Mary Ellen McIntire

Health Groups Sue Over Short-Term Insurance Plans
Critics warn plans would yield discriminatory practices

Seven health care groups sued Friday to invalidate the Trump administration’s plan to expand the sale of short-term health insurance plans, arguing they don’t actually meet the definition of “short-term.”

The plans would harm patients and disrupt insurance markets nationwide, the groups say. Under the rule, it could become more difficult for patients with pre-existing conditions to obtain health coverage. The administration’s “justifications for this rule are directly contrary to the congressional determinations embodied in the text and structure of the ACA,” they argue.

Ad War Over Drug Prices Goes One Step Forward, Two Questions Back
‘I undoubtedly will be sued,’ HHS chief Azar has predicted

Updated 11:04 a.m. | A spending bill passed by the Senate last week includes $1 million for the Trump administration to craft new regulations forcing companies to include prices in prescription drug ads.

But there’s still the question of how that would work — and whether the Department of Health and Human Services has the legal authority to make drug companies disclose prices in TV, radio and other advertisements to consumers.

As Dems Campaign on Pre-Existing Conditions, 10 Republicans Move In
Tillis touts ‘common-sense’ solution, Murray calls it a ‘gimmick’

Ten Senate Republicans on Friday released a bill meant to guarantee the protections for patients with pre-existing conditions included in the 2010 health care law.

The measure is a response to the latest legal challenge to the health law, which seeks to invalidate the law after Congress effectively ended the so-called “individual mandate” that requires most Americans to maintain health insurance coverage or pay a fine.

Trump Plan: Consumers Could Keep Short-Term Health Plan Skirting Federal Rules
Rule could take effect in 60 days, but ‘slow ramp-up’ anticipated

The Trump administration on Wednesday moved to finalize a rule that would let consumers maintain a short-term health insurance plan that skirts federal rules for just under a year, a step officials say will provide more affordable insurance options to more Americans.

The rule, which will be prepared Wednesday for publication in the Federal Register, is part of the administration's effort to allow people to purchase health care plans that don't comply with all of the regulations set by the 2010 health care law , and are typically less expensive than plans sold in the individual market exchanges.

‘Undeterred’ Trump Administration to Push Ahead With Medicaid Work Rules
Despite Kentucky setback, Alex Azar says HHS is “fully committed” to work requirements

The Trump administration will continue to approve state Medicaid work requirement proposals, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday, despite a federal court recently blocking Kentucky from implementing such rules.

The administration will continue litigating the Kentucky case and is “fully committed” to work requirements in the Medicaid program, Azar said during an address at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Senate Democrats Likely to Oppose Push to Block Health Insurance Mandate
Desire to keep contentious amendments off spending bills might prevail

A Republican amendment to a House-passed spending package that would ban the District of Columbia from implementing an individual health insurance coverage requirement is unlikely to gain steam as the Senate prepares to take up a similar measure.

It’s not clear yet if any Senate Republicans will introduce a similar amendment when the Financial Services and Interior-Environment package reaches the Senate floor, but it would likely face fierce minority opposition in the chamber, where Democrats are defending the 2010 health care law at every opportunity.

Congress’ Focus on Opioids Misses Larger Crisis
‘All the bills are tinkering around the edges,’ one health official says

By SANDHYA RAMAN, ANDREW SIDDONS and MARY ELLEN McINTIRE

Congress faced a startling public health and political problem throughout 2016 as the number of people dying from opioid addiction climbed. The number of Americans succumbing to drug overdoses more than tripled between 1999 and 2015, affecting a whiter and more geographically diverse population than previous drug crises. Lawmakers ultimately approved some modest policies aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse and provided $1 billion to support state efforts.

House, Administration Settle Lawsuit Over Health Law Payments
Separate health law case upholds ability for attorneys general to intervene

The House of Representatives, the White House and several states on Wednesday settled a lawsuit over appropriations for the 2010 health law, resolving years of fighting over the balance of powers between the branches of government.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal of an earlier ruling, which found that the Obama administration had been illegally spending money under the 2010 health care law without an appropriation from Congress. The settlement confirmed that ruling and left open the question of whether the House has standing to sue the executive branch.

Health Groups Voice Concerns Over Short-Term Plan Proposal
Industry frets that premiums will rise, choice will go down

The health care industry is largely united in its opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand how long people can be covered by short-term health plans.

Health care and advocacy groups raised concerns about allowing consumers to maintain a short-term insurance policy for just under 12 months rather than the current 90 days, providing an alternative type of coverage to that sold on the marketplaces set up under the 2010 health care law. Their comment letters to the administration predicted that the proposal would drive up premiums and decrease consumers’ choices for plans sold on the exchanges.

