News From Around the Northwest

On Wednesday, as smoke blotted out the sun across the city of Portland, about a dozen people were hiding out from the smoky heat in the air conditioned Hollywood Senior Center – one of the county's designated cooling centers for those needing relief on the hottest days of the year.

Wearing an electronic air filter around her neck, Jennifer Young, who works at the center, flipped on the larger, high-efficiency particulate  filter she brought from home to purify her work-space air.

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.

 

Oregon’s transgender population is reacting Wednesday to news that President Donald Trump will ban them from serving in the U.S. military.

Basic Rights Oregon calls the move disgraceful. 

"Thousands of patriotic transgender Americans already serve in our military and are putting their lives on the line to keep us safe and defend our American values,” Executive Director Nancy Haque said.

“There is no place for discrimination in our military," she said.  "Discharging talented service members simply because of their gender identity is wrong.”

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.

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.

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.

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. 

A pair of bills aimed at helping people struggling with mental health have passed out of the Oregon Senate.

House Bill 3090 would make hospital emergency room employees draw up discharge plans for mental health patients, even if they haven’t been admitted. And House Bill 3091 would force health insurance companies to cover behavioral health checks.

Kevin Fitts, an advocate who’s suffered dozens of mental health crises said it’s not unusual to spend hours being assessed in the ER, only to be released without treatment or follow up.

Supporters of a proposal to cover the medical costs of all Oregon children rallied at the state Capitol on Friday.

A pair of bills under consideration in Salem would extend Oregon Health Plan coverage to include kids who are in the country illegally.

 

Democratic Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon's district includes Woodburn. She told the crowd the proposal would help some of the most vulnerable people she represents.

Oregon lawmakers have signed off on a bill that would make it easier for transgender people to change their identity on state government documents like a drivers license or birth certificate.

 

The Senate voted 23-6 Wednesday to approve the bill, which now heads to Gov. Kate Brown's desk.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said the bill would remove unnecessary barriers for transgender people.

Many health care organizations are putting plans on hold as they wait to see what happens with the Affordable Care Act.

But one Oregon clinic is expanding anyway.

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health is a series of 16 clinics dotted around Washington and Yamhill Counties. They serve Medicaid patients, undocumented people who don’t have health insurance, and thousands of children.

As Oregon lawmakers grapple with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, even some legislative leaders are having trouble gaining traction for their priorities.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, made the case Monday for keeping mental health programs off the chopping block in the upcoming spending plan.

"There are cuts and there are cuts," Courtney said to reporters in his state Capitol office. "I think mental health is taking a disproportionate amount of cuts. And there are certain things you can't cut as much as others."

Oregon is in the midst of a syphilis epidemic according to the Oregon Health Authority. Cases of the disease have increased 2,000 percent over the last decade.

Back in 2007, syphilis had all but been eradicated in Oregon. There were just 26 cases.

Last year, there were close to 570.

Sean Shaffer with the OHA's Public Health Division said he’s very concerned.

The State of Oregon wants doctors to conduct a full patient evaluation when recommending medical marijuana.

The Oregon Health Authority is asking doctors to obtain a comprehensive medical history for patients, perform a complete physical, discuss the risks of cannabis and maintain detailed records.

Josh Taylor with the Oregon Cannabis Association thinks a full exam is a fair requirement, but he’s worried patients might have to pay another couple of hundred dollars to get their treatment.

Last year about 130,000 Oregonians enrolled in individual health insurance.

So far this year more than 150,000 have signed up with healthcare.gov.

That’s a 14 percent increase.

But what’ll happen if Obamacare is repealed?

“We know that today the law is in place and if you pay your premium, you will get coverage for that month,” said Lisa Morawski with the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

The head of one of Oregon’s largest health insurers, Moda Health, said the company will remain in the individual market for now.

But speaking on OPB’s Think Out Loud, Robert Gootee, said he’s worried about what will replace the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have said is a priority under the Trump Administration.

“I think one of the things a Republican administration is going to have to do between now and April is to provide some certainly in the markets," Gootee said. "Which is what the original Obamacare and the ACA market did with risk abatement programs."

The chief budget-writers for the Oregon Legislature have released a spending proposal that includes cuts to state programs.

The proposal issued Thursday outlines how lawmakers might bridge an expected budget gap.

Revenues continue to grow in Oregon, but the cost of providing services is growing faster, adding up to a $1.8 billion shortfall for the two-year budget cycle that starts in July, according to the co-chairs of the Legislature's budget-writing committee.

Almost 30 percent of Americans will experience chronic pain in their lifetime. And the opioids used to reduce that pain have proved highly addictive for many.

Now, a study out of Oregon Health And Science University suggests a new way of treating chronic pain with marijuana.

Working on rodents, senior author Susan Ingram looked at cannabis and the ability of the body’s own cannabinoid system to control pain.

The president of Oregon Health And Science University isn’t waiting to see what Republicans do with the Affordable Care Act. In anticipation of deep cuts, he’s stopping the hiring of most new staff.

As a large, urban teaching hospital, OHSU gets a disproportionate share of Medicaid patients. For example, OHSU is responsible for close to 20 percent of all the money spent on hospitalizing them in Oregon.

Speaking at a forum Friday, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said the Trump administration represents a chance to re-frame the debate on health care.

The Portland City Club forum was entitled "Blue States And Health Care Under President Trump."

But Kitzhaber, a Democrat who resigned amid scandal two years ago, said it would be a mistake to segment into red and blue states.

He said both the Affordable Care Act and one of the main Republican replacement ideas are flawed because they don’t address the underlying reason health care is so expensive.

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