More than 2.5 million agricultural workers help maintain the United States' abundant food supply. They play a vital role in the economy, but their job is hard and often dangerous.
"Everything from the heavy machinery they use to the pesticides and other chemicals that they're exposed to make it easy to get hurt on the job," says Kwabena B. Donkor, an assistant professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
This low-income, largely immigrant workforce has some of the worst health outcomes in the U.S. Traditionally, farmworkers have had difficulty getting routine preventive care because they're often itinerant, working for a succession of employers who don't provide health benefits.
"By the time they get to a physician, whatever health problems they're dealing with are often far along," Donkor says. Farmworkers who didn't seek treatment until their symptoms were too severe to ignore often checked into emergency rooms, which are required under federal law to treat anyone, even if they are uninsured.
The Affordable Care Act, the sweeping package of health care reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, was designed to bring health insurance and medical care to millions of people who previously could not access them. "If you want a poster child for the sort of person that the ACA is intended to help, that would be a seasonal farmworker," Donkor says.
Donkor wanted to find out what effect the ACA (also known as Obamacare) has had on the health of this chronically underserved group. As he explains, one of the key unanswered empirical questions about the ACA was how its benefits would affect the behavior of previously uninsured people. Would they visit ERs less because they were receiving preventive care, as the law's authors had hoped? Or would they go to the ER more often because they would assume that their insurance would cover the cost? Both scenarios were plausible, Donkor notes.
In a latest paper cowritten with Jeffrey M. Perloff, a distinguished professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, Donkor concludes that Obamacare is helping farmworkers in a significant way—while also reducing economic stress on the health care system. They found that the ACA has not only substantially raised the share of seasonal farmworkers with medical insurance, it also has increased their use of preventive medical care and decreased their use of hospitals, including emergency care.
The study looked at 2,265 adult farmworkers from 2010 to 2016. Donkor and Perloff calculated that a quarter of them had preexisting conditions that might have made it difficult for them to afford coverage before health care reform.
"One of the main selling points of the ACA was that before it was passed, insurance companies could charge you a different premium depending on your health status," Donkor says. "If you had a preexisting condition, you best believe that you were going to have to pay a really high premium." For low-income farmworkers, that often put coverage—and preventive care—out of reach.
The study found that farmworkers who were eligible for Medicaid, which some states expanded under Obamacare, were around 11% percent less likely to be uninsured than ineligible workers. Those eligible to buy insurance on Obamacare-sponsored exchanges were 5.5% less likely to lack insurance. The ACA's tax penalty for not having coverage reduced the probability of being uninsured by as much as 8.6%. (Congress eliminated the penalty in 2019.)
The ACA also reduced the likelihood of a farmworker forgoing medical care. Medicaid-eligible farmworkers were nearly 19% less likely to go without care; those eligible for an insurance subsidy under the law were nearly 9% less likely. Hospital use, including emergency room visits, decreased by 4.4% for Medicaid-eligible farmworkers and 1.5% percent for those eligible for subsidies.
These effects didn't significantly differ between people with and without preexisting conditions, which suggests that the ACA has benefited farmworkers' health across the board.
Getting an accurate picture of the ACA's effect on farmworkers was a complex endeavor, which may be why relatively little research had been done on the subject. "There are a lot of moving parts to the ACA," Donkor says. "And depending upon which state you were in, the law might be applied differently." The law required states to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income households, yet a 2012 Supreme Court decision allowed some states to opt out of this mandate.
The researchers also had to factor in how the ACA applies to different people. The law requires citizens and legal residents to maintain health insurance but provides subsidies for people who make less than a certain income. "If you have a green card, for example, depending upon how long you've been in the U.S., you may not qualify for the premium subsidy," Donkor explains.
Donkor would like to see additional research that builds upon these findings. For example, he thinks it's important to take a closer look at farmworkers with preexisting conditions to see how they fare over time. Additionally, he'd like to see whether having access to preventive care reduces the percentage of farmworkers with chronic health issues—potentially a big win for both the workers and the system that takes care of them.
What's good for farmworkers ultimately benefits all of society, Donkor says. "This has a direct impact on how we manage hospitals," he says. "If you want to lower the burden on our ERs, this could help. If we provide people with what they need, what we're paying in taxes might actually be lower."
More information: The Effects of the Affordable Care Act on Agricultural Workers. www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-r … agricultural-workers
Citation: Study finds Affordable Care Act helps agricultural workers get better medical care, and avoid the ER (2023, February 16) retrieved 19 February 2023 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-02-agricultural-workers-medical-er.html
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The EU’s proposed Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act) wants to use humans to oversee AI-generated decisions, but latest evidence suggests one should carefully test it when it becomes possible.
