Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Grassley Seeks Documents from Northwestern University on Heart Valve Device PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 08:43

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is asking Northwestern University for documents on a medical device implanted in patients for heart valve repair.  Grassley wrote to the university in 2008 and 2009 about the Myxo device over allegations that the device had not been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before it was implanted in patients as part of an outcomes study.

Since then, new allegations have come to light that Northwestern did not provide all of the documents to Grassley that were squarely within the scope of his request, and that Northwestern failed to provide any notice or explanation of why it was withholding certain documents.  In a letter this week to the presidents of Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Grassley asks for the documents apparently withheld from him in response to his earlier inquiries.

The documents are important to reviewing whether Northwestern’s use of the devices was appropriate and whether notification to patients was adequate.

Grassley has a longstanding interest in FDA oversight and patient safety.

The text of his letter is available here.


Illinois patients forced to pay higher costs for medications, putting tremendous burden on families PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Vanessa Figueroa   
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 08:05

It’s a sad but simple fact – patients suffering from life-threatening or chronic illnesses need access to their prescribed medications. How they pay for them, though, is another story.

Despite paying insurance premiums like everyone else month after month, these patients are being forced to pay a much higher percentage of their healthcare costs as insurance companies jack-up the co-payments for more and more medicines, putting an even bigger burden on those who are suffering already.

Unless you are dealing with this, you probably don’t even know that insurance companies divide prescriptions into tiers, which typically have fixed co-payments. Many of these companies have added a “specialty tier,” which is a fourth category of medicines that requires the patient to pay co-insurance, or a percentage of the drug price.Often, newer, more expensive or more specialized medicines are placed on these specialty tiers and require a sizable out-of-pocket payment by the patient.

Medications needed for life-threatening or debilitating diseases - like oral medicines for cancer or factor for patients suffering from hemophilia – may cost a patient between 25 to 50 percent of the total cost of the drug.

Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) is taking an important step to protect patients across Illinois by introducing Senate Bill 3395 to limit patients’ cost-sharing burden, ensuring that any required co-payment to drugs on a specialty tier does not exceed $100 per month.

Joan McGovern, whose husband recently passed away from hemophilia, has first-hand experience worrying about prescription drug costs. Mr. McGovern took Factor 8 for nearly 20 years to manage his disease. Her husband was on Medicare and received full assistance and did not have to pay for Factor 8. If the assistance program did not cover him, he would have had to pay the increased percentage of the co-pay for Factor 8 under the “specialty tiers” category. This would have meant that Mr. McGovern would have had to pay close to $700 every other day for Factor 8 to ensure that he had the life-saving medication he needed to prevent hemorrhaging from his brain and throughout his joints.

Joan also has a 3-year-old grandson who lives with hemophilia. His medication is currently covered by his insurance, but as his condition continues to evolve so will his medical needs. And, sadly, his family will end up having to pay for these exorbitant out-of-pocket costs under the “specialty tiers,” which could add up to over $300 per week.

The reality is that most families aren’t able to afford expensive medications under these specialty tiers. Patients, who are already suffering, should not have the extra burden of extremely high out-of-pocket costs to manage their illness.

Why Newly Proposed Nutrition Labels are Good* (with emphasis on the asterisk) PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 09:55
Physician-Chef Points Out the Pros, Cons of 3 Suggested Changes

It’s nothing new to the American consumer that food packaging emphasizes only part of a product’s health story, and the fact that the nutritional labeling hasn’t been overhauled in 20 years hasn’t helped, says cardiologist and professional chef Michael S. Fenster, MD.

A proposed update, which could take a year or more to appear on store shelves, is being driven by first lady Michelle Obama, as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign.

“Our current nutrition labeling is the same as that implemented in the 1990s, except with the 2006 addition of trans fats information. It’s based on nutrition data and eating habits from the 1970s and 1980s,” says “Dr. Mike,” author of “Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food,” (

From the perspective of physician and foodie, he analyzes what’s good about the first lady’s proposed new label, and what could be improved.

• Good: Calorie counts would be displayed in a bigger, bolder font. Emphasizing calories allows consumers to think with a helpful “energy in / energy out” baseline. Do I really need the calories in this product when I could stand to lose a few pounds? That’s a reasonably good question to promote.

***Basing the value of food primarily on calories over-simplifies the evaluation process. An energy drink may have zero calories, but it’s not better for you than an apple, which may have 100 calories. We cannot overlook nutrition!

