THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 20th – Friday, Jan. 24th

January 28, 2020 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, January 20th – Friday, January 24th

Welcome back!

We’ll kick it off with the one of the more consequential health policy happenings of the past week. After a lot of back and forth, it looks like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be sticking around at least through the elections as the Supreme Court has denied the request to fast track any decisions on pending lawsuits surrounding the law. Democrats had hoped it would be approved so that a decision would be made prior to the election, but now they must wait to see if and when it will be heard. This also means we likely won’t be seeing a replacement option for healthcare until we hear back from the Supreme Court. 

In an interview with CNBC at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, President Trump indicated that cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would be something that he might consider in the future, citing that “assets that we’ve never had” in the growing economy could allow for an easier ability to cut spending. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was quick to respond to the president’s comments, highlighting that President Trump had previously pledged to leave the programs alone. “He’s already broken that promise and gone after Medicare. Now it looks like Social Security is in the president’s crosshairs as well,” Schumer stated during a post-impeachment trial press conference on Thursday. The President tried to walk back his remarks in a tweet on Thursday (framing Democrats as the threat on the said programs), but Democrats are already using the president’s entitlement remarks in political ads for this upcoming election targeting congressional Republicans.

In regards to the upcoming election, President Trump and his re-election campaign have launched “Pro-Life Voters for Trump”, a coalition that seeks to rally support for the President from voters who are against abortion in the upcoming presidential contest. Along with that, Trump became the first of any U.S. presidents to attend and address the March for Life rally Friday. The president’s support throughout his campaigns and presidency is in line with his base, where he continues to hold strong support from conservative, Evangelical voters. Also on Friday the President gave California an ultimatum: stop requiring that private health plans cover abortion or risk losing federal funding. While five other states have similar laws on the books, right now only California is on the chopping block with just 30 days to comply.

As abortion rights may jeopardize one state’s funding, another will soon benefit from their lack-there-of. In Texas $350 million federal dollars will soon pay for the state’s family planning and health services program for low-income families. The state was originally to receive the money years ago during the Obama administration, but the funding was denied due to their refusal to incorporate Planned Parenthood into their program. Funding is expected to support 200,000 clients annually over the next five years, although Texas democrats and women’s health organizations claim that the funding would only replace existing state funding without resulting in additional support. 

Other state legislatures have been busy lately, with eight states having filed or announced bills that would penalize medical professionals with fines and jail time should they provide hormone therapy and other treatments to transgender teens. Conservative lawmakers believe the legislation would protect children experimenting with their identity from making decisions that they may later regret. Suicide prevention and transgender advocacy groups are saying that the policies are harmful and based on foundations of misinformation, such as the idea that hormone therapy is irreversible.

Finally, in our home state, people deemed threats to themselves or others may soon lose their ability to acquire and keep firearms. On Wednesday the Virginia state senate passed a bill that would allow law enforcement officers and state attorneys to file for judge approval to confiscate weapons from such individuals and prevent their further acquisition. The bill passed narrowly with a 21-19 vote and will next be sent to the Virginia House of Delegates for further consideration.

The pharmaceutical industry had it pretty easy in 2019 as no bills were passed to lower prices. But we may see some changes in 2020 as health insurers have joined lawmakers in the fight against high pharmaceutical drug prices. This week, a group of eighteen Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurers announced its plan to introduce competition into the generic drug market by creating a new subsidiary of Civica Rx, a non-profit drug manufacturing company. Civica’s board chairman, Dan Liljenquist, described the company’s partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield as an opportunity to “make a significant impact on lowering drug costs” for patients and their families. Although Civica has refrained from disclosing specific drugs that it plans to target, the company intends to focus its efforts on drugs that appear to be “stuck at a higher price.” The company is expected to release its first generic products as early as 2022. 

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided not to declare a global emergency in regards to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. The virus, which causes a dangerous respiratory infection and has never before been seen in humans, has spread from China to at least seven other countries including the United States. Despite this, the majority of the cases and all of the reported deaths have been in China. 

In the United States, Senators were scheduled to briefed on Friday on the coronavirus outbreak by top health officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State Department are advising travelers to “exercise increased caution” when traveling to China and to avoid Wuhan. The first case of the deadly virus in the U.S. was confirmed in Washington State. The patient, who recently returned from Wuhan, is currently in the hospital out of precaution.  A second case in the U.S. was confirmed Friday by the CDC, and at least 50 people are reportedly under observation. The NIH has already started work on a coronavirus vaccine, which could begin human trials within three months. For more information, here are live updates regarding this growing outbreak. 

‘Til next week!

 


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