Thursday, December 15, 2022 – Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News Original Stories
Mass Shootings Reopen the Debate Over Whether Crime Scene Photos Prompt Change or Trauma
After almost every mass shooting, a debate is renewed over whether to publish the photos of the carnage the guns have inflicted. (Lauren Sausser, )
Squeezed by Temp Nurse Costs, Hospital Systems Create Their Own Staffing Agencies
Hospitals have depended on travel nurses to fill shifts, especially during covid surges. Now some larger systems, reeling from high contract labor costs, have created staffing units, aiming to lure nurses who want more work flexibility and better pay than staff RNs get. (Andy Miller, )
Political Cartoon: 'DNA-Fusion?'
Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'DNA-Fusion?'" by Bob and Tom Thaves.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
A charity’s goal
is to care for those in need
patients included
– Allison Krugman
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if we can include your name. Haikus follow the format of 5-7-5 syllables. We give extra brownie points if you link back to a KHN original story.
Opinions expressed in haikus and cartoons are solely the author's and do not reflect the opinions of KHN or KFF.
CMS Takes Aim At Growing Problem Of Misleading Medicare Advantage Ads
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed a rule to ban some deceitful advertising by Medicare Advantage plans that use confusing imagery or language or don't name the health insurance plan's name. The growing number of such ads have led people to sign up for plans that don’t cover their doctors or prescriptions.
AP: Biden Administration Proposes Crackdown On Scam Medicare Ads
The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed a ban on misleading ads for Medicare Advantage plans that have targeted older Americans and, in some cases, convinced them to sign up for plans that don’t cover their doctors or prescriptions. The rule, proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would ban ads that market Medicare Advantage plans with confusing words, imagery or logos. The new regulation would also prohibit ads that don’t specifically mention a health insurance plan by name. (Seitz, 12/14)
Fierce Healthcare: CMS Tackles Medicare Advantage Prior Authorization, Marketing
The Biden administration released a proposal to streamline Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D plan prior authorization and add health equity requirements to star ratings. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule Wednesday outlining policies for MA and Part D plans for the 2024 coverage year and implementing drug price provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act. It is the latest move by the Biden administration to address prior authorization, a key source of administrative burden for doctors, and to address misleading marketing. (King, 12/14)
In other news about Medicare and Social Security —
Truthout: Sanders Vows To Vote Against $858B Defense Bill, Calls For Medicare For All 
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has vowed to vote against the 2023 national defense budget, saying that it is unconscionable to spend that amount on defense when millions across the U.S. are struggling to survive. In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, Sanders said that he is planning to continue his tradition of voting against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) when it soon comes to a vote in the Senate. (Zhang, 12/12)
Crain's Detroit Business: Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Michigan Unveils Big Push That Lets Physicians Take On Risk, Reap Rewards
Six physician groups have inked full-risk reimbursement deals with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for the care of patients under its Medicare Advantage PPO and Blue Care Network Medicare Advantage plans, the state's largest health insurer said Wednesday. A full-risk arrangement puts financial liability on the physicians' organization in exchange for a larger potential reimbursement for high-quality care. (Walsh, 12/14)
CBS News: Social Security COLA 2023 Increase: Here's When You'll Get Your 8.7% Benefit Hike 
The annual  cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA takes effect with the December benefits, but those payments will be made in January 2023, according to the Social Security Administration. With the increase, the average benefit check will rise more than $140 to $1,827 a month, compared with the typical benefit of $1,681 in 2022. The Social Security Administration adjusts payments annually based on the inflation rate, which this year has spiked to its highest levels in four decades. Seniors lost purchasing power during this year since the 5.9% they received in 2022 is well below this year's rise in prices. About 4 in 10 seniors said they drained their emergency savings to stay afloat this year, according to an October survey by the advocacy group the Senior Citizens League. (Picchi, 12/13)
Covid-19 Crisis
Free At-Home Covid Test Kits Again Available Through Federal Website
While warning Americans of a possible winter covid surge, the Biden administration is shifting its dwindling relief funds to open back up for free orders. Every household is eligible for four tests.
CNBC: Biden Administration Makes At-Home Covid Tests Available For Free Again This Winter
The Biden administration is making rapid Covid tests available for free again this winter through a limited round of ordering. Households can now order a total of four rapid Covid tests for free at Orders will start shipping next week, just days before families gather for the Christmas holiday, and deliveries will continue in the following weeks, according to the White House. (Kimball, 12/15)
CNN: White House Warns Of Possible Covid-19 Winter Surge: 'This Is Not One Disease In Isolation' 
For Americans across the country preparing to gather and socialize with family and friends during the end-of-year holiday season, the White House has a clear warning: Covid-19 is not over, and you had better protect yourself. (Lee, 12/15)
USA Today: Detect Inc. COVID Tests Recalled For Potential False Negative Results
The company that made the test kits, Detect, Inc., has recalled three lots of the Detect COVID-19 Test. A total of 11,102 tests shipped to customers from July 26 to August 26 have been recalled. There are over 20 versions of at-home COVID test kits approved by the FDA. Impacted lots from Detect include HB264, HY263 and HY264. (Martin, 12/14)
More on the surge of covid, flu, RSV, and strep —
CNBC: Omicron BQ, XBB Subvariants Are A Serious Threat To Boosters And Knock Out Antibody Treatments, Study Finds
The omicron subvariants that have become dominant in recent months present a serious threat to the effectiveness of the new boosters, render antibody treatments ineffective and could cause a surge of breakthrough infections, according to a new study. (Kimball, 12/14)
The Boston Globe: Flu And RSV Arrived Earlier And Hit Harder This Year. Could COVID Be To Blame?
