THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Sept. 10th – Friday, Sept. 14th

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, September 10th – Friday, September 14th

Welcome back for another edition of Viewpoints—undoubtedly the best way to start your rain-soaked weekend. Speaking of which, it was the preparations for Hurricane Florence that dominated the health policy news this week, with the Category 1 storm finally making landfall this morning. Over a million people were advised to evacuate the storms path, and hospitals and health systems across the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia are bracing for the storm’s effects. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared it a public health emergency, and also issued guidance to emergency officials to help ensure equal access to emergency services for at-risk populations during and after the storm. With President Trump still on the defensive for his administration’s response to the devastation to Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria, all eyes are on the federal government’s execution as Hurricane Florence hits the coast.

Beyond the hurricane (and the associated storm proofing and grocery stockpiling), other parts of the Trump administration were also busy at work. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced major steps to curb the epidemic of youth electronic cigarette use. In an effort to reduce direct sales of e-cigarettes to teens, the administration announced a 60-day deadline for manufacturers and retailers to prove that they can reverse the trend of use among minors, or they will risk the removal of flavored e-cigarettes from the market. As a signal that they’re not messing around, the FDA also issued over 1,000 warning letters to retailers and levied 131 fines for e-cigarette sales to minors.

Instead of issuing penalties, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was working to eliminate penalties this week. The agency announced a streamlined process to make it easier for taxpayers to claim a hardship exemption in order to avoid paying a tax penalty for lacking health insurance in 2018. This move follows last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reduced the individual mandate penalty to $0 beginning in 2019. With the individual mandate regarded as the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), this latest announcement is yet another big blow to the Obamacare approach to insuring America. On that note, the latest news from the Census Bureau this week showed that the uninsured rate of 8.8 percent in President Trump’s first year was the same as the rate in President Obama’s final year in office. We should note, however, that these 2017 uninsured rates largely reflect patterns predating the repeal of the individual mandate last December.

Sticking with our insurance flow, CMS awarded $10 million in Navigator grant awards to 39 organizations who will serve as “navigators” in federally-facilitated exchange states. Just as was their role during the Obama administration, Navigators will be expected to help individuals shop for—and enroll in—health insurance coverage for 2019. CMS Administrator Seema Verma noted that these grants will provide a more cost-effective approach in ensuring both accountability and a more positive experience for consumers. She also referenced a commitment to the “left behind” population of Americans disproportionately without access to health insurance coverage and without awareness of their options. The announcement comes as a surprising turnabout by the Trump administration, particularly after the controversial cuts the administration made to the Navigator program last year.

Rounding out the Obamacare updates, still no district court ruling from Judge O’Connor in Texas v. United States—the latest challenge to the constitutionality of the ACA. The case has, however, inspired a response from the state of Maryland. The state’s attorney general has filed a separate lawsuit seeking an injunction to continue the enforcement of the ACA—essentially a mirror to the Texas case. While Maryland is not one of the 36 states involved in the Texas v. United States case, they did welcome other states to join in on their case, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. No takers yet, but we’ll keep you posted!

Finally, we know we keep promising you an opioid bill from the Senate, but it still hasn’t happened yet! Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced on Thursday the Senate’s intention to vote soon on the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. Known as the STOP Act, the bill is expected to provide states with an additional $1 billion to combat the nation’s opioid crisis. The Senate Health, Finance, Judiciary, Commerce and Banking Committees are hoping to reach an agreement with their counterparts in the House of Representatives by the end of next week, paving the way for a vote on a final opioids package. We’re all waiting with baited breath!

That’s all for now. Stay safe out there, and we’ll see you next week!


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