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! In things I’ve learned today that I can’t stop thinking about: We apparently carry fat in our tongues? And you can lose it like any other fat on your body. This feels like something I should have known as a human, and yet I somehow managed 30-plus years without this information. Anyway, now that everyone is thinking too much about their tongues, let’s head to the news.
Democrats have asked the Supreme Court to expedite the case on the constitutionality of the health law, pushing for a ruling on the case during this term. This might seem paradoxical — as the lower courts have ruled against the ACA — but, as you Breeze readers know, the move is politically savvy. The health law is more popular than ever, and Democrats have been owning that advantage. If they can keep the Republicans’ attack on the legislation in the front of voters’ minds heading into the 2020 elections, there could be a repeat of the blue-wave midterms.
SCOTUS gave the Trump administration and Republicans until today to respond. (As of press time, they haven’t yet.)
The New York Times: Democrats Ask Supreme Court for Quick Decision on Obamacare
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In a pretty harsh reality check, a new study this week found that a popular idea for cutting health spending doesn’t pan out when you look at the data. The strategy is based on identifying the hardest-to-treat, most expensive patients and better coordinating their care. But, despite the hype, the method didn’t cut hospital readmissions for those patients. The study highlights once again what we all know: Health care is complicated. And hyped-up promises to cut costs that sound too good to be true too often are.
Kudos to the evangelists of the method, though, for acknowledging it doesn’t work. “We could have coasted on the publicity we were getting,” said Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, a family physician in New Jersey who founded the program that was studied. “It’s my life’s work. So, of course, you’re upset and sad.”
The New York Times: These Patients Are Hard to Treat
The administrative costs of running a single-payer system in Canada come in at $551 per person per year. That seems like a lot, right? That’s what I thought, too, until I saw the total for Americans, which is *drum roll* $2,497 per year.
Los Angeles Times: U.S. Health System Costs Four Times More to Run Than Canada’s
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed that California get into the drug-selling business — generic drugs, that is. The theory behind it is to increase competition and drive down prices. But despite generics accounting for 90% of the prescriptions filled in the country, they aren’t really the problem when talking high drug prices. It’s uncommon for those types of meds to only have one player in the marketplace, so pricing already tends to be competitive. For the average person, Newsom’s plan wouldn’t make much of a dent.
Los Angeles Times: Q&A: What You Need to Know About Gov. Newsom’s Drug Plan for California
But a strategy some people are hoping would make a difference is the VA model. The troubled federal agency might not have many bright spots these days, but patients who get prescriptions through Veterans Affairs are less likely than other insured Americans to skip doses and less likely to delay filling prescriptions because they were unable to afford them. What’s more, the program seems to curb racial disparities in accessing meds.
Stat: The VA Approach to Buying Drugs Means Patients Are Less Likely to Skip Medications Due to Cost
Mark your calendar: The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference runs through next week, and, as it nears, Stat looks back at the past 20 years of the event and how it has shaped the health care world. What emerges is a story of heroes and villains, booms and busts, sensational scandals, drinks and deals, flaring tempers and foolish predictions, and far more drama than anyone could expect from health care industry executives.
Stat: The Ghosts of JPMs Past: How 20 Years of Deals Have Shaped Health Care
In the latest sign that red-state resistance against Medicaid expansion is fading, Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly fulfilled a campaign promise by reaching a deal with Kansas Senate Republican Leader Jim Denning after a years-long impasse between the state’s two parties. Denning is eyeing a tough reelection race for next year — which could make the decision all the more notable.
The Wichita Eagle: Kansas Governor Kelly, Senate GOP Leader Reach Medicaid Deal
In a rare glimpse of good news, cancer death rates plummeted dramatically over a one-year period in the largest drop ever seen in national cancer statistics dating to 1930. The reason? Advancements in lung cancer treatments.
The Associated Press: Cancer Group Finds Biggest One-Year Drop in U.S. Death Rate
The back-and-forth over whether baby powder can be linked to ovarian cancer is the debate that launched 1,000 lawsuits (plus a couple of thousand more). A big study, however, tries to put the matter to rest. Research — that was deemed “overall reassuring” — now shows there is no strong connection between the two.
The Associated Press: Big Study Finds No Strong Sign Linking Baby Powder & Cancer
In the never-ending finger-pointing game that signals a reckoning in the opioid crisis, major drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens are saying, “Nuh-uh, not our fault!” Instead, they say, doctors are to blame. Who are pharmacists to question doctors’ orders? The counter-argument, of course, is that when you’re filling prescriptions that equate to thousands of pain pills per person in a town you’re serving, it might be expected that someone would raise a red flag. Just maybe.
Experts say that by bringing up the doctors and providers, the drugstore chains could also be trying to complicate the case further, in hopes of mitigating some damage to themselves.
The Washington Post: Major Drugstore Chains Sue Doctors in Sprawling Federal Opioid Case
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
— You’ve heard of ambulance-chasing lawyers, but what about ambulance-chasing doctors? It’s becoming a growing practice for doctors to promise plaintiffs in personal-injury cases free upfront care with the hope of cashing in when the settlement comes. While the strategy is legal and doesn’t technically violate any ethical rules, it still seems a little off — and can also leave patients with big bills if their lawsuits don’t go as planned.
The Wall Street Journal: Who Wins in a Personal-Injury Lawsuit? It Can Be the Doctor
— Public health experts are warily watching the development of a pneumonia-like illness in China, with echoes of the SARS outbreak not distant enough not to draw comparison and concern.
The New York Times: China Identifies New Virus Causing Pneumonia-Like Illness
— As we continue to watch suicide rates skyrocket, experts scramble to figure out what can be done to halt the disturbing rise. Now, research suggests hope could come from an interesting strategy: raising the minimum wage by just $1.
NPR: For Suicide Prevention, Try Raising the Minimum Wage, Research Suggests
— A truism that has emerged for me over my decade-plus in journalism is that where there’s a catastrophe or disaster, there is someone who stands to gain something. In this case, it’s the windfall that will come to hospitals if the flu season is as bad as predicted.
Bloomberg: Record 2019-2020 Flu Season May Be Good for Hospitals
On that cheerful note, that’s it from me. Have a great weekend!
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