Good Monday. The media continues to focus on the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Policy of promoting “ abstinence only” to reduce teen pregnancy rates. Physicians like me deplore this scientifically disproven strategy. My governing body, ACOG, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology espouses and promotes access to evidence based contraception as fundamental to women’s health care.
However there is more to the story. There is nothing wrong with the choice of abstinence. There is no problem if a patient choses abstinence as her birth control method. But to offer abstinence “only” in the context of a health care or teen pregnancy prevention setting, is folly. Similarly, there is no problem with discussing the “ benefits of avoiding sex” as the administration proposes. Furthermore, health care providers in particular would be happy to support the DHHS in avoiding the normalization of “ sexual risk behaviors”. I am assuming that they mean high risk sexual behaviors. All of this would be fine if it were not for the deal breaker clause “ abstinence only”, and, oh yes, defunding those who do not march in step with it. The NY Times has published an editorial exposing the shift to Title X funding priorities to abstinence only programs under the direction of Valerie Huber, a longtime advocate of abstinence only birth control.
There’s more. The latest healthcare budget proposal not only seeks to redirect Title X funds, it also seeks to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning programs altogether, as well as scrap, not just reduce, the budget for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. Democrats plan to block this budget proposal. ACOG has stated that half of all pregnancies are unintended and this is a major public health problem. 41% of teens have had sex in high school.
Scrutiny of drug prices is increasing in this administration. FDA administrator Scott Gottlieb as criticized drug pricing constructs used by the big drug companies which result in large OOP ( out of pocket expenditures) for patients. He was quoted as saying “ sick people aren’t supposed to be subsidizing the healthy”. Of course this sounds very pro-patient, but the bottom line is that the government current insures a great many people through Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and it wants to pay less for drugs.
Many of you know that I believe data should be free. Accordingly, I believe patients should have access to all their medical information and it should be complete, digital and portable to other providers. The Trump administration has indicated an interest is facilitating this trend. While access to complete digital medical records has many patient and caregiver advantages, it also makes it easier for insurers and regulators to determine eligibility and reimbursement, or lack thereof. For the time being, I think I’d trust Amazon, Google or Apple with my data more than I would trust a government medical database. Although theoretically, de-identified data would make it possible to do a lot of helpful population based research like they do in the Scandinavian Countries which have Universal Health Care.
Work requirements for Medicaid recipients sounds like a good idea. However, Medicaid recipients are often pregnant single mothers. Arkansas has approved such regulations. Alabama is examining the idea. Children’s advocates are concerned that work requirements will take these parents away from children, while providing no daycare to supplant them. Single unemployed people on Medicaid rarely can afford daycare or even transportation to and from a job. Why is this not obvious ? My idea: Given these people a computer with internet access and require them to take an online class toward a certification. Make passing required and grades count. This could be done from home and the need for a car or daycare would go away. Maybe I will write my elected officials.
The Trump administration wants to test work requirements to see if they improve patient care or reduce costs. ( Who decided those endpoints ? ) However the GAO (General Accounting Office) has asserted that such analyses in the past have not been rigorously conducted, and their results have-not been published, limiting their utility.
I thought Republicans wanted less government intrusion into our lives. Senate Bill 1394 in Arizona would require hospitals or clinics to report if a woman had an abortion and to report the REASON she had it. Seriously ? As if these reasons weren’t personal and complicated and no business of our elected officials ? It would also require that hospitals require reporting to the State in the event of any abortion complications, though this is not the case for complications of any other procedures. Arizona ACOG has come out in force against this.
Preterm birth has been an unmitigated scourge in the US. It is twice as much so for women soldiers recently returned from duty. Preterm birth is poorly understood, but its many associations point to various forms of stress, such as socioeconomic deprivation, racism and abuse. I interpret this to mean anything that makes the women’s body a hostile environment for the fetus. It makes sense that a military environment would meet this criteria.
On the other hand, exercise is an entirely different kind of stress, a good stress. Recent research has confirmed not only that pregnancy women may exercise, but that they may safely exercise in warm weather. They may also take hot baths and short saunas. That said, it is critical that patients considering these activities check with their doctor first as there may be caveats.
Nurx. My new company crush. Go to Nurx.com. This is a San Francisco startup offering doctor prescribed brith control online, with or without insurance. It currently operates in 18 States and they are looking to hire more docs in more states. Teens are welcome.
In the “ olden days”, male medical students generally entered surgical specialties and female medical students entered non-surgical specialties. The crossover came with Ob/Gyn which is surgical. Women had a natural affinity for the field, and patients almost always prefer them. When I entered the field, it had already become half and half. However, now, 25 some years later, only 17% of Ob/Gyns are men. Male doctors are worried about getting into the field, and women in the field are worried about the demonstrated historical monetary devaluation of a field once it is predominantly filled by women. The big picture is this: Ob/Gyns are in short supply and the supply is growing smaller by the year. We should welcome and properly reimburse any docs of any gender willing to take on the vicissitudes of the profession. New data suggests bolstering the ranks of Certified Nurse Midwives could also help to address the shortage of skilled Obstetrics care providers, and together improve our deplorable maternal morbidity and mortality statistics.
Good news ! A new study has indicated that probiotics and fish oil in pregnancy are associated with reduced allergies and eczema children. The study is of very high quality since it is a meta-analysis, a compilation of 19 other high quality studies onto same subject. That may warrant a policy change in the office.
Stay tuned more more news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, here next week, on Medical Monday.