Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

The Friday Breeze

Newsletter editor Brianna Labuskes, who reads everything on health care to compile our daily Morning Briefing, offers the best and most provocative stories for the weekend.

Happy Friday! Did you guys get as big a kick out of the #healthpolicyvalentines hashtag as I did? (I feel I’m talking to the right crowd here.) They’re quite delightful, including this timely one from KHN’s own Rachel Bluth: “Not even a PBM could get in the middle of our love.”
On to the news from the week.
Thursday was a somber day for many as the country marked the anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.
On the eve of the anniversary, the House Judiciary Committee approved two bills that would expand federal background checks for gun purchases. Although the legislation faces certain demise in the Senate, it is the first congressional action in favor of tightening gun laws in years. In the votes you see echoes of a recent trend: Lawmakers are no longer treating gun control as “the third rail in politics.” The difference is stark if you look at just over 10 years ago when then-candidate Barack Obama was sending out mailers assuring voters he supported the Second Amendment.
Politico: House Democrats Make First Major Move to Tighten Gun Laws
The Associated Press: Parkland Anniversary Highlights Democratic Shift on Guns
There were too many heartbreaking anniversary stories to highlight just one, but a project worth checking out is one from The Trace, a nonprofit news organization that reports on gun violence. In the year since Parkland, nearly 1,200 more children have lost their lives to guns. The Trace brought together more than 200 teen reporters from across the country to remember those killed not as statistics, but as human beings with rich histories.
14 Children Died in The Parkland Shooting. Nearly 1,200 Have Died From Guns Since.
A handy reference: The good people at The Tampa Bay Times and the AP put together a useful list of all the gun laws that have been enacted in the country since the shooting.
Tampa Bay Times and Associated Press: Here Is Every New Gun Law in the U.S. Since the Parkland Shooting

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There are some lawmakers on the Hill who are almost giddy to hold hearings on “Medicare-for-all” — and they’re not Democrats. Republicans have been struggling to find a winning stance on health care, ever since Dems’ midterm victories, which were attributed in part to their stance on the issue.
For the previously floundering GOP lawmakers, MFA is practically a gift-wrapped present that fell right into their laps. They’re confident they can frame the idea as reckless, radical and expensive, and pick off moderate voters who want to keep their insurance the way it is. Democratic leadership blasted the GOP’s calls for hearings as “disingenuous,” but MFA supporters were raring to duke it out — verbally, of course. “They think it’s going to be a ‘gotcha’ moment,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in Politico’s coverage. “But they have been wrong on this and continue to be wrong on it.”
Politico: Republicans Can’t Wait to Debate ‘Medicare For All’
Meanwhile, Democrats introduced legislation this week that would allow people over 50 to buy in to Medicare. The measure is much more politically palatable than MFA, and its sponsors are selling it is a realistic and incremental step in the direction toward universal coverage.
Politico: Push for Medicare Buy-In Picks Up With ’50 and Over’ Bill

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: Republicans and Democrats maybe (just maybe!) have found some common ground on the health law. As part of a package of bills to shore up the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are proposing slapping some consumer warnings on short-term plans. The hint of bipartisanship in the air, though, was limited to the advisories — Republicans were not fans of the rest of the changes proposed.
Modern Healthcare: Short-Term Health Insurance Plans May Get Consumer Warnings

Advocates deem Utah’s move to limit voter-approved Medicaid expansion as a “dark day for Democracy.” The governor and lawmakers who rushed through the restrictions to the expansion, however, say the work requirements and caps are necessary to make it sustainable for the state.
The Associated Press: Utah Reduces Voter-Backed Medicaid Expansion in Rare Move

As 2020 comes into focus, the abortion debate is definitely on the front burner for President Donald Trump, who has seized on recent controversies over so-called late-term abortions. This week, Trump and White House officials met with advocates, including Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. While the discussions weren’t open to journalists, Dannenfelser confirmed that Trump was keenly interested in the issue. “The national conversation about late-term abortion … has the power to start to peel away Democrats, especially in battle grounds,” Dannenfelser said in The Hill’s coverage.
The Hill: Trump Offers Preview of Abortion Message Ahead of 2020

There was some movement in the agencies this week that should be on your radar:
— The Food and Drug Administration has announced it’s cracking down on the $40 billion supplement industry, especially targeting diseases that really should require medical care. Right now, that landscape is pretty much the Wild Wild West, where anything goes. And consumers don’t realize that.
The New York Times: F.D.A. Warns Supplement Makers to Stop Touting Cures for Diseases Like Alzheimer’s
— The Environmental Protection Agency has released its plan to address long-lasting toxins in drinking water. Activists were not impressed, saying the “action plan” was quite short on action.
Reuters: U.S. Unveils Plan to Control Some Toxins in Drinking Water, Sets No Limits
— The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released two major proposed regulations that are meant to help ease patients’ access to their health care records. Right now, many health care providers and hospitals offer patient portals, but they often lack material such as doctor notes, imaging scans and genetic-testing data. Sometimes they’ll even charge for the data. The rules would address restrictions such as those.
The Wall Street Journal: New Rules Could Ease Patients’ Access to Their Own Health Records

In a sign of the growing awareness about the United States’ maternal mortality problem, the task force that sets the standards insurers are required to follow is expanding its guidance when it comes to depression during and after pregnancy. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force already recommends that doctors screen pregnant women and new mothers, but the old guidelines focused on patients who were experiencing symptoms. The new advice is more proactive about addressing women who may be at risk.
The Wall Street Journal: New Mothers at Risk of Depression to Get Counseling Services, Covered By Insurance, Under New Guidelines

