Millions

health

COVID start-up based in GOP donor’s luxury condo could get millions from U.S.

An obscure South Carolina company may be in line for millions of dollars in U.S. government funding to produce a coronavirus treatment after a former Republican senator with a financial stake in the business lobbied senior U.S. government officials, the Associated Press reports.

Plasma Technologies LLC, has received seed money to test a possible COVID-19-fighting blood plasma technology. But as much as $65 million more could be on the way, a windfall for the company that operates out of the founder’s luxury condo, according to internal government records and other documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The story of how a tiny business that exists only on paper has managed to snare so much top-level attention is emblematic of the Trump administration’s frenetic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

And it’s another in a series of contracts awarded despite concerns over their proposals voiced by government scientists. The others include a $21 million study of the heartburn drug Pepcid as a COVID therapy, and more than $500 million to ApiJect Systems America, a startup with an unapproved medicine injection technology and no factory to manufacture the devices. In addition, a government whistleblower claimed that a $1.6 billion vaccine contract to Novavax Inc. was made over objections of government scientific staff.

At the center of these deals is Dr. Robert Kadlec, a senior Trump appointee at the Department of the Health and Human Services, who backed the Pepcid, Novavax and ApiJect projects. Records obtained by the AP also describe Kadlec as a key supporter of Plasma Tech, owned by Eugene Zurlo, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and well connected Republican donor. Three years ago, Zurlo brought Rick Santorum, who spent 12 years as a GOP senator from Pennsylvania, aboard as a part-owner.


Road to a vaccine: Operation Warp Speed

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Kadlec has come under pressure from the White House to act with more urgency and not be bound by lower-level science officials whom Trump has castigated as the “deep state” and accused of politically motivated delays in fielding COVID-19 vaccines and remedies.

The AP reached out to more than a dozen blood plasma industry leaders and medical experts. Few had heard of Zurlo’s company or its technology for turning human plasma into protein-rich antibody therapies, and would not comment.

Zurlo said in an email that the shortage of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, which is needed to make these therapies, underlines the need for the technology he’s patented to harvest as many of these proteins as possible.

Rick Santorum steps up sales pitch

In early April, shortly after Congress supplied hundreds of billions of dollars to combat the pandemic, Santorum stepped up his sales pitch for Plasma Technologies and the process the company has described as “disruptive and transformative,” according to the records.

In mid-August, the federal government awarded Plasma Technologies a $750,000 grant to demonstrate that it could deliver on its promises.

HHS would not comment when asked whether Santorum’s public backing of the president helped the company he has

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health

‘Obamacare’ sign-ups begin as millions more are uninsured

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans who have lost health insurance in an economy shaken by the coronavirus can sign up for taxpayer-subsidized coverage starting Sunday.

It’s not a new COVID relief program from the government but the return of annual sign-up season under the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” Open enrollment lasts through Dec. 15.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs HealthCare.gov, says premiums are down slightly on average for 2021 and most people will have at least three insurers from which to pick plans. Lower-income people and even middle-class families may qualify for tax credits that can greatly reduce what they pay monthly for premiums.

But President Donald Trump, unrelenting in his opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature domestic program, is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the entire law.

Trump has been promising a much better replacement since before taking office, but never came out with his plan. The justices are scheduled to hear the case Nov. 10, and the administration is doing little to promote sign-ups, having previously slashed the program’s ad budget.

“Affordable health coverage is more essential than ever during the pandemic,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who’s urging people to enroll even if Trump keeps trying to do away with the law.

Hard numbers on how virus-related job losses have affected health coverage are not available because the most reliable government surveys will not be out until next year. Estimates range from 5 million to 10 million newly uninsured people. That’s on top of 26 million uninsured last year, before the pandemic, or about 8% of the U.S. population.

“There is a coverage crisis happening, ” said Stan Dorn, a health policy expert now with Families USA, a liberal advocacy group. “And there are fewer resources available to help, thanks to the Trump cuts.”

Dorn worries that’s “a setup for epic failure,” and many people will remain uninsured even as states across the country are seeing alarming increases in coronavirus cases.

Administration officials say HealthCare.gov is open for business and ready to handle sign-ups online or via its call center. “We’ll be working through the upcoming open enrollment period…to ensure a smooth user experience,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.

More than 11 million people currently have coverage through HealthCare.gov and state-run health insurance markets offering subsidized private plans. The health law also covers another 12 million people through its Medicaid expansion, adopted by all but 12 states.

