5 important stories that were overlooked in last week’s news frenzy
Last week, our attention turned abroad, as President Donald Trump wrapped up a nine-day trip overseas — his first as president.
Trump visited the Western Wall, the first such trip made by a sitting president, set the Internet afire with theories about a glowing orb at the opening of an anti-extremist center in Riyadh and spent time at the Vatican with one-time foe Pope Francis, who asked the first lady “What do you give him to eat? Potica?” (Melania Trump laughed at the nod to her native Slovenian strudel).
At a NATO meeting and a G7 summit, Trump shared tense moments with European leaders over trade and the Paris climate accord, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to tell a packed beer hall that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”
Meanwhile, at home, a new special counsel took over the federal Russia investigation, amid new allegations that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was trying to open secret back channels with the Kremlin.
Take your news feed into your own hands again with these five stories that were overlooked in last week’s news frenzy.
1. Three federal agencies are investigating America’s biggest psychiatric hospital chain
The country’s largest psychiatric hospital chain may systematically hold patients longer than necessary to cash in on insurance payments, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed News.
At least three federal agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI and the Department of Defense — have launched civil and criminal investigations into Universal Health Services, which treated 446,000 patients at more than 350 facilities in 2016, according to its annual report.
The allegations were first raised in a yearlong Buzzfeed investigation into UHS published in December, including interviews with employees who “said they were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method — which sometimes meant exaggerating people’s symptoms or twisting their words to make them seem suicidal — and to hold them until their insurance payments ran out.”
The company is also under investigation for Medicare fraud. In 2015, the company brought in $7.5 billion in revenue from inpatient care; more than 30 percent of that revenue is paid by Medicare or Medicaid, Buzzfeed found.
UHS denied the claims made in the December report. It has not commented publicly about the most recent round of allegations, which were raised at a shareholders meeting that drew protests last week.
The hospital chain paid out just under $7 million in 2012 to settle similar allegations about a Virginia youth psychiatric care facility, Ars Technica reports.
Why it’s important
“Because psychiatric hospitals are reimbursed for each day that a patient stays, extending patients’ stays can drive up a hospital’s revenue. But billing for treatment that is not medically necessary can constitute fraud. And for patients themselves, who are needlessly held in locked facilities, the experience can be devastating,” Buzzfeed’s Rosalind Adams writes.
It’s a similar debate to the one surrounding for-profit prisons, which the Department of Justice tried to phase out last year; President Donald Trump’s administration is looking to bring them back. Critics of both systems argue that institutions whose directors seek ever-increasing revenues put profit above patient and inmate care, which makes filling beds more important than treatment and rehabilitation.
After Buzzfeed’s December investigation, lawmakers called for more scrutiny. The most recent developments suggest the government is delivering.
UHS stock dropped about 5 percent after Buzzfeed’s most recent report, MarketWatch reports. And earlier this month, the Oregon Health Authority blocked the company’s plans to build a psychiatric hospital. It’s not clear when the government’s investigations will conclude.
2. Students in Oklahoma are going to school fewer days than their peers
In Oklahoma, state budget cuts mean that many schools have transitioned to a four-day academic week, the Washington Post reports. State schools are also facing larger class sizes, fewer art and foreign language classes and in some cases, for those who can’t afford them, no textbooks.
This comes, the Post reports, “as lawmakers have cut taxes, slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue in what some Oklahomans consider a cautionary tale about the real-life consequences of the small-government approach favored by Republican majorities in Washington and statehouses nationwide.”
Why it’s important
Oklahoma ranks 49 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for public school teacher salary and 44th on expenditures per K-12 student, according to a recent report by the National Education Association.
Nearly one-fifth of the state’s 513 school districts have switched to a four-day school week. It’s a strategy other states have also turned to in budget crises, Paul Hill, a professor at the University of Washington Bothell, told the Post. The long term academic implications of such a shift are unknown, he said.
Some students welcome the extra day off. But it usually means more stress for working families who must struggle to find — and pay for — extra child care, and for poor children who get most of their meals from school. (The “overwhelming majority of students” in Oklahoma schools with four-day weeks qualify for subsidized meals, the Post says.)
State education funding will remain at current levels next year, which means the four-day school week will likely continue. Lawmakers say the federal budget proposed by President Donald Trump could also put more pressure on local funding.
