Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Health Care.
A quick programming note: this will be the last newsletter of the year. We’ll be back Jan. 6. For today, ObamaCare signups are stable, a new rule would force insurers to send two separate bills if they cover abortion procedures and the FDA approved the first ever Ebola vaccine.
We’ll start with the latest ObamaCare numbers…
ObamaCare sign-ups for 2020 hold largely steady at 8.3M people
Remember ObamaCare? It hasn’t been dominating the news lately, but the signup numbers released Friday are a reminder that the law keeps chugging along.
About 8.3 million people signed up for ObamaCare coverage for 2020, holding mostly steady with a slight drop from last year’s total of 8.5 million people.
The Trump administration announced the figures on Friday and said that the administration is running the health law successfully despite Democratic charges of “sabotage.”
“We are reporting that for the third year in a row enrollment in the Federal Exchange remained stable,” said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. “Far from undermining the Affordable Care Act – as some hysterical and inaccurate claims would have it – the Trump Administration is making the very best of what remains a failed experiment.”
But on the other hand, the administration is actively arguing in court that the exchanges cannot function without the individual mandate — which has now been declared invalid. The administration is still pushing for the entire law to be struck down.
Democrats have argued the enrollment figures would be higher if the Trump administration had not slashed funds for outreach and advertising efforts to encourage people to enroll.
But enrollment has not seen a large drop-off under the Trump administration, indicating it remains relatively stable.
Read more here.
New Trump rule will require separate bills for abortion services
A final rule released Friday by the Trump administration will require health insurers selling plans on ObamaCare’s federal exchanges to send separate bills to enrollees for the portion of the premium that goes towards abortion coverage.
Anti-abortion activists have long wanted the administration to prohibit the exchanges from funding abortions. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at least 18 states had ObamaCare insurers providing coverage that included abortions.
“The separate billing requirement fulfills Congress’ intent and reflects President TrumpDonald John TrumpMaxine Waters warns if Senate doesn’t remove Trump, he’ll ‘invite Putin to the White House’ Trump signs .4 T spending package, averting shutdown Twenty-five Jewish lawmakers ask Trump to fire Stephen Miller over ‘white nationalist’ comments MORE‘s strong commitment to preventing taxpayer funding of abortion coverage,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
Health officials acknowledged that the new rule could confuse plan members, who could lose their insurance if they don’t pay the separate bill for abortion coverage.
The agency said it will address that risk in the future, but for now, it won’t take enforcement action against an insurer that doesn’t terminate a plan member’s policy for nonpayment.
Abortion advocates argued this could essentially make abortion an optional coverage, and plans could drop it if people aren’t paying the premium. They said the rule makes billing unnecessarily complicated.
Health officials find more evidence linking vitamin E oil to vaping illness
Federal health officials on Friday said they have even more evidence that vitamin E acetate is one of the main causes of a mysterious lung illness that has affected more than 2,500 people and resulted in 54 deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vitamin E acetate was found in the lungs of 48 of 51 patients who either were sick or died from lung injuries. The vast majority used products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The newest findings strengthen the previous link CDC and Food and Drug Administration investigations found between vitamin E acetate and the vaping-related lung disease.
Officials said cases of the illness have dropped from their peak in September, but remain higher than when the outbreak began in June.
In addition, data published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine indicate that the addition of vitamin E acetate to THC-products aligns with the timing of the outbreak.
The additive first began to appear in the illicit market in late 2018 or early 2019, and gained popularity in 2019.
Read more here.
FDA approves first-ever Ebola prevention vaccine
Some potentially promising news on the Ebola front: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday that it has approved a vaccine that would prevent the Ebola virus.
The vaccine, called Ervebo, prevents Ebola virus disease, caused by Zaire ebolavirus in people 18 and older, according to an FDA statement.
Anna Abram, FDA deputy commissioner for policy, legislation and international affairs, said in the statement that while the risk of getting Ebola is low in the U.S., the government is “deeply committed” to combating outbreaks in Africa.
She said that the FDA’s efforts reflect its “unwavering dedication to leveraging our expertise to facilitate the development and availability of safe and effective medical products to address urgent public health needs.”
Congo is currently experiencing an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people.
Read more here.
What we’re reading
2019 was supposed to be the year Washington lowered drug prices. What happened? (Stat News)
A major funder of the anti-vaccine movement has made millions selling natural health products (Washington Post)
Canadian drug distributors say no to Trump import plan (Reuters)
Congress showers health care industry with multi-billion victory after wagging finger at it for much of 2019 (Washington Post)
Doctors prescribe more of a drug if they receive money from a pharma company tied to it (ProPublica)
“We’re looking for undecideds”: Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegClaire McCaskill: Young girls ‘are now aspiring’ to be like Warren, Klobuchar after debate Booker releases list of campaign bundlers Klobuchar raises more than M in online donations since debate MORE‘s campaign is pitting its public option against Medicare-for-all (Vox.com)
State by state
California AG Details ‘Historic’ Settlement Agreement In Sutter Health Antitrust Case (Kaiser Health News)
Government-funded day care helps keep seniors out of nursing homes and hospitals (California Healthline)
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