Happy Friday! I think women huddled in blankets across the nation felt vindicated by a new study that found those gender-based battles over the thermostat that seem commonplace in every office aren’t just about comfort. As rooms warm, so do women’s math and verbal test scores. Will this be the end of the temperature wars? Unlikely, but one can hope!
Now on to what you may have missed this week as you get ready to head off into your Memorial Day (traffic).
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — famously known for their ability to produce bipartisan legislation together — released a wide-ranging (and when I say wide-ranging, I mean it) package of bills aimed at curbing health care costs. Their plans for surprise medical bills stole the spotlight because it’s the issue du jour on Capitol Hill, but there’s plenty else in there as well. Here are the highlights:
• The draft doesn’t settle on the best way to handle surprise medical bills, but rather gives three options that have been circulating since the debate started: using an arbitrator, price-setting for out-of-network doctors and having hospitals considered “in-network” for a health plan promise that everyone working there is also in-network.
• According to our friends from STAT, the package is “unexpectedly ambitious” and “surprisingly weighty” when it comes to lowering drug prices, including a measure to ban “spread pricing” — which is an industry practice that allows PBMs to pocket the difference between a pharmacy price and wholesale price from a drugmaker. The measures would also make it easier for generics to get to market and harder for brand-name drugs to maintain exclusive patents for lengthy periods.
• Other consumer protections included: a requirement that patients receive their bill within 30 business days, a ban on hospitals’ “gag clauses,” an order that hospitals could no longer hide certain anti-competitive contract features from the employer plans and a provision requiring health plans and providers to give patients estimates of out-of-pocket-costs for a service within 48 hours of a request.
Will some or any of it get done? It’s unclear, but those in the know say that people should be taking the package seriously.
Is there room in the Democratic Party for a lawmaker who holds an anti-abortion stance? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chief’s decision to back out of a fundraiser for Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois threw a spotlight on that very question this week as tensions run high around the hot-button issue.
The wave of anti-abortion legislation across the country may seem like a united, well-coordinated effort from a “master planner,” but people inside the movement said it’s less about one person’s strategy and more about feeding off one another’s momentum. The New York Times takes a look at the network of disparate activists who have brought the country the closest it has been to overturning Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, a coalition of states is suing over an expanded Trump administration rule that allows health care personnel to refuse to perform certain procedures, such as abortions, for religious or moral reasons.
2020 hopefuls Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) both offered up legislation this week aimed at improving maternal care, a topic that has gotten more attention recently following a bevy of high-profile statistics on the grim reality for U.S. women. Harris’ bill would target racial disparities — black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die during childbirth — while Gillibrand’s would make adoption and in vitro fertilization more affordable and provide government-sponsored “baby bundles” to new parents.
On that note, an analysis by USA Today has found that despite more than a decade of guidance that has called for performing episiotomies (a procedure that cuts the vagina to create more room for the baby) only in cases of emergencies, they’re still being done at startlingly high rates.
Vice President Mike Pence might fly a little under the radar in an administration dominated by big personalities and scandals, but, if you look closely, you can see his fingerprints all over the Department of Health and Human Services. Politico has an excellent story about the sphere of influence that Pence has created at the agency and how he has directed its course to address some of his top priorities.
Over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials are working to roll back protections for homeless transgender people. The new proposal would allow HUD-funded providers of shelters to consider a person’s sex or gender identification in determining whether they can be admitted.
How do you erase thousands of pollution-related deaths a year? Change the math. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to alter the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, which means the death rate will look better on paper but not in reality.
The Oklahoma opioid trial kicks off next week and is likely to draw the attention of a lot of interested parties. The hearing is the first public trial to emerge from roughly 2,000 lawsuits aimed at holding drugmakers accountable for their alleged role in the nation’s raging opioid crisis. To borrow a phrase from former Vice President Joe Biden: It’s a big … deal.
Speaking of Biden, the former vice president and 2020 presidential hopeful’s complicated history with the “War on Drugs” is likely to haunt his campaign trail as he tries to win over the areas in the country hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.
Which highlights the fact that even though the Trump administration has faltered and taken missteps while handling the epidemic, we didn’t get into this problem overnight. President Barack Obama’s administration made critical mistakes as the fentanyl-driven crisis was in its infancy.
It might surprise you that the second congressional hearing on “Medicare for All” this year is this far down in the newsletter, but it demonstrates how little came out of it. Congressional Budget Office officials once again equivocated about costs, reiterating that “Medicare for All” would probably cover more people and also be disruptive. (Revolutionary, I know.) And lawmakers on both sides stuck to their talking points.
On the same day officials confirmed the death of a sixth immigrant child in U.S. custody, lawmakers were on the Hill trading barbs with Kevin McAleenan, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, over the fatalities.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• A NYT story that looks at a quiet public health crisis in California and includes one of my favorite quotes for the week: “Clean water flows toward power and money.”
• A new study presented some depressing statistics about rural Americans’ financial security, including that: 40% struggle with routine health, housing and food bills; about half could not afford an unexpected $1,000 expense of any type; and a quarter of respondents had trouble accessing needed health care in the past several years.
• Although much of the conversation around the measles outbreak revolves around the vocal anti-vaccination movement, there’s another reason kids aren’t getting their shots: poverty.
• Board-and-care homes for older Americans are making their owners into multimillionaires while the workers are being paid a shamefully low wage.
• Heroin’s presence is disappearing from East Coast enclaves, where it used to thrive. But that’s not necessarily a good thing (at least for some people).
Have a great and restful holiday weekend!
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