Another reason to maintain a healthy weight, USDA invests in healthcare of rural Americans, and more.

1. USDA to invest $501 million in rural healthcare

Rural America is getting some much-needed help from the government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest $501 million in 60 healthcare projects nationwide, giving two million people in 34 states access to healthcare. The money, offered as direct loans, will come from the USDA’s Community Facilities program.

“Creating strong and healthy communities is foundational to increasing prosperity in rural America,” said Anne Hazlett, USDA assistant to the secretary for rural development. “Under the leadership of Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to partnering with rural leaders to improve quality of life and economic development through modern and accessible healthcare.”

2. Verily drops glucose-sensing contact lens research

Alphabet’s Verily has given up its attempts to create a glucose-sensing contact lens. The reason? An inability to obtain accurate glucose readings from the small amount of glucose in the film. “Our clinical work on the glucose-sensing lens demonstrated that there was insufficient consistency in our measurements of the correlation between tear glucose and blood glucose concentrations to support the requirements of a medical device,” Verily CTO Brian Otis wrote. “In part, this was associated with the challenges of obtaining reliable tear glucose readings in the complex on-eye environment.” Verily will continue to work on two other medical contact lens projects aimed at farsightedness and cataract surgery recovery.

3. Study shows piling on pounds shortens lifespan

A Boston University research team confirmed obesity raises the risk of dying. Researchers tracked the weight histories of over 6,000 Americans for 24 years to draw their conclusions. Health experts consider people with a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 34 obese. The study found obese people increased their chances of dying by 27 percent. Those considered very obese (BMI between 35 and 39) nearly doubled the odds compared to people with normal weight. Mortality risk did not increase for people who were overweight or normal weight. “The bottom line from these analyses was that the lowest mortality risk was observed among individuals who remained in the normal weight or overweight categories over time,” said researcher Mark Pereira, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist.

4. PBM and health plan data help lower drug costs

Prescription drugs costs are high, but health plans and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are doing something about it. Surescripts, a health information network, is using data from payers and PBMs to give prescribers access to patient and cost information. PBM members can save up to $130 per prescription when physicians look at real-time information and prescribe a lower-cost drug. “Together with our partners,” said Tom Skelton, Surescripts chief executive officer, “the Surescripts Network Alliance has achieved a breakthrough in prescription price transparency that benefits patients and providers with greater efficiency, reduced costs and increased satisfaction.”

5. HHS takes first steps toward HIPAA reform

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is looking for ways to update HIPAA laws to better reflect the digital age and accommodate electronic data sharing. The HHS’s Office of Civil Rights passed a HIPPA request for information (RFI) on to the Office of Management and Budget to get the ball rolling. “The HHS Deputy Secretary recently launched an initiative called the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care,” according to the OMB docket. “The goal of the Regulatory Sprint is to remove regulatory barriers that impede coordinated, value-based health care. This RFI is being produced to support the Regulatory Sprint.” The OMB has not indicated when it will approve the RFI and release it to the public. It does say that the RFI will seek public views on how HIPAA creates barriers for coordinated care.

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