Bipartisan Health Care Compromise Falls Apart, Obamacare Battle Continues

The politics of health care reared its ugly head yet again.

A grand, bipartisan bargain to stabilize the U.S. individual insurance market fell apart this week. And members on both sides of the aisle turned to what they know best: blaming the other party.

States Weigh Response to Proposed Short-Term Health Plan Rule
Trump administration wants to expand temporary plans, but some states worry it could undermine their marketplaces

The Trump administration’s proposal to increase how long consumers can maintain a short-term health insurance policy offers states an opportunity to either rebel or endorse the change.

While officials in some states are looking to reject the proposed rule — which would allow people to be covered by a short-term, limited duration health plan for 364 days — others have sought to codify the proposal in state law.

Senators Target Physicians, Drugmakers in Opioid Bill
Bipartisan group hopes to make headway on drug crisis

A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday introduced legislation that would waive limits on physicians treating addiction patients and place restrictions on how long a provider could initially prescribe opioids to patients.

The bill, known as CARA 2.0, would address the opioid epidemic from several angles, including both health care providers and drugmakers. It aims to build on earlier opioid legislation, which cleared in 2016 as part of a broader health care measure that included mental health changes and aimed to spur new medical treatments.

GOP Plans to Keep Discussing Health Care, Even if Trump Does Not

Health care policy isn’t set to be a major focus of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address Tuesday, although some Republicans say the GOP needs to talk about the rising costs of health insurance.

Republicans on Capitol Hill say they don’t want Trump to shy away from talking about health care, despite the fact that the 2010 health care law remains mostly intact a year into the GOP-controlled Congress and Trump presidency. Some Republicans say they’d like to hear Trump encourage lawmakers to keep working to address rising premium costs.

Poll: More Adults Without Health Insurance After Record Low
1.3 percent uptick in 2017

The percentage of adults without health insurance coverage rose 1.3 percent in 2017, from a record low during the previous year, a new Gallup poll shows. Last year’s rise marked the largest single-year increase since Gallup began tracking the statistic in 2008.

The uninsured rate rose to 12.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 compared to 10.9 percent in 2016, according to the survey. That translates to an additional 3.2 million Americans who became uninsured last year.

HHS Political Appointees’ Résumés Show Ties to Price, Pence
Many also have links to conservative groups close to vice president

Political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services include at least 16 staffers with ties to former Secretary Tom Price and at least 12 with connections to Vice President Mike Pence or Indiana, a review of 129 résumés of appointed staffers in the department shows.

Pence’s influence over the agency can be seen in the appointment of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, who worked closely with the former Indiana governor to expand Medicaid in that state, and the appointment of Verma’s deputy Brian Neale, who currently oversees Medicaid and served as Pence’s health care policy director in Indiana. A number of staffers also have ties to conservative groups close to Pence, such as the Heritage Foundation and anti-abortion organizations.

Advocates Push Passage of Health Deal as Open Enrollment Nears
CBO says it’s too late for lower premiums next year, but hopes for ’19 remain

Democrats concerned about the confusion surrounding individual health insurance are urging a vote on bipartisan legislation to stabilize the marketplaces as a sign-up period next week creeps closer.

Still, it appears increasingly likely that lawmakers won’t consider such a proposal until closer to the end of the year. And many experts say the bill’s impact for 2018 would be modest anyway.

Hatch Deals Blow to Bipartisan Health Care Bill
Prospects dim after opposition from Senate Finance chairman

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has dealt an emerging bipartisan health care bill a body blow.

President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages on his stance on the legislation from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and ranking Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, saying he opposed it Wednesday after saying he supported it Tuesday

Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal on Health Care
Alexander, Murray have an agreement on stabilizing insurance marketplaces

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said he has reached an agreement with Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the panel’s ranking Democrat, on a limited deal to stabilize the individual health insurance markets.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, briefed GOP senators on that deal during their weekly policy lunch Tuesday.

Trump to Stop Paying Obamacare Cost-Sharing Subsidies
Schumer and Pelosi: ‘American families will suffer just because President Trump wants them to’

The administration will stop reimbursing health insurers for the 2010 health care law’s controversial cost-sharing reduction payments, the White House said Thursday night.

“Based on guidance from the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare,” the White House Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement. “In light of this analysis, the Government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments.”

Cassidy Eyes Changes to Health Care Bill While Trying to Win Support
Senate GOP opted not to take a vote on measure last week

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said there will be changes to a proposal he wrote to overhaul the 2010 health law as he and fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina try to win more support for the measure while other lawmakers focus on tax legislation.

“There are some things that inevitably have to change, but we do think that the format of what we’re doing and the principles of what we’re doing are good and that the American people will like it because it’s ultimately about fairness,” Cassidy said Monday on the Big Story Podcast with CQ Roll Call.