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Pressure increases on business leaders to leave President Trump’s Manufacturing Council. Twitter users have been urging business leaders to quit the council in response to Trump’s comments on the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Va., with the hashtag #quitthecouncil. The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect tweeted on Wednesday morning, “How dare business leaders remain on @POTUS' councils. That's an endorsement of hate. There must be consequences from American consumers.” The number of business leaders who have left the council grew to six Tuesday evening, after Trump’s press conference in which he said “both sides” were to blame for the violence. The most recent departures are AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and former deputy chief of staff Thea Lee.
Alex Gorsky, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, is the only healthcare industry representative of the group left after Merck’s CEO quit, Gorsky said Tuesday that he planned to remain on the council. "Ours is an important voice on healthcare, one that global leaders at every level, in and out of government, need to hear," Gorsky said in a statement. "If we aren't in the room advocating for global health as a top priority, if we aren't there standing up for our belief in diversity and inclusion, or if we fail to speak out when the situation demands it, then we have abdicated our credo responsibility. We must engage if we hope to change the world and those who lead it.” Gorsky made his announcement before Trump’s press conference, in which he was blasted by both congressional Republicans and Democrats for saying that “there was blame on both sides” after violence erupted at a protest held by neo-nazis, white supremacists and nationalists, who were met by counter-protesters, in Charlottesville, Va.
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Teen death rate from drug overdoses rises. Drug overdose death rates among older teens grew in 2015 as a result of the opioid epidemic, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug overdoses killed 772 people ages 15 to 19 in 2015. The majority, roughly 80 percent, of these deaths were not intentional, and the rise was driven by overdoses from heroin. The total number of deaths in 2015 was smaller than in some previous years, though rates were higher. The overdose death rate rose to 3.7 per 100,000 teens in 2015, from 3.1 the previous year and from a decline that had started in 2012. Much of the concentration was among males, who comprise two-thirds of drug overdose deaths. CDC scientists cautioned that part of the growth rate may be attributable to rate changes as well as better reporting of what drugs are causing deaths. In 2000, for instance, 73 percent of drug overdose deaths listed the specific drug that led to the overdose. In 2015, 85 percent of overdose deaths specified the drug.
CBO: Premiums up 20 percent next year without Obamacare insurer payments. If Trump cuts off the cost-sharing subsidies, gross premiums would jump by an average of 20 percent next year and by an average of 25 percent by 2020, according to the analysis released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Offie and the Joint Committee on Taxation. The number of people who are uninsured would increase next year by 1 million, as insurers leave the exchanges, but then beginning in 2020 the number would be about 1 million lower than under current law because more people would qualify for another kind of federal subsidy, which pays for premiums, and would therefore be more likely to buy coverage. Because of paying out these premiums, the federal deficit would increase by $194 billion from 2017 to 2026.
Democrats pounced on the report, noting that the Trump administration would be to blame if premiums were increased because of the failure to make the payments. "Try to wriggle out of his responsibilities as he might, the CBO report makes clear that if President Trump refuses to make these payments, he will be responsible for American families paying more for less care," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the CBO's analysis "once again exposes the vast cynicism of President Trump's threats to purposefully raise Americans' health costs by cutting off cost sharing reduction payments." Pelosi said if Trump refuses to fund the CSR payments, he would be "singlehandedly responsible for raising premiums across America by 25 percent, exploding the deficit by nearly $200 billion, and creating more bare counties."
The White House re-upped its CBO criticism. The White House was quick to criticize the CBO to downplay the results of the score. "Regardless of what this flawed report says, Obamacare will continue to fail with or without a federal bailout," said Ninio Fetalvo, a White House spokesman. "Premiums are accelerating, enrollment is declining, and millions are seeing their options dwindling. This disastrous law has devastated the middle class and must be repealed and replaced." The White House didn’t give a specific reason that the report was flawed, but reiterated previous criticisms of the agency. These include that the agency was wrong about the number of people who would sign up under Obamacare’s exchanges.
