KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Longer Looks: Obamacare’s Legacy, Concussion-Proof Football And Changing How We Die

Each week, KHN's Shefali Luthra finds interesting reads from around the Web.

FiveThirtyEight: As Obamacare Faces Repeal, Its Legacy Is Still Up In The Air 
When President Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. was in trouble — 50.7 million people were uninsured, the largest number in history. Mortality rates were on the rise, even as health care spending grew faster than the nation’s economy. Obama was always going to address the situation through some type of health care reform, Jason Furman, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said recently. As the number of days left in Obama’s presidency approaches single digits, it’s clear that part of his legacy will be that his administration implemented the biggest health care overhaul since the creation of Medicaid and Medicare. What’s less clear is how those changes will be viewed years from now — and part of that depends on what happens next. (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, 1/3)

The New Yorker: Can Technology Make Football Safer? 
St. Thomas wanted to make the assessment of student concussions more objective, and this summer it agreed to participate in a research project with the University of Miami. Michael Hoffer, a professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery, had developed goggles, equipped with two high-resolution cameras, that could detect the desynchronization of the wearer’s rapid eye movements—a mark of a concussion. Hoffer was funded, in part, by the N.F.L., but the goggles would be useful to all types of athletes. According to a 2016 study published in Pediatrics, the number of school-aged soccer players seeking E.R. treatment for concussions has risen sixteen hundred per cent in the past twenty-five years. (Nicholas Schmidle, 1/1)

The New York Times: Kitty Dukakis, A Beneficiary Of Electroshock Therapy, Emerges As Its Evangelist
[Kitty] Dukakis was desperate. Rehabilitation, talk therapy and antidepressants had failed to ease her crippling depression, so in 2001, at age 64, she turned to shock therapy. To her amazement, it helped. After the first treatment, Mrs. Dukakis wrote, “I felt alive,” as if a cloud had lifted .... Now, 15 years later, [she and her husband, former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis,] have emerged as the nation’s most prominent evangelists for electroconvulsive therapy. Truth be told, there is not much competition. Few boldface names who have had the treatment will acknowledge as much; the stigma is still too great. (Katharine Q. Seelye, 12/31)

The Atlantic: How Trump Could Slow Medical Progress
The president-elect is not known for being particularly religious, but he’s surrounding himself with traditional conservatives, including staunch pro-life policymakers like Representative Tom Price of Georgia and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence. At this point, watchers of the field can only speculate as to the Trump administration’s stance on embryonic stem cells. (His team did not return a request for comment). But some fear the new regime may halt stem-cell and fetal-tissue research, which many abortion opponents consider to be life and many scientists regard as the ingredients of breakthroughs. (Olga Khazan, 12/28)

The Washington Post: Suburbs Increasingly View Their Auto-Centric Sprawl As A Health Hazard
A more health-oriented approach to urban planning is taking on new urgency across the United States as rates of child and adult obesity have soared, along with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related illnesses — despite public education campaigns and doctors’ warnings. Last year, U.S. life expectancy declined for the first time since 1993, in part to rising fatalities from heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to a federal report released earlier this month. It’s not just physical health. Preserving trees and other green space is cited as key to a community’s mental health, as recent Stanford University studies have found that spending time in nature can boost mood and working memory while reducing brain activity related to depression. (Katherine Shaver, 12/28)

NPR: Where Does Alzheimer's Treatment Go From Here?
In a disappointment to Alzheimer's patients and researchers, drugmaker Eli Lilly said in late November that a clinical trial of solanezumab, an experimental medication to treat the degenerative neurological condition, had failed. ... Solanezumab is just the latest casualty in a decades-long parade of disappointing dementia drug trials. But the frustration brought by this particular failure could signal a shift in Alzheimer's research — a shift away from targeting accumulations of so-called amyloid protein in the brain, long considered by many in the field to be the crux of Alzheimer's pathology. (Bret Stetka, 12/29)

Vox: The Senate’s Complicated Plan To Repeal Obamacare, Explained By An Expert On Congress
Senate Republicans took initial steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act Tuesday, using a process called budget reconciliation to start the process of gutting some of the health care law’s major provisions. The budget reconciliation process is complex, and not the normal way that Congress passes laws. It is a three-step process that starts with a budget resolution — essentially a list of spending targets for the coming years — and a set of instructions for how committees can hit those targets (in this case, by repealing Obamacare). (Sarah Kliff, 1/4)

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