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6 Health Benefits of Onions

Get ready to cry some happy tears, because onions definitely deserve a spot on your cutting board this summer. White, yellow, red/purple, and green—all varieties of onions offer some pretty impressive health benefits. The veggie has long been held in high regard: Archeologists have uncovered traces of onions dating back to 5000 B.C. It’s said that in ancient Egypt, onions were worshipped because their shape and concentric circles symbolized eternity. And in the Middle Ages, onions were used to pay for goods and services, and given as gifts. It’s no wonder when you consider just how good they are for you. Below, six excellent reasons to enjoy onions even more.

Onions are rich in antioxidants

They may not be overflowing with vitamins and minerals: One medium onion, which contains about 44 calories, provides 20% of your daily vitamin C needs, and between 5 and 10% of of the DV for B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. But onions are chock-full of antioxidants. They supply dozens of different types, including quercetin, a potent anti-inflammatory compound. The outer layers of an onion pack the greatest antioxidant punch.

They may protect against cancer

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at how often people in Italy and Switzerland ate onions and another Allium vegetable, garlic. They found that among the populations studied, there was an inverse link between the frequency of use of these veggies and the risk of several common cancers—meaning the more onions and garlic people ate, the lower the cancer rate.

RELATED: To Ward Off Cancer, Choose Red Onions Over White

And improve bone density

One study that looked at perimenopausal and postmenopausal Caucasian women 50 and older found a link between onion consumption and bone health. Women who ate onions more frequently had better bone density, and decreased their risk of hip fracture by more than 20% compared to those who never ate onions.

Onions also support healthy digestion

That’s because they’re rich in inulin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. In a nutshell, prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, and help those beneficial microbes flourish. Inulin also helps prevent constipation, improve blood sugar regulation, boost nutrient absorption, and support healthy bone density. It’s possible it can support weight loss too, by curbing appetite.

They may help lower cholesterol

One interesting study looked at overweight or obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome. In this randomized controlled clinical trial, the patients were assigned to either a high onion diet (consisting of raw red onion) or a low onion diet. After eight weeks, researchers found decreases in the cholesterol levels in both groups, but the drop was greater (including the reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol) among the people eating a high onion diet. Another study tracked 24 women with mildly high cholesterol and found that those who drank onion juice daily for eight weeks had reductions in total cholesterol, LDL, and waist measurements compared to those who downed a placebo.

RELATED: 5 Foods That Lower Cholesterol Naturally

And onions make tomatoes better for you too

Food synergy is the idea that the benefits of eating two specific foods together outweigh the benefits of eating each food separately. That seems to be the case with onions and tomatoes: Scientists believe sulfur compounds in onions boost the absorption of lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes tied to protection against cancer and heart disease, as well as brain, bone, and eye health. Fortunately, tomatoes and onions make a delicious combination in omelets, salads, soups, and sautés.

How to reap the benefits of onions

Animal research suggests onions may also help control blood sugar levels, and support fertility. That means there will likely be more human studies to come on this superstar veggie. In the meantime, you’ll do your body good by consuming a variety of types and colors, and eating them both raw and cooked.

If slicing onions makes your eyes water, here’s a tip: Cut them (safely) under running water or near a vent. This can help prevent some of the gas from making contact with your eyes. Or invest in a par of stylish kitchen goggles. And be sure to avoid touching your eyes after your onion prep!

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.

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Fearing Deportation, Some Immigrants Opt Out Of Health Benefits For Their Kids

A young girl waits for care in a medical clinic. A growing number of citizen children of immigrant parents are losing out on Medicaid because their parents fear deportation.

Jonathan Kirn/Getty Images

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Jonathan Kirn/Getty Images

A young girl waits for care in a medical clinic. A growing number of citizen children of immigrant parents are losing out on Medicaid because their parents fear deportation.

Jonathan Kirn/Getty Images

The fear of family separation is not new for many immigrants already living in the U.S. In fact, that fear, heightened in recent weeks, has been forcing a tough decision for some families. Advocates say a growing number of American children are dropping out of Medicaid and other government programs because their parents are undocumented.

Marlene is an undocumented resident of Texas and has two children who are U.S. citizens. (NPR is not using Marlene’s last name because of her immigration status.) One of her kids has some disabilities.

