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With Comey news, GOP senators now eager to talk healthcare: Some senators have been all too eager to talk about healthcare reform, which is now far less politically thorny than the scandals engulfing the White House surrounding former FBI Director James Comey. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., was spotted heading to a closed-door meeting with Senate leadership talking about Medicaid spending levels. A reporter then interjected to get his thoughts on the White House scandal du jour: Comey reportedly wrote in a memo that President Trump asked him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. “No, I’m going to stay on Medicaid,” Barrasso responded. Since Comey was fired by Trump last week, some senators have relished the chance to talk about anything else. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was spotted heading to the Senate subway being peppered with questions last week about Comey’s termination. When a reporter tried to ask a question on healthcare, Collins’ face lit up. “Healthcare, there’s an issue I want to talk about,” she said.
Senators say they’re not distracted by Comey news: Senators have said that their work on healthcare is not going to be affected by the ongoing Russia investigation and the fallout from Comey’s firing. “In the one sense, it is distracting but in the other it allows us to multitask,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., on Wednesday before the Justice Department announced it had appointed a special counsel to handle the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But could Trump’s political troubles complicate debate over timing of repeal? One of the major areas of disagreement for Republicans is how aggressive the timeline should be for phasing out the major spending provisions of Obamacare — its subsidies to purchase insurance and the expansion of Medicaid. In the House-passed legislation, those two provisions aren’t wound down until the beginning of 2020, after the midterm elections, and heading into the next presidential election. Conservatives want to move that timeline up, while centrist Republican senators have talked about delaying repeal even further — keeping Obamacare largely intact through 2020. But as Trump’s presidency becomes engulfed in scandal and polls show Democrats poised to gain seats, conservatives will only feel more trepidation about delaying repeal. Extending Obamacare until the start of 2021, when a Democratic Congress and president-elect could be in place, may mean that in practice, repeal will never happen.
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Obamacare's individual mandate could stick around: Daily on Healthcare reported on Wednesday that Republicans were toying with the idea of keeping Obamacare’s dreaded individual mandate around through 2020. Later in the day, several senators spoke publicly about the possibility. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he would like to repeal the mandate but "it all comes down to the art of the doable. There are so many ideas and so many people who love their ideas, that we just have to wait and see what happens." Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told reporters "My sense is yes, it will go away, but we are still figuring out how to make the transition."
House Democrats invite Ivanka Trump to meeting on women's health issues: Reps. Judy Chu of California, Louise Slaughter of New York, Suzan DelBene of Washington, and Barbara Lee and Jackie Speier of California sent the first daughter a letter that reads, "Given your stated passion about women’s issues and empowerment, we found your silence during the House passage of the American Health Care Act surprising. The AHCA is a disastrous bill for women and their families, threatening access to pregnancy care, maternal and newborn services, breast cancer screenings, and contraception. … Given your influence over these issues in the White House, we respectfully request an in-person meeting.” They said they feared the Trump administration would take further steps to reduce access to contraception.
Dems target GOP healthcare bill in Montana special election: After years of being pummeled on Obamacare, Democrats are seeking to go on the offense on healthcare in the upcoming Montana special election to replace Ryan Zinke, who left his congressional seat to become Interior secretary. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has released a series of talking points, slamming Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, saying he “praised the healthcare bill that could raise costs for consumers, could eliminate health coverage for 70,000 Montanans, and will gut protections for pre-existing conditions — all to pay for huge tax breaks for millionaires like Gianforte himself.”
New idea for insurer subsidies not catching on yet: Cassidy floated a compromise earlier this week on the standoff between insurers and the Trump administration over whether to pay out subsidies for lowering co-pays and deductibles for low-income people on Obamacare’s exchanges. But the idea, proposed to him by the insurance industry, isn’t gaining any traction on Capitol Hill. The idea would mean that instead of paying insurers, low-income Obamacare customers would get that money in a health savings account to pay for those items. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the third-ranking senator, was skeptical. "I suspect there are going to be cases where HSAs probably aren't going to work for certain populations," Thune said Wednesday. The insurers' cost-sharing subsidies "are probably still going to be in the conversation." The White House also told the Washington Examiner it was willing to look into any ideas but didn’t have anything to say about the HSA one. Either way, insurers need to know very, very soon about whether the White House will pay out the subsidies for 2018. Insurers are still required under the law to lower co-pays and deductibles for low-income customers on Obamacare, and many have said if they don’t get the payments they could leave the exchanges or charge higher premiums.
Democrats press for drug pricing hearing: Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee seem peeved that their counterparts get to hold a hearing on drug prices and they don’t. “This committee should not be derelict. We should take this on,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., during a subcommittee hearingThursday. The hearing was on the reauthorization of a user fee program for the Food and Drug Administration and several other health-related bills. The call for a hearing on drug pricing comes a few weeks after the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee announced its intention to hold a hearing on drug pricing. However, no hearing has been scheduled.
STAT News Generic hepatitis C meds really are cost effective, a new study says
Washington Post Women with advanced breast cancer are surviving longer
The Hill Study: House Obamacare repeal bill cuts $43 billion in Medicaid funding for children
CNN New potential for marijuana: Treating drug addiction
Associated Press Another round of big premium hikes: Blame Trump or Obama?
MarketWatch Healthcare companies not going public as much due to Obamacare uncertainty
The Atlantic Trump expected to double down on NIH cuts
Governing Planned Parenthood clinics soon will be nonexistent in two states
New York Times Suspected cases of Ebola balloon to 18 in the Congo
THURSDAY | MAY 18
Thursday through Saturday. Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. Annual Meeting for the American Geriatrics Society. Schedule.
Noon. Senate Republican luncheon on healthcare.
2 p.m. 1100 Longworth. House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the “Current status of the Medicare Program, Payment Systems and Extenders.” Details.
FRIDAY | MAY 19
9:30 a.m. Rayburn 2123. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Drinking Water System Improvement Act and Related Issues of Funding Management and Compliance Assistance under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Details.
MONDAY | MAY 22
CBO report on the American Health Care Act expected this week.
Trump administration must provide the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals an update in the case House v. Price on cost-sharing reduction subsidies.
May 22 to 24. Atlanta Marriott Marquis. 2017 Spring Hospital & Healthcare I.T. Conference. Details.
TUESDAY | MAY 23
The president’s full budget proposal for fiscal 2018 is expected.
10 a.m. Bipartisan Policy Center. 1225 I St. NW, Suite 1000. Roundtable on “Patient Safety and Information Technology,” including Former Senate Majority Leader William Frist, former Rep. Bart Gordon from Tennessee; former Health IT National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo and former FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. Details.
10 a.m. 2123 Rayburn. House Energy and Commerce committee hearing on “U.S. Public Health Response to the Zika Virus: Continuing Challenges.” Details.
WEDNESDAY | MAY 24
11 a.m. Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health. 700 2nd St NE. Council of Accountable Physician Practices and the American Cancer Society to hold a press briefing on the “The State of Cancer Care Today.” Will include experts from the Biden Foundation and the CDC. Details.
1 p.m. 2007 Rayburn. House Appropriations Committee budget hearing on Indian Health Service. Details.
1: 30 p.m. Alliance for Health Reform webinar on “Where Medicaid Stands: From the AHCA to State Waivers.” Details.
2 p.m. 1100 Longworth. Hearing on the president’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Details.
THURSDAY | MAY 25
10 a.m. 2362-A Rayburn. House Appropriations Committee budget hearing on the Food and Drug Administration with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Details.