis from a totally legal substance," Watts said. "It was so much caffeine at the time of his death that it caused his arrhythmia."

The coroner said caffeinated drinks can be "very dangerous."

"I'm telling my friends and family: Don't drink them," he said. 

Cripe's father, Sean Cripe, attended the press conference. He said he hoped his son's death would save other lives by exposing the potential dangers of excessive caffeine.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Diesel Pollution Worse Than Tailpipe Tests Estimate: Study]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 13:29:20 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17135537263646-El-Monte-California-Emissions-Test.jpg

Pollution from diesel trucks, buses and cars globally is more than 50 percent higher than levels shown in government lab tests, a new study says.

That extra pollution translated to another 38,000 deaths from soot and smog in 2015, the researchers estimated.

The work published Monday in the journal Nature was a follow-up to the testing that uncovered the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal. Researchers compared the amount of key pollutants coming out of diesel tailpipes on the road in 10 countries and the European Union to the results of government lab tests for nitrogen oxides.

They calculated that 5 million more tons was being spewed than the lab-based 9.4 million tons. Governments routinely test new vehicles to make sure they meet pollution limits.

Experts and the researchers don't accuse car and truck makers of cheating, but say testing is not simulating real-world conditions.

"The paper shows how much human failure costs," said Jens Borken-Kleefeld, a transportation scientist at the International Institute for Applied System Analysis in Austria who wasn't part of the study.

The researchers included a team from the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, that arranged the testing that first showed VW diesel cars were rigged to cheat on emissions tests. They used previously published tests of pollutants coming from thousands of vehicles, all models, to calculate the extra pollution in 2015. Worldwide, three-quarters of that extra pollution is from trucks and buses.

Other research connects soot and smog to heart and lung diseases, with pollution killing more than 4 million people every year around the world, said lead author Susan Anenberg, a researcher at Environmental Health Analytics and a former U.S. government scientist.

The researchers calculated that the extra nitrogen oxides were responsible for about 31,400 deaths in 2015 because of tiny soot particles in the air and 6,600 deaths from extra smog. The European Union, which has mostly diesel cars, had an extra 11,500 deaths; China, 10,600; India, 9,300; and the United States, 1,100.

In Europe, new truck regulations are working and much of the excess pollution is coming from cars, said study co-author Ray Minjares of the clean transportation group.

Study authors and outside experts said the solution to the problem is stronger enforcement, regulations and testing.

"I do not find these results surprising, but they are significant because the extent of the problem has been underappreciated, and it's one that too many policymakers prefer to sweep under the rug," University of Michigan Energy Institute's John DeCicco said in an email. "So most of what is going on is not cheating but rather inadequate testing and enforcement."

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the U.S. industry group Diesel Technology Forum, said it's impossible to design a lab test that could cover all real-world driving possibilities but industry officials and regulators are working on it.

"It's important to understand that diesel has been a technology of continuous improvement, meaning that today's generation of new diesel technology is lower in emissions and more efficient than one built 10 or even five years ago," Schaeffer said in a statement.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut, File]]>
<![CDATA[What Namastes in Vegas: Yoga Makes Inroads in Gambling Mecca]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 09:10:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17135010863731-Yoga-Las-Vegas-Casinos.jpg

Surrounded by imposing Las Vegas hotel-casinos in the foreground and desert mountains in the background, the group breathed deeply and loudly as an instructor guided them through their poses: upward dog, downward dog, lord of the dance.

The participants, though, weren't the only ones shifting positions in this mirrorless space with Instagram-enviable views.

The three women and a man were inside a cabin of the world's tallest Ferris wheel, stretching and holding poses as the marquees of The Mirage, Linq, Harrah's and Caesars Palace appeared and faded from sight.

This gambling oasis isn't known for mind-steadying experiences. But as the city broadens the range of interests and wallets it appeals to, companies have carefully selected an array of unique, picture-perfect sites where visitors and locals can say "Namaste." Call it yoga a la Vegas, and picture dolphins, helicopters, red rocks and ritzy high-rises.

"High plank, low plank, up dog, down dog," Raffi Yozgadlian said as he guided the group at the High Roller observation wheel through a series of yogi calisthenics at about 550 feet above ground.

The instructions stopped three-quarters into the class, and out came the cellphones. It was time for a few photos of handstands and other poses with the Bellagio, Cosmopolitan and an Eiffel Tower replica in the background.

"I was like, whoa. You have the Strip and you can take that in, or you have the mountains and you can take that in," said Carly Benson, a Las Vegas resident whose tripod headstand photo is now on Instagram. "I was a little concerned about how my balance was going to be, and surprisingly, being able to zone in the landscape, I had better balance there than I sometimes do on the ground."

Visitors and locals in need of their downward dog also can take classes surrounded by an outdoor installation of neon signs in the summer; by request, poolside at the MGM Grand; or on the grassy fields of a recreation area just outside the city in the shade of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

For those who prefer the indoors, the studio with floor-to-ceiling glass windows on the eighth floor of the opulent Mandarin Oriental hotel offers views of the Las Vegas Strip.

The unorthodox settings fit with a nationwide trend of yoga instruction moving out of the studio and into parks, breweries, museums and other locations. Some classes incorporate goats and butterflies.

Caesars Entertainment, which owns the High Roller, thought the Ferris wheel would be a good place for a fitness class and decided yoga was the perfect fit. Each cabin fits up to 40 people standing and in benches.

"It's a one-hour class, so it's a fulfilling practice, and whether you are a yoga enthusiast or first-timer or someone who just wants to have that amazing Instagram yoga moment here in Vegas, it presents a unique experience," said Lindsay Sanna, Caesars' senior director of marketing. The class is $75 per person.

At the Mirage, yogis of all skill levels can sign up for an hourlong class in the underwater viewing area of the dolphin tanks at Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. On a recent Friday morning, a group began the experience by taking a few breaths while sitting on their mats facing bottlenose dolphins through glass windows.

"Of course, you can pop your eyes open if you want to see the dolphins," Janet Ziter told the class, which included devoted and beginner yoga practitioners. Dolphins swam next to three windows while soothing music played.

This class, too, incorporated a mini-photo shoot. And so a guest held the crow pose — hands planted on the floor, shins resting on the back of his upper arms and feet lifted up — for a few seconds until a dolphin swam behind him and a friend snapped a photo.

Instructors with the yoga-focused company Silent Savasana teach the classes at the High Roller and also lead what's perhaps Las Vegas' most luxurious of yoga experiences: a helicopter ride from the airport to a nearby state park and a class atop bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops.

The class in a remote area of the 63-square-mile (163-square-kilometer) Valley of Fire State Park allows participants to take in a breathtaking view of bright blue skies and sandstones while flowing from pose to pose.

The exact location of the 75-minute, six-person class depends on the day's wind conditions. The experience concludes with a flight over the Las Vegas Strip.

Some may be priced out of the $3,499 experience, which includes champagne. But Maverick Helicopters, which for years has offered trips to other destinations in the U.S. Southwest, says at least six groups have participated this year.

Shandelle Troy practices yoga regularly and recently celebrated her birthday by taking the class. Outfitted with typical black yoga pants and a teal tank top, she assumed a spot close to the helicopter and a few yards (meters) from the instructor.

"Yoga is so spiritual, so being out there in nature makes it so much better," the resident of Henderson, Nevada, said between sips of bubbly.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Locher]]>
<![CDATA[School Districts Brace for Changes in Medicaid Distributions]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 08:06:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17133202434446-health-overhaul-medicaid-schools.jpg

For school districts still getting their financial footing after the Great Recession, the Medicaid changes being advanced as part of the health care overhaul are sounding familiar alarms.

Administrators say programming and services even beyond those that receive funding from the state-federal health care program could be at risk should Congress follow through with plans to change the way Medicaid is distributed. They say any reduction in the estimated $4 billion schools receive in annual Medicaid reimbursements would be hard to absorb after years of reduced state funding and a weakened tax base.

"If they have less Medicaid money, something's going to go away," said Randy Liepa, superintendent of the Wayne County Regional Education Service Agency, which works with 33 school districts in the Detroit area. The agency covers about 21,000 children with special needs who are on Medicaid and it helps districts recoup about $30 million annually in reimbursements.

Districts would have to look at non-mandated positions and programs if forced to bear more of the costs for services for poor and disabled students required by federal law, said Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association.

The Senate is up next in efforts to do away with President Barack Obama's health law, and school leaders are watching to see whether the changes advanced by the House survive. The House bill would transform the open-ended federal entitlement, which reimburses schools a percentage of the cost of the eligible services they provide to poor and disabled students, to one where reimbursements will come in a fixed, per-person amount.

But, said Kriner Cash, superintendent of public schools in Buffalo, New York, "individual student care comes with highly variable costs, especially in the case of students with disabilities." In the school district, more than 80 percent of students are low income and 22 percent have disabilities. The district gets about $2.5 million annually from Medicaid.

In March, a Congressional Budget Office estimate for an earlier version of the House bill found that federal Medicaid subsidies to states would be $880 billion less over 10 years.

President Donald Trump's administration argues that states will get more freedom to experiment with the program and make sure that people who rely on Medicaid get the care and coverage they need.

Medicaid spending is "not getting out of control because of schools, because schools are getting less than 1 percent of the dollars," said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director of policy and advocacy at The School Superintendents Association. "It's not kids who are breaking the bank."

An association survey polling 1,000 school leaders reported that schools spent two-thirds of the money to support specialists, from school nurses and social workers to speech pathologists.

The association, as part of a coalition of more than 50 school and child health advocates, warned congressional leaders in a recent letter against shifting more costs to states and in turn, local communities. They said that would lead to cuts in services and benefits to children, especially in districts with high poverty rates.

"A lot of districts have never really covered from the Great Recession, they're still in it," Gentzel said, "and some states have not restored their funding. I think it's the context of all of this that's almost as important as the story about Medicaid."

Opponents of the changes say these are potential impacts:

SCHOOL NURSES

Students needing to check their temperature or searching for a tampon may not be able to walk down the hall to see a school nurse. Health professionals such as nurses, physical therapists, speech pathologists, social workers and psychologists may be forced to rove between schools, outsourced or have some of their duties taken on by administrative staff.

"There are health barriers to students getting their education," said Donna Mazyck, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses. Individualized Education Plans mandated under federal law may require nurses to give medication and tend to feeding tubes and tracheotomies. "That service won't be done if Medicaid isn't paying for it," she said.