Poll: GOP voters side with Trump over McConnell. Following last week's showdown between the president and the Senate majority leader over the GOP's stalled agenda, particularly on healthcare, 60 percent of voters polled believe Trump is more in touch with them, compared to 16 percent who picked the Kentucky senator, according to the Morning Consult/Politico survey taken Aug. 10-14. Fifty-seven percent of GOP voters say Trump is more trustworthy than McConnell, who was backed by only 14 percent. Republicans also say Trump, who spent decades in business compared to McConnell's decades in Congress, is more knowledgeable on policy issues than McConnell, 41 percent to 34 percent, respectively. Trump criticized McConnell this month for not passing healthcare reform in the upper chamber. McConnell responded that Trump had "excessive expectations" for legislators. Half of GOP voters say Trump's attacking McConnell on Twitter was appropriate and one-third disagree.
Insurer steps in to fill Nevada’s bare Obamacare counties. Centene will cover 14 counties in Nevada that don't have any Obamacare insurer next year, providing a coverage option for 8,000 customers, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval announced during a Tuesday press conference. Sandoval said that it was embarrassing to have so many bare counties in the state. "It was unacceptable to me to have something like this," he said. "It was embarrassing for the state of Nevada not to have coverage in those areas." Sandoval said the state and insurer will talk about "pricing as we move forward," since no rates have been announced for the bare counties. The insurer is the latest to fill gaps in Obamacare coverage across the country.
The move shrinks the number of counties with no Obamacare coverage to two, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The bare counties are in Ohio and Wisconsin. There is still time for an insurer to sell coverage as contracts for Obamacare plans don't have to be signed until Sept. 27. It’s also possible that more insurers will exit depending on what happens with cost-sharing reduction payments.
Obamacare rates to rise 14 percent in New York. But some plans could see a 5 percent drop next year, the state's insurance regulator said Tuesday. The announcement comes as some insurers in other parts of the country are calling for double-digit increases because of a mix of factors that include uncertainty from the Trump administration and lingering problems with the exchanges. New York will have 15 insurers in the individual market, which includes Obamacare's exchanges. The state lets insurers bake into their rates the cost of not receiving cost-sharing reduction payments from the federal government. New York also estimated that rates for coverage on the individual market are 55 percent lower than they would have been without Obamacare, after adjusting for inflation and not including tax credits to pay down the cost of insurance.
Democrats question if HHS will protect against discrimination in healthcare. The Democrats' letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price Monday was in response to changes to the HHS website and recent hires. It comes a few months before the start of Obamacare's open enrollment on Nov. 1. Senate Democrats originally wrote to HHS on May 10 after changes to the agency's website removed language on Obamacare regulations that prohibit discrimination in healthcare related to race, color, national origin, sex, age and disability. Democrats were perturbed that they didn't get a response from HHS. They were also upset that the department removed language that clarifies that discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotyping constitutes discrimination. "As of today, the website mentions only discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as a type of sex discrimination," the senators said. In May, the senators said they were concerned about the removal of language from a frequently asked question. Democrats also pointed to the decision to hire Roger Severino to head HHS' Office of Civil Rights. They say Severino previously praised government officials for refusing to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
CMS scales back Obamacare payment experiment. The Trump administration is pulling back an experiment to change how hospitals and doctors are paid for hip and knee replacements. The Trump administration will no longer make the experiment mandatory and will reduce the number of regions participating in it from 67 to 34, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Tuesday. The goal behind the experiment was to hold hospitals financially accountable for the quality and cost of a knee or hip replacement. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was a frequent critic of the experiment while serving in the House. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, repeatedly said its mandatory nature was too burdensome for providers.
America’s Essential Hospitals praised the move.“We appreciate the flexibility demonstrated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today with its decision not to move forward with the Advancing Care Coordination proposed rule,” said Dr. Bruce Siegel, the group’s president and CEO. “While we understand and support the agency’s care improvement goals, we believe CMS made the right move to pull back the cardiac care episode payment models. Providers selected for the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement demonstration are only just now adapting to these new payment and delivery approaches and need more time before facing another demonstration and the potential for mandatory participation in two models simultaneously.”
