Overnight Healthcare

Health Care — Biden signs bill expanding veterans’ health benefits

President Biden
Greg Nash
President Biden leave a ceremony to sign the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promises to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, August 10, 2022.

The kids are going to be alright. A Little League batter who was hit in the head with a pitch walked to the mound to comfort the opposing pitcher, who was clearly struggling after the scary moment.  

President Biden on Wednesday signed legislation expanding health care eligibility for veterans exposed to toxins, with the bill having a significance that hits close to home for the president. 

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. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Biden signs veterans toxic exposure bill into law

President Biden on Wednesday signed into law a bill to expand benefits for millions of veterans who were exposed to toxins during service and are suffering illnesses as a result. 

The Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act also expands presumptions of service connections for a variety of conditions related to toxic exposure — meaning veterans don’t have to prove their illness was service-connected. 

  • “This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during the military services,” Biden said in remarks from the East Room. 
  • “You know, Secretary McDonough can tell you I was going to get this done come hell or high water,” the president continued, referring to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough. 

Biden’s signature comes after a monthslong legislative journey that culminated in the bill earning bipartisan support. 

A personal connection: Biden has previously said he believes his late son Beau Biden’s brain cancer was linked to exposure to the toxic burn pits. 

The PACT Act expands Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care eligibility to veterans who served in the post-9/11 era and create a framework for establishing presumptions of service connections related to toxic exposures. 

The upper chamber initially passed the bill in June by a vote of 84-14, and the House later passed the bill by a vote of 342-88 in July, sending it back to the Senate due to technical changes. 

But in late July, the upper chamber came five votes short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill, with 25 Republicans who voted to pass the bill earlier changing their vote. The Senate later passed the measure 86-11 on Aug. 2, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans who cited concerns about the cost of the bill. 

Read more here.

Walgreens found responsible in opioid trial

Walgreens helped fuel the opioid epidemic in San Francisco by dispensing hundreds of thousands of prescriptions without performing adequate due diligence, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. 

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer found that over the course of a 15-year period, Walgreens pharmacists did not stop or flag suspicious orders, including tens of thousands from doctors with suspect prescribing patterns. 

“It is more likely than not that Walgreens pharmacies dispensed large volumes of medically illegitimate opioid prescriptions that were diverted for illicit use and that substantially contributed to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco,” causing a public nuisance, Breyer wrote. 

The city sued dozens of defendants related to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco, including pharmacies, drug companies and distributors. Walgreens was the only one that did not settle by the time the trial closed in July.  

Walgreens response: “The facts and the law do not support the court’s decision. As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis. We stand behind the professionalism and integrity of our pharmacists, dedicated healthcare professionals who live in the communities they serve.” 

Read more here.

FEWER AMERICANS SAY COVID-19 SITUATION IS IMPROVING: GALLUP

Fewer Americans believe that the COVID-19 situation in the country is improving, according to a new Gallup poll.  

The poll, published on Wednesday, found that 41 percent of respondents said that the COVID-19 situation is getting better in the U.S., down 22 points from a similar poll published in April and May. 

Thirty percent of respondents said that the nation’s COVID-19 situation is getting worse, while 29 percent of those surveyed said it is staying the same, according to the poll.  

Partisan divide: The shift was particularly notable among Democratic respondents. 

In Gallup’s polling in April and May, 56 percent of Democrats said they thought the situation was improving, compared to just 29 percent in the new poll. While just about one-quarter thought the situation was getting worse in the spring poll, now 44 percent think it is getting worse. 

Fifty-eight percent of Republican respondents believe that the country’s COVID-19 situation has gotten better, while 41 percent of independent respondents believe the same sentiment, the poll said. 

Read more here.

MONTANA SUPREME COURT BLOCKS ABORTION RESTRICTIONS

Montana’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that temporarily blocks further restrictions on abortion.  

Planned Parenthood in a statement Tuesday announced that the Montana Supreme Court blocked three separate laws that were enacted during the state’s legislative session last year from taking effect. 

One of the laws would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, while another would have created numerous barriers to medication abortion, and a third would have implemented a mandatory ultrasound offer and documentation requirement for those seeking an abortion.  

A district court in September blocked those three laws from taking effect. Planned Parenthood’s Montana chapter filed the initial lawsuit challenging them.  

“We are pleased that the Montana Supreme Court ruled today to uphold the preliminary injunction put in place by the District Court in the fall. This means that three anti-abortion laws remain unenforceable, including a 20-week ban,” Planned Parenthood of Montana’s chapter president and CEO, Martha Stahl, said in a statement. 

Read more here.

Warren launches investigation into state abortion bans

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has launched an investigation into how state abortion bans have affected women’s access to health care for pregnancies, reproductive and non-reproductive care. 

In her announcement, Warren said her investigation was spurred by reports of “shocking stories from women in states that have enacted radical abortion bans and criminalized health care.” 

Warren, who sits on the Senate Subcommittee on Health Care, said she has contacted medical organizations to gather more information including the American Medical Association, Physicians for Reproductive Health, National Nurses United, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Hospital Association. 

  • “These initial reports are a harbinger of the threats faced by millions of women under state-imposed abortion bans and by their providers who took an oath to ‘do no harm.’ And as more states restrict abortion access, they will only multiply,” said the Massachusetts senator. 

She highlighted specific cases from states like Wisconsin and Texas, where women were denied reproductive or related health care due to health care providers fearing legal repercussions from the state government. 

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • As monkeypox spreads, university campuses prepare for another outbreak (Stat News
  • WHO: COVID-19 deaths fall overall by 9%, infections stable (Associated Press
  • New Langya virus that may have spilled over from animals infects dozens (Washington Post)

STATE BY STATE

  • Nebraska woman charged with helping daughter have abortion (Associated Press
  • NY physician groups merge, feds wary of potential cost increases for patients (The Journal News
  • Louisiana health officials told to remove LGBTQ Pride content from web (Louisiana Illuminator

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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