First Edition: January 5, 2023

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Biden Flags Concern On China’s COVID Response As WHO Doubts Death Toll

China defended on Thursday its handling of its raging COVID-19 outbreak after U.S. President Joe Biden voiced concern and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Beijing was under-reporting virus deaths. … U.S. President Joe Biden raised concern about China’s handling of a COVID outbreak that is filling hospitals and overwhelming some funeral homes. (Orr and Goh, 1/5)

Dallas Morning News:
North Texas COVID-19 And Flu Hospitalizations On The Rise

North Texas COVID-19 and flu hospitalizations are climbing as the region endures an early and unpredictable respiratory virus season. No one knows whether the current case and hospitalization trajectories will continue, but experts say one thing is certain: The health care system is much better off now than it was a year ago. (Wolf, 1/4)

Explainer: What Does The FDA’s New Rule Mean For The Fight Over Abortion Pills?

Previously, mifepristone had to be dispensed by an authorized clinic or through certain specialty mail-order pharmacies — a process that could take days or even weeks if a clinic is busy. Once pharmacies begin dispensing the drug in states that allow abortion, it “will make it much easier to access the pill,” according to Naomi Cahn, a professor at University of Virginia School of Law. (Pierson, 1/4)

New Jersey Sets Aside $15M For Abortion Provider Upgrades

New Jersey will award $15 million in zero-interest loans and grants to health care facilities that provide abortion services for facility improvements and increased security, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday. The new financial aid stems from last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to strip away the federal right to abortion, the governor said in a statement. (Catalini, 1/4)

Abortion, Spending Likely Battles In New Nebraska Session

The body is currently made up of 32 senators registered as Republicans and 17 registered as Democrats. That split looms large over the issue of abortion. A Republican-led effort last year to pass a near total abortion ban fell two votes short of garnering the 33 needed to overcome a filibuster. (Beck, 1/4)

Los Angeles Times:
Want To Learn CPR? Here’s Where To Find Classes

Dr. Mariell Jessup, chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Assn., said she couldn’t say for sure what caused Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s heart to stop during an NFL game Monday night. But she was sure of one thing: “Everyone needs to know how to do CPR.” (Healey, 1/4)

Modern Healthcare:
HHS Medicaid Rule Clarifies Nonclinical Care Reimbursement

CMS’ guidance allows Medicaid agencies to pay for nonclinical services such as housing, nutrition and transportation that would reduce health costs by preventing adverse health events. States must determine such services are appropriate and a cost-effective substitute for medical care. It requires such substitutes, known as in-lieu-of services, be written into managed care contracts and considered when determining payment to private insurers. (Tepper and Hartnett, 1/4)

Washington Post:
Fla. Surgeon General Used ‘Flawed’ Vaccine Science, Faculty Peers Say

Joseph A. Ladapo, a professor of medicine at the University of Florida and the state’s surgeon general, relied upon a flawed analysis and may have violated university research integrity rules when he issued guidance last fall discouraging young men from receiving common coronavirus vaccines, according to a report from a medical school faculty task force. But the university says it has no plans to investigate the matter. (Stripling, 1/4)

Lawsuit Alleges ‘Forever Chemicals’ In Popular Juice Brand

Despite being marketed as “all natural,” Coca-Cola Co.’s Simply Tropical juice contains PFAS, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 28. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the complaint alleges that the company violated state and federal consumer laws in marketing the product as free of synthetic substances. (Crunden, 1/4)

Toxic PFAS Chemicals From Tyco Plant In Wisconsin Leak Into Lake Michigan’s Green Bay

Water samples taken along the shoreline in the Marinette area found PFAS concentrations of 250 parts per trillion — much higher than levels detected in a previous study of rivers flowing into the bay, Remucal said. They also far exceed the 70 parts per trillion that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had established as a drinking water health risk threshold for two common PFAS compounds, known as PFOS and PFOA. (Flesher, 1/4)

Geron Says Blood Cancer Drug Succeeds In Late-Stage Study, Shares Surge

Geron Corp (GERN.O) said on Wednesday its experimental drug helped more patients with a difficult-to-treat blood cancer achieve independence from routine transfusions in a late-stage trial, sending shares of the drug developer nearly 50% higher. The drug, imetelstat, was being studied in patients with types of lower risk myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), which requires frequent blood transfusions for patients to manage their anemia, the company said. (Roy, 1/4)

Roivant-Pfizer Inflammatory Bowel Drug Succeeds In Phase 2 Study

An experimental inflammatory bowel disease medicine that serves as the basis for a partnership between Roivant Sciences and Pfizer met high expectations for a Phase 2 clinical trial data released Wednesday. In a clinical study of 245 volunteers, the drug, called RVT-3101, helped 32% of trial participants with ulcerative colitis go into remission, compared to 12% in the placebo group. (DeAngelis, 1/4)

Right Choice Of Antibiotic Linked To Lower Risk Of Death From Bloodstream Infections

The multicenter cross-sectional study, which included more than 32,000 patients who had been hospitalized with BSIs, found that receipt of appropriate initial empiric antibiotic therapy was associated with lower risk of in-hospital death for three pathogen groups compared with those whose initial antibiotic was inappropriate. For all three groups, the risk of in-hospital death was more than or nearly cut in half for patients who received the right antibiotic. (Dall, 1/4)

Roll Call:
Providers Say Medicare Advantage Hinders New Methadone Benefit

In 2018, responding to a wave of overdose deaths, Congress passed legislation requiring Medicare to pay for services at opioid treatment programs for the first time. But two years after Medicare began covering those programs, which use methadone and other medications to help reduce opioid use and overdose deaths, providers say their efforts are being hindered by Medicare Advantage — private insurance companies that administer benefits to about half of the Medicare population. (Hellmann, 1/4)

Oklahoma AG Announces 4 New Opioid Settlements Worth $226M

Oklahoma entered settlement agreements with three major pharmacy chains and an opioid manufacturer totaling more than $226 million, Attorney General John O’Connor announced Wednesday. Including the new settlements with drugmaker Allergan and pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, Oklahoma has received more than $900 million from opioid makers and distributors to help address the state’s opioid crisis, O’Connor said. (Murphy, 1/4)

NJ Extends Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance Despite Fees Dispute

New Jersey extended its health benefits contract with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield for another year even after state officials alleged the health insurer failed to meet the terms of the deal. The state will pay lower fees in exchange for reducing the scope of some services Horizon was originally hired to provide to state employees, according to the revised document posted on a state website. (Tozzi, 1/4)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.