Here's Why We Endorse the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Initiative

The AzPHA Board of Directors has endorsed Proposition 127- the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative. Proposition 127 would increase the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) which is a mandate that electric utilities acquire a minimum amount of electricity from renewable energy sources. Here's the actual  Proposition 127 Ballot Language

As of 2018, Arizona's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is 15% renewable by 2025. Proposition 127 would increase our RPS each year until reaching 50% in 2030.

The Initiative defines renewable energy as electricity generated by  solar, wind, certain hydropower, geothermal, and landfill gas energy.  The definition of renewable energy under the initiative doesn’t include nuclear power. For our state, most of the new renewable energy that would be created would probably mostly be solar.

APS reports it currently generates about 12% of its energy from renewable sources which includes utility-owned plants and power being generated by customers through rooftop solar.  Tucson Electric Power reports 13%. Right now, Arizona gets 6% of its electricity from solar power.

It’s no secret that Arizona Public Service (APS) doesn’t want Proposition 127 to pass.  Their current strategic plan  is to mostly meet future electricity needs by building new gas-fired power plants.  You can see the resource plan APS filed at the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2017 and APS’ recent RFP for new power plants to get an idea about their current strategic plan.

This is an over-simplification- but the public policy question posed by Prop 127 is whether it’s in the public’s best interest to meet future generation demand with mostly natural gas plants or solar.

There are compelling health reasons why Proposition 127 makes sense from a public health perspective. Burning fossil fuel, including natural gas, creates air emissions (oxides of Nitrogen and volatile organic compounds) that form ozone. Ozone adversely affects human health by increasing cardiovascular and respiratory disease.  It can decrease lung function and causes more people to visit emergency rooms or even be admitted to the hospital because of asthma or allergy related illnesses. Some studies have even linked preterm birth to air pollution.

But, if it turns out that the health benefits from cleaner air come at the cost of higher electricity prices- then the health gains from the improvement in air quality would need to be weighed against the public health costs to low income folks who already struggle to pay their electric bills- worsening the social determinants of health for low income people.

Before we took a position on Proposition 127, I and our Board carefully examined what impact the initiative might have on future electricity prices.  After all, income is a primary driver of health status, and if the Initiative were to increase electricity prices more rapidly than under the current RPS standard, then it could end up having a net negative impact on public health among low income Arizonans.  That’s why we carefully examined the cost issue before taking a position.

One of the best and most objective sources of information about the relative costs of generating electricity I found is the US Energy Information Administration’s 2018 report entitled  ”Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2018”.   The report examines capital, operational and transmission costs as well as off sets from the tax credits.  It takes a little time to read but worth the effort.

The bottom line is that solar energy generated using photovoltaic cells is on par or slightly cheaper than energy generated with natural gas.  Solar plants have a higher capital cost but lower variable (operational cost) because they don’t need fuel (free photons are the fuel).  Solar also benefits from tax credits- which is part of the cost equation.

One of the reasons why solar power is now slightly cheaper than natural gas energy is that the cost of solar panels has decreased rapidly in recent years (in part because of increased global solar panel manufacturing capacity in China).  The cost of utility-scale solar has fallen 77% since 2009.  The cost of battery storage fell 79% between 2010 and 2017.  Another reason why solar costs less in the long run is because of the federal tax credits that are available to utilities that use solar to generate electricity.

Prop 127 also requires 20% of renewable energy eventually be “decentralized” - basically roof-top solar.  That means incentives will be created to encourage solar installation. Done thoughtfully, that could provide an opportunity to prioritize installation of panels on homes in lower income areas, relieving pressure on monthly budgets of families who most need that relief while increasing the value of their property.

The bottom line is that after reviewing as many objective facts as we could find, we concluded that Proposition 127 provides net health and environmental benefits.  That's why we’re supporting Proposition 127.

Some State Legislatures Tackling E-cigs

E-cigarette use by kids is growing across the nation including in AZ.  A couple of weeks ago the FDA Commissioner called out the manufacturers of electronic cigarettes for their clear efforts to market to teenagers and put them on notice that additional regulations could be on the way. 

All of you reading this have seen them around these days.  They have various looks.  For example- some of the most popular ones mimic USB flash drives so that they’re easily disguised adults (teachers and parents).  They even actually plug into an USB port for charging!

Almost all of them contain nicotine which is of course highly addictive, harmful to adolescent brain development, and a health danger for pregnant women. E-cigarette aerosol can also contain cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals like lead, and volatile organic compounds. Evidence shows that even those without nicotine are harmful to the lungs.

E-cigs are now the most commonly used tobacco products among youth and young adults, with e-cigarette use growing 900% among high school students from 2011 to 2015.  In 2016, more than two million U.S. middle and high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Middle aged e-cig users are quite different from younger users. Most middle aged e-cigarette users (aged 45 years and older) are either current or former regular cigarette smokers.  Less than 2% had never been cigarette smokers!  In contrast, among 18-23 year olds, 40% have never been regular cigarette smokers. A big concern is that many of these younger e-cig users will transition to actual cigarettes.

