THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, March 4th – Friday, March 8th
Today, as the nation pauses to observe National Get Over It Day, we felt quite strongly that a Saturday morning edition of Viewpoints would be just the thing to help lighten your load. Sit back and prepare to be health policy dazzled!
Members of the House of Representatives continued with their reactions to the Medicare for All Act of 2019 (H.R. 1384), which was introduced last week. Many Republicans in the House continue to salivate about the opportunity to pin Democrats down on the specifics of a plan that could cost up to $32 trillion over ten years. Meanwhile, leading progressives in the Democratic caucus tout unprecedented support and momentum behind the concept of achieving universal health coverage through H.R. 1384. Still, several other prominent Democrats are left publicly considering their own positions on Medicare for All this week, each using cautious language while navigating the proposal with both the power to transform healthcare and alienate voters in certain districts. The bill–introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and co-sponsored by 106 other members of Congress—remains referred to six House committees, with no word from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on a timetable for debate.
While Congress weighs its next moves in transforming American healthcare, the private sector signaled a big step forward with one of the most talked about healthcare ventures of the past year. On Thursday, the much ballyhooed collaboration between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase officially announced the name of their new health care venture: Haven. Although the project was first announced over a year ago, details on the venture have been famously scant. The newly launched website includes a glimpse into their ethos in a letter from Chief Executive, Dr. Atul Gawande. Most prominent on the site is their succinct declaration: “It’s time for better.” We’re looking forward to learning more about what they’re cooking up!
Back on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP Committee) held a hearing on Tuesday in which a panel unanimously endorsed the safety—and the importance—of vaccinations. That same day, the House introduced the bipartisan Vaccines Save Lives Resolution, which urges adults to vaccinate their children and for the government to ignore “unfounded and debunked theories.” This couldn’t come at a better time, as reports surfaced on Friday that an unvaccinated New York City student recently infected at least 21 people with measles. Oh, and in case you still had some reservations, a new study was released this week looking at the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in over 600,000 youth. The verdict: the MMR vaccine still does not cause autism.
Shifting to news from the Executive branch, the Trump administration will soon be faced with the unenviable task of trying to replace one of their most effective health policy leaders. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), announced his resignation on Tuesday. Gottlieb, a physician and cancer survivor, has been one of President Trump’s most popular appointments and was highly regarded on both sides of the aisle in Congress. He led the FDA’s response to the opioid epidemic, worked to increase the availability and affordability of generic drugs, and was passionate about addressing the epidemic of e-cigarette usage among U.S. teens. Before Dr. Gottlieb leaves in one month, the agency should be releasing guidelines for restricting flavored e-cigarettes, but plans for other proposals such as a ban on menthol in cigarettes and reducing nicotine levels remain up in the air.
Circling back to a topic from last week’s blog, the American Medical Association (AMA) and Planned Parenthood officially filed suit against the Trump Administration on Tuesday to block changes enacted to the Title X family planning program last week. At issue are changes to the program that would defund Planned Parenthood to the tune of millions of federal dollars, and also would limit what providers could say to their patients about abortion.
Finally—while on the subject of abortion—we’ll close with a notable uptick in pro-life activity around the states this week. The state Houses in Tennessee and Georgia each moved forward with new ‘fetal heartbeat’ legislation, both of which would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Given that fetal heartbeats are typically first detected around six weeks gestation, critics of the bills contend that they would essentially ban most abortions, as many women do not even know that they are pregnant before the sixth week of pregnancy. Taking it a step farther, an Iowa Senate Committee has advanced a measure which would declare that women have no right to an abortion in the state of Iowa. Finally, an Alabama judge recognized the legal rights of an aborted fetus earlier this week—allowing the alleged father to sue for wrongful death against the clinic performing the abortion and against the manufacturer of the medication that was used. With the courts likely to get involved in several of these actions, it really does seem that we are well on our way to another Supreme Court review of abortion in the coming years.
Alright, that’s all we have for you in this edition. Remember, it you are holding onto things that hurt, annoy, confuse or anger you, be sure to take full advantage of #GetOverItDay! Just like that, I’m not even mad anymore that a certain someone ate all of my Thin Mints®!
Whoosah, and have a great weekend!
Special Thanks to This Week’s Viewpoints Writing Team:
Jo McClain and Tes Sabin