Instead, [covid's] been eclipsed by two more familiar foes — RSV and the flu — which both arrived early and, in some cases, hit harder than usual. Now scientists are trying to understand why. Their theories range from an immunity gap brought on by pandemic precautions, to the way the three respiratory viruses interact, to how COVID infections have impacted people’s immune systems. The answers will determine whether the unusual virus behavior is a blip or the new normal, and may inform ongoing debates about the benefits of mask-wearing. (Bartlett, 12/14)
NBC News: Hospitals Report Rises In Invasive Strep A Infections Among Kids
Several children's hospitals in the U.S. have detected increases in invasive group A strep infections, a severe and sometimes life-threatening illness that occurs when bacteria spread to areas of the body that are normally germ-free, such as the bloodstream. Children's hospitals in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Washington told NBC News they are seeing higher-than-average numbers of cases this season compared to past years. (Bendix, 12/14)
Las Vegas Review-Journal: Nevada COVID Surge Continues; Masks Recommended For Some
New COVID-19 cases in Clark County and statewide continued to increase this week but at a slower rate, while hospitalizations dipped, new state data shows. For the second week in a row, Clark County is experiencing medium community levels of COVID-19 — a federal designation based on cases and hospitalizations — after resting for months at low levels. (Hynes, 12/14)
Bloomberg: Should I Wear A Mask? SUNY Purchase Brings Back Mandate To Fight Tripledemic
Purchase College, part of the State University of New York system, mandated masking indoors as respiratory viruses have been spreading rapidly in the state and around the country. (John Milton, 12/14)
US Deaths Down 7% Over Last Year, But Still Higher Than Before Pandemic
Based on trends for the first 11 months of this year, the country is on track for its first annual death decline since 2009. But the numbers still look to be 19% higher than they were in 2019, before covid struck.
AP: US Deaths Fell This Year, But Not To Pre-COVID Levels 
The number of U.S. deaths dropped this year, but there are still more than there were before the coronavirus hit. Preliminary data — through the first 11 months of the year — indicates 2022 will see fewer deaths than the previous two COVID-19 pandemic years. Current reports suggest deaths may be down about 3% from 2020 and about 7% vs. 2021. (Stobbe, 12/14)
In related news —
CIDRAP: Global COVID Activity Remains Stable, But Deaths On The Rise
Global COVID-19 cases remained steady last week for the third week in a row, though deaths rose and infection levels in the Americas, especially the United States, continued to rise, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in its latest snapshot of the pandemic. (Schnirring, 12/14)
Bloomberg: Long-Covid Immune Effects Seen Linked With High Global Deaths
Virus-damaged organs and compromised immune systems are just part of Covid’s public-health legacy; there’s also a litany of secondary effects still being measured, ranging from increases in mental illness to delays in getting cancer treatment. Some doctors also blame Covid for worsening the effects of other diseases, as with the cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus now mobbing children’s hospitals. (Gale, 12/14)
On the vaccine rollout —
The Hill: Fauci Responds To DeSantis’s Call For COVID-19 Vaccine Investigation
Outgoing White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that he “doesn’t have a clue” what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hopes to accomplish by calling for a state grand jury investigation into alleged “crimes” related to COVID-19 vaccines.  “I don’t have a clue … what he’s asking for. I mean, we have a vaccine that, unequivocally, is highly effective and safe and has saved literally millions of lives,” Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told CNN’s Kate Bolduc. (Mueller, 12/14)  
NBC News: Two Years After Covid Vaccines Came Out, Researchers Push For New Options
The U.S. is currently recording around 430 Covid deaths per day, on average, according to NBC News’ tally. That includes many people who received at least two Covid shots: Six in 10 adults who died of Covid in August were vaccinated or boosted, according to a report by KFF, a nonprofit health think tank. And for the most part, vaccinated people don’t avoid infections or reinfections anymore. (Bendix, 12/14)
In other pandemic news —
Fox News: COVID Origins 'May Have Been Tied' To China's Bioweapons Program: GOP Report
Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee are alleging in a newly released report that there are "indications" that COVID-19 could be tied to China’s biological weapons research program and "spilled over" to the general human population during an incident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Sabes and Laco, 12/14)
Roll Call: Post-Pandemic, CDC Faces ‘Uphill Battle’ For Backing In New Congress
Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's flaws have never been more public or politicized, and the agency’s director wants to seize this moment to overhaul the agency, making it more nimble and responsive to public health emergencies. But there's one major problem — she needs Congress' help. And she is losing key allies. (Cohen, 12/15)
Reuters: WHO Chief Hopes COVID Will No Longer Be Emergency Next Year 
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday he is "hopeful" that the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be considered a global emergency some time next year. … A WHO body meets every few months to decide whether the new coronavirus, which emerged three years ago in China's Wuhan and has killed more than 6.6 million people, still represents a "public health emergency of international concern" (PHEIC). (Farge, 12/14)
Coverage And Access
Patients' Out-Of-Pocket Health Spending Spiked 10% in 2021: CMS
This level of growth rate, Axios reports, hasn't been seen since 1985 and was driven partly by demand for dental services, eyeglasses, and medical supplies. Modern Healthcare reports total U.S. health care spending hit $4.3 trillion in 2021, up just 2.7% from the year before.
