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Legal Questions, Inquiries Intensify Around Noble Health’s Rural Missouri Hospital Closures

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by Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News
Thu, 23 Mar 2023 09:00:00 +0000

A year after private equity-backed Noble Health shuttered two rural Missouri hospitals, patients and former employees grapple with a broken local health system or missing out on millions in unpaid wages and .

The hospitals in Audrain and Callaway counties remain closed as a slew of lawsuits and state and federal investigations grind forward.

In March, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey confirmed a civil investigation. He had previously told local talk radio that there was an “ongoing” investigation into “the hospital issue.”

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Bailey's comment came weeks after the U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration notified executives tied to Noble Health, a startup, that they had violated federal laws and asked them to pay $5.4 million to unpaid employee health insurance claims, according to a 13-page letter detailing “interim findings” that was obtained by KHN.

The January letter confirms KHN's previous reporting, which was informed by employees and patients who described missing paychecks; receiving unexpected, high-dollar medical bills; and going without care, including cancer treatment. According to the letter from federal investigators, the Noble hospitals and their corporate owners collected employee contributions for medical, dental, and vision insurance in 2021 and 2022 but then failed to fund the insurance plans.

The owners and executives were “aware of the harm to participants and, in some cases, were attempting to resolve individual participant complaints,” the letter states, adding that “despite the volume and gravity of complaints and bills received,” they failed to respond.

‘Tomfoolery' and Doing ‘Everybody Dirty'

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Marissa Hagedorn, who worked as a hospital laboratory technician, has spent much of the past year starting a new job, caring for her 2-year-old son who was born with spina bifida, and haggling over unpaid medical bills. She told KHN the family owes at least $8,000 for son Ryder's specialty care in St. Louis, with $6,000 of that in collections. As a Noble employee, Hagedorn said, she was told repeatedly that her employee health insurance would cover Ryder's care. It didn't.

Noble has “done everybody dirty,” she said. “We just would like for some responsibility to be taken by this company that didn't feel the need to get their act together.” Hagedorn's story of unpaid bills, which was first reported by the local newspaper, the Mexico Ledger, is common among former Noble employees a year after the hospitals closed.

A former employee of the hospital has filed a class-action lawsuit intended to represent hundreds of employees from both hospitals.

The Jan. 13 letter from federal called for responses by Jan. 27 from Noble corporate and hospital executives as well as Platinum Neighbors, which last April bought the hospitals and assumed all liabilities. The letter instructs executives to contact the agency “to discuss how you intend to correct these violations, fund participant claims, and achieve compliance.”

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Former employees say their claims have not yet been paid. A Labor Department spokesperson, Grant Vaught, said the agency could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Separately, the Kansas Department of Labor is reviewing Noble and Platinum's failure to pay wages and severance to corporate employees. Agency spokesperson Becky Shaffer confirmed that hearings took place in early February on a half-dozen cases totaling more than $1 million in claims for unpaid wages and severance.

Dave Kitchens was among those who filed claims against Noble Health. Kitchens worked briefly as a contract employee and then was hired in October 2021 as a corporate controller, an accounting role in which he was responsible for financial and data analytics. Kitchens provided an audio recording of his hearing to KHN and hopes to eventually get paid more than $90,000 in lost wages, benefits, and severance pay. During the hearing, Kitchens told the administrative judge: “I would just like to be paid what I'm owed.”

Kitchens, who is also named as a fiduciary on the federal investigation, said he was not on Noble's executive team. When asked by Kansas Administrative Law Judge James Ward whether he expected Noble or the secondary buyer Platinum to pay his wages, Kitchens responded he had “no idea who was in charge.”

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“I believe there was some tomfoolery,” Kitchens said.

