Good morning ... hope you had a nice holiday break.
Buckle up, because we — Bob Herman and Caitlin Owens — are driving the Vitals bus today while Sam Baker returns from some well-deserved time off. But have no fear, the entire team will be back in full force in the health care news stream today. Let's get to it!
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
The huge federal opioid lawsuit could result in health care companies paying "hundreds of billions" of dollars to communities afflicted by the epidemic, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told Caitlin. Wall Street watchers told Bob a settlement may be on the horizon — but the companies aren't sweating it.
Why it matters: The opioid epidemic has caused mass devastation across the country, and Congress hasn't been able to keep up. If the plaintiffs win, this could be an alternative funding source for all of the treatment and changes to the health care system that experts say are needed going forward.
Yes, but: The companies involved, including Johnson & Johnson, McKesson and CVS Health, have barely talked about the case publicly, and Wall Street believes any outcome will be mostly benign.
Back in February, we highlighted how more consumers who use drug copay coupons are likely to be surprised with higher costs this summer when they pick up their prescriptions.
Well, it's happening. Employers, health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers started using "copay accumulator" programs that don't count the value of drug copay coupons toward a person's out-of-pocket costs, and people are starting to feel shock at the pharmacy counter.
But, but, but: It's worth reminding that Medicare and Medicaid classify drug copay coupons as illegal kickbacks since they steer patients toward specific drugs and provide incentives for manufacturers to raise prices at will. Yet, discount cards are kosher in commercial health plans.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officially confirmed a Wall Street Journal report over the weekend: The agency is freezing $10.4 billion in transfer payments from a major Affordable Care Act program called risk adjustment.
The bottom line: This move is a sure-fire way to inject uncertainty into the ACA individual marketplaces that could, at a minimum, lead to higher premiums next year and possibly further insurance company exits.
How it works: ACA risk adjustment transfers funds from health plans that enroll healthier members to companies that enroll sicker members to create a more level playing field.
What to watch: The Trump administration could resolve this issue relatively quickly, Katie Keith points out in Health Affairs. It could simply issue a notice to clarify how risk adjustment has been operating, but Trump officials have hardly been keen to help out a law they've openly opposed.
Employment in the health care industry increased by another 25,000 jobs in June, according to the latest government figures. Health care has now added more than 135,000 jobs so far in 2018.
Be smart: Health care has been a jobs engine for several years now, and it's difficult to see when it will really slow down as the population gets older. Most jobs are being added in the outpatient setting, which includes doctors' offices, surgery centers and home health — which makes sense as more care gets shifted out of hospitals.
What we're watching today: All SCOTUS, all day. President Trump plans to announce his nominee at 9pm Eastern, but don't be surprised if the name leaks before then.
What we're watching this week: