Human Services

HHS cheers overdose drop but urges states to cap Medicaid
Administration proposes capped Medicaid funding in exchange for added flexibility

(Ian Wagreich/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House announced the first decline in overdose deaths since the earliest days of the opioid crisis and attributed it to administration actions, even as officials simultaneously said they would let states cap funding for Medicaid, a common way for patients to get treatment.

A 4 percent dip in the number of overdose deaths from 2017 to 2018 could indicate that the crest of the opioid crisis has passed, said White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway, who called the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data a “turning point.”

Lawmakers fret over China’s virus info as US local case emerges
The newest case is the husband of an Illinois woman who was confirmed as sick last week

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., talks with an aide during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health markup in July 2019. Lawmakers on the subcommittee were briefed Thursday on the spread of coronavirus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House lawmakers briefed by the Trump administration Thursday expressed confidence in the United States government’s approach to the spread of coronavirus, although not necessarily China’s response, as officials confirmed the first person infected in the U.S. who had not traveled to China.

The morning briefing for Energy and Commerce Committee members came hours before the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international public health emergency. Committee members in the briefing expressed concerns that China may not be providing enough information about the outbreak and worried that a severe flu season could strain the U.S. response if coronavirus spreads here. Lawmakers expressed a willingness to provide more resources if needed.

Coronavirus transmission: Scientists need basic answers

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar arrives for the start of a Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 14, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“Our current assessment is that the immediate health risk of this new virus to the general public is low in our nation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told a group of reporters about the coronavirus at a news conference Tuesday.

US won't rule out travel restrictions as China outbreak worsens
For now, screenings expanded for travelers from China

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday the U.S. government is expanding screenings of travelers from China in order to quickly quarantine anyone who arrives while ill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Travel restrictions from China haven’t been ruled out as the United States monitors the spreading outbreak of coronavirus that infected thousands there, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday.

For now, the U.S. government is expanding screenings of travelers from China in order to quickly quarantine anyone who arrives while ill. There will now be screenings at 20 airports with quarantine facilities, up from five airports where screenings had been occurring for the past 10 days. While previously only passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were screened, now nearly all passengers arriving from anywhere in China will be.

Trump campaign to deploy Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, allies to Iowa
The effort creates potential ethical pitfalls for federal officials who face limits on political work

Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is going to Iowa to campaign for President Donald Trump. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump campaign says it will dispatch high-level government appointees to stump in Iowa ahead of the state’s Monday caucuses, setting up potential pitfalls for Cabinet secretaries and other officials bound by ethics restrictions on their politicking.

“This goes above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen when it comes to the White House deploying its resources on the campaign trail,” said Democratic consultant Jim Manley, once an aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

US ready for potential coronavirus outbreak, CDC assures lawmakers
CDC officials said they currently have the resources needed to address the spread of the virus

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., departs from a news conference on Tuesday. He told reporters Friday that federal health officials had positive things to say about China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Federal health officials told lawmakers Friday that they have the resources they need to address the spread of the virus originating from Wuhan, China, although senators acknowledged the potential need for supplemental funding down the road.

The briefing for roughly two dozen senators came as the case count for the new version of coronavirus in China was rapidly increasing, prompting authorities there to effectively quarantine tens of millions of people in Wuhan and surrounding cities. China’s National Health Commission reported 571 cases and 17 deaths as of Thursday, though news reports on Friday said there were now more than 800 cases and at least 26 deaths.

Abortion policy activism heats up for Roe v. Wade anniversary
Groups gear up for ‘pivotal year’ with emphasis on states

Both sides of the abortion rights debate are doubling down on grassroots efforts to energize voters who share their beliefs about abortion. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Groups pushing for the advancement of abortion rights and those looking to limit the procedure have an ambitious agenda starting this week, foreshadowing a year that could be critical for advocates on both sides of the debate.

In two months, the Supreme Court will hear its first major abortion case since 2016, and both sides are revving up for a major presidential election. States are also eyeing a number of new reproductive health bills as their legislatures come back into session.

Campus Notebook: Sen. Bob Menendez spent over $5 million in legal fees associated with corruption scandal
Capitol Police arrested someone for assault with a broomstick

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has depleted and terminated his legal expense trust. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Millions in legal expenses for Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption scandal

The New Jersey Democrat spent $5.16 million on his defense, according to his legal expense fund filing with the Senate Office of Public Records. The trust was formed in 2014 at the beginning of Menendez’s legal woes. It allows people to make contributions to Menendez so he can fight his legal battles associated with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics inquiries and allegations of federal law violations associated with his role as a senator.

Appeals court hears arguments over health care cost-sharing subsidies

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the cost-sharing subsidies cases in December, and the high court’s decision could impact the cases over the health insurance industry’s claims that the government maintained an implied contract with the plans even in the absence of appropriations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard arguments Thursday over whether the government owes health insurance plans money through subsidies mandated under the 2010 health care law, which created so-called cost-sharing subsidies for insurers to reduce low-income consumers’ out-of-pocket costs.

President Donald Trump halted the subsidies in 2017, prompting health care plans on the insurance exchanges across the country to increase their premium rates the following year. But Congress never appropriated specific funds for the subsidies, which the federal government argued ended the obligation of the Department of Health and Human Services to pay the plans. 

FDA proposal on drug importation relies on Canada cooperation
Trump has encouraged regulations to allow state-by-state imports, but lengthy process ahead

The Food and Drug Administration issued a proposed rule outlining how states could develop importation schemes and how they could win administration approval after proving that they are safe and would save money (File photo by Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The Trump administration on Wednesday took steps toward allowing states to import lower-cost drugs from Canada, starting a lengthy rulemaking process for a policy that would depend on cooperation from America's wary northern neighbor.

Several states have approached the Department of Health and Human Services about drug importation plans and President Donald Trump has been eager to approve them. He's publicly prodded HHS Secretary Alex Azar to approve them, particularly a proposal from Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally.