Category: In the News

GOP Bill Halts in Senate

Remember back in May when the GOP health bill passed in the House? The momentum stopped there.
The Senate failed to pass a GOP-proposed Health Law yesterday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says they’re going to try again early next week, though it doesn’t seem like this will be a promising attempt either. Analysts attribute this to many deep-rooted factors:  the Republican party as a whole not unified behind an action plan other than repealing the ACA, the taking away of funding and resources without a viable exchange, and a severe lack of public hearings and drafting.
Provisions included in a draft of the bill last week including capping funding for Medicaid, and giving states the power to opt out of insurance regulations substantiated in the Affordable Care Act. This fielded much opposition from more moderate Republicans. They cite problems  such as too “deep cuts” to Medicaid, and an insufficient means to account for the expenses of changing the insurance system. This opposition was especially strong in Republican states like Ohio that had expanded Medicaid under the ACA.
Now, Republican Senators are working on re-drafting a “repeal and delay” bill that would phase out aspects of the ACA over a two year time frame–a version of this bill passed in 2015. Of note, the draft of this bill to be debated does not include an amendment proposed by Senator Ted Cruz. According to a report conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, this amendment might actually result in broader coverage and lower premiums. The quality and correctness of this report is already under great criticism by healthcare and insurance analysts.
Sources: The New York Times, Kaiser Health News

Should you get a LARC?

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Since the results of the 2016 election were announced, many online articles, similar to this one have been posted. Women and others are worried that after January 2017, birth control may possibly no longer be covered. This could happen if the Affordable Care Act is completely overturned or replaced or if this particular section of the ACA is interpreted in a different way.

No matter what happens in the future, which we can only speculate on right now, the spotlight has turned increasingly to intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as the contraceptive implant as these methods can last anywhere from 3-12 years depending on the method and can be taken out at any time.

Even if the law does not change, now is the perfect time to learn more about these methods. They are the most effective reversible contraceptives and range from 99.2%-99.8% effectiveness depending on the method and require no user adherence after insertion, and are appropriate for all women (not just those who have already given birth). Learn more about the effectiveness of LARCs and other methods from the CDC. While LARCs do not work for everyone, they are a great option to consider and talk to your healthcare provider about.

The FDA approved a brand new IUD in October, and now there are many methods to keep track of. Below are all of the options for LARC methods currently available in the United States.

ParaGard

  • Non-hormonal (copper)
  • Lasts for 10 years
  • May make your period heavier

Mirena

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 5 years
  • Can help improve painful and heavy periods (lessen bleeding & cramps)

Liletta

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 3 years
  • Can help improve painful and heavy periods (lessen bleeding & cramps)
  • Cheaper than the Mirena

Skyla

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 3 years
  • Slightly smaller than Mirena
  • Will keep getting period

Kyleena

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 5 years
  • Will keep getting period
  • May not be as available as other options (brand-new!)

Implanon

  • Hormonal
  • Inserted under the skin of upper arm
  • Lasts up to 4 years

Learn more about the different LARC options here and talk to your healthcare provider if interested.

Could Your Birth Control be Making You Depressed?

depressed

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Could your birth control be making you depressed? A new study was released a few weeks ago claiming just that.

A nationwide study in Denmark was conducted to analyze the potential link between depression and hormonal birth control. What was found was that users hormonal birth control were more likely than non-users to be prescribed anti-depressants, though the risk is very small. The main conclusion of the study found that use of hormonal contraception, was associated with the subsequent use of anti-depressants and a first diagnosis of depression, and the authors of the study concluded that depression might be a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use. Currently, mood swings, and not clinical depression are listed as a potential adverse effect of hormonal birth control.

When this study was first published, I woke up to see news articles about it posted all over my Facebook timeline and my Twitter feed. Many of the people posting about this study felt vindicated after not feeling believed about how their birth control was making them feel. I also felt like my past bad experiences with hormonal birth control could potentially be explained by this study. For years, doctors had told me that there was no way that my birth control could be making me depressed, but my doctor’s explanation did not seem consistent with how my friends felt on their birth control or how much better I have felt after discontinuing certain methods in the past.

What I also saw online was great dissent and controversy about the study and the reporting about the study online from various news organizations and outlets.

While I did not agree with some of the comments I read online, I do agree that further research needs to be done on this topic, but I am excited that steps are being taken to further understand women’s health, especially in this context, and hope that this study sparks more research and discussion on this topic.

Corporate Integrity Agreements

Throughout the summer I’ve dedicated several posts to the ways that medical and pharmaceutical publishing should be ethically conducted, according to established requirements and guidelines.

However, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that pharmaceutical companies have consistently failed to play by these rules. Headlines such as “GlaxoSmithKline to Plead Guilty and Pay $3 Billion to Resolve Fraud Allegations and Failure to Report Safety Data,” and “Bristol-Myers Squibb to Pay More Than $515 million to Resolve Illegal Drug Marketing and Pricing Allegations,” are proof that these companies are not always committed to high ethical standards of practice.

Although industry standards such as the ICMJE and GPP3 guidelines are almost universally accepted, they are not laws and are therefore not usually enforceable.

However, when pharmaceutical and biotech companies fall under Federal investigation, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) can make them agree to abide by a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) as part of their legal settlement.

These CIAs legally obligate companies to abide by many of the tenets of the previously mentioned guidelines and ensure ethical practice by imposing requirements such as:

  • hiring a compliance officer/appointing a compliance committee
  • developing written standards and policies
  • implementing a comprehensive employee training program
  • retaining an independent review organization (IRO) to conduct annual reviews
  • restricting employment of ineligible persons (people who have been flagged for unethical behavior)
  • providing an implementation report and annual reports to OIG on the status of compliance activities

If a company is non-compliant with their CIA, they risk having their product pulled from the list of products that can be reimbursed through Federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. This loss would be a crippling financial hit to most companies, making compliance with these agreements a high priority.
In this way, the industry can be kept in check and forced to behave in a more ethical manner.

More Education Needed to Support New GMO Law

Just last week, President Obama passed a bill that requires food companies to put a text label, a symbol, or an electronic code on product packages to indicate that they contain genetically modified ingredients, commonly referred to as GMOs. GMOs are simply defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. With more and more consumers demanding more transparency about the food products they buy, and an overwhelming 90% of Americans reporting a desire for mandatory labeling on foods with GMOs, this bill appears to be a win from the consumer side.

However, even though a large portion of consumers believe GMOs are unsafe, recent research has found that a majority of these people don’t really understand what GMOs are. Additionally, there’s conflicting evidence over the risk of consuming GMOs. Many health organizations refer to foods with these ingredients as generally safe, yet other organizations make the case that these ingredients pose a high risk to the consumer.

So, while these labels will provide consumers with information they deserve to know, without an actual understanding of what GMOs are, or a general consensus on their safety, how will they be able to make an informed purchase decision? With the majority of consumers believing GMOs are unsafe, it seems likely that these labels will cause them to abstain from purchasing these products. However, with 75 to 85 percent of foods containing genetically modified ingredients, these products can be pretty hard to avoid.

So overall, while a label can help aid the consumer in making better food choices, it’s clear in this situation that more education and understanding is needed to make this label a truly effective tool.

 

 

 

 

Coffee: Foe or Friend?

Coffee has long been debated about whether or not it’s healthy, particularly since most of us drink it on a daily basis. While some reports have linked it to heart disease and cancer, recent developments are showing that coffee, indeed, is good for your health — or at least the benefits outweigh the risks.

So why the reversal? Well, one explanation, is that previous studies failed to consider that high risk behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, or physical inactivity were likely to be more common among coffee drinkers, and those factors could have resulted in the negative beliefs about coffee consumption.

Most studies are now finding an association between coffee consumption and decreased mortality, in particular, reduced cardiovascular mortality. Other studies have shown that coffee is linked with reducing the occurrences of Parkinson’s disease, type II diabetes, breast cancer, and liver disease, while increasing cognitive function and decreasing depression.

Doctors at the Harvard School of Nutrition say coffee works at minimizing depression not only for its caffeine content, but also by controlling inflammation in the brain through its high number of anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which are also found in fruits and vegetables. By reducing the amount of inflammation, the brain can then produce more serotonin, also known as the “feel good” chemical, which is found in antidepressant medications.

However, doctors say not all coffee is the same, and to look for brands with high amounts of polyphenols. Also, if you’re looking for a healthier way to drink coffee, the suggested daily recommendation is 1-2 cups, so anything over may end up being detrimental, especially if your body doesn’t metabolize it as quickly. Over consumption of coffee can also be linked to increased cholesterol levels and heart disease, so it’s important to drink it in moderation. It’s also suggested to consume more mild blends, as opposed to stronger brews like espresso. And finally, the less sweets you add to your cup o’ Joe, the better. Some sweetened coffee drinks can contain up to 500 calories!

Concerns Grow as More E-Cigarettes Self-Combust

Last week, a Delta flight was delayed after an electronic cigarette ignited in a passenger’s carry-on bag while the aircraft was still on the tarmac. While the bag was safely extinguished and no passengers were harmed, the concern for safety with the use of these battery-operated products is now growing, as this is just one of many recent incidents of it’s kind.

