NPR Health

A Texas man has a heart attack – and good medical insurance – and still finds himself on the hook for $109,000 in medical bills.

Another man in Florida owed $3,400 for a CT scan, after his insurance company pays its part.

When my son, Eli, was born a year ago, it was a given that I would breastfeed him.

During medical school, I learned that breastfeeding bolsters a baby's immune system, reduces infant mortality and improves the mother's long-term health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for a year, and I was committed to making it work.

But as a first-time mom, I had no idea how hard it would be.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a terrible way to die. It's what happens when you don't have enough insulin. Your blood sugar gets so high that your blood becomes highly acidic, your cells dehydrate, and your body stops functioning.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is how Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son. Three days before his payday. Because he couldn't afford his insulin.

"It shouldn't have happened," Smith-Holt says looking at her son's death certificate on her dining room table in Richfield, Minn. "That cause of death of diabetic ketoacidosis should have never happened."

The Houston Ship Channel has the rhythm of an ant colony. Barges and oil tankers lumber through the silty water; tangles of exposed pipe rise hundreds of feet above a sea of white tanks. Residents of the coastal plain between Houston and Galveston will tell you the plain is flatter than a regulation pool table. But if you can get up high enough you'll see trains and ships and trucks moving ceaselessly from dock to dock, terminal to terminal.

Viviana Aguirre, 14, knows the air is bad when she has to reach for her inhaler once, maybe twice a week.

The air in her low-income neighborhood in East Bakersfield, Calif., has been thick with smoke for weeks, she says, forcing her to remain indoors most of the time. It's hard to tell, she says, whether the smoke is coming from the usual controlled burns in the farmers' fields surrounding her home — or from the record-breaking wildfires blazing to the north and south of her.

The latest Mission Impossible film is a global health nerd's dream. There's an immunization campaign. Weaponized smallpox. A medical camp run by a fictional aid organization. And of course: Tom Cruise chasing the bad guy in a helicopter over the disputed region of Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan (spoiler alert: that was filmed in New Zealand).

So what does a real-life health worker make of all that?

The case of a Michigan couple charged in the death of their 10-month-old daughter is bringing to light a debate about withholding medical care because of religious beliefs.

A Texas hospital that charged a teacher $108,951 for care after a 2017 heart attack told the patient Thursday it would slash the bill to $332.29 — but not before a story about the huge charge sparked a national conversation over what should be done to combat surprise medical bills that afflict a growing number of Americans.

The story of Drew Calver was first reported by NPR and Kaiser Health News on Monday as part of the "Bill of the Month" series, which examines U.S. health care prices and the troubles patients run up against in the $3.5 trillion industry.

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We wanted to get some perspective on those suspected prison overdoses, so we called on Dr. Sarah Wakeman. She's an addiction medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, who has studied opioid use among people who are incarcerated.

A top Justice Department official is putting cities considering medically-supervised drug injection facilities on notice: If you open one, prepare for swift and aggressive legal action.

With record numbers of fatal overdoses, several cities are working on plans to launch facilities where people can inject illegal drugs with staff on hand to help them if they overdose. Now, however, the Trump administration is vowing a major crackdown.

When humorist and writer Mara Altman was 19 and attending college at UCLA, she learned something about herself which, she says, felt devastating at the time.

It happened while she was flirting with a server at a Mexican restaurant one evening. His name was Gustavo and he said five simple words: "I like your blonde mustache."

Now, she knew about this blonde mustache. But she had been bleaching it for years in the hopes that no one else would notice it.

The Food and Drug Administration has stepped into a simmering debate in California as to whether coffee should come with a cancer warning label.

In March, a judge sided with a nonprofit organization called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics that argued that coffee contains high levels of acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical compound produced as beans roast.

Do most consumers know that imitation meat products like "ground beef style" veggie burgers don't actually contain beef? Lawmakers in Missouri say maybe not.

The state enacted a law Tuesday requiring that only products that come from slaughtered, once-breathing animals can be marketed as meat. Specifically, the law defines meat as something "derived from harvested production livestock or poultry." The law's proponents say it protects consumers by letting them know exactly what's in their product.

Pssst: Parenting Twins Can Be Depressing

Aug 29, 2018

In 2014, when Crystal Duffy found out she was pregnant with twins, she felt shocked and overjoyed. "Twins run in our family," says the Houston resident, who was 33 at the time, and already the mom of a 2-year-old. "But we still weren't prepared for the news."

Duffy had hoped for a joyful twin pregnancy. But during her second trimester, she began having complications.

