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August 29, 2023
What A Day
Only Fun Drugs Should Cost Money

In This Episode

  • The Biden administration on Tuesday shared the first ten prescription drugs that it has chosen for price negotiations through Medicare. The Biden administration will try to lower Medicare prices for the drugs by negotiating with their respective manufacturers to ease the burden of their otherwise exorbitant costs.
  • Former employees at Twitter – a.k.a. X – have filed thousands of arbitration complaints against the company in an effort to get the severance pay that they were promised. To date, more than 2,200 cases are backed up in the JAMS arbitration system, and the fees X is on the hook for could amount to about $3.5 million.
  • And in headlines: the Biden Administration weakened regulations protecting millions of acres of wetlands, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee voted to temporarily censure Representative Justin Jones, and Boston officially dropped gendered language from marriage certificates.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, August 30th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.

 

Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What A Day, the pod that should have minded our own business on whether Keke Palmer and Darius Jackson are still together, y’all. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, uh we thought they broke up, but last weekend it appears that they celebrated her birthday together. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I mean. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We don’t know. We don’t know anything. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Let’s just be real. They can live their lives. At least we got an Usher song out of all of this mess. I’m grateful. [laughter] [music break] On today’s show, Twitter, a.k.a. X, faces thousands of cases brought by former employees. Plus, newlyweds in Boston no longer have to share their sex or gender to get a marriage certificate. I’m here for that. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But first, let’s talk about a big win for consumers. The Biden administration yesterday shared the first ten prescription drugs that it has chosen for price negotiations through Medicare. Through this program, the Biden administration will try to lower the Medicare prices for these drugs by negotiating with their respective manufacturers to ease the burden of the otherwise exorbitant drug prices. This is something that has been a long awaited and was only possible because of Biden’s inflation reduction act that was passed last year. Here is Biden talking about the victory yesterday. 

 

[clip of President Joe Biden] We passed the Inflation Reduction Act with no help from the other team. Every single person on the other team in the Congress voted against it. Every single one. And we’re in a situation here where the law finally gave Medicare the power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. And by the way, negotiating drug prices alongside other provisions of this law isn’t just going to put more money back in the pockets of millions of Americans across the country. It’s also going to lower the federal deficit. [cheers and applause]

 