Medicaid enrollment has gone up by nearly 4 million people since March, but it’s still unclear how many laid-off workers are coping after the loss of employer coverage in the coronavirus economy.

Those who are healthy most likely have other priorities, such as finding another job. Workers who were furloughed, but not laid off, may have been able to keep their coverage. Some appear to have switched to a spouse’s plan, and those age 65 and older can get on Medicare.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 80% of those

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health

‘Obamacare’ sign-ups begin as millions more are uninsured | St. Louis business news

Hard numbers on how virus-related job losses have affected health coverage are not available because the most reliable government surveys will not be out until next year. Estimates range from 5 million to 10 million newly uninsured people. That’s on top of 26 million uninsured last year, before the pandemic, or about 8% of the U.S. population.

“There is a coverage crisis happening, ” said Stan Dorn, a health policy expert now with Families USA, a liberal advocacy group. “And there are fewer resources available to help, thanks to the Trump cuts.”

Dorn worries that’s “a setup for epic failure,” and many people will remain uninsured even as states across the country are seeing alarming increases in coronavirus cases.

Administration officials say HealthCare.gov is open for business and ready to handle sign-ups online or via its call center. “We’ll be working through the upcoming open enrollment period…to ensure a smooth user experience,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.

More than 11 million people currently have coverage through HealthCare.gov and state-run health insurance markets offering subsidized private plans. The health law also covers another 12 million people through its Medicaid expansion, adopted by all but 12 states.

Medicaid enrollment has gone up by nearly 4 million people since March, but it’s still unclear how many laid-off workers are coping after the loss of employer coverage in the coronavirus economy.

Source Article

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health

‘Obamacare’ sign-ups begin as millions more are uninsured

WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of Americans who have lost health insurance in an economy shaken by the coronavirus can sign up for taxpayer-subsidized coverage starting Sunday.

It’s not a new COVID relief program from the government but the return of annual sign-up season under the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” Open enrollment lasts through Dec. 15.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs HealthCare.gov, says premiums are down slightly on average for 2021 and most people will have at least three insurers from which to pick plans. Lower-income people and even middle-class families may qualify for tax credits that can greatly reduce what they pay monthly for premiums.


But President Donald Trump, unrelenting in his opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature domestic program, is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the entire law.

Trump has been promising a much better replacement since before taking office, but never came out with his plan. The justices are scheduled to hear the case Nov. 10, and the administration is doing little to promote sign-ups, having previously slashed the program’s ad budget.

“Affordable health coverage is more essential than ever during the pandemic,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who’s urging people to enroll even if Trump keeps trying to do away with the law.

Hard numbers on how virus-related job losses have affected health coverage are not available because the most reliable government surveys will not be out until next year. Estimates range from 5 million to 10 million newly uninsured people. That’s on top of 26 million uninsured last year, before the pandemic, or about 8% of the U.S. population.

“There is a coverage crisis happening, ” said Stan Dorn, a health policy expert now with Families USA, a liberal advocacy group. “And there are fewer resources available to help, thanks to the Trump cuts.”

Dorn worries that’s “a setup for epic failure,” and many people will remain uninsured even as states across the country are seeing alarming increases in coronavirus cases.

Administration officials say HealthCare.gov is open for business and ready to handle sign-ups online or via its call center. “We’ll be working through the upcoming open enrollment period…to ensure a smooth user experience,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.

More than 11 million people currently have coverage through HealthCare.gov and state-run health insurance markets offering subsidized private plans. The health law also covers another 12 million people through its Medicaid expansion, adopted by all but 12 states.

Medicaid enrollment has gone up by nearly 4 million people since March, but it’s still unclear how many laid-off workers are coping after the loss of employer coverage in the coronavirus economy.

Those who are healthy most likely have other priorities, such as finding another job. Workers who were furloughed, but not laid off, may have been able to keep their coverage. Some appear to have switched to a spouse’s plan, and those age 65 and older can get on Medicare.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 80% of

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health

The Health 202: Hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses will be ready in early 2021, officials say

“We are on the brink of seeing the fruits of our labor,” said Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, the initiative created by the administration to get a safe vaccine approved and distributed as quickly as possible.

The administration is working on two parallel tracks to get a vaccine approved and ready to distribute.

Perna said he, along with Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, recently visited the Tennessee offices of McKesson, the major vaccine distributor that has contracted with the government to head up distribution of eventual coronavirus vaccines.

“At the end of the day I chose [McKesson] because they know how to do it,” Perna said.

