Patients Struggle With High Drug Prices – By Joseph Walker December 2015

 Out-of-pocket costs for pricey new drugs leave even some insured and relatively affluent patients with hard choices on how to afford them

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BELLEVILLE, Ill.— Jacqueline Racener ’s doctor prescribed a new leukemia drug for her last winter that promised to roll back the cancer in her blood with only moderate side effects.

Then she found out how much it would cost her: nearly $8,000 for a full year, even after Medicare picked up most of the tab.

“There’s no way I could do that,” Ms. Racener says. “It was just prohibitive.” Worried about depleting her limited savings, Ms. Racener, a 76-year-old legal secretary, decided to take the risk and not fill her prescription.

The pharmaceutical industry, after a long drought, has begun to produce more innovative treatments for serious diseases that can extend life and often have fewer side effects than older treatments. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved 41 new drugs, the most in nearly two decades.

The catch is their cost. Recent treatments for hepatitis C, cancer and multiple sclerosis that cost from $50,000 annually to well over $100,000 helped drive up total U.S. prescription-drug spending 12.2% in 2014, five times the prior year’s growth rate, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. High drug prices can translate to patient costs of thousands of dollars a year. Out-of-pocket prescription-drug costs rose 2.7% in 2014, according to CMS.

For many of the poorest Americans, medicines are covered by government programs or financial-assistance funds paid for by drug companies.

For those in the middle class, it is a different story. Though many patients can get their out-of-pocket costs paid by drug companies or drug-company-funded foundations, some patients make too much money to qualify for assistance. Others are unaware the programs exist. Medicare patients, who represent nearly a third of U.S. retail drug spending, can’t receive direct aid from drug companies.

The upshot is even patients with insurance and comfortable incomes are sometimes forced to make hard choices—tapping savings, taking on new debt or even forgoing treatment.

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How Many People Have Been Shot in Your Neighborhood This Year? – Update, Dec. 31, 2015: 

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The map has been updated to show all recorded shootings in 2015.

In relentless succession, a parade of towns and cities has this year joined the ranks of American mass shooting locations. The mere mention of the places—Charleston, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Colorado Springs, Colorado; San Bernardino, California—evokes images made familiar at Columbine, Colorado, and Blacksburg, Virginia, and Tucson, Arizona, and Newtown, Connecticut: the police battalions rushing to respond, the shocked survivors and bereft loved ones, the eerie portraits of newly infamous killers.

But the truth is that these cities and towns and the events that now define them, however lethal they were and however large they understandably loom, constitute just a small fraction of the gun violence recorded in America during this or any year. In 2013, the most recent year for which government statistics are available, less than 2 percent of more than 33,000 gun deaths in the country were due to mass shootings. Tallies of gun-related fatalities are in turn dwarfed by totals for gun injuries. Every 12 months, more than 130,000 people are shot; many are left with devastating physical impairments and crippling health care bills.

Leaflet | Map tiles by CartoDB, under CC BY 3.0. Data by OpenStreetMap, under ODbL.

Thanks to a nonprofit, nonpartisan project known as the Gun Violence Archive, data on gun homicides and nonfatal shootings is now available well before the federal government releases its statistics. Those data include location information that makes it possible to plot those shootings on a map showing how many have taken place in your vicinity.

Violent crime has fallen drastically since the 1990s, but guns stubbornly claim a disproportionate share of American misery, with the rate of firearms-related death largely holding steady for the past 15 years. That grim constancy has come as regulation, industry safety improvements, and public health campaigns have reduced the mortality of other products. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tables show that in 2013, guns killed 3,428  more people than falls, 4,635 more people than alcohol, and 30,876 more people than fires. Researchers have forecastthat 2015 will be the year that bullets kill more Americans than car accidents, which had long been the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.