Juanita Tolliver: I’m here for it, I’m here for the celebration. I’m also here for the direct call out because you know exactly who is going to try to take credit from this when people start to feel the benefits. Republicans. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: So shout out to Biden for naming that. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: And tell us more about the drugs on the list. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: For the most part, these drugs treat diabetes, cancer, heart failure and several other conditions that are common amongst Americans. They are taken by millions of older people across the country and they end up costing Medicare billions of dollars annually. That combination of being both widely used and very expensive contributed to their selection in this initial group of ten. The drugs include Eliquis, Jardiance, Xarelto, Januvia, Farxiga, Entresto, Enbrel, Imbruvica, Stelara, and insulin products by Novo Nordisk. If you are not familiar with any of those names, consider yourself very lucky. They are very expensive medications that a lot of people in this country rely on just to stay healthy. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. This is about staying alive. And I think that just gets to the heart about why this bill was so important. And the Inflation Reduction Act is clearly the gift that keeps on giving to the people who need it most. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: So when the prices of those medications is negotiated on behalf of the people, how much could the country actually save? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So there are millions of people, as I said, who rely on these medications for their health. Those people had to pay a total of $3.4 billion dollars in out-of-pocket costs to get these drugs just last year alone. So for Medicare enrollees who didn’t receive additional financial assistance, that averages out to $6,500. According to the Congressional Budget Office when the Inflation Reduction Act was passed last year, it was predicted that the negotiations through this program would end up saving Medicare nearly $100 billion dollars in the following decade. So really, a lot of money that will be saved by both the country and, as Biden said, for regular people in their pockets. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: This is huge. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Huge but is this a done deal? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Not quite. Unfortunately, drugmakers and the pharmaceutical industries main trade group have lodged eight separate lawsuits across the country to try and keep this from happening. They do not want to part with a single dollar it appears. More of these lawsuits could actually follow yesterday’s announcement, of course President Biden and his administration are committed to defending this in court. He said in a statement, quote, “Let me be clear, I am not backing down. There is no reason why Americans should be forced to pay more than any developed nation for life saving prescriptions just to pad Big Pharma’s pockets.” 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I mean, it’s almost like Big Pharma learned nothing from lowering the cost of insulin. Like literally, this is what people need. Like bump your bottom line. It’s about living and surviving with dignity in this country. And I’m so glad that President Biden is calling them out and ready to fight. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: But how soon could lower drug prices kick in? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: The makers of these particular drugs will have just over a month to decide whether or not they want to participate in these negotiations. If they end up opting out there is a risk of financial penalty. Drugmakers that refuse to negotiate with Medicare either face a tax of up to 95% of their U.S. sales. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Oooh. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Or they can choose to withdraw their drugs from coverage by Medicare and Medicaid. But that takes their product away from a huge market in this country. So it is not a good idea to pull out and not play ball with Medicare. If all goes according to plan. The lower negotiated prices for these drugs are likely to become available in early 2026. So not something that’s happening immediately. Or even ahead of the upcoming presidential election. But this is certainly something we will be hearing about as the campaign trail heats up. It is something that will have a tangible impact on the lives of millions and millions of Americans. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. This is such an important issue. And I do appreciate the tactic of hitting those big pharmaceutical companies were it hurts, their bottom line, 95% sales tax. Wow. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yep. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Huge. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: All right y’all. Another story we’re following for you. Elon Musk and X, a.k.a. Twitter, are in trouble again as former employees have filed thousands of arbitration complaints against the company since December 2022. They’re all part of an effort to get the severance pay that they were promised. To date, more than 2200 cases are backed up in the JAMS arbitration system and the fees X is on the hook for could amount to about $3.5 million dollars. Thing is, though, X hasn’t paid the fees and is doing everything they can to avoid paying the fees. So all of the arbitrations are completely on hold for these former staffers. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, that doesn’t seem good. And to explain this process here, why can’t these former employees, you know, straight up sue in court? Why haven’t they done that? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Well, apparently, X told employees that in order to receive severance pay, they would have to file arbitration claims like they made it this weird condition. And it’s sadly a common practice by a corporation that limits what workers are able to say publicly. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Arbitration is typically handled behind closed doors, but what happens in court can be seen by the public. So they’re just really trying to put everything under a cloak here. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. Okay. So how are employees reacting to their arbitration cases being in limbo here? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: One former X senior staff, network engineer Chris Woodfield, filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and others on July 18th. He alleges that Musk made multiple promises to pay him and others severance and that they were delaying the alternative dispute resolution process on purpose. So now Woodfield and others are trying to get their cases out of arbitration and into trial. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. Okay, so the plot thickens. I, you know, wish them luck with this endeavor, because that would be really something to see. But this isn’t the only lawsuit from a former employee against X. So tell us what else is happening here? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: 100%. They’re coming from all angles. So in a separate case filed by Fabian Ho Ching Ma on July 3rd, there are very similar allegations that X refuses to engage in arbitration, even after successfully moving several class action cases from court into arbitration and after compelling employees to arbitrate their disputes in exchange for severance. What’s worse is that in Ma’s situation, X had previously agreed to arbitration and then they actually had a hearing scheduled for December 2023. But then after 2000 more claims were filed earlier this year, X reversed course. It’s truly dirty work. And these former employees’ lives are being upended by it and in a perfectly timed pivot as this news broke yesterday, X also announced that they will allow political ads again and that they’re hiring safety and election teams ahead of 2024. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, God. Big yikes. I cannot imagine that will go well at all. Just judging by how this has gone for social networks in the past. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But what should we be expecting from this new safety and election team like should our expectations be high at all? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Let’s not hold our breaths on that. But in a blog post announcement, X stated, quote, “We’re currently expanding our safety and elections teams to focus on combatting manipulation, surfacing inauthentic accounts and closely monitoring the platform for emerging threats.” But considering how Musk gutted the Trust and Safety Council and effectively ended all content moderation on the platform, I definitely am not getting my hopes up. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s get to some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: A graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was charged yesterday with first degree murder in the fatal shooting of a professor. The 34 year old student was also charged with possession of a gun on educational property. He has been identified, but we will not be naming him here to avoid giving him any additional notoriety. The fatal attack happened on Monday when the graduate student shot and killed Associate Professor Zijie Yan in a science building on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus. The shooting triggered an hours long lockdown on the campus and spread panic among students who had just returned for fall semester a week prior. The victim, Zijie Yan, was an associate professor in the Applied Physical Sciences Department and had worked at the school since 2019. And according to the New York Times, the shooter was a graduate student in Professor Yan’s research group and coauthored at least two research papers with the late professor. Authorities have not yet determined a motive for the shooting. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Y’all I went to Carolina and this entire story broke my heart. Watching coverage from the local station WRAL was just wild. Having been on that campus for years, like seeing the children jumping from campus windows to try to get to safety. It really breaks my heart. And sadly, sadly, I’m sure Republicans are going to watch that and feel nothing and do nothing. But alas. A forest fire in Greece has killed at least 20 people and burned through 310 square miles since it first started almost two weeks ago. Among those killed, at least 18 were migrants and refugees whose bodies were found in an area often used as a crossing point from Turkey. And according to a European Commission spokesman, the fire is the largest ever recorded in the European Union. The spokesman also said yesterday that 12 firefighting aircraft from the EU fleet were sent to help put out the fire, along with hundreds of firefighters. Authorities are investigating the cause of the blaze. Meanwhile, Greece has been scorched with several fires this summer, which the government and experts attributed to climate change. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: The Biden administration weakened regulations protecting millions of acres of wetlands on Tuesday, this decision was made in order to comply with the Supreme Court decision against the government from earlier this year. It also means that several types of water will no longer be under federal protection. And according to mapping by the Fish and Wildlife Service, up to 63% of all U.S. wetlands could be impacted. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that he was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, but that his department has an obligation to abide by it. In May, the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA, diminishing its ability to regulate and protect wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Up until that decision by the court, the Clean Water Act covered wetlands, as long as they had a significant connection to nearby regulated waters. I’m afraid for what is going to happen to these millions of acres. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. Moving to Tennessee, the state’s House of Representatives adjourned its special legislative session yesterday without passing any major changes to the state’s gun laws. You’ll remember that Governor Bill Lee called this special session over the deadly Nashville school shooting that happened in March. But instead of considering measures that would address gun violence in the state, members of the Republican supermajority spent most of their time at an impasse with Democrats over the issue. One thing that did happen: 

