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health care

Protesters hold a rally on May 15 against Pennsylvania's coronavirus stay-at-home order at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
Associated Press

Emily Brown was stretched thin.

As the director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in rural Colorado, she was working 12- and 14-hour days, struggling to respond to the pandemic with only five full-time employees for more than 11,000 residents. Case counts were rising.

Lake Granbury Medical Center

The May 27 report from a healthcare research and policy team at Johns Hopkins University found 28 hospitals (22 in the state) have sued patients in Texas for unpaid hospital bills since 2018. Some saw their personal accounts and property garnished. 

Marissa Hudler
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

It’s been more than a month since Marissa Hudler hugged her kids. Fearful of accidentally bringing the new coronavirus home, she and her husband — both health care workers — sent their two sons to stay at their grandparents’ house in March and don’t expect they’ll return for weeks.

The patient described it as the "worst headache of her life."

She didn't go to the hospital though. Instead, the Washington state resident waited almost a week.

When Dr. Abhineet Chowdhary finally saw her, he discovered she had a brain bleed that had gone untreated.

The neurosurgeon did his best, but it was too late.

Shutterstock

The latest numbers show a staggering 30 million Americans filed for unemployment in recent weeks, with 2.1 million of them in Texas. For a big chunk of those people, in the middle of a pandemic, that means a scramble to find health care — and health insurance. 

Licensed vocational nurse Ahmad Nejat looks over as he meets with the COVID-19 testing team at the Austin Regional Center testing site in Kyle on March 31, 2020.
Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Rebecca Mae had been feeling sick for days when she was sent home from her job as a San Antonio respiratory therapist, and told not to return until she tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

Updated March 31, 8:25 p.m. ET

A few months ago, it may have seemed silly to wear a face mask during a trip to the grocery store. And in fact, the mainline public health message in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been that most people don't need to wear masks.

But as cases of the coronavirus have skyrocketed, there's new thinking about the benefits that masks could offer in slowing the spread. The CDC says it is now reviewing its policy and may be considering a recommendation to encourage broader use.

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies, some communities will be better equipped to treat the sickest patients — specifically those requiring admission to intensive care units — than others. Not only do ICU capabilities vary from hospital to hospital, but also some parts of the country have far more critical care beds by population than others.

An NPR analysis of data from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice looked at how the nation's 100,000 ICU beds are distributed across the more than 300 markets that make up the country's hospital system.

Christian Gutierrez
Mark Felix / For The Texas Tribune

For Christian Gutierrez, preparing for a coronavirus outbreak is as much a financial consideration as it is a health one.

At what point should the Houston-area Latin dance instructor cancel his classes and forego his bread-and-butter income? If he feels sick with flu-like symptoms, should he take the over-the-counter cough medicine he’s stocked up on, or should he pay out of pocket to see a doctor about COVID-19 testing?

Americans are divided on lots of issues. But a new national survey finds that people across the political spectrum agree on at least one thing: Our health care system needs fixing.

The "Hidden Common Ground" survey from Public Agenda, USA Today and Ipsos found that 92% of Americans say changes are needed.

And a majority of Americans want "either major changes or a complete overhaul of the system," says Chris Jackson, vice president of market research firm Ipsos.

The exterior of Huntsville Unit, a prison in Huntsville, Texas on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019.
Sergio Flores / The Texas Tribune

Even though Texas' prison population shrank this decade, the publicly funded costs to treat inmates' medical conditions continue to rise.

The state spent over $750 million on prison health care during the 2019 fiscal year, a 53% increase from seven years earlier, when that cost was less than $500 million.

It was a moment of genuine bipartisanship at the House Ways and Means Committee in October, as Democratic and Republican sponsors alike praised a bill called the "Restoring Access to Medication Act of 2019."

The bill, approved by the panel on a voice vote, would allow consumers to use their tax-free flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts to pay for over-the-counter medications and women's menstrual products.

Nearly 1 in 3 Texans in neighborhoods of color have medical debt, according to a new study from the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

Bill Zeeble / KERA News

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged 58 people across Texas with health care fraud costing at least $66 million, including “pill mill” schemes involving opioids. Doctors and medical professionals are among those facing charges.

