Happy Friday! As you mull what you’re going to binge-watch this weekend, take note that the old parental warning that “TV is going to rot your brain” may hold some weight — yes, even in this golden age of television.
Now on to what you might have missed this week!
House lawmakers got the heck out of Dodge yesterday but not before passing a two-year spending bill that lifts the government’s borrowing limit. In parting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her crew a little pep talk, urging them to “own August” and “make it too hot to handle for the Senate” to ignore their goals when it comes to health spending and drug prices.
But never fear, Capitol Hill isn’t about to turn into a ghost town quite yet — the Senate is in session for another week.
Speaking of the upper chamber, the Senate Finance Committee advanced its long-awaited bipartisan legislation aimed at curbing high drug prices. The fate of the measure is far from sealed, though. As with many compromises, neither side is particularly thrilled with it. For Republicans, the controversial provision that caps some drug price increases under Medicare is a nonstarter, while Democrats are threatening to withhold support if they don’t get a provision granting Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices.
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is all like, You guys don’t like this? You want to see what your other options are? Because you’re going to hate those.
On that note, Pelosi’s office has already said that the long-awaited House version (which is controversial in its own right because of how much intraparty bickering it has caused) is coming in September.
And President Donald Trump is reportedly already preparing an executive order that would cut prices on virtually all branded prescription drugs sold to Medicare and other government programs.
So there might be something to Grassley’s warning pharma and his fellow Republicans that you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit (as my niece would say).
Pharma wasn’t the only industry in the congressional crosshairs this week: E-cigarette maker Juul was hauled in front of a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform Committee for questioning about its outreach to young people. Those efforts included:
• Paying a charter school organization in Baltimore $134,000 to set up a five-week summer camp to teach children healthy lifestyles;
• Offering schools across the country $10,000 for the right to talk to students in classrooms or after school;
• Giving a California Police Activities League $90,000 to offer the company’s vaping education program “Moving Beyond” to middle school and high school students who faced suspension for using tobacco products.
• And aiming “for influencers in popular culture with large audiences in various sectors such as music, movies, social, pop media, etc.”
While representatives for the e-cigarette company defended their programs as educational, lawmakers were, as you can imagine, skeptical to say the least.
Lawmakers kicked any action on legislation dealing with surprise medical bills to the fall. But even when they do revisit it, the measure is missing one of the biggest sources of such surprise bills: ambulance rides. There are some logistical reasons for that — like the fact that ambulance services are often run by local governments — but the political realities of fighting an entire industry also come into play.
“At a certain point you don’t want to invite another big gorilla in the room to further widen the brawl,” Chuck Bell, programs director for advocacy at Consumer Reports, tells The New York Times.
Meanwhile, unwarranted ER visits (think: going to the emergency department for a cough or a sore throat) cost the country an extra $32 billion in health spending a year. So a visit that could ring up as $167 in a doctor’s office or even $193 at an urgent care facility ends up costing $2,032.
A judge gave the Trump administration a win by greenlighting the expansion of short-term health plans. Critics have derided the plans as “junk insurance,” but U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the “undeniable” benefits outweigh the “minimal” negative impact.
Supporters of the health law were given a new talking point this week with a new study that revealed the deadly consequences of “red” states refusing to expand Medicaid. If all 50 states had expanded the program, 15,600 deaths could have been averted, it estimated. The data fits into a growing body of evidence for the long-term benefits of more people having health coverage.
More than 3 million Americans could lose their SNAP (aka food stamp) benefits as the USDA closes a “loophole” in the eligibility process. Agency officials acknowledged that the decision will increase food insecurity for some Americans, but they said it’s crucial to cut down on the practice of states bypassing “important eligibility guidelines.”
The Indian Health Service system is plagued with problems that potentially outstrip even the mess at the VA. Everyone knows it, some are trying to fix it, and yet it can feel like the most Sisyphean of tasks. That grim reality was highlighted by a watchdog report this week finding that, despite concerted efforts, poor medical care, untrained staff and leadership turnover problems persisted at the long-troubled Rosebud hospital on the Rosebud Indian reservation in South Dakota.
A global recall has been issued on textured breast implants linked to a rare kind of cancer. As recently as May, the FDA had said the implants didn’t warrant a nationwide ban, but new research was enough to persuade FDA officials to act.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• It’s a “slow-moving train wreck”: We have a nation full of aging baby boomers, advanced medical care that helps people live longer even with chronic diseases, and most Americans don’t have long-term care insurance. States are trying to think outside the box with new solutions before it becomes a “catastrophe.”
• Documents from the massive opioid court cases are a treasure trove of wild details from inside the drug companies during the time the epidemic was burgeoning. Like this email, which seems to sum up the state of affairs back then: “And do they really want 2520 bottles of OXYCODONE HCL 30MG TABS USP, 100 count each ??”
• The abortion debate tends not to focus on the pharma companies that make contraceptives, but drugmakers do have a financial interest in the legal outcome. Those same drugmakers also give large sums of money to Republicans who are dead-set on restricting their products. Is it going to come back and bite them in the end?
• A U.S. citizen who was traveling with both a birth certificate and a state ID was taken into custody by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and held for a month. Francisco Erwin Galicia says he lost 26 pounds while detained, and that he wasn’t allowed to shower.
• The mystery deepens! New brain scans show that the diplomats who developed concussion-like symptoms after working in Cuba do have less white matter now than a comparison group of healthy people. Other structural differences were found as well. Experts say the patterns were unlike anything she has seen from brain diseases or injuries — which is really not what you want to hear from your doctors.
Have a great, restful weekend!