Tears of relief with breakthrough eczema drug now affordable

Australians suffering from a severe form of eczema will now have access to a life changing medicine through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Page MP Kevin Hogan said it would help support to patients and their families.

The medicine Dupixent (dupilumab) will be available to Australians over 12 years of age living with severe atopic dermatitis, also referred to as eczema, who are not adequately controlled on topical therapy.

Eczema Support Australia managing director, Melanie Funk, said it was “the best news ever”.

“There will be tears of relief that this breakthrough medicine is now available for Australians with severe eczema, regardless of their ability to pay,” she said.

“We offer our heartfelt thanks to the Federal Government for listening to many stories of the agony of life with eczema, and for subsidising a therapy described as ‘life-changing’ by those who have received early and compassionate access.

“Australians with severe eczema and their families suffer a significant financial burden due to the ongoing cost of treating eczema, as well as lost employment due to the condition, so financial distress is an area of need which this subsidy will help address.

“We’re committed to improving the practical support available for the eczema community and having more treatment options that are subsidised is a critical part of that.”

Dupixent is the first biologic therapy for severe eczema.

It is injected once a fortnight for the rest of a person’s life.

The subsidy reduces the annual cost of the medicine from $22,800 to just $41.30 or $6.60 for concession card holders per prescription.

Mr Hogan said the government would invest more than $270 million in this new PBS medicine listing with more than 3600 people expected to benefit each year.

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COVID-19 Relief Bill Provides Billions to Bail Out Abortion Industry

As the Senate prepares to debate the COVID-19 Relief bill, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) observed the bill provides $400 billion that contains no protections for ensuring it will not be used to fund elective abortion.

Daines tweeted a video of his review of some of the features of the measure, which passed the House Friday, referring to it as the “liberal wish list” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY):

“Here’s one that will get your blood pressure up,” said Daines, who heads the Senate Pro-Life Caucus. “$400 billion that has no protections to ensure we don’t have taxpayer dollars spent for abortions.”

He explained Democrats removed the language of the Hyde Amendment that has prohibited taxpayer funding of abortions in appropriation bills.

“$400 billion that could be used to fund abortions paid for by United States taxpayers,” the senator emphasized.

In a floor speech in the House prior to the vote on the bill, co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), also called the exclusion of the Hyde Amendment “a radical departure from all previous COVID-19 relief laws,” and one that “mandates taxpayer funding of abortion-on-demand.”

As Catholic News Agency observed, GOP Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Virginia Foxx (NC), and Jackie Walorski (IN) attempted to insert an amendment with the Hyde Amendment language into the measure – one that was cosponsored by 206 House members.

The House Rules Committee, however, refused to allow a vote on that amendment.

Smith pointed out that Joe Biden once agreed that Americans should not be forced to pay for abortions:

Mr. Biden once wrote to constituents explaining his support for laws against funding for abortion by saying it would “protect both the woman and her unborn child… I have consistently—on no fewer than 50 occasions—voted against federal funding of abortion” he said” … those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.”

I agree.

In an op-ed at the Washington Times, Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, also emphasized only nine percent of the bill’s funding is actually slated to address the public health issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, almost half of the funding in the measure will be held back from distribution until 2022, at the earliest, a time when the pandemic could largely have already subsided.

“A serious relief bill has devolved into a liberal wish list that, of course, funds the abortion industry,” McClusky asserted, explaining how taxpayers would foot the bill for the abortions of others:

Several healthcare-related grants and subsidies in the legislation allow taxpayer dollars to subsidize and directly pay for abortions and healthcare plans covering abortion. These include, but are not limited to, rural healthcare grants, educational grants, funding for the Child Care Stabilization Fund, money allocated to COBRA healthcare plans, testing grants, and massive bailouts for failing state governments.

McClusky noted that the “particularly problematic” portion of the bill lies in the Democrat-state bailouts, where $350 billion places no restrictions on states and localities from using taxpayer funds to pay for elective abortions.

“Under the current guidelines, liberal states like New York and California, which are likely going to receive the lion’s share of the bailout, can funnel millions to abortion giants like Planned Parenthood if they choose,” he observed.

Both the Hyde Amendment and the Helms Amendment, which has barred foreign policy expenses from financing abortion, are ignored in the COVID relief bill, McClusky said.

“Taxpayer dollars allocated in the latest relief bill should be used to help American business owners struggling to keep their dreams alive,” he asserted. “The relief bill shouldn’t be used to exploit the crisis and double-down on extreme abortion policies that hurt the poor, marginalize women, and end innocent human life.”

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Sen. McConnell: Democrats are jamming us with COVID-19 relief

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 06: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke to reporters on October 06, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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UPDATED 6:15 PM PT – Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is calling for fellow Republicans to block Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. On Tuesday, McConnell continued his attacks on Democrats for attempting to push the bill through Congress without Republican contribution.

