THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Sept. 16th – Friday, Sept. 20th

September 20, 2019 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, September 16th – Friday, September 20th

As summer comes to a close, we prepare for cooler weather, pumpkin-flavored everything, and getting sick….

But if you’re smart (and come on, we know you are- you’re a Viewpoints subscriber after all!), you’ll get yourself a flu shot. Thanks to our Commander-in-Chief, you can look forward to better flu shots soon and hopefully more people being vaccinated. An executive order signed this week will promote more effective manufacturing and reduce barriers to receiving seasonal vaccines.  

Speaking of President Trump calling the shots, a new proposal regarding background checks for guns will be needing his attention. Attorney General William Barr has put forth a document titled “Idea for New Unlicensed-Commercial-Sale Background Checks” to the GOP, but it is clear that there will be no action unless the President backs it. While the proposal was originally just supposed to be an internal document to start a dialogue, it was leaked causing the conversation to spill out into the non-governmental sector. Unsurprisingly, the NRA was quick to shoot it down (sorry, we’ll stop) as they have indicated their preference to focus on “fixing the broken mental health system and the prosecution of violent criminals.”

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released her plan to lower prescription drug prices which would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices for up to 250 drugs. The plan uses an international index that sets a drug’s maximum price at 120% of the average price in other countries. And if a company won’t negotiate? They would be hit with a 65-95% tax on gross sales. While the plan has bipartisan ideas, it received criticism from both sides: some Republicans believe it interferes with the free market and disincentivizes innovation, however, some Democrats feel it doesn’t go far enough.

Speaking of drugs, Purdue Pharma, the company known for producing the drug OxyCotin, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past Sunday, in the wake of a settlement with a wealth of local governments pertaining to their role in the U.S. opioid epidemic. The Sackler family, founders of Purdue Pharma, agreed to pay $3 billion to over 2000 local governments in question, in tandem with relinquishing their ownership and contributing future revenue from OxyCotin to efforts meant to combat the epidemic. Certain officials and policymakers, such as Representative Max Rose (D-NY), posited that the Sackler family should be tried criminally as “drug dealers” for their role in marketing and aggressively pushing OxyCotin while minimizing its addictive risks.

In the ever-expanding world of opioid lawsuits, defendants in an Ohio bellwether case (companies including Walgreens, CVS, Cardinal Health, and more) wish to disqualify Judge Dan A. Polster from presiding over the case. The companies cite bias against them based on Judge Polster’s comments, indicating his desire to resolve the case quickly and provide relief to the communities affected by the crisis. The plaintiff’s legal team says they are “confident the judiciary will swiftly respond to yet another attempt by the opioid defendants to delay the trial.” 

In state news, Tennessee lawmakers introduced a new proposal to switch to a Medicaid block-grant model on Tuesday. Proponents of the transition assert that a block-grant model would give the state more flexibility and ultimately enhance the fiscal sustainability of TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. However, opponents claim the transition would put vulnerable patients at risk and impair patient outcomes. In its application, lawmakers emphasized that the proposal was “predicated on the simple idea that in general, the state is in a better position than the federal government to direct TennCare spending in order to most effectively promote the health of the TennCare population.” The proposal is expected to garner support from the Trump Administration and, if approved, Tennessee will become the first state in the nation to adopt a block-grant model for Medicaid.

Texas recently passed a law that bans local governments from funding organizations that provide abortions, even if the money isn’t used for the procedure. But the city of Austin has found a way around this law by supporting organizations that help women with logistical costs associated with getting an abortion, such as babysitters, accommodations, or transportation, but don’t actually provide abortions. Austin councilmen are now suing the city to block this new funding. 

A report by the Guttmacher Institute has revealed that the rate of abortions in the U.S. in 2017 was at an all-time low since Roe v. Wade passed in 1973. However, this statistic does not include women turning to illicit measures instead of going to a medical provider. While it is hard to accurately quantify, researchers believe that the rise in restrictions in certain states has led to this increase in self-managed abortions. Currently, the FDA has approved abortion medications to be taken under a doctor’s direction. Many countries provide the same medications over-the-counter. International companies provide telemedicine consults and ship these pills to the U.S. Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician, is suing the FDA for seizing her prescribed medications as they enter the U.S for patients. She argues that for rural women, abortion pills ordered online are the only reasonable way to exercise their legal right to an abortion, and that she is not violating the FDA’s approval of the medications under a doctor’s direction. 

And finally, Eastern Equine Encephalitis has struck a Michigan man, making him the 5th victim and 21st case this year, a notable uptick compared to historic data. To avoid the disease and its symptoms (which can include brain dysfunction, personality disorders, and seizures) the CDC recommends preventing mosquito bites. And across the world, the Philippines is seeing an outbreak of Polio after nearly two decades, specifically poliovirus type 2, which was declared globally eradicated in 2015. While it is only two cases so far, the country is prioritizing an immunization drive for children around the country.

We hope you all enjoy your autumn equinox- see you next week! 

 


This Week’s Viewpoints Writing Team:
Avery Bullock, Carina Clawson, Annie Duncan, Jo McClain and Nana Owusu