Some states have implemented legislative approaches to combat e-cigarette use. Pricing is among the most frequent interventions.  Raising the price of e-cigarette reduces demand just like for other tobacco products, especially for younger users- that tends to dominate the approaches. Legislation to increase the price of e-cigarette products fall into three categories: 1) price increases based on the current sales price; 2) pricing e-cigarettes and vapor products at the same rates as regular cigarettes; and 3) imposing a per milliliter (ml) price increase on liquid nicotine or consumable material.

 

Percentage Price Increases

Two states have established percentage price increases for e-cigarettes. Pennsylvania increased the price of e-cigarette products (i.e., the electronic oral device with heating coil, battery, etc., as well as the liquid or substance used in the e-cigarette) by 40%.  Minnesota increased the price of tobacco products including e-cigarette products by 95%.

Washington state introduced a bill that would raise the prices of vapor products by 60%. In New Mexico, an amendment was introduced to raise the price of e-cigarettes by 76% of the product value. This would be an increase from the current 25% set out in statute.

Legislators in New York recently introduced two bills (A011338 and S01089) to treat e-liquid cartridges as “tobacco products” and increase the price of cartridges by 75% of the wholesale price. A governor’s budget proposal in Rhode Island called for raising the price of e-cigarettes by 80% of the wholesale cost. Similarly, Kentucky proposed an amendment to increase the price of e-cigarettes by 15%.

 

Pricing Equalized to Cigarettes

California is adopting regulations to increase e-cigarettes prices equal to their Cigarette Distribution Tax ($0.10 per cigarette).  District of Columbia increased the price of vapor products equal with the rate imposed on a pack of 20 cigarettes.

 

Price Increases Per Fluid Amount

Six states increased prices of vapor products, liquid nicotine, or consumable material per fluid ml. Delaware (vapor products), Kansas (consumable material), Louisiana (vapor products and e-cigarettes), and North Carolina (vapor products) added $0.05 per fluid ml. Louisiana’s law increased the price of consumable nicotine liquid solution or other material containing nicotine that is depleted as a vapor product.

New Jersey passed legislation raising the price of nicotine liquid by $0.10 per fluid ml. West Virginia increased the price of e-cigarette liquid by $0.075 per ml.  Puerto Rico legislature approved a bill to increase the price of e-cigarettes by $3, nicotine cartridges by $0.05 for every millimeter of nicotine solution or any other substance in each nicotine cartridge, and vaporizers by $6 for every unit.

Legislation increasing the price of e-cigarettes, other electronic smoking devices, and e-liquids can encourage users to quit, seek and sustain cessation, prevent youth initiation, and reduce consumption among those who continue to use them. Many states have taken proactive steps to stem the tide using the fact that young people are price sensitive. Perhaps we’ll see some proposals from the Arizona State Legislature.  However, how successful the effort will be depends on the makeup and view of the next legislature and governor.

Immigration Status, Public Benefits & Access to Care

Noncitizens make up about 7% percent of the US population. It’s not surprising that they’re more likely to be low-income and uninsured than citizens- in part because of opportunity limitations. In fact, 71% of undocumented adult noncitizens are uninsured.  By and large, many of them rely on Federally Qualified Health Centers for their primary care and other healthcare- in part because FQHCs have sliding fee scale service fees and serve immigrants regardless of their immigration status.

Medicaid generally limits eligibility for immigrants to qualified immigrants with refugee status or veterans and people lawfully present in the US for 5 years or more.  State Medicaid programs can elect to provide coverage to legally present immigrants before the 5-year waiting period ends (Arizona does not).

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (often referred to as PRWORA or welfare reform) is the federal law that created Medicaid’s “qualified immigrant” standard.

Other federal safety net programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) also apply the five-year waiting period for legally present immigrants.

States can get matching funds from CMS when they choose to provide Medicaid coverage to legally present immigrants who are children or pregnant women before the end of the 5-year waiting period.  33 states have elected to cover lawfully residing immigrant children, and 25 states cover legally present pregnant women (Arizona does not).

The Affordable Care Act made it possible for the legally present immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid (due to being in the five-year waiting period) to qualify for commercial coverage and subsidies on the Federal health insurance marketplace.

Immigrants eligible for Medicaid or employer-sponsored insurance face several coverage and service barriers.  As I mentioned above, immigration officials consider the likelihood of individuals and families becoming a “public charge,” which can result in denied admission to the US or status as a lawful permanent resident.

Fear that using safety net services will mean that they’ll be considered a public charge contributes to some families of mixed immigration status avoiding use of services like TANF, Medicaid, SNAP etc.  Some eligible immigrants avoid services because they think family members will become involved in immigration enforcement actions.

Research findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that changes in healthcare use and decreased participation in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program because of this immigration policy.

Anyway, it’s a complicated system but I hope this makes it a little clearer

US DHS Proposed Regulations Chill Programs that Address Social Determinants

Last Saturday the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen proposed new rules that (when adopted) will consider a much wider range of public benefits when they evaluate applications for an immigration change of status or extension of stay request.  

DHS already uses information about whether applicants for legal permanent residency receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) when they evaluate applications.  After these new rules are adopted, they’ll also consider whether applicants receive Medicaid (AHCCCS), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), and Section 8 Housing program.  Once adopted, applicants that receive any of these benefits will be far less likely to be approved for a status change or stay extension.  I didn’t see any exemptions for children- so presumably benefits used by any noncitizen family member including kids would count.

