Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care.
Juul will stop selling mint flavored pods, the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule was struck down a second time, HHS is suing drugmaker Gilead, and Democratic candidates are sniping over “Medicare for All.”
We’ll start with the news from Juul…
Juul to stop selling mint flavor pods
In an apparent effort to get ahead of potential regulatory action, e-cigarette maker Juul on Thursday said it will stop selling its popular mint flavor. The announcement follows the release of two studies showing mint was one of the most popular flavors among teenagers who vape.
Studies published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed mint was the most popular flavor for high school students who used Juul in 2019.
Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said the decision to pull mint was made in light of those results.
“These results are unacceptable and that is why we must reset the vapor category in the U.S. and earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with regulators, Attorneys General, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use. We will support the upcoming [Food and Drug Administration] FDA flavor policy,” Crosthwaite said.
Juul’s announcement comes as the Trump administration prepares a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products to combat a record spike in vaping rates among teenagers.
To ban or not to ban: The proposed ban is expected to be released any day now, nearly two months after President Trump first announced his intentions. The administration has been under immense pressure from vaping advocates and Trump political allies to water down the policy and exempt mint and menthol.
Democrats and public health groups say mint and menthol are just as bad as the fruity flavors that Juul has previously taken heat for and have been ratcheting up their advocacy efforts with a flurry of letters to the president and other administration officials.
Vaping illnesses top 2,000
The number of illnesses associated with vaping has surpassed 2,000, according to an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of Nov. 5, the CDC had confirmed 2,051 probable lung injury cases associated with vaping since the outbreak started earlier this year. The illnesses have been reported in every state except Alaska, including the District of Columbia.
That’s an increase of 163 cases from last week as the spread of the illness has slowed from its peak. The CDC also confirmed 39 deaths in 24 states and D.C., an increase of two fatalities from last week.
Senate fight derails drug pricing bills
A pair of bipartisan measures to lower drug prices were thrown off track Thursday by objections as senators battle over the issue.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) came to the Senate floor preparing to seek unanimous consent to pass a measure with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) which is aimed at lowering drug prices by cracking down on drug companies gaming the patent system to delay cheaper competition.
But Cornyn eventually ran out of time. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was preparing to object to his measure, sources say, not wanting to pass one relatively incremental drug pricing measure when negotiations are still ongoing over a larger effort on the topic.
That did not sit well with Cornyn, though, who blasted Schumer, and plans to try again next week to ask for unanimous consent to pass the bill.
“He plans to renew the request next week,” a Cornyn spokesman said. “Sen. Schumer will have to decide if he stands with the American people or the special interests fighting this bill.”
The split: Cornyn, who is up for reelection next year, is seeking to get his piece of the drug pricing puzzle through the Senate ahead of other measures still winding their way through the process. Blumenthal is also pushing for passing his bill through unanimous consent without waiting to deal with the rest of the drug pricing picture at the same time, splitting with Schumer.
But Democratic leaders are looking for bigger action than just the Cornyn-Blumenthal bill.
Second federal judge strikes down Trump ‘conscience protection’ rule for health care providers
A federal judge in Washington State on Thursday struck down a Trump administration rule intended to allow health providers to refuse to provide care based on moral or religious reasons.
The latest ruling marks the second time in as many days that a judge has ruled against the administration’s policy, and “provides an extra layer of protection against appeal” by the Trump administration, said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D).
Under the rule, if the federal government believed Washington, its health care institutions, or other recipients of federal health care funds violated the rule, the administration would be allowed to cut off all health care funding to the state — more than $10 billion per year, the state said.
Flashback to yesterday: The news moves fast. But it was just Wednesday that a judge in the Southern District of New York also invalidated the rule.
The Trump administration had touted the rule as an important protection for people’s religious beliefs, specifically citing abortion.
Hillary Clinton: Warren’s ‘Medicare for All’ plan would never get enacted
Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that she does not think Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s (D-Mass.) “Medicare for All” plan could ever get enacted and that she backs a public option instead.
“You just don’t think that that plan would ever get enacted?” interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin asked Clinton at The New York Times DealBook Conference.
“No, I don’t. I don’t, but the goal is the right goal,” the former secretary of State responded.
“I believe the smarter approach is to build on what we have. A public option is something I’ve been in favor of for a very long time,” Clinton said. “I don’t believe we should be in the midst of a big disruption while we are trying to get to 100 percent coverage and deal with costs.”
Meanwhile, Kamala Harris also took a shot at Warren’s plan
Harris says her health care plan is ‘superior’ to Warren’s
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) said Thursday that she thinks her health care plan is “superior” to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) “Medicare for All” plan.
During an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Harris said she doesn’t need to point out any of the inconsistencies in Warren’s Medicare for All funding plan because her own health care plan is better anyway.
“I am so convinced that my plan is superior to that plan that I don’t really feel the need to do that,” Harris said. “I am really convinced, and I know that we have done the work on my plan.”
Harris is just the latest candidate to swipe at Warren’s plan, though she has taken a different tack than others by saying Warren’s plan isn’t even worth her time to point out its flaws.
State of play: Under pressure from rivals including former Vice President Joe Biden, Warren last week released a plan for how to pay for Medicare for All that would not include any direct tax increases on the middle class.
Biden’s campaign has been knocking Warren’s estimates ever since, arguing that it really would result in a middle-class tax increase, and accusing her of lowballing the cost.
Trump administration sues HIV prevention drug maker for patent infringement
The Trump administration sued Gilead Sciences late Wednesday, alleging patent infringement over its crucial drugs to prevent the spread of HIV.
In a rare move, the administration accused the company of reaping profits from Truvada and Descovy when in fact the patents are owned by the government, after scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the breakthrough drugs.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Gilead had refused to obtain licenses for use of the government patents.
Gilead has come under criticism for the price of the drugs — around $20,000 — that are crucial for efforts to prevent the spread of HIV.
“HHS recognizes Gilead’s role in selling Truvada and Descovy to patients for prevention of HIV. Communities have put these drugs to use in saving lives and reducing the spread of HIV,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
What we’re reading
At height of crisis, Walgreens handled nearly one in five of the most addictive opioids (The Washington Post)
In Flint, Mich., lead crisis moves from homes to schools (The New York Times)
CDC: Childhood trauma is a public health issue and we can do more to prevent it (NPR)
State by state
Mississippi forfeits $1M daily in Medicaid funds. How does it affect the mentally ill? (Clarion Ledger)
Petition to place Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Missouri is a quarter of the way there (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York’s 2020 Medicaid budget gap is a major problem (Crain’s New York Business)
From The Hill’s Opinion Page: