Mary Ellen McIntire

Obamacare: A big issue voters might be missing
Supreme Court delay in deciding on health care law challenge could hide the issue from voters

Correction 2:20 p.m. | ANALYSIS — Democrats who say they are determined to keep voters focused on health care this year were hoping that the Supreme Court would hand them a ready-made campaign ad and a potential courtroom win.

Instead, the court recently punted on a major decision over whether to kill the 2010 health care law that expanded coverage to more than 20 million Americans. Now, Democrats hope that by shifting their attention to high prescription drug prices they might still mobilize voters and help the party maintain its edge on health care, the public’s top domestic concern, although Republicans also are focused on drug prices.

Supreme Court denies request for expedited appeal of challenge to 2010 health care law
House and several blue states had requested appeal that could have led to decision ahead of election

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will not hear an expedited appeal of a legal challenge to the 2010 health care law this term, which could have led to a decision this summer on whether to overturn the entire law during the heat of the campaign season.

At least five justices declined a request from several Democratic state officials and the House to fast-track an appeal of the case, Texas v. Azar. Instead, a lower court judge will reconsider how much of the 2010 health care law should fall after Congress eliminated the law's tax penalty on most Americans who did not have health care coverage. The Supreme Court could agree to hear the case as soon as its next term, which begins in October, but a decision is not likely before the November elections.

Repeal of Obamacare taxes stirs questions on durability of offsets
Democrats once touted law’s fiscal soundness. That’s getting harder to do

The repeal last month of three taxes levied under the 2010 health care law represents one of several ways Congress has chipped away over the years at provisions paying for it, but a left-leaning budget think tank calculates the law will still save money overall.

Democratic leaders have often highlighted the law’s offsets as an example of fiscal responsibility, noting that it expanded coverage to more than 20 million people while Congressional Budget Office estimates showed it still saved the federal government money. They contrasted that with a 2003 law to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare, which was not paid for.

Court strikes down individual mandate for Obamacare
The 2010 health care law’s mandate for most Americans to buy insurance is unconstitutional, said a long-awaited 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling

A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down the requirement that most Americans have health insurance, nullifying a major part of the 2010 health care law, but punted on the broader question about whether the rest of the law can stand.

A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled, 2-1, in its long-awaited decision that the so-called “individual mandate” to get insurance cannot stand after Republicans zeroed out the tax penalty for not having coverage. The panel sent the case back to a district court in the Northern District of Texas to consider other parts of the law.

Lawmakers unveil two mega spending packages
Health taxes to be repealed, tobacco age raised in year-end deal

Updated Dec. 16 at 6:05 p.m.

House appropriators filed two mega spending packages for floor consideration Tuesday after hammering out last-minute details over the weekend.

Ways and Means offers its own plan on surprise medical bills
New proposal could complicate efforts to enact a rival bill before year’s end

Deal banning surprise medical bills also ups tobacco purchase age to 21
The agreement raises the odds of Congress passing legislation meant to lower some health care costs this year

Key House and Senate committee leaders announced a bipartisan agreement Sunday on draft legislation to prohibit surprise medical bills and raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21.

The agreement raises the odds of Congress clearing measures intended to lower some health care costs before the end of the year.

Senators renew drug price push ahead of House Democrats' vote
Congress “needs to show courage and finally act,” Grassley says

Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee on Friday unveiled an updated version of their bipartisan drug pricing bill, though it’s unclear if the changes will appease skeptical Republican senators.

The renewed push for Republican support by Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, comes ahead of a planned House vote next week on Democrats’ signature drug price negotiation bill.

Health groups reveal ads pushing Democrats to back drug bill
The groups will build on an ad push supporting the House bill earlier this year by the group Protect Our Care

A left-leaning health care group is doubling its seven-figure advertising push for the passage of House Democrats’ drug pricing bill in an effort to counter industry and conservative opposition to the proposal, according to information shared exclusively with CQ Roll Call.

The effort, which will be paired with additional spending from other left-leaning health groups, comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California announced the House will vote next week on legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for up to 250 prescription drugs a year.

Surprise billing fight highlights hurdles for bolder health care changes
Disagreements over payments foreshadow difficulty of moving overhaul like ‘Medicare for All’

The challenge of passing legislation to stop surprise medical bills is underscoring just how hard it is in Washington to change the health care system, even in small ways, and raising questions about Democrats’ far more ambitious overhaul plans. 

Stopping surprise medical bills wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. Lawmakers in both parties want to protect patients from certain unanticipated out-of-pocket costs, and industry groups say they agree with the broad goal. But fights over payments to doctors and other medical providers that so far have stalled the legislation foreshadow the hurdles of moving a major overhaul, such as a “Medicare for All” government-run health care plan, after the 2020 elections.

