Health Care — House report details restrictions on free birth control

Don’t tell your kids: a new study shows children who play video games for at least three hours a day may have better cognitive performance than those who never play. 
 
In health news, a staff report from House Oversight Democrats found insurers and PBMs limited access to birth control that’s supposed to be free.  
 
Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi.

Panel: Insurers improperly limit birth control access

Some of the nation’s largest insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) impose coverage exclusions and other restrictions on birth control products, contrary to an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement, according to a House investigation. 

Under the ACA, health plans must cover Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive products without cost-sharing. 

But a staff report from the Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee found insurers and PBMs required patients to pay some of the cost or otherwise limited coverage of more than 30 birth control products. 

The investigation also found that companies denied many exception requests. 

  • The law requires each plan or issuer to cover without cost-sharing at least one form of contraception in each of the 18 categories of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, as well as methods deemed medically appropriate by a health provider.
  • The investigation found the majority of companies reported denying an annual average of at least 40 percent of exception requests for contraceptive products from 2015 through 2021.
  • The investigation identified 34 different contraceptive products that the majority of companies exclude from coverage or require cost-sharing on at least one plan or formulary.   

“In the wake of the extreme Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ability to decide if and when to become pregnant has never been more important,” House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “I urge the Administration to further update their guidance to address the concerns identified in this report.”

Read more here. 

White House urges more funding for COVID efforts

White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha on Tuesday warned that existing COVID-19 treatments may not work against emerging subvariants of the omicron strain, and a lack of congressional funding puts immunocompromised people at risk. 

“With some of the new subvariants emerging, some of the main tools we’ve had to protect the immunocompromised, like Evusheld, may not work moving forward. That’s a huge challenge,” Jha said.  

  • Evusheld is the only monoclonal antibody authorized as a periodic injection to prevent infection, and has been essential for people with compromised or weakened immune systems.
  • But experts and health officials have become alarmed that the treatment does not work against the BA.4.6 strain, which accounts for about 12 percent of all infections.  

Jha said that without additional funding from Congress, the administration won’t be able to invest in treatments that work against emerging variants.  

Other monoclonal antibodies that were previously successful against older variants, such as one made by Regeneron, have been pulled from the market as they are no longer effective against new variants.  

Read more here. 

OPTIMISM ABOUT NEXT GENERATION’S QUALITY OF LIFE DROPS: GALLUP

Just 42 percent of U.S. adults think today’s youth will have a better life than their parents, down from 60 percent last measured in June of 2019. The findings are reflected in a new Gallup poll conducted among 812 adults in September 2022.  

Partisan cynicism: The declines are mainly driven by a lack of optimism among Republicans and independents who say they lean Republican, according to authors, as optimism fell 33 points since 2019 in these groups. Democrats’ optimism largely remained the same.  

Only 13 percent of adults reported it is “very” likely that youth in 2022 will have a better living standard, better homes, a better education and so on in the future. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said this possibility is “somewhat” likely.  

The total is also statistically equal to the lowest reported level of optimism, measured in 2011. Gallup has been assessing Americans’ optimism about future living standards since 2008, but before that, other organizations including The New York Times and CBS News posed the question to the public. 

Read more here. 

LAWSUIT ALLEGES BEAUTY COMPANIES’ PRODUCTS CAUSE CANCER

A mass tort lawsuit brought against beauty giant L’Oreal and other beauty companies alleges chemical hair straightening products sold contributed to women contracting uterine cancer and increased users’ risks of uterine cancer.

  • Filed on Oct. 21 in Illinois, the suit comes on the heels of a new National Institutes of Health study that found frequent chemical hair straightening doubled the risk of developing uterine cancer among women compared with those who did not use the products. 
  • The suit was filed on behalf of 32-year-old St. Louis resident Jenny Mitchell who claims her uterine cancer was caused by direct and prolonged exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the products. Mitchell began using the products around the year 2000 and continued until March 2022, CNN reports.
  • Other companies sued include Strength of Nature Global LLC, Soft Sheen Carson (W.I.) Inc., Dabur International Ltd. and Dabur USA Inc., and Namaste Laboratories.  

Racial disparities: Because Black women are more likely than others to use these products, researchers noted the risk of developing uterine cancer was particularly high in this group. 

Although uterine cancer is a relatively rare disease, accounting for just 3.4 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States, incidence rates have increased in recent years while data show non-Hispanic Black women are at a heightened risk of aggressive forms of the cancer and tend to have poor survival rates. 

Read more here. 

Biden gets COVID shot, urges others get vaccinated

President Biden on Tuesday received his updated COVID-19 vaccination shot on camera, using the moment to call on members of the public to get their bivalent COVID-19 booster shots ahead of the winter months. 

“The truth is not enough people are getting it. We’ve got to change that so we all can have a safe and healthy holiday season,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. 

“As a country … we have a choice to make. Can we repeat what happened in the past winter, more infections, more hospitals, more loved ones getting sick, even dying from the virus, or can we have a much better winter?” he added. 

His fifth dose: Biden then received his dose of the bivalent omicron-specific shot, which comes almost three months exactly after he tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. 

Biden was joined for his shot by White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as well as representatives from health care retailers such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid. 

The president encouraged Americans to use Paxlovid if they have COVID-19 and to get tested if they think they have COVID-19. He mentioned the federal program to provide free tests to Americans is paused because Congress didn’t allocate new funding for it.  

Bearing down: He called on Congress to provide more COVID-19 funding, saying, “Some members of Congress say they want to move beyond COVID but they don’t want to spend the money to do it.” 

Read more here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Hospitals said they lost money on Medicare patients. Some made millions, a state report finds (Kaiser Health News) 
  • Just 15% of Republicans have “great deal” of confidence in scientists (Axios) 
  • On the campaign trail, Republicans ramp up anti-science, anti-Covid, often anti-Fauci messaging (Stat) 

STATE BY STATE

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and explore more newsletters here. See you tomorrow!

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