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Wuhan Coronavirus Spreads; Potential Health Entitlement Cuts; AAMC Letter to NEJM on Med School Application Cost; and Other Items of Interest

The coronavirus outbreak that originated in China has continued to spread, with as many as 830 confirmed cases, more than 8,400 people under observation, and at least 26 deaths, reported the Washington Post on Friday, adding that health services in affected areas of China are under increasing stress as greater numbers of people seek care. Meanwhile, at least 14 cities in China have been placed on lockdown, and in some cases, transit and travel in those regions have been cut off. Despite the spread, including several confirmed cases in other countries, the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak an emergency.
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A man in Washington state became the first American to contract the Wuhan coronavirus as federal officials expand infection screenings at major airports in the United States, reported the New York Times. The Times noted that the patient has a mild case of pneumonia and is doing well. A second U.S. case was confirmed Friday, and CNBC noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking dozens of others in the United States for possible infection.
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Nature gauged the Chinese government’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus so far and called for continued transparency, international coordination and collaboration, and speed in stopping the virus.
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“The big picture is that we’re better prepared [for pandemic] than we were before, but not nearly as prepared as we need to be,” said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, former director of the CDC in an article in the Washington Post that weighed America’s level of preparedness for a major pandemic against its response to Ebola.
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Saad B. Omer, PhD, MBBS, MPH, director of the Yale Institute of Global Health, contributed an opinion piece to the New York Times asking whether America is ready for another outbreak. The answer is no, but we’re heading in the right direction, he wrote.
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Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Catharine Paules, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Penn State College of Medicine; and Hilary Marston, MD, MPH, a medical officer and policy advisor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wrote a Viewpoint in JAMA describing the types and histories of coronavirus infections, including SARS, MERS, and now 2019-nCOV, the Wuhan coronavirus. The authors noted, “The ultimate scope and effect of this [Wuhan] outbreak is unclear at present as the situation is rapidly evolving.”
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As the Wuhan coronavirus dominates headlines, researchers are debating how much information to share with the public about decisions to conduct research that makes dangerous pathogens even more so in an attempt to get ahead of future pandemics, reported Utah Public Radio.
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In a shift from his 2016 campaign promise to leave entitlement programs alone, President Trump suggested he is open to Medicare cuts to lower the federal deficit if he wins a second term, reported the New York Times.
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The Trump administration plans to issue guidance soon for giving states waivers to convert Medicaid funding into block grants, said the Wall Street Journal.
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The Supreme Court declined requests by the House and a coalition of Democratic-led states to expedite review of the case that struck down the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, reported Bloomberg Law. Now, March is the earliest a decision could be made by the Court.
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The Supreme Court will, for the third time, review whether employers must provide free birth control coverage for their employees, reported Politico. This will be the first time such a case has come before the court since Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh began their terms, and the article noted that both justices have been sympathetic toward religious groups seeking exemptions in the past.
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States are becoming laboratories for various policy proposals aimed at curbing hospital costs, said Modern Healthcare.
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Rev Cycle Intelligence explored progress on alternative payment models and discussed the future of value-based payment reform.
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Gabrielle Campbell, AAMC chief services officer, and AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, published a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine stating the association’s commitment to making the process of applying to medical school more affordable. “The cost of applying to medical school should not be a barrier for aspiring physicians,” they wrote.
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Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and 18 of its member organizations are partnering with the nonprofit Civica Rx to invest $55 million in the creation of cheaper versions of expensive generic drugs that have little competition, said the New York Times.
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Several conservative groups have formed a coalition opposing any solution to surprise billing that includes the use of benchmark payments, or “rate-setting,” reported Modern Healthcare.
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States will now be able to tap into a $1.5 billion federal grant program originally designed to combat the opioid epidemic and use the money to help a growing number of people struggling with meth and cocaine, reported the Associated Press.
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The Economist discussed the wider economic effects of America’s opioid epidemic.
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And Freakonomics Radio posted two podcast episodes on the opioid epidemic.
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Irving Weissman, MD, of Stanford School of Medicine, and Joseph McCune, MD, PhD, of UCSF, cowrote an opinion piece in USAToday on the effective federal funding ban on fetal tissues research. “If You Want to Ban Fetal Tissue Research, Sign a Pledge to Refuse Its Benefits,” is the headline.
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The Karsh Family Foundation donated $10 million to Howard University — the largest gift in the university’s history — to help the school expand a science and technology scholars program that aims to increase the numbers of minorities in science and technology, reported the Washington Post.
