Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — ObamaCare signups lag behind last year despite recent surge | Drug company offers cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent | CDC calls fentanyl deadliest drug in US

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says fentanyl is the deadliest drug in America... an incoming GOP congressman says (incorrectly) that vaccines may cause autism... and the House passed an $867 billion farm bill without food stamp work requirements.

But we'll start first with some news about ObamaCare.


ObamaCare's sign-ups have surged in the finals weeks, but overall lag behind last year.

More people are signing up for ObamaCare plans as the open enrollment period comes to a close, but the overall numbers are down compared to last year.

From Dec. 2 to 8, the sixth week of open enrollment, 934,269 people signed up for coverage via healthcare.gov, the most in any one-week period this year. That compares with the 1,073,921 sign-ups from the same period in 2017.

Context: Enrollment is still down 12 percent compared to last year. This week is the final week of open enrollment, and Saturday is deadline for signing up for coverage.

Factors: It's the first year consumers won't have to pay a penalty for not having insurance, which could make some people decide not to enroll this year. The administration cut funds for enrollment assistance. But unemployment is also lower than it was this time last year, and more people could be getting insurance through work or no longer qualifying for subsidies.

The administration has also expanded access to cheaper, but less substantive, non-ObamaCare plans that could be drawing people away from the market.

What's next: The enrollment numbers for the final week of open enrollment, which runs from Dec. 9 - Dec. 15, will come out next week. That will give a better idea of how many people signed up for coverage through healthcare.gov.

But many states that run their own exchanges have longer sign up periods, so it could be awhile before we have the full picture of the 2019 open enrollment season. For example, California's ends a full month later on Jan. 15.

We break down the numbers here.



Incoming Republican Congressman says vaccines may cause autism, contradicting CDC.

An incoming Republican Congressman told constituents at a town hall this week that he believes vaccines may cause autism, contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific institutions, according to Tennessean.com.

Mark GreenMark GreenTackling China in modern Cold War New policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Senate leaves for five-week August recess MORE, a physician who won his race in November to fill the seat of Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnIs there internet life after thirty? Taylor Swift defends staying out of the 2016 election: 'I just knew I wasn't going to help' The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal MORE (R-Tenn.), vowed to "stand on the CDC's desk and get the real data on vaccines," adding he was doing so "because there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines," according to Tennessean.com.

"As a physician, I can make that argument and I can look at it academically and make the argument against the CDC, if they really want to engage me on it," he said.

Green also suggested that some of the data has been "fraudulently managed," but cited no evidence.

Context: The CDC has repeatedly stated there is no link between vaccines and autism.

"Many studies that have looked at whether there is a relationship between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder," the CDC writes on its website.

"To date, the studies continue to show that vaccines are not associated with ASD."

More on Green's comments here.


Drug company to offer cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent.

A Senate investigation got some results.

The drug company Kaléo is offering a significantly cheaper version of its life-saving opioid overdose treatment after a Senate investigation found that it spiked the price of its drug.

A report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations last month found that the company, Kaléo, hiked the price of its drug Evzio to $4,100 for two injectors, raising the price by more than 600 percent between 2014 and 2017.

After this scrutiny, the company on Wednesday announced that it will offer a cheaper generic version of the drug at $178 for two injectors.

Evzio is an auto-injector form of the drug naloxone, which is a key part of fighting the opioid crisis.

Lesson for the future? Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperEPA ordered to set stronger smog standards America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction FARA should apply to Confucius Institutes MORE (D-Del.) said that the episode should be a "teachable moment for other drug manufacturers."

Read more here.  


CDC: Fentanyl is deadliest drug in America

Fentanyl has become the most deadly drug in the U.S., according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC said in a report released Wednesday that fentanyl was involved in more deadly drug overdoses in 2016, the most recently studied year, than any other drug.

There were a total of 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016, with fentanyl found to be involved in nearly 29 percent of those cases, according to the report.

It's not just fentanyl. From 2011 to 2016, cocaine consistently ranked second or third. During the study period, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin more than tripled, as did the rate of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine.

More on the CDC data here.



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No SNAP work requirements in farm bill

The $687 billion farm bill easily passed the House Wednesday without strict work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries. The legislation now heads to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE for his signature.  

Democrats strongly opposed the provision -- which had received support from House Republicans and Trump -- arguing the change would be detrimental to the safety net relied upon by low-income earners.

Lawmakers passed the legislation following months of negotiations, with Congress allowing the current farm bill to lapse on Sept. 30 after struggling to come to a consensus over changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Also removed? Funding for association health plans. The House version of the farm bill included $65 million intended to help establish association health plans (AHPs). Patient and public health groups cried foul, and the language did not make into the final version.

"Given the history of fraud and insolvency with AHPs, using federal funds to establish AHPs would put consumers and providers at risk of unpaid bills and taxpayers at risk of defaulted loans," the American Heart Association said in a statement. Association health plans allow small businesses and other groups to band together to buy health insurance. The Trump administration has loosened restrictions on the plans, in an effort to offer more affordable coverage options.   


What we're reading

Senator to Pfizer CEO: Stop playing 'political games' with drug prices (Fierce Pharma)

Planned Parenthood argues in court that family planning faces harm under Trump (Washington Examiner)


State by state

Arkansas alters Medicaid work requirement after more than 12,000 drop out (Washington Examiner)

Texas' uninsured rate hits 19 percent as GOP snubs Medicaid expansion (Forbes)

Ohio Senate passes anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill' (WVXU)'