“My son is receiving speech therapy,” she says in Spanish. “But it’s been difficult.”

It was a long journey to get the right evaluations and diagnoses and her son is finally making progress, Marlene says. But she is also bracing for a day when he might have to do without this therapy and others that are paid for through Medicaid. Because she’s undocumented, she’s extremely nervous about filling out applications for government programs like this.

Already, she has decided to stop receiving food stamps, now known as SNAP, which her children, as citizens, are entitled to based on the family’s income.

She dropped it because the application to receive those benefits changed, she says.

“They are asking a lot of questions,” she says. “They are investigating one’s life from head to toe.”

Marlene says she was nervous, in particular, about being asked to provide years of pay stubs. She says there were eligibility requirements she had never seen before. Marlene says the application alone made her “sick from stress.”

NPR repeatedly contacted Texas health officials to ask about the changes in the benefits application process and got no response.

Marlene’s son has Medicaid for the next several months. But she is worried how that application will change, too, next time she has to apply.

Health care groups say they’ve observed other immigrant families making similar choices, and they think it will accelerate if a proposed change to green card eligibility becomes law.

Under the proposed change, if family members receive government services — even if those family members are citizens — it would ding the applicants’ chances of approval for permanent residency.

Maria Hernandez runs Vela, a non-profit in Austin that helps children with disabilities. She says some undocumented parents are afraid of signing up for services for their citizen children.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

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Maria Hernandez runs Vela, a non-profit in Austin that helps children with disabilities. She says some undocumented parents are afraid of signing up for services for their citizen children.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

“We are seeing families having to make this impossible choice,” says Maria Hernandez, the founder of Vela, a non-profit in Austin that helps parents who have children with disabilities.

Hernandez teaches parents how to advocate for their children, how to find the appropriate health care and therapies for their kids, and helps them find community support, among other things.

She teaches many of these classes in what used to be an elementary school on the east side of Austin, known as one of the most diverse areas of the city. She says about seven in ten of the families she works with are immigrants – mostly from Mexico.

“We are working with families who the parents are immigrants but the children are born here,” Hernandez says.

Parents tell Hernandez they feel like they can’t risk any attention from the government, even if that means losing badly-needed benefits for their kids.

In the first year of the Trump administration, Central Texas experienced an uptick in immigration raids and deportations. Hernandez says since then a lot of people in the immigrant community have been making critical choices out of fear.

“It’s out of fear of deportation,” she says. “It’s out of fear of having their children being penalized in some way and potentially losing a parent that until this point has been their fierce advocate.”

In Texas, this is a decision that is bound to affect a significant number of children, says Anne Dunkelberg with the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. Dunkelberg has been closely watching various immigration proposals and their effect on access to government services.

“A quarter of Texas children have at least one parent who is not a U.S. citizen,” she says. “Now, I am sure that not a hundred percent of those kids – and it’s about 1.8 million kids – not a hundred percent of them are using a public benefit, but a very high percentage will be.”

Dunkelberg says families opting out of Medicaid could further raise the number of uninsured in Texas, which is already the highest in the nation.

Hernandez says parents who have children with disabilities have told her without Medicaid they’ll rely on emergency rooms, “as needed.”

“We know that that is not a good plan for kids that for forever have been followed by a neurologist because they have seizures or have been going to occupational therapy for years and are finally making progress,” she says.

Approximately 10 million citizen children in the U.S. have at least one non-citizen parent.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes KUT, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

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The 3 Reasons the US Health-Care System Is the Worst

According to the Commonwealth Fund, which regularly ranks the health systems of a handful of developed countries, the best countries for health care are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia.

The lowest performer? The United States, even though it spends the most. “And this is consistent across 20 years,” said the Commonwealth Fund’s president, David Blumenthal, on Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

Blumenthal laid out three reasons why the United States lags behind its peers so consistently. It all comes down to:

