Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: Justices won’t fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care.

The ObamaCare lawsuit likely won’t be decided before the 2020 election in a blow to Democrats and blue states. And despite questions about the future of the law, Trump health chief Alex Azar, though, is downplaying the need to come up with a replacement plan for now. On the campaign front, Planned Parenthood endorsed Susan Collins’s challenger, and in public health news, a case of the Chinese coronavirus has been found in the U.S.

We’ll start with ObamaCare…


Supreme Court denies blue states’ effort to expedite ObamaCare challenge

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an effort by Democrats to expedite a challenge to a lower court’s ruling striking down a key tenet of ObamaCare, narrowing the possibility that the court takes up the contentious case this year.

The court could still take up the case through the regular briefing schedule, but even if that happens, the decision on taking up the case will likely not come until March at the earliest.

The House of Representatives and a group of blue states had asked the court to fast-track their appeal after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional.

The panel of judges sent the case back to a federal judge in Texas — who ruled the entire law unconstitutional in 2018 — to reconsider how much of it could survive without the individual mandate. 

The fact that the lawsuit is still alive could prove to be a double-edged sword for Republicans. In the immediate, the Supreme Court’s denial to expedite means the GOP won’t face pressure to come up with a replacement in the middle of the 2020 campaign. Republicans could also escape 2020 without serious political consequences if the law ends up being struck down after the election.

But Democrats will likely highlight the lawsuit’s continuing threat to the law, and the fact that the Trump administration is still actively trying to repeal protections for people with pre-existing conditions. 

What’s next: SCOTUS still needs to decide if it will hear the case 

Read more on the decision here.


Trump health chief: ‘Not a need’ for ObamaCare replacement plan right now

Democrats quickly seized on comments from Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday downplaying the need for an ObamaCare replacement plan.

“There’s really not a need for a replacement of the Affordable Care Act unless and until there’s a final Supreme Court decision,” Azar said, adding that would be “some time away.”

He also added that the administration could need a replacement if Republicans win back the House in this year’s election but noted that the current Democratic-led House has no interest in repealing and replacing ObamaCare. 

“I can assure you that’s not on [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s [D-Calif.] agenda,” Azar said, adding that “it’s not a material thing right now.”

The politics: Democrats used the comments to argue the administration is jeopardizing people’s health care without a plan to fill the gap if the lawsuit succeeds. 

“It is truly impossible to overstate the Trump Administration’s arrogance and duplicity when asked about their assaults on health care and pre-existing condition protections,” Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), tweeted in response to the comments. 

Read more here


Azar pushes for Senate drug bill

In a separate interview with an Iowa radio station, Azar called on the Senate to pass a bill sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would cap the price increases drug companies take every year. 

“We have to get that package to the Senate floor. We’ve got to get that passed out of Congress,” he said. 

The politics: Trump is desperately seeking a win on drug prices. Trump reportedly called Azar last week during a meeting with his campaign and complained about polling numbers that show Democrats are winning on health care. 

“He’s calling me — we’ve been talking over the past week constantly about the steps we can keep taking to make health care more affordable for people,” Azar said. 

Lowering drug prices has been one of Trump’s top goals, but his agenda has been halted by the courts, regulatory obstacles and opposition from special interests. Azar has previously acknowledged that Congress has more power here than the administration. 


First US case of Wuhan coronavirus confirmed in Washington state 

The CDC said Tuesday that one case has been identified in Everett, Wash. The patient is a 30-year-old man who had recently traveled from Wuhan, a CDC official said Tuesday. The Washington State Department of Health said the man was being treated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, about half an hour north of Seattle.

He is in good condition and currently hospitalized “out of an abundance of caution” and for short-term monitoring, the CDC said. 

The patient entered the U.S. before the airport screening was implemented last week and didn’t experience any symptoms until later.

The CDC said it’s still unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people but believes the risk to the American public at large “remains low at this time.”

The CDC noted that while the illness has caused some deaths, other patients have had milder symptoms and have been discharged.

Context: The virus has infected more than 300 people, mostly in China, where it was first identified. 

Four cases have been identified outside of China in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan. At least six people have died. 

The CDC said it’s still unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people but believes the risk to the American public at large “remains low at this time.”

Read more on the virus here


Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement in Maine Senate race

Planned Parenthood Action Fund has endorsed the Democrat challenging Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in her closely watched reelection race.

Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of Sara Gideon, Speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives, could be a setback for Collins, who is one of the few Republicans in Congress who supports abortion rights.

Collins had been supported by Planned Parenthood in the past. But the organization said Collins has “abandoned” women with her vote last year to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct.

Planned Parenthood hasn’t endorsed Collins since 2002; the group remained neutral in her 2008 and 2014 Senate campaigns. 

But 2020 is a crucial election year for reproductive rights groups as the battle over abortion shifts from the states and Congress to the courts. 

“We were once encouraged by Senator Collins’s support of reproductive rights, yet she has abandoned not only the people of Maine, but women across the country,” said Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson.

Read more here.


Second-largest doctors group in US endorses Medicare for All, public option

The American College of Physicians came out with a major policy endorsement: they want universal coverage. The body endorsed “Medicare for All” as well as a public option, as possible routes for achieving that goal in a paper Monday night.

Why it matters: Much of the rest of the health care industry has expressed opposition to the idea, including the largest doctors group, the American Medical Association. This is an important crack in the wall. 

More to come?: There are also signs that doctors overall are becoming less opposed to Medicare for All, which traditionally has been opposed as leading to cuts to doctor payments. 

The American Medical Association’s House of Delegates came close to voting to overturn its long-standing opposition to Medicare for All in June, with the vote failing 53 percent to 47 percent. 

The association then left the industry coalition fighting Medicare for All, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, in August.  

Read more here


What we’re reading

WHO raises possibility of ‘sustained’ human-to-human transmission of new virus in China (Stat News

Health-care and tech stocks tend to underperform in election years (The Wall Street Journal

Hospitals give tech giants access to detailed medical records (The Wall Street Journal


State by state

West Virginia House of Delegates passes bill to lower prescription drug prices (WOWK)

Cuomo budget proposal calls for Medicaid savings, pot sales in New York (NBC New York)

For 2020, California goes big on health care (California Health Line)


From The Hill’s opinion page

VA leader must demonstrate commitment to ending harassment 

When a health policy causes harm

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Chuck Grassley Nancy Pelosi Ron Wyden Susan Collins

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