Category Archives: National Institute of Health

‘Medicare for all’ proposal headed for House hearings and More States Expanding Medicaid

 

 

49025855_1851541661642151_2035183627737759744_nFirst, as we all are frustrated because of the government shutdown, most Federal Health Agencies are OK despite the shutdown. The FDA is feeling the pinch; IHS, ATSDR are affected also. However, it does point out the problems that Congress will face in the next 2 or more years because of political differences and the lack of civility.

News Editor Joyce Frieden pointed out that the partial shutdown of the federal government doesn’t appear to have had an immediate effect on most healthcare-related agencies, but observers expressed concern over what the shutdown might mean for the long term.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), obviously the largest healthcare-related agency, has been largely unaffected by the shutdown, which began at 12:01 a.m. December 22, since most of the department is already funded through fiscal year 2019. However, the FDA is affected because its appropriations fall under a different authorization bill than the rest of HHS, so the agency had to furlough 7,053 staff members; the remaining 10,344 staff members were retained, either because they were performing functions critical to public health and safety, such as protecting ongoing experiments, or because their programs — such as tobacco regulation or new drug development — are funded by user fees.

The Alliance for a Stronger FDA — a group of patient organizations, trade associations, and pharmaceutical and biomedical companies that support adequate funding for the agency — expressed some concerns about the shutdown. “The FDA regulates products that make up 20% of consumer spending,” the organization said in a statement. “The agency’s responsibilities cannot be fully met when 7,000 employees are furloughed. Further, when the FDA is not fulfilling its critical public health responsibilities, there is no backstop to the agency’s work.”

However, “having said that, we have confidence that [FDA Commissioner] Dr. [Scott] Gottlieb and FDA leadership have ensured the emergency and critical public health and safety functions will be covered during a shutdown,” the statement continued. “Consumers should not panic — the FDA is still on the job. The immediate problem, quite a serious one, is the slowing of work on longer-term priorities and items that aren’t absolutely essential. Managing only those items that could turn into an immediate crisis is no way to run an agency that is critical to public health.”

The shutdown also hits the Indian Health Service (IHS), although direct patient care is not affected, HHS explained in its FY 2019 Contingency Staffing Plan, which was issued before the shutdown actually began. In the event of a shutdown, “IHS would continue to provide direct clinical health care services as well as referrals for contracted services that cannot be provided through IHS clinics,” the document noted. As for other IHS services, “many administrative activities are impacted due to the lapse in funding for the IHS,” a spokeswoman said in an email to MedPage Today.

Asked for examples of administrative services that IHS would continue to perform, the spokeswoman said, “The IHS can only perform administrative, oversight, and other functions that are necessary to meet the immediate needs of its patients, medical staff, and medical facilities.” Other media are reporting that some tribes will need to furlough staff and cut back services at their tribally run health clinics if the shutdown continues.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is largely unaffected by the shutdown except for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. There, Superfund Research Program staff are furloughed and oversight work dealing with about 50 grants is suspended, according to the staffing plan. An NIH spokeswoman confirmed in an email that no other NIH divisions have been affected.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta is another HHS division affected by the shutdown. Although the agency, which deals with environmental health threats and emergencies, will continue carrying out emergency-related functions, it cannot “support most environmental health professional training programs, continuous updating of health exposure assessments and recommendations, and technical assistance, analysis, and [provide] other support to state and local partners,” the staffing plan noted.

Susannah Luthi noted that a new single-payer health system concept will have a set of congressional hearings in the new Democratic House, and a new draft of a so-called “Medicare for all” proposal could be released as soon as next week.

Washington state progressive Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who over the summer launched the Medicare for All Caucus, said the hearings, with the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will start in the House Rules and Budget committees before moving on to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“My goal is that these are opportunities to make the case not to the American people—the American people already had the case made to them—but to members of Congress, to really put forward what the legislation looks like,” Jayapal said Thursday after the new Congress elected Pelosi to the speakership.

Pelosi spokesperson Henry Connelly confirmed the speaker supports holding the hearings, although Jayapal acknowledged House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) hasn’t yet committed his panel.