  1. A lack of insurance coverage. A common talking point on the right is that health care and health insurance are not equivalent—that getting more people insured will not necessarily improve health outcomes. But according to Blumenthal: “The literature on insurance demonstrates that having insurance lowers mortality. It is equivalent to a public-health intervention.” More than 27 million people in the United States were uninsured in 2016—nearly a tenth of the population—often because they can’t afford coverage, live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, or are undocumented. Those aren’t problems that people in places like the United Kingdom have to worry about.
  2. Administrative inefficiency. “We waste a lot of money on administration,” Blumenthal said. According to the Commonwealth Fund’s most recent report, in the United States, “doctors and patients [report] wasting time on billing and insurance claims. Other countries that rely on private health insurers, like the Netherlands, minimize some of these problems by standardizing basic benefit packages, which can both reduce administrative burden for providers and ensure that patients face predictable copayments.” In other words, while insurance coverage in general is great, it’s not ideal that different insurance plans cover different treatments and procedures, forcing doctors to spend precious hours coordinating with insurance companies to provide care.
  3. Underperforming primary care. “We have a very disorganized, fragmented, inefficient and under-resourced primary care system,” Blumenthal added. As I wrote at the time, in 2014 the Commonwealth Fund found that “many primary-care physicians struggle to receive relevant clinical information from specialists and hospitals, complicating efforts to provide seamless, coordinated care.” On top of a lack of investment in primary care, “we don’t invest in social services, which are important determinants of health” Blumenthal said. Things like home visiting, better housing, and subsidized healthy food could extend the work of doctors and do a lot to improve chronic disease outcomes.

Together, these reasons help explain why U.S. life expectancy has, for the first time since the 1960s, recently gone down for two years in a row.

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Oscar Health doubles down on Obamacare exchanges for 2019

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Oscar Health isn’t pulling back from the Obamacare individual market. For the fourth straight year, the health insurer plans to expand coverage. In 2019, it will offer plans in nine states, up from six this year.

“We feel very confident now that we have a real blue print and real system for going into new cities,” said Oscar CEO and co-founder Mario Schlosser. He said he’s confident that the market can withstand another year of regulatory headwinds.

“We do believe the individual market is stable in most parts of the country,” he said.

Next year, Oscar plans to enter Florida, Michigan and Arizona — which had only one insurer in some of its biggest counties this year. It also plans to expand into new markets in Texas, Ohio, where it partnered with Cleveland Clinic, and in Tennessee, where it partnered with Humana on a small business plan. The move will effectively double its footprint next year.

The technology-driven health insurer was 12th on the 2018 CNBC Disruptor List. This year, it not only expanded its use of mobile technology to engage members, it also built up the back-end technology for managing claims and provider networks. Bringing that work in-house helped cut costs. It is also helping chart a path toward sustained long-term growth.

“We have a pretty perfected algorithm now, that we used to evaluate about 100 cities across the United States … that prioritized for us … everything, from which system partners could we find in those cities … to what do the risk pools look like,” Schlosser said. “We already at this point are well into the conversations for our 2020 expansion.”

This week marked the deadline for insurers to file initial 2019 rates for states on the federal Affordable Care Act exchange. Early rate filings have seen insurers once again ask for double-digit rate increases ranging from 12 to more than 30 percent in some markets.

There are three major regulatory headwinds in 2019, which have insurers concerned that fewer healthy people will sign up for exchanges plans next year. Last year’s repeal of the ACA penalty by Congress effectively gutted the individual mandate to buy insurance. This week, the Trump administration approved new rules for Association Health Plans, which will allow small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to buy into business group plans. Later this year, the administration is expected to issue new rules for short-term health plans, which carry fewer coverage requirements and lower premiums and could appeal to younger individuals.

“I do think there will be some impact … from regulatory changes on the way the risk pool looks,” said Schlosser. “However, we’ve had these influences over the last few years and we’ve always been able to price against it.”

Price hikes could crowd out unsubsidized individuals, but higher premiums result in higher tax credits, which offset the increases for the majority of exchange plan enrollees. Half or more of Oscar members in its current markets receive subsidies.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Oscar was operating in nine states this year. It operates in six states.

Bertha Coombs

Police Killings Have Harmed Mental Health in Black Communities, Study Finds

The annual health survey is done by telephone on a rolling basis throughout the year, and the researchers analyzed responses given by residents in states where a police killing had occurred in the three months before they were interviewed. They found that black Americans reported more “not good” mental health days in the period after a police killing of an unarmed black person, and that the killings accounted for up to 1.7 additional days of poor mental health a year.

The study’s authors could not say definitively that the respondents to the health survey knew about the police killings that had happened in their states, or describe how, precisely, the news about the killings might have harmed their mental health.