MENTAL HEALTH
Behavioral issues in the classroom are often addressed with counseling through social workers and psychologists. Schenectady City School District in New York, where a majority of students live in poverty, has had a dramatic increase in the number of social workers at its schools dealing with mental health issues. "They're all front-line responders to kids in crisis," Superintendent Laurence Spring said. He said they counsel kids traumatized by domestic violence and street crimes and others who experience anxiety from not having enough food at home. The district files for about $2 million in annual Medicaid reimbursements.

HEALTH SCREENINGS
When schools host campus-wide preventative screenings, for everything from vision, hearing, asthma and mental health, some costs are recouped based on the number of Medicaid-eligible students who are treated. Advocates say that vulnerable children may not have access to such preventative services outside of school, but the screenings can catch health issues before they become more serious.

Liepa, from the Detroit-area agency, said children living in poverty regularly come to school facing significant impairments to their health and with little or no support at home to address them, which ultimately affects learning. "It's no different than if they're coming in hungry, which is supported by the federal lunch program."

COMMUNITY OUTREACH
School districts often direct and assist students' families with resources, such as helping them sign up for Medicaid or referring them to an eye doctor for glasses. Some hours spent on these administrative tasks are reimbursable by Medicaid.

Poquoson City Public Schools in Virginia spend some of their $35,000 in annual reimbursements for events targeting children who aren't even in school yet, in hopes of getting families resources as early as possible. "It's a jump start for kindergarten. If we can get some services, with disabilities, at an early age, they're likely far more successful in the years with us," Superintendent Jennifer Parish said.

EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES
A major hit on school budgets could mean less for new or replacement equipment and supplies. That could affect things such as outfitted buses, assistive devices and other items for children with special needs so they can be in school. This could trickle down to non-mandated items such as special science lab materials or theater club costumes for general education students.

Liepa said the Medicaid money has helped school districts afford programs and operational costs, from upgrading buses to buying new textbooks, while balancing their budgets. "It's been a life-saver for school districts. It's one less thing I have to worry about or think about reducing," he said.

SPORTS, CLUBS AND ACTIVITIES
Optional but highly popular programs for students and families, such as sports, clubs and after-school activities, could be slashed, as the offerings are generally the first to go in a budget crisis.

"Most districts have long picked the low-hanging fruit in their budgets," Gentzel said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Locher]]>
<![CDATA[Brazil Declares End to Zika Emergency After Fall in Cases]]>Fri, 12 May 2017 07:33:12 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ZIKA_AP_815397555643.jpg

Brazil declared an end to its public health emergency over the Zika virus on Thursday, 18 months after a surge in cases drew headlines around the world.

The mosquito-borne virus wasn't considered a major health threat until the 2015 outbreak revealed that Zika can lead to severe birth defects. One of those defects, microcephaly, causes babies to be born with skulls much smaller than expected.

Photos of babies with the defect spread panic around the Western Hemisphere and around the globe, as the virus was reported in dozens of countries. Many would-be travelers canceled their trips to Zika-infected places. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others recommended that women who were pregnant shouldn't travel to affected areas. The concern spread even more widely when health officials said it could also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.

The health scare came just as Brazil, the epicenter of the outbreak, was preparing to host the 2016 Olympics, fueling concerns the Games could help spread the virus. One athlete, a Spanish wind surfer, said she got Zika while training in Brazil ahead of the Games.

In response to the outbreak, Brazil launched a mosquito-eradication campaign. The Health Ministry said those efforts have helped to dramatically reduce cases of Zika. From January through mid-April, the Health Ministry recorded 95 percent fewer cases than during the same period last year. The incidence of microcephaly has fallen as well.

The World Health Organization lifted its own international emergency in November, even while saying the virus remained a threat.

"The end of the emergency doesn't mean the end of surveillance or assistance" to affected families, said Adeilson Cavalcante, the secretary for health surveillance at Brazil's Health Ministry. "The Health Ministry and other organizations involved in this area will maintain a policy of fighting Zika, dengue and chikungunya."

All three diseases are carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

But the WHO has warned that Zika is "here to stay," even when cases of it fall off, and that fighting the disease will be an ongoing battle.

Adriana Melo, the Brazilian doctor who raised alarm bells in the early days of the outbreak about a link between Zika and birth defects, said the lifting of the emergency was expected following the decline in cases.

"The important thing now is that we don't forget the victims," Melo said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Patients Beg for Pricey Drugs on Facebook Black Market]]>Thu, 11 May 2017 16:28:31 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-141926979.jpg

Desperate patients are swapping pricey pharmaceutical drugs on Facebook, NBC News reported.

NBC News searched Facebook and found postings to trade insulins, EpiPens, asthma inhalers and other prescription medications.

"If it weren't for the online diabetes community I would be dead," said Amy Leyendecker, a 43-year-old medical transcription student from Kentucky living with Type-1 diabetes who requires daily doses of insulin to stay alive.

Doctors say patients like Leyendecker take a big gamble.

"Patients can put themselves in grave danger by using insulin 'traded' online," said Dr. Joshua Miller, medical director of diabetes care at Stony Brook Medicine, running the risk of infection, or fluctuating blood sugar levels if the insulin was expired or stored incorrectly.



Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Aetna Drops Last 2 State Markets Under Affordable Care Act]]>Thu, 11 May 2017 15:17:51 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16229419820877.jpg

While Republicans rewrite the Affordable Care Act in Washington, the future of the current law has grown hazier with the nation's third-largest health insurer completely divorcing itself from state-based insurance markets.

Aetna said late Wednesday that it won't sell individual coverage next year in its two remaining states — Nebraska and Delaware — after projecting a $200 million loss this year. It had already dropped Iowa and Virginia for next year. The insurer once sold the coverage in 15 states, but slashed that to four after losing about $450 million in 2016.

The government-backed marketplaces are a pillar of the Obama-era federal law because they allow millions of people to buy health insurance with help from income-based tax credits. But insurers like Humana, and now Aetna, have been fleeing that market, and the remaining coverage options are growing thin. Other companies like the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem say they are wary of returning without a guarantee that the government will provide cost-sharing subsidies that reduce expenses like co-payments. Those are separate from the tax credits that help pay premiums.

The White House has assured lawmakers it will continue paying the subsidies, but it has offered no long-term guarantee.

About 12 million people bought coverage for this year on the exchanges, and every market had at least one insurer offering coverage. But a growing number were down to one.

Companies are in the middle of figuring out their prices and coverage plans for next year, and insurance experts expect some holes to develop in those marketplaces.

"All it takes is one insurance company to exit, and that can create panic for other insurers and they pull out too," said Cynthia Cox, a health insurance expert for the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care. "Insurers don't want to be the last one holding the bag."

The federal law prevents insurers from rejecting patients based on their health, so if competitors pull out, the last insurer may be left covering all the high-cost patients in that market.

Metropolitan or highly populated areas are still expected to draw several insurers. But rural areas may not be attractive to insurers looking to cut losses. They generally have a smaller, older population.

Ultimately, insurers with the most common brand in health insurance, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, will decide the fate of the marketplaces. Many of those plans specialize in individual insurance and have a long-standing presence in their markets. They also are the only remaining option on exchanges in nearly a third of the nation's more than 3,100 counties.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File]]>
<![CDATA[Buzz Kill: California Police Work to Detect Drugged Drivers]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 19:49:27 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17130735362057.jpg

Police in three California counties are testing what amounts to a breathalyzer for drug users — a device that some authorities and lawmakers said Wednesday is desperately needed now that voters have legalized recreational marijuana in the state.

When legalization takes full effect next year, California will become the world's largest market for pot.

Yet California is among the states with legalized marijuana that are struggling to find a reliable test and gauge for marijuana impairment that can stand up in court and lead to convictions.

Law enforcement and academic experts say settling on such a test is complicated because drugs affect everyone differently and there is wide variation in the potency of pot and other drugs and the way they are consumed. As a result, there is no consensus on what level amounts to impairment.

The demonstration of the testing device Wednesday outside the California Capitol involved a Sacramento police officer using a cheek swab to collect saliva from another officer posing as a suspect.

The swab was then plugged into a walkie-talkie-sized device that shows within five minutes whether any of six drugs are present in saliva.

The equipment has been tested in Kern, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties under a law sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Palmdale Republican.

"We want this to become statewide," Lackey said.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Glen Glaser, who coordinates the patrol's drug recognition expert program, said there are too many variables to rely on a saliva or breath test.

"The science is still developing," he said. "The mere presence of a drug should not make a person feel like they're subject to arrest if they're not impaired."

In addition, prosecutions are more difficult because there is no presumed level of drug intoxication in California, unlike the 0.08 percent blood alcohol level at which drivers are presumed drunk.

Michigan and Vermont recently authorized the tests that are also used in some other states and nations, according to Lackey's office.

Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol member, unsuccessfully carried a bill two years ago that would have allowed police to use such "oral fluid" devices to test for drugs in much the same way officers currently use breathalyzers to test drivers' blood-alcohol level.

Suspects are currently free to refuse to take the drug tests.

Police mainly rely on field sobriety tests if they suspect a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While drunken driving tests mainly test physical skills, drugged driving screening also looks for cognitive changes.

For instance, suspects are told to tip back their heads and estimate when 30 seconds have passed; some drugs make time seem to slow down while others produce the sensation that time has accelerated, Glaser said.

The state Assembly last month unanimously approved a bill requiring the CHP to create a task force to recommend best practices, policies and legislation involving tests for drugs. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Fred Delfino, product manager for Alere Toxicology, said the company's device demonstrated Wednesday has an accuracy rate of 95 percent, enough to identify which drivers should be required to provide blood samples to show the actual level of intoxication.

More California police departments are using the saliva tests after a Kern County judge last year accepted the results as admissible evidence in a drugged driving case, said Lauren Michaels, marijuana and drunken driving policy expert for the California Police Chiefs Association.

The CHP and other agencies are cooperating with the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, as part of a two-year, $1.8 million study.

The center is analyzing and trying to improve the tests used by human drug-recognition experts and the saliva testing.

Researchers also are trying to learn if there is a particular level of marijuana intoxication that impairs driving, said Thomas Marcotte, the study's chief investigator and co-director of the research center.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]]>
<![CDATA[Study Identifies Root Cause of Gray, Balding Hair]]>Thu, 11 May 2017 09:51:42 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gray+hair+study+ut+southwestern.jpg

Scientists in North Texas have identified the cells that cause hair to turn gray and to go bald – findings that could one day help identify possible treatments.

