epipen-300x119Big Pharma’s rapacious profit-seeking can seem to hit no bounds, even if it afflicts millions: Just consider what federal and state regulators are mulling about the makers of a popular anti-allergy therapy and those who supply a critical diabetes medication.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has replied to Bloomberg News Service that, so far, in 2017, it has recorded 228 reports of EpiPen or EpiPen Jr. failures, and the failure of EpiPens to deploy correctly has been cited in seven deaths through mid-September.

The agency said it is monitoring closely these “adverse event complaints.” These are unconfirmed reports that do not necessarily tie a product to a harm. But they might constitute sufficient grounds to investigate further and to potentially order product recalls, though, so far, the FDA says it believes patients can keep using EpiPens on the market without worry.

bowser-240x300Even as District of Columbia officials struggle with deepening woes at the United Medical Center (UMC), advocates from a national, independent, and nonprofit group have offered a dim review of hospitals in the DC area.

The bad news keeps piling on at UMC, a leading provider of medical care for communities of color in the District’s Southeast area and in Prince George’s County, Md.

To its credit, the sometimes locally slumbering Washington Post has put out a disturbing, well-documented report about the death of a 47-year-old HIV-AIDS patient in UMC’s nursing home care. As others witnessing the scene clamored for them to help, UMC nurses, the Post says, let the patient fall to the floor, where he sprawled in his own waste for 20 minutes while his caregivers argued with a security guard. When the patient finally was returned to his bed, he was dead.

GWU-seal-150x150Elmo-150x150Elmo and the Colonials won’t make it as a new Saturday morning hit cartoon show. But the colorful characters might play a tangential part in some important lessons for consumers and some supposedly serious institutions on preserving the public trust in published, medical-scientific research.

Healthnewsreview.org, a nonprofit and independent watchdog of health information, rightly has taken George Washington University to task for issuing a Pollyannaish, inaccurate news release on a Colonials’ study on whether text messages could help curb expectant moms’ smoking. The hype from the school, about research from GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, first proclaimed:

Text messaging program may help pregnant women kick the smoking habit

reuters-300x153Although countless doctors and nurses put in untold blood, sweat, and tears to provide quality care to their patients, health care profiteers can undo these good works in an instant with shameful plundering. Here is a roundup from multiple fronts.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service deserves credit for its painful reporting on the rising problems in the once much-admired area of hospice care.

Reporters JoNel Aleccia and Melissa Bailey have written, in a story carried by Time Magazine, that they “analyzed 20,000 government inspection records, revealing that missed [hospice worker] visits and neglect are common for patients dying at home. Families or caregivers have filed over 3,200 complaints with state officials in the past five years. Those complaints led government inspectors to find problems in 759 hospices, with more than half cited for missing visits or other services they had promised to provide at the end of life.”

choosing-wisely@2x-300x197Up to a third of medical spending goes for over-treatment and over-testing, with an estimated $200 billion in the U.S. expended on medical services with little benefit to patients. But getting doctors and hospitals to stop this waste isn’t easy, nor is it a snap to get patients to understand what this problem’s all about so they’ll push their health care providers to do something about it.

Which is why kudos  go to Julie Rovner, of the nonprofit, independent Kaiser Health News Service, and National Public Radio for the recent story on how older women with breast cancer suffer needlessly and run up wasteful medical costs due to over-testing and over-treatment.

Rovner and Kaiser Health News worked with a medical benefit management company to analyze records of almost 4,500, age 50-plus women who received care for early-stage breast cancer in 2017. She found that just under half of them got a medically appropriate, condensed, three-week regimen of radiation therapy. Research has shown this care is just as effective as a version that’s twice as long, costs much more, and subjects patients to greater inconvenience, especially with more side-effects.

CRO-Candy-counts3-10-17-112x300You and the kids may decide to splurge a little, devouring some Halloween candy. (Know that just a few of these morsels pack a load of unhealthy excess calories and sugar — see the great infographic from Consumer Reports.)

So here’s the penitent-tradeoff: While muching on a choice few bites of candy, please also take the time to sign up for your 2018 health insurance. Many of you will get tons of information from your employer because you get coverage at work.

If you qualify for insurance on exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, the big news is, yes, the program still exists. It can benefit many, but they need to review their options and get aboard during the program’s Nov. 1-Dec. 15 open enrollment period. The Trump Administration has made some of this process more challenging, decreasing the support for public outreach and shortening the qualifying time.

trumpdrugs-300x177As the Republican-controlled Congress rams through a national budget and a package of changes to the tax system, President Trump and his partisans are staying true to course. They’re determined to slash taxes for the rich, even if they only half-heartedly tackle one of the biggest public health crises in decades, and if they inflict great harms on the health of the poor, sick, young, and old.

In answer to long and increasing criticism, Trump finally declared the opioid drug abuse epidemic a “public health emergency” (with zero new dollars in spending)  but not a “national emergency,” which would have opened the door for millions in new spending.  He scored points with some commentators with his discussion of how alcoholism destroyed his older brother Fred’s life, and, how his brother’s advice and example had kept him from any temptations of substance abuse. (He also reminded critics of ineffectual “Just say no” anti-drug campaigns.)

But for all his pronouncements, the president’s actions fell short of what many anti-drug experts and advocates had hoped would be White House leadership against opioids abuse and overdose deaths, a scourge that has claimed almost 60,000 lives since 2016.

soccerheader-211x300Although state and local laws may be curbing some of the harms the young can suffer with sports-related concussions, parents, coaches, teachers, and players may wish to reconsider even more the risks of head traumas: That’s because early such injuries may be tied to later diagnoses of multiple sclerosis.

To be sure, this is a developing area of research and the studies suggest an association between MS and head trauma, and not that concussions are a cause of the chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system.

MS, as the disease’s national society reports, “can cause many symptoms, including blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, and blindness and more. These problems may come and go or persist and worsen over time.”

eyedropWhether it happens in the drip, drip, drip of costly eye drops or it occurs in the flash of a pricey imaging scan, patients get gouged by modern medicine’s wasteful practices. The inefficiencies can be traced to many and different causes. But Americans need to keep asking whether they can allow or tolerate profit-seeking enterprises to keep getting bigger and ever more expensive.

It’s good to see that two online news organizations, Vox and Pro Publica, are digging into soaring costs for medical goods and services.

Vox is aiming to crowd-source some of its investigation, and it has tantalized its audience with a motivating source of outrage—a story detailing a sky-high bill for a 30-minute imaging scan for Elodie Fowler, an ailing 3-year-old girl. The site says her parents got socked with a $25,000 tab for her test. That sum was far higher than they expected, even after they researched and shopped around to find their most affordable option, given their insurance and various providers operating the service.

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