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Friday Pulse Check
Good morning and happy Friday. I thought I’d start with a provocative question that actually has a simple answer. More on that in a minute.
Much ink was spilled this week on our FLATLINING Podcast topic about drug pricing. We stand by what we said on Wednesday. The Democrats are not correct in saying that this is going to save the government tonnes of money and it isn’t going to be the savior of Medicare. On the flip side, it isn’t the end of drug innovation either.
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In the new drug pricing bill, a maximum of twenty drugs can be negotiated (price controlled) by the Department of Health and Human Services. For Part D drugs, that isn’t going to make a huge dent. It is possible some Oncologists could take a hit when it comes to Part B drugs, but they should be paid more for office visits anyway.
The drug pricing measure in the budget reconciliation bill as it stands now gives some political oomf to the Democrats so they can say they lowered drug prices. Is it possible that it will backfire and drug companies won’t sell some drugs to Medicare? In theory, yes, but more than likely the drug companies are just going to raise the costs of new drugs to make up for the difference. Then we’re back where we started.
But first the news:
The United States declares Monkeypox a public health emergency
Declaring a public health emergency allows the federal government to take certain actions to respond to the virus, such as allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency use authorizations. The federal response follows several states and the World Health Organization. Every state except for Wyoming and Montana has had at least one case of monkeypox. Read more from CBS News.
No doubt the usual voices we have talked about here on the Friday Pulse Check and the FLATLINING Podcast will have much to say about the emergency declaration. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and Republicans running in November will be able to gain some traction on their “vast” anti-COVID-19 political platforms.
Foster children kept in the emergency room instead of a home or shelter
The Detroit News published an investigation this week in which they found that two foster children were taken to a Macomb County emergency room and stayed there for weeks despite a determination from physicians that they did not need inpatient care. It appears, though the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is not commenting on the report, that they were kept there while Children’s Protective Services looked for an appropriate placement, but lawyers and child psychologists agree that a hospital emergency room is not the appropriate place to do that. Michigan’s child welfare system has been under federal monitoring since 2008 after it settled a lawsuit with a New York nonprofit advocacy group Children's Rights. Read more from the Detroit News.
From our perspective, we want to know who is going to pay for this. Emergency room care is the most expensive medium for healthcare in the United States. Are the Michigan taxpayers going to be on the hook for the foster care system using it as a shelter, especially in the age of COVID-19? More questions need to be asked.
FDA orders an outside inspection
FDA commissioner Robert Califf announced this week that his agency had hired the Reagan-Udall Foundation and some unnamed experts to conduct inspections on FDA offices that oversee food and tobacco regulation. It is an interesting announcement from two angles. First, the FDA, which inspects food, drugs, and tobacco to determine their safety and regulation, has hired someone to inspect them. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they have hired an organization whose mission is to support and help make priorities for the FDA. It perked up the ears of regulators from other agencies, including Brian Ronholm, former deputy undersecretary of food safety at the Agriculture Department. He said, “I will be eager to learn more details about how the foundation will ensure that their process is independent.” It comes from a time when both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the FDA over the baby formula shortage; the commish has even said “Fundamental questions about the structure, function, funding and leadership need to be addressed.” Read more from Politico.
COVID-19 vaccine attitudes and price controls
On the FLATLINING Podcast this week, Ron and I first discussed the new survey data from the Kaiser Family Foundation about parents’ views on the COVID-19 vaccines for their children (more on that in a moment). We also discussed the new bill that will allow Medicare to
negotiate determine prices for certain drugs.
This week, in an Austin courtroom, Alex Jones took to the stand and said under oath that the Sandy Hook massacre was “100% real.” As a result, Mr. Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, were ordered to pay more than $4,000,000 in restitution to the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, one of the students killed in the shooting.
Mr. Jones’ admission should (and did) make news. He has spent the last few years claiming that the elementary school shooting was fake. He claimed that everyone involved and shown on TV were actors participating in a plot by then-President Barack Obama and the Democrats to pass gun control.
His other InfoWars hosts, including Owen Shroyer, have also made up information about the event. In a 2017 Megyn Kelly interview, Neil Heslin, the father of Jesse Lewis, said he held his son “with a bullet hole through his head.” Mr. Shroyer claimed that it was not possible because the timeline did not add up.
That is what makes Mr. Jones’ admission so incredible; he admitted that the information his publication was spreading was not true. His excuse was that he was under a lot of pressure from different people and he legitimately believed the shooting was faked. He also claimed that mainstream media blew his comments out of proportion and “wouldn’t let [him] take it back.”