“But I have the speaker’s commitment that she will help me do this, and I’ve spoken to Frank Pallone and he is not opposed,” Jayapal said. “He just hasn’t said ‘yes’ yet.”

A Pallone spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Jayapal has not yet discussed possible hearings with the head of the other key health panel, Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) of the House Ways and Means Committee, but Neal said he is open to discussing the policy as one of the “many options that are out there” as part of holding his committee to regular order.

“That’s what committees are supposed to do, to flesh out alternatives,” Neal said.

This will be the first House hearing since the Affordable Care Act debate when the health panel of the House Committee on Education and Workforce looked at the option.

Details of the bill, a draft of which Jayapal said should be available in the next couple of weeks, are under wraps but she said it does vary from the legislation introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2017. Sanders catapulted talk of “Medicare for all” to the fore during his 2016 presidential bid and key Democratic senators has signed on to his policy since.

This is a different bill, Jayapal said. It’s largely the work of her staff and the staff of Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

This new momentum for single payer—an issue that sharply divides the party—comes as Democrats are focused on defending Obamacare and as insurers hold out hope for more funding to shore up the law and draw more people into the individual market.

House Democrats will formally intervene in the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act following a Texas federal judge’s invalidation of the law—largely a political move around litigation that proved to help the Democrats in November’s elections.

In his first hearing announcement of the new Congress on Thursday, Pallone said his panel will focus on the lawsuit and its impacts. “This decision, if it is upheld, will endanger the lives of millions of Americans who could lose their health coverage,” the release from the Energy and Commerce Committee said. “It would also allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against more than 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.”

Judge Reed O’Connor, the Texas judge presiding over the case, ordered that the law is to remain in place as the lawsuit winds its way through the courts on appeal. It is headed next to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana.

The lawsuit was a political winner for Democrats in their campaign to reclaim the House in November, denouncing the GOP state attorneys general who filed the lawsuit and the Trump administration, which sided with the plaintiffs and refused to defend the ACA.

New Maine governor orders Medicaid expansion

Harris Meyer pointed out that the new Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order Thursday implementing Maine’s Medicaid expansion, which was overwhelmingly approved by the state’s voters in 2017.The previous governor, Republican Paul LePage, had strongly resisted the expansion, resulting in a court battle that dragged through most of last year and ended with a judge ordering him to move forward with the Medicaid changes. In previous years, he vetoed five bills passed by the legislature to expand the program. An estimated 70,000 low-income adults will be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the expansion. Maine will become the 33rd state to extend the program under the Affordable Care Act to people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah approved similar Medicaid expansions.

‘Medicare for all’ advocates emboldened by ObamaCare lawsuit

Nathaniel Weixel looked at the ObamaCare lawsuit and its relationship to Medicare for All. Progressive groups and lawmakers plan to use a Texas judge’s ruling against ObamaCare to jump-start their push for “Medicare for all” in the next Congress.

Supporters of a single-payer health system are arguing that now is the time to start moving in a new direction from the Affordable Care Act, in part because they feel the 2010 health law will never be safe from Republican attempts to destroy or sabotage it.

“In light of the Republican Party’s assault, a version of Medicare for all is necessary for the future,” said Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the Center for American Progress. “There are just too many points of vulnerability in the current system.”

The court decision in Texas that invalidates ObamaCare in its entirety came on the heels of sweeping Democratic victories in the midterm elections, a combination that has energized advocates of Medicare for all.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure every single American has access to affordable, quality healthcare. Medicare for all has the potential to do just that as it can reduce the complexity and cost with a single payer health care system,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), co-chair of the Medicare for All Caucus, said in a statement to The Hill.

Yet the effort could very well create divisions within the Democratic Party, as leaders who want to protect and strengthen the health law are reluctant to completely embrace government-run universal health insurance.

In the House and Senate, leading Democrats have said their priorities should be strengthening ObamaCare, rather than fighting over single-payer.

The lawsuit in Texas is almost certain to be overturned, they argue, and their time is better spent making sure people with pre-existing conditions remain free from discrimination by insurers.

“I think the ruling gets overturned within a couple months, so I’m not sure it matters in the long-term fight over the next generation of health-care reform,” said Sen. Chris Murphy(D-Conn.).

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Democrats should focus on making sure the insurance landscape doesn’t revert to what it was before ObamaCare.

“The first thing we have to do is make sure people don’t lose what they have today — the pre-existing conditions protections — and going back to the days when there was health care for the healthy and the wealthy,” he said.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor this month struck down the Affordable Care Act, throwing a new round of uncertainty into the fate of the law.

O’Connor ruled that the law’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, and that because the mandate cannot be separated from the rest of the law, the rest of the law is also invalid.

The court case, brought by 20 GOP-led states, was at the center of this year’s midterm campaign after Democrats attacked Republicans for supporting the lawsuit and seeking to overturn ObamaCare’s protections for pre-existing conditions.

The Trump administration, in a rare move, declined to defend the law in court, arguing instead that the pre-existing condition protections should be overturned.

“This is an outrageous, disastrous decision that threatens the health care and lives of millions of people. It must be overturned,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted shortly after the decision was published. “We must move forward to make health care a right for every American.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who will be vice chairman of the House Progressive Caucus next year, said the decision “absolutely” makes a case for Medicare for all.

“There’s no doubt that would be constitutional. Medicare is already constitutional and what we’re saying is extend it to everyone, so there can be no constitutional argument,” Khanna told The Hill.

Eagan Kemp, a health-care expert with the advocacy group Public Citizen, also noted how uncontroversial Medicare is compared to ObamaCare.

“This is one more example of how tenuous the law really is,” Kemp said. “You don’t see the same type of sabotage to Medicare. So to me it highlights that the Medicare program remains the third rail of politics, so if we’re going to build a new health-care system, it’s something that can be safe.”

Some lawmakers said they understand the need to be pragmatic since centrist Democrats might not take the same message from the Texas ruling as progressives.

Khanna said he doesn’t think protecting ObamaCare from Republican attacks has to be a separate endeavor from Medicare for all.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the Medicare for All Caucus, told The Hill the fallout from the lawsuit “may help us move in an even more bold and aggressive agenda” on health care.

“We’ll see, though. I think this is the kind of issue that needs a broad consensus, may need some more outreach to the public,” Schakowsky said. “But I am interested in pursuing that agenda.”

Judge grants stay after ruling Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, Obamacare stays in effect

William Cummings of USA Today, reviewed the latest wrinkle in the Obamacare sage,  a federal judge on Sunday said his decision declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional will not take effect while the appeals of his ruling move through the courts.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote in a 30-page court filing that while he believes the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals “is unlikely to disagree” with his ruling, he agreed to stay his decision because “many everyday Americans would otherwise face great uncertainty” while the appeals play out.

On Dec. 14, O’Connor sided with a coalition of conservative states in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. He found that the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance was unconstitutional and said that meant the rest of the law was invalid as well.

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the law on the grounds that mandate fell within Congress’ taxation powers. When Congress removed the tax penalty for not buying insurance, that constitutional foundation was knocked out, O’Connor reasoned.

The Trump administration announced in June that it would not defend the individual mandate and other provisions of the law – such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions. But the Justice Department argued those provisions of the law could be thrown out without striking down the entire. O’Connor disagreed.

A group of Democratic states and congressional Democrats have said they plan to appeal O’Connor’s decision, which will next head to the Fifth Circuit. Although O’Connor did not grant an injunction blocking Obamacare in his initial ruling, the coalition led by California asked the judge on Dec. 17 to issue a stay and make it clear that the law will stay in place pending the appeal.

Many experts expect that appellate court to disagree with O’Connor’s ruling that the individual mandate can’t be separated from the rest of the law. If O’Connor’s ruling is upheld it is expected that the case would head to the Supreme Court.

Calif. Medical Assn. President Shares Medical Horror Story

Cheryl Clark, a contributing writer for MedPage Today wrote that the new president of the California Medical Association was expecting to spend New Year’s at a wedding in Las Vegas.

Instead, David Aizuss, MD, posted on Facebook about his “eye opening” first-hand view of “American medicine at its worst.” (The post is visible only to his Facebook friends and he declined MedPage Today‘s request to elaborate, citing ongoing “medical issues.”)

