National News

A Single Gene May Decide Why Some People Get So Sick With The Flu

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:06

A single genetic mutation might decide who ends up in bed with the sniffles and who heads to the hospital, because it shuts down immune system molecules called interferons.

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How Yemen's Chaos Stretches Beyond Its Borders

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:43

The U.S. has lost a key base for counterterrorism operations. The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is heating up. And one more Middle Eastern state has dissolved into chaos.

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Challenges remain, even after the 'Doc Fix' gets fixed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:05

Kicking the can down the road is old hat in Washington. But one of the cans that's been kicked for nearly 20 years now has been, well, not kicked.

The House of Representatives, by a wide and bipartisan margin, voted for a more permanent solution to the perennial threats to how much Medicare reimburses doctors, the so-called "Doc Fix" legislation. And while the deal still needs to win Senate approval, to some, like American Medical Association President-elect Dr. Steven Stack, it’s a historic moment.

“I don’t want to pass the opportunity to thank Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi," Stack says.

Now, Stack knows there’s almost no chance that kind of quote is ever published, but he wanted to say it anyway. Take it as a sign of the relief he’s cautiously feeling on behalf of the 94 percent of doctors who have worried about Congress cutting their pay.

“Having stability and predictability in physician payment is essential for quality of care and patient safety,” he says.

Under the bill, doctors would see a half percent bump in each of the next four years, well below the rate of inflation — the price they pay for predictability. There’s another price doctors may pay though, warns the Urban Institute’s Bob Berenson, namely more reporting requirements. Berenson says some lack the technology infrastructure to pull it off.

“Small practices will find this too much of a reporting burden and may just throw in the towel,” he says.

Another key provision would pay doctors more for high-quality care rather than the volume of care. Everybody loves that, says Harvard’s Dr. Ashish Jha. The trouble is it’s very hard to measure "quality."

“We are going to focus on paying doctors for a lot of things. Some of which probably represent real quality and some of which clearly represent checking the box,” he says.

Jha says if Washington is serious about paying based on quality, the government must invest several billion dollars. Absent that, doctors may have more financial stability thanks to this deal, but less certainty about how to best serve their patients.

Why borrowers turn to pricey payday loans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:05

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is looking to make payday and other short-term loans more consumer-friendly. For example, it's considering creating rules that would require lenders to consider a borrower's ability to repay the loan and/or limit the number of loans borrowers can take out.

But even without such controls, borrowers keep turning to these services — 12 million borrowers each year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. A typical payday borrower might make $30,000 a year and borrow a few hundred dollars to pay their rent or electricity bill.  Borrowers may find themselves with unexpected expenses and no other options, says BankRate.com's Greg McBride, as traditional banks don’t generally make small loans and borrowers may not qualify if they did.

Alternatively, borrowers might decide these loans are the best of limited options, says Dennis Shaul, CEO of the short-term lender trade group Community Financial Services Association of America. Shaul agrees with the CFPB that lenders should evaluate people’s ability to repay loans. Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, says consumers also need other options to meet their borrowing needs. 

When disasters happen, all airlines are affected

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:04

When a plane crashes — it doesn’t matter whose plane it is — the entire airline industry is affected and the entire industry responds. One of the first things airlines do is set to work calming people’s fears.

"So, for example, if a passenger has a question about the type of aircraft being used on his or her flight, call-center employees usually are briefed on how to answer those questions," says Madhu Unnikrishnan, an airline-industry correspondent for Aviation Week. 

Unnikrishnan says other aspects of business as usual are also put on hold.

“They will suspend events, promotional and marketing events for example," she says. "And airlines typically withdraw ads from newspapers and television."

Tragedies bring about cooperation in other areas, says Richard Aboulafia, an airline analysis with the Teal Group.

“I think the most important thing they think about is how to engage with regulatory officials in a positive way,” he says.

In the wake of the Germanwings crash, several carriers, including Norwegian Air and Air Canada have already announced rules changes requiring two pilots to remain in the cockpit at all times. And it’s likely the changes won’t end there. 

"I'd be surprised if their weren't some kind of changes that resulted from this,” says Aboulafia, "because you've got a series a of incidents, that really point to the impact of human malice in the cockpit.”

Eventually, airlines will return to what they do best: compete for business. One thing you will never see them compete on, says Aboulafia, is safety.

That's because most carriers fly the same planes, and they have no interest in raising concerns about a competitors’ pilots or equipment.

Quiz: The gift that keeps on giving

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:51

The percentage of 12-17 year olds in gifted classes rose 6 points between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Skinny Jeans, Expanded Waistlines, And A Washington 'Fix'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:50

Congress has acted 17 times to prevent a cut in Medicare doctors' payments. But the so-called "Doc Fix" has always been like that pair of jeans you keep in your closet, hoping someday they'll fit.

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Richard III, Whose Remains Were Found Under A Parking Lot, Reburied

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:27

The last English king to die in battle was finally given a burial fit for a king — some 530 years after he was killed.

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Some Messy History Behind A Fight Over A Restaurant Called 'Chop Chop Chinaman'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:00

Both "chop chop" and "Chinaman" have long, complicated histories, which we thought we'd surface in light of this story.

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Board Games That Bored Gamers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 07:48

Strolling through the board games of yesteryear we find some that succeeded and some that faded away.

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Pilots Downing Their Planes Is Unusual, But Not Unprecedented

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 07:39

Investigators looking into the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 this week now believe it was the result of a "deliberate act" of the co-pilot. If so, it wouldn't be the first time.

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How Snobbery Helped Take The Spice Out Of European Cooking

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 07:22

Complex, contrasting flavors are a hallmark of Indian cooking. They used to dominate Western food, too. What changed? When spices became less exclusive, Europe's elite revamped their cuisines.

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High-Deductible Health Plans Cut Costs, At Least For Now

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 06:31

Health plans that require people to pay thousands of dollars up front cut costs in the first three years, a study finds. But no one knows if costs will rise later as people avoid preventive care.

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What's Up With Parents Who Don't Vaccinate Their Children?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 05:52

It could be a lack of confidence in the medicine. Maybe they don't think the risk of infection is that high. Or the clinic may be far from home. A new report looks at reasons in five countries.

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Details Emerge About Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 05:49

His flying club says Lubitz "wanted to see his dream of flying fulfilled." Investigators say he appears to have deliberately crashed Flight 4U 9525 into the French Alps, killing 150 people.

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French Prosecutor Points Toward Co-Pilot's Actions In Jet's Crash

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 05:17

French officials believe the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane that went down in the Alps intentionally crashed the plane. Steve Inskeep speaks with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley for the latest.

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Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Released From Prison

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 04:46

The son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson will serve out the remainder of his sentence for misappropriating campaign funds for personal use at a halfway house in Washington, D.C.

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A Reporter Chauffeurs A Chinese Couple 500 Miles To Their Rural Wedding

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 04:43

NPR's Frank Langfitt, who has been driving Chinese people around Shanghai to meet a variety of people and better understand the rapidly changing country, takes his experiment to a whole new level.

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Why It's So Hard For Us To Agree About Dong From 'The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 04:03

With a name like Dong — and so few roles for Asian-American men on TV — it's understandable that this character has been raising eyebrows. But in the context of the show, Dong makes complete sense.

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Are Women's Colleges Doomed? What Sweet Briar's Demise Tells Us

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 04:03

Administrators say that the Virginia institution has been grappling with financial troubles for decades. And they blame an increasing lack of interest in single-sex education.

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