Happy Friday! This week brought us one of the most perfect click-bait stories in recent memory — each part of it adding to the what on earth? feeling you get reading it. Click here for what it was. (Just kidding!) Apparently, New York’s Medicaid program has paid nearly $60,000 for erectile dysfunction drugs for … wait for it … sex offenders. (The less click-bait-y part: State officials say those drugs can treat a broad range of problems, and dismissed much of the criticism.)
Now on to what else you may have missed.
2020 hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden set off a political firestorm early in the week when his campaign clarified that he supports the Hyde Amendment, a provision that states that Medicaid cannot pay for an abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. (Feeling hazy on the details of the amendment? The New York Times has you covered.)
Biden’s rivals were quick to condemn the comments and were joined by abortion rights groups in pointing out that it is the most vulnerable women who are affected by the amendment. Biden reversed course, citing current threats to Roe v. Wade and saying “times have changed.” But with abortion at center stage in the national conversation, his opponents are unlikely to let voters forget Biden’s original stance (which, he says, he makes no apologies for).
The New York Times: Joe Biden Denounces Hyde Amendment, Reversing His Position
The Trump administration took steps this week to restrict fetal tissue funding and research in another win for the president’s anti-abortion supporters. HHS has discontinued all internal research that involves fetal tissue. Outside projects that receive government funding will continue but require approval from an ethics board if they’re up for renewal. The behind-the-scenes decision-making was apparently somewhat heated, according to Politico’s reporting. White House officials wanted an outright ban, while HHS Secretary Alex Azar sought to allow current research to go forward.
Scientists were dismayed by the decision, saying that fetal tissue research is at the root of medical breakthroughs across a spectrum of diseases.
Politico: Pushed by Anti-Abortion Groups, HHS Restricts Fetal Tissue Research
Residents in a small Colorado town who were sick of playing David to the Goliath of health care costs banded together to become their own version of a giant — or at least a slightly bigger David. The residents formed what could be a first-of-its-kind alliance that brings businesses and individuals together to collectively negotiate prices from hospitals and doctor groups before getting any insurance company involved. The alliance went to different systems and asked, “What kind of deal will you give us?” That seemed to work. According to the group, participating members could see premium prices 20% lower. In a world where the patient often is left with almost zero leverage, this model might flip that on its head.
As this and countless other stories about our unsustainable system show, health care will be a potent topic in the 2020 elections with the potential to woo single-issue voters. Have any of the candidates struck on a winning formula to do so?
“No one’s found the magic fairy dust yet,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), which seems to sum up the current state of affairs fairly well. Health care is complicated, after all.
The Wall Street Journal: American Voters Have a Simple Health-Care Message for 2020: Just Fix It!
Meanwhile, the first proposed rate hikes for health law plans rolled in this week and they are … not terrible. Not the world’s most ringing endorsement, but experts took heart that it’s just one more sign the marketplace is stabilizing. To be fair, those increases are likely moderate because of how much insurers overcompensated in years past. But they do offer hope that last year’s numbers weren’t a fluke and the era of eye-popping hikes is history.
Politico: Obamacare Rate Hikes Appear Modest for 2020
And a quick note: KHN launched its new partnership with the podcast “An Arm and a Leg,” which, as you can probably work out from the title, explores painful high health care costs.
Kaiser Health News: ‘An Arm And A Leg’: They Thought They Had ‘Adulted’ Properly