Lauren Clason

Federal Watchdog Advises HHS to Recoup Price’s Travel Expenses
20 of 21 trips failed to comply with requirements, OIG finds

A federal watchdog is recommending the Department of Health and Human Services recoup $341,000 associated with former Secretary Tom Price’s travel expenses.

The HHS Office of the Inspector General released Thursday an audit that found 20 of 21 trips Price and other HHS officials took during his time in office did not comply with federal requirements. Price, a hardline fiscal conservative during his time in Congress, resigned last September after it was revealed that he regularly chartered private planes for routine business trips.

VA Weighs Lifting Exclusion on Gender Reassignment Surgery
Administration already fighting multiple lawsuits against its transgender policies

The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering removing an exclusion on medical coverage for transgender services as the Trump administration battles multiple lawsuits against its transgender policies.

The VA released a request for comment Friday in response to a 2016 petition it received under former President Barack Obama to allow coverage of sex reassignment surgery. The petitioners, Dee Fulcher, Giuliano Silva and Transgender Veterans of America, eventually sued the Trump administration in 2017 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The case is ongoing.

Trump Administration Finalizes Rule on Health Plans
“You’re going to save massive amounts of money and have much better health care,” president says

The Trump administration on Tuesday finalized a rule expanding the availability of alternative insurance plans that do not meet the 2010 health care law’s requirements despite objections from consumer advocates and the industry.

The rule will extend so-called association health plans, which allow insurance companies to skirt benefit requirements and other parts of the 2010 law. President Donald Trump heralded the new rule in a speech Tuesday to the National Federation of Independent Business trade group, or NFIB.

VA Faces Scrutiny as It Gears Up for Health Overhaul
Bipartisan bill expected to be signed by president this week

The Department of Veterans Affairs will face heavy scrutiny as it implements a major overhaul to its health care programs that President Donald Trump is expected to sign into law this week.

The bill, which moved through both chambers by wide bipartisan margins, would combine the VA’s seven programs for private medical care into one to streamline and simplify costs and access for veterans. The legislation would also extend the so-called Veterans Choice Program for one year, allowing veterans to seek care outside the VA under certain circumstances in the meantime.

Trump Targets Drug Pricing in Trade Agreements
‘It’s unfair, it’s ridiculous and it’s not going to happen any longer’

President Donald Trump has instructed trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer to grant the drug industry’s wish of making pharmaceutical prices a “top priority” in negotiations with other countries.

Trump revealed the instruction during a Friday announcement unveiling the administration’s overall strategy for lowering drug costs.

Drug Pricing Proposal Should Revamp Medicare, GOP Experts Say
Overhauling Part B drug benefit could have “massive impact overnight”

An upcoming Trump administration proposal on lowering drug costs should ask Congress to allow private insurance companies to negotiate prices for drugs administered in a doctor’s office or hospital, two Republican policy experts said.

The administration’s proposal is a request for comment on strategies to lower drug prices and out-of-pocket costs. It was originally expected to be released in tandem with a speech by President Donald Trump on Thursday, but the speech was delayed as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recovers from an infection.

Federal Officials Push for New Types of Flu Vaccines
The FDA has not approved a new class of antivirals in the last 20 years

The heads of multiple health agencies told a House subcommittee Thursday that both the government and industry need to invest more resources in researching new forms of flu vaccines in light of this year’s epidemic.

Vaccines are often developed using egg-based technology, but newer cell-based and recombinant DNA technologies offer more speed and flexibility for fighting viruses — like the flu — that mutate frequently. While the technology offers promise, it remains uncommon, with lingering gaps in technology.

Experts, Industry Push Back on Health Insurance Proposal
Trump administation wants to loosen ERISA regulations

Industry groups and policy experts are questioning a Trump administration proposal on health insurance even as it garners accolades from congressional Republicans. 

The proposed rule, announced on Thursday, would loosen regulations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, that govern association health plans. Such plans allow businesses to band together in purchasing health insurance. Supporters say the rule is intended to help consumers hit the hardest by rising premiums under the 2010 health care law.

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.

House Administration Adopts Ad Change Aimed at Open Enrollment

The House Administration Committee unanimously adopted on Wednesday a change in the member handbook that could help Democrats seeking to promote HealthCare.gov.

The new rule allows lawmakers to promote and link to federal government websites besides their own. Democrats had encountered the hurdle while attempting to promote the federal health insurance exchange through taxpayer-funded advertisements, known as franking.

House Republicans Propose Deal on Congressional Ads
Franking rule change would let lawmakers link to HealthCare.gov

House Republicans are working to resolve a dispute over rules that Democrats say are stopping them from promoting the health insurance exchanges.

Currently, lawmakers are prohibited from linking to any website other than their own in taxpayer-funded advertisements. Rep. Rodney Davis is proposing to allow them to link to other federal government websites, including HealthCare.gov.

Consumer Choice for Health Care Lags Behind Rhetoric
Experts urge consumers to “shop around,” but pricing is dizzyingly complex

When Chris Raymond called her insurance company recently to get the price of a brain scan, she came prepared. Or so she thought.

Raymond’s experience as a former medical reporter for the Journal of the American Medical Association gives her an edge over the typical patient trying to navigate the fractured health care system. As an active middle-aged woman who still plays recreational basketball, Raymond has also suffered enough injuries to understand the system from the patient perspective.

Franking Fracas Hits Open Enrollment Ads
House Democrats accuse commission of playing politics

Attempts by House Democrats to promote open enrollment in the health care marketplaces are running up against arcane rules and what they call partisan politics. Lawmakers are seeking to compensate for reduced marketing on the part of the Trump administration with their own taxpayer-funded ads.

The Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year slashed advertising for HealthCare.gov by 90 percent, prompting cries of “sabotage” from Democrats and consumer advocates. House Democrats are trying to fill that gap through their own ads on social media and other outlets, but are being thwarted by Republicans on the Franking Commission who say the advertisements do not comply with congressional rules.

Insurers Face Exchange Deadlines and Senate Repeal Uncertainty

Insurance companies are on edge as they await resolution on a Republican bill to replace the 2010 health care law at the same time that they are about to finalize contracts for the individual markets next year.

A Hail Mary effort from GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina revived the party’s effort to fulfill their seven-year campaign promise to repeal the law in the final week before the opportunity to pass the measure with a simple majority expires on Sat., Sept. 30. The deadline for insurers to sign contracts is Wednesday.

Lobbyists Push GOP to Repeal Obamacare Fees in Tax Overhaul
Trade group is launching digital ad buys in key states

The Republican effort to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law may have stalled, but lobbyists are pushing the GOP to continue to target the provisions the industry most despises: the law’s taxes.

House and Senate Republicans hope to push forward on a tax overhaul when Congress returns in September, an item they previously delayed in favor of health care. Repealing the 2010 health care law and its corresponding taxes would have helped simplify the GOP’s upcoming work, but those hopes were deflated when the Senate did not pass a repeal bill last month.

Congress, Industry Hit Reset After Obamacare Repeal Fails

By LAUREN CLASON and ANDREW SIDDONS

House Republicans appeared divided and frustrated Friday morning about their next steps on health care legislation, hours after their Senate colleagues fell short of passing a scaled-back repeal.

Senate GOP: Knowing Health Care Plan Is ‘Luxury We Don’t Have’
Uncertainty surrounds floor strategy for Republicans’ health care effort

By JOE WILLIAMS and LAUREN CLASON

Republican senators left Washington no closer to a deal on their health care effort, with no idea what measure might be brought up for a vote early next week or whether the chamber could even clear a key procedural hurdle needed to begin consideration of any legislation.