THE PROGNOSIS

Liberals fearing yet another Supreme Court vacancy for President Trump to fill have some cause for relief: It doesn’t appear that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is going anywhere anytime soon.

The 86-year-old justice told CNN this week she is still “cancer-free,” six months after undergoing radiation to remove a cancerous tumor on her pancreas. 

“I’m cancer-free. That’s good,” Ginsburg said in an “energized” manner, according to reporter Joan Biskupic.

Ginsburg’s age and health have been top of mind for policymakers, lawmakers and activists who wonder whether Trump will have a third opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice — and further cement his already well-established legacy of orienting the nation’s courts in a more conservative direction.

Former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett:

Former congresswoman Gwen Graham (D-Fla.) and candidate for governor:

The progressive and iconic justice, lately the subject of several films exploring her life’s broad impact, has fought cancer four times — and won. Before her pancreatic cancer diagnosis last year, Ginsburg underwent surgery for lung cancer in December 2018. She had surgery for early-stage pancreatic cancer in 2009 and was treated for colon cancer a decade before that.

She missed a day of oral arguments in November because of what a court spokesman described as a “stomach bug.” That same month she was hospitalized over a weekend for chills and a fever and treated for a possible infection. 

But it’s rare for her to miss a day on the bench, and she still makes frequent outside appearances. After her August treatment, she told a crowd at the National Book Festival in Washington that “this audience can see that I am alive.”

Ginsburg is the eldest and most senior of the court’s four remaining liberal justices. In many recent cases, these four have dissented from the five conservative-leaning justices, who now include Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

When asked how long she’ll serve, Ginsburg usually responds that she won’t retire as long as she can do the job “full steam.” Yet Democrats fear that could occur before their own party controls the White House again, as another Trump appointee probably would ensure a conservative majority on the court for decades to come.

“Ginsburg’s fans, many of who call her the ‘Notorious RBG’ and have her likeness as action figurestattoos and on ugly Christmas sweaters, celebrated the news of her clean bill of health on social media,” my Washington Post colleague Colby Itkowitz writes.

Of course, conservatives – especially antiabortion rights activists – would love to see Ginsburg step down. 

A tweet last year from Frank Pavone, director of the Catholic group Priests for Life:

But regardless of when Ginsburg eventually steps down, conservatives already have an upper hand on the court.

The court is scheduled in early March to consider a Louisiana law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The question is whether the law unduly burdens women's access to abortion — but antiabortion activists and GOP lawmakers are asking the court to do something much broader: To reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade and 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings, two landmark abortion rights decisions.

A group of 207 lawmakers signed an amicus brief last week asking the court to “again take up the issue of whether Roe and Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled.” Just two Democrats – Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Daniel Lipinski (Ill.) – signed on to the brief.

The brief signals the optimism conservatives feel that the court will rule with them — although Kavanaugh in particular hasn’t ruled on many abortion rights cases in the past, so it’s impossible to perfectly predict his stance.

And then there’s another big health-care case sitting at the Supreme Court’s doorstep — one that Republicans may not be so eager for it to take up.

Democratic-led states have asked it to hear a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, a case that could result in the dismantling of part or all of the law’s patient protections and coverage expansions. The Democrats defending the law don’t want that to happen — but they do recognize that a Supreme Court ruling in the middle of an election year would draw attention to the Trump administration’s position against the ACA.

AHH, OOF and OUCH

AHH: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan upheld a nationwide injunction blocking the administration from enforcing its “public charge” rule that expands the criteria used to determine whether an immigrant is likely to become dependent on government benefits. 

The rule would make it more difficult for immigrants applying for a green card to live and work in the United States permanently if they are likely to be heavily dependent on benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps. 

“In a brief order, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan also set an expedited schedule for the White House’s appeal of a lower court ruling against the rule, with legal papers to be submitted by Feb. 14 and oral arguments to be held soon afterward,” Reuters’s Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Stempel report. 

New York state Attorney General Letitia James (D) called the order a “victory for the millions of immigrants in our state and in this country that have been sidelined, disrespected, and demeaned by the Trump administration.”  

OOF: Major private equity firms Blackstone Group and KKR were behind a $53.8 million advertising campaign fighting legislation that would curb surprise medical billing. 

“The onslaught ended up generating a bi-partisan backlash, and a rebuke from President Donald Trump’s White House, in large part because Blackstone and KKR didn’t reveal that medical-staffing companies they owned were bankrolling the effort,” Bloomberg News’s Elizabeth Dexheimer reports

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) called it a “dumb strategy” and said it has pushed numerous lawmakers to “double down” on efforts around surprise billing. But he also acknowledged to Bloomberg that momentum was slowed following the ad blitz. Walden is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is probing the firms' investments in medical staffing companies.

