First Edition: Sept. 28, 2022

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

Few Places Have More Medical Debt Than Dallas-Fort Worth, But Hospitals There Are Thriving 

Almost everything about the opening of the 2019 Prosper High School Eagles’ football season was big. The game in this Dallas-Fort Worth suburb began with fireworks and a four-airplane flyover. A trained eagle soared over the field. And some 12,000 fans filled the team’s new stadium, a $53 million colossus with the largest video screen of any high school venue in Texas. Atop the stadium was also a big name: Children’s Health. (Levey, 9/28)

‘American Diagnosis’: When Indigenous People Move To Cities, Health Care Funding Doesn’t Follow 

Over 70% of Indigenous people in the United States live in urban areas. But urban Indian health makes up less than 2% of the Indian Health Service’s annual budget. While enrolled members of federally recognized tribes can access the Indian Health Service or tribally run health care on their reservations, Indigenous people who live in cities can find themselves without access to the care they’re entitled to. (9/28)

Montana Health Officials Aim To Boost Oversight Of Nonprofit Hospitals’ Giving 

Montana health officials are proposing to oversee and set standards for the charitable contributions that nonprofit hospitals make in their communities each year to justify their access to millions of dollars in tax exemptions. The proposal is part of a package of legislation that the state Department of Public Health and Human Services will ask lawmakers to approve when they convene in January. It comes two years after a state audit called on the department to play more of a watchdog role and nine months after a KHN investigation found some of Montana’s wealthiest hospitals lag behind state and national averages in community giving. (Houghton, 9/28)

$2,700 Ambulance Bill Pulled Back From Collections

Peggy Dula is as surprised as she is relieved. The 55-year-old resident of St. Charles, Illinois, had been fighting a $2,700 ambulance bill for nearly a year. Now, the amount she owes from her September 2021 car wreck appears to be zero. This summer, KHN, NPR, and CBS News spotlighted Dula in the Bill of the Month series. The initial $3,600 charge for Dula’s ambulance ride was significantly higher than the charges received by her two siblings, who were riding in her car at the time and were transported to the same hospital. The siblings rode in separate ambulances, each from a different nearby fire protection district. All three were billed different amounts for the same services. Dula’s injuries were the least serious, but her bill was the most expensive. (Sable-Smith, 9/28)

The Hill:
Medicare Part B Premiums To Decrease For The First Time In Over A Decade 

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced that Medicare Part B premiums will decrease in 2023, marking the first time this cost has been lowered in more than a decade. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that Medicare Part B premiums would be lowered by three percent, or $5.20, going from $170.10 a month to $164.90. The program’s annual deductible will also fall by $7, from $233 to $226. (Choi, 9/27)

Millions Of Americans Will Save On Medicare Fees Next Year

The rare 3% decrease in monthly premiums is likely to be coupled with a historically high cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits — perhaps 9% or 10% — putting hundreds of dollars directly into the pockets of millions of people. “That’s something we may never see again in the rest of our lives,” said Mary Johnson, the Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League. “That can really be used to pay off credit cards, to restock pantries that have gotten low because people can’t afford to buy as much today as they did a year ago and do some long-postponed repairs to homes and cars.” (Seitz, 9/27)

Biden Medicare Costs Victory Due Mostly To Alzheimer’s Drug Change 

The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs the Medicare health plan, said on Tuesday the bulk of the drop comes from its limiting coverage of Biogen Inc’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm to patients in clinical trials. “The 2022 premium included a contingency margin to cover projected Part B spending for a new drug, Aduhelm. Lower-than-projected spending on both Aduhelm and other Part B items and services resulted in much larger reserves,” the agency said. (Aboulenein, 9/27)

The New York Times:
Biden Says Social Security Is On ‘Chopping Block’ If Republicans Win Congress 

President Biden warned on Tuesday that Republicans posed a threat to Social Security and Medicare, amplifying an effort by Democrats to make the fate of America’s social safety net programs a central campaign issue ahead of November’s midterm elections. The comments were part of a push by Democrats across the country to steer the political conversation away from soaring prices and growing recession fears and remind anxious voters that some Republicans have been calling for restructuring or scaling back entitlement programs that retirees have relied on for decades. (Rappeport, 9/27)

The Washington Post:
Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug Slows Cognitive Decline In Trial, Firms Say 