Researchers from the University of Texas Southewestern Medical Center accidentally stumbled upon the discovery while studying a rare genetic disease that causes tumors to grow on nerves. 

"When we saw the mice that we were expecting to form a tumor turned gray, we were really excited!" said Dr. Lu Le, an associate professor of dermatology at UT Southwestern.

The researchers found that a protein called KROX20, more commonly associated with nerve development, switches on in skin cells that become the hair shaft.

These hair cells then produce another protein called stem cell factor (SCF). In mice, these two proteins turned out to be important for baldness and graying.

When researchers deleted the SCF gene in mice, the animals' hair turned white; when they deleted the cells that produce KROX20, the mice stopped growing hair and eventually went bald, according to the study.

"We were really excited because as a dermatologist, I treat patients with hair disease, so when we found the root cause of why hair turns gray and hair loss, we just cannot let it go," Le said.

More research is needed to understand if the process works similarly in humans, and Le and his colleagues plan to start studying it in people.

Le hopes that, armed with this knowledge, scientists can develop a topical compound or transplant the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems.

Researchers say the findings could one day also provide answers about why humans age in general as hair graying and hair loss are among the first signs of aging.

At Hair Revival Studio in Dallas, clients say the possibility of a treatment for gray hair and baldness sounds remarkable.

"Everyone wants to have a good head of hair. There's a lot of confidence that comes with that," said Brandon Stewart.



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Study Warns of Noisy Knees]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 20:23:54 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Study_Warns_of_Noisy_Knees.jpg

A long term study has found that noisy knees could indicate that a joint disease is coming. Roseanne Colletti reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Descendants of Syphilis Study Subjects Emerging From Shadows]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 09:04:19 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tuskegee-syphilis-study.jpg

Decades later, it's still hard to grasp what the federal government did to hundreds of black men in rural Alabama — even if you're among their descendants, lighting candles in their memory.

For 40 years starting in 1932, medical workers in the segregated South withheld treatment for unsuspecting men infected with a sexually transmitted disease simply so doctors could track the ravages of the horrid illness and dissect their bodies afterward.

Finally exposed in 1972, the study ended and the men sued, resulting in a $9 million settlement. Twenty years ago this May, President Bill Clinton apologized for the U.S. government. It seemed to mark the end of this ugly episode, once and for all.

Except it didn't.

Relatives of the men still struggle with the stigma of being linked to the experiment, commonly known today as the "Tuskegee Syphilis Study." For years they have met privately to share their pain and honor the victims.

And, amazingly, that class-action lawsuit filed by the men in 1973 has outlived them all. The litigation continues to this day, with a federal court currently considering a request that will help determine the study's final legacy.

A key, unanswered question: What should be done with unclaimed settlement money that still sits in court-controlled accounts?

___

Lille Tyson Head wants you to know that her father, Freddie Lee Tyson, wasn't just a man infected with syphilis.

Once a sharecropper in the fields of rural eastern Alabama, Tyson became a carpenter early in his marriage to Johnnie Mae Neal Tyson. He helped build Moton Field, where the famed "Tuskegee Airmen" learned to fly during World War II, he later worked as a firefighter there, his daughter said. He also worked for the government after it established the Tuskegee National Forest in eastern Alabama. Around 1960, he moved the family out of the Jim Crow South to Connecticut, where he worked in a factory.

"He was a wise man, very gentle. He was a disciplined man. Active in the church, loved his family and his extended family," said Head, of Wirtz, Virginia, one of the Tysons' eight children. "He was a good man. He had a sense of humor, he was a good dancer."

Though he displayed no symptoms, Tyson also was born with congenital syphilis inherited from his mother, Head said. And that is how he became a participant in "The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male."

Located about 40 miles east of the state capital of Montgomery, Macon County is one of the poorest places in a poor state. In the early 1900s, the majority black county was a hotbed for syphilis, which affected about 35 percent of its residents of reproductive age.

In 1929, government doctors working in conjunction with a philanthropic fund began treating syphilis patients in the county with bismuth and mercury. Few people were cured, according to a summary from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some died.

Three years later, the U.S. Public Health Service, working with state and local health agencies, began what was supposed to be a short-lived program in Tuskegee to record the progression of the illness, which begins with a small sore and can progress to open wounds, blindness, deafness, mental illness and death.

Workers initially recruited 600 black men into a health program with the promise of free medical checks, free food, free transportation and burial insurance in a county where many blacks had never even seen a doctor. The men were tested and sorted into groups — 399 with syphilis and another 201 who were not infected.

The disease-free men were used as a control group. Health workers told syphilitic fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers and uncles only that they had "bad blood."

None of the men was asked to consent to take part in a medical study. They also weren't told that "bad blood" actually was a euphemism for syphilis. Instead, doctors purposely hid the study's purpose from the men, subjecting them during the study's early months to painful spinal taps and blood tests.

Medical workers periodically provided men with pills and tonic that made them believe they were being treated, but they weren't. And doctors never provided them with penicillin after it became the standard treatment for syphilis in the mid-1940s.

The government published occasional reports on the study, including findings which showed the men with syphilis were dying at a faster rate than the uninfected. But it's doubtful any of the men — or their wives, girlfriends or other sexual partners — had any idea what had happened until an Associated Press story was published nationwide on July 26, 1972.

The next morning, farmer and community leader Charlie Pollard walked into Fred Gray's law office in Tuskegee. Gray already was a civil rights legend by that point: His clients included Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks following her arrest in Montgomery in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

Pollard "came into my office and asked me if I had been reading in the newspaper about the men who were involved in the syphilis tests for 'bad blood,'" Gray wrote in a memoir.

Pollard was among the men in the study, and his visit with Gray led to the lawsuit and the multimillion-dollar settlement reached with the government on Aug. 28, 1975. In all, Gray said in an interview, government documents showed 623 men were involved in the study.

Payments to men and their heirs differed based on whether men were infected or were in the control group, whether they were dead or alive. Living participants who had syphilis got $37,500; heirs of deceased members of the control group received $5,000. Women and children who were infected with syphilis got lifetime medical and health benefits, and a handful still survive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For decades, the study has been widely blamed for distrust among U.S. blacks toward the medical community, particularly clinical trials and other tests. In medical and public health circles, it's known as the "Tuskegee effect.

___


Freddie Lee Tyson quit the study during the 1950s after hearing rumblings that "something was wrong," Lille Head said.

Unaffected by the disease despite years of being in the study's syphilitic group, Tyson learned the true nature of the program only when the rest of the country found out, his daughter said. His wife and children all tested negative for syphilis, but Tyson was traumatized and feared the disease would show up somewhere in his family.

"After he found out about it he had to live with it. That could bring a person down if he wasn't strong. He was angry and he was upset," she said.

The lawsuit settled years before, Tyson died in 1988 at age 82 after an automobile accident. Today, the 72-year-old Head chairs Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed in 2014 by the men's relatives to tell the story of the victims of the Tuskegee study.

Through the decades, their loved ones have been portrayed both as unwitting victims of a horrid experiment and as ignorant hicks who brought trouble on themselves with promiscuous behavior. Many descendants are still steamed over a 1997 movie called "Miss Evers Boys," which they believe cast the men in a bad light. A big part of the foundation's purpose is rounding out the narrative of the men's lives by telling the story of people like Freddie Lee Tyson, Head said.

Descendants of the men began gathering a year or two after Clinton hosted five remaining test survivors in the White House. The meetings are held in conjunction with Tuskegee's National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, established in 1999 to address ethical and human rights issues in science, particularly concerning minorities.

The last man involved in the syphilis study died in 2004 and this year, for the first time, relatives both allowed The Associated Press into their annual gathering and invited the public to a ceremony where they lit candles for the men.

This year's ceremony included about 110 descendants, friends, community members, a gospel choir from Tuskegee University and public officials. There were speeches by Head and attorney Gray and others. The "community day of healing" was a big step for the families, Head said.

"It was important that the people of Macon County knew what the descendants were doing, and it gave them a chance to come out and be a part not only of the healing but also remembering of the men," she said. In the future, she hopes, more descendants "will come out of the shadows and be a voice for their fathers and grandfathers."

Retired public health nurse Amy Pack both visited with men of the study through her job in Macon County and had relatives who were among the test subjects, including great-uncle Seth Barrow. She said the foundation is still trying to find additional descendants; there's a small chance that syphilis dating back to the years of the study could still be in the bloodlines of families who are unaware of their connection to the study, she said.

___

The legal fallout from the Tuskegee syphilis study lives on at the federal courthouse in Montgomery.

Settlement funds were used for decades to compensate study participants and more than 9,000 of their relatives. Court workers were unable to locate other descendants, and some never responded to letters from the clerk's office, which disbursed millions before the last payment was recorded in 2008.

Court officials won't say how much money is left, but documents indicate the balance is mostly interest earnings from money first paid by the government decades ago. Gray said he's heard it's less than $100,000.

Some family members say the money should be used for additional funding for medical screenings for the men's families, and others want a long-discussed memorial at the old hospital where the study was run at Tuskegee University.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is currently considering a request Gray filed in August to use the remaining money to fund operation of the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, a combination museum and town welcome center that includes a display about the syphilis study.

The center is located in an old bank building owned by the county, and it's operated by a nonprofit headed by Gray and his daughter; the organization had net assets of more than $850,000 in 2015, with money coming from grants and donations, tax records show. The names of the men who were involved in the program are etched in a circle on the floor as a memorial.

In his address to descendants during the community service, Gray made what amounted to a closing argument for using the money for the museum, which is open only during the summer because of funding shortages. Gray told descendants that the men of the study — the people he represented after that meeting with Charlie Pollard — wanted a lasting memorial to their legacy, and he has worked for 20 years to make it happen at the center.

A judge refused a similar request from Gray to provide the leftover money to the museum in 2004 after the government insisted it should get the money, records show.

But Pollard's 92-year-old daughter, Ralphine Pollard Harper, said she likes the idea. People need to know what happened, she said, even if her father didn't like discussing the study.

"He'd get mad about it," she recalled. "He said, 'They just took us up here and made guinea pigs of us.'"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: National Archives]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Group Draws Fire for Lack of Women Working on Health Care]]>Tue, 09 May 2017 15:36:24 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mcconnell-gop-senate.jpg

The core group of 13 Republican senators tasked with crafting health care legislation to repeal Obamacare is under fire for not including any women senators, NBC News reports.

