For Profit Insurers Fueling Opioid Epidemic

Alisa Erkes, who has Behcet’s disease, now takes extended-release morphine and hydrocodone after her insurance company stopped covering the painkilling skin patch Butrans that had been effective for her chronic pain. (Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)

By Katie Thomas for The New York Times and Charles Ornstein for ProPublica – At a time when the United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, many insurers are limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction or dependence, even as they provide comparatively easy access to generic opioid medications. The reason, experts say: Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive. Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. That may be changing, however. The New York state attorney general’s office sent letters last week to the three largest pharmacy benefit managers — CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx — asking how they were addressing the crisis. ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed Medicare prescription drug plans covering 35.7 million people in the second quarter of this year. Only one-third of the people covered, for example, had any access to Butrans, a painkilling skin patch that contains a less-risky opioid, buprenorphine.

Fukushima Plant Releasing 770,000 Tons Of Radioactive Water Into Ocean

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By Dahr Jamail for TruthOut. When Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a triple-core meltdown in March 2011 as the result of devastating earthquake, most people had no idea this was only the beginning of a nuclear disaster that has arguably become the single worst industrial accident in human history. Keeping the three core meltdowns cool has been an ongoing challenge that has yet to be met. As fresh water is pumped over the cores, it is then stored on site in massive tanks. The Tokyo Electric Power company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, then has to figure out what to do with that water. Recently, TEPCO announced that it would dump 770,000 tons of radioactive tritium water into the Pacific Ocean.

Solar & Wind Energy Save Thousands Of Lives, Tens Of Billions Annually On Health Costs

Glittering future.	(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

By Akshat Rathi for Quartz – One of the biggest criticisms of the renewable-energy industry is that it has been propped up by government subsidies. There is no doubt that without government help, it would have been much harder for the nascent technology to mature. But what’s more important is whether there has been a decent return on taxpayers’ investment. A new analysis in Nature Energy gives renewable-energy subsidies the thumbs-up. Dev Millstein of Lawerence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues find that the fossil fuels not burnt because of wind and solar energy helped avoid between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths in the US between 2007 and 2015. Fossil fuels produce large amounts of pollutants like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, which are responsible for ill-health and negative climate effects. The researchers found that the US saved between $35 billion and $220 billion in that period because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation. How do these benefits compare to the US government’s outlays? “The monetary value of air quality and climate benefits are about equal or more than state and federal financial support to wind and solar industries,” says Millstein.

Activists Dump Ben And Jerry’s Ice Cream

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By Organic Consumers Association. FINLAND, Minn. – The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) held protests today against Ben & Jerry’s, a subsidiary of Unilever, in seven US cities, and Mexico City. US cities are: Austin, Texas; Burlington, Vt., Chicago; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; New York; and Washington, D.C. “Ben & Jerry’s charges a premium for its ice cream based on claims that its products are “natural” and “GMO-Free,” and that the company is committed to a program of “social responsibility,” which includes concern about environmental issues, global warming, fair labor practices, animal welfare, and economic success for all its partners, including dairy farmers,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director. “Serving up ice cream made with milk from cows raised on GMO animal feed and contaminated with Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller violates all these promises.

US Health Catastrophe: Drug Overdose Deaths Approach 60,000 A Year

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By E.P. Milligan for WSWS – Drug overdose deaths in the United States are rising sharply, the National Center for Health Statistics reported Tuesday. For the year-long period ending January 2017, total US drug overdose deaths totaled 64,070, up 21 percent from 52,898 for the previous year. This is equivalent to 175 people dying every day from drug overdoses. Based on more comprehensive data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, whose figures lag behind the social reality by about a year, more than 500,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses in the period between 2000 and 2015—roughly equivalent to the population of Sacramento, California. More Americans have died of drug overdoses in the 21st century than in all the US wars of the 20th and 21st century combined: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. The horrific scale of loss does not stem from an unexpected or unstoppable epidemic, like the medieval Black Death or the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919. It is not a natural but a social plague, the byproduct of the collapse of living standards and the destruction of jobs for tens of millions of working people. The focal point of the drug overdose epidemic is deindustrialized America: factory towns, centers of coal mining or timber harvesting, areas targeted for devastation by the profit system. Broad swathes of the United States are barren shells of what once used to be. Factories and mills have closed, towns have withered, schools and hospitals have shuttered.