The upbeat news served as a stark contrast to the calamitous rollout last year of another drug, marketed as Aduhelm, sponsored by the two companies. Like Aduhelm, lecanemab reduces abnormal clumps of beta amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. But unlike Aduhelm, for which the data was confused and conflicting, the trial results for lecanemab told a straightforward and encouraging story, some experts said. Aduhelm was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but Medicare refused to cover it broadly, and the drug collapsed in the marketplace. (McGinley, 9/27)

The New York Times:
Alzheimer’s Drug Slows Cognitive Decline In Key Study 

Eisai had already applied for accelerated approval, the type of approval given to Aduhelm. The process allows the Food and Drug Administration to greenlight drugs if they have uncertain evidence of benefit but affect a disease’s biological pathway in a way that is considered reasonably likely to benefit patients. The company said on Tuesday night that it would first continue with the accelerated approval process, with an F.D.A. decision expected by early January, and then use the newer data to seek full approval. (Accelerated approval requires companies to do further trials and prove that their drug works.)Analysts predict that lecanemab, or any effective Alzheimer’s medication, would most likely be a multibillion-dollar blockbuster. (Robbins and Belluck, 9/27)

New California Abortion Laws Set Up Clash With Other States 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed more than a dozen new abortion laws Tuesday, including some that deliberately clash with restrictions in other states — a sign of the coming conflicts that must be sorted out as lawmakers rush to set their own rules now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Most abortions are now illegal in 13 states, and others — including Texas, Oklahoma and Idaho — allow people to sue anyone who performs or aids in an abortion. Meanwhile, Democratic-led states like California, New York and Connecticut have been writing and passing laws to make it easier to get an abortion, with California promoting its abortion services on a state-funded website designed in part to reach women who live in other states. (Beam, 9/27)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Gov. Newsom Responds To Anti-Abortion Laws With Cheaper Vasectomies

California will require health plans to cover vasectomy costs starting in 2024 under a bill Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Tuesday. The federal Affordable Care Act already required most health plans to cover birth control for women. The new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed, SB523 , extends that requirement to vasectomies, a reversible sterilization procedure for men. It will require health plans to cover the procedure without charging co-pays or cost-sharing. (Bollag, 9/27)

Indianapolis Star:
Judge Blocks Indiana Abortion Law Requiring Fetal Burial, Cremation

A federal judge has barred Indiana from enforcing a law that forced health care providers to bury or cremate fetal tissue. U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young found the law, which was signed by former Gov. Mike Pence in 2016, violates the U.S. Constitution because it infringes upon the religious and free speech rights of people who do not believe aborted fetuses deserve the same treatment as deceased people. (Magdaleno, 9/28)

South Carolina Lawmakers Won’t Pass Stricter Abortion Laws 

Abortion laws in South Carolina almost certainly won’t get more restrictive, after Republicans in the General Assembly could not agree on a total ban on the procedure during a special legislative session Tuesday. South Carolina was for decades at the forefront of more restrictive abortion laws that challenged Roe v. Wade even before the landmark case was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. The state requires ultrasounds, parental consent and 24-hour waiting periods before abortions. (Collins, 9/27)

Pause On Ohio ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Ban Extended To Oct. 12 

A judge extended a temporary block Tuesday on an Ohio law banning virtually all abortions for an additional 14 days, further pausing a law that had taken effect after federal abortion protections were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. The decision by Hamilton County Judge Christian Jenkins means pregnancy terminations through 20 weeks’ gestation may continue in Ohio through Oct. 12. (Smyth, 9/27)

The Washington Post:
GOP Governor Nominee Once Urged Murder Charges For Women Getting Abortions

Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who is the GOP nominee for governor, said in 2019 that women who violated his proposed abortion ban should be charged with murder. NBC News on Tuesday resurfaced a 2019 interview in which Mastriano, speaking to Pennsylvania radio station WITF, spoke about a bill he was sponsoring in the state legislature that would have outlawed abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detected, around six weeks of pregnancy. (Alfaro, 9/28)

U.S. Justice Alito Says He Is Mindful Of ‘Real World’ Impact Of Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, author of a blockbuster ruling that revoked nationwide abortion rights, said on Tuesday that his Catholic faith requires him to consider the real-world implications of his decisions on the nation’s highest court. Speaking to a sympathetic audience shortly before the court begins its next term, the conservative justice did not discuss the abortion ruling or other landmark decisions on guns and federal power issued earlier this year. (Thomsen, 9/27)