Here are some take-aways from the draft: 

  • This is an issue of legal immigration- unauthorized migrants are largely ineligible for public assistance;

  • The use of public benefits by citizen children would not be considered a public charge;

  • This does not directly impact green card holders (the public charge test is not applied to green card holders applying for citizenship);

  • The proposed rule is not retroactive – meaning the public benefits received before the rule is final will not be counted as a public charge; and 

  • The proposed rules would not apply to refugees because existing statute prevents DHS from using the criteria for refugees.

A few months ago, DHS issued a discussion draft of the rule change that would have also included programs like Women Infant and Children (WIC) program, school lunch programs, subsidized marketplace health insurance and even participation in the Vaccines for Children program.

Even though the new draft doesn’t include vaccinations (VFC), WIC and marketplace insurance- many families will believe that the regulations do include these benefits and will elect not to use these important safety net benefits- as doing so will risk their immigration status.  As a result, families will have a more difficult time improving the health status of their families.  

The proposed new rules are 447 pages long- but a key place to look are pages 94-100 (that’s where the outline the new list of benefits that they intend to include).  The official proposal will be published in the Federal Register in a few weeks.  Once it’s officially published, the public will be able to comment on the proposed rule for 60 days.  The official version in the Federal Register will contain information about how to submit comments. I’ll keep my eye out for that.

History of Considering Public Benefits

The term “public charge” as it relates to admitting immigrants has a long history in immigration law, appearing at least as far back as the Immigration Act of 1882.  In the 1800s and early 1900s “public charge: was the most common ground for refusing admission at U.S. 

In 1999, the INS (DHS didn’t exist yet) issued Rules to "address the public’s concerns about immigrant fears of accepting public benefits for which they remained eligible, specifically medical care, children's immunizations, basic nutrition and treatment of medical conditions that may jeopardize public health.” Here's that final Rule from 1999, which didn't include Medicaid our housing benefits in the public charge definition.

ADHS Threatens to Revoke SW Key Shelter Licenses

Results Bring into Question Arizona’s Regulatory Oversight Statutes

Some of the kids that have been separated from their parents by the federal government have been and are being cared for at places run by an organization named Southwest Key. There are 13 such facilities in AZ.  SW Key is contracted by the federal government to provide these services and the facilities are licensed by the ADHS. They’re classified as Child Behavioral Health Facilities. 

Here’s the public health policy rub- even though they’re licensed by the ADHS, the Agency doesn’t conduct routine unannounced inspections at these facilities because they’re accredited by the Council on Accreditation, and Arizona law says that when a facility like this is accredited by “an appropriate independent body”, the ADHS shall accept the accreditation in lieu of a routine agency inspection. Specifically, ARS 36-424 (B) states that: “The (ADHS) director shall accept proof that a health care institution is an accredited health care institution in lieu of all compliance inspections required by this chapter if the director receives a copy of the institution's accreditation report for the licensure period”.

The ADHS still has an obligation to investigate complaints at these facilities because ARS 36-424 (C) says that: “On a determination by the director that there is reasonable cause to believe a health care institution is not adhering to the licensing requirements of this chapter… (the ADHS) may enter on and into the premises…  (to) determine the state of compliance with this chapter, the rules adopted pursuant to this chapter and local fire ordinances or rules.”

A few weeks ago, the ADHS did some on site investigations of the facilities (under the ARS 36-424 (C) provision) and presented SW Key with a list of deficiencies to correct (including better documentation of employee background checks).  SW Key’s response appears to have been wholly inadequate.  In a strongly worded letter, the ADHS let all 13 licensees know that the Department is beginning license revocation procedures. 

SW Key will likely now take their deficiencies seriously (including the requirement to document background checks) and avoid revocation…  but this incident demonstrates (to me) that the statutory framework that allows applicants to submit 3rd party accreditation documents instead of being subjected to an unannounced inspection by the regulatory agency (ADHS) provides inadequate protection when vulnerable children are involved.

Perhaps there will be a bipartisan plan next legislative session to update the regulatory framework for facilities that provide services to vulnerable kids.

You can view the status of these facilities at www.azcarecheck.com and search for the words Southwest Key.  You’d be able to see the results of any complaint investigations or enforcement actions against these facilities- but not the backup accreditation documents from the Council on Accreditation.

Kids Care Included in the AHCCCS Budget Request

Good news.  AHCCCS’ 2020 budget request includes a general fund request of $7.9 million for KidsCare. The request was made under the assumption that the KidsCare trigger law will be amended this coming legislative session, preventing a freeze to CHIP enrollment.

There’s a trigger in state law that automatically freezes the Arizona KidsCare program if FMAP (the federal contribution) drops below 100%.  Under current federal law, the match rate is scheduled to go down to about 90% (9 federal dollars for every state dollar) on October 1, 2019.  So, if the current law isn’t changed during this next legislative session then we’ll likely have an enrollment freeze of the Kids Care program again this time next year.

The fact that AHCCCS included the $7.9M in state matching funds in the budget is encouraging, but the budget request isn’t enough to solve the problem- the legislature would need to change the statute and appropriate the funds to prevent an enrollment freeze.

