Overnight Health Care: WHO declines to declare Chinese virus a global emergency | Insurers to help launch nonprofit to lower drug prices | Anti-abortion group targets battleground Dems

Overnight Health Care: WHO declines to declare Chinese virus a global emergency | Insurers to help launch nonprofit to lower drug prices | Anti-abortion group targets battleground Dems
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Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.

The novel coronavirus outbreak is not a public health emergency yet, Blue Cross wants to lower drug prices, and a House Democrat wants FDA to step up oversight on menthol e-cigarettes.

We'll start with the latest on the coronavirus...



WHO declines to declare Chinese virus a global health emergency

The spread of a novel coronavirus that originated from China is not a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Thursday. At least not yet.

According to Didier Houssin, chair of the WHO emergency committee, the general conclusion was that it was too early to recommend a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

"Now is not the time. It's too early to consider that this event is a public health emergency of international concern," Houssin said. 

"Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, said during a press conference.

The decision was based on the limited number of cases outside China, as well as Chinese efforts to stop the spread of the disease.


Tedros said the WHO assessment is that the outbreak is a very high risk in China and a high risk regionally and globally. However, he said health officials are equipped to successfully combat the disease in China and in the countries where it has spread. 

"China has taken measures it believes appropriate to contain the spread of coronavirus in Wuhan and other cities," he said. 

Tedros said other countries should be prepared for more cases, and noted that WHO could reconvene at a "moment's notice." 

Read more here.


Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have issued a travel advisory...


State Department, CDC issue travel advisory over Chinese virus

The State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are advising travelers to China to "exercise increased caution" due to the outbreak of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan. 

According to the travel advisory, anyone who has traveled to Wuhan and feels sick should seek medical care right away. It also urged people to call ahead to the doctor's office or emergency room to tell them about the recent travel and any symptoms. 

The agencies are urging Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Wuhan. 

Chinese officials have closed transport into and out of the city of 11 million, including buses, subways, trains and the international airport.

On Thursday, Chinese authorities announced a similar lockdown of the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. The cities are enormous. With a combined population of over 18 million people, the Associated Press noted the lockdown will encompass more people than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.

Read more here.



Blue Cross insurers to help launch nonprofit drug company to lower prices

Health insurers are getting into a somewhat surprising line of business: making drugs. 

A group of 18 Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurers is helping to create a nonprofit drug company to make certain generic drugs themselves, targeting medicines where there is a lack of competition and a need to bring down prices. 

The insurers are providing $55 million to make a new subsidiary of Civica Rx, a nonprofit drugmaker founded in 2018 by a group of hospitals. Civica Rx has focused on making drugs that are administered in hospitals, but the new subsidiary will focus on drugs that people pick up at the pharmacy counter, outside of a hospital.

What it means: It's another sign of shakeups in the health industry and frustration at rising drug prices. 

"Add 'insurers become drug manufacturers' to the list of ways the health care system is regrouping," tweeted Walid Gellad, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh. 


Read more here


Anti-abortion group airs ads targeting Democrats in battleground states

Women Speak Out PAC released a new digital ad Thursday targeting Democrats to run in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. 

The PAC is affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that backs President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE's reelection campaign. 

The 30-second spot, which the groups plan to run on Facebook,  accuses Democrats of being "radical" on the issue of abortion" while describing Trump as the "most pro-life president in history." 

The two groups recently announced a $52 million organizational budget for the 2020 cycle (but have not said how much of that will be spent on campaign activities). 


Trump will become the first sitting president Friday to speak at the March for Life, the annual march against abortion in Washington. 


Tennessee Gov. to introduce legislation restricting abortion 

Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that he would introduce legislation to the state assembly banning abortion after the detection of a "fetal heartbeat. The bill would also require ultrasounds before abortion procedures, and ban abortion on the basis of race, sex, health or disability diagnosis. 

"As someone who takes seriously the cause of life, I am ecstatic to support this legislation. The many provisions of this bill represent great leaps forward for the cause of life in Tennessee," Lee said in a statement. 

Why it matters: Lee said the legislation would be built to withstand legal challenges. It will include "sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder." So abortion bans would kick in at eight, 10, and 12 weeks, until one is upheld in court. 


Dem presses FDA on oversight of menthol e-cigarettes

The chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee thinks the FDA doesn't have the capability to track whether teens are switching to menthol e-cigarettes in the wake of the Trump administration's flavor ban.

In case you forgot: earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on nearly all pod-based e-cigarette flavors, except for menthol and tobacco.

In a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHouse subcommittee says Trump administration did not adequately screen travelers from Italy, South Korea for COVID-19 Lawmakers push for mental health funding for providers in next aid package FDA grants emergency approval to Swiss firm's coronavirus antibody test MORE (D-Ill.), chairman of the Oversight subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, said the agency needs to tell him by Feb. 4 how it plans to monitor the large number of children who could migrate to menthol e-cigarettes from other now-banned flavors.  

He said FDA must commit to banning menthol e-cigarettes if youth use surges. 

Krishnamoorthi has been one of the main House Democrats leading an investigation into e-cigarette manufacturing giant Juul, and its practices of allegedly marketing to young people.


In related news...


Surgeon General says not enough evidence that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking

A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General found there's not enough evidence to say for certain whether e-cigarettes help people quit smoking, contrary to arguments from the e-cigarette industry.

Industry groups, along with conservative allies, lobbied against a potential vaping flavor ban in part because they said flavors helped adult smokers quit traditional cigarettes. But the industry has also objected to being regulated as a smoking cessation device.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Thursday released a massive new report on smoking cessation — the first such report in 30 years.

Many of the studies on e-cigarettes focus on specific products, Adams said. E-cigarettes are "a continually changing and diverse group of products" and are used in a variety of ways, so it's difficult to make generalizations. But there has been anecdotal evidence.

"We've heard powerful accounts from adults out there who tell us that they've used e-cigarettes to successfully transition from combustible cigarettes," Adams said during a news conference.   


What we're reading

Want to know how contentious drug pricing is in Washington? Check the receipts (Stat News)

'Hotspotting' for heavy health care users marches on, despite new doubts (Kaiser Health News)  

In opioid trial, pharmaceutical executive John Kapoor sentenced to 5.5 years (WGBH)


State by state

Iowa lawmakers consider measures to protect people with pre-existing conditions as 'ObamaCare' faces legal challenges (Des Moines Register

In wake of New York Gov. Cuomo's Medicaid plan, NYC officials grab their wallets (Politico)


From The Hill's opinion page

How worried should we be about the coronavirus? 

Cancer mortality is decreasing and we're just getting started