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When Politics and Plush Toys Don’t Mix: The Story of Billy Possum

Hot Topics | February 19th, 2021

The year was 1908, and Theodore Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor William Howard Taft was elected president. Roosevelt’s popularity meant toy manufacturers had profited handsomely off the teddy bear. However, the industry started to look for the next big toy craze, worried the teddy bear’s popularity would wane with its eponymous president leaving office.

Fast forward to January 1909, when a banquet in Atlanta was thrown in Taft’s honor. By request the president-elect was served “possum and taters,” which is exactly what it sounds like: an 18-pound whole-cooked opossum served on a bed of sweet potatoes.

Local supporters then presented Taft with a stuffed possum, beginning a frenzied campaign to make “Billy Possum” the latest and greatest toy. The Los Angeles Times proclaimed, “the teddy bear has been relegated to a seat in the rear, and for four years, possibly eight, the children of the United States will play with Billy Possum.” A postcard advertising the new toy declared: “No more Teddy Bear/We will fondle with glee/Billy Possum is future/Our mascot shall be.”

You may be asking yourself, given such fanfare, what happened to Billy Possum? Unsurprisingly, poor Billy was not well received by children, and the marsupial’s boosters had given up on the toy before Christmas 1909.

Drug pricing reforms arrive at statehouses

  • Several state legislatures are advancing legislation to lower drug prices. While details vary from state to state, many are looking to “import Canadian drug prices” following stalled efforts to import pharmaceuticals themselves from North of the border. By tip-toeing around potential barriers such as including Medicaid programs in the policies, states are aiming to craft bills that will withstand industry lawsuits. The fact that these proposals are advancing in states from across the political spectrum – left, center and right – illustrates the broad bipartisan support for drug pricing reform. (STAT)

Woodcook defends industry interactions

  • Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock rejected calls for the FDA to erect a “firewall” between employees involved in pre-submission industry interactions and post-submission decision-making. Woodcock argued the proposed firewall, “would cause significant negative repercussions for public health.” The FDA drew the ire of an advocacy group for the way it handled the review of Biogen’s aducanumab, an Alzheimer’s drug. The agency released favorable briefing documents it co-authored with Biogen, which prompted criticism from Advisory Committee members that the FDA gave a biased presentation. (STAT)

Your Medicaid minute

  • An analysis of House Democrats’ plan to temporarily expand healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act isn’t too rosy. The report found the proposal would cover fewer than 2 million uninsured Americans at a cost of $50 billion. (Axios) Meanwhile, the White House moved to withdraw Medicaid work requirements approved under the Trump administration. (POLITICOThe Hill)

Introducing Medicare-X

  • Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have drafted a bill that, if signed into law, would accomplish President Biden’s goal to create a government-run public option health plan. Under the proposed legislation, the plan would first roll out in markets with high premiums due to a lack of competition and be available nationwide by 2025. (The HillThe Washington Post)

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