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Senate poised to vote down 20-week abortion ban. The Senate will hold a procedural vote Monday at 5:30 p.m. on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, which is likely to fail since it will need 60 votes in the Senate. But supporters of the bill hope that the vote, the first on the ban since 2015, will generate momentum for a successful effort down the road.  “Clearly, we need more votes, but at some point when you start to get closer and senators in vulnerable states start to feel the heat, then it starts to look very optimistic,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said on a call with reporters last week. The last time the bill was brought up, it was defeated 54-42. The GOP had a larger majority in 2015 than the slim 51-49 majority it has now.  Susan B. Anthony List hopes to put immense pressure on red state Democrats up for re-election in 2018. But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the abortion ban "extreme" and "ideological” in prepared remarks to be delivered on the Senate floor today. “I don’t merely oppose this partisan bill, I oppose the very fact that Republicans are once again taking this bill — which they know is a nonstarter —  to the floor," she will say. "I oppose the very idea that in the 21st Century, we are going to waste time on a question that has already been answered and shouldn't be up for debate."

Which Trump state Dems will vote for the ban? Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana all voted for the ban in 2015, and all are expected to vote for it again. But it is not clear where Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri stand. Both are up for re-election this year in states that President Trump easily won in 2016. Another senator to watch is Sen. Doug Jones, R-Ala., who campaigned as a supporter of abortion rights during a special election in December. He told the Washington Examiner last week that he is inclined to vote against the bill but is undecided. Jones is up for re-election in 2020. Another question is how centrist Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will vote. Collins voted against the bill in 2015 because of concerns about the bill’s language on exceptions to the rule. Murkowski was not present for the 2015 vote, but she also has concerns about the exception language. Graham said Thursday he is willing to work with his colleagues on the exception language, to a point. “I try to work with everybody, but I just don’t want to lose sight of the goal,” he said. “Exceptions can basically destroy the concept. We have exceptions well-defined.” For instance, the bill does not offer an exception for an abortion in the case of the health of the mother, only for the "life" of the mother, because that exception can be too "amorphous and something you can drive a legal truck through," Graham said.

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Alex Azar sworn in as HHS secretary. President Trump said during the swearing-in ceremony this morning that he had been “looking forward to this day for a long time.” Azar will take the helm at the Department of Health and Human Services, an agency he knows well because he used to be second-in-command there during the George W. Bush years. Azar is a former national executive at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, who has said that one of his top priorities in his new role with be tackling drug prices. The president touted Azar's time with Lilly and with the Bush administration. "He's going to get those prescription drug prices way down as a little bit of an extra," the president promised. "It's going to come rocketing down." Drug prices and dealing with the opioid crisis were the two issues Trump stated as most important for his administration.  "We have to get the prices of prescription drugs way down and unravel the tangled web of special interests that are driving up the price for medicine and for hurting patients," he said. "I know you can do it. You know the system and you can do it because it's wrong," he continued. Azar called the role a "great honor" and said of the challenges ahead at HHS, "It's going to be tough but we'll do well with it. We will bring down drug prices. I look forward to that mission," he concluded. He is expected to attend the president’s first State of the Union address tomorrow night.

Pro-Obamacare group slams Azar. Protect Our Care criticized Azar today as "Big Pharma lobbyist "and Trump's "sabotage sidekick." ​“Enough is enough – it’s time for the GOP to come to the table and work with Democrats on bipartisan measures to stabilize the marketplace and expand coverage, just as the American people have said they want​," said the group's campaign director, Brad Woodhouse​. ​"It's time for Donald Trump, Alex Azar and congressional Republicans to end their war on America’s health are.”

Liberals warn future changes to Obamacare could undermine CHIP. States are facing new problems with the Children's Health Insurance Program, even as Congress passed a six-year reauthorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program last week, ending a months-long standoff. The issues include convincing residents the program still exists and how to grapple with a looming “CHIP cliff."

Americans want Trump to talk about healthcare, the economy and jobs during State of the Union: Poll. An overwhelming majority of Americans want Trump to address kitchen table issues such as how he plans to improve healthcare, boost the economy, and create more jobs during his first State of the Union on Tuesday, according to a new poll. Eighty-two percent of voters told pollsters they considered it very or somewhat important for Trump to discuss healthcare during his prime-time speech to Congress, per Morning Consult and Politico. The economy was the second priority for the sample, with 81 percent of voters saying it was a very or somewhat important topic.

Pro-Obamacare group launches ads ahead of State of the Union. Save My Care today started a months-long national "Enough is Enough" TV ad ahead of Trump's State of the Union address. The initial week of TV spots will air in the Washington area, West Virginia, Alaska and Maine. "At this week's Republican retreat in West Virginia, members of Congress won't be able to look at a TV without being reminded of their harmful repeal-and-sabotage campaign, and will be encouraged to say 'enough is enough': It's time to listen to what Americans demand, move on from repeal and sabotage and work on bipartisan solutions that keep and improve on the Affordable Care Act,” said Leslie Dach, Save My Care campaign chairman.

Trump to invite ‘heroes of opioid crisis’ to State of the Union. Trump’s State of the Union address will take place before guests who are heroes in combating the opioid crisis, according to a senior administration official. Healthcare is not among the five major issue areas of the speech, which are: jobs and the economy, immigration, trade, infrastructure, and national security. However, it appears that Trump will refer to healthcare with the nod to heroes combating the opioid epidemic.