A ‘Rabbit Hole' of Responsibility

Noble launched in December 2019 with executives who had never a hospital, including Donald R. Peterson, a co-founder who prior to joining Noble had been accused of Medicare fraud. Peterson settled that case without admitting wrongdoing and in August 2019 agreed to be excluded for five years from Medicare, Medicaid, and all other taxpayer-funded federal health programs, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

By March 2022, the hospitals had closed and Noble offered explanations on social media, including “a technology issue” and a need to “restructure their operations” to keep the hospitals financially viable. In April, Texas-based Platinum Neighbors paid $2 for the properties and all liabilities, according to the stock purchase agreement.

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Despite receiving approval for nearly $20 million in federal covid-19 relief money before it closed the hospitals — funds whose use is still not fully accounted for — Noble had stopped paying its bills, according to court . Contractors, including nursing agencies, a lab that ran covid tests and landscapers, have filed lawsuits seeking millions.

In Audrain County, where community members still hope to reopen the hospital or build a new one, county filed suit for the repayment of a $1.8 million loan they made to Noble. Former Missouri state senator Jay Wasson also filed suit in September, asking for repayment of a $500,000 loan.

Two Noble Health real estate entities filed bankruptcy petitions this year. One Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing names the Fulton hospital property in Callaway County as an asset and lists nearly $4.9 million in liabilities. A third bankruptcy filing by FMC Clinic includes Noble Health as a codebtor.

In the U.S. District Court of Kansas, Central Bank of the Midwest is suing Nueterra Capital over a $9.6 million loan Noble used to buy the Audrain hospital. The bank alleges Nueterra, a private equity and venture capital firm that in 2022 included Noble as part of its portfolio, signed off as the guarantor of the loan.

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Federal investigators listed nearly a dozen people or entities connected to Noble Health as fiduciaries who they say are personally responsible for paying back millions in unpaid medical claims. The letter also detailed Noble Health's ownership for the first time. The owners included William A. Solomon with a 16.82% share, W. Carter with a 16.82% share, The Peterson Trust with a 19.63%, and NC Holdings Inc. with 46.72%.

NC Holdings is also listed on the stock sale agreement with Platinum along with several signatures including Jeremy Tasset, chief executive of Nueterra Capital.

Tasset did not respond to a request for comment for this article. In an email to KHN in March 2022, the Nueterra Capital CEO wrote, “We are a minority investor in the real estate and have nothing to do with the operations of the hospitals.” In May 2022, Tasset wrote in an email to KHN that “everything was sold (real estate included) to Platinum Neighbors, a subsidiary of Platinum Team Management.”

It is unclear who owns and controls The Peterson Trust, which federal investigators identified. Peterson, who is listed on Noble's state registration papers as a director and in other roles, didn't respond to requests for comment for this article. He previously told KHN that his involvement in Noble didn't violate his exclusion, in his reading of the law.

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He said he owned 3% of the company, citing guidance from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Federal regulators may exclude companies if someone who is banned has ownership of 5% or more.

In March 2022, Peterson created Noble Health Services, which federal investigators note in their letter was “established to restructure the ownership of multiple Noble entities.” Peterson dissolved that company in July 2022, according to a Missouri business filing.

In September, Peterson posted on LinkedIn that he was “sitting in the Emirates Air lounge in Dubai” to finish up due diligence on “launching a new business.”

A 2013 OIG advisory states that “an excluded individual may not serve in an executive or leadership role” and “may not provide other types of administrative and management services … unless wholly unrelated to federal health care programs.”

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KHN examined the federal system meant to stop health care business owners and executives from repeatedly bilking government health programs and found that it failed to do so.

The OIG keeps a public list of people and businesses it has banned from all federal health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. KHN's review found a system devoid of oversight and rife with legal gray areas.

In the wake of KHN's reporting, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat who is the chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said “it's imperative that federal watchdogs can ensure bad actors are kept out of Medicare.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the government needs to do more and “it's also up to private-sector entities to do a better job checking against the exclusions list.”

“We can't just depend on one or the other to do everything,” Grassley said.

