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POLITICO New York Health Care: De Blasio substance vs. message on Legionnaires'; breast cancer rates are up

Dear readers: POLITICO New York Pro subscribers receive this email at 5:30 a.m. each weekday. If you'd like to receive it at that time, along with a customized real-time news feed of New York health care policy news throughout the day, please contact us at and we'll set you up for trial access.

written by Dan Goldberg

STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE? — Mayor Bill de Blasio's almost theatrical frustration with the media's coverage of his administration's handling of Legionnaires' disease has obscured one aspect of the episode: on the substance, city authorities appear to have gotten the response largely right. That is the assessment of several prominent infectious disease experts, which has come even as local politicians have wondered whether the department could have done more or acted quicker. U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who has been mentioned as a potential primary challenger to the mayor, said the city health department seemed "caught off guard," and Governor Andrew Cuomo said the city needed help restoring the public's confidence in government. The two men similarly clashed during last year's Ebola scare when the de Blasio administration had a similarly measured approach.

The difference, de Blasio said Tuesday, is that Ebola came with plenty of warning. The nature of Legionnaires' forced de Blasio into a reactive mode that made it seem like he was catching up to events rather than commanding them. De Blasio didn't mention Legionnaires' until July 29, during an unrelated press conference. By then, the health department already knew about 31 cases and had alerted physicians to be on the lookout for those with symptoms. But on substance the health department appears to have performed as well, if not better, than its counterparts. Please read our full story here:

-GETTING ABSURD —The de Blasio administration's message was further muddled by Cuomo. The lack of communication between the men reached peak absurdity on Monday when Cuomo and de Blasio held competing press conferences and offered different information on the outbreak even as they insisted they were in constant communication. Perhaps sensing they had gone too far, Cuomo, de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito put out a joint statement Tuesday night promising "unprecedented" cooperating drafting and instituting uniform regulations to combat Legionnaires’ disease.

MORE FLAK — A Rikers Island inmate has tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease and the cooling tower at the Brooklyn House of Detention tested positive for the bacteria, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association announced on Tuesday. In a statement sent to reporters, union president Norman Seabrook assailed the de Blasio administration for being “slow” in sharing information with the Department of Correction, which he said is putting officers and other inmates at risk. [PRO]

-HEARTBREAK HOTEL — On Tuesday morning, a representative for the Opera House Hotel, identified by an unnamed city health official as a primary suspect in the Legionnaires’ outbreak, criticized the city's health department as "reckless" and secretive. "Since we first learned about the potential that our clients may have contracted Legionnaires' disease at our hotel,we have cooperated fully with public health officials and taken proactive steps to cure any problems," Empire Hotel Group vice president Glen Isaacs said in a statement. "Rather than working with us, New York City Health Department officials have refused to provide us with any information. When we have heard from city officials, they have been low level people who called to tell us they don't have access to information. It has been a frustrating experience, to say the least."

...On Tuesday afternoon, Isaacs said the hotel and health department had met. "We now have better if incomplete information about the potential of Legionnaires’ disease at our hotel," read the statement. "[T]he officials made clear they could not confirm the wild speculation from anonymous sources in the media [Tuesday] that cited the hotel as the original source of the disease in the Bronx.”

-LASHING OUT AT THE MEDIA — On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to a senior center in the south Bronx to once again reassure residents the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease was waning, and that the city had handled the outbreak appropriately. De Blasio was visibly annoyed that politics has become more central to this story than the outbreak, and chastised the media for its lack of focus. "I don't know why there is such great concern for an owner of a hotel when we are talking about a disease outbreak that has affected so many people," he said. "I find it really interesting that the hotel owner's feelings are more important to [the media] than what are we doing to stop the disease. You guys really got to pay attention to what's important and stop following these smaller stories."

...The story of conflict between the governor and mayor isn't exclusive to this outbreak so it should not come as a surprise that it is the subject of media curiosity. The mayor, after the legislative session ended, accused the governor of being vindictive and playing politics with the lives of New Yorkers. But asked why he thought it was "invalid" to discuss the politics of Legionnaires', he brushed the question aside. "I didn't say it was invalid," de Blasio said in response to a reporter's question. "I just said I wasn't going to answer it right now. We're focused on this crisis. ... It's my choice which answer I want to give. My answer right now is we are focused on this outbreak. Not personalities, not politics."

