Federal Health Care News



A new study finds that high levels of glucose overstimulates the proteins found in cancerous tumors, making them growth faster.

Published in Nature Communications, the Belgian research team began working on the study in 2008, exploring the Warburg effect, when tumor cells make energy through a rapid breakdown of glucose not seen in normal cells.

The researchers said ‘the findings that establish a link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus.’

The study does not prove that eating a low-sugar diet could change a cancer diagnosis.

"The findings are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg effect," Thevelein said in a release. "Further research is needed to find out whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells."


For the first time, rates of drug overdose deaths are rising in rural areas, surpassing rates in metropolitan (urban) areas, according to a new report in the by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death in the United States, resulting in approximately 52,000 deaths in 2015. This report analyzed trends in illicit drug use and disorders from 2003-2014 and drug overdose deaths from 1999-2015 in urban and rural areas. In 1999, drug overdose death rates for urban areas were higher than in rural areas (6.4 per 100,000 population versus 4.0 per 100,000). The rates converged in 2004, and by 2015 the rural rate (17.0 per 100,000) was slightly higher than the urban rate (16.2 per 100,000).

Urban and rural areas experienced significant increases in the percentage of people reporting past-month illicit drug use. However, there were also significant declines in the percentage of people with drug use disorders among those reporting illicit drug use in the past year. The new findings also show an increase in overdose deaths between 1999 and 2015 among urban and rural residents. This increase was consistent across sex, race, and intent (unintentional, suicide, homicide, or undetermined).

Although the percentage of people reporting illicit drug use is less common in rural areas, the effects of use appear to be greater. The percentage of people with drug use disorders among those reporting past-year illicit drug use were similar in rural and urban areas.

Additional findings from the CDC study:

Most overdose deaths occurred in homes, where rescue efforts may fall to relatives who have limited knowledge of or access to life-saving treatment and overdose follow-up care. Considering where people live and where they die from overdose could improve interventions to prevent overdose. Understanding differences in illicit drug use, illicit drug use disorders, and drug overdose deaths in urban and rural areas can help public health professionals to identify, monitor, and prioritize responses.


Rural counties consistently had higher suicide rates than metropolitan counties from 2001-2015, according to data released in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. There were more than half a million suicides during the 2001–2015 study period.

Mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) include demographic, geographic, and mechanism of death information derived from death certificates filed in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. T

The new report examined annual county level trends in suicide rates during 2001-2015 for rural counties, medium/small metropolitan counties, large metropolitan counties, as well as demographics and mechanism of death. Overall, suicide death rates for rural counties (17.32 per 100,000 people) were higher than medium/small metropolitan counties (14.86) and large metropolitan counties (11.92).

Additional findings from the CDC study:

Across metropolitan and rural areas, suicide rates for males were four to five times higher than for females during the study period.

Suicide rates for Black Non-Hispanics in rural areas were consistently lower than suicide rates for Black Non-Hispanics in urban areas.

White Non-Hispanics have the highest suicide rates in metropolitan counties while American Indian/Alaska Native Non-Hispanics have the highest rates in rural counties.

Findings by age group revealed increases in suicide rates for all ages with the highest rates and greatest rate increases in rural counties.

Visit CDC’s website to learn more about suicide prevention.



The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the Star Ratings for the 2018 Medicare health and drug plans.

With the release of the Star Ratings, people with Medicare will have improved access to high-quality health choices for their Medicare coverage in 2018.

In 2018, people with Medicare will have more choices and options for their Medicare coverage. The number of Medicare Advantage plans available to individuals to choose from across the country is increasing from about 2,700 to more than 3,100 – and more than 85 percent of people with Medicare will have access to 10 or more Medicare Advantage plans.

Most areas across the country have Medicare Advantage and Part D plans with four or more stars. In 2018, approximately 73 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees with prescription drug coverage will be in plans with four and five stars. Compared to 2017, approximately 69 percent of these enrollees were in four and five star plans. Approximately 44 percent of Medicare Advantage plans that offer prescription drug coverage will have an overall rating of four stars or higher in 2018.

Medicare Part D prescription drug plan enrollees are also benefiting from improved access to high-quality plans. In 2018, approximately 47 percent of enrollees in stand-alone prescription drug plans will be in plans with four and five stars. Compared to 2017, approximately 41 percent of enrollees were in four or five star plans. Approximately 52 percent of stand-alone prescription drug plans will have a rating of four stars or higher in 2018.

CMS estimates that the Medicare Advantage average monthly premium will decrease by $1.91 (about 6 percent) in 2018, from an average of $31.91 in 2017 to $30. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of Medicare Advantage enrollees remaining in their current plan will have the same or lower premium for 2018. CMS previously announced that the average basic premium for a Medicare prescription drug plan in 2018 is projected to decline to an estimated $33.50 per month. This represents a decrease of approximately $1.20 below the average basic premium of $34.70 in 2017. The Medicare prescription drug plan average basic premium is projected to decline for the first time since 2012.

