Category Archives: Kaiser Health News

Whistleblower Alleges Fraud At A Large Medicare Advantage Plan In Seattle and on and on about the last Democrat Debate and more on Medicare for All

72488737_2301802426616070_6529440653267435520_nWhat a unique world we live in. Bernie Sanders, a man running for the position of President, ignores his symptoms of heart disease, has a heart attack, needs stents for his coronary arteries which are obstructed and a few weeks later is back on the difficult road to running for President. What a jerk who I am sure is ignoring his doctor’s advice, who I’m sure has discussed his post-procedure heart disease restrictions including taking stress, etc. easy for at least 6 weeks, or that what is what I would tell my patient. And this is the man who is telling us all how we should all be deciding our health care system. Unbelievable!! Now, with all the whistleblowers coming out of the woodworks, Fred Schulte points out another whistleblower. Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, one of the United States’ oldest and most respected nonprofit health insurance plans, is accused of bilking Medicare out of millions of dollars in a federal whistleblower case.

Teresa Ross, a former medical billing manager at the insurer, alleges that it sought to reverse financial losses in 2010 by claiming that some patients were sicker than they were or by billing for medical conditions that patients didn’t actually have. As a result, the insurer retroactively collected an estimated $8 million from Medicare for 2010 services, according to the suit.

Ross filed suit in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012, but the suit remained under a court seal until July and is in its initial stages. The suit also names as defendants two medical coding consultants — consulting firm DxID of East Rochester, N.Y., and Independent Health Association, an affiliated health plan in Buffalo, N.Y. All denied wrongdoing in separate court motions filed late Wednesday to dismiss the suit.

The Justice Department has thus far declined to take over the case but said in a June 21 court filing that “an active investigation is ongoing.”

The whistleblower suit is one of at least 18 such cases documented by Kaiser Health News that accuses Medicare Advantage managed care plans of ripping off the government by exaggerating how sick their patients were. The whistleblower cases have emerged as a primary tool for clawing back overpayments. While many of the cases are pending in courts, five have recovered a total of nearly $360 million.

“The fraudulent practices described in this complaint are a product of the belief, common among [Medicare Advantage] organizations, that the law can be violated without meaningful consequence,” Ross alleges.

Medicare Advantage plans are a privately run alternative to traditional Medicare that often offers extra benefits such as dental and vision coverage but limits the choice of medical providers. They have exploded in popularity in recent years, enrolling more than 22 million people, just over 1 in 3 of those eligible for Medicare.

Word of another whistleblower alleging Medicare Advantage billing fraud comes as the White House is pushing to expand enrollment in the plans. On Oct. 3, President Trump issued an executive order that permits the plans to offer a range of new benefits to attract patients. One, for instance, is partly covering the cost of Apple watches as an inducement.

Group Health opened for business more than seven decades ago and was among the first managed care plans to contract with Medicare. Formed by a coalition of unions, farmers and local activists, the HMO grew from just a few hundred families to more than 600,000 patients before its members agreed to join California-based Kaiser Permanente. That happened in early 2017, and the plan is now called the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

In an emailed statement, a Kaiser Permanente spokesperson said: “We believe that Group Health complied with the law by submitting its data in good faith, relying on the recommendations of the vendor as well as communications with the federal government, which has not intervened in the case at this time.” Ross nods to the plan’s history, saying it has “traditionally catered to the public interest, often highlighting its efforts to support low-income patients and provide affordable, quality care.”

The insurer’s Medicare Advantage plans “have also traditionally been well regarded, receiving accolades from industry groups and Medicare itself,” according to the suit.

But Ross, who worked at Group Health for more than 14 years in jobs involving billing and coding, says that from 2008 through 2010, the company “went from an operating income of almost $57 million to an operating loss of $60 million.” Ross says the losses were “due largely to poor business decisions by company management.”

The lawsuit alleges that the insurer manipulated a Medicare billing formula known as a risk score. The formula is supposed to pay health plans higher rates for sicker patients, but Medicare estimates that overpayments triggered by inflated risk scores have cost taxpayers $30 billion over the past three years alone.

According to Ross, a Group Health executive in 2011 attended a meeting of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, where he heard from a colleague at Independent Health about an “exciting opportunity” to increase risk scores and revenue. The colleague said Independent Health “had made a lot of money” using its consulting company, which specializes in combing patient charts to find overlooked diseases that health plans can bill for retroactively.

In November 2011, Group Health hired the firm DxID to review medical charts for 2010. The review resulted in $12 million in new claims, according to the suit. Under the deal, DxID took a percentage of the claims revenue it generated, which came to about $1.5 million that year, the suit says.

Ross says she and a doctor who later reviewed the charts found “systematic” problems with the firm’s coding practices. In one case, the plan billed for “major depression” in a patient described by his doctor as having an “amazingly sunny disposition.” Overall, about three-quarters of its claims for higher charges in 2010 were not justified, according to the suit. Ross estimated that the consultants submitted some $35 million in new claims to Medicare on behalf of Group Health for 2010 and 2011.

In its motion to dismiss Ross’ case, Group Health called the matter a “difference of opinion between her allegedly ‘conservative’ method for evaluating the underlying documentation for certain medical conditions and her perception of an ‘aggressive’ approach taken by Defendants.”

