[UPDATED at 2:55 p.m. ET]
Happy Friday! I come bearing a medical ethical quandary for you to mull as you head into your weekend. Stumped mid-surgery, a renowned doctor turned to old anatomical drawings that had been created by Nazis (and are, to this day, considered unsurpassed in comprehensiveness and precision). She was left with the question: Were they OK to use?
Now on to what you may have missed this week.
If you thought the topic of abortion was going anywhere anytime soon, you’d be very wrong! (Although, let’s be honest, were any of us expecting an end to the debate?) In terms of health care, it dominated this week’s news cycle.
Let’s start with 2020 hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris’ plan to protect abortion rights. Borrowing logic from the Voting Rights Act, the plan from Harris (D-Calif.) would require states with a history of unconstitutionally restricting abortion rights to obtain federal approval from the Department of Justice before such laws could take effect. Where it gets tricky is determining which states would fall under the requirements: the formula used in the VRA was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court performed a delicate dance on a tightrope when it ruled on an Indiana abortion ban. The justices upheld parts of the law, which dictate that fetal remains need to be buried or cremated, but they went ahead and sidestepped ruling on the constitutionality of the right to an abortion. The move signals that they might not be super eager to move aggressively on the issue, despite the way states keep trying to send them cases.
Speaking of … Louisiana’s Democratic governor broke with his party this week to sign “heartbeat” legislation. Though it wasn’t a surprise (Gov. John Bel Edwards has been vocal about his support of the bill), it’s notable in a political landscape where many are left wondering if there’s any room left in the Democratic Party for anti-abortion politicians.
Although many people do have their eyes on the cases that are designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, an argument can be made that abortion opponents have already won the ground game. Even if Roe is upheld, opponents have taken enough bites of the apple over the past several years that the landscape looks a lot different than it once did. Considering mandatory waiting periods, clinic deserts, the missed wages and work that comes with traveling to get the procedure done, and the hostility that doctors and clinic staff face from protesters, for a lot of women — low-income women, especially —getting an abortion is already a monumental task.
Hours before Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic would have had to shutter, a judge issued a temporary order Friday ensuring that the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility could continue to provide abortions, for now. Another hearing is set for Tuesday.
As President Donald Trump prepares an executive order geared toward increasing transparency across the health industry, some parties are making such a ruckus over a particular element that it might get dropped in the final version. At issue is a requirement that insurers and hospitals disclose for the first time the discounted rates they negotiate for services. “There is good transparency and bad transparency,” Kristine Grow, spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, told The Washington Post. “This is bad transparency, because it is highly likely to cause prices to go up for everyone.”
And elsewhere on the unhappy insurers front: Connecticut lawmakers have pressed pause on their push for a public option. The reason? Blowback from insurers. While I’m sure it’s more complicated than I’m making it, I was left wondering if the lawmakers had thought insurers were going to like it.
HHS is proposing to roll back protections for transgender patients by mandating that “gender identity” is not protected under federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination in health care. A court challenge is almost certain, and patients are unlikely to feel any immediate impact from the proposal. But advocates see it as another move in the administration’s attempts to chip away at transgender rights.
A major opioid trial kicked off this week in Oklahoma with some fighting words thrown out by state Attorney General Mike Hunter. Hunter accused Johnson & Johnson — which is the sole remaining plaintiff in the case after the other companies settled — of using a “deceitful, multibillion-dollar brainwashing campaign’’ to dupe doctors into prescribing the opioids. The tricky part of the case is that painkillers are regulated and approved medication, and pinning the crisis on one company might be an uphill battle for the attorney general’s office. Still, the eyes of the nation are on the trial as a precursor to larger ones that are coming up.
On Memorial Day (yes, it was this week, doesn’t it feel like ages ago?), the Army sent out a tweet asking veterans about how their service has affected them. The responses may not have been what officials were anticipating, though. Many vets wrote in about their mental health struggles with PTSD, creating a conversation about some of the darker aspects of returning home.
Separately, 2020 hopeful Rep. Seth Moulton, a military veteran, shared his experiences with PTSD as he released a plan that would require mandatory mental health care checkups for returning military personnel.
And, not everyone comes home with PTSD. Can the ones who don’t teach us about caring for the ones who do?
How much is a miracle worth? That’s the question on the front burner once again now that the FDA has approved the world’s more expensive drug (with a price tag of over $2 million). Experts say it’s not so much the drug itself that’s the problem, but that it sets a new, higher benchmark for what people will end up paying for lifesaving drugs. Because there are plenty more coming behind it.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• Check out this fascinating and terrifying story about a children’s hospital where even low-risk patients were dying after surgeries. Audio obtained by The New York Times gives an unfiltered look at conversations between the doctors, which can boil down to: “Oh, my God … this is beyond horrifying.”
• A Chicago nursing home’s debacle shines a light on the vulnerabilities of a HUD program that has become a linchpin in the nation’s elder care system. It’s a program that most people don’t even realize exists but could be an Achilles’ heel for the government.
• In a world where “Oh no, females are so complicated, so we just don’t study them” is a normal and expected thing to say, some researchers are trying to fight for more representation in clinical trials. But just saying there should be X number of women isn’t enough. Scientists need to go further, some say.
• Why is it Republicans who are gravitating toward the anti-vaccination movement? In the past, the party viewed it as a civic responsibility to get kids vaccinated, while resistance more often came from liberal enclaves. Today, the debate is becoming entangled with the idea of freedom from the government — and is wooing some Republicans.
That’s it from me! Have a great weekend.
[Update: This story was updated at 2:55 p.m. ET on May 31 to reflect the judge’s decision in the Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic.]