Trump Speech on Drug Prices Buoys Big Pharma and Investors

Drugmakers, investors buoyed by Trump speech: Even as President Trump, during a much anticipated speech, promised to “derail the gravy train” in health care, Big Pharma stock prices were rising. Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post writes that Trump’s 44-page blueprint, dubbed “American Patients First,” was long on policy ideas and light on how to implement them. Notably, it omitted a proposal that Trump has pushed since the campaign, to use the weight of the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare recipients. Trump’s speech was most critical of the “middlemen” in the drug supply chain, but even they seemed unfazed by the speech, note Adam Feuerstein and Damian Garde of STAT: “Express Scripts, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefits manager, rose 2 percent after the speech. CVS, a pharmacy giant that also negotiates drug prices, went up 2 percent as well.” The nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen published a report about the pharmaceutical industry’s influence within the Trump administration, noting that drugmakers spent a record amount – $279 million – on lobbying last year.

Trump administration puts kibosh on investigations unit: The Obama administration put together a team of investigators to look into widespread complaints of predatory practices at some of the country’s largest for-profit colleges and universities. Then, President Trump picked Betsy DeVos, who previously worked for one such school, as education secretary. She, in turn, appointed a former dean of for-profit DeVry University to oversee the investigative team. And – surprise, surprise – the team’s work grinds to a halt. Danielle Ivory, Erica L. Green and Steve Eder of The New York Times explain how it happened and explore industry ties to the Trump administration. For one thing, Bridgepoint Education, one of the for-profit college operators that had been under investigation, is a former client of Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications.

  • Also: Consumer advocates and Democrats in Washington reacted with alarm to a plan to eliminate an office charged with protecting student loan borrowers from predatory practices. But one administration official said the office, part of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was only being reorganized and that its work would continue.

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Guns a leading cause of death among young people: Advocates and policymakers have worked hard in recent decades to reduce motor vehicle accidents as a primary cause of death among young people between ages 15 and 29. In contrast, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress, policymakers have done little to address gun violence. The consequence: Gun deaths in recent years have overtaken car accidents as the second leading cause of death in that age group, surpassed only by drug overdoses (another scourge that has seen woefully little action from lawmakers). The report notes that young people die more often by guns than do people in all other age groups, they are overrepresented in fatal police shootings, and they are more likely to be victims in violent crimes involving a gun.

  • Also: Two recent pieces consider mothers and guns. Donna Dees, founder of the Million Mom March, writes in Fast Company about why gun control efforts have largely failed and how parents with Moms Demand Action could change the course. The Trace talks with Beth Alcazar about how a gunman at her daughters’ school propelled her to become a firearms instructor and about her frustration with the way gun owners are portrayed in the media.

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Pot, possession and race: Marijuana often is seen as recreational when the person possessing it is white, but criminal when that person is black or Hispanic. That idea has driven higher rates of incarceration among people of color for decades. Still, the numbers in this New York Times story tracking arrests for low-level marijuana charges in New York City over the past three years are dramatic. Black people were arrested at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people. For Hispanic people, the rate of arrest was five times higher. “In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people,” reporters Benjamin Mueller, Robert Gebeloff and Sahil Chinoy write. Police officials said arrests were higher in neighborhoods where residents filed more complaints about marijuana. But the reporters looked at those, too. They compared arrests in two precincts of Brooklyn, one predominantly black and one predominantly white, where residents phoned in complaints at about the same rate. In the black precinct, arrests for marijuana possession were four times higher.

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California’s coming solar boom: All new single family homes built in California soon will be required to have solar panels. The California Energy Commission voted unanimously to approve the first-in-the-nation measure, which is expected to take effect in 2020. The panels, a key part of the state’s plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions, are projected to save consumers money in the long run by reducing utility bills but will boost the cost of building a house by an average of $9,500, writes Andrew Khouri of the Los Angeles Times. Not everyone thinks the new rule is a good idea. For one thing, it raises the cost of construction in a state where home ownership is far out of reach for many middle class people. Plus, some energy experts say building more solar in sun-rich California isn’t actually worthwhile and there are more cost-effective ways to reduce carbon emissions. David Roberts at Vox gives a point-by-point breakdown of the case for and against the new mandate.

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Oh no, the wind, too?: You think you’ve read every dire prediction about the impact of climate change on the planet and  humankind, but have you heard this one? The wind is slowing. Yes, the average speed that wind travels across land has slowed in a phenomenon called “stilling.” That could have dire consequences for city dwellers who rely on wind speed to clear away smog and to bring in fresh air. Cosmos magazine explains.

  • Also: Investors in a group called Climate Action 100+ want companies they own to meet the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement despite U.S. withdrawal, Bloomberg reports. How much influence do they wield? A lot: The group manages $30 trillion in assets. – The Trump administration quietly killed a NASA program that monitors carbon flows around the planet and plays a key role in holding countries accountable for emissions reductions, Science magazine reports.

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Closing pay gaps at Dell: Dell EMC, a unit of Texas computer giant Dell Technologies, will pay $2.9 million in back wages to settle allegations that it systematically discriminated against women and African American employees, paying them less than their white male peers in engineering, marketing and sales jobs at offices in California and North Carolina. The problems were discovered as part of a routine compliance evaluation for federal contractors.  While agreeing to pay back wages with interest, the company denied liability and said there was “no evidence of pay discrimination.” Last year, the company agreed to pay $110,000 to settle a case in Massachusetts involving a transgender intern who was fired after complaining of a hostile work environment.

  • Also: A drywall company in Utah has been ordered to pay $550,000 in back wages and damages to 267 employees who were denied overtime pay. – Federal officials debarred a North Carolina farm labor contractor for three years and assessed a penalty of $321,400 after finding that the firm owed back wages to 287 migrant workers. – In another case brought by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and House Division, a discount retailer will pay $273,254 to 125 assistant managers in its Arizona stores for work done during their lunch breaks.

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Farmers changing farming: Fertilizer runoff pollution is a problem across the globe, but it is particularly acute in areas like the Midwest, where row crop farming is common. In 2014, a toxic algae bloom fueled by agricultural fertilizers left more than 400,000 people near Lake Erie without drinking water. Virginia Gewin writes in Civil Eats about farmers coming to grips with the problem and changing their practices, tilling less, planting cover crops and reducing fertilizer use with more precise application methods.

  • Also: Lynne Curry at Civil Eats looks at whether the next farm bill could weaken organic food standards. – China is building high-rise “hog hotels.” – Tom Philpott of Mother Jones notes that a federal court could provide some relief to people living near factory-sized hog farms in North Carolina, but industry-wide change isn’t likely anytime soon. After a judge awarded $50 million to plaintiffs in the first of 26 cases pending in that state’s hog-farming region, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called the decision “despicable.”

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Egg outbreak expands: Thirty-five people have been sickened by eggs produced by Rose Acre Farms, which last month recalled more than 200 million eggs for possible Salmonella contamination. Eleven people have been hospitalized. Kristine Phillips of The Washington Post writes that this is not the first big recall involving Rose Acres. The company had a prolonged legal battle with the federal government after three outbreaks in 1990 in which about 450 people became ill.

  • Also: At last update, the number of people affected by the E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona, region had grown to 149, including one death. 

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Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.

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