Johannes Walter is a researcher at the Leibniz-Centre for European Economic Research and a PhD Candidate at KIT in Technical Economics.
Nijeer Parks was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. He was arrested due to an incorrect match produced by a facial recognition algorithm. Being already the third known case of a Black man being wrongfully arrested in the US, these false arrests illustrate the lower accuracy of facial recognition algorithms for Black faces.
But what failed Mr Parks was not just technology. Had police officers double-checked the matching images, they would have noticed the suspect, and Mr Parks did not look alike. The suspect in the photo even wore earrings — whereas Mr. Parks had no piercings. The human police officers should have overseen the algorithmically generated arrest recommendation but failed to do so.
The EU’s proposed AI Act relies heavily on humans overseeing AI decision support systems to prevent harmful outcomes in high-risk applications. Machine learning algorithms increasingly often support human decision-making in settings that are critical for our society: For example, in healthcare, when algorithms recommend which patients should undergo expensive treatments, in hiring decisions, when they suggest which applicant to invite for an interview or in financial loan decisions. In all of these cases, a human has the final say and could adjust or even overrule an algorithmically derived recommendation.
Human oversight of AI systems can work well. One study in a child welfare decision-making context in the United Kingdom found that humans were indeed able to identify poor algorithmic advice. For another illustration, consider Large Language Models like ChatGPT. Presumably, many of the readers of this opinion piece have been trying out such models themselves in the last couple of weeks and probably soon encountered situations in which the chatbots produced obviously nonsensical answers. With these examples in mind, it is easy to imagine applications where human oversight has its place.
Yet all too often, human oversight fails, like in the case of Mr Parks. The evidence that humans often cannot be good supervisors for AI has mounted in latest years. In a new experiment, we show that people cannot accurately assess the advice quality of an advising algorithm.
Participants of the experiment had to solve a simple task and received advice from a supporting algorithm. Unbeknownst to them, we had tampered with the algorithm, resulting in poor recommendations. Despite this, our participants remained steadfast in their reliance on the algorithm, failing to recognise the magnitude of its inaccuracy even after multiple rounds of playing the game. This result from the lab is supported by various field studies: Judges, physicians, and the police have all been found to be poor algorithm monitors.
The reasons for this finding are as intriguing as they are plentiful. Situations where humans make decisions with the help of algorithms, are teeming with psychological effects. For example, to a certain degree, people feel that relying on AI absolves them of their responsibility. Its recommendation sets a seemingly objective default from which it is difficult to deflect.
Often, when the task is perceived as more abstract and mathematical in nature, humans have been found to rely too much on algorithms, a phenomenon termed “algorithmic appreciation”. In other cases, where the setting is perceived as more subjective, one finds “algorithm aversion”, i.e. people erroneously do not follow superior algorithmic advice.
The insight that humans are not infallible overseers of AI has yet to make its way into the draft for the AI Act.
Based on our research, we, therefore, make three recommendations. First, the AI Act should recognise that human oversight is no panacea and can fail. As described above, it depends on the task and the context if human oversight works.
Second, tests assessing the feasibility and efficacy of human oversight in preventing harm should therefore be mandatory for high-risk AI applications. In their most elementary form, such tests would compare actual outcomes under human oversight with the hypothetical outcomes that would have resulted without human intervention. A more advanced test could use context-dependent additional information that might help humans to be effective AI supervisors. An example of such additional information could be to provide timely feedback about past decision outcomes, an approach which has shown promising results in our own research.
Finally, if human oversight is found to fail for a given AI application, one should relinquish on using the AI system in its current form.
Nijeer Parks was released after ten days in jail and spent around $5000 for his defence. Instituting more carefully implemented human oversight has the potential to avoid similar injustices in the future.
American politicians are split on many aspects of social networks' content moderation policies, but they might find common ground on setting those policies. A bipartisan group of senators led by Brian Schatz and John Thune has introduced the Internet Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act (Internet PACT), a bill that would set "clear" content moderation policies they consistently enforce. The amendment to the Communications Act would require that online services explain their moderation in an "easily accessible" usage policy, and share biannual reports with anonymized statistics for content that has been pulled, downranked or demonetized. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would also lead development of a voluntary framework to set industry-wide practices.
The Internet PACT Act would also amend the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 to require that "large" platforms pull content within four days if deemed illegal by courts. Those big services would need systems to handle complaints and appeals, and users would need to be notified of any decisions regarding their content within three weeks. Smaller providers would have "more flexibility" in addressing complaints and illegal content, according to the senators.
