Friday, October 21, 2016

At UVM Roundtable, Biden Calls for Renewed Focus on Cancer Research

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 2:21 PM

Vice President Joe Biden speaks Friday morning at the University of Vermont. - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Vice President Joe Biden speaks Friday morning at the University of Vermont.
Updated at 4:27 p.m.

Nine months after President Barack Obama asked him to lead a national effort to expedite cancer research, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Burlington Friday to outline the recommendations of his “Cancer Moonshot” initiative.

During a morning roundtable at the University of Vermont, Biden said that researchers had in recent years reached “a real inflection point” in the fight against the disease. But he argued that the medical community continued to face structural deficiencies that hobble communication and collaboration.

Vice President Joe Biden Friday morning in downtown Burlington - POOL: GLENN RUSSELL/BURLINGTON FREE PRESS
  • Pool: Glenn Russell/Burlington Free Press
  • Vice President Joe Biden Friday morning in downtown Burlington
“We are so far behind the curve on some of the simple things that can make a gigantic difference,” the vice president said. “This is a worldwide problem, and we need an organizational structure that will take us to a different place.”

Specifically, Biden said, those fighting cancer struggle to access information about their malady, find clinical trials or even share their medical records with far-flung hospitals. Moreover, he argued, the pharmaceutical industry charges too much for life-saving drugs.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Burlington Labs to Pay $6.75 Million in Medicaid Settlement

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 3:50 PM

Michael Casarico - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Michael Casarico
The largest Medicaid fraud case in state history is over.

Burlington Labs will pay the Vermont Medicaid program $6.75 million in a settlement, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office announced Monday. The seven-year repayment plan includes fines as well as roughly $5 million to cover improperly billed charges. 

The settlement was expected, and it clears the path for an investor group headed by Jim Crook of Shelburne to purchase the locally grown drug-screening company on Burlington’s Main Street. Crook’s group had warned that the company could go under if it didn’t get a bailout — quickly.

State regulators green-lighted the purchase in August, pending the settlement agreement with the AG. 

The deal allows Burlington Labs cofounders Michael Casarico and his wife, Jodie, to retain an interest in a new version of the business going forward, but with additional scrutiny and compliance measures.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Vermont Lawmaker Looks to Expand Medical Marijuana Access

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 at 8:01 PM

Sen. Dick Sears - FILE
  • File
  • Sen. Dick Sears
A legislative panel charged with weighing legalizing marijuana in Vermont will focus first on whether the state’s medical marijuana program is reaching all the people it should.

“People in my area are having difficulty getting cannabis,” Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chair of the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee, said Monday at the first of its six meetings focused on marijuana. “I’m looking to expand the availability of medical marijuana.”

The committee was tasked with continuing to research legalization of marijuana after lawmakers came to a stalemate on the issue earlier this year.

But Sears said the committee’s September 23 meeting will focus on how the state can expand access to medical marijuana. State law limits the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to four. Patients are required to register with the state and provide a doctor’s verification that they have been diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Burlington to Install More Needle-Disposal Boxes

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 5:04 PM

A needle disposal box in the men’s room at Burlington City Hall - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • A needle disposal box in the men’s room at Burlington City Hall

Officials will soon expand a needle-disposal pilot program that began at Burlington City Hall last winter, officials said.

The Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department will outfit several bathrooms at “high public use and waterfront locations” around the city by September 1, said Deryk Roach, the superintendent of parks maintenance and operations. Officials hope the Stericycle boxes will reduce the number of used needles found in parks and on city sidewalks.

“Even one receptacle can lower the risk for maintenance workers, employees and members of the public using those facilities,” Roach told Seven Days.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Groups Sue Vermont State Agencies Over Assisted Suicide Law

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Senators reaffirm the state’s end-of-life law in 2015. - TERRI HALLENBECK/FILE
  • Senators reaffirm the state’s end-of-life law in 2015.
Updated at 10 a.m. Friday with comments from Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Compassion & Choices Vermont State Director Linda Waite-Simpson.

A local and a national organization have combined forces to sue the state over its 3-year-old end-of-life law that allows qualifying terminally ill patients to seek a prescription to hasten their deaths.

The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Tennessee-based Christian Medical & Dental Associations filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Vermont. They argue on behalf of several Vermont medical professionals that being required to offer patients the option of assisted suicide violates their religious or ethical beliefs.

Vermont is one of four states to legalize assisted suicide, but the only one that requires medical professionals to advise patients of the option, said Steven Aden, a Washington, D.C., attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom and one of several lawyers representing the plaintiffs.*

“They share a reasonable fear of this being imposed on them,” Aden told Seven Days.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sanders to Put ‘Hold’ on Federal GMO Deal

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 5:01 PM

The 2014 signing of Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which goes into effect Friday. - PAUL HEINTZ/FILE
  • Paul Heintz/File
  • The 2014 signing of Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which goes into effect Friday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced Tuesday he will put a “hold” on a proposed Senate bill that would create a federal law governing the labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms.

The proposal stems from an agreement hammered out last week. It would preempt Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which takes effect Friday.

Sanders’ procedural maneuver prevents the bill from being considered unless it gets at least 60 votes, according to Sanders’ spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis. The bill has yet to be introduced and timing of any votes is unknown, he said.

