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Top news stories from AMA Morning Rounds®: Week of March 11, 2024


Read AMA Morning Rounds®’ most popular stories in medicine and public health from the week of March 11, 2024–March 15, 2024.

The Washington Post (3/14, Joselow) reports, “The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced tougher limits on a cancer-causing gas used to sterilize medical equipment, a move aimed at helping disadvantaged communities across the country reduce their exposure to a toxic pollutant.” The limits target ethylene oxide emissions. However, “some environmental and public health advocates criticized the final rule as too weak, saying it would not adequately protect low-income and” historically marginalized “communities that are disproportionately affected.” Conversely, “the medical device industry warned that the rule could disrupt the supply of safe medical equipment at hospitals and clinics nationwide.”

The AP (3/14, Daly) reports the rule “will reduce ethylene oxide emissions by about 90% by targeting nearly 90 commercial sterilization facilities across the country, the EPA said. The companies will also have to test for the antimicrobial chemical in the air and make sure their pollution controls are working properly.”

The New York Times (3/14, Friedman) reports, “When inhaled, the gas can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and has been linked to lymphoid and breast cancer as well as damage to the brain and nervous and reproductive systems.”

The Washington Post (3/13, Malhi, Keating) reports, “A new study calls into question the extent of the maternal mortality crisis in the United States, which has long posted a disproportionately high rate of maternal deaths compared with peer nations.” The Post adds “data classification errors have inflated U.S. maternal death rates for two decades, according to the study published” in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. A change in how “pregnancy was noted on death certificates 21 years ago to improve the detection of maternal deaths led to ‘substantial misclassification’ and an ‘overestimation of maternal mortality,’ the study found.”

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HealthIT Security says, “The health care sector suffered more ransomware attacks than any other critical infrastructure sector last year, according to complaint data examined in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2023 Internet Crime Report.” In 2023, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) “received a record 880,418 complaints, with losses exceeding $12.5 billion.” These numbers “signify a 10% increase in complaints received and a 22% increase in losses suffered compared to last year’s report.” The FBI “received 1,193 complaints from critical infrastructure organizations alone in 2023,” of which “249 of them were from health care.”

The Washington Post (3/11, A1, Romm) reports, “Pharmaceutical giants are mounting a vigorous legal battle against President Biden’s plan to lower seniors’ prescription drug costs, urging federal judges here and around the country to invalidate a new program that aims to reduce the price of medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.” Some lawsuits appear “primed to reach the Supreme Court, which could carry lasting implications for the government’s ability to regulate health care prices broadly.” In particular, “the pharmaceutical industry specifically seeks to block a new law that enables Medicare to negotiate the price of select drugs under its prescription benefit, known as Part D.”

The Washington Post (3/9, Diamond) reported CMS officials on Saturday “said they would offer emergency funding to physicians, physical therapists and other professionals that provide outpatient health care, following a cyberattack that crippled the nation’s largest processor of medical claims and left many organizations in financial distress.” Officials “also announced that it would make advance payments available to suppliers that bill through Medicare Part B,” and “lawmakers and physicians on Saturday said that emergency funding would offer sorely needed financial relief to physician groups and other health care providers that have rapidly exhausted their cash reserves and are struggling to meet payroll.”

The New York Times (3/8, Abelson, Creswell) reported that “financially strapped doctors, hospitals and medical providers on Friday sharply criticized UnitedHealth Group’s latest estimate that it would take weeks longer to fully restore a digital network that funnels hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance payments every day.” The insurance company “said that it would be at least two weeks more to test and establish a steady flow of payments for bills that have mounted since hackers effectively shut down Change Healthcare, the nation’s largest billing and payment clearinghouse, on Feb. 21.”

CNN (3/9, Lyngaas) reported American Medical Association President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, said in a statement Friday, “The prospect of a month or more without a restored Change Healthcare claims system emphasizes the critical need for economic assistance to physicians, including advancing funds to financially stressed medical practices.”

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