Independent Health and the DxID consultants took a similar position in their court motion, arguing that Ross “seeks to manufacture a fraud case out of an honest disagreement about the meaning and applicability of unclear, complex, and often conflicting industry-wide coding criteria.”

In a statement, Independent Health spokesman Frank Sava added: “We believe the coding policies being challenged here were lawful and proper and all parties were paid appropriately.”

Whistleblowers sue on behalf of the federal government and can share in any money recovered. Typically, the cases remain under a court seal for years while the Justice Department investigates.

How would Warren pay for ‘Medicare for All’? Enough evasion, it’s past time for answers.

Chris Truax points out that the last 2 months al anyone who watches the politicians suggesting that Medicare for all is the solution to the healthcare crisis has bombarded the news. Medicare for All will create winners and losers. It’s all very well to say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs unless you’re the egg.

When it comes to doing things, Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything — and she’s happy to tell you all about it. But when it comes to paying for things, I’m sorry to say, the Massachusetts senator dodges and deflects like a Donald Trump defender.

It’s estimated that “Medicare for All” will cost the federal government an extra $3 trillion a year. That’s more than $9,000 annually from every man, woman, and child in America. Despite being asked, again and again, Warren refuses to acknowledge that paying for this is going to require an across-the-board tax increase — and a pretty massive one, at that. Instead, she keeps talking about how “costs” will go down before she changes the subject to how stressful it is to have your insurance canceled when you get sick or when you have to cope with your mom having diabetes. That’s very true, I’m sure. But we’re talking fiscal policy here.

Warren To Release Plan To Pay For ‘Medicare For All’

Yuval Rosenberg of The Fiscal Times noted that now, just last week Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday she will roll out a plan to pay for an expansive single-payer health care system in the coming weeks, promising the plan would decrease overall costs for the middle class.

“I plan over the next few weeks to put out a plan that talks, specifically, about the cost of ‘Medicare for All’ and how we pay for it,” Warren said at the end of a town hall here at Simpson College. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not reduce the cost of health care for middle-class families.”

Warren’s aides have long suggested she was studying ways to pay for the health care plan originally backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of her leading rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In recent days, Warren has faced criticism from lower-profile candidates in the race — especially South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — for her failure to explain how she would pay for the ambitious plan, which would replace private health insurance with generous, universal coverage paid for by the federal government.

“Everybody who is running for president right now knows that families are getting crushed by the high cost of health care,” Warren told the crowd of nearly 500 people. “They also know that the cheapest possible way to make sure that everyone gets the health care that they need is Medicare for All.”

Warren’s statement came after her standard 40-minute stump speech and three questions from attendees, none of whom asked about Medicare for All. The addition appeared to be an attempt to short-circuit recent criticisms of her health care plan.

Warren has previously promised, most recently at the Oct. 15 debate, that no middle-class family would see an increase in overall health care costs. And her aides have said since at least September that she was evaluating ways to pay for Medicare for All. She does not plan to significantly alter the details of the legislation she’s co-sponsored with Sanders in the way Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) did with her own health care proposal over the summer. Warren said she had been working on the problem of how to pay for the legislation for “months and months.”

“It’s just a little more work until it’s finished,” she said.

For a campaign that has long prided itself on detailed policy proposals, releasing a plan to pay for Medicare for All — which is sure to generate intense scrutiny from the media and her rivals for the nomination — is a high-risk but likely necessary move. Whether or not a plan for Medicare for All would lower costs for the middle class would rely heavily on complicated details, including how progressive the tax system supporting the plan is and how aggressively the government is able to control the cost of health care.

Estimates of how much the plan would cost vary wildly, as do estimates of how much switching to a single-payer system would increase or decrease overall health care costs.

Buttigieg, in particular, has aggressively questioned how Warren would pay for the plan, and said she is being dishonest by not saying whether or not taxes would go up for middle-class families. Sanders has said taxes would likely go up, while overall costs would drop. But Warren has resisted the question, arguing that admitting taxes would rise is equal to accepting a dishonest Republican framing of the issue. Warren has also attacked Buttigieg’s plan for failing to cover every American, dubbing it “Medicare for all who can afford it.”

“Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this,” Buttigieg said at the debate. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward.”

Soon, Buttigieg will get his answer.

She ended your last weekend rally asking the “people” to give her a little more time and she will announce how she proposes to pay for it. More important, is her plan, probably an increase of taxes for all, including Middle Americans, to pay for it…. realistic???? Remember, nothing in any of the political “experts” proposals are ever free. Someone, you and I, have to pay for it in some way or another!!

Winners and losers in Medicare for All

There’s a very unpleasant collectivist feel to this. It’s all very well to say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs … unless you’re the egg. About 56% of Americans — more than 180 million — have private health insurance through an employer. Medicare for All would sweep that all away, whether the people who have that insurance like it or not, in the name of the common good. Perhaps worse, as Warren knows perfectly well but steadfastly refuses to admit, there are going to be winners and losers. Costs might go down in the aggregate, but individuals and families aren’t aggregates.