Still, Dr. Venkataramani said the effects were observable and real. If anything, he said, the findings might understate the extent of the trauma, as some police killings of unarmed African-Americans have become events of national significance, reaching far beyond the states where they occurred. (The study cited, among the most notable examples, the police killings of Oscar Grant III in California, in 2009; of Michael Brown Jr. in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, in 2014; of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Freddie Gray in Maryland, in 2015; and of Stephon Clark in California, earlier this year.)

“Maybe this is the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Venkataramani said.

While a study like this one helps to underscore the impact of police killings on black communities, what’s important is what is done with the findings, said Mama Ayanna Mashama, an activist and organizer in Oakland, Calif., who practices natural wellness healing. Ms. Mashama said she had seen firsthand how police violence can cause anger and angst, and damage the self-esteem of black Americans.

“We have to find ways of de-escalating police response to black people,” she said. “It has to become policy. It has to become part of how it’s implemented from the top down. We have to have trauma-informed practices everywhere: in the schools, in families, in workplaces.”

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The Healthy Addiction? Coffee Study Finds More Health Benefits

It’s enough to make a tea drinker buy an espresso machine. In a new study scientists in Germany report they were able to modify a common age-related defect in the hearts of mice with doses of caffeine equivalent to four to five cups of coffee a day for a human. The paper—the latest addition to a growing body of research that supports the health benefits of drinking coffee—describes how the molecular action of caffeine appears to enhance the function of heart cells and protect them from damage.

It remains to be seen whether these findings will ultimately have any bearing on humans, but Joachim Altschmied of Heinrich Heine-University in Düesseldorf, who led the study with his colleague Judith Haendeler, says “the old idea that you shouldn’t drink coffee if you have heart problems is clearly not the case anymore.”

Previous research had suggested as much. For example, a 2017 report in the Annual Review of Nutrition, which analyzed the results of more than 100 coffee and caffeine studies, found coffee was associated with a probable decreased risk of cardiovascular disease—as well as type 2 diabetes and several kinds of cancer. The new paper, published Thursday in PLOS Biology, identifies a specific cellular mechanism by which coffee consumption may improve heart health.

The study builds on earlier work in which the two scientists showed caffeine ramps up the functional capacity of the cells that line blood vessels. The drug does so by getting into cells and stoking the mitochondria, structures within the cells that burn oxygen as they turn glucose into energy.“Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cells,” Haendeler says. One of the things they run on is a protein known as p27. As Haendeler and Altschmied discovered (and describe in the current paper), caffeine works its magic in the major types of heart cells by increasing the amount of p27 in their mitochondria.  

After the researchers induced myocardial infarction in the mice during their experiments, the extra stores of p27 in the caffeinated cells apparently prevented damaged heart muscle cells from dying. The paper says the mitochondrial p27 also triggered the creation of cells armed with strong fibers to withstand mechanical forces, and promoted repairs to the linings of blood vessels and the inner chambers of the heart. To confirm the protein’s importance, the scientists engineered mice with a p27 deficiency. Those mice were found to have impaired mitochondrial function that did not improve with caffeine.

The researchers also looked at caffeine’s potential role in modifying a common effect of aging in mice and humans: reduced respiratory capacity among mitochondria. (In this context “respiratory” refers to a complex sequence of biochemical events within the organelle .)

For this part of the experiment, 22-month-old mice received caffeine—the daily equivalent of four to five cups of coffee in humans—in their drinking water for 10 days. That was sufficient to raise their mitochondrial respiration to the levels observed in six-month-old mice, according to the study. Analysis showed the old mice had roughly double the amount of p27 in their mitochondria after the 10 days of caffeine.

Although this latest news about the potential health benefits of coffee involves just a single animal study, tea drinkers might well feel they are coming out on the wrong end of the coffee equation. According to the National Coffee Association, 64 percent of Americans 18 and over drink at least one cup of coffee a day, with an average daily consumption of 3.2 cups. Three cups of a typical breakfast tea contain  less than 150 milligrams of caffeine, compared with the nearly 500 milligrams in the same amount of brewed coffee. So tea drinkers might wonder if they are missing out on a potential health benefit and should start drinking the other stuff.