The Star Ratings system helps people with Medicare, their families, and their caregivers compare the quality of health and drug plans being offered. Medicare health and drug plans are given a rating on a 1 to 5 star scale, with 1 star representing poor performance and 5 stars representing excellent performance. People with Medicare can compare health coverage choices and the Star Ratings through the online Medicare Plan Finder tool available at Medicare.gov (http://www.medicare.gov).

Medicare Open Enrollment for 2018 Medicare health and drug plans begins on October 15, 2017, and ends December 7, 2017.

Plan costs and covered benefits can change from year to year. People with Medicare should look at their coverage choices and decide the option that best fits their health needs. They can visit Medicare.gov (http://www.medicare.gov), call 1-800-MEDICARE, or contact their State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Those people with Medicare who do not wish to change their current coverage do not need to re-enroll in order to keep their current coverage.

For more information on the 2018 Medicare Advantage and Part D Star Ratings, including a fact sheet, please visit: http://go.cms.gov/partcanddstarratings.

For more information on the premiums and costs of 2018 Medicare health and drug plans, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-Coverage/PrescriptionDrugCovGenIn/index.html.

For a fact sheet on Medicare Advantage and Part D in 2018, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Fact-sheets/2017-Fact-Sheet-items/2017-09-29.html.



The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the first seven tesla (7T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device, more than doubling the static magnetic field strength available for use in the United States.

The Magnetom Terra is the first 7T MRI system cleared for clinical use in the United States.

MRI is a medical imaging procedure that creates images of the internal structures of the body. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves (radiofrequency energy) to generate images. The signal comes mainly from the protons in fat and water molecules in the body. When interpreted by a trained physician, images from an MRI scan provide information that may be useful in determining a diagnosis. MRI scanners come in different magnet field strengths measured in tesla or “T.” Before today’s clearance, clinical MRI systems were available in field strengths of 3T and below.

The FDA reviewed the Magnetom Terra through the 510(k) premarket clearance pathway. A 510(k) is a premarket submission made to the FDA to demonstrate that a new device is substantially equivalent to a legally marketed predicate device.

The Magnetom Terra is for patients who weigh more than 66 pounds, and is limited to examinations of the head, arms and legs (extremities).

The FDA granted clearance of Magnetom Terra system to Siemens Medical Solutions Inc.


On Oct. 5, 2017, Eric Hargan was sworn in as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hargan is a shareholder of Greenberg Traurig, LLP in its Health & FDA Business practice, based in Chicago. He previously served the HHS from 2003-2007 as deputy general counsel, as principal associate deputy secretary and as acting deputy secretary.  In 2014-2015, he served as co-chair and convener of the Healthcare and Human Services Transition Committee for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.  In 2016-2017, he served on President Trump’s transition team for HHS.  He is a previous recipient of the HHS Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service. Hargan earned a BA cum laude in philosophy from Harvard University, and a JD from Columbia University Law School.


As part of the Trump Administration’s government-wide response to Hurricane Maria, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) activated its Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP) for Puerto Rico.

This will give residents access to the critical prescription medications they need. The program pays for prescription medications for people without health insurance who are affected by disasters.

At no cost to uninsured patients, those needing certain drugs during an emergency can obtain a 30-day supply at any of the EPAP participating pharmacies. A list of the eligible drugs is available at http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/epap/Pages/formulary.aspx. Patients can renew their prescriptions every 30 days while the EPAP is active.

They can also use the program to replace maintenance prescription drugs, specific medical supplies, vaccines or medical equipment lost as a direct result of the declared emergency or as a secondary result of loss or damage caused while in transit from the emergency site to the designated shelter facility.

EPAP provides an efficient mechanism for enrolled pharmacies to process claims for prescription medication, specific medical supplies, vaccines and some forms of durable medical equipment for eligible individuals in a federally identified disaster area. More than 750 pharmacies in Puerto Rico participate in EPAP.

Uninsured Puerto Rico residents affected by Hurricane Maria can call Express Scripts, 855-793-7470, to learn if their medication or specific durable medical equipment is covered by EPAP and to find a participating pharmacy.

President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, due to Hurricane Maria.

Information on health, safety and HHS actions are available at www.phe.gov/emergency. Public Service Announcements with post-storm health tips are available at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/psa/index.html. Residents in the continental United States are encouraged to provide these tips to family members and friends in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report finds being overweight or obese is associated with increased risk for 13 types of cancer.

These cancers account for about 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2014. Overall, the rate of new cancer cases has decreased since the 1990s, but increases in overweight- and obesity-related cancers are likely slowing this progress.

