Overnight Health Care: Big win at Supreme Court for anti-abortion centers | HHS chief grilled on migrant children | Boom time for ObamaCare insurers?
Welcome to Overnight Health Care, Tuesday edition.
It was a big day in the Supreme Court, where the conservative justices ruled in favor of President Trump’s travel ban.
The court also delivered a ruling in a case about abortion. Those same five conservative justices dealt a blow to California, ruling that the state could not force anti-abortion clinics to provide women with information about obtaining abortions.
Back on Capitol Hill, HHS Secretary Alex Azar faced questions from angry Democrats about the administration’s migrant child separation policy, as well as the administration’s blueprint to lower drug prices.
We’ll start things off at the Supreme Court:
Anti-abortion clinics win the day
The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” in a blow to a California law that requires those clinics– which don’t provide abortions– to post information about where women can obtain low-cost abortions and contraception from the state.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that the notices for licensed facilities likely violates the First Amendment and notices for unlicensed facilities unduly burdens protected speech.
Why it matters: Supporters of the law argue crisis pregnancy centers are intentionally misleading to women by not providing them full and accurate information about their options. They worry the ruling will encourage more centers to open across the U.S. There are already 2,700, vastly outnumbering abortion clinics.
The law’s opponents, however, argue they were unfairly targeted, and that it forced them to violate their religious and moral beliefs and promote abortion.
The administration’s top health official said parents who have been separated from their children at the border should have no problems finding their children.
Key quote: “There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” Alex Azar said, adding he could locate “any child within seconds” through an online government portal.
While the hearing ostensibly was about the administration’s drug pricing plan, Democrats took the opportunity to hammer Alex Azar about the “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration that’s resulted in children being separated from families.
HHS still has 2,047 children in custody, Azar said. He said he can’t reunite them with their parents unless Congress changes the law. Currently, families can’t be detained for more than 20 days. If a parent is in immigration detention with the Department of Homeland Security for longer than 20 days, their children must be placed in the custody of HHS.
Azar did not say how long those separated children would remain in HHS shelters. He said “hundreds” of children have been reunited with their parents or another relative, but declined to say how many parents have been told where their kids are.
HHS sued for child separation docs
While Azar was grilled by senators on care for separated children, the administration also faced a court challenge.
Equity Forward, which describes itself as a reproductive health watchdog group, requested public information including the schedules of HHS officials involved with separated children, communications involving the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the HHS office in charge of the separated children, and communications between ORR Director Scott Lloyd and outside groups that may have influenced the treatment of children in his care.
HHS has not provided any of the information requested, Equity Forward said.
“Separating children from their families at the border is inhumane and cruel, and HHS has refused to show transparency with the decision making that has affected the lives of thousands of children and their families,” said Equity Forward executive director Mary Alice Carter.
Boom time for Obamacare insurers?
Health insurers are finding success in ObamaCare this year and are planning to expand their offerings in many states, defying previous predictions of doom.
Experts have been hailing these developments, saying that insurers have finally figured out how to become profitable in the ObamaCare marketplace.
But the success is also coming in the face of persistent GOP hostility toward the law and comes at a cost: the risk of double-digit premium hikes for customers.
Key quote: “If you look back to where we were [a year ago], the marketplaces are showing remarkable resilience. This time last year … we were in the middle of debate over ACA repeal, Trump was saying he won’t enforce the individual mandate, they were talking about cutting off [cost-sharing reduction] subsidies,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.
Dem tempers expectations on single payer
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, cautioned his party that ideas on the campaign trail don’t always immediately translate into legislative action.
“At Democratic rallies Medicare for All or single payer is a popular thing,” Green said at an event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by 3M. “But when you come into Congress, we have to find something that has 218 votes and can get through the Senate.”
Odds and ends
- A Senate committee passed a maternal mortality bill. The bill, authored by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), would support state efforts to create committees that review pregnancy-related deaths and find ways to combat rising maternal mortality rates.
- The House passed a bill aimed at fighting infectious diseases spurred by the opioid epidemic. The bill authorizes $40 million a year over five years for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist state and local governments and others to enhance surveillance systems to track opioid use-related infectious diseases, increase HIV and hepatitis testing and prevention, and improve linkage to HIV and hepatitis treatment and substance use disorder treatment, according to a press release from the AIDS Institute.
What we’re reading
Sky-high deductibles broke the U.S. health insurance system (Bloomberg)
Unlocked and loaded: Families confront dementia and guns (Kaiser Health News)
FDA repays industry by rushing risky drugs to market (ProPublica)
State by state
Insurer plans to expand ObamaCare offerings into Missouri counties in Kansas City area (KC Star)
Medicaid spending on opioid treatment soars in Ohio, auditor reports (Cincinnati.com)
From the Hill’s opinion Page:
Veterans are left out of medical marijuana protections
The real disease: Price transparency is key to saving Medicare and lowering the debt
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