In his post, Aizuss said he was rushed by ambulance to a hospital Monday morning. “I spent hours in the emergency room where I received inadequate treatment of mind boggling pain, was never touched or examined by a physician, was mixed up with another patient and almost inadvertently transferred to another hospital, (and) was scheduled for emergency surgery based on a third patient’s lab work that was confused with mine,” he wrote.

He “finally signed out of the hospital against medical advice so I could obtain care from physicians that I know and trust.” He did not name the hospital.

Aizuss, an ophthalmologist who practices in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles, posted his complaint New Year’s Eve, apparently while at the LAX International airport in Los Angeles, where he said he was “just returning from Las Vegas where we were supposed to attend a wedding.”

Dozens of Facebook friends, several apparently also physicians, expressed their shock that the CMA president could receive such poor emergency room response, and some said they were happy he was speaking out about poor quality of hospital care.

“If you get terrible care like this (at least you know the difference) think about the care that Joe Sixpack gets; he doesn’t have the resources to get better care. This system is broken and we need to fix it,” posted one.

Wrote another, “As president of the CMA, your voice can be loud! Don’t be timid and do not be afraid of making enemies. Remember our patients know and respect us when we stand against poor medicine.”

Aizuss ended the post by saying, “Truly an eye-opening experience for the President of the California Medical Association. Happy New Year to all!”

He began his one-year term as CMA president in mid-October, saying he wanted to focus on physician burnout, practice sustainability, and payment. He is also past chairman of the CMA Board of Trustees.

He is a medical staff member at Tarzana Hospital and West Hills Hospital, in Los Angeles County, and serves as an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine.

The CMA represents about 43,000 physicians in the state and is the second largest organized medicine group of any state, next to the Texas Medical Association, which represents about 52,000 physicians.

Why did I end with this article? It points out the fact that whatever the politics, we all have to continue to forge a better health care system. We need to get rid of the biases and the politics and strive, no demand a better healthcare delivery system. But we also have to realize that it will take some radicle changes, but it will be worth it in the end.

Let us continue the research and discussion  into what the healthcare system will look like in our future!

Survey Shows that Worries about Healthcare​ Will Follow Voters into the Voting Booth, Waiting for Healthcare in Canada and Some Progress Finally!!

41715310_1709429559186696_758100051737182208_nIf anyone doubts the significance of our discussion regarding how important health care discussion is in the voters’ minds. Look at this survey! Oh, those greedy angry politicians and the mid-term elections!! The question is what are our politicians interested in?

I had an interesting conversation with a strategist for the Democratic party and she agreed with me that even if the Republicans in the House and the Senate came up with a solution to health care and or immigration that fulfilled their wants and needs, they wouldn’t approve or vote in favor of any bills until after the mid-term election to which they expected to declare their majority position.

Jenny Dean reviewed a survey, which showed that of the 37 percent of voters nationwide who planned to vote for President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, more than a third of Republicans and 37 percent of Independents said in a survey conducted by the Texas Medical Center that they would change their mind if his policies led to an increase in the uninsured. When the majority of voters across the country head to the voting booth in November and again in 2020, the politics of health care will not be far from their thoughts.

That’s the finding of the fourth annual Texas Medical Center’s national consumer survey, released Wednesday, which gauges attitudes on health issues, ranging from support of President Donald Trump’s policies to whether foods laden with fat and sugar should cost more.

“The Nation’s Pulse,” the survey questioned 5,038 people across 50 states, including 1,018 people in Texas. Respondents were both Democrats and Republicans but also included those who identified as Independent. Nearly two-thirds, or 61 percent, said they would be likely to only vote for candidates who promise to make fixing health care a priority. Additionally, the majority of voters said it was important that candidates share their views on such hot-button issues as the expansion of Medicaid. Those views held both in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and in the 17 states, including Texas that did not.

