Happy Friday! This week, I discovered a new, salty Twitter account that really speaks to my soul: @justsayinmice. The creator behind the thing is fed up! with click-baity headlines on stories about research done in mice — you know the ones that make it seem like the findings are about to revolutionize treatment in humans. The person has a simple suggestion (as you can tell from the handle). Researchers figure out the best time to exercise … for mice. High-carb diets can stave off dementia … in mice. You get the idea.
Now, on to health news you might have missed this week … just in case you were distracted by reading through 448 pages of a certain report.
In a move that flew a bit under the radar, the Justice Department announced it has stopped defending a federal prohibition on female genital mutilation. While the story itself might not be groundbreaking enough to grab national attention, the decision follows closely on the heels of the kerfuffle over DOJ siding against the health law. Although the reasoning behind each decision is different — the department says there are flaws in the mutilation legislation that need worked — taken together, it’s a highly unusual trend that has experts worried. Defending laws on the books is a principal function of the Justice Department, and only about once a decade since World War II has it declined to support a law enacted by Congress, according to a solicitor general during the Clinton administration.
In a moment that probably did not play out as expected, moderator Bret Baier asked audience members at a Fox News town hall for 2020 hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) if they would support shifting to a government-run health system. The room erupted in cheers. The video went viral because … who doesn’t love a moment of real surprise on TV? But, more deeply, it reflects past polling showing that “Medicare-for-all”-type plans do garner conservative support (though that drops when certain stipulations —like getting rid of private insurers — are added to the questions).
Meanwhile, in a story that shocked absolutely zero people, UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, spoke out against “Medicare-for-all.” The outcry from UnitedHealth came at the start of a four-day stock free fall that ranks as one of the worst routs in more than 20 years. About $150 billion of market value was erased from companies in the S&P 500 Health Care Index in the four days through Thursday.
And in case you’ve lost track of where the 2020 presidential candidates stand on the plethora of health plans circulating on Capitol Hill, here’s a helpful cheat sheet.
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is accusing the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), of actively obstructing Cummings’ investigation on high drug prices, escalating the political battle between the two lawmakers. This time, the conflict stems from letters Jordan sent to a dozen different drug company executives warning them that Cummings was conducting a partisan investigation, essentially telling them not to participate.
There was so much state-level abortion news this week, I’m going to break Breeze protocol and just list it out for you.
— Are babies actually born alive after an attempted abortion? What happens then?
— The Supreme Court is asked to knock down a Louisiana admitting-privileges law.
— The Florida House OK’d legislation to require parental consent for an abortion.
— The Michigan attorney general says she won’t defend a state law that bans abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
— Oklahoma sends abortion-reversal legislation to the governor.
— The North Dakota governor defends his decision to make it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps.
— Advocates say “heartbeat bills” are designed to spark a court challenge.
New reported cases of measles have set the country on track for experiencing the worst year yet this century for the illness. And public health advocates are worried that the issue of vaccinations is becoming so politicized that it will be as vulnerable to the pitfalls of tribal politics as other topics, like climate change and gun control. Once that happens, there’s usually little movement in any debate.
And experts warn that Passover — when families and friends gather together to mark the holiday — will exacerbate the outbreak in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Saturday is the 20th anniversary of Columbine, which, at the time, was the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history. In a sobering piece, CNN brought together Columbine survivors and Parkland students to talk about their trauma, which, despite being separated by nearly two decades, looks heartbreakingly similar. “It terrifies me to know that this is going to be throughout my life, forever,” says Sari Kaufman, who was a sophomore during the Parkland shooting.
Three more veterans killed themselves last week on Department of Veterans Affairs health care properties, in a trend that has become disturbingly familiar to anyone paying attention. Despite the increased focus on the problem of veteran suicide and their mental health in general, there has yet to be a dent made in the grim statistics. Experts say that there’s not one easy solution here. For example, 70% of veterans don’t even try to routinely use the VA services, so expanding access within the system isn’t going to make much of a difference to them.
In a massive sting, federal prosecutors nabbed dozens of doctors on charges that they were trading painkillers for sex, drugs and other favors. The cases included: a man in Tennessee who called himself the “Rock Doc” and allegedly prescribed hundreds of thousands of pills in exchange for sex; a doctor in Alabama who prosecutors say recruited prostitutes to become patients and let them use drugs at his house; and another who wrote prescriptions on behalf of Facebook friends. “When medical professionals behave like drug dealers, the Department of Justice is going to treat them like drug dealers,” said DOJ official Brian Benczkowski.
In the miscellaneous file this week:
• Frankenstein Pig! OK, not quite, but scientists were able to revive the cells in brains taken from slaughtered pigs. The work challenges the idea that once the brain is dead, it’s all over folks — and, as you can imagine, will probably provoke some interesting ethical debates in the upcoming years.
• Researchers were able to use modified HIV to help cure babies born with “bubble boy” syndrome.
• The debate over the effectiveness of workplace wellness program may have been put to rest with a new sweeping study that finds that they … drum roll, please … don’t work at all. Not only do they not cut costs, but they don’t improve workers’ health either.
• But! There was some hope in the battle against the obesity epidemic this week. Researchers found that a genetic risk scorecard can somewhat predict if a person is going to be obese by looking at millions of variants in your genetic code.
Have a great weekend!