Overnight Health Care: Officials confirm 34 total coronavirus cases in US | ObamaCare favorability hits highest level in poll | McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign
Overnight Health Care: Progressives raise red flags over health insurer donations | Republican FTC commish backs Medicare negotiating drug prices | Trump moves to protect money for religious groups
Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.
Progressive groups are raising red flags over health insurers donating to Democratic candidates, an HHS proposal on religious groups is getting pushback, and a Trump-appointed FTC commissioner broke with her party on drug prices.
We'll start with 2020 donors:
Progressives raise red flags over health insurer donations
A lot of Democrats are talking about "Medicare for All," which would essentially abolish private health insurance, but that's not stopping donations from the industry to Democrats.
Four big insurance companies -- Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health and Cigna -- and their employees have given about $4.5 million collectively in campaign contributions in the 2020 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Just more than half -- about $2.3 million -- of that has gone to Democrats, including to some of the party's top-tier presidential contenders. The Center for Responsive Politics totals are based on Federal Election Commission data through the third quarter of 2019 and include money from the companies and their PACs, owners and employees and their immediate families.
These companies and employees have been giving big, on both sides, in recent cycles, and that has progressives worried
"Insurance companies are using their money to try and influence not only Republicans but Democrats as well. The problem is that they control the whole system," Paco Fabian, director of campaigns at the progressive group Our Revolution, told The Hill.
Vaping illness update: 60 deaths in 27 states
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 60 deaths in 27 states linked to the vaping-related lung illness outbreak that began this summer.
As of Tuesday, 2,668 cases of hospitalization or death were reported to the CDC.
The illnesses have been tied to THC vapes that were mostly obtained from informal sources, like friends, family or dealers.
The CDC investigation into the cause of the illnesses has zeroed in on vitamin E acetate, a chemical compound that has mostly been found in THC vaping products. According to experts, vitamin E has been used in unregulated, illegal vaping products to dilute THC oil in order to maximize profits.
Republican FTC commissioner says she supports Medicare negotiating drug prices
There's a somewhat unexpected source of support for Medicare negotiating drug prices: a Republican FTC Commissioner.
"I may touch a third rail here," Christine Wilson, said while speaking at a health care conference in Washington. "I think part of the problem is that the federal government has not been able to negotiate under certain parts of Medicare and Medicaid for pharmaceutical prices."
Context: The remarks from an appointee of President Trump to the FTC come amid a raging debate over high drug prices. Democrats are touting a bill the House passed in December to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices.
But President Trump and Senate Republicans have rejected that bill, backing more modest alternatives.
"The federal government, which accounts for I think a third of pharmaceutical spending, is essentially a price-taker, and that seems like a problem to me," Wilson added at a conference hosted by the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, a coalition of health care companies and other groups.
Trump moves to protect money for religious organizations
Nine federal agencies -- including the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Education -- released proposed rules that aim to remove what Trump administration officials describe as "discriminatory regulatory burdens" that the Obama administration placed on religious organizations that receive federal funding.
Under the Obama rule, religious health care providers need to tell patients that they can receive the same services from a secular provider, and need to provide reasonable efforts to refer the patient elsewhere if he or she objects to the religious character of the organization.
The proposal drew swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers as well as LGBTQ and abortion advocates, who said it would give providers a license to discriminate. Advocates argued that some people seeking services at religious organizations may feel pressured to participate in religious activity.
They have also alleged the administration is unfairly giving more money to Christian organizations.
From Planned Parenthood Federation of America: "Our taxpayer dollars should go to organizations that provide culturally competent, expert care and services without discrimination -- not to organizations that deny services to vulnerable communities. This proposed rule is dangerous, and it could do serious harm to those who already face barriers to care, including LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): "This proposed rule amplifies previous actions by not only allowing faith-based providers to turn Americans away, but making it harder for those in need to find a place to go after they are denied services. This change could also tie the hands of local and state governments from stepping in to prevent discrimination."
Report: Progress in reducing racial gap in health insurance has stalled since 2016
While ObamaCare helped narrow gaps in access to health care for racial and ethnic groups, progress has stalled since 2016, according to a report released Thursday.
The rate of black and Hispanic adults with health insurance improved after implementation of the 2010 health care law, bringing it more in line with the rate of white adults who have health insurance.
But coverage gains for blacks and Hispanics have stalled since 2016, along with the overall population of the U.S., according to the report from the Commonwealth Fund.
"It's encouraging to see that the gaps in access to health care for black and Hispanic adults are narrowing over time, but we cannot let the progress we've made slip through our fingers," said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund.
Takeaway: The researchers note that racial gaps in coverage could shrink further if the remaining 15 states that haven't expanded Medicaid do so.
What we're reading
Pharma execs pitch ideas at #JPM20 to lower drug costs. None of them include dropping their own prices (CNBC)
What the 2020s have in store for aging boomers (Kaiser Health News)
'Donation after cardiac death': New heart transplant method being tested for the first time in the U.S. (Stat News)
State by state
Missouri governor pledges to combat violent crime, blasts Medicaid expansion in annual message (Kansas City Star)
Austin confirms its first case of rubella since 1999, less than a month after finding measles (KVUE)
Legislative mini-session produces little movement on health care issues, despite new call for Medicaid expansion (North Carolina Health News)