Elizabeth Warren’s choice: ‘Medicare for All’ purity or a path to beating Trump?

For example, Warren keeps saying that the total you pay for health care would end up being less under Medicare for All because it will eliminate out-of-pocket costs like premiums and copays. That’s an oversimplification at best, especially since she hasn’t said how she would finance this enormously expensive project.

But it is a given that everyone will pay higher taxes, and it’s older people who spend more on premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs — a lot more. Consequently, older people will be far more likely to see these higher taxes offset by a decrease in the cost of their health care. By contrast, younger people and families at healthier stages of their lives would still be paying new taxes but will see fewer benefits.

 Your Two-Minute Summary of Tuesday’s Democratic Medicare-for-All Debate

Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate once again highlighted the candidate’s deep divides over Medicare for All. After opening questions related to the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the debate quickly turned to the health care reform plan backed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Warren again tried to reframe the question of whether she would raise middle-class taxes to pay for the plan. “Costs will go up for the wealthy. They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down,” she said. “I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families.”

Pete Buttigieg, who last month called Warren “extremely evasive” on the tax question, pounced. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for all plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” he said, touting his “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal as a better alternative. “I don’t understand why you believe the only way to deliver affordable coverage to everybody is to obliterate private plans, kicking 150 million Americans off of their insurance in four short years,” he said to Warren. “Why unnecessarily divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?”

Warren jabbed back at Buttigieg, saying his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan is really “Medicare for All Who Can Afford It.”

Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom support building on the Affordable Care Act with a public option, also attacked Medicare for All as expensive and impractical. “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” Klobuchar said. “And we can get this public option done.”

Sanders defended his plan — and opened the door for further attacks on Warren. “At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health care bills,” Sanders said. “But I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They’re going to go up significantly for the wealthy. And for virtually everybody, the tax increase they pay will be substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.”

Klobuchar took the opportunity to criticize Warren again. “At least Bernie is being honest here, and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up,” she said. “And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that, and I think we owe the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.”

A political strategy: The attacks on Warren are widely seen as a sign that she’s now the Democratic frontrunner — and they’re likely a sign that, as tiresome as the repeated tax question might get, Warren is going to keep getting asked it by the media, Democratic rivals, and Republicans. She’s pointedly not willing to answer directly (or take the bait) and say that she will raise taxes, even as she continues to argue that overall costs under Medicare for All will go down for the middle class. Her caginess on the question suggests she thinks that higher taxes on the middle class, or the very word “taxes,” might be toxic in an election campaign against Trump. But her dodging hasn’t hurt her so far.

What the polls say: The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 51% of those surveyed favor Medicare for All, while 47% oppose it. A majority of Democrats and about half of independents support a national Medicare-for-all plan, while more than 70% of Republicans oppose the idea. Support for a public option is higher, at 73%. A CBS News poll released Tuesday found that 59% of voters believe that a government-run plan should “compete with private insurance” as under a public option, while 32% said they would want it to replace private insurance. But polls have also found that support for Medicare for All or other health plans can shift significantly depending on the arguments presented.

The bottom line: Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation reminds us that there is no simple answer to the question of ultimate costs, and that a wide variety of outcomes are possible depending on how Medicare for All is implemented. “A Medicare for all plan could be designed so that many people, including those who are middle class, pay less in taxes than they are paying now in premiums, deductibles, and copays,” Levitt tweeted Tuesday. “It depends entirely on the details.”

J&J Pulls Baby Powder From Market

FDA testing reveals chrysotile fibers in one lot of embattled product of the J&J babypowder, which the courts are suggested cause ovarian cancer.

John Gever the managing editor of the MedPage reported that Johnson  & Johnson is recalling one lot of its famous baby powder because of possible asbestos contamination, the FDA announced Friday.

“FDA testing has found that a sample from one lot of the product contains chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos,” the agency said in a press release. “Consumers who have Johnson’s Baby Powder lot #22318RB should stop using it immediately and contact Johnson & Johnson for a refund.”

Although Johnson & Johnson agreed to initiate the recall, it stopped short of admitting that the product really was contaminated. It questioned “the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the test results,” suggesting that it might not even be a genuine Johnson & Johnson product.

The company has consistently denied that its baby powder — on the market for more than a century — has ever been contaminated with asbestos, but the company has faced numerous lawsuits from consumers alleging that they or loved ones developed cancer because of asbestos in talc components. The baby powder is popular not only for use on babies; many women have used it to reduce “feminine odors” as well.

The FDA said it has tested some 50 cosmetic products since 2018 for asbestos contamination, including two lots of Johnson’s Baby Powder. One was negative and the other was positive. This lot of baby powder is not the first to test positive and the FDA has previously issued alerts on others.

“The FDA expects to issue the full results from this survey, including all tested products having both positive and negative results, by the end of the year,” the agency said.

 

Decline in measles vaccination is causing a preventable global resurgence of the disease

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What a horrible week with the burning or Notre Dame, the Democrats all piling on to tear apart the Mueller report and threaten to impeach the President and the tragedy in Sri Lanka. But the thing that really annoyed me is the increasing number of patients with measles, now over 500 in this country due to non vaccinated children, etc.. These anti-vaxers are spoiled and selfish. But I bet that when their children get really sick they will demand the best care from any and all hospitals, physicians and nurses out there or threaten to sue them. So, the Single-payer healthcare discussion will have to wait a week!

The NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases pointed out that in 2000, measles was declared to be eliminated in the United States when no sustained transmission of the virus was seen in this country for more than 12 months. Yes, you read that right; it was declared to have been eliminated. What happened then?

Today, however, the United States and many other countries that had also eliminated the disease are experiencing concerning outbreaks of measles because of declines in measles vaccine coverage. Without renewed focus on measles vaccination efforts, the disease may rebound in full force, according to a new commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine by infectious diseases experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Penn State University College of Medicine’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Measles is an extremely contagious illness transmitted through respiratory droplets and aerosolized particles that can remain in the air for up to two hours. Most often seen in young children, the disease is characterized by fever, malaise, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, cough, and a red, splotchy rash. Most people with measles recover without complications within a week. However, for infants, people with immune deficiencies, and other vulnerable populations, the consequences of measles infection can be severe. Rare complications can occur, including pneumonia, encephalitis, other secondary infections, blindness, and even death. Before the measles vaccine was developed, the disease killed between two and three million people annually worldwide. Today, measles still causes more than 100,000 deaths globally each year.

Measles can be prevented with a vaccine that is both highly effective and safe. Each complication and death related to measles is a “preventable tragedy that could have been avoided through vaccination,” the authors write. Some people are reluctant to vaccinate their children based on widespread misinformation about the vaccine. For example, they may fear that the vaccine raises their child’s risk of autism, a falsehood based on a debunked and fraudulent claim. A very small number of people have valid medical contraindications to the measles vaccine, such as certain immunodeficiencies, but almost everyone can be safely vaccinated.

When levels of vaccine coverage fall, the weakened umbrella of protection provided by herd immunity—indirect protection that results when a sufficiently high percentage of the community is immune to the disease—places unvaccinated young children and immunocompromised people at greater risk. This can have disastrous consequences with measles. The authors describe a case in which a single child with measles infected 23 other children in a pediatric oncology clinic, with a fatality rate of 21 percent.

Now, look at the situation in New York City.

If vaccination rates continue to decline, measles outbreaks may become even more frequent, a prospect the authors describe as “alarming.” This is particularly confounding, they note since measles is one of the most easily prevented contagious illnesses. In fact, it is possible to eliminate and even eradicate the disease. However, they say, achieving this goal will require collective action on the part of parents and healthcare practitioners alike.

New York Declares Measles Emergency, Requiring Vaccinations in Parts of Brooklyn

New York City on Tuesday declared a health emergency following a measles outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times reported.

Tyler Pager and Jeffery Mays reported that for months, New York City officials have been fighting a measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, knowing that the solution — the measles vaccine — was not reaching its target audience.

They tried education and outreach, working with rabbis and distributing thousands of fliers to encourage parents to vaccinate their children. They also tried harsher measures, like a ban on unvaccinated students from going to school.

But with measles cases still on the rise and an anti-vaccination movement spreading, city health officials on Tuesday took a more drastic step to stem one of the largest measles outbreaks in decades.

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency that would require unvaccinated individuals living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to receive the measles vaccine. The mayor said the city would issue violations and possible fines of $1,000 for those who did not comply.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference in Williamsburg, adding: “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested.”

The measure follows a spike in measles infections in New York City, where there have been 285 confirmed cases since the outbreak began in the fall; 21 of those cases led to hospitalizations, including five admissions to the intensive care unit.

City officials conceded that the earlier order in December, which banned unvaccinated students from attending schools in certain sections of Brooklyn, was not effective. Mr. de Blasio said on Tuesday that the city would fine or even temporarily shut down yeshivas that did not abide by the measure.

“There has been some real progress in addressing the issue, but it’s just not working fast enough and it was time to take a more muscular approach,” Mr. de Blasio said.

To enforce the order, health officials said they did not intend to perform random spot checks on students; instead, as new measles cases arose, officials would check the vaccination records of any individuals who were in contact with those infected.

“The point here is not to fine people but to make it easier for them to get vaccinated,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said at the news conference.

If someone is fined but still refuses to be vaccinated, Dr. Barbot said that would be handled on a “case-by-case basis, and we’ll have to confer with our legal counsel.”

Across the country, there have been 465 measles cases since the start of 2019, with 78 new cases in the last week alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.

In 2018, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half of the measles cases in the country, and the continuing outbreak has led to unusual measures.

In Rockland County, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City, county health officials last month barred unvaccinated children from public places for 30 days. Last week, however, a judge ruled against the order, temporarily halting it.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.CreditJohn Taggart for The New York Times

Despite the legal challenge to Rockland County’s efforts, Mr. de Blasio said the city had consulted its lawyers and felt confident it was within its power to mandate vaccinations.

“We are absolutely certain we have the power to do this,” Mr. de Blasio said. “This is a public health emergency.”

[In Rockland County, an outbreak spread fear in an ultra-Orthodox community.]

Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said there was the precedent for Mr. de Blasio’s actions, pointing to a massive measles outbreak in Philadelphia in 1991. During that outbreak, officials in that city went even further, getting a court order to force parents to vaccinate their children.

“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Dr. Offit said about Mr. de Blasio. “He’s trying to protect the children and the people of the city.”

He added: “I don’t think it’s your unalienable right as a United States citizen to allow your child to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection.”

Nonetheless, the resistance to the measles vaccine remains among some ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn.

Gary Schlesinger, the chief executive of Parcare, a health and medical center with locations in Williamsburg and Borough Park, called the public health emergency a necessary “step in the right direction.”

“Any mother that comes in and says that they don’t want to vaccinate, our providers will tell them please go find another health center,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

He said he often reminded Orthodox parents that there was no religious objection to getting vaccinated. “Any prominent rabbi will say that you should vaccinate,” he said.

Just outside the public library where Mr. de Blasio held his news conference, some Hasidic mothers raised concerns about the emergency declaration.

“I don’t think it’s up to the city to mandate anything. We all have constitutional rights,” said a woman who only identified herself by Gitty. She refused to give her last name for fear of being harassed for her rejection of vaccinations.

She said she had five children and that none had been or would be vaccinated, an action she called “a medical procedure by force.”

“We are marginalized,” she said. “Every minority that has a different opinion is marginalized.”

In nearby South Williamsburg, reaction to the emergency order was mixed. Some agreed with the need for vaccinations, but did not believe the law should require them; others agreed with the mayor.

“He’s right,” said Leo Yesfriedman, a 33-year-old father of four who said he had his family vaccinated.

He said he had followed news of the measles outbreak. Of people in his community opposed to vaccinations, he said, “It’s a very, very little percentage of crazy people.”

Measles Outbreak: Yeshiva’s Preschool Program Is Closed by New York City Health Officials

The program is the first one to be closed as part of the city’s escalating effort to stem the country’s largest measles outbreak in decades.

Children leaving a yeshiva’s preschool program in Williamsburg on Monday. It is the first to be closed by New York City officials for violating a Health Department order.

The New York Times John Taggart reported that New York City closed a preschool program at a yeshiva in Brooklyn on Monday for violating a Health Department order that required it to provide medical and attendance records amid a measles outbreak.

The preschool at United Talmudical Academy, which serves 250 students between the ages of 3 and 5 in the Williamsburg area, is the first program to be closed by the city, as it escalates efforts to stem the country’s largest measles outbreak in decades.

New York City has confirmed 329 measles cases since the outbreak began in the fall, and the cases have largely been confined within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The outbreak began after unvaccinated individuals returned from celebrating Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival, in Israel.

The closing of the preschool comes as tensions have risen in the ultra-Orthodox community over increased scrutiny and fears of an anti-Semitic backlash. On the one hand, most in the ultra-Orthodox community are vaccinated, and the vast majority of prominent rabbis have urged people to vaccinate their children. However, the city’s response to the outbreak has caused vaccine skeptics to double down on their opposition to immunization. The anti-vaccination movement’s well-coordinated and sophisticated messaging campaign, highlighted by magazines, hotlines, and conference calls, has convinced some parents that vaccines are dangerous and that diseases, like measles, are not.

In December, the city issued exclusion orders, barring unvaccinated students from attending school in certain neighborhoods. The city issued violations to 23 yeshivas and day care centers for breaking that order. But, last month, the city said it would no longer issue violations; rather, it would immediately close yeshivas.

“The challenge has been with this particular school that they have been unable and/or unwilling to provide documentation as required when we visit,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference on Monday. “So we have visited on a number of occasions and offered support, but in spite of all of that it’s been to no avail.”

The Health Department said the preschool would not be allowed to reopen until its staff had “submitted a corrective action plan approved by the department.”

At the news conference, health officials said two students associated with the school had contracted measles, though they did not know for sure whether the students had been infected with the virus at the school or elsewhere.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency, requiring all individuals living in certain ZIP codes of Brooklyn to be vaccinated against measles or face a $1,000 fine. On Monday, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the order, arguing it was unjustified because of “insufficient evidence of a measles outbreak or dangerous epidemic.”

“Our attempts at education and persuasion have failed to stop the spread of measles,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement. “We had to take this additional action to fulfill our obligation to ensure that individuals do not continue to put the health of others at risk. We are confident that the city’s order is within the health commissioner’s authority to address the very serious danger presented by this measles outbreak.”

A judge declined to issue an emergency injunction against the city on Monday, and the parties will appear in court on Thursday.

There have been no deaths associated with this outbreak, but 25 individuals have been hospitalized. Two patients remain in the intensive care unit.

90 New Cases of Measles Reported in the U.S. as Outbreak Continues Record PaceApril 15, 2019

“This outbreak will continue to worsen, and the case count will grow if child care programs and schools do not follow our direction,” Dr. Barbot said in a statement. “It’s crucial in this outbreak that child care programs and schools maintain up-to-date and accurate immunization and attendance records. It’s the only way we can make sure schools are properly keeping unvaccinated students and staff out of child care centers to hasten the end of this outbreak.”

A teacher at United Talmudical Academy, who declined to give his name, said that all students who were not vaccinated were sent home weeks ago.

