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Preview: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Health Health News From the Associated Press


Changes mulled as synthetic drug sentences cause confusion

Tue, 24 Jan 2017 03:38:30 UT

[...] the federal panel that sets sentencing policy is studying ways for courts to better handle cases involving drugs such as "bath salts," which can provoke violent outbursts, and the party drug Molly. The issue matters, given the sustained popularity of synthetic drugs — man-made compounds that mimic more conventional street drugs and hallucinogens and are sold under catchy names in stores and on the internet. Amid concerns about consistency in punishment, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is doing a two-year study on synthetic drugs that, among other things, will look at whether to update the drug quantity table that federal judges rely on at sentencing. The commission says it's heard complaints about days-long hearings with dueling chemistry experts, disagreements about which drug is most analogous and varied sentences in similar cases. A federal appeals court sided with the government's conclusion that it was most like THC. Since sentencing guidelines treat one gram of THC as equivalent to 167 grams of marijuana, the defendants, Thomas William Malone and Drew T. Green, were held responsible for 233,800 kilograms of marijuana and given long prison sentences.

2 GOP senators would let states keep Obama health law

Tue, 24 Jan 2017 02:47:49 UT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators said Monday that they'll propose legislation that lets states keep former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul or opt for a new program providing trimmed-down coverage. If states decide against keeping Obama's statute, the senators' proposal would let them adopt a program that charges consumers a high deductible and helps cover some basic medical services like emergency care and prescriptions. Insurers would not be allowed to refuse coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems, and money states would get under existing law would instead go to patients in the form of a tax-advantaged health savings account they'd use to pay for care. [...] late Monday, a memo prepared for Tuesday's Senate Finance Committee hearing on Trump's nomination of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to become health secretary said that in financial disclosure forms he's filed, Price undervalued around 400,000 shares of stock he purchased last August in an Australian drug company. The memo said Price had omitted from submitted forms any mention of a 2010 House Ethics Committee investigation into his campaign fundraising that was later dropped, as well as late tax payments and improper deductions involving rental properties.

US health officials cancel climate conference; don't say why

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 22:35:01 UT

NEW YORK (AP) — The government's top public health agency has canceled a conference next month on climate change and health but isn't saying why publicly. The incoming administration did not ask or order that the meeting be canceled, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Rather, the decision was "a strategic retreat," intended to head off a possible last minute cancellation or other repercussions from Trump officials who may prove hostile to spending money on climate change science, Benjamin said Monday. Public health experts say climate change is a man-made problem that contributes to a range of health issues and illnesses, including heat stroke and diseases spread by tropical insects.

Trump can do plenty on his own to unravel Obama health law

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 22:15:50 UT

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump can do plenty on his own to unravel the Obama health care law, but some of those actions would create disruptions that undermine his administration's early promises. [...] experts say it would destabilize insurance markets by allowing healthy people to opt out, raising costs for taxpayers and remaining consumers. Less visible but just as important, the administration appears to have wide latitude to let states experiment with Medicaid funds and other federal financing. "The ACA is a big, complicated statute and the administration doesn't have a Senate-confirmed secretary and the high-level political staff you would need to push through these proposals," said Nicholas Bagley, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Bagley and a colleague have identified about 25 areas in which the Trump administration could act unilaterally, from a requirement that women employees of religious-affiliated nonprofits have access to free birth control, to fines on people remaining uninsured. The scope of the executive order will be an issue at Tuesday's Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing for Trump's health secretary pick, Georgia congressman Tom Price. [...] actions that disrupt the insurance markets could backfire politically, because Trump has promised to provide insurance for everybody and lower costs, while other Republicans offered assurances they won't "pull the rug out" from anyone currently covered. [...] GOP lawmakers have called for an exemption in communities where only one health insurer continues to offer coverage. A federal district judge has agreed with House Republicans that the Obama health law lacks specific legal authority to pay insurers billions to reduce consumers' deductibles and copayments. A little-known provision of the ACA allows states to seek a "Section 1332" waiver that gives them broad leeway to manage several streams of federal he

