Domestic healthcare policy (and lack thereof) will be pivotal in the midterms
Friday Pulse Check
Good morning and happy Friday. This is the Friday Pulse Check.
Healthcare in the State of the Union (did you miss it?)
In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Joseph Biden mentioned healthcare quite a few times, although never went into much detail into any of his proposals. The fact that he spent time on them, however, is significant. As several Democrats stated before the speech on Tuesday, he was giving them the messaging outline that they should use in the midterms later this year.
What policies did he discuss? He again pushed Congress to pass his Build Back Better agenda, which would restructure parts of Medicare Part D and expand the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Biden also called for capping insulin at $35 a month and announced a new office in the Justice Department aimed at prosecuting “pandemic fraud.”
He also advocated for a policy that would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with the drug companies. After all, he said, “They already do that with [Veterans Affairs].” As I mentioned Tuesday night, there are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Medicare Part D indeed is one of the largest drug programs in the country and if they could negotiate prices down, it could hurt the drug companies’ profits. Lobbying groups on their behalf have repeatedly said that this will inhibit their ability to conduct research and development.
On the other hand, as we discussed a few weeks ago, Adhulem is a $30,000 per year, per patient drug and that price only happened after Biogen, the drug maker, brought the price down from $60,000. The shock to anyone should be that Biogen can cut the price in half and still make a significant profit.
Mr. Biden’s proposal, however, got me to thinking about how Aduhelm might be handled differently if Medicare could negotiate its cost. Would Medicare cover it if they could negotiate a better price?
Ultimately, I do not believe so. Firstly, Aduhelm has significant risk and minimal effect. Because of this, large delivery systems like Johns Hopkins University and Mass General are not administering it to their patients. Even neurology groups who were involved in the clinical trial are not offering the drug.
Secondly, Aduhelm has only been approved in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Now, as we reported the last week, just because other countries are taking longer to approve something does not mean the drug is not good. Trikafta is a perfect example of the opposite of this. My point here is that none of the other western countries that pride themselves on their healthcare system have approved it, much less covered under their healthcare programs.
Thirdly, I do not believe Medicare has the negotiation power for this drug. This is because doctors will not offer it even if it is covered and Biogen has already knocked the price in half in attempts to get people to use it.
Mr. Biden’s proposal for lowering the costs of prescription drugs could have some benefit, but if you are holding your breath for Aduhelm, I wouldn’t.
Crickets from the Republicans
Even if you disagree with all of them, you must admit President Biden put forth several proposals for lowering the cost of healthcare for Americans on Tuesday night. Did you notice who didn’t suggest any alternatives or even respond to any of Mr. Biden’s proposals?
If you said Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa and, by extension, the Republican party, then you would be correct. The closest thing to healthcare policy in the Republican response on Tuesday night was “we did COVID different.”
It is very obvious to me that Republicans think they can win the midterms by blasting COVID-19 policies from the last two years. They are forgetting, however, that this messaging strategy did not work in 2020. Additionally, the Kaiser Family Foundation in February’s COVID-19 vaccine monitor found that COVID-19 does not even rank in the top four of the most important issues across all voting groups.
Additionally, President Biden offered a policy that he says will lower the cost of healthcare of millions of Americans. COVID-19 might not rank in the top four issues, but healthcare costs does. The Republicans must come up with a measured response if they are going to be able to convince moderate and undecieded voters in November that Mr. Biden and the Democrats’ policies will not save them moeny.
To sum up: If Republicans want to take back the House and Senate in the midterms, they will need to pivot from COVID-19 and aim at proposing real healthcare policy. You cannot say “I didn’t wear a mask” expect that to simply win you an election.
COVID-19 misinformation and Ukraine
In a non-FLATLINING article, I wanted to share with you this week, it seems the war in Ukraine has managed to put COVID-19 misinformation on the back burner. The Guardian wrote about David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, and he claims that in the past week, his tweets about COVID-19 have not received any of the usual nasty feedback.
Now, the Guardian lays the blame on bots who are taking a break from COVID-19 to focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Online activity in Ukraine has surged by 20% and it can be traced to bots because of the way the accounts tweet and use hashtags. If you are interested in how social media can influence a culture and understanding issues as important as COVID-19 and Ukraine, I’d give this article a read.
That will do it for us here at FLATLINING this week. Have a good weekend.