“It was a few kids who didn’t take the shots,” he said, as he exited the building. “They’re not coming back.”

A 68-year-old community member, who declined to give his name, said he did not think the school should be closed down.

“The parents should be held accountable,” he said.

He added that the community will be “very angry” that the school was shut down.

Measles outbreaks have also been reported in Rockland and Westchester Counties, suburbs of New York. Since January, 555 cases of measles have been reported in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday, noting the outbreak is on pace to be the largest since the country declared measles eradicated in 2000.

Exemptions Surge As Parents And Doctors Do ‘Hail Mary’ Around Vaccine Laws

Barbara Feder Ostrov noted that at two public charter schools in the Sonoma wine country town of Sebastopol, more than half the kindergartners received medical exemptions from state-required vaccines last school year. The cities of Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Nevada City, Arcata, and Sausalito all had schools in which more than 30% of the kindergartners had been granted such medical exemptions.

Nearly three years ago, with infectious disease rates ticking up, California enacted a fiercely contested law barring parents from citing personal or religious beliefs to avoid vaccinating their children. Children could be exempted only on medical grounds if the shots were harmful to health.

Yet today, many of the schools that had the highest rates of unvaccinated students before the new measure continue to hold that alarming distinction. That’s because parents have found end-runs around the new law requiring vaccinations. And they have done so, often, with the cooperation of doctors — some not even pediatricians. One prolific exemption provider is a psychiatrist who runs an anti-aging clinic.

Doctors in California have broad authority to grant medical exemptions to vaccination and to decide the grounds for doing so. Some are wielding that power liberally and sometimes for cash: signing dozens — even hundreds — of exemptions for children in far-off communities.

“It’s sort of the Hail Mary of the vaccine refusers who is trying to circumvent SB 277,” the California Senate bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, said Dr. Brian Prystowsky, a Santa Rosa pediatrician. “It’s really scary stuff. We have pockets in our community that is just waiting for measles to rip through their schools.”

The number of California children granted medical exemptions from vaccinations has tripled in the past two years.

Medical Exemptions On The Rise

The number of California children with medical vaccine exemptions has tripled in the two years since California enacted a 2016 law banning exemptions based on personal beliefs.

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Across the nation, 2019 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for U.S. measles cases in a quarter-century, with major outbreaks in New York, Texas, and Washington state, and new cases reported in 12 more states, including California. California’s experience underlines how hard it is to get parents to comply with vaccination laws meant to protect public safety when a small but adamant population of families and physicians seems determined to resist.

When Senate Bill 277 took effect in 2016, California became the third state, after Mississippi and West Virginia, to ban vaccine exemptions based on personal or religious beliefs for public and private school students. (The ban does not apply to students who are home-schooled.)

In the two subsequent years, SB 277 improved overall child vaccination rates: The percentage of fully vaccinated kindergartners rose from 92.9% in the 2015-16 school year to 95.1% in 2017-18.

But those gains stalled last year due to the dramatic rise in medical exemptions: More than 4,000 kindergartners received these exemptions in the 2017-18 school year. Though the number is still relatively small, many are concentrated in a handful of schools, leaving those classrooms extremely vulnerable to serious outbreaks.

Based on widely accepted federal guidelines, vaccine exemptions for medical reasons should be exceedingly rare. They’re typically reserved for children who are allergic to vaccine components, who have had a previous reaction to a vaccine, or whose immune systems are compromised, including kids being treated for cancer. Run-of-the-mill allergies and asthma aren’t reasons to delay or avoid vaccines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neither is autism.

Before California’s immunization law took effect, just a fraction of 1% of the state’s schoolchildren had medical exemptions. By last school year, 105 schools, scattered across the state, reported that 10% or more of their kindergartners had been granted medical exemptions. In 31 of those schools, 20% or more of the kindergartners had medical exemptions.

Seesawing Exemptions

As of July 2016, California no longer allows parents to exempt their children from state-required vaccinations based on personal beliefs. Many of the same schools that once had the highest percentage of students with personal belief exemptions now lead the state in student medical exemptions.

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Credit: Harriet Blair Rowan/California Healthline

Source: California Department of Public Health Get the data created with Datawrapper

The spike in medical exemptions is taking place amid a politically tinged, often rancorous national conversation over vaccines and personal liberty as measles resurges in the U.S. and worldwide. At least 387 cases of measles had been reported nationwide through March 28, according to the CDC. In California, 16 cases had been reported, two of them requiring hospitalization.

The problem in California, state officials say, is how the immunization law was structured. It removed the ability of parents to cite “personal belief” as a reason for exempting their children from vaccine requirements in daycare and schools. A licensed physician who provides a written statement citing a medical condition that indicates immunization “is not considered safe” now must authorize exemptions.

But the law does not specify the conditions that qualify a student for a medical exemption, nor does it require physicians to follow federal guidelines.

The wording has led to a kind of gray market in which parents share names of “vaccine-friendly” doctors by word of mouth or in closed Facebook groups. And some of those doctors are granting children blanket exemptions — for all time and all vaccines — citing a range of conditions not supported by federal guidelines, such as a family history of eczema or arthritis.

