Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Zika has crossed the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. There are 265 known cases there already, including one whose transmission is believed to have been sexual. People traveling from moderate or high risk areas are asked to abstain, or contracept and use reliable barrier methods. HA ! That’s an oxymoron: reliable barriers. 

It is winter in North America, and that includes the US territory most affected by Zika: Puerto Rico. While Zika transmission continues, it is decreased at this time of year, due to reduced mosquito activity. Attention turns now to the pregnant Zika infected women. There have been 2600 confirmed cases of Zika in pregnancy in Puerto Rico. Many have miscarried, but many are yet undelivered. 

Texas now joins Florida as the only continental US state to document a local transmission of Zika. Local transmission means a Texas mosquito bit a person in Texas and transmitted the Zika virus. What this says about the number of mosquitos in Texas which have Zika is unclear, but it says something. Until now, all other Texas cases of Zika have been linked to travel. 

In other news, the ACA (The Affordable Care Act) has top billing. As mentioned last week, the ACA is now integral to our healthcare system and cannot be easily dismantled. Twenty million Americans now depend on the ACA for their health care. It is becoming more widely acknowledge that for the time being, it will have to stay as it is, notwithstanding the change in administration. Enrollment for 2017 is beginning, and it seems, continuing apace, 2.1 million so far, despite GOP’s vows to dismantle it. 

GOP lawmakers have started discussions with insurers to try to prevent a collapse of the insurance market if they pass a repeal of the ACA. GOP lawmakers are now indicating that it may take them “ years” to repeal the ACA, hopefully more than four. 

As a physician, completely unrelated to politics, I am for some form of the ACA. I have seen women whose only health care was during their pregnancy, who can now come in with pride just for their annual. They are able to get the recommended screening tests, and can begin to think about health maintenance and limiting family size if they chose. I know, as a physician, that prevention saves money. I also know that disease caught early and treated is far cheaper than disease caught late. GOP lawmakers MUST factor this in if they are to modify the ACA or create their own plan in such a way as to make it affordable and sustainable in the long run. 

The GOP is mixed on the Medicaid expansion. Many Republican Governors are glad to get so many more or their poorest patients insured. 

New research published in the Journal of Women’s Health indicates that women with chronic conditions do worse without access to the internet. This may have to do with access to information and social connections with others, especially others who share the same conditions. 

Many women and many providers believe that there is an age cutoff after which mammograms are no longer beneficial. I am unaware of such data. New research using data from 6 million mammograms between 2008 and 2014 confirms there is no clear cutoff point. Mammogram decisions should be made between a patient and her caregiver, and factor in the best available data and the patient’s overall health. 

Tom Price, the Health and Human Services Secretary elect is said to be both anti-abortion and anti-birth control. It is beyond me when someone who is anti-abortion is also anti-birth control. The theoretical planned repeal of the ACA will not ban these things per se, but a report out of Kaiser indicates  that the costs of contraception will rise during this time period. Drug costs across the board will likely rise whether or not the ACA is repealed. 

In the good news department, the House, in a landslide vote, passed the 21st Century Cures Act. This provides an increase in finding to the FDA ( Food and Drug Administration) by $500 million, for drug development and testing,  and would also provide $1 billion to address opioid addiction. There’s a billion dollars we theoretically should not have to spend but, we do. This is why we cannot have nice things. 

Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy are filing lawsuits which challenge several laws which limit women’s rights to various reproductive services. The lawsuits are arising as quickly as the limitations these days. 

The House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health has taken what I consider to be a monumentally positive step in reigning in the US Preventive Services Task Force. They have recommended that the small, non-clinical committee receive more input on formulating their recommendations, from (surprise!) medical authorities before they make recommendations which influence patient care and insurance coverage of various screening procedures. The bill comes from Republican Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee who has pointed out that USPTF recommendations on many issues pertinent to women’s health including mammograms differ from those of, for example, ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The bill provides for input from both primary care medicine and specialist authorities. Bravo Representative Blackburn, and bravo to you for reading all this. 

Stay tuned next week for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology.