The Problem with Health Share Plans

Health Share Plans seem appropriate for an April Fools day –if you thought you had health insurance, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.  The problem with ‘health share’ plans is they often do not provide adequate cost/benefit coverage for those who rely on them.

NY Times: California Cracks Down on Alternative Health Plans

An excerpt:

[California] State insurance regulators accused a ministry offering an alternative to traditional insurance of misleading consumers….

The plans, which have become increasingly popular, rely on pooling members’ contributions to cover their medical expenses, but they are not required to meet standards for traditional insurance plans…

More than one million Americans have joined such groups, attracted by prices that are far lower than the cost of traditional insurance policies, which must meet strict requirements established by the federal health care law, like guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions…

State regulators are questioning some of the ministries’ aggressive marketing tactics, saying some consumers were misled or may not understand the lack of comprehensive coverage in the case of a serious illness or conditions that the ministries may not be willing to cover.

From The Onion

Liver Shorts March 2020 & COVID-19 Screenshots

Sofusbuvir and Ribavirin for children with hepatitis C infection (3-12 yrs, genotype 2 or 3) P Rosenthal et al. Hepatology 2020; 71: 31-43. n=54.  SVR12 was 98% (one patient did not complete treatment).

Alpha-one antitrypsin heterozygositiy contributes to cirrhosis in fatty liver disease. Liver Transplantation 2020; 26: 17-24. From the discussion: “unexpected PASD+ globules, in the context of advanced liver disease, are a specific finding that indicates the presence of a mutant A1AT allele.”  Of 196 explanted livers from NASH patients, 21 (11%) has PASD+ globules; however, among NASH patients the frequency was 47%.  Also, the Z allele was present in 10% of all tested liver explants, this exceeds the 2% rate in the general population.  Thus, in agreement with other studies, A1AT heterozygosity contributes to chronic liver failure, but may affect fatty liver disease more than other chronic liver diseases.

Durability of HBsAg Loss in Hepatitis B AS Alawad et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020;18: 700-09.  In this retorspective study form NIH, 89/787 HBsAg-positive patients cleared HBsA; 65 had confirmed clearance. (spontaneous in 19, post-interferon in 22, and post-NA treatment in 24). 62 of 65 remained negative after a mean time of 9.6 years. 3 patients had seroreversion at a mean of 20 months after stopping therapy, though this was transient in 2 of 3 and may have been a false-positive.

Are Medications Contributing to Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease? ~25% of U.S. adults take a prescription medication  that often produces obesity as an adverse effect. (Hales CM et al. Obesity Week 2019, Link to Abstract T-OR-2037). PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS THAT PROMOTE WEIGHT GAIN: Prevalence of Use Among U.S. Adults, 2013-2016 Common obesogenic medications in this cohort, (n=11,055), included all glucocorticoids, beta-blockers, and antihistamines and some agents among antidepressants, antipsychotics, antidiabetics and progestin-only contraceptives.  Medications were defined as promoting weight gain according to the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for the Pharmacological Management of Obesity (J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2015).


If you have not seen this on YouTube, highly recommend this virtual choir link: Rodean School -Hallelujah

More fallout from Coronavirus: NY Times: Coronavirus May Add Billions to Nation’s Health Care Bill Insurance premiums could spike as much as 40 percent next year, a new analysis warns, as employers and insurers confront the projected tens of billions of dollars in additional costs of treating coronavirus patients.

Topical (& Tasty) Tweets:

What is the Current Standard of Care for PPE and Endoscopy Cases?

CC Thompson et al. Gastointestinal Endoscopy (EPUB), in a letter to the editor, respond to two recent studies on SARS-CoV-2 virus/COVID-19 and provide recommendations for PPE use in this era of COVID-19.

Here’s a link to manuscript: COVID-19 in Endoscopy: Time to do more?

Key points:

