Happy Friday! Tis the season of getting wretched colds, and I blame daylight savings as any reasonable person would. So, we’re going to make this short and sweet as I clutch my tissues and tea. Buckle up!
Election results in Kentucky (and Virginia, really) added to the ever-deepening narrative that health care can be a big political winner for Dems and an Achilles’ heel for Republicans these days. Although the GOP talking point is that Gov. Matt Bevin (who technically hasn’t conceded yet) was extremely unpopular, it’s hard to miss that Medicaid expansion was a top issue in the race. Andy Beshear, who claimed victory on Tuesday, has vowed to rescind all of Bevin’s plans for Medicaid work requirements when he takes office.
In Virginia, many lawmakers ran on health care as well (like promising to protect preexisting conditions coverage and tackling gun control regulations), helping the Dems secure the Legislature for the first time in decades.
But health care isn’t always enough to boost Dems to a win, it seems. Democrat Jim Hood failed to upset Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, despite Hood’s promises to expand Medicaid to about 300,000 of Mississippi’s most needy residents.
Curiously, attacks over abortion did not seem to hurt Democrats in either Virginia or Kentucky, even though the issue loomed large in both states.
In a quick sidenote on Medicaid in the Deep South: Georgia’s governor has released a long-awaited health care plan that includes a limited Medicaid expansion with work requirements. As the requirements falter elsewhere, it will be an interesting test case to watch.
Now over to the presidential primary race: As predicted, lots of pundits, rivals, and others have had lots of thoughts on Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pay for “Medicare for All,” mostly landing on: It’s just not realistic. For her numbers to add up (which they do), everything pretty much has to fall into place perfectly. Which… in a nation’s capitol known more for its bitter partisan gridlock and deference to deep-pocketed lobby interests than for its smooth roads and sunny skies, well… no one is holding their breath that this would pass.
Elsewhere on the election trail, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released an ambitious plan to tackle the immigration crisis. Among other things, he would scrap President Donald Trump’s “public charge” rule and ensure that anyone in the country regardless of immigration status was covered by his health system.
Tension over patents came to a head this week as the Trump administration sued Gilead over its HIV prevention drug, the development of which relied heavily on taxpayer-funded research. This fight has been bubbling up because Gilead has been raking in billions from the drug and yet hasn’t paid the CDC any royalties.
And in case you’re interested in the background of it all (you should be! It’s a fascinating case), the Post did a deep-dive back in March.
Speaking of news from the administration, there was so much of it this week!
Let’s start with the court decision to block its expanded “conscience rule” for health care personnel who don’t want to participate in certain care due to moral reasons. The judge denounced the rule, saying it was arbitrary and unconstitutionally coercive. He also wrote that the “stated justification for undertaking rule making in the first place — a purported ‘significant increase’ in civilian complaints relating to the conscience provisions — was factually untrue.”
That wasn’t the only legal blow the administration suffered: elsewhere, a judge placed a temporary restraining order on a Trump rule that would have required visa-seekers to prove they can pay for health coverage before they’re allowed to live in the country.
In a separate court decision, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government must provide mental health services to migrant families who may have been traumatized by being separated under the zero tolerance policy. The judge referred to previous federal cases that found that governments can be held liable when with “deliberate indifference” they place people in dangerous situations. This bit from The New York Times is interesting: In the past, the “state-created danger” doctrine has been applied when a police officer ejected a person from a bar late at night in very cold weather, or when a public employer failed to address toxic mold that caused workers to fall ill.
From news outside the courts, HHS is seeking to roll back Obama-era protections that keep foster care and adoption services from discriminating against LGBTQ families.
And in the midst of several public health crises, Trump has picked his choice to head the FDA: Dr. Stephen Hahn of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. If confirmed, Hahn will almost immediately have his hands full with the vaping epidemic, as well as continued fallout from the opioid crisis, not to mention public outrage over the high cost of drugs.
In case you missed it: Stat did one of the more interesting profiles on Hahn a bit ago, if you want to read up on his background.
On the topic of FDA, a look at how a controversy over a chemical that sterilizes medical equipment became a prime example of just how wrong things can go when agencies operate as separate bureaucracies in silos.
Ahead of an anticipated federal ban on e-cigarettes, Juul has announced that it will end the sale of mint flavored pods. A study came out this week that found that the mint flavored ones have become more and more popular among young vapers.
Often times, when studying a disease it can be the people who don’t get it that hold the answers. That might be true with one woman who should have gotten early onset Alzheimer’s but didn’t start showing symptoms until decades later. Researchers say a mutation that the woman had protected her from the devastating disease. Learning how it did that could help scientists replicate the process for those who don’t have the mutation.
It’s not always the memory that goes first. For those with frontotemporal dementia, it’s often the areas of the brain that control personality that are affected first. The resulting behavior changes can be heartbreaking.
And in the miscellaneous file for the week:
- Documents show how Walgreens was in a unique position to raise giant red flags about the opioid epidemic at its height. But the company failed to do so.
- When one woman’s baby was born three months prematurely, she’d thought she’d taken care of everything that was needed to get her daughter covered under her insurance. Turns out, that wasn’t the case, and by the time she got the $898,984 bill, it was too late to fix it.
- We often think of breath tests as being infallible ways to prevent drunken driving. But many of the machines that are stocked in police stations across the country are calibrated incorrectly. For some, that can change the whole course of their future.
That’s it from me! Everyone stay healthy and don’t forget to get your flu shot.
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