Survey responses at a glance

Likelihood to only vote for a candidate who wants health care fixed:

Democrats: 68 percent

Republicans: 60 percent

Independent: 53 percent

Plan to vote for Donald Trump in 2020:

U.S (all parties).: 37 percent

Texas (all parties): 38 percent

2020 Trump voters who would change their mind if the uninsured rate rises:

Republicans: 35 percent

Independents: 37 percent

Democrats: 60 percent

Texans who support Medicaid expansion:

60 percent

Texans who support Medicare for all:

55 percent

Support lowering legal blood alcohol limit while driving to 0.0 percent:

U.S.: 46 percent

Texas: 48 percent

Think foods that lead to obesity should cost more:

U.S. 51 percent

Texas: 56 percent

Source: Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute

Across all political parties, 60 percent of Texans favored a Medicaid expansion, according to the survey. This comes despite years of steadfast opposition from state leaders. It also closely mirrors a similar survey in June by Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation that found 64 percent of Texans wanted a Medicaid expansion.

But perhaps most striking was that “Medicare for All” health coverage — once politically unthinkable in Texas —found surprising favorability with 55 percent in the state saying they would support it. That compares with 59 percent nationwide, the survey found.

“With health care so expensive and increasingly unaffordable, the respondents told us that it is important to try to fix it,” said Dr. Arthur “Tim” Garson, director of the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute, which led the study.

While the bitter health care debate of a year ago has slipped mostly out of the headlines, it apparently has not slipped from people’s minds, political operatives from both parties said Tuesday.

Neither Glenn Smith, an Austin-based progressive consultant nor Jamie Bennett, vice president at Potomac Strategy Group, a right-leaning political consulting firm, were especially surprised when told of the survey results.

“I think (health care) is the most critical domestic issue that we face today,” said Smith, adding that worries about affordability and access are “ever-present” in people’s lives.

“Health care is a very important issue for our elected leaders to solve,” agreed Bennett in an email, “It makes up the majority of the federal budget and affects every American at some point in their lifetime. I think health care will continue to be a central issue in the mid-terms and 2020 presidential election — especially given the inaction from the federal level.”

Looking ahead to 2020, the survey zeroed in on Trump supporters. Of the 37 percent of voters nationwide who planned to vote for the president, more than a third of Republicans and 37 percent of Independents said they would change their mind if his policies led to an increase in the uninsured.

Such potential defection did not surprise Smith. “That is one of the things that could knock significant numbers from his base,” he said. Garson cautioned, though, the presidential race is still two years away. “You don’t know until Election Day what people will do,” he said,

There were differences, however, in how party affiliation affected priorities. While reducing costs was considered the highest priority across the board, Democrats listed universal coverage as next, while Republicans and Independents said affordability was the second highest priority.

In other issues, the survey found nearly half of Americans, including those in Texas, supported lowering the legal blood alcohol limit while driving to 0.0. It is currently .08 in Texas. Also, an overwhelming majority in all states wanted the age of buying tobacco products raised to 21, and more than half said that foods that lead to obesity should cost more.

The policymakers and politicians continue to point to the Canadian health care system as one that we should use as the model for our system here in the U.S.A. ’Canadians are one in a million — while waiting for medical treatment

Sally Pipes points out that Canada’s single-payer healthcare system forced over 1 million patients to wait for necessary medical treatments last year. That’s an all-time record.

Those long wait times were more than just a nuisance; they cost patients $1.9 billion in lost wages, according to a new report by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think-tank.

Lengthy treatment delays are the norm in Canada and other single-payer nations, which ration care to keep costs down. Yet more and more Democratic leaders are pushing for a single-payer system — and more and more voters are clamoring for one.

Indeed, three in four Americans now support a national health plan — and a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that health care is the most important issue for voters in the coming election.

The leading proponent of transitioning the United States to a single-payer system is Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s firebrand independent. If Sanders and his allies succeed, Americans will face the same delays and low-quality care as their neighbors to the north.

By his own admission, Sen. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill is modeled on Canada’s healthcare system. On a fact-finding trip to Canada last fall, Sanders praised the country for “guaranteeing health care to all people,” noting that “there is so much to be learned” from the Canadian system.

The only thing Canadian patients are “guaranteed” is a spot on a waitlist. As the Fraser report notes, in 2017, more than 173,000 patients waited for an ophthalmology procedure. Another 91,000 lined up for some form of general surgery, while more than 40,000 waited for a urology procedure.

