The leaked HHS memorandum and transgender health rights

At the end of last month, the New York Times reported on a leaked internal memorandum from Health and Human Services proposing to narrowly define “sex” as “biological sex,” a move made with the purpose of excluding transgender people from a variety of civil rights protections.

The memorandum stirred concerns about the future of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which provides for an anti-discrimination cause of action in health care settings and has been the basis of a number of private lawsuits by transgender patients. The HHS memorandum reinforces that the Trump administration plans to reinterpret Section 1557 to stem this litigation.

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Congress’s opioids package and the politics of the IMD exclusion

At the end of September, the Senate passed a final version of an expansive legislative package designed to tackle the United States opioid epidemic. The package contains a broad range of policy approaches to the crisis, including enhanced tracking of fentanyl in the U.S. mail system, improved access to Medication Assisted Treatment and addiction specialists, and lifted restrictions on telemedicine and inpatient addiction treatment. The package, which now sits on President Trump’s desk, is widely expected to be signed into law.

The legislative effort has been lauded as a rare act of bipartisanship in an otherwise-polarized Washington.

The Washington Post called the set of bills “one of the only major pieces of legislation Congress is expected to pass this year.” A Time headline declared that “Opioid Bill Shows Congress Can Still Work Together.” Praise of this across-the-aisle effort is merited: the Senate voted for the set of bills 98-1, and the House voted for it 393-8.

While critics have rightfully pointed out that the package does not provide for enough increased spending to address the crisis, with more than 72,000 people dying from drug overdoses in 2017, the time is ripe for a collaborative approach to the opioid crisis, and any effort helps.

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Hurricane Florence and the health effects of climate change

Among the coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, news stories about the overflowing waste from North Carolina pig lagoonswere among the most stomach-turning. North Carolina is home to a slew of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and these industrial livestock farming operations often involve storing massive volumes of pig manure in contained “lagoons.”The driving rain from Hurricane Florence caused at least 110 of these lagoons to swell over. CAFOs are, in themselves, a topic of concern among public health and environmental justice advocates. But this specific example of what happens when CAFOs and extreme weather patterns collide provides an opportunity to reflect on the unique relationship between public health and climate change.

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A status update on the Medicaid work requirement landscape

Earlier this week, Michigan submitted a proposal to the Trump administration requesting approval to impose work requirements on Medicaid expansion beneficiaries. Michigan’s proposal was submitted through the Medicaid Act’s section 1115 waiver program, which allows states to introduce experimental projects that “further the objectives” of the Act. (For a more in-depth discussion of the function of section 1115 waivers in the Medicaid scheme, see Carmel Shachar’s Bill of Health post from earlier this summer.)

Work requirement waivers garnered a rush of attention after the Trump administration issued guidance indicating that it would begin approving such requests. Michigan is now one of twelve states that have submitted a work requirement proposal, with four of those states having successfully received approval from HHS.

This recent development in Michigan provides an opportunity to take stock of the Medicaid work requirement landscape since the Trump administration began approving the waivers. Read More