Axios: Patients' Health Care Spending Spiked In 2021
Americans' out-of-pocket health spending rose 10.4% in 2021, a growth rate not seen since 1985 that was driven in part by demand for dental services, eyeglasses and medical supplies, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' annual National Health Expenditures report. (Owens, 12/15)
Modern Healthcare: Healthcare Spending Hit $4.3T In 2021 But Growth Slowed
U.S. healthcare spending totaled $4.3 trillion in 2021, an increase of just 2.7% from a year earlier as COVID-19 relief funding waned, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said Wednesday. Healthcare spending jumped 10.3% in 2020—the largest growth rate since 1984—when the federal government distributed $193.1 billion designed to offset providers’ losses related to the pandemic. (Kacik, 12/14)
In other health care industry news —
Modern Healthcare: Moody's: More Healthcare Organizations At Risk Of Credit Downgrades
Twenty-five North American entities across the hospital, pharmaceutical, medical device and healthcare services sectors have been downgraded this year to B3- or lower, according to Moody’s Investor Services. A report from Moody’s called it “a material deterioration in the sector’s credit quality.” Besides economic factors, legislation like the No Surprises Act and opioids-related litigation are also creating more risk. (Hudson, 12/14)
Stat: Health Companies Are Hiring Their First Chief Health Equity Officers
A string of high-profile health companies like Teladoc and CVSHealth have hired their first chief health equity officers this year as the industry grapples with troubling health disparities. But the people in these prominent positions — and the ones hiring them — say they’re still defining the role, and in some cases, fighting for buy-in and resources from others in their organizations. (Ravindranath, 12/15)
Modern Healthcare: SCAN Group, CareOregon Plan Merger Into HealthRight Group
Nonprofit health insurers SCAN Group and CareOregon plan to merge and create a $6.8 billion company focused on government health programs, the companies announced Wednesday. (Tepper, 12/14)
The New York Times: How A Sprawling Hospital Chain Ignited Its Own Staffing Crisis 
At a hospital in a Chicago suburb last winter, there were so few nurses that psychiatric patients with Covid were left waiting a full day for beds, and a single aide was on hand to assist with 32 infected patients. Nurses were so distraught about the inadequate staffing that they banded together to file formal complaints every day for more than a month. About 300 miles away, at a hospital outside Flint, Mich., similar scenes were unfolding. Chronic understaffing meant that patients languished in dried feces, while robots replaced nursing assistants who would normally sit with mentally impaired patients. (Robbins, Thomas and Silver-Greenberg, 12/15)
CNBC: Here's How Health Insurance Is Helping To Cool Inflation
In an environment of high inflation, health insurance costs are doing the opposite: They’ve begun to deflate, and are poised to continue dropping each month until fall 2023, economists predict. Health insurance prices fell by 4% in October and 4.3% in November, according to the consumer price index, a key measure of inflation. (Iacurci, 12/14)
KHN: Squeezed By Temp Nurse Costs, Hospital Systems Create Their Own Staffing Agencies
Like many nurses these days, Alex Scala got a big pay hike when she switched jobs recently. Scala also received a welcome mix of assignments when she joined Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network. She signed on with a newly created team that works shifts in various units within the system’s 14 hospitals. (Miller, 12/15)
Also —
The Washington Post: For New NCI Director, Work Turns Personal: She Is Diagnosed With Cancer 
Last summer, when Boston cancer surgeon Monica M. Bertagnolli heard she might be selected to lead the National Cancer Institute, she asked a friend whether she would be able to do the job. It was a disarming display of humility from an accomplished professional who has removed gastrointestinal tumors as big as pumpkins and herded not only Black Angus cattle on a Wyoming ranch but also thousands of strong-minded oncologists conducting clinical trials. Bertagnolli said her friend gave her a vote of confidence, adding, “You are kind of annoying — you never take no for an answer.” (McGinley, 12/14)
Opioid Crisis
After Record Pandemic Highs, Drug Overdose Death Rate Slows
CDC data suggests that over 107,000 overdose deaths occurred in the year until July 2022, marking the fourth month in a row that rolling 12 month totals fell. But as a report in the Boston Globe notes, Massachusetts data show that the opioid crisis is still ongoing and deaths still happen.
