Black tech founders work to improve health care for people of color : Shots

(from left) Kevin Dedner founded Hurdle, a mental health startup that pairs patients with therapists. Ashlee Wisdom’s company, Health in Her Hue, connects women of color with culturally sensitive medical providers. Nathan Pelzer’s Clinify Health analyzes data to help doctors identify at-risk patients in underserved areas. Erica Plybeah’s firm, MedHaul, arranges transport to medical appointments.

Kevin Dedner; Kolin Mendez Photography; Aaron Gang Photography; Starboard & Port Creative


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Kevin Dedner; Kolin Mendez Photography; Aaron Gang Photography; Starboard & Port Creative


(from left) Kevin Dedner founded Hurdle, a mental health startup that pairs patients with therapists. Ashlee Wisdom’s company, Health in Her Hue, connects women of color with culturally sensitive medical providers. Nathan Pelzer’s Clinify Health analyzes data to help doctors identify at-risk patients in underserved areas. Erica Plybeah’s firm, MedHaul, arranges transport to medical appointments.

Kevin Dedner; Kolin Mendez Photography; Aaron Gang Photography; Starboard & Port Creative

When Ashlee Wisdom launched an early version of her health and wellness website, more than 34,000 users — most of them Black — visited the platform in the first two weeks.

“It wasn’t the most fully functioning platform,” recalls Wisdom, 31. “It was not sexy.”

But the launch was successful. Now, more than a year later, Wisdom’s company, Health in Her Hue, connects Black women and other women of color to culturally sensitive doctors, doulas, nurses and therapists nationally.

As more patients seek culturally competent care — the acknowledgment of a patient’s heritage, beliefs and values during treatment — a new wave of Black tech founders like Wisdom want to help. In the same way Uber Eats and Grubhub revolutionized food delivery, Black tech health startups across the United States want to change how people exercise, how they eat and also how they communicate with doctors.

Inspired by their own experiences, plus those of their parents and grandparents, Black entrepreneurs are launching startups that aim to close the cultural gap in health care with technology — and create profitable businesses at the same time.

Seeing problems and solutions others miss

“One of the most exciting growth opportunities across health innovation is to back underrepresented founders building health companies focusing on underserved markets,” says Unity Stoakes, president and co-founder of StartUp Health, a company headquartered in San Francisco that has invested in a number of health companies led by people of color. He says those leaders have “an essential

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New CA law takes aim at long wait times for mental health care : Shots

When Greta Christina heard that Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians were staging a protest on Oct. 13, 2019, over long wait times for therapy, she made her own sign and showed up to support them. She’s had to wait up to six weeks between therapy appointments for her depression.

Ingrid Nelson


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Ingrid Nelson


When Greta Christina heard that Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians were staging a protest on Oct. 13, 2019, over long wait times for therapy, she made her own sign and showed up to support them. She’s had to wait up to six weeks between therapy appointments for her depression.

Ingrid Nelson

When Greta Christina fell into a deep depression five years ago, she called up her therapist in San Francisco — someone she’d had a great connection with when she needed therapy in the past. And she was delighted to find out that he was now “in network” with her insurance company, meaning she wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket anymore to see him.

But her excitement was short-lived. Over time, Christina’s appointments with the therapist went from every two weeks, to every four weeks, to every five or six.

“To tell somebody with serious, chronic, disabling depression that they can only see their therapist every five or six weeks is like telling somebody with a broken leg that they can only see their physical therapist every five or six weeks,” she says. “It’s not enough. It’s not even close to enough.”

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Then, this summer, Christina was diagnosed with breast cancer. Everything related to her cancer care — her mammogram, biopsy, surgery appointments — happened promptly, like a “well-oiled machine,” she says, while her depression care stumbled along.

“It is a hot mess,” she says. “I need to be in therapy — I have cancer! And still nothing has changed.”