The Washington Post:
Do Covid Vaccines Affect Periods? A New Study Says They Do

Not long after the rollout of coronavirus vaccines last year, women around the country began posting on social media about what they believed was a strange side effect: changes to their periods. Now, new research shows that many of the complaints were valid. A study of nearly 20,000 people around the world shows that getting vaccinated against covid can change the timing of the menstrual cycle. Vaccinated people experienced, on average, about a one-day delay in getting their periods, compared with those who hadn’t been vaccinated.(Morris, 9/27)

U.S. FDA To Review Fewer Emergency Use Requests For COVID Tests 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday it will now review only a small number of emergency use authorization requests for COVID tests that are likely to have a significant benefit to public health, including fulfilling an unmet need. The agency is revising its COVID-19 test policy in light of the current manufacturing status and number of cases, it said, adding companies seeking EUA for their COVID tests will have to now apply for the agency’s traditional premarket review process. (9/27)

SARS-CoV-2 Mutation Leads To Resistance To Remdesivir In 2 Patients

A report published yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases describes a new SARS-CoV-2 mutation that confers resistance to the COVID-19 antiviral drug remdesivir in two persistently infected kidney transplant recipients treated with immunosuppressive drugs. … One patient was in his or her 60s and had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before being infected with the Omicron subvariant BA.1.1 6 months after transplant and receiving a 5-day course of remdesivir. … The other patient was in his or her 50s and had received two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before becoming infected 14 months after transplant. (9/27)

NBC News:
Mounting Evidence Shows Autoimmune Responses Play A Significant Role In Long Covid

Dr. Manali Mukherjee, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University, said her team plans to follow up with the patients up to two years post-infection to see if their symptoms resolve or they develop diagnosable autoimmune diseases. “There will be a subset of patients who will end up with a diagnosis for life,” she said. (Bendix, 9/27)

The Washington Post:
All Major Cruise Lines Will Soon Allow Unvaccinated Travelers

Disney Cruise Line will no longer require vaccinations on most of its voyages beginning in October, the company announced Tuesday, marking the final major cruise line to ease its vaccine requirement on most U.S. sailings. … The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended its covid program for cruises in July. Since then, all major cruise lines serving the U.S. — including Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and MSC Cruises — have dropped their vaccine requirements for all but a few voyages, according to their websites. (Bikales, 9/27)

Walmart To Cover Fertility Treatments Under Insurance Plan 

Walmart is teaming up with a fertility startup to offer benefits under its insurance plan that will help its workers expand their families. The nation’s largest retailer and private employer said Tuesday it’s partnering with New York-based Kindbody to offer benefits such as in vitro fertilization as well as fertility testing regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. (D’Innocenzio and Murphy, 9/27)

Modern Healthcare:
Telehealth, In-Person Visits Comparable In Quality: Study

Telehealth visits for primary care can be comparable in quality to in-person visits, suggesting remote testing and screenings are valuable tools to augment patient care. The finding follows a study of more than 500,000 patients across 200 outpatient care sites in Pennsylvania and Maryland who either had exposure to telemedicine or only had in-person visits between March 1, 2020, and November 30, 2021. (Devereaux, 9/27)

Houston Chronicle:
Billionaire MacKenzie Scott Donates $20M To Houston Nonprofit

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $20 million to Episcopal Health Foundation to help the Houston nonprofit in its mission to improve health and health care in Texas, the foundation announced Tuesday. The donation will be used to bolster the effectiveness of EHF’s ongoing grantmaking, research and community engagement programs, according to a news release. (MacDonald, 9/27)

Modern Healthcare:
Mass General Brigham’s Big Cost-Cutting Plan Approved By State

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved Mass General Brigham’s 18-month plan to curb excessive spending. In January, the commission ordered Mass General to come up with a performance improvement plan after it exceeded the commission’s spending growth benchmark by $293 million from 2014 to 2019.  The commission said Mass General’s actions could jeopardize the state and its care delivery system. (Hudson, 9/27)

