Wish me luck, folks. Next week my family will join the thousands of others enrolled in our nation's mass experiment of online learning amid a pandemic. We’ve set up the at-home workspaces, the school supplies are en route, and if our virtual ”meet-the-teacher” session was any indication, these kids and their classmates are so very hungry for connection. (The fifth-graders, at least, seized upon any opportunity to virtually “raise their hands” and ask a question of their new teachers, no matter how irrelevant.) As I adjust to this new reality, my colleague Ashley Winstead, AV’s Director of Strategic Communications, has very graciously offered to take over this space next week. You’ll be in good hands. (And thank you, Ashley, from the bottom of my terrified heart.)
It Doesn't Have to be This Way
By Rhiannon Meyers Collette, Communications Manager
Even before COVID-19 and the economic crisis, Americans were worried about how to pay for their health care. Millions skip needed care every year because they can't afford it. Compounding that financial threat is a predatory practice known as surprise medical billing.
What’s happening: Surprise medical billing happens when patients get unexpected — and often very expensive — medical bills from hospitals and physicians who aren't in their insurance networks. Worse, these bills often come from providers patients couldn't choose — like emergency room doctors or anesthesiologists. Sometimes, these doctors are working inside hospitals and clinics that are actually in-network, but the providers themselves are out-of-network, a business strategy that has been used especially by private equity-backed providers to maximize profits.
Bottom line: Surprise medical billing was bad before 2020, but this year’s crises have only amplified the threat. In a new video, Arnold Ventures explores the problems posed by surprise medical billing and explains what needs to happen next to protect patients, employers and taxpayers from the impacts of this practice.
TL;DR: Congress has a bipartisan solution that it could pass now to end surprise medical billing once and for all.
Related: Debunking the myths in the surprise medical billing debate.
Related: New polling finds that half of all Americans are concerned that a major health event could lead to bankruptcy.
Podcast:In a new episode,Tradeoffs tackles the scope of the surprise billing problem and who's to blame.
Profiting Off the American Dream
By Adrienne Faraci, Communications Manager
Josue Perez dreamed of starting his own spa business. After leaving high school he enrolled in Everest Institute, then a subsidiary of the since-shuttered for-profit higher education company Corinthian Colleges. The school promised ease of access with rolling admissions, and Perez powered through 11 months of classes for eight hours a day, five days a week — and even received honors. But when the time came for him to get his diploma, it never materialized. Scrambling for work and now with mounting debt, Perez’s dream is far away.
What’s happening: Latino students like Perez account for a fifth of today’s U.S. undergraduates, and their enrollment is increasing at a faster rate than their Black and white peers. But research shows many are struggling to finish their degrees — and their overrepresentation at predatory for-profit schools is a key reason. Latino students, according to a new study by UnidosUS, face a number of systemic challenges that make them uniquely vulnerable to the predatory recruitment tactics employed by for-profit colleges, where just one in five first-time, full-time undergrads get their degrees within six years.
What can be done: UnidosUS is working to remove barriers to postsecondary access, completion, and success. Many of their initiatives center on strengthening accountability when it comes to for-profit institutions through updates to the Higher Education Act, which hasn’t been reauthorized in more than a decade. The group is also advocating for the Obama-era gainful employment rule to be reinstated and restoration of the 85/15 rule, which would limit the share of revenue that for-profit colleges receive from federal aid.
Related: Our grantee Third Way with five facts to know about the Department of Education’s financial responsibility scores, the best tool we have to know when a college is on the brink of closure.
Cheaper Drugs Down Under
By Rhiannon Collette Meyers, Communications Manager
Here’s a startling fact: Drug prices in Australia are substantially less than what those same medications cost in the U.S. — so much that flying there for your medication would be cheaper in some cases, according to a new analysis from 46Brooklyn. Discounts down under are so deep that U.S. taxpayers would save billions of dollars every year if drugs were priced at Australia’s negotiated rates. The report comes amid renewed interest in a “most-favored nation" policy that calls for linking U.S. drug prices to international rates.
Why it matters: President Trump has said he signed an executive order tying Medicare Part B drug prices to the lower rates paid abroad, but the order has not been published or made public, and the details are thin. 46Brooklyn conducted a side-by-side comparison of the top 10 drugs in Medicare Part B that drive nearly half of the spending in that program and discovered that, if they were priced at Australian rates, U.S. taxpayers would save 68 percent, or about $10 billion per year. The savings are even more substantial for Medicare Part D, and the two combined are enough to give every public school teacher in America an $11,000 pay raise. (And they deserve it — especially now.)
What’s next: The most-favored nation proposal has been maligned by the pharmaceutical industry. Will the administration stand up to pharma and publish its rule? How would it be implemented? What impact would it have on drug prices? These are questions that remain to be answered.
Related: Bloomberg reports that the pharma lobby is disputing President Trump’s claims that drug companies are negotiating on his “favored nations” executive order.
Related: “It should be offensive to all that President Trump and the drug industry are competing to offer the most disingenuous plan for making prescription meds more affordable,” writes columnist David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times.
Related: Fact Check: The Trump Era has been a gold mine for drug companies.
