Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Happy Friday! Is anyone still having an existential crisis over the now-viral tweet about what kind of inner monologue you have? And the fact that some people’s inner voice comes in images instead of words? Did you stare off into space for a while trying valiantly not to lose your grip on this fragile thing called reality? You are not alone!

All right, enough introspection, on to what you may have missed this week.

What’s in a name? Well for block grants … quite a bit of baggage. That’s why when the Trump administration sent letters this week to states to encourage them to transform their Medicaid programs into block-grant funding, it unveiled a fancy new title for the program. Wait for it … “The Healthy Adult Opportunity” program. Not the catchiest title, but certainly on brand for CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s messaging.

Why shy away from “block grant” terminology? Because the policy’s history is rife with partisan controversy and rhetoric that the administration seems to want to distance itself from. Conservatives have been champing at this particular bit for years, but critics say block grants are illegal and will lead to coverage losses. There isn’t a question of if there will be a court challenge, but rather of how soon it will come.

The New York Times: Trump Administration Unveils a Major Shift in Medicaid

Politico: ‘Block Grants’ No More: Trump’s Medicaid Overhaul Has New Name, Same Goals


Now for the section that I think will become a mainstay for at least a few weeks, judging by the daily deluge of stories: the coronavirus roundup file! (I also wish I had a catchier name for that, so I guess I shouldn’t throw rocks at CMS’ glass houses. The coronavirus checkup, perhaps?)

Anyway here are your highlights, while emphasizing — for not the first or last time probably — that there is quite a low risk of contracting the virus for Americans at the moment.

— The U.S. has reported its first person-to-person transmission, but it was a husband getting it from his wife, who had just come back from the epicenter of the outbreaks. Officials continue to reiterate that this shouldn’t cause any panic.

The Associated Press: US Reports 1st Case of Person-to-Person Spread of New Virus

— As the number of cases worldwide surges toward the 10,000 mark, WHO has officially declared the outbreak a “public health emergency” while being extra clear that this is not a “no confidence” vote in China’s ability to contain it.

Los Angeles Times: Coronavirus Outbreak Is Now a ‘Public Health Emergency,’ WHO Says

— Do the numbers sound somewhat terrifying? Experts say it’s still too early to be doing the math on mortality rates — in pandemics, the early cases are often the most severe and skew the numbers.

Stat: Limited Data May Be Skewing Assumptions About Severity of Coronavirus Outbreak, Experts Say

— Who gets the oh-so-lucky honor of becoming the face of the crisis response in the states? That would be HHS Secretary Alex Azar (yes, the same Alex Azar who recently has been the source of some unpleasant gossip about the Trump administration).

Politico: Trump Sticks Embattled Health Chief With Coronavirus Response

— When the science is fast, but the virus is faster, a vaccine can be out of reach.

The Washington Post: Coronavirus Vaccine Research Is Moving at Record Speed

— China has invested billions into becoming a world leader in medicine. Is this outbreak a reality check?

The Wall Street Journal: China’s Vast Ambition in Medicine Gets Reality Check From Coronavirus

— Experts warn about a dangerous symptom of the coronavirus: xenophobia.

NBC News: As Coronavirus Spreads, So Does Concern Over Xenophobia

— And step away from that Amazon order for surgical masks. Not only will they not do much for you, but the surge in orders is creating a shortage for the medical professionals they actually will help.

The New York Times: Face Mask Hoarders May Raise Risk of Coronavirus Outbreak in the U.S.


The Supreme Court gave the green light to a Trump administration policy change that would allow government officials to take into consideration a green-card applicant’s use of federal safety-net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. In the past, only substantial and sustained monetary help or long-term institutionalization counted.

The New York Times: Supreme Court Allows Trump’s Wealth Test for Green Cards


One of my favorite headlines of the week comes from this Stat story on the election and drug prices: “It’s the insulin, stupid.”

While “health care is complicated” has become a go-to one-liner for many of us wonks in recent years, Stat looks at why, when it comes to insulin, it’s just not. The drug is common, old and was previously cheap before an obesity epidemic provided an opportunity for pharma to jack up the prices. The stories that come out of that greed are devastating and plentiful.

The picture critics can paint is a fairly clear one that’s easy to understand. That may be why 2020 Democratic candidates are using it as a rallying cry.

Stat: It’s the Insulin, Stupid: How Drug Pricing’s Simplest Case Study Became a Top Issue for 2020 Democrats

“I am a danger to the public,” is not really something you want to hear from a pharmacist. But some of them are speaking out now about how chaotic workspaces and chronic understaffing are creating a breeding ground for disastrous mistakes.

The New York Times: How Chaos at Chain Pharmacies Is Putting Patients at Risk


A $145 million settlement between the government and a health technology company flew a bit under the radar this week, but it was the first of its kind. San Francisco-based Practice Fusion took kickbacks from an unnamed drugmaker (which was unmasked later as Purdue Pharma) to create an alert within its electronic health records system to encourage doctors to prescribe more opioids.

The Associated Press: US Attorney Announces $145M Settlement in Opioid Case


In a rare bit of good news, Americans’ life expectancy rose for the first time in four years as cancer and overdose deaths dipped slightly. While public health experts said the numbers were “encouraging,” they weren’t celebrating quite yet since the increase was so small.

The Associated Press: For 1st Time in 4 Years, US Life Expectancy Rises — a Little


A prominent Harvard scientist was arrested this week over accusations that he lied about his ties to China. Charles M. Lieber was apparently making $50,000 a month through his participation in the “Thousand Talents” program in, coincidentally, Wuhan, China. The arrest is just the latest in a crackdown on U.S. research being shared with China.

The New York Times: U.S. Accuses Harvard Scientist of Concealing Chinese Funding


In the miscellaneous file for the week:

— Uh, just in case anyone was confused, Purell can’t protect someone from Ebola. And now the FDA is officially telling the company it can’t say that it does.

The Washington Post: FDA Warns Purell Over False Claims It Can Eliminate Ebola, MRSA and Flu

— A harsh spotlight shone on the Hippocratic oath this week when testimony about Guantanamo Bay touched on the role of doctors in the facilities and interrogations.

The New York Times: Guantanamo Testimony Exposes Role of Doctors in C.I.A. Interrogations

— Wilderness therapy is a hot trend to help troubled teens whose families have run out of other options. But what does the science say about it?

Undark: Does Science Support the ‘Wilderness’ in Wilderness Therapy?

— Monday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The ceremony was somber amid the global upswing in anti-Semitism and dehumanizing political rhetoric that undermines the once-unshakable promise of “never again.”

The New York Times: 75 Years After Auschwitz Liberation, Worry That ‘Never Again’ Is Not Assured


That’s it from me! Have a great weekend.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Related Topics

Cost and Quality Courts Elections Health Care Costs Health Industry Insurance Medicaid Pharmaceuticals The Health Law