The bill would also bar companies from using Section 230 as a shield when the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other national regulators engage in civil actions. State attorneys general could enforce federal civil laws when used against online platforms, while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would have to study the viability of an FTC-run program for whistleblowers from within online platform companies.
The measure theoretically addresses longstanding complaints from both sides of Congress. Democrats have argued that social media giants aren't consistent in applying their policies, and carve out exceptions for accounts that spread hate or misinformation. Republicans, meanwhile, have accused social networks of censoring conservative views while giving creators little chance to respond.
There's no certainty the Internet PACT Act will become law. The bipartisan support may help, though. Whether or not the proposed Section 230 amendments will satisfy politicians is another matter. Both Democrats and Republicans have previously called for large-scale reforms, but the changes here would be relatively limited. They would, however, pressure companies to act quickly on illegal content.
Congressman Paul Ryan’s review of poverty programs at the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the War On Poverty included 20 housing programs, including the Low Income Housing Credit (LIHTC) which were the syllabu of my last few posts. Next to the LIHTC the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) often called Section 8 is the biggest workhorse in the barn of federal housing subsidies. The 2023 budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) includes more than $32 billion for the HCV program which pays for 200,000 vouchers. It’s worth covering the history of the program. Looking back, it’s clear that the effort to use existing rental housing in the market to help people with less money has always suffered from the same problem, finding the right balance between federal and local requirements on both tenant and housing provider and maintaining flexibility and portability of the voucher system.
One of the best histories of the Housing Choice Voucher program (however, I’m going to refer to it throughout at Section 8), is by the Congressional Research Service (CSA), An Overview of the Section 8 Housing Programs: Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance. The review gives a good overview of where the program originated and evolved. The program has been called Section 8 because it was authorized under Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937.
Like food access, housing has been a perennial issue in industrial economies. Wage earners often find that their wages don’t keep up with the prices of consumer items like housing that have no substitutes in the market. Rather than subsidize production and reduce barriers to the market for private profit motivated actors, governments have typically stepped in by either building and operating housing for people with low or no incomes, or they have subsidized others to create and manage that housing. The Section 8 program has its origins in an effort to give people with less money struggling to pay rent financial resources to acquire rental housing from private actors.
The Section 23 program was the result of legislation passed by congress in 1965, and created the ability of local public housing agencies to contract with private housing entities to house people struggling to pay rent. Section 23 allowed HUD to pay housing owners on an annual basis on behalf of qualified tenants. The tenants would qualify based on their income and housing owner was defined as a nonprofit housing provider. What’s compelling about this earlier form of leveraging other entities buying land, building, and operating housing is that it originated from a realization that government wasn’t having much success as a developer and manager of housing. This is a recurrent theme in postwar World War II America, government trying to ameliorate housing price problems while struggling whether to build and manage housing or pay others to do it.
Experimental Housing Assistance Program (EHAP)
The CSA’s history describes the beginnings of the EHAP in 1970, as a test of the “impacts and feasibility of providing low-income families with allowances to assist them in obtaining existing, decent rental housing of their choice.” That word “choice” is key, because it will inform the underlying idea of the Section 8 program as it developed over the decades, providing people who need housing with the ability to shop the private market with federal money. There were four questions the government wanted to answer with the experiment.
Again, these are the themes of almost any evaluation of cash-based program. What’s amazing is that it took until 1980 to get the answers, and the results sound as familiar as the questions. Categorically, the results were (from the CSA history),
What’s really compelling here is how, in 1980, the results of the experiment lay down the exact issues still facing today’s Section 8 program; and how these results and conclusions continue to be discovered again, and again, yet ignored. Participation by housing providers continues to lag, and the reasons are right there in the report from 42 years ago; when the rules and requirements get to stringent, private housing providers opt out because of the cost and risk. This was validated again in a HUD study I often cite.
And the issue of portability and choice is right there as well. I’ve pointed out again, and again, that the expectation that a family that gets a voucher should have to uproot themselves after an extended hunt for a qualifying unit is unfair for the family and unnecessary. The family has made a living choice based on a variety of factors, if they are happy with where they live, why can’t they just apply the voucher there, today?
At another time, I’ll dig deeper into the inflationary implications of the experiment, but from the surface, the results found that a cash-based program didn’t appear to fuel rent hikes in response. One of the worries about a cash program, which I have myself, is that flushing out cash payments for rent would have the effect of increasing rents across the market. I have no quantitative sense of how this inflation compares with the inflation created by the LIHTC when it subsidized multimillion dollar construction projects. But the good news from 1980 is that cash for rent doesn’t result in discernable inflation.