He accused Democrats of taking advantage of the budget reconciliation process and trying to sidestep the Senate filibuster. McConnell also said they are trying to push proposals that are unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic.

“So, we’ll be fighting this in every way that we can. It is my hope that, in the end, Senate Republicans will unanimously oppose it just like House Republicans did,” McConnell stated. “I think it’s noteworthy to know we’re in the House. The only thing bipartisan about the proposal was the opposition to it.”

Senators are gearing up to vote on the package, which is expected to hit the Senate floor as early as this week.

MORE NEWS: Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Make Puerto Rico A State

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Biden scores legislative win as House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan

President Joe Biden scored his first legislative win as the House of Representatives passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package early Saturday, though Democrats face challenges to their hopes of using the bill to raise the minimum wage.

Democrats who control the chamber passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats planned a legislative maneuver to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.

The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments. The bill’s big-ticket items include $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through Aug. 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.

In brief remarks on Saturday from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Biden said he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to thank her for her support and urged the Senate to take up the bill quickly.

“I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste,” Biden said, without taking questions. “The people of this country have suffered far too much for far too long.”

Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

“The American people need to know that their government is there for them,” Pelosi said in a debate on the House floor.

Republicans, who have broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending, said much of the current package was not necessary, highlighting elements such as a subway near Pelosi’s San Francisco district. Only 9% of the total would go directly toward fighting the virus, they said.

“It just throws out money without accountability,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

Democrats pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing 68% of Americans supported the package, including 47% of Republicans, with just 37% of Republicans opposing it.

“This critical legislation has support from Americans across the country and the political spectrum, and yet Republicans in Congress are trying to stand in the way,” said Jamie Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber. Progressives and moderates in the party who are often at odds will face tougher battles ahead on immigration and climate change initiatives that Biden wants to push.

The president has focused his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest U.S. public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.

Democrats aim to get the bill to him to sign into law before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and some other types of aid are due to expire.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris may have to cast a tie-breaking vote in a chamber where Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats and their allies control the other 50.


Democrats will have to sort out how to handle a proposed minimum-wage increase, which may have to be stripped from the bill due to the complicated rules that govern the Senate.

The House-passed bill would raise the national hourly minimum wage for the first time since 2009, to $15 from $7.25. The increase is a top priority for progressive Democrats.

However, the Senate’s rules expert said on Thursday that the wage hike did not qualify for special treatment that allows the rest of the bill to be passed with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Pelosi predicted the relief bill will pass Congress with or without the increase, and said Democrats would not give up on the matter.

It is not clear whether the minimum-wage hike would have survived the Senate even if it were to be kept in the bill. At least two Senate Democrats oppose it, along with most Republicans.

Some senators are floating a smaller increase, to the range of $10 to $12 per hour, while Democrats are considering a penalty for large corporations that do not voluntarily pay a $15 wage, according to a Democratic aide.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill fizzled early on, shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020.

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Senate GOP rally against $15 minimum wage in final relief package

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, arrives at the US Capitol for the fifth day of the second impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump, on February 13, 2021, in Washington, DC (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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UPDATED 4:35 PM PT – Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Senate Republicans opposed a push from the left for a $15 federal minimum wage. During a press conference Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the wage increase is part of what he calls a “liberal wish list.” He also noted it is totally unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other senators said the move would make no sense to do everywhere in the country, especially considering the cost of living varies by state. They also warned such a dramatic change would be irresponsible and could put small businesses at the risk of going at a time when many are already struggling.

“In the middle of a pandemic where nearly 11 million Americans have already lost their jobs,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. “The last thing you do is increase the cost on businesses, which will according to the CBO, at least shutter 1.4 million jobs.”

While the House considers a relief package that includes a $15 federal minimum wage proposal, it is unclear if it will end up in the Senate’s version of the bill.

MORE NEWS: Millions Of Texans Still Without Clean Water

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Lucky break? Chinese astrologers say the ‘year of doom’ is ending and relief will come in the Year of the Ox

If your fragile hopes that 2021 would be better than 2020 have come crashing down so far this year, Chinese astrologers say there is reason for optimism for the coming Lunar New Year.

That’s because the sheer chaos of the previous Year of the Rat won’t happen again for another 60 years.

Astrologers have pointed out that the first Opium War, the American Revolution and a famine in India that killed as many as 10 million people all happened during the so-called “Year of the Gengzi,” which occurs once every 60 years and brings with it natural disasters, wars and general calamity.

“One month has passed in the year 2020 … and our country is plagued by epidemics; since ancient times, it has been said that there must be chaos in the Gengzi Year,” read a widely shared article last year from Bazi, a website about Chinese traditional culture.

