Health

Health

Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, "repeal and replace" has been the rallying cry for Republicans who opposed it. But now that most of the law's provisions have taken effect, some health experts are pitching ways to tweak it, rather than eliminate it.

An ideologically diverse panel at the National Health Policy Conference on Monday presented different ideas to make the law work better. But the panelists agreed on one thing: The Affordable Care Act is too complicated.

More than 900,000 Texans have signed up for health insurance so far this year – about 200,000 more than last year. The deadline for signing up for a health plan on HealthCare.gov is Sunday, and some groups in south Texas are making a big push to get Latinos to enroll.

Across the world, a child's survival is a lot like drawing a lottery ticket. Factors based purely on chance — where a child is born, how much money his or her family has and what their ethnic background is — can determine if a child lives past age 5.

Treating cancer is a race against time.

Every once in a while, there's an experimental drug that's so promising it makes the race even more urgent. Patients and their families plead with pharmaceutical companies to get it before the Food and Drug Administration's approval.

The demand has been particularly high for a new class of drugs that harnesses the immune system to fight cancer.

As debate mounts in the U.S. over whether or not to require measles vaccinations, global immunization rates show something interesting: Many poor countries have far higher vaccination rates than rich ones.

Health officials in Illinois are trying to find the source of a measles infection, after five babies were diagnosed with the contagious respiratory disease in a Chicago suburb. Saying that more cases are likely, a health official warns, "The cat is out of the bag."

Because the Illinois patients are all under a year old, they can't be vaccinated. The new cluster of cases joins more than 100 other reports of measles in 14 states this year; most of them have been traced to an outbreak at Disneyland in California in December.

On a recent winter evening in the Bronx, a group of men and women in red-checkered shirts and dresses encircled Dr. Julie Hoffman during a ceremony. They pounded wooden drums crisscrossed with thick rope and shook maracas as they danced and sang.

The event took on a somber tone when Hoffman talked about the crisis that had brought them all together.

"Too many members of this community continue dying," she said in Spanish. "That's why I'm here. I want to work with you."

Odd that Americans, long known for their short attention spans and — oh, look, a sparkly thing ... are at the same time manic for marathonic undertakings.

Running, for example. A century ago, scores of marathoners competed before huge wintertime crowds in the 1909 Brooklyn Marathon. Flash forward, and this past November, more than 50,000 participants finished the 2014 New York City Marathon. (Applications for nonguaranteed entry in the 2015 race must be in by Feb. 15.)

If you walk the streets of China today, you'll quickly notice that most young people wear glasses. In Shanghai, for instance, 86 percent of high school students suffer from myopia, or nearsightedness, according to the government's Xinhua News Agency.

Myopia has risen quickly in much of East Asia and Southeast Asia. And researchers are still trying to pin down exactly what's driving the epidemic.

Most of the 92 cases of measles confirmed in California are among adults — more than 62 percent. Maybe they or their parents chose not to vaccinate, or maybe those people are allergic to one of the ingredients in the measles vaccine.

But it's also possible that a few of those adults happened to slip through the cracks when the measles vaccine first came to the public.

Something is destroying the kidneys of farm workers along the Pacific coast of Central America. Over the past two decades, more than 20,000 people in western Nicaragua and El Salvador — mostly men and many of them in their 20s and 30s — have died of a mysterious form of kidney failure. Researchers have been able to say definitively that it's not diabetes or other common causes of kidney failure.

The rate at which someone strokes your hair can cause feelings of pleasure or annoyance — too slow is repulsive, too fast is annoying, and just right soothes.

There's a scientific explanation for this: People have special nerve endings (wrapped around the base of hair follicles) that detect the deflection of the hairs.

The baby boomers are getting older: This year, 4 million people in America will turn 65.

In her new book, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America, author Ai-jen Poo says that means the country is on the cusp of a major shift.

"The baby boom generation is reaching retirement age at a rate of 10,000 people per day," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "What that means is that by 2050, 27 million Americans will need some form of long-term care or assistance, and that's the basis for this book."

After a few cases here and there, measles is making a big push back into the national consciousness.

An outbreak linked to visitors to the Disneyland Resort Theme Parks in Orange County, Calif., has sickened 67 people in California and six other states according to the latest count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teens can't control impulses and make rapid, smart decisions like adults can — but why?

Research into how the human brain develops helps explain. In a teenager, the frontal lobe of the brain, which controls decision-making, is built but not fully insulated — so signals move slowly.

"Teenagers are not as readily able to access their frontal lobe to say, 'Oh, I better not do this,' " Dr. Frances Jensen tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Nearly half of all reported sports concussions occur during a high school football game or practice. And even when injured bodies are ready to get back on the field, injured brains might not be ready to return to class.

Researchers at Harvard and Yale have used some extreme gene-manipulation tools to engineer safety features into designer organisms.

This work goes far beyond traditional genetic engineering, which involves moving a gene from one organism to another. In this case, they're actually rewriting the language of genetics.

The goal is to make modified organisms safer to use, and also to protect them against viruses that can wreak havoc on pharmaceutical production.

Are you thinking about tax day yet? Your friendly neighborhood tax preparer is. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen declared this tax season one of the most complicated ever, partly because this is the first year that the Affordable Care Act will show up on your tax form.

Tax preparers from coast to coast are trying to get ready. Sue Ellen Smith manages an H&R Block office in San Francisco, and she is expecting things to get busy soon.

"This year taxes and health care intersect in a brand-new way," Smith says.

When it comes to detox diets, we totally get the appeal.

Who's not drawn to the idea of flushing all the toxins out of our bodies — a sort of spring cleaning of our insides?

And yes, several years back, I even remember trying — if only for a day — the trendy cayenne-pepper liquid cleanse (as seen in this Mindy Kaling clip from The Office) as part of a cleansing/detox diet.

When I was just beginning my third year as a medical student, I learned an important lesson about what matters most in health.

It was a typical summer afternoon in St. Louis, with the temperature and humidity both approaching 100. My patient was a woman in her 40s who was being admitted to the hospital because her lungs were filling with fluid, a complication of kidney failure. She had missed all three dialysis appointments that week.

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