About 630,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with a cancer associated with overweight and obesity in 2014. About 2 in 3 occurred in adults 50- to 74-years-old. The rates of obesity-related cancers, not including colorectal cancer, increased by 7 percent between 2005 and 2014. The rates of non-obesity related cancers declined during that time.

In 2013-2014, about 2 out of 3 adults in the U.S. were overweight (defined as having a body mass index of 25-29.9 kg/m2) or had obesity (having a body mass index of 30 kg/m2 and higher). The body mass index (BMI) is a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of the person’s height (in meters).

Many people are not aware that being overweight and having obesity are associated with some cancers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has identified 13 cancers associated with overweight and obesity: meningioma, multiple myeloma, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, and cancers of the thyroid, postmenopausal breast, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus, colon and rectum (colorectal).  Screening for colorectal cancer prevents new cases by finding abnormal growths in the colon and rectum before they turn into cancer.

The Vital Signs report, by CDC and National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers, analyzed 2014 cancer incidence data from the United States Cancer Statistics report and reviewed data from 2005 to 2014 to determine trends for cancers associated with overweight and obesity.

Key findings regarding cancer types associated with overweight and obesity:

Fifty-five percent of all cancers diagnosed in women and 24 percent of those diagnosed in men are associated with overweight and obesity.

Non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites had higher incidence rates compared with other racial and ethnic groups. Black males and American Indian/Alaska Native males had higher incidence rates than white males.

Cancers associated with overweight and obesity, excluding colorectal cancer, increased 7 percent between 2005-2014.  Colorectal cancer decreased 23 percent, due in large part to screening. Cancers not associated with overweight and obesity decreased 13 percent.

Cancers associated with overweight and obesity, excluding colorectal cancer, increased among adults younger than age 75.

To read the entire Vital Signs report, visit: www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/obesity-cancer


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma outlined broad agency efforts underway in support of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in support of the Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

CMS has taken numerous actions to help those impacted by the storm and ensure hospitals and other facilities can continue operations and provide access to care. During the past few weeks, CMS has waived numerous Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements, created special enrollment opportunities for individuals to access healthcare immediately, and helped dialysis patients obtain critical life-saving services. CMS has also created a hotline for doctors assisting with hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

Below are a few of the administrative actions CMS has taken on behalf of Hurricane Maria recovery for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands:

Waivers for Hospitals and other Healthcare Facilities:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared public health emergencies Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. With the public health emergencies in effect, CMS has temporarily waived or modified certain Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP requirements. CMS issued a number of blanket waivers, listed on the website below; and the Regional Office has granted other provider-specific requests for specific types of hospitals and other facilities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These waivers work to provide continued access to care for beneficiaries.  For more information on the waivers CMS granted, visit: https://www.cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/Emergency/Hurricanes.html

Special Enrollment Opportunities for Hurricane Victims:  CMS has made available special enrollment periods for all Medicare beneficiaries and certain individuals seeking health plans offered through the Federal Health Insurance Exchange. This gives individuals and families impacted by the hurricanes the opportunity to change their Medicare health and prescription drug plans and gain access to health coverage on the Exchange immediately if eligible for a special enrollment period. For more information on these special enrollment periods, visit: https://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Press-releases/2017-Press-releases-items/2017-09-28.html

Healthcare Provider Hotline:  CMS established a toll-free hotline servicing Medicare’s Part B providers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The hotline is intended to assist healthcare providers helping with recovery efforts enroll in federal health programs and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges. The toll-free hotline telephone number is 1-855-247-8428.

Dialysis Care:  CMS is helping patients evacuated get access to critical life-saving services.  This includes ensuring the safe transfer of patients to qualified facilities in Florida and Georgia and coordinating wrap around services for those beneficiaries. CMS has also been working with the kidney response center to account for dialysis patients on the island and working with the major dialysis providers to get adequate water and fuel to those facilities as well as to ensure all patients are able to get to their treatments.

CMS will continue to work with all geographic areas impacted by recent hurricanes. We encourage people with federal benefits and providers of health care services that have been impacted by hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria to seek help by visiting CMS’ emergency webpage (www.cms.gov/emergency).


The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced seven new members to serve on the Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, Care, and Services.

The council, established in 2011, convenes quarterly to advise the Secretary on federal programs that affect people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and continue development and progress on the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease by HHS, Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation. The new members will serve four-year terms and replace the members whose terms expire in September. Secretary Price addressed the six outgoing members of the council at their last meeting in July, thanking them for their service and dedication.

Dr. Laura N. Gitlin, who joined the council in 2015, will be the next chair of the council, replacing Dr. Ronald Petersen. Gitlin is an applied research sociologist, is the Isabel Hampton Robb Distinguished Professor within the School of Nursing with joint appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and Division of Geriatric Medicine within the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Starting Feb. 1, 2018, she will be the Distinguished Professor and Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University.

