Overnight Health Care: Trump VA pick withdraws | Third judge rules against cuts to teen pregnancy program | FDA chief pushes AI in health care

Overnight Health Care:  Trump VA pick withdraws | Third judge rules against cuts to teen pregnancy program | FDA chief pushes AI in health care
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Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care, where a third federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration's cuts to a federal teen pregnancy prevention program. Also today, Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is encouraging the use of artificial intelligence in health care. But first...


This morning, Trump's VA pick threw in the towel

Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson pulled himself from consideration to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs amid mounting accusations of misconduct.


In a statement, Jackson called the allegations "false and fabricated," but said they were becoming a distraction to the bigger issue of veterans healthcare.

Among some of the allegations, released by Senate Democrats Wednesday:

  • Jackson allegedly supplied a "large supply" of opioid painkillers to a White House military staffer. 
  • He allegedly wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going-away party.
  • He allegedly created a "hostile work environment" within the White House Medical Unit and engaged in "excessive drinking on the job [and] improperly dispensing meds."


What's next: Robert Wilkie, an under secretary at the Department of Defense, will serve as the interim VA chief. Jackson will continue working in the White House's Medical Unit, though it's not clear if he will still serve as the president's lead physician. President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE will eventually name a new nominee, and he hinted Thursday that it could be a politician.

Read more here.


A third federal judge rules against Trump cuts to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Judge Catherine Blake in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the administration's decision to end grants two years early for an organization participating in the program was "arbitrary" and "capricious" and that the Department of Health and Human Services would have to process applications for continued funding for the group involved in the lawsuit.

Why this matters: This is the third time to date a federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration for cutting the grants, which were supposed to end in 2020. In all, three litigation groups, representing eight grantees, have sued, and won, in their lawsuits against the administration. One case is still pending.

What happens next: It's still unclear what will happen to the remaining 72 grantees whose funding ended early, but did not sue the administration. It's also not clear if the administration will appeal the rulings. An HHS spokesperson said it is "considering our next steps."

Read more here.


What's the secretary of State have to do with health care? We're glad you asked.

The Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo to the position Thursday, and while anti-abortion groups are rejoicing, abortion rights groups are not. The State Department has a big say in how U.S. dollars are used abroad. For example, the department last year issued a ban on the use of taxpayer dollars for foreign NGOs that promote or provide for abortions. Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, is staunchly anti-abortion.

From Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group based in D.C.:

"Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump threat lacks teeth to block impeachment witnesses Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs MORE will make an outstanding Secretary of State. He is strongly pro-life and committed to upholding the dignity of every human being as America's top diplomat. The State Department is the first line of enforcement for President Trump's pro-life agenda in foreign policy."

From Latanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global:

"Mike Pompeo's record gives us every reason to believe that as secretary of state, he will enable Trump and Pence's worst instincts and advance the administration's devastating and relentless attacks on women and communities around the world."


FDA Commissioner Gottlieb is encouraging the use of artificial intelligence in health care.

"AI holds enormous promise for the future of medicine," he said in prepared remarks to the Health Datapalooza conference in Washington, D.C.

He said the FDA is working on an updated "new regulatory framework" that will allow regulators to keep up with new technology and "promote innovation in this space."

"We expect to see an increasing number of AI-based submissions in the coming years, starting with medical imaging devices, and we're working with experts in the field," he said.

As an example of the new health technology he is seeking to promote, Gottlieb pointed to a new medical device approved by the FDA earlier this month that uses artificial intelligence and a special camera to help diagnose a condition in people with diabetes known as retinopathy that can lead to vision loss.

Read more here.


Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerPelosi fires back after Trump 'meltdown': 'We have to pray for his health' 5 big wins in US-China trade pact Trump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe MORE said the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes there isn't a prohibition on the agency researching gun violence.

Robert Redfield "agreed there is no longer a prohibition on the CDC conducting research on the gun violence epidemic," Schumer said after a meeting with Redfield.

"That is a good first step but we have a lot of work to do to ensure the CDC initiates this extremely important research in the near future."

Why this matters: The recent omnibus government funding bill included language "clarifying" that the CDC has the authority to study gun violence. The Dickey Amendment, worked into a 1996 government funding bill, said that funds should not be used by the CDC to "advocate or promote" gun control. While not technically a ban, Democrats and some public health advocates argue the amendment put a chilling effect on research for more than 20 years.

What's next: The CDC hasn't made any moves to begin studying gun violence, and the omnibus didn't provide new money to do so. Top GOP appropriators say they have no interest in funding new federal research into gun violence.

Read more here.


Meanwhile, seven governors say they're tired of the federal void on gun violence research. They've started a consortium where top researchers will study the issue, and, the governors hope, better inform policy makers with their findings.

Read more here.


Congressional momentum on a bill intending to allow terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs has essentially ground to a halt, advocates say.

Despite vocal support from President Trump and Vice President Pence, the House and Senate have made little if any progress on bridging differences with each other over separate bills that have passed each chamber.

Why it matters: This is a top priority for Pence and Trump, and also for conservative mega donors Charles and David Koch. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-brothers backed group, announced today a new six-figure campaign aimed at getting so-called Right to Try legislation across the finish line.

The opposition: Many House Democrats didn't vote for the bill in their chamber, arguing it endangers patients by taking FDA out of the process for allowing a patient to receive an unapproved drug.

Read more here.


In brief:

  • Supporters of expanding Medicaid to more low-income adults in Idaho say they are closing in on the number of signatures they need to get a referendum on the ballot for the next election. Reclaim Idaho, the group leading the effort, says they only need 1,000 signatures before the May 1 deadline.
  • Eric Hargan, deputy HHS secretary, in an address Thursday at a conference hosted by Academy Health, warned that "disruption" is coming to the U.S. healthcare system. "If we need disruption to deliver the care Americans deserve, then disruption is on the way," Hargan said, echoing his boss HHS secretary Alex Azar.


What we're reading

The million-dollar cancer treatment: who will pay? (The Wall Street Journal)

A startup promised to make health care 'refreshingly simple.' Building the business has been anything but (Stat News)

Drug copay groups: Critical patient charities or fronts for drug makers? (USA Today)


State by state

A persistent puzzle: Californians embrace Medicaid, but food stamps? Not so much. (California Healthline)

New autism numbers show state-to-state differences (NBC)

Colorado's big idea for lowering health care prices is more transparency. Here's why some think that won't work. (Denver Post)


From The Hill's opinion pages

Is the VA a scam?

Supreme Court has new reason to dismantle ObamaCare