The short week certainly didn’t mean a shortage of health care news, and even a particular anonymous op-ed couldn’t completely overshadow our bounty. So let’s get into it!
Washington’s political theatrics were out in full force for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings. We saw potential 2020 contenders giving what amounted to campaign speeches, protesters in “The Handmaid’s Tale” garb, an almost-“I am Spartacus” moment, and just all-around political bickering and posturing. But what it all comes down to is best summed up by this quote from the Los Angeles Times’ coverage: “You’re gonna get confirmed,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said to Kavanaugh. “You’re gonna make it.”
Parsing out the health care: On the second day of his hearings, Kavanaugh ducked and dodged on abortion, focusing on respect for precedent and the importance people place on Roe v. Wade so as not to be pinned down on the contentious issue. Then yesterday, emails came out that seemed to undercut his assurances. Kavanaugh maintains that what he said in the messages wasn’t his personal position, and that he was simply presenting a common thought from legal scholars at the time.
Kavanaugh also set off alarm bells for some over his use of the phrase “abortion-inducing drugs” to describe contraception, terminology that advocates say is used by anti-abortion activists.
Politico: Kavanaugh Faces New Scrutiny Over Abortion After Leaked Email
Los Angeles Times: Kavanaugh Sticks to His Position on Guns, Dodges Questions About Abortion and Presidential Power
The New York Times: Democrats Grilling Kavanaugh Have Their Eyes on 2020
Kavanaugh Calls Birth Control ‘Abortion-Inducing Drugs’ During Confirmation Hearings, Sparks Outrage
And although the hearings focused on Roe, it’s actually more likely that Kavanaugh’s impact on abortion will come through one of the 13 cases working up through the courts right now.
The New York Times: The Future of Abortion Under a New Supreme Court? Look to Arkansas
(Side note: A truth bomb from the hearings came once again from Graham, where he told the Democrats: “If you want to pick judges for your way of thinking, then you better win an election.”)
The health law got another day in court this week, and this time it could actually be a nice little gift to Democrats in the final stretch before midterms.
Texas is challenging the constitutionality of the law now that the individual mandate has been zeroed out by Congress, and “blue state” attorneys general have been left to defend it. The latter got the tougher, more pointed questions from the judge, so an injunction doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
Modern Healthcare: Judge Skeptical of ACA’s Standing Without Effective Individual Mandate Penalty
That scenario, however, would mean all the extremely popular provisions in the law (like protections on preexisting conditions) could be nulled — right before Election Day.
The New York Times: Another Case Is Threatening Obamacare. Democrats Hope It Will Help Them.
Fed up with not only high drug costs but also drug shortages, hospitals are taking the problem into their own hands by launching a company to make drugs. Hospitals that join the effort will have to commit to long-term contracts even if pharma competitors drop their prices. The initiative’s leaders, though, think the promise of stability and a reliable supply of medication will outweigh that risk.
The Associated Press: Hospital Groups Launch Own Company to Make Generic Drugs
Chatter over health industry innovation might drift toward the Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan initiative these days, but it’s actually Comcast that’s making experts sit up and pay attention. The cable behemoth’s health care costs have stayed nearly flat over the past five years — which sometimes seems like a near miracle in this landscape.
The New York Times: You’ll Never Guess Which Company Is Reinventing Health Benefits
Oh, and guess who just tapped one of the company’s executives for a COO spot?
Stat: What Jack Stoddard Brings to the Atul Gawande-Led Health Venture
Also, a heads-up: Two major health deals look as if they’re about to be approved by the Justice Department in the next few weeks.
The Wall Street Journal: Justice Department Nearing Antitrust Approval of Health Mergers Combining CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts
And Theranos, the company that provided much schadenfreude to many in the past year, is officially dissolving. Check out this throwback podcast for more about the story.
The Wall Street Journal: Blood-Testing Firm Theranos to Dissolve
On deck for next week: The Senate is set to vote on an opioids package after Democrats dropped their concerns over a provision they criticized as an earmark.
The Hill: Senate to Vote Next Week on Opioid Package
If that’s not enough news for you, my must-read file for the week is living up to its name: The sickness of a river that once sustained these California tribes is echoed in their struggle with the heroin epidemic; residents of a rural stretch of Florida that had fewer hospital beds than Afghanistan tried to build their own facility and were thwarted by a big hospital (“It’s just horribly mean,” one doctor said); how do you live a day-to-day life when the promise of your cancer returning is defined by “when” and not “if”?; and companies that monitor social media sell the promise of safety from school shootings, but there’s little to back up those vows.
The New York Times: Sick River: Can These California Tribes Beat Heroin and History?
The New York Times: A Rural Town Banded Together to Open a Hospital. Its Foe? A Larger Hospital.
Stat: After a Cancer Diagnosis, a Father and His Family Grapple With the Uncertain Time Left
The New York Times: These Firms Say They Can Help Prevent School Shootings and Suicides. Do They?
I was happily burying my head in the sand on this, but since I can no longer live in denial, I’m dragging you guys down with me (from The New York Times): Airport Security Trays Carry More Cold Germs Than Toilets, Study Finds
Have a great, hopefully germ-free weekend!
P.S. If you want a dose of must-read stories through the week, feel free to follow me over at @KHNBreeze.