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GOP sets up vote next week to fund the government through March 22. Congress next week is preparing to consider a bill that would fund the government through March 22, Republican lawmakers said Tuesday. The current continuing spending resolution expires after Feb. 8, after which the government would partially shut down unless Congress votes to keep the money flowing. Republican leaders would not confirm the details of the spending bill under discussion. "We are still negotiating the contents and duration of that," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Republicans and Democrats have yet to reach a deal on a year-long spending measure but are close to a deal, according to some GOP lawmakers. "I'm not optimistic about getting anything before the 8th," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. The short-term continuing resolution, or CR, will be the fifth temporary spending measure passed in fiscal 2018, which started Oct. 1. The House is expected to take up the measure early next week. A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, which would write the bill, said no decisions have been finalized. "We'll go through this again where some people will posture and say we won't vote for the CR, then the president will call them and they will vote for the CR," Dent said. "I think we'll get another CR.” The extra time, Dent said, will give the GOP more time to work out an immigration reform deal and secure an accord to lift the nation's borrowing limit, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said must be raised in March.
Lack of long-term deal affects Obamacare stabilization bills, opioid funding. Congress’ inability to reach a longer spending deal is having a ripple effect on several major health initiatives. Senators behind two Obamacare stabilization bills are hoping to insert them into the must-pass omnibus, but no deal has been reached. Supporters of the bills believe that inclusion in the omnibus is their best shot at passage as the House has not shown a willingness to embrace the bills. Meanwhile, insurers need to know in the next few months whether the stabilization bills will be passed. The first deadline to participate in Obamacare’s insurance exchanges are coming up this spring. Another concern is opioid funding. Democrats and Republicans want to boost funding to fight the opioid epidemic. However, to do that a deal must be made on spending caps for government funding. That deal likely would come with the omnibus, and so opioid funding remains on hold until Congress can find terms.
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CDC: Flu hospitalizations reach record level. People are being hospitalized because of the flu at record levels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. CDC reported that hospitalizations are the highest the agency has ever seen in the eight years the data has been tracked, and are outpacing hospitalizations seen during the severe 2014-2015 flu season. The CDC also addressed a Canadian study that found the flu shot was only 10 to 20 percent effective against H3N2, the most predominant strain of flu this season. Acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat said on a call with reporters that overall the flu shot is 30 to 40 percent effective against all strains of the flu. “We have been expecting low effectiveness against H3N2 strain,” she said. While H3N2 is most prominent, Schuchat said that there are increases in the H1N1 strain that the flu shot is more effective at battling. The CDC reported 16 flu-related pediatric deaths this past week, and overall 53 children have died from the flu this season.
Azar likely to approve Indiana Medicaid waiver, reports say. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is expected to approve a waiver to let Indiana establish work requirements for its Medicaid program, according to multiple reports. Azar is holding a press conference at 2:30 Friday with Democratic Gov. Eric Holcomb in Indianapolis. Multiple outlets are reporting that Azar is expected to announce the renewal of Indiana’s Medicaid expansion program called Healthy Indiana. He is also expected to announce that HHS will grant a waiver to let Indiana to install work requirements for certain Medicaid beneficiaries. Indiana would be the second state after Kentucky to get a waiver approved for work requirements. The Trump administration last month allowed states to apply for work requirement waivers.Eight other states have applied for waivers seeking a work requirement. If Indiana gets a waiver, it could expect legal challenges. Advocacy groups sued Kentucky on behalf of Medicaid recipients to overturn the waiver, claiming that it violates federal law.
Indiana’s Medicaid changes booted 25,000 people. Speaking of Indiana, a new report from Kaiser Health News found that major changes to the Medicaid program resulted in 25,000 people getting kicked out of the program. In 2015, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence installed major changes to the program, including charging some adults a monthly premium and locking out people for six months if they didn’t pay up, Kaiser said. The report found that about 25,000 adults were kicked off Medicaid from 2015 to October 2017. State officials told Kaiser that about half of those people found another source of coverage, most likely through a job.
HHS releases new tools to fight opioid epidemic through Medicare. The Trump administration on Thursday announced new methods to fight opioid abuse through Medicare's drug plan. The goal of the policies, announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is to better manage chronic overuse of opioids by creating better communication among patients, doctors, and insurers. CMS plans to create a system under Medicare Part D to flag an opioid prescription when the pharmacist looks it up. The trigger would occur when the prescription exceeds the recommended guidelines from the CDC, Demetrios Kouzoukas, principal deputy administrator of CMS, told reporters Thursday. The system would require the pharmacist to talk with the patient’s insurer and doctor about the need for the prescription.