Some Republican women, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have expressed disappointment at being shut out of the working group, led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. 

McConnell has denied there is a problem with the group’s makeup, saying that every Senate Republican will have their say.

Democrats have been quick to point out the lack of women in the group. "I would hope that Senator McConnell would be a little more sensitive to the fact he's picked a dozen men on his side, there are certainly some very competent women he could've chosen," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told MSNBC Tuesday.



Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Side Effects Emerge After Approval for Many US Drugs: Study ]]>Tue, 09 May 2017 15:49:50 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/prescriptions_1200x675.jpg

Almost one-third of new drugs approved by U.S. regulators over a decade ended up years later with warnings about unexpected, sometimes life-threatening side effects or complications, a new analysis found.

The results covered all 222 prescription drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2001 through 2010. The researchers looked at potential problems that cropped up during routine monitoring that's done once a medicine is on the market. The 71 flagged drugs included top-sellers for treating depression, arthritis, infections and blood clots. Safety issues included risks for serious skin reactions, liver damage, cancer and even death.

"The large percentage of problems was a surprise," and they included side effects not seen during the review process, said Dr. Joseph Ross, the study's lead author and an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University.

While most safety concerns were not serious enough to prompt recalls, the findings raise questions about how thoroughly drugs are tested before approval, said drug safety expert Thomas Moore. But Ross said the results suggest that the FDA "is kind of doing a great job" at scrutinizing drugs after approval.

New drugs are generally tested first in hundreds or even thousands of people for safety and effectiveness.

"We know that safety concerns, new ones, are going to be identified once a drug is used in a wider population. That's just how it is," Ross said. "The fact that that's such a high number means the FDA is working hard to evaluate drugs and once concerns are identified, they're communicating them."

The researchers analyzed online FDA data on new drugs and the agency's later safety announcements. Problems surfaced on average about four years after approval. Results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The FDA said in a statement that it performs post-market monitoring "to identify new safety information that may impact product labeling." The agency said it would review the study findings but declined to comment further.

The study counted black-box warnings for dozens of drugs; these involved serious problems including deaths or life-threatening conditions linked with the drugs. There were also dozens of alerts for less serious potential harms and three drug withdrawals because of the potential for death or other serious harm.

Among the drugs with added warnings: Humira, used for arthritis and some other illnesses; Abilify, used for depression and other mental illness; and Pradaxa, a blood thinner. The withdrawn drugs and the reason: Bextra, an anti-inflammatory medicine, heart problems; Raptiva, a psoriasis drug, rare nervous system illness; and Zelnorm, a bowel illness drug, heart problems.

Safety issues were most common for psychiatric drugs and biologic drugs — made from living cells rather than chemicals — than for older drug types. Drugs brought to market through "accelerated" approval were slightly more likely to have later safety issues than those approved through conventional channels, a link seen in some previous research.

In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on the FDA from consumers and others to speed up its regulatory review process to get new drugs to the market sooner, Ross said.

Moore, a senior scientist for drug safety and policy at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, said the new results raise concerns about whether new drugs are being extensively tested before approval. He noted that since 2011, drugs have increasingly been approved based on studies in small numbers of patients amid public criticism questioning whether the FDA is keeping potential cures away from patients.

"The answer is, you can't know whether they're valuable and lifesaving treatments unless you test them" adequately, Moore said.

PhRMA, a drug industry trade group, is reviewing the study, said spokeswoman Holly Campbell. In a statement, she said the industry is committed to post-market surveillance of new medicines, but added, "Even with rigorous clinical studies and regulatory review it may be impossible to detect certain safety signals until several years after approval, once the medicine is in broader use."


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[Life Expectancy Varies by 20 Years Across US Counties]]>Tue, 09 May 2017 10:10:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/america-life-expectancy-jama-study.jpg

Americans' life expectancy varies by nearly a generation across counties in the United States, according to a new study, from a high of 87 years in Colorado's ski country to a low of 66 years in southwest South Dakota, with other parts of the Dakotas, Appalachia and the Mississippi river basin close behind.

NBC News reported that obesity and diabetes could explain a big chunk of that 20-year difference, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine Monday.

Many studies have shown that where Americans live has a big effect on how long they live. But Dr. Christopher Murray's team at the University of Washington found that the disparity has increased by five years since 1980, when they looked at life expectancy and risk of death for each county across the U.S. from then until 2014.

"The magnitude of these disparities demands action, all the more urgently because inequalities will only increase further if recent trends are allowed to continue uncontested," the team wrote.



Photo Credit: American Medical Association]]>
<![CDATA[Bacteria Could be Behind Mysterious Outbreak in Liberia: CDC]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 18:21:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bacteriainLIberia_1200x675.jpg

A contagious bacterial infection appears to be the cause of at least some cases in a mysterious outbreak in Liberia, U.S. health officials said Monday.

The bacteria can cause meningitis, a dangerous brain infection, as well as blood infections. The country has reported 31 illnesses, including 13 deaths. The germ is spread through close contact with someone who's infected, so other people are being monitored, health officials said. Nearly all the victims had attended a funeral in southeastern Liberia in West Africa.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested samples from four of the deceased people and found the bacteria , called Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria is to blame for a "meningitis belt" in sub-Saharan Africa that passes close to Liberia.

The agency disclosed the results Monday, after sharing them with Liberian health officials.

The bacteria lives in the throat. It's spread through kissing, living with or having other close contact with an infected person. The CDC statement did not specify whether the Liberians had developed meningitis, which infects the brain and spinal cord, or a blood infection. Both can be fatal, and death can occur in only a few hours. The bacteria can cause the kind of mental confusion seen in patients in the Liberia outbreak.

Most of the cases were linked to an April 22 funeral in the coastal town of Greenville in Sinoe County.

Ebola was initially suspected but was ruled out.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo]]>
<![CDATA[Health Care Fight Shifts to Senate, Where GOP Wants a Reboot]]>Tue, 09 May 2017 06:56:23 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16347567513902-mitch.jpg

It took blood, sweat and tears for Republican leaders to finally push their health care bill through the House last week. Don't expect the process to be less arduous in the Senate, though more of the angst in that more decorous chamber will likely be behind closed doors.

No one expects a new bill to be written quickly, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has started a process for producing one. Republican senators have made clear their measure will differ markedly from the House legislation, which has drawn withering criticism from Democrats who see it as a pathway to winning a House majority in the 2018 elections.

"This process will not be quick or simple or easy, but it must be done," McConnell said Monday.

MCCONNELL'S WORKING GROUP
McConnell dislikes surprises and drama. Both characterized the House's chaotic four months of work on its bill, which saw revolts by conservatives and moderates derail initial versions and humiliate President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

McConnell has included himself in a group of 12 GOP senators essentially tasked with privately producing a bill that can pass the Senate. Republicans control the chamber 52-48.

Democrats are virtually certain to unanimously oppose the Republican effort to repeal much of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. So Republicans are using a special process preventing a Democratic filibuster that would require 60 votes to end. McConnell will need 50 GOP votes to pass a bill, a tie Vice President Mike Pence could break.

That means McConnell can lose just two Republicans, so his group has a strategically shaped membership.

THE GROUP'S ROSTER
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Mike Enzi, R-Idaho, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chair pivotal committees. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., are from states that used Obama's law to add hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries to Medicaid, an expansion they want to protect but the House bill would end. Gardner chairs the Senate GOP's campaign committee.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, are conservative firebrands who represent states that didn't expand Medicaid but want additional funds for that program. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, John Thune, R-S.D., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., are in the Senate GOP leadership, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is an ambitious up-and-comer who frequently criticizes the House measure.

Democrats and liberal activists have lambasted McConnell for appointing a group with no female members.

POSSIBLE CHANGES
Portman is among Republicans whose states dislike the House's Medicaid cuts because they'd face a wave of constituents losing coverage under the health care program for the poor. The House would end the extra federal money states get for new beneficiaries under Obama's Medicaid expansion by 2020, and some GOP senators want a delay.

Much Medicaid money is used to combat the illegal use of addictive opioid drugs. That's another reason for GOP senators from hard-hit Midwestern and Northeastern states to oppose such cuts.

Obama's law helps millions buy private insurance with federal subsidies geared to income and policy premiums. The House instead links its aid to age, with older people getting larger tax credits. Thune and others want to shift the subsidies more generous to lower earners.

Cruz said House conservatives won "a positive improvement" with provisions letting states get federal waivers so insurers can charge some people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums, and letting states decide which medical services insurers must cover. He said "considerably more work" was needed to lower premiums.

In addition, the filibuster-free process Republicans are using requires that legislative provisions be related to raising or decreasing the federal deficit, and not primarily driven by policy changes. Conservative health care analyst James Capretta says the odds for survival "are low" for House language allowing state waivers for higher premiums on people with pre-existing conditions.

Also in jeopardy: a provision forbidding consumers to use federal subsidies to buy insurance covering abortion.

The Senate parliamentarian will decide whether provisions must be stricken from the bill. The Senate could override that with 60 votes.

POLITICAL ERUPTION
The pro-Democratic group Save Our Care is running ads in 24 districts whose GOP House members backed the bill asking, "How could you do this to us?" Obama urged lawmakers to use "courage" to protect health care for poorer Americans, a rare public comment on public policy since leaving office.

Underscoring political sensitivities, critics attacked Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, for saying at a town hall meeting that "nobody dies" from lack of health care. He later said that "wasn't very elegant."

Republicans are advertising too. The American Action Network, with links to House GOP leaders, is advertising nationally and in Ryan's district promoting the bill.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., was set to appear on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" after saying any GOP bill must pass "the Jimmy Kimmel test." The talk show host last week delivered a tearful monologue describing life-saving heart surgery his newborn son had received and saying lawmakers must help people afford health care.

LOOKING AHEAD
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its analysis of the House bill this month. It projected an earlier version would toss 24 million people off health coverage, a damaging blow that made it harder for House Republicans to pass their bill.

No one is certain when the Senate might approve its bill, though some following the process think that could come by July 4.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Testing Method Revolutionizes Allergy Identification]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 13:28:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/232*120/Screen+Shot+2017-05-08+at+1.22.10+PM.png

A new finger prick test can identify more than 100 allergens, revolutionizing the more laborious methods currently in use.

Dr. Janet Pate with Nurture Pediatrics in Bellaire, Texas says that until now the only proven allergy tests were to draw vials of blood or do a scratch test, which only test for 14 allergens and can be uncomfortable.

