Best Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Happy Friday! If you’re like me, you’re hooked on the The Golden State Killer case, where investigators used a genealogy website to hunt down their suspect. (And if you’re also a health wonk like me, you’ll want to check out this story on what privacy concerns the investigators’ strategy sparked.)

On to the rest of the best from the week.


Dr. Ronny Jackson’s alleged misconduct (like how he was called “the candy man” and oversaw a hostile workplace) has dominated the headlines. But behind the theatrics of the failed nomination process lies a crucial but leaderless agency — the Department of Veterans Affairs — that’s caught in the midst of a fierce battle over privatization. There has been a recent legacy of turmoil and scandal at the VA, and veterans’ health care is at stake. “This is complete and total chaos after years of complete and total chaos,” said Paul Rieckhoff, with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

• The Washington Post: ‘What Makes It Stop?’ Veterans Lament the Ongoing Turmoil Surrounding Trump’s Pick for VA Secretary


Do drug companies see rare-disease patients as human jackpots? A deep dive into the money flow for charities that are, in theory, set up to help those patients pay for expensive drugs reveals that pharma may not be donating to the organizations out of the goodness of their hearts. (Go ahead, feign surprise.)

• The Washington Post: Why Drug Companies See Rare-Disease Patients As Human Jackpots

• USA Today: Drug copay groups: Critical patient charities or fronts for drug makers?

Don’t forget our new KHN patient advocacy group database, “Pre$cription for Power,” which tracks the donations of some of the country’s biggest drugmakers to hundreds of patient groups. It was a resource for the USA Today story and is available for all to use.


Short-term plans are back in the news because the comment period for the proposed extension was Monday. Lots of people in the industry spoke out against them for obvious reasons — they know healthy and young consumers are likely to jump ship to these enticingly cheap plans leaving the population buying individual coverage sicker and older, on the whole. Also, they warn, those young and healthy consumers may well find that the plans don’t offer good coverage if they get sick.

• The Washington Post: Trump Proposal Could Mean Healthy People Save on Insurance While Others Get Priced Out


In the new trend of transparency as a fix for high health prices, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wants to require hospitals to post their prices online in an easily accessible format for patients. But experts say that while the idea sounds good in theory, it’s not actually going to help most consumers because list prices aren’t what people end up paying. And there’s the big question: Does CMS really have the legal authority to make them do this?

• Modern Healthcare: CMS Proposal for Hospitals to Publish Prices Raises Tricky Issues

• Politico Pro: Legal Barriers Await Medicare’s Price Transparency Work


There was a lot of movement in women’s health this week: The administration is favoring abstinence-focused programs with its teen pregnancy prevention funds; a judge has blocked cuts to Planned Parenthood grants; and an executive order banning Title X funding for Planned Parenthood is apparently in the pipeline for next month.

• The New York Times: Trump Administration Pushes Abstinence in Teen Pregnancy Programs

• The Associated Press: Judge Prevents Trump From Cutting Planned Parenthood Grants

• Modern Healthcare: Trump Could Ban Title X Funding for Planned Parenthood


The research on needle exchanges is crystal-clear. They cut deaths, curb spending and reduce disease without increasing drug use. But in the midst of a raging opioid epidemic, public health leaders just can’t quite convince the public that they’re a good idea.

• The New York Times: Why a City at the Center of the Opioid Crisis Gave Up a Tool to Fight It

And a drug distributor absolves itself of responsibility in the opioid crisis — but, uh, it doesn’t really work that way.

• Bloomberg: McKesson’s Board Clears Itself of Fault on Opioid Oversight


In the miscellaneous file: In Oregon, the criminally insane get better mental health services than people who don’t commit a crime; oncologists wonder if the slimmest chance of a therapy working justifies offering the treatment to terminal patients or if it’s better to keep their mouths shut;  and a reporter offers a heartbreaking look at West Virginia’s long history of broken promises over black lung disease.

• Stateline: What Care for the Criminally Insane Can Teach Us About Mental Health Treatment

• The New York Times: ‘Desperation Oncology’: When Patients Are Dying, Some Cancer Doctors Turn to Immunotherapy

• ProPublica: Covering West Virginia’s Long History of Broken Promises


Have a great weekend! And let me know what you think of this doctor who is pushing the idea of “regifting” kidneys as a way to solve the country’s organ shortage.

Related Topics

Cost and Quality Health Care Costs Health Industry Insurance Medicare Pharmaceuticals Public Health States The Health Law