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Republicans again try to use healthcare to entice Democrats to fund government. During the January government funding showdown, Republicans tried to use an extension of CHIP funding to entice Democrats to vote for a bill to avert a government shutdown. With the current funding government funding bill expiring Thursday, the House is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill to fund the government until March 23 that once again tries to use healthcare funding as a way to convince Democrats to vote for a bill to keep the government fully open. The bill would include plethora of healthcare items such as:

*Funding for community health centers for two years, providing much-needed funding to nonprofit centers that have been waiting for money since the program expired Sept. 30;

*Extensions for a host of Medicare programs that include a special diabetes program for Indians;

*A delay of disproportionate hospital share payments to certain hospitals. The payments reimburse hospitals under Medicaid for charity care provided by the hospitals. The cuts were expected to take effect in October 2017 at the start of the federal 2018 fiscal year. However, the cuts have not gone into effect. But hospitals remain worried about what would happen if the $2 billion in DSH payments occurs this year. The Affordable Care Act installed the cuts, thinking that insurance gains from the law would be enough to compensate for the loss. However, the drafters of the law probably didn’t foresee the Supreme Court allowing states to decline the Medicaid expansion, a major extender of coverage to the uninsured. Nineteen states have declined the expansion;

*Legislation to lower burdens on the adoption of electronic health records; and

*A bill to prevent lottery jackpot winners from getting Medicaid benefits.

Most senators back long-term funding for community health centers. It’s not clear if the House bill will be able to pass the Senate, but most members appear to back long-term funding for community health centers. On Monday, a group of bipartisan senators called for Congress to reauthorize funding for community health centers for several years as part of the short-term spending bill. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., with 57 other members, sent a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Monday asking for reauthorization of the program. “As chairman of the subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, I have consistently prioritized funding for community health centers," Blunt said in a statement. "However, the funding cliff facing these centers far exceeds what we are able to address through the appropriations process. We need to move forward with reauthorization, and I urge my colleagues on the Senate HELP committee to do so.” Congress passed a short-term bill in December that included $550 million in funding, but it will expire at the end of March.

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Wyden, Hatch say CHIP passage an opening for more bipartisanship. Congress’ ability to pass a six-year reauthorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program last month can serve as an example to Congress, two leading senators said in an op-ed in Time Tuesday. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., touted the reauthorization for the longest time since the creation of the program in the 1990s. CHIP, which provides insurance to nearly 9 million children from low-income families, has traditionally been a bipartisan program. However, it expired Sept. 30 and states had to stretch leftover funding to make do. It is striking that Wyden and Hatch turn to CHIP reauthorization as a model for bipartisanship. The House passed a five-year reauthorization bill in November that didn’t receive much Democratic support partly because of controversial funding offsets such as raiding an Obamacare disease prevention fund. The Senate Finance Committee, which Hatch heads and Wyden serves as ranking member, passed its own five-year reauthorization in October by a nearly unanimous vote. That bill, however, did not include funding offsets for CHIP, which at the time cost $9 billion. The bill languished in the Senate as lawmakers negotiated to no result on their own funding offsets. A breakthrough occurred only when the Congressional Budget Office predicted that CHIP would save the government money over 10 years. The reason was higher costs for Medicaid and Obamacare, making them pricier alternatives to serving low-income children if CHIP is eliminated.

House to vote on nutrition disclosure bill. The House will take up a bill today 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 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, such as the hundreds that can be created with pizza toppings. A second change would allow retail food establishments to provide nutritional information online, if most of their customers are ordering food online and having it delivered. And third, it would eliminate some of the law's criminal penalties against companies that fail to comply.

Right-to-try advocates push for quick House vote. Supporters of a bill to let terminally ill patients bypass the Food and Drug Administration to get access to experimental treatments are pressing for a House vote quickly. Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., wrote a letter signed by 40 lawmakers to House GOP leadership requesting a vote as soon as possible. The letter comes as President Trump made a public push for right-to-try legislation during the State of the Union last week. “What we cannot accept is inaction, endless delays, and half-measures,” the letter said. The legislation already passed the Senate last year and now it sits before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has not scheduled a vote on it. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has said he is working on a bipartisan version for it.

Safety advocates not too happy with the bill. Some patient safety advocacy groups don’t like the legislation. One group said a phase I trial doesn’t provide enough information on the drug. “Phase I typically involves testing a single dose of the drug and trying to establish the highest dose that is too toxic,” said Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s health research group. “They provide no meaningful data on effectiveness and very preliminary data on safety.” Carome also argues that the bill creates false hope for patients because the drugs may not work, since they need more testing to ensure they are effective.

