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Health Care — Judge halts new Kentucky abortion restrictions

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Host of “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert, has cancelled his nightly program for the remainder of the month after testing positive for COVID-19

Today, we’re looking at a federal judge blocking Kentucky’s restrictive abortion law, as abortion battles heat up across the country.  

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter SullivanNathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Subscribe here.

Kentucky abortion law temporarily blocked

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a restrictive new abortion law in Kentucky, handing a win to abortion providers challenging the measure. 

In a 21-page ruling, Louisville-based U.S. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings, a Trump appointee, sided with Planned Parenthood’s request to block Kentucky officials from enforcing the sweeping new law, which providers say essentially eliminates all abortion services in the state. 

It took effect after the state’s GOP-held legislature overrode a veto from the Democratic governor. 

The judge scheduled her temporary order to expire in two weeks, absent new developments in the litigation, and said she expects to hold a hearing during that timeframe. 

The Kentucky law, known as H.B. 3, created dozens of new requirements for abortion providers, including regulations on medical abortion, additional patient reporting requirements and provisions dealing with the cremation or internment of fetal remains. 

Planned Parenthood, in a legal challenge filed last week, argued that the law amounted to “a de facto ban on all forms of legal abortion” by imposing strict requirements that make it too challenging to perform the procedure. 

Read more here.  

White House unveils national drug control strategy

The Biden administration on Thursday sent its National Drug Control Strategy to Congress, amid a record level of drug overdoses across the country.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate there were over 106,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States in the 12 months ending in November 2021, a figure that has been steadily rising in recent years, particularly during the pandemic.   

Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said on a call with reporters that many of the deaths are due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, but also pointed to meth and cocaine. 

“This is the most dynamic drug environment we have ever seen in this nation,” he said.   

“For far too many years, the overdose crisis has been unraveling the very social fabric of our nation and destroying American lives and livelihoods,” Gupta added.   

The White House plan is centered on increasing treatment for addiction while also fighting trafficking for drugs. It calls for greater access to naloxone, a drug to fight overdoses that first responders can carry.   

It also includes measures aimed at boosting treatment for people at highest risk for overdoses, “which includes people experiencing homelessness [and] those who are incarcerated or re-entering society,” the White House said.  

Read more here.  

CDC ISSUES HEALTH ADVISORY ON CHILDREN WITH HEPATITIS 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a health alert regarding a cluster of children in Alabama found to have hepatitis and adenovirus infections, with the cause of their conditions currently unknown. 

According to the CDC’s health advisory, all of the children found to have hepatitis were healthy beforehand and none of them had previously had COVID-19. 

While no patients have died so far, two have required liver transplants. An investigation into a possible link between hepatitis and adenovirus is underway, as three of the children tested positive for the pathogen. 

In total, nine patients were admitted between October and February. 

“CDC is working with state health departments to see if there are additional U.S. cases, and what may be causing these cases. At this time adenovirus may be the cause for these, but investigators are still learning more — including ruling out the more common causes of hepatitis,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in a statement to Stat last week. 

Read more here

DHS EXTENDS VAX RULES AT MEXICO, CANADA BORDERS

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced it will extend COVID-19 vaccine requirements for migrants entering the U.S. at the Mexican and Canadian borders.  

In a statement on Thursday, DHS said the latest requirements were extended with consultation from several federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

Migrants who travel to the U.S. borders are still required to verbally attest to their current COVID-19 vaccination status, present proof of their vaccination status and valid Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative-compliant documents and be prepared to present other required documents to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer during a border inspection.  

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to protecting public health while facilitating lawful trade and travel, which is essential to our economic security,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.  

“That is why, after consulting with CDC and other federal agencies, DHS will continue to require non-U.S. individuals entering the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination upon request,” added Mayorkas. 

Read more here

Health officials didn’t report political interference: audit

Employees from four agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said they did not report possible political interference in their work due to fear of retaliation and a lack of framework to report it, according to a study released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). 

For its study, the GAO’s utilized “semistructured interviews and a confidential hotline” for the employees of four HHS agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). 

Employees from these agencies said they observed incidents that they “perceived to be political interference,” but did not report them due to multiple reasons including fear of retaliation, uncertainty about how to report such incidents and belief that leadership was already aware. 

The GAO noted that there have been numerous allegations of political interference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency pointed to one instance in which a senior ASPR official claimed that the HHS retaliated against him after he disclosed concerns about making chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine available to the public as coronavirus treatments. 

Read more here

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Childhood vaccination rates fell in kindergartners last school year, CDC data shows (CNN
  • Anti-Vaccine Ideology Gains Ground as Lawmakers Seek to Erode Rules for Kids’ Shots (Kaiser Health News
  • Almost half of Americans breathing more unhealthy air than ever before: Report (ABC News

STATE BY STATE

  • Texas hospitals prepare to pick up the tab for uninsured COVID-19 patients as federal funds dry up (Texas Tribune)  
  • COVID levels in waste water in Eastern Mass. climb — but at a slower pace (Boston Globe
  • WA looks forward with less emphasis on COVID case counting (Seattle Times)  

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.

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