A new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October aims to fix this problem for Californians. Senate Bill 221, which passed the state Legislature with a nearly unanimous vote, requires health insurers across the state to reduce wait times for mental health care to no more than 10 business days. Six other states have similar laws limiting wait times, including Colorado, Maryland, and Texas.

Unequal access to behavioral health care is pervasive

Long waits for mental health treatment are a nationwide problem, with reports of patients waiting an average of

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DEA cracks down on pharmacies prescribing Suboxone and Subutex : Shots

Suboxone and a similar medicine, Subutex, are both proven to help people with opioid addiction stay in recovery. Yet the Drug Enforcement Administration often makes it hard for pharmacies to dispense it.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images


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Suboxone and a similar medicine, Subutex, are both proven to help people with opioid addiction stay in recovery. Yet the Drug Enforcement Administration often makes it hard for pharmacies to dispense it.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Martin Njoku saw opioid addiction devastate his West Virginia community, he felt compelled to help. This was the place he’d called home for three decades, where he’d raised his two girls and turned his dream of owning a pharmacy into reality.

In 2016, after flooding displaced people in nearby counties, Njoku began dispensing buprenorphine to them and to local customers at his Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy in Fayette County.

Buprenorphine, a controlled substance sold under the brand names Subutex and Suboxone, is a medication to treat opioid use disorder. Research shows it halves the risk of overdose and doubles people’s chances of entering long-term recovery.

“I thought I was doing what was righteous for people who have illness,” Njoku said.

But a few years later, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided Njoku’s pharmacy and accused the facility of contributing to the opioid epidemic rather than curbing it. The agency revoked the pharmacy’s registration to dispense controlled substances, claiming it posed an “imminent danger to public health and safety.”

Although two judges separately ruled in Njoku’s favor, the DEA’s actions effectively shuttered his business.

“I lost everything that I worked for,” Njoku said.

Lawyers, pharmacists, harm-reduction advocates and a former DEA employee say Njoku’s case is emblematic of the DEA’s aggressive stance on buprenorphine. An opioid itself, the medication can be misused, so the DEA works to limit its diversion to the streets. But many say the agency’s policies are exacerbating the opioid epidemic by scaring pharmacies away from dispensing this medication when it’s desperately needed.

Drug overdose deaths hit record highs last year, and despite medical experts considering medications like buprenorphine the gold standard, less than 20% of people with opioid use disorder typically receive them. The federal government has taken steps to increase the number of clinicians who prescribe buprenorphine, but many patients struggle to get those prescriptions filled. A recent study found that 1

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How to find the best health insurance plan for you and your family : Shots

A long document labeled "health insurance" turns into waves as the document stretches across the screen. Two people in a small boat ride the "waves" of the document, fishing for the jargon like "deductible" and "copayment."

If you’re buying health insurance outside a job-based plan, you’re in luck this fall. After years of cutbacks and — some say sabotage — of the Affordable Care Act during the Trump administration, the Biden administration is pulling out the stops to help people find good health plans on HealthCare.gov right now — the open enrollment period starts this week. You will have more time to sign up, more free help choosing a plan, and a greater likelihood you’ll be eligible for subsidies to help keep down the costs of a health plan you buy via the ACA marketplace.

Still, picking health insurance can be hard work, even if you’re choosing a plan through your employer. There are a lot of confusing terms, and the process forces you to think hard about your health and your finances. Plus you have to navigate all of it on a deadline, often with only a few-week period to explore your options and make decisions.

Whether you’re aging out of your parent’s plan and picking one for the first time, or you’re in a plan that no longer works for you and you’re ready to switch things up, or you’re uninsured and want to see if you have any workable options, there’s good news. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you zero in on the right plan from all those on the market.

Here are some tips on where to look and how to get trustworthy advice and help if you need it.

Tip #1: Know where to go

It’s not always obvious where to look for health insurance. “In this country it is a truly wacky patchwork quilt of options,” says Sabrina Corlette, who co-directs the Center on Health Insurance Reform at Georgetown University.

