The Friday Breeze
Newsletter editor Brianna Labuskes, who reads everything on health care to compile our daily Morning Briefing, offers the best and most provocative stories for the weekend.
Happy Friday! If you want a smile after this long week, be sure to check out today’s Google Doodle. I feel like this is the right crowd to appreciate it.
Now on to what you may have missed!
The courtroom was where much of the action took place this week, from Title X funding to drug prices to opioids. But the biggest spotlight of all was on the fate of the Affordable Care Act.
The latest challenge to the health law was a long-shot case, with legal experts writing off its chances of prevailing at the start. The suit can be perfectly summed up by a question from Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, one of the three judges who heard oral arguments on the case in New Orleans: “If you no longer have the tax, why isn’t it unconstitutional?”
Judge Kurt Engelhardt also asked why the Senate hadn’t sent a lawyer along with the House counsel to convey that the congressional intent had been to keep most of the law. “They’re sort of the 800-pound gorilla that’s not in the room,” he said.
Despite some blunt questioning, though, it’s not clear where the judges will land on the final decision. The case could end up in front of the Supreme Court right in the heart of the 2020 election cycle. Considering that the “we’re the side protecting all those popular health law provisions” argument was at least partly credited for Democrats’ blue wave in the midterms, the timing of the case could have deep political ramifications for Republicans.
The Washington Post: Appeals Judges Question Whether the ACA Can Stand Without Insurance Penalty
Politico: Long-Shot Legal Challenge Could End Obamacare During the 2020 Campaign
If the law is overturned, the far-reaching ripple effects would go far beyond politics. It’s not just that 21 million people could lose health insurance, or that the protections for people with preexisting conditions would go away or that insurers would no longer have to cover young adults on their parents’ plans. So many of the Affordable Care Act’s directives have become ingrained in daily life that it’s as if many people forget they’re tied to that hot-button “Obamacare” topic.
On that list? Calorie counts on menus, lactation rooms at work, transparency for gifts from pharma companies to doctors, YMCA courses that teach diabetes maintenance, etc., etc.
The New York Times: So You Want to Overturn Obamacare. Here Are Some Things That Would Be Headaches.
Also on that list? A wonky provision that grants HHS “innovation” authority. The reason it’s important? President Donald Trump is using that very authority (that’s part of the law he’s trying to get overturned) to make big promises on revolutionizing the kidney care marketplace.
The New York Times: Trump’s Assault on Obamacare Could Undermine His Own Health Initiatives
(Pardon my detour from the courts for a minute, but that’s an impossible-not-to-utilize segue for the other big news of the week, and I’m going to jump on it.)
Trump announced an extremely ambitious plan this week to upend the kidney care world. Currently, the marketplace relies heavily on patients getting care at large dialysis clinics, even though at-home options are both safe and cost-effective. But those big chains can pull in $24 billion a year in revenue, so I somehow doubt that they’re going to go gently into that good night. Another part of the plan would incentivize kidney donations with reimbursements for lost wages and child care to try to address the country’s shortages. (And a special shoutout to Politico for the scoop on the plan.)
The New York Times: Trump Proposes Ways to Improve Care for Kidney Disease and Increase Transplants
Politico: Trump Aims to Shake Up Kidney Care Market
And now back to our court news: Trump’s strategy to curb drug prices sustained the first of two significant blows this week when a federal judge ruled that the administration can’t force companies to put prices in their TV ads. Judge Amit Mehta dodged the tricky First Amendment debate and instead focused on HHS’ authority (or lack thereof, really) to enforce such a rule. His ruling was, essentially: Hey, high drug prices are the pits and this might be an effective tool. But HHS can’t do more than Congress has authorized.
The New York Times: Judge Blocks Trump Rule Requiring Drug Companies to List Prices in TV Ads
The second punch came Friday when the administration pulled the plug on a signature proposal to eliminate drug rebates for pharmacy benefit managers (the target du jour for ire over high prices). Policy experts had worried the rule would lead to higher premiums for Medicare beneficiaries. Insurers and PBMs were popping the champagne over the announcement, while the general consensus is that pharma companies should now be braced for (an even bigger) storm headed their way.
Stat: After Trump Pulled the Plug on Rebates, His Options to Reduce Drug Prices Narrow. And He May Need Congress
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The 2020 Democratic candidates were busy bees this week:
— Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced an immigration plan that would include the creation of a DOJ task force to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect from detainees.
Politico: Elizabeth Warren Takes on Trump With Immigration Overhaul
— Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wants to take on the epidemic of outrageous rape kit backlogs. The kits can sometimes sit in police departments, which are strained for resources, for years. Harris has some bona fide experience to back up her plan. When she was California’s attorney general, her Rapid DNA Service team said it cleared all 1,300 untested rape kits in the state’s backlog in one year and earned national recognition and grants for its efforts.