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In recent months, the Missouri hospitals appear to have been sold twice more, according to public records. Oregon-based Saint Pio of Pietrelcina notified state officials of a change of ownership in December and requested an extension of the hospital licenses, which was denied. In January, Audrain County officials, in its lawsuit, revealed another owner named Pasture Medical, which registered as a Wyoming company on Dec. 27, 2022.

“We haven't out of the rabbit hole on this one,” said Steve Bollin, director of the division of regulation and licensure for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Bollin's agency, which conducts inspections and approves hospital changes in ownership, said he would support his agency doing financial reviews.

“It's probably not a bad idea that someone takes a little bit deeper dive. We don't have that many changes of ownership, but we would need appropriate staffing to do that, including some really good CPAs [certified public accountants].”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

By: Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News
Title: Legal Questions, Inquiries Intensify Around Noble Health's Rural Missouri Hospital Closures
Sourced From: khn.org/news/article/noble-health-missouri-hospital-closures-legal-questions-private-equity/
Published Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2023 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://www.biloxinewsevents.com/?p=228121

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Clues From Bird Flu’s Ground Zero on Dairy Farms in the Texas Panhandle

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Amy Maxmen
Thu, 23 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

In early February, dairy farmers in the Texas Panhandle began to notice sick cattle. The buzz soon reached Darren Turley, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen: “They said there is something moving from herd to herd.”

Nearly 60 days passed before veterinarians identified the culprit: a highly pathogenic strain of the bird flu virus, H5N1. Had it been detected sooner, the outbreak might have been swiftly contained. Now it has spread to at least eight other states, and it will be hard to eliminate.

At the moment, the bird flu hasn't adapted to spread from person to person through the air like the seasonal flu. That's what it would take to give liftoff to another pandemic. This lucky fact could change, however, as the virus mutates within each cow it infects. Those mutations are random, but more cows provide more chances of stumbling on ones that pose a grave risk to humans.

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Why did it take so long to recognize the virus on high-tech farms in the world's richest country? Because even though H5N1 has circulated for nearly three decades, its arrival in dairy cattle was most unexpected. “People tend to think that an outbreak starts at Monday at 9 a.m. with a sign saying, ‘Outbreak has started,'” said Jeremy Farrar, chief scientist at the World Organization. “It's rarely like that.”

By investigating the origins of outbreaks, researchers garner clues about how they start and spread. That information can curb the toll of an epidemic and, ideally, stop the next one. On-the-ground observations and genomic analyses point to Texas as ground zero for this outbreak in cattle. To backtrack in Texas, KFF Health spoke with more than a dozen people, veterinarians, farmers, and state officials.

An early indication that something had gone awry on farms in northwestern Texas came from devices hitched to collars on dairy cows. Turley them as “an advanced tracker.” They collect a stream of data, such as a cow's temperature, its milk quality, and the progress of its digestion — or, rather, rumination — within its four-chambered stomach.

What farmers saw when they downloaded the data in February stopped them in their tracks. One moment a cow seemed perfectly fine, and then four hours later, rumination had halted. “Shortly after the stomach stops, you'd see a huge falloff in milk,” Turley said. “That is not normal.”

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Tests for contagious diseases known to whip through herds came up negative. Some farmers wondered if the illness was related to ash from wildfires devastating to the east.

In hindsight, Turley wished he had made more of the migrating geese that congregate in the panhandle each winter and spring. Geese and other waterfowl have carried H5N1 around the globe. They withstand enormous loads of the virus without getting sick, passing it on to local species, like blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles, that mix with migrating flocks.

But with so many other issues facing dairy farmers, geese didn't register. “One thing you learn in agriculture is that Mother Nature is unpredictable and can be devastating,” Turley said. “Just when you think you have figured it out, Mother Nature tells you you do not.”