Rarely does routine gun violence make the front pages. Always, there are Americans for whom it hits home. That may be the volunteer EMS crew in Imperial, Nebraska, who lost longtime member Dave Ridlen to a rifle accident in early November. Or the Carthage, Texas, family robbed of a 22-year-old son after Jonathan Todd Williams was asked by his father to answer a knock at the door, only to be blown away. It includes the South Carolina grandmother killed in her car when her 2-year-old grandson found a  loaded revolver in the back seat. Or the eight members of Valerie Jackson’s family, including six children, all murdered by her ex-boyfriend David Conley, who acquired a gun online despite being prohibited from owning one. But even as gun violence occurs all over the country, its burdens are unequally distributed. In parts of cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and Baltimore—not to mention forgotten parts of cities like Charleston, Chattanooga, and San Bernardino—shots ring out with terrifying frequency and density, without drawing CNN’s broadcast trucks or prompting the president to step up to a podium.

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Page Views Don’t Matter Anymore—But They Just Won’t Die | WIRED – JULIA GREENBERG 12.31.15. . 7:00 AM

The page view is a zombie. For years, everyone has been saying it is no longer a meaningful way to measure online popularity. But the publishers who make websites and the advertisers who pay for them swore throughout the year that they’re no longer fooled. The era where a mere click is the crown jewel of metrics is dead. But someone still needs to shoot this zombie in the head.

“We’ve talked about page views dying for ten years,” says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a digital publishing trade group that represents publishers on the web, including WIRED parent company Condé Nast. “They’re not dead, but they should be.”

Along with its corrupting effects, the page view itself has been corrupted.

The page view, much like the click-through, was once the key way websites understood their audiences. It was the way news organizations figured out who was reading their stories—how many, how often, which, from where—and the way advertisers were able to calculate the value of serving up ads on those sites.

But the page view notoriously spawned that most reviled of Internet aggravations: clickbait. Quality became less important than provocation; the curiosity gap supplanted craft. The page view also drove the primacy of “search engine optimization,” or the technique of selecting keywords in headlines, metadata, and text to push articles higher in Google’s page-ranking algorithms. All of this served an online publishing economy propped up by display ads, which helped cement the assumption that news on the Internet should be free.

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The tragedy of driving into record Mississippi flood waters.

This month is shaping up to be one of the most freakish in meteorological history. There’ve been tornadoes, blizzards, and a terrifying mid-winter heatwave that briefly pushed the pitch-black North Pole above the freezing point.

The most consequential of these disasters is still unfolding. In recent weeks, torrential rains across a broad section of the Midwest have led to a dire flooding emergency along the Mississippi River and throughout the regionMillions of people are under flood warnings in at least 13 states. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is covering the story with a fleet of helicopters, is chronicling some breathtaking scenes.

Source: The tragedy of driving into record Mississippi flood waters.

Cities around world tighten New Year’s Eve security amid terror attack fears – Mark Tran Thursday 31 December 2015 06.20 EST

London, Paris, Moscow, Brussels, Ankara, Madrid and New York among cities taking extra precautions for end-of-year celebrations

A Belgian soldier patrols on Brussels' Grand Place

Brussels has cancelled its official celebrations, Paris called off an annual fireworks display on the Champs-Élysées and London increased the numbers of firearms officers on the streets as authorities across the world stepped up security measures for New Year’s Eve.

Belgian police detained six people during house searches in Brussels on Thursday in an investigation into an alleged plot to carry out an attack in the city. Earlier in the week two other people were arrested on suspicion of preparing attacks on “emblematic sites” in Brussels during the celebrations. Another man was questioned over links to last month’s Paris attacks.

Authorities said a firework display and festivities that attracted 100,000 people last year would not go ahead after revealing the alleged jihadi plot.

“Unfortunately we have been forced to cancel the fireworks and all that was planned for tomorrow [Thursday] evening,” the mayor, Yvan Mayeur, told Belgian broadcaster RTBF. “It’s better not to take any risks.”

In Paris, where 130 people were killed by extremists last month, the annual fireworks display on the Champs-Élysées has been called off and 11,000 police, soldiers and firefighters will patrol the French capital. In all, 60,000 police and troops will be deployed across the country.

However, France’s biggest public gathering since the atrocities will still go ahead on the Champs-Élysées.

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Oprah’s Ad Campaign Is Causing Weight Watchers’ Stock to Soar – by Michal Addady DECEMBER 30, 2015, 5:54 PM EST

It’s up nearly 20% Wednesday.

Just two days of Oprah Winfrey’s Weight Watchers WTW 18.64% ad campaign has caused the company’s stock to soar.