All told, nearly 3 percent of Canada’s population was waiting for some kind of medical care at the end of last year.

Those delays were excruciatingly long. After receiving a referral from a general practitioner, the typical patient waited more than 21 weeks to receive treatment from a specialist. That was the longest average waiting period on record — and more than double the median wait in 1993.

Rural patients faced even longer delays. For instance, the average Canadian in need of orthopedic surgery waited almost 24 weeks for treatment — but the typical patient in rural Nova Scotia waited nearly 39 weeks for the same procedure.

One Ontario woman, Judy Congdon, learned that she needed a hip replacement in 2016, according to the Toronto Sun. Doctors initially scheduled the procedure for September 2017 — almost a year later. The surgery never happened on schedule. The hospital ran over budget, forcing physicians to postpone the operation for another year.

In the United States, suffering for a year or more before receiving a joint replacement is unheard of. In Canada, it’s normal.

Canadians lose a lot of money waiting for their “free” socialized medicine. On average, patients forfeit over $1,800 in lost wages. And that’s only counting the working hours they miss due to pain and immobility.

The Fraser Institute researchers also calculated the value of all the waking hours that patients lost because they couldn’t fully function. The toll was staggering — almost $5,600 per patient, totaling $5.8 billion nationally. And those calculations ignore the value of uncompensated care provided by family members, who often take time off work or quit their jobs to help ill loved ones.

Canada isn’t an anomaly. Every nation that offers government-funded, universal coverage features long wait times. When the government makes health care “free,” consumers’ demand for medical services surges. Patients have no incentive to limit their doctor visits or choose more cost-efficient providers.

To prevent expenses from ballooning, the government sets strict budget caps that only enable hospitals to hire a limited number of staff and purchase a meager amount of equipment. Demand inevitably outstrips supply. Shortages result.

Just look at the United Kingdom’s government enterprise, the National Health Service, which turns 70 this July. Today, British hospitals are so overcrowded that doctors regularly treat patients in hallways. The agency recently canceled tens of thousands of surgeries, including urgent cancer procedures, because of severe resource shortages. And this winter, nearly 17,000 patients waited in the backs of their ambulances — many for an hour or more — before hospital staff could clear space for them in the emergency room.

Most Americans would look at these conditions in horror. Yet Sen. Sanders and his fellow travelers continue to treat the healthcare systems in Canada and the UK as paragons to which America should aspire.

Sen. Sanders’s “Medicare for All” proposal would effectively ban private insurance and force all Americans into a single, government-funded healthcare plan. According to Sen. Sanders, this new insurance scheme would cover everything from regular check-ups to prescription drugs and specialty care, no referral needed — all at no charge to patients.

Americans shouldn’t fall for these rosy promises. As Canadians know all too well, when the government foots the bill for health care, patients are the ones who pay the biggest price.

Sanders was asked to respond to comments Schultz made about the plan in another interview.

Schultz recently announced that he would be leaving Starbucks and said he was considering “public service.” He said on CNBC he was concerned about the way “so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders said Medicare-for-all is a “cost-effective” program.

“And I ask myself, how are we going to pay for all these things? In terms of things like single-payer or people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job, I don’t think that’s realistic,” he said.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Sanders about the possibility of Schultz running as “the Left’s Trump” who may go up against the current president in 2020.

Sanders said he didn’t know Schultz but his comment was “dead wrong.”

“You have a guy who thinks that the United States apparently should remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders said. “The truth of the matter is that I think study after study has indicated that Medicare for All is a much more cost-effective approach toward health care than our current, dysfunctional health care system, which is far and away the most expensive system per capita than any system on Earth.”

But there was progress made as evidenced in that the Senate finally Passes Historic Health Spending Bill and the Package includes funding for cancer, opioids, and maternal mortality

Shannon Firth a Washington Correspondent, for the MedPage, wrote that a spending bill that boosts funding for medical research while also taking aim at the opioid epidemic and maternal mortality passed the Senate on Thursday in a vote of 85-7.

The $857-billion “minibus” package bundled funding for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as for the Defense, Labor, and Education departments.

Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and James Risch (R-Idaho) voted against the bill.

