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With Roots in Civil Rights, Community Health Centers Push for Equity in the Pandemic

In the 1960s, health care across the Mississippi Delta was sparse and much of it was segregated. Some hospitals were dedicated to Black patients, but they often struggled to stay afloat. At the height of the civil rights movement, young Black doctors launched a movement of their own to address the care disparity.


This story is part of a partnership that includes NPR, KHN and the Gulf States Newsroom. It can be republished for free.

“Mississippi was third-world and was so bad and so separated,” said Dr. Robert Smith. “The community health center movement was the conduit for physicians all over this country who believed that all people have a right to health care.”

In 1967, Smith helped start Delta Health Center, the country’s first rural community health center. They put the clinic in Mound Bayou, a small town in the heart of the Delta, in northwestern Mississippi. … Read the rest

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With Restrictions Tightening Elsewhere, California Moves to Make Abortion Cheaper


This story also ran on Los Angeles Times. It can be republished for free.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Even as most states are trying to make it harder to get an abortion, California could make it free for more people.

State lawmakers are debating a bill to eliminate out-of-pocket expenses like copays and payments toward deductibles for abortions and related services, such as counseling. The measure, approved by the Senate and headed to the Assembly, would apply to most private health plans regulated by the state.

So far this year, 559 abortion restrictions have been introduced in 47 state legislatures, 82 of which have already been enacted, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research institute that studies abortion and reproductive health care. That’s already the third-highest number of abortion restrictions adopted in a year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling … Read the rest

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In Missouri and Other States, Flawed Data Makes It Hard to Track Vaccine Equity

Throughout the covid-19 vaccination effort, public health officials and politicians have insisted that providing shots equitably across racial and ethnic groups is a top priority.


This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes KCUR, NPR and KHN. It can be republished for free.

But it’s been left up to states to decide how to do that and to collect racial and ethnic data on vaccinated individuals so states can track how well they’re doing reaching all groups. The gaps and inconsistencies in the data have made it difficult to understand who’s actually getting shots.

Just as an uneven approach to containing the coronavirus led to a greater toll for Black and Latino communities, the inconsistent data guiding vaccination efforts may be leaving the same groups out on vaccines, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco.

“At the very least, we need the same … Read the rest

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FDA Weighs Approval of a Lucrative Alzheimer’s Drug, but Benefits Are Iffy

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision next week whether to approve the first treatment for Alzheimer’s disease highlights a deep division over the drug’s benefits as well as criticism about the integrity of the FDA approval process.


This story also ran on The Daily Beast. It can be republished for free.

The agency said it will decide by June 7 the fate of Biogen’s drug aducanumab, despite a near-unanimous rejection of the product by an FDA advisory committee of outside experts in November. Doubts were raised when, in 2019, Biogen halted two large clinical trials of the drug after determining it wouldn’t reach its targets for efficacy. But the drugmaker later revised that assessment, stating that one trial showed the drug reduced the decline in patients’ cognitive and functional ability by 22%.

Some FDA scientists in November joined with the company to present a document praising the intravenous drug. But … Read the rest

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Analysis: Mounting Pressure on China About Covid ‘Lab Leak’ Could Backfire

President Joe Biden has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to determine whether the covid virus, or a near ancestor, emerged from a cave, a live-animal market, a farm — or a secretive Chinese laboratory.

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But it’s doubtful this probe will yield definitive insights, and it could even backfire.

Some experts hypothesize that global pressure could prompt a Chinese scientific whistleblower to come forward with evidence of a lab leak. After all, it is unlikely such an accident could have occurred without dozens of people finding out about the leak, or an ensuing cover-up.

But the growing political pressure to discover Chinese malfeasance or a lab accident at the root of the pandemic could make a definitive answer less, rather than more, likely, according to virologists and experts on U.S.-China scientific exchanges.

“We have to reduce the political tension and let the scientists … Read the rest

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Newsom Wants to Spend Millions on the Health of Low-Income Mothers and Their Babies

Amid a pandemic that has pushed millions of mothers out of the workplace, caused fertility rates to plunge and heightened the risk of death for pregnant women, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic lawmakers are seeking a slate of health proposals for low-income families and children.