The new members are as follows:

Cynthia Huling Hummel (Patient Advocate – Person Living with Dementia)
Reverend Dr. Hummel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in early 2016. She has participated in numerous presentations and speeches about her disease and is actively helping plan the upcoming National Research Summit on Care, Services and Supports for Persons with Dementia and Their Caregivers. 

Debra Cherry (Patient Advocate)
Dr. Cherry is currently the executive vice president of Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles. For more than 25 years, she has been an effective advocate for persons with dementia and their families. She has led numerous initiatives to develop and evaluate programs to improve quality of care for people living with dementia and advocated at the local, state, and national level to increase access to services. She has expertise across a number of areas as a provider in geriatric psychology, advocate, and leader of an association.

Katie Brandt (Caregiver)
Ms. Brandt is director of Caregiver Support Services in the Frontotemporal dementia unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. She came as a member of the public to an advisory council meeting in July 2014, where she told her moving personal story of losing her young husband to frontotemporal dementia and caring for her father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the same time.

Allan Levey (Healthcare Provider)
Dr. Levey is the director of Emory University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Chairman of the Department of Neurology. He is widely respected among providers and researchers in this field. Dr. Levey is a practicing neurologist in addition to his work on neurodegenerative research and will bring an important dually-informed perspective to the council.

Bradley Hyman (Researcher)
Dr. Hyman is a world renowned neurologist, neuropathologist and neuroscientist with extensive experience in basic and translational neurosciences of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.  Dr. Hyman has served at NACA, as chairman, and as an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center director.  He is also involved in new criteria of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and developed the standardized neuropathological criteria for Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Becky Kurtz (State Public Health Department)
For more than 25 years, Ms. Kurtz has influenced aging policy at state and federal levels and led the provision of social and advocacy services for older adults and individuals with disabilities. Ms. Kurtz currently directs the Aging and Independence Services group within the Atlanta Regional Commission, widely regarded as one of the most innovative area agencies on aging (AAA) in the nation.  Previously she led the Long-Term Ombudsman program both at the state and federal levels and provided legal services to low income elders. In each of these roles, Ms. Kurtz has served and advocated for individuals living with dementia, their families and caregivers. 

Robert Egge (Voluntary Health Association)
Mr. Egge is the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief public policy officer and executive vice president, Government Affairs, and leads the Association’s Public Policy division based in Washington, DC. The division includes government affairs, policy development and grassroots advocacy teams working in pursuit of policies to better serve those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. 

The full advisory council also includes federal members and meets quarterly to continue development and progress on the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease by HHS, Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation. Find the roster at: https://aspe.hhs.gov/advisory-council-alzheimers-research-care-and-services-members

Alzheimer's disease currently affects 5.3 million Americans and is expected to affect more than 20 million by 2050. The National Alzheimer's Project Act pledges to help people and families across the country whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. The Act continues to help strengthen dementia research, clinical care, and long-term care services and supports for affected individuals and their families.

The next meeting of the advisory committee will be Oct. 27, 2017. For more information on the advisory committee, please visit https://aspe.hhs.gov/national-alzheimers-project-act.



A new Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study finds, adults with asthma are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, yet just 54 percent of adults with work-related asthma—asthma triggered by an exposure at work—have been vaccinated against the infection.

CDC recommends all adults 19 through 64 years old with asthma get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.

CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researchers found that adults with work-related asthma were more likely to have reported receiving a pneumococcal vaccine than adults with non-work-related asthma — 54 percent compared with 35 percent, respectively. Among adults with work-related asthma, pneumococcal vaccine coverage was lowest among Hispanics (36 percent), those without health insurance (39 percent), and adults ages 18 to 44 years (42 percent).

The study analyzed data from the 2012-2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a state-based telephone survey, which includes an optional follow-up survey that collects detailed information on asthma. Nearly 10,000 adults ages 18–64 years with asthma from 29 states who have ever held a job, representing an estimated 12 million people, were included in the analysis. Of the adults with asthma in the study, researchers estimated 15 percent had work-related asthma.

CDC estimates that about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia each year and about 5-7 percent die from it. Adults with asthma who get pneumococcal pneumonia are at risk for additional complications including asthma exacerbation and invasive pneumococcal disease. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccination for all adults 19 through 64 years old with asthma.

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause many types of illnesses including ear infections, meningitis, and pneumonia. Vaccination is the safest, most effective way to protect yourself from getting pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against some of the more than 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria.

For more information on pneumococcal disease including risk factors, symptoms, prevention, and more information about vaccines, visit the CDC website. To learn more about work-related asthma, including its triggers and causes and how to prevent it, visit the NIOSH website.

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