What’s New in Health Care Reform: Oct. 24

What's New in Health Care Reform provides an overview of the past week’s news, updates, and commentary in health care reform and utilization management.

Overdose Deaths Have Fallen for Six Months. Is It Temporary or a Sign of a Corner Turned?

Annual U.S. drug overdoses have been tracking upward for nearly four decades, and the rate of growth increased sharply in the last few years with the onset of the opioid epidemic. But in the 12-month period ending in March 2018—the most recent span for which data are available—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a decline of 2.8 percent in the number of overdose deaths, to an estimated 71,073 people, compared with the 12 months ending in September 2017. Via STAT.

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Want to Keep Your Brain Sharp? Take Care of Your Eyes and Ears

By the time someone is convinced they have a hearing problem, age-related memory loss may have already set in. But there's good news. Restoring hearing with hearing aids can help slow down cognitive decline. Consider these findings: Researchers tracked about 2,000 older adults in the U.S. both before and after they started using hearing aids. The adults were participants in a big, national study called the Health and Retirement Study. "We found the rate of cognitive decline was slowed by 75 percent following the adoption of hearing aids," says Asri Maharani, a researcher at the University of Manchester in the division of neuroscience and experimental psychology and an author of the paper. "It is a surprising result," Maharani says. The study was published this spring in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Via NPR.

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New Health Options for Small Firms

There are new options for small employers to use tax-free accounts for providing health coverage to workers, officials said. The idea is to expand so-called “health reimbursement arrangements” to allow employees to buy their own individual health insurance policies. Employers could also pair the accounts with workplace health plans, allowing workers to use the money for additional benefits such as dental care. Via AP.

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Measles Outbreak Raging in Europe Could Be Brought to U.S., Doctors Warn

A raging measles outbreak in Europe may be a warning sign of what could occur in the U.S. if something doesn’t change soon, experts say. So far this year, there have been 41,000 cases in Europe and 40 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The European experience may offer a window on how quickly things can go awry when parents choose not to vaccinate their children, doctors caution. Because measles is relatively rare in the U.S., many Americans have no idea of the disease's frightening impact and its stunning contagiousness. Even in England, which had been declared free of measles by the World Health Organization a year ago, cases are surging. The reason, experts say, is that in Europe, many parents have opted to skip vaccinating their children. “It’s the main factor leading to the outbreaks,” said Anca Paduraru of the European Commission in Brussels. “It’s unacceptable to have in the 21st century diseases that should have been and could have been eradicated.” Via NCB News.

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Herpes May Account for 50% of Alzheimer's Cases

The herpes virus could account for at least half of Alzheimer's cases, according to a new review of the findings of three recent studies examining links between Alzheimer's and herpes. The new paper, published in the Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience journal, also suggests that antiviral drugs may reduce the risk of senile dementia—which is mostly caused by Alzheimer's disease—among people who have severe cases of herpes. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) is the type of herpes that results in cold sores. HSV1 is a common virus, and the majority of people will have contracted it by the time they reach old age. Via Medical News Today.

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In "First Study of its Kind," Researchers Detect Microplastics in Human Waste

A new study has found microplastics—particles of plastic smaller than five millimeters—to be present in human stools, the Environment Agency Austria said Tuesday. Eight participants, from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the U.K., Austria, Russia, and Poland took part in the pilot study, which was conducted by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria. Those taking part—none of whom were vegetarian—kept a food diary in the week preceding their stool sampling. All diaries showed that they were exposed to plastics by either eating food that had been wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles. Six of the participants ate sea fish. Their stools were analysed at the Environment Agency Austria for 10 types of plastic. As many as nine different plastics, ranging between 50 and 500 micrometers in size, were detected. Polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate were found to be the most common. Via CNBC.

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The Heart Problem This Stroke, Bypass Surgery Survivor Wasn't Expecting

Affecting about 2.5% of Americans, heart valve disease occurs when one or more of the heart valves have been damaged, disrupting blood flow by not opening or closing properly. Valve disease becomes more common with age, affecting about 13% of adults age 75 or older. Yet awareness of heart valve problems is relatively low, in part because symptoms—which include shortness of breath and fatigue—aren't specific and may develop so slowly that they go unnoticed, said cardiologist Vuyisile Nkomo, M.D., Director of the Valvular Heart Disease Clinic at  Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Via Health Day.

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What Happens after Bariatric Surgery Makes a Big Difference

This type of surgery takes guts. And rearranges them a bit. A surgeon will cut and shape the upper part of your stomach into a small pouch and then connect this pouch directly to your small intestine. Thus, the food will "bypass" much of your stomach and the first part of your small intestine, hence the name gastric bypass. This makes your stomach smaller so that you feel fuller sooner when you eat and shorten the path that food takes so that less of it gets absorbed. Via Forbes.

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U.S. "Turning the Tide" on the Opioid Crisis, Health Secretary Says

The U.S. is "beginning to turn the tide" on the opioid epidemic, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said, pointing to new federal data showing a slight dip in overdose deaths last year. Preliminary CDC data released last week shows drug overdose deaths, which spiked in 2017, dropped 2.8% toward the end of last year and the beginning of 2018. Azar credited federal, state and local efforts, one day before President Donald Trump will sign overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to address the opioid crisis. Via Politico.

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Mayo Clinic Addresses Opioid Epidemic in National Health Checkup

A new Mayo Clinic National Health Checkup finds new information when it comes to the national opioid epidemic. Mayo Clinic surveys people throughout the country to get a pulse on America's health. According to the survey, nearly all Americans would choose an alternative to opioid pain relievers following surgery. However, few patients are actually talking to their doctors about this. Halena Gazelka, M.D., is a pain doctor at Mayo Clinic. She thinks it's the doctor's responsibility to give the options, but patients need to ask the questions. Via KIMT.

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Andy Tofilon

Andy Tofilon is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

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