All Articles Healthcare Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: Google might have your health data, the ACA (again) and tax relief

Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: Google might have your health data, the ACA (again) and tax relief

A suprising Google partnership, the ACA's murky future and a few long-sought gifts for health care stakeholders captured attention in Q4.

5 min read


Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: Google might have your health data, the ACA (again) and tax relief


The reading habits of SmartBrief’s health care and life sciences audiences provide a unique window into the priorities and interests of professionals across these industries, and our newsletter engagement data also sheds light on what’s keeping our readers up at night. We serve health care insurers, providers and IT professionals, as well as audiences in pharma and medtech. Here’s what was top of mind for all of them in Q4, as well as a look at what’s next.

Google gets a little too close for comfort

A Google-Ascension partnership announced in July got a lot more interesting (or problematic, depending on your perspective) after the Wall Street Journal (paywalled; find additional coverage here) reported that the agreement would give the tech giant access to personal health data from millions of Americans. Google reassured the public that the information would not be integrated with its troves of consumer data, but revelations that at least 150 Google employees had access to the data without consent from patients or doctors did not seem to reassure many.

What’s next: HHS has launched an inquiry into the program, and Google continues to field questions and criticism about the project. However, it’s probably one of many stories around data access, quality and use that will remain important this year. As AI gains prominence, data quality will continue to be a concern (exhibit A: the discovery of racial bias in a widely used health care algorithm). As interoperability liberates data, privacy measures and other protections will become more important topics of conversation. And as clinical tools built on data are developed, clinicians must navigate interesting questions about how care should be adapted.

Judge throws ACA’s entire existence back into question

Critics have chipped away at the Affordable Care Act since it was first passed more than a decade ago, but the law has largely survived challenge after challenge. Even after elimination of the tax penalty for nonenrollment, signups for the 2020 plan year through the federal exchange came in just below 2019 levels. But now the entire existence of the law is again in doubt. In December, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for individuals to enroll in health insurance is unconstitutional, sending the case back to the lower court to reconsider how much of the law should be dismantled.

What’s next: Supporters of the law have escalated the case and asked the Supreme Court to expedite review of the case, which would allow a ruling before the 2020 elections. Critics of the law say there is no need to expedite a ruling since the law remains intact for now. There’s a lot riding on the timing of any review by the Supreme Court – potentially including control of the White House, Senate and House.

This won’t be the first time the Supreme Court has seen a case related to the ACA, but its composition is substantially different than it looked when the court first heard arguments around the constitutionality of the law. Meanwhile, advocacy around the case is already well under way and sure to continue.

Health care in the shutdown-averting spending package

Amid the big relief that the government would not shut down, after Congress passed and the president signed a year-end spending package, was a series of footnotes that were big news to some in the health care industry. As part of the legislation, an excise tax on generous health plans (often called the “Cadillac tax”) was eliminated, along with a tax on health insurance premiums. The package also pushed the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21 and delivered a year-end gift to the medical device industry by eliminating the medical device tax.

What’s next: Although stakeholders in the medical device, public health and health insurance sectors achieved important aims in 2019, it is a new year, and there is a new crop of issues demanding attention. AdvaMed, which advocated heavily for the device tax repeal, is turning attention to data privacy issues and their implications for research. Health insurance industry trade group AHIP is working toward expanded use of electronic prior authorization, and stakeholders in insurance as well as hospital and other health care provider groups are sure to advocate heavily around the ACA, as the law continues to get make its way through the legal system.

More top news

Check out a snapshot of more top health care and life sciences stories from Q4 below.


Melissa Turner is director of health care and life sciences content at SmartBrief. She edits science, medical and health care delivery newsletters and oversees development of content marketing pieces for SmartBrief’s health care clients.


This feature reflects the most read items across SmartBrief’s health care and life sciences publications. Check out all of SmartBrief’s health care newsletters, covering health IT, news for insurers, news for providers and more to get news like this delivered straight to your inbox. Also, be sure to check out opportunities to reach SmartBrief’s readers with your own content and solutions.