Cat Clues

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One dairy tried to wall itself off, careful not to share equipment with or employ the same workers as other farms, Turley recalled. Its cattle still became ill. Turley noted that the farm was downwind of another with an outbreak, “so you almost think it has to have an airborne factor.”

On March 7, Turley called the Texas Animal Health Commission. They convened a One Health group with experts in animal health, human health, and agriculture to ponder what they called the “mystery syndrome.” State veterinarians probed cow tissue for parasites, examined the animals' blood, and tested for viruses and bacteria. But nothing explained the sickness.

They didn't probe for H5N1. While it has jumped into mammals dozens of times, it rarely has spread between species. Most cases have been in carnivores, which likely ate infected birds. Cows are mainly vegetarian.

“If someone told me about a milk drop in cows, I wouldn't think to test for H5N1 because, no, cattle don't get that,” said Thomas Peacock, a virologist at the Pirbright Institute of England who studies avian influenza.

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Postmortem tests of grackles, blackbirds, and other birds found dead on dairy farms detected H5N1, but that didn't turn the tide. “We didn't think much of it since we have seen H5N1-positive birds everywhere in the country,” said Amy Swinford, director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

In the meantime, rumors swirled about a rash of illness among workers at dairy farms in the panhandle. It was flu season, however, and hospitals weren't anything out of the ordinary.

Bethany Boggess Alcauter, director of research at the National Center for Farmworker Health, has worked in the panhandle and suspected farmworkers were unlikely to see a doctor even if they needed one. Clinics are far from where they live, she said, and many don't speak English or Spanish — for instance, they may speak Indigenous languages such as Mixtec, which is common in parts of Mexico. The cost of medical care is another deterrent, along with losing pay by missing work — or losing their jobs — if they don't show up. “Even when medical care is there,” she said, “it's a challenge.”

What finally tipped off veterinarians? A few farm cats died suddenly and tested positive for H5N1. Swinford's group — collaborating with veterinary labs at Iowa State and Cornell universities — searched for the virus in samples drawn from sick cows.

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“On a Friday night at 9 p.m., March 22, I got a call from Iowa State,” Swinford said. Researchers had discovered antibodies against H5N1 in a slice of a mammary gland. By Monday, her team and Cornell researchers identified genetic fragments of the virus. They alerted authorities. With that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that H5N1 had hit dairy cattle.

Recalling rumors of sick farmworkers, Texas health officials asked farmers, veterinarians, and local health departments to encourage testing. About 20 people with coughs, aches, irritated eyes, or other flu-like symptoms stepped forward to be swabbed. Those samples were shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All but one was negative for H5N1. On April 1, the CDC announced this year's first case: a farmworker with an inflamed eye that cleared up within days.

Thirteen dairy farms in the panhandle had been affected, said Brian Bohl, director of field operations at the Texas Animal Health Commission. Farmers report that outbreaks among the herds last 30 to 45 days and most cows return to milking at their usual pace.

The observation hints that herds gain immunity, if temporarily. Indeed, early evidence shows that H5N1 triggers a protective antibody response in cattle, said Marie Culhane, a professor of veterinary population medicine at the University of Minnesota. Nonetheless, she and others remain uneasy because no one knows how the virus spreads, or what risk it poses to people working with cattle.

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Although most cows recover, farmers said the outbreaks have disrupted their careful timing around when cattle milk, breed, and birth calves.

Farmers want answers that would come with further research, but the spirit of collaboration that existed in the first months of the Texas outbreak has fractured. Federal restrictions have triggered a backlash from farmers who find them unduly punishing, given that pasteurized milk and cooked beef from dairy cattle appear to pose no risk to consumers.

The rules, such as prohibiting infected cattle from interstate travel for 30 days, pose a problem for farmers who move pregnant cattle to farms that specialize in calving, to graze in states with gentler winters, and to return home for milking. “When the federal order came out, some producers said, ‘I'm going to quit testing,'” Bohl said.

