Overnight Health Care — Biden asks court to reinstate vaccine policy

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

With Thanksgiving this week, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a safety message: stand by your pan.

Today we'll look at the Biden administration's push for a federal court to reinstate the workplace vaccine-or-test mandate. 

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For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com), Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com) and Justine Coleman (jcoleman@thehill.com). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

Let’s get started.

 

Mandate saga: Biden seeks to revive order

The Biden administration on Tuesday asked a federal court to reinstate a workplace vaccine mandate that was put on hold earlier in November, as officials seek to boost vaccination numbers heading into the winter months.

In court papers filed overnight, the administration urged a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court to lift a court order blocking the public health rule, which requires larger businesses to have employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo regular testing and mask-wearing.

“Delaying this standard would endanger many thousands of people and would likely cost many lives per day,” government lawyers argued. “With the reopening of workplaces and the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the threat to workers is ongoing and overwhelming.”

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The move comes amid an uptick of COVID-19 cases nationwide as the U.S. heads into its second holiday season during the pandemic, with many families that may have skipped gatherings last year now planning to gather this Thanksgiving.

The Tuesday filing is the most significant legal move the administration has made since the vaccine mandate case was moved earlier this month to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, where numerous legal challenges have been combined into a single lawsuit.

Read more here.

Chains responsible for Ohio opioid crisis: jury 

 

A federal jury in Cleveland on Tuesday found three of the nation's largest pharmacy chains, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart, helped fuel the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.

This decision was the first ever ruling against the retail pharmacy industry and could set the tone for countless other lawsuits across the country that seek to hold pharmacies responsible for the flood of highly addictive opioid pills into communities. The crisis has killed more than half a million Americans to date.

Jurors concluded that the actions by the pharmacy chains helped create a "public nuisance," a strategy that is being used by plaintiffs in thousands of other lawsuits nationwide. 

It's now up to District Judge Dan Polster to decide how much the companies should pay Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties. The plaintiffs are seeking upwards of $1 billion for each county.

Appeals coming: The verdict hinged on the use of the state's public nuisance law, which the pharmacies claimed was incorrectly applied. They may have an edge on appeal: The public nuisance argument has already been rejected twice this month in separate trials against opioid manufacturers.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a verdict against Johnson & Johnson, and a judge in California similarly ruled Allergan, Endo, Johnson & Johnson and Teva could not be held liable, because the companies had no control over how patients used their products once they reached the market.

Read more here.

MASK MANDATES RETURN IN 3 COUNTIES

Three Colorado counties near Denver are implementing mask mandates due to the rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, The Associated Press reported.

The health boards of Adams and Arapahoe county voted Monday to bring back mask mandates for indoor public spaces.

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The mandate, which will take effect Wednesday, will remain in place until at least 10 percent of ICU beds in both counties are available for use, according to the AP. 

As of Monday, 5.8 percent of ICU beds are available, according to the AP, citing the counties’ public health order.

Jefferson County's mandate, which was approved by the board Monday, will take effect Wednesday as well. 

Read more here.

 

MICHIGAN HOSPITAL CHIEFS PLEAD WITH PUBLIC

Chief medical officers who oversee community hospitals in Michigan urged the public to do its part to stop the surge of coronavirus infections amid near-record hospitalizations and staff shortages in the state. 

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In a statement posted to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association’s website Monday, chief medical representatives stated that medical facilities have been inundated with COVID-19 patients. 

As of Nov. 21, the release stated, Michigan has seen 3,785 people hospitalized for COVID-19, including 784 in community hospitals’ intensive care units. The majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, the medical officers said. 

“In addition to these high numbers of COVID-19 patients requiring emergency care and hospitalization, we are seeing high numbers of patients with other medical conditions requiring care,” the statement said. 

Between the COVID-19 infections and other, non-coronavirus related ailments, officials warn, hospitals are at capacity. 

“We cannot wait any longer for Michigan to correct course; we need your help now to end this surge and ensure our hospitals can care for everyone who needs it.” 

Read more here

 

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Panel widens probe into pandemic aid fraud 

 

A congressional subcommittee investigating financial fraud during the pandemic widened the scope of its investigation on Tuesday to include two of the leading processors of COVID-19-related financial assistance.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, expanded the committee's investigation into fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to include Blue Acorn PPP, LLC and Womply, Inc., two online startups that processed a third of all PPP loans this year.

"I am deeply troubled by reports alleging that financial technology (FinTech) lenders and their bank partners failed to adequately screen PPP loan applications for fraud," Clyburn said in a letter to each company. "This failure may have led to millions of dollars worth of FinTech-facilitated PPP loans being made to fraudulent, non-existent, or otherwise ineligible businesses."

Backstory: The Small Business Administration allowed non-bank and non-insured depository institution lenders, including FinTechs, to provide loans to eligible recipients. But, some FinTechs and their bank and non-bank partners may have insufficiently screened applicants for indicators of financial crime and fraud. At the same time, those same companies, including Blue Acorn and Womply, were each paid over a billion dollars in taxpayer funds to process these potentially fraudulent loans. 

Clyburn's expansion of the probe followed information from the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business that indicated possible widespread fraud from the companies.

Researchers at the school found fintechs are almost five times more likely than traditional banks to have made "highly suspicious" loans through the PPP. 

Read more here.


WHAT WE'RE READING

  • Obamacare Open Enrollment Is Here; 1.6 Million Have Already Signed Up (Forbes
  • Covid antivirals could be pandemic game-changers. But Americans might struggle to access them (Stat
  • As Virus Cases Rise in Europe, an Economic Toll Returns (New York Times)

 

STATE BY STATE

  • Free at-home COVID-19 tests available soon to New Hampshire residents (WMUR)
  • COVID-19 cases have jumped 59 percent in New England in the past 2 weeks (Boston Globe)  
  • Hospitals on high alert as more COVID-19 patients show up in Michigan (WXYZ)

 

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

Mental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Wednesday.