Shortly after Republicans’ stunning Election Day sweep, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack grabbed Vice President Biden in a receiving line. Vilsack had an urgent message, and he sensed that in Biden, he would find a receptive audience. The two politicians had served together throughout President Obama’s eight years in office and had known each other for decades. Both are nearing the ends of long and successful political careers, built on speaking to the ambitions and anxieties of white, working-class voters who turned decisively to Donald Trump in this election. “We need to speak more directly to our folks in rural America,” Vilsack recalled telling the vice president. “And we have to spend time there.” Biden nodded, and Vilsack kept moving, unsure whether his message — one that he had been pressing for years — had penetrated. Their hurried exchange is a small part of a broader reckoning that is happening among Democrats as they struggle to make sense of their election losses. Even before Trump’s surprising victory this month, Vilsack was complaining, sometimes loudly and often with little effect, that his party had essentially given up competing in large swaths of the country that it needed to win Senate seats, governor’s races and state legislatures. “Democrats need to talk to rural voters,” Vilsack warned this summer. “They can’t write them off. They can’t ignore them. They actually have to spend a little time talking to them.” Today, the former Iowa governor compares Democrats to a tree that “looks healthy on the outside but is in the throes of slow and long-term demise.”
The number of parents permanently losing their rights to a child has grown significantly in Tennessee, a Tennessean analysis found. Between 2010 and 2014 (the most recent year data is available), there was a 51 percent increase in the number of parents who have had their relationship legally and permanently severed from a child. In the same time period, the number of children in Tennessee waiting to be adopted increased by 56 percent.
Higher prescription drug prices, combined with changes to Medicare and Social Security, could deal a $1.6 billion blow to state budgets next year by forcing them to ratchet up spending on Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor. Without congressional intervention, most state Medicaid agencies will have to come up with tens of millions of dollars to cover the bill. The new costs could prompt states to tighten eligibility requirements or cut benefits. They could, for example, reduce dental benefits under Medicaid, which they aren’t required to offer, or shift more prescription drug costs to patients. They also could cut payments to doctors, which might prompt more providers to stop treating Medicaid patients.
If President-elect Donald Trump is successful with his proposed $1 trillion, 10-year program to fix America’s disintegrating and inadequate infrastructure, the states have a list of critical projects handy for him. And while a trillion could be a decent down payment, it’s not nearly enough. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that fixing all the roads, bridges, public transit, railroads, energy systems, schools, public parks, ports, airports, waste systems, levees, dams, drinking water facilities and hazardous waste installations in the 50 states and the District of Columbia would take $3.6 trillion by 2020. That’s a little over three years from now, not the 10 years Trump is touting.
The state’s health commissioner announced Monday that the opioid addiction crisis is an official public health emergency in Virginia and created a standing order that anyone can obtain a rescue drug at pharmacies to treat overdoses. State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine announced at a news conference that the drug naloxone, which can be used to treat narcotic overdoses in emergencies, can now be obtained at pharmacies without a prescription or any explanation as to why it is needed. This declaration comes in response to the growing number of overdoses attributed to opioid use, and evidence that carfentanil, a highly dangerous synthetic opioid, has made its way into Virginia.
As Virginia declares opioid addiction a public health emergency, the state is making a popular overdose antidote available without a prescription. State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine issued a standing order that lets Virginians purchase the drug Naloxone over the counter. Essentially, she issued a prescription to everyone in the state so they can access the drug. The state government expects a 77 percent increase in fatal opioid overdoses from five years ago by the end of the year. Fatal drug overdoses are the number one cause of unnatural death in Virginia. In addition to these statistics, the declaration comes as the opioid Carfentanil, designed as an elephant tranquilizer, is making its way into the state. “As we see the nature of drug addiction shift, from prescription opioids to heroin and synthetic fentanyl, we must be vigilant and ready to respond quickly,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel. “This declaration helps us respond in a nimble way to a rapidly changing threat, while the Naloxone standing order from Dr. Levine broadens our ability to get life-saving medication into Virginians’ hands.”
An invasive snail is being blamed for killing hundreds of waterfowl on the Upper Mississippi River this fall. Field workers have found almost 1,000 dead coot and lesser scaup washed up on the shores near Genoa since early October, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The birds are believed to be the victims of an intestinal parasite found in faucet snails, which the birds eat during stopovers on their fall migration. Die-offs have become an annual event during the past 15 years, since the arrival of the faucet snail. Native to Europe, the snails were introduced to the Great Lakes in the late 1900s and have since made their way into inland waterways. Faucet snails were first discovered in Lake Onalaska in the early 2000s and are now prevalent on the river between La Crescent and McGregor, Iowa.
Judges in Maryland would not be able to set bail that is too high for a poor defendant to pay unless the defendant is considered a flight risk or a danger to society, under a rule change that a key judiciary committee voted to recommend to the state’s highest court. The Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Maryland Court of Appeals voted 18 to 5 to recommend an overhaul of the state’s money-based bail system, which critics say is unfair to poor and minority defendants. The public will have 30 days to review the rule change — which is opposed by bail bondsmen, most state prosecutors and some state lawmakers — before it is considered by the Court of Appeals.
A new study to be released on Monday by the Children’s Health Fund, a nonprofit based in New York City that expands access to health care for disadvantaged children, found that one in four children in the United States did not have access to essential health care, though a record number of young people now have health insurance. The report found that 20.3 million people in the nation under the age of 18 lack “access to care that meets modern pediatric standards.”
Three more prescription drug companies have settled lawsuits with the state of West Virginia, for a total of $800,000, over the huge numbers of pain pills shipped into the state over several years. The settlements with J.M. Smith Corporation, Top Rx and Masters Pharmaceutical LLC were announced late Thursday in a news release from the state Attorney General’s office. The state Department of Health and Human Resources and the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety also approved the settlements, according to the release. J.M. Smith, also known as Smith Drug Company, agreed to pay $400,000; Top Rx and Masters Pharmaceutical agreed to pay $200,000 each. The lawsuit against more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies was filed in 2012 by former Attorney General Darrell McGraw and inherited by his successor, Patrick Morrisey. Before Tuesday, six other companies had settled with the state: Miami-Luken, Anda Inc., the Harvard Drug Group, Associated Pharmacies, KeySource Medical Inc. and Quest Pharmaceuticals. The largest settlement, with Miami-Luken, was for $2.5 million.