USA Today: Kamala Harris: Rape Kit Backlog Can Be Cleared at Cost of Trump Golf Trips
— Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released a proposal to tackle a wide range of problems that affect Americans’ seniors, from high drug costs to Alzheimer’s research to long-term care issues.
Politico: How Amy Klobuchar Would Improve Care for Seniors
— And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is hopping on a bus to Canada with a group of Americans in search of cheaper insulin. This isn’t his first time embarking on such a trip. Twenty years ago, he went north with a group of breast cancer patients with a similar goal. (That two-decade gap between the trips speaks volumes, doesn’t it?)
CNN: Bernie Sanders to Join People With Type 1 Diabetes on Canada Trip for Cheaper Insulin
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, nearly all the Democratic candidates support the idea of providing health care to people who are in the country illegally. But what exactly would that entail? For one, it would place the U.S. even further left of progressive countries who already have universal health care. Most of them have at least some restrictions in place. But experts say that not only in the long run could providing care for them save money — immigrants in the country without legal permission tend to be young and relatively healthy and underuse available care.
The New York Times: What Would Giving Health Care to Undocumented Immigrants Mean?
Meanwhile, California is charging forward to become the first state in the country to offer Medicaid coverage to residents below the age of 26, regardless of their immigration status.
The Associated Press: California OKs Benefits to Immigrants In Country Illegally
Speaking of Medicaid, New Hampshire pumped the brakes on its new work requirements following reports that more than 17,000 people (yes, you read that right) would be found to be noncompliant with the rules after its first month. The state has been making the rounds with mailings, phone calls and even a door-knocking campaign, but officials still suggest the problem is that most people aren’t aware they need to report their hours. The experience mirrors Arkansas’ (almost down to the exact number of people who would be booted) and highlights the inherent obstacles states face when putting such rules in place.
Modern Healthcare: New Hampshire Delays Its Medicaid Work Requirement
A mother whose 19-month-old daughter died after being detained by ICE spoke at a House hearing this week about reports of the inhumane conditions at the facilities. “The world should know what happened,” Yazmin Juárez said during deeply emotional testimony. The name of the hearing — “Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border” — set the tone and reflected the state of affairs on Capitol Hill over the issue.
The Washington Post: ‘Kids in Cages’: House Hearing Examines Immigration Detention As Democrats Push for More Information
About 20% of the nation’s hospice facilities have safety lapses that are serious enough to endanger patients. What does that look like, beyond the dry terminology of an inspector general’s report? Gangrene so bad that a patient’s leg needed to be amputated; maggots burrowing near wound openings; and unnoticed sexual assault. But the report highlights another issue: There’s not much CMS can do about all of it. It would take an act of Congress to give CMS the power to fine the industry’s bad actors.
NPR: Roughly 20% of U.S. Hospice Programs Cited for Serious Deficiencies, Inspectors Say
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• There are lots of voices in the abortion wars these days. Many of them, though, are from white leaders — on both sides of the issue — while the unique nuances and challenges that black communities face are missing from the debate. For women of color, race is tied to abortion in a way that white advocates rarely have to contend with.
The New York Times: When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Is Invoked in the Abortion Debate
• An alleged mix-up at a fertility clinic that resulted in a woman having two babies who were not related to either her or each other highlights the real pitfalls of human error and advanced medicine.
USA Today: IVF Couple Sues California Clinic, Alleges Babies Weren’t DNA Match
• On paper, as medical aid-in-dying laws continue to pass across the country, more Americans are gaining control over how they end their lives. The reality looks a lot different, though.
The New York Times: Aid in Dying Soon Will Be Available to More Americans. Few Will Choose It.
• A Disney Channel star’s death this week highlighted the dangers of epilepsy-linked sleep deaths. Although it is rare, SUDEP is responsible for more deaths than SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and yet few people have heard of it.
CNN: Cameron Boyce’s Death: How Seizures Can Kill People With Epilepsy
• A new Secret Service report on mass violence incidents reveals that two-thirds of perpetrators had made threats before the attacks.
CNN: A New Report on Mass Attacks in the US Shows Common Traits Among Assailants
• A hospital in Ohio fired 23 employees in the wake of murder charges against one of its doctors in a case related to patients’ painkiller-linked deaths. There are a lot of issues here, but of particular note is how systemic such problems can become. One medical professional might be the root problem, but, at some point, that infection can spread to many interlocking parts within a health system.
The New York Times: Hospital C.E.O. Resigns and 23 Employees Are Fired After Ohio Doctor Is Charged in Murders
And, as election season kicks up, I really don’t blame any of the candidates for grabbing the Purell. Have a great weekend!
From:: KHN uninsured