Daily on Healthcare: Pelosi wants to revive Obamacare provision Supreme Court struck down…Is Trump ready to sign off on plan to expand Obamacare?

By | January 8, 2019

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Pelosi wants to revive Obamacare provision Supreme Court struck down. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that Congress should require states to expand Medicaid to the poor under Obamacare, a mandate that was part of the law before the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Pelosi made the comments during a town hall on MSNBC Friday after an attendee asked her how Democrats in the House will work to fix the healthcare law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act. Pelosi told attendees that she would work toward “strengthening the law so that it is required that states will have – expand Medicaid, very, very important.” Asked to explain the remarks, a senior aide to Pelosi told the Washington Examiner that House Democrats were “looking at a variety of ways to push more states to adopt the Medicaid expansion.” Obamacare was originally written to have all states expand Medicaid to low-income people making less than roughly $ 17,000 a year, and would have cut off all Medicaid funding from states that didn’t go along with the rule. A 7-3 Supreme Court decision in 2012 made the provision optional, however, and so just over a dozen states haven’t moved to expand.  In addition, Pelosi also plans to push for replacing the individual mandate, though she didn’t say whether she would work toward re-instituting the same provision or something similar, such as a waiting period. She also floated expanding subsidies to purchase insurance.

Is Trump ready to sign off on plan to expand Obamacare? President Trump may be on the verge of signing off on a new plan allowing for the partial expansion of Medicaid that would in effect further entrench Obamacare. Over at the Federalist, Chris Jacobs reports that the Trump administration is finalizing plans to give states more flexibility to partially expand Medicaid. Doing so could encourage more states to participate in the expansion.

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Supreme Court hears case about patient lawsuits against drugmakers The justices heard oral arguments this morning about the case, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Doris Albrecht, which will affect how pharmaceutical companies can defend themselves from lawsuits by customers who take their drugs. The case came about through a series of lawsuits involving patients who took the drug Fosamax to treat osteoporosis and osteopenia and said the drug manufacturer, Merck, didn’t adequately communicate that femur fractures were a side effect for women. The drug maker used a common counter-argument by saying that it tried to change the label but that the Food and Drug Administration didn’t allow it. Merck began working in 2008 to change the label with the FDA, and the warnings on the labels are generally considered enough in terms of protecting drugmakers from liability when side effects happen. FDA initially refused the request because the phrasing Merck submitted made the side effects appear minor, but then changed course two years later after more reports came forward. 

Supreme Court could also hear ‘eugenics statute’ suit challenging Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court could announce as early as this week whether it will hear a case challenging the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The case is an appeal from Indiana that seeks to enforce a 2016 state law that makes it illegal for women to have an abortion on the basis of race or sex or because they learn they will otherwise give birth to a baby with Down syndrome. If taken up, the case will be the first direct challenge to abortion rights since conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the Supreme Court. The justices privately reviewed the case on Friday, and at least four need to agree to accept a case for it to be taken up.  State lawmakers in Indiana appealed the case about a week after Kavanaugh was sworn in, arguing that “technological advances have improved … prenatal testing that screens for Down syndrome and other fetal abnormalities,” which results in most women choosing abortion when they receive a diagnosis.

Top health official resigns after less than three months on the job. A top official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has resigned her position after less than three months on the job. Mary Mayhew, a former Maine official, said Friday that she was heading to Florida to work with Republican Gov.-elect Ron Desantis. Mayhew was appointed Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services Director on Oct. 15, 2018. Mayhew shared information about her resignation in an email to staff, saying that it had been an honor to work with the top official of CMS, Seema Verma, on “improving state flexibility and strengthening accountability and program integrity.” Mayhew replaced predecessor Brian Neale, who left in January of last year.

“We will miss her, but I am excited for Mary as she transitions to serve Gov.-elect DeSantis and the people of Florida,” Verma said in a statement. “I appreciate her efforts at CMS, and I look forward to continuing to work with her as she uses her many talents to help the state of Florida create a healthcare system that serves the needs of its citizens.” CMS approved changes to Medicaid after Mayhew was appointed. They included allowing states to add work requirements to Medicaid in Kentucky, Maine, and Michigan, and allowing more Medicaid recipients to receive access to residential treatment for addiction.

Progressives aim to repeal ‘pay-as-you-go’ law to help clear way for ‘Medicare for all.’ Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., introduced legislation Friday to repeal the ‘pay-as-you-go’ law that mandates spending cuts or tax hikes to pay for new entitlement benefits, aiming to ease the path for enacting major new government programs. Jayapal also said in a statement that she had a commitment from House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to waive the House’s similar pay-as-you-go rule to allow for consideration of “Medicare for All” legislation and other progressive economic priorities on the House floor. The PAYGO rules have become a point of contention between House Democratic leaders and a handful of progressives, including outspoken freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “I have long been concerned about PAYGO and its legislative implications, and earlier this week I received a commitment from Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern to waive PAYGO and Medicare for All and other key progressive priorities,” Jayapal said in a release.

Trump rips drug companies amid new year price hikes. Trump called out the pharmaceutical industry for its pricing on Saturday, just days after several news reports showed companies had increased the prices of drugs with the coming of the new year. “Drug makers and companies are not living up to their commitments on pricing,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “Not being fair to the consumer, or to our Country!”  An analysis by Rx Savings Solutions found more than three dozen drugmakers raised the prices on hundreds of medicines in the U.S. on Tuesday, for an average increase of 6.3 percent.

Republicans introduce bill to repeal Obamacare. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced a bill last week to repeal Obamacare. The legislation has 14 co-sponsors, many of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Federal appeals court lifts one of four bans on Pentagon transgender policy. A federal appeals court in Washington on Friday ruled in favor of the government lifting an injunction that bars the Pentagon from implementing its policy that would ban service by most people identifying as transgender. However three other cases making their way through the courts still prevent the Trump administration policy from being enforced. The ruling came in the case of Doe v. Trump, in which transgender advocates argued that the Pentagon’s policy was unconstitutional because it was effectively a blanket ban on all transgender service. In lifting the injunction on implementation of the new policy, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that a lower court erred in finding the plan developed by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was a blanket ban, ruling the Mattis plan banned only transgender troops who “have gender dysphoria or who are unwilling to serve in their biological sex.” Transgender military members may continue to be serve and to enlist while three nationwide preliminary injunctions preventing implementation of the ban are adjudicated in federal district courts.

Border Patrol union warns: No wall deal means less medical help for migrant kids. A top official for U.S. Border Patrol’s labor union warned Friday that the ongoing government shutdown will make it harder for border officials to respond to thousands of families, children, and sick migrants at the southern border. National Border Patrol Council Vice President At-Large Hector Garza on Friday said the money congressional Democrats refuse to give Trump for border wall enhancements is also holding up basic funding for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is coping with a humanitarian crisis. In recent months, a record-high number of Central Americans are migrating to the U.S. and trying to illegally enter at remote parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. “Some of these kids need medical checkups,” Garza told Fox News. “Well, fund border security. Give us the money so we can do our job. Give us our paychecks. Give us the proper money so we can have the resources so we can train Border Patrol agents as paramedics.”

TSA employees calling in sick more during shutdown than holidays. The Transportation Security Administration said Friday that personnel have been calling out sick, but said the absences “are causing minimal impact.” The statement comes amid reports that hundreds of TSA employees have called out sick this week. TSA officers at airports are working without pay during the partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22. “Call outs did begin over the Holiday period and have increased,” said TSA spokesman James O. Gregory. While the agency could not provide historical call-out information, CNN reported that call outs are up between 200-300 percent at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and up to 170 TSA employees at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York have called out each day this week. At least four major airports have reportedly been affected.

United Airlines cracks down on ’emotional support’ animal air travel. United Airlines is closing a loophole for passengers who try to avoid traveling fees when they fly with their pets. United will only let dogs and cats be designated as “emotional support animals” and won’t let passengers get on a plane with kittens or puppies who are younger than four months. It also will not allow passengers to fly with emotional support animals if the flight is more than eight hours long. Dogs, cats, and miniature horses will be allowed to fly as service animals to help passengers with physical disabilities. The rules are going into effect Monday as part of a larger airline industry crackdown after reports emerged last year that passengers were taking advantage of the provision, intended for people with disabilities.

RUNDOWN

Politico Health advocates say schizophrenia should be reclassified as a brain disease

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Kaiser Health News Medicaid plans cover doctors’ visits, hospital care, and now your GED  

CBS Millions could face severe cuts to food stamps due to government shutdown

Stateline Some drug users in Western U.S. seek out deadly fentanyl. Here’s why.

MONDAY | Jan. 7

Jan. 7-10. J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference. Details.

TUESDAY | Jan. 8

Senate and House in session.

WEDNESDAY | Jan. 9

House Democrats expected to have formal vote on whether to intervene in Texas v. United States.

MONDAY | Jan. 14

Noon. National Press Club. 529 14th St. NW. CVS CEO Larry Merlo to address Aetna acquisition, healthcare challenges. Details.

Healthcare