Pate said the new Allergypro test can confirm up to 120 allergens with just four drops of blood.]]>
<![CDATA[Measles Outbreak Caused by Vaccine Skeptics: Health Depts.]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 22:06:26 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/177*120/measlesminnesota_1200x675.jpg

An outbreak of measles in Minnesota has led to 44 infected people, nearly all of them children, the Minnesota department of health says. Eleven kids are in the hospital and more cases of measles are expected, NBC News reported.

Doubts about vaccines helped fuel Minnesota's biggest outbreak of measles in decades and attracted determined vaccine skeptics eager to exploit fear, health officials say.

But the outbreak has not only caught people's attention; it has helped demonstrate that anti-vaccine activists are wrong, state and county health officials say.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Gray Death: The New Killer Drug in the War Against Opioids]]>Sat, 06 May 2017 07:15:04 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gray-death.jpg

Ominously named Gray Death, the killer drug cocktail is making headlines in the ongoing war against the national opioid crisis, NBC News reported.

What exactly is Gray Death? Start with heroin. Mix in the powerful painkiller fentanyl, which has 50 times more punch. Add a dash of carfentanil, which is an animal tranquilizer 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and made to be used on tigers and elephants.

While limited to the Gulf Coast and states like Georgia and Ohio, it is still on the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's radar. and "we are monitoring the potential spread of this deadly combination of drugs,"

"It's mad science and the guinea pigs are the American public," Russ Baer of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency told NBC News. "The ingredients come from abroad but this is made in America."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves New Drug to Treat ALS]]>Fri, 05 May 2017 18:47:39 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16349646792865.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug Friday to treat patients suffering from amyotrophic latersclerosis (ALS) or commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The drug, Radicava, is the first new treatment approved specifically for ALS in 22 years.

"This is the first new treatment approved by the FDA for ALS in many years, and we are pleased that people with ALS will now have an additional option" said Eric Bastings, M.D., deputy director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

The drug is "an intravenous infusion given by a health care professional," with "an initial treatment cycle of daily dosing for 14 days, followed by a 14-day drug-free period," the FDA said in a news release.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. For unknown reasons, veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as the general population.

The ALS Association, the only national nonprofit fighting ALS on every front, applauded FDA's fast decision in approving the drug.

The FDA approved Radicava less than a year after Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation submitted a New Drug Application. The only other approved treatment specifically for ALS, riluzole, was approved in 1995.

"We thank the FDA and MT Pharma for working together to expedite the approval of the first new ALS-specific treatment in decades," said Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO of The ALS Association.

More information about Radicava, including Frequently Asked Questions, can be found at www.alsa.org/radicava.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File]]>
<![CDATA[How to Protect Yourself From the 2017 Lyme Disease Surge]]>Fri, 05 May 2017 11:17:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Lyme-Disease-Tick.jpg

The Center for Disease Control has predicted a surge in the number of Lyme-carrying ticks in the Northeast and Midwest from April through the beginning of the summer.

While there is a higher risk of contracting Lyme disease this year compared to previous years, there are various precautions people can take to reduce their risk of getting the tick-borne illness after spending time outdoors. 

“When hiking, wear pants and socks, stay in the middle of paths as much as possible, avoiding tall grass and leaf piles where ticks tend to hide,” Dr. Patricia DeLaMora, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, said in an email.

DeLaMora advises people to wear insect repellent with 20-30 percent DEET while outside. She also suggests treating “camping, shoes and gear” with Permethrin, an anti-parasite spray.

Ticks can also find themselves into your home via your household pet.

“Check your pets for ticks as well, as a tick can ‘catch a ride’ on a pet and then attach to a human,” DeLaMora said.

Lyme disease symptoms vary and can be similar to the flu. Symptoms include, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache and fever.Circular rashes are also a product of the disease.

Symptoms can appear in less than a week after a tick bite, according to experts.

A doctor should be contacted for medical advice and treatment immediately if someone believes they have been bitten by a tick.

]]>
<![CDATA[Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $110M in Talc Powder Case]]>Fri, 05 May 2017 10:27:34 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Powder-GettyImages-119270124.jpg

A St. Louis jury has awarded a Virginia woman a record-setting $110.5 million in the latest lawsuit alleging that using Johnson & Johnson's baby powder caused cancer.

The jury ruling Thursday night for 62-year-old Lois Slemp, of Wise, Virginia, comes after three previous St. Louis juries awarded a total of $197 million to plaintiffs who made similar claims. Those cases, including the previous highest award of $72 million, are all under appeal.

Slemp, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, blames her illness on her use of the company's talcum-containing products for more than 40 years. Her cancer has spread to her liver, and she was too ill to attend the trial. About 2,000 state and federal lawsuits are in courts across the country over concerns about health problems caused by prolonged talcum powder use.

Johnson & Johnson, based in Brunswick, New Jersey, said in a statement that it would appeal and disputed the scientific evidence behind the plaintiffs' allegations. The company also noted that a St. Louis jury found in its favor in March and that two cases in New Jersey were thrown out by a judge who said there wasn't reliable evidence that talc leads to ovarian cancer.

"We are preparing for additional trials this year and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder," the statement said.

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.

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. Still, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use of talc as "possibly carcinogenic."

Attorneys with Onder, Shelton, O'Leary & Peterson, the firm that handled the St. Louis cases, cited other research that began connecting talcum powder to ovarian cancer in the 1970s. They cite case studies showing that women who regularly use talc on their genital area face up to a 40 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[This Is How Tri-State Reps Voted on the Health Care Bill]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 18:15:11 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17124741528885.jpg

The Republican health care bill narrowly passed in the House Thursday, delivering a victory for President Donald Trump just six weeks after nearly leaving the measure for dead.


House approval sends the measure to an uncertain fate in the Senate, where some Republicans consider the bill too harsh. Polls have shown President Barack Obama's health care overhaul — which the GOP bill would largely repeal — has actually gained in popularity as the debate over a replacement health care program has accelerated.

The measure skirted through the House by a thin 217-213 vote, as all voting Democrats and 20 mostly moderate Republican holdouts voted no.


Here's how representatives from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut voted. All Democrats and some Republicans voted against the bill, and a little more than a half dozen Republicans voted for it. 

NY REPUBLICANS:

COLLINS: YES

DONOVAN: NO

FASO: YES

KATKO: NO

KING: YES

REED: YES

STEFANIK: YES

TENNEY: YES

ZELDIN: YES

NY DEMOCRATS:

CLARKE: NO

CROWLEY: NO

ENGEL: NO

ESPAILLAT: NO

HIGGINS: NO

JEFFRIES: NO

MALONEY: NO

MEEKS: NO

MENG: NO

NADLER: NO

RICE: NO

SERRANO: NO

SLAUGHTER: NO

SUOZZI: NO

TONKO: NO

VELAZQUEZ: NO

NJ REPUBLICANS:

Frelinghuysen: YES

Lance: NO

LoBiondo: NO

MacArthur: YES

Smith: NO

NJ DEMOCRATS:

Watson Coleman: NO

Gottheimer: NO

Norcross: NO

Pallone: NO

Pascrell: NO

Payne: NO

Sires: NO

CT REPUBLICANS:

NONE

CT DEMOCRATS

Courtney: NO

DeLauro: NO

Esty: NO

Himes: NO

Larson: NO

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Olympic Medalists Raise Awareness About Kids' Mental Health]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 22:05:48 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/20170504+Phelps+and+Schmitt+2.jpg

Olympic gold medalists Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt partnered with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Thursday to raise awareness about children’s mental health.

The two chaired a discussion Thursday night focused on the mental health care that kids need -- and how families can access mental health resources -- for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day 2017.

This year’s theme was “Partnering for Help and Hope.”

Both said that reaching out for help was key to their recovery. "Sometimes we need to see it's possible, that it can and does work, to see how we can accomplish it ourselves," Schmitt said.

“I'm so glad we both found the courage to ask for help," Phelps said.

He described the support that he received from his coach, Bob Bowman.

"He taught me so many things ... he was always pushing for me to go out and get help," Phelps said. "He was on board and he learned from the process as well ... it was something we both grew from. 

"I can never, ever thank him enough."

Schmitt said she struggled to share her story, but realized it could do some good. "When I chose to speak out on my own struggle, my only goal was to save one life," she said. "No person should have to endure these struggles alone."

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, and Schmitt, an eight-time Olympic medalist, have been up-front about their own struggles with mental health and substance abuse. 

Phelps had been arrested for driving under the influence in 2004 and 2014; a photo of him using pot at a party in 2009 cost him sponsorships and led to a brief ban from swimming.

In an interview with NBC Sports’ host Bob Costas, Phelps said he thought about taking his own life.

"The struggles I have had weren’t easy, and they weren't fun. But they are a part of my journey," Phelps said Thursday. "I truly encourage everybody to ask for help or to reach out to somebody … and to be there in a time of need."

He checked himself into a rehab clinic in October 2014. Now, his Michael Phelps Foundation works to support active lifestyles for young people.

Schmitt made her first Olympic appearance at the 2008 Beijing games. but depression hit after the 2012 London Olympics, CNN reports. Schmitt said she considered driving her car off the road on the way to her sisters’ hockey game after two seasons that did not land her a spot on the USA swim team. 

It was Phelps who helped Schmitt get help, and she thanked him for that Thursday.

"Thank you for being that lending hand for hope and help," she said.

Phelps also encouraged others to reach out.

"This is something we all have the power to change, and we can make a difference," Phelps said.



Photo Credit: NBC Washington
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<![CDATA[GOP Health Care Bill Narrowly Passes House, Heads to Senate]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 17:56:33 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17124702369357.jpg

The Republican health care bill narrowly passed in the House Thursday, delivering a victory for President Donald Trump just six weeks after nearly leaving the measure for dead.

House approval sends the measure to an uncertain fate in the Senate, where some Republicans consider the bill too harsh. Polls have shown President Barack Obama's health care overhaul — which the GOP bill would largely repeal — has actually gained in popularity as the debate over a replacement health care program has accelerated.

The measure skirted through the House by a thin 217-213 vote, as all voting Democrats and 20 mostly moderate Republican holdouts voted no.

Trump saluted the bill as "a great plan and I think it will get even better," saying more than once — "Make no mistake: this is a repeal and replace of Obamacare."

