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Health Highlights: May 10, 2019


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

Gilead Donation of HIV Prevention Drug Gets Mixed Reaction

The maker of the only drug approved in the United States to prevent HIV infection will donate enough of Truvada to supply 200,000 Americans for up to 11 years, the Department of Health and Human Services says.

While the announcement about Gilead Sciences' donation was hailed by the Trump administration, there were mixed reactions from HIV activists. Some believed it was a good start, while others said it wouldn't be enough to end the AIDS epidemic and questioned the company's motives, The New York Times reported.

Critics say the high cost of Truvada -- $20,000 a year -- has been a major barrier to halting the spread of HIV among low-income Americans, and one reason why the AIDS epidemic has lasted so long.

Truvada is taken once a day to prevent HIV infection. About one million Americans are at risk for infection with the AIDS-causing virus and should be taking the pills, but only about 270,000 do so, The Times reported.

A sharp price cut for Truvada and the Gilead drug that's slated to replace it and will cost the same, Descovy, would do far more good than this donation, critics say.

Gilead will donate Truvada until Descovy is approved in the U.S., then switch patients to the new drug.

Gilead has sued several companies that tried to introduce generic versions of the drug in the U.S. and kept those drugs out of the country, sparking harsh criticism, The Times reported.

A less expensive generic version of Truvada is expected to become available in the U.S. next year.

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Denver Voters Approve Measure to Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms

A measure to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms was approved by voters in Denver, Colorado in a very close vote, with 50.56% in favor and 49.44% against.

However, the numbers are unofficial until May 16, the Denver Election Division said Wednesday. The margin for a recount is one-half of one percent, CNN reported.

The measure would allow adults 21 and older to use and possess psilocybin mushrooms, and Denver would become the first municipality in the U.S. to decriminalize magic mushrooms.

The measure does not fully legalize psilocybin or permit it to be sold by cannabis businesses, CNN reported.

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HIV Diagnoses in U.S. Women Remain Much Higher in Blacks: CDC

Rates of new HIV diagnoses in American women remain much higher among blacks than whites and Hispanics, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

It said that while overall HIV diagnoses fell by 21% from 2010 to 2016, black women accounted for 6 in 10 new HIV infections among women in 2016, NBC News reported.

If rates of new HIV infections were the same among black and white women, infections among both groups would have been 75% lower in 2010 and 70% lower in 2016, and 93% of infections among black women in 2016 would not have occurred, the CDC said.

The data show the need to improve HIV prevention and care in heterosexual black men and women in order to reduce HIV infections among black women, according to the authors.

"We know that African American women are disproportionally affected by the HIV epidemic in the United States, and the interventions that have been laid out have not impacted this group in the same way it has males and nonblack women," Dr. Michael Angarone, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told NBC News.

In the U.S., a woman tests positive for HIV every 35 minutes, according to the Black Women's Health Imperative.

Of the total estimated number of U.S. women with HIV at the end of 2013, 61% were black and only 30 percent of them had achieved viral suppression, NBC News reported.

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Trump Joins Fight Against Surprise Medical Bills

U.S. lawmakers trying to fight surprise medical bills could get some help from President Donald Trump when he outlines measures he can support in legislation to limit such bills.

Surprise medical bills, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, are unexpected charges that insured patients are hit with when a member of their health care team is not in their insurer's network, the Associated Press reported.

For months, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been trying to tackle the issue, and White House support improves the chances of making progress.

Senior White House officials said Trump will address the issue in a speech on Thursday, the AP reported.

Ahead of the speech, leaders of a House committee said they are ready to move legislation.

"No family should be left in financial ruin through no fault of their own, which is why we have been working together on a bipartisan solution to protect patients that we hope to announce soon," Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and ranking Republican Greg Walden, R-Ore., said in a joint statement, the AP reported.

Surprise bills can be a problem for patients treated for medical emergencies, and Trump is expected to say that those patients should not have to pay more than the amount paid to in-network providers.

New legislation also should protect patients seeking elective care by ensuring that they're fully informed beforehand about which providers are considered out of network and the extra costs that will incur, the AP reported.

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