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! Also known as the day President Donald Trump is getting his second annual physical. Last year, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson attributed the president’s “excellent health” to good genes and God. Will this year be different with a new physician?
The headliner from this week was obviously the State of the Union address, so let’s get right to it.
Trump’s pledge to end the HIV epidemic was greeted with cautious optimism — laced with a heavy dose of skepticism. The administration’s plan involves targeting HIV hot spots and increasing access to medications that treat and prevent the disease. However, the lack of specific details in Trump’s address have HIV advocates nervous. “To date, this administration’s actions speak louder than words and have moved us in the wrong direction,” said AIDS United.
The Associated Press: Trump Launching Campaign to End HIV Epidemic in US by 2030
Kaiser Health News: Trump Pledges To End HIV Transmission By 2030. Doable, But Daunting.
When it comes to high drug prices, Trump had very simple instructions for Congress: “Do more.” The response, as you can imagine, was mixed. Some Democrats saw it as an invitation to work on an issue that could be one of the few bipartisan successes emerging from the current Congress. Others don’t have any interest in getting on board with the president’s policies — which include capping U.S. drug payments based on prices paid abroad.
Stat: Democrats Can’t Decide How to React to Trump’s Call for ‘More’ on Drug Pricing
Meanwhile, in his address, Trump used a pretty wonky (as in, in the weeds) metric to praise his administration’s efforts on bringing down drug prices. The consumer price index, at best, doesn’t tell the full story of costs, and experts say that, given how complicated the system has become (i.e. with rebates), it has outlived its usefulness.
Stat: Trump Claims Drug Prices Have Fallen. But He’s Cherry-Picking That Data
Recent controversies over abortions provided Trump the perfect opportunity, as he starts to gear up for 2020, to give a little love to a highly valued segment of his base. Virginia’s governor had made comments last week that led to accusations that he supported infanticide; and New York just passed a bill that protects against efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade. Trump used those incidents as a springboard to call on Congress to ban “late-term abortions.” And the language he used in the speech — “All children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God” — is being seen as a play for evangelical voters.
The Associated Press: With Anti-Abortion Push, Trump Woos Evangelicals Again
Doctors weighed in on the debate with this reality check: Clinically, there is no such thing as a “late-term abortion.” See what else they say the president got wrong.
The New York Times: What Is Late-Term Abortion? Trump Got It Wrong
Childhood cancer also got a shout-out in the SOTU. Although it has an 80 percent cure rate, scientists say that number is skewed by the tremendous progress that’s been made against childhood leukemia. Other pediatric cancers have a long way to go. (And so they are welcoming the $500 million with open arms and a distinct list of ideas.)
Stat: Scientists Have Ideas to Spend Trump’s Money for Childhood Cancer
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Former Rep. John Dingell died on Thursday at age 92. Lawmakers and politicians praised the country’s longest-serving congressman, calling him a “beloved pillar of the Congress” who is leaving behind “a towering legacy.” One common thread in the heartfelt messages was the impact he had on America’s health care. “He had a long tradition of introducing legislation on the first day of each new Congress to guarantee health care for every single American,” former President Barack Obama wrote. “Because of him, we’ve come closer to that vision than ever before. And when we finally achieve it — and we will — we’ll all owe him our gratitude.”
The Washington Post: Colleagues, friends remember John Dingell, an ‘American legend’ and ‘beloved pillar of Congress’
Fresh off their midterm victories, Democrats are wasting no time setting up hearings to secure protections for people with preexisting conditions. Any legislation would be mostly symbolic because it would face an all-but-certain death in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it solidifies talking points that have been successful for Democrats recently.
The New York Times: Democrats Unite to Begin Push to Protect Pre-Existing Condition Coverage
If you’re confused about Trump’s rebate proposal join the (very crowded) club. But here’s the bottom line: Most patients will pay a little more since their premiums will go up (because insurers would no longer be able to apply rebate money from the drugs to lower premiums). However, people who take outrageously expensive medication will get relief. Experts say the trade-off is worth it.
