Health Desk

UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurance company, says it's considering dropping out of the public exchanges that are an integral part of the Affordable Care Act, because it's losing money on them.

"We cannot sustain these losses," CEO Stephen Hemsley said in an investor call Thursday morning. "We can't really subsidize a marketplace that doesn't appear at the moment to be sustaining itself."

Cancer patients shopping on federal and state insurance marketplaces often find it difficult to determine whether their drugs are covered and how much they will pay for them, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society says in a report that also calls on regulators to restrict how much insurers can charge patients for medications.

You'd think that everyone on the planet would know how to use a flush toilet: Flip open the cover, assume the position and go.

But for many people, the flush toilet is a UFO — an unfamiliar flowing object.

Today is World Toilet Day, a chance to think about the billions of people in the world who don't have toilets. People like me.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus has spread quickly in the past two years through the Pacific Islands and South America. Although there have been no reported deaths from the illness, a spate of recent outbreaks is cause for concern.

The Middle East is bursting at the seams from the Syrian refugee crisis. When I was in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley a few months ago, tension was mounting between the locals and the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who've flooded into the area. Officials in one town were threatening to evict hundreds of Syrians living in a squalid camp in a muddy lot. Schools have been overwhelmed by Syrian students.

In the United States, a baby is born dependent on opiates every 30 minutes. In Tennessee, the rate is three times the national average.

The drug withdrawal in newborns is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, which can occur when women take opiates during their pregnancies.

After testing all the pieces of a tiny pill-size device, Albert Swiston sent it on a unique journey: through the guts of six live Yorkshire pigs.

Pig bodies are a lot like human bodies, and Swiston wanted to know whether the device would be able to monitor vital signs from inside a body. It did.

You're at the grocery store, shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. You've grabbed sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cans of pumpkin. If you're from the Midwest like I am, you're also gearing up for green bean casserole.

But when you approach a refrigerated section of the store piled high with turkeys, you're suddenly inundated with labels: natural, fresh, no hormones, young, premium and so on. Pretty soon, your head is spinning, so you grab the nearest one. As you head to the checkout line, you wonder if you've just made an ethical choice or been duped.

We live in a society where sex is often touted as the secret sauce that keeps a relationship tasty. So more sex must be better for you and your romantic partner, right?

Well, for established couples, having sex once a week hits the sweet spot for happiness and well-being, a study finds. This is either great news or tragic, depending on how you're feeling about your sex life.

It turns out that psychologists are working hard to figure out whether more sex makes us happier.

Blake Atkins gets a lot of texts from his mother when he's at school. But unlike most teenagers, this 16-year-old doesn't seem to mind.

That's because four years ago, Atkins was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. And now, his mother, Lori, has a way to find out and let him know when his blood sugar levels are out of the normal range.

"I do like that my mom can look at my numbers," says Blake, from San Carlos, Calif. "It keeps me sane. It helps keep her sane."

Built it and they didn't come.

That could be the motto for China's infamous "ghost cities" — vast housing complexes that were frantically erected over the past decade but remain largely uninhabited.

For years, the real estate market in China has been booming. Chinese laws allow city governments to cheaply grab nearby rural areas for development, and that's fueled the frenzy to build, build, build. Over the past 20 years, the country's urban areas have quintupled.

The Department of Justice announced it is bringing civil and criminal charges against some makers and marketers of dietary supplements. According to a statement, the DOJ alleges that the companies sold supplements that either contained unlisted ingredients or make health claims that are inadequately supported by scientific evidence.

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What if something you wore could improve your health?

That was the idea behind UNICEF's Wearables for Good Challenge, which called out to the world of "makers, engineers, do-gooders, executives, computer scientists, inventors, innovators."

The contest drew 250 submissions from 46 countries across 6 continents. The entrants didn't have to actually make the device – sketches would be accepted. Although some wearables were indeed three-dimensional.

The terrorist attack in Paris has many victims — and some of them may be Syrian refugees.

That's the concern in the international aid community. Aid groups have been struggling to get the public to donate to help the refugees. This year's heart-breaking photos of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean — and sometimes dying en route — seem to have changed minds and hearts.

When you search for #ParisAttacks, you get nearly 2.2 million results on Google.

When you search for #KenyaAttacks, you get about 300.

The Parisian response is a reaction to the terrorist attacks last Friday, which took 129 lives and injured far more. People around the world have expressed solidarity. Facebook users are coloring their profile photos with the red-white-and-blue French flag, and the hashtags #PrayforParis, #WeAreAllParisians and #ParisAttacks are trending on Twitter.

To get the most accurate measurement of the body's temperature, a rectal thermometer works best, a study finds. Less invasive methods to measure body heat on the outside of the skin such as on the forehead or under the arms just aren't as precise.

If you peek into classrooms around the world, a bunch of bespectacled kids peek back at you. In some countries such as China, as much as 80 percent of children are nearsighted. As those kids grow up, their eyesight gets worse, requiring stronger and thicker eyeglasses. But a diluted daily dose of an ancient drug might slow that process.

One of the most intense debates in men's health has flared again: How often should men get screened for prostate cancer?

This debate has simmered since 2012, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force shocked many patients and doctors by recommending against routine prostate cancer screening.

Now There's A Health Plan That Zeros In On Diabetes Care

Nov 17, 2015

Talk about targeted. Consumers scrolling through the health plan options on the insurance marketplaces in a few states this fall may come upon plans whose name — Leap Diabetes Plans — leaves no doubt about who should apply.

If you have a daily coffee habit, here's something to buzz about: A new study finds those cups of joe may help boost longevity.

They gave it a shot. Actually, several hundred million shots. But despite lofty goals set by the World Health Organization to eradicate measles in four of its six regions by 2015, the disease continues to sicken — and kill — children around the world.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



For women who are pregnant and practice yoga, there's conflicting advice about safety. A new study tries to clarify that. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

Over the dissent of two justices, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an anti-abortion group's attempt to get more information about a $1 million federal contract awarded to Planned Parenthood for family planning and related health services.

The Department of Health and Human Services awarded the contract to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in 2011 to provide family planning services for a large portion of New Hampshire.

Patterns of gene expression in human and mouse brains suggest that cells known as glial cells may have helped us evolve brains that can acquire language and solve complex problems.

Scientists have been dissecting human brains for centuries. But nobody can explain precisely what allows people to use language, solve problems or tell jokes, says Ed Lein, an investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

If Stevie Wonder had been born three decades later, we might never have gotten "Superstition" and "Isn't She Lovely" — but the musician might never have gone blind, either. Born premature, Wonder developed retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease that afflicts more than half of babies born before 30 weeks of gestation.

Dr. William Benitz walks past the rows of clear plastic isolettes in the neonatal intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University.

There's little room to navigate — the space is jampacked with beeping machines and ventilators. The health team in the unit can care for as many as 70 fragile infants. One tiny, pink baby girl here today was born weighing 13 ounces.

Lots of studies have looked at the health benefits of prenatal yoga for the mother to be. There's even some evidence that yoga can be potentially helpful in reducing complications in high-risk pregnancies.

But does yoga have any impact on the fetus?