In just the last few months, events of e-cigarettes exploding have been reported in  Washington, KentuckyNevada, Colorado, North Carolina, and Maryland. And while no one was injured on the Delta flight, the majority of these explosions involve serious injuries to users. In one case, a man suffered severe burns when an e-cigarette exploded in his pocket at his local gas station. Another man lost his left eye after his e-cigarette exploded while driving.

While there doesn’t seem to be one specific reason for these product malfunctions, the fact that e-cigarettes are an unregulated product is a potentially major factor of these frequent incidents. Lack of regulation allows users to purchase cheaper, lower quality versions of the product. Additionally, industry-wide manufacturing standards or testing programs do not have to exist, and manufacturers do not have to report any safety hazards that can cause harm or injury.

E-cigarettes not only pose a safety threat, but many health threats as well, and we can only hope that the industry will receive some kind of regulation in the near future. Until then, it is recommended that users do not try to modify the devices in any way, use chargers that aren’t sold with devices, or carry products in their pockets.

 

Women Share Stories to Warn Others of Skin Cancer Risk

Last year, 27-year-old Tawny Willoughby shared a graphic selfie showcasing her skin cancer scars on Facebook to warn others about the dangers of indoor tanning. The viral post received thousands of responses and illustrates the success of Willoughby sharing her story online.

Just last week, another woman, Judy Cloud, is now also sharing graphic selfies which also feature the resulting damage of her two-year battle with skin cancer.

While indoor tanning is a clear cause of both these women’s development of the most common cancer in the United States, not practicing basic sun safety can also contribute to the development of basal or squamous cell carcinoma, or even melanoma. In fact, in addition to indoor tanning, Cloud also admits to getting multiple bad sunburns as a child.

Both these women, who have suffered multiple surgeries and long recovery periods, are hoping that by sharing their stories, people will begin to take the warnings of skin cancer more seriously. I am also hopeful that more men and women who have similar stories will follow both Willoughby and Cloud’s lead. In the meantime, especially with spring break this week, remember to follow these simple sun safety tips:

  • Use sunscreen, and reapply every two hours in the sun.
  • Wear protective clothing and hats when out in the sun for long periods of time.
  • Reduce time in the sun by seeking shade every so often.
  • Wear sunglasses to also protect your eyes from UV rays.

To Celebrate Women’s History Month, Protect Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights

March is Women’s History Month! This month, it is important to remember the past contributions of inspiring women, but it is also important to think about how events taking place right now be remembered during Women’s History Months in the future.

As you may know, on March 2, Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt was argued in front of the Supreme Court. The case focuses on a Texas law that is designed to shut down more than 75% of women’s health clinics that provide abortion services in the state. This case will set the precedent on whether or not safe abortion care will be accessible to individuals throughout the United States. While Texas is at the center of the Supreme Court right now, 17 states in 2015 alone passed more than 50 abortion restrictions known as TRAP laws, and 11 states cut funding to Planned Parenthood. These TRAP laws have been enacted under the guise of “protecting women’s health,” but these laws have mostly placed an additional burden on already vulnerable women and also cut access to family planning clinics and services.

In February, Guttmacher released that the US abortion rate had declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women from the 1981 peak of 29.3 per 1,000 women. An even more recent study from Guttmacher was just released that demonstrates that the unintended pregnancy rate was reduced by 18% between 2008 and 2011, which is the lowest it has been in 30 years. Additionally, 40% of unintended pregnancies in 2011 ended in aborted compared with 40% in 2008. While the abortion rates remained the same, the number of abortions has declined. These two recent studies demonstrate that the decrease in the abortion rate is attributable to the decrease in unintended pregnancies and not restrictions on abortion access.

If you’re interested learning more and haven’t already seen the video, check out John Oliver talking about this very issue. If you are passionate about this issue learn how to join the conversation on social media to support the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The War on Condoms in the Porn Industry

Last week, a California safety board rejected a proposed regulation that would have required porn actors to wear condoms, after only three members of the board voted in favor of the law (four votes were needed for it to pass).

Prior to the vote, industry officials and actors pleaded to the board to reject the regulation, arguing that passing it would either destroy or drive the industry underground. They also argued that pulling the industry underground would essentially eliminate the industry’s own requirement of actors being tested for STDs, putting actors safety at a greater risk.

However, the issue still remains a timely public health concern, especially because a recent CDC report found a porn actor likely infected another performer with HIV while having condom-less sex on a gay porn set, proving that testing alone is inadequate for preventing the spread of STDs.

Because of this, the panel that voted on the regulation is now considering a new worker-safety measure for the porn industry, but the push back from the industry has helped this be an easy task.

What are your thoughts about the regulation? Do you think the two industries can work together to find a happy medium, or is the required use of condoms the only solution?