Shutterstock

Federal prosecutors say 58 people across Texas have been charged with assorted health care fraud that's been blamed for $66 million in losses and unlawful distribution of opioids.

From Texas Standard:

Johns Hopkins University researchers recently analyzed hospital fees nationwide and found that Texas had the country’s highest health care markup ratio. Those ratios were highest in Brownsville-Harlingen, Laredo and El Paso. A markup ratio is what a hospital charges for a service, compared to the Medicare "allowable amount" – the rate that the federal government determines a service is worth.

Graduate student Shahab Haghayegh has long had trouble sleeping. But when the biomedical engineering student began his doctoral program at the University of Texas at Austin five years ago, his issues worsened. "I would go to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and wake up at 8 a.m.," he says. The exhausted Haghayegh was getting an average of just 4 or 5 hours sleep a night.

From Texas Standard:

For people who experience psychosis, getting care early on helps them better manage symptoms and lead productive lives. But for those living in rural Texas, care is often impossible to find. And without it, those living with psychosis can struggle to stay employed, maintain relationships or simply move through the world.

Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson / The Texas Tribune

Last year, after a federal judge in Texas declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, throwing into question millions of Americans’ health coverage, the state’s Republican leaders promised they would come up with a plan to replace it.

Texas must turn in legal briefs to a federal appeals court today ahead of a hearing next week on the state’s effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

Dr. Louise Aronson says the U.S. doesn't have nearly enough geriatricians — physicians devoted to the health and care of older people: "There may be maybe six or seven thousand geriatricians," she says. "Compare that to the membership of the pediatric society, which is about 70,000."

It can be hard to quantify the problem of elder abuse. Experts believe that many cases go unreported. And Wednesday morning, their belief was confirmed by two new government studies.

The research, conducted and published by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, finds that in many cases of abuse or neglect severe enough to require medical attention, the incidents have not been reported to enforcement agencies, though that's required by law.

Amanda Bacon's eating disorder was growing worse. She had lost 60% of her body weight and was consuming only about 100 calories a day.

But that wasn't sick enough for her Medicaid managed-care company to cover an inpatient treatment program. She was told in 2017 that unless she weighed 10 pounds less — which would have put her at 5-foot-7 and 90 pounds — or was admitted to a psychiatric unit, she wasn't eligible for coverage.

"I remember thinking, 'I'm going to die,' " the Las Cruces, N.M., resident recalls.

Associated Press

New research shows fatal falls have nearly tripled in older Americans in recent years, rising to more than 25,000 deaths yearly.

What's Doctor Burnout Costing America?

May 31, 2019

Doctor burnout is costing the U.S. health care system a lot — roughly $4.6 billion a year, according to a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"Everybody who goes into medicine knows that it's a stressful career and that it's a lot of hard work," says Lotte Dyrbye, a physician and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who co-authored the study.

Cancer drugs that speed onto the market based on encouraging preliminary studies often don't show clear benefits when more careful follow-up trials are done, according to research published Tuesday.

These cancer drugs are granted accelerated approval to give patients faster access to the treatments and to allow drug companies to reap the economic rewards sooner. As a condition of this process, the Food and Drug Administration requires drug companies to conduct more research, to confirm whether the medications actually work and are safe.

Staid and steeped in parliamentary rules, the annual World Health Assembly is a mostly predictable exercise. Delegates from 194 member states of the World Health Organization gather each May to plod through a lengthy agenda and haggle over policies and priorities for the WHO's upcoming year. A few decisions are momentous, most mundane.

If you've ever had a little one at home with a fever, you might have noticed two options for Tylenol at the store.

There's one for infants and one for children. They contain the same amount of medicine — 160 milligrams of acetaminophen per 5 milliliters of liquid — but the infant version costs three times more.

What gives? It turns out, there's a backstory.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured women between the ages of 18 to 44, according to a new study from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

A surprise medical bill may be a thing of the past for many Texans. In a unanimous vote, the Texas House approved a Senate bill banning health care providers from sending steep medical bills to insured Texans in emergencies.

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