Amid growing concerns about suspect exemptions, the California Department of Public Health recently launched a review of schools with “biologically unlikely” numbers of medical exemptions, said the agency’s director, Dr. Karen Smith. Doctors who have written questionable exemptions will be referred to the Medical Board of California for a possible investigation.

The medical board, which licenses doctors, has the authority to levy sanctions if physicians have not followed the standard medical practice in examining patients or documenting specific reasons for an exemption.

In recent years, however, the board has sanctioned only one doctor for inappropriately writing a medical vaccine exemption in a case that made headlines. Since 2013, the board has received 106 complaints about potentially improper vaccine exemptions, including nine so far this year, said spokesman Carlos Villatoro.

One pending case involves Dr. Ron Kennedy, who was trained as a psychiatrist and now runs an anti-aging clinic in Santa Rosa.

Medical board investigators took the unusual step of subpoenaing 12 school districts for student medical records after receiving complaints that Kennedy was writing inappropriate exemptions. They found that Kennedy had written at least 50 exemptions, using nearly identical form letters, for students in multiple communities, including Santa Rosa, Fremont, and Fort Bragg, saying that immunizations were “contraindicated” for a catchall list of conditions including lupus, learning disability, food allergies and “detoxification impairment.”

Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and the medical board’s expert witness, said that the exemptions issued by Kennedy appear to have been provided “without appropriate evaluation,” according to court documents.

Kennedy has refused to respond to the board’s subpoenas seeking the medical records of three of his patients, according to court documents. The board has yet to file a formal accusation against Kennedy, and he continues to practice.

Like Kennedy, many of the doctors granting unorthodox exemptions cite their belief in parental rights or reference concerns not supported by conventional medical science. Kennedy is suing the medical board and its parent agency, the California Department of Consumer Affairs, saying the state did not have the legal right to subpoena school districts for his patients’ medical records without first informing him so he could challenge the action in court. The case is ongoing.

Kennedy declined to comment to Kaiser Health News. “I don’t want to be out in the open,” he said in a brief phone exchange. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got a business to run.”

In Monterey, Dr. Douglas Hulstedt is known as the doctor to see for families seeking medical exemptions. In a brief phone interview, he said he was worried about being targeted by the state medical board. “I have stuck my neck way out there just talking with you,” he said. Hulstedt does not give exemptions to every child he examines, he said, but does believe vaccines can cause autism — a fringe viewpoint that has been debunked by multiple studies.

In March, the online publication Voice of San Diego highlighted doctors who write medical exemptions, including one physician who had written more than a third of the 486 student medical exemptions in the San Diego Unified School District. District officials had compiled a list of such exemptions and the doctors who provided them.

State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician who sponsored California’s vaccine law, has been a vocal critic of doctors he says are skirting the intent of the legislation by handing out “fake” exemptions. Last month, he introduced follow-up legislation that would require the state health department to sign off on medical exemptions. The department also would have the authority to revoke exemptions found to be inconsistent with CDC guidelines.

“We cannot allow a small number of unethical physicians to put our children back at risk,” Pan said. “It’s time to stop fake medical exemptions and the doctors who are selling them.”

8 Common Arguments Against Vaccines And why they don’t make any sense at all

Gid M-K noted that because whilst vaccines have been accepted by public health organizations the world over as the most important medical innovation of the 20th century, and one of the most lifesaving interventions that we’ve ever come up with, there is a small minority of people who are convinced that vaccines are bad for their child’s health.

A small, very vocal, minority but this minority is causing real problems for others as well as their own kids.

One would like not to criticize parents. Because it’s very important to note that most parents want the best for their kids. They are trying to look out for their children, and occasionally in this pursuit, they get misled. And make no mistake, the people who sell vaccine fear are professionals in the art of deception. They know exactly how to convince a worried parent that the most dangerous thing in the world for their child is the vaccine, rather than, say, the measles.

It’s not the parents who are spreading vaccine denial. They are victims of professionals. If you are a parent who is worried about vaccination: don’t stress. You are a good parent. You have just been lied to. Have a read of this article, and maybe go have a chat with your doctor about why immunization is important and why it’s a good thing for your kids.

Whenever you talk vaccines, the anti-vax professionals come up with the same arguments time and again. Let’s look at my top 8, and why they make no sense whatsoever:

8

Vaccines Cause Autism. I’m not really going to go into this, because it has been refuted time and again. Virtually every study involving a) humans, b) more than 10 participants, and c) researchers who haven’t been convicted of fraud, has shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. It was a valid concern in the early 90s, but we have 30 years of evidence showing that autism is in no way linked to vaccines.

VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM ALL REPUTABLE STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THIS FOR DECADES

7

There Hasn’t Been Much Research. This is always a bit of a weird one because people are usually claiming that on the one hand there hasn’t been enough research done on vaccines to prove them safe, but on the other, they know the truth because they’ve done their research and it shows vaccines to be basically poison.

It’s a strange argument to make, but it comes up all the time.

This is simply a lie told by vaccine-deniers to make parents scared. Vaccines are one of the most well-researched interventions of all time. We have data from literally millions of children across the world demonstrating their safety. There has been more research on vaccines than almost any other medical intervention.