Trump pushes anew for 'right to try' drug law. President Trump urged Congress on Thursday to approve a bill that lets terminally ill patients try experimental treatments, saying that it will give patients the “hope of finding something.” Trump has made an open push for Congress to approve "right to try" legislation since calling for passage during his first State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Legislation passed the Senate last year and is before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I have known people like this,” Trump said during an address at the Republican retreat in West Virginia Thursday. “They travel all over the world to try and find a cure but it will be years before [drugs] come on to the market.” "Right to try" lets a patient with a terminally ill disease and no other options bypass the Food and Drug Administration to use an experimental drug.
Patty Murray: 'Good news' that GOP giving up on Obamacare repeal. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said some Republicans are “facing reality” amid reports that lawmakers discussed giving up on Obamacare repeal at the annual GOP congressional retreat. “It’s good news that at least some Republicans are facing reality and accepting that families don’t want any part of Trumpcare,” the Washington Democrat said Thursday. Murray is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is pushing a bill to try to stabilize Obamacare with committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. The bill would fund Obamacare insurer payments for two years in exchange for giving states more flexibility in waiving Obamacare regulations.
House sets vote to ease Obamacare rules on menu labels. House Republicans next week are expected to call up a bipartisan bill that would take the sting out of Obamacare's rules that require restaurants and other retail food establishments to provide calorie counts and other nutritional information to customers. The Obamacare rules sparked outrage by some Republicans who said they would create a significant burden on coffee shops, pizza parlors and others. Since then, many restaurants have adapted, but a group of Republicans and Democrats are still pushing for ways to ease the impact of the rule. The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would get restaurants off the hook from having to provide calorie counts and other information for every possible combination of food. "Under the current rule, every deli and salad bar offering, every possible pizza topping combination, will have to be calculated and their calorie count displayed on physical menus," she said about her bill last year.
Senators urge Trump administration to bolster Alzheimer's research. A group of bipartisan senators are asking the Trump administration to show support for curing and preventing Alzheimer's disease by increasing funding for research. In a letter made public Thursday, they urged Trump to bolster the funding request for Alzheimer's in his fiscal 2019 budget request expected in March. Funding would be distributed to the National Institutes of Health, which awards grants for medical research. NIH spends about $640 million a year on research. In comparison, the U.S. spends $259 billion a year caring for people with Alzheimer's, including $175 billion for government-funded Medicare and Medicaid.
Healthcare groups urge Congress to pass Medicare extenders. A collection of more than 50 organizations is pleading with congressional leadership to extend several Medicare policies that have expired. Congress let lapse last year a series of policies that include extensions to home health, special need plans and others. “There is strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress for a Medicare legislative package to retroactively address Medicare extenders, and refine other reimbursement and coverage issues directly related to the health and well-being of Medicare beneficiaries,” the letter said. The groups want to add the extenders to the upcoming spending bill. Government funding runs out on Feb. 8 and Congress is eyeing another short-term spending bill. Groups that signed on to the letter include the American Heart Association, Alliance for Aging Research and the Alzheimer’s Association.
The Hill Graham: ‘I will not give up’ on Obamacare repeal
Roll Call More states jump on Medicaid work requirements bandwagon
Bloomberg Purdue’s Oxycontin targeted at judge’s opioid summit
STAT News Concerns over dengue vaccine raise alarms over others in development
Washington Post New HHS head faces pressure from Republicans too
CNBC Justice Department requests more information on Aetna-CVS merger
New York Times India wants to give half a billion people free healthcare
Associated Press Little support for proposed Medicaid cuts in Montana
FRIDAY | Feb. 2
1:15 p.m. HHS Secretary Alex Azar holds press conference in Indiana. Live stream.
TUESDAY | Feb. 6
6 a.m. Centene fourth quarter earnings call. Details.
3 p.m. 1100 Longworth. Hearing on the Opioid Crisis: Removing Barriers to Prevent and Treat Opioid Abuse and Dependence in Medicare. Details.
THURSDAY | Feb. 8
Deadline for government spending bill.
10 a.m. 430 Dirksen. Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing about the impact of the opioid crisis on children and families. Details.