Lawmaker giving Democratic response made his name in Obamacare repeal debate. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts will provide the Democratic response to the State of the Union. He is the grandson of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was his great uncle. But Joe Kennedy isn’t as well known. He did make a name for himself during the 27-hour marathon markup of the Obamacare repeal and replace bill last March in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, when he blasted the bill in the wee hours of the night. Kennedy at one point called the bill not an “act of mercy. It is an act of malice,” according to a report in the Boston Globe. Kennedy also has been a staunch advocate for mental health. He sponsored a bill in July that would guarantee mental health coverage for children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “Even in the midst of a deeply contentious healthcare debate, support for children and pregnant women experiencing mental illness should unite my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

Zika vaccine gets fast track for FDA approval. The Food and Drug Administration gave the fast-track designation to a vaccine candidate from Takeda Pharmaceuticals. The announcement Monday is some good news in the fight to develop a vaccine for the mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects.The federal government also is providing funding for the vaccine. The company recently started a clinical trial for the vaccine in the U.S. The fast track process speeds up the review of drugs that treat a serious disease or unmet need. A company developing a drug with fast track status gets more meetings with the FDA to discuss how to develop the product as well as eligibility for priority review, which is used by the agency to approve products faster.  Last fall, drug maker Sanofi pulled the plug on a trial for a vaccine, citing a lack of federal funding.

House lawmakers charge Medicaid work rules violate federal law. A group of 72 House lawmakers want the Trump administration to rescind new rules to allow states to implement work requirements for Medicaid. The lawmakers sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma Thursday calling for the Jan. 11 guidance to states to be rescinded, saying the work requirements are unconstitutional. It also calls for CMS to deny any state waivers for Medicaid work requirements. “Congress was clear in requiring through Medicaid, medical assistance be provided to all eligible individuals, regardless of employment status,” according to the letter led by Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis. Verma had said that the administration views work requirements as a way to get people out of poverty and that work or community engagement can help improve health outcomes.

New York, Minnesota sue Trump over more than $1 billion in health funding cuts. Minnesota and New York are suing the Trump administration to halt an “abrupt and lawful cutoff” of more than $1 billion in cuts to basic health programs. The federal lawsuit charges that the loss in federal funding jeopardizes programs that provide more than 800,000 low-income people with access to healthcare. Under Obamacare, states are allowed to adopt a basic health program instead of offering Obamacare plans for certain low-income residents. The federal government gives states that participate in the program federal funding, and the states contract with private insurance plans to make affordable plans for low-income residents. But the lawsuit charges that Trump’s HHS withheld legally required funding to both states to operate the health programs. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said the states submitted alternative funding proposals to HHS that included rate hikes for Obamacare plans but that the agency never considered the proposals. The lawsuit said that amounts to more than $1 billion in lost funding per year.

Baby boomers hit harder than usual by flu season. Baby boomers are being hit particularly hard by this year's flu season, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. During most flu seasons, adults 65 and older tend to be the hardest-hit group. That is still true this year, but the second hardest-hit group is between the ages of 50 and 64, replacing young children as the second-most affected group. "Baby boomers have higher rates than their grandchildren right now," Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a phone call with reporters. The reasons are multifaceted, he explained. One reason is that typically people develop a resistance to the first strain of flu that they have encountered, and people in the 50-64 age group were exposed to different strains of the flu other than the H1N1 strain circulating now.

RUNDOWN

The Hill GOP faces pressure on community health center funding

Axios More losers than winners if Congress funds disputed Obamacare payments

Washington Post How Trump may end up expanding Medicaid, whether he means to or not

Associated Press Strong sign-ups under Obamacare encourage Democrats

Morning Consult Plurality of poll respondents OK with Amazon handling mail-order drugs

Wall Street Journal Koch groups move on from healthcare fight

NPR Got your flu shot yet? Consider this a reminder

STAT News Everyone seems to want to lower drug prices. Here are 5 reasons why it hasn’t happened yet



Calendar

MONDAY | Jan. 29

5:30 p.m. Senate to vote on whether to move forward on a vote for the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

TUESDAY | Jan. 30

8:30 a.m. FDA White Oak Campus. FDA holds opioid policy steering committee meeting. Details.

11 a.m. Rayburn 2123. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on “Examining Implementation of the Compounding Quality Act.” Details

Noon. Rayburn 2103. Congressional Men’s Caucus to hold briefing on “Men’s and Boys’ Mental Health Issues: Gateways to Opioid and Drug Abuse?” RSVP Colin Stephenson at Briefing@menshealthnetwork.org.

3:30 p.m. 430 Dirksen Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee roundtable on small business health plans. Details.

9 p.m. President Trump’s State of the Union address.

WEDNESDAY | Jan. 31

8:30 a.m. Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health. 700 Second St. NE. AARP policy forum on “Social Isolation:  An Important Health and Public Health Issue and a Significant Cost to Medicare.” Details.

10 a.m. 1225 I St. NW. Bipartisan Policy Center event on “A Policy Roadmap for Individuals with Complex Care Needs.” Details.

Obamacare open enrollment ends in the District of Columbia, California and New York.

THURSDAY | Feb. 1

9 a.m. National Press Club. Health Affairs and National Pharmaceutical Council to hold live webcast on “Health Spending: Tackling The Big Issues.” Details.