THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 28th – Friday, Feb. 1st

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, January 28th – Friday, February 1st

Welcome to another edition of Viewpoints! We know some of y’all are freezing right now, so grab a blanket, make a cup of cocoa, come on in and warm up with some health policy news!

The upcoming 2020 presidential election is quickly setting the stage to to revisit the age-old (ahem, 50 year old) “Medicare-for-all” conversation. With so many candidates using the phrase, it will be interesting to see the variations of the proposal that will be offered up to the electorate. This week, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)—who recently announced her candidacy for President—jumped right into the conversation by embracing Medicare-for-all while advocating for eliminating the private health insurance industry. Meanwhile, some cities and states are also attempting to develop some version of Medicare-for-all. New California Gov. Gavin Newsome has even proposed combining all federal funds into a solitary system that the state would control, despite the $400 billion price tag. As the devil is always in the details with single-payer proposals, we’re in for some fun debates ahead!

While we are on the topic of expanding healthcare, the Trump Administration has released new proposed regulations for veterans to increase access to health care. Veterans living more than a 30-minute drive from the nearest Veterans Affairs (VA) facility can use a pre-approved network of private providers for services such as primary care, mental health, and more. Previously, veterans had to live over 40 miles from a VA facility to receive private care. In addition, veterans that have to wait more than 20 days for an appointment will be eligible to visit a private physician. After an upcoming public comment period, the finalized standards would be expected to go into effect in June, effectively offering over one million veterans newfound access to private health care.

Now, let’s talk about drugs! According to the Department of Health and Human Services, prescription drug rebates amount to 26 to 30 percent of a drug’s list price on average. To lower drug prices for Medicare, the Trump Administration introduced a new proposal targeting secretive rebates between drug manufacturers, insurers and pharmacy benefits managers. The proposal would lower prescription drug prices and out-of-pocket costs by encouraging manufacturers to provide discounts directly to patients according to HHS. The FDA released a statement this week on their plans to promote drug competition amongst complex medicines that are harder to develop generics for. These additional policies are part of their efforts to promote patient access and more affordable medicines.

Congress is also in on the drug pricing conversation, as this week both the House and Senate are holding hearings on rising drug prices. On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate Finance Committee put pressure on drug company execs to testify publicly before Congress. Only two companies have agreed to participate in the investigation into their pricing practices. What’s more, drug companies aren’t only feeling the heat from the Senate. On Wednesday, The Democrat-led House Energy and Commerce Committee also called on three drug companies that make insulin to testify. Despite the lack of significant advances in the formula, the price of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013, and nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016. House democrats want answers to these skyrocketing costs. The issue of high drug prices may lead to bipartisan action in Congress, with Democrats, Republicans, and the President all agreeing that rising drug prices are a policy priority.

Other news from Congress: In their first policy hearing of 2019, the now Democrat-controlled House Ways and Means Committee pressed Republicans on the issue of pre-existing conditions, citing certain actions they believe have harmed Americans who benefit from protections. The actions they cite include the expansion of short-term, limited-duration plans that fall short of the requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At issue is how these plans—considered substandard by proponents of the ACA—potentially remove healthy people from markets and raise health insurance premiums for those remaining in the marketplace. Republicans responded, citing wanting to lower costs in the individual market and proposing methods like high-risk pools to cover those with pre-existing conditions. Expect to see more debate as the 116th Congress rolls on.

As we leave you this week, make sure to bundle up because the polar vortex is here! According to the National Weather Service, parts of the midwest have plunged to -38F and below.  This extreme cold can be very dangerous to your health, as frostbite can develop in 10 to 15 minutes in extreme temperatures. Be sure to take precautions to protect yourself and your pets during these cold times.

Stay toasty, friends!

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