In May, the USDA offered aid, such as up to $10,000 to test and treat infected cattle. “The financial incentives will ,” Turley said. But how much remains to be seen.

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Federal authorities have pressed states to extract more intel from farms and farmworkers. Several veterinarians warn such pressure could fracture their relationships with farmers, stifling lines of communication.

Having fought epidemics around the world, Farrar cited examples of when strong-arm surveillance pushed outbreaks underground. During an early 2000s bird flu outbreak in Vietnam, farmers circumvented regulations by moving poultry at night, bribing inspection workers, and selling their goods through back channels. “Learning what drivers and fears exist among people is crucial,” Farrar said. “But we always seem to realize that at a later date.”

A powerful driver in the U.S.: Milk is a $60 billion industry. Public health is also bound to bump up against politics in Texas, a state so aggrieved by pandemic restrictions that lawmakers passed a bill last year barring health officials from recommending vaccines.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said that when he heard that federal agents with the CDC and USDA were considering visits to farms — including those where farmers reported the cattle had recovered — he advised against it. “Send federal agents to dairy that's not sick?” he said. “That doesn't pass the smell test.”

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From Texas to the Nation

Peacock said genomic analyses of H5N1 viruses point to Texas as ground zero for the cattle epidemic, emerging late last year.

“All of these little jigsaw puzzle pieces corroborate undetected circulation in Texas for some time,” said Peacock, an author on one report about the outbreak.

Evidence suggests that either a single cow was infected by viruses shed from birds — perhaps those geese, grackles, or blackbirds, he said. Or the virus spilled over from birds into cattle several times, with only a fraction of those moving from cow to cow.

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Sometime in March, viruses appear to have hitched a ride to other states as cows were moved between farms. The limited genomic data available links the outbreak in Texas directly to others in New Mexico, Kansas, Ohio, North Carolina, and South Dakota. However, the routes are imprecise because the USDA hasn't attached dates and locations to data it releases.

Researchers don't want to be caught off guard again by the shape-shifting H5N1 virus, and that will require keeping tabs on humans. Most, if not all, of about 900 people diagnosed with H5N1 infections worldwide since 2003 acquired it from animals, rather than from humans, Farrar said. About half of those people died.

Occasional tests of sick farmworkers aren't sufficient, he said. Ideally, a system is set up to encourage farmworkers, their communities, and health care workers to be tested whenever the virus hits farms nearby.

“Health care worker infections are always a sign of human-to-human transmission,” Farrar said. “That's the approach you want to take — I am not saying it's easy.”

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——————————
By: Amy Maxmen
Title: Clues From Bird Flu's Ground Zero on Dairy Farms in the Texas Panhandle
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/bird-flu-ground-zero-texas-dairy-farms-whodunit-h5n1/
Published Date: Thu, 23 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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Los Angeles County Launches Ambitious Plan To Tackle Medical Debt. Hospitals Groan.

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Molly Castle Work
Thu, 23 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has launched one of the most ambitious efforts in the nation to tackle medical debt, targeting hospitals for their role in feeding a $2.9 problem.

For over a year, the nation's most populous county has worked on a comprehensive plan to track patient debt and hospital collection practices; boost bill forgiveness for low-income ; and buy up and forgive billions in medical debt — an effort helmed by its Department of Public .

Though LA County isn't the first government entity to confront this crisis, what sets it apart is how it casts medical debt not as a political issue, but as an urgent public health threat as prevalent as asthma and diabetes.

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“Nobody in the county of LA who is facing economic limitations should have that impact their ability to get the kind of health care, the kinds of services and that we all need and are essential to optimal well-being,” public health department director Barbara Ferrer said at a medical debt symposium April 10.

Mona Shah of Community Catalyst, a national health equity and policy organization, called the county's efforts bold — tackling the root causes of medical debt, in addition to providing immediate debt relief, with input and participation from health plans, hospitals, community , and government partners. Shah said the county's population of about 10 million adds to the significance of its initiative.

But on the eve of the symposium, the local hospital association called on the county to revise its plan.

“We believe the proposed DPH [Department of Public Health] debt relief program and data collection effort will only burden hospitals with unnecessary requirements, without ultimately helping to address the underlying issue,” wrote George Greene, CEO of the Hospital Association of Southern California, in a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

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Many of the county's recommendations would require hospitals to change their processes and add duties. For instance, the county is asking hospitals to inform it when patient debt is sent to collections and pressing hospitals to improve access to financial assistance programs. Although state requires hospitals to provide assistance, patient advocates say many don't make it easy for patients to access.

Adena Tessler, LA County regional vice president for the hospital association, told KFF Health News the industry provides ample financial assistance and that the county is putting too much emphasis on hospitals' role in the debt crisis, when other sectors of the health care system, such as insurers, should share the blame.

Tessler said the county plan should include all players, health plans, provider groups, and ambulance providers.

“Medical debt is a problem, and we want to be a part of the solution,” Tessler said. “But hospitals are not the only source of medical debt.”

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Medical debt affects 4 in 10 adults in the U.S., according to a KFF Health News analysis. LA County found, in its own analysis this year, that about 785,000 residents were burdened in 2022 with a total of $2.9 billion in medical debt.

The county analysis shows that medical debt disproportionately affects people of color, low-income people, and families with . Having medical debt more than doubled the likelihood that patients would delay or forgo health care or prescriptions or be at risk of losing housing or going hungry.

Nationally, a handful of states have passed rules to limit medical debt collection or bolster hospital financial assistance policies. Some jurisdictions have relieved residents of debt. Connecticut, Colorado, and New York enacted laws in the last two years to ban medical debt on credit reports, which can depress credit scores and make it harder for patients to get a job, rent an apartment, or secure a car loan. California lawmakers have proposed similar legislation, and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also developing a set of rules.

“It's a huge public health problem,” said Naman Shah, medical and dental affairs director at the public health department. “We in public health try to shift the determinants of health. Those are things that impact health deeply and impact people widely. Medical debt fulfills both of those. It's important that we see this as a health issue, and not just a regulatory issue.”

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The department made initial recommendations last spring, then further developed them with the backing of the Board of Supervisors, which described medical debt as “pervasive” and “causing financial, mental, and physical harm … especially to those from historically marginalized communities.”

Shah said that while the department continues to take hospital input and has addressed some of the association's “misunderstandings,” are moving ahead with the plan. Tessler agreed the focus is on collaboration, not halting the county plan.

Over the next several months, the county plans to score hospitals based on financial assistance accessibility and provide them with templates and guidelines to make financial assistance less confusing and less burdensome for patients.

States such as Washington, Oregon, and Maryland have developed similar materials for hospitals.

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The county's goals also call for other debt prevention strategies, including working with plans and providers to better educate consumers to avoid surprise billing and out-of-network charges.

Shah said he was surprised by the timing of the hospital association's letter, especially since county officials and hospital representatives met several times before the April symposium. He agreed it is important to tackle all sources of medical debt but said hospitals are a reasonable place to start. Nearly 75% of adults with medical debt owe some or all of it to hospitals, according to a 2023 Urban Institute analysis.

“We want to get the most bang for our buck,” Shah said. “The largest bill that a patient receives is not a dental bill. It's not an office bill. It's a hospital bill.”

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: Molly Castle Work
Title: Los Angeles County Launches Ambitious Plan To Tackle Medical Debt. Hospitals Groan.
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/los-angeles-county-medical-debt-plan-hospital-dissent/
Published Date: Thu, 23 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://www.biloxinewsevents.com/4-ways-vaccine-skeptics-mislead-you-on-measles-and-more/

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4 Ways Vaccine Skeptics Mislead You on Measles and More

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Amy Maxmen and Céline Gounder
Wed, 22 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Measles is on the rise in the United States. So far this year, the number of cases is about 17 times what it was, on average, during the same period in each of the four years before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of the people infected — mainly children — have been hospitalized.