“Absolutely not,” says Donald Hensrud, medical director of Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Living Program. “You have to enjoy life, and if you enjoy tea, keep on enjoying it. It’s all good. There are health benefits to coffee, to black tea and to green tea.” But there can also be problems associated with higher doses of caffeine, he notes. The amount in more than two cups of coffee a day, for example, can interfere with conception and increase the risk of miscarriage. And, he says, because individuals metabolize caffeine at different rates, slow metabolizers may be more susceptible to side effects such as heartburn, insomnia, heart palpitations and irritability.

Haendeler, who drinks six cups of coffee a day, says it can be part of a healthy lifestyle—but is no miracle cure. And she is quick to point out there are no shortcuts to good health. “If you hear about this study and decide to drink coffee but you do nothing else—no exercise, no proper diet—then, of course, this will not work,” she says. “You cannot simply decide, ‘Okay, I’m sitting here and drinking four, five or six cups of coffee and everything is fine.’”

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After controversy, US releases report showing elevated health risks from nonstick chemicals

Report finds that some nonstick chemicals, which are commonly used in fire fighting foams, have higher health risks than once believed.

Mark Taylor/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Originally published by EE News

President Donald Trump’s administration has released a politically charged toxicology report about nonstick chemicals showing they can endanger human health at significantly lower levels than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has previously called safe.

The draft report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a toxicological profile of four types of stain- and water-resistant chemicals.

It finds that so-called “minimum risk levels” for the toxins should be seven to 10 times lower than standards set by EPA in 2016.

The lowest level included in the ATSDR report is 12 parts per trillion in drinking water, which is greater than 80% below the current maximum safe level EPA has advised for two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

By contrast, the 2016 EPA voluntary health advisory for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) warned that exposure to the chemicals at levels above 70 parts per trillion could be dangerous.

The report’s release follows mounting congressional pressure from both sides of the aisle after news surfaced last month that a White House official in January had warned that releasing the report would be a “potential public relations nightmare” (EE Daily, May 15).

Just last week, senators offered an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill that would require the Trump administration to publish the toxicology report within seven days of the bill’s passage.

The amendment was drafted by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and was co-sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ohio Senators Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D).

House of Representatives lawmakers in May also sent a letter to EPA and the White House demanding the report’s release.

Today, Representative Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) said of the report’s release: “It’s about time.”

“It was outrageous, and a violation of the trust we place in our public officials, that for months, the administration held back publication of this report,” she said.

Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) called the report’s findings “deeply concerning because it demonstrates that PFAS chemicals are more dangerous to human health than the EPA has previously acknowledged.”

He urged the Trump administration to “address PFAS contamination with more urgency.”

“We must ensure that families and veterans exposed to these dangerous chemicals receive the health care and clean-up resources they need,” he said in a statement.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from EE News. Copyright 2018. EE provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at

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The World Health Organization will stop classifying transgender people as mentally ill

Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what’s happening in the world as it unfolds.

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Atul Gawande Named CEO Of Health Venture By Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway And JPMorgan

Dr. Atul Gawande has been picked to lead the high-profile joint venture in health care formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase.

Mint/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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Dr. Atul Gawande has been picked to lead the high-profile joint venture in health care formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase.

Mint/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Surgeon, author and checklist-evangelist Atul Gawande has been picked to lead the health care venture formed by online giant Amazon, conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway and banking juggernaut JPMorgan.

It’s an interesting choice.

Gawande, a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is probably best known for his work writing about health care for The New Yorker and in books that include the influential Checklist Manifesto.

But he was also the founding executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint project between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, that tries to put some of his ideas about improving care during critical moments, such as childbirth and surgery, into practice.

“I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery that are saving lives, reducing suffering, and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world,” Gawande said in a press release announcing his new job. “Now I have the backing of these remarkable organizations to pursue this mission with even greater impact for more than a million people, and in doing so incubate better models of care for all. This work will take time but must be done. The system is broken, and better is possible.”

Amazon, JPMorgan Chase And Berkshire Hathaway Pursue The Health Care 'Unicorn'

Gawande starts as CEO July 9. The venture will be headquartered in Boston.

I asked Amazon in an email if the health care venture has a name yet and if there are plans to hire staff for it. “We haven’t shared details beyond what’s in the press release,” Amazon spokesman Ty Rogers said in an email.

The three-company partnership was announced in January. At the time, the CEOs were short on details and long on ambition. The nonprofit venture was formed to figure out “ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs.”

