Happy Friday! Has everyone recovered from their daylight saving time jet lag? Every year we get a whole host of articles about why changing the clocks is outdated, terrible and really quite bad for our health, and yet! Here were are, still grumpy and tired. But it’s almost the weekend, so let’s soldier on.
Here’s what you may have missed in your spring-forward daze.
President Donald Trump released his $4.75 trillion budget plan this week, which included a big increase in military funding and deep cuts to other domestic spending. Although the proposal will be dead on arrival in Congress, it still serves as a good road map for the administration’s priorities and Trump’s re-election campaign.
There were some health care wins, but there were also some blows, as well. At the heart of it all, critics say, are contradictions that undercut Trump’s talk about supporting certain public health causes. Take the $291 million budgeted for HIV, for example. Trump’s proposal allocates hundreds of millions toward the cause domestically, but then cuts global aid and chips away at programs like Medicaid, which HIV patients rely on.
Some of the health care highlights in the budget:
• Shaving $818 billion from projected spending on Medicare over 10 years and calling for belt-tightening within the popular program to combat “waste, fraud and abuse”;
• Cutting nearly $1.5 trillion from projected spending on Medicaid and transforming the program into a block grant system (a controversial idea that has received a lot of criticism in the past, even from Republican governors);
• Slashing spending on the National Institutes of Health, a longtime favorite of lawmakers of both parties, by $4.5 billion, with the National Cancer Institute absorbing the largest chunk of that cut;
• Increasing funding for pediatric cancer research by $50 million;
• Cutting HHS funding to $87.1 billion, which would be 12 percent less than in the spending plan Congress adopted for this fiscal year;
• Charging the e-cigarette industry $100 million a year in user fees that would go toward the FDA and its oversight efforts;
• And raising funding for VA medical care by nearly 10 percent.
Another interesting tidbit comes out of Politico’s reporting: HHS would be directed to steer $20 million toward a small children’s health program sought by one of Trump’s golfing buddies, Jack Nicklaus.
Democrats were less than pleased with the suggested budget. Lawmakers warned HHS Secretary Alex Azar — who bore the brunt of their ire at a hearing on Tuesday — that if Medicaid were transformed into a block grant system the change would face “a firestorm” of opposition.
Meanwhile, the “Mediscare” game went another round with Democrats saying that the “unbelievable” cuts fulfill long-standing Republican ambitions “to make Medicare wither on the vine.” If the accusations sound familiar to ones you’ve heard in the past, you’re not mistaken. They just might have been coming from Republicans. The Washington Post Fact Checker untangles it all to show that everyone is guilty of playing this particular scare game.
Following FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s surprise resignation announcement, Dr. Ned Sharpless has been named as the acting chief of the agency. Sharpless’ current work as the director of the National Cancer Institute has focused on the relationship between aging and cancer, and the development of new treatments for melanoma, lung cancer and breast cancer.
The appointment was a bit of a curveball for some agency watchers. Some Republicans had been chafing at the way Gottlieb embraced his pro-regulation side as commissioner and were hoping for a sea change. But Sharpless is a Democrat who has spoken out before about how his worries over the e-cigarette industry keep him up at night, so the direction of the agency may not be changing soon. (HHS Secretary Alex Azar has said this is a temporary appointment and the search for a permanent commissioner is underway, but there are also hints that Sharpless could step into the role.)
Colleagues were quick to praise the cancer doctor and research veteran for his breadth of experience and his “approachable, objective” demeanor.
No one can accuse Gottlieb of getting whatever the professional version of “senioritis” is, despite the fact that he’ll be departing in a few weeks. The FDA has issued a proposal that would sequester flavored e-cigarettes to areas off-limits to anyone under age 18. The stores can still sell tobacco, mint and menthol e-cigarettes, which the FDA says are more popular among adults than minors.
Beto O’Rourke is the latest Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for 2020, but can the moderate Texan overcome his baggage when it comes to his past opposition to the Affordable Care Act? In terms of his current stance, he has said that he supports universal health care, but has, like other moderates in the race, taken pains not to name “Medicare-for-all” in particular.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has now cleared the way for Sandy Hook families to sue gunmakers over wrongful marketing. In the lawsuit, the families pointed out ads with slogans like “Consider your man card reissued,” which they say is specifically targeted for troubled young men like Adam Lanza. The ruling is fairly narrow and limited to marketing — the justices dismissed other aspects of the lawsuits — but could have far-reaching ramifications because it strips away some of the blanket immunity offered to gun manufacturers by Congress.
Lawyers are starting to warn their clients who have filed disability claims with the government to clean up their social media because Uncle Sam might start snooping for fraud. “You don’t want anything on there that shows you out playing Frisbee,” one said. Advocates for people with disabilities say using social media sites in such a way would be irresponsible, as it’s impossible to gauge just from the pictures people post if they need disability aid.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• Calls for a worldwide moratorium on gene-editing human embryos expose the ethical divide over the research, which has been thrust into the spotlight following a Chinese scientist’s shocking and unexpected revelation that he successfully accomplished the feat.
• An entrenched culture of sexism at VA facilities has led female veterans to forgo needed care in order to avoid harassment. “It’s like a construction site,” said Rep. John Carter (R-Texas).
• Court filings detail Johnson & Johnson’s role in the opioid epidemic, including accusations that the company operated like a drug “kingpin … profiting at every stage.’’
• The cost of this Oregon child not getting vaccinations? $800,000 in medical bills and 57 days in the hospital. The terrifying ordeal shows how quickly a small cut can spiral into a devastating emergency.
• Medical ethicists were given a lot to think about this week: In this case, it’s examining the tough decisions that come from deciding to extract sperm from a deceased loved one. While some support the choice if it’s a spouse, what happens if it’s the parents who are making the call?
• Is there a chilling effect on disease research when social media activists engage in thought-policing? Scientists say yes, and that, ultimately, the patients are the ones getting hurt.
Doctors say our oversanitized culture does no favors to our immune system. (I have been pounding this drum for years, so I had to include this story.) The next time you drop some food on the floor, apparently the right move is to embrace the three-second rule and eat it. Have a great weekend!