Europe’s Generic Drugmakers Say They May Cut Output Due To Energy Bills 

Europe’s drugmakers have warned they may stop making some cheap generic medicines because of surging electricity costs and are calling for an overhaul of the way they are priced, the latest industry to seek help as the energy crisis deepens. The generic drug industry lobby group Medicines for Europe, which represents companies including Teva, Novartis’s Sandoz unit and Fresenius SE’s Kabi business, on Tuesday sent an open letter to European Union member states’ energy and health ministers. (Burger, 9/28)

DaVita Loses Bid To Dismiss Class ‘No-Poach’ Claims

A Chicago federal judge on Monday said a private civil antitrust case could move forward against DaVita Inc and other large employers in the outpatient medical-care market that are accused of conspiring to restrict employee compensation and mobility. (Scarcella, 9/27)

Study Tries To See If Child Vaccines And Asthma Are Linked

A number of scientists have wondered if aluminum, a vaccine additive that has been used for decades, had a role in allergies and asthma in children. A new federally funded study has found a possible link, but experts say the research has important shortcomings and is not a reason to change current vaccine recommendations. The study doesn’t claim aluminum causes the breathing condition, and officials say more work is needed to try to confirm any connection, which hadn’t been seen in earlier research. (Stobbe, 9/27)

The Hill:
Feeling Lonely, Unhappy Can Accelerate Aging More Than Smoking

Poor mental health can speed up a person’s aging process more than smoking or certain diseases, according to a new study.  Humans have two different ages. There is chronological age, which measures how much time a person has spent on Earth, and then there is biological age, referring to how old a person seems. … A new study from Deep Longevity, a Hong Kong-based longevity company, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Stanford University found that feelings that cause poor mental health like sadness, loneliness and general unhappiness add an extra 1.65 years to a person’s biological age. (O’Connell-Domenech, 9/27)

The Washington Post:
Pregnancy During Hurricane Sandy Linked To Kids’ Psychiatric Disorders, Study Says 

At the time Hurricane Sandy made landfall over New Jersey and inundated New York City in October 2012, Yoko Nomura, a psychology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College, had already assembled a cohort of local pregnant women in preparation for a study about the impact of stress during pregnancy on their offspring’s development. … The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that children who were exposed to Sandy, a superstorm, while in utero had substantially increased risks for depression, anxiety and attention deficit and disruptive behavior disorders. The symptoms of these disorders presented when the children were preschool-age. (Gibson, 9/27)

DEA: Fake Pills Containing Fentanyl Helping Drive OD Deaths

An increasing number of fake prescription pills that contain potentially deadly fentanyl are helping drive overdose death rates to record levels in the U.S., including some now manufactured in rainbow colors designed to look like candy, federal officials said Tuesday. Drug Enforcement Administration agents are working to crack down on violent drug cartels in Mexico believed to be trafficking the drugs into the U.S., Attorney General Merrick Garland said. Between May and September, the DEA and local police around the country seized more than 10 million fentanyl pills and hundreds of pounds of powder, he said. (Whitehurst, 9/27)

ABC News:
DOJ Seizes 10 Million Fake Fentanyl-Laced Pills From May To September This Year

“Of this year, DEA agents conducted 389 investigations, including 35 cartel linked investigations in 201 cities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters. “Over the course of these investigations, we seized over 10 million fake pills and 82 pounds of fentanyl powder motor crews across all 50 states. That is enough to kill 36 million Americans. In addition agencies 338 weapons during this operation, including shotguns pistols, and hand grenades.” (Barr and Haworth, 9/28)

Google Pilots Opioid Addiction Moonshot In Dayton, Ohio

Christopher Boggs started smoking pot in his teens, moved on to cocaine, and finally settled on opioids, which allowed him to evade the drug testing program at the car factory where he worked. He sounds like a seasoned pharmacist as he ticks off the drug regimen he built up. “Any kind of opioid you could get. Oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, fentanyl patches—just everything,” he recalls. “It was real cheap and readily available.” (Bergen, 9/27)

Fox News:
FDA Warning About NyQuil Chicken TikTok Challenge May Have Spiked Interest

A statement issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking people to stop combining NyQuil with chicken after a “Sleepy Chicken” challenge went viral on social media earlier may have unintentionally spiked interest in the trend. There were fewer than five searches for NyQuil chicken content on TikTok a day prior to the Sept. 15 statement from the FDA, according to data provided to Fox News Digital by the social media app. By Sept. 21, around 7,000 searches were recorded. (Casiano, 9/27)

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