Attention now turns to the House of Representatives, which has not yet acted on a bill to fund HHS. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to enact a funding package to avoid a shutdown of the affected departments.

What’s in It?

The legislation provides $2 billion in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $425 million for Alzheimer’s research and $190 million for cancer research. It also maintains current levels of CDC spending for cancer screening and early detection programs, as well as for the agency’s Office of Smoking and Health.

Also woven into the package: $3.7 billion for behavioral and mental health programs targeting opioid addiction — an increase of $145 million over the FY2018 budget — including $1.5 billion in State Opioid Response Grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; $200 million to increase prevention and treatment services in Community Health Centers; and $120 million to address the epidemic’s impact in rural areas through support for rural health centers. The bill also dedicates $50 million to programs aimed at tackling maternal mortality.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) lauded the investment in ending maternal mortality in a press statement.

“It is completely inexcusable that mothers are more likely to die in childbirth in our country than any other country in the developed world, and long past time we treated this issue like the crisis it is,” she said.

New Push for Research

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, blasted the short shrift given to NIH from 2003 to 2015.

Should this bill become law, the agency will see a nearly 30% increase in its reserves — from $30 billion to $39 billion, he added.

Already, heightened funding since 2015 has driven efforts to develop new vaccines, rebuild a human heart using a patient’s own cells, and identify new nonaddictive painkillers — “the holy grail of dealing with the opioid crisis” — said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, during a committee hearing on Thursday.

In addition, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, Ph.D., said at the hearing that the new monies will let the agency award 1,100 new grants to first-time investigators through the Next Generation Researchers Initiative — the largest number to date.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) stressed the importance of NIH funding to curb the costs of health care, especially of Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we do not find the cure for Alzheimer’s by the time we reach the year 2050, the budget at Medicare and Medicaid for taking care of Alzheimer’s patients will be equal to the defense budget of our country,” he said.

“Obviously, that is non-sustainable,” Markey noted.

U.S. taxpayers currently spend $277 billion on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, that figure is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion, Blunt noted.

Also Wrapped In… 

The minibus package also included the following:

  • $1 million for HHS to develop regulations stipulating that drug companies include the price of the drug in any direct-to-consumer advertisements — an idea supported by HHS Secretary Alex Azar
  • Full funding for the Childhood Cancer STAR Act which involves collecting medical specimens and other data from children with the hardest to treat cancers, and supports research on the challenges pediatric cancer survivors encounter within “minority or medically underserved populations”
  • The requirement that the HHS Secretary provide an update on rulemaking related to information-blocking, as mandated in the 21st Century Cures Act
  • Funds “Trevor’s Law,” which seeks to enhance collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies and the public in investigating possible cancer clusters
  • Mandates that CDC report on the Coal Workers Health Surveillance Program, which targets black lung disease among coal miners

An amendment from Paul aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood failed in a vote of 45-48.

Docs, Wonks Weigh In

Stakeholders in medicine applauded the Senate’s work.

“[T]his bill will enable the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals, which perform over half of NIH-funded extramural research, to continue to expand our knowledge, discover new cures and treatments, and deliver on the promise of hope for patients nationwide,” said Darrell Kirch, MD, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in a press statement.

These new NIH monies will also help support “well-paying jobs across the country, strengthen the economy … and make America more competitive in science and technology,” Kirch said; he urged the House to pass a similar measure as quickly as possible.

The American Heart Association also applauded the Senate’s bipartisan achievement.

“Sustained funding for the NIH is critical to ensuring the nation’s standing as a global leader in research. Even more importantly, it opens an abundance of possibilities in pioneering research that could help us conquer cardiovascular disease, the no. 1 killer in America and around the world,” said Ivor Benjamin, MD, president of the AHA.

Members of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, however, were disappointed.

“The bill fails to make any program reforms or policy recommendations to address Obamacare. Congress still needs to provide relief to the millions suffering under Obamacare’s reduced choices and higher costs,” said a Heritage report issued Wednesday.

The departments to be funded by the minibus package account for more than 60% of discretionary federal spending for 2019, so there was some positive movement on the health care system despite our political dysfunction. Where do we go next?