Distributors, pharmacists join to raise awareness on opioid over-prescribing. A coalition of pharmacists, drug wholesalers and patient advocates has created an alliance aimed at reducing overprescribing of deadly opioids to help curb opioid deaths. The Alliance Against Opioid Abuse will put out information to raise awareness about the opioid crisis that kills 91 Americans a day. “We all have a role to play in developing and advancing meaningful and responsible solutions to address the serious and complex issues raised by the opioid abuse epidemic. It starts with education,” said John M. Gray, president and CEO of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, which represents drug distributors. The Healthcare Distribution Alliance spearheaded the group, which also counts the Caregiver Action Network, Mental Health America and National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations among its members. Experts have pinpointed opioid overprescribing as a major driver of opioid abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one out of five patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnoses receives opioids from doctors. Kentucky has sued drug distributor McKesson, a member of HDA, charging that it helped fuel the crisis.

Anthem offers $1,000 bonuses due to tax cut. Insurance giant Anthem announced it would give $1,000 to the retirement accounts for more than 58,000 employees and recent retirees because of the recently passed tax legislation. The insurer said that overall it will contribute more than $58 million to employees' 401(k) programs and is putting together a new investment program based on changes created by the tax bill passed late last year. The changes include automatically creating a retirement account for eligible employees who previously didn’t create a 401(k), according to a report on Anthem is the latest company to announce savings or bonuses because of the tax bill.

States having big problems tracking safety issues at assisted living facilities, GAO finds. A federal watchdog has found widespread problems tracking safety and quality such as sexual or physical assault and medication errors at assisted living facilities. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that 26 states couldn’t report the number of critical safety or quality incidents at an assisted living facility, out of the 47 states and the District of Columbia that pay for assisted living for their Medicaid enrollees. The 22 states that did track the information used different definitions for a critical incident, complicating oversight.  The report is the first national assessment of quality of care for Medicaid enrollees at assisted living facilities across the country.

Most people satisfied with health insurance they get through work, survey finds. According to findings released Tuesday by America’s Health Insurance Plans, 71 percent of people who get medical coverage through work are satisfied with it, and 56 percent said that it was a key factor in whether they stayed at their current job. Nearly half of people in the U.S., 180 million, receive medical coverage through work. “Employer-provided coverage is a pillar of Americans’ health and financial security,” said Marilyn Tavenner, president and CEO of AHIP. “The results reaffirm that American workers and their families depend on their coverage to provide them with protection and peace of mind.” Additional questions in the survey found that 71 percent are concerned that healthcare costs will continue. The top-ranking benefits those surveyed said mattered most were coverage for prescription drugs, at 51 percent, and a tie on preventive care and emergency care, both at 47 percent. Luntz Global Partners conducted the survey among 1,000 people who had coverage through work.  


Axios Insurers want help from Congress, and fast

The Hill Changes expected to right to try bill

Wall Street Journal New tax will hit some nonprofit hospitals more than others

NPR Risky antipsychotic drugs still overprescribed in nursing homes

Politico Kellyanne Conway’s ‘opioid cabinet’ sidelines drug czar’s expert

Kaiser Health News Cuts in federal subsidies threatens basic health programs in Minnesota and New York

STAT News Bristol claims victory in crucial immunotherapy trial, but results raise some questions


TUESDAY | Feb. 6

Feb. 5-6. Academy Health National Health Policy Conference. Details.

Feb. 6-8. Rural Health Policy Institute with the National Rural Health Association. Details.

3 p.m. 1100 Longworth. Hearing on the Opioid Crisis: Removing Barriers to Prevent and Treat Opioid Abuse and Dependence in Medicare. Details.


House in recess. House Democrats head to retreat in Cambridge, Md.

Deadline for government spending bill.

8 a.m. 555 13th St NW. Economist event on “New Approaches to Infectious Disease Intervention.” Details.

10 a.m. 430 Dirksen. Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing about the impact of the opioid crisis on children and families. Details.

10 a.m. National Press Club event with mental health experts. Details.

FRIDAY | Feb. 9

Noon. 226 Dirksen. George Mason University Law & Economics Center event on “Inventing New Liability? Who Should We Blame When Generic Drugs Harm Patients?” Details.