Overnight Health Care — Presented by the National Taxpayers Union — Tobacco giant Altria invests nearly $13 billion in e-cig maker Juul | Hatch urges colleagues to oppose Trump drug pricing proposal | Anti-abortion groups keep up pressure on HHS

Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care, where we still don't know whether there will be a government shutdown.

It was a dramatic day in Washington, where Republicans are scrambling to avoid a shutdown and with Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisJohn Feehery: Mutiny on the Bounty Amash rips Trump over move to send troops from Syria to Iraq Defense chief says US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq MORE announcing his resignation.

On the health care front, an outgoing GOP chairman is urging his colleagues to oppose President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE's drug pricing proposal, and anti-abortion groups are mad about comments NIH Director Francis Collins made defending fetal tissue research.

But first: Vaping startup Juul is now officially part of Big Tobacco.

 

Tobacco giant Altria invests nearly $13 billion in Juul

Cigarette manufacturer Altria announced Thursday that it is investing $12.8 billion in startup e-cigarette company Juul Labs.

Altria's investment gives them a 35 percent ownership of the company, and an opening into a market where it has struggled to gain traction. Juul accounts for about 75 percent of the e-cigarette market. Earlier this month, amid speculation of a significant investment in Juul, Altria said it would stop selling its e-cigarette products.

The move also opens both companies up to new criticism, as Juul has consistently marketed itself as an alternative to Big Tobacco.

The company has said its mission is to help wean adult smokers off traditional cigarettes, but public health experts and anti-smoking advocates were quick to note the apparent contradiction. Tobacco companies have spent decades denying that smoking causes cancer.

"The Altria-Juul deal shows how far the tobacco industry will go to maximize profits and sell as many products as possible, including cigarettes," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids said in a statement. "The FDA and other policymakers must be equally aggressive in working to reduce tobacco use and save lives."

Juul CEO Kevin Burns acknowledged this in a statement: "We understand the controversy and skepticism that comes with an affiliation and partnership with the largest tobacco company in the US. We were skeptical as well," he said. "But over the course of the last several months we were convinced by actions, not words, that in fact this partnership could help accelerate our success switching adult smokers."

Public health crisis: Rather than help wean adults off traditional cigarettes, there has been an alarming spike in previously non-smoking young people taking up vaping. According to a National Institutes of Health survey, the number of high school seniors who say they vaped nicotine in the past 30 days has doubled since 2017 -- from 11 percent to nearly 21 percent.

Big money: According to Bloomberg News, Altria's investment means Juul is now worth $38 billion. That makes Juul Labs Inc. more valuable than Airbnb and SpaceX. According to multiple reports, each Juul employee will take home a $1.3 million bonus.

More on the deal here.

 

 

Hatch urges colleagues to oppose Trump drug pricing proposal

Republicans are not quite all on the same page on President Trump's proposal to lower drug prices.

Outgoing Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (R-Utah) wrote a letter to GOP colleagues on Wednesday urging them to oppose a Trump proposal to lower certain Medicare drug prices by tying them to lower prices in other countries.

He warns the proposal would "dampen research and development--depriving patients of future treatment breakthroughs and further eroding necessary competition."

Behind the scenes: Hatch in recent weeks had discussed the possibility of organizing a letter from multiple GOP senators with concerns about the proposal, sources said. But the Trump administration lobbied GOP senators to hold off on publicly criticizing the proposal, an effort first reported by Politico. Hatch's letter sent Wednesday is only signed by him, not other GOP senators.

Read more here on Hatch's concerns .

 

In Congress: Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Four companies reach 0M settlement in opioid lawsuit | Deal opens door to larger settlements | House panel to consider vaping tax | Drug pricing markup tomorrow House Democrats ask judge to dismiss Trump lawsuit over NY tax return law On The Money: Trump dismisses 'phony Emoluments Clause' after Doral criticism | Senate Dems signal support for domestic spending package | House panel to consider vaping tax MORE (D-Mass.) will chair the Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means committees.

Pallone and Neal, who are ranking members on the committees, were elected by the Democratic caucus on Thursday.

Pallone said he would "conduct robust oversight of the Trump Administration's ongoing actions to sabotage our health care system."

Neal said he would oppose efforts to "privatize Social Security and slash Medicare."

 

California asks judge to block Trump contraception rule

California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraProgressive group releases Supreme Court shortlist for 2020 Democrats Trump administration ends five-year oil and gas drilling moratorium in California  Feds won't pursue charges against Sacramento officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark MORE (D) asked a federal judge on Thursday to block Trump administration rules that would allow more exemptions to ObamaCare's contraception mandate.

"The Trump Administration is continuing to trample on women's rights and access to care with this illegal final rule," Becerra said in a statement Thursday. "California will continue the fight against any actions that attempt to restrict women's access to affordable, quality healthcare."

Context: Two courts have already blocked the draft version of these rules from going into effect last year (the administration issued the rules as interim final, meaning they took effect immediately.)

The finalized rules will take effect in January, barring action from the courts.

More on the fight over the birth control rule here.

 

Anti-abortion groups are keeping the pressure up on HHS as it reviews fetal tissue research funding

In a letter sent to Trump Thursday, 12 anti-abortion groups urged him to "immediately" end funding of fetal tissue research.

"This terrible atrocity is incongruous with your leadership in defense of human life," the groups, led by the Susan B. Anthony List, wrote in the letter.

"We look forward to working with you and with Secretary Azar to implement a new policy that affirms the dignity of all Americans, born and unborn."

Context: Abortion foes were enraged last week over NIH Director Francis Collins' comments that fetal tissue research would be a "mainstay" at the agency.

Two groups that signed the letter -- March for Life and Live Action -- have separately called on Collins to resign.

Read their full letter here.

 

 

What we're reading

Planned Parenthood is accused of mistreating pregnant employees (The New York Times)

Big Pharma returning to U.S. price hikes in January after pause (Reuters)

The chronic shortage of organs for transplant could be eased by changing who qualifies as a donor (The Washington Post)

To save ObamaCare, repeal the mandate (The Atlantic)

 

State by state

ObamaCare enrollment down about twice as much in Kansas and Missouri as nationwide (Kansas City Star)

New Hampshire bipartisan panel objects to Trump tweaks to Medicaid rules (Associated Press)

Key Wisconsin lawmaker won't rule out accepting federal money for Medicaid expansion (Fox 6)

 

From The Hill's opinion page:

It's time to rethink our national drug policy