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This Week In Public Health: Zombie Health! When Ideas (And Viruses) Come Back From The Dead

Repeal Obamacare

Back in May after it made an unexpected comeback, some started calling the GOP's Obamacare replacement plan "Zombie Trumpcare". This week, another version is still under discussion. How often can this bill be "brought back from the dead"? While we're discussing bringing things back to life: smallpox was eradicated 30 years ago, but scientists have made a close relative of the killer virus inside a Canadian lab. Read on for these stories, and more.

This Week's Top Stories:

Can the Senate Rally Around A Workable Health Care Solution? After the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act this week floundered a few yards from the finish line, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pivoted to Plan B—dusting off the 2015 plan for a straight-up Obamacare repeal. Congress passed the (largely-symbolic) measure two years ago (Obama vetoed it.) Now, NPR asks, with a Republican in the White House, can legislators pull off a repeat? 

Fear Of Arrest Keeps Overdose Bystanders From Calling For Help A new study shows some people are still afraid to call 911 when helping an overdose victim, despite an "good samaritan" law that permits friends and bystanders to administer the overdose antidote naloxone. As Side Effects reportsmore than a quarter of people surveyed said they didn't call 911 because they were scared they'd get arrested.

Credit Bram Sable-Smith / Side Effects Public Media
Side Effects Public Media

The Impossible Economics Of Rural Hospitals County hospitals are often the center of small-town life, even their area's biggest employer. But, as Side Effects reports, as rural populations continue to decline, these institutions are at risk of going under and leaving their communities in a sometimes life-threatening situation. 

Credit Lee Huffaker / ProPublica

Are Expiration Dates Legit? The man behind the California Poison Control System was thrilled to come across a box of Cold War-era pharmaceuticals hiding in a dusty pharmacy closet—they could be the key to answering an enduring question about how well old drugs work. Even though the pills were long-expired, many of them were still potent enough to be effective. Propublica asks: Is the term "expiration date" a misnomer? 

What are reporters are reading elsewhere around the web: 

On Second Thought (Medicaid Edition)What happens to a scientist when the values they align with are in direct conflict with the data they uncover? Katherine Baicker, a Harvard health economist, was convinced getting people insurance would cut down on expensive emergency room care (and save the state money.) As Planet Money reports, what she found surprised her. 

A Recipe For Disaster? It sounds like a best-selling paperback: Scientists create a smallpox-style virus in a university lab. But hold on: the virus (called horsepox) isn't dangerous—even to horses. Nevertheless, says Scientific American, the creation has served as a wake-up call for the risks of weaponizing man-made pathogens. 

"A Life-Or-Death Fight" Most of Tymia McCulllough's days are filled with doctor's visits and, all too often, trips to the hospital to treat her sickle-cell anemia. The 11-year-old pageant girl from South Carolina got a break in her routine recently when she traveled to Washington to lobby against Medicaid cuts, meeting with Senators (and sometimes setting metal detectors off with her jeweled tiara.)

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