First Edition: May 17, 2022 – Kaiser Health News

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Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.
KHN: Patients, Doctors, Insurers Agree: Prior Approvals For Treatment Should Come Faster 
Andrew Bade, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nearly two decades ago, is accustomed to all the medical gear he needs to keep his blood sugar under control. His insulin pump contains a disposable insulin cartridge, and a plastic tubing system with an adhesive patch keeps in place the cannula that delivers insulin under his skin. He wears a continuous glucose monitor on his arm. Bade, 24, has used the same equipment for years, but every three months when he needs new supplies, his health insurance plan requires him to go through an approval process called prior authorization. (Andrews, 5/17)
KHN: As Red Cross Moves To Pricey Blood Treatment Method, Hospitals Call For More Choice 
Americans generally don’t spend much time thinking about the nation’s blood supply. That’s mainly because the collection and distribution system is safe and efficient. But there’s a new behind-the-scenes challenge, according to some hospital officials, who fear a change in how blood platelets are handled will sharply increase the cost — and, in some cases, the number of transfusions needed — to treat cancer patients, trauma victims, and those undergoing surgery. (Appleby, 5/17)
AP: US Allows More Baby Formula Imports To Fight Shortage 
Under fire from parents and politicians, President Joe Biden’s administration announced steps Monday to ease a nationwide shortage of baby formula, including reopening the largest domestic manufacturing plant and increasing imports from overseas. The Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the U.S. (Perrone and Miller, 5/17)
Reuters: Baby Formula Makers Ramp Up U.S. Supplies To Tackle Shortage 
In the meantime, other baby formula makers have stepped up production and shipped extra supplies to the United States. Reckitt Benckiser is boosting baby formula production by about 30% and making more frequent deliveries to U.S. stores, an executive told Reuters on Tuesday. The company, which makes its U.S. formula in three facilities in Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota, has granted plants "unlimited overtime" to put in extra shifts, Robert Cleveland, senior vice president, North America and Europe Nutrition at Reckitt, told Reuters in an interview. … [And] Nestle is flying baby formula supplies to the United States from the Netherlands and Switzerland, the company said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Tuesday. (Naidu, 5/17)
CBS News: Biden Signs Law Banning Infant Sleep Products Blamed For 200 Deaths 
Infant sleep products blamed in the deaths of more than 200 babies in the U.S. will soon be outlawed. President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law legislation that prohibits the manufacture and sale of crib bumpers or inclined sleepers blamed for more than 200 infant deaths, the White House announced. Consumer advocates applauded the development, but noted that manufacturers and retailers have 180 days to comply, leaving additional time for the products to inflict more heartache.  (Gibson, 5/16)
People: President Biden Signs Bill Prohibiting Sale Of Crib Bumpers 
The Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021 (H.R. 3182), signed into law on Monday, prohibits the manufacture and sale of crib bumpers or inclined sleepers for infants. … According to the legislation, crib bumpers are defined as "padded materials inserted around the inside of a crib and intended to prevent the crib occupant from becoming trapped in any part of the crib's openings; they do not include unpadded, mesh crib liners." (Slater, 5/16)
Bay Area News Group: With New Law, Is It Safe For Babies To Sleep In Car Seats?