Though many Chinese people dismiss such beliefs as superstition, it didn’t help that coronavirus cases spiked right at the beginning of Lunar New Year celebrations last January.

Last year, a combination of factors meant the Year of the Rat brought about an environment of “negativity … a lack of excitement and happiness,” said Jerry King, a Vancouver-based astrologist and Feng Shui master.

The Year of the Ox, which starts Friday, will bring release from the air of depression, King told the Star.

“(There will) be some negative aspects, however the positive will override the negatives … We will also see a reduction in coronavirus cases. Based on the past history of the Ox, most illnesses or pandemics end near the end of the Ox year,” King said.

Each zodiac is associated with one of the five elements in Chinese astrological thought: wood, fire, earth, metal and water, while the effects of each element also vary from year to year.

King said that while he sees the economy and real estate markets steadily improving this year, people should be prepared for some earth element-related catastrophes.

“Mudslides, flooding and earthquakes will occur more frequently than previous years,” he predicted.

Paul Ng, a philosopher and Feng Shui master based in Toronto, agreed that last year was likely the “worst year we will see in our lifetimes.”

But while the Year of the Ox will be a marked improvement, Ng warns that negative effects of the pandemic such as mental illness will linger.

“I spoke with a couple who nearly went bankrupt because of the COVID-19 lockdowns affecting their restaurant business … with everything that happened, if you became mentally sick, that is difficult to cure,” he said.

He pointed to the horrific murder spree in Nova Scotia last April, and incidents of erratically dangerous behaviour such as road rage and street attacks as examples of problems that arose from poor mental health.

Ng says people may start to feel better in May, when astrological signs point to most enjoying a relatively lucky month, but full recovery will require sustained effort.

“At home, try to make sure you have good lighting and it’s not too dark. Place flowers around the house, but be sure not to crowd your house. And consider replacing sharp corners in your home with round mouldings to improve mood,” he advised.



Sherman Tai, another astrologer and Feng Shui master, said people should continue to be vigilant about COVID-19 transmission.

“This will be a better year, but I don’t think COVID-19 will go away completely. We still have to keep our social distance from others and maintain good hygiene and healthy habits,” Tai said.

“Everyone has a lot of stress and a lot of worries, but if you work hard you can expect a breakthrough and better opportunities this year,” he said.

Joanna Chiu is a Vancouver-based reporter covering both Canada-China relations and current affairs on the West Coast for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu

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Biden says coronavirus relief should be limited to making less than $250,000

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the state of the U.S. economy and the need to pass coronavirus disease (COVID-19) aid legislation during a speech in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

February 10, 2021

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New reforms to personal insolvency system provide relief for small businesses

The simplest form of business organisation is the sole trader and Australia has nearly 700,000, as well as around 250,000 partnerships. These businesses carry the greatest financial exposure to their owners if profits and cashflow go into the red and the ultimate consequence of that is bankruptcy.

While corporate insolvency laws have seen both temporary and permanent reforms introduced in 2020 to deal with the pandemic, the only bankruptcy-related relief was a temporary increase between March and December of the debt amount required to make an application to bankrupt a debtor ($5000 to $20,000) and the time period that the debtor had to respond (21 days to six months). The only permanent reform, introduced on 1 January this year, was to fix the debt amount required for a bankruptcy court application to $10,000.

However, more reforms appear to be in the wind, with the Federal Government seemingly anxious about the pandemic causing a spike in personal insolvencies which could discourage small business entrepreneurialism, and consequently the broader economy.

A discussion paper recently released by the Attorney-General’s Department has floated reducing the minimum bankruptcy term from three years to one. This idea has been around for a while and was nearly legislated in 2017/18 as part of former Prime Minister’s Malcolm Turnbull’s enterprise incentivisation drive before he was ousted.

One-year bankruptcy would obviously enable sole traders and partners to get back on their feet again much sooner than otherwise. Restrictions on obtaining credit, holding assets in their personal name, eligibility for professional registrations and memberships, and even being able to manage a company, would all be eased more quickly.

I think it is likely that one-year bankruptcy will come to fruition in 2021, but it is unlikely to be without conditions, the foremost of which could be that income contribution assessments continue for the full three years (that is, individuals are liable to hand over to their bankruptcy estate half that part of their income exceeding statutory thresholds).

The challenges for introducing one-year bankruptcy are having to address the same concerns raised back in 2017/18, namely that shortening bankruptcy encourages abuse by rouge, reckless and repeat bankrupts.

While it might seem a little dubious that too many would actually extend credit of any significance to anyone who has been a bankrupt more than once (at least in quick succession), to a certain extent the Attorney-General’s discussion paper pre-empts that concern with new offence provisions and expansion of current offence provisions to target providers of dodgy (or “untrustworthy”) advice about creditor-defeating transactions.