CBS News: Drug Overdose Deaths Slow After Reaching Record Highs In 2021, CDC Data Shows
The rate of drug overdose deaths has slowed from record-high levels, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimated that there have been 107,735 predicted overdose deaths in the 12-month period that ended on July 2022. (Breen, 12/14)
The Boston Globe: ‘We’re Not Out Of The Woods’: Opioid-Related Deaths Declined This Year, But Just Slightly
The devastating toll of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts may have started to abate this year, after reaching an all-time high in 2021, according to new data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The twice-yearly report, released Wednesday, shows mortality dropped by 1.5 percent in the first nine months of 2022 compared to the same period last year. (Freyer, 12/14)
Also —
CBS News: Top Justice Department Official Calls On Social Media Companies To Do More As Teens Die From Fentanyl
The Drug Enforcement Administration says it is investigating more than 120 cases that involve social media. The agency has issued a warning about emoji code language dealers use to target young buyers. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who oversees the DEA, says fentanyl is the agency's top priority. (O'Donnell, Hastey, Morse and Yilek, 12/14)
The Wall Street Journal: The Tragic Rise Of Fentanyl, Mapped
In just a few years, illicit fentanyl has pushed America’s drug fatalities to a record, reaching into every corner and demographic group in the country. (Rust and Kamp, 12/14)
The Washington Post: Five Down In Apt. 307: Mass Fentanyl Deaths Test A Colorado Prosecutor
From the doorway of Apt. 307, District Attorney Brian Mason could see the five bodies inside. They lay awkwardly on the floor and couch, their arms and legs contorted — a sign of sudden collapse. A man in jeans and closest to the door was splayed on his back, his left leg bent at an odd angle. Not far from him, a woman with long brown hair was slumped on the kitchen floor, her face pressed against a lower cupboard. Another woman, in a black sweatshirt, lay just past the kitchen counter nearby. On a love seat toward the back of the room, a man sat frozen. A woman in a gray T-shirt had toppled over him, her head resting on his chest. Blood dripped from their faces. (Horwitz, Kornfield, Miroff and Rich, 12/15)
New Hampshire Public Radio: N.H. To Receive $15 Million From Walmart For Opioid Crisis Recovery And Treatment
Attorney General John Formella announced Wednesday that New Hampshire will receive $15.5 million from Walmart over the next year to fund recovery services and treatment for people living with opioid use disorder. The agreement is part of a national settlement with the supermarket and pharmacy chain that alleges Walmart contributed to the opioid crisis by not properly overseeing the dispensing of the medications at its pharmacies. (Furukawa, 12/14)
After Roe V. Wade
Antiabortion Group Plans City Water Tests For Abortion Drug Evidence
The Washington Post reports on efforts by a leading antiabortion group to jail people for "trafficking" abortion medication illegally, including testing water in several large cities for evidence they say results from the process. In Montana, justices are considering if nurses could provide abortions.
The Washington Post: Antiabortion Movement Seeks To Jail People For ‘Trafficking’ Illegal Pills 
The largest antiabortion organization in Texas has created a team of advocates assigned to investigate citizens who might be distributing abortion pills illegally. Students for Life of America, a leading national antiabortion group, is making plans to systematically test the water Erin Brockovich-style in several large U.S. cities, searching for contaminants they say result from medication abortion. (Kitchener, 12/14)
AP: Montana Justices Weigh If Some Nurses Can Provide Abortions
Advanced practice registered nurses in Montana should be allowed to provide abortions based on a state Supreme Court ruling that guarantees residents the right to get a legal abortion from a health care provider of the patient’s choice, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights argued Wednesday. (Hanson, 12/15)
AP: Tennesseans Misunderstand Abortion Law, Want Exceptions 
Most registered voters in Tennessee want exceptions for rape or incest in the state’s sweeping abortion ban, but they largely don’t know the specifics of what’s in the law as it stands today, according to new Vanderbilt University polling. The disconnect comes in a state that votes consistently for Republicans and has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. Three out of four people polled think that abortion should be legal if the pregnancy results from rape or incest, an exception that doesn’t exist in current law. But fewer than 1 in 5 were able to pick which of the statements Vanderbilt provided that most closely described the current abortion law’s requirements, according to Vanderbilt pollsters. (Mattise, 12/14)
Also —
Axios: Dobbs Decision Is "Devastating" U.S. Maternal Health, Biden Administration Says
The Supreme Court's Dobbs decision to end the constitutional right to abortion has been "devastating" to maternal health and widened gaps in care as the U.S. grapples with the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, Biden administration officials said Tuesday. (Gonzalez, 12/14)
Axios: Democrats Look To Protect Fertility Treatments In Post-Roe Era
Democrats are moving to protect access to fertility treatments in anticipation of a raft of bills bestowing legal rights on fetuses that are expected to be introduced in state legislatures next year. (Gonzalez, 12/15)
Lifestyle and Health
Report Shows Screening Catches Just 1 In 7 Diagnosed Cancers
A report shows the vast majority of diagnosed cancers in the U.S. are found through symptoms or through medical imaging or care sought for other reasons, rather than preventive screenings. Also in the news: the Find It Early Act for breast cancer detection; expanding kids' BMI charts to match obesity levels; and more.
