Storm Chasing: Tracking Sweeping Healthcare Policies

New initiatives capture attention on Capitol Hill.

New this week: the rebirth of one sweeping health policy, the presumed death of another, and a hint of things to come from a third policy initiative.

First, President Biden has revived his Cancer Moonshot initiative, first launched when Biden was vice president in 2016. The new “supercharged” initiative’s goal is to reduce cancer deaths by 50 percent in the next 25 years. Biden says that one of the reasons he ran for president was to improve cancer outcomes.

Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer at the age of 46, and Vice President Kamala Harris’s mother also died of cancer.

Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death; it’s number two in the U.S., especially in certain populations, although death rates from cancer overall has fallen 25 percent in the last two decades.

The revived Cancer Moonshot will focus on population-level efforts to develop better ways to screen for cancer, especially targeting specific communities. For example, people of color have higher death rates for many cancer types. One way to do this, says the National Cancer Institute, would be to develop a test that would provide early detection of multiple cancers at once.

The head of the National Cancer Institute said this week that we are in the golden age of cancer research, with certain recent advances making the goal of the initiative possible.

Technology used to develop coronavirus vaccines could also stop cancer cells from growing.

Our second area of focus is the apparent demise of state-level single-payer healthcare, at least for this year. The idea of single-payer healthcare was a major theme in the 2020 presidential campaigns, and seemed to get an extra boost during the pandemic, when fissures in our current health system became apparent.

Indeed, legislation for single-payer has been introduced this year in Kansas, Maryland, New York, and California; the most likely chance for success of the policy was in California, where Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature.

Single-payer has been introduced in California before, but never with a plan on how to pay for it. This year, supporters presented a new bill, complete with proposed taxes to support it. But while advocates found the money to pay for the legislation, they could not find the votes to pass it.

Even California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, who ran his campaign on single-payer, would not support the bill, given its cost.

So last week, California’s single-payer legislation was killed before it was even put up for a vote.

In our final story, as a harbinger of what we may see from sweeping price transparency requirements, Mass General Brigham hospital ‒ the dominant, tax-exempt academic hospital in Massachusetts ‒ must submit a plan to the state government to lower costs. The hospital could be fined half a million dollars if doesn’t address its current prices, which, according to a new report, are the highest in the state.

As consumers are provided more and more transparency into hospital prices, we can expect other state governments to follow Massachusetts’s example, going after specific hospitals for their pricing.

Programming Note: Listen to Matthew Albright’s live reports on federal legislation Mondays on Monitor Mondays 10 Eastern, sponsored by Zelis.

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