Overnight Health Care: HHS using DNA to reunite families | Planned Parenthood ups pressure over Supreme Court vote | ObamaCare navigators antsy about funding

Overnight Health Care: HHS using DNA to reunite families | Planned Parenthood ups pressure over Supreme Court vote | ObamaCare navigators antsy about funding
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Happy Thursday, and welcome to Overnight Health Care. It was a quiet day until the big news that EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEnvironmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels Six states sue EPA over pesticide tied to brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules MORE resigned following months of scandal. But don't worry - there's plenty of health news on the docket as well.


The Department of Health and Human Services is using DNA testing to reunite migrant families separated at the border.

Officials told reporters Thursday DNA tests are being used to confirm that children are being returned to people who claim to be their parents. 

This is because children in HHS custody are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, officials said. 

However, DNA tests are usually the backup in determining the relationship between a child and an adult. 


HHS typically uses birth certificates or other documents to verify relationships, but the agency must reunite some children by June 10 to comply with a court order. 

"Because of the compressed time frame, the process of using documentation is not going to be completed within the time frame allowed by the court decision for the great majority of these children," said Jonathan White, deputy director for children's programs at the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

"For this reason, the decision has been made to use the faster process of DNA verification to confirm that biological relationship."

Why it matters: Advocates for migrant children and their families worry about the government storing the DNA and using it for other purposes. However, White said the information will be used "solely" to reunite families, and for no other purpose. 

Read more here


HHS says it will meet deadlines to reunite children with their parents as ordered by a district court. 

That means about 100 children under the age of 5 will be reunited with their parents by July 10. Children between the ages of 5 and 17 must be reunited by July 26. 

But HHS Secretary Alex Azar says the deadlines don't give HHS enough time to properly vet parents. 

"We will comply with the artificial deadline created by the court. That deadline was not informed by the process needed to vet parents, including confirming parentage as well as determining the suitability of placement with that parent," Azar said. 

Read more here.


How many of these kids are in HHS custody? The answer is complicated, the agency says. 

HHS is reviewing the cases of "under 3,000" children who may have been separated from their parents at the border. 

HHS officials are trying to whittle that number down further to identify the children who were actually separated from their parents by the U.S. government -- as opposed to other circumstances before they came to the U.S. -- ahead of a court-imposed deadline to reunite children with their families.

Azar has previously told members of Congress that about 2,053 children in HHS custody have been separated at the border as a result of the administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

However, some children were separated before that policy was instated, and the court order says those children must also be returned to their parents.

"There are a myriad of scenarios that make it challenging to apply any specific number, even though we do know, and I want to very clear about this, where every child is and each is being taken care of," Azar said.

Read more here.


In other news, Planned Parenthood and other abortions rights groups say there is a new standard the next Supreme Court justice must meet and senators must consider when deciding how they will vote. 

"The Senate must only confirm a justice who affirmatively declares that they believe the U.S. Constitution protects individual liberty and the right of all people to make personal decisions about their bodies and personal relationships -- including the right to use contraception, the right to have an abortion, and the freedom to marry whom they choose," Planned Parenthood said in a press release Thursday. 

Trump has vowed to only appoint justices who are "pro-life" and will overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' MORE (R-Maine), a key vote in the confirmation process, has said she will only support a nominee who respects precedent and considers Roe v. Wade settled law. 

That's not enough, the groups said. 

"Just vaguely referencing 'precedent' can no longer be an acceptable answer or standard by which senators can accurately judge," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

"Tell Susan Collins calling Roe precedent or 'settled law' is not enough. Not even close," said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. 

"Past Republican nominees have proved those words are nothing when they get on the bench." 


Meanwhile, the majority of voters surveyed in a poll commissioned by NARAL Pro Choice America say they do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. More from the poll: 

  • 56 percent of Alaska voters said they do not want to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, and 53 percent said they would be less likely to support their senator if they voted to confirm a candidate who would do so.
  • 55 percent of voters in Florida, 63 percent of voters in Maine, 49 percent of voters in Missouri, half of voters in Montana, 55 percent of voters in Nevada and 47 percent of voters in Texas said they would not like to see the Supreme Court overturn the decision.

Don't forget: Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate MORE (R- Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are two key votes to watch.


ObamaCare's navigators are getting antsy about their federal funding. 

Navigators -- the local and state groups that sign people up for ObamaCare -- still haven't heard from the administration about funding for the next cycle. Current grants expire in September, but navigators say they need funding before open enrollment begins Nov. 1 so they can make hiring decisions, train staff and conduct outreach. 

In a letter to the administration, Pennsylvania's insurance commissioner Jessica Altman asked that the information be released "immediately." 

"As any business leader knows, for a program to succeed it must have guidance and stability. Guidance and stability allow an organization to effectively plan for their short-term and long-term futures. Currently, the Navigator program and the entities that currently operate as Navigators have not received guidance or stability from the federal government," Altman said. 

"In years past, grant applications and new funding opportunities were released by CMS in April, CMS required Navigator organizations to apply by June and approved applications and new funding by late August. The current lack of guidance has put Navigator organizations – and states - far behind in their planning and creates an inability for the Navigator organizations to design a successful plan for helping people enroll during the 2019 open enrollment period."

Read the letter here.


Odds & ends 

Azar recommends screening newborns for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease that affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord. 

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage says a tax hike on hospitals could pay for the state's Medicaid expansion. 

Nebraska voters will decide whether to expand Medicaid in their state when they cast their ballots in November's election.


What we're reading: 

Americans are having fewer babies. They told us why. (The New York Times)

ObamaCare is proving hard to kill (The New York Times)

Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE to introduce 'conservative solution' on paid family leave (Washington Examiner)


State by state: 

Nebraska Medicaid expansion reaches goal for ballot initiative (Forbes)

Oscar to get $3.5 million in state tax credits to move to new Manhattan HQ (modernhealthcare.com)

Some Texas clinics are meeting demand for mental health care services by multitasking (dallasnews.com)


Op-eds in The Hill 

Congress should stand up for seniors and the Medicare Part D deal