National News

The FCC takes action to deal with robocalls

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-22 02:00

The FCC is taking new action to deal with robocalls — recorded phone calls and text messages offering various products and services. Unwanted solicitations are annoying at best and can be fraudulent at worse. The FCC gets hundreds of thousands of angry complaints a year. In its declaratory rulings, the FCC aims to close loopholes and bulk up protection.

Consumer advocates are particularly pleased the FCC is now explicitly telling phone companies they can provide blocking technology. They’ve generally avoided doing so, claiming it wasn’t legal. Consumer advocates never bought this excuse. Now they want action from phone providers.

“We really hope that the companies stop stalling,” says Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel at Consumers Union, which has been pushing the FCC for these changes. “We hope that they will take the FCC’s words to heart and consumers’ wishes to heart.”

Some companies worry, saying the ruling opens them up to unfair lawsuits and that robocalls can be a legitimate way to reach people and sell products and services they want.

The FCC is allowing exemptions for certain urgent messages, such as a prescription drug refill reminder or bank fraud notification.

Mark Garrison: We all get this stuff. In my case, it’s recurring text messages from a company that is absolutely convinced I’m in the market for sunglasses and way too in love with emoji. The messages are incredibly annoying, sometimes worse.

Delara Derakhshani: A lot of them are fraudulent scams. Many of them are directed at vulnerable populations such as the elderly.

Delara Derakhshani is a lawyer at Consumers Union, which has been pushing the FCC for these changes. She’s thrilled the FCC is now explicitly telling phone companies they can provide blocking technology. They’ve generally avoided doing so, claiming it wasn’t legal. Consumer advocates never bought this excuse. Now they want action from wireless providers.

Delara Derakhshani: We really hope that the companies stop stalling. We hope that they will take the FCC’s words to heart and consumers’ wishes to heart.

Some companies worry, saying the ruling opens them up to unfair lawsuits and that robocalls can be a legit way to reach people. The FCC is allowing exemptions for urgent messages, such as a prescription drug refill reminder or fraud notification. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

The new math in healthcare: make money by saving money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-22 02:00

Over the course of his career, Dr. Seth Berkowitz has met with patients much like one of his first – a 300-lb. farmer in rural North Carolina with diabetes and heart trouble.

“His own diet was highly processed food, and he knew that was making his health worse,” Berkowitz says. “You’d talk with him and he’d be like, ‘Oh, I know what I need to be doing. It’s just not an affordable thing for me.’”

Berkowitz says as he encountered the problem over and over – in North Carolina, the Bay Area and Boston – an idea hardened in in his mind. Many of his sickest patients would happily focus on health, if they could just deal with their more pressing problems first.

So Berkowitz, an internist, has designed a pilot program at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he works now, that he thinks just might work for his diabetic patients.  

“We’re working with an organization that delivers medically tailored meals to people in their houses," he says. “Good quality food. It’s made from ingredients grown in the Boston area. They have their own test kitchen.”

Berkowitz bets if he gets them eating healthier foods, his patients will need less medication, will move around more, and will be more productive.

He is one of handful of researcher trying to improve health for the patients sometimes called the 5/50s; the 5 percent of patients who use 50 percent of the resources. The program has the potential to improve health and save money on hospital bills paid by Medicaid and, by extension, American taxpayers.

It’s a growing idea in a healthcare landscape where providers are increasingly rewarded based on patients’ outcomes, not just the number of services provided.

The idea sounds simple, right? Spend $100 for a week’s worth of meals as a way to head off the repeated trips to the hospital that can run $6,000 to $10,000 a visit. Save a lot of healthcare spending by spending a little bit more on social services.

But here’s the problem: Doctors don’t know who is going to end up in the hospital. They just can’t predict it well enough, so they might spend lots of money on meals for people where food isn’t the problem at all.

At a clinic run by Massachusetts General Hospital in Revere, not far from Berkowitz’s Boston office, plenty of patients seem like they could be a good fit for the meals program.

There’s 71-year-old Tom Sullivan, who weighed 250 lbs. when he first showed up ten years ago.

Today, he weighs 316 lbs.

