Today's News and Commentary

About the public’s health

WHO reveals delayed pick for H3N2 flu vaccine strain: The WHO delayed by about a month its 2019-20 recommendations for flu vaccine coverage to make sure the chosen strains accurately predicted what would be prevalent. The recommended components were issued yesterday. While hopefully more accurate, the wait will cause a delay in manufacturing- so expect availability a bit later than this season’s vaccines.

Read the story

The Missing Diversity in Human Genetic Studies: Genetic analyses are being used as guides to research and treatments for many different conditions. This study found a lack of diversity in the sampling. For example about 78% of genome-wide association studies were done on populations of European origin.

Read the research (Subscription may be required)

Poll: More Americans say too little spending on health: Perhaps you read that headline twice? In a poll by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and General Social Survey staffs, 70% of Americans said we should spend more on “improving and protecting the nation's health.” For comparison, only 52% said we should spend more for law enforcement and infrastructure (highways and bridges).

Read the story

Blue states threaten to drop family planning program over Trump abortion rule: Title X programs provide significant federal funding to states for birth control and reproductive health services for low-income women. But new regulations will pull that funding if centers receiving the money provide or refer out for abortion services. According to the article, “of 23 states, including the District of Columbia, suing over the policy changes, only four told POLITICO they plan to stay in the program, citing concerns about giving up those federal dollars even with strings attached.”

Read the article

A Reason to Be Skeptical of the Workplace Wellness Industry: This research concluded that a comprehensive workplace wellness program didn’t “change employees’ behavior or health care costs in the first year. Employees who took part didn’t become healthier or more productive, and were not more likely to go to the gym or run in a local race. Total health care costs didn’t drop, either.” This study was published in the prestigious Scientific American. I am really surprised it got into print. As someone who has been following workplace wellness programs for many years, I found the following problems with the study: 1) It was based one program in Illinois. Outcomes vary by type of organization and geography. 2) Outcomes vary by specific type of intervention (like exercise, tobacco cessation, etc.); so if overall results, such as costs, are reported, less successful programs can cancel more successful ones, making the entire program seem worthless. 3) Perhaps most importantly, the study was for one year (which the authors noted). Uptake of programs, change in corporate culture that foster them and resultant health effects can take longer.

Read the research and decide on the validity of findings for yourself

About pharma

Bayer is taking collaboration with health care start-ups to the next level: Bayer is now consolidating some of its disparate initiatives in IT into one focus on digital health. Since its launch into this area in 2013, Bayer has supported over 149 digital health companies. The program is called G4A.

Read the article

UPS eyes in-home health services with U.S. vaccine project: In yet another cross-industry activity, UPS is planning to provide at-home flu shots this fall in a venture with Merck. Nurses will go to the homes to administer the vaccines.

Read the story

Drug Company Protections Are Latest Stumbling Block for Nafta Rewrite:As previously reported, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement provides for 10 years of protection for biologics before biosimilars can be introduced. Now House Democrats are threatening to hold up approval of the treaty, claiming this protection is excessive and will continue to contribute to high pharma prices.

Read the article (From the NY Times but appears to be open access)

About devices

A smart toilet seat to detect heart failure?: Engineers at Rochester Institute of Technology have begun preclinical studies using a toilet seat that measures blood pressure, heart rate, oxygenation and cardiac output. The aim is to detect early heart failure in at-risk patients.

Read the story

About insurance

Maryland legislators OK plan to use tax returns to help residents with insurance enrollment: “Seven out of 10 people who are uninsured and qualify for help file Maryland income tax returns.” To take advantage of this finding, the Maryland legislature approved a program to allow people to sign up for insurance on their tax forms. Some states have also proposed allowing signups when renewing drivers licenses.

Read the story

The High Cost of Compliance: Assessing the Regulatory Burden on Inpatient Psychiatric Facilities: Based on a survey of 62 inpatient psychiatric facilities, the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare (NABH) estimated that compliance with three regulatory requirements “impose $1.7 billion in compliance costs each year nationwide. Put another way, these burdens represent 4.8 percent of an average facility’s annual revenue for all inpatient psychiatric services from all sources.” [Emphases in original.] Read the report and form your own opinion if the costs are worthwhile given the protections the rules require.

Read the study

What Characterizes the Marketplaces with One or Two Insurers? An Update: This research from the Urban Institute updates their 2017 report on ACA marketplaces with only one or two plans. Bottom line is that the number of such plans is lower than last year but still not as low as 2017. However, like all other statements about the ACA, geographic differences are pronounced.

Read the research

VA is gearing up for a massive shift of health care to the private sector. But Democrats are fighting back: This article updates a previous post about Democratic opposition to Republican implementation of private options for veterans who have access problems to care. It is a nice summary of the different stakeholders and their stances on the issue.

Read the article (From the Washington Post but appears to be open access)