Overnight Health Care: Dems try to bridge divide on surprise medical bills | Pharmacy chains sue doctors over opioid crisis | Cancer death rate has biggest one-year drop ever, study finds

Overnight Health Care: Dems try to bridge divide on surprise medical bills | Pharmacy chains sue doctors over opioid crisis | Cancer death rate has biggest one-year drop ever, study finds
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

Democrats are still working on legislation to stop surprise medical bills, the cancer death rate is dropping, pharmacies are suing doctors, and the Florida Senate is attempting to end an effort to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot. 

We'll start with an update on surprise medical bill legislation: 



Hoyer: Democratic chairmen trying to bridge divide on surprise medical bills

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOcasio-Cortez: wage only 'socialist' to those in 'dystopian capitalist nightmare' Bottom line Democrats adjust language on child tax credit in relief bill MORE (D-Mass.) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) are in a dispute over surprise medical billing legislation, and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse plans for immigration bills add uncertainty on Biden proposal This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package MORE (D-Md.) says he hopes they can work it out. 

"Mr. Neal and Mr. Pallone are talking and the committee members are talking about the differences," Hoyer told reporters when asked if he or Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (D-Calif.) would step in to try to resolve the dispute over surprise billing. "It's like infrastructure -- there's universal agreement that we need to deal with surprise billing. There obviously are differences with respect to how you deal with that, and they're discussing that now."

But an agreement faces a tough road: Backers of the Energy and Commerce bill have been frustrated with Neal for proposing a rival approach, which could make it difficult to bridge the gap between the two committees despite Hoyer's comments.

Date to watch: Pelosi has said she hopes surprise billing legislation will be included in a health care package ahead of a May 22 deadline for renewing certain expiring health programs.

But an agreement on the legislation would need to be worked out before then.


Read more here.


Pharmacy chains sue doctors over opioid crisis

Let the finger pointing commence.

Major national drugstore chains are suing physicians in two Ohio counties for allegedly causing the country's current opioid crisis by excessively prescribing the highly addictive drugs.

The pharmacies, including Walgreen Co., CVS, Walmart and Rite Aid, said in a court filing that doctors are the ones who wrote the prescriptions, so they are the ones who need to be held liable.

The counter-lawsuit against doctors adds yet another layer of complexity to an already sprawling federal lawsuit.

The pharmacies are facing their own lawsuit from Ohio's Summit and Cuyahoga Counties, which is slated to start in October. However, the counties are not suing the doctors in question. In the complaint filed Monday, the companies said if they are found liable for the opioid epidemic and forced to pay, then the doctors should be too.

Key quotes: "While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals ... they do not write prescriptions," attorneys for the pharmacies wrote. 

The attorneys noted the complaint against the pharmacies "fails to identify even one prescription that was supposedly filled improperly by any pharmacist working for any of the Summit County Pharmacy Chains. Not one."

Read more here.


Some good news... Cancer death rate has biggest one-year drop ever, report finds

The cancer death rate had its largest one-year decline ever from 2016 to 2017, falling 2.2 percent, according to a new study.


The report from the American Cancer Society finds that the drop was driven largely from declining death rates from lung cancer, which is the leading cause of death from cancer.

The decline in the death rate from cancer is due in part to advances in a new form of treatment called immunotherapy, which trains a person's immune system to fight cancer, said Dr. William Cance, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society. 

"The accelerated drops in lung cancer mortality as well as in melanoma that we're seeing are likely due at least in part to advances in cancer treatment over the past decade, such as immunotherapy," Cance said in a statement. "They are a profound reminder of how rapidly this area of research is expanding, and now leading to real hope for cancer patients."

Between 1991 and 2017, the cancer death rate fell by 29 percent, the report finds. That drop translates to 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than if the rate had stayed steady, the report says.

Read more here


Trump administration opens Georgia Medicaid proposal for public comment 


The proposal offered by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) would partially expand Medicaid to some low-income adults who work, volunteer or go to job training 80 hours a month.

It stops short of the full-scale Medicaid expansion supported by Democrats, which would cover thousands more low-income adults regardless of their employment status.

The federal public comment period ends Feb. 7. 


In other Medicaid news...


Florida Senate attempts to end Medicaid expansion effort


Florida's GOP-controlled state Senate is trying to kill an effort to place Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

The Senate is asking the state's Supreme Court to dismiss a review of the potential ballot question because the advocacy group pushing for the measure did not collect enough signatures.

The group Florida Decides Healthcare initially aimed to have the Medicaid expansion measure appear on the 2020 ballot, but it failed to raise enough money after the state passed a new law that changed the way canvassers are paid.

Florida law allows signatures to be valid for two years, but the Senate argued that since there will be a presidential election in 2020, the criteria for placement on the 2022 ballot isn't known. 

Read more here.


Massachusetts reports fourth death from vaping illness

Health officials in Massachusetts on Wednesday reported the state's fourth death from a vaping-related illness.

According to state officials, the patient was a man in his 70s who reported vaping THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. 

The case is among the 36 confirmed cases of vaping-associated lung injury that the state health department has reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since Sept. 11, 2019.

The death is the first reported since Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in November signed into law a sweeping ban on the sale of e-cigarettes. 

Massachusetts has reported 36 confirmed cases of vaping-related illness to the CDC, and 73 probable cases. The majority of those cases have involved vaping THC in some form, including six probable cases linked to state-regulated marijuana products. Federal officials have identified vitamin E acetate-- mostly found in illicit THC vapes -- as one of the main causes of the illness, but independent tests in Massachusetts have not found any detectable levels of the chemical in products manufactured by licensed state facilities.

Read more here.


What we're reading

U.S. health system costs four times more to run than Canada's single-payer system (Los Angeles Times

WHO says mysterious illness in China likely being caused by new virus (Stat)

Affordable Care Act mandate: hot for lawyers, ho-hum to consumers (Associated Press


State by state

West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey announces pre-existing conditions legislation (The Journal)

Gov. Mills to unveil proposal to create Maine Obamacare exchange (Bangor Daily News)

5 Things to know as California starts screening children for toxic stress (Kaiser Health News)


From The Hill's Opinion Page

How Congress can help curb skyrocketing prescription drug prices