THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Sept. 2nd – Friday, Sept. 6th

September 6, 2019 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, September 2nd – Friday, September 6th

We’re baaaack! Did you miss us? Are you ready to get your weekly dose of health policy news from the punniest pundits around? Well, ready or not, here we come!

You may remember, earlier this year the that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enacted changes to Title X regarding abortion services. In response, last month Planned Parenthood along with four state health departments and several other independent clinics bowed out of receiving Title X funding so they wouldn’t be limited by these new regulations. Now, many of these clinics are struggling to provide reproductive health services to their patients. 

In an effort to combat the loss of funding, Planned Parenthood has announced that it will be making a strong effort to expand telehealth services through its app. The app allows patients to not only schedule appointments but also access birth control and other prescriptions. On the state level, California is attempting to pass a new bill related to reproductive health that would provide abortion access at public university health centers. While supporters hope this could become an option across the nation, opponents argue that universities could end up using tax dollars to fund abortion services. 

In other state news, health advocates in Missouri are pushing to place Medicaid expansion on the ballot in 2020. In a bid to potentially benefit 200,000 uninsured,  low-income Missourians, hospitals, patients, and businesses have banded together in an attempt to bring the expansion to a vote. Further west, it seems as though the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services may have fabricated an emergency that resulted in cuts to Medicaid payments to providers by 7%. An Alaska judge has now ruled that this emergency may have been under false pretenses and is expected to grant a preliminary injunction against the emergency regulations which would force the state to pay the providers at a higher rate. 

Per another creative way of reducing spending, yesterday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an unprecedented ruling to combat fraud. The status quo in fraud management, the so-called “pay and chase” method, has been to detect a case of fraud after it had already been committed, and then to trail the fraudster in hot pursuit. Clearly the fed has gotten tired of running because starting in November CMS will be able to restrict providers and organizations from billing Medicaid if they had participated in or been affiliated with fraud activity. 

Now to the Hill! Physician and hospital lobbyists are attempting to disrupt support for a bill presented in May of this year which seeks to protect patients from surprise medical billing. Lobbyists argue that the bill could threaten compensation for providers and have ramped up their opposition through millions of dollars in ad campaigns and other efforts. This, along with the backdrop of the 2020 election, has had an effect on congressional support for the bill, which had originally seen a wealth of uncharacteristic bipartisan support across Congress and with insurers. Some Democrats are wary of the effects of a healthcare victory for Republicans, both as President Trump seeks reelection in 2020, and as Republicans back current judicial efforts to challenge the viability of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As congressional committees return from recess, they will seek to examine the bill and potentially propose changes to better accommodate physicians and hospitals.

In public health news, the CDC has reported 215 cases of vaping-related respiratory illnesses, across 25 states. That number could soon be doubling as the FDA is investigating another 179 possible cases. To date, Illinois, Oregon, and Indiana have each reported a death due to respiratory illness associated with vaping. According to the CDC, there is not one single product involved in all of the cases, but the common link appears to be THC. In an attempt to pinpoint the culprit, both the FDA and New York state officials have been testing vaping liquids. A New York lab testing patient-submitted samples found high levels of Vitamin E acetate associated with unregulated cannabis products; Vitamin E acetate is not intended for inhalation. Acting FDA Commissioner, Ned Sharpless, agreed that the most likely cause is ‘non-traditional products’.

The FDA is facing pressure to combat the teen vaping epidemic, and states have expressed frustration with the federal government’s lack of progress. On Wednesday, Michigan became the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes, declaring it a public health emergency; this ban will not apply to tobacco-flavored products. A House Democrat has called on FDA to take action against false-advertising by the e-cigarette giant, Juul, claiming its pods are ‘safer and healthier’ than traditional cigarettes, despite limited supporting evidence. In the private sector, CVS announced a 2-million-dollar initiative to end youth vaping, citing the success with their smoking-cessation program. 

Finally, remember last year when we reported on the measles outbreak in New York? Well, great news — it’s over! But don’t pop the champagne yet. California public health officials have confirmed that a person with the measles visited Disneyland and several other California hot spots in mid-August, exposing other tourists to the disease. So if you were hanging with Mickey on the west coast to close out your summer, be on the lookout for any strange rashes….

And as you step into your weekend, we hope all of our friends in the south are staying safe and dry as Hurricane Dorian moves up the coast. 

See you next week!

 


This Week’s Viewpoints Writing Team:
Annie Duncan, Jo McClain, Steven Moore and Nana Owusu