New Jersey set to hand over millions in tobacco cash

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 18:51:11 UT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie has dedicated his final year in office to addressing the opioid epidemic, but the state's failure to spend on smoking cessation efforts when thousands of people still die annually from tobacco-related illnesses has drawn derision from advocates and public health officials. Instead of spending millions from a landmark 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry on smoking cessation efforts, New Jersey this year will begin repaying hundreds of millions of dollars to bondholders after converting the settlement money into $90 million to fill a budget hole in 2014. At the height of state funding for tobacco control in 2002, New Jersey funded 17 quit centers, but now the state funds none, and the 13 full-time positions at the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program that conduct outreach and education programs were eliminated, according to Dr. Michael Steinberg, Rutgers Department of Medicine vice chairman who now volunteers to run the program. The scaling back of programs to help smokers quit and steer young people away from tobacco has led to the American Lung Association giving the state an F in a review of how much states spend on tobacco control programs. The state uses around $2 million from the federal government on a hotline and website to help those seeking to quit smoking, and the Christie administration also points to a $2.70 per pack cigarette tax it says has been a deterrent, especially to teenagers.

Mexico ex-governor denies fake medicine claims

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:25:09 UT

The current governor of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz has accused a predecessor of buying fake medicines for state-run hospitals, claiming an inert substance was administered to children instead of a cancer drug. Duarte is a fugitive from charges faces charges of money laundering and organized crime.

Russia set to move closer to decriminalize domestic violence

Sun, 22 Jan 2017 20:17:15 UT

In a bid to accommodate conservative voters, deputies in the lower house of parliament have given initial approval to a bill eliminating criminal liability for domestic violence that stops short of serious bodily harm or rape. If the measure passes its second reading in the Duma on Wednesday, when the draft can be changed, approval in the third and final reading would be a foregone conclusion. Data on domestic violence in Russia are obscure, but Interior Ministry statistics show that 40 percent of all violent crimes in Russia are committed in family surroundings. The bill stems from a Supreme Court ruling last summer to decriminalize battery that doesn't inflict bodily harm, but to retain criminal charges for those accused of battery against family members. Calls to the Anna Center hotline show that a lot of Russian women initially don't even realize that domestic violence is an offense, Matvienko says. Prosecutors in November began investigating a police officer who took a call from a woman complaining about her boyfriend's aggressive behavior. Activist Alyona Popova, whose online petition against the bill has attracted more than 180,000 signatures, sees the efforts to decriminalize domestic violence as a continuation of the Kremlin's increasingly aggressive policies after several repressive laws targeting various groups, from foreign-funded NGOs to gay people. Olga Batalina, one of the bill's co-authors, said in the Duma last week that the penalty for battery should be lenient for acts of violence "committed in an emotional conflict, without malice, without grave consequences."

Brazil investigating dozens of suspected yellow fever cases

Sun, 22 Jan 2017 17:11:00 UT

The Health Ministry also says it's investigating more than 160 other suspected cases of the mosquito-borne disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the disease can cause fever, chills, severe headache, pain, nausea and vomiting.

How Trump's executive order impacts future of 'Obamacare'

Sat, 21 Jan 2017 19:48:39 UT

The one-page directive gives agencies authority to grant waivers, exemptions and delays of provisions in the Affordable Care Act. Trump's order states that federal agencies can grant waivers, exemptions and delays of "Obamacare" provisions that would impose costs on states or individuals. Insurers see the coverage requirement, or so-called individual mandate, as an essential tool to nudge healthy people into the coverage pool. Leslie Dach, campaign director of the Protect Our Care Coalition, issued a statement saying, "While President Trump may have promised a smooth transition, the executive order does the opposite, threatening disruption for health providers and patients." New regulations cannot be issued overnight, but would have to follow a legally established process that requires public notice and an opportunity for interested parties to comment on the administration's changes. Trump has also been vague about what he wants included in a replacement package, saying his administration will have a plan after the Senate confirms his nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price. The president has said he wants to keep some of the measure's more popular elements, including allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26 and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-exiting conditions.

Correction: Police-Mental Health story

Sat, 21 Jan 2017 17:18:42 UT

A report says the New York Police Department has trained more than 5,000 police officers on how to handle mental health crisis calls but doesn't have a way to dispatch those officers when the calls come in NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department has trained more than 5,000 police officers on how to handle mental health crisis calls but doesn't have a way to dispatch those officers when the calls come in, according to a report published Thursday. The four-day training program for officers, which began in the summer of 2015, was built off a nationally recognized instructional model, called Crisis Intervention Training, that uses patients, professionals and police officials to train officers on how to recognize signs of mental illness, respond to such calls and empathize with someone in the throes of a crisis. The department's dispatch system is unable to identify the officers who have undergone the training, so it's "random chance" on whether an officer who arrives at the scene has been trained in how to handle it, according to the report completed by the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD.