Happy Friday! Well, friends, we have apparently arrived in the “post antibiotic era” (according to some), which any reader of the Breeze will know is up there with eyeballs and ticks on my list of phobias. I have no solace to offer you in this trying time beyond distraction: Here is what you might have missed this week (in case you were busy paying attention to historic hearings or something like that).
A California high school became the latest mass shooting site this year after a 16-year-old gunmen opened fire on students, killing two and injuring three others before he turned the gun on himself. “We are one of those schools now,” one student said to the Los Angeles Times. “Just like Parkland.” There have been a total of 84 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2019.
Earlier in the week, Attorney General William Barr unveiled the Department of Justice’s plan to address gun violence. The proposal focused mostly on strengthening partnerships with law enforcement, agencies and community organizers in an effort to better enforce existing law. It was met with swift disappointment from advocates who said there were no new tangible policies in it.
And even earlier in the week, the Supreme Court handed gun control advocates a win when the justices denied a bid to block a lawsuit against Remington, the maker of the gun used in the Sandy Hook shooting. The case, which has survived a roller coaster of twists and turns, has been closely watched because gun-makers have enjoyed broad immunity from prosecution under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Although the suit started out making a different argument, it now hinges on whether Remington marketed the military-style guns for use by civilians.
No one gets any credit for predicting this correctly: Health law sign ups dropped 20 percent from where we were last year at this point. But with a lawsuit on the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality looming, a chipping away of any enrollment outreach services, and just general confusion about where the law stands these days, the decrease seems all but inevitable.
The Wall Street Journal dropped a privacy bombshell with its reporting that Google has been amassing health data on millions of patients without their knowledge. Privacy experts say “Project Nightingale” is perfectly legal (because business partners can share information with each other). But that doesn’t address the “ick factor” of something that may be totally above board legally but is kind of creepy anyway. Doing so is going to be a challenge for lawmakers.
It’s been a quiet week health-wise on the campaign trail, but I’m certain they’ll make up for it at next Wednesday’s debate. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) nabbed a coveted endorsement from a big nurses union that went hard for him in 2016.
How do you sort out all the contradictory claims about “Medicare for All”? It’s tricky now that the policy has become so entangled with political rhetoric, but The New York Times offers some guidance.
More details are emerging about the communications contracts Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gave to outside contractors—including a longtime ally of hers who was greenlighted to bill as much as $425,000 for about a year’s worth of work. The decision to pay so much on a communications strategy that in part was meant to burnish her personal brand stands in stark contrast to Verma’s views on Medicaid spending and waste.
Elsewhere in the administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing a rule that at first glance might not catch your attention but could have major repercussions. The proposal, which the administration says is meant to increase transparency, would require scientists to disclose all their raw data (including medical records) before research can be considered by the agency while it’s making rules. But what that means is that the EPA doesn’t have to consider older studies that were done under the promise of medical confidentiality.
If that all still seems a little obscure, here are some the topics of those older studies: lead causing behavioral disorders in children; mercury from power plants impairing brain development; and air pollution leading to premature deaths. The proposal would be retroactive.
There was a breakthrough this week in scientists’ scramble to find the root cause of the mysterious vaping-related lung illness (officially called EVALI, but between you and me I don’t think that’s caught on at all). It appears that Vitamin E oil might be one of the main culprits. Apparently it turns sticky like honey and coats the inside of vapers’ lungs. Why is it in the products at all? Sellers use it to thicken the vaping fluid or dilute the THC used, boosting their overall profits.
Meanwhile, a hospital announced that it successfully performed a double-lung transplant on a teenager who was facing “certain death” without it.
The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to the Dollar Tree for selling over-the-counter medications from companies that failed to ensure the drugs were safely manufactured and tested. One such company was found to have had rodent feces throughout its facility.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• Hate crime murders in the U.S. reached a 27-year high in 2018, according to a new FBI report. “We’re seeing a leaner and meaner type of hate crime going on,” said one expert, referring to the fact that crimes on people themselves had increased while things like vandalism had gone down.
• Self-harm is prevalent among young people, but there’s little actual research out there on the behavior itself. Often the reaction from loved ones if fear and panic, and an assumption that the teen was attempting suicide. That might not be the case, though.
• This is a fun David and Goliath story about a little pharmacy with only 14 employees that is holding big drug companies’ feet to the fire over the safety of their products.
• Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson died unexpectedly in his sleep at age 60. Here’s a look at the legacy he left behind.
That’s it from me! Have a great weekend.