Kids Care is run by AHCCCS and currently covers about 30,500 kids with a pretty good set of benefits and reasonable premiums.  It’s only available for kids in families that don’t qualify for regular Medicaid and who live in a family that makes under 200% of poverty.

Kids Care & ACA Advocacy

Election season is upon us and KidsCare and healthcare generally are key issues we want candidates for state office to weigh in on.  The Children’s Action Alliance has a helpful election’s page up and running now!  On it you can link to it to point the communities your organization serves to where they can contact candidates, see where candidates stand on issues, and register to vote. CAA is also launching a digital ads campaign around the key questions for candidates today.

Here’s is a fact sheet from Families USA explaining what’s at stake for people with pre-existing conditions in Arizona. The issue is a bit complicated to understand, but here goes for anyone that’s interested. Currently, there is a lawsuit, Texas v Azar, making its way through the courts that challenges the ACA as unconstitutional. 

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has signed Arizona on as a plaintiff state. If the lawsuit is successful, the protections for people with pre-existing conditions, along with other parts of the ACA, will be repealed.  

We don’t know the timetable on a final court decision, but we do know that, if the lawsuit is successful, Arizona’s law is set up so that these protections will essentially be repealed simultaneously in state statute.

FDA Steps Up Tobacco Control (A Bit)

Last week the FDA Commissioner called out the manufacturers of electronic cigarettes for their clear efforts to market to teenagers and put them on notice that additional regulations could be on the way.  You probably heard about this in the media this week.  When I went to the FDA website to get the details, I discovered that the media had overstated FDA’s intervention commitments.

Apparently, the FDA is at least considering removing certain flavored e-cigarettes from the market and shortening the time to market review for most cigarettes now being sold.  At a press conference last week, he acknowledged that his agency has failed to recognize the extent of the problem.  Here’s a direct quote from him.  

The quote did strike me as unusual from a member of this administration for its candor:  "We didn't predict what I now believe is an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers, and today we can see that this epidemic of addiction was emerging when we first announced our plan last summer. Hindsight, and the data now available to us, reveal these trends. And the impact is clearly apparent to the FDA."

The FDA  issued more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money penalty complaints to retailers who illegally sold JUUL and other e-cigarette products to minors during a nationwide.  Last week’s action also included a request to 5 e-cigarette manufacturers to put forward plans to immediately and substantially reverse these trends toward marketing to teens or face a potential decision “to reconsider extending the compliance dates for submission of premarket applications”.

At least it's a start.

Senate Passes Budget Including Health Agencies

Yesterday the US Senate passed the FY19 Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill.  It would provide funding for health agencies for FFY19.  The bill contains a continuing resolution through December 7, 2018 in case the House doesn't take action on the bill in short order. Here's a summary:

CDC: $7.9B which is an increase of $126 million from FY18. The bill creates a $50M infectious disease rapid response fund (but the funds only become available for use in the event of a public health emergency). The bill includes $10M to continue efforts to track children and families affected by the Zika virus and $5M to address infectious diseases related to the opioid crisis. 

HRSA: $6.8B, a $107M increase from FY18. This funding includes a $26M increase for the Title V Maternal and Child Health block grant and a $12M increase for the Healthy Start program. 

SAMHSA: $5.7B, which is a $584M increase from FY18.  Sadly, the legislation maintains a prohibition on federal funds for the purchase of syringes or sterile needles but allows communities with rapid increases in cases of HIV and hepatitis to access federal funds for other stuff like substance use counseling and treatment referrals. The bill also includes $1.5B for the state opioid response grants.

The bill doesn't include the bad policy riders that were in previous versions that would have eliminated funding for important reproductive health services (Title X).

You can read the bill’s text here, the committee report here, and a summary here.

Leveraging State Policy to Reduce Maternal Mortality

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country.  Sadly, it’s getting worse each year.  About 800 American women die and 65,000 almost die during pregnancy or childbirth.

Black women die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of white women, even after controlling for social determinants. Women in rural areas also have higher maternal mortality rates than urban women.  Here’s a super-interesting story that highlights some of the issues in an easy to read way.

Fortunately, there are public health policy leverage points that can make a difference: state health departments and Medicaid agencies.

Medicaid finances over half of all births each year in 25 states including Arizona.   All states provide Medicaid coverage for women with incomes up to 133% of poverty during pregnancy and for 60 days after delivery.  But- the scope of services covered and coverage after delivery vary between states.  As a result, some women lose coverage or Medicaid eligibility after that 60-day period (mostly in states without Medicaid expansion).

In states (like AZ, which expanded Medicaid), women have more opportunities to achieve better preconception health because they’re more likely to be able to access contraception and plan their pregnancies, receive primary care services to manage chronic conditions prior to and between pregnancies, and access prenatal and perinatal care once pregnant.

Evidence-based policy making is the key.  29 states including Arizona, have committees that review maternal deaths and make public policy recommendations.  Back in 2011, Arizona passed, and Governor Brewer signed a bill that amended our child fatality review statutes by adding reviews of maternal deaths. This change charged our existing Child Fatality State Teams to review maternal deaths (called the Maternal Mortality Review Subcommittee) and make policy recommendations. The primary goal for the Team is to identify preventive factors and make recommendations for systems change.  