It's going to get worse, largely because a growing number of are deciding not to get their children vaccinated against measles as well as diseases like polio and pertussis. Unvaccinated people, or those whose immunization status is unknown, account for 80% of the measles cases this year. Many parents have been influenced by a flood of misinformation spouted by politicians, podcast , and influential figures on television and social media. These personalities repeat decades-old notions that erode confidence in the established science backing routine childhood vaccines. KFF Health News examined the rhetoric and explains why it's misguided:

The No-Big-Deal Trope

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A common distortion is that vaccines aren't necessary because the diseases they prevent are not very dangerous, or too rare to be of concern. Cynics accuse public health and the media of fear-mongering about measles even as 19 states cases.

For example, an article posted on the website of the National Vaccine Information Center — a regular source of vaccine misinformation — argued that a resurgence in concern about the disease “is ‘sky is falling' hype.” It went on to call measles, mumps, chicken pox, and influenza “politically incorrect to get.”

Measles kills roughly 2 of every 1,000 children infected, according to the CDC. If that seems like a bearable risk, it's worth pointing out that a far larger portion of children with measles will require hospitalization for pneumonia and other serious complications. For every 10 measles cases, one child with the disease develops an ear infection that can lead to permanent hearing loss. Another strange effect is that the measles virus can destroy a person's existing immunity, meaning they'll have a harder time recovering from influenza and other common ailments.

Measles vaccines have averted the deaths of about 94 million people, mainly children, over the past 50 years, according to an April analysis led by the World Health Organization. Together with immunizations against polio and other diseases, vaccines have saved an estimated 154 million lives globally.

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Some skeptics argue that vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer a threat because they've become relatively rare in the U.S. (True — due to vaccination.) This reasoning led Florida's surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, to tell parents that they could send their unvaccinated children to school amid a measles outbreak in February. “You look at the headlines and you'd think the sky was falling,” Ladapo said on a News Nation newscast. “There's a lot of immunity.”

As this lax attitude persuades parents to decline vaccination, the protective group immunity will drop, and outbreaks will grow larger and faster. A rapid measles outbreak hit an undervaccinated population in Samoa in 2019, killing 83 people within four months. A chronic lack of measles vaccination in the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to more than 5,600 people dying from the disease in massive outbreaks last year.

The ‘You Never Know' Trope

Since the earliest days of vaccines, a contingent of the public has considered them bad because they're unnatural, as with nature's bounty of infections and plagues. “Bad” has been redefined over the decades. In the 1800s, vaccine skeptics claimed that smallpox vaccines caused people to sprout horns and behave like beasts. More recently, they blame vaccines for ailments ranging from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to autism to immune system disruption. Studies don't back the assertions. However, skeptics argue that their claims remain valid because vaccines haven't been adequately tested.

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In fact, vaccines are among the most studied medical interventions. Over the past century, massive studies and clinical trials have tested vaccines during their development and after their widespread use. More than 12,000 people took part in clinical trials of the most recent vaccine approved to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. Such large numbers allow researchers to detect rare risks, which are a major concern because vaccines are given to millions of healthy people.

To assess long-term risks, researchers sift through reams of data for signals of harm. For example, a Danish group analyzed a database of more than 657,000 children and found that those who had been vaccinated against measles as babies were no more likely to later be diagnosed with autism than those who were not vaccinated. In another study, researchers analyzed from 805,000 children born from 1990 through 2001 and found no evidence to back a concern that multiple vaccinations might impair children's immune systems.

Nonetheless, people who push vaccine misinformation, like candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., dismiss massive, scientifically vetted studies. For example, Kennedy argues that clinical trials of new vaccines are unreliable because vaccinated kids aren't compared with a placebo group that gets saline solution or another substance with no effect. Instead, many modern trials compare updated vaccines with older ones. That's because it's unethical to endanger children by giving them a sham vaccine when the protective effect of immunization is known. In a 1950s clinical trial of polio vaccines, 16 children in the placebo group died of polio and 34 were paralyzed, said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of a book on the first polio vaccine.