It’s a well-known strategy for modern, frazzled parents with a tired, wailing baby: Strap her into a car seat and take her for a drive, letting the soft rocking motion of the car and the purr of the engine lull her to sleep for the rest of the night. But the Safe Sleep for Babies Act, a new federal law signed Monday by President Joe Biden, could spark parents’ questions about whether it’s considered dangerous to use this trick or to otherwise let their babies nap while driving them around to do errands or on road or plane trips. … According to [Dr. Rachel Moon, chair of the AAP Task Force on Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome (SIDS)] and other experts, it’s “fine” if babies fall asleep in car seats and strollers — but in a limited, supervised way and not as a substitution for a crib, bassinet, co-sleeper or play yard, which the AAP said are considered safe for sleep. (Ross, 5/16)
AP: Death Certificates Reveal That US Hit Grim COVID Milestone 
When the U.S. hit 1 million COVID-19 deaths on Monday, the news was driven by a government tally derived from death certificates. But that’s not the only tally. And you may be wondering, where do these numbers come from? A look behind the data. (Stobbe, 5/16)
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Surpasses One Million Covid-19 Deaths 
One hallmark of the pandemic: a high number of deaths within some nonwhite groups, relative to population. Public-health experts say Covid-19 exacerbated long-running issues, including inequalities in the U.S. health system that contribute to poorer care for some people. Other factors, including underlying health issues, crowded living conditions and jobs that require leaving the house for work, also put some populations at higher risk. (Kamp, Stamm and Bentley, 5/16)
The Hill: US Hits 1 Million Deaths From COVID-19 
The U.S. has had more deaths per capita than Western Europe or Canada, and while new deaths have fallen, the total death count is still rising. It is also expected that the United States, like other countries, has undercounted the true number of deaths from the coronavirus. Illustrating how high 1 million deaths originally seemed, then-President Trump said in March 2020 that holding the country to between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths would mean “we all, together, have done a very good job.” (Sullivan, 5/16)
Bloomberg: US Set To Extend Covid Public Health Emergency Past July
The US government will extend the Covid-19 public-health emergency past mid-July, continuing pandemic-era policies as the nearly 2 1/2-year outbreak drags on. The Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly renewed the public-health emergency since implementing it in January 2020. The declaration allows the US to grant emergency authorizations of drugs, vaccines and other medical countermeasures, as well as administer those products to millions of people at no out-of-pocket cost. It’s also enabled millions of Americans to get health coverage through Medicaid, among other benefits. (Griffin, 5/16)
NBC News: Third Round Of Free Covid-19 Tests Now Available
The federal government started taking orders Monday for a third round of Covid-19 test kits to be mailed to any U.S. household. A Department of Health and Human Services website said Monday that all U.S. households were eligible to order a third round of tests. Each order now contains eight rapid antigen tests, the U.S. Postal Service website says. Previously, four tests were sent out at a time. A spokesperson for the White House said Monday night that more details were expected to be released Tuesday. (Helsel, 5/16)
Bloomberg: Covid Or Flu? FDA Approves At-Home Test For Multiple Viruses
The test is made by Labcorp, a laboratory testing company based in North Carolina, and is the first non-prescription test authorized to look for multiple respiratory viruses in one sample. Covid symptoms can be similar to those from other respiratory illnesses like the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, so the new test is meant to help people more easily determine which virus they have. (Muller, 5/16)
The Washington Post: Pfizer Vaccine Booster For Kids 5 To 11 Will Soon Be Approved 
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 as soon as Tuesday, making an extra dose available to protect school-age children as a descendant of the omicron variant is becoming dominant and cases tick upward. Outside experts who counsel the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, are scheduled to meet Thursday and are expected to recommend boosters for that age group. CDC director Rochelle Walensky is expected to concur shortly afterward. (McGinley and Johnson, 5/16)
Stat: What Happens When The Government Stops Buying Covid-19 Vaccines?
The federal government has distributed Covid-19 vaccines and treatments for free so far, but most likely, the handouts won’t last forever. At some point, Covid-19 vaccines and treatments will be bought and sold just like other drugs and medical products. But big questions loom about how and when the transition will happen, about how bumpy it will be. (Cohrs, 5/17)
The New York Times: N.Y.C. Urges People To Wear Masks Indoors But Stops Short Of Requiring It. 
Citing high community transmission and rising hospitalizations from a fifth wave of coronavirus cases, New York City health officials on Monday strongly recommended that all individuals wear medical-grade masks in offices, grocery stores and other public indoor settings citywide. The new recommendations, issued in a health advisory by the city health commissioner, came as the city approached the orange, or “high” alert level for Covid-19, a benchmark it expects to hit in the coming days. The new advisory also called on those who are at increased risk for severe illness, including unvaccinated children under 5 and people over 65, to avoid nonessential indoor gatherings and crowded settings. (Otterman, 5/17)
The New York Times: How Often Can You Be Infected With The Coronavirus? 
