Happy Friday! Friends, it’s been a whirlwind week of news, news, news and more news! If you’re like me, you’re just staring longingly at the weekend. But before you mentally check out, here’s a cheat sheet of what all went down — because it was too much for any one person to keep straight.
Two jampacked nights of debates between 20 2020 Democratic candidates gave us our first real look at how the field will perform on a big, national stage. Here’s what they said about health care.
“Medicare for All”: It may be the buzzword these days, but “Medicare for All” got a little bit of a cold shoulder apart from a few candidates on both debate nights. To be fair, the question was specifically about getting rid of private insurers, which voters have been shown to balk at. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio were in favor of kicking private insurers to the curb. The rest of the field equivocated. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in particular had some choice words that seemed to vocalize a lot of moderates’ fears that the issue is going to be used by the GOP against Dems: “The bottom line is, if we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us every way they can and call us socialists.”
Immigration: In the moment that got President Donald Trump to react, all 10 candidates on the second night of the debates said they would want universal coverage for all residents, regardless of immigration status. “We do ourselves no favors by having 11 million undocumented people in our country be unable to access health care,” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said. That everyone on stage agreed (though some have commented about former Vice President Joe Biden’s half-hand-raise) shows just how dramatically the party has shifted on the issue, even since then-President Barack Obama insisted health law subsidies would absolutely not be given to anyone in the country illegally.
Guns: Candidates on both nights came out strongly in favor of gun control, an issue that rarely got screen time as recently as the 2016 Democratic primaries. It was another change from previous years that shows how the country has tilted on the issue post-Parkland and the establishment of the March for Our Lives movement. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) in particular seized his moment when it came to guns (“We must be a country who loves our children more than we love our guns,” he said), but many of the candidates pledged to take steps to limit gun violence. One of the few signs of how politically fraught the issue still is was when Warren, even when pushed, sidestepped questions that would have made her take an aggressive stance and instead focused on research.
Abortion: There was a wry moment on the first night when Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington championed himself as “the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive health in health insurance.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was having none of that. “I just want to say, there’s three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” she poked back at him.
On the second night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, while not mentioning former Vice President Joe Biden by name, drew a distinction between supporting women’s rights on abortions and making them a priority. Who do you want to be in that Oval Office behind closed doors arguing against Sen. Mitch McConnell? she challenged.
To note, the candidates may have all vied for the chance to tell voters how much they supported abortion rights, but overall they sidestepped the more controversial aspects of the hot-button issue (such as if there should be any limits on the procedure).
Drug prices: Pharma has been, remained and will continue to be a popular punching bag for the Democratic candidates. This week was no different.
Bottom line: The perfect quote to sum up the two nights comes from WaPo’s coverage:
“It sounded like massive confusion and a cacophony of sometimes right but often oversimplified or incorrect characterizations of the American health-care system,” said Harold Pollack, a health care expert at the University of Chicago. “It is virtually impossible to honor the complexity of health policy when you have 10 men and women who have 30 seconds to respond to a random burst of questions.”
As disturbing reports of inhumane treatment at facilities used to detain young immigrants continued to emerge, lawmakers scrambled to pass a package that would send humanitarian aid to the border. It was a bit of a roller coaster throughout the week, especially after the Senate rejected the House’s bill outright. But on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that Democrats would support the Senate’s version because “the children come first.”
While this was all going down in D.C., officials in Texas were moving children from the Clint facility that was at the center of reports of inhumane, abusive conditions. But then they moved children back into the building the next day. And trying to mitigate all this bad press, Border Patrol then gave journalists a highly controlled tour of the place. As the journalists weren’t allowed to bring in cameras or phones and were barred from talking to any of the detainees under threats that they would get thrown out, the experience did little to ease the public’s outrage over the reports. Advocates are now asking a judge to require immediate inspections of the facilities.
And a graphic photo of a father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande seemed to capture the real human struggle beneath all the immigration rhetoric.
In a move that some deemed “ominous,” an appellate court this week asked if the House and state attorneys general who are defending the health law’s constitutionality actually have any standing in the case. At first, the question elicited shock from health law advocates who have been told by many that it’s likely the health law will prevail in this case. By the time the dust settled a day later, legal experts were back to being optimistic about the law’s chances. “That harm is very, very clear,” said Katie Keith, a Georgetown Law professor. “You’re going to gut Medicaid expansion and tax credits. Just the financial impact alone should be more than enough for standing.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on risk corridors, which, in the plaintiff’s language, was a $12 billion “bait-and-switch of staggering dimensions” perpetrated by the government.
By now, we all know the peculiarities about health care that make lowering prices … complicated. But transparency still seems like an obvious path to take — at the least, one that does no harm. However, the executive order that Trump signed this week to compel hospitals and insurers to disclose carefully hidden prices could backfire. Experts are turning to a study about Danish cement (who would have thunk?!) to predict worst-case scenarios. After makers of ready-mix concrete were forced by the government to reveal their negotiations, prices went up by 20%. Once companies knew what their competitors were charging, it was easy for them to raise prices in concert.
And a look at New Hampshire, which has the oldest and most comprehensive transparency laws in the country, seems to confirm the strategy is not a “clear-cut home run.”
Speaking of hospitals and costs, a study looks at how nonprofit hospitals — which are specifically geared toward treating the low-income populations in their areas and supported by the government to do so — aggressively hound those very patients they’re supposed to help with a barrage of lawsuits. It’s gotten to the point where judges hold weekly or monthly sessions just to handle the cases because there are so many of them.
VA workers have accused the agency of being “two-faced” and of trying to silence those who speak out about poor veteran care, saying they were stripped of assigned patient-care and oversight duties.
There’s a lot of blame to go around when it comes to the opioid epidemic, but one group has been flying under the radar: judges who sealed evidence in the first opioid trials more than a decade ago. In the discovery phase of these trials, the same kind of damning internal memos, marketing materials, notes from sales calls with doctors, etc. that are making headlines today were all sent to states’ lawyers. But they were never made public.
Facing the upcoming loss of a blockbuster drug’s patent protections, AbbVie announced this week it’s going to buy Allergan in a $63 billion mega-deal. The acquisition represents one solution to the perennial issue drugmakers face when one of their star drugs loses its power.
Meanwhile, Pfizer nabs former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who might be able to give the drug company some valuable insight into the current administration.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• A fantastic story looks at a first-come, first-served pop-up clinic designed to help rural Americans without easy access to health care. The sheer scope of the problem is daunting, with hundreds camping out overnight just to get health care.
• The disappointments surrounding Alzheimer’s research have practically reached mythical proportions, but is there something more sinister behind it all? Several scientists have gone so far as to label a group of influential Alzheimer’s researchers as a “cabal” that has influenced the rest of the field, leading to one disaster after the next.
• Could technology that identifies aggression be installed in schools and prevent the next mass shooting? While I got whiffs of “Minority Report” (for those who haven’t seen that classic: It’s a movie about the dangers of trying to predict crime before it happens), a colleague pointed out just how many false alarms that’s likely to set off every day.
• Football players have dominated studies on CTE, but one scientist raises a very good point: Millions of women who are the victims of head trauma from domestic violence. Yet little research is done on how it affects their brains in particular. On that note, an extraordinarily scary analysis shows that nearly 60% of women who live in Alaska have experienced violence against them.
• As sperm donation is becoming more popular — as is DIY genetic testing — children are coming face-to-face with an emotional reckoning of meeting half-siblings. In one man’s case, 32 of them.
• San Francisco voted to become the first U.S. city to ban e-cigarettes — which put it in a bit of an awkward situation considering Juul is headquartered there.
That’s it from me, folks! Have a great weekend!