CNN: Only 14% Of Diagnosed Cancers In The US Are Detected By Screening, Report Says
A small proportion – 14.1% – of all diagnosed cancers in the United States are detected by screening with a recommended screening test, according to a new report. The remaining diagnosed cancers tend to be found when someone has symptoms or seeks imaging or medical care for other reasons, suggests the report, posted online Wednesday by researchers at the nonprofit research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. (Howard, 12/14)
WSHU: Rosa DeLauro Joins Katie Couric To Introduce Breast Cancer Bill
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, joined award-winning journalist Katie Couric on Tuesday to introduce new legislation that would improve detection of breast cancer. The Find It Early Act aims to ensure all insurance providers cover mammograms, breast ultrasounds and breast MRIs without copayments or deductibles. (Warner, 12/14)
In pediatric news —
Bloomberg: CDC Expands Children’s BMI Charts To Include Levels Of Severe Obesity
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding charts that doctors use to track kids’ growth and development to include Body Mass Index as high as 60. The agency said it was making the change “to enable consistent, meaningful tracking” as severe obesity among children increases, to 6.1% of children in 2018 from about 1% in the early 1970s. (Court, 12/15)
In other health and wellness news —
The Washington Post: Blind And Disabled Veterans Can’t Access VA Websites, Report Says 
Despite the fact that 27 percent of all veterans have a service-connected disability — and more than 1 million veterans are blind or have low vision — only 8 percent of VA’s public-facing websites and 6 percent of its internal sites are fully compliant with federal accessibility law, according to the report released Wednesday. (Morris, 12/14)
USA Today: Parkinson's Disease More Common Than Previously Thought, Study Shows
Parkinson's disease strikes nearly 90,000 older Americans a year, 30,000 more than was previously estimated, according to a study published Thursday. Incidence rates differed across the country. States with higher rates of older residents saw more diagnoses of the disease, whose risk typically increases with age, but so did some "Rust Belt" states in the Northeast and Midwest that have a history of heavy industry manufacturing. (Weintraub, 12/15)
Axios: HIV Treatment PrEP Drugs Get "A" Grade From U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Amid Challenges
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on Tuesday recommended prescribing medications that prevent HIV to adolescents and adults who are at increased risk for acquiring the virus. A draft document to give pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, the task force's highest recommendation for an "A" grade comes as compulsory coverage for the treatment, as well as the task force's very existence, are both being challenged in federal court. (Dreher, 12/14)
The Washington Post: Does Exercise Really Help Aging Brains? New Study Raises Questions
Exercise and mindfulness training did not improve older people’s brain health in a surprising new study published this week in JAMA. The experiment, which enrolled more than 580 older men and women, looked into whether starting a program of exercise, mindfulness — or both — enhanced older people’s abilities to think and remember or altered the structure of their brains. (Reynolds, 12/14)
Bloomberg: Ebola Virus: Two Vaccines Show Lasting Immune Response In Study 
Two shots that protect against Ebola virus yielded immune responses lasting for at least a year, according to a study suggesting they might keep the virus at bay for the long-term. (John Milton, 12/14)
Gun Violence
10 Years After Sandy Hook: How Gun Violence Has — And Hasn't — Changed America
In a statement Wednesday marking the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre of 20 elementary school students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Joe Biden said Americans have a "moral obligation to pass and enforce laws that can prevent these things from happening again." Meanwhile, the parents of those killed push through their unspeakable grief with the hope that their children won't be forgotten.