Section 8 and Housing Choice Vouchers Now
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sums up the chronology of Section 8 well.
“The Section 8 program was established in 1974 during the Nixon-Ford Administration. Major changes to the tenant-based portion of the program were made by legislation passed in 1983, 1987, and 1998. As part of the 1998 legislation, Congress merged the two previous components of the tenant-based Section 8 program — certificates and vouchers — into a single housing program.”
Today, there are two programs under Section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, a program that allows local PHAs to issue vouchers to qualifying households, and project-based vouchers which allocate a voucher to a housing unit in a qualifying project. In the first, case a family has a voucher and looks for a private owner that will accept the voucher, and in the second case, a voucher is used as part of assumed rental income in a newly constructed project, usually nonprofit owned and operated and frequently a project with 9% LIHTC and other capital subsidies.
What is most important to note is that from the very beginning and throughout its history, the voucher program conceived of the opportunity of letting people with less money make a choice about where they would live and the limits of those opportunities when being able to apply that choice with too many rules and limits. Managing housing quality comes at a cost, specifically less choice for voucher holders. Worries about private profiteering at the expense of taxpayers and voucher holders has driven more and more regulation but has also tended to push private housing providers away from participation. As we continue the review of the program, this will be a continuing and relentless theme.
Welcome to EURACTIV’s Tech Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
“‘Artificial Intelligence system’ (AI system) means an engineered or machine-based system that can, for a given set of objectives, generate output such as content, predictions, recommendations, or decisions influencing real or virtual environments. AI systems are designed to operate with varying levels of autonomy.”
-AI Shadow Meeting Agenda 10/02/2023
Story of the week: MEPs involved in the AI Act met on Wednesday in what the co-rapporteurs hoped would be an opportunity to close several important aspects of the regulation. The agenda was incredibly ambitious, with an AI definition aligned with the US NIST, a ban on exporting AI systems based on prohibited practices, biometric categorisation and facial-scrapping databases. However, none of the agenda’s points was agreed upon during the meeting, with several lawmakers asking for further discussions about the text. The NIST definition seems compatible with the EPP’s transatlantic approach, although more progressive MEPs consider it too narrow, and the related recitals drew some significant criticism. The high-risk categorisation was under attack from all sides, with some groups questioning the logic of the proposed text. The issue of prohibiting emotion recognition was also raised, but the EPP is still pushing to have it as a high-risk application. The next technical meeting is scheduled for 27 February, meaning the co-rapporteurs will have to come up with a new timeline.
Don’t miss: The discussion around a proposal to establish an office of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union in Brussels, which accelerated following EURACTIV’s reporting, prompted a broader debate about the need to better integrate digital policy in the EU’s external action. While the idea of a new ITU office no longer seems on the table, member states are working on a non-paper to ask the Commission to take the initiative to set up a coordination mechanism. However, the EU Council’s own internal structure does not help, with digital files scattered around different Working Parties. Talks of establishing a Digital Council have been long in the making, but there is still no clear majority to take that direction. Read more.
Also this week:
Before we start: If you just can’t get enough of tech analysis, tune in to our weekly podcast.
Unconstitutional predictive policing. The German Federal Constitutional Court has declared police use of predictive software provided by controversial US-backed firm Palantir in Hesse and Hamburg unconstitutional as it violates the right to informational self-determination. Law enforcement is one of the most controversial application areas in the AI Act’s discussions. Read more.
A suffocating hug? The European Consumer Organisation and the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue have voiced their concern over the TTC’s EU-US joint roadmap on AI, in whose drafting they were involved, and called on policymakers to ensure it does not interfere with the AI regulation. At an event on Thursday, the Commission’s AI Director Lucilla Sioli tried to reassure everyone that both jurisdictions will retain full autonomy in regulating the technology. The roadmap aims to reach a shared understanding of critical concepts such as ‘risk’ and ‘harm’.
Who supervises the supervisor? The AI Act places great stock in human oversight to safeguard against algorithmic error and bias. Still, there are complex reasons that make people’s overseeing AI-driven decisions far from infallible, a researcher argued this week.
Risky lawmakers. Five MEPs have been profiled as being ‘at medium risk’ of criminal behaviour using Fair Trials’ criminal prediction tool, which ‘determines’ people’s propensity to commit criminal acts using criteria and information actively deployed by EU law enforcement.
AI for green. SMEs will be central to ensuring the success of the twin green and digital transitions by integrating AI solutions, for instance, with the development of a digital twin of the EU’s energy grid. Read more.
