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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Injects Presidential Politics Into the Covid Vaccine Debate

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Phil Galewitz, KFF Health and Daniel Chang
Mon, 18 Sep 2023 17:35:00 +0000

As Americans consider whether to take advice from federal health officials and get an updated covid vaccine, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is drumming the message that ignited his national political career: Ignore what the federal tells you about .

Last week — as polling showed him running a distant second to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination — DeSantis convened a virtual roundtable featuring a panel of covid vaccine skeptics. Their mission: to swat away the FDA's findings that the new shots are safe and effective for those 6 months and older.

Instead, they advised those younger than 65 not to get vaccinated, suggesting without evidence that the shots could be harmful.

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“I will not stand by and let the FDA and CDC use healthy Floridians as guinea pigs for new booster shots that have not been proven to be safe or effective,” said DeSantis, contradicting the FDA's findings. “Once again, Florida is the first in the nation to stand up and provide guidance based on truth, not Washington edicts.”

Backing up DeSantis was the handpicked keeper of his public health strategy: his state's surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo.

“My judgment is that it's not a good decision for young people and for people who are not at high risk at this point in the pandemic,” Ladapo said.

Ladapo has come under fire from public health experts since DeSantis tapped him for the role. He has been rebuked by federal health officials for promoting misinformation about covid and vaccines generally. And a by the faculty of the University of Florida's College of Medicine expressed “concern for research integrity violations” in a state health department study that suggested receiving an mRNA vaccine against covid increased the risk of among young men.

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Ladapo personally altered the study's findings, Politico reported. And research has shown the risk of cardiac complications among young men is up to 5.6 times as high after covid infection as after covid vaccination.

With public health officials facing an uphill battle to persuade Americans to get one of the updated vaccines — just 17% received the 2022 booster — DeSantis' tactic could further depress uptake by stoking doubts about the vaccines.

DeSantis is “playing with fire, and this is about life and death,” said Donna Shalala, who served as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary during the Clinton administration and later represented Florida in .

“But I think people will see it for what it is: a desperate attempt at very high risk to people in Florida to reposition himself,” she said.

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DeSantis trails Trump by more than 40 points, on average, in polls of GOP primary voters, a gap that has widened despite the governor's recent efforts to reboot his campaign.

More than 90,000 people in Florida have died from covid-19.

And, while there have been a few serious side effects associated with covid vaccines, their incidence is rare and several studies have shown that vaccinated people are at no greater risk of death from non-covid causes than those who are unvaccinated. More than 600 million doses of covid vaccines have been administered in the U.S., according to Our World in Data.

That information was not mentioned in the discussion last week, when the panel — which notably included no vaccine or infectious disease experts — said without evidence that the shots might have “negative efficacy” or even cause increased infection from the virus.

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DeSantis and Ladapo said they were troubled by the lack of human trials before the latest covid vaccines were authorized — though they did not address why they might be less concerned about the risks for those age 65 and older.

Annual flu vaccines also do not undergo clinical testing on humans. But Ladapo called it “sleight of hand” to compare the covid boosters to the flu vaccine, because it has been around for decades. “It is a completely different phenomenon,” he said.

The Florida Health Department did not respond to questions about whether it recommends the flu vaccine in light of its dearth of human testing.

Daniel Salmon, a vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins University who watched the roundtable, said he took issue with the claim that there wasn't clinical data supporting the new vaccines' safe use. Like the flu vaccine, the primary covid vaccines went through clinical trials, and there wouldn't be time to conduct one every time a new strain emerges, he said.

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The discussion was not a robust debate around scientific uncertainty among experts, Salmon said. He noted the panelists' lack of expertise and training in vaccines and infectious disease, saying they instead leaned on their positions as physicians, academics, and the Florida surgeon general to give them credibility.

“They don't know covid,” Salmon said. “They're cherry-picking facts to defend their position. And they don't have the expertise to make those decisions for a large number of people.”

“It felt to me like they were to sow doubt,” he said, “and that's dangerous.”

Polling by the nonprofit health organization KFF shows that most Americans encounter health misinformation, and many are uncertain about the veracity of claims about the covid vaccines.

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DeSantis built his national reputation on bucking the medical establishment and ending 2020's pandemic lockdown earlier in Florida than many other states did. He also has gained a following — and raised money — by criticizing the federal government under and guidance from the nation's former top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, who left his post at the National Institutes of Health in December.

DeSantis' handling of the covid response helped propel him to a massive reelection victory last year and to the front of the pack of 2024 Republican presidential contenders this spring.

David Richards, chair of the International Relations and Political Science Department at Lynchburg University in Virginia, said he is not surprised by DeSantis' approach to the updated vaccines given his polling numbers, his reputation for pushing “medical freedom,” and his general vaccine policies.

“He needs to remain relevant and set himself apart from other candidates,” he said.

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Last year, DeSantis opposed providing covid vaccines to young children after Florida came under fire for being the only state not to preorder doses ahead of the federal government's approval of vaccination for children under 5.

This year, DeSantis urged Florida's GOP-controlled legislature to approve pandemic-related legislation that runs counter to some public health recommendations, measures to permanently ban school mask mandates and bar businesses from firing employees who don't get vaccinated.

Matt Dallek, a political historian at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said DeSantis' messaging on the new covid vaccines shows his desire to distance himself from Trump — even though Trump's 2018 endorsement led to his winning the Florida governor's race.

“This is a way for him to exploit the issue, though it may come at the expense of lives of anyone who would listen to him in Florida and elsewhere,” he said.

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——————————
By: Phil Galewitz, KFF Health News and Daniel Chang
Title: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Injects Presidential Politics Into the Covid Vaccine Debate
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/florida-governor-ron-desantis-presidential-politics-covid-vaccine-debate/
Published Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2023 17:35:00 +0000

Kaiser Health News

When You Think About Your Health, Don’t Forget Your Eyes

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Bernard J. Wolfson
Fri, 22 Sep 2023 09:00:00 +0000

I vividly remember that late Friday afternoon when my eye pressure spiked and I staggered on to my ophthalmologist's office as the rapidly thickening fog in my field of vision shrouded passing cars and traffic lights.

The office was already closed, but the whole eye care team was there waiting for me. One of them pricked my eyeballs with a sharp instrument, allowing the ocular fluid that had built up to drain. That relieved the pressure and restored my vision.

But it was the fourth vision-impairing pressure spike in nine days, and they feared it would happen again — into a . So off I went to the emergency room, where I spent the night hooked up to an intravenous tube that delivered a powerful anti-swelling agent.

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Later, when I told this story to friends and colleagues, some of them didn't understand the importance of eye pressure, or even what it was. “I didn't know they could measure blood pressure in your eyes,” one of them told me.

Most people consider their vision to be vitally important, yet many lack an understanding of some of the most serious eye diseases. A 2016 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, based on an online national poll, showed that nearly half of respondents feared losing their eyesight more than their memory, speech, hearing, or limbs. Yet many “were unaware of important eye diseases,” it found.

A study released this month, conducted by Wakefield Research for the nonprofit Prevent Blindness and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, showed that one-quarter of adults deemed at risk for diseases of the retina, such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, had delayed seeking care for vision problems.

“There is significantly less of an emphasis placed on eye health than there is on general health,” says Rohit Varma, founding director of the Southern California Eye Institute at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.

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Because eye diseases can be painless and progress slowly, Varma says, “people get used to it, and as they age, they begin to feel, ‘Oh, this is a normal part of aging and it's OK.'” If people felt severe pain, he says, they would go get care.

For many people, though, it's not easy to get an eye exam or eye treatment. Millions are uninsured, others can't afford their share of the cost, and many in communities where eye are scarce.