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BREAST CANCER RATES POLITICO New York’s Josefa Velasquez: The very public battle with breast cancer being waged by celebrity chef Sandra Lee, Governor Andrew Cuomo's girlfriend, has brought renewed attention to the disease in New York. According to data compiled by the New York State Cancer Registry on the state Department of Health website, the incident rate of breast cancer among women has increased since 1976, from 9,431 annually cases to 15,019 cases in 2012, the most recent year for which information is available. Three factors have contributed to the increase, said Alvaro Carrascal, vice president of the eastern division of the American Cancer Society, which encompasses New York and New Jersey. Read more here:

NOW WE KNOW — When it comes to being sexy, the whole is greater than the parts, according to Queen's University professor Nikolaus Troje. This piece of research can be used to formulate advice for people who are working on improving their appearance. "What works for one person may not work for another one,” he said. “If in doubt, just be yourself."

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MORE LICH IRONY POLITICO New York’s Sally Goldenberg: The developer looking to build a controversial condo tower on the site of the former Long Island College Hospital has hired two firms with close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio—a consulting group that helped run his 2013 campaign and a lobbying company that has worked closely with him since he took office. Fortis Property Group, the builder behind the plan, tapped Hilltop Public Solutions to handle community outreach and Capalino + Company for lobbying as it tries to persuade residents in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn to support a land rezoning for the site.

BIEBER BRIBED — A Long Island doctor took thousands of dollars in bribes — plus tickets to Mets and Knicks games and to Katy Perry and Justin Bieber concerts — from a New Jersey laboratory in exchange for sending it blood work, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman's office said Tuesday. Bret Ostrager, 50, is just the latest doctor indicted in the crackdown on what Fishman's office has called a sweeping kickbacks scheme, with dozens of doctors taking bribes from Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services to send it lab work. Already, 38 people — including BLS owner David Nicoll, some of his employees and 26 doctors — have pleaded guilty.

STATE DISCRIMINATION? — New York State Department of Health's Medicaid rules exclude voice therapy, drugs to promote hair growth or loss, and breast augmentation, which transgender advocates say are medically necessary, according to

GRANT LAND — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding community health centers in New York more than $9.7 million in Affordable Care Act funding. The awards are part of $169 million the department provided to 46 states.

MAKING ROUNDS — Dr. Andrew Chi has been named the new chief of neuro-oncology at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, and co-director of the NYU Langone Brain Tumor Center. He previously worked at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana-Faber/Harvard Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School, according to a press release from Langone. His research focuses on the identification of molecular genetic alterations that underlie the development, progression, and treatment resistance of brain tumors, the release stated.

PHARMA REPORT: The New York Times reports:GlaxoSmithKline temporarily shut down a major pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in North Carolina on Tuesday after the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease was discovered in a cooling tower.”


-UNINSURED RATE DROPS AGAIN — The nation’s uninsured rate dropped to 9.2 percent during the first three months of this year, according to POLITICO. [PRO]

-SOLD — Bloomberg News reports: “General Electric Co. agreed to sell its health-care finance unit to Capital One Financial Corp. for about $9 billion as the company accelerates the disposal of its lending operations.”
-KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS — The Food and Drug Administration warned the drugmaker Duchesnay that paid spokeswoman Kim Kardashian’s Instagram and Twitter posts about the company’s morning sickness drug violate federal law, according to POLITICO. Read the letter:

-SCHOOL TIES — New Jersey Advanced Media reports: “A teenage girl in Maple Shade on Tuesday lost another legal battle in her quest to use medical marijuana in school to help control her seizure disorder as an administrative law judge ruled it would violate a state law designed to ban drug use in school zones.”

WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING? Get a no-risk, two-week free trial to Capital Pro by emailing us at

TODAY'S TIP — Comes from NYU Langone’s Dr. David Rapoport: “Proper sleep can help control appetite, metabolism, memory and mood.” //


-INCONCLUSIVE — POLITICO reports: “The evidence generated for high-risk medical devices approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2011 varied in both the number and quality of clinical trials, a new JAMA analysis found. Most of these devices were evaluated through only a few studies which often focused on surrogate markers of disease, not hard treatment outcomes, and in small groups of patients that were studied relatively briefly, the authors said. The pivotal clinical studies on effectiveness generally enrolled less than 300 patients and were designed without treatment blinding or comparators, they added. ‘Our findings … confirm that premarket studies provide limited data to address important clinical questions that often arise after approval, including those related to long-term device performance, new indications or iterations and safety and effectiveness in real-world populations.’ New steps may need to be taken to generate more objective evidence, including expanding government agencies’ role in supporting post-market research, the authors conclude.”

MISSED A ROUNDUP? Get caught up here: 8/11, 8/10, 8/7, 8/6, 8/5

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