Health Desk

White House budget director Shaun Donovan called for a "more aggressive strategy" to thwart improper government payments to doctors, hospitals and insurance companies in a previously undisclosed letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell earlier this year.

Government health care programs covering millions of Americans waste billions of tax dollars every year through these improper payments, Donovan said in the Feb. 26, 2015 letter.

Illinois lawmakers set aside their bitter partisan bickering Wednesday to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's partial veto of bill addressing the state's heroin crisis.

As a member of the Navajo tribe, Rochelle Jake has received free care through the Indian Health Service her entire life. The IHS clinics took care of her asthma, allergies and eczema — chronic problems, nothing urgent.

Recently, though, she felt sharp pains in her side. Her doctor recommended an MRI and other tests she couldn't get through IHS. To pay for them, he urged her to sign up for private insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

In 1938, an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger gave the first public talk on autism in history. Asperger was speaking to an audience of Nazis, and he feared that his patients — children who fell onto what we now call the autism spectrum — were in danger of being sent to Nazi extermination camps.

As Asperger spoke, he highlighted his "most promising" patients, a notion that would stick with the autistic spectrum for decades to come.

By the time DeAngelo Cortijo was 14, he had been in more than a dozen foster homes. He had run away and lived on the streets for months, and he had been diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders, attachment disorder, intermittent explosive disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder. He had been in and out of mental hospitals and heavily medicated.

Cortijo, who was born in San Francisco, was taken from his mother after she attempted suicide when he was 3.

A recent outbreak of Salmonella in frozen tuna might have sushi lovers wondering if it's safe to eat that raw fish.

The outbreak in question began in California in March. All told, it sickened 65 people in 11 states. There were 35 cases in California, with another 18 in Arizona and New Mexico. The rest of the cases were scattered across the country, including four in Minnesota.

A person who is very old or very ill decides to stop eating in order to die.

To members of the ancient and tiny faith of Jainism in India, that's a tradition called santhara or sallekhana (literally thinning out).

India's Supreme Court is considering whether to ban the practice as a form of suicide, which is punishable under law. The court is now reviewing the end-of-life ritual.

More adults across the country are strapping on helmets and hopping on bikes to get to work. That's good news for people's hearts and waistlines, but it also means more visits to the emergency room.

Hospital admissions because of bike injuries more than doubled between 1998 and 2013, doctors reported Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. And the rise was the biggest with bikers ages 45 and over.

In her third year of medical school, Karen Duong found herself on the other side of Texas. She had driven 12 hours north from where she grew up on the Gulf Coast to a panhandle town called Hereford.

"Hereford is known for being the beef capital of the world," she says, laughing. "There's definitely more cows than people out there."

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7 people have died from a Legionnaires' Disease outbreak in western Illinois, the state announced Tuesday. 

The cases all involve residents of the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy.  The Department of Veteran's Affairs says all had underlying medical conditions.   

About 25 to 30 percent of people prescribed statins dump them within a year. I flunked Lipitor after a few wretched months.

Statins are prescribed to lower cholesterol in people who show risk factors for cardiovascular disease or diabetes, or who already have them. Side effects can include muscle weakness, diabetes onset and, rarely, permanent muscle damage. These risks are higher in women, with age, and with certain heart and blood pressure drugs.

In less than 24 hours, Valerie Davidson has 50 people coming to her house for dinner.

She had planned to catch and cook enough salmon for the main course. But early in the morning, Alaska opened the Kuskokwim River to commercial fishing, which means subsistence fishermen like her can't fish on it.

So Davidson and I are in her bright orange 1983 Chevy pickup stalking the "free fish" container where state biologists deposit their test catches after conducting studies after each high tide.

The viruses that cause the common cold are always lurking. But consider this: Even if we touch a doorknob or keyboard that's covered in cold germs from an infected person, we don't always catch the cold.

"Sometimes when we're exposed to viruses, we end up not getting sick," says Aric Prather, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies how our behaviors can influence our health.

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Dr. David Burkons graduated from medical school and began practicing obstetrics and gynecology in 1973, the same year the Supreme Court issued its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade.

Burkons liked delivering babies. But he is also committed to serving all his patients, including those who choose abortions.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks, who died Sunday, once described himself as an "old Jewish atheist," but during the decades he spent studying the human brain, he sometimes found himself recording experiences that he likened to a godly cosmic force.

Such was the case once when Sacks tried marijuana in the 1960s: He was looking at his hand, and it appeared to be retreating from him, yet getting larger and larger.

As a culture, we tend to ignore the advice to eat more fish. On average, Americans eat about 3.5 ounces of seafood per week. (Think a can of tuna or sardines.)

But evidence shows that consumption of 8 or more ounces of seafood per week can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and some studies have linked a regular fish habit over a lifetime to a lower risk of cognitive decline as well.

Participation in sports by girls and young women has soared in recent decades — by 560 percent among high school students since 1972, and 990 percent among college students, according to the Women's Sports Foundation. Highly committed young female athletes now run track and play soccer, basketball, water polo and other demanding sports that require strong bodies.

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and best-selling author who explored the human brain one patient at a time, has died of cancer. He was 82.

Sacks was best known for his books The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, which became a 1990 feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

NBC's former chief health editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, has shared her experience of being quarantined in her New Jersey home last year after reporting on Ebola.

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Yes, it's a cliche: "Yoga saved my life."

Google the phrase, and you'll get 12 million matches!

But when Walter Mugbe says it, he really means it. It's not an exaggeration. It's the truth.

With egg freezing being touted as a way for women to potentially expand future childbearing options, the viability of those eggs when they're defrosted is still relatively unknown. The latest bit of guardedly good news is a short report in JAMA indicating that frozen eggs do indeed lead to live births after IVF nearly half the time — but that the odds of a live birth are almost 20 percent higher for IVF using fresh eggs.

Most women 40 and older believe they should have mammograms every year to screen for breast cancer, the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics health poll finds.

Illinois authorities say eight residents of the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy have confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease.  

The Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the cases Thursday, adding that there have been no known deaths related to the outbreak.  

The agencies say test results are currently pending for other residents.  
 They say they're working closely with the Adams County Health Department to identify and mitigate possible sources of the Legionella bacteria.  

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Polio is almost gone from the face of the earth. The virus is actively circulating in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But now there's a worrisome new development in the polio end-game.

In Thursday's edition of the journal PLoS Pathogens, scientists report on a man in the United Kingdom who was immunized with oral polio vaccine as a child and whose stool samples continued to contain live polio virus for 28 years.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday ordered three tobacco companies to stop claiming their cigarettes are "additive-free" or "natural."

The agency said those claims could mislead smokers into thinking those cigarettes are safer than others.