“Whatever I eat is either sandwiches or microwave – garbage,” he says. “Your body can tell you if you are doing good or not. And it hasn’t gotten any better.”

And there’s 39-year-old Carrie Walsh, who knows what food she wants to buy, even if she can’t afford it.

“I just feel really sad because I want to take care of myself,” she says, her voice catching. “And if I had the financial means, I’d be able to be eating better.”

Berkowitz says he’s got 1,500 Walshes and Sullivans he could enroll in the program, but he’s only got the budget for 50 of them.

What makes finding the right 50 even harder, says Harvard health economist Kate Baicker, is having healthy food on hand might not be enough.

“Maybe they don’t have a place for food deliveries,” says Baicker. “Maybe they don’t have adequate cooking facilities.”

The stated goal of this work – improving health and saving money – hinges on lining up the right patient with the right program.

Allison Hamblin with the Center for Health Care Strategies says the danger there is that healthcare providers won’t get it right.

“We need to prove that we can economically justify this work as part of healthcare,” she says. “And until we can demonstrate that this is cost-effective, it won’t be a mainstream activity.”

Poor targeting could sink a program financially. And right now, many providers doing this work don’t target at all, relying instead on referrals or a signups through a first-come, first-served basis.

Doctors and researchers in Washington state, San Diego and Dallas are developing predictive models they believe will take the guesswork out and lead to the right matches. That encourages Dr. Clemons Hong, a lead researcher in this field, but he says people must understand this problem needs more than a big data solution.

“I think the perfect marriage is data and relationships,” he says.

Hong says a trusting relationship – one where the healthcare workers really know the patient – is essential. Remember, he says, this is a group of people whose lives are turned inside and out.

He says a patient at high risk might start taking their medications for depression, or diabetes, or congestive heart failure and do well for a while. “Then mom dies, right? And then they get depressed again and stop taking their medication,” he says. “Then here we are all over again.”

That brings us back to Berkowitz, who is also trying to marry data and relationships.

In his modest, windowless office, Berkowitz reads off a couple questions to help him find patients best suited for the meal program.

All told, he’s created a 100-question survey, with questions like, “In the last three months, did you ever put off buying medication so that you would have money to buy food?” Or “I worried that my food would run out before I had money to buy more. Was that often true, sometimes true or never true?”

Crude as that may be, learning a patient’s complicated backstory may be the most effective way to move forward.

Even if cumbersome questionnaires are the best they’ve got, people in trenches, like nurse practitioner Christine Goscila, say they’ll take it.  

“You can see how frustrating it is for the patient,” she says. “Their weight steadily rises, and the insulin steadily rises. And it’s this vicious cycle that’s never stopped because that one issue that could fix it all isn’t being addressed.” 

Goscila says if it comes down to the providing meals or providing more insulin to help patients like Walsh or Sullivan, her money’s on the meals every time.

We are never, ever, ever ... giving away free music

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-06-22 01:56
July 30

The launch date for Apple Music, and the start of its controversial three-month trial period. The tech giant came under fire last week for reportedly forcing artists to forgo royalties during the trial. Apple caved late Sunday night after Taylor Swift posted an open letter shaming the company, the Verge reported.

1,000 robots

That's how many "Peppers" — a humanoid robot that can recognize human emotion — were made available for purchase on Saturday in Japan. Pepper costs around $1,600, with $200 in monthly fees. And as CNN reports, the first batch of bots sold out in about a minute.


That's how high the average price is for an Indian wedding with hundreds of guests and days of festivities, one planner told Marketplace Weekend. It's a booming industry, and venues and vendors see lots of dollar signs.

$47 billion

That was the amount of money put forth by health insurer Anthem in a proposed deal to buy one of its competitors, Cigna. But that offer was later rejected by Cigna. Still, as the New York Times reports, its just one of several moves being made by health insurers to try and consolidate in a new market created by the Affordable Care Act.


That's how many interns Goldman Sachs is bringing on this year, and it's instituting new policies to reduce their stress level, Reuters reported. Now interns at Goldman will be required to leave the offices between midnight and 7 a.m., and take Saturdays off. Nothing says low-stress like a 17-hour workday, right?

