Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
Another change brought on by the pandemic era: NBC says its Olympics announcing teams will be operating remotely rather than going to China due to COVID-19 concerns.
Texas abortion providers faced another setback at the Supreme Court today as the battle continues over the state’s six-week abortion law.
Let’s get started.
High court rebuffs abortion providers again
The Supreme Court on Thursday rebuffed abortion providers’ latest legal maneuver in their challenge to Texas’ six-week ban, which has sharply reduced abortion access in the state since taking effect nearly five months ago.
The order, issued without comment, was unsigned but appeared to divide the court along ideological lines, with the court’s three liberal justices writing in dissent.
At issue is a procedural fight over which tier of the lower federal courts the case should return to after a divided Supreme Court ruled last month that abortion providers could contest the ban in federal court and list Texas state licensing officials as defendants.
Abortion providers had asked the Supreme Court to send the case back to a federal district court, where the judge presiding over their challenge had previously blocked the Texas law. But the justices instead returned the case to the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which has allowed the ban to remain while the case proceeds.
The 5th Circuit has since added a new layer of litigation. In a 2-1 vote, the federal appeals court panel asked the top Texas state court to interpret the law, S.B. 8, and determine whether state licensing officials are appropriate defendants.
This legal mechanism, known as state certification, has at a minimum prolonged the litigation and, depending on how the Texas Supreme Court rules, could wind up erasing abortion providers’ narrow path to federal court.
Strong dissent from the liberals: Justice Sonia Sotomayor blasted the majority in a dissent that was joined by fellow liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
“Instead of stopping a Fifth Circuit panel from indulging Texas’ newest delay tactics, the court allows the state yet again to extend the deprivation of the federal constitutional rights of its citizens through procedural manipulation,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Court may look the other way, but I cannot.”
Manchin: Talks would start ‘from scratch’
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that talks over President Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending package would be “starting from scratch,” throwing cold water on hopes of a quick revival.
“We’re going to start with a clean sheet of paper and start over,” Manchin told reporters, adding he doesn’t have talks scheduled with the White House.
Pressed if his previous $1.8 trillion offer to the White House was still on the table, Manchin indicated it wasn’t, saying Democrats will “just be starting from scratch.”
Manchin initially told reporters on Wednesday that he hadn’t yet heard from the White House on trying to break up the package and said Thursday that he didn’t have anything scheduled with the White House.
“If anybody wants to talk, I’ll always talk,” Manchin said, but when asked what the next step is, he added, “I can’t tell you.”
Biden opened the door to shrinking the plan, which was at the heart of his legislative agenda, telling reporters this week that “we’re going to have to probably break it up.”
What does it mean for health care? A slew of health care provisions in the package, from enhanced ObamaCare subsidies to Medicaid expansion in holdout states to lowering drug prices, are up in the air, dependent on the broader negotiations over Build Back Better.
The good news for Democratic health care advocates is that Manchin has pointed to lower drug prices in particular as an area where he wants action.
MERCK’S PILL TO BE PRODUCED BY OVER TWO DOZEN DRUGMAKERS
Medicines Patent Pool, an organization supported by the U.N., announced Thursday that over two dozen generic drugmakers will soon begin producing Merck’s COVID-19 pill to make the treatment more accessible in developing countries.
The organization said that 27 generic drugmakers would produce the pill for 105 developing countries. Specifically, agreements the companies signed allow them to make both molnupiravir’s raw ingredients as well as the final product.
Molnupiravir is the COVID-19 treatment developed by Merck and Ridgeback Therapeutics. For patients with early signs of COVID-19, the pill is believed to cut the hospitalization rates in half.
The drugmakers producing the generic pills come from 11 countries including Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Vietnam, Kenya and South Africa, the organization said.
“This is a critical step toward ensuring global access to an urgently needed COVID-19 treatment,” Medicines Patent Pool’s executive director Charles Gore said in a statement.
Child COVID-19 infections spike
Nearly 1 million children were infected with COVID-19 in the last week according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, four times the rate of the peak of last winters’ surge.
For the week ending Jan. 13, over 981,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported, a 69 percent increase over the 580,000 cases reported the week ending Jan. 6, and a tripling of case counts from the two weeks prior.
Nearly 9.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and 10 percent of all cases have been added just in the past week.
Children under 5 are particularly vulnerable right now because they are the only age group that is not currently eligible for vaccination.
Hospitalizations were up sharply the week of Jan. 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but dropped the week ending Jan. 15.
The AAP said it relies on state reporting for hospitalizations, and only 24 states and New York City break down hospitalizations by age.
But among states reporting, the numbers were lower than those of adults. Children ranged from 1.7 percent to 4.4 percent of total hospitalizations, and 0.1 percent to 1.5 percent of all child COVID-19 cases across those reporting states resulted in hospitalization.
MICHIGAN NURSING HOMES MUST OFFER BOOSTERS ON-SITE
Michigan’s state health department is requiring nursing homes to provide on-site COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots to residents.
The order, issued on Thursday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), says nursing homes must begin offering the shots within 30 days.
It does not require nursing home residents to be vaccinated but orders nursing homes to document whether each resident offered a vaccine accepted or refused their dose.
Should a resident be unable to make their own medical decisions, nursing home staff must contact the person legally responsible for their care and make them aware of the option to receive the shot on-site, MDHHS said.
About three-quarters of eligible nursing home residents have gotten a booster dose. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) in December set a goal of getting 95 percent of eligible nursing home residents a booster by the end of January.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Aiming to make CDC nimble, agency director has rankled many (Associated Press)
- Most insurers cover costs of at-home COVID tests. That’s not the case with Medicare (Kansas City Star)
- Biden administration’s rapid-test rollout doesn’t easily reach those who need it most (Kaiser Health News)
STATE BY STATE
- Rep. Thomas Massie tests positive for COVID-19, says he’s unvaccinated (Cincinnati Enquirer)
- Colorado hits peak Omicron as COVID cases begin decline (Axios)
- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, opponent of vaccine and mask mandates, tests positive for coronavirus (Washington Post)
OP-EDS IN THE HILL
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.