Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care.
The Trump administration unveiled its long-delayed Medicaid block grant guidance, new numbers showed that life expectancy went up in 2018, while drug overdoses fell, and there’s new polling on “Medicare for All.” In the latest on coronavirus, the U.S. reported the first transmission of the virus
We’ll start with a controversial move from the administration…
Trump administration to allow Medicaid block grants
The Trump administration is moving forward with allowing states to implement one of the most controversial changes to the Medicaid program without congressional approval.
Under the policy unveiled Thursday, states will have the ability to scale back Medicaid spending by converting part of their Medicaid funding into a block grant.
Block grants have been a long sought-after conservative policy. But the move is likely to kick off a furious legal fight. Democrats have been arguing the administration doesn’t have the authority to approve such drastic changes, and Medicaid advocates argue the changes would hurt low-income people and invite states to cut costs and reduce coverage.
Why a block grant? Flexibility. The new block grant program lets states end Medicaid’s open-ended entitlement in exchange for more flexibility in how they run their program. They’ll get a fixed amount of money to spend however they see fit, without some federal guidelines.
What happens next: Most likely, if a state gets permission to do this, there will be a lawsuit.
Democrats push back: “Even after people across the country spoke out and pressed Congress to reject President Trump‘s plan to gut Medicaid with his Trumpcare bill, he’s still charging forward with harmful policies that will hurt the many families who rely on Medicaid,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee.
“This is the wrong direction. There is bipartisan support in Congress to expand and strengthen Medicaid including making it easier to receive long-term care. We will fight the Administration’s attempt to weaken Medicaid and protect the healthcare and support of those who depend on it,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
WHO declares public health emergency over coronavirus
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared a public health emergency of international concern over the outbreak of coronavirus.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” he added.
The cases have been centered in China, and the WHO said it has confidence in China’s response to the virus.
Despite the declaration, the WHO warned against too many restrictions on travel.
“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” Tedros said. “We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based & consistent.”
CDC reports first coronavirus case that spread in U.S.
Meanwhile in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday confirmed the first case of the novel coronavirus spreading from one person to another.
All of the U.S. cases recorded so far had been from travelers returning to the U.S. from China, where the virus originated. But the CDC said a patient in Chicago contracted the coronavirus from his spouse, who had recently traveled to China.
“We understand this may be concerning, but based on what we know now our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.
The patient who traveled to China is a woman in her 60s who is doing well but is hospitalized to keep the virus from spreading, Illinois health officials said. Her husband is about the same age, health officials said, and is in stable condition at a hospital.
Why it matters: The CDC had expected that the virus would begin spreading from person-to-person, but it’s still not known how widespread it will be.
“It’s important to note this spread was among two people in close contact for an extended period of time,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
House panel to hold hearing on response to coronavirus
A House panel announced Thursday that it will hold a hearing next week on how the federal government is handling the global coronavirus outbreak.
Next Wednesday’s hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation will be the first congressional hearing on the coronavirus, which has killed at least 170 people.
The hearing is currently slated to feature testimony from a group of experts on China and public health. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said that he had also invited witnesses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department to testify, but it’s unclear if they will attend.
“While the threat of the coronavirus is relatively low in the United States at this time, we must be vigilant and prepared,” Bera said in a statement. “Congress needs to ensure the administration has the tools it needs to respond to and limit the outbreak.”
Context: This will be the first Congressional hearing on the coronavirus, but lawmakers in the House and Senate have already been briefed on the outbreak.
Poll: Narrow majority favors ‘Medicare for All’
A narrow majority of Americans favors a national “Medicare for All” health plan, according to a new poll, but even more like a public option.
The poll, released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 56 percent of respondents said they want Medicare for All, while 68 percent said they favored a public option that competes alongside private insurance.
Among Democrats and independents, there were strong preferences for both types of health coverage plans.
The poll found that 77 percent of Democratic respondents, and 66 percent of independents, said they support Medicare for All. In addition, an overwhelming 85 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independents said they support a public option.
Breaking through? The Democratic candidates spent all summer repeatedly sparring about ending private insurance, and the arguments never really changed. But they may have gotten through to voters. The poll found the public was more aware of the potential impacts of Medicare for All than they were last summer. For example, more people said they understand that a public option would keep employer-sponsored insurance, while Medicare for All would not.
US life expectancy sees small increase, driven by drop in cancer, drug deaths
Life expectancy in the U.S. saw a slight uptick for the first time since 2014 as deaths from drug overdoses and cancer dropped, according to new government reports issued Thursday.
Americans born in 2018 are expected to live 78.7 years, an increase of one month from the previous year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The increase was mainly driven by fewer deaths from six leading causes of death, including cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s and lower respiratory diseases. Cancer saw the biggest drop, from 152.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 to 149.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018.
However, declines in drug and cancer fatalities were offset by increases in deaths from suicide, flu and pneumonia.
Overall, Americans’ life expectancy is still lower than other peer nations, including Germany, Canada and France, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
What we’re reading
As coronavirus spreads, so does concern over xenophobia (NBC)
New FDA chief vows tougher action on youth vaping if needed (The Washington Post)
Can face masks fend off coronavirus? For LA’s Chinese communities, it’s a cultural disconnect. (Kaiser Health News)
State by state
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt looks to implement Trump-supported Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma (oklahoman.com)
Ohio lawmaker calls for investigation into state health care assistance cuts (ABC News 5 Cleveland)
From The Hill’s opinion page