Overshadowed by opioids, meth is back and hospitalizations surge

The number of people hospitalized because of amphetamine use is skyrocketing in the United States, but the resurgence of the drug largely has been overshadowed by the nation’s intense focus on opioids. Amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That dwarfs the rise in hospitalizations from other drugs, such as opioids, which were up by about 46 percent. The most significant increases were in Western states. The surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to amphetamines “is just totally off the radar,” said Jane Maxwell, an addiction researcher.

High stakes, entrenched interests and the Trump rollback of environmental regs

Since his days on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump has promised to roll back environmental regulations, boost the use of coal and pull out of the Paris climate agreement — and he’s moving toward doing all those things. He has pushed ahead with such action even as a report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in October concluded that without much stronger measures to reduce the use of fossil fuels, a warming planet will witness the spread of tropical diseases, water shortages and crop die-offs affecting millions of people. Supporters of the administration’s changes — some of whom are skeptical of accepted science — say the administration’s moves will save money, produce jobs and give more power to states. But critics say new strictures on scientific research and efforts to overturn standards for protecting air, water and worker safety could have long-term, widespread effects that would upend hard-won gains in environmental and public health. The Trump administration’s many environmental proposals vary widely in target and reach.

In swing districts, Republicans may pay for having tried to reverse the health law

EDGEWATER PARK, N.J. — Not long ago many voters knew little about Tom MacArthur. A low-key moderate Republican congressman in a district that twice went for Barack Obama, he burnished his reputation as the guy who worked with Democrats to help rebuild in the years after Hurricane Sandy. Now, as he wages a bitter fight for re-election to a seat he won by 20 percentage points just two years ago, even some of his supporters have turned virulently against him. The reason? His new reputation as the turncoat whose legislation almost repealed the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare premiums dip for first time. Some call it a correction.

After two years of double-digit price hikes, the average premium for individual health coverage on the federal health law’s insurance marketplace will drop by 1.5 percent for 2019, the Trump administration said Thursday. The announcement  marked the first time average premiums have fallen since the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014. It also comes during a bitter midterm congressional campaign season in which health care is a central issue following last year’s efforts by Republicans to repeal the ACA. Administration officials claimed credit for the price drop, saying it was due to their actions to make changes to the law. Health policy experts said it was a reaction to insurers’ huge profits following hefty premium increases on plans offered this year.

‘Contraception Deserts’ likely to widen under new Trump administration policy

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — When Nikia Jackson needed to be screened for a sexually transmitted disease, she wanted a clinic that was reputable, quick and inexpensive. After searching online, Jackson, 23, ended up at the Obria Medical Clinics’ sparkling new facility in an office park in suburban Atlanta. She was unaware that the clinic does not offer condoms or other kinds of birth control beyond so-called natural family planning methods. Religious conservatives say these types of clinics are the future of women’s sexual health care in the United States.

States leverage federal funds to help insurers lower premiums

When Tracy Deis decided in 2016 to transition from a full-time job to part-time contract work, the loss of her employer’s health insurance was not a major worry because she knew she could get coverage through the marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act. But price was a big concern. “The ACA made it possible to make the switch in my life,” said Deis, 48, who lives in Minneapolis. But she quickly added, “I was really worried about the cost.”

Her anxiety was understandable. In Minnesota, the average cost of insurance in the state-run exchange soared 57 percent in 2017, after a 40 percent rise in 2016.

As Trump targets immigrants, elderly brace to lose caregivers

BOSTON — After back-to-back, eight-hour shifts at a chiropractor’s office and a rehab center, Nirva arrived outside an elderly woman’s house just in time to help her up the front steps. Nirva took the woman’s arm as she hoisted herself up, one step at a time, taking breaks to ease the pain in her hip. At the top, they stopped for a hug. “Hello, bella,” Nirva said, using the word for “beautiful” in Italian. “Hi, baby,” replied Isolina Dicenso, the 96-year-old woman she has helped care for for seven years.

Poll: Americans aghast over drug costs but aren’t holding their breath for a fix

The recent school shootings in Florida and Maryland have focused attention on the National Rifle Association’s clout in state and federal lobbying activities. Yet more than the NRA or even Wall Street, it’s the pharmaceutical industry that Americans think has the most muscle when it comes to policymaking. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 72 percent of people think the drug industry has too much influence in Washington —outweighing the 69 percent who feel that way about Wall Street or the 52 percent who think the NRA has too much power. Only the large-business community outranked drugmakers. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Drug prices are among the few areas of health policy where Americans seem to find consensus.

Congress tackles the opioid epidemic. But how much will it help?

The nation’s opioid epidemic has been called today’s version of the 1980s AIDS crisis. In a speech Monday, President Donald Trump pushed for a tougher federal response, emphasizing a tough-on-crime approach for drug dealers and more funding for treatment. And Congress is upping the ante, via a series of hearings — including one scheduled to last Wednesday through Thursday — to study legislation that might tackle the unyielding scourge, which has cost an estimated $1 trillion in premature deaths, health care costs and lost wages since 2001. Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician by training and the health commissioner for hard-hit Baltimore, said Capitol Hill has to help communities at risk of becoming overwhelmed. “We haven’t seen the peak of the epidemic.

Trump administration proposes rule to loosen curbs on short-term health plans

Insurers will again be able to sell short-term health insurance good for up to 12 months under a proposed rule released Tuesday by the Trump administration that could further roil the marketplace. “We want to open up affordable alternatives to unaffordable Affordable Care Act policies,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “This is one step in the direction of providing Americans health insurance options that are more affordable and more suitable to individual and family circumstances.”

The proposed rule said short-term plans could add more choices to the market at lower cost and may offer broader provider networks than Affordable Care Act plans in rural areas. But most short-term coverage requires answering a string of medical questions, and insurers can reject applicants with preexisting medical problems, which ACA plans cannot do. As a result, the proposed rule also noted that some people who switch to them from ACA coverage may see “reduced access to some services,” and “increased out of pocket costs, possibly leading to financial hardship.”

The directive follows an executive order issued in October to roll back restrictions put in place during the Obama administration that limited these plans to three months.