Selena Simmons-Duffin | Connecticut Public Radio
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Selena Simmons-Duffin

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.

She has worked at NPR for ten years as a show editor and producer, with one stopover at WAMU in 2017 as part of a staff exchange. For four months, she reported local Washington, DC, health stories, including a secretive maternity ward closure and a gesundheit machine.

Before coming to All Things Considered in 2016, Simmons-Duffin spent six years on Morning Edition working shifts at all hours and directing the show. She also drove the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 for the "Borderland" series.

She won a Gracie Award in 2015 for creating a video called "Talking While Female," and a 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award for producing a series on why you should love your microbes.

Simmons-Duffin attended Stanford University, where she majored in English. She took time off from college to do HIV/AIDS-related work in East Africa. She started out in radio at Stanford's radio station, KZSU, and went on to study documentary radio at the Salt Institute, before coming to NPR as an intern in 2009.

She lives in Washington, DC, with her spouse and kids.

It's the question on everyone's minds: What will it take for us to come out of this period of extreme social distancing and return to some semblance of normal life?

It turns out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working on a plan to allow the U.S. to safely begin to scale back those policies. CDC Director Robert Redfield spoke with NPR on Thursday, saying that the plan relies on not only ramped-up testing but "very aggressive" contact tracing of those who do test positive for the coronavirus, and a major scale-up of personnel to do the necessary work.

Updated at 7:52 p.m. ET

Hospitals are trying to make their own disinfectant from in-house chemicals, running low on toilet paper and food, and trying to source face masks from nail salons.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In normal times, when you choose your health insurance plan — usually during a fall "open enrollment period" — you try to guess at what the next year and your health will be like. You look at your budget and compare monthly premium costs and deductibles.

To stop the spread of the coronavirus, health officials have a favorite refrain: After being in a city or region where there have been a lot of COVID-19 cases, spend 14 days in quarantine even if you feel perfectly fine — don't leave your house. Coming from New York? 14-day quarantine. Arriving in Hawaii?

Three major health insurance providers have now pledged to shield patients from high medical bills if they need treatment for COVID-19. Insurers Cigna and Humana announced Monday that they would waive consumer costs associated with COVID-19 treatment.

Most of the gargantuan sum of money in the coronavirus bill Congress just passed is dealing with the economic crisis, not the public health one.

"Most of the bill is on emergency relief to people and unemployment insurance," says Loren Adler, associate director of USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. "The health care provisions are, in some sense, secondary."

When Dr. Judy Salerno, who is in her 60s, got word that the New York State health department was looking for retired physicians to volunteer in the coronavirus crisis, she didn't hesitate.

"As I look to what's ahead for New York City, where I live, I'm thinking that if I can use my skills in some way that I will be helpful, I will step up," she says.

Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C. is in full-on preparation mode.

On a recent visit the staff had already marked out the parking lot — painting green rectangles to mark the places where tents are starting to be set up to screen arriving patients for COVID-19.

If you or someone in your household is sick with a fever and cough, you may be dealing with another symptom: the fear that you have coronavirus.

What are you supposed to do?

First of all, don't panic. Remember that it's still flu and cold season in the U.S., and seasonal allergies are starting up, too. Unless your symptoms are getting dramatically worse or you feel short of breath, you may not need to seek medical treatment (though it's OK to call your doctor and ask).

The coronavirus funding bill signed into law by the president Friday puts much more money toward treating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 than his administration requested from Congress last week.

During infectious disease outbreaks, public trust in the government and health agencies becomes critical. Officials need to convince millions of people that they are telling the whole truth, and that their guidance on what to do — and not do — should be followed.

How's that going as coronavirus has begun spreading in some parts of the U.S.?

At the heart of a story now playing out in schools, workplaces and courts across the U.S. is a disagreement over the legal meaning of the word "sex" — and whether discrimination against gay and transgender people for being gay or transgender is sex discrimination.

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

If you don't have little kids, or it's been a while, let me just break down for you why kids' coughs can be a truly miserable problem that can drive you to madness.

Imagine this: Your kid's coughing — it's almost always worse at night — then they start crying because they're tired and can't sleep with all the coughing. The coughing and crying means that not only do they not sleep, but you also don't sleep — no one in the house sleeps — and this can go on for weeks.

President Trump took full advantage of the large television audience for his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to make his case for reelection in November, touting the strong economy and delighting Republicans in the room with a series of made-for-TV moments.

The Trump administration wants to dramatically alter the way the federal government gives money to states for Medicaid.

On Thursday, Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced a new pathway for states to receive a capped amount of federal dollars for part of the program. The new demonstration program, called Healthy Adult Opportunity, would not be mandatory for states and would not affect all Medicaid beneficiaries, only adults under age 65 who are not disabled.

If the last few Democratic presidential debates are any guide, tonight's will likely delve into health care proposals. Do voters know what we're talking about when we talk about various plans and concepts, including "Medicare for All?" Or any of the other health policy terms that get thrown around?

Pretty much no.

Some people spend $200 a month on the golf course or on a fancy cable TV package, says David Westbrook, a hospital executive in Kansas City, Mo. His splurge? He pays Dr. John Dunlap $133 a month for what he considers exceptional primary care.

"I have the resources to spend a little extra money on my health care to my primary care physician relationship," Westbrook says. "Because I have that access — and am very proactive in managing my personal health — I think I'm going to be healthier."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK. Now to a bill the House of Representatives passed today to lower prescription drug costs. This measure is a priority of House Democrats. It is not a bipartisan bill. President Trump has said he will veto it.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET

Practically everyone is frustrated by high prescription drug prices. Voters have made clear they want Congress to do something about them.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that tries to deliver on that. It was a mostly party line vote — all Democrats voted to pass it, along with two Republicans.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Updated midnight ET, Nov. 30

Police said two people were killed in a stabbing near London Bridge on Friday afternoon that authorities are describing as a terrorist incident. Three others were also injured and remained in the hospital as of early Saturday.

A male suspect was shot and killed at the scene.

Hours after the incident, a similar stabbing attack took place in The Hague, Netherlands, where several were injured. It was not immediately clear if the two attacks were related.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Surprise medical billing was supposed to be the easy health care fix that Washington could get done this year. In May, President Trump urged Congress to come up with a solution.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Right now, there are dozens of patients — U.S. citizens — in New Zealand hospitals who are fighting the clock. They have only a few weeks to recover and get home to the tiny island of American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific.

Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET

President Trump has made price transparency a centerpiece of his health care agenda. Friday he announced two regulatory changes in a bid to provide more easy-to-read price information to patients.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Updated at 1:50 p.m. ET

In a blow to the Trump administration, a federal court in Manhattan has knocked down a rule that would make it easier for doctors and other health care workers to refuse care for religious reasons.

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