Editorial pages focus on these and other health topics.
The Washington Post: Years Of Coronavirus Warnings Got Us Nowhere. Here’s How To Fix That.
Nature is teaching us a heavy lesson with this latest coronavirus outbreak. It warned us first with SARS and then with MERS, but we didn’t heed the warnings. If we willfully ignore nature this third time, our global community risks paying an unimaginable price. In 2003, when SARS was first reported, the origins of the virus were a mystery. Scientists suspected it may have come from bats, but it wasn’t until 2012, when the second major coronavirus outbreak was spreading across borders, that researchers confirmed its provenance. At the time of their discovery, they warned us of the outbreak potential of coronaviruses, urging the global community “to learn from our past to help us prepare.” (Haseltine, 2/18)
The New York Times: We’re Reading The Coronavirus Numbers Wrong
Numbers have a certain mystique: They seem precise, exact, sometimes even beyond doubt. But outside the field of pure mathematics, this reputation rarely is deserved. And when it comes to the coronavirus epidemic, buying into that can be downright dangerous. Naturally, everyone wants to know how deadly COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is. The technical term for that is the case fatality rate — which is, put simply, the number of people who have died from the disease (D) divided by the total number of people who were infected with it (I), or D/I. As of Tuesday morning, at least 1,873 people were thought to have died from the disease worldwide and 72,869 people to have been infected. (John Allen Paulos, 2/18)
The Washington Post: Is Africa Ready For COVID-19?
The number of cases of covid-19 — the newly named coronavirus — has topped 70,000 globally, with over 1,800 deaths. The World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30, citing the lack of scientific knowledge about the new virus, as well as the need to increase preparation in “vulnerable countries and regions.” As of mid-February, 29 countries have reported cases, including Egypt — with the first confirmed case on the African continent. Trade and migration between Africa and China, as well as the presence of roughly 1 million Chinese nationals on the continent, mean it is possible that other covid-19 cases will appear. (Amy S. Patterson, 2/18)
The New York Times: My Father In Syria Needed Pills
My father had dementia. He also had Parkinson’s disease. He died at age 85, a week after the Parkinson’s pills arrived, their having taken more than 5,000 miles and two weeks to get to Syria. I am not sure that the lack of medicine is what caused his death, but it might as well have. Until eight years ago, my father was a pharmacist in Homs, Syria. During the war, his pharmacy was destroyed, as was the town center. My father and his wife were forced to stay mostly at home for almost two years to avoid the shelling and gunfire exchanged by the Syrian government and the rebels. (Sammar Atassi, 2/18)
The Wall Street Journal: Trump Takes A Stand For The Mentally Ill
Hundreds of thousands of Americans with serious mental illness sleep in jails, shelters and prisons on any given night. Fewer than 40,000 are in state psychiatric hospitals. This is largely due to a federal policy, the Institutions for Mental Disease Exclusion, which created a financial incentive for states to kick the mentally ill out of hospitals. The White House’s new budget proposes easing the exclusion. It’s the most important thing federal government could do to improve care for the seriously mentally ill. (D.J. Jaffe, 2/18)
Los Angeles Times: We Don’t Know Enough About Latinos And Alzheimer’s, And That’s A Huge Problem
The Alzheimer’s disease tsunami is coming our way, and it is being propelled by the demographics of the baby boomers — the oldest of them turned 75 in 2019. Today, there are nearly 6 million Americans with the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Assn., a number expected to nearly triple by 2050. The significant increase in the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will be a looming public health crisis as society deals with their diminished quality of life, the potentially extraordinary costs of caregiving and the economic demands made on younger generations. (Hector M. Gonzalez, 2/19)
The New York Times: My $145,000 Surprise Medical Bill