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The ranks of federally employed scientists are thinning, said the Washington Post, noting that scientist have experienced diminished roles in their work and have been asked to relocate to areas outside of Washington, D.C. The piece reported that in the first two years of the Trump administration, about 1,600 scientists employed by the government have left, with the biggest losses seen in social and physical sciences.
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Two surgeons are suing the SUNY Health Sciences Downstate University and its medical school, alleging retaliation after they reported patient safety concerns and deaths in the medical school’s heart surgery and organ transplant programs, reported the Wall Street Journal.
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Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a former provost of Harvard University and dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, and a former president of the Institute of Medicine; and David Allison, PhD, dean of the Indiana University School of Public Health, wrote a Viewpoint in JAMA, “The Use and Misuse of Transparency in Research,” which focuses on science and rulemaking at the Environmental Protection Agency. They wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, is overly restrictive, saying, “[E]pidemiological and clinical studies that are designed to protect the confidentiality of personal health information may be highly germane to establishing environmental standards yet ethically barred from making all data publicly available. Other studies may rely on proprietary information, and their main findings may have been replicated in independent, proprietary studies, yet under the proposed rule, such studies similarly could not be relied on as a basis for regulation.”
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The JAMA Forum described how government at all levels is experimenting with new budgeting tools, such as braiding or blending funds from different programs to pursue a broad purpose, that could help address the social determinants of health, since “many efforts to address social determinants of health are undercut by similar examples of the ‘wrong pockets’ problem—the predicament that arises when one agency is well placed to invest in achieving an important outcome, but it is another agency that stands to reap most of the financial benefit from the investment.”
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Modern Healthcare covered research from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, reporting that “higher spending at 340B hospitals seems to be driven by the type of cancer that people are treated for rather than 340B’s financial incentives.” Healthcare Finance also covered the study.
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Laura Deon, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rush University Medical Center, wrote an op-ed in The Hill highlighting the unintended negative consequences institutional, state, and federal policies can have if they are not crafted by people from diverse backgrounds who are guided by input from the communities the proposed policy will impact.
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Most Americans prefer to die at home, and the health care system is acknowledging that direction, but few family members fully appreciate the difficulties of helping their loved ones pass in hospice, reported NPR.
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Mark Schlissel, MD, PhD, University of Michigan president, announced this week that Martin A. Philbert, PhD, the university’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, has been placed on leave due to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. In his letter to the campus community, Dr. Schlissel said, “We take allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously, and our policy is clear: Sexual misconduct will not be tolerated in the University of Michigan community.”
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Los Angeles-based anesthesiologist Karen S. Sibert, MD, responded in KevinMD to a Washington Post opinion piece, “The Health-care Industry Is Letting Surgeons Behave Like Muggers,” which criticized physician billing practices and insurance coverage. Dr. Sibert argued, “The tragedy that’s happening in medicine today is that the loss of respect and the constant threats to fair payment are making physicians regret that they ever chose medicine. They were fascinated with science and wanted to help people, and their reward is insult.”
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Karen Fisher, JD, AAMC chief public policy officer, and Ross McKinney, MD, AAMC chief scientific officer, highlighted the importance of a recent funding increase for the National Institutes of Health and a reauthorization of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute in an AAMCNews Insights column.
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AAMCNews reported that a growing number of medical schools and teaching hospitals are developing comprehensive programs to identify at-risk trainees and get them the help they need, since almost 30% of medical students and residents suffer from depression and 10% report having suicidal thoughts.
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The AAMC published a report titled Diversity in Medicine: Facts and Figures 2019, which provides a set of online data tables that displays applicant, matriculant, and graduate data for the academic year 2018-2019 and faculty and workforce data for 2018.
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The Interprofessional Education Collaborative, of which the AAMC is a founding member, is accepting nominations for the 2020 Public Health Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration Award. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 3.
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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a report titled Leading Health Indicators 2030: Advancing Health, Equity, and Well-Being.
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The deadline for accepting nominations for the Vilcek-Gold Award for Humanism in Healthcare has been extended to Feb. 2. The award recognizes a foreign-born individual who has had a demonstrable impact on humanism in health care through their professional achievements in the United States.
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Lloyd Dean will become the only CEO of CommonSpirit Health after the retirement of co-CEO Kevin Lofton on June 30. CommonSpirit Health is a Chicago-based system of Catholic hospitals and is the largest nonprofit health system in the country by revenue, reported Fierce Healthcare.
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Diana M. Fernández-Santos, EdD, has been named interim dean for Universidad Central del Caribe School of Medicine. She is currently the principal investigator for the Data Management and Statistical Research Support Unit at Universidad Central del Caribe.

