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Healthcare legislation that Trump and Democrats may actually be able to agree on. Senators see a opening for legislation to eliminate unexpected massive medical bills after President Trump enthusiastically endorsed the idea this week, raising the possibility of bipartisan work on a topic marked in recent years by bitter divisiveness. Key senators indicated on Thursday that they hope to work in the coming months across party lines and with Trump to address the problem of patients facing astonishingly high bills after being administered pricey medications or receiving care from doctors outside their networks. The lawmakers have been stymied in writing legislation related to other areas in healthcare, such as stabilizing Obamacare’s exchanges or working to insure people who currently lack coverage. “It will be a priority in our efforts to try to reduce healthcare costs,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “People go to the emergency room and they suddenly are surprised a few weeks later with a bill for $ 3,000 for an out-of-network doctor. We don’t want that to happen to anyone.” Alexander has met with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to discuss the problem and said that he expected the Senate would address it in “the next several months.” He also met with the top Democrat on the HELP Committee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., of the Finance Committee. Lawmakers recognized that surprise medical bills were “an obvious candidate for that kind of bipartisan cooperation,” he said.
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Officials to create registry of where to find a bed for serious mental illness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors are putting together a registry for medical providers to use to help find inpatient treatment for patients with serious mental illness. Twenty-three states are receiving $ 150,000 to participate in the program, which will be used by emergency departments, psychiatrists, and other doctors. People with serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, often have no place to go when they suffer psychosis that could result in them hurting themselves or others. The lack of care has contributed to increases in the number of people in prisons and jails, to homelessness, and to suicide. Emergency departments are flooded with psychiatric patients who languish there for days, and doctors discharge them if they can’t find a specialized bed available.
Grassley releases list of testimonies to come from drug pricing hearing. The Senate Finance Committee is convening the first of several hearings on Tuesday for a hearing titled “Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change,” and the list of witnesses who will be testifying was released last night. They include Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former head of the Congressional Budget Office; Mark Miller, vice president of healthcare at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation; Dr. Peter Bach, director of Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Health Policy and Outcomes; and Kathy Sego, the mother of a child who needs insulin to manage diabetes.
Unpaid federal workers given another two-week grace period for dental, vision insurance deductions. Federal workers have two weeks before they will have to begin paying their premiums if the shutdown persists. The Office of Personnel Management has opted to delay the date unpaid federal employees will have vision and dental insurance start being deducted from paychecks by two weeks, to Feb. 9. The federal agency notified fellow agencies Wednesday that it would not remove the insurance deductions from the $ 0 paychecks approximately 800,000 government employees are set to receive Friday, according to an update on its website. “However, if the lapse period is less than three consecutive pay periods, your premiums will accumulate and be withheld later when the lapse ends. If you do not receive pay for three consecutive pay periods, BENEFEDS will begin to bill you directly for premium payments. You must pay those bills on a timely basis in order to continue your coverage,” the update reads. OPM said it is working “to make the partial lapse as painless as possible, consistent with law.”
Lawmakers worry that only a disaster will force a shutdown deal. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are increasingly worried that only some kind of disaster will be enough to force Congress to strike a deal to end the partial government shutdown, which has lasted nearly five weeks. Lawmakers have blown past two possible pressure points without reaching a deal. One was the first missed paycheck for hundreds of thousands of federal workers earlier this month, and the other was Trump’s State of the Union address, which was set for Jan. 29. Now, some lawmakers say it might take some kind of catastrophe to force congressional action. “I hate to put it this way, but I think if something bad happens, honestly. That’s obviously the ultimate pressure point,” said Rep Tom Cole, R-Okla., the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, when asked what might bring the two sides to an agreement. “It could be anything from food poisoning to an air accident. I think people genuinely want a solution.”
Medical devicemakers speak out against shutdown. The Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AdvaMed, said in a statement Thursday that “the innovation pipeline is becoming dangerously clogged” because of the partial government shutdown. The Food and Drug Administration is one of the agencies affected by the shutdown and is unable to review new fee-paying medical device applications. “New treatments and cures are stuck in a queue, and patients could see those effects,” the group said. It proposed a legislative fix that would allow FDA to access funds and conduct reviews, both now and if appropriations lapse in the future.