AI in education. The German Bundestag’s Committee for Education, Research and Technology Assessment has commissioned a study on ChatGPT’s impact on education and research to explore technological development trends, potential applications and the impacts of the technology. This week, the European University Association (EUA) published its position, stating that any attempt to ban AI tools in learning and teaching would be futile. Therefore, the higher education sector must adapt to ensure its use is effective and appropriate.
New deep fake frontiers. VALL-E, a new AI programme by Microsoft, can recreate voices based on just a three-second trial clip and produce a much more natural-sounding voice than previous models. Cybersecurity experts are warning, however, that this poses significant risks to security and could also be used to spread misinformation.
Amazon-iRobot marriage. Commission competition authorities are set to investigate Amazon’s proposed $1.7 billion acquisition of iRobot, as regulators have reportedly sent the company a series of questions on the merger, a sign of an impending enquiry. Across the Atlantic, the US Federal Trade Commission is similarly examining the deal amidst warnings that the deal could not only undermine competition in the smart home devices market but would also give Amazon access to iRobot’s troves of user data.
New deadline. The EU competition authority will decide by 7 June whether to allow Broadcom’s proposed $61 billion purchase of cloud computing firm VMware. The investigation was put on hold last month to await information from the two companies. The acquisition is also under scrutiny in the UK.
See you in court. The Commission has referred 11 cases to the EU’s Court of Justice concerning failures by six member states when it comes to the transposition of copyright rules into national law. Thirteen states were issued with reasoned opinions last May over their delay in transposing the 2019 Copyright Directive and another directive covering online transmissions of TV and radio broadcasts. Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Poland, and Portugal have all been referred to the court for their continued failures across both regulations. Read more.
Speaking of Poland. Members of Poland’s creative and audio-visual sectors are calling for a law to ensure fair remuneration for filmmakers where their work is used online and a level playing field regarding negotiations with platforms. In an open letter, artists and creators argue that this is a right guaranteed to them under the EU’s Copyright Directive but allege that provisions in a draft law which would have enforced these protections were deleted following the visit of a top Netflix executive to Poland in December.
Critical categories. The critical and highly critical product categories were subject to heavy change under the latest Cyber Resilience Act compromise circulated by the Swedish EU Council presidency. The text adds significant granularity to class I and class II, dividing them into two and three subgroups, respectively, based on criteria that would also restrict the Commission’s discretion in amending the annexe. The ‘highly critical’ category was better defined in relation to NIS2, and the possibility of requiring cybersecurity certification was introduced. The product categories in the two classes were also revised, with 11 moved to the higher class and six downgraded. Consumer products like smart locks and alarm systems were included. Read more.
Sweden under attack. SVT, Sweden’s public broadcaster, was hit by a series of cyberattacks on Tuesday in the wake of similar assaults on universities, hospitals, regional administration offices, and other media companies the previous week. The attack was not entirely unexpected, having been signalled by the hacker group ‘Anonymous Sudan’. Read more.
MEPs against Privacy Shield 2.0. The Parliament’s civil liberties committee called on the Commission not to adopt a data adequacy decision with the US which would allow for the transfer of EU citizens’ data, and to continue negotiations with Washington to create a mechanism for ensuring equivalence and comparable safeguards. The non-binding resolution argues that the new EU-US Data Privacy Framework “fails to create actual equivalence in the level of protection.”
Looming decision. The EDPB will issue its binding decision on Meta’s data-transfer case by 14 April, a Board’s spokesperson told Politico this week.
Not on my watch. Italy’s data protection regulator has banned Replika – a firm which produced a generative AI “virtual companion” chatbot that users reported having become so explicit and persistent as to border on sexual harassment – from collecting data over what the watchdog said were breaches of the GDPR. Read more.
Mozilla’s report. New research by Mozilla looks at different regulatory approaches to data management in the US, Germany, India, and Kenya across various sectors, such as reproductive health, transport, electricity supply and COVID-19 contact tracing. The German report focuses on the EU’s upcoming Data Governance Act and how it can be leveraged for public interest purposes.
Android’s Privacy Sandbox. Google launched this week the first Android Privacy Sandbox beta, initially available to a select number of devices worldwide, with plans to then expand as time goes on. The beta is part of the Android Privacy Sandbox announced last year.
More court cases. Four EU countries have been referred to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) by the Commission for failing to transpose the Open Data Directive. Belgium, Bulgaria, Latvia, and the Netherlands have yet to inform the EU executive of the Directive’s transposition, the deadline for which was July 2021.
Consultation closing. The Commission’s consultation on the digital suitability of the EU’s consumer protection law is set to close next week, concluding a fitness check on whether the existing framework is adequate for protecting consumers in the digital environment.
