A doctor from neck down wearing white coat, holding clipboard in one hand and bowl of fruit in the other.

Medically Tailored Meals and the Reverberating Impact of Public Demonstration Projects

Recent headlines highlighted a $40 million investment by a range of Blue Cross Blue Shield companies in Solera Health, a start-up focused on improving chronic disease management. Solera Health will use the investment to scale up its wellness programs, which seek to improve social determinants of health for patients.

One of Solera’s initiatives focuses on providing medically tailored meals to beneficiaries. The concept behind medically tailored meals is simple. Patients with diabetes, congestive heart failure, and other chronic illnesses can be treated only to a limited extent in doctor’s offices. By extending services like meal provision to beneficiaries—thus improving their long-term health—insurers can potentially avoid paying for more costly interventions down the line. Read More

Black silhouette of a woman looking down

The FDA’s NEST Initiative and Women’s Health

The history of medical device regulation in the United States has been shaped by the prominent failure of individual devices, many of which were indicated for women.

The Dalkon Shield intrauterine device infamously ushered in the 1976 amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, establishing the first pre-market notification and approval process for medical devices in the United States. Similarly, a series of failures among devices designed for women’s health—including the power morcellator, the Essure System, and pelvic mesh—has recently invigorated the FDA’s focus on its post-market regime. Read More

A yellow dentist chair, in an empty dental office.

Barriers to Dental Care Abound for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

In early May, a New York Times article profiled the N.Y.U. College of Dentistry’s Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities. As the Times article describes, the new facility establishes an important point of service for people with developmental disabilities in New York City. It also creates a much-needed pipeline for dentists skilled in treating this special population. Read More

Close-up of a stethoscope on an American flag

Medicaid Buy-In and Section 1332 State Innovation Waivers

As a new Medicare-for-all bill was introduced in the House recently, a number of state-level legislative projects are generating parallel excitement about Medicaid buy-in plans.

In his recent Bill of Health post, Rahul Nayak explained how Medicaid Buy-In would allow states to introduce a public option to their insurance marketplaces. Rahul points to some major questions about how buy-in plans might be implemented. Some of these questions relate to how these plans will operate within the federal statutory system that governs health care marketplaces and Medicaid. In a December Ohio State Law Journal article, for example, Professor Lindsay Wiley explored how Medicaid buy-in plans could be enacted within the waiver systems that shape state implementation of marketplaces and the availability of premium tax credits. Most recently, Emma Sandoe, in an interview for this blog, discussed the ways states are innovating in this space.

Specifically, states seeking to implement buy-in plans will navigate questions about how to leverage the Section 1332 waiver provision of the ACA. Section 1332 of the ACA allows states to apply for waivers of certain marketplace requirements. Through these waivers, states are empowered to provide insurance options that don’t meet all QHP standards and may receive premium tax credits to directly fund insurance products. How states choose to approach this waiver system will dictate what type of funds are available to subsidize coverage, the design of buy-in offerings, and the level of coverage buy-in plans will offer.

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A woman holds a baby by a window

Paid Leave as a Public Health Issue

Earlier this month, Claire Cain Miller and Jim Tankersley wrote for the New York Times Upshot about Gavin Newsom’s anticipated paid leave proposal for California. Their piece highlights economic research showing that the absence of paid leave policies in the U.S. hinder women’s participation in the workforce and, in turn, hurts the U.S. economy. (For example, Miller and Tankersley cite a letter from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco projecting that a national parental leave policy could result in 5 million more workers joining the labor force.)

As politicians like Newsom grapple with the question of how to pay for more robust paid leave policies at the state-level, defining the costs of our current systems will be an important part of the process.

The health costs of not providing parental leave are another—and under-explored—part of the equation. Two recently published papers point to the negative public health outcomes of our current leave policies, specifically for new mothers.

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A pile of rotting food on a table.

Revisiting an Old Proposal on Aesthetic Adulteration of Food

This Winter Session I am enrolled in Harvard Law School’s “Food and Drug Law” course. One of the topics covered in the first week of class is “filth”—a category including natural food adulterants like mold, insect parts, and rot.

As the FDA has noted, there is no feasible way to prevent some filth from getting into practically all of our food supply. Of course, the FDA has tools to address this problem where it causes actual harm. The FDA’s poisonous and deleterious substances controls empower the agency to preempt and remediate safety risks in food. And, through its “aesthetic adulteration” standards, the FDA is also empowered to address filth in food even where it causes no direct harm to human health.

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Protestor holding up a sign that reads "Keep families together!"

Public Charge and the Expressive Effects of Immigration Law

In early October, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed redefinition of the Immigrant and Nationality Act’s “public charge” provision, stirring serious concern among health-care and immigrant advocacy groups.

The “public charge” provision of the INA currently allows immigration officers to deny green cards to legal immigrants who are likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.”

DHS’s proposed rule would widen the scope of “public charge” to include any legal immigrant who uses cash or non-cash government benefits. In expanding the scope of the public charge inadmissibility determinations, DHS would empower immigration officers to consider immigrants’ current or prior use of programs like Medicaid and SNAP in evaluating applications. Read More

Some takeaways from Montana’s Medicaid expansion ballot initiative

As Nicholas Terry wrote in his recent blog post, the 2018 midterm elections produced some big wins for Medicaid. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah decided to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA. These states followed the lead of Maine, where Medicaid was expanded by ballot initiative in November of 2017.

One exception to this trend is Montana. On November 6, Montanans rejected I-185, a ballot initiative proposing to fund the state’s Medicaid expansion through a tobacco tax. The ballot initiative would have removed a sunset provision that automatically terminates funding for the expansion in 2019. The outcome of the initiative has not necessarily killed Montana’s expanded program. The Republican legislature may still act to appropriate funding for the program, and—given that the expansion was originally passed with bipartisan support in the state legislature—this route to securing financing is not foreclosed. In August, the oversight committee in charge of the expansion bill recommended that the state fund the program regardless of the outcome of the ballot initiative.

However, even if the future of the Montana expansion remains unclear, there are still some important immediate takeaways from the result of I-185. Read More

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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