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Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

It’s late October, so you know what that means: It’s time to get your flu shot! (You thought I was going to say elections, didn’t you? Don’t worry, we’ll be getting to that.) Before your roll up your sleeve, check out this story about pharmacies and grocery stores competing for flu shot customers now that the vaccination is covered by the health law. Would money off gas or gift cards for food be more likely to draw you in? (Also, if you do get the flu, good news: There’s now a single-dose medication for it.)

A quick editor’s note before we get into it: “The Friday Breeze” will be on break for the next two weeks as I take a poorly timed (or well-timed! depending on your mentality) vacation. I’ll be back in your inboxes Nov. 16.

Now, on to what shaped up to be a fairly busy week in the health care realm.

President Donald Trump is proposing tying the amount the government pays for certain drugs to their costs in other countries. The president has long railed against the “global freeloading” that he says forces American consumers to subsidize lower drug prices in foreign countries. To be clear, the plan would not apply to medicines people buy at the pharmacy, just ones administered in a doctor’s office.

The New York Times: Trump Proposes to Lower Drug Prices by Basing Them on Other Countries’ Costs

Pharma came out swinging against the plan in an opening salvo of what is likely to be an uphill, exhausting fight over the issue. But, overall, the reaction seems to be muted from both candidates on the trail and the general public, overshadowed perhaps by more easily digestible talking points.

Bloomberg: Drug Lobby Compares Trump Drug Price Plan to ‘Socialized’ System

Politico: Trump’s Drug Plan Falls Flat in Health Care Messaging War

There’s a feeling of foreboding setting in over the pharmaceutical industry as a blue wave gathers force to possibly sweep into the House. Put together a populist president and a party that’s made high drug costs a central, winning issue and what do you get? Pharma’s worst fears realized.

The New York Times: What Big Pharma Fears Most: A Trump Alliance With Democrats to Cut Drug Prices

Protections for preexisting conditions have become something of an Achilles’ heel for Republicans on the trail. Some have chosen to duck the topic, while others vow to keep that popular provision without providing details on how. But Trump took it a step further by trying to claim that ensuring coverage for preexisting conditions is a Republican priority and not a Democratic one. Critics were quick to point out that in addition to the GOP’s years-long battle to eradicate “every word” of the health law, there’s currently an administration-backed lawsuit in the courts aiming to overturn the whole thing.

The Washington Post: Trump’s False Claim on Health Care Ignores Years-Long GOP Effort to Repeal Obamacare

On that note, the administration this week announced that it is going to give states more flexibility over coverage requirements, which could allow them to circumvent some of the health law’s protections for patients. States could, for example, use federal funds to subsidize short-term insurance plans.

The Washington Post: Trump Administration Allows ACA Subsidies for Leaner Health Plans

Experts worry this is a step back toward the pre-ACA landscape, when the state a patient lived in determined what kind of health care they received.

Modern Healthcare: Waiver Flexibility Could Widen Gap Between States

How do you make Medicaid expansion a winning issue if you’re running as a Democrat in a deep-red state? Make it about smart business decisions. At least, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams hopes that tactic works.

The New York Times: Stacey Abrams Hopes Medicaid Expansion Can Be a Winning Issue in Rural Georgia

A report in The New York Times revealed that the Trump administration is considering redefining gender in a way that would strip transgender individuals of certain protections. Backlash from the LGBTQ community was fierce, with some people questioning the timing of the news. “It’s a reminder that pain is a political tool,” said Gabrielle Bychowski in NYT’s coverage. A #WeWillNotBeErased movement was quickly ignited.

The New York Times: ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration

The New York Times: Two Weeks Before Midterms, Transgender People Feel Like ‘Pawns’

Biologists spoke out, as well, saying that defining a person’s gender at birth and making it unchangeable is an “insult to science.”

The Associated Press: Science Says: Sex and Gender Aren’t The Same

America is turning the tide against the opioid epidemic, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said this week, citing a dip in overdoses. While acknowledging there’s still a long way to go, Azar was optimistic government efforts have been starting to make a dent in the crisis. Experts were more cautious, however, warning that six months of data is not enough to determine that, and the trend could just be a blip.

Politico: U.S. ‘Turning the Tide’ on the Opioid Crisis, Health Secretary Says

Stat: Is a Recent Fall in Overdose Deaths Temporary or a Sign of a Corner Turned?

Meanwhile, as everyone’s eyes (and money! and resources!) are on the opioid crisis, methamphetamines, cocaine and benzodiazepines are quietly flooding into the gaps left behind.

Politico: Meth and Cocaine Complicate Trump’s War on Drugs

In the miscellaneous must-read file:

• First female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a touching email to “friends and fellow Americans” announcing that she’ll be stepping out of public life following a dementia diagnosis. “While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life,” she wrote.

The New York Times: Sandra Day O’Connor, First Female Supreme Court Justice, Says She Has Dementia

• That can’t be legal, right? That was my first thought upon reading this heartbreaking story about women who work in strenuous jobs and are denied lighter duties when pregnant (even when they have a doctor’s note). Some of them go on to have miscarriages while working.

The New York Times: Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination

• We’ve all heard about how crowdfunding sites can be like a miracle to desperate patients who can’t afford care. But there’s a dark side to the recent boom in medical crowdfunding: The campaigns have raked in millions of dollars for scientifically unproven, and potentially dangerous, treatments in the past three years alone.

Stat: Crowdfunding Raises Millions for Unproven and Potentially Harmful Treatments

• The rural mountain West is dubbed the “suicide belt” of America, containing eight of the top 10 states with the highest suicide rates in the country. Stigma, guns and a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture may be contributing to the problem.

NPR: Why Are Suicide Rates Higher in the Mountain West?

That’s it from me until after the elections. See you on the flip side!

Related Topics

Cost and Quality Elections Health Care Costs Health Industry Insurance Medicaid Medicare Pharmaceuticals Public Health States The Health Law Uninsured