"I had a very high-risk pregnancy, and my twins were born premature," she explains. "They spent five weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. It was a very stressful time. I felt anxious and traumatized."

A hospital in Texas has cut ties with a nurse who apparently posted about a young patient with the measles in a Facebook group dedicated to "anti-vaxxers," people who reject the scientific evidence of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

Screenshots show a self-identified nurse saying the sick child's symptoms helped her understand why people vaccinate their children, but that "I'll continue along my little non-vax journey with no regrets."

In a surprising reversal, a Wisconsin board has voted to again offer insurance coverage to transgender state employees seeking hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery.

Members of the Group Insurance Board, which manages the insurance program for Wisconsin's public workers and retirees, last week voted 5-4 to overturn its current policy barring treatments and procedures "related to gender reassignment or sexual transformation."

The change will take effect Jan. 1, allowing insurance to defray the cost of care deemed medically necessary.

The illnesses started appearing in late March. Here and there, across the country, people were checking themselves in to hospitals, sick from toxic E. coli bacteria. At least 200 people got sick. Five of them died.

A new study suggests that ketamine, an increasingly popular treatment for depression, has something in common with drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone.

The small study found evidence that ketamine's effectiveness with depression, demonstrated in many small studies over the past decade, comes from its interaction with the brain's opioid system. A Stanford University team reported their findings Wednesday in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

The death of a toddler is renewing concerns about the quality of medical care that immigrant families receive in federal detention centers.

Eighteen-month-old Mariee Juárez died after being detained along with her mother Yazmin Juárez at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. Her mother says Mariee was a happy, healthy child when they arrived at the U.S. border in March to seek asylum.

Then they were sent to Dilley. Six weeks after being discharged, her mother says, Mariee died of a treatable respiratory infection that began during her detention.

For the fourth year in a row, federal health officials report that there has been a sharp increase in sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017 — an increase of 200,000 cases over the previous year, and a record high.

Sarah Anne, a 59-year-old chimpanzee, is famous enough to have her own Wikipedia page. That's because she was captured from the wild as an infant and raised in the home of a language researcher who taught her to use symbols for words. These days, she lives at Chimp Haven, a wooded sanctuary for former research chimps in Louisiana, along with a new pal named Marie.

Updated at 9:25 p.m. ET

Puerto Rico's governor updated the island's official death toll for victims of Hurricane Maria on Tuesday, hours after independent researchers from George Washington University released a study estimating the hurricane caused 2,975 deaths in the six months following the storm.

A consumer advocacy organization is asking federal health officials Tuesday to halt a large medical study being conducted at major universities nationwide.

Public Citizen says that the study, involving treatment for sepsis, puts patients at risk and will at best produce confusing results.

Researchers investigating the effects of air pollution conducted math and verbal tests over the course of multiple years on more than 25,000 people in 162 Chinese counties. They matched those results with pollution conditions at the time of each test, and found sobering results.

Scientists have taken another step toward understanding what makes the human brain unique.

An international team has identified a kind of brain cell that exists in people but not mice, the team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Two years ago, James Klenk of Freehold, N.J. suffered a heat stroke and went into renal failure after several days sorting and unloading heavy boxes in the back of a UPS truck. He had been a driver for UPS for 14 years and almost died that day.

Klenk is one of countless workers across the country enduring symptoms of heat stress. High temperatures can pose health threats on a daily basis, including confusion, fatigue, and dehydration. More extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and organ failure, depending on a worker's environment and how quickly treatment is administered.

Everybody loves a winner — even toddlers, according to a study published Monday. But even though kiddos tend to like high-status individuals, they don't like those who win conflicts by using force.

"It seems like toddlers care about who wins, but they also care about how they win," says Ashley Thomas, now a researcher in cognitive development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

It was the news they'd been dreading. Last week, world health officials learned that a doctor's wife had contracted Ebola. She is from Oicha, a town in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo that is surrounded by a violent insurgent militia called the Allied Democratic Forces.

Her case is one of many in an outbreak that's been ongoing since the start of August. But it was the first to be confirmed in a location that is difficult for health workers to reach because of the conflict raging in that part of the country.

The world of social science got a rude awakening a few years ago, when researchers concluded that many studies in this area appeared to be deeply flawed. Two-thirds could not be replicated in other labs.

Some of those same researchers now report those problems still frequently crop up, even in the most prestigious scientific journals.

But their study, published Monday in Nature Human Behaviour, also finds that social scientists can actually sniff out the dubious results with remarkable skill.

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