Meanwhile, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Tuesday that he will also oppose the federal bill. Last week, Leahy had said he was considering the proposal.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Legislation Gives Women – and Men – Access to Free Birth Control

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 5:21 PM

Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) sponsored a bill on its way to becoming law that guarantees access to free birth control to women and men. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) sponsored a bill on its way to becoming law that guarantees access to free birth control to women and men.
Both women and men are guaranteed access to contraceptives without any cost-sharing requirements under a bill the legislature sent Wednesday to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.

The legislation codifies in Vermont law the guarantee in the federal Affordable Care Act that women will have access to free contraception — in case the federal law gets repealed.

It also expands the federal birth control guarantee by requiring insurance companies to offer vasectomies to men without requiring co-payments or other forms of cost-sharing. Vermont is the first state to mandate this benefit.

The bill also makes Vermont the second state to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of hormonal contraceptives in a single visit.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Grocers, Activists Tussle Over Tweak to GMO Labeling Law

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 4:33 PM

The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), proposed delaying when consumers could sue over the presence of non-labeled products on retail shelves. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), proposed delaying when consumers could sue over the presence of non-labeled products on retail shelves.
The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association has been shopping two changes to the law that mandates labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients to smooth the law’s implementation.

One change would prevent consumers from suing should they find non-labeled products on store shelves during the 18 months immediately after the law takes effect. This change would allow retailers time to clear their inventory of products that were legally distributed without labels prior to July 1, said Jim Harrison, president of the retail and grocers association.

The second change would give an exemption to the labeling of food prepared in stores — such as potato salad, sandwiches and baked goods, Harrison said. 

“It wasn’t our feeling that these materially change the law,” Harrison said.

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition has opposed any changes to the law. Andrea Stander of Rural Vermont said retailers have had plenty of time to work out how to deal with inventory and comply with the law.

“This is all part of a national effort to undermine the Vermont law,” Stander said. For example, national grocery and snack food organizations have sued the state, challenging the legality of the law. The lawsuit is pending.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included a provision in the budget bill that would delay the date when consumers could sue over the lack of GMO labels, but not for as long as Harrison wanted. The Senate proposed ending the protection a year after the law takes effect.

“It is a way to protect our small retailers,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia). Product turnover isn’t always speedy in small stores, she said, noting that “a lot of items like pasta have long shelf life.”

Kitchel added, “In no way would this alter the underlying labeling requirements.” The Senate budget bill doesn’t address the exemption for food made in stores.

The House version of the budget didn’t include the provision delaying consumer lawsuits, so the two chambers will have to negotiate whether it is included in the final budget bill.

Todd Daloz, an assistant attorney general, said his office would prefer that lawmakers make no changes to the law so close to the time of its implementation. Daloz noted that the office of the attorney general had established a rule that gives retailers six months to clear their inventories of non-labeled stock.

“Our main goal in the first six to twelve months is enabling compliance,” Daloz said.

He noted that delaying when consumers could sue over non-labeling would not affect enforcement by the attorney general’s office.

Daloz said he opposed granting an exemption to products made in stores. Those could contain the same genetically modified ingredients as items made by big manufacturers, he said.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell wrote a memo in late March advising how his office would enforce the law. “Our enforcement priorities will focus on willful violations of the labeling law,” he wrote. “Thus even after January 1, 2017, we do not expect to bring enforcement cases based solely on a company’s failure to remove improperly labeled products that were distributed before July 1, 2016.”

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

App Made in Vermont for Developing Countries May Soon Benefit American Kids

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Dr. Barry Finette evaluating a young patient in the Philippines. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF DR. BARRY FINETTE
  • File photo courtesy of Dr. Barry Finette
  • Dr. Barry Finette evaluating a young patient in the Philippines.
In 2014, physicians Barry Finette and Barry Heath, both professors of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, launched a new global health care company. THINKmd would address a health crisis that plagues much of the developing world: Each year, more than 6 million children under age 5 die from treatable respiratory ailments because they lack access to pediatric-trained medical professionals.

Their solution was to create a mobile medical platform that enables unskilled health care workers in the field to triage, assess and treat kids in respiratory distress. The product they developed, MEDSINC — short for Medical Evaluation and Diagnostic System for Infants, Newborns and Children — was first field-tested in Bangladesh in April 2015 with positive results.

Now, THINKmd, a Burlington-based Vermont benefit corporation — a type of for-profit business entity with a legally mandated social mission — has signed a memorandum of understanding with Winooski-based Physician’s Computer Company to bring MEDSINC to market here. The reason: Many regions of the United States, including rural areas of Vermont, suffer from a shortage of pediatricians, and MEDSINC could be useful in bridging those gaps.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Senate Panel Supports E-Cigarette Restrictions in Split Vote

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 5:06 PM

A Senate committee voted to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • A Senate committee voted to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes.
The Senate Health & Welfare Committee voted 3-2 Friday for a bill that would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in places where smoking is already prohibited, including workplaces, hotels and motor vehicles carrying children.

A similar bill already passed the House, but that version included a ban on placing e-cigarettes on counters in retail stores. The Senate committee deleted that provision.

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