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White House officials to meet with congressional leaders over budget negotiations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues Tuesday that she hopes the meeting at the White House today will help sidestep a "catastrophic shutdown" as government funding expires Jan. 19. "Tomorrow, Leader Schumer and I will meet with Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell and White House officials to discuss the urgent need to provide robust, responsible funding for the government and avert a catastrophic shutdown," the California Democrat said in a "Dear Democratic Colleague" note to her caucus members. Pelosi said that in the meeting and in future negotiations, she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will call for parity in the spending caps, as well as funding to combat opioids and protect pensions, among other items