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Kasich and Hickenlooper unveil Obamacare rescue plan: Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado on Thursday unveiled a plan to fix Obamacare's exchanges that includes injecting new funds into the controversial law. The plan calls for Congress to create a temporary stability fund that states can use for a reinsurance program, which reimburses insurers for major losses. The governors don't give an exact figure for the stability fund. But they pointed to a recent failed Obamacare repeal bill that would have given states $15 billion a year to address issues in Obamacare's individual marketplaces. "We recommend funding the program for at least two years and fully offsetting the cost so it does not add to the deficit," according to the letter outlining the plan. The letter was sent a week before Congress returns and starts work on a bipartisan stabilization plan. The Kasich-Hickenlooper plan also aims to boost rural insurer competition by exempting the health insurance tax for any insurer that offers plans in counties that have only one carrier. It would allow residents to buy into the Federal Employee Benefit Program, which gives rural residents the same healthcare access that federal workers get.
For Kasich, it’s the next phase in a long progression toward embracing Obamacare. In 2010, Kasich ran as a Tea Party candidate vowing to fight Obamacare. Even after bypassing his state legislature to impose Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, he insisted he was still in favor of repealing Obamacare, a stance he took during his presidential run. This year, however, as Republicans in Congress worked on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare that would have phased out the Medicaid expansion, Kasich became increasingly defensive of the law, culminating with his latest plan aimed at rescuing Obamacare. Additional signatories on the plan are Govs. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Bill Walker of Alaska, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, Jon Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Steve Bullock of Montana.
Conservatives won’t support Obamacare rescue detached from broader changes: Though the Kasich-Hickenlooper plan notes that the U.S. House and Senate proposed $15 billion a year in aid to states to stabilize markets, it’s important to remember that this plan was only supported by conservatives as a compromise with moderates as part of a broader plan that would have repealed a lot of Obamacare’s taxes and spending. Absent those changes, it doesn’t stand a chance with conservatives. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., himself noted that it was “controversial” to offer bailout money without greater reforms. So any plan would likely have to pass, as many budget agreements have in recent years, with Democratic support and amid massive defections from Republicans. Even if such a coalition were theoretically plausible, would McConnell, already embarrassed by the failure to deliver on the seven-year promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, really want the only thing he does on healthcare be a major rescue package for the law he vowed to undo “root and branch”?
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Sen. Kamala Harris endorses Bernie Sanders’ single payer bill Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said during a town hall Wednesday that she will endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-Vt., bill to extend Medicare to all Americans. The move comes as Harris has taken heat from Sanders supporters over her progressive bonafides. Harris, said to be a top Democratic prospect for the 2020 presidential election, had previously announced she supports the idea of a single-payer system because it makes sense from a fiscal perspective. "Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege," Harris said. "This should not be a partisan issue. It shouldn't even be a bipartisan issue. It should be a nonpartisan issue."
Trump administration may not have an Obamacare signup target The Trump administration may break with former President Barack Obama and not establish an enrollment target for Obamacare for next year. An administration official refused to offer a target for 2018 signups Wednesday, saying too many factors could affect how to set that target, chief among them high prices for Obamacare next year. "It is hard to say that we can get to this target or that target because there are so many things going on in the market," said the official, speaking on background. "The bottom line is the prices continue to go up." Last year, the Obama administration set an ambitious goal of signing up 13.8 million people by the end of open enrollment in January. About 12.2 million people signed up, and about 10 million paid their premiums as of June. Open enrollment for 2018 is scheduled to start on Nov. 1 and run until Dec. 15, which is about six weeks shorter than 2017's open enrollment.
Investigation into Zinke health threats ends An investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's alleged healthcare threats against Alaska's senators has ended. The Interior Department inspector general concluded "further investigation would be unproductive." In July, two top House Democrats wrote a letter asking for an investigation into a phone call Zinke had with Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, reportedly saying Murkowski's vote against the legislation had put Alaska in jeopardy with the administration. Murkowski later voted against Obamacare repeal. She also put a temporary hold on some nominees that Zinke had been requesting the Senate to confirm. Murkowski is the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The letter also asked investigators to look into whether Zinke violated federal anti-lobbying laws as well as the Hobbs Act, which "prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce."
Revolutionary cancer treatment comes with hefty price tag A new cancer treatment will be sold for nearly half a million dollars, sparking criticism from some patient advocates.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first gene therapy in the U.S. called Kymriah, which customize a patient's own immune cells to fight a type of leukemia through a therapy called CAR-T. The drug's maker, Novartis, plans to sell the treatment for $475,000 for the one-time dose. The company said the price is actually below some independent estimates, including an appraisal from the United Kingdom's National Institute for Cost Effectiveness that pegged a cost-effective price between $600,000 and $750,000.
"We looked at the current standards of care, such as the cost of allogenic stem cell transplants, which is between $540,000-$800,000 for the first year in the U.S.," Novartis said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. "These external assessments as well as our own health economic analysis of the value of Kymriah, all indicated that a cost effective price would be $600,000 to $750,000." But some advocates are upset at the high price tag. "Kymriah's price tag is simply a continuation of the pattern of sky-high launch prices that spins further out of control each year," according to the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, an advocacy group that includes insurers, nurses, hospitals and doctors.
Groups to petition FDA to remove some opioids A coalition of doctor and related advocacy groups plan to petition the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, which is International Opioid Awareness Day, to remove specific opioid products. The groups plan to hold a candlelight vigil Thursday night and then march to the White House. The groups participating are the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, National Safety Council and Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. It remains unclear what opioid products the groups want to remove. The FDA has faced criticism from advocates for approving too many opioids as the opioid epidemic has raged across America. Federal data shows that opioid overdoses kill about 77 Americans a day.
Senate Finance to hold CHIP hearing The Senate Finance Committee plans to hold a hearing to kickstart moves to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which needs to be reauthorized by the end of September. The committee will hold a hearing on Sept. 7 on the program. “By bringing together those most familiar with CHIP, this hearing will allow members to learn about the current state of the program, which has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support. I look forward to continuing to work with members on the Committee and the administration to ensure continued funding and uninterrupted services for CHIP.” The hearing will feature the mother of a CHIP recipient, an administration official in charge of the program and a state director of medical assistance services from Virginia.
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THURSDAY, AUG. 31
7 p.m., Rockville, Md. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin holds a town hall to discuss healthcare at Johns Hopkins University’s Rockville, Md., campus. 9601 Medical Drive. firstname.lastname@example.org
FRIDAY, SEPT. 1
8:15 a.m. Bethesda, Md., National Institutes of Health holds a meeting of the Council of Councils. Details.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 6
10 a.m. 430 Dirksen. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on stabilizing the Obamacare exchanges. State insurance commissioners will testify. help.senate.gov/hearings/stabilizing-premiums-and-helping-individuals-in-the-individual-insurance-market-for-2018-state-insurance-commissioners
THURSDAY, SEPT. 7
9 a.m. 430 Dirksen. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a second hearing on stabilizing the Obamacare exchanges, with several governors testifying. help.senate.gov/hearings/stabilizing-premiums-and-helping-individuals-in-the-individual-insurance-market-for-2018-governors
10 a.m., 215 Dirksen. The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program. https://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/the-childrens-health-insurance-program-the-path-forward