NBC News: 10 Years After Sandy Hook, Biden Says Americans Should Have 'Societal Guilt' Over Gun Violence
Marking a decade since the Sandy Hook school massacre, President Joe Biden said Wednesday the United States must do more to tackle the nation's gun violence epidemic and people should have "societal guilt" for taking too long to address it. Biden said in a statement that 10 years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, "the unthinkable happened," when 20 young children and six educators were killed at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Survivors "still carry the wounds of that day," he said. (Shabad, 12/14)
The Hill: On Sandy Hook’s Anniversary, ATF Director Calls Number Of Shootings In US ‘Wholly Un-American’ 
Steve Dettelbach, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), in marking the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on Wednesday, called the amount of gun violence in the United States “un-American” and vowed to keep up the work of the Biden administration in preventing gun violence. “It is wholly unlawful and it is wholly un-American for this level of firearm violence to be going on. So, what I say to … people out there who are railing against this, keep using your voices, we’re with you on this. We have to do better,” he said in an interview with The Hill at ATF headquarters. (Gangitano, 12/14)
AP: A Decade After Sandy Hook, Grief Remains But Hope Grows
They would have been 16 or 17 this year. High school juniors. The children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 should have spent this year thinking about college, taking their SATs and getting their driver’s licenses. Maybe attending their first prom. Instead, the families of the 20 students and six educators slain in the mass shooting will mark a decade without them Wednesday. December is a difficult month for many in Newtown, the Connecticut suburb where holiday season joy is tempered by heartbreak around the anniversary of the nation’s worst grade school shooting. For former Sandy Hook students who survived the massacre, guilt and anxiety can intensify. For the parents, it can mean renewed grief, even as they continue to fight on their lost children’s behalf. (Collins, 12/13)
CNN: Sandy Hook Parents Continue To Push For Changes In The Decade Since The School Shooting
They were living ordinary and full lives in the small New England town of Newtown, Connecticut, unprepared for the devastation that would unfold and occupy the rest of their days. … A month after the shooting, Mark Barden, Nicole Hockley and other parents who lost children that day launched Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to protecting children from gun violence. (Simon, 12/14)
NBC News: 10 Years After Sandy Hook Shooting, Gun Safety Movement Highlights Major Wins
As killing sprees have become more frequent and public support for tougher firearm laws has grown, the apparent invincibility of the gun lobby on Capitol Hill has shown cracks. Congress passed the first federal gun safety law in 30 years in June to tighten background checks and offer "red flag" grants for states that allow families and police to try to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people before they commit violence. On the state level, 525 “significant gun safety laws” have been adopted in the decade since Sandy Hook, according to a new report by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the advocacy group led by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who survived a shooting in January 2011. (Kapur, 12/13)
The Guardian: Sandy Hook’s Tragic Legacy On Gun Safety Takes A New Turn 10 Years On 
“For most of the decade before Sandy Hook, the gun lobby got whatever they wanted,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told the Guardian. “For the 10 years after Sandy Hook, it was slow progress on behalf of the gun safety movement, but it was largely just gridlock … This summer, we showed that we now are more powerful.” (Greve, 12/14)
USA Today: Sandy Hook School Psychologist Died Confronting Gunman. 10 Years Later, Her Husband Still Fights For Change
Bill Sherlach knew his wife for 36 years and three days. He first laid eyes on her at a college Christmas party, and the holidays became their special time. But a gunman shattered it all the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, when he stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 young children and six staff members, including Sherlach's wife, Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist. A decade later, Sherlach still lives in the same house. He works the same job. He sits in a similar office. (Hauck, 12/14)
NPR: 10 Years After Sandy Hook, A Family Finds Bits Of Joy Amid Shards Of Pain
To Jen Hensel, one of the big things about marking 10 years, is making it 10 years. "Yeah, we're here," she sighs. "I honestly think that's quite a remarkable accomplishment. I feel like I'm living again, which I wasn't for a really long time. And I needed to do that for my children." It's a choice Hensel makes over and over again every day — to hone in amid her hurt on what she calls the bits of beauty. (Smith, 12/14)
In related news about gun violence —
KHN: Mass Shootings Reopen The Debate Over Whether Crime Scene Photos Prompt Change Or Trauma
John Lites was one of the first police officers to respond to a 911 call from Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, when a white gunman murdered nine Black people attending a Bible study. Lites arrived at the scene only minutes after the first emergency call was placed. He held one of the victim’s hands as the man died. Lites then stood guard inside the fellowship hall all night — remaining even through a bomb threat — to prevent people who didn’t need to be there from entering the room. “I didn’t want anyone else to see it,” Lites said. “I was totally traumatized.” (Sausser, 12/15)
The 19th: Club Q Survivors Tie Anti-LGBTQ+ Rhetoric To Shooting In House Testimony
Matthew Haynes, founding co-owner of Club Q in Colorado Springs, says he’s witnessed several kinds of anti-LGBTQ+ hate in the wake of the mass shooting there last month that left five people dead. There’s visceral hate, which he says the club, a longtime queer community space, has received through hundreds of vitriol-filled emails and letters since the shooting took place. Then there’s the “subtle hate” — which he identifies as legislation and leaders not respecting LGBTQ+ people or families, and in Republicans who did not vote for the just-signed Respect for Marriage Act. (Rummler, 12/14)
Mental Health
School Administrators, Parents Say Student Mental Health Isn't Improving
A survey by a school mental health service that shows more than half of respondents think the issue of student mental health is either worse or the same as last year. Another study finds that more U.S. teens were hospitalized for mental illnesses during the pandemic.
