September 26, 2023
Biotech Startups And Venture Capital Reporter

Hello everyone! This is Allison, filling in for Liz. Before we get to the news of the day, a belated birthday shoutout to my sister Carey. The longevity field may be nascent, but I swear she’s stopped aging. Now onto the news, including a political debate over milk. Did anyone have that on their 2023 bingo card?


Got (plant) milk?


The debate over whether nut, oat, and other plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk can be called “the m word” has reached the federal government. In fact, it’s even led one Idaho congressman to go around grocery stores placing “This is not milk” sticky notes on cartons of plant-based drinks. 

So far, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed plant-based companies to call their products milk. But the dairy industry has one last shot: adding language to a massive agriculture bill that must pass in the coming months that would ban plant-based companies from using the word milk. The industry has tried this tactic before, and is now splintering on the milk labeling issue.

My STAT colleague Nick Florko dipped into the drama. Read more here.


A hot dog and a checkup 

You’ll soon be able to get more from Costco than bulk paper towels and a $1.50 hot dog and soda. The wholesale corporation will now offer members access to medical care through a deal with online marketplace Sesame, including $29 online primary care visits, according to Bloomberg

Costco and other national retailers like Walmart have jumped into health care as the next frontier. Walmart launched in-store health clinics in 2019, and the retailer announced earlier this year that it will nearly double its number of clinics to more than 75 by the end of 2024. Costco’s deal with Sesame, which does not accept insurance, is limited to telehealth visits, but sets the stage for a new bout of corporate competition.


Inequality in the ER

 Misha Friedman/Getty Images

Black patients are more likely to be physically restrained than patients from other racial groups, according to new research out of the University of California, San Francisco, and University of California, Davis. A systematic review that performed a meta-analysis of six studies and looked at over 1.6 million patient encounters showed that restraints were used in ERs in less than 1% of clinical encounters. But Black patients were 31% more likely to be placed in restraints than white patients.

Using physical restraints is meant to be a last result in emergency rooms. The study did not directly address the underlying reasons that Black adults are at greater risk of being physically restrained than other groups, but researchers hypothesize that “structural racism plays an important role,” as one of the study’s authors told STAT’s Anika Nayak.


CommonSpirits's answer to losing money: Get bigger

Four years after being founded through a mega-merger, not-for-profit health system CommonSpirit continues to bleed money. But that’s hasn’t stopped the company from making acquisitions.

The system bought five hospitals in Utah in February at a price tag of $705 million plus $1.4 billion over 15 years to rent the property the hospitals and their affiliated clinics are located on. It also cut about 2,000 full-time equivalent positions in the quarter ending June 30. 

Adding more hospitals while struggling financially is a risky move, Ge Bai, an accounting and health policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, told STAT’s Tara Bannow: “They are not doing well, despite this mega-merger, but they’re doubling down.” Read more.


Why is long Covid more prevalent among women?

Much of how Covid impacts our bodies in the long term remains a mystery. But new data released by the National Center for Health Statistics Tuesday sheds some light on who is most impacted by long Covid, defined as contending with symptoms three or more months after they first became infected with the virus. 

Some 6.9% of adults in the U.S. are estimated to have ever experienced long Covid as of 2022. The results varied by race, with Hispanic people the most likely to have had long Covid. 

Long Covid was most prevalent among women, 8.5% of whom had experienced the condition as of 2022, compared to 5.2% of men. The trend was echoed in pediatric cases, with 1.6% of girls ever having long Covid versus 0.9% of boys. Researchers have previously theorized that differences in immune function between men and women may lead the latter group to mount a more robust and rapid response. That could help reduce the initial infection, but potentially increase their vulnerability to prolonged autoimmune-related diseases.


Dual-eligible plans under scrutiny in Congress

A bipartisan group of senators is working on legislation to better coordinate care for people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, Simar Bajaj reports for STAT

Just around 15% of beneficiaries are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, but they account for a third of these programs’ spending — around $440 billion — and still don’t receive better health care, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) pointed out in a JAMA viewpoint published earlier this month. This is partly because most dual-eligible patients have to navigate a bifurcated health care system with two sets of benefits. 

The final version of the bill is expected to be introduced into the Senate later this year, although it might take until 2025 before the bill moves forward and actually has a chance of being passed. Read more.

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What we're reading

  • This 6-year-old is a pioneer in the quest to treat a deadly brain tumor, Washington Post
  • BrainStorm’s case for ALS approval relies on ‘grossly deficient’ data, FDA finds, STAT
  • Uncle Sam wants you — to fight high drug prices, Wall Street Journal

  • The villa where a doctor experimented on children, New Yorker

  • California workers who cut countertops are dying of an incurable disease, Los Angeles Times

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow — Allison

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