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Health Highlights: March 4, 2019


Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.S Teen Who Defied Mother to Get Vaccinated Will Testify Before Senate Committee

The American teen who got vaccinated against his "anti-vaxx" mother's wishes says he'll testify at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on vaccinations.

On Twitter, Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, said he'll testify about the importance of vaccines in front of the Committee on Health, Education Labor, and Pensions, USA Today reported.

He said he's looked forward to speaking about "outbreaks of preventable diseases as well as addressing misinformation that causes these outbreaks."

The hearing will also hear from John Wiesman, Washington state's secretary of health; John Boyle, president and CEO of the Immune Deficiency Foundation, and other health experts, USA Today reported.

Lindenberger has received vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza and HPV, according to the Washington Post.

People opting out of vaccinations have become a global health threat, the World Health Organization says.

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Closures of Rural Nursing Homes Pose Problems for Elderly

The rising number of rural nursing home closures mean that many elderly Americans are ending up in facilities far from their hometowns and families.

More than 440 rural nursing homes have closed or merged over the last decade, according to the Cowles Research Group, which monitors long-term care, The New York Times reported.

In the last decade, 36 rural nursing homes across the country had to close because they did not meet health and safety standards.

But many more have closed for financial reasons, including health care policies that encourage people to choose independent and assisted living or stay in their own homes with support, The Times reported.

But such options may not be available to people in remote communities.

Adult children may have moved away, home health aides may be difficult to find and too expensive to hire around the clock, and the senior-citizen apartments may be in short supply and have waiting lists, The Times reported.

"How often have you heard somebody say, 'If I go to a nursing home, just shoot me?'" said Stephen Monroe, a researcher on aging in America.

"In the rural areas, you don't have options. There are no alternatives," he told The Times.

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Eli Lilly to Sell Cheaper Version of Insulin Drug

A cheaper version of Eli Lilly's most popular insulin drug, Humalog, is being introduced by the drug maker.

The "authorized generic" of Humalog 100 will sell for $137.35 per vial, 50 percent lower than the list price for Humalog. An authorized generic is identical to the brand-name drug and made in the same facilities, but just has a different label, The New York Times reported Monday.

The new product will be called Insulin Lispro and will become available as soon as possible, according to the company.

The move comes as drug makers face widespread criticism about the rising costs of prescription drugs.

"This announcement is a great step forward to make insulin more affordable," said Derek Rapp, the chief executive of JDRF, a diabetes advocacy group that receives funding from Eli Lilly, the Times reported.

Rapp called on "all other insulin manufacturers to follow Eli Lilly in finding ways to bring down the price of this lifesaving drug."

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Anthem/Blue Cross Sued Over Direct Payments to Patients

Anthem and its Blue Cross entities have been sued by Sovereign Health for allegedly paying patients directly, to compel health care facilities and providers to join the health insurance network and accept lower payments.

The lawsuit in federal court accuses Anthem of giving more than $1.3 million to patients treated for addiction and mental health disorders instead of paying the facilities that treated the patients, CNN reported.

There are a number of problems in giving the payments directly to these patients, according to Lisa Kantor, one of the lead attorneys representing Sovereign Health.

"One of the things we have to worry about is that kind of money getting into the hands of someone who has an addiction problem," Kantor told CNN.

Another problem is that the facilities have to try to collect the money from the patients, which can be difficult.

Having insurers send money directly to patients is "insane," according to Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University's School of Medicine.

"My overall, moral reaction is: Are you kidding me?" he told CNN.

"Only in our crazy, market-driven, bureaucratic mess of a system would we think about this kind of a solution," Caplan said.

Anthem declined comment for the story, CNN reported.

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Research on Deadly Bird Flu Virus to Resume

After being halted in 2014 due to safety concerns, research that could make the bird flu more deadly has been approved again by the Trump administration.

The decision was not publicly announced and no explanation was given about how it was made, The New York Times reported.

The decisions by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in recent months to allow two labs in Wisconsin and the Netherlands to resume the research were first reported in the journal Science.

The Wisconsin group was notified in October, and the Dutch group in January, according to an HHS spokeswoman.

Some scientists oppose the research because they believe it could create mutant viruses that could trigger deadly pandemics if released through lab accidents or terrorism, the Times reported.

The newspaper said that HHS officials did not explain why their decisions on the two labs were not announced at the time they were made.

HHS and a U.S. National Institutes of Health spokeswoman said the decision to allow the research to resume was announced in December 2017, when the NIH said the studies would be permitted, but only after newly-formed expert panels determined that each proposal was safe and scientifically sound, the Times reported.

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