States target bank accounts of opioid makers. A growing number of state attorneys general are filing lawsuits against painkiller manufacturers to try to stem the growing tide of opioid overdose deaths, but experts question if the effort will be any help. Several states and local governments over recent months have sued opioid makers, claiming that they contributed to the nationwide epidemic through deceptive marketing and playing down the addictive power of the painkillers when pitching them to doctors. But the move raises several major questions. Chief among them is whether the lawsuits can make a dent in the epidemic. "Even if the drug companies had to pay a lot of money either because of settlements or damage rewards, I am not sure it is gonna affect their behavior much," said Richard Ausness, associate dean at the University of Kentucky's law school and an expert in liability law. Ausness pointed out the 2007 federal settlement of $600 million with Purdue Pharma, the maker of powerful painkiller Oxycontin. "Did it stop them? No, they kept on doing it because they were making billions of dollars a year from the sale of opioids," Ausness said. Purdue faces lawsuits from Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Several counties in California and New York as well as Chicago also have sued opioid makers. Cincinnati on Tuesday sued several opioid distributors.
New CEO for UnitedHealthGroup. Stephen Hemsley, who has been the company’s executive chairman for more than a decade, is being replaced by President Dave Wichmann, effective Sept. 1. Wichmann, 65, oversaw the expansion of Optum, a big part of the company’s growth. See the release.
Top government staffer heads to industry. Juliet Johnson joined the public affairs team at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America as a deputy vice president. Johnson worked as director of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services when Andy Slavitt was the acting administrator and is former director of communications for Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs bill banning insurers from covering abortion. Tuesday’s signing requires women to pay a separate premium if they want coverage for the procedure when it is performed outside of medical emergencies. The bill does not contain an exemption for fetal abnormality or for women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Lawmakers who supported the bill said people shouldn't be forced to subsidize abortions through their private health insurance plans. Opponents, largely Democrats, countered during debate on the bill that women do not anticipate needing an abortion, particularly in cases of sexual assault. The plan, they said, would require women to buy "rape insurance." Abbott on Tuesday also signed into law a second abortion-related bill that increases reporting requirements on abortion-related complications for facilities and doctors who provide abortions.
Meanwhile, Oregon passes sweeping abortion rights law. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill on Tuesday that expands access to abortion and birth control in Oregon. The law requires insurers to provide birth control and abortion coverage without charging co-pays, according to a report in the Washington Post. It also devotes state funds to give reproductive healthcare to noncitizens excluded from Medicaid. The move comes as the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress have tried to scale back abortion access, including efforts in the Obamacare repeal legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.
Stat News Democrats in Congress to explore creating an expert panel on Trump’s mental health
Bloomberg Obamacare startup Oscar posts $57.6 million first-half loss
STAT News White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Sometimes they don’t like what they find
Axios UnitedHealth CEO is stepping down
NPR ‘Body brokers’ get kickbacks by luring addicts to bad rehab
Politico Cory Gardner faces blowback back home on Obamacare repeal
CNN Charlottesville, hate crimes a public health issue, experts say
Reuters Abortion after-care costs driven up by scarcity of nearby clinics
WEDNESDAY | Aug. 16
Aug. 15-16. Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, Atlanta. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Conference. Details.
Aug. 15-16. Washington Plaza Hotel, 10 Thomas Circle NW. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology holds forum on “Beyond Boundaries: ONC’s 2017 Technical Interoperability.” Details.
Aug. 15-17. Hyatt Regency Atlanta Hotel. National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media. Details.
1:30 p.m. CST/2:30 p.m. EST. Chillicothe Municipal Utilities. 920 Washington St. Chillicothe, Mo. Sen. Claire McCaskill to hold a town hall. Details.
3 p.m. CST/4 p.m. EST. Colby Community College. 1255 Range Ave. Colby, Kan. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Ks., to hold a listening tour. Details.
3:30 p.m. CST/4:30 p.m. EST. Grundy County Public Library. 1331 Main St. Trenton, Mo. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to hold town hall. Details.
6:30 p.m. Edmund Town Hall. 45 Main St. Newtown, Conn. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to hold town hall. Details.
THURSDAY | Aug. 17
9 a.m. PST/Noon EST. USC Caruso Center. Los Angeles. National Hispanic Medical Association leadership summit on “Cardiovascular Disease and Hispanics.” Details.
MONDAY | Aug. 21
9 p.m. House Speaker Paul Ryan to appear in CNN town hall. Details.