One of the best parts of these review boards is that it is not just public health, but it's other agencies and community docs and corrections and academics all coming together to review these deaths.  Here are some of the recommendations from the most recent report:

  • All pregnant women must have access to prenatal care;

  • Promote public awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and women’s overall health prior to pregnancy;

  • Women should always wear proper restraints when riding in cars;

  • Encourage maternal care professionals, organizations, and health facilities to update their standards of practice and care to include all recommended guidelines for the prevention of medical complications;

  • Maternal health-care systems require strengthened, prepared, and educated communities to improve deliveries in health facilities, particularly in rural areas;

  • Increase and streamline access to behavioral health services statewide, including training and education for advanced practice nurses in behavioral health services.

  • Support and implement community suicide prevention and awareness programs, such as Mental Health First Aid;

  • Health care providers should screen frequently for perinatal depression and domestic violence;

  • Institute and follow recommended California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative guidelines (www.cmqcc.org) for the timely transfer and transport to a higher-level care facility for any complications using regional transport services; and 

  • Educate providers on the availability of maternal postpartum resources such as home visiting programs.

  • Some states have gone further.  For example, the South Carolina’s Medicaid agency formed the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative to advance reductions in early elective deliveries; incentivize Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment; promote long-acting reversible contraception; and support vaginal births. 

One outcome of the SC initiative was to reimburse for long-acting birth control (LARC) devices provided in a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, Arizona has also included LARC reimbursement in a hospital setting post-partum.  This is an important policy intervention because LARC provides women with a long-acting and reversible option, so they can better plan future pregnancies – improving opportunities for preconception health, which is a key to improving health outcomes.

US Senate Proposes Opioid Crisis Response Act

Last week the US Senate released the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a bipartisan package to address the opioid epidemic. The Act authorizes funding to expand prevention, research, treatment, and recovery programs- but even if it passes as-is, it would still need to go through the actual appropriations process.

The Senate is expected to vote on the Bill soon without the opportunity for amendments and it’s expected to be approved on a broad bipartisan basis (much like the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act was). But, after that, it’s unclear whether the House will vote on this version or the Bill or move to conference the Opioid Crisis Response Act with the recently House-approved “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R.6)”.  Here’s a summary of what’s in the bill as it sits today:

Medicaid 

  • Clarifies flexibilities around Medicaid’s "Institutions for Mental Disease" (IMD) exclusion where in some cases managed care plans may provide alternative services in lieu of other services that are not permitted under the state plan. 

  • Modifies IMD exclusion for pregnant and postpartum women to address a subset of the prohibition on Medicaid from paying for otherwise coverable services for certain adults while in institutions for mental disease. 

  • Codifies regulations permitting managed care plans to cover treatment in an IMD facility for a certain number of days in a month in lieu of other types of services.

  • Clarifies states’ ability under Medicaid to provide care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in residential pediatric recovery centers.

  • Directs CMS to issue guidance to states on options for providing services via telehealth that address substance use disorders under Medicaid.

  • Directs CMS to issue guidance on states’ options for treating and managing pain through non-opioid pain treatment and management options.

  • Clarifies states’ ability to access and share data from prescription drug monitoring program databases consistent with the parameters established in state law.

  • Directs HHS to provide technical assistance to states to develop and coordinate housing-related supports and services under Medicaid, either through state plans or waivers, and care coordination services for Medicaid enrollees with substance use disorders. 

Prevention

  • Authorizes CDC’s work to combat the opioid crisis through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data, including through grants for states, localities, and tribes.

  • Authorizes funding through CDC from FY19 - FY24 for states to improve their prescription drug monitoring programs and implement other evidence-based strategies.

  • Authorizes funding from FY19 - FY21 for CDC to support states’ efforts to collect and report data on adverse childhood experiences through existing public health surveys.

  • Authorizes a HHS grant program through 2026 to allow states to develop, maintain, or improve prescription drug monitoring programs and improve their with other states and with other health information technology.

  • Authorizes data collection and analysis through 2023 on neonatal abstinence syndrome or other outcomes related to prenatal substance abuse and misuse, including prenatal opioid abuse and misuse. 

  • Creates an interagency task force to make recommendations regarding best practices to identify, prevent, and mitigate the effects of trauma on infants, children, youth, and their families.

 

Treatment and Recovery

  • Allows physicians who have recently graduated in good standing from medical schools to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

  • Authorizes a grant program from FY19-FY23 to support development of curriculum that will help healthcare practitioners obtain a waiver to prescribe MAT.

  • Codifies the ability of qualified physicians to prescribe MAT for up to 275 patients if the practitioner meets certain requirements. 

  • Authorizes a grant program from FY19 - FY23 through SAMHSA for entities to establish or operate comprehensive opioid recovery centers that serve as a resource for the community.

  • Requires HHS to issue best practices for emergency treatment of known or suspected drug overdose, use of recovery coaches after a non-fatal overdose, coordination and continuation of care, and treatment after an overdose and provision of overdose reversal medication as appropriate.

  • Requires HHS to provide technical assistance to hospitals and other acute care settings on alternatives to opioids for pain management and authorizes a grant program to support hospitals and other acute care settings that manage pain with alternatives to opioids. 