Beaten but unbowed, Democrats insisted Republicans will pay at election time for repealing major provisions of the law. They sang the pop song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" to the GOP lawmakers as the end of the voting neared. The Republicans seemed unworried, many of them busing to the White House for a victory appearance with the president.

The vote on the American Health Care Act came after the House added several changes to insurance coverage requirements to the GOP's prized legislation. More than a dozen Republicans joined Democrats to allow the bill to pass by a wafer-thin margin.

Lawmakers heading to that celebrating were greeted with chants of "shame!" outside the Capitol.

Since it collapsed in March, the measure was revamped to attract most hard-line conservatives and some GOP centrists. In a final tweak, leaders added a modest pool of money to help people with pre-existing medical conditions afford coverage, a concern that caused a near-fatal rebellion among Republicans in recent days.

GOP candidates including Trump have made repealing Obama's statute an epitome of their campaign pledges since its enactment in 2010, claiming it's a failing system that's leaving people with rising health care costs and less access to care.

"It's time to live or die by this day," GOP leaders told the rank and file at an early morning, closed-door meeting to rally support, said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.

Democrats defended Obama's law, one of his crowning domestic achievements, for expanding coverage to 20 million Americans and forcing insurers to offer more generous benefits. They said the GOP measure would toss millions off coverage while delivering tax cuts to the wealthy.

"How can you do this to the American people, how can you do this to the people you represent?" asked Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

The bitter health care battle dominated the Capitol even as Congress prepared to give final approval to a bipartisan $1 trillion measure financing federal agencies through September.

The House passed that legislation Wednesday 309-118, and Senate passage seemed certain as early as Thursday. That would head off a weekend federal shutdown that both parties preferred to avoid —especially Republicans controlling the White House and Congress.

The health care vote was scheduled after the White House and congressional leaders barraged rank-and-file holdouts with pressure in recent days and claimed they had the votes to prevail.

Just Tuesday, The Associated Press had counted 21 Republicans saying they would oppose the bill — one short of the 22 defections that would kill it if all Democrats voted no. Many others were undecided.

"House Republicans are going to tattoo this moral monstrosity to their foreheads, and the American people will hold them accountable," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday.

The bill would eliminate tax penalties Obama's law which has clamped down on people who don't buy coverage and it erases tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry. It cuts the Medicaid program for low-income people and lets states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It transforms Obama's subsidies for millions buying insurance — largely based on people's incomes and premium costs — into tax credits that rise with consumers' ages.

The measure would retain Obama's requirement that family policies cover grown children until age 26.

But states could get federal waivers freeing insurers from other Obama coverage requirements. With waivers, insurers could charge people with pre-existing illnesses far higher rates than healthy customers, boost prices for older consumers to whatever they wish and ignore the mandate that they cover specified services like pregnancy care.

The bill would block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, considered a triumph by many anti-abortion Republicans.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in March that the GOP bill would end coverage for 24 million people over a decade. That office also said the bill's subsidies would be less generous for many, especially lower-earning and older people not yet 65 and qualifying for Medicare.

A CBO estimate for the cost of latest version of their bill was not ready before the House conducted its vote.

Ryan pulled the plug on a March 24 vote as conservatives opposed the bill for not fully repealing Obama's law and GOP moderates considered its cuts too severe.

That was a jarring setback for Trump and Ryan. But leaders gradually rebuilt support, nailing down conservatives with provisions establishing the coverage waivers.

Earlier this week, moderates objected that constituents with pre-existing conditions could effectively be denied coverage by insurers charging them exorbitant premiums. At least a dozen of them said Wednesday they would oppose the legislation, including GOP Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a moderate leader, Leonard Lance of New Jersey and New York's Dan Donovan.

But GOP leaders seemed to win over a raft of wavering lawmakers after adding $8 billion over five years for state high-risk pools, aimed at helping seriously ill people pay expensive premiums. That was on top of $130 billion already in the bill for states to help customers, though critics said those amounts were insufficient.

To snuff out a glaring political liability, Republicans planned to approve a second bill. It would delete language in the health care measure entitling members of Congress and their staffs to Obama's coverage requirements, even if their home states annul them.

NBC editor Asher Klein and Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci]]>
<![CDATA[Dangerous Opioid Combo 'Gray Death' Is Latest Mixing Trend]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 14:04:06 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/U-47700-DEA.jpg

It's being called "gray death" — a new and dangerous opioid combo that underscores the ever-changing nature of the U.S. addiction crisis.

Investigators who nicknamed the mixture have detected it or recorded overdoses blamed on it in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio. The drug looks like concrete mix and varies in consistency from a hard, chunky material to a fine powder.

The substance is a combination of several opioids blamed for thousands of fatal overdoses nationally, including heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil — sometimes used to tranquilize large animals like elephants — and a synthetic opioid called U-47700.

"Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis," Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said.

Gray death ingredients and their concentrations are unknown to users, making it particularly lethal, Kilcrease said. In addition, because these strong drugs can be absorbed through the skin, simply touching the powder puts users at risk, she said.

Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed U-47700 in the category of the most dangerous drugs it regulates, saying it was associated with dozens of fatalities, mostly in New York and North Carolina. Some of the pills taken from Prince's estate after the musician's overdose death last year contained U-47700.

Gray death has a much higher potency than heroin, according to a bulletin issued by the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Users inject, swallow, smoke or snort it.

Georgia's investigation bureau has received 50 overdose cases in the past three months involving gray death, most from the Atlanta area, said spokeswoman Nelly Miles.

In Ohio, the coroner's office serving the Cincinnati area says a similar compound has been coming in for months. The Ohio attorney general's office has analyzed eight samples matching the gray death mixture from around the state.

The combo is just the latest in the trend of heroin mixed with other opioids, such as fentanyl, that has been around for a few years.

Fentanyl-related deaths spiked so high in Ohio in 2015 that state health officials asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send scientists to help address the problem.

The mixing poses a deadly risk to users and also challenges investigators trying to figure out what they're dealing with this time around, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican.

"Normally, we would be able to walk by one of our scientists, and say 'What are you testing?' and they'll tell you heroin or 'We're testing fentanyl,'" DeWine said. "Now, sometimes they're looking at it, at least initially, and say, 'Well, we don't know.'"

Some communities also are seeing fentanyl mixed with non-opioids, such as cocaine. In Rhode Island, the state has recommended that individuals with a history of cocaine use receive supplies of the anti-overdose drug naloxone.

These deadly combinations are becoming a hallmark of the heroin and opioid epidemic, which the government says resulted in 33,000 fatal overdoses nationally in 2015. In Ohio, a record 3,050 people died of drug overdoses last year, most the result of opioid painkillers or their relative, heroin.

Most people with addictions buy heroin in the belief that's exactly what they're getting, overdose survivor Richie Webber said.

But that's often not the case, as he found out in 2014 when he overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin. It took two doses of naloxone to revive him. He's now sober and runs a treatment organization, Fight for Recovery, in Clyde, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Toledo.

A typical new combination he's seeing is heroin combined with 3-methylfentanyl, a more powerful version of fentanyl, said Webber, 25. It's one of the reasons he tells users never to take drugs alone.

"You don't know what you're getting with these things," Webber said. "Every time you shoot up you're literally playing Russian roulette with your life."

Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: DEA]]>
<![CDATA[Pre-Existing Conditions and the Health Plan: Who's Covered?]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 19:08:34 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/678036940-Fred-Upton-Congress-Health-Bill.jpg

The Republican push to replace the Affordable Care Act was revived this week in Congress by a small change to their plan designed to combat concerns over coverage for those with pre-existing health problems.

The change helped get the bill through the House of Representatives in a tight vote Thursday, but experts say it may make little difference in the hunt for affordable coverage for these patients.

The bill proposes setting aside an additional $8 billion over five years to help states cover those who may be subject to higher insurance rates because they've had a lapse in coverage. That's on top of about $100 billion over a decade for states to help people afford coverage and stabilize insurance markets.

The problem, experts say, is that the money is unlikely to guarantee an affordable alternative for those who get coverage under a popular provision of the Affordable Care Act that prevents insurers from rejecting people or charging higher rates based on their health.

"Many people with pre-existing conditions will have a hard time maintaining coverage because it just won't be affordable," said Larry Levitt, a health insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues.

The ultimate impact on those with pre-existing conditions remains unknown. The bill now heads for the Senate, where it is expected to change, and the plan leaves many important coverage decisions up to the states. Still, it is making some who are now covered by the Affordable Care Act nervous.

John S. Williams, an attorney in New Orleans whose multiple sclerosis medication costs $70,000 a year, buys insurance through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace. Without protections for pre-existing conditions he fears he would have to close his law practice and find a job with that offers a group insurance plan.

"We always hear about job growth and business creation — being able to have affordable health care drives that," Williams said. "I have tremendous satisfaction with owning a business, but I know that if I can't get coverage, I would be forced to get a different job. I can't not have coverage for my multiple sclerosis."

Here's how coverage may change for those with pre-existing conditions under the plan:

WHAT CHANGES?

States will be able to get federal waivers allowing insurers to charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing illnesses who have let their coverage lapse. States can then use federal money to fund government-operated insurance programs for expensive patients called "high-risk pools."

HOW DO THESE POOLS OPERATE?

Patients who couldn't get or afford insurance could apply for coverage through these high risk pools, which existed before the Affordable Care Act was passed. Even though they were charged far higher rates, up to double the amount paid by consumers with no serious ailments, care for these patients is so expensive that government money was needed to fund the programs.

DO THEY WORK?

In the more than 30 states that had high-risk pools, net losses piled up to more than $1.2 billion in 2011, the high point of the pools before the Affordable Care Act took full effect. Medical expenses outpaced premiums collected, and losses averaged $5,500 per person enrolled. States used fees and taxes to make up the difference, and states sometimes made it more difficult to some to qualify for care.

IS THE FEDERAL MONEY ENOUGH?

An analysis by the health care consulting firm Avalere found that the money would only be enough to fund high-risk pools in a few small states. High-risk pools could fill up fast with patients who have a lapse in coverage.

People with pre-existing conditions could lose their insurance if they can no longer work due to their health. The Republican health plan also is expected to raise premiums for older people, who are more likely to have a pre-existing condition.

"This gets complicated fast," Avalere President Dan Mendelson said.

About 2.2 million people in the individual insurance market have some sort of pre-existing chronic condition, according to Avalere.

WHAT MIGHT THIS MEAN FOR PATIENTS?

