“What is health?” by KHN: the FDA is going after nicotine

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The FDA launched a crackdown on smoking and vaping this week – ordering the removal of the Juul vaping device from the market and announcing its intention to require manufacturers of cigarettes and other tobacco products to reduce the amount of nicotine they contain.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court did not rule in a high-stakes abortion case, but it said private health insurers could limit the amount of kidney dialysis care they provide, forcing some patients to use Medicare.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, and Rachel Cohrs of Stat.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • The FDA ordered Juul to remove its e-cigarettes from the US market because the company’s application to the agency did not provide enough information for regulators to determine whether Juul posed a danger to users. The FDA said there were concerns about the risk of leaching certain harmful chemicals from the Juul capsules. Juul is expected to appeal the FDA’s decision in court.
  • Juul helped spark an explosion in e-cigarette use when it hit the market, and officials originally thought it would help smokers looking to quit. But the industry’s use of flavored tobacco and aggressive marketing have contributed to a dramatic increase in use among teens and led to a regulatory crackdown.
  • The Supreme Court ruled this week that employers could choose to opt out of all network dialysis treatment in their workers’ health plans, a move that would likely prompt many patients to seek Medicare coverage for their kidney problems. The decision was a disappointment for dialysis providers, who receive fewer reimbursements from Medicare than they typically receive from private insurance plans.
  • The ruling leaves many details unresolved and more legal fights could arise. Dialysis providers could also look to Congress to establish laws prohibiting employers from such moves.
  • The Senate is likely to consider a bill proposed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) which aims to reduce the cost of insulin. The bill is seen as friendlier to drugmakers than another measure passed by the House this year. Senate bill aims to get drugmakers to offer insulin at the price they received from Medicare in 2021 by allowing them to bypass rebates and other costly subsidies paid to drug benefit managers and plans insurance. It would also limit payouts for insured consumers to $35.
  • As the Senate moves closer to a vote on gun safety legislation, other efforts are underway to find more funding for programs to help treat mental health issues. These efforts could contribute to campaigns to reduce suicides and domestic violence, which are also often linked to guns.
  • House launches effort to pass supply bills, and initial funding measure for Department of Health and Human Services once again does not include so-called Hyde Amendment, a long-standing policy named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) who prohibits the use of federal funds for most abortions. Previous efforts by the House to drop the Hyde Amendment did not clear the Senate.
  • President Joe Biden has named Arati Prabhakar, former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She would replace Eric Lander, who was forced to resign after reports of staff harassment.
  • Prabhakar appears to be an uncontroversial choice and comes with a good management background. His responsibilities will likely include overseeing pandemic planning, efforts to shape a new biomedical research agency called ARPA-H, and strategies to improve cancer prevention.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KHN’s Noam N. Levey about the new KHN-NPR Medical Debt Project, called “Diagnosis: Debt.”

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week that they think you should also read:

Julie Rovner: The PA”At the Westminster Dog Show, new emphasis on the well-being of veterinariansby Jennifer Peltz

Joanne Kenen: Fern.org”Back Forty: How to protect farm workers from heat-related kidney diseaseby Nancy Averett

Rachel Cohrs: The markup “Facebook receives sensitive medical information from hospital websitesby Todd Feathers, Simon Fondrie-Teitler, Angie Waller and Surya Mattu

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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