The about page on Mr. Jones’ InfoWars website says this:
Since the beginning of time there have been constant attempts to enslave and subdue the spirit of humanity. From Barbarian hordes streaming down the mountain to the Stasi secret police torturing those who dreamed to be free. In this age of rapidly accelerating technology the threat to our liberties is a very real and present danger. Alex Jones is a unique voice that sifts through the information and exposes the underlying intentions.
What underlying intentions has Mr. Jones exposed? He has claimed the US government puts chemicals in the water that make people have homosexual tendencies and they’re “turning the freakin’ frogs gay.” He asserted during a CNN interview (if you can call it that) with Piers Morgan that doctors prescribe Prozac and other anti-depressants that force people to kill themselves. He also fueled the “pizzagate” conspiracy and so convinced a North Carolina man that it was true, that he drove to Comet Ping Pong in Virginia to save the children in Hillary Clinton’s sex-trafficking ring. He later apologized for that one.
If you asked a sane human being in the United States if any of those are believable, he or she would probably say no.
Enter COVID-19. InfoWars has a trove of easily disprovable articles about COVID-19 and the vaccines used to fight against it. Some of it is just blatantly false and some of it is true-true-and unrelated (see the screenshot below). These conspiracies, however, have become far more convincing to average Americans. I have friends who have expressed with vigor that I am at a significantly higher risk of death now that I have been fully vaccinated with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
America has traveled to a different place from where we were ten years ago. Ten years ago, it would have been unimaginable to think that a fifth of American parents believe they cannot get a vaccine for their children from a place they trust. It raises the question, where did this distrust come from?
I wrote a few weeks ago about former Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan’s column in RealClear Health. In that column, he was warning about “creeping authoritarianism.” Mr. Hargan may be right on some of his complaints. The idea that the governor of Michigan thinks she can block the sale of gardening supplies and paint because of a health emergency is insane. There are very real concerns about how things could have been done better during the main parts of the pandemic.
Mr. Jones, and others, have jumped on those instances of real concern and have blown them out of proportion. Perhaps, more accurately, in Mr. Jones’ case, he believes they were already here and have gotten worse. After all, they were turning the frogs gay in the Obama administration.
This week Mr. Jones said that his comments about Sandy Hook were simply questioning the narrative, seeming to appeal to the idea that this it what journalists are supposed to do. After all, journalism equals free speech, right? Well, that depends on what your definition of both is.
I once interviewed a Catholic priest in London about the state of moral issues in the United Kingdom and he was wholeheartedly convinced that there are limits to free speech in a moral society.
Americans (particularly more conservative Americans) don’t think that way. We generally do not like the idea of the government (or even the courts) saying that some things are ok and some things aren’t ok. We generally take free speech to mean the right to express an opinion in public without being restrained or censored.
That ends when you are sued for what you say untruthfully.
Publications such as FLATLINING and InfoWars are both covered by the first amendment. We operate without fear of being censored by the government. But when we step out of line and unfairly (and untruthfully) defame people we do have a legal system to rectify those situations. This week it worked.
But what happens when that language leads to health problems or even death? Taking one look at the “Health” section of InfoWars makes me wonder if we could see similar trials in the future, by particular individuals and not the government, for COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation.
Both FLATLINING and InfoWars can publish without fear of government retribution because of our First Amendment. In general, I really do think that is a good thing; the Detroit News article above is an excellent example of keeping the government accountable. But we all must be willing to answer for the things we publish.
At FLATLINING it is why we put our names in the byline and don’t use pseudonyms. At the Detroit News, the editor stands by their sources at the hospital who could risk losing their jobs by talking about those children who were technically patients.
Where does Mr. Jones stand? Where does he stand especially after he has apologized for major conspiracies that he has pushed? Will we ever see a video like he published yesterday for Sandy Hook apologizing for his COVID-19 misinformation? Will there be a lawsuit against corporate misinformation like his? Time will tell.
So what do InfoWars and FLATLINING have in common? We’re both protected by the first amendment and we publish without the fear of being censored. That’s where it ends. The differences begin with the quality and authenticity of what we say and publish.
Russia is continuing to target medical facilities in Ukraine, according to the World Health Organization. They say that out of the six-hundred and fifteen attacks on healthcare facilities this year, four-hundred and thirty-five of them have been in Ukraine. Additionally, doctors and nurses are facing burnout, and facilities in the eastern part of the country are becoming less accessible, making it difficult to provide aid and support. Read more from FOX News.
Have a good weekend,
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