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Who’s Behind the Pharma-Bashing? ‘Medieval’ Diseases Return; Secret Maternity Metrics

It’s time for this week’s edition of Investigative Roundup, gathering some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare from around the country.

The Dark Money Behind Anti-Pharma Ads

STAT News tries but doesn’t quite succeed in finding who’s behind a dark-money group buying Facebook advertisements attacking Big Pharma.

The name “Citizens for Truth in Drug Pricing” might be familiar to those who listen to conservative radio personalities — such as Hugh Hewitt, who has on several occasions spoken about the group and whose Facebook page features the ads.

According to STAT, the organization has run more than $100,000 worth of Facebook ads that hammer pharmaceutical companies and high drug prices. Citizens for Truth in Drug Pricing appears to have no existence other than as a name behind the ads — there’s no website or staff listing, the only physical address is linked to a law firm, and the organization’s 501(c)(4) tax status means that donors aren’t disclosed.

STAT did find a spokesperson for Citizens for Truth in Drug Pricing, a communications pro named David Pasch who works for conservative organizations, but he wouldn’t identify the group’s founders or financial backers.

A Renaissance for Medieval Diseases Among Homeless

Infections that were once prevalent in the Middle Ages amid unsanitary living conditions, like typhus and tuberculosis, are hitting homeless communities across the country — and the general public is now at risk too, according to Kaiser Health News.

In Southern California alone, more than 1,000 infections in two years were reported along with a recent typhus outbreak. A part of the Los Angeles City Hall was shut down and an investigation launched due to a rodent problem. In New York, where homeless populations are often in shelters, other diseases like air-borne tuberculosis can be of concern. And hepatitis A outbreaks have hit several states including New Mexico, Ohio, Kentucky, and California.

Outreach and access to sanitation are big factors in containing these outbreaks before they spread to those outside of homeless communities. For example, California authorities installed handwashing stations and bathrooms in one jurisdiction.

But advocates and health officials want more.

Secret Maternity Complication Metrics Revealed

USA Today released “secret” data on hospital maternity complications in 13 states — collected by the federal government but not made public, unlike other adverse outcomes.

Although the U.S. is the most dangerous country in the world to give birth, the newspaper said hospitals, insurers, and government agencies fear the metrics would be too complicated for the average patient to consume and process.

But some of the data were available from state health agencies, and USA Today has now posted it in an online searchable database.

The newspaper acknowledged that such data don’t measure quality of care perfectly, but that’s true of all data on adverse hospital outcomes. As an official of a women’s health advocacy group told USA Today, “It’s important we treat providers fairly, but it’s also important we hold them accountable.”

“Pharma Bro” Running Company from Prison?

Martin Shkreli, poster boy for inflated drug prices and serving a 7-year sentence for fraud, runs his company from the confines of the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, New Jersey, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

WSJ describes Shkreli as “a shadow power” at his drug company, Pheonixus AG, formerly Turing Pharmaceuticals. The report said he was doing so via the use of a contraband cell phone, using social media and even firing the company’s chief executive.

Forbes‘ white collar crime columnist, Walter Pavlo, noted that Shkreli had since been moved into a “special housing unit” and stripped of his cell phone and other personal items. “Guys like Shkreli get bored in prison, but they can also get into a lot of trouble. I think the [Bureau of Prisons] will hit him pretty hard on this one,” a former federal corrections official told Pavlo.

Theranos Documentary Premieres

You’ve read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, listened to “The Dropout” podcast, and are eagerly awaiting Jennifer Lawrence’s upcoming portrayal of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in a feature movie. But for those of you who can’t get enough of the scandal surrounding the defunct diagnostics start-up, tune into The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley that premieres on HBO next Monday, March 18. See the trailer here and plan your black-turtleneck theme viewing party now.