“But the fight is far from over. In December, lawmakers tried to include a measure on surprise-medical billing in year-end legislation funding the federal government but couldn’t work out their differences,” Elizabeth writes. “Key negotiators in the House and Senate have now set a deadline of May 2020 to strike a deal, at which point they intend to include a proposal in negotiations to extend funding for expiring health-care programs.” 

— Capitol Hill is still trying to get there. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democratic committee leaders are pushing for a deal on surprise medical bills, when asked whether he or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would step in to resolve differences between lawmakers on various proposals to address the issue, the Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports.

The leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), proposed a measure last month. But it differs from the bill from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Walden, that committee's ranking Republican. 

“Mr. Neal and Mr. Pallone are talking and the committee members are talking about the differences,” Hoyer told reporters. “It's like infrastructure — there's universal agreement that we need to deal with surprise billing. There obviously are differences with respect to how you deal with that, and they're discussing that now.”

OOF: Electric scooter injuries have nearly tripled over four years as they've grown in popularity, per new research reported by the Associated Press.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, studied government data on nonfatal injuries treated in emergency rooms. "Nearly 40,000 broken bones, head injuries, cuts and bruises resulting from scooter accidents were treated in U.S. emergency rooms from 2014 through 2018," the AP writes. "The scooter injury rate among the general U.S. population climbed from 6 per 100,000 to 19 per 100,000. Most occurred in riders aged 18 to 34, and most injured riders weren't hospitalized."

STATE SCAN

— Colorado authorities invoked the state’s “red flag” law to confiscate a firearm from a man at the start of the year, one day after the firearm seizure law took effect. 

Denver police filed a petition to request a judge’s approval to allow them to keep confiscated guns taken from a man who allegedly beat his wife and made suicidal statements, our Post colleague Derek Hawkins reports. A court spokesman told The Post it appeared to be the first such petition filed under the legislation, which took effect on Jan. 1. 

“The swift application of the new statute in Colorado reflects a growing public awareness of ‘red flag’ laws, which have proliferated across the country in the roughly two years since a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla,” Derek writes. These laws allow authorities to seize firearms if people are determined to be a risk of harming themselves or others.

— Massachusetts health officials announced there’s been a fourth death in the state from a vaping-related illness. The patient was a man in his 70s who reported vaping THC, the compound behind marijuana’s psychological effects.

There have been 36 confirmed cases of vaping-related illness the state has reported to the CDC since Sept. 11, 2019, the Boston Globe’s Felicia Gans reports. 

“In September, the onslaught of vaping-related illnesses prompted Governor Charlie Baker to temporarily ban the sale of all vaping products in Massachusetts, the most stringent vaping ban taken by any governor nationwide. The ban faced a handful of lawsuits in state and federal court, as vape sales faced plummeting revenue and imminent closure,” Felicia adds. “Baker ended that ban in December when state health officials passed new regulations for the sale of nicotine vaping products. He also signed into law a new bill — touted as the nation’s strictest e-cigarette bill — that bans the sale of all flavored tobacco and vaping products.” 

AGENCY ALERT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning about the flu season. The agency says health departments in 45 states reported “widespread” flu activity as of the final week of December. And the rate of individuals with flu symptoms visiting medical clinics increased to near the 2017-2018 peak, a season in which about 61,000 Americans died of the flu, the New York Times’s Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports. 

But reports of hospitalizations and deaths from the flu are not yet elevated for this season. 

It's not too late to get the flu shot. “This year’s flu vaccine may not be particularly effective against the strain of the virus now widespread in the United States, experts said,” Donald adds. “But even so, it’s worth getting the shot: people who are vaccinated fare better if struck by the flu than those who are not.”

— And here are a few more good reads: 

The pharmaceutical industry’s interest in developing pain management alternatives has intensified amid the ongoing opioid crisis.
Politico
Florida’s GOP-controlled state Senate is trying to kill an effort to place Medicaid expansion on the ballot.
The Hill

INDUSTRY RX

Health administration costs were more than four-fold higher per capita in the U.S. than in Canada ($2,479 vs. $551 per person), which has a single-payer system.
Los Angeles Times

MEDICAL MISSIVES

Asia & Pacific
At least 59 people have been diagnosed with viral pneumonia of “unknown cause,” say authorities in the city of Wuhan.
Gerry Shih and Lena Sun

TRUMP TEMPERATURE

A proposed regulation would add a new layer of scrutiny to disability claims.
HuffPost

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on economic opportunity holds a hearing on “resources to address veteran hunger." 

SUGAR RUSH