Jun 18, 2018

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning … This truck is me. I am this truck. This is the act of trying to accomplish basically any task.

1 big thing: Washington warms up to weed

Marijuana. Photo: Giorgos Georgiou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Washington is taking a closer look at medical marijuana as an alternative to dangerous, addictive prescription painkillers, Axios’ Caitlin Owens reports this morning.

The issue: Most states allow the use of medical marijuana, in some form or another. And one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states with medical marijuana laws had lower opioid overdose death rates.

  • But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a hard line, ordering federal prosecutors to enforce federal marijuana laws irrespective of states’ statutes.

Where it stands: Congress is increasingly looking to protect state laws.

  • House and Senate committees have both passed measures designed to stop federal officials from standing in the way of states implementing their own own laws — which has become routine.
  • Sens. Cory Gardner and Elizabeth Warren recently introduced a bill that would essentially make federal law respect states' marijuana laws.
  • "To me, it’s illogical to say, ‘We’re perfectly OK with having opioids prescribed, highly addictive opioids, but not look at cannabinoids," Sen. Thom Tillis said. "It just doesn’t make sense to me from a scientific perspective."

Yes, but: There’s a generational divide. Older lawmakers are less receptive to medical marijuana, Gardner told Caitlin.

Read more.

2. Judge will rule soon on Medicaid work rules

A federal judge in Kentucky says he’ll rule by the end of the month on the state’s plan to add work requirements to its Medicaid program, McClatchy reports. The judge said he wanted to rule before July 1, when the new requirements are slated to take effect.

Driving the news: Judge James Boasberg heard oral arguments Friday over the work requirements. Advocates were encouraged by a line of questioning about how work rules further Medicaid’s goals as a health care program.

  • The judge pressed government lawyers to explain “how requiring ‘community engagement’ helps with medical care, adding that promoting health and medical assistance ‘are two different things,’" per McClatchy.

Reminder: Gov. Matt Bevin has said he will back out of the Medicaid expansion entirely if these legal challenges succeed.

3. Some good news, for once, on ACA premiums

Insurers in Minnesota's individual market want to reduce their premiums next year by 7–12%, according to the Star Tribune.

Why it's happening: Minnesota is one of just three states — along with Alaska and Oregon — with federally approved reinsurance programs in place, though more are in the works.

  • Via the Star Tribune: "Jim McManus, a Blue Cross spokesman, said that were it not for the state’s reinsurance program, the carrier’s Blue Plus HMO would be seeking an average individual market premium increase of 4.8 percent as opposed to the 11.8 percent decrease" the state released Friday.

Meanwhile: Proposed rates in Michigan also aren't looking too bad, according to Crain's Detroit Business. The dominant insurer in the state, a Blues plan, is seeking an average 4.2% hike. (Michigan does not have a reinsurance program.)

  • Oscar has also announced that it plans to enter the markets in part of Michigan next year.
4. BetterDoctor being acquired

Axios' Ina Fried scoops: BetterDoctor, an online site that helps health care networks keep track of data on providers, is being acquired by Quest Analytics (not the same as Quest Diagnostics.)

Why it matters: For all we hear about the role of AI and machine learning in cutting costs for health care, those techniques are only effective if the underlying data is good.

  • The deal brings together two companies that work behind the scenes to help health care systems keep accurate information on doctors in their networks.

Terms of the all-stock deal were not disclosed, though the two companies are of similar size (about 50 employees each). BetterDoctor CEO Ari Tulla will run the combined company.

  • "Almost half of the doctor information on the web and in health care directories is inaccurate," Tulla told Axios. "We got so many complaints it was impossible to run a service like that."

For more of what's poppin' in the tech world, subscribe to Ina's daily Login newsletter.

5. While you were weekending ...
  • The VA's secret rankings hid the fact that almost half of VA nursing homes received the lowest possible quality rating, according to an investigation by USA Today and the Boston Globe.
  • Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled that patients have a right to know when their doctors are performing a procedure for the first time.
  • Expanding Medicaid helps reduce premiums for the middle class, Duke researcher David Anderson writes at the Morning Consult.
  • Minnesota is pioneering new Medicaid payment models that try to address underlying conditions like homelessness, Kaiser Health News reports. (Very pro-Minnesota newsletter today.)
Caitlin Owens

What we're watching this week: The House is expected to vote on roughly 15 more opioid bills. Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee hearing Wednesday on HHS' cybersecurity.

Senate health committee hearing Tuesday on the 340B drug discount program. Senate oversight committee hearing Wednesday on Medicaid overpayments.

What are you watching? Let me know: baker@axios.com.