Newsom, a self-described feminist and the father of four young children, has long advocated family-friendly health and economic policies. Flush with a projected budget surplus of $75.7 billion, state politicians have come up with myriad legislative and budget proposals to make poorer families healthier and wealthier.

They include ending sales taxes on menstrual products and diapers; adding benefits such as doulas and early childhood trauma screenings to Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program; allowing pregnant women to retain Medi-Cal coverage for a year after giving birth; and a pilot program to provide a universal basic income to low-income new parents.

“COVID-19 laid inequity bare for … Read the rest

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From Racial Justice to Dirty Air, California’s New AG Plots a Progressive Health Care Agenda

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a longtime Democratic state lawmaker, comes to his new role well known for pursuing an unabashedly progressive agenda on criminal justice issues. He has pushed for legislation to eliminate cash bail and to ban for-profit prisons and detention centers. But Bonta also has a distinctive record on health care, successfully advancing legislation to protect consumers from so-called surprise medical bills when they inadvertently get treatment from out-of-network providers and framing environmental hazards like pollution as issues of social justice.

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He was among the Democratic lawmakers leading the charge at the California Capitol to take on Big Soda, pushing to cut consumption of sugary drinks through taxes and warning labels. Such proposals so far have faltered under the influence of the soda industry.

Bonta, 49, was an infant when his family, in 1971, moved to California from … Read the rest

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Behind The Byline: Finding a ‘Superstar’ to Interview

KHN has never been busier ― and health coverage has never been more vital. The Behind The Byline series on YouTube and Instagram TV offers an insider’s view.

Journalists and producers from across KHN’s newsrooms take you behind the scenes in these bite-size videos to show the ways they are following the story, connecting with sources and sorting through facts.

Jenny Gold — Finding a ‘Superstar’ to Interview

Senior correspondent Jenny Gold started her yearlong project with a question: How will covid shape the next generation of doctors? In June 2020, more than 30,000 new doctors graduated from medical school and started their training on the front lines of the pandemic.

Dr. Paloma Marin-Nevarez — a woman from Los Angeles whom Gold describes as thoughtful and outgoing — stood out from the beginning. She was about to start her residency in Fresno, California, a city in the state’s agricultural Central … Read the rest

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Opioids Like ‘Lean’ Permeate Hip-Hop Culture, but Dangers Are Downplayed

Nykerrius Williams knows about the close relationship between hip-hop and opioid use. Williams, 27, an independent rapper from Gibsland, Louisiana, who goes by the name Young Nyke, took oxycodone pills for the first time when he was 16 and has continued patterns of misuse of those pills, as well as Lortabs, Xanax and codeine cough syrups, until recently. To him, it’s part of the business.

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“If you ain’t rapping about being on no drugs, or you out here in the streets selling some drugs,” he said of his chosen profession, “you ain’t got some of that going on — like, don’t nobody wanna hear what you talking about.”

This snapshot of Williams’ hip-hop life doesn’t seem all that different from that of musicians of other genres for whom the mix of drugs and addiction is a recurring storyline, claiming the lives … Read the rest

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Mississippi’s Black Communities Turned Around Their Covid Rates. Next Up: Make Strides on Vaccines.

At its first pop-up vaccination event on April 10, the Northeast Mississippi Coalition Against Covid 19 gave shots to nearly 40 people in Shannon, a town where roughly 60% of some 1,800 residents are African American.


This story also ran on NBC News. It can be republished for free.

Though a fraction of the doses typically given out at large mass vaccination sites, the event was a success, say organizers — a coalition of health care providers and elected officials. Held outdoors, it allowed for a physically distant, communal atmosphere that many have missed over the past year.

“People would get their shot, and then say, ‘I’m going to get my wife or my daughter,’” said Dr. Vernon Rayford, a Tupelo internal medicine physician and coalition member.

The group has held two more events and administered a total of 110 doses, Rayford said. More pop-ups are scheduled.

Mississippi had already … Read the rest

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