Overnight Health Care: Health insurers urge Supreme Court to take ObamaCare case | Lawmakers press Trump officials to change marijuana rules | Bloomberg vows to ban flavored e-cigs if elected

Overnight Health Care: Health insurers urge Supreme Court to take ObamaCare case | Lawmakers press Trump officials to change marijuana rules | Bloomberg vows to ban flavored e-cigs if elected
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

The impeachment trial is about to begin in the Senate, but there's plenty of health care news on tap. Health insurers want the Supreme Court to uphold ObamaCare, Mike Bloomberg is vowing to escalate his war on vaping, and lawmakers are pressing Trump officials to change federal marijuana laws. 

We'll start with the ObamaCare case...



Health insurers urge Supreme Court to take ObamaCare case, uphold health law

America's Health Insurance Plans, the lobby for the insurance industry, is siding with blue states in urging the Supreme Court to take up a case over ObamaCare and uphold the health law.

Health insurers like predictability and stability. Uncertainty over the future of the law in the past led to higher insurance rates. The insurance companies warned that allowing the case to linger in the lower courts would cause damaging uncertainty as the prospect of the sweeping health care law being struck down hung over their heads. 

Prolonging the case "casts a long shadow of uncertainty over ACA-based investments and denies health insurance providers, states, individuals, and other stakeholders of much needed clarity," AHIP writes in its brief. "Invalidation of the ACA would wreak havoc on the health care system."

Big picture: The brief is another sign that even as Democratic presidential candidates attack the industry over its opposition to "Medicare for All," health insurers have become increasingly vocal in supporting the current system, opposing undoing ObamaCare after spending years adapting to it.

Read more on their brief here.



Lawmakers press Trump officials to change federal marijuana rules

House lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with restrictions on federal marijuana research and are putting pressure on regulators to change the rules.

There isn't bipartisan agreement on every solution, but Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday said they were fed up with the "catch-22" limits on marijuana studies.

During a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers from both parties pressed officials from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute on Drug Abuse about obstacles to studying the safety and effectiveness of cannabis products, including hemp-based cannabidiol.

All of the administration officials at the hearing agreed the current studies on the benefits and health consequences of marijuana are inadequate. However, they indicated that changes are not going to be immediately forthcoming, as more studies are needed.

"Researchers are in a catch-22. They can't conduct cannabis research until they show cannabis has a medical use, but they can't show cannabis has a medical use until they can conduct research," said Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals FCC votes to advance proposed ban on Chinese telecom equipment Pharmaceutical industry donated to two-thirds of Congress ahead of 2020 elections: analysis MORE (D-Calif.).

What's next: The DEA is working to increase the number of federal marijuana growers. A government-authorized farm at the University of Mississippi has been the sole grower of federally approved marijuana since 1968. DEA senior policy adviser Matthew Strait said he is aware of the limitations and has drafted new regulations that would allow additional marijuana growers. 

Read more here.


Bloomberg vows to ban flavored e-cigarettes if elected president

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg on Tuesday said he would ban the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes and raise taxes on traditional cigarettes if he wins the White House. 

Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, said he would also push to reduce the amount of nicotine in traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to "nonaddictive levels."

Tobacco control has been one of Bloomberg's top priorities as a philanthropist and as a politician. 


Bloomberg Philanthropies in September announced a $160 million initiative to "end the youth e-cigarette epidemic." 

An estimated 27.5 percent of high school students said they used e-cigarettes in the past month, according to a recent study conducted by government researchers. 

Why it matters: Bloomberg's approach is much more aggressive than Trump's... While the Food & Drug Administration announced last month it would include pod-based products, like those sold by Juul, with exemptions for menthol flavors and open-tank systems that are typically found in vape shops. Bloomberg would ban them all. 

Read more here


Debate recap

In case you missed last night's Democratic debate from Des Moines, Iowa -- the last one before the Iowa caucuses -- Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault MORE (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Peter Buttigieg tangled over the costs of their competing health care proposals.


Warren, who supports "Medicare for All," said Buttigieg's plan to create a public option costs less because it's only a "small improvement" over the current system.

"They're improvements over where we are now but they are small improvements," Warren said. "That's why they cost so much less."

Medicare for All would cover every American and replace private insurers, at a cost of about $30 trillion over 10 years, according to some estimates.

Buttigieg's campaign has said his plan, which would create a public option to compete with private insurance, would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade.

More on the exchange here.


Good news for salad eaters... CDC lifts E. coli warning


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is lifting its warning about E. coli in romaine lettuce, saying the outbreak seems to be over. 

Since November, the CDC has been warning people not to eat romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley growing region in California because of the risk of E. coli infection. 

The CDC is now removing that warning, saying that the "outbreak appears to be over."

The outbreak infected 167 people from 27 states, the CDC said, with 85 hospitalizations but no deaths. 

This was the second time there had been a warning about an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce since 2018, when another risk of infection led to an advisory. 

Read more here.


What we're reading

Democrats zero in on high drug prices in Iowa debate (Stat News)

Health care data-sharing rules touch off intense lobbying fight (Politico)

That beloved hospital? It's driving up health care costs (The New York Times)


State by state

South Carolina 'ground zero' in Medicare for All push as primary nears (Associated Press

Manchin opposes West Virginia pre-existing conditions bill (Metro News)

North Carolina Medicaid expansion advocates 'mad' as bill idles (Associated Press)


From The Hill's opinion page: 

Improving federal law for pregnant workers