THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 21st – Friday, Jan. 25th

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, January 21st – Friday, January 25th

Welcome back for another edition of the Viewpoints Week in Review. Another chance for our team to dig through the action, organize it, and pluck out the best bits of health policy news for your easy consumption. There was quite a bit of action this week, so let’s cut right to the chase…

Three states added fuel to the fire in one of the nation’s foremost human rights debates this week. First, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signed legislation to codify abortion protections under Roe v. Wade, purportedly expanding reproductive rights for women and health care providers across the state. This new NY state law allows women to terminate pregnancies beyond the 24th week in situations where the life of the mother is at risk or the fetus is no longer viable. This is significant shift, as the women of New York (and their doctors) were previously at risk of criminal prosecution in the state for carrying out these “late-term abortions”.

Meanwhile, the abortion debate was also on the docket in the country’s heartland this week. In Iowa, a state judge ruled the state’s fetal heartbeat abortion law unconstitutional. That particular legislation  outlawed abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat—an event that could happen as early as six weeks gestation (before many women even know that they are pregnant). The judge described a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy as a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution. Despite the ruling in Iowa, Ohio’s new Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) says he will sign Ohio’s own heartbeat bill that former Governor John Kasich (R-OH) vetoed. Don’t expect advocates on either side to sit on the sidelines for any of these debates, as each of these actions instantly join the pipeline as candidates as the basis for the next U.S. Supreme Court review of abortion policy.

Moving to the federal scene, the biggest (and latest breaking) news came with President Trump’s announcement of a deal to reopen the federal government—albeit for 21 days. Importantly, federal employees are promised to receive their back pay as soon as possible. Still, the impact of the 36 day partial shutdown reverberated through the health care policy landscape. For instance, staffing shortages at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) led to higher premiums for those who needed tax credits to help pay for their health insurance. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) delayed releasing necessary information to insurance carriers that would have allowed them to make decisions about future participation in the ACA’s health insurance exchanges. With all that remains at stake, we’re all hopeful this temporary fix becomes a more permanent one before midnight strikes on the three week deal. Fingers crossed!

Speaking of the health insurance landscape, big news came in the form of numbers this week. According to a recent Gallup poll, the country’s uninsured rate rose from by nearly three percent over the past two years, now to 13.7 percent. This marks the highest percentage of Americans without health insurance since 2014, when key Affordable Care Act (ACA) policies like the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion were implemented. Continually rising health insurance premiums, the elimination of the individual mandate penalty and decreased federal investment in health plan enrollment all contribute to the rise, and it’s unclear which direction the arrow will point in 2019. What is certain, though, is that the answer lies somewhere in the policy proposals to come from the Trump administration and the 116th Congress.

On a more uplifting note, some seeds of bipartisanship made news this week. First, Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would permit prescription drug purchases from Canada. Not to be outdone, President Trump pledged a new effort to curb surprise medical bills during a roundtable discussion on Wednesday. While the details of both efforts will certainly bring detractors—from across branches of government and across industries—it still is nice to see a bit of collaboration making headlines for a change.

Finally, we’ll end by circling back to a recurring Viewpoints story from the fall—the latest on the back and forth between the FDA and e-cigarette manufacturers regarding the impact of these products on youth.  This week, the FDA announced that it would pull e-cigarettes off the market if youth smoking rates do not decline in the next year. Despite strong words from the agency, manufacturers certainly will not go down without a fight. In fact, it appears that JUUL—one of the largest e-cigarette manufacturers—has spent over $750,000 in the last three months of 2018 in lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on this public health heavyweight match, particularly given the high stakes for the nation’s youth.

That’s it for today, but there’s plenty more to come in the weeks and months. Medicare-for-All, drug pricing reform, efforts to address pre-existing conditions and cost containment in health care are all on the short list for Congressional intervention. Also, we should hear more about the next steps in the Texas v. United States appeal in weeks to come! February should be an exciting month! See you next time!

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