“Well,” I said to my wife. “We’re wiped out.” She’d called me late in the day to let me know she’d received a bill for our child’s hospital stay. The bill was for $145,000. “What are we going to do?” she asked. “I’m sure it’s just a mistake,” I said. “But Jenny,” she said, “what if it’s not?” (Jennifer Finney Boylan, 2/19)
The Hill: Obtaining Health Care In The Appropriate Setting Is Crucial For Older Patients
Through the next decade, 10,000 members of the Baby Boomer generation will turn 65 years of age every day. Recently, I took care of Paul, a 78-year-old man with mild cognitive impairment and gait instability, who had fallen. His X-rays were standard, but he still had significant difficulty walking. His caregiver was overwhelmed, and my ability to discharge him home safely was brought into question. Would he “bounce back” after a worse fall next time? Or could he benefit from a short-stay at a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) to regain his strength? As a geriatrics researcher and emergency medicine physician, I see patients similar to Paul every day. (Dr. Cameron Gettel, 2/18)
The Washington Post: Bogus Poll Respondents May Boost Trump’s Approval Rating
Bogus respondents make up between four percent and seven percent of participants in opt-in online surveys in the United States, according to a major study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. The Pew study used a variety of methods to identify online poll respondents who are giving disingenuous or illegitimate responses. They found bogus online poll-takers tend to approve of everything, with 78 percent approving of President Trump’s job performance and 84 percent approving of the 2010 health care law passed by President Barack Obama and Congress, which Trump fought to repeal. (Scott Clement, 2/18)
WBUR: How To Persuade ‘Medicare For All’ Skeptics
Economists at UMass Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute estimate that universal single-payer health insurance would save almost 10% over current costs — over $300 billion per year nationwide, savings that would increase over 10 years to $5.1 trillion — even while adding benefits for 117 million individuals, the almost 30 million people uninsured and 87 million under-insured. When you consider that tens of thousands of Americans die every year because of lack of access to care, this is an extraordinary expansion. (Nancy Grossman, 2/19)
Stat: We Need To Take Steps Toward Building A Consensus Definition Of Biological Aging
I’ve been committed to understanding the biology of aging since I was a teenager, and my education and career took aim at this problem from many angles. One aspect that still perplexes me is that there isn’t a good, easily communicable answer to this simple question: What is biological aging?When it comes to biological aging research or, to use a fancier term, translational geroscience, scientists finally have a pretty good understanding of the major components of aging. But there’s no consensus definition of it that consolidates the existing framework. (Attila Csordas, 2/19)
Stat: Why Don’t Ads For New Medical Scrubs Reflect All Physician Bodies?
Last year I treated a young patient struggling with body image issues. This child’s parents feared that being fat was a harbinger of a horrible future. Their fear was not uncommon, as we live in a culture that idolizes thinness and equates fatness with moral failing. I, too, internalized these cultural messages, and as a result developed a complicated relationship with my body that I am working hard to repair. Despite my own journey toward achieving health at every size, I worried about my ability to help my young patient become more resilient and find peace in theirs. (Okwerekwu, 2/18)
The New York Times: Hidden Beneath The Hospital Gown
“Here is your gown,” the nurse had said as she handed over a cotton frock. After hours in the hectic emergency room, we arrived in my mother’s hospital room. My mother quickly assured her that she would not be needing it. She knew she was sick; she did not need the gown to confirm it. My mother unfortunately was not new to life in the hospital; she had come prepared. Before we had left for the emergency room, suspecting she would be admitted to the hospital for at least a few days, she had meticulously instructed me on what clothing to pack: comfortably fitted but loose T-shirts, sweatpants and patterned pajama bottoms. For good measure, we had also brought perfume and deodorant. (Ersilia M. DeFilippis, 2/18)
Philadelphia Inquirer: 40 Years Ago, Radiation Was A Cancer Cure. How Can Doctors Detect Late Side Effects Of New Treatments?
