Week ahead: Senate Democrats target e-cigarettes

Senators on Thursday will hold the first-ever congressional hearing on electronic cigarettes in light of the move by the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the products for the first time.

The hearing comes on the heels of a letter from eight Democratic senators that urged the FDA to consider potential harm posed by e-cigarettes to bystanders, and ensure regulations are in place to control their marketing and use.

The hearing at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee will be led by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who said he plans to highlight the progress made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the past 50 years in reducing tobacco use.

The FDA is working on regulations for e-cigarettes and other tobacco products that include banning the sale of the products to children. The agency would likely finalize the rule some time after early July, though they are under pressure from health advocates to move faster.

Last month, Harkin and 10 other Democratic senators released a report that charged e-cigarette manufacturers have been targeting young people in their ad campaigns. In April, Democrats on the House side also reached out to drug retailers and asked them to stop selling e-cigarettes after drugstore giant CVS Caremark announced it would no longer sell any tobacco products after October.

In other Senate happenings, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday to discuss the state of the Veterans Affairs health system.

The hearing will be a real test for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is facing calls to resign over a backlog of healthcare cases at VA facilities. Dozens of veterans reportedly died in Phoenix while awaiting treatments.

Today, the Alliance for Health Reform plans to hold a briefing in Congress to talk about Medicaid expansion. The meeting will include a discussion about Arkansas, Michigan and Iowa’s federal Medicaid waivers and Joe Thompson, Arkansas surgeon general, will talk about the state’s private option program.

Tuesday, the Brookings Institution will hold a discussion on healthcare research used by analysts and journalists to report on trends. Panelists will explore the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recent release of medical claims data and how that information could be interpreted.

Just a few blocks away from Brookings, the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday will hold a discussion on women’s health and abortion. The event will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the conviction of Kermit Gosnell, a physician who was found guilty of first-degree murder of three infants during botched late-term abortions.

In other healthcare happenings, Global Health Care on Wednesday will begin its three-day summit to discuss the ObamaCare health insurance exchanges.

On Thursday the West Health Institute will hold a discussion at the Newseum to talk about using transparency to improve healthcare savings.

Finally, the Kaiser Family Foundation on Friday will hold a morning discussion to talk about the Affordable Care Act and its impact on women’s health. Organizers said Kaiser will use the event to release will a new comprehensive report on the issue.