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Morning Rounds

Confirmation hearings start for SCOTUS pick

Brett Kavanaugh will be in the hot seat this morning as four days of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee get underway. President Trump's pick for the Supreme Court will likely be grilled about his views on several key health care issues. Here’s what to expect:

  • ​Obamacare: With Republican-led states challenging key provisions of the Affordable Care Act in a lawsuit that could land at the Supreme Court, the health care law promises to be a focal point of the hearings. Kavanaugh hasn't explicitly rejected or endorsed Obamacare, but dissented in a 2011 case challenging the law. Kavanaugh said the D.C. appeals court didn't have the jurisdiction at that point to rule in the case.
  • Abortion: Kavanaugh's nomination has sparked concern among Democrats and reproductive rights groups about the future of abortion access. He’ll likely face questions about his dissent last fall in Garza v. Hargan, the fierce fight over an immigrant teen’s right to access an abortion.
  • Contraception: Lawmakers might also ask Kavanaugh about whether he would vote to uphold contraceptive coverage outlined in Obamacare. In a 2015 dissent, Kavanaugh argued that the mandate impedes the rights of religious organizations, but noted the government has a "compelling interest" in making sure employees of those organizations can access contraception.

Drug regulators gather to develop new ways to tackle counterfeit medicines

Drug regulators and pharmaceutical companies from across the globe are arriving this week in Ireland for a conference convened by the WHO. Today, drug industry representatives, non-governmental organizations, and donors are expected to discuss safety surveillance and special regulatory steps to provide products in a public health emergency, among other issues. And tomorrow, delegates from 94 countries will talk about the ways they can collaborate to more quickly approve new health products and how to tackle counterfeit and low-quality drugs. A WHO report published last year found that 11 percent of medicines in developing countries are counterfeit.

Inside STATDrug prices take center stage in a contentious Democratic primary

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Kerri Evelyn Harris has made drug prices a key part of her platform. (Michelle Gustafson for the intercept)

Sen. Tom Carper, an 18-year incumbent from Delaware, has accepted more than $500,000 to his campaigns from the pharmaceutical and health products industries over the course of his political career. But as rancor over high drug prices has spread, a primary opponent is seeking to make that support a political liability.

Kerri Evelyn Harris, a community organizer and fellow Democrat, is campaigning to unseat Cooper, in large part by tying him to "big pharma." But in Delaware, where the biopharmaceutical industry is estimated to be responsible for more than 10,000 jobs, she has also had to thread a needle. STAT’s Lev Facher has the story from the First State, where the primary is set for Thursday.

Homelessness tied to a higher risk of health problems in young kids

Experiencing homelessness early in life — or even in the womb — is linked to an increased risk of health problems among young kids, according to a new study. Researchers interviewed 20,000 low-income caregivers of kids under 4 who visited pediatric clinics in five U.S. cities and also looked at health data from those children. More than 3 percent said they were homeless while pregnant or while the child was still a baby. Those children were at a higher risk of health problems, as were young kids who were homeless for more than six months. The authors say pediatricians should regularly be screening for housing insecurity, including past periods of homelessness.

The latest on the Ebola outbreak in DRC

There have been 120 cases of Ebola in the ongoing outbreak of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including 50 confirmed and 30 probable deaths, the WHO reports. Nearly 5,500 people — including health workers, contacts of sick people, and contacts of those contacts — have been vaccinated since early August. But pregnant and lactating women still aren’t eligible to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine. In a recent First Opinion for STAT, three experts called on health officials to reverse that decision, noting the fatality rate is 80 percent or higher for pregnant women who contract Ebola and nearly all survivors miscarry. The WHO’s Peter Salama told the news site IRIN that an advisory group is combing through the evidence again to weigh the risks and benefits.

Scientists create tiny trick sponges to curb joint inflammation

Biomedical engineers looking for new approaches to target proteins that play a part in rheumatoid arthritis have come up with a new idea: soak them up with nano-sized sponges. In rheumatoid arthritis, cells in the joints produce inflammatory proteins called cytokines. Those bring cells called neutrophils into the joints, where they bind with cytokines and produce more cytokines. The nanosponges are designed to stop that cycle by tricking cytokines into thinking they’re neutrophils. In a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis, the scientists injected the nanosponges into joints and observed swelling go down. The sponges also successfully prevented the disease in another group of mice.

What to read around the web today

  • In health care venture, Berkshire Hathaway investors see another blockbuster for Buffett STAT Plus
  • Insulin's high cost leads to lethal rationing. NPR
  • Pediatrics group encourages parents to steer clear of popular FluMist in favor of shots. STAT
  • Bed sores, neglect, alleged abuse: inside the Bedford VA nursing home. Boston Globe
  • Tricky ads from a vitamin company that talks up openness. New York Times

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

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