In or out? Today is the long-awaited deadline for online platforms to determine whether they qualify as very large online platforms under the DSA. Those that have so far passed 45 million are Facebook, Google Search, Maps, Play and Shopping, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. Among those below the threshold are eBay, GoFundMe, Microsoft’s App Store, Spotify and SkySkanner.
STR’s general approach. EU ministers have reached a common position for new rules on short-term rental platforms only a few months after its presentation. The draft general approach, obtained by EURACTIV, is due for COREPER’s endorsement today and focuses on the procedural aspects, ex-post checks, type of data, and powers of the competent authorities. The ministerial approval is planned for the Compet Council on 2 March. Read more.
Tell us where you stand. Stockholm is returning to the basics of the Platform Workers’ Directive after the Czech presidency fell short of securing a majority within the Council in December. The Swedish presidency requested the peers of the Social Questions Working Party for feedback on critical aspects of the proposal, notably the triggering and applicability of the legal presumption of employment. Read more.
European Tech Champions fund. The EIB and five European countries launched a programme to boost equity investments and prevent Europe’s most promising high-tech companies from being bought out by foreign investors at a late stage of development. The European Tech Champions Initiative (ECTI) is a ‘fund of funds’ with an initial budget of €3.75 billion and might be expanded to private investors after a three-year trial. The EIF will manage the fund, and the financing comes with some strings attached that might discourage venture capital investors from requesting it. Still, the first projects to receive the money are expected in the coming days. Read more.
Chips Act’s trilogue. The first political trilogue on the Chips Act is scheduled on 28 February. The file is a political priority for the Swedish presidency, but the first meeting is usually just a chance to present one’s own position. The technical work is kicking off today.
Follow the money. French companies received the most funding under the European Innovation Council Accelerator, Horizon Europe’s €7 billion start-up funding programme. The country has received close to €448 million in funding over the past two years, followed in the rankings by Germany at €317 million and the Netherlands with €267 million. At the other end of the spectrum, Croatia received just €1.2 million and Slovakia €1.9 million.
KPIs input. The Commission has launched a call for feedback on a draft implementation act covering key performance indicators for measuring progress on the Digital Decade 2030 policy programme, spanning data collection on areas from skills and 5G connectivity to AI use and semiconductor activity. The window for contributions is open until 13 March.
Blockchain sandbox. The Commission has launched a regulatory sandbox for innovative use cases involving blockchain solutions. The initiative will run from 2023 to 2026 and will be funded by the digital Europe Programme to support 20 projects annually.
EMFA competencies. The EU Parliament’s culture (CULT) committee has won a competency fight to lead the European Media Freedom Act. LIBE and IMCO will be associated committees with shared competencies on the entire proposal.
French Netflix debacle. France Télévisions, M6, and TF1 announced the dissolution of the jointly-run streaming platform SALTO this week. The decision to shut down SALTO, which was launched in late 2020 and offers a wide range of French programmes, came as a result of several factors, including a lack of subscribers, the refusal of some internet service providers to host the platform, and coordination difficulties between the three operators.
The truth hurts. Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko has been sentenced to six years in a penal colony after she accused the Russian air force of bombing a theatre turned civilian shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine, last April, in an attack which killed at least 300 people. Read more.
PLD clarifications. The Commission has circulated a non-paper amongst EU governments to clarify the digital aspects of the new Product Liability Directive. Dated 8 February and obtained by EURACTIV, the text notably seeks to clarify whether software would be included in the definition of ‘product’, the responsibility of the manufacturers and the notion of related services. Read more.
Disputes settled. On Thursday, the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents confirmed the Conference of Committee Chairs’ proposals for distributing competencies on the Product Liability Directive and AI Liability Directive without discussion. The PLD will be a joint IMCO-JURI lead. As previously reported, the AILD will be spearheaded by JURI, with some shared competencies with IMCO and LIBE.
HLF update. The second meeting of the SHERPA sub-group of the Commission’s High-Level Forum on European Standardisation was held on Thursday as a follow-up on the priorities identified in the first meeting in January and in preparation for the Forum’s recommendation to the 2024 Annual Union Work Programme on standardisation. The sub-group is now working to define the Forum’s 2023 work plan. Meanwhile, the applications for participating in the HLF have been opened again, as the Commission wants more Clean Tech companies to join.
Standardisation strategy AMs. MEPs in IMCO tabled 156 amendments to the own-initiative report ‘A standardisation strategy for the Single Market’. Although the report is non-binding, there is a great deal of attention from the side of the industry as it might influence a new legislative proposal that might still come during this mandate, though this remains unclear since the Commission is currently evaluating the standardisation regulation.