3. Hospitals across the country are running out of a crucial medication
Two of the country’s largest drug suppliers have run out of sodium bicarbonate, one of hospitals’ most versatile antidotes. And it could be months before doctors get access to it again, the New York Times reports.
The simple solution, made from the same baking soda you stock in your kitchen for muffins and cookies, helps patients whose blood has become too acidic. It’s used for everything from chemotherapy treatments to failing organs and skin pinched by stitches.
Few alternatives are available, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists says. And those that are can be hard to find.
Why it’s important
“The shortage of sodium bicarbonate solution is only the latest example of an inexpensive hospital staple supply dwindling to a critical level,” the Times’ Katie Thomas writes. “ In recent years, hundreds of generic injectable drugs have become scarce, vexing hospital administrators and government officials, who have called on the manufacturers to give better notice when they are about to run short.”
There are 50 drugs on the FDA’s shortages list. But advocacy groups and nonprofits say that number, in reality, can creep over 100. A report from Medill News Service last year showed that hospitals were also running low on common drugs like vitamin E, morphine, sodium chloride (salt water), dextrose (sugar) and electrolyte fluids.
Doctors interviewed by Medill blame the shortage on Group Purchasing Organizations, which buy drugs in bulk for hospital groups.
Others interviewed by the Times pointed to problems with source ingredients and sparse investment in the manufacturing processes that produce these drugs.
Whatever the cause, doctors are having to make hard choices.
“Does the immediate need of a patient outweigh the expected need of a patient?” one doctor told the Times. “It’s a medical and ethical question that goes beyond anything I’ve had to experience before.”
The FDA doesn’t require drug companies to have a backup plan or stock emergency supplies when it runs out of a certain medication. But some doctors say it should.
4.Taiwan’s top court clears way for same-sex marriage
Taiwan’s highest court on Wednesday cleared a path for the country to make history as the first Asian nation to allow same-sex partnerships.
The Constitutional Court in Taipei ruled on Article 972 of the country’s civil code, which specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman. It found the article violated the constitution’s guarantee of equal rights and freedom of marriage.
The exclusion of same-sex couples was a “gross legislative flaw” that is “incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the freedom of marriage as protected by Article 22 of the Constitution,” according to a press release the court issued Wednesday.
Now, the country’s government has two years to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation. If it does not, same-sex couples will still be able to marry beginning in 2019.
Why it’s important
Twenty-two countries currently allow same-sex couples to wed, though none are in Asia, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
In China, being gay was illegal until 1997 and considered a psychiatric disorder under guidelines from the Chinese Psychiatric Association until 2001.
Taiwan has long been considered a progressive leader when it comes to LGBTQ issues. It outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and education, and since 2011, school textbooks have included information on LGBTQ issues. In 2014, Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior removed a requirement for transgender people to undergo surgery and psychiatric assessments before changing their identification documents. And Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen expressed support for same-sex marriage during the presidential campaign.
Now, LGBTQ activists hope the decision will prompt lawmakers to include same-sex couples in all existing laws around marriage — but some worry the government will create a special status granting only partial rights to those couples.
The court’s decision also resonated far beyond Taiwan’s borders with Asian families in the U.S., who said it could encourage others to seek same-sex marriage rights in their home countries.
5. New images from NASA’s Jupiter mission showcase the planet’s marvel and mystique
When NASA’s Juno mission made its way toward Jupiter last July, scientists thought they knew what to expect.
But new results are now challenging what researchers originally believed about the planet.
“What we’re finding is anything but that is the truth. It’s very different, very complex,” Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute, told The New Scientist.
The new findings include the discovery of massive cyclones hovering over Jupiter’s poles, storms that prove to be much more turbulent than scientists originally predicted. NASA’s spacecraft captured evidence of the weather located at the top and bottom of Jupiter last year, The New Scientist reported. The results were published in the journal Science and Geophysical Research Letters; NASA announced the new findings during a news conference Thursday.
Bolton, Juno’s chief scientist, told CNN the astounding images showcase the plant’s unpredictable nature.
“We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” Bolton said. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”
Juno also revealed the planet’s magnetic field is 10 times stronger than Earth’s strongest magnetic field.
Why it’s important
Juno’s next big data dump is expected in July, when it passes by the Great Red Spot, a zone of consistent high pressure that produces gigantic storms.
It’s one of the many more pieces of data Juno still has to collect. Which means we’ll learn much more about the planet, including information that could settle a debate about what exactly is in Jupiter’s core.