In early June, CNBC reported that Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of Pennsylvania-based health system Geisinger Health System, was among the top picks to lead the health care venture. But he later said that he was staying put.

CNBC said that during the CEO selection process, 10 candidates “were asked to write a white paper on how they would fix the health care system.” Three of them were interviewed.

On June 7, CNBC talked with Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman and CEO, and Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, about the status of the health care venture. They said a choice for the head of the health care venture had been made.

“We have the right CEO. I’m very enthused,” Buffett said, adding that an announcement about the person would come within two weeks. (He beat his deadline by a day.)

“We have an outstanding individual: character, culture, capability, heart, mind, the whole thing,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in the CNBC interview. “The goal is better satisfaction for employees. And eventually we can learn a lot of things and maybe help inform America how we can improve some of these things.”

    TED Radio Hour

    TED Radio Hour


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For a glimpse into Gawande’s thinking, check out his chat with TED Radio Hour’s Guy Raz for an episode in December 2017.

When Raz asked what the biggest problems are in medicine, Gawande had a ready answer:

“We are trained, rewarded and hired to be cowboys. And what the individual clinician says is what goes. We’re neither trained, rewarded or hired to be members of teams.”

The solution for many of the problems in health care — from quality to cost — is a team-oriented, systems approach, Gawande said. Cowboys were fine when medicine was simpler. Now, he said, “it’s pit crews that we need, pit crews for patients.”

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Walgreens and Humana are partnering to create senior health hubs

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A pharmacist helps a customer at a Walgreens pharmacy in Wheeling, Illinois.

Drugstore chain Walgreens is partnering with health insurer Humana to open senior-focused care centers.

They plan to open two locations inside Walgreens stores this fall in the Kansas City, Missouri, area with primary care services, pharmacies and other services like a Humana representative to answer seniors’ Medicare questions.

Humana will run the clinics through its Partners in Primary Care business. The unit already opened four independent centers in the area last year. The partnership is just the latest example of health insurers trying to become more consumer-facing businesses.

Walgreens has been under pressure since rival CVS Health announced last year it would acquire health insurer Aetna for $69 billion in a move that shook the health-care industry. It’s also bracing for Amazon’s possible entry into the prescription drug business.

While small, the experiment could help Walgreens posture itself to care for seniors in more ways than it currently does through its pharmacies. Serving the elderly is an increasingly important battleground for health-care companies as baby boomers age.

“With this new initiative, we can expand the care for seniors that our pharmacists and other team members have provided for decades,” Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Stefano Pessina said in a statement.

Walgreens already offers walk-in clinics in some of its stores, though those tend to serve coughs, colds and flu and are typically used once in awhile. With these primary care centers, Walgreens and Humana would try and keep seniors coming regularly as opposed to only when they’re sick.

It’s one of many experiments Walgreens is running to add more health services to its stores. In April, the drugstore chain announced it would add LabCorp testing services to more of its stores. It’s also dabbling with eye care centers and hearing centers in some locations.

CVS has said in-store clinics are a key component of its Aetna acquisition. CVS has also said the deal, which is pending regulatory approval, would help seniors because it would combine Aetna’s Medicare Advantage with CVS’ Medicare Part D plans.

These plans are attractive for pharmacies because seniors tend to use more prescription drugs than other age groups. They’re also important for insurers looking to attract the elderly into Medicare plans.

According to Pembroke Consulting’s Drug Channels Institute, nearly everyone enrolled in Medicare Part D is enrolled in prescription drug plans with preferred pharmacy networks, where pharmacies charge lower prices in exchange for more customers.

Walmart dominates enrollment in Medicare Part D plans with preferred cost-sharing networks, according to Drug Channels. The retailer has partnered with Humana since 2010 to offer a plan where Walmart and Sam’s Club are the only pharmacies in the network.

Working with drugstores can also give otherwise discreet health insurers a way to interact with consumers. Aetna will receive a boost once it integrates with CVS’ stores, assuming it clears regulatory scrutiny.

“This unique partnership supports Humana’s multi-faceted approach to health care in this community and is a continuation of our senior-focused care strategy, which is centered on integrating care through clinical programs that intersect health and lifestyle,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said in a statement.

The companies said they may one day expand this partnership into other markets.

Angelica LaVito