Bloomberg reports that Weight Watchers’ stock went up 7% on Tuesday and 19% on Wednesday, which is the most that it has gone up in one day since Nov. 6. Winfrey purchased a 10% share of the company in October and now sits on the board of directors. Including options, she owns about 15% of the company.

In the commercial, which she posted on Twitter when it debuted Tuesday, she shares her own experience:

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Since partnering with the weight-loss brand, Oprah has helped the stock more than triple in value. Before she bought it, her 10% stake was worth $43 million. Now, it’s worth about $150 million.

With many different weight loss programs to choose from, Weight Watchers has been struggling in recent years. However, the partnership with Oprah could be what revives the brand: Almost immediately after the partnership was announced, shares jumped more than 90%.

Why time seems to speed up as we get older – Updated by Brian Resnick on December 30, 2015, 3:20 p.m. ET


Five or six times a day, every day, for 48 years, chronobiologist Robert Sothern has counted off 60 seconds in his head and then compared the results against a clock.

As part of a lifelong experiment on circadian rhythms, Sothern, now 69, is trying to confirm or reject a widely held belief: Many people feel that time flies by more quickly as they age.

So far, Sothern’s results are inconclusive. It’s true that lately, according to his measurements — and his gut — time seems to be speeding up as he nears his 70s. “I’m tending now to overestimate the minute more than I used to,” he tells me. But then again, he had detected a similar pattern — more overestimates — in the 1990s, only to have his estimates fall in the 2000s. “Time estimation isn’t a perfect science,” he says.

This matches what other researchers have found too. There’s very little scientific evidence to suggest our perception of time changes as we age. And yet, we consistently report that the past felt longer — that time is flying by faster as we age. What’s going on?

There’s considerable evidence that time doesn’t speed up as we age

 Kevin Dooley / Flickr

There are a few different ways to study how we perceive time. Scientists can look at time estimation, or our ability to estimate how long a minute passes, compared with a clock. (This is what Sothern is doing.) They can also look at time awareness, or the broad feeling that time is moving quickly or slowly. Finally there’s time perspective, the sense of a past, present, and future as constructed by our memories.

What researchers have found out is that while time estimation and time awareness don’t change much as we age, time perspective does. In other words: Our memories create the illusion time is accelerating.

Our ability to estimate how long a minute takes seems to stay constant over time. In 2005, researchers at the University of Central Florida and Westfield State College conducted a version of Sothern’s time estimation test. One by one, they brought 100 participants ages 20 to 69 into a dark lab room fitted with only a chair, table, and stopwatch. Like Sothern, the participants were asked to guess the length of various time intervals.

The results? There weren’t many differences between the old and the young. “[C]hronological age showed no systematic influence on the perception of these brief intervals of time up,” the authors wrote. (That said, the researchers did find that males overestimate time while females underestimate it, perhaps due to having slightly different circadian clocks and therefore slightly different metabolic rates.)

But stopwatches can only tell us so much. After all, we don’t just care if our perception of how long it takes coffee to brew changes over time. We want to know if events over the course of months and years actually do fly by.

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Diamonds and Sacrifices (Excerpt from ‘United in Hate: Central African Republic’) – Vice News Published on Dec 30, 2015

In March 2013, the Seleka, a coalition of predominantly Muslim-armed groups from the northeast, marched on the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui and seized power.

They committed mass atrocities against the population, and to the largely Christian population in the southwest, Muslims began to be associated with violence. They took up arms to form a Christian self-defense militia called the anti-balaka, and carried out revenge killings.

By the end of 2013, the Central African Republic had descended into civil war. Under pressure from the international community, the Seleka were forced to give up power and retreated towards the northeast, where they regrouped.

A United Nations peacekeeping mission and a French military operation were able to stem the fighting, but despite their presence, the transitional government has not been able to regain control of the country outside Bangui.

With the anti-balaka controlling the southwest, and the Seleka controlling the northeast, the Central African Republic is de facto partitioned along ethno-religious lines. For those who find themselves on the wrong side of the divide, life has become hell.

In this excerpt, the coordinator of the anti-balaka movement in Carnot takes VICE News to a diamond mine he oversees, which was reclaimed from Muslim owners during the recent conflict.