  • Reduce non-urgent cases. “We have cut our daily endoscopy volume by over 80% and closed our ambulatory endoscopy practice.”
  • Increase the use of telemedicine. “At present, telemedicine or virtual visits make up 91% of our upcoming clinic appointments.”
  • Physical distancing as advocated recently by WHO throughout a patient’s time in the endoscopy unit is stressed in the papers, with a 6-foot minimum between individuals.
  • Suggests “the need for a separate toilet as part of the isolation to minimize spread of infection due to bioaerosols from the toilet plume”
  • Our hospital system has recently changed policy to mandate that all employees wear surgical masks at all times while in the hospital and attest to their wellness online before reporting to work.
  • We suggest labeling each computer so the same provider uses that computer and chair for the entire day, and separating by at least 6 feet.
  • All endoscopic procedures (upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, EUS, ERCP) are aerosol-generating, referencing studies that show contamination of the endoscopist’s face during routine procedures. This makes all endoscopic procedures high risk from an infectious standpoint, and appropriate PPE is
    recommended… It makes little sense for healthcare providers to perform
    aerosolizing procedures, with patients coughing or passing gas on them, while not wearing an N95 mask or better
  • “It is important to use full PPE for all endoscopic procedures while in a pandemic such as this especially in areas with community spread, because no one is truly low risk given our ongoing difficulties with testing.”
  • “The mask can be reused as long as it is functional, not soiled, and not used in a suspected or COVIDpositive patient. It is important to cover the N95 to prevent soiling.”
  • “A study from China showed that no medical staff working in high-risk departments who wore N95s and practiced strict hand hygiene regardless of patient’s infection status became infected.”
  • “Testing all patients before high-risk procedures such as endoscopy is likely the best approach; however, this will depend on significant expansion of testing capabilities. Hopefully, the development of point-of-care testing with rapid results and increasing testing availability will make this a reality soon”

My take (in part from authors): “We are living through an unprecedented time and are all trying our best to protect our patients and ourselves under suboptimal conditions of limited PPE, limited testing, and limited data. ”  The recommendations in this article are based mainly on expert opinion and may need modifications based on new data and circumstances.


IOIBD (International Organization for the Study of Iinflammatory Bowel Disease) Recommendations (#76) for IBD Patients with Regard to COVID-19:

Full link: IOIBD Update on COVID19 for Patients with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (3/26/20)



COVID-19: Veneto vs. Lombary & Georgia’s Part of the Pandemic

Harvard Business Review: Lessons from Italy’s Response to Coronavirus

An excerpt:

While Lombardy and Veneto applied similar approaches to social distancing and retail closures, Veneto took a much more proactive tack towards the containment of the virus…

  • Extensive testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic cases early on.
  • Proactive tracing of potential positives. If someone tested positive, everyone in that patient’s home as well as their neighbors were tested. If testing kits were unavailable, they were self-quarantined.
  • A strong emphasis on home diagnosis and care. Whenever possible, samples were collected directly from a patient’s home and then processed in regional and local university labs.
  • Specific efforts to monitor and protect health care and other essential workers.

“The virus is faster than our bureaucracy.” ..Together, the need for immediate action and for massive mobilization imply that an effective response to this crisis will require a decision-making approach that is far from business as usual. If policymakers want to win the war against Covid-19, it is essential to adopt one that is systemic, prioritizes learning, and is able to quickly scale successful experiments and identify and shut down the ineffective ones. Yes, this a tall order — especially in the midst of such an enormous crisis

For those who live in Georgia, here’s a link to the official COVID-19 numbers from DPH:

  • Georgia DPH: COVID-19 Daily Status Report
  • It is worth noting that Georgia has a very high postive test rate (22%) compared to many states which likely indicates inadequate testing and a large number of undetected cases.

How to Do a Colonoscopic Polypectomy & U.S. COVID-19 Tracker

NPR’s website has a good tracker of what is going in each state.  Here’s the link:

NPR: Map: Tracking The Spread Of The Coronavirus In The U.S  One example: on this tracher, in Georgia, March 27, 8:30 am: 1642 reported cases, 56 deaths. (However, Georgia has conducted less than 10,000 tests in a population of more than 10 million).


A recent review (M Kay, R Wyllie. JPGN 2020; 70: 280-4) provides some practical tips for improving polypectomy technique.

Key points:

The optimal position for the polyp is in the 5-7 o’clock position.

  • Snaring juvenile polyps close to the head rather than close to the colonic wall “allows for easier therapeutic intervention if polypectomy bleeding occurs” (eg. hemoclip) and may lower the risk of complications like perforation
  • Epinephrine volume reduction (for larger polyps) (use 1:10,000 dilution) and saline-assisted polypectomy may facilitate procedure.  Large polyps (>2 cm) could require piecemeal resection; epinephrine reduction may result in a decreased size as well.
  • “Cold snare technique has replaced use of hot biopsy forceps in adults for removal of small sessile polyps”
  • Electrosurgical units (ESUs) -settings are specific to each unit.  Newer ‘smart’ ESUs have suggested default settings, typically lower settings for right colon. “Most endoscopists use pure coagulation current or a combination of coagulation and cutting settings (blended current) for snare polypectomy. Use of pure cutting current without coagulation will result in bleeding.”