Some of these policy measures were also recommended in the ADHS' set of federal policy recommendations in their 2017 report.  Sadly, nothing in here directs HHS to drop its policy of not funding syringe access but all in all this Senate bill looks like it's pretty good public health policy.  Nice to see.

Call to Action: Labor HHS Education Bill Cuts to Family Planning

Call to Action: Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill

For the first time in more than 20 years, Congress is on track to pass a Labor-HHS-Education spending bill before the end of the fiscal year. Last week, the House agreed to move to conference with the Senate to work out the differences between each chamber’s version of the  bill. The bills contains a number of bad funding cuts.

The House version eliminates funding for the Title X family planning program and the HHS Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. I can't tell whether the Senate version does the same or not.  The House bill also cuts all funding for the CDC's Climate and Health program and once again fails to fund CDC research into firearm morbidity and mortality prevention. The bill also weakens the Affordable Care Act by blocking funds for implementing the law. 

Congress only has a few legislative days left to finalize the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill before the end of the fiscal year. If they don't pass something they'll probably pass a continuing resolution to keep key public health agencies operating (actually- not a bad outcome honestly). 

Now is the time to Speak for Public Health! You can use this link to Contact your members of Congress and ask them to support robust funding for key public health agencies and programs, and urge them to reject any controversial policy riders that would threaten public health.

EPA Proposing Fuel Efficiency Standard Rollback

The EPA & National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are proposing a roll back of the existing vehicle fleet fuel efficiency standards, which require automakers to gradually increase the average fuel efficiency of their new fleets.  

Under the existing regulations, new cars, trucks, and SUVs fleets will need to average about 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The new EPA & NTHSA proposed rule will stop the progression of standards in 2021.  Rather that requiring a fleet average of 50 mpg by 2025, the new standard will stop at 38 mpg.  Last year, the average fleet fuel efficiency was about 25 mpg.  The current average fuel efficiency of all vehicles on the road is about 21 mpg.

Fuel efficiency standards are an important driver that pushes vehicle manufacturers to discover new ways of improving fuel efficiency and are an important strategy toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The transportation sector is the largest contributor to atmospheric CO2 emissions.

You can submit comments directly to the EPA and NTHSA at this web portal (it’s Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0283).  The deadline to comment is October 23, 2018. There are only 138 comments in the system so far.  I have this on my to-do list.  Hopefully some of our members will weigh in as well

EPA Proposing Looser Methane Leak Regulations


The USEPA has proposed a new rule that will relax the regulation of methane emissions at oil and gas facilities.  Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas.  A mole of CH4 emitted today lasts about 10 years  in the atmosphere on average, which is much less time than CO2.  But, because CH4 absorbs much more energy than CO2 (CH4 is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2) it has an outsize impact on climate change (but for a shorter time period).  

The plan announced today by EPA will roll back key provisions of the current methane regulations.  The new proposal reduces the frequency of emissions monitoring at oil and natural gas wells from twice a year to once a year or even every other year.  Facilities that compress gas for transport through pipelines will have their monitoring frequencies cut in half from 4 times a year to just twice.  It will also extend the time that companies will have to repair leaks of this potent greenhouse gas from 30 days to 60 days.  Here's the proposal summary: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-09/documents/frnoilgasreconsideration2060-at54nprm20180910.pdf

At least it won’t let companies completely off the hook, but then that’s looking through rose-colored glasses I guess.

This new rollback hasn’t been published in the UA Administrative Register yet, and comments are not yet open.  The 60-day comment period will begin once it’s published in the Register.  The Docket ID number will be EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0483 with comments at www.regulations.gov.

Health Insurance for People w Pre-existing Conditions in Jeopardy Again

A main driver for passing and implementing the Affordable Care Act was to ensure that people with pre-existing health conditions could buy health insurance.  Prior to the ACA- people with pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes faced real challenges getting health insurance.

Indeed, one of the most consistently popular parts of the ACA are the provisions that help people get  coverage regardless of health status.  The ACA prevents health insurance companies from denying someone a policy because they have a preexisting condition (called the “guaranteed issue” requirement), refusing to cover services that people need to treat a pre-existing condition (called “preexisting condition exclusions”), or charging a higher premium based on a person’s health status (called the “community rating” provision).   

You can think of pre-existing conditions exclusions, guarantee issue, and community rating as the three legs of the ACA stool.  Despite these largely popular provisions, there are people that want to knock over the stool.  Back in February, 20 states (including Arizona) filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court seeking to invalidate the 3 legs of the stool: preexisting condition exclusions, community rating, and guaranteed issue.

This most recent legal attack argues that the removal of the individual mandate penalty by the most recent federal tax cut legislation makes the ACA unconstitutional (the US Supreme Court upheld the ACA several years ago, in part, because the tax penalty provision provided a statutory hook for the ACA to rest on).  The lawsuit argues that because the mandate is an essential feature of the ACA, the rest of the law must be struck down too.  If the lawsuit eventually succeeds these central provisions of the ACA would go away and an estimated 17 million people could become uninsured again.

During the Obama Administration, the federal government defended the ACA from lawsuits like these.  Those days are over.  A couple of months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they agree with the plaintiff States that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional. The administration urged the court to strike down the law’s guaranteed issue, preexisting condition exclusion, and community rating provisions.

Prior to the ACA, standards to protect people with preexisting conditions were primarily determined at the state level.  Most states including AZ had very limited protections. Before the ACA, many insurers maintained lists of up to 400 different conditions that disqualified applicants from insurance or resulted in higher premiums.  35% of people who tried to buy insurance on their own were either turned down by an insurer, charged a higher premium, or had a benefit excluded from coverage because of their preexisting health problem.

If the Federal courts (ultimately the US Supreme Court probably) rule in favor of the plaintiffs, States could still play as a regulator of insurance, as they could enact and enforce their own laws to protect residents from discrimination due to preexisting conditions.  In fact, several states already have their own laws to incorporate some or all of the ACA’s protections (Arizona does not). 

Oral arguments have been scheduled for next week in the Texas lawsuit. Arguments are scheduled to take place next Monday before Judge Reed O’Connor.  Whatever the Federal TX Court rules, the result will likely be appealed to the UA Appellate Court and eventually probably the US Supreme Court.

Center for Public Health Law & Policy

 

The Center for Public Health Law and Policy  is the cornerstone of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s nationally-ranked health law program. The Center brings together students, leading scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to address critical issues in law, ethics, policy, and the public’s health. The Center explores a wide range of issues, including national health care reform, communicable disease control, human subject research protection, emergency legal preparedness, obesity and injury prevention, health information privacy, and vaccination law and policy.

The Center for Public Health Law and Policy is also the home to the Western Region Office of the national Network for Public Health Law, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Led by Professor James G. Hodge, Jr., the Western Region Office provides technical assistance and other vital resources to public health practitioners, officials, attorneys, and advocates across 11 Western states and nationally. Since its inception in September of 2010, the Western Region Office has fulfilled nearly 3000 requests nationally, over 1000 of which directly aided requesters in the office’s home state of Arizona.

This fall the Network for Public Health Law is organizing the 2018 Public Health Law Conference, to be held October 4-6, in Phoenix, AZ. For more information, please visit: https://www.networkforphl.org/2018_conference/phlc18.

State Action to Stem Rising Prescription Drug Costs

By Association for State and Territorial Health Officials Staff

The high cost of prescription drugs is a persistent problem in the United States, with about 10 percent of overall health spending attributed to prescription drugs. In recent years, there has been increased interest among states to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. Just this year, 24 states passed 37 bills to stem rising drug costs. In total, state legislatures have introduced 160 bills targeting prescription drug costs in 2018.

States have pursued a wide range of strategies to tackle the high cost of prescription drugs, including policies that address drug price transparency, rate setting requirements to prevent price gouging, drug importation programs, generic drugs companies, and pharmacy benefit manager transparency.

 

Drug Price Transparency

Controlling healthcare costs is one of the three elements of the Triple Aim, along with improving population health and patient care experience. As a first step toward controlling costs, states are seeking more price transparency requirements from drug manufacturers. In 2018, six states passed legislation addressing drug price transparency. Many of these laws adopt more stringent transparency policies requiring drug manufacturers to justify price increases over certain thresholds. For example, Connecticut requires drug manufacturers to justify price increases for specific drugs if the price increases by 20 percent or more in a year or 50 percent over three years.

 

Price-Gouging and Rate Setting Requirements

Anti-price gouging and rate setting requirements use information collected from transparency laws to allow states to impose penalties for excessive drug price increases. Currently, Maryland is the only state with an anti-price gouging law. The policy allows the state Medicaid agency to notify the state’s office of the attorney general when an essential off-patent brand name drug or generic medication has an excessive price increase.

Maryland’s attorney general can then request justification from manufacturers for the price increase. If the rationale of the price increase is deemed unjustified by “the cost of producing the drug, or the cost of appropriate expansion of access to the drug to promote public health,” the state can impose civil penalties or use other mechanisms to penalize the manufacturer. However, a lawsuit has since been filed in federal court by drug manufacturers asserting violations of Constitutional law as it relates to interstate commerce. To date, twelve other anti-price gouging bills have been introduced in states, although none have been enacted.

 

Drug Importation

Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to pass a drug importation bill, allowing the state to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada for use by all state residents. The law requires the designation of a state agency to become a licensed drug wholesaler, or to contract with a licensed drug wholesaler. Several steps remain before Vermont’s program can go into effect, including the state health department receiving federal approval from HHS by July 2019. In addition, although the Utah legislature failed to pass a bill that would have created a program for importing drugs from Canada, the legislature requested that the Utah Department of Health conduct a feasibility study associated with drug importation.

 

Generic Drugs

Recently, Maine passed a law requiring brand name manufacturers to make samples of drugs available to generic drug manufacturers, with the intention of promoting competition by increasing access of information for companies developing lower-cost generic drugs. The law states that, “In order for there to be competition in the prescription drug market, developers of generic drugs and biosimilar biological products must be able to obtain quantities of the reference listed drug or biological product with which the generic drug or biosimilar biological product is intended to compete.”

 

Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Several states have passed bills regarding pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which require increased transparency and disclosure of information on drug rebates and concessions. For example, Nevada passed a law in 2017 requiring PBMs to disclose the amount of rebates received from drugs used to treat diabetes. Connecticut’s drug price transparency law also requires PBMs to provide information on rebates and other price concessions received from drug companies. Mississippi passed a law preventing PBM gag clauses, which stop pharmacists from sharing information with patients on lower-cost drug options.

 

Other State Policies

In Montana, the legislature passed a bill establishing an interagency committee to study state drug pricing and spending trends, which will make recommendations to the state legislature on drug pricing policies in late 2018. In addition, New York implemented an annual cap on drug spending in its Medicaid program. Under the law, if spending projections extend beyond the cap, the state health department must identify the costliest drugs and attempt to negotiate additional rebates with manufacturers. This law also gives the state the authority to develop an independent panel that can penalize manufacturers through various mechanisms.

 

Future Opportunities

Emerging state legislation to address the rising cost of drug prices in demonstrates potential paths forward to address drug prices at the state level. The National Academy of State Health Policy (NASHP) has developed model legislation to address drug price transparency, drug importation, rate setting, and pharmacy benefit managers. The NASHP resource includes model legislation for states, bill text from states that have already passed legislation, and relevant briefing documents.

Unique Career Opportunities in Mohave County

For those of you interested in developing and implementing public health policy at the local level- there’s nothing like running a county health department.  Especially in a rural county.  Rural counties offer a unique career experience that allows you to see all facets of public health.  Folks working in rural counties learn about all the various public health programs- providing a unique opportunity to build a career in public health.  Running a smaller rural county health department also positions you well for larger organizations later in your career.

Right now there are a couple of great career building opportunities in Mohave County including the Public Health Director and Director of Environmental Health.  Both are based in Kingman.  These kinds of jobs don’t come open very often, so take a ponder over the Labor Day weekend and think about it.  I’m not spinning this- these really are good career opportunities for ambitious public health professionals that are looking to expand their reach in developing and implementing local public health policy.

AzPHA Members Voting on New Resolutions

 

Three new Resolutions have been developed by our Resolutions Committee and have been forwarded by our Board for a vote of our Members. AzPHA Resolutions are important because our advocacy priorities are driven by Resolutions. AzPHA has dozens of Resolutions in place dating back to the 1930s. Our historic Resolutions are available on our Members Only site.  

Early resolutions focused on the importance of food safety regulations, tuberculosis prevention and treatment, tobacco control, family planning, and other contemporary public health issues. More recent Resolutions have focused on addressing the Opioid epidemic, certifying Community Health Workers, and regulating electronic cigarettes. 

Our AzPHA Members that are up to date on their dues and such are now electronically voting on the proposed Resolutions between August 28 and September 12, 2018.  Links to the proposed Resolutions are located below: 

Note: This voting is just open to AzPHA Members who are up to date with their dues.  Only members in good standing were sent the message with the voting link. Let me know if you believe that you’re an active member but didn’t get the email.  It went out on the morning of August 28 and was entitled “2018 AzPHA Election Announcement”

Congress is Back in Session: Important Bills in the Balance

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives return to Washington D.C. this week.  They’ll be discussing important public health bills including the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019 and the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

Last week the Senate passed H.R. 6157 which is the combined Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill for FY19.  This one is the eighth and ninth out of 12 spending bills to be passed by the Senate for FY19.  The legislation includes increased NIH funding and boosted resources for opioid treatment, prevention, and recovery programs.  Here’s a list of some of the adopted amendments:

  • Schumer-Collins amendment to increase funding for Lyme disease activities (3759).
  • Cortez-Masto-Ernst amendment to provide for conducting a study on the relationship between intimate partner violence and traumatic brain injury (3825).
  • Peters-Capito amendment to ensure youth are considered when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration follows guidance on the medication-assisted treatment for prescription drug and opioid addiction program (3870).
  • Heitkamp amendment to provide funding for the SOAR (Stop, Observe, Ask, Respond) to Health and Wellness Program (3893).
  • Casey amendment to provide funding for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (3875).
  • Schatz-Hirono amendment to assess the ongoing mental health impact to the children and families impacted by a volcanic eruption covered by a major disaster declared by the President in calendar year 2018 (3897).
  • Heller-Manchin amendment to provide additional funding for activities related to neonatal abstinence syndrome (3912).
  • Heitkamp-Murkowski amendment to improve obstetric care for women living in rural areas (3933).
  • Durbin-Grassley amendment to provide for the use of funds by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue regulations on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and biological products (3964).

The House hasn’t adopted its FY19 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. It’s unclear how both chambers will resolve differences in funding levels between their bills. The House could work on its Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill or skip a floor vote and start negotiations with the Senate.  The Farm Bill, which funds WIC & SNAP also hangs in the balance. Here's a summary of the Farm Bill.   The current legislation is scheduled to expire Sept 30th.

Bottom line: with only a few legislative days before the end of FY18, it’s likely that a continuing resolution will keep the government funded into FY19.

The APHA has several tools that you can use to get the attention of your Representative or Senator.  They’ve developed APHA’s Speak for Health advocacy resources, including state-specific fact sheets to help you be a better advocate.  They also have tools to help you meet with your members of Congress or their staff or invite them to visit you and Email or call your members of Congress using the APHA action alert as a phone script or email message. It’s quick and easy.