National News

1 Dead In Protest At Chinese-Backed Copper Mine Project In Myanmar

NPR News - 1 hour 16 min ago

The protest at the Letpadaung project comes two years after police forcefully dispersed demonstrators at the site. Villagers had complained of health and environmental problems related to the project.

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Milwaukee Prosecutor Won't Seek Charges In Police Shooting

NPR News - 2 hours 16 min ago

Officer Christopher Manney was attempting to frisk Dontre Hamilton when he woke up and grabbed the officer's baton. Manney shot Hamilton 14 times.

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Pope Francis, At Christmas Gathering, Blasts Vatican's Bureaucrats

NPR News - 2 hours 36 min ago

He accused the Curia, which oversees the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, of "spiritual Alzheimer's" and careerism. Francis has made reforming the Vatican a major part of his agenda.

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Tunisian Election Puts Former Regime Figure In Presidency

NPR News - 2 hours 59 min ago

Nearly four years after the Arab Spring began, Tunisian voters elected Beji Caid Essebsi, a veteran of the country's autocratic regimes.

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NYC Police Deaths: Details On Suspect; Rift Between Mayor And Police

NPR News - 3 hours 36 min ago

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says tensions in the city are at their worst since the 1970s. He spoke two days after Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot and killed two police officers in New York.

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Spain's Princess Cristina To Stand Trial On Tax Fraud Charges

NPR News - 3 hours 47 min ago

The charges are related to her alleged links to her husband's business affairs. Cristina is sixth in line to the throne and becomes the country's first royal in modern times to face prosecution.

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Quiz: If computers are smart now, just wait

Stanford University launched a long-term study of artificial intelligence.

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The 5 Business Stories That Made 2014 A Memorable Year

NPR News - 4 hours 58 min ago

From hack attacks to the bottom falling out of oil, 2014 has been a year of big swings at the top and stagnation at the bottom.

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Calling U.S. A 'Cesspool,' North Korea Warns Against Escalation

NPR News - 5 hours 32 min ago

North Korea's National Defense Commission, which is headed by the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, said its military was ready to fight America "in all war spaces including cyber warfare space."

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An Update On LA's iPad Program

NPR News - 6 hours 4 min ago

A high-profile school tech program; a federal corruption investigation and the resignation of the superintendent.

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A new drug becomes the only option for some patients

A newly-approved drug for Hepatitis C will be the only treatment covered for many patients whose employers use a company called Express Scripts for their pharmacy benefits.

Last year, Gilead Sciences Inc. introduced a highly-effective hepatitis C drug, with an $84,000 price tag. Those kinds of prices have been more common for drugs treating conditions so rare they are sometimes called “orphan diseases." Hepatitis C, on the other hand, affects more than three million people.

"These were orphan-drug prices for common diseases," says Steve Miller, chief medical officer for Express Scripts. "That’s just not sustainable."

The sticker price on the new drug, from AbbVie Inc., is just a tiny bit cheaper— $83,319— but Express Scripts has negotiated a discount.

The company says patients will benefit through expanded access to the drug, which has generally only been covered for people with advanced stages of the disease. 

On the other hand, the new arrangement limits treatment options for patients. It's too soon to tell whether that downside will be significant, says Jack Hoadley, a research professor with Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. AbbVie's drug was approved on December 19, just days before the Express Scripts deal was announced.  

"This drug is so recently approved we’re only going to be learning over time whether there are some patients this drug doesn’t work as well for," says Hoadley.

Express Scripts covers about 25 million people directly. It also administers drug benefits for another 65 million through health insurance plans.  

PODCAST: Prescription neutrality

People argue for network neutrality on the internet, but what about prescription neutrality? More on the news that Express Scripts introduced an exclusivity deal with AbbVie's new Hepatitis C medication. And Freddie Mac reports there’s a shortage of rental housing, giving a boost to big investors who bought thousands of foreclosed houses on a bet they’d be able to jack up rents. Now they can. Plus, with the coming of the new year, Sony plans to roll out an Internet-based live-TV service on its video game consoles. It's called Playstation Vue, and it will initially have about 75 channels - ones we traditionally associate with cable, like MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The idea is to marry traditional cable with a cloud-based, Netflix-like user interface.

Apartment shortage forcing up rents

Freddie Mac reports there’s a shortage of rental housing, giving a boost to big investors who bought thousands of foreclosed houses on a bet they’d be able to jack up rents.

Well, now they can.

Click the media player above to hear more.

The math behind healthcare's crazy inflation

It’s easy to understand why the price for health insurance premiums has outpaced inflation by so much in the last few decades.

“There are more treatments, more medications, more therapies,” says Kathy Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “There's just more healthcare services that can be applied to any particular clinical situation.”

