Oregon Public Broadcasting

Report: OHSU Scientist 1st In US To Modify Human Genes With CRISPR

A researcher at Oregon Health and Science University has reportedly become the first in the United States to genetically modify a human embryo, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review. 

The report, published Wedesday, says OHSU researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov successfully used the gene editing technology CRISPR to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos.

OPB was not immediately able to independently confirm the breakthrough. But Mitalipov's research, if it passes peer review, would be a significant step for American scientists.

 

"To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China," freelance journalist Steve Connor wrote, outlining the stakes of the research. "Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases."

Successfully altering genes in embryos could theoretically allow scientists to cures diseases, including cancer.

But critics of the CRISPR technology say it could open the door to the world of designer babies — where parents can select for specific traits in their child.

According to the Technology Review, past efforts by U.S. scientists to use CRISPR have been inconsistent and resulted in "editing errors" that gave weight to arguments the technique "would be an unsafe way to create a person."

For now, federal regulations have banned allowing a genetically-modified human embryo to develop into a baby.

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How Much Do Health Procedures Cost In Oregon? Depends Where You Live

The Oregon Health Authority just released its second review of hospital pricing and there are some big differences.

During 2015, the cost of a typical child delivery at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City was $4,000. But that same delivery at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend was more than $11,000.

So in theory, a patient could have had their baby in Baker City and then driven home in a new $7,000 car.

Stephen Ranzoni with the Oregon Health Authority doesn’t think the study gives consumers more bargaining power. But, he said, it provides useful information.

 

“So that everyone across the board, hospitals, policy makers, insurance companies, can have tangible objective data … to talk about this type of thing," Ranzoni said, "about prices and reimbursement and what is right and what is fair.”

For common outpatient procedures, heart electrophysiology studies had the highest average cost: $37,000. For inpatient procedures, the highest average cost was for a heart valve replacement surgery: $85,000.

The procedure that saw the highest price increase in 2015 was a coronary bypass surgery. It rose by $8,700. Inpatient care accounts for as much as 30 percent of health care spending in Oregon, according to the latest figures.

Hospitals negotiate their prices with insurance providers, but prices can also depend on a number of factors like location.

Hospitals located where there’s a higher cost of living tend to pay higher salaries, leases and utility costs.

But that doesn't mean hospitals in larger cities always charge more, according to the report. Sometimes they can charge less for a procedure because they can make up the cost difference in volume.

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Oregon Tribal Members Get Help Finding Health Care

The state’s health authority has delivered on a request from Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. Many tribal members say they need help finding health care.

Under federal law, many American Indians and Alaska Natives receive Medicaid without having to choose a network provider.

In practical terms says Erin Fair-Taylor with CareOregon, it means Oregon has about 17,000 people who sometimes have difficulty finding health services.

Fair-Taylor says CareOregon will help better connect them with their tribes' clinics and other health systems.

"If they know they need to access a particular kind of specialty care or their primary care provider has made a referral and they’re not sure where to go next, they can call us and we can help navigate through the system," she said.

Last year, the tribes asked the Oregon Health Authority to develop a culturally appropriate program with CareOregon.  If CareOregon finds gaps in care, it’ll contact the state for a remedy.

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CDC: Rural Counties Have Highest Opioid Prescription Levels In Oregon

Counties with the highest opioid prescription levels in the U.S. tend to have small cities and a higher percentage of white residents. They also have a high unemployment rate, more doctors and more people living with arthritis and disabilities.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in Oregon, that translated to eastern counties like Union and Wallowa, and southwestern counties like Lane, Douglas and Jackson.

Head of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said many doctors still prescribe too many pills, for too long at a high dosage.

“The amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks," she said.

The CDC wants doctors to prescribe painkillers like ibuprofen instead of opioids and recommend physical therapy and exercise.

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Partisan Spat Brewing Over Oregon Health Provider Tax

Oregon Democratic lawmakers are rushing to set up a potential special election in January that could decide the fate of a $550 million tax on the health care industry. They say this middle-of-winter election might be necessary to ensure that thousands of low-income Oregonians don’t lose their medical coverage.

But Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and some GOP legislators say that the Democrats are trying to tilt this potential vote in their favor. 

“This special election will waste millions of your tax dollars, will suppress voter turnout, and will keep voters in the dark,” Richardson said in a statement Thursday.

 

The partisan bickering stems from a threatened attempt to ask voters to overturn the health care provider tax passed this month by the Oregon Legislature. Under Oregon law, opponents can put the new law on the next general election ballot in November 2018 if they can collect about 59,000 signatures within 90 days after the end of the session.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is working with political consultant Lindsay Berschauer on a potential referendum. She said in an interview last week that she instead wanted the Legislature to adopt a smaller tax proposal, which she said would be adequate.

Democrats and several health care groups say that alternative would force several hundred million dollars in cuts. And they say the referendum process itself would put the state in a quandary.

That’s because of the way the process works. If Parrish and other supporters gather enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, the provider tax would not take effect unless approved by voters. That means holding the referendum in November would hold the tax in abeyance for nearly a year after it’s supposed to take effect — and it would cost the state much more in federal money tied to the state taxes.

“If that happens, the whole system falls apart,” said Scott Moore, a spokesman for House Democrats.

 

Instead, Democrats plan to amend a bill in the House Rules Committee on Friday to set up a Jan. 23 special election on a a provider tax and any other referendum. That way, the Legislature could come up with an alternative in its February 2018 session if voters rejected the provider tax.

“Vulnerable Oregonians can’t wait until the next General Election to take care of a medical issue for themselves or a sick child—they need certainty as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, in a statement. “The January Special Election date has been used for previous referrals and provides the soonest opportunity to resolve the question.”

 

Richardson criticized the idea of a January special election, saying that it “suppresses voter turnout” because fewer people would likely vote than in a general election. And he also charged that the Democratic bill would give their party’s legislative majority the ability to write the ballot title instead of giving the job to the attorney general.

Moore countered that no one is being “suppressed” from voting and that every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail. And he argued that the legislature frequently writes ballot titles.

This would not be the first time the Legislature moved the date of a referendum. A referendum on two tax hikes approved by legislators in 2009 was held on Jan. 26, 2010. Voters approved Measures 66 and 67, which increased taxes on corporations and on higher-income individuals.

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