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Health Care — Sanders aims to lead Senate health committee

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Today in health, we get a glimpse at what the 118th U.S. Congress might look like, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vying for the chairmanship of a top Senate health committee. 

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. Someone forward you this newsletter? 

Sanders to seek gavel of health committee 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is pursuing the top spot on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, his spokesman said Thursday, now that Democrats are poised to maintain control of the Senate. 

As leader of the committee with jurisdiction over much of federal health policy, Sanders will have a platform to champion his progressive causes, including his “Medicare for All” proposal.  

“As chairman of the committee, he will focus on universal health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, increasing access to higher education, and protecting workers’ rights on the job,” Sanders spokesman Mike Casca said. 

While progressive policies won’t get traction in the GOP-controlled House, Sanders will still be able to call hearings and cause headaches for health industry executives. 

Earlier on Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) said that he will take over as the top Republican on the chamber’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee next year, setting up Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to be the ranking member of HELP. 

Read more here. 

Senate passes marijuana research bill 

The Senate on Wednesday night passed a bill that will expand research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana and CBD. 

The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was passed on Wednesday through unanimous consent and will now head to President Biden’s desk to be signed. 

The bill is the first standalone marijuana bill to pass both chambers of Congress. It passed the House in July. 

The legislation is intended to make it easier for scientists to conduct research into medical marijuana and its derivatives. Under the provisions of this legislation, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be directed to register entities who conduct marijuana research and those who supply the marijuana. 

The registered entities will be permitted to manufacture, distribute, dispense and possess marijuana or CBD for medical research purposes. 

  • Until this year, the National Center for the Development of Natural Products at the University of Mississippi was the only approved supplier of marijuana for research purposes in the United States.  
  • However, the DEA said in 2021 that it would prioritize efforts to expand marijuana research and approved six new entities this year, including the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona and Royal Emerald Pharmaceuticals in California. 

“There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits. Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill along with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). 

Impact: The bipartisan nature of the bill, and the fact it was passed unanimously through both chambers, signals a potential shift in how lawmakers perceive marijuana and marijuana policy.  

Read more here. 


Premature births in the United States in 2021 reached their highest point since 2007, according to the March of Dimes Report Card on maternal and infant health. 

In 2021, 10.5 percent of babies born in the U.S. were premature, or born before
37 weeks of gestational age, a 4 percent increase from 2020. Just four states saw a decrease in premature births. 

“The report card indicates the maternal and infant health crisis is worsening for all families,” the group concluded, calling the rise in premature births “troubling.” 

Doing worse: The U.S. overall received a D+ on the report card, a notch lower than its C- rating in 2020. 

  • Vermont was the only state to score a top grade, earning an A- with the country’s lowest premature birth rate of 8 percent.  
  • Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho all scored B grades with premature birth rates at or near 9 percent, as did New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey.  
  • Nine states, mostly clustered in the southeast, and Puerto Rico earned an F. Mississippi had the highest premature birth rate, at 15 percent, followed by Louisiana at 13.5 percent and Alabama at 13.1 percent. 

Read more here. 


There were more than 51,000 home births in the United States in 2021, marking a
12 percent increase from the year before, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The 2021 number represents the highest level of home births that have occurred in the country since 1990, according to the report.   

The percentage of at-home births for women regardless of race increased from
1.03 percent in 2019 to 1.26 percent in 2020 to 1.41 percent in 2021.   

  • Homebirths have been uncommon in the United States since the 20th century, making up less than 1 percent of all births in the 1990s.   
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend women have at-home births and instead suggests that expecting mothers deliver their children at a hospital or an accredited birth center.   
  • Planned home births in the U.S have been linked to a two-to-three-fold increase in infant mortality, according to the AAP.   

Read more here. 

Half of younger primary care doctors burned out: survey  

New results of a Commonwealth Fund survey spell concern for a profession already experiencing shortages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Half of primary care physicians under age 55 in the United States report being burned out, while 61 percent said they’ve experienced emotional distress since the start of the pandemic.  
  • Compounding these findings, 45 percent U.S. primary care physicians aged
    55 or older plan to stop seeing patients within the next one to three years, according to the survey. Prior to COVID-19, data showed American medical students were already less likely to pursue a career in primary care, instead opting for specialty fields. 

Physicians experiencing stress, emotional distress or burnout were also more likely to say the quality of care they provided declined during the crisis.  

These findings are similar to previous research, which found emotional and psychological distress among junior medical staff tended to be higher than their older peers, even in regions where COVID-19 rates were relatively low, authors noted.  

Worsening shortage: By 2034, it’s estimated the country will face a shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians.  

“The survey findings confirmed what many feared to be true,” said Commonwealth Fund president David Blumenthal in a briefing. “The pandemic is taking an alarming toll on the well-being of our primary care workforce, both here in the U.S. and around the world.” 

Read more here. 


  • Hospitals often charge uninsured people the highest prices, new data show (Wall Street Journal) 
  • Cancer diagnoses lag after screenings fall during pandemic, U.S. study finds (Reuters) 
  • In a Republican-led House, probing science agencies tops the agenda (Stat) 


  • Columbus measles outbreak swells to 24 cases as 9 kids are hospitalized (Columbus Dispatch) 
  • Oklahoma proposes landmark rule to keep mailed medications safe from extreme temperatures (NBC News) 
  • COVID in California: Black hairy tongue, an unsightly but common symptom, gets fresh attention (San Francisco Chronicle) 


Lifesaving treatment can curb overdoses — Congress must act now 

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

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