LAST WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Sept. 17th – Friday, Sept. 21st

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, September 17th – Friday, September 21st

Welcome to another overcast edition of Viewpoints! We’ll begin with a follow-up from last week regarding electronic cigarettes. The FDA continued its swift work, launching a campaign to warn children and teens about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. On Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stressed that an evidence-based public health campaign would be the key to stemming this “very disturbing” trend in e-cigarette use among children. The FDA’s campaign builds on the Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan with a larger, more specific focus on e-cigarettes. Make sure to keep a look out for the the actual report on the e-cigarette use data, which Commissioner Gottlieb mentioned will be public soon.

Speaking of the Trump administration’s obligations to protect youth, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took steps to address the unprecedented number of federally detained migrant children in the Unaccompanied Alien Children program. After a New York Times report last week revealed that the number of migrant children in federal custody has risen from 2,400 in May 2017 to a record 12,800 this month, HHS responded by reallocating over $260 million from other agency programs in order to house these children. The dollars were shifted from agency programs from the National Cancer Institute, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and other programs from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many around the country continue to speak out about the costs—in emotional turmoil and in federal funding—that seem to be flowing from the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border.

In the latest from the Hill, our Viewpoints team is excited to turn the page on the comprehensive opioids bill. The Senate opened the week by finally approving the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018—replete with 70 provisions—in a 99-1 vote (way to blow the no-hitter, Sen. Mike Lee from Utah). This set up a conference between both chambers of Congress to reconcile differences between this Senate bill and <inhale> The Substance Use-Disorder that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) passed by the House of Representatives three months ago. Despite the Senate’s optimism for resolution by week’s end, still no word on how the final law will look if one is able to make it to the President’s desk before the election in November.

Beyond the Senate bill, there was plenty more on the opioid policy front this week as well. Lawmakers are considering a provision in the new opioid package that would result in cost breaks for drug companies. The provision came largely at the behest of the Pharmaceutical industry, as manufacturers continue to try to find ways to defray new costs they faced due to the budget deal earlier this year. Meanwhile, HHS awarded over $1 billion in opioid-specific grants across the country as part of its newly-enhanced Five-Point Opioid Strategy.  The vast majority of the funding is being dedicated to support prevention and treatment efforts in states like Massachusetts, which received $50 million to expand access for services.

Big news out of the business world this week, with major health policy implications. Federal officials finally approved the $52 billion merger of Cigna and Express Scripts on Monday. This is the first deal of its kind between two major players in the healthcare industry—an insurance agency and pharmacy benefit manager—and expectations are that it will impact the market on prescription drug pricing. Close behind, Aetna and CVS are waiting for their approval from the Justice Department in the coming months.

We’ll end with a feel-good message from social media. Mark Zuckerburg announced he will sell around $13 billion in Facebook stock to with a goal of “curing, preventing or managing all diseases “in our children’s lifetime.” He and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan—through their philanthropic investment group the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative—fund young scientists to help accomplish their ambitious goal through greater collaboration across science and technology.

On that note, be sure to follow us on Twitter @viewpoints_uva. Couldn’t help it…the timing just felt right!

See you next week!

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