A virus that shows no signs of disappearing, variants that are adept at dodging the body’s defenses, and waves of infections two, maybe three times a year — this may be the future of Covid-19, some scientists now fear. The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa. (Mandavilli, 5/16)
The Washington Post: How Fast Omicron’s BA.2 Variant Is Spreading Around The World
In a pattern the world has seen twice over the past year, a new version of the coronavirus is sweeping across the globe. Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant is already by far the world’s dominant form of the coronavirus, as recorded in the GISAID international repository of coronavirus genetic sequences analyzed by The Washington Post. (Keating, Dong and Shin, 5/16)
The Boston Globe: ‘COVID-19 Is Back In Rhode Island,’ Central Falls Health Strategist Warns
“COVID-19 is back in Rhode Island.” No one wants to hear that message, Dr. Michael Fine acknowledged on Monday. But the former state Health Department director, who is now chief health strategist for Central Falls, said it’s crucial that people hear it because this densely populated 1.2-square-mile city has long been the state’s “canary in the coal mine,” warning of impending surges in the virus. And Central Falls is now seeing the number of cases rise, reflecting a wider trend, he said. (Fitzpatrick, 5/16)
Houston Chronicle: Dr. Peter Hotez Warns Of Nation’s Hidden COVID Wave That’s ‘Almost Like Omicron’
“This is a full-on wave almost like omicron,” Dr. Peter Hotez tweeted over the weekend, referring to the variant that sickened more than 800,000 people in a single day at its peak. The Houston vaccine expert issued a flurry of tweets that touched on the “unbelievably transmissible” omicron subvariants known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, which are hitting the northeastern states the hardest. He also drew attention to the rising number of hospitalizations, which increased by about 15 percent last week compared to the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Gill, 5/16)
Stat: FDA Rejects Antidepressant Seen As Possible Covid-19 Treatment
The Food and Drug Administration declined Monday to authorize a 30-year-old generic antidepressant as a treatment for Covid-19, dealing a major blow to a small group of doctors who have organized around the pill for months, arguing that it could provide a cheap and accessible way to prevent hospitalizations and death both in the U.S. and around the world. In an unusual two-page summary — the FDA does not generally disclose the reasoning behind rejections — regulators said that the doctors failed to provide adequate evidence of effectiveness of the drug, called fluvoxamine. (Mast, 5/16)
Modern Healthcare: COVID-19 Relief Stabilized Hospital Finances In 2020, Study Finds
Federal relief buoyed hospital finances during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic even though hospital operations took a hit, according to a study published in JAMA Health Forum Friday. The pandemic created unforeseen challenges for the healthcare system, including hospitals canceling elective procedures and patients postponing care. At the same time, costs rose. While the average operating margin suffered in 2020, the average profit margin was similar to previous years, Johns Hopkins University researchers found. (Berryman, 5/16)
AP: New US Hospitals Face Fiscal Crisis Over COVID Relief Money
A whole town celebrated in 2020 when, early in the coronavirus pandemic, Thomasville Regional Medical Center opened, offering state-of-the-art medicine that was previously unavailable in a poor, isolated part of Alabama. The timing for the ribbon-cutting seemed perfect: New treatment options would be available in an underserved area just as a global health crisis was unfolding. In the end, that same timing may be the reason for the hospital’s undoing. (Reeves, 5/17)
Modern Healthcare: Rates Of Unnecessary Procedures Persisted Through Pandemic, Study Shows
Despite the risks posed by COVID-19, hospitals continued to perform eight common, low-value procedures during the first year of the pandemic at a rate similar to 2019, according to a Lown Institute analysis published Tuesday. Between March and December 2020, hospitals performed more than 100,000 procedures on older patients that have been deemed overused, according to an analysis of Medicare claims data from 2018 through 2020. These services, which are thought to offer little to no clinical benefit for patients and present additional risks, include hysterectomies for benign disease, coronary stents for stable heart disease and spinal fusions for lower-back pain. (Devereaux, 5/17)
AP: Starbucks Will Cover Travel For Workers Seeking Abortions 