Thousands Attend Free Health Care Event In Detroit

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By Staff of WSWS – Thousands of metro Detroit residents, seeking dental and optical care, are attending a free health clinic, which started Wednesday at the Cobo Hall convention center. Hundreds lined up outside before doors opened at 6 a.m. highlighting the medical crisis in the state, where an estimated 600,000 residents are uninsured and far more cannot afford high co-pays and deductibles. The three–day event is expected to attract more than 4,000 people. The Motor City Medical Mission (MCMM) was organized by California and Florida-based religious institutions—Freedom Clinic and United Hands—which have held similar events with volunteer medical professionals throughout the US and other countries. “The primary need is dental care,” Ann Burnett, executive director of the Motor City Medical Mission Project, told the World Socialist Web Site. “Those that come in are in many cases living with pain and can’t get treatment for things such as abscesses. We also have eye exams and can give them reading and prescription glasses. One gentleman came in for dental services and we were able to pick up early stages of cancer, and probably saved his life.

Health Costs Of Fossil Fuels Six Times Greater Than Subsidies

Pollution in Harbin: Bad air kills 1.6m people prematurely each year.in China.
Image: By Fredrik Rubensson via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby for Climate News Network – LONDON, 31 July, 2017 – Health campaigners say the energy policies of the world’s richest countries are inflicting a double burden on their citizens, not only using their taxes to pay fossil fuel subsidies, but also loading huge health costs on them. The work of the Health and Environment Alliance, HEAL, the report says that although fossil fuel combustion causes deadly air pollution and climate change, virtually all governments spend vast sums of public money – their citizens’ taxes – on supporting the oil, gas and coal industry in fossil fuel energy production. A report by HEAL says the health costs associated with fossil fuels are over six times higher than the subsidies the industry receives in the G20 group of the globe’s leading industrialised countries. The G20 agreed in 2009 to phase out the subsidies, but HEAL says that on average, in countries belonging to the bloc, the health costs associated with fossil fuels are far greater than the subsidies: US$2,758bn against $444bn. HEAL cites a 2015 report by the UK-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which finds that “G20 country governments’ support to fossil fuel production marries bad economics with potentially disastrous consequences for climate change.”

Newsletter: Fight For Health Care Begins

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By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were stalled again this week, due in large part to public pressure including courageous and persistent civil resistance in Congress. This was another battle won to prevent millions more from losing health insurance and tax cuts for the rich, but the fight for a universal healthcare system is far from over. In fact, we have barely begun. 1hcsenDr. Carol Paris writes, “Today, we breathe a quick sigh of relief. But we cannot celebrate a return to the status quo, a system that rations health care based on income and allows 18,000 Americans to die each year unnecessarily.” Dr. Paris argues that rather than focusing on the ACA, we must now advance National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) – a publicly-funded and comprehensive universal healthcare system in the United States. Imagine the impacts National Improved Medicare for All will have when it is achieved…

Let’s Talk Seriously About Medicare For All

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By Dr. Carol Paris for CommonDreams. Hundreds of people slept overnight in cars, or camped for days in a field. They told stories of yanking out their own teeth with pliers, of reusing insulin syringes until they broke in their arm, of chronic pain so debilitating they could hardly care for their own children. At daybreak, they lined up for several more hours outside a white tent, waiting for their chance to visit a doctor. For many, this was the first health care provider they’ve seen in years. Is this a place torn by war, famine or natural disaster? No, this charity medical clinic was last weekend in southwest Virginia, in the wealthiest country in the world, where we spend nearly three times as much money on health care as other similar countries. Clearly, this system is broken. Like a cracked pipe, money gushes into our health care system but steadily leaks out. Money is siphoned into the advertising budgets of insurance companies and the army of corporate bureaucrats working to deny claims.