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: This blog, gutsandgrowth, assumes no responsibility for any use or operation of any method, product, instruction, concept or idea contained in the material herein or for any injury or damage to persons or property (whether products liability, negligence or otherwise) resulting from such use or operation. These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Because of rapid advances in the medical sciences, the gutsandgrowth blog cautions that independent verification should be made of diagnosis and drug dosages. The reader is solely responsible for the conduct of any suggested test or procedure.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition

Pipeline Medications for Ulcerative Colitis (Part 2)

To continue with topic of new medications for ulcerative colitis started yesterday -two more articles:

  • WJ Sandborn et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 158: 537-49
  • S Danese. Gastroenterol 2020; 158: 467-70 (commentary)

The first reference describes a randomized phase 2 study of mirikizumab with 249 patients.  Mirikizumab is a monoclonal antibody to the p19 subunit of IL23. A similar agent, ustekinumab is a monoclonal antibody directed at the p40 subunit of IL23 and IL12; thus mirikuzumab is more selective targeting of IL23. the authors examined response to the study drug at 3 doses: 50 mg, 200 mg, and 600 mg and compared to intravenous placebo.  All patients received dosing at weeks 0, 4, and 8. A subset of patients continued with subcutaneous treatment starting at week 12, with 47 receiving 200 mg every 4 weeks and 46 receiving 200 mg every 12 weeks. 63% of patients in this trial had previous exposure to biologics.

Key findings:

  • At week 12, 15.9% (50 mg), 22.6% (200 mg), and 11.5 % (600 mg) in the treatment groups achieved clinical remission compared to 4.8% of the placebo group
  • Clinical responses occurred in 41.3%, 59.7%, and 49.2% in the respective treatment groups compared to 20.6% in placebo group
  • At week 52, clinical remission was achieved in 46.8% of SC every 4 weeks and 37.0% every 12 weeks.

In the commentary, Danese reviews the pipeline of new drugs emerging for ulcerative colitis.  Full Text Link: New Drugs in the Ulcerative Colitis Pipeline: Prometheus Unbound

A couple of key points:

  • “Like Prometheus, who gave fire to humans and paid with the price of eternal torment, so the gift of new drugs in ulcerative colitis brings the consequence of patients with heterogeneous disease being cycled indiscriminately through similarly modestly effective agents.”
  • “Predictive biomarkers are needed” to optimize treatment and avoid ineffective and potentially harmful treatments

My take: The emergence of new treatments is welcome given the frequent loss of response or lack of response to current therapies.  Two questions: How will we decide which agent(s) is the best one to use? When will pediatric studies be available?



Pipeline Medications for Ulcerative Colitis (Part 1) & Face Mask Shortages

Before getting to today’s post, I wanted to provide a link on why we are desperately short of face masks in the midst of this crisis: NY Times: How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask

An excerpt:

The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs…

Given the vast global need for masks — in the United States alone, fighting the coronavirus will consume 3.5 billion face masks, according to an estimate by the Department of Health and Human Services — corporate generosity will fall short. People in the mask business say it will take a few months, at a minimum, to significantly expand production…

Hospitals began to run out of masks for the same reason that supermarkets ran out of toilet paper — because their “just-in-time” supply chains, which call for holding as little inventory as possible to meet demand, are built to optimize efficiency, not resiliency.

My take: Conserve, conserve, conserve PPE -supply chains meeting the need is NOT imminent.


Several articles from Gastroenterology highlight emerging medications for ulcerative colitis (UC).

Two of the studies:

  • WJ Sandborn et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 158: 550-61.
  • WJ Sandborn et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 158: 562-72.

The first study was a phase 2 randomized trial of etrasimod which is an oral selective sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor modulator.  A total of 156 patients were randomized into 3 groups: placebo, 1 mg etrasimod, and 2 mg etrasimod.

Key findings (graphical abstract):

In the second phase 3, double-blind, double-dummy study, Sandborn et al show that, after the initial 2 intravenous doses,  among patients with an initial response subcutaneous vedolizumab (108 mg every 2 weeks) had similar effectiveness to intravenous vedolizumab (300 mg every 8 weeks); both SC and IV vedolizumab resulted in higher clinical remission rates compared to placebo at 52 weeks in the 216 patients: 46.2%, 42.6%, and 14.3% respectively.

Full text link: Efficacy and Safety of Vedolizumab Subcutaneous Formulation in a Randomized Trial of Patients With Ulcerative Colitis