Axios: Poll Finds Youth Mental Health Crisis Is Not Getting Better
Almost every school administrator believes the mental health challenges their students face are moderate to severe, with more than half saying conditions either worsened or haven't improved in the last year. (Moreno, 12/14)
CIDRAP: More US Teens Hospitalized For Mental Illness During Pandemic 
Yesterday in JAMA Network Open, a study of adolescents admitted to eight children's hospitals for mental illness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic reveals a steep increase in the monthly proportion of hospitalizations tied to psychological issues after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States but not in France. (Van Beusekom, 12/14)
AP: Report: TikTok Boosts Posts About Eating Disorders, Suicide
TikTok’s algorithms are promoting videos about self-harm and eating disorders to vulnerable teens, according to a report published Wednesday that highlights concerns about social media and its impact on youth mental health. Researchers at the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate created TikTok accounts for fictional teen personas in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The researchers operating the accounts then “liked” videos about self-harm and eating disorders to see how TikTok’s algorithm would respond. (Klepper, 12/15)
Bay Area News Group: Stephen "TWitch" Boss' Suicide Part Of Alarming U.S. Trend
A preliminary autopsy report shows that Boss, 40, was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room Tuesday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Daily Beast and Los Angeles Times reported. This news about the dancer, husband and father of three comes at a time when public health officials have documented an alarming increase in the rate of firearm suicides in recent years. (Ross, 12/14)
CNN: Suicide Prevention: Signs, Risk Factors And How To Help
Suicide is a leading cause of death among children and adults, but spotting risk factors and warning signs isn’t easy. Nearly 46,000 people in the United States died by suicide in 2020, which is about one death every 11 minutes, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Rogers, 12/15)
PBS NewsHour: Loneliness Can Affect Physical And Mental Health. An Expert Shares Ways To Combat It This Holiday Season
A 2021 study from Morning Consult found that 58 percent of Americans are lonely. Some are lonely by circumstance and others by choice, but Dr. Jeremy Nobel, who teaches a class on loneliness at Harvard, says societal expectations play a role in loneliness during the holiday season. (Rasnic, Kuhn and Ellis, 12/14)
AP: Youngkin Wants Major New Funding For Mental Health Services 
Virginia needs a major new investment in funding for behavioral health care services, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a speech Wednesday, pledging to spend the rest of his time in office working to transform a system he said faces a “crisis” of people in need. (Rankin, 12/14)
Bloomberg: Headspace Meditation App Cuts 50 Workers, Or 4% Of Staff 
Headspace Health, the maker of a popular meditation and mental-health mobile app, cut about 50 jobs, or 4% of its workforce, the latest internet startup to scale back as funding dries up and economic growth decelerates. (Anand, 12/14)
If you are in need of help —
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Public Health
Special Report: Hepatitis C Is Killing More Than 150 Inmates Yearly
Stat reports on numerous hepatitis C deaths occurring in prisons, despite the existence of a cure. Elsewhere in its special report, it also says that prisons hide causes of death, but that as the cost of treatments for hep C are falling, some prisons are actually treating affected prisoners "widely."
Stat: Hundreds Of Incarcerated People Are Dying Of Hepatitis C, Despite A Cure
John Ritchie shouldn’t have died. He knew he had hepatitis C. And he knew, too, about the simple, once-daily pills that could fully cure him of the potentially deadly viral infection in about 12 weeks. But Ritchie was serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery, and the Missouri Department of Corrections refused to treat him. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: Despite Disclosure Rules, Prisons Hide Causes Of Deaths Behind Bars
It’s virtually impossible to get information from states and correctional facilities about why people die in prison. For more than two years, STAT endeavored to document the number of incarcerated people who died due to complications from hepatitis C, part of a broad investigation into prisons’ failures to prevent avoidable death and suffering related to the condition. Prison systems fought our attempts at every turn. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: These 8 States Are Doing The Worst Job Of Treating Hep C In Prisons
In 2022, whether an incarcerated person gets cured of hepatitis C is largely determined by where they’re locked up. If you’re sentenced for breaking a state law in most of middle America, you’re likely out of luck. Iowa treated less than 4% of its hepatitis C-positive prison population last year with the new class of curative antiviral pills. South Dakota has a policy on the books that blocks treatment for anyone who doesn’t have serious liver damage. And Nebraska even forces people to sign forms acknowledging these drugs might not work — when they almost always do. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: Grieving An Incarcerated Person’s Death Adds To A Painful Process
The only thing worse than caring for a sick loved one in prison is watching them die of a treatable condition, like hepatitis C. Families feel helpless as the symptoms escalate — the swelling, the jaundice, the confusion — all from an infection they know could be cured with a short course of treatment with a pill, if only he or she wasn’t incarcerated. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: The Courts Are Still Catching Up To Hepatitis C Care In Prisons
The final years of Carl Hoffer’s life were, in his words, “living hell.” His legs were so swollen they’d crack and leak white fluid. When he was hospitalized in August 2016, hospital staff used a needle to drain 7 liters of fluid from his abdomen. By the end, he could only move with the help of a wheelchair, and he’d often have accidents because he lacked the energy to get to the bathroom. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: A Typewriter Lawsuit Ensured Hep C Treatment In Prison For Idaho
When he took on the state department of corrections, Phil Turney didn’t have a computer, let alone internet access. For two weeks, hunched around bankers boxes in the Idaho State Correctional Center’s multipurpose room, he toiled on his Smith Corona Wordsmith 200 typewriter, lifting legalese from a copy of the Prisoner’s Self-Help Litigation Manual and an earlier lawsuit in Minnesota. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: Getting Hepatitis C Treatment Opens New Doors For The Incarcerated
For the prisoners who receive it, hepatitis C treatment is more than a cure. It offers a second chance, an opportunity to live long enough to get out of prison and become a productive member of the community. (Florko, 12/15)
Stat: As Hep C Drug Prices Drop, Some Prisons Are Treating Widely
State prison systems say they can’t afford to cure everyone with hepatitis C. The drug, even after a dramatic price drop, is still expensive. But several states have recently figured out how to make the math work. (Florko, 12/15)
Health Policy Research
Research Roundup: CRISPR; Covid; Cluster Headaches; Cardiac Tissues
Each week, KHN compiles a selection of recently released health policy studies and briefs.