Senate Democrats skeptical of Warren’s ‘Medicare for All’ push
Hesitation from rank-and-file Democrats shows how fraught the issue is within the party

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s colleagues aren’t exactly jumping to voice support for her plan to finance “Medicare for All.”

The hesitation from rank-and-file Democrats across the political spectrum on backing the Massachusetts Democrat’s plan shows how fraught the issue is within the party – and how challenging it would be for a Democratic White House to shepherd a plan through Congress.

Shimkus confirms retirement
Illinois Republican said last week he might want to stick around

Illinois GOP Rep. John Shimkus said Monday that he will stick with his plan to retire, ending a brief flirtation with an opportunity to pursue a top position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

“After weighing the pros and cons, I have decided to reaffirm my plan to retire,” Shimkus said in a statement. 

Warren ‘Medicare for All’ plan has $20.5 trillion price tag
The plan would dramatically reshape the health care system and the nation’s tax structure

Presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., unveiled a $20.5 trillion plan Friday to finance a government-run “Medicare for All” system, after facing criticism that she hadn’t explained how to pay for the pricey health care plan.

Warren’s plan would dramatically reshape the health care system and the nation’s tax structure. It would draw trillions of dollars from employers and raise taxes on the financial sector, large corporations and the richest 1 percent of Americans. She says she also would pay for the shift to a single-payer program that would cost less than some projections of the existing system by reducing health costs, cutting defense spending and assuming an immigration overhaul saves $400 billion.

Senate Republicans kill Democratic move on Trump health policy
Democrats decried letting states approve so-called ‘junk plans’

The Senate rejected a Democratic resolution to nullify a Trump administration health care policy that supporters billed as a referendum on support for pre-existing condition protections.

The 43-52 vote on Wednesday blocked a disapproval resolution that would have reversed a 2018 guidance expanding changes states could make to their insurance markets through waivers. Democrats forced the vote via the Congressional Review Act even though no states have sought to make the types of changes the administration is encouraging.

Medicaid at issue in 2019 races for governor
Republicans in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana vow to scale back or block expansion

Races next month for governor in three states could affect the medical coverage of hundreds of thousands of people and offer test cases of how voters might view health care issues — particularly Medicaid for lower-income people.

In Mississippi, the Democratic candidate vows to expand Medicaid under the national health care law, while the Republican opposes that. Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin wants to scale back coverage that his Democratic opponent’s father, a former governor, expanded. And in Louisiana, incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards touts his expansion of Medicaid while his GOP rival would freeze enrollment.

Shimkus ‘reconsidering’ retirement after top GOP committee post opens up
12-termer from Illinois also seems to soften Trump criticism

Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, a 12-term Republican who had announced in August he would retire rather than run again in 2020, said Tuesday he is “reconsidering” his decision.

The change of heart comes a day after Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, announced his retirement. Shimkus is third in Republican seniority on the committee, after a former chairman, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who would need a waiver from GOP rules to become the panel’s chairman or ranking member in the next Congress.

Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden not running for reelection
Walden is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden announced Monday that he will not run for reelection to a 12th term next year.

Walden, 62, said in a statement he was confident he would have won re-election, but “the time has come to pursue new challenges and opportunities.”

Obamacare plan rates to fall in 2020 for second time under Trump
Despite actions to undercut program, marketplaces appear mostly stable

Ohio officials faced a situation in the summer of 2017 they viewed as dire: No health insurers were expected to offer any marketplace plans in as many as 20 counties. 

In Ohio and around the nation, officials scrambled that year to recruit insurers to make sure that every county had at least one plan in the marketplaces created by the 2010 health care law. Insurers, deeply skeptical of the future of the law and the Trump administration’s oversight of it, raised monthly premiums before open enrollment for 2018, further raising worries about the marketplaces’ stability.

House Dems move forward with drug pricing bill
Committee approved a new plan that would limit drug prices — a top priority for the party

A House committee on Thursday approved a Democratic bill designed to limit drug prices, a top priority for the party, as another panel’s debate on the measure was poised to last for hours.

House leaders produced the 141-page bill after months of deliberations among various party factions, as progressives urged their colleagues to be bold despite GOP criticisms that the measure could hamper research into future cures. The bill, numbered HR 3, includes requirements for the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate Medicare prices for the most expensive drugs, with commercial health plans also having the option of adopting those prices.

Freshman Democrat: Party must do better job selling health care during impeachment
But Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild gets no questions on drug prices at town hall

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Democrats have more work to do to show voters the House is trying to lower drug prices and protect coverage for pre-existing conditions even while it pursues possible impeachment, freshman Rep. Susan Wild told constituents at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

Wild and Democrats like her helped flip control of the House by winning Republican-held seats last year with campaigns focused on health care. She wants to do the same in 2020, but found herself having to try to fit answers about health care into questions about impeachment and other issues at the 90-minute event at Muhlenberg College.