“Just because people know they need the care doesn't necessarily mean they can afford it or that they have the access to it,” says Jeff Todd, and president of Prevent Blindness.

Another challenge, reflecting the divide between eye care and general , is that medical insurance, except for children, often covers only eye care aimed at diagnosing or treating diseases. More health plans are covering routine eye exams these days, but that generally does not include the type of test used to determine eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions — or the cost of the lenses. You may need separate vision insurance for that. Ask your health plan what's covered.

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Since being diagnosed with glaucoma 15 years ago, I've had more pressure checks, eye exams, eyedrops, and laser surgeries than I can remember. I should know not to take my eyesight for granted. And yet, when my peepers were filling with that vision-threatening fog last March, I felt oddly sanguine.

It turned out that those serial pressure spikes were triggered by an adverse reaction to steroid-based eyedrops prescribed to me following cataract surgery. My ophthalmologist told me later that I had “within hours” of losing my eyesight.

I hope my brush with blindness can inspire people to be more conscious of their eyes.

Eyeglasses or contact lenses can make a huge difference in one's quality of life by correcting refractive errors, which affect 150 million Americans. But don't ignore the risk of far more serious eye conditions that can sneak up on you. They are often manageable if caught early enough.

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Glaucoma, which affects about 3 million people in the U.S., attacks peripheral vision first and can cause irreversible damage to the optic nerve. It runs in families and is five times as prevalent among African Americans as in the general population.

Nearly 10 million in this country have diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes in which blood vessels in the retina are damaged. And some 20 million people age 40 and up have macular degeneration, a disease of the retina associated with aging that diminishes central vision over time.

The formation of cataracts, which cause cloudiness in the eye's natural lens, is very common as people age: Half of people 75 and older have them. Cataracts can cause blindness, but they are eminently treatable with surgery.

If you are over 40 and haven't had a comprehensive eye exam in a while, or ever, put that on your to-do list. And get an exam at a younger age if you have diabetes, a history of glaucoma, or if you are African American or part of another racial or ethnic group at high risk for certain eye diseases.

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And don't forget children. Multiple eye conditions can affect kids. Refractive errors, treatable with corrective lenses, can cause impairment later in life if they are not addressed early enough.

Healthful lifestyle choices also benefit your eyes. “Anything that helps your general health helps your vision,” says Andrew Iwach, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco.

Minimize stress, get regular exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Also, quit smoking. It increases the risk of major eye diseases.

And consider adopting habits that protect your eyes from injury: Wear sunglasses when you go outside, take regular breaks from your computer screen and cellphone, and wear goggles when working around the house or playing sports.

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The Prevent Blindness website offers information on virtually everything related to eye health, including insurance. Other good sources include the American Academy of Ophthalmology's “EyeSmart” site and the National Eye Institute.

So read up and share what you've learned.

“When you get together for the holidays,” says Iwach, “if you aren't sure what to talk about, talk about your eyes.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

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——————————
By: Bernard J. Wolfson
Title: When You Think About Your Health, Don't Forget Your Eyes
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/eye-health-glaucoma-asking-never-hurts/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 09:00:00 +0000

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Kaiser Health News

Biden Administration to Ban Medical Debt From Americans’ Credit Scores

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Noam N. Levey
Thu, 21 Sep 2023 19:47:00 +0000

The Biden administration announced a major initiative to protect Americans from medical debt on Thursday, outlining plans to develop federal rules barring unpaid medical bills from affecting ' credit scores.

The regulations, if enacted, would potentially tens of millions of people who have medical debt on their credit reports, eliminating information that can depress consumers' scores and make it harder for many to get a job, rent an apartment, or secure a car loan.

New rules would also represent one of the most significant federal actions to tackle medical debt, a problem that burdens about 100 million people and forces legions to take on extra work, give up their homes, and ration food and other essentials, a KFF Health News-NPR investigation found.

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“No one in this country should have to go into debt to get the quality care they need,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who announced the new moves along with Rohit Chopra, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB. The agency will be charged with developing the new rules.

“These measures will improve the credit scores of millions of Americans so that they will better be able to invest in their future,” Harris said.

Enacting new regulations can be a lengthy . Administration said Thursday that the new rules would be developed next year.

Such an aggressive step to restrict credit reporting and debt collection by hospitals and other medical providers will also almost certainly stir industry opposition.

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At the same time, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was formed in response to the 2008 financial crisis, is under fire from Republicans, and its future may be jeopardized by a case before the Supreme Court, whose conservative majority has been chipping away at federal regulatory powers.

But the move by the Biden administration drew strong praise from patients' and consumer groups, many of whom have been pushing for years for the federal to strengthen protections against medical debt.

“This is an important milestone in our collective efforts and will provide immediate relief to people that have unfairly had their credit impacted simply because they got sick,” said Emily Stewart, executive director of Community Catalyst, a Boston nonprofit that has helped national medical debt efforts. 

Credit reporting, a threat designed to induce patients to pay their bills, is the most common collection tactic used by hospitals, a KFF Health News analysis has shown.

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“Negative credit reporting is one of the biggest pain points for patients with medical debt,” said Chi Chi Wu, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “When we hear from consumers about medical debt, they often talk about the devastating consequences that bad credit from medical debts has had on their financial lives.”

Although a single black mark on a credit score may not have a huge effect for some people, the impact can be devastating for those with large unpaid medical bills. There is growing evidence, for example, that credit scores depressed by medical debt can threaten people's access to housing and fuel homelessness in many communities.

At the same time, CFPB researchers have found that medical debt — unlike other kinds of debt — does not accurately predict a consumer's creditworthiness, calling into question how useful it is on a credit report.

The three largest credit agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — said they would stop including some medical debt on credit reports as of last year. The excluded debts included paid-off bills and those less than $500.

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But the agencies' voluntary actions left out millions of patients with bigger medical bills on their credit reports. And many consumer and patient advocates called for more action. 

The National Consumer Law Center, Community Catalyst, and some 50 other groups in March sent letters to the CFPB and IRS urging stronger federal action to rein in hospital debt collection.

also have taken steps to expand consumer protections. In June, Colorado enacted a trailblazing bill that prohibits medical debt from being included on residents' credit reports or factored into their credit scores.

Many groups have urged the federal government to bar tax-exempt hospitals from selling patient debt or denying medical care to people with past-due bills, practices that remain widespread across the U.S., KFF Health News found.

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Hospital leaders and representatives of the debt collection industry have warned that such restrictions on the ability of medical providers to get their bills paid may have unintended consequences, such as prompting more hospitals and physicians to require upfront payment before delivering care.

Looser credit requirements could also make it easier for consumers who can't handle more debt to get loans they might not be able to pay off, others have warned.

“It is unfortunate that the CFPB and the White House are not considering the host of consequences that will result if medical providers are singled out in their billing, compared to other professions or industries,” said Scott Purcell, chief executive of ACA International, the collection industry's leading trade association.

About This Project

“Diagnosis: Debt” is a reporting partnership between KFF Health News and NPR exploring the scale, impact, and causes of medical debt in America.

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The draws on original polling by KFF, court records, federal data on hospital finances, contracts obtained through public records requests, data on international health systems, and a yearlong investigation into the financial assistance and collection policies of more than 500 hospitals across the country. 

Additional research was conducted by the Urban Institute, which analyzed credit bureau and other demographic data on poverty, race, and health status for KFF Health News to explore where medical debt is concentrated in the U.S. and what factors are associated with high debt levels.

The JPMorgan Chase Institute analyzed records from a sampling of Chase credit card holders to look at how customers' balances may be affected by major medical expenses. And the CED Project, a Denver nonprofit, worked with KFF Health News on a survey of its clients to explore links between medical debt and housing instability. 

KFF Health News journalists worked with KFF public opinion researchers to design and analyze the “KFF Health Care Debt Survey.” The survey was conducted Feb. 25 through March 20, 2022, online and via telephone, in English and Spanish, among a nationally representative sample of 2,375 U.S. adults, including 1,292 adults with current health care debt and 382 adults who had health care debt in the past five years. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample and 3 percentage points for those with current debt. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

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Reporters from KFF Health News and NPR also conducted hundreds of interviews with patients across the country; spoke with physicians, health industry leaders, consumer advocates, debt lawyers, and researchers; and reviewed scores of studies and surveys about medical debt.

——————————
By: Noam N. Levey
Title: Biden Administration to Ban Medical Debt From Americans' Credit Scores
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/medical-debt-credit-score-ban-biden-administration/
Published Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2023 19:47:00 +0000

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Kaiser Health News

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Countdown to Shutdown

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Thu, 21 Sep 2023 17:30:00 +0000

The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF Health


@jrovner


Read Julie's stories.

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Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF Health News' weekly health policy news , “What the Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the author of the critically praised reference book “Health Care Politics and Policy A to Z,” now in its third edition.

Health and other federal programs are at risk of shutting down, at least temporarily, as races toward the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year without passed any of its 12 annual appropriations bills. A small band of conservative House Republicans are refusing to approve spending bills unless domestic spending is cut beyond levels agreed to in May.

Meanwhile, former roils the GOP presidential primary field by vowing to please both sides in the divisive abortion debate.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat News, and Tami Luhby of CNN.

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Panelists

Alice Miranda Ollstein
Politico


@AliceOllstein


Read Alice's stories

Rachel Cohrs
Stat News

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@rachelcohrs


Read Rachel's stories

Tami Luhby
CNN


@Luhby

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Read Tami's stories

Among the takeaways from this week's episode:

  • The odds of a shutdown over spending levels are rising. While entitlement programs like Medicare would be largely spared, past shutdowns have shown that closing the federal government hobbles things Americans rely on, like food safety inspections and air travel.
  • In Congress, the discord isn't limited to spending bills. A House bill to increase price transparency in health care melted down before a vote this week, demonstrating again how hard it is to take on the hospital industry. Legislation on how pharmacy benefit managers operate is also in disarray, though its projected government savings means it could resurface as part of a spending deal before the end of the year.
  • On the Senate side, legislation intended to strengthen primary care is teetering under Bernie Sanders' stewardship — in large part over questions about how to pay for it. Also, this week Democrats broke Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville's abortion-related blockade of military promotions (kind of), going around him procedurally to confirm the new chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • And some Republicans are breaking with abortion opponents and mobilizing in of legislation to renew the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — the former president who spearheaded the program, George W. Bush. Meanwhile, polling shows is struggling to claim credit for the new Medicare drug negotiation program.
  • And speaking of past presidents, former President Donald Trump gave NBC an interview over the weekend in which he offered a muddled stance on abortion. Vowing to settle the long, inflamed debate over the procedure — among other things — Trump's comments were strikingly general election-focused for someone who has yet to win his party's nomination.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post's “Inside the Gold Rush to Sell Cheaper Imitations of Ozempic,” by Daniel Gilbert.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico's “The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is on the Rise. The White House Is at a Loss Over What to Do About It,” by Adam Cancryn.

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Rachel Cohrs: KFF Health News' “Save Billions or Stick With Humira? Drug Brokers Steer Americans to the Costly Choice,” by Arthur Allen.

Tami Luhby: CNN's “Supply and Insurance Issues Snarl Fall Covid-19 Vaccine Campaign for Some,” by Brenda Goodman.

Also mentioned in this week's episode:

Credits

Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman
Editor

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To hear all our click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News' “What the Health?” on SpotifyApple PodcastsPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

——————————
Title: KFF Health News' ‘What the Health?': Countdown to Shutdown
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/podcast/what-the-health-315-countdown-to-shutdown-september-21-2023/
Published Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2023 17:30:00 +0000

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