Starbucks said Monday it will pay the travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion and gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren’t available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee giant said it will also make the travel benefit available to the dependents of employees who are enrolled in Starbucks’ health care plan. Starbucks has 240,000 U.S. employees but the company didn’t say what percentage of them are enrolled in the its health care plan. (Chapman and Durbin, 5/16)
NBC News: Abortion Fight Thrusts State Attorney General Races Into The Forefront
The Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision that would end legal abortion in nearly two dozen states and hand more power to state attorneys general — a shift that has thrust those down-ballot contests into the limelight. (Edelman, 5/16)
The Washington Post: States Pursue Extreme Restrictions In Crafting Post-Roe Abortion Law
What had been a slow, deliberate erosion of abortion rights over the 50 years since the court’s ruling in Roe now seemed to be a flash flood of increasingly severe restrictions and proposals cropping up at the state level, abortion rights advocates say, as antiabortion Republicans envision a post-Roe world. “I think these state lawmakers are feeling emboldened based on what they think is coming down the pike from the Supreme Court,” said Rachel Fey, who works on policy programs for Power to Decide, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent unplanned pregnancies and supports abortion rights. (Wang and Kitchener, 5/16)
Politico: What Abortion Rights Advocates Are Planning If Roe Falls
The reproductive rights community is exploring creative new legal avenues to fight state abortion bans in anticipation of a post-Roe v. Wade world. But it’s also confronting a difficult reality: Lawsuits alone will not provide a fix. POLITICO’s publication of a draft Supreme Court opinion that overturns the landmark decision protecting access to abortion has forced attorneys and abortion activists to prepare for a legal Wild West. To stop half the country from becoming an abortion access desert in the coming months, they’re exploring a range of new tactics, all while managing expectations. (Ollstein and Barron-Lopez, 5/16)
NBC News: Alito Says Overturning Roe Gives Women A Voice On Abortion. In The South, It's Not That Simple
In his leaked draft Supreme Court opinion, Justice Samuel Alito argues that overturning Roe v. Wade would allow “women on both sides of the abortion issue to seek to affect the legislative process.” … But advocates for voting access and civil rights say that Alito’s depiction does not account for the parts of the country, particularly in the South, where laws make it harder for the poor and voters of color to cast their ballots, and where racially polarized voting can make it more difficult for abortion rights candidates to gain ground. (Harris, 5/16)
NPR: Buffalo Suspect Bought A Rifle Months After Cops Ordered A Psych Evaluation
Robert Donald, 75, the owner of Vintage Firearms in Endicott, N.Y., told NPR that the firearm was purchased in 2022. And he confirmed that he had run a background check on Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old suspect, but that the report showed nothing. The purchase took place months after New York state police briefly took Gendron into custody after he made a threat about a shooting, as authorities have described. Last June, state police investigated Gendron and ordered a psychiatric evaluation. After a day and a half in a hospital, he was released, authorities say. Afterward, he did not remain on law enforcement's radar. The timing of the gun purchase, along with Donald's report of a clean background check, raises questions about why a police-ordered mental health evaluation would not have appeared on the report. (Sullivan, 5/16)
The Hill: Illinois To Cover Funeral Expenses For Children Killed By Gun Violence 
Parents and guardians who experience the death of a child by gun violence will be eligible for up to $10,000 to help pay for funeral expenses thanks to new legislation passed into law in Illinois. The Murdered Children Funeral and Burial Assistance Act was signed into law on May 10 by Governor JB Pritzker (D). The bill cites the painful process of bereavement for families, who also must bear the responsibilities of planning and paying for a funeral—usually through some form of debt.  (Ali, 5/16)
AP: Three Women Found Dead Amid Heat At Chicago Senior Center
Three women who were found dead at a senior living facility on Chicago’s North Side amid high heat have been identified, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday. … All three women were found unresponsive over a 12-hour span at the James Sneider Apartments, where residents started complaining of oppressively hot conditions days earlier. Alderwoman Maria Hadden said she believes that a lack of air conditioning in the building likely caused the deaths. (5/16)
