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

Sick Profit: Investigating Private Equity’s Stealthy Takeover Of Health Care Across Cities And Specialties 

Two-year-old Zion Gastelum died just days after dentists performed root canals and put crowns on six baby teeth at a clinic affiliated with a private equity firm. His parents sued the Kool Smiles dental clinic in Yuma, Arizona, and its private equity investor, FFL Partners. They argued the procedures were done needlessly, in keeping with a corporate strategy to maximize profits by overtreating kids from lower-income families enrolled in Medicaid. Zion died after being diagnosed with “brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen,” according to the lawsuit. (Schulte, 11/14)

Thousands Of Experts Hired To Aid Public Health Departments Are Losing Their Jobs 

As covid-19 raged, roughly 4,000 highly skilled epidemiologists, communication specialists, and public health nurses were hired by a nonprofit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plug the holes at battered public health departments on the front lines. But over the past few months, the majority of the CDC Foundation’s contracts for those public health workers at local and state departments have ended as the group has spent nearly all of its almost $289 million in covid relief funding. The CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports the CDC’s work, anticipates that no more than about 800 of its 4,000 hires will ultimately staff those jurisdictions, spokesperson Pierce Nelson said. (Weber, 11/14)

California Stockpiles Penalties From Uninsured Residents Instead Of Lowering Care Costs 

Nearly three years after California started fining residents who don’t have health insurance, the state has not distributed any of the revenue it has collected, KHN has learned — money that was intended to help Californians struggling to pay for coverage. And so far, the majority of Californians paying the tax penalty for not having insurance are low- and middle-income earners, according to state tax officials — just the people the money was intended to help. (Hart, 11/14)

‘Impending Intergenerational Crisis’: Americans With Disabilities Lack Long-Term Care Plans 

Thinking about the future makes Courtney Johnson nervous. The 25-year-old blogger and college student has autism and several chronic illnesses, and with the support of her grandparents and friends, who help her access a complex network of social services, she lives relatively independently in Johnson City, Tennessee. “If something happens to them, I’m not certain what would happen to me, especially because I have difficulty with navigating things that require more red tape,” she said. (Whitehead, 11/11)

‘An Arm And A Leg’: No Money, No Job, No Health Care? Not Always

If you don’t have money and you don’t have a job, what are your best options for getting health care? It’s 2023 open enrollment season, and a lot of Americans are shopping for health insurance plans. And some are weighing the risks of skipping health insurance altogether. (Weissmann, 11/11)

Journalists Tackle The Midterms And Open Enrollment

KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner discussed how politicians plan to take on health care costs and how health issues are playing into the midterm elections on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” on Nov. 4. … KHN senior correspondent Julie Appleby discussed open enrollment and Affordable Care Act health plans on the “America’s Heroes Group” podcast on Nov. 5. (11/11)

Omicron Variants BQ.1 And BQ.1.1 Now Dominant In U.S.

Two new omicron subvariants have become dominant in the United States, raising fears they could fuel yet another surge of COVID-19 infections, according to estimates released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Stein, 11/11)

COVID Variants BQ.1/BQ.1.1 Make Up 44% Of U.S. Cases – CDC 

The two variants, which are closely related to Omicron’s BA.5 sub-variant that drove COVID-19 cases in United States earlier in the year, made up less than 10% of total cases in the country last month, but currently have surpassed Omicron’s BA.5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (11/11)

U.S. COVID Public Health Emergency To Stay In Place

The United States will keep in place the public health emergency status of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing millions of Americans to still receive free tests, vaccines and treatments, two Biden administration officials said on Friday. (Aboulenein and Mason, 11/11)

The Washington Post:
Universal Masking Linked To Fewer Covid Cases In Schools, Study Finds 

Public schools that kept universal masking requirements in place last year had significantly fewer coronavirus cases than their counterparts that lifted mandates as state policies changed, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that weighs in on the hotly debated pandemic safety measure. The study, which followed schools in the Boston region during the 2021-2022 academic year, found that the end of mask requirements was associated with an additional 45 coronavirus cases per 1,000 students and staff members — or nearly 12,000 cases during a 15-week period from March to June. (St. George, 11/10)

Repeat COVID Infections Appear To Predispose Patients To Disease, Death

Repeat SARS-CoV-2 infections confer significant additional risk of adverse multi-organ medical conditions and poor outcomes such as hospitalization, diabetes, kidney disease, mental illness, death, and diseases affecting the lungs, heart, brain, blood, and musculoskeletal systems, suggests a study published yesterday in Nature Medicine. (11/11)

Israeli Study Shows Fourth Pfizer Dose Protection Wanes By 6 Months

Yesterday in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, Israeli researchers reported an overall vaccine effectiveness of a fourth Pfizer COVID vaccine dose of 41% in the first 6 months, but they said protection decreased from 52% during the first 5 weeks after vaccination to no protection at 15 to 26 weeks. (11/10)

Cruise Ship With 800 Covid-Positive Passengers Docks In Sydney

A cruise ship with hundreds of Covid-positive passengers docked in Sydney, Australia, after being hit by a wave of infections. The Majestic Princess cruise ship was about halfway through a 12-day voyage when an outbreak of cases was noticed, Carnival Australia president Marguerite Fitzgerald told reporters in a media briefing on Saturday. (Law, Khalidi and Maruyama, 11/13)

CDC: Flu Activity “Very High” In 7 States And Washington D.C.