33 officiants

That's how many are employed by Alan Katz's 24-hour elopement chapel in Long Beach, California. In his 11 years running the business, Katz says he's seen the number of people looking to elope grow exponentially. The reason: like any other successful business, they offer lower prices and convenience.

U.S. Troops Tested By Race In Secret World War II Chemical Experiments

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-22 00:59

While the Pentagon acknowledged years ago that it used American servicemen in World War II mustard gas experiments, NPR found new details about tests that grouped subjects by the color of their skin.

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To Ease Pain, Reach For Your Playlist Instead Of Popping A Pill

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-22 00:44

Music can energize, soothe or relax us. And it can also help reduce pain. Researchers found that listening to a favorite song or story helped children manage pain after major surgery.

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After Waterway Closure, Minneapolis Sees An End To River Shipping

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-22 00:43

For the first time ever, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has closed part of a navigable waterway to stem the migration of an invasive species.

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After Prison Break At Dannemora, Viral Video Raises Questions

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-22 00:42

A video shows a man approach the prison with a bag, which is hoisted up the prison wall and disappears out of view. Does this security lapse have anything to do with the escaped cons?

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Summit To Concentrate On Greece's Impending Deadline To Repay IMF Loan

NPR News - Mon, 2015-06-22 00:35

Eurozone leaders are to meet in Brussels on Monday in a hastily called summit aimed at resolving the Greek debt crisis. Greece has until the end of the month to make a huge debt payment to the IMF.

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Jordan Spieth Wins U.S. Open For 2nd Leg Of Grand Slam

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 18:57

Spieth is only the sixth player to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year. Dustin Johnson came close to pushing a Monday playoff — but then he three-putted the final hole.

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Gunther Schuller, Who Bridged Classical Music And Jazz, Dies At 89

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 18:08

The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, conductor and educator ranged widely in his musicianship. With colleagues from Miles Davis to Frank Zappa, he linked classical music and jazz.

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Will Monday's Greek Debt Talks Result In A Deal?

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 13:09

Greece needs help to make a loan payment at the end of the month, but its government refuses to enact the economic reforms its creditors are demanding. The threat of a run on Greece's banks is complicating current negotiations, which will continue Monday at a summit meeting of Greek and eurozone leaders.

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From California To Kathmandu, Task Force 2 Responds To Disasters

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 13:09

An elite search-and-rescue team from Los Angeles County is always ready to respond to emergencies around the world — most recently, in earthquake-ravaged Nepal.

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Snapshot Sleuthing Confirms Russian Military Presence In Ukraine

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 13:09

Like young adults everywhere, soldiers in the Russian military are fond of documenting their doings via social media. One journalist traced a soldier's presence in Ukraine through his photos online.

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In Charleston, A Day Of Faith And Recovery

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 13:09

Parishioners returned Sunday morning to the Emanuel AME Church for the first worship service since Wednesday's mass shooting.

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Emanuel AME Church In Charleston Opens Its Doors

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 11:46

After nine congregation members were killed this week, the historic black church held a Sunday service that honored and remembered the victims. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on the service.

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Report: ISIS Lays Mines Around Ancient Sites In Palmyra

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 10:44

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it isn't clear whether the move is meant to secure the ancient treasures from government forces or to destroy them.

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'Speed,' Galápagos Tortoise Who Came To San Diego In 1933, Dies At 150

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 09:04

The giant reptile was taken from Isabela Island in Ecuador's Galápagos archipelago as part of an early effort to sustain the species, which is native only to the remote Pacific island chain.

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Israel Bets On Recycled Water To Meet Its Growing Thirst

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 05:43

Treated sewage water accounts for half the water used by Israel's farms. Entrepreneurs are experimenting with ways to cut costs and to ensure that the 86 percent of wastewater that's recycled is safe.

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Search For Escaped Convicts In New York Shifts After Possible Sighting

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 05:29

A person reported seeing two men near a railroad line in the southern part of the state near the border with Pennsylvania.

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For A British Man, Fighting ISIS Was Simply The Right Thing To Do

NPR News - Sun, 2015-06-21 04:24

Macer Gifford — an alias he uses to protect his family — left his job as a financial trader in London to fight ISIS in Syria. He lost much of what he had, but says he never regretted his decision.

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