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January 16, 2018
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The percentage of U.S. adults without health insurance grew by 1.3 percentage points in 2017, or about 3.2 million people, Gallup reports, based on its Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index survey. This is first rise since the Affordable Care Act was enacted and the single largest increase in the uninsured rate since Gallup and Sharecare began measuring it in 2008, though at 12.2 percent uninsured it is below the peak uninsured rate of 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013, before the ACA's exchange markets and individual mandate took effect. The jump in uninsured adults was highest among young adults and Latino, black, and low-income Americans, Gallup said.

Gallup attributed the growing uninsured rate to rising premiums, insurers leaving markets, well-publicized and unsuccessful Republican attempts to repeal the ACA, more succesfull attempts to undermine it, and the common perception that the GOP would scrap the individual mandate, which they did in their tax overhaul. Republicans are looking to change the funding mechanisms for Medicaid and Medicare, and "with less federal assistance from these programs to help offset the rising cost of health insurance, fewer Americans may be able to afford health insurance," Gallup predicted. Gallup conducted more than 25,000 interviews from October through December, and the margin of sampling error is ± 1 percentage points. Peter Weber

January 11, 2018
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In late December, the Health and Human Services Department canceled the contract of the organization that oversees the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, a federal database of vetted and approved interventions to treat drug addiction and mental illness, The Washington Post reports. HHS officials froze the website in September, meaning no new treatments have been added in the past 90 days, and mental health and substance abuse specialists are both concerned about the database's future and confused as to why the Trump administration is changing the registry after 20 years.

Instead of an outside contractor, Development Services Group Inc., choosing which treatments are scientifically sound, the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and specifically its new National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory, or Policy Lab, will run the registry. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he was "concerned" by the change "and looking into it," and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said she was "shocked to learn that the NREPP contract has been terminated as an opioid epidemic continues to shake our nation" and is "determined to find out why SAMHSA has made such a mind-boggling decision."

Mental health professionals tell the Post they view the database as neutral, nonpartisan, and a crucial tool for choosing treatments, and they're worried moving it inside SAMHSA could politicize the treatment selection process. Agency spokesman Christopher Garrett said Wednesday that it's SAMHSA's job to "lead the efforts to rapidly institute evidence-based practices in all behavioral health treatment programs," and "the federal government should not be in the business of having a single contractor determine winners and losers in behavioral health care." In its email informing program participants its contract was canceled, Development Services Group said SAMHSA explained the decision as "for the convenience of the government." You can read more about the registry at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

January 2, 2018
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Chicago recorded 650 homicides and 2,785 shootings in 2017, according to Chicago Police Department statistics released Monday. That's a drop from 2016's 771 homicides and 3,550 shootings, but still more murders than in New York City and Los Angeles combined. Chicago police credit new technology for the significant decline and are optimistic that continued rollout of Strategic Decision Support Centers and their accompanying high-tech equipment will lead to further reductions. So far, six of Chicago's districts have the centers, which feature technology that allows police to instantly pick up and pinpoint gunshots and alert officers through smartphone apps and in-car computers.

"I am proud of the progress our officers made in reducing gun violence all across the city in 2017," Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement. The Rev. Marshall Hatch, whose West Side church is in one of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods, was less impressed. "You still have to start with the fact that 600 people dead in Chicago is a hell of a lot of people to be dead in one year," he told The Associated Press, adding that he's concerned police will think adding new officers and technology will solve rampant gang violence and other problems caused by social conditions he says are best addressed through increasing social services. Peter Weber

December 22, 2017
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On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission's Enforcement Bureau fined Sinclair Broadcasting $13.4 million for failing to disclose that TV segments that looked like independent news coverage had been paid programming from the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. It is the largest fine the FCC has levied for violations of its ad disclosure regulations, and Sinclair has 30 days to contest the levy.

Sinclair is trying to get regulatory approval to buy Tribune Media, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has paved the way by overturning rules limiting media consolidation. "Sinclair's management has always been right-leaning," Axios notes, and "Pai, a Republican, has been accused by progressives as being favorable to the broadcaster. This fine is a way for the FCC to show it isn't giving Sinclair a pass for violating its ad disclosure rules." Peter Weber

December 21, 2017
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House Republican leaders are trying to unite their caucus around a bare-bones spending package that would fund the government until Jan. 19, allowing them to leave for Christmas break without having to fight Democrats over issues like immigration, health care for 9 million low-income children, and other domestic programs. House Republicans emerged from a meeting Wednesday night still split over a defense spending measure that wouldn't pass in the Senate, $81 billion in disaster relief opposed by some fiscal conservatives, and health-care bills, but also wary of shutting down the government they control at midnight Friday, when the current continuing resolution expires.

"I can't think of a bigger act of political malpractice after a successful tax reform vote than to shut the government down," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.). "Talk about stepping on your own message. I mean, really, how dumb would that be?" The Senate will vote after the House. Peter Weber

December 20, 2017
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On Wednesday, the British government said that by 2020 it will guarantee broadband internet access of at least 10 Mbps to all houses and businesses in the U.K. that request it, at a reasonable cost. Britain's Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport rejected a proposal from network provider BT to voluntarily connect the 4 percent of U.K. homes and offices, or. 1.1 million properties, that don't have broadband internet access, mostly in rural areas, deciding that only a universal service obligation would provide certainty.

Matt Hancock, Britain's digital minister, said this is about access, not forcing Britons to use the internet. "Access means you can phone up somebody, ask for it, and then someone has the legal duty to deliver on that promise," he told BBC Radio 4. "It is about having the right to demand it, so it will be an on-demand program. So if you don't go on the internet, aren't interested, then you won't phone up and demand this."

"The government is taking quite a risk," says BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. "Now it is the regulator's job to make sure this all works. There are now two years to push through new legislation, work out how to police it, and determine what is a reasonable cost threshold for hooking up really remote homes. Should be a doddle, shouldn't it?" Peter Weber

December 19, 2017
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Judge Alex Kozinski announced Monday he is stepping down from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, effective immediately, after 15 women, including several female former staffers, accused him of sexual misconduct. "I cannot be an effective judge and simultaneously fight this battle," Kozinski, 67, said in a statement. "Nor would such a battle be good for my beloved federal judiciary."

Former female clerks said Kozinksi touched them inappropriately and made them watch pornography at work. He apologized in his statement, saying he may "not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace." Kozinksi has served on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals since 1985 and was its chief judge from 2007 through 2014. Peter Weber

December 8, 2017
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For the first time since the Food and Drug Administration began reporting antibiotic use on poultry, cattle, and pigs in 2009, sales of the drugs dropped last year, the FDA reported this week. The 14 percent drop in overall sales of medically important antibiotics, after years of steady increases, "provides a glimmer of hope that we can beat the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections," said Avinash Kar at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The FDA and other groups have been trying to encourage less antibiotic use on farms because, among other things, overuse of antibiotics — in humans and animals — has increased the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

This year's FDA report also broke down antibiotic use by industry, and it turns out cattle account for 43 percent of medically important antibiotics. Chickens account for 6 percent of antibiotics use; turkeys, 9 percent; and swine, 37 percent.

Antibiotic use is still much higher than in 2009, despite the drop in 2016, but the first annual decline is "very encouraging," Karin Hoelzer, a former FDA scientist who now works at the Pew Charitable Trusts, tells NPR. She said that the new data will help the FDA and outside groups figure out what is working, and needs to be improved, in persuading farmers and ranchers to cut back on antibiotic use. You can read more about the agricultural antibiotic issue at NPR. Peter Weber

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