15 million may lose Medicaid in April. EpiPen maker settles suit over price-gouging scandal. Missile strikes in Ukraine; Russia under economic siege.
At least 15 million may be kicked off Medicaid in April
As of July 2021, Medicaid enrollment was at an all-time high of 76.7 million people. That’s a 19% increase over 2019. Pre-pandemic, Medicaid enrollment had been slowly dropping. But that changed as millions of Americans lost their jobs and insurance coverage due to the pandemic. In response, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Among other things, FFCRA increased Medicaid funding to states in exchange for continuous enrollment during the public health emergency. This meant that for the duration of the pandemic, Medicaid recipients could not have their coverage revoked even if their economic circumstances changed.
But that protection may come to an end as early as April. This means that many states are going to have to re-evaluate the eligibility of a huge number of recipients in a very short space of time. Potentially, even people who are eligible for the coverage may find themselves unenrolled. To avoid this, eligible recipients must provide up-to-date income verification to continue their enrolment. This can be a very time-consuming process for recipients, as many states already have huge backlogs and have cut their Medicaid administration staff.
EpiPen maker to settle lawsuit over price-gouging scandal
In 2016, EpiPen manufacturer Mylan increased the price of a pair of EpiPens by 500%, from $100 a pair to $600. EpiPens are an emergency life-saving treatment for sufferers of life threatening allergic reactions. The price hike sparked outrage and a still ongoing public conversation about the power of Big Pharma companies to fix prices.
Mylan, which has since changed its name to Viatris, agreed to settle a federal lawsuit stemming from this controversy for $264 million. The settlement will head off a trial that was to begin this month. Had the plaintiffs prevailed at trial, Mylan/Viatrix might have had to pay upwards of $1 billion in damages. Some states’ antitrust laws might have forced them to pay multiples of that.
Mylan/Viatris admits no wrongdoing in the settlement. This lawsuit did not pertain to the price hike itself, because a federal judge threw out that part of the case last year. The still-intact portion of the case accused Mylan/Viatris’ of conspiring with generic brand Teva Pharmaceuticals to delay the release of Teva’s generic version of EpiPen. This agreement ensured Mylan/Viatris could maximize its profit from the price hike.
Meanwhile, Mylan/Viatris as has sold its biosimilars business (which makes products like EpiPens) to an Indian pharmaceutical company for $3.34 billion.
Missile strikes in Ukraine; Russia under economic siege
Shelling by Russian forces continued and intensified in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkhiv today. This morning, missiles struck Independence Square, the second largest city square in Europe. A government building and the city’s iconic opera house were destroyed. At least 10 civilian fatalities have been confirmed, and at least 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the shelling. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proclaimed the missile strikes an act of state terrorism by Russia.
Meanwhile, an ever-growing convoy of Russian military vehicles continues its advance towards the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Resistance by Ukrainian forces as well as sabotage of roads and bridges have slowed the convoy’s advance somewhat. Breakdowns of some of the vehicles have delayed the convoy further. Analysts say that while the convoy includes some artillery platforms and tanks, most are logistical support vehicles. This implies that the convoy’s mission is to either occupy or lay siege to Kiev.
Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations on the Belarussian border yesterday ended with no conclusive agreement. However, the two sides agreed at least to keep talking, saying they would reconvene in the next few days.
Economic pain in Russia
Ordinary Russians are feeling the bite of Western sanctions on Russian banks and some business entities. Many ATMs have run out of currency (both rubles and dollars), though analysts say this is likely just a tactic to prevent people from withdrawing their savings. The value of the ruble vs. the dollar fell by 40% yesterday. The Russian central bank responded by more than doubling interest rates from 9.5% to 20% in an effort to stabilize the currency. Any Russian citizens who are paying mortgages or other loans will soon be faced with skyrocketing fees.
The sanctions have also disrupted mundane everyday activities for Russians. Because of sanctions on the bank that coordinates Mastercard and Visa payments, Russians are now unable to use credit cards and apps like Apple Pay. Many have reported being unable to by food in grocery stores or tickets in metro stations as a result.
It’s debatable who average Russian blames for their predicament. Most Russians consume only Russian state media and are likely to view the sanctions as an act of Western hostility towards the Russian people themselves. A minority of Russians who have access to Western news sources may see the sanctions as a rebuke of the aggression of their leader, Vladimir Putin. But even in those cases, they are likely to see the sanctions as punishing ordinary Russians rather than those in power.
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