NPR Health

More than 30 years ago, Congress overwhelmingly passed a landmark health bill aimed at motivating pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs for people whose rare diseases had been ignored.

By the drugmakers' calculations, the markets for such diseases weren't big enough to bother with.

President-elect Donald Trump said he's finishing a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a proposal that would provide "insurance for everybody," according to a report by The Washington Post.

When Samantha Deffler was young, her mother would often call her by her siblings' names — even the dog's name. "Rebecca, Jesse, Molly, Tucker, Samantha," she says.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If repealing the Affordable Care Act is the Republican Congress' job one, defunding Planned Parenthood is a close second.

In fact, the two priorities might be paired. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Jan. 5 that efforts to defund the organization "would be in our reconciliation bill," referring to a measure Congress has put on a fast track in order to repeal major pieces of the health law.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Every child wants to grow up to be independent — to leave their parents' home, find work, build a life of their own.

But that seemingly simple step into adulthood can be a monumental challenge for children with developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, or any of a range of other such disabilities that affect about one in six American children, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Writer Gregor Hens doesn't smoke anymore, but he used to — a lot. And as he explains in his memoir, Nicotine, he still thinks about it every day.

He writes, "Every form of cigarette ad gives me a pang of longing, every scrunched-up, carelessly thrown away cigarette packet at a bus stop, every trod-on cigarette butt, every beautiful woman holding a cigarette between her fingers or just looking like she could be holding one."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A poem written by a Chinese surgeon lamenting the medical effects of smog, called "I Long to Be King," is going viral on Chinese social media. Told from the perspective of lung cancer, the poem takes an apocalyptic note:

Happiness after sorrow, rainbow after rain.

I faced surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy,

But continued to chase my dream,

Some would have given up, but I will be the king.

Menopause is a mystery to evolutionary biologists, but new insights could come from a long-term study of killer whales.

In these whales, the explanation may lie in a combination of conflict and cooperation between older and younger females, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to expand access to contraception, especially for poor women. By 2018, he instructs, all poor households in the country should have "zero unmet need for modern family planning."

Duterte's executive order, signed Monday and announced on Wednesday, is the latest development in a long battle over birth control in the majority-Catholic Philippines. It pits the president, who says family planning is critical for reducing poverty, against the country's Supreme Court and Catholic leadership.

It's no secret that American children have gotten heavier in recent decades.

What stands out upon entering Mai Dang's nail salon, located on a busy street in Berkeley, Calif., is what's missing — the stinging smell of polish, remover and other nail products. That wasn't always the case. For a decade, Dang suffered from the effects of the chemicals she used at work every day.

"When you do nails, workers get itchy skin and watery eyes," says Dang, 40. She also used to have frequent headaches, and one of her workers developed asthma. So when she heard about an opportunity to improve the safety at her salon, she signed up.

The Affordable Care Act brought the rate of uninsured Americans to a record low 9 percent in 2015. It's the major achievement of the controversial health care law and one the Obama administration likes to tout whenever it can.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell did just that in an interview with NPR on Tuesday.

Fitness tracking is all the rage right now. If you want to, you can monitor your heart rate, count your footsteps and calories burned, and even monitor your sleep patterns, all by using devices that can fit around your wrist or in your pocket. But that's if you're human. Fresno Chaffee Zoo, in Fresno, Calif., is taking fitness tracking to a mammoth new level — part of a national project to guard the health and happiness of zoo elephants.

There's a small-scale charity movement starting to take hold in neighborhoods across the country. Think of those "little free library" boxes, but with a twist: These are small pantries stocked with free food and personal care items like toothbrushes and diapers for people in need.

They're found near churches, outside businesses and in front of homes. Maggie Ballard, who lives in Wichita, Kan., calls hers a "blessing box."

Abra and Matt Schultz, both 32, recently built a house in a middle-class neighborhood in Pottsville, Pa. Matt works as a carpenter foreman for a construction company. He and Abra, his wife, are right in Trump's wheelhouse — Republicans in Republican Schuylkill County.

The couple spent December trying to decide whether to buy health insurance or skip it for 2017. They voted for Trump because they were fed up with how much they are paying for health insurance.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Jamaica is facing a crisis as specialized nurses leave the island to take jobs in North America and Europe.

The exodus has forced Jamaican hospitals to reschedule some complex surgeries because of a lack of nursing staff on their wards.

James Moss-Solomon, the chairman of the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, says the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are, in his words, "poaching" Jamaica's most critical nurses.

"Specialist nurses is the problem. We have tons of regular nurses," he says.

Scientists have found the inspiration for a lifesaving tool in an unusual place — a children's toy. The invention may soon help health care workers diagnose malaria in places where standard laboratory equipment is hard to find. Diagnosing malaria in the field isn't all that difficult, but you need a device called a centrifuge that can spin a blood sample very quickly, causing different types of cells in blood to separate from each other.

If you can get pregnant, you should be popping at least one pill a day: a folic acid supplement to lower the risk of a type of serious birth defect in any future offspring.

So says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which Tuesday reiterated its 2009 recommendation that all women who can conceive take 400 to 800 micrograms daily of the B vitamin in case their diet isn't providing enough of it.

Marketplace officials calculate a customer's subsidy, so why is the customer held responsible for repayments? Why are so many of my prescriptions held up for authorization by my Medicare drug plan? Here are answers to some recent questions from readers.

Things were already going pretty badly for Florence Manyande. Then one day last spring, while walking down the street, she was hit by a car.

"This woman saw, and she pulled me out of the road." recalls Manyande, 50. "She tried to talk to me, but I couldn't talk then. I had a lot on my mind."

West Coast crab fishermen just ended an 11-day strike over a price dispute. But a more ominous and long-term threat to their livelihood may be on the horizon. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found a link between warming ocean conditions and a dangerous neurotoxin that builds up in sea life: domoic acid.

Pages