THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Aug. 27th – Friday, Aug. 31st

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, August 27th – Friday, August 31st

While we hated to deprive you of health policy updates all summer long, the Viewpoints squad is finally back in business and ready to bring you the latest. As per usual, it has been another busy week in the world of health policy. Here are your updates from around the country and across the branches of government.

Earlier this week, smart phones across the country were abuzz with notifications of startling rates of sexual transmitted infections across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of infection reached an all-time high in 2017 with 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed. This gives the U.S. the dubious distinction of being home to the highest STD rates in the industrialized world. Given the 40 percent decrease in federal funding for STD prevention over the past 15 years, many believe that these latest trends in infection are a startling reminder of the importance of investing in prevention.

Switching from infections to injections, the Trump administration has announced their intention to criminalize and shut down any ”safe injection sites” that are designated around the country. For those of you who are not familiar with injection sites, these are medically-supervised facilities designed to create a hygienic and “safe” environment for recreational IV drug use. The Department of Justice is already cracking down on San Francisco’s plan to test supervised injection sites, threatening criminal prosecutions, property seizures, fines, and up to 20 years in prison.

Speaking of the administration’s war on drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an update on ongoing federal efforts to address the opioid epidemic. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb outlined the three pillars of the agency’s approach: better rationalizing the prescribing of opioids, cracking down on the sale of illicit opioids online, and supporting novel product innovation. Specifically, the FDA is pushing for more product innovation regarding non-opioid pain medications. Non-opioid pain medications have been a focus during the opioid crisis, as just this week the state of Illinois gave the OK for medical marijuana to replace opioid painkillers. Be on the lookout for continued legislative efforts in the Senate to combat the opioid epidemic, which continues to devastate some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.

The Trump administration continued their efforts to reduce drug prices this week, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced their latest plans on Wednesday. First, they described new flexibility in Part D formularies to increase choices. Next, CMS announced a plan to allow Part D plans to negotiate lower drug prices starting in 2020. Not to be outdone, the Senate passed a controversial spending bill that included a whopping $1 million for new regulations that could force drug companies to include prices in their medication advertisements. Only time will tell if the proposal will move forward to become a law, as the House’s current measure to fund the Department for Health & Human Services (HHS) for fiscal year 2019 does not currently include language on advertisements.

Finally, news from across the fifty nifty states included the ongoing battle over Medicaid’s future. Officials in South Dakota submitted a new waiver application to CMS requesting to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients who are parents or caretakers.  If this proposal is approved, South Dakota will become the first state to impose work requirements on the “traditional” Medicaid population of low-income parents and caretakers. Meanwhile, Nebraska took the next step toward expanding their Medicaid program, adding an Affordable Care Act-based expansion measure to its 2018 general election ballot. Were this measure to pass in November, Nebraska would be the 34th state to expand its program. Because we missed it (we were busily summering), shouts out to the great Commonwealth of Virginia for our very own Medicaid expansion back in June. Way to be…33!

See you next time!

Student Contributors on this Article:
Marissa Alvarez, Chad Fletcher, Shaina Haque, Virginia Wright