Of course, bankruptcy is not the only option when a sole trader or partnership small business is faced with a terminal lack of cashflow to meet its debts.

A Personal Insolvency Agreement is a process within the Bankruptcy Act that gives a debtor the opportunity to put forward a proposal to compromise and pay their debts via instalments, via a Controlling Trustee, which is binding on all creditors.

A Debt Agreement is the name given to a simplified similar process, but with lower eligibility income, asset, and debt caps. Both PIA’s and DA’s allow an individual to carry on business activity while they are still bound by an agreement.

The Attorney-General’s Department has flagged making amendments to both agreements to make them more attractive or accessible, particularly for individuals with business-related debts.

So overall, the proposed reforms to the nation’s insolvency system are good news for small business as those which struggled during the pandemic would have the opportunity to get back on their feet – and back to healthy trading – much sooner than they can at the moment. And that is not only good for small-business owners but good for Australia’s economic health.

Brendan Nixon, Partner, SM Solvency Accountants

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Social isolation can trigger sugar and cigarette cravings, but socialising may offer relief, a study in rats has shown. — ScienceDaily

Social interaction may help reverse food and cigarette cravings triggered by being in social isolation, a UNSW study in rats has found.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, used an animal model of drug addiction to show that a return to social interaction gives the same result as living in a rich, stimulating environment in reducing cravings for both sugar and nicotine rewards.

“This was an animal study, but we can probably all relate to the mental health benefits of being able to go for a coffee with our friends and having a chat,” lead author Dr Kelly Clemens from UNSW Sydney’s School of Psychology said. “Those sorts of activities can divert our attention from being at home and eating and drinking — but they can also be rewarding in and of themselves, and we come away from those interactions feeling relaxed, happy and valued in a way that means our general demeanour and mental health has improved.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation was already increasing in Australia, with almost a quarter of Australians reporting feelings of loneliness or social isolation. The researcher said social isolation could have a significant impact on both mental and physical health. It can lead to anxiety, depression, compulsive overeating, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. “Social isolation in particular can both lead to increased drug taking, but can also make it harder for those wanting to cut down or quit,” Dr Clemens said.

The UNSW Scientia Fellow is interested in why people relapse into drug use — in this case, nicotine — when they are socially isolated. “We know that if you’re a regular smoker and you’re trying to give up and then you see somebody else smoking on tv, smell cigarette smoke, or you see a packet of cigarettes, people experience very strong cravings,” she said. “So we wanted to know if isolation increases the likelihood of picking up on those cues, and of initiating cravings.”

Existing evidence tells us that both people and rodents who are anxious, or in a socially isolated environment, pay more attention to substance cues in their environment, she said. These cues are more likely to enter into their long-term memory. “And they can actually have a bigger influence over behaviour later on,” she said.

While many studies have focused on the effect of isolation on adolescents, Dr Clemens concentrated on adult rats in this research. The researcher examined how cues linked to nicotine intake influenced cravings in adult rats in social isolation, and if the cravings could be reversed by returning the animals to group housing. They measured cravings by recording the amount of times the rat pressed a lever to turn on the cue that had been linked to nicotine. The team found that after a brief period of abstinence, the socially isolated rats were much more likely to relapse to nicotine seeking. But their cravings were reversed once they returned to group housing, highlighting the importance of social interaction in the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

“When we put the rats back with their cage mates, they weren’t interested in the cue for the nicotine anymore, and they showed little evidence of relapse,” Dr Clemens said. “The key finding of this particular study is the reversal of susceptibility to relapse with that return to group housing.”

Dr Clemens said she was surprised that the benefit of returning to a social environment was so rapid. “The impact of social isolation took much longer to manifest, suggesting that social interaction may have a lasting protective effect against the development and relapse of addiction,” she said.

The Scientia Fellow said the research demonstrated the consequences of social isolation for drug use are not permanent. “Smokers who want to quit are often provided with a pharmacological response to their addiction. They can access many medications and replacement therapies that can have variable results,” she said. “Our findings suggest that something as simple as socialising with your friends could reduce those cravings and make you less likely to smoke.

This is consistent with other recent evidence that suggested people crave social interaction, and that isolation interacts with the brain’s reward circuitry. “But it’s important to note that this was research done in animals, and how exactly it translates to human behaviour needs to be the subject of further research.”

While the study focused on nicotine, Dr Clemens found a similar result from sugar which was used as a control measure in the study. “This tells us that our results probably extend to other high fat, high sugar food and drinks. It is possible that if we did a similar study with alcohol, and other drugs of abuse, we might find a similar pattern. But we would have to test that specifically.”

Dr Clemens said a follow up study could investigate if social isolation is leading to long term or transient changes in the brain that underlie the behavioural changes that she observed.

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Relief tinged with scepticism – Asia is hungry for reassurance from Joe Biden | Asia

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