Happy Friday and Happy New Year! As we’re only just back from holidays, I have a very breezy Breeze to get you off on the right foot. Here’s what you might have missed while recovering from that hangover.

After months of uncertainty and hedging, the Trump administration revealed its ban on most vaping flavors in one of those compromises where no one is really happy (I guess that’s most of them?). Menthol and tobacco will remain on the market, while sales for fruity flavors will be halted — but only for cartridge-based e-cigarettes. The rule exempts open-tank systems, typically sold in vape shops that cater to adults.

Critics say that although the efforts are a good first step, they fall far short of what was hinted at in the fall when the vaping-related illnesses were commanding national attention and headlines. (Or as Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey tweeted:  “A flavor ban that exempts menthol and vape shops is no ban at all.”)

The industry, meanwhile, is probably marking this one down in the “could have been worse” column, but it will still be a blow to sales.

A flood of Republican congressmen (about 80% of all GOP members) signed an amicus brief in the highly anticipated abortion case barreling toward Supreme Court oral arguments in March. The friends of the court filing helpfully reminded the justices that precedent has been overturned in the past (230 times to be exact) — just in case they’ve forgotten!

The sheer number of lawmakers who backed the brief is just the latest sign that this case — which at its core deals with admitting privileges to hospitals but has come to symbolize the abortion debate as a whole — is going to be one to watch.

Speaking of things to watch for (with 20/20 vision, no less!) this year …

The health fights: Surprise billing and the Affordable Care Act take the cake. Last year was supposed to be the year for surprise medical billing. Although lawmakers did have a shocking burst of progress on the issue at the tail end of 2019, nothing was actually passed. Meanwhile, the appeals court decision on the ACA granted Republicans a reprieve during this contentious election season, and Dems will likely keep the battle front of mind for voters.

And then we have drug pricing, which everyone is livid about apparently and yet no one can fix. (FWIW, pharma hiked prices for this year, which is “business as usual.”) Beyond that, 2020 seems to be the year when states’ outside-the-box gambles toward curbing the high costs (like Netflix-like subscription services) will be put to the test.

Finally, health experts try to peek into their crystal balls for the big topics, developments and crises that will be dominating the field this year. Last year, they predicted the rise of meth, but hadn’t foreseen the vaping-related outbreak. Some of the guesses: a lot of digital and tech advancements and restrictions; a possible breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research; early-stage data for a universal flu vaccine; a pivotal year for CRISPR; and more.

Two stories out of Indian Country duked it out this week for “most depressing.” The first is about a woman who went into an IHS hospital because of a cough. Her X-ray revealed signs of cancer, but no further tests were done. Her journey with the system reveals the deep quality of care issues that have plagued the agency for years. “The sad thing is, our people don’t have a choice. That’s all that is there,” said Harold Frazier, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe leader.

Meanwhile, the federal government is just catching up to the fact that indigenous women not only face chronic violence at much higher rates than other populations, but they’ve also been disappearing in numbers that constitute a crisis. What does that mean, then, for the ones that are found? Families grappling with the trauma they experienced are left without resources or help to put their lives back together.

With plenty of targets for public outrage, the FDA so far has avoided much scrutiny over what role it played in the opioid epidemic. Recently unearthed documents, however, show there was lax oversight at the agency over programs designed to curb the misuse of the pain pills. And even when the deficiencies in the program became apparent through its own review system, the FDA still failed to address the flaws.

Anecdotally it’s become clear that opioid overdoses and financial hardships can be linked, but a new study found that within five years of an auto plant closing, opioid overdose deaths among working-age adults were a staggering 85% higher than in counties where plants had not closed.

In things yours truly learned this week: Apparently, it’s common for sheriffs to release sick criminals because they don’t want to shoulder the cost of their medical care. Sheriffs defend the practice as a way to keep spending in check, but an investigation found that some of those who were released were being held on charges for violent crimes — including murder.

That’s it from me! Have a great weekend.

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