Brainstorm Health: Tom Price’s Obamacare Admission, Young American Loneliness, Healthy Habits

May 1, 2018, 8:48 PM UTC

Happy Tuesday, readers. This is Sy.

A former top ranking government official had this to say about the recent repeal of Obamacare’s controversial individual mandate requiring most Americans to carry health insurance or pay a tax penalty on Tuesday: “There are many, and I am one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market. And, consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks in that market.”

But the speaker wasn’t some Obama administration veteran lashing out at the individual mandate repeal (which was tucked into the massive tax law passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last year), a critical component of the health law. It was Trump’s own recent, former Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, a longtime Obamacare foe with a history of scorching criticism about the individual mandate.

Price was speaking at the World Health Care Congress conference in Washington, D.C. when he delivered the surprising remarks. It’s a sharp contrast to what he’s said before about the individual mandate, including during his short-lived tenure as HHS Secretary (which was cut short following a scandal over Price’s lavish air travel proclivities).

“Well, the individual mandate is one of those things that actually is driving up the cost for the American people in terms of coverage,” Price told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz in an interview last July. “So what we’re trying to do is make it so Obamacare is no longer harming the patients of this land. No longer driving up costs. No longer making it so they’ve got coverage, but no care. And the individual mandate is one of those things.” Price had made numerous similar arguments prior to that interview and used his time leading HHS to weaken enforcement of Obamacare’s individual mandate through his administrative powers.

It’s unclear what exactly fostered this change of heart by the former HHS Secretary. But independent organizations like the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agree with Price’s newfound assessment, projecting that the mandate repeal will ultimately cause 13 million people to lose health coverage and premium spikes of about 10% relative to current law.

Read on for the day’s news.


Fitbit extends health care ambitions with Google partnership. Fitbit made waves on Monday, announcing a new deal with Google that could significantly boost the device maker's forays into health care. As Fitbit CEO James Park tells me (more on that conversation later), the partnership provides access to Google's new Healthcare API, which complies with federal standards such as HIPAA and could eventually allow consumers to access their combined health record data straight from their devices. (Fortune)

FDA approves Medtronic deep brain stimulation device for epilepsy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light to Medtronic's Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy, which can be used to help epilepsy patients who don't respond well to their anti-seizure medications. "Many patients in the United States with severe epilepsy are not able to control their seizures with currently-available drugs and are not candidates for potentially curative surgery," Robert Fisher, director of the Stanford Epilepsy Center at Stanford University, said in a release. (Medscape)


Sanofi, Regeneron slash next-gen cholesterol drug's price in Express Scripts deal. French drug giant Sanofi and partner Regeneron have struck a deal with pharmacy benefits management firm Express Scripts to drastically slash the price of a new kind of cholesterol drug that originally cost more than $14,000 listed. The deal will make the treatment, Praluent (which has proven to cut "bad" cholesterol levels by 60% in clinical trials) available for between $4,500 and $8,000. The move is likely motivated by lackluster sales for the clinically vaunted therapy, and growing pricing pushback from payers like Express Scripts. (Fortune)


Young Americans are pretty lonely, study says. A large new survey by insurer Cigna finds that more than half of Americans, and especially young people, feel lonely. Strikingly, Generation Z are actually hit harder by loneliness (including the absence of companionship or feeling isolated from other people) than the social media frenzied Millennial cohort, according to the study. (Fortune)

Five healthy habits can help you live longer. One is especially important. Harvard researchers say that five healthy and seemingly obvious habits are associated with a significantly longer life (good diet, good exercise, a healthy BMI, etc). But one sticks out in particular: Forgoing smoking altogether. Which shouldn't be all that surprising given that smoking and tobacco use is associated with the top three killers of Americans (heart disease, cancer, and the respiratory disease COPD). (Fortune)


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