THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Sept. 24th – Friday, Sept. 28th

September 29, 2018 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, September 24th – Friday, September 28th

Welcome to another edition of Viewpoints! This week was full of talk and action. We’ll give you the 3 minute low-down below…

First of all, Thursday’s testimonies by Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford easily made the biggest news of the week. Dr. Ford’s wrenching testimony was no doubt a pivotal moment in highlighting the current state of rape culture in America. Then, Judge Kavanaugh’s defiant response to the accusations offered an unprecedented glimpse of emotion in a Supreme Court nominee. In case you missed it (whilst living under your rock), here are five key takeaways from the hearing. Even though the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Friday to advance Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to a vote of the full Senate, the vote will be delayed by a week for an FBI investigation into the allegations. Expect the conversation to continue while the confirmation hangs in the balance. Oh, and—in case you forgot—here’s a reminder of how the outcome of this particular SCOTUS nomination could impact health policy.

There was plenty of other impassioned discourse this week as well. In a wide-ranging speech on Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made pointed remarks about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration, and other plans for expanding access. First, he announced that premiums for benchmark federal exchange plans were projected to drop (by 2 percent nationally) and the number of federal exchange insurers were expected to grow, both for the first time since the ACA was implemented. Praising President Trump’s decisive action, business acumen and willingness to work with the private sector, he opined that President Trump is better at managing the ACA than President Obama was. Finally, he warned the public that embracing “Medicare for All” is tantamount to endorsing a new government plan—altogether different from Medicare—that would take away choice. The counterpoints regarding Secretary Azar’s ACA claims are numerous, but it definitely sparks an interesting debate on the impact of the adminstration’s moves regarding Obamacare.

On the Medicaid front, work requirements and expansion were front and center yet again. Here in Virginia, details emerged about the Commonwealth’s Medicaid expansion plan and associated work requirements. Some controversy emerged after acknowledgment that the work requirements could take as long as two more years to roll out. Meanwhile, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma defended the proliferation of state plans for Medicaid work requirements, arguing that they are focused on helping people climb out of poverty and not a “subversive attempt to kick people off Medicaid.”

Adding to the Medicaid expansion controversy this week, a report out of Georgetown University described a significant impact of Medicaid expansion on reducing rural uninsured rates (as seen in Colorado and Georgia). Meanwhile, other states are worried about the ability to finance their existing Medicaid expansions, which are proving to be increasingly expensive. With three states (Idaho, Nebraska and Utah) set to vote on ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid in November, there are plenty of important Medicaid issues to follow in the coming weeks!

Did we mention that elections are coming up? Ah, the deluge of commercials, “I Voted” stickers and political parties jockeying for power—gotta love it! Democrats in the House have their sights set on regaining the majority in the House of Representatives, and hope to use the power that comes with it to hold Trump officials accountable on the ACA. Elections beyond Congress are getting a lot of attention, too, with state Attorney General races in the spotlight due to significant ACA implications. It’s getting down to the wire, so make sure you’re registered to vote in this year’s critical election season!

We’re running out of time, so we’ll end with the lightning round. Following up from last week, the House and Senate agreed on a final opioid bill in a rare moment of bipartisanship from the 115th Congress. The 653-page bill should make it to President Trump’s desk for a signature soon! Next, potentially life-saving, curative, and expensive Hepatitis C medications may soon be available to Medicaid beneficiaries and prison inmates after a series of recent court rulings. Not at all coincidentally, Gilead Sciences announced this week that they would begin selling generic versions of its two leading Hepatitis C treatments, offering substantial savings to Medicaid patients. Well played, Gilead…well played! Finally, we’ll end with our last public service announcement for this week: listen to Surgeon General Jerome Adams and get your flu shot! After all, ‘tis the season and it IS your social responsibility!

See you in October!


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


 

Filed Under: Viewpoints - Week in Review, Viewpoints: Health Policy Blog