Must Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Just in case our ever-decreasing anonymity in this tech-driven world hasn’t scared you enough, new studies find that within a few years 90 percent — 90 percent! — of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA. If you fall into that group, it doesn’t even matter whether you’ve given a DNA sample to one of the popular gene-testing sites (like 23andMe). Enough of your distant relatives have, so there’s a good chance you’re in the system.

Take your mind off that by checking out what you may have missed in health care this week.

The biggie, of course, was President Donald Trump’s opinion piece in USA Today about “Medicare-for-all.” (And the rebuttal from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.)

Fact checkers came out in droves to comb through Trump’s arguments and found that nearly every paragraph contained a misleading statement or falsehood.

The Washington Post: Fact-Checking President Trump’s USA Today Op-Ed on ‘Medicare-for-All’

More than shedding any kind of light on the complicated topic, the back-and-forth highlights how much of a role health care is playing in the upcoming midterm elections. Each side has doubled down on its respective talking points (read: preexisting conditions and Medicare-for-all — I warned you you’d get tired of me saying that). In fact, health care is featured so heavily in ads that it trumps the topics of jobs or taxes.

The Wall Street Journal: Health Care Crowds Out Jobs, Taxes in Midterm Ads

(Side note: If you do want some light shed on Medicare-for-all and single-payer systems, check out these great pieces from KHN’s own Shefali Luthra.)

Speaking of midterms, the Democrats’ attempt to block the administration’s expansion of short-term plans (very predictably) failed, with only Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins joining the Democrats. It was never about winning, though. What it did was force Republicans to go on record with a vote that is potentially politically dangerous in the current landscape.

Politico: Senate Democrats Fail to Block Trump’s Short-Term Health Plans

In stark contrast to the sharply partisan discourse, Trump signed two bipartisan health care measures into law this week. The bills banned “gag clauses” on pharmacists, which had prohibited them from offering consumers cheaper options. The legislation won’t directly affect drug prices, but it might mean people will pay less at the register.

The New York Times: Trump Signs New Laws Aimed at Drug Costs and Battles Democrats on Medicare


For the first time, premiums for the most popular level of insurance sold in the health law marketplaces have gone down. The numbers are the latest sign that the marketplace is stabilizing. (Centene’s expansion into new states is another from this week.) CMS Administrator Seema Verma touted the success, saying the news counters any accusations of sabotage. Health experts, however, said those price tags would have been even lower if not for the administration’s actions over the past year.

The Washington Post: Premiums for Popular ACA Health Insurance Dip for the First Time


The Justice Department approved CVS’ $ 69 billion merger with Aetna, and although the deal still needs approval from state regulators, the green light is a major hurdle cleared. The merger would reshape the health landscape and mark the end of an era for free-standing pharmacy benefit managers. The potential consolidation is just one of many in recent years in a fast-evolving industry — a trend critics worry will lessen competition and drive up prices for consumers.

The New York Times: CVS Health and Aetna $ 69 Billion Merger Is Approved With Conditions


Hospitals scrambled to ensure patient safety as Hurricane Michael battered Florida and Georgia this week. “It was like hell,” said one doctor who rode out the storm at Bay Medical Center in Panama City, Fla. The hurricane brought with it memories of last year’s power outages that came with Hurricane Irma and were linked to the deaths of several nursing home residents.

The New York Times: Hospitals Pummeled by Hurricane Michael Scramble to Evacuate Patients


Now that the Brett Kavanaugh battle is over and he’s taken a seat on the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood has gone into planning mode in case anything happens to Roe v. Wade. A key component of the organization’s plan is to shore up networks in states where abortion would likely remain legal (with longer hours for clinics, for example). On the other side, abortion-rights opponents are getting primed for a new high court that’s likely friendlier to them by strategizing what cases would be best to move forward with.

NPR: With Kavanaugh Confirmed, Both Sides of Abortion Debate Gear Up for Battle

How do you fight measures to expand abortion rights in progressive states? Make it about money. A battle in Oregon illustrates a strategy that — although unlikely to be successful — gives opponents of the bills at least a hope of winning.

Politico: Oregon’s Unlikely Abortion Fight Hinges on Taxes


Holes in the court system have allowed state judges to grant full custody of migrant children to American families — without notifying their parents. Federal officials say it should never happen, but oversight of the problem is scattershot and challenging because states handle adoption proceedings differently.

The Associated Press: Deported Parents May Lose Kids to Adoption

Democrats have been vocal about what they don’t like when it comes to immigration policy. But they have a problem: a lack of cohesion within the party about the correct way forward.

The New York Times: The Democrats Have an Immigration Problem


In the miscellaneous, must-read file:

• A gripping piece takes you into the bowels of a Philadelphia neighborhood dubbed the “Walmart of heroin.” “Drug tourists” come from all over to buy the cheap, pure heroin flowing through the veins of the streets, and some never make it out. (Warning: Make sure you have some time before you start, it will suck you in completely.)

The New York Times: Trapped by the ‘Walmart of Heroin’

• Why were nursing home residents getting extremely pricey therapy in the last weeks of their lives? Bloomberg takes a closer look at these cash-strapped facilities and the questionable decisions made about patients’ rehab.

Bloomberg: Nursing Homes Are Pushing the Dying Into Pricey Rehab

• In good news from the segment of people who were too old to take advantage of the HPV vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration just approved its use for those up to age 45.

The Associated Press: FDA Expands Use of Cervical Cancer Vaccine up to Age 45


As an office of ardent dog lovers, we were distressed to hear the news that therapy dogs in hospitals are little germ machines, leaving behind happiness but also superbugs.

Have a great (hopefully superbug-free) weekend!

Kaiser Health News

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Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Tucked away in an obit on a physicist’s death this week was the latest reality check-slash-gut punch on the state of spending in our health system. Leon Lederman, aka the man who coined the phrase “God particle,” died Wednesday at 96. A few years back, he auctioned off his Nobel Prize medal for $ 765,000 to help pay for his health care costs. What happens when you don’t have one of those lying around?

Do you need a mental break from following the play-by-play of the Supreme Court battle? Well here’s what you may have missed in health care.

If you think you can escape the phrases “Medicare-for-All” or “preexisting conditions” over the next few weeks, I’m sorry to break the bad news. Both sides have homed in on those key talking points, and we’ll be hearing a lot on both topics for the foreseeable future.

On the Republican side: Candidates are urging voters to believe they’ll preserve the popular insurance protections on preexisting conditions, but it’s difficult to convey that message while there’s a GOP lawsuit underway that would strip them away. To try to get ahead of the issue, some Republican lawmakers released a (non-binding) resolution vowing to keep the guarantees. But with no details on how they’ll accomplish it (turns out it’s hard to get insurers to just offer desserts without eating your veggies, too), the topic remains a thorn in their side.

The Washington Post: GOP Candidates Pay the Price for Attempts to Kill Obamacare and Its Guarantee of Coverage For Preexisting Conditions

The Hill: Vulnerable House Republican Unveils Resolution on Pre-Existing Conditions

(Side note: President Donald Trump did offer a way to cover costs for guaranteed preexisting conditions coverage: getting “a little more money from China.” From The Washington Post.)

Over to the Dems, who have their own vulnerabilities: “Medicare-for-All” has become something of a litmus test for Democrats, especially for progressive candidates, but that doesn’t mean the plan hasn’t left them open to attack from the right. At the same time, moderates in the party would prefer to focus on shoring up the health law.

The Wall Street Journal: Some Democrats Want Medicare for All. Others Aren’t So Sure

The Washington Post Fact Checker: GOP Ads Falsely Depict Democrats As Supporters of Sanders’s Health Plan

And, if you’d like a blast from the past (or a peek into the future?), check out the preexisting conditions checklist for Iowa Farm Bureau plans (the ones the state can sell that don’t fall under health law restrictions).

The Hill: Iowa to Sell Health Plans That Can Disqualify People Based on Pre-Existing Conditions


A lot of news coverage these days focuses on the individual marketplace, but a look at shifting costs for people who receive insurance through their employers paints a grim picture about why health care matters to many voters. Not only has the number of workers who face an annual deductible grown, but the average deductible has crept higher and higher for more than a decade.

The Associated Press: Survey: Companies Continue to Pass Health Costs to Workers

So, I’m not a negotiator. But apparently, if you can haggle, there are all sorts of lucrative clauses, side deals and kickbacks baked into the system that you can use to your advantage to get lower costs for care. Good luck! I’ll be over here wondering why we can’t all get that price.

NPR/ProPublica: Health Insurance Industry Insider to Employers: Learn to Negotiate


Hundreds of detained migrant children are being roused in the middle of the night for under-the-cover-of-darkness journeys to a tent city in West Texas. Advocates are alarmed that they’re being moved from shelters with formal schools and visits from legal representation to a pop-up tent city that has few such regulations in place.

The New York Times: Migrant Children Moved Under Cover of Darkness to a Texas Tent City

Meanwhile, a disturbing inspector general report found numerous safety violations at an immigration detention center in California, including nooses made from bedsheets in 15 of 20 cells (which were “not a high priority” to remove, guards said, per LAT’s coverage); detainees’ rotting teeth from delays to see dentists (and suggestions that they use string from their socks to floss); and more.

Los Angeles Times: Nooses in Cells, Rotting Teeth — Report Details Harsh Conditions at Adelanto Immigration Facility


Pharma failed to attach to the fast-moving opioid legislation its much-desired “doughnut hole” change, which would have let companies off the hook for paying to cover more drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. But the industry is not giving up — and Congress might be more willing to play ball in the lame-duck session post-midterms.

Politico: Why Congress Is Poised to Give the Drug Industry a $ 4B Windfall


One street over. That’s all it took in a Washington state neighborhood for children to have a better chance of being lifted out of poverty. One street. A new, detailed (and very interesting) map looks at how location plays a part in the economic outcomes of children in low-income families. It’s also leaving advocates and city planners wondering if offering incentives to move into the neighborhoods with better statistics would be enough to change these families’ futures.

The New York Times: Detailed New National Maps Show How Neighborhoods Shape Children for Life


In the miscellaneous must-read file:

• Missouri is now down to one abortion clinic, and some of its laws are poised to land in the Supreme Court. Understanding the high-stakes legal developments that got the state to where it is a roller-coaster ride.

KCUR: Timeline: Abortion Restrictions in Missouri on a Possible Path to the U.S. Supreme Court

• Is a little radiation good for you? Like sunlight? That’s at least what Trump administration officials are betting on.

The Associated Press: Proposed Rule Change Worries Some About Radiation Regulation

• The lawsuits against Purdue Pharma have been likened to Big Tobacco’s reckoning in the 1990s. But experts see a big difference: The painkiller-maker will likely not have to pay nearly as much in the expected settlement.

Stat: Opioid Settlement Will Take Time, But May Cost Less Than the Big Tobacco Deal

• Time and again, following the money proves pretty interesting. Here’s a look at the industry behind “hardening” schools for mass shootings, and how it had stalled before the massacre in Parkland, Fla.

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Buy Industry Fix to Stop Mass School Shootings

• Australia is on track to all but eliminate cervical cancer in the coming decades. How did they do it? (Hint: It has to do with aggressive vaccination policies.)

The New York Times: In Australia, Cervical Cancer Could Soon Be Eliminated


Speaking of vaccinations, here’s your reminder to get your flu shot! Winter is coming.

Have a great weekend!

Kaiser Health News

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