• Good: Serving sizes would be determined from real data reflecting the portions real people typically eat. A serving of ice cream is expected to increase from a half cup to a full cup, and a one-serving muffin would be 4 ounces instead of 2 ounces, reflecting the obvious fact that people generally consume the whole scoop of ice cream and the whole muffin.

***Food producers may simply change the size of pre-packaged portions to skirt the rules. Industry experts suggest some food manufacturers may just reduce the package size to make their labeling more seductive. When food is parceled into smaller packages, the price per unit usually increases – it becomes more expensive for consumers.

• Good: New labeling would have listed separately, “added sugar.” The grams of sugar added, irrespective of whether it’s pure cane sugar, corn syrup, honey, sucrose or any other source, would be shown as one listed value. This is good because it starts to get into the quality and composition of the food product, at least indirectly. Many public health experts say “sweet creep” has been a major contributor to obesity, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

***This will likely be wildly controversial, prompting aggressive lobbying efforts that may have already begun. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups note that the current label already includes the total amount of sugar in the product. The food industry argues that natural sugar and added sugar are chemically identical and that the body doesn’t differentiate between the two. However, a significant amount of research shows this is not completely true.

About Michael Fenster, MD

Michael Fenster, M.D., F.A.C.C., FSCA&I, PEMBA, is a board-certified cardiologist and former Assistant Professor of Medicine at the NEOUCOMM. Dr. Mike is a passionate teacher who has addressed numerous professional organizations and he has participated in many clinical trials. He has published original research featured in peer reviewed scientific and medical journals. He worked his way up to executive chef before medical school and later received his culinary degree in gourmet cooking and catering from Ashworth University; where he graduated with honors. He has combined his culinary and medical expertise to deliver delicious cuisine to delivers us from the disability and diseases of modern civilization through his Grassroots Gourmet™ approach to metabolic health.  Dr. Mike's first book  “Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food,”  is currently availability. His next book, The Fallacy of the Calorie is slated for release Fall 2014. (

Loebsack Calls for Swift Passage of Bill to Ease Propane Shortage PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Joe Hand   
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 09:10

In response to a letter from Loebsack, House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearing on propane crisis

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today called on Congress to quickly pass legislation to help ease the propane crunch that Iowa and much of the Midwest are currently facing. Loebsack has been leading the charge to figure out the cause of the recent spike in propane costs as well as fighting to find a solution to the problem. This dramatic rise in propane costs has caused significant hardships for families and farmers. A vote on H.R. 4076, the HHEAT Act of 2014, is expected later today (Tuesday) in the House. After its anticipated passage, it will then head to the Senate for consideration. Also, in response to a letter Loebsack and a bipartisan coalition of Midwestern lawmakers sent last month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing this Thursday to look into the current propane shortage.

“The sudden increase in the price of propane, combined with an extremely cold winter continues to wreak havoc on many Iowans’ pocketbooks. I am pleased this legislation is moving forward to provide some needed relief for folks who heat their homes with propane,” said Loebsack. “This is another expense Iowans cannot afford. I will continue to push this legislation forward until it is signed into law by the President. These barriers must be removed to allow a necessary supply of propane to reach Iowans and help lower the price.”

In response to the crisis, Loebsack also joined the Iowa delegation in calling on the Federal Trade Commission to review the spike in propane costs, as well as called on the President to take any necessary action to address the problem.

H.R. 4076, “Home Heating Emergency Assistance Through Transportation Act of 2014” will address the shortages and interruptions in the availability of propane by providing a blanket exemption from federal restrictions on deliveries of propane and other home heating fuels until May 31, 2014, in states where governors have declared emergencies. Doing so would eliminate the need for state governors to renew their emergency declarations.


American Red Cross Blood Services milestones PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Ben Corey   
Tuesday, 04 March 2014 15:57

The Red Cross began collecting blood for the U.S. military with Dr. Charles Drew as medical director.


March was first proclaimed Red Cross Month by Franklin Roosevelt. Every president since has honored Red Cross Month.


The Red Cross implemented the first nationwide blood program for civilians. The first collection center opened in Rochester, N.Y.


The Red Cross called for a national blood policy, which the federal government set up in 1974, supporting standardized practices.


The Red Cross applied standardized tests to ensure the safety of blood products. Now about a dozen tests are performed on every blood donation.

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