Happy Friday! Where this year’s unsubstantiated and yet viral Halloween candy scare — that people are giving children THC-laced edibles — is a good reminder to get your best spooky haiku into us for our fabulous competition before the winner is picked. The deadline is approaching!

Since KHN was closed for most of the week, this is going to be a particularly breezy Breeze, but I still have some good highlights for you!

For the second consecutive year, premiums for the health law’s most popular plan dipped slightly. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — while making sure to get a dig in about how the health law is “still unaffordable for far too many” — attributed the price decrease to actions taken by President Donald Trump. That’s not quite the picture health experts paint: They say the drop is the marketplace correcting itself after the tumultuous first few years.

Meanwhile, Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, dodged sharp questions from Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the administration’s contingency plan if the health law is ruled unconstitutional. The title of the hearing where she was grilled — “Sabotage: The Trump Administration’s Attack on Health Care” — really set the tone of the day. The lawmakers touched on topics from “junk” insurance plans to Medicaid work requirements to coverage for preexisting conditions, only to be left frustrated with Verma’s answers.

If a tax on the middle class is really the third rail of left-leaning politics, what are the other options for paying for “Medicare for All”? Experts say that some of the more appealing options are raising payroll taxes (since employers will be saving a ton of money on workers’ benefits) or slashing military spending (but that in itself is a third-rail for many lawmakers).

From December 2017 to June 2019, more than a million children have fallen off Medicaid rolls. The administration said this is a success story, because in theory it could signal a stronger economy (with the parents moving off government aid to employer plans). But a look at the numbers suggests that, really, kids are just going without insurance after years of progress made toward universal coverage.

Suboxone — a medication meant to help treat addiction — is center stage in a major settlement made this week between two Ohio counties and drug companies accused of fueling the opioid epidemic. The companies have agreed to donate the drug to help fight the continuing crisis. But experts worry that might be a raw deal. The main barriers to treatment aren’t the cost of the drug, they said. And a one-size-fits-all approach really misses the mark on the actual pain points states have.

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Biogen created lots of buzz and hype this week as it announced that it was resurrecting its Alzheimer’s drug that it says reduces the rate of a patient’s cognitive decline. But in a field where disappointment is the devastating norm rather than the exception, a lot of people are recommending the news be taken with the largest grain of salt possible.

Could North Carolina — one of the few remaining holdouts for Medicaid expansion — really be one of the most innovative states to watch when it comes to health care? Arguably so. The reason? Not only is it prioritizing value-based care and eliminating social detriments to good health, it’s doing it in a uniquely broad, collaborative and fast-paced way. Our friend and frequent “What the Health” guest Joanne Kenen takes a deep dive into what’s going on in the state.

The startling geographical disparities when it comes to abortion have no clearer example than Illinois and Missouri. A new Planned Parenthood clinic in Illinois will be one of the largest abortion clinics in the Midwest — and it’s only about 15 miles away from the border with Missouri, a state where the last remaining clinic is in danger of closing. Advocates say that living under the credible threat to Roe v. Wade, this kind of thinking is crucial. People can no longer think in states, it’s time to go regional, they say.

In the miscellaneous file for the week:

• We tend to think of things like algorithms as being above the frequent racial bias we see in the rest of the health care landscape, but we would be wrong in this case. A new study finds that a widely used product that predicts which patients will benefit from extra medical care dramatically underestimates the health needs of the sickest black patients, favoring white patients’ needs over theirs.

• Anyone who has kids in their lives knows very well that they are absolute sponges (especially when you slip and say a swear word!). This proves true with gender and racial norms too, of course. A new study found that by age 6, when asked to picture a “brilliant” person, many will name a white male.

• Wildfires aren’t a devastating anomaly. They happen frequently and every year now. So how are we going to adapt as humans in an environment that’s prone to burn? (The pictures on this story alone are worth checking it out!)

Have a great weekend! LET’S GO NATS!

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