What We're Reading
Why the gender gap in policing is a public safety crisis. AV’s Criminal Justice Manager Nikki-Smith Kea writes in The Crime Report: “The benefits of women officers go beyond preventing unnecessary police force or improving police-community relations. A 2017 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that adding more women to law enforcement agencies results in greater organizational agility — improving departments’ ability to adapt, change and renew.”
This photo essay by Brenda Ann Kenneally that shows in very stark terms what food insecurity looks like across America.
News that New York City will pay $5.9 million to the family of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died in solitary confinement at Rikers, which spurred calls to end solitary confinement and improve the treatment of transgender people in the criminal justice system.
How COVID-19 is exacerbating America’s retirement crisis, in a Washington Post story based on analysis from grantee the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “This crisis will affect retirement security in a very different way than the Great Recession because the destruction is occurring more through widespread unemployment and less through a collapse in the value of financial assets and housing.”
The CUNY ASAP program has been successfully replicated across three Ohio community colleges but now is in peril because of state budget cuts. A federal funding stream could help the programs survive, reports Washington Monthly.
Now that Virginia Democrats have control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in a generation, they’re getting cold feet on redistricting reform. Voters should approve it anyway, The Washington Post argues.
This op-ed from our colleagues at the NAACP and Justice Action Network urging criminal justice reform in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
“The most beautiful, gutting prose I’ve read in a long time,” said one friend. “Best read of the day,” said another. So I clicked. Facebook is good for something.
“My beloved died in January. He was a foot taller than me and had large, beautiful dark eyes and dexterous, kind hands. He fixed me breakfast and pots of loose-leaf tea every morning. He cried at both of our children’s births, silently, tears glazing his face. Before I drove our children to school in the pale dawn light, he would put both hands on the top of his head and dance in the driveway to make the kids laugh. He was funny, quick-witted, and could inspire the kind of laughter that cramped my whole torso. Last fall, he decided it would be best for him and our family if he went back to school. His primary job in our household was to shore us up, to take care of the children, to be a househusband. He traveled with me often on business trips, carried our children in the back of lecture halls, watchful and quietly proud as I spoke to audiences, as I met readers and shook hands and signed books. He indulged my penchant for Christmas movies, for meandering trips through museums, even though he would have much preferred to be in a stadium somewhere, watching football. One of my favorite places in the world was beside him, under his warm arm, the color of deep, dark river water.
“After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News,” a 2020 HBO documentary that somehow feels both dated (a blow-by-blow of Jade Helm and Pizzagate, which seem like eons ago) and very relevant amid this week’s news of Russian disinformation campaigns on social media (and what I’ve seen on Facebook with my own eyes). While I thought I knew the extent of the deceptions retold in this film, it was still a mind-boggling journey into how quickly disinformation can be planted and spread in the new age of information warfare. One part that especially hit home for me was Alex Jones and his Infowars attempt to paint the Sandy Hook school massacre as a hoax — with agonizing impacts on the victims’ parents. I visited Newtown in 2012 as a journalist to help a sister paper cover the story, and the idea that someone would use that tragedy to further their wild political agenda is abhorrent. As with all of the events covered here, peddling fake news does real damage to real lives. I’m awaiting the inevitable sequel.
What We're Listening To
The Tradeoffs podcast is back after a short hiatus, and host Dan Gorenstein talks with Brown University economist Emily Oster for a conversation about reopening schools in person vs. online amid the pandemic and understanding the tradeoffs parents and educators are being asked to make. “One of the things people are really struggling with is once they make a decision, they rarely feel good about it because no decisions are good. And that, I think, has been a very valuable thing to name for people.” One problem is the lack of data, which Oster hopes to change by partnering with districts and data wonks to gather evidence on schools that do reopen in person. (Both Tradeoffs and Oster are AV grantees.)
Related: Check out Oster’s “COVID Explained” resource, with facts about the virus from a team of researchers and students at Brown, MIT, Harvard, Mass General, and elsewhere.
Our Vice President of Criminal Justice drops in on the Skimm’ This podcast to provide context around the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin and calls to reform policing.
“Often when we see reactions by policymakers to a high-profile incident, they’re trying to solve for the last thing that occurred. After the killing by Louisville police officers of Breonna Taylor, there’s a call to ban no-knock warrants. Same thing occurs in terms of George Floyd — let’s prevent chokeholds. What is necessary is to take a step back and ask, why are these events recurring and what are the factors behind them that seem to create the conditions so these events recur?”
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
By Stuart Buck, Vice President of Research
This week, I'll just recommend a column by David Spiegelhalter, the respected statistician at Cambridge University. It’s a rallying cry for better statistics about the COVID-19 crisis, including from expert regulators who should know better than to proffer dishonest claims. (He says of a recent press conference by FDA Commissioner Hahn: "This is possibly the most statistically dim-witted utterance I have witnessed from any authority during this crisis, and he’s up against some pretty stiff competition.") Worth reading.
The Reclaim Her Name campaign celebrating women who authored books under male pen names. (Explaining why this ever happened in the first place to my kids at the dinner table was … interesting. “Girls can write books the same as boys, sometimes even better!” my 6-year-old son concluded. Parenting is hard.)
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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