The numbers are striking. In 1996, the average family premium ran just shy of $5,000. Adjust that $5,000 for inflation, and today it’s about $7,500. But healthcare premiums are a different story. The cost was a little more than $16,000 for a family, as of last year.

Harvard economist David Cutler says there's nothing wrong with spending a lot of money on healthcare, as long as you are getting what you pay for.

People want longer life. They want healthier life,” he says. “The unfortunate truth is we are spending a lot that is not contributing to that.”

When Cutler says a lot, he's not playing around. Many economists, Cutler included, say as much as $1 trillion of all healthcare spending a year is wasteful—That's about a third. But when it comes to premiums, which third are we talking about?

“Healthcare is probably unique in that it is so difficult to tell whether something is worth it or not,” Cutler says.

One thing we do know is that as premiums have climbed, people have paid more out-of-pocket. Ironically, Hempstead says, high prices should help make sure we're getting a better deal.

One of the things that does is it makes consumers look for value and to get providers to be as efficient as they can be and provide a lower cost service,” she says.

Federal health officials say in the last five years, premium prices continue to rise, but at about half the rate they were previously. No one knows for sure what's behind that. But pretty much everyone agrees when the first few thousand dollars of healthcare comes out of our wallets, we're going to do a better job making sure it's not for nothing.

Is cheaper gas an opening for higher gas taxes?

Michigan has just put a new issue on the ballot for next year: hiking gas taxes. Many states in the last two years have raised or reformed gas taxes, including red states Wyoming and New Hampshire. And now low gas prices may provide additional political space to raise money for crumbling roads and bridges.

"There's a little more room to maybe propose increases in the gas tax, because the price has gone down so far," Norton Francis of the Urban Institute says. "But it really takes political will and leadership to tie the gas tax to infrastructure spending."

Federal money is drying up, as the national gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon. And more fuel-sipping cars on the road mean Americans are buying less gas to tax. Thus the urgency.

"When we see pretty fiscally conservative governors in states like New Jersey and Wisconsin either openly talking about gas tax reforms or at least not ruling it out right away, that says a lot about how serious this issue is," says Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Men are from Mars, Scorching temperatures are from Venus

$16,000

The average family premium for healthcare was $16,000 last year. Compare that to 1996, when the average ran just shy of $5,000. Adjust that $5,000 for inflation, and today it’s about $7,500. We take a look at why the cost of healthcare has blown inflation out of the water in the latest installment of the Marketplace Inflation Calculator.

3 days

It took 8 years for fathers in Hong Kong to win the right to 3 days of paternity leave (at 80% pay). But on December 18th, the government passed a law granting them the leave. As Quartz reports, Hong Kong has been attempting to fight a declining birth rate, which up until now has been blamed on single women, otherwise called "spinsterhood."

7,370 people

That's how many lives have been claimed by the Ebola virus outbreak. Research published Monday morning shows that International Monetary Fund policies left Guinea, Libera, and Sierra Leone — the three countries worst effected by the virus — with a lack of funds and a shortage of doctors. As reported by The Telegraph, specific reforms pushed by the IMF caused an inability to cope with disease outbreaks.

18.4 cents

The national gas tax remains at 18.4 cents/gallon, in spite of the fact that gas prices have lately been plummeting. It's why states like Michigan are adding hikes in the gas tax to the ballot for next year. With Americans paying less tax per gallon, federal government may need the extra income to fund infrastructure spending.

30 miles

There's been a lot of attention on Mars lately, but what about our other neighbor, Venus? With a surface temperature of 850 degrees F, it's not ideal for manned exploration. But head 30 miles above land, and it's a slightly more manageable 165 degrees F. Even more intriguing is that at this distance above Venus' surface, the pressure is the same as Earth's at sea level. It's why NASA is saying it might one day send astronauts to explore Venus in blimps

Nuns On The Ranch Give A Heavenly Twist To Beef

NPR News - Sun, 2014-12-21 23:45

At a Colorado ranch run by Benedictine nuns, prayer and farming go hand in hand. "We have kind of a corner on the market" for grass-fed beef, says one sister. "People just kind of believe in it."

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Heating New England Homes: The Good And Bad News

NPR News - Sun, 2014-12-21 23:44

Low heating oil prices mean New Englanders don't have to bundle up at home this year, but they will have to watch their rising electric bills.

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A Family's Long Search For Fragile X Drug Finds Frustration, Hope

NPR News - Sun, 2014-12-21 23:42

There is no effective treatment for the rare genetic disorder Fragile X syndrome, so two parents created a foundation to fund research. But they found there's no easy road to a cure.

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Obama To Pick Sally Yates To Be Deputy Attorney General, AP Reports

NPR News - Sun, 2014-12-21 21:52

President Obama is preparing to nominate the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta to the No. 2 position at the Justice Department, according to The Associated Press.

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