The date game. Many people are still wondering when the senders-pay consultation is due to open. After repeated delays, the most mentioned date is now 23 February. But after so many delays and mixed signals, these speculations only further prove the messiness of the process.
Consolidation test case. Orange has presented a new strategic plan that aims for sustainable growth in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East while also focusing on accelerating cybersecurity solutions. However, Orange wishes to consolidate in the EU market, and its €19 billion bid to merge its Spanish operations with MásMóvil will provide a crucial testbed of whether the European Commission will let the telcos merge. The deadline for the preliminary phase was set for 20 March.
DG COMP’s clearance. The Commission has unconditionally approved the creation of a joint venture by Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone, set to launch a digital platform to “support the digital marketing and advertising activities of brands and publishers” across five European countries.
Roaming in Ukraine. The Commission has adopted a proposal to incorporate roaming into the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, meaning that, once in effect, visitors from one will not be required to pay additional fees for using their phones in the other. This move marks the first extension of EU internal market treatment to Ukraine.
What else we’re memorizing this week:
Don’t let tech companies call the shots in war (The Times)
ASML Says Ex-Employee in China Misappropriated Chip Data (Bloomberg)
Leaked memo: Meta executive warns employees they’re still “at the whim of Apple” (Vox)
A 2010 federal law that boosted nutrition standards for school meals may have begun to help slow the rise in obesity among America’s children — even teenagers who can buy their own snacks, a new study showed.
The national study found a small but significant decline in the average body mass index of more than 14,000 schoolkids ages 5 to 18 whose heights and weights were tracked before and after implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
The study is new evidence that improving the quality of school meals through legislation might be one way to help shift the trajectory of childhood obesity, which has been rising for decades and now affects about 1 in 5 U.S. kids. Whether the program has begun to turn the tide for the whole country, and not just the groups of kids studied, is still unclear. About 30 million children in the U.S. receive school lunches each day.
“You have the potential to really impact their excess weight gain over the course of their entire childhood,” said Dr. Aruna Chandran, a social epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She led the study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed by former first lady Michelle Obama, was the first national legislation to Excellerate school meals in more than 20 years. It increased the quantity of fruits, vegetables and whole grains required in school meals.
The new study analyzed nationwide data from 50 cohorts of schoolchildren from January 2005 to August 2016, before the law took effect, and data from September 2016 to March 2020, after it was fully implemented. Researchers calculated kids' body-mass index, a weight-to-height ratio.
It found that a body mass index for children, adjusted for age and gender, fell by 0.041 units per year, compared to before the law took effect. That amounts to about a quarter of one BMI unit per year, Chandran said. There was a slight decline in kids who were overweight or obese, too, the study showed.
One way to think of the change is that for a 10-year-old boy with an elevated body-mass index, the decline would amount to a 1-pound weight loss, noted Dr. Lauren Fiechtner, director of nutrition at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
“This is important as even BMI flattening over time is likely important,” she said. Holding kids' weight steady as they grow can help keep obesity in check.
Previous studies have shown weight-related effects of the federal law among children from low-income families. The new study is the first to find lower BMI in kids across all income levels.
At the same time, significant decreases in BMI measures were seen not only in kids ages 5 to 11, but also in those age 12 to 18.
“That’s an incredible shift,” Chandran said. “These are kids who potentially have their own autonomy to buy their own snacks.”
The new results come within days of the release of updated standards for school meals, including the first limits on added sugars, decreased sodium and increased flexibility for whole grains. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the study shows that healthy school meals are “critical for tackling diet-related conditions like obesity.”
But some researchers cautioned against interpreting the study’s findings too broadly. Some of the children included in the study might not have been enrolled in school meals programs, or their district may not have fully implemented the nutrition requirements, said Kendrin Sonneville, associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Significantly, measures like BMI, even when adjusted for children, “should not be used as a proxy for health,” she added.
A slight reduction in those measures, she said, “doesn’t tell us whether the health, well-being, concerns related to food security of children participating in the school breakfast or lunch program improved."
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Citing troubling research on Holocaust awareness, a bipartisan group of House members announced new legislation aimed at improving education on the Shoah.
The Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and has over 60 co-sponsors spanning across both parties.
“We all have an obligation to teach future generations about this evil, we have an obligation to try and heal our communities,” said Gottheimer. “We have an obligation to teach about the stain of hatred so it never happens again.”
The act, if passed, would require the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to conduct a study on the state of Holocaust education in public elementary and high schools. That study would identify states and local educational agencies that don’t require Holocaust education while also identifying the quality of the education in those that do.
Gottheimer spoke about his connection to the Holocaust, pointing to a grandfather who fought in World War II and his wife’s survivor grandparents.