Disease at border puts migrants at risk: ‘There’s a crisis here.’ There is a health crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border that was deliberately covered up during a visit by members of Congress, according to the head of a sanitation company supplying outposts there. Tricia Elbrock, the owner of Elbrock Water Systems in Animas, N.M., supplies portable bathrooms at facilities near the border. She told the Washington Examiner that after she dropped off two portable toilets near the border at the request of the Border Patrol, her cleaning staff was “overwhelmed” after hundreds of migrants used them. “There’s a crisis here — the influx of people. These little counties and towns cannot handle that mass,” Elbrock said during a recent meeting at her business in Animas. Last month, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s base in Antelope Wells, N.M., forced officials to close an indoor bathroom that migrants had been using. Officials allowed migrants access to that bathroom in the hopes of avoiding a bigger mess around their headquarters that would have been unavoidable had no bathroom been available.
Lawmakers re-introduced bipartisan bill to repeal Obamacare’s ‘Cadillac tax.’ Reps. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., Mike Kelly, R-Pa., Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., have introduced legislation that would repeal Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax,” which adds a tax to employer-sponsored health insurance plans that the law deems overly generous. Under the terms set out, people who are middle-income would also face the tax because the price of health insurance has continued to increase. The Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal would undo the tax, which has already been delayed twice.
Utah governor: Let Medicaid expansion move forward. Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that the Medicaid expansion approved by voters in a ballot measure should move forward before lawmakers try to restrict it, according to UtahPolicy.com. He added, however, that he didn’t think the expansion would be financially sustainable in the long term and didn’t explicitly say that he would veto a plan by GOP lawmakers to only do a partial expansion. Lawmakers are meeting next week and a group of them says that the tax to be implemented on non-food items will fall short of what will be needed to implement the expansion.
Wisconsin governor can’t back state out of Obamacare lawsuit, state AG says. The request from newly sworn in Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to have the state leave a lawsuit aimed at declaring Obamacare unconstitutional has been rejected by Attorney General Josh Kaul. The suit was waged under the Republican predecessors and to leave now the Republican-controlled legislature would need to act, because lawmakers worked to block such actions before Evers came into office. Evers on Tuesday directed Kaul to withdraw from the lawsuit but then later said he wasn’t ordering “any specific course of action” after lawmakers told him he didn’t have the authority to make such a request.
Trump signs Medicaid, other HHS grants into law. Trump signed the Medicaid Extenders act and the TANF Extension Act into law on Thursday. The Medicaid legislation will for three months extend the Money Follows the Person demonstration and the spousal impoverishment protections for Home- and Community-Based Services recipients. The programs help people remain in the community instead of institutionalized settings. The second bill extends Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care Entitlements, and other grants from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Washington Post Blue states challenge U.S. rules that they say undermine Obamacare
Modern Healthcare Medicaid enrollees last in line when docs accepting new patients
Science Magazine Expert witness David Egilman wins billions — and makes enemies — as he fights companies over public health
Topeka Capital-Journal Gov. Laura Kelly expects Medicaid task force to quickly deliver expansion plan
FRIDAY | Jan. 25
Jan. 24-26. Families USA Healthcare Action conference. Agenda.
Jan. 22-25. Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. World Economic Forum. Live feed.
Jan. 23-26. American Physical Therapy Association Combined Sections Meeting. Details.
MONDAY | Jan. 28
3 p.m. 1225 I St. NW. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to speak at Bipartisan Policy Center event titled “The Role of Real-World Evidence in Regulatory and Value-Based Payment Decision-Making.” Details.
TUESDAY | Jan. 29
10 a.m. 1100 Longworth. House Ways and Means Committee hearing on “Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions.” Details.
10:25 a.m. 215 Dirksen. Senate Finance Committee hearing on “Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part I.” Details.
11 a.m. 2154 Rayburn. House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on “Examining the Actions of Drug Companies in Raising Prescription Drug Prices.” Details.
WEDNESDAY | Jan. 30
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW. Brookings Institute event on “Reforming Stark/Anti-Kickback Policies.” Details.
THURSDAY | Jan. 31
10 a.m. 2123 Rayburn. House Energy and Commerce hearing on “Examining the Trump shutdown’s devastating impact on federal workers, public health, the environment, and consumers.” Details.