If you’re 65 or older, you’re eligible for Medicare. It’s a federally run program — the government pays for much of your health care. You might also be eligible if you have certain disabilities. For those already enrolled in Medicare or in a Medicare Advantage plan, the open enrollment period to switch up your supplemental health and prescription drug plans for 2022 runs through Dec. 7 this year.

For those under age 65, Corlette says, “the vast majority of us get our coverage through our employer. The employer typically will cover between 70% and 90% of your premium costs, which is pretty nice.”

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Rise of syphilis in the U.S reflects neglect of long-term public health funding : Shots

Mai Yang, a communicable disease specialist, searches for Angelica, a 27 year-old pregnant woman who tested positive for syphilis, in order to get her treated before she delivers her baby.

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Talia Herman for ProPublica


Mai Yang, a communicable disease specialist, searches for Angelica, a 27 year-old pregnant woman who tested positive for syphilis, in order to get her treated before she delivers her baby.

Talia Herman for ProPublica

When Mai Yang is looking for a patient, she travels light. She dresses deliberately — not too formal, so she won’t be mistaken for a police officer; not too casual, so people will look past her tiny 4-foot-10 stature and youthful face and trust her with sensitive health information. Always, she wears closed-toed shoes, “just in case I need to run.”

This story comes from ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive their biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

Yang carries a stack of cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show what happens when the Treponema pallidum bacteria invades a patient’s body. There’s a photo of an angry red sore on a penis. There’s one of a tongue, marred by mucus-lined lesions. And there’s one of a newborn baby, its belly, torso and thighs dotted in a rash, its mouth open, as if caught midcry.

It was because of the prospect of one such baby that Yang found herself walking through a homeless encampment on a blazing July day in Huron, Calif., an hour’s drive southwest of her office at the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

She was looking for a pregnant woman named Angelica, whose visit to a community clinic had triggered a report to the health department’s sexually transmitted disease program. Angelica had tested positive for syphilis. If she was not treated, her baby could end up like the one in the picture or worse — there was a 40% chance the baby would die.

Yang knew, though, that if she helped Angelica get treated with three weekly shots of penicillin at least 30 days before she gave birth, it was likely that the infection would be wiped out and her baby would be born without any symptoms at all. Every case of congenital syphilis, when a baby is born with the disease, is avoidable. Each is considered a

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CDC advisers back Moderna and J&J COVID vaccine boosters : Shots

A health care worker administers a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at Life of Hope Center in New York City.

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A health care worker administers a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at Life of Hope Center in New York City.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is backing the roll out of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine boosters in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s authorizations issued Wednesday. The CDC is also supporting a mix-and-match approach to booster vaccination.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky called the recommendations an “example of our fundamental commitment to protect as many people as possible from COVID-19.”

The announcement came just hours after the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of booster doses.

For Moderna, the panel said a booster should be given to people on the same terms as the Pfizer-BioNTech booster. That would cover people 65 and older, people 18 and older in long-term care settings and people 50 to 64 with relevant underlying medical conditions. The booster may be given to people 18 to 49 years with certain medical conditions and to people 18 to 64 who have COVID-19 risks related to their work or who live in certain institutional settings.

For Johnson & Johnson, the panel’s advice was simpler: A booster is recommended for people 18 and older at least two months after their initial immunization.

A CDC presentation and draft voting language said that the same vaccine used for initial immunization should be used as a booster dose but that a mix-and-match approach is OK when the primary vaccine isn’t available or a different vaccine is preferred.

During the committee discussions, several members pushed back against this preference for boosting with the same vaccine. They argued that a more permissive approach to mix-and-match would ease the administration of booster doses.

After a brief break late in the deliberations, CDC staff returned with revised voting questions that were neutral on which vaccine should be used as a booster for the J&J and Moderna vaccines. The revised questions don’t explicitly mention which vaccine should be used as a booster, which clears the way for mix-and-match boosting without restrictions.

According to the CDC, more than 189 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, about 57% of the population. Hospitalization rates are nine to

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