The Too-Much-Too-Soon Trope

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Several bestselling vaccine books on Amazon promote the risky idea that parents should skip or delay their children's vaccines. “All vaccines on the CDC's schedule may not be right for all children at all times,” writes Paul in his bestselling book “The Vaccine-Friendly Plan.” He backs up this conviction by saying that children who have followed “my protocol are among the healthiest in the world.”

Since the book was published, Thomas' medical license was temporarily suspended in Oregon and Washington. The Oregon Medical Board documented how Thomas persuaded parents to skip vaccines recommended by the CDC, and reported that he “reduced to tears” a mother who disagreed.  Several children in his care came down with pertussis and rotavirus, diseases easily prevented by vaccines, wrote the board. Thomas recommended fish oil supplements and homeopathy to an unvaccinated child with a deep scalp laceration, rather than an emergency tetanus vaccine. The boy developed severe tetanus, landing in the hospital for nearly two months, where he required intubation, a tracheotomy, and a feeding tube to survive.

The vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC has been tailored to protect children at their most vulnerable points in life and minimize side effects. The combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine isn't given for the first year of a baby's life because antibodies temporarily passed on from their mother can interfere with the immune response. And because some babies don't generate a strong response to that first dose, the CDC recommends a second one around the time a child enters kindergarten because measles and other viruses spread rapidly in group settings.

Delaying MMR doses much longer may be unwise because data suggests that children vaccinated at 10 or older have a higher chance of adverse reactions, such as a seizure or fatigue.

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Around a dozen other vaccines have discrete timelines, with overlapping windows for the best response. Studies have shown that MMR vaccines may be given safely and effectively in combination with other vaccines.

'They Don't Want You to Know' Trope

Kennedy compares the Florida surgeon general to Galileo in the introduction to Ladapo's new book on transcending fear in public health. Just as the Roman Catholic inquisition punished the renowned astronomer for promoting theories about the universe, Kennedy suggests that scientific institutions oppress dissenting voices on vaccines for nefarious reasons.

“The persecution of scientists and doctors who dare to challenge contemporary orthodoxies is not a new phenomenon,” Kennedy writes. His running mate, lawyer Nicole Shanahan, has campaigned on the idea that conversations about vaccine harms are censored and the CDC and other federal agencies hide data due to corporate influence.

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Claims like “they don't want you to know” aren't new among the anti-vaccine set, even though the movement has long had an outsize voice. The most listened-to podcast in the U.S., “The Joe Rogan Experience,” regularly features guests who cast doubt on scientific consensus. Last year on the show, Kennedy repeated the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism.

Far from ignoring that concern, epidemiologists have taken it seriously. They have conducted more than a dozen studies searching for a link between vaccines and autism, and repeatedly found none. “We have conclusively disproven the theory that vaccines are connected to autism,” said Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist at the of Wollongong in Australia. “So, the public health establishment tends to shut those conversations down quickly.”

Federal agencies are transparent about seizures, arm pain, and other reactions that vaccines can cause. And the has a program to compensate individuals whose injuries are scientifically determined to result from them. Around 1 to 3.5 out of every million doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction; a person's lifetime risk of by lightning is estimated to be as much as four times as high.

“The most convincing thing I can say is that my daughter has all her vaccines and that every pediatrician and public health person I know has vaccinated their kids,” Meyerowitz-Katz said. “No one would do that if they thought there were serious risks.”

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By: Amy Maxmen and Céline Gounder
Title: 4 Ways Vaccine Skeptics Mislead You on Measles and More
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/measles-how-vaccine-skeptics-mislead-public/
Published Date: Wed, 22 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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