AP: Medical Marijuana Petition Drive Sues To Ease Ballot Rules
A group that wants to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska sued the state on Monday to try to overturn a requirement that makes it harder to qualify for the ballot by forcing petitioners to get signatures from a large number rural counties. The federal lawsuit comes after the group Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana lost one of its biggest donors, forcing the campaign to rely primarily on volunteers as it scrambles to place the issue on the November general election ballot. (5/16)
The Wall Street Journal: Cerebral Says It Will Stop Prescribing Most Controlled Substances 
Online mental-health company Cerebral Inc. said it would stop prescribing almost all controlled substances, expanding an overhaul of its treatment practices in the wake of scrutiny over how it provided stimulants for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Kyle Robertson, Cerebral’s co-founder and chief executive, wrote in an email to staff on Monday afternoon that the company would stop prescribing controlled substances, excluding those in one category, for new patients effective Friday, and for existing patients in October, according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The company said it would seek to taper existing patients off their prescriptions for controlled substances or transfer them out of Cerebral’s care to an in-person clinician. (Winkler, 5/17)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Froedtert To Offer Proton Therapy For Cancer Patients In Wisconsin
Proton therapy for cancer patients who require radiation therapy will soon be available in Wisconsin. Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin are partnering with Legion Healthcare Partners, a Houston-based for-profit health group, to begin offering the therapy in 2023. Froedtert & the Medical College will begin construction in early 2023 to house the new proton therapy system on the Froedtert Hospital campus in Wauwatosa. Health care officials would not say what they are building or how much it will cost. (Hess, 5/16)
NPR: Scientists Find Spinal Fluids Rejuvenates Brain Cells And Helps With Memory Loss
A team at Stanford University has demonstrated a new approach to reversing memory loss — in mice. An infusion of spinal fluid from young mice reversed the memory loss typically seen in aging animals, the team reported this month in the journal Nature. A growth factor found in the fluid also improved memory, though to a lesser degree, says Tony Wyss-Coray, a neuroscientist and senior author of the study. "When we put the factor in the mice, they actually are better able to perform a memory task where they have to remember something that happened to them (a small electric shock)," Wyss-Coray says. (Hamilton, 5/16)
Press Association: Powerful Brain Scanners Offer Hope For Treating Some Parkinson's Symptoms
Ultra-powerful brain scanners could offer hope for the treatment of previously-untreatable symptoms in Parkinson's disease, a new study suggests. Both Parkinson's disease and a related disorder, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), are progressive brain diseases that not only affect movement but also damage motivation and cognition. Cognition refers to the mental processes that take place in the brain, including thinking, attention, language, learning, memory and perception. (Massey, 5/17)
Stat: Two Dozen States Side With HHS In 340B Dispute 
Two dozen states have waded into the heated dispute between the U.S. government and a growing number of pharmaceutical companies over a federal drug discount program, a complex, but significant battle with widespread implications for much of the American public. In filings in two federal appeals courts, the states and the District of Columbia argued the companies have “flouted” their legal obligations to the 340B program, which requires drugmakers to offer discounts that are typically estimated to be 25% to 50% — but could be higher — on all outpatient drugs to hospitals and clinics that primarily serve lower-income patients. (Silverman, 5/16)
Modern Healthcare: Employer Health Plans Pay Hospitals 224% Of Medicare 
Employers continue to pay hospitals more than double the amount Medicare would pay for the same services, a new study shows. Private employer-sponsored health plans paid hospitals 224% of Medicare prices, on average, according to an updated RAND Corp. analysis of claims from 4,000 hospitals across every state except Maryland. Hospitals with higher market shares tended to have higher prices, according to the study, which supports past research. A 10% increase in hospital market share was associated with a 0.5% increase in a hospital's price relative to Medicare, researchers found. Still, some researchers noted that a 0.5% increase for a significant 10% boost in market share was relatively small. (Kacik, 5/17)
