It’s late October, so you know what that means: It’s time to get your flu shot! (You thought I was going to say elections, didn’t you? Don’t worry, we’ll be getting to that.) Before your roll up your sleeve, check out this story about pharmacies and grocery stores competing for flu shot customers now that the vaccination is covered by the health law. Would money off gas or gift cards for food be more likely to draw you in? (Also, if you do get the flu, good news: There’s now a single-dose medication for it.)
A quick editor’s note before we get into it: “The Friday Breeze” will be on break for the next two weeks as I take a poorly timed (or well-timed! depending on your mentality) vacation. I’ll be back in your inboxes Nov. 16.
Now, on to what shaped up to be a fairly busy week in the health care realm.
President Donald Trump is proposing tying the amount the government pays for certain drugs to their costs in other countries. The president has long railed against the “global freeloading” that he says forces American consumers to subsidize lower drug prices in foreign countries. To be clear, the plan would not apply to medicines people buy at the pharmacy, just ones administered in a doctor’s office.
Pharma came out swinging against the plan in an opening salvo of what is likely to be an uphill, exhausting fight over the issue. But, overall, the reaction seems to be muted from both candidates on the trail and the general public, overshadowed perhaps by more easily digestible talking points.
There’s a feeling of foreboding setting in over the pharmaceutical industry as a blue wave gathers force to possibly sweep into the House. Put together a populist president and a party that’s made high drug costs a central, winning issue and what do you get? Pharma’s worst fears realized.
Protections for preexisting conditions have become something of an Achilles’ heel for Republicans on the trail. Some have chosen to duck the topic, while others vow to keep that popular provision without providing details on how. But Trump took it a step further by trying to claim that ensuring coverage for preexisting conditions is a Republican priority and not a Democratic one. Critics were quick to point out that in addition to the GOP’s years-long battle to eradicate “every word” of the health law, there’s currently an administration-backed lawsuit in the courts aiming to overturn the whole thing.
On that note, the administration this week announced that it is going to give states more flexibility over coverage requirements, which could allow them to circumvent some of the health law’s protections for patients. States could, for example, use federal funds to subsidize short-term insurance plans.
Experts worry this is a step back toward the pre-ACA landscape, when the state a patient lived in determined what kind of health care they received.
How do you make Medicaid expansion a winning issue if you’re running as a Democrat in a deep-red state? Make it about smart business decisions. At least, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams hopes that tactic works.
A report in The New York Times revealed that the Trump administration is considering redefining gender in a way that would strip transgender individuals of certain protections. Backlash from the LGBTQ community was fierce, with some people questioning the timing of the news. “It’s a reminder that pain is a political tool,” said Gabrielle Bychowski in NYT’s coverage. A #WeWillNotBeErased movement was quickly ignited.
Biologists spoke out, as well, saying that defining a person’s gender at birth and making it unchangeable is an “insult to science.”
America is turning the tide against the opioid epidemic, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said this week, citing a dip in overdoses. While acknowledging there’s still a long way to go, Azar was optimistic government efforts have been starting to make a dent in the crisis. Experts were more cautious, however, warning that six months of data is not enough to determine that, and the trend could just be a blip.
Meanwhile, as everyone’s eyes (and money! and resources!) are on the opioid crisis, methamphetamines, cocaine and benzodiazepines are quietly flooding into the gaps left behind.
In the miscellaneous must-read file:
• First female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a touching email to “friends and fellow Americans” announcing that she’ll be stepping out of public life following a dementia diagnosis. “While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life,” she wrote.
• That can’t be legal, right? That was my first thought upon reading this heartbreaking story about women who work in strenuous jobs and are denied lighter duties when pregnant (even when they have a doctor’s note). Some of them go on to have miscarriages while working.
• We’ve all heard about how crowdfunding sites can be like a miracle to desperate patients who can’t afford care. But there’s a dark side to the recent boom in medical crowdfunding: The campaigns have raked in millions of dollars for scientifically unproven, and potentially dangerous, treatments in the past three years alone.
• The rural mountain West is dubbed the “suicide belt” of America, containing eight of the top 10 states with the highest suicide rates in the country. Stigma, guns and a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture may be contributing to the problem.
That’s it from me until after the elections. See you on the flip side!