THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 14th – Friday, Jan. 18th

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, January 14th – Friday, January 18th

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Viewpoints of 2019! Brand new team, same old antics. Talking health policy, y’all. Here’s this week’s rundown…

With the new year brings many new developments in health policy, but perhaps none more prominent than the partial government shutdown of the last 27 days and 17 hours. While funding for key health programs like the ACA, Medicare, and Medicaid remains in place, the effects of the shutdown are still impacting other important federal agencies. Due to the shutdown, about 40% of the FDA is furloughed, which places limits on the agency’s ability to carry out food safety operations and recalls. In some good news, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has announced that furloughed FDA workers are heading back to work in order to resume crucial food and drug inspections. Because of funding restrictions, Homeland Security health workers are going without pay, impacting the DHS’ capacity to assess threats posed by infectious diseases, and biological and chemical attacks.

The shutdown has also caused health and safety concerns for the National Park Service, which has resorted to eliminating all restroom maintenance and trash service due to a lack of funding (we know… that’s nasty). Meanwhile, an emergency disaster relief bill passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday with an amendment to reopen parts of the government and fund them through February 8th. The bill would provide $12 billion in funding for areas impacted by natural disasters this past year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to seek pre-approval from President Trump before bringing any bills to the floor that would reopen the government.

You thought we were done talking about the shutdown? Nope… we’re not. The shutdown has already impacted a number of key issues even closer to home. Due to the unforeseen circumstances, 800,000 furloughed employees struggle to add new family members such as spouses, new babies, or adopted children to their existing health insurance plans. Also, states are left searching for funds to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—a program on which 14% of the U.S. population is dependent. Even worse, the unavailability of federal funds leaves many Native American tribes without access to essentials like medicine and stock pantries.

Ok, enough shutdown bashing. Let’s keep going with this week’s ACA news. The Trump Administration proposed rule changes to the law on Thursday that would result in an increase in health insurance premiums. The administration argues that the rule changes would help calculate premium subsidies. Across the aisle, Democrats—newly in control of the House of Representatives—have already speculated that the rule changes are further efforts to sabotage the ACA and jeopardize coverage for millions. Also important to note is a final ACA rule for implementation this year which claims to “give states new tools to stabilize their health insurance markets and empower citizens to find coverage that fits their families’ needs and budgets”. How this rule will play out remains to be seen. Spoiler alert: one Obama CMS administrator argues it will lower protections for preexisting conditions and increase both barriers to enrollment and costs.

Next, we’ll wrap this afternoon by getting a little more local. Over in Kentucky, more than a dozen Medicaid beneficiaries have filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration regarding the new Medicaid work requirements. Meanwhile, the City of New York and the state of California—well known for their ultra-conservative ideology—are cooking up plans for near-universal health care coverage. First, Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) of New York announced a new health plan, NYC care, which will cover the residents of the city that are currently uninsured. Additionally, new California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) hopes to effectively restore the ACA’s individual mandate, increasing the number of insured Californians by nearly 400,000. In addition, his plan would expand the number of people eligible for subsidies and extend the age that undocumented children can receive Medicaid. Health policy experts say resource-rich governments like New York and California have strong enough revenues to cover the cost ($100 million a year and $260 million a year, respectively) of expanding health care to cover their uninsured populations.

Finally, our first PSA of 2019: make sure you (and your kids…and your momma) are updated on your vaccinations. It’s not a game, as NYC is experiencing the most severe measles outbreak in a decade (182 cases and counting). Unless you have a reeeeeally good reason to avoid them, just remember that vaccines save lives. Don’t wind up like these people.

See you next week!

Student Contributors on this Article:
Avery Bullock, Annie Duncan, Cristalle Madray, Jo McClain, Nana Owusu, Morenike Oyebade, Allyson Paiewonsky and Tes Sabin