Paul H. Phillips, MD, has been appointed chair of the Department of Ophthalmology in the College of Medicine and director of the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Dr. Phillips was recruited to UAMS in 1997. He has served as chief of pediatric ophthalmology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital since 2006 and as director of the Ophthalmology Residency Program since 2015.
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Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, has been awarded the 2020 SPR Award in honor of E. Mead Johnson by the Society for Pediatric Research. Dr. Permar is associate dean for physician-scientist development and a professor of pediatrics, immunology, pathology, and molecular genetics and microbiology at the Duke University School of Medicine.
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AmyLeigh Overton-McCoy, PhD, APRN, has been appointed the Murphy Endowed Chair for Rural Aging Leadership and Policy at UAMS College of Medicine. Dr. Overton-McCoy has served as director of the Centers on Aging at the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging since April and is an assistant professor in the Department of Geriatrics at the UAMS College of Medicine.
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Kevin Brown, MD, has been named chair of the Department of Medicine at National Jewish Health. Dr. Brown has served as vice chair for the Department of Medicine at National Jewish Health since 2006 and as the interim chair since July 2019.
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Peter Koch, PhD, has been named chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, effective Jan. 30. Dr. Koch previously served as a professor at the Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and in the departments of dermatology, cell and developmental biology, and ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.
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Kanyalakshmi “Kanya” Ayyanar, MD, has been appointed director of the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders in Albany Med’s Department of Pediatrics at the Bernard & Millie Duker Children’s Hospital and chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and the Joseph and Anna Landis Endowed Chair for Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at Albany Medical College. Dr. Ayyanar most recently served as director of oncology at Cure 4 The Kids Foundation in Las Vegas. Prior to that, she worked as outpatient medical director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and as the fellowship director of pediatric hematology/oncology at the University of Louisville.
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Charles Greenberg, MLS, MEd, has been appointed library director for the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine Library. Greenberg is a former chair of both the educational media and public services sections of the Medical Library Association.
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The days are getting longer, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to create a competitive Peeps diorama. The Open Notebook has announced its second annual science-themed Peeps diorama contest. The rules are simple: It must have Peeps in it, and it can’t explode.
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And finally, Halloween is still nine months away, and already with the talking mummies! New Scientist covered the work of researchers at the University of London who deployed CT scanners to create a detailed image of the vocal tract belonging to an Egyptian priest named Nesyamun, a 3,000-year-old well-preserved mummy enjoying his retirement in the Leeds City Museum. With the images in hand and the help of a 3D printer and electronic larynx, scientists recreated a somewhat nasally, groaning utterance that Nesyamun might have made back in his day while observing the world around him — by the sound of it, a world no less nutty than our own world today. Upon listening several times, it’s safe to say we all agree with Nesyamun.
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Visit the CFAS Resources page for an archive of the previous edition of CFAS News as well as our People of Academic Medicine page, which features a running list of academic promotions, appointments, and departures.

Your comments and news tips are always welcome. Please email them to Eric Weissman at eweissman@aamc.org.

Eric Weissman
Senior Director, Faculty and Academic Society Engagement
AAMC
eweissman@aamc.org
www.aamc.org/members/cfas

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