Happy Friday! I come bearing bad news for anyone enjoying the slight decrease in D.C. traffic: Congress is back in full force next week. Although we have not had even a slight decrease in health news, I’m sure lawmakers will kick it up even further with gun control, surprise medical bills and, perennially, high drug costs on the expected docket.
For now, here’s what’s been going on during their final week of recess.
President Donald Trump has been coy about what exactly he’s put in his gun violence proposal, but one thing that seems likely: Both parties will be unhappy. (That, at least, seems a sure bet in these divided times.) What you can probably expect to see: an expedited death penalty process, changes to how troubled teens’ sealed records are shielded, and regulations — like “red flag” laws — centered on mental health.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is sitting pretty on the sidelines at the moment, waiting to see what the president comes up with.
Corporations, though, are taking matters into their own hands. Walgreens and CVS followed in Walmart’s footsteps this week in asking customers not to carry firearms openly in their stores. Walmart — which often tries to stay above the political fray — went further in announcing that it would stop selling ammunition for military-style assault rifles.
And in a bit of poor optics luck for Texas, a series of laws loosening gun regulations happened to take effect just a day after the state’s latest mass shooting.
Also, if you want to terrify the bejesus out of yourself, dig into this piece about online forums with a toxic culture of hate that have become breeding grounds for mass shooters and where the inherent anonymity of the internet protects them from law enforcement.
In New York, health officials are eyeing vitamin E oil as a possible culprit in the mysterious vaping-related lung illness sweeping the country. The feds, however, aren’t putting their eggs in that particular basket and said that people should keep an “open mind” about the roots of the outbreak. “People need to realize that it is very probable that there are multiple causes,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield. But with a second death confirmed, officials are scrambling for answers.
An HHS internal watchdog report detailed the extent of psychological damage suffered by children affected by the “zero tolerance” separation policy. For children so young, it was hard for them to describe their emotional trauma. They were often reduced to complaints about their chest hurting, like “every heartbeat hurts” or “I can’t feel my heart.”
Crushing medical debt seems to be shaping the future of the country, and 2020 hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to change that. With a proposal that he only hinted at (i.e. did not give any solid details about how to pay for it), he said he would cancel $81 billion worth of medical debt for Americans.
Meanwhile, despite the attention Sanders and the other progressive front-runners are giving proposals like “Medicare for All,” state lawmakers see defending the health law as the ace up their sleeves in tough elections. Virginia will be a major testing ground for that strategy as Democrats recently secured a big win on expanding Medicaid in the state. They could, however, be vulnerable to Republican messaging on high health care costs because the governor vetoed extensions for short-term plans.
So far, the implementation of Medicaid work requirements has been more crash and burn than the graceful transition many Republicans had likely hoped for. But Indiana seems on the path to becoming a model for other states as they add more restrictions to the program. I can explain it no better than Paige Winfield Cunningham at The Washington Post, who wrote: “If Arkansas and Kentucky were heavy-handed in imposing their work requirements, Indiana’s program is more like a tap on the shoulder, advocates argue.”
Meanwhile, over in Missouri, expansion advocates are hoping to follow the success of other states by getting the issue in front of voters rather than lawmakers.
The “Guaranteed to Make Everyone’s Blood Boil” award of the week goes to the article about how the Sacklers (the family that founded Purdue Pharma) could emerge from the opioid trials with their personal fortune intact.
A cluster of HIV cases in West Virginia could be the canary in the coal mine that public health officials monitoring the opioid epidemic have been on the watch for. “This is the nightmare everyone is worried about,” said one expert about the outbreak that appears to be among the largest since one in Indiana’s Scott County four years ago.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• Reeling from persistent political attacks, Planned Parenthood has announced it will utilize telemedicine and a new app to reach young and rural patients who may have been affected by attempts to chip away at the organization.
• We as a country are hooked on fast deliveries from Amazon, but there’s a human toll that flies under the radar that goes beyond workers’ pay. This ProPublica-New York Times story starts with the tragedy of a 9-month-old who died in an accident involving an Amazon delivery vehicle and doesn’t get any less heartbreaking as it goes on.
• Be sure to check out this fantastic series about how America’s sick, poor and vulnerable will be the ones most affected by the growing climate crisis because they live in urban heat islands.
• On a much lighter note, scientists may have discovered a gene for left-handedness, which I just find fascinating and may make approximately 10% of my readers happy to know (mostly because it’s linked to having better verbal skills).
• After millions of dollars, thousands of hours of manpower, tons of public outrage and a countless number of headlines from yours truly, the NYC measles outbreak has been declared officially over. The outbreaks in upstate New York still threaten the United States’ status as having eliminated the disease but, for now, public health officials are taking victories where they can get them.
That’s it for me! Have a great weekend!