AP: CVS Exec: People Deserve Fair Shot At Being Healthy
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun sees care disparities play out routinely as an emergency physician. She hopes her new role with CVS Health gives her more influence to fix those problems before they land patients in the hospital. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company’s first chief health equity officer says she is focused on giving everyone a fair chance to be as healthy as possible, a task made easier by her employer’s broad reach. Millions of Americans do business daily with CVS Health’s drugstores, clinics, prescription processing and health insurance. (Murphy, 5/16)
Modern Healthcare: Conflict-Of-Interest Threats Grow As Hospitals Diversify Revenue
Geisinger has a committee that identifies any potential conflicts of interest across its staff, including its governing board. Each year, the committee identifies any executive or physician who has a vested interest in a healthcare company that does business with Geisinger. Employees must disclose if their stock in a vendor or the compensation they receive from a business affiliate exceeds a certain threshold. Individuals may have to recuse themselves from any purchasing decision where they would have a potential conflict of interest, said Dr. Jaewon Ryu, Geisinger’s president and CEO. (Kacik, 5/17)
AP: Yellen Meets War Refugees In Poland, Pushes Food Crisis Plan 
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday met with Ukrainian refugees and urged the need to confront Russian brutality as she visited Poland ahead of a meeting of finance ministers for the Group of Seven leading economies. Yellen applauded Poland for helping refugees fleeing the fighting and working with neighboring countries to find ways to get Ukraine’s wheat and other critical food supplies to the world. She thanked them for responding to “rising food insecurity” exacerbated by the war. (Scislowska and Hussein, 5/16)
Politico: Ukraine’s Frontline Farmers Battle To Feed The World 
Russia’s deliberate targeting of farms is particularly cruel because Ukraine possesses some of the richest agricultural land in the world. A belt of ultra-fertile chernozem "black soil" crisscrosses the country from north to south, and east to west, but much of it is now out of action due to the war. An estimated 10 million hectares — a third of Ukraine’s total farmland — has been knocked out of production either because it's occupied by Russian troops or because the land is strewn with landmines, unexploded shells and the charred remains of tanks and other military hardware, said Mykhailo Amosov, a land use expert at Ukrainian environmental NGO Ecoaction. (Wax, 5/16)
Fox News: Mysterious Child Hepatitis Outbreak: UK Study May Identify A Prime Suspect
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their original Health Advisory on May 11 regarding their investigation of the mysterious worldwide outbreak of hepatitis in children. The World Health Organization (WHO) said a case-control study that will be completed this week should provide more clarity if adenovirus or COVID-19 is causally linked to the mysterious condition, according to multiple reports. "As of May 5, 2022, CDC and state partners are investigating 109 children with hepatitis of unknown origin across 25 states and territories, more than half of whom have tested positive for adenovirus with more than 90% hospitalized, 14% with liver transplants, and five deaths under investigation," the CDC said. (Sudhakar, 5/16)
AP: UK Officials: 4 Men Infected With "Rare" Monkeypox In London 
British health authorities say they have identified four “rare and unusual” cases of the disease monkeypox among men who appear to have been infected in London and had no history of travel to the African countries where the smallpox-like disease is endemic. (5/16)
Bloomberg: North Korea's Kim Jong Un Deploys Military To Fight Suspected Covid Cases
Kim Jong Un mobilized North Korea’s military to help fight one of the biggest crises he has faced in his decade as leader, as suspected Covid-19 cases reached nearly 1.5 million in less than a month. Pyongyang reported 269,510 new “fever cases” and six deaths nationwide in a 24-hour period ending 6 p.m. Monday, the state’s official Korean Central News Agency reported. Since late April 56 people have died. (Lee, 5/17)
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