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Manslaughter Charge in Flint; Baby Allergy Over-Dx; the Blues in Rural Texas


Welcome to another edition of Investigative Roundup, our weekly look at investigations into healthcare issues from around the nation.

Top Michigan Doc Charged in Legionnaires’ Outbreak

It wasn’t widely reported, but the city of Flint, Michigan, had another public health crisis in recent years in addition to its infamous lead-contamination problem. The city also suffered a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak in 2014-2015 that sickened about 90 people, including 12 who died. Now the state’s top health official faces trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter in relation to the outbreak, the AP reports.

Eden Wells, MD, Michigan’s chief medical executive, is accused of not warning the public sooner about the lethal outbreak. Other charges included obstruction of justice, perjury, and misconduct. Five other current and former health officials have also been charged with crimes related to the outbreak.

She denies the accusations. Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder has kept her in the position and expressed confidence in her.

Baby Formula and Allergy Overdiagnosis

The baby food and formula market is booming globally, hitting $50 billion in 2017. A BMJ investigation suggested that overdiagnosis of cow’s milk protein allergy may play a role, through a quiet, industry-backed “Trojan horse” campaign.

The investigation found that many medical professionals and organizations — including those writing guidelines for diagnosing and treating infant allergies — had received funding from formula makers. The industry appears to be leveraging concerns about milk allergy to sell specialty formula, by creating “a network of conflicted individuals and institutions that has wide-ranging effects on research, policy, and guidelines. Potential overdiagnosis of the allergy can also have negative effects on breastfeeding,” the BMJ report noted.

Generic Drug Makers Too Cozy?

Generic drugs are supposed to be cheap, but, a state prosecutor told The Washington Post, a cabal of executives from major generic-drug companies managed to keep the prices up with consumers and taxpayers footing the bill.

A growing investigation by Connecticut and other states into 16 drug companies — including Mylan, Sun, Teva, and Dr. Reddy’s — suggests they engaged in price-fixing for 300 drugs. The alleged collusion occurred under friendly terms including meetings over cocktails and dinners as well as at trade events.

There’s no exact number on how much the coordinated price hikes cost consumers, but officials put it in the billions of dollars. One investigator called it “the largest cartel in the history of the United States.”

Blue Cross Gets Aggressive in Texas

Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to be turning up the heat on rural hospitals in Texas to negotiate better deals. According to the Texas Observer, struggling health centers in the state — which refused Medicaid expansion and has the highest uninsured rate in the country — are up against an insurance juggernaut without much recourse.

Rural hospitals in Texas are struggling financially, leaving them vulnerable to aggressive tactics from larger organizations like Blue Cross, with more resources. But as Adam Willmann, CEO of the Bosque County Hospital District, said: “What are you gonna do? Terminate your agreement?”

For example, a recently installed hospitalist received a contract renegotiation request from Blue Cross Blue Shield. After he refused to sign and counter-offered he was met with silence — then anger from Blue Cross customers who received a letter from the company stating that due to stalled contract negotiations, that particular facility would be considered out of network.