All posts by Brianna Labuskes

Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

From Big Pharma’s tricky PR maneuvering on drug prices to potential purges of non-loyalists at the VA to (my personal favorite) the benefits of a four-day workweek, we have been overrun with health news this week.

Here’s what you need to know and might have missed:

Pharma’s once again grabbing headlines this week, as Novartis and Merck follow in Pfizer’s footsteps in lowering drug prices. But just as with Pfizer, there’s some fine print the companies probably don’t want you to read.

Novartis, for one, is in the middle of a scandal over its contract with President Donald Trump’s personal attorney (and more news just came out over the depth of that connection). So the good PR comes at quite a convenient time. And Merck’s choices of what prices to lower seem very strategic. (For example: It cut the cost of its hep C drug— which had never gained traction in the U.S. anyway. The move could actually boost sales for the company.)

Stat: Novartis Hits the Brakes on Price Hikes As Political Pressure Builds

Stat: Merck Joins the List of Drug Makers Agreeing to Freeze or Lower Some Prices

A whistleblower (with the FBI code name “Pampers”!) exposes drug companies’ brazen and illegal maneuvering to get on Medicaid’s preferred drug list in this captivating must-read investigation from NPR and the Center for Public Integrity.

NPR/Center for Public Integrity: Drugmakers Exert Influence on Medicaid’s Preferences


Uh, thanks but no thanks? The National Federation of Independent Business, after decades (decades!) of lobbying for association health plans, is now calling Trump’s offering unworkable. Not worth the effort to even set them up, it says.

Politico: Trump Promised Them Better, Cheaper Health Care. It’s Not Happening.

There’s also been some movement that may reveal the administration’s plan to resume those payments to insurers it froze so abruptly recently.

Modern Healthcare: CMS May Propose Restarting $10B Risk-Adjustment Payments


A tidal wave of reassignments and retirements of Veterans Affairs employees perceived as disloyal to Trump is raising eyebrows this week right ahead of nominee Robert Wilkie’s likely confirmation (expected Monday).


The Washington Post: Trump Loyalists at VA Shuffling, Purging Employees Before New Secretary Takes Over


This is going to be a story that keeps cropping up over the next few months, but it’s still worth noting: There’s a health care wedge driving deeper and deeper into the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t seem likely to be resolved anytime soon. Progressives are gung-ho about “Medicare for All,” while moderates insist on sticking with shoring up the health law.

Either choice is a gamble: The GOP is ready to go with counter-rhetoric for the former (like, “It will break Medicare”), while a big part of the Democratic base is tired of baby steps over the health law.

The Associated Press: Democrats Wrestle With Election-Year Message on Health Care


Getting funding for medical research is already a dog-eat-dog process, but with the immigration crisis burning through the Department of Health and Human Services’ money, advocates are worried about what public health programs are losing out because of it.

Politico: Trump’s Migrant Fiasco Diverts Millions From Health Programs


And if all that wasn’t enough news for you, here’s my miscellaneous file for the week: CRISPR gene-editing technology has had people salivating over miracle cures, but new studies are finding that it’s wreaking absolute havoc on patients’ DNA; experts are seeing disturbing parallels between today’s use of anti-anxiety meds and the early days of the opioid epidemic; if a couple who froze fertilized embryos splits up, who gets to make the decision if one of them wants to have the baby?; and there’s been a recent spate of classic psychological experiments that have been overturned. What does that say for the future of the study of the mind?

Stat: Potential CRISPR Damage Has Been ‘Seriously Underestimated,’ Study Finds

Stateline: These Pills Could Be Next U.S. Drug Epidemic, Public Health Officials Say

The Washington Post: Who Gets the Embryos? Whoever Wants to Make Them Into Babies, New Law Says.

The New York Times: Psychology Itself Is Under Scrutiny


Now what you’ve all been waiting for: an experiment testing a four-day workweek has proven so successful, the firm that ran it wants to make the change permanent. Go ahead, send this story around!

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