Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Happy Friday! In the category of “nobody should need to be told this, but apparently people need to be told this”: FDA has officially issued a warning against trendy “young blood transfusions” from “vampire clinics.” Yes, they are exactly as ill-advised (and as extremely expensive) as they sound. Might I suggest watching cult classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” instead?

Now onto the news you might have missed this abbreviated and snowy week.

Even as a parade of Democrats have begun tossing their hats into the ring for 2020, they’ve mostly avoided all but the most tentative philosophical skirmishes with each other. Many have similar, overlapping wish lists that divide the hopefuls neatly into moderates or progressives. The one crack that’s getting deeper and has the potential to turn into a sizable fault line? Health care. The debate, which boils down to incremental change versus wholesale disruption of the system, is a peek into the party’s inner struggles on a broader scale, as well.

The New York Times: On Health Care, 2020 Democrats Find Their First Real Fault Lines

On that note, the father of “Medicare-for-all,” Bernie Sanders, officially entered the race this week. His plan may be a litmus test for progressive candidates, but that may not mean as much as it used to. The 2020 field looks a lot different from the 2016 landscape, and Sanders, who stood to the left before, now has to bump elbows with a whole crop of hopefuls who vocally support universal health coverage.

The New York Times: Bernie Sanders on the Issues: Where He Stands and What Could Derail Him

Meanwhile, a spending forecast that was released this week may give Democrats ammunition to back up their “Medicare-for-all” aspirations. It found that the government will soon be paying for nearly 50 percent of health care spending as baby boomers age into Medicare. “If the government is already going to play a very big role in the health system, that, over time, may make proposals like ‘Medicare-for-all’ less controversial,” Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt told the Post.

The Washington Post: Spending Forecast Offers Ammunition — and Some Alarm — for Democrats Pushing Medicare Expansion

 


In a major journalistic coup, ProPublica and Stat obtained Richard Sackler’s sealed deposition from a 2015 lawsuit, which is believed to be the only time a Sackler family member has testified under oath about the aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Some important takeaways from the document:

• Exchanges show Sackler agreeing with Purdue Pharma’s head of sales and marketing that they should do nothing to disabuse physicians of the common misconception that OxyContin wasn’t as potent as morphine.

• Sackler, who has been portrayed in the past as removed from the day-to-day marketing of the opioids, was deeply and personally invested in the product. “You won’t believe how committed I am to make OxyContin a huge success. It is almost that I dedicated my life to it,” he wrote in an email.

• Sackler said during the deposition that he first became aware OxyContin was being abused in 2000. That statement, however, contradicts evidence in a confidential Justice Department report from 2006 in which prosecutors pointed to a 1999 email indicating Sackler was told then that in internet chat rooms, drug abusers were discussing crushing and snorting OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma is facing hundreds of lawsuits over its role in the opioid epidemic, with many expecting a huge settlement similar to the Big Tobacco reckoning in the 1990s.

ProPublica/Stat: Sackler Embraced Plan to Conceal OxyContin’s Strength From Doctors, Sealed Testimony Shows

Meanwhile, in an unusual paper that relied on Freedom of Information Act requests, researchers point fingers at quite a few people for failures in the opioid distribution system that resulted in widespread prescribing to ineligible patients despite special measures designed to safeguard its use.

The Washington Post: FDA, Drug Companies, Doctors Mishandled Use of Powerful Fentanyl Painkiller


At least 20 abortion cases are barreling toward the Supreme Court, and any one of them could threaten the future of Roe v. Wade. Tension is coiling in the air as activists on both sides of the debate watch on the edges of their seats. Historians say the atmosphere is similar to that of the early ’90s, when the high court was filled with Republican appointees; blockades, bombings and arson at clinics were on the rise; and protesters flooded controversial abortion doctor George Tiller’s hometown by the thousands.

The Washington Post: At Least 20 Abortion Cases Are in the Pipeline to the Supreme Court. Any One Could Gut Roe v. Wade.

Staunch antiabortion couples often hold the belief that in vitro fertilization is immoral because it results in extra, unused embryos. The workaround for people who struggle with getting pregnant? “Embryo adoption.”

The New York Times: Embryo ‘Adoption’ Is Growing, But It’s Getting Tangled in the Abortion Debate


Importation was the name of the game this week when it came to drug pricing solutions both on Capitol Hill and in the states. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) suggested patients should be allowed to important insulin from Canada so they don’t have to ration the newly expensive drug. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a similar, though broader, thought to cover all prescriptions.

The Hill: Bill Would Let Patients Buy Cheaper Insulin From Other Countries

The Associated Press: Florida Governor Wants to Import Drugs From Canada

Check in next week for analysis from KHN’s Shefali Luthra and Phil Galewitz about whether such a strategy will work. (Hint: not likely.)


Veterans have been left feeling betrayed after the Defense Department admitted that it had allowed a firefighting foam to slip into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe, sometimes for generations, exposing military families to carcinogenic toxins. “We give our lives and our bodies for our country, and our government does not live up to their end of the deal,” said Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Fortune.

The New York Times: Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water Leave Military Families Reeling


After eyeing the success of Medicaid expansion initiatives in the midterms, Republicans in red states are thinking about ways to make it harder for activists to get on the ballot. Those new obstacles could include charging fees and requiring more signatures. Lawmakers shrug off accusations that they’re making a power grab, saying they have to protect everyone in the state and not just the majority. Advocates, however, are less than pleased. “It’s no surprise that efforts are being made at states to make it harder because the lawmakers don’t want their power infringed upon,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project, in the WSJ coverage.

The Wall Street Journal: Voter Initiatives, Including Medicaid Expansion, Could Get Harder to Pass


In the miscellaneous file for the week:

• It’s not just soldiers who experience PTSD. There’s a growing awareness that parents of sick children exhibit symptoms of trauma after their experience, especially ones who spent a good deal of time in hospitals seeing other kids lose their battle with their illnesses.

The Wall Street Journal: For Parents of Ill Children, a Growing Recognition of PTSD

• By law, a gun sale can proceed after three business days, whether or not a background check is completed. That means overtaxed agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have to chase down people who make purchases but aren’t supposed to, often having to confront people with serious mental health problems.

The Wall Street Journal: Armed and Dangerous: How the ATF Retrieves Guns From Banned Buyers

• Insurance brokers are supposed to help employers pick the best health care for their workers. But what many don’t know is that those “independent” brokers actually receive eye-popping commissions from insurance companies — which have worked the incentives into their premiums.

ProPublica: Behind the Scenes, Health Insurers Use Cash and Gifts to Sway Which Benefits Employers Choose

• A yearlong investigation into suspicious opioid prescription practices was dubbed “Operation Hypocritical Oath,” which should be reason enough to read the story.

Los Angeles Times: Southern California Doctors Arrested in Opioid Prescription Crackdown


Have a great weekend!