The New York Times: How Trump’s Latest Plan to Cut Drug Prices Will Affect You
How does a drug that, until December, was free to patients now have a $375,000 price tag? Paint Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) … curious … to say the least.
Stat: Sanders Calls Price of a Rare Disease Drug ‘Immoral Exploitation’
Court watchers were eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on a Louisiana admitting-privileges law — the first real gauge of how the new dynamics of the court will play out with abortion decisions. The Louisiana restrictions are quite similar to ones knocked down in a 2016 ruling, but the court is also more conservative than it was at that time. For now, Chief Justice John Roberts disappointed his conservative colleagues by joining with the liberal justices in issuing a stay on the law. The decision likely means the court will take up the issue in its next term, which starts in October.
The New York Times: Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law
Medicaid expansion advocates were ecstatic last year when ballot initiatives proved a successful way to circumnavigate red-state legislatures that had been blocking changes to the program. This week, a bucket of cold water has doused that enthusiasm as lawmakers in both Utah and Idaho scramble to counter the expansion as much as possible. While the proposals — like adding work requirements — gain popularity in red states across the country, the fact it’s happening at all after voters OK’d the expansion highlights the reality that ballot initiatives can do only so much.
The New York Times: In Utah and Idaho, G.O.P. Looks to Curb Medicaid Expansions That Voters Approved
In a startling, horrifying trend, veterans have been killing themselves in VA parking lots in what experts see as a protest against a system that failed them. The latest was a Marine colonel who, dressed in his uniform blues and medals, sat on top of his military and VA records and shot himself with a rifle outside the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs. “It’s very important for the VA to recognize that the place of a suicide can have great meaning. There is a real moral imperative and invitation here to take a close inspection of the quality of services at the facility level,” said Dr. Eric Caine, director of the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention at the University of Rochester.
The Washington Post: Parking Lot Suicides at Veterans Hospitals Prompt Calls for Better Staff Training, Prevention Efforts
Meanwhile, USA Today released a comprehensive analysis on the quality of VA hospitals versus civilian ones. Some of the scores came back positive (death rates, on the whole, were lower at VA facilities); others that look at preventable infection rates and bedsores hinted at neglect. USAT offers a very cool look-up tool if you want to see how your clinic fared.
USA Today: Death Rates, ER Waits: Where Every VA Hospital Lags, Leads Other Care
An HHS official is arguing that pulling separated migrant children from their sponsor homes to reunite them with their families would do more harm than good psychologically at this point. Jonathan White, an official leading HHS’ reunification efforts, said in a court filing that it would make more sense for the government to focus on children who were still in custody. The ACLU called the position a “shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them.”
The Associated Press: US Sees Limitations on Reuniting Migrant Families
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• There’s a long history of mistrust between the African-American community and medical professionals, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s photo involving black face pressed sharply against that never-healed wound. (At the time, Northam was graduating from medical school on his way to becoming a pediatrician.)
The Associated Press: Blackface Photo Reopens Long History of Bigotry in Medicine
• Anecdotal evidence was thick on the ground that women were seeking emergency contraception in the wake of Trump’s election victory. Now there are numbers to back it up.
The Hill: Demand for Certain Forms of Contraception Increased After Trump’s Election: Study
• Could an infamous party drug really help quiet suicidal ideation in the midst of an ever-worsening crisis? This fascinating history on the use of ketamine is well-worth the read.
Bloomberg: Ketamine Could Soon Be Used to Treat Suicidal Ideation
• “It’s like throwing a match into a can of gasoline,” experts say of the measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. Are they just the norm now? And why were there so many kids who weren’t vaccinated?
The New York Times: ‘A Match Into a Can of Gasoline': Measles Outbreak Now an Emergency in Washington State
CNN: Measles Rarely Kills in the US — But When It Does, Here’s How
I was delighted this morning over the fact that scientists had a major breakthrough in creating a way to take insulin in pill form because of … turtles! Last week hedgehogs, this week turtles. I swear the Breeze isn’t turning into an animal news newsletter (or is it?). Have a great weekend!