Because the bill is expected to change, and because it leaves big decisions up to the states, it's hard to say now what it would mean. Also, federal auditors have not had time to analyze the plan.

Proponents of the bill note that people in poor health would still be protected as long as they maintain coverage. If they don't, the higher premiums they are charged would revert back to standard rates after 12 months, assuming the customer could afford to keep paying.

In the past, risk pools have not guaranteed coverage. States have established waiting lists to get into their risk pools or restricted admission to the pools, since they ultimately have to balance their budget and they have no way to predict how high costs will climb.

"There is no guarantee in the law that people with pre-existing conditions would get access to affordable coverage," said Kaiser's Levitt.

Adrienne Standley, the operations director at a start-up apparel business in Philadelphia, is not waiting to find out. Her plan through the Affordable Care Act covers treatment for her asthma and attention deficit disorder, but she's afraid the Republican plan will mean she can no longer afford doctor's visits and medication.

"I'm looking at stockpiling, making sure I have an inhaler," she said. "I'm pretty scared to lose coverage."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Zach Gibson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Measles Outbreak Sickens Dozens of Minnesota Somalis]]>Wed, 03 May 2017 19:12:17 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/somalimeaslesoutbreakmichigan_1200x675.jpg

An outbreak of measles in Minnesota has sickened more than 30 children in recent weeks, primarily in the state's large Somali-American community, where many parents avoid the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine because of unfounded fears that it causes autism.

Somalis are just the latest example of a tight-knit community in which the highly contagious disease has gained a foothold in the U.S. in recent years.

Medical professionals and state health officials are working to contain the virus, but they expect more measles cases in coming weeks. A look at the situation:

MEASLES OUTBREAK

As of Wednesday, 34 measles cases were confirmed in Minnesota. It's the largest outbreak in the state since 1990, when 460 people contracted measles and three died.

Nearly everyone infected is unvaccinated, and all but a few are of Somali descent. So far, 11 children have been hospitalized.

The source of the outbreak is unknown, said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the state Department of Health. But since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, outbreaks in the U.S. are typically caused when international travelers are infected overseas and bring the virus home.

Nine other states have seen measles cases so far this year, but none has reported an outbreak of Minnesota's magnitude, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

WHY SOMALIS?

Somali children are getting sick because the community has a low rate of immunization for measles, mumps and rubella, Ehresmann said. Unvaccinated children from other communities are also at risk.

According to the Health Department, 42 percent of Minnesota-born Somali toddlers had received the MMR vaccine as of 2017 — but the community's immunization rate hasn't always been that low.

In 2004, 92 percent of Somali toddlers had the MMR vaccine. The community's immunization rate fell sharply to 70 percent in 2008 amid a perception that autism was becoming more common among Somali children.

A University of Minnesota study that examined 7- to 9-year-olds in Minneapolis in 2010 found no statistical difference between the rate of autism among Somali children and white children, Ehresmann said.

OPTING OUT

Minnesota law requires that a child be vaccinated before enrolling in child care, early education or school. But it also allows exemptions for medical reasons or "conscientiously held beliefs."

A 2014 study by the American Board of Family Medicine found 35 percent of Somali parents surveyed believed the measles vaccine causes autism, compared with 8 percent of non-Somalis.

Research that links the vaccine to autism has been widely discredited. But Anab Gulaid, a University of Minnesota researcher who worked on the autism study, said autism is often diagnosed in children around the same age as they receive their measles vaccine, so some fears persist.

"It's an emotional issue for people," she said.

Other communities with low vaccination rates have also been affected by measles in recent years. Nearly 20 people in the Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles were sickened by measles in December. Fifty-eight were sickened in 2013 when the measles swept through Orthodox Jewish communities in New York.

In Ohio, 360 people got the measles in 2014 after unvaccinated Amish travelers visited the Philippines and brought the disease home.

Minnesota health officials say they'd like to see at least 95 percent of the population immunized to protect everyone from measles, a highly contagious disease that can cause respiratory problems, brain swelling, or death.

COMMUNITY FEARS

Dozens of Somali parents attended a recent meeting organized by groups that believe there's a link between vaccines and autism. Some in attendance said they would rather face measles, or a child's death, than a lifetime of autism.

Patti Carroll, with the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, said the goal was to empower parents.

"We did a presentation that helped the Somalis put the measles and the MMR vaccine into perspective," Carroll said. "It's their right to say no."

Sophia Mohamed, a New Brighton mother of two who believes her 16-year-old son got autism after receiving the MMR vaccine as a toddler, said officials need to listen to parents like her.

"We are not against the vaccine, but we want a safe vaccine," Mohamed said. "We have a choice ... I don't need any researcher to tell me. I know. I saw the results."

MEDICAL COMMUNITY ON ALERT

Evidence-based research has repeatedly shown no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism, and there should be no hesitations about vaccines, said Patsy Stinchfield, senior director of infection control at Children's Minnesota hospital.

"In medical science, there is no debate about the safety of vaccines," she said.

Stinchfield worked at the hospital during the 1990 outbreak and recalls when an entire floor was turned into a measles ward. Two of the three deaths that year were children at the hospital.

The hospital has taken extra precautions.

On Tuesday, two workers sat at a desk outside the clinic's main lobby, assessing all patients who entered for risk of measles. A negative air filter hummed in the background, sucking away contaminated air, while all the clinic's tiniest patients and parents were told to wear masks.

Anyone with measles' symptoms is ushered in through a back door, away from other patients.

Amira Hassan, 4, came for a wellness check Tuesday and wore a mask in the waiting room. Her father, Mohamud Hassan, said she's been vaccinated, and he doesn't refuse a vaccine if a doctor says it's OK.

Hassan, who is Somali, said rumors about vaccines persist, but it's best to ask a doctor or someone who knows. He chose vaccination, saying: "If your child is going to school, you don't want other kids to be affected too."


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[New Deals for Drugs: No Heart Attack or Your Money Back]]>Wed, 03 May 2017 13:56:44 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/drugrebates_1200x675.jpg

Warranties and money-back guarantees, long used to entice buyers of products like hand tools and kitchen gadgets, are now being used to sell something more crucial: pricey new-generation drugs for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

Deals being negotiated between drugmakers and the insurers who buy medicines now sometimes include extra rebates — or even full refunds — if drugs don't help patients as expected.

It's part of an effort driven by insurers and government health programs to align the cost of care with the quality of care, and slow the relentless growth of prescription drug costs.

"We're spending less money on drugs that are less effective," said Dr. Michael Sherman, chief medical officer for the not-for-profit insurer Harvard Pilgrim, which has several of these deals and is negotiating more. Sherman says one-fourth of every dollar it spends on patient care goes to prescription drugs.

For the patient, it doesn't mean a check in the mail if cancer comes back after a round of treatment. But it does mean patients could get a drug that an insurer might otherwise be unwilling to pay for and that might help them. And insurers, who now can track how patients fare through electronic medical records, will be reducing wasteful spending and making at least a dent in overall health care costs.

"It's going to be part of the solution" to soaring drug prices, predicts Roger Longman, CEO of Real Endpoints, an analytics company that assesses the value of medicines for drugmakers, insurers and other clients.

Many new drugs now top $100,000 per year or course of treatment, even though their benefits are unclear or only marginally better than cheaper, older drugs. Buyers of those new drugs, usually insurance companies, are hesitant to pay without assurance the drugs will help patients. Not only is that bad for patients, it makes insurers spend even more on complications and hospital stays if the drugs don't work.

As a result, insurers often restrict access to expensive new drugs. Sometimes that's achieved by making patients pay more out of their own pockets, or making doctors wade through red tape to get authorization for a patient's medicine. Sometimes patients have to try cheaper drugs first, and only when they fail — and the patients' health has deteriorated — are they allowed to get the pricey new drug.

Pharmaceutical companies have an incentive here, too: These deals may help them sell more of the new drug they've spent hundreds of millions of dollars or more developing.

For example, a new generation of injected cholesterol drugs does an impressive job of reducing so-called bad cholesterol. But the drugs, Amgen's Repatha and Sanofi's Praluent, cost $14,000 a year, while cheap generic pills do a good job of lowering cholesterol for most people for $300 a year or less.

Predictably, insurers often reject prescriptions for these drugs.

So Amgen, trying to boost disappointing sales for a drug expected to be a huge seller, is offering full refunds to insurers if patients have a heart attack or stroke while taking its drug. On Tuesday, Amgen announced its first deal to do so, with Harvard Pilgrim. Sanofi has a contract with insurer Cigna to pay extra rebates if patient cholesterol doesn't fall as much as expected.

"It demonstrates the fact that we are standing behind the value the product has, and we're willing to put some money behind it," said James Borneman, Sanofi's head of strategic pricing.

Some insurers are now demanding these deals, which are expected to become standard for some drugs: super-expensive medicines for cancer and rare diseases, and others that are used widely enough to cost insurers millions. In addition, the drugs must have a benefit that's easy to measure, such as keeping kids with asthma out of the emergency room or preventing growth of cancerous tumors for a certain period.

Cigna has been pursuing more of these types of deals after finding that some of its earlier efforts "met or exceeded expectations in terms of benefit to our customers, patients," said Chris Bradberry, who heads Cigna's prescription benefit program.

One of its early deals, with drugmaker Merck for its diabetes pills Januvia and Janumet, dates to 2009, with rebates pegged to how much patients lower blood sugar.

"We keep re-signing that agreement, so I think they're pretty satisfied," said Bob McMahon, head of U.S. marketing at Merck, which also has such contracts with insurers and hospital systems covering medicines for infections and high cholesterol.

Other companies with such deals for one or more medicines include drugmakers Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Novo Nordisk and Roche's Genentech unit; insurers Aetna and Priority Health, and prescription benefit manager Express Scripts.

On their own, these deals are unlikely to reverse the persistent rise in medical spending, experts say. But they improve the chance that the money will at least go to treatments that work best — by making sure insurers and drug companies have something at stake along with the patient.

"There's a risk on both sides with these contracts," said Dr. Mark Fendrick, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Value-Based Insurance Design. "Both want to make sure they'll get the outcome they want."



Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Overcoming Opioids: When Pills Are a Hospital's Last Resort]]>Tue, 02 May 2017 08:50:38 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17047735665417-Alternatives-to-Opioids-Hospitals.jpg

A car crash shattered Stuart Anders' thigh, leaving pieces of bone sticking through his skin. Yet Anders begged emergency room doctors not to give him powerful opioid painkillers — he'd been addicted once before and panicked at the thought of relapsing.