 

[clip of Tennessee protestors] [?] Fascists! Fascists! Facists!

 

Juanita Tolliver: That was the sound of Tennesseans calling House Republicans, quote, “fascist and racist,” after they voted to temporarily censure House Representative Justin Jones, a member of the so-called Tennessee three earlier this week. On Monday, Jones used his time to criticize a proposed bill that would put more cops in schools. And then he listed other policies that would be more effective in protecting children from gun violence. The speaker of the House ruled that Jones was, quote, “out of order,” by going off topic, triggering a censure vote, and 70 Republicans voted to silence Jones for the rest of the day. Members of the gallery erupted in anger when the vote came down and House Democrats walked off the job in protest. You’ll remember that Jones and two of his Democratic colleagues were censured by Republicans back in April when they staged a gun control demonstration on the House floor. Jones and one of the other censured lawmakers, Representative Justin Pearson, were later expelled from the chamber over the issue, drawing heavy backlash nationwide. Jones and Pearson were eventually reinstated, but that history made the events of Monday’s session even more contentious. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Staffers in California’s corrections Department would regularly tip off U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, about people in custody that they thought could be deportable immigrants. That is according to a scathing new report from the ACLU, which said this happens even when the department’s own records indicate that some of those people are U.S. citizens or immigrants who should not be deported. Last year, the ACLU filed a public records request which allowed them and other advocacy groups to review more than 2000 records from August and September of 2022. They found that if the state’s corrections staff perceives someone to be born outside of the U.S., that triggers a potential hold of that person. With that label that person is barred from lower security custody placement, certain jobs and other benefits. The ACLU report says that corrections staff is, quote, “sweeping up U.S. citizens and green card holders, relying on racist assumptions and ignoring their own records.” Oh, my God. That is despicable, disgusting and illegal I think?

 

Juanita Tolliver: No lies detected on what the ACLU said, and hopefully they can prove all of that in court because this is disgusting. And finally, for some good heartwarming news for LGBTQ+ folks. Boston is officially dropping gendered language from their marriage certificates. So no more Mr. and Mrs., bride or groom, or husband and wife. Just spouse and spouse. It may seem like a small change to most, but LGBTQ+ advocates say that the move will have a huge impact on folks across the gender spectrum who are often excluded by gendered language in government documents. Kimberly Rhoten, who is nonbinary, became the first Boston resident to receive a genderless marriage certificate on Tuesday. They married their spouse back in June and they told reporters, quote, “I have eagerly awaited a transformative future when my identity and the identities of my community would be recognized and respected by the institutions that govern us.” When Boston registrar Paul Chong handed Rhoten their certificate, he told them, quote, “Your love makes this world a better place. It makes this city a better place.” Paul sounds like a lovely person. [laugh] Like I love that this is happening. I love that Kimberly and their partner are able to be recognized because that’s literally all this is about. Respect me, respect my identity, and that’s it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. And it’s such a small change too it just shows how important the words that we use are. It’s something that could very easily be replicated, should very easily be replicated all over the country. And I mean, I hope that people see this and follow suit because it’s not a big change to make, but it really does make a big difference to a lot of people. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Words matter, people. And those are the headlines.

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Say I do to equality and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just prescription drugs that sound like Pokemon like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

[spoken together] And hope you’re happy Keke. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Child. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We love you girl. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Here’s the thing. I really wanted a Ciara transition for her. You know, she went from– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: –Future to Russell like– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: This is what I envision for Keke, I’m just putting it out there and now I’m going back to minding my business because that’s the lesson I’ve learned. [laughter]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s fine. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.