adams-241x300Our nation’s lethal opioid epidemic is reaching its tentacles right into our paychecks, as employers face rising health insurance costs that crimp their ability to give pay raises to the rest of us.  This is happening even as we are being urged to carry overdose antidotes, just in case.

The independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation reported that its new analysis of large employer insurance claims shows that American businesses paid $2.6 billion in 2016 to treat opioid addiction and overdoses by their covered workers and dependents. That compares to $273 million in 2004, so it’s up ten-fold in a decade.

The costs of caring for opioid abuse skyrocketed, even as employer health insurance saw sharp declines in the number and expense for prescriptions and use of powerful painkillers.

kidtv-300x225If Americans want to battle obesity, including among youngsters, one place to start is avoiding unhealthy food products hawked relentlessly by major league sports advertisers.

Weight woes plague grownups and show no signs of letting up — they’re increasing, instead, with 40 percent of Americans found to be obese in 2015 and 2016, a sharp increase over a decade earlier. The picture’s no prettier for young people, with the latest federal data showing the percentage of children ages 2 to 19 who are obese increased from 14 percent in 1999 to 18.5 percent in 2015 and 2016.

With studies showing that junk food and empty calories contribute significantly to making the nation an excessive waist-land, Vox, an online information site, deserves credit for pointing out how pervasive, insidious, and even accepted it has become for sports fans — especially young enthusiasts — to be barraged by advertising for fast and unhealthful meals, sugar-laden drinks and cereals, and foods full of fats, empty calories, and excess salt.

coveredcalif-300x169Although Republicans have ripped at the health insurance offered under the Affordable Care Act, a less known but also important aspect of Obamacare may soon benefit Californians. This West Coast ACA-related move also may be worth watching by patients and medical safety advocates, as well as employers and insurers.

The Golden State, the San Francisco public radio station KQED reported, soon will tell hospitals that “time’s up” for them to improve their care, and, if they fail to hit new quality and safety targets that will be part of an impending three-year contract with Covered California, the ACA marketplace operator, they will get the boot from Obamacare coverage.

Because bluer-than-blue Democratic California has gone all-in in supporting and putting ACA coverages in place, the state’s Obamacare exchange is big (more than 1 million customers and 11 approved companies) and lucrative — so much so hospitals and insurers can’t ignore the quality demands. They’re neither extreme nor should they be surprising, because state officials emphasize they have consulted with key parties for several years now in the “Smart Care California” collaborative about the plans they intend to put in place.

Seroquel-25mg-300x195In a display of just how corruptive big money has gotten to be in modern medicine, Big Pharma keeps getting dubious doctors to write so-called off-label prescriptions for powerful anti-psychotic medications — no matter their proven harm to patients nor big settlements drug makers have been forced to pay.

The Washington Post deserves credit for its investigative dissection of AstraZeneca and its “blockbuster” product, Seroquel (generic name quetiapine). It’s a medication developed to treat severe cases of schizophrenia.

Instead, as has occurred with several other drugs of its kind, doctors — in response to major marketing and sales campaigns by AstraZeneca — have decided this wallop-packing drug can be given for uses for which there is less or little evidence. The Washington Post says doctors write abundant Seroquel scripts for patients with an “expansive array of ills, including insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and agitation in patients with dementia.”

FAST-infographic-2016-300x169It’s no April Fool joke: Emergency doctors across the country, according to the New York Times, have been defying widely accepted standards of care and withholding a drug that rigorous clinical trials and medical specialists long have recommended for stroke victims.

Administration of the drug, tPA or tissue plasminogen activator, helps to prevent brain injury after a stroke by dissolving the blood clot and opening up the blocked vessel. Neurologists and neurosurgeons as well as cardiologists, have campaigned for its aggressive use within hours after the onset of symptoms.  Indeed, hospitals nationwide have adopted speedy stroke care, including with tPA, under slogans like “Time is Brain.”

The drug’s fast use has become so accepted, the capacity to administer it is a keystone for hospitals to receive a much-sought designation as specialized stroke treatment centers. And though it has long been thought that tPA needed to be given within three or four hours from the start of stroke symptoms, new research funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has opened the strong possibility that many more patients could benefit from tPA and neurosurgery within 16 or even 24 hours after suffering a stroke.

smoke-300x148States may be rushing to legalize marijuana, but common sense, good research, and the law may be lagging. New reports confirm what should be inarguable: Marijuana may have health harms when smoked, and it poses safety risks when used while driving.

With the new and considerable attention paid to cigarette smoking, it’s plain to see that, like tobacco, a key health worry with marijuana rests in its burning and inhalation.

It hasn’t been easy to study due to grass’ legal classifications and, therefore, the restrictions imposed on researchers. But medical scientists at the University of California San Francisco have started to find that dope smoke, direct and second-hand, demonstrates similar or even slightly greater detrimental health effects than tobacco smoke.

Dumpster-300x251Although enthusiasts still wax on about  how technology will improve lives, patients may want to be wary about purported advances that may end up complicating and even compromising crucial parts of their medical care — including how their medical records are kept and how payers decide if they’re covered.

Let’s start with some kudos for dumpster-diving doctors in Canada who discovered flaws in hospitals’ disposal of supposedly confidential and legally protected patient health records. They went around unidentified facilities collecting from various bins a half ton of paper that doctors, nurses, and hospitals were ready to toss.

After examining the piles of paper, they found most private records had been properly handled. But thousands of documents also were not: They were improperly disposed of, and contained identifying or confidential patient treatment information, the researchers found. Though Canada’s patient privacy laws differ from those in the United States, they agree that patient health records must be guarded, and the researchers found violations of practice, policy, and potentially privacy laws.

redfieldPresident Trump’s latest rant  that drug dealers should face capital punishment fell flat in the face of new revelations on what’s going on with the fight against opioid drug overdoses and abuse that have become the leading killer of Americans younger than 50.

It turns out that states have failed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in funding appropriated by Congress to battle the abuse of prescription painkillers, potent synthetic versions like fentanyl, and illicit drugs like heroin.

Politico reported that the Obama Administration, in the 21st Century Cures Act, passed by the Congress and signed into law by the president as 2016 ended, provided more than $1 billion over two years in grants to help states attack the opioid crisis.

medbankruptcy-300x253Illness and accidents batter and beggar Americans worse than many of us realize. New studies show it’s not just the cost of medical services but also long-term care and loss of jobs staggering the lives and finances of too many.

Margot Sanger-Katz, writing in the data-driven New York Times column, “The Upshot,” reported that hospitalization can wreak havoc on Americans older than 50, with many suffering a significant loss in income from which they never recover. This is true, even if they have some financial protection through health insurance. That coverage may soften the blow of medical costs. It doesn’t help them if they can’t return to work, must spend long periods out of work, or must reduce their work hours so they are part-time or less, finds a new study, published in the American Economic Review.

As she wrote:

fda-smoking-300x152The federal Food and Drug Administration has taken a big step on what’s likely to be a long legal path to slash the levels of highly addictive nicotine in cigarettes — a step officials say could save millions of lives and billions of dollars in the years ahead.

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called the agency action “unprecedented,” and said the FDA now will start consulting with medical scientists and policy-makers to figure how to better combat smoking, including with other measures to curb menthol and other flavored cigarettes and premium cigars.

Slashing the acceptable levels for nicotine will be a significant task, if it can be accomplished, as the FDA earlier had said it planned to.

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