Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban

Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban
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Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.

Massachusetts passed a vaping ban, the clock is ticking on Congress to pass surprise billing legislation, Trump and lawmakers aren't giving up their push for drug price disclosures, and critics are asking why hospital prices aren't getting the same scrutiny as drug prices.

A busy day. We'll start with surprise billing...



Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills

The clock is ticking for lawmakers in a bipartisan push to pass legislation protecting patients from getting hit with massive "surprise" medical bills.

Staff in both chambers and both parties are having what Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Bottom line MORE (R-La.) called "intense meetings" to try to come to an agreement in time to be included in a government funding package ahead of a Dec. 20 deadline.

The effort is a rare opportunity for bipartisan action this year, as lawmakers in both parties and President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE have all called for moving on the issue.

Advocates are frustrated with the holdup.

"Congressional leaders have been talking about fixing surprise bills for over a year now," said Shawn Gremminger, senior director of federal relations at the liberal health care advocacy group Families USA. "The first committee hearing on the issue was seven months ago. It is frustrating that we're coming up on Thanksgiving and don't have a plan in place."


But it's easier said than done: Doctors and hospitals are fiercely lobbying against the leading proposal in Congress, arguing it would cause damaging cuts to their payments.

And it is a challenge to reach any significant bipartisan deal in a Congress bitterly divided over Trump and House Democrats' impeachment proceedings.

Read more on the effort here.


CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 47 vaping-related deaths in 25 states as of Wednesday, 

In all, the CDC reported 2,290 confirmed and probable lung injury cases associated with vaping since the outbreak started this year. 

The illnesses have been tied to vaping products containing THC and vitamin E acetate, though the CDC is still researching other potential causes. 

According to the CDC, 15 percent of patients are under 18; 77 percent are under 35. The median age is 24, and the youngest patient is 13. 


Dems press Trump officials over drop in ObamaCare signups

Amid all the debate over Medicare for All, you could be forgiven for forgetting that it's currently ObamaCare sign-up season as well. And Democrats have some concerns. 

Democratic lawmakers pointed to an analysis from the group Get America Covered, run by former Obama administration health officials, that found that as many as 100,000 fewer people signed up on the first day of ObamaCare enrollment this year due to technical problems with healthcare.gov. 

"We are very concerned these errors may have prevented some consumers from completing their enrollments as intended during an already abbreviated Open Enrollment Period and created further barriers for people to access health coverage," the Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter. 


There are also broader concerns among Democrats about lower ObamaCare enrollment in the enrollment period so far, which began on Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. 

Joshua Peck, a co-founder of Get America Covered, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that sign-ups are down 13 percent compared to this point last year. 

Read more here


Critics seek more scrutiny on hospitals in health cost fight

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIn defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere MORE (I-Vt.) often bashes "the drug companies and the insurance companies" as he makes the case for "Medicare for All."

But there's another major health industry player, also fiercely opposed to Medicare for All, that Sanders usually does not mention: hospitals. 


Sanders is not alone. In the Medicare for All fight and in the push to lower health care costs in general, hospitals usually fly under the radar. But they actually make up a significantly larger share of health care spending than drug companies, who are receiving far more attention in Washington amid a bipartisan push to lower drug prices. 

Experts say any major health care cost reform will eventually also have to deal with hospitals. But that's not easy. Hospitals are politically powerful, given that essentially every lawmaker has one in their district, providing important services and jobs to communities.

Read more here


Trump, senators push for drug price disclosures despite setbacks

President Trump and senators from both parties are not giving up the fight over forcing drug companies to disclose list prices in TV ads.

Both the White House and Congress are searching for an easy political win on drug prices, but so far have found little success.


The disclosure rule was one of Trump's highest-profile initiatives and the first policy released after the administration unveiled its drug pricing "blueprint" in 2018.

Experts and advocates don't believe the rule would have been very effective at lowering drug prices. Even so, it represented one of the boldest actions the administration took in its quest to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

The administration was dealt a blow in July when a federal judge sided with a coalition of three drug companies and advertisers and blocked the Trump administration from implementing the policy. The administration is appealing, but some senators don't want to wait. 

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.) tried to win unanimous consent to pass legislation he co-sponsored with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results MORE (R-Iowa), but was blocked by Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.). 

Read more about the fight in the Senate here.


Massachusetts lawmakers pass flavored tobacco, vaping products ban

Massachusetts lawmakers passed legislation Thursday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products as well as menthol cigarettes.

The legislation passed the state House earlier this month, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R). If Baker signs the bill, Massachusetts would become the first state to permanently ban flavored e-cigarettes.

The future of federal e-cigarette regulation is now uncertain after President Trump reportedly balked at implementing a ban on flavors he promised more than two months ago.

The state legislation would also ban menthol cigarettes, which anti-smoking advocates say are designed to appeal to children. It also would impose a steep 75 percent tax on e-cigarettes and improve access to smoking cessation programs.

Read more on the Massachusetts bill here.


Presidential candidates didn't talk much about drug prices last night. But we've got you covered. 

Democrats running for president are vowing to push for policies to rein in rising drug costs, a top issue for voters in 2020, according to polls. Democrats argue President Trump has done little to address high drug prices, despite vowing to do so in his 2016 campaign. But within the Democratic field, there are a number of stark differences between the candidates on the issue. 

Here's where the top Democratic presidential candidates stand on tackling high drug prices.

Read more here.


What we're reading

Some family doctors ditch insurance for simpler approach (Associated Press

No safety switch: How lax oversight of electronic health records puts patients at risk (Kaiser Health News)


State by state

Ohio Medicaid and its contractor shed little light on network reduction (Columbus Dispatch

As New York faces big Medicaid cost overruns, Cuomo stays mum (Wall Street Journal

Medi-Cal to expand eligibility to young undocumented adults. But will they enroll? (California Healthline)


From The Hill's opinion page

Media needs to stop wild speculations about Trump's health

Wednesday's marijuana legalization vote was truly historic -- here's why