Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Mystery vaping deaths in House spotlight | CBO says fix backed by doctors for surprise medical bills would cost billions | VA pressured to ease rules on medical marijuana

Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Mystery vaping deaths in House spotlight | CBO says fix backed by doctors for surprise medical bills would cost billions | VA pressured to ease rules on medical marijuana
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Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Health Care. 

The big news of the day is not related to health care. Click here for more on House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE's response, the latest on the whistleblower complaint, and how Senate Republicans are reacting.

But there is still plenty of health care news, starting in the House, where lawmakers are turning the spotlight on e-cigarettes as officials race to understand what's behind a mystery illness and with another reported vaping related death. Meanwhile, the CBO says a rival fix to address surprise medical bills would cost billions.


We'll start with vaping news.


Mystery vaping deaths in House spotlight

The turmoil surrounding the e-cigarette industry was in the spotlight Tuesday when the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the vaping illnesses that have sickened hundreds of people, including nine who have died.

E-cigarette companies are facing widespread furor over the illnesses and rising youth vaping rates, sparking action from the Trump administration, Congress, governors and other businesses, sending the industry into a state of chaos.

"As we focus on the tragic outcomes of this lung disease outbreak, we must view is as another chance to come together to protect the public health," said Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHHS scraps celebrity COVID-19 ad campaign aimed at 'defeating despair' Documents show 'political' nature of Trump COVID ad campaign, lawmakers say Trust and transparency are necessary to make COVID-19 vaccine successful MORE (D-Ill.), chairman of the panel's Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee.

The CDC says most patients have reported vaping cartridges containing THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, which are widely available on the black market, and is warning people not to buy illegally sold products.


Still, the e-cigarette industry has been unable to evade scrutiny through the outbreak.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said she is not ruling out that nicotine vaping products that are sold legally are involved in the illnesses. Other additives and chemicals found in those cartridges may also be the culprit.

The big picture: Things are looking bleak for the vaping industry. The Trump administration is expected to issue a rule in several weeks banning the sale of flavored-vaping products, arguing they are appealing for kids. New York and Michigan have banned the sale of flavored vapes. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is taking it even further announcing a temporary ban on the sale of all vaping products in the state. Walmart announced Friday it would no longer sell e-cigarette products, and other retailers could follow suit. 

What's next: Food and Drug Administration Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless will testify Wednesday on the outbreak before the House Energy & Commerce's oversight panel. 

Read more here.



Massachusetts governor temporarily bans sale of vape products

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) on Tuesday announced a temporary ban on the sale of vape products, declaring a public health emergency over the series of illnesses and deaths across the country that have been linked to various forms of e-cigarettes. 

"The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents," Baker said.

The ban on the sale of flavored and non-flavored vaping products will take effect immediately and last through Jan. 25, according to a statement from Baker's office. It applies to all vaping products and devices, including tobacco and marijuana. 

Read more on the Massachusetts ban here.


Kansas reports ninth US death from vaping illness

Kansas health officials have confirmed a second death in the state tied to a vaping-related lung disease, bringing the total number of U.S. deaths to nine.

Officials still do not know what is causing people to become sick. The lung disease has sickened more than 530 people across the country. "People are dying from vaping, and there's hundreds of new cases each week of serious and fatal lung injuries from vaping," Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said in a video on the agency's web site. 

According to state health officials, the latest death was a male over the age of 50 who had underlying health conditions. Farah Ahmed, a state epidemiologist, said officials don't yet know the type of e-cigarette or what substances the patient was using at the time of his death.

Kansas currently has nine probable or confirmed vaping related cases, including the two deaths.

Read more here.


And in non-vaping news...



CBO: Fix backed by doctors for surprise medical bills would cost billions

A new CBO analysis gives some fodder to the raging debate over legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills. 

The analysis provided to a congressional office and obtained by The Hill shows a rival surprise billing approach favored by doctors groups would cost "double digit billions."

In contrast, the approach used in bipartisan bills that have passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health Committee would both save more than $20 billion over 10 years, the CBO has found.

Why it matters: The analysis gives ammunition to the supporters of the Energy and Commerce and Senate Health Committee bills, who can point out that CBO finds their bills save money while the rival bill costs money. 

The other side: Rep. Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Diana Harshbarger wins GOP primary to replace Rep. Phil Roe We need to focus on veterans in need of service dogs MORE (R-Tenn.), a lead sponsor of the rival bill, said the CBO's analysis is "likely to be wrong."


Read more here


VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is under pressure to ease restrictions on veterans' access to medical marijuana to help treat pain and other ailments.

Veterans advocacy groups want to know if marijuana can treat chronic pain, as well as help address widespread suicides among veteran communities.

Under official federal policy, VA health care providers may not recommend marijuana or assist veterans in obtaining it. The VA also won't reimburse veterans who pay for marijuana out-of-pocket.

Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning it is in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. According to the federal government, it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value. Until that classification changes, the VA has said its hands are tied. 

That opposition is frustrating members of Congress and some leading advocacy groups, and there is a growing bipartisan push to ease the prescribing ban, as well as force the agency to conduct research into the drug's efficacy. 

Read more on how lawmakers are pushing the VA to change.



What we're reading

Bernie SandersBernie SandersClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift In defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism MORE rolls out wealth tax plan that would help fund 'Medicare for All' (CNN.com)

America is pharma's piggybank (Axios.com)

Justice Department reveals its number-crunching methods to catch opioid over-prescribers (CNN.com)

Potential culprits in mystery lung illnesses: Black-market vaping products (The Washington Post)

Drugmakers, worried about losing pricing power, are lobbying hard (The Wall Street Journal)

How anti-vaxxers target grieving moms and turn them into crusaders (NBC News)

As off-label use spreads for lifesaving niche drugs, supplies grow scarce, leaving patients in the lurch (Kaiser Health News)


State by state

Fearing deportation, immigrants are dropping Medicaid over misinformation about Trump's new policy (Texas Tribune)

Lawsuit seeks to block Indiana Medicaid work requirements (Associated Press

NC's uninsured gap 9th highest in the nation (North Carolina Health News)


From The Hill's opinion page

Congress should vote to bank marijuana businesses and use taxes to pay for record expungements