U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., also spoke about his family’s connection to Nazi atrocities but took the press conference as an opportunity to take a shot at one of his colleagues, noting his grandmother actually was a Holocaust survivor “unlike George Santos’.”
Several of the assembled representatives spoke about latest surveys that have shown knowledge of basic Holocaust facts to be shockingly low, including almost half of Americans being unaware of how many Jews perished. Others connected a lack of Holocaust education to the skyrocketing number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in latest years.
Should the bill become law, it would join other latest federal legislation aimed at expanding and improving Holocaust awareness. In 2020, the Never Again Education Act was passed, expanding the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s education programming and enabling the museum to create and disseminate materials to Excellerate awareness and education of the Holocaust.
While that law was generally applauded, some have raised concerns over how effective Holocaust education really is.
The bill could have saved CMS about $26.5 billion had it been in place from 2018-2020, the study showed.
Findings from a new simulation-based study suggest the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 could lead to tens of billions of dollars in savings to the Medicare program, although the study also found important limitations that could blunt the bill’s impact on health care spending.
The wide-ranging Inflation Reduction Act included several economic provisions, but in the health care sector some of the most potentially effective changes were new rules that limited out-of-pocket costs for people on Medicare Part D, penalized drug companies for raising prices faster than inflation, and allowed the government to negotiate the price of certain high-cost drugs, explained the study authors.
The last of those 3 provisions is notable because CMS was previously prohibited from negotiating drug prices, although private companies offering Medicare Part D coverage have had the ability to negotiate discounts and rebates for drugs, the authors added.
Under the new law, the prices Medicare pays for drugs can be subject to negotiation, although the authors added that the scope of the negotiations is limited.
“The IRA limits CMS to negotiating up to 20 high-spending drugs each year, which can only qualify after being on the market for at least 9 years (13 years for biologic products),” they said.
When the law was under consideration, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the negotiation provision could end up saving the government $100 billion over the first decade. However, while that estimate was based on models of future spending, the investigators wanted to see how the law might have made an impact using real-world historical data.
To find out, they used Medicare spending data from 2018 to 2020. They identified drugs that accounted for the highest costs each year and then analyzed the impact of negotiation. Their results were published in JAMA Health Forum.
The drugs selected for negotiation were most often indicated for endocrine, neurologic or psychiatric, pulmonary, rheumatologic or immunologic, and cardiovascular disorders. Forty drugs were chosen for simulated negotiations over 3 years. However, 3 of the biologics were excluded from the analysis because they later faced generic competition, and the legislation does not allow negotiation for biologics if their manufacturers attest that they expect to face biosimilar competition within 2 years. That provision only applies to biologics; there is no similar provision for small-molecule drugs, the authors said.
After those exclusions, the government’s spending on the remaining 37 drugs totaled $55.3 billion over the 3 years covered in the study. If negotiation had been allowed, the investigators’ simulation suggests the government could have cut costs by $26.5 billion, an amount that would equal 5% of the estimated net Medicare Part B and Part D drug spending over those 3 years.
“Our simulation showed that ceiling prices for negotiation may lead to a substantial reduction in Medicare drug spending within the first few years,” the investigators wrote.
Still, they said there are several important limitations that will have an impact on the effect of the legislation. For one, the law only allows negotiation for the prices of drugs that have been on the market for 9 years, meaning that many high-cost drugs cannot be the subject of negotiation. In addition, they noted that drugs must be selected for negotiation 2 years before negotiated prices take effect.
“We identified 3 cases in which top-selling drugs faced generic competition within 2 years after selection, before negotiated prices would have taken effect,” they noted. “Because Medicare can only select a limited number of drugs each year, choosing these drugs would lead to missed opportunities to address high prices of other drugs.”
The authors also noted other concerns, including that rules designed to protect small biotechnology firms may end up helping large pharmaceutical manufacturers and that companies might be able to evade negotiation by launching new versions of existing products—despite provisions aimed at stopping such actions.
Still, they said their simulation shows that the law could lead to meaningful savings.
“Despite these limitations, our findings suggest that the ceiling prices for negotiation would have reduced Medicare prescription drug spending by at least 5% in the first 3 years, and savings may be higher if Medicare can effectively negotiate prices below the statutory ceiling,” they concluded.
Rome BN, Nagar S, Egilman AC, Wang J, Feldman WB, Kesselheim AS. Simulated Medicare drug price negotiation under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. JAMA Health Forum. 2023;4(1):e225218. doi:10.1001/jamahealthforum.2022.5218
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Study number: NA_00070373
Principal investigator: Nicola Heller, PhD