Happy Friday! Here’s the story, of a lovely lady … who is not happy that a 50-year-old episode of “The Brady Bunch” is being used by the anti-vaccination movement to downplay the seriousness of the measles outbreak. “If you have to get sick, sure can’t beat the measles,” the character Marcia says when the whole family comes down with it. Maureen McCormick does not share her character’s lighthearted approach.
Now here’s what else you may have missed this week.
A much-anticipated Congressional Budget Office paper on the cost of a single-payer system shied away from offering concrete projections on some key details … like the cost of a single-payer system. That’s understandable: The office notes there are too many unsettled variables to predict a price tag, and, what’s more, nothing on this scope has been attempted before. The bottom line is that the report contains sound bites for each side to use, and more questions than answers. And perhaps that captures the reality of the issue far better than any number ever could.
It was a busy week for “Medicare-for-all,” which also got its first House hearing in at least a decade. Although it was inherently performative — a way for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to fulfill a promise to her progressive wing without fear of the legislation actually moving forward — the hearing itself was light on firebrand rhetoric and heavy on substance. My favorite part of it all was that several reporters couldn’t help but mention in their coverage how small and physically uncomfortable the room was.
Now that former vice president Joe Biden has officially tossed his hat in the 2020 ring, it’s become more clear that one of the main fault lines in the crowded Democratic field is going to come down to health care. Biden has joined with the party’s moderate wing in supporting a Medicare buy-in option, putting him at odds with the progressives.
We finally have a verdict in the (sensational and fascinating) case against Insys, the maker of a powerful fentanyl spray, and its founder, John Kapoor. If you’ve lost track of the details of this one, here are a few of the highlights: The company had a stripper-turned-sales rep give a physician a lap dance, created a video of employees dancing and rapping around an executive dressed as the product, had a help line in which every call “included lies and misrepresentations” in order to improve its bottom line, and more. After three weeks of deliberations, a jury found Kapoor guilty of racketeering conspiracy.
Experts expect the verdict to be one in a long line of decisions as those at the heart of the opioid crisis are facing their days in court. And speaking of which, McKesson, a giant drug distributor, settled with West Virginia this week over allegations that it willfully funneled millions of drugs into a tiny county in the state. Boone County, W.Va. — with a population of fewer than 25,000! — received 1.2 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone from 2007 to 2012, the lawsuit claimed. State leaders say the company put profit over people when it failed to take proper action over the suspicious orders.
The Trump administration finalized newly expanded conscience rules that make it easier for medical professionals to opt out of providing health care procedures — such as abortion or sterilization — on the basis of religious or moral objections. Although religious groups hailed the changes, advocates for marginalized groups said the rule will make life more difficult for women and LGBTQ patients, who already struggle to find quality care.
“We’re drowning.” That quote from a Los Angeles Times story seems to perfectly sum up the mood on the ground for Americans across the country who are desperately struggling to pay for health insurance — even ones who have employer-sponsored plans. In the past 12 years, annual deductibles in job-based health plans have nearly quadrupled and now average more than $1,300. Families are cutting back on food, moving in with family and friends, couponing to the extreme, turning toward crowdfunding just to pay medical bills. And these stories aren’t the exception. One in 6 Americans who get insurance through their jobs say they’ve had to make “difficult sacrifices” to pay for health care. It’s looking more and more like a crisis each day.
And here are some of the problem’s roots: An analysis looked at a common blood test that most of us have probably gotten and found that the cost for it can vary from $11 to nearly $1,000. Part of it has to do with the location (of course, cities are going to be more expensive), but the range far outpaces the price tag differences for things like ketchup or construction materials.
Only a handful of months ago, Medicaid work requirements seemed like an unstoppable train gaining speed. But the fervor for those policies has cooled following some damning court rulings and a shift in political calculations after seeing them in practice. Their future is less clear these days.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• Were you left scratching your head about why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime tobacco ally, supported a bill that would raise the smoking age to 21? Public health experts say that’s because age measures are a win for Big Tobacco. The legislation directs attention away from measures like increasing taxes and banning flavored products — which are more painful to the industry.
• From the “Department of Things That Are Both Surprising and Make Total Sense Once You Hear About Them”: Guantanamo Bay is starting to have to deal with end-of-life care for the terrorists who are detained there. “A lot of my guys are prediabetic,” said Rear Adm. John C. Ring, the commander of the center. “Am I going to need dialysis down here? I don’t know. Someone’s got to tell me that. Are we going to do complex cancer care down here? I don’t know.”
• A study offers data that substantiates public health advocates’ worst fears about the show “13 Reasons Why”: Suicides among kids ages 10 to 17 jumped to a 19-year high in the month following the debut of the series.
• The National Institutes of Health is blocking two of its doctors from speaking to investigators who are raising questions over the freedom researchers are afforded to critique the work of colleagues.
• Medical school is brutal enough, but for women, it’s even tougher as they navigate a high-stakes environment where the power imbalance with instructors has created a breeding ground for inappropriate conduct.
• A court ruled that Caster Semenya, an Olympic gold medalist, would have to take medication to lower her natural levels of testosterone if she wants to compete. Health experts say the courts got the science wrong.
If you are a regular reader of The Breeze, you’ll know about my crippling fear of the threat of superbugs, so I’m going to continue to drag you guys along with my paranoia and suggest you read about how experts say we need to incentivize the development of new drugs to thwart the looming threat! Have a great, superbug-free weekend!