Once the Food and Drug Administration approves a coronavirus vaccine for emergency use — expected to happen in late November or early December if trials continue going well — McKesson will partner with FedEx and UPS, along with a number of pharmacies and grocery stores including Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and Kroger, to get the doses shipped around the country, Perna said.

The Defense Department is closely involved in the effort, prompting concerns that an agency not accustomed to delivering vaccines might be charged with the critical task. Perna insisted, however, that the department is helping with logistics and program support — not distribution.

“There will not be this vision some people have of army trucks driving through the street delivering vaccine,” he told listeners on the online forum. “This is not feasible nor the proper way to do this.”

States also have a role to play. They’ve all submitted to the federal government plans for distributing a vaccine, with varying standards for who should get a vaccine first and how quickly the process should move.

New Jersey, for example, wants to administer the vaccine 70 percent of non-pregnant adults within six months. Nebraska laid out two initial phases of vaccine distribution in which the vaccine first goes to medical staff and later to the elderly and people with underlying conditions.

The vaccine news couldn’t come at a more critical time as cases of the novel coronavirus are surging across the country – and public health officials warn things could deteriorate further over the winter. Trump, however, continues to insist the country is “rounding the corner” in the disease as the election approaches next Tuesday, and his chief of staff said this weekend that the virus could only be controlled through a vaccine and therapeutics.

The process is moving with unprecedented speed, but there are plenty of challenges.

For one thing, vaccines require cold storage. Medical professionals distributing a vaccine will also need equipment including needles, syringes, alcohol, pads, bandages and masks.

And government officials say it’s critical to track who is getting the vaccine and where. Five of the six vaccines being developed as part of Warp Speed — excluding the vaccine being developed by Johnson & Johnson — require two doses. People who receive a first dose will need to be given the same vaccine in their second

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Bottle-fed Babies Ingest ‘Millions’ Of Microplastics: Study

Bottle-fed babies may ingest more than a million pieces of microplastics each day, new research showed Monday highlighting the abundance of plastics in our food products.

There is growing evidence that humans consume huge numbers of the tiny particles, formed when larger pieces of plastic break down, but very little is known about the knock-on health consequences.

Researchers in Ireland looked at the rate of microplastic release in 10 types of baby bottles or accessories made from polypropylene, the most commonly used plastic for food containers.

Very little is known about the knock-on health consequences of microplastic consumption, and the study authors warned against undue alarm Very little is known about the knock-on health consequences of microplastic consumption, and the study authors warned against undue alarm Photo: AFP / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD

They followed official guidelines from the World Health Organization on sterilisation and formula preparation conditions.

Over a 21-day test period, the team found that the bottles released between 1.3 and 16.2 million plastic microparticles per litre.

They then used this data to model the potential global infant exposure to microplastics from bottle-feeding, based on national average rates of breast-feeding.

Chart showing the estimated exposure of 12-month old babies to microplastics by country, according to new research Chart showing the estimated exposure of 12-month old babies to microplastics by country, according to new research Photo: AFP / John SAEKI

They estimated that the average bottle-fed baby could be ingesting 1.6 million plastic microparticles every day during the first 12 months of their lives.

The authors of the research, published in the Nature Food journal, said that sterilisation and exposure to high water temperatures had the biggest effect on microplastic release, going from 0.6 million particles per litre on average at 25C to 55 million/litre at 95C.

The authors told AFP that the aim of the research was “not to worry parents” about the potential health risks of bottle microplastics.

Chart showing the expected exposure of 12-month old babies to microplastics by country Chart showing the expected exposure of 12-month old babies to microplastics by country Photo: AFP / John SAEKI

“We have communicated, as strongly as we can, that we do not know the potential health risks of infant ingestions of microplastics,” said the team, from Trinity College Dublin.

“This is an area of research we are now actively pursuing.”

The authors noted that it was in developed nations that babies were likely ingesting the most plastic — 2.3 million particles daily in North America and 2.6 million in Europe.

This was attributed to relatively low breast-feeding rates in richer countries.

They said the levels could easily be lowered by taking a few additional steps, including rinsing bottles with cold sterilised water and preparing formula milk in a non-plastic container before filling the bottle.

Fay Couceiro, Senior Research Fellow in Biogeochemistry, University of Portsmouth, said Monday’s research highlighted the “urgency for studies on microplastic impacts on human health”.

She said that it was important not to be “alarmist” when it came to bottle feeding, which many parents prefer for a variety of reasons.

“The risks from not sterilising bottles or using hot water are well understood and very real, and these known risks of disease must outweigh that of microplastic production until their health risks are understood,” said Couceiro, who

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