ScienceDaily: CRISPR Technology Improves Huntington's Disease Symptoms In Models 
By directly targeting RNA, researchers were able to eliminate toxic protein buildup that causes the progressive neurodegenerative condition while not significantly disrupting other human genes. (University of California – San Diego, 12/12)
CIDRAP: Delaying Surgery After COVID May Lower Risk Of Cardiac Complications 
Vanderbilt University researchers have found a link between delaying surgery after COVID-19 infection and a lower risk of major postoperative cardiovascular complications today in JAMA Network Open. (Van Beusekom, 12/14)
CIDRAP: Study Shows A Third Of Zambian Corpses Positive For COVID-19 
A new study from Boston University School of Public Health researchers shows 90% of corpses in a Zambian morgue were positive for COVID-19 during peak transmission, but only 10% of the individuals tested positive while alive. The study, published in BMJ Open, found that the overall postmortem positivity rate was 32%. (Soucheray, 12/14)
ScienceDaily: Are People With Cluster Headaches More Likely To Have Other Illnesses? 
People with cluster headaches may be more than three times more likely to have other medical conditions such as heart disease, mental disorders and other neurologic diseases, according to a new study. (American Academy of Neurology, 12/14)
Hawaii News Now: FDA Collaborative Study In Human Cardiac Tissues Demonstrates Potential To Predict Clinical Efficacy Of Cardiac Contractility Modulation Devices To Treat Heart Failure
Valo Health, Inc ("Valo") shared the initial results of a collaborative study with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), demonstrating the potential of Valo's Biowire platform to predict clinical efficacy of Cardiac Contractility Modulation devices to treat heart failure. The study, which is part of a five-year research collaboration between Valo and the FDA was published by the research team in a recent issue of Frontiers in Physiology. (12/14)
Editorials And Opinions
Viewpoints: Covid Control Measures Caused Immunity Debt; How To Cope With A Kid Whose Cough Has Lingered
Editorial writers examine these public health issues.
The Boston Globe: Unintended Consequence Of COVID Control Measures — Kids Without Immunity 
There’s a phrase often used by pediatricians and parents when discussing the infectious risks and benefits of daycare versus in-home care for pre-school age children: Pay now or pay later. (Shira Doron, Elissa Perkins and Westyn Branch-Elliman, 12/15)
The New York Times: The New Etiquette Of Kids And Coughs 
My younger daughter and I both had the flu a few weeks ago. It seemed inevitable that my household wouldn’t escape the 2022 “tripledemic” — the end-of-year collision of flu, R.S.V. and Covid-19. (Jessica Grose, 12/14)
USA Today: COVID Tests, Treatments Like Paxlovid Must Get To Developing Nations
The threat posed by COVID-19 has not gone away, but we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, with new tools that can prevent severe illness. At this time of reflection, however, we must ask why these avenues remain the preserve of the richest. (Angel Gurria, 12/15)
The New York Times: An Unvaccinated Military Puts Our National Security At Risk
Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. military is vaccinated against Covid-19. That success is due, in large part, to a summer of 2021 decision by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that mandatory vaccination was “necessary to protect the force and defend the American people.” (Max Rose, 12/15)
Bloomberg: We Need A Public Health Campaign Against Teen Marijuana Use
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to teen drug and alcohol use. The good news is that fewer teens are drinking, a trend that has been steadily improving over the last two decades. The negative is that cannabis seems to be picking up alcohol’s slack. (Lisa Jarvis, 12/14)
CNN: We're On Opposite Sides Of The Abortion Debate But We Agree On This
Congress has the chance to enact groundbreaking legislation, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), that would close a dangerous gap in protections for pregnant workers. (Erika Bachiochi, Reva Siegel, Daniel Williams and Mary Ziegler, 12/14)
Columbus Dispatch: Why Do Ohio EMS Companies Want Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Increase?
West Virginia increased their Medicaid reimbursement rates for private ambulances. This is a major milestone that will provide West Virginia’s more than 200 ambulance providers with an additional $11.8 million in reimbursements per year. (Darin Robinaugh, 12/15)
Stat: Paid Sick Leave Is Good For Workers And For Public Health
The fight to expand access to paid sick leave continues even after President Biden decided not to include more than one day of paid sick leave in the recently “settled” contract for rail workers. (Devan Hawkins, 12/14)
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