"I can't lose what I worked for," he said.

The nation's opioid crisis is forcing hospitals to begin rolling out non-addictive alternatives to treatments that have long been the mainstay for the severe pain of trauma and surgery, so they don't save patients' lives or limbs only to have them fall under the grip of addiction.

Anders, 53, from Essex, Maryland, was lucky to land in a Baltimore emergency room offering an option that dramatically cut his need for opioids: An ultrasound-guided nerve block bathed a key nerve in local anesthetic, keeping his upper leg numb for several days.

"It has really changed the dynamics of how we care for these patients," said trauma anesthesiologist Dr. Ron Samet, who treated Anders.

An estimated 2 million people in the U.S. are addicted to prescription opioids, and an average of 91 Americans die every day from an overdose of those painkillers or their illicit cousin, heroin.

This grim spiral often starts in the hospital. A Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February raised the troubling prospect that for every 48 patients newly prescribed an opioid in the emergency room, one will use the pills for at least six months over the next year. And the longer they're used, the higher the risk for becoming dependent.

Doctors and hospitals around the country are searching for ways to relieve extreme pain while at the same time sharply limiting what was long considered their most effective tool. It's a critical part of the effort to overcome the worst addiction crisis in U.S. history but, as Anders' experience shows, their options are neither simple nor perfect.

Anders' excruciating injury eventually did require a low opioid dose when the nerve block wore off but, Samet said, far less than normal.

"Provide them with good pain relief initially, for the first 24 to 48 hours after surgery, the pain that comes back after that isn't necessarily as hard and as strong," said Samet, an assistant anesthesiology professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

And some doctors are discovering an added benefit of cutting back or even eliminating opioids. At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a program called "enhanced recovery after surgery" is getting some patients home two to four days faster following major abdominal operations, using non-opioid painkillers that are gentler on the digestive tract.

"Our patients are very afraid of pain, especially the patients with a history of opioid addiction," said Dr. Jennifer Holder-Murray, a UPMC colorectal surgeon who helped start the program. "When they come back to me and tell me they didn't even fill their opioid prescription, that's a remarkable experience."

In trauma centers and surgery suites, there are no one-size-fits-all replacements for prescription opioids — narcotic painkillers that range from intravenous morphine and Dilaudid to pills including Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. They so rapidly dull severe pain that they've become a default in hospital care, to the point where it's not uncommon for patients to have an opioid dripping through an IV before they wake from surgery, whether they'll really need it or not.

Now, amid surging deaths from drug overdoses, some hospitals and emergency rooms are rethinking their own dependence on the painkillers, taking steps to make them a last resort rather than a starting reflex.

The new approach: Mixing a variety of different medications, along with techniques like nerve blocks, spinal anesthesia and numbing lidocaine, to attack pain from multiple directions, rather than depending solely on opioids to dampen brain signals that scream "ouch." It's known by the wonky name "multimodal analgesia."

Consider colorectal surgery, so painful that standard practice is to administer IV opioids in the operating room and switch to a patient-activated morphine pump right afterward. The University of Pittsburgh program ended that opioid-first mentality. Instead, doctors choose from a wide mix of options including IV acetaminophen and prescription-strength anti-inflammatory painkillers known as NSAIDs, anti-seizure medications such as gabapentin that calm nerve pain, muscle-relaxing drugs, and others.

Without the opioid side effects of nausea, vomiting and constipation, patients may find it easier to start eating solid food and walking around hours after surgery. Some do still need a low opioid dose, Holder-Murray cautioned, but few require a morphine pump. And for those who go home earlier, the approach can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

"It's not just changing a medication or two. It's a whole culture change," she said.

At MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, anesthesiologist Dr. Joseph Myers is adding to his non-opioid cocktail a long-acting version of the numbing agent bupivacaine that's squirted into wounds before they're stitched closed. Called Exparel, it's controversial because it costs more than standard painkillers. But Myers said it lasts so many hours longer that he recently used it for a cancer patient who had both breasts removed, without resorting to opioids.

Hours after surgery, she was "eating crackers and drinking ginger ale and she says she's fine," he recalled.

At Stanford University, pain psychologist Beth Darnall says it's not just about using different medications. Patients who are overly anxious about surgical pain wind up feeling worse, so doctors also need to address psychological factors if they're to succeed in cutting the opioids.

In Baltimore, Anders remembers waking up in the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center and telling doctors and nurses, "I am a recovering addict." Years earlier, another car crash had led him to a pain clinic that prescribed Percocet "just like candy," Anders said.

Before getting addiction treatment, he said, "I came close to losing my job, losing my wife."

Samet, the anesthesiologist, estimates that Anders' nerve block cut by tenfold the amount of opioids he'd otherwise have received for his latest injury. Samet wheeled over a portable ultrasound machine, placed a probe over Anders' pelvis and searched the black-and-white screen for the dots that mark key nerves. He threaded a tiny tube directly to Anders' femoral nerve, allowing for repeated infusions of a non-addictive numbing medication for three days.

"It's like a Godsend. If you can have something like this, why would you want to take anything else?," Anders said a day after surgeons implanted a rod in his femur to fix the break. "I can wiggle my toes, I can move my foot, there's feeling right above the ankle," but in that damaged thigh, "I can't feel anything."

Patients need to ask about these kinds of alternatives, Samet said, but they're not available at all hospitals. Nerve blocks are becoming more common for elective bone surgery than in fast-paced trauma care, for example.

What Samet calls a lingering weak link: Even if patients go home with only a small supply of an opioid for lingering post-surgical pain, too often they get a refill from another doctor who assumes that prescription must be OK if a hospital chose it.

Not Anders. Sent home with some low-dose oxycodone, he discarded the last 20 pills.

"I didn't want them," he said, "and I didn't want nobody else getting their hands on them."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada Coalition Seeks Unprecedented Insulin Refund Law]]>Mon, 01 May 2017 17:33:07 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/insulinnevadarefundlaw_1200x675.jpg

Aiming to rein in soaring prescription drug prices, an unlikely Nevada coalition is trying to force pharmaceutical companies to disclose how they set insulin prices — and issue refunds to diabetics or their insurance companies if annual price hikes surpass inflation.

Las Vegas casino owners have banded together with their employees' unions of cooks, servers and other resort workers to support the unprecedented legislation in their effort to control their own medical insurance costs.

The bill expected to face its first vote in early May would attempt to cap how much employers, insurers and corporate middle men pay for insulin, which is injected to manage blood sugar levels. Lawmakers also hope the bill would cap what diabetics pay out of their own pockets near their current cost levels — typically between $50 and $600 per month, depending on diabetics' insurance coverage.

It remains far from clear that the bill, if passed, would survive legal challenges or have the intended effect. But it would make Nevada the first U.S. state to force detailed release of drugmakers' proprietary information and effectively establish a price control on prescription drugs via the refund plan.

The bill is expected to pass in both houses of Nevada's Democratic-controlled Legislature. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, in an interview with The Associated Press, did not rule out signing it.

The move in Nevada illustrates public ire reaching critical mass over price hikes on insulin, epinephrine, antibiotics and other common prescription medicines, said Steve Brozak, president of the New Jersey-based WBB Securities investment banking firm, which focuses on health care.

Brozak and other industry experts warned against assuming government intervention would result in lower pharmacy bills, and said drugmakers would likely sue to block the law. They said price constraints could have unintended consequences.

"I don't think this will work in the way people think it will, but this could be the shot across the bow," Brozak said.

The bill would trigger reimbursements to insurers and others who pay for diabetes-related drugs when price increases outpace the national Consumer Price Index Medical Care Component, which rose between 2 percent and 5 percent each of the last 10 years.

"There is no question that lives are at stake and that, every day that people have to make the choice between their medicine and putting food on the table, we go further down the road to reaching a true public health crisis," said bill sponsor Sen. Yvanna Cancela, former political director with the Culinary Union 226 lobbying for the bill's passage.

The pharmaceutical industry argues that basing refunds on sticker prices would be ineffective because those rates constantly fluctuate and the market is much more complex than bill supporters say. Drugmakers also say prices reflect research costs and point a finger at insurance companies that have drastically increased co-pays and deductibles.

Nevada's casino owners and unions representing casino workers have long opposed each other in wage proposals but formed their rare lobbying partnership after reviewing costs in their negotiated health care plans.

Insulin and other diabetes medications represent 21 percent of prescription costs for the casino unions' 57,000 Nevada members, and increased 21 percent from 2015 to 2016, said Bobbette Bond, health policy director at Unite Here Health, which oversees Culinary Union 226 health plans.

About one in every 11 Nevada residents had diabetes in 2014, similar to the national average that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jacobo Perez-Jimenez, a Las Vegas cook who has diabetes, said a monthly bottle of insulin cost him $7 in 2011. Now he pays $75.

Perez-Jimenez, whose health insurance covers part of his medical costs, said insulin makers are "killing people with those prices."

The Nevada effort comes less than a year after the pharmaceutical industry won a major victory against prescription drug price controls in California. Ohio voters will consider the same proposal in November.

Lawmakers in about half of U.S. states have made some attempt to curb prescription drug prices.

Vermont last year adopted a law asking drugmakers to justify certain price increases of 15 percent or more, and California legislators are now seeking notification of price hikes above 10 percent.

The Nevada bill would mark the first time drugmakers would be required to publicly detail business data about specific drugs including research costs and discounts they give insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and wholesalers.

Supporters claim disclosure will prompt manufacturers to lower prices, but market experts said there's no guarantee the idea would work and the notion disappoints some consumers who want immediate action.

"Even if they cough up that information, what would it benefit me?" said Soila Solano, a diabetic resident of Las Vegas. "How would I know if they're really, you know, giving you the right information?"


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[5 Myths About Quitting Sugar, Debunked]]>Mon, 01 May 2017 12:56:22 -0400http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-519743196-sugar.jpg

A lot of people vow to quit sugar as the weather warms up, but as NBC News' Better team discovered, it's easier said than done to make it 10 days without the sweet stuff.

People hold some several misconceptions about sugar, from denying they have a problem to knowing where sugar lurks.

For example, most Americans consume nearly twice the amount of recommended sugar — 50 grams, or 12 teaspoons — every day, Dish on Fish blogger Rima Kleiner said.

If you're embarking on your own no-sugar challenge this spring, NBC News gathered five myths about quitting sugar to school yourself.



Photo Credit: Luis Ascui/Getty Images, File]]>