Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: Biden asks intel community to ‘redouble’ efforts probing COVID-19 origins | Democrats announce plan to begin crafting public option insurance bill | Lawsuit challenges Arkansas abortion ban

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Today: The public option is making a comeback, of sorts, if some top Democrats have their way. President Biden is calling for a U.S. investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, and Anthony Fauci says the timing of any possible booster shots is unclear. 

We’ll start with the origins of the coronavirus: 

Biden asks intel community to ‘redouble’ efforts probing COVID-19 origins

President Biden on Wednesday announced a ramped-up effort to determine the origins of COVID-19, reflecting a new acceptance in U.S. political and public health circles that the virus might have emerged naturally or from a Chinese lab in the city of Wuhan. 

Biden asked the U.S. intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” to come to a definitive conclusion on the disease’s origins, calling on them to report back to him within 90 days.

“As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” Biden said in a statement. “I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts. And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its work.”

Biden’s statement followed calls from other administration officials for a more thorough, independent investigation of the origins of the virus.

What’s changed: Arguably, nothing. While the lab leak theory was initially dismissed as unlikely, it’s received new traction as some scientists have expressed openness to the theory.

Scientists haven’t discovered definitive proof the virus leaked from a lab. But they also have not found hard evidence that shows the virus started in animals before naturally infecting humans, which is why some argue an investigation is needed.

Administration shift: To date, the White House has said it wants the World Health Organization (WHO) to lead any new investigation, because of the international nature of the pandemic. But the WHO conducted an earlier investigation that was widely criticized as being too dismissive of the lab theory, as the international team relied heavily on Chinese cooperation. 

Biden’s statement signals that somewhere along the line, the president decided the U.S. needed to take the lead. The White House though, is adamant nothing has changed. 

“The WHO doing their thing and the I.C., doing what they’re doing currently is not mutually exclusive,” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Read more here.

Related: Republicans seek vindication amid reemergence of Wuhan lab theory

Democrats announce plan to begin crafting public option insurance bill

Congressional lawmakers are starting the process of crafting a bill that would create a government-run public option health insurance plan.

On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a public request for information to solicit feedback on different aspects of the bill.  

The letter itself doesn’t mean much, but it’s a sign that lawmakers are serious in bringing up the idea, even if it will reportedly be left out of President Biden’s budget on Friday. 

“We believe bold steps are necessary in order to achieve universal coverage and lower health care costs,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we work to draft bold legislation, our goal is to ensure that every American has quality affordable coverage regardless of income, age, race, disability, or zip code.”

The process is going to take time, as other committees will need to get involved, including some lawmakers who have shown deference to hospitals and insurers in the past. Aides say the goal is to have hearings on legislation before the end of the year. Public comments on the information request are due July 31.

Some optimism: The idea polls well. Seven in 10 Americans support a public health insurance option, and the fact that Biden campaigned on the idea shows that Democrats think the politics have evolved from 2009, when a public option was dropped from the Affordable Care Act in order to win over moderates like Joe Lieberman. 

Battle lines: Republicans are almost universally opposed, as is the deep-pocketed health care industry. The American Hospital Association on Wednesday said a public option “would strip significant resources from providers by relying on inadequate reimbursement rates, increasing the risk of hospital closures and threatening access to care for patients and communities.”

Read more here.

Advocacy groups vs. Arkansas: Lawsuit challenges abortion ban

Advocacy organizations led by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging a near-total ban on abortions in Arkansas. 

The lawsuit argues that the law is the “culmination of a nearly decade long campaign by the Arkansas legislature to eliminate legal abortion” in the state. The groups assert in the lawsuit that the ban is a “direct affront to almost half a century of Supreme Court precedent.”

But challenging Supreme Court precedent was entirely the point. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) told CNN he signed the law “because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” as the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.

“Arkansas is the most pro-life state in the nation, and I will continue to defend laws that will protect the life of the unborn from radical organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood that promote the killing of unborn children,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement.

Background: The law in question, expected to go into effect on July 28, prohibits abortion in nearly every case and imposes stiff criminal penalties on doctors for providing care surrounding the procedure. Under the legislation, abortions will only be allowed to save the life of the mother. Cases of rape and incest are not exceptions. 

Why it’s important: The Court recently announced that it will hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with only narrow exceptions.

The Mississippi and Arkansas laws are among a slew of anti-abortion measures passed by states recently that were designed to challenge Roe v. Wade and advance the case to the Supreme Court.

Read more here.

Booster questions: Fauci says vaccine boosters probably needed, but timing unclear

President Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said it is unclear when a booster shot will be needed for the coronavirus vaccine — but that it will probably be needed at some point.

“I don’t anticipate that the durability of the vaccine protection is going to be infinite — it’s just not,” Fauci said during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “So I imagine we will need, at some time, a booster. What we’re figuring out right now is what that interval is going to be.”

“We know from studies following people from the original clinical trials that the protection goes out at least six months and likely a year,” he added. “I believe we will need a booster. I’m not exactly sure when.”

What he previously said: Earlier this month, Fauci told Axios: “I think we will almost certainly require a booster sometime within a year or so after getting the primary [shot], because the durability of protection against coronaviruses is generally not lifelong.”

Follows: The CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna said last week that those who were among the first in the U.S. to receive a coronavirus vaccine could need a booster shot by September.

Officials and experts have said that booster shots may be necessary to keep the virus under control in the country, especially as variants spread. 

Read more here

Latest incentive: New York offers 50 college scholarships in push to vaccinate teenagers

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that the state will offer 50 college scholarships to teenagers in the state who get their COVID-19 vaccine in the newest lottery incentive.

In the “Get a Shot to Make Your Future” initiative, parents with children ages 12 to 17 who get vaccinated can enter their child to win a four-year scholarship to a state college or university.

The 50 winners will be selected during five random drawings. 

Follows: New York is following in the footsteps of Ohio, which was the first state to announce a lottery initiative for vaccinations. In Ohio, five people will win $1 million, and another five minors will be rewarded four-year scholarships. 

The effort comes weeks after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for 12- to 15-year-olds, opening up the younger population to get COVID-19 shots.

Other efforts: New York previously announced that adults who get vaccinated this week will get a free New York Lottery scratch-off ticket for the Mega Multiplier Lottery. Colorado, Maryland and Oregon have also launched cash lotteries to get more of their population vaccinated. 

As vaccination rates nationwide have dropped significantly, the White House has encouraged states to be creative, whether with lotteries or other incentives, to get people vaccinated.

Read more here

What we’re reading

Immunity to the coronavirus may persist for years, scientists find (The New York Times)

Resistance to vaccine mandates is building. A powerful network is helping. (The Washington Post)

Shuttered hospitals, soaring Covid-19 deaths: Rural Black communities lose a lifeline in the century’s worst health crisis (STAT

Why a grand plan to vaccinate the world against Covid unraveled (The Wall Street Journal)

State by state

Black residents now account for more than 8 in 10 D.C. coronavirus cases (The Washington Post)

Warnock, Ossoff press for a new path to expand Georgia’s Medicaid (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Get vaccinated or find another job, Chicago assisted living company tells workers. Will more health care providers follow? (Chicago Tribune

Texas bill to cap insulin prices headed to Gov. Abbott’s desk (KXAN

Op-eds in The Hill 

Misinformation throws a wrench in self-imposed mask-wearing

For full recovery, bring medics off the pandemic sideline

Stopping the next pandemic: We need a ‘space race’ against viruses 

Tags Andrew Cuomo Anthony Fauci Asa Hutchinson Joe Biden Karine Jean-Pierre Patty Murray

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