Celebrate Medicare's Anniversary: Join Call For Single Payer

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By Health Over Profit. Medicare’s 52nd anniversary takes place on July 30, at the beginning of the August Congressional Recess. Actions are being planned across the country to celebrate and call for National Improved Medicare for All. Check out the list below for an action near you. Whether your member of Congress is a supporter or not, there is something that you can do. Show a movie, hold a rally, go to their office, celebrate with a party. And bring this message wherever your member of Congress goes throughout the summer recess! The time for Medicare for All is now.

Protest Inhumane Conditions In St. Louis Jail

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By Caroline Linton for CBS News. St. Louis, MO – St. Louis police in riot gear used pepper spray to disperse protests Friday outside a jail that has drawn intense criticism for not having air-conditioning while the city has faced a heat wave. About 200 people demonstrated for the closure of the St. Louis Workhouse, a medium-security jail, CBS affiliate KMOV reports. The jail, mainly built in the 1960s, has no air conditioning while temperatures have hit triple digits. In a video posted on Facebook earlier this week, inmates can be heard yelling “help us!” and “we ain’t got no A/C!” According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the protesters outside chanted “let them go” while inmates responded “let us out!” At least one person was arrested and several protesters’ cars were towed away, KMOV reports.

Weekly Rally For A Safety Study For Cove Point

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By We Are Cove Point. June 24, 2017 was a turning point for We Are Cove Point. After years of meeting with legislators and state officials to ask for a safety study (known as a Quantitative Risk Assessment or QRA) on Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s fracking refinery, power plant and gas export terminal being built in Cove Point, we learned that the Governor “supports the project and will not order a safety study.” We believe it is possible for the Governor to support the project and have concerns about the health and safety of the thousands of families living close to Dominion’s facility. We can’t accept “no” as an answer because this is the first facility of its kind anywhere in the world to be placed in such a densely-populated area.

1,500 Groups Urge Budget That Invests Health, Jobs & Future

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By Staff of CHN – As Congress begins its work on the FY 2018 budget, we are writing to urge you to ensure that funding is adequate to meet the needs of all people and communities. The undersigned are organizations from across the nation representing millions of Americans, including faith groups, human service providers, labor and civil rights organizations, and advocates and policy experts concerned with improving our nation’s health, protecting our environment, supporting families, reducing poverty and hunger, strengthening our communities, and investing in economic growth and prosperity for all our people. Our message to you is clear: there is no way to keep the promise of prosperity for all Americans, including families with children, women, seniors, people with disabilities, communities of color, and others who are being left behind in the 21st century economy, without significantly increasing investments in public education, affordable housing, health and nutrition, public transit, roads and bridges, clean air, clean water…

First Cross Border Anti-Nuclear Action

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By the Intermountain West Uranium Summit. ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Intermountain West Uranium Summit participants are inviting affinity groups everywhere to take part on July 15-16 in our first Cross-Border AntiNuclear Action (CBAN), commemorating the anniversary of the largest radioactive accident in U.S. history and the explosion of the first atomic bomb. Members are holding events in our locales to raise awareness that the entire nuclear industry, from cradle to grave, is one deadly chain. Beginning with extraction of uranium, proceeding to refinement of yellow cake, through transportation on public routes, operation of nuclear power plants, and weapons manufacture, to waste disposal issues, the nuclear process releases lethal radiation to air, land and water. It history is fraught with accidents, illness and threats to life on earth. It must stop before it kills more humans and other living things.

Sen. Sanders Has His Health Priorities Backwards

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By Margaret Flowers for Health Over Profit. We thought that Senator Sanders was on track to introduce and advocate for a national improved Medicare for All bill, but Tuesday he stated publicly at a Planned Parenthood rally that his priorities are to first defeat the Republican health plan, then to improve the Affordable Care Act with a public option or allowing people to buy-in to Medicare, and then we can work for single payer.