THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, November 12th – Friday, November 16th
With the dust settling after last week’s election, America tried to get back to business as usual this week. Yes, we are still awaiting the official official (official) results in the Florida and Georgia gubernatorial races—with legal challenges likely pending in each race. And yes, there remain 10 Congressional seats that still lack a consensus winner. All in all, though, the balance of power in the House, the Senate, and across the nation seems to be fairly well outlined as we look ahead. With that as the context, we’ll jump into our Week in Review!
Starting with news from the Hill, it was orientation week for the newly-elected members of the 116th Congress. Just as it was a major topic of discussion on the campaign trail, health policy was top of mind as the new elected officials descended on the nation’s capital. Many Democrats—the soon-to-be majority party in the House—were discussing their plans for healthcare. While word leaked about a planned House vote early next year to protect health coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, more progressives Democrats like Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) were already making calls for an early vote on Medicare for All. Others, however, seemed to be playing the long game and focusing on incremental changes. Most everyone, however, anticipates ramped up House oversight of the Trump administration’s “faithful execution” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). See Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution for clarification of that requirement.
Speaking of the Trump administration, leaders across the executive branch continued to focus on another key public health policy issue: youth electronic cigarette usage. Adding to the conversation this week, the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey was released on Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The report shows that youth electronic cigarette users—which include middle and high school school students—have increased by 1.5 million to an incredible total of 3.6 million youths in 2018. Concurrent to the release of the report, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb immediately announced five key policy changes to prevent youth access to flavored tobacco products and menthol cigarettes. Additionally, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar described the latest figures on youth e-cigarette use as “a public health crisis that threatens an entire generation.” As you might have guessed, tobacco stocks took a big hit on the market this week after the news hit. Sorry…not sorry (this is a public health blog, after all).
Unfortunately, youth e-cigarette use was not the only public health crisis the Trump administration continued to face this week. A state of Public Health Emergency was declared in California on Tuesday, as the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history continued to rage through the West coast. Despite the tireless effort of firefighters, first responders and other local officials, two main fires continue to wreak havoc—one in the north called the Camp Fire and one in the south named the Woolsey Fire. Over 8,800 structures have been destroyed, and the fires have forced the evacuation of at least ten health care facilities—threatening the lives of thousands. The number of fatalities from the fires is unknown and several hundreds of individuals are still missing. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and HHS have announced plans to help displaced persons get medical care in refuge states through special waivers to ensure everyone can get help. Here is a quick link with resources if you’re interested in learning how you can help those affected by the California fires.
Looking ahead to the next few weeks, don’t expect significant movement from Congress on health policy during the lame duck final months of the 115th Congress. You should, however, keep an eye on Obamacare enrollment, which heads into its third week. Early numbers show enrollment down compared to last year, and states are facing a greater number of challenges to enrollment than in the previous five years of the ACA marketplaces. Also, stay tuned for a decision any day now from Judge Reed O’Connor from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Texas v. United States—the case regarding the constitutionality of the ACA in light of the individual mandate repeal. We just wanted to give you a heads up on key things to come because we’re planning on skipping next week on account of our Thanksgiving-induced food comas!
Enjoy some time off next week! Till next time…
Student Contributors on this Article:
Marissa Alvarez, Chad Fletcher, Shaina Haque, Virginia Wright