The research has been done. Time and again. Vaccines are safe and effective.

6

Vaccines Are Enormously Profitable. This is also a weird one, because…so what? So are any number of things. The international flour market is gigantic, but that doesn’t make every bread advert a missive from the devil. Flour millers have actually been influential in protecting babies worldwide by fortifying their products with macronutrients and preventing neural tube defects.

It’s also untrue. Pharma companies make far more money from so-called ‘blockbuster’ drugs than vaccines — for example, AstraZeneca’s Nexium, despite being no more effective than cheaper options for gastrointestinal problems, has made them more than $50 billion. The yearly earnings have been somewhere between 2 and 5 times as much as the flu vaccine. In fact, if you look at the top 20 earners for pharma companies, not one of them is a vaccine.

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5

Vaccines Cost Loads. Perhaps more importantly than this, however: vaccines don’t cost much at all. Take the whooping cough vaccine. A full 3 doses costs around 100 USD. That seems like quite a bit until you remember that a single case of whooping cough can easily top $10,000if it requires significant treatment.

Vaccines are actually cost-saving. What this means is that for every dollar you spend on vaccines, you get about seven dollars back because you stop people from getting sick and dying from their illnesses. Generally speaking, it would be much more profitable for the medical industry to not vaccinate, because the disease tends to be really expensive.

4

The CDC Is Lying. This is one of my favorite red herrings because it is just so easy to disprove. Whenever someone brings up the CDC, my response is…so what? Let’s say the CDC is evil, awful, in the pocket of Big Pharma. It’s not — the people who work at the CDC are dedicated, honest, and usually incredibly good at public health — but for the sake of argument, let’s say the CDC is corrupt.

Who cares?

People who focus on the CDC ignore one glaring truth: the US isn’t the only country in the world. If the CDC is corrupt, what about every other public health organization in the world that recommends vaccines. Australia. France. The UK. Japan. China. The list goes on. Forget about the CDC. Have a look at the Australian Department of Health on vaccines. Or the Japanese immunization schedule. Or one of the hundreds of other countries that all choose to vaccinate. Either there’s a global conspiracy including countries that are literally at war with one another — a bit unlikely — or immunization is a good thing no matter what you think of the CDC.

3

The US Is Special. This is another one that I love because it’s so easily disprovable. No, the US doesn’t give a uniquely high number of immunizations. Much of the OECD has a virtually identical vaccine schedule to the US, bar a few minor differences. The US also has significantly less punitive laws in terms of vaccination than other countries — for example, in France, you can go to jail for failing to vaccinate your kids.

So no. The US isn’t special. It’s just another country, trying to stop nasty diseases like polio, diphtheria, and measles from killing children.

2

Vaccine Manufacturers Can’t Be Sued For Making Kids Sick. This is actually a very simple lie. You can sue whoever you want, even in the US. What the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act actually does is make it much easier to get compensation for children who have suffered vaccine injuries. If you can demonstrate that you had a vaccine and suffered a recognized issue — let’s say anaphylaxis — there is a reasonably simple method of gaining access to compensation in the US.

Elsewhere in the world, for example, Australia, often all you can do is sue in civil courts. And even if you’ve suffered genuine harm from vaccination, proving this in a court of law is next to impossible, meaning that people who do suffer injuries are almost never compensated.

It’s also worth noting that saying “vaccine manufacturers can’t be sued” is again a uniquely American piece of nonsense. There are hundreds of other countries. Most of them allow anyone to try and sue anyone. And yet, the UK court system isn’t flooded with cases of vaccine manufacturers being successfully sued.

I wonder why?

1

Vaccine Injury Is Common/People Are Getting Sicker. Last but not least, the most common one of the bunch. Forget the CDC, forget the pharmaceutical companies, this is the real evil.

Every year, people are getting sicker. And it’s all down to vaccines.

There are two parts to this story. Firstly, we aren’t getting sicker. Not even a little bit. Life expectancy is marching steadily upward, with some people predicting that we will be living past 100 in this century. Not only that, but infant and child mortality is at record lows, and is only heading swiftly down. This isn’t just true for wealthy countries mind you — the entire world is getting stubbornly healthier.

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Secondly, vaccine injury is an amazingly well-researched field. We know the rate of injuries associated with vaccines all too well. It’s a roughly 1 serious problem for every million vaccinations given. This is a number that has been replicated worldwide, from Japan to Thailand to Australia to Finland and yes, to the US.

Vaccines Rock

There’s not really much more to say. These are common arguments, mostly just based on simple lies. Vaccines are safe and effective, not because pharmaceutical companies say it’s so or because the CDC has proclaimed it, but because thousands of dedicated researchers the world over have spent decades checking to make sure that they are.

So go and get your kids vaccinated. It’s good for society, it will save us all money, but most of all it might save their life.

Vaccines rock.

It’s as simple as that. So, stop all your chest beating complaining about your constitutional rights being trampled on! Vaccinations are for the benefit of the children yours and those who will come in contact with non-vaccinated people and get severely sick. Cut it out and get vaccinated or suffer the consequences!!

Best wishes for the Easter and Passover holidays!