It’s a well-established fact that doctors have an unconscious bias when it comes to race and pain — one that leaves many minority patients undertreated and undermedicated. What’s interesting is to see how that disparity has shaped the opioid epidemic in the country — the ones that wreaked havoc on white communities.
Los Angeles Times: Why Opioids Hit White Areas Harder: Doctors There Prescribe More Readily, Study Finds
While all eyes are on the massive consolidated opioid lawsuit in Ohio that’s being compared to the Big Tobacco reckoning of the ’90s, this little case in Oklahoma might steal its thunder.
Stateline: Pay Attention to This Little-Noticed Opioid Lawsuit in Oklahoma

In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• A powerful investigation from The Wall Street Journal and Frontline uncovers the history behind an Indian Health Service doctor who was accused of molesting Native Americans yet allowed to continue practicing for decades. Where did it go wrong?
The Wall Street Journal: HHS to Review Indian Health Service After Revelations on Pedophile Doctor
• Rural hospitals are collapsing everywhere, leaving vulnerable residents stranded in health deserts. It can be devastating for towns to watch their hospitals die. Ducktown, Tenn., offers a snapshot of what’s playing out in states all across the country.
Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee Rural Hospitals Are Dying. Welcome to Life in Ducktown
• Employer-sponsored health care is often held up as the gold standard. But is it really that great?
CNN: Employer Health Plans Cover Less Than You Think, Study Finds
• I vividly remember the global fear surrounding the bird flu back in the aughts. People were panicking and countries were stockpiling medical supplies, as everyone braced for an epidemic reminiscent of the catastrophic 1918 Spanish flu. But then nothing happened. So … where’d it go?
Stat: What Happened to Bird Flu? How a Threat to Human Health Faded From View

Early numbers show that the flu vaccine is doing a pretty good job this year, so remember it’s not too late to get your shot! And have a great weekend!

Media outlets report on news from Maryland, Arizona, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Historically, psychiatrists didn’t consider medical diseases traumatic events, but parents of sick children can often have PTSD symptoms such as reliving the experience, avoiding reminders of the event or condition, feeling numb or detached from others, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and being constantly on the lookout for danger. In other public health news: a depression treatment, genetic testing, heart health, women's safety and healthy diets.
Even though background checks are required to purchase guns, the overtaxed system doesn't always work in a timely fashion. More weapons are getting into the hands of dangerous people, The Wall Street Journal reports. Then, understaffed federal and state agencies struggle with how to take away those guns. In other news on gun control efforts, some companies are installing gunshot detectors.
As the number of people infected tops 120 in three states, the media looks at the seriousness of the disease and how it is transmitted. News about the outbreak comes out of Iowa, California and Washington, as well.
The recent attempts from social media companies to limit antivaccination posts highlights both the struggles of trying to monitor such content and the impact the tech leaders can have on the national conversation. In other health technology news: the limits of artificial intelligence, exposure of personal health information, and a mental health app that can help with loneliness.
Recent moves by red state Republicans to block voter-approved Medicaid expansion, as well as threats from some Republican governors to slash funding highlight the fact that both sides are still fighting the Medicaid expansion battle. Medicaid news comes out of Georgia and Texas, as well.
The legislation had previously been ruled unconstitutional by an appeals court because it tried to regulate commerce beyond Maryland's borders. The law, which was enacted following several high-profile drug hikes, prohibited what it termed "unconscionable" price increases for essential drugs no longer covered by patents or generic drugs that are sold in the state.
Human resource directors often rely on independent health insurance brokers to guide them through confusing benefit options offered by insurance companies. But what many don’t fully realize is how the health insurance industry steers the process through lucrative financial incentives and commissions, the cost of which are built into premiums. In other health industry and cost news: affordability, the business of specialty surgeries, health record costs, and more.
After reviewing thousands of pages of documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act, researchers also found that both the FDA and drug companies became aware of what was happening but took no action to stop it. “The whole purpose of this distribution system was to prevent exactly what we found,” said Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. In other news on the national opioid crisis: the Oklahoma court case, copycat drugs, marijuana and car crashes.
Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.
PLANO, Texas — In February 2017, a school nurse in this Dallas suburb began counting women murdered by men. Seated at her desk, beside shelves of cookbooks, novels and books on violence against women, Dawn Wilcox, 54, scours the internet for news stories of women killed by men in the U.S. For dozens of hours each week, she digs through online news reports and obituaries to tell the stories of women killed by lovers, strangers, fathers, sons and stepbrothers, neighbors and tenants. Dawn Wilcox(Courtesy of Dawn Wilcox)
Media outlets report on news from California, New York, Ohio, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida and Arizona.
More and more hospitals are transitioning toward private rooms as the standard, reflecting a growing sentiment that patient comfort is an essential part of the hospital business. Hospital news comes out of California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, and Kansas, as well.
States across the country have been beefing up their response to the opioid crisis by investing in treatment infrastructure, building databases, offering clean syringes and more. News on the crisis comes out of Maryland and Florida, as well.
More than 200,000 patients age 65 and older receive dialysis and are often told they'd die without it, yet few are informed about a conservative option that helps manage the disease. Public health news also looks at spanking; gay Catholic priests; CBD oil; a CRISPR patent; unsafe radiation exposure; presidents' public speech patterns; new Ebola treatments and more.
The change in estrogen doesn't just effect fertility, scientists are beginning to understand. It also effects how the brain is protected from aging. In other women's health news: heart attacks, genetic testing, pregnancy and breast cancer.
Although the antivaccination movement has grown in the past few years, thanks in part to social media, there has always been a fierce outcry against compulsory shots for as long as vaccines have been used. Experts are hoping to leverage the recent outbreak in the Pacific Northwest to change minds. And some recent trends suggest that it might be the case.