At least 25 U.S. states or territories recently have had “very high” or “high” rates of influenza activity, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data suggests this year’s flu season is hitting the U.S. harder and earlier than in previous years, especially in the south. (Knutson, 11/13)

US Flu Levels Climb As RSV Swamps Kids’ Hospitals

In an update posted yesterday in advance of the Veterans Day observance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the worst hot spots are still the south and southeastern regions, followed by the south-central West Coast and the middle Atlantic regions. Most flu markers showed notable rises, including the overall percentage of respiratory specimens that tested positive for flu, which jumped from 9% to 12.8% last week. Outpatient visits for flulike illness—which can reflect activity from other respiratory viruses—rose from 4.3% to 5.5% last week. (Schnirring, 1/11)

The Washington Post:
Crossword Puzzles May Benefit People With Mild Cognitive Impairment 

For years, scientists have been trying to figure out whether “brain workouts” such as puzzles and online cognitive games could strengthen our minds and slow the process of aging. Now, a study published in NEJM Evidence has found that regularly attempting a crossword may help slow decline in some people with mild cognitive impairment, an early stage of faltering memory that can sometimes progress to dementia. (Amenabar, 11/10)

The Washington Post:
A Mental Health Break From College Can Be Helpful. Here Are Expert Tips

Some 40 percent of college students in the United States struggle with anxiety, 45 percent with depression and 16 percent with suicidal thoughts. These numbers, from a survey conducted last year by the Healthy Minds Network, have more than doubled in the past decade. Many students are considering taking time away from school to tend to their mental health — and it is something that should be encouraged, experts say. (Bever, 11/11)

Houston Chronicle:
Texas Has A High Veteran Suicide Rate. What’s Being Done To Help?

In 2020, the suicide rate for Texas veterans was higher than the national veteran suicide rate – Texas had a rate of 36.6 suicides per 100,000 veterans, while the national rate was 34.4, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Meanwhile, the suicide rate for the general Texas population remained much lower at 13.3 per 100,000 people. (Goodwin, 11/11)

The Wall Street Journal:
Narcan Owner Opiant To Be Acquired By Indivior For $145 Million 

One of the biggest addiction-drug makers is set to snatch up the owner of the country’s bestselling overdose-reversal drug, according to people familiar with the transaction. U.K.-based Indivior PLC will pay $20 per share, or about $145 million, to purchase Narcan owner Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc., according to two people familiar with the transaction. Indivior will pay an additional $8 per share contingent on Opiant’s ability to gain approvals and revenue for an overdose-reversal medication in late-stage development, for a total potential payout of about $203 million, the people said. (Wernau, 11/14)

Modern Healthcare:
Clover Health Pays Medicare Patients To See Doctors Who Use Clover Assistant

The insurtech will give its Medicare Advantage members $150 when they schedule in-person, virtual or home visits with providers that use Clover Assistant. The company, which has 88,000 Medicare Advantage customers, describes Clover Assistant as an electronic medical record combined with an artificial intelligence tool that prompts physicians for diagnoses, code entries and care protocols. (Tepper, 11/11)

European Energy Crisis May Portend US Drug Shortages 

Facing winter, aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, a looming recession, soaring energy and transportation costs, and dwindling gas reserves due to Russian supply cuts, some European companies are shuttering plants or scaling down production, fueling fresh fears of essential-drug shortages, according to a new report from the Israel-based drug maker Teva. (Van Beusekom, 11/10)

CDC: Healthcare-Associated Infections Continued To Climb In 2021

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in US hospitals remain elevated above pre–COVID-19 pandemic levels. Findings from the review of quarterly 2021 National Healthcare Safety Network data show continued increases in the quarterly standardized infections ratios (SIRs) for central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs), ventilator-associated events (VAEs), and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia compared with 2019. The report analyzed data from acute care hospitals, critical access hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and long-term acute care hospitals. (11/11)

The New York Times:
RJ Reynolds Sues California Over Flavored Tobacco Ban 

R.J. Reynolds, the maker of Newport menthol cigarettes and top-selling vaping products, filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday challenging California’s landmark ban on flavored tobacco, a day after voters overwhelmingly approved it. The state law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom two years ago, would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco and vaping products within weeks, undercutting a sizable part of sales for Reynolds and other tobacco companies. Reynolds is seeking an injunction to keep the law from taking effect. (Jewett, 11/10)

UNC To Get Infectious Disease Treatment Designation

University of North Carolina hospitals will soon be designated as a treatment center for patients with highly infectious diseases in the region. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that UNC and Emory University are the only two Regional Emerging Special Pathogen Treatment Centers in the Southeast. (11/12)

The Wall Street Journal:
Your Muscle Weakness May Not Just Be A Sign Of Aging 

After a certain age, when muscle weakness and pain start to accompany exercise and simple daily tasks like getting up from a chair, we often dismiss it as part of the package of getting older. But researchers are learning that some of these ailments that people dismiss as the result of aging may in fact be caused by medication, or an undiagnosed disease or infection. Some studies also have suggested that Covid-19 infection and its treatments can lead to muscle damage, including decreased muscle strength and endurance. (Landro, 11/13)

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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