Medical students and residents swarm to our subspecialty because of the legitimate excitement surrounding new cancer therapies. We hope short- and long-term side effects from treatment will be fewer in the future. But will they? Based on what evidence? Rational therapeutics are barely beyond adolescence. The number of cases of autoimmune diseases caused by targeting the PD-1/PD-L1 axis of immune checkpoint proteins in cancer patients may already be in the tens of thousands in the United States alone. And it is in the early days — it has been less than five years since the Food and Drug Administration approved Keytruda for advanced non-small cell lung cancer. (Roger Cohen, 2/18)
The Hill: Congress Should Consider The Harms Of Competitive Bidding For Life-Sustaining Devices
In the United States, fifteen people will be diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) today. Ninety minutes from now, someone will either be told they have ALS—or they will die from it. Thousands of Americans are living with ALS — each hoping for a cure. But for now, there is no cure. ALS affects each patient differently, but those with ALS can expect progressive weakness and the eventual loss of everyday functions like walking, speaking, swallowing — and even breathing. Unfortunately, ALS can also significantly shorten someone’s life. According to the ALS Association, only half of those with ALS live three or more years after diagnosis. (J. Brady Scott, 2/18)
NBC News: Maternal Mortality Is Worse In Washington, D.C. Than Syria. Abortion Access Is One Reason Why.
From 2007 to 2015, Syria’s maternal mortality rate rose from 26 deaths per 100,000 live births to 31 deaths per 100,000 live births, a result of the country’s war and a crumbling health care system. In Washington, D.C., where politicians make decisions about both what the United States will do about the war in Syria and American women’s access to reproductive health care, the average maternal mortality rate across the same eight-year period was 33 deaths per 100,000 live births. And that is for woman of all races: The rate of maternal mortality for African American women living in our nation’s capital is 59.7 deaths per 100,000 live births — worse than Panama (52) or Ecuador (59). (Hawkins, 2/18)
The New York Times: Why Teenagers Reject Parents’ Solutions To Their Problems
Parents of adolescents are often confronted by a puzzling sequence of events. First, teenagers bring us their problems; second, we earnestly offer suggestions and solutions; and third, teenagers dismiss our ideas as irritating, irrelevant or both. These moments feel ripe for connection. Why do they so often turn sour? Almost always, it’s because we’re not giving teenagers what they’re really looking for. Consciously or not, here’s what they most likely want. (Lisa Damour, 2/18)
Kaiser Health News: Who Profits From Steep Medical Bills? The People Tasked With Fixing Them.
Every politician condemns the phenomenon of “surprise” medical bills. Last week, two committees in the House were marking up new surprise billing legislation. One of the few policy proposals President Donald Trump brought up in this year’s State of the Union address was his 2019 executive order targeting “balance bills.” In the Democratic debates, candidates have railed against such medical bills, and during commercial breaks, back-to-back ads from groups representing doctors and insurers proclaimed how much the health care sector also abhors this uniquely American form of patient extortion. (Elisabeth Rosenthal, 2/19)
Stat: Why We Need Mandatory Labeling Of GMO Products
The conversation around genetic engineering and food is undermined by a lack of information that breeds confusion and distrust. Consumers feel misled. Scientists feel misunderstood. Public officials make flailing attempts to navigate the interests of both. Meanwhile, the companies that choose to play both sides take advantage of everyone — quietly adding genetically modified organisms (GMO) or ingredients made from them to some products and non-GMO labels to others.If we’re ever going to move past the polarized state we find ourselves in, it’s going to be the result of transparency. (Stephen Lamb, 2/19)
The New York Times: It’s Your Baby’s First Shot. Take It.
Accounts of healthy babies developing serious, even fatal bleeding in the days and weeks following birth can be found going back centuries. Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn was a widely recognized but poorly understood phenomenon until the mid-20th century, when doctors demonstrated that such bleeding — now termed vitamin K deficiency bleeding — could be prevented by giving newborns a single dose of vitamin K. Since the early 1960s, it has been standard-of-care for newborns to receive an intramuscular injection of vitamin K shortly after delivery. (Phoebe Danziger, 2/19)
Georgia Health News: It’s Time For Tort Reform In Georgia
There hasn’t been any shortage of media reports highlighting the number of Georgians who don’t have health insurance. But one key point that tends to get lost in the shuffle is that health insurance and access to care are separate and distinct issues. The most recent “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps” program report determined that among states, Georgia has the ninth-fewest doctors for its population. Knowing that fact, it is imperative for our legislators to address the state’s rapidly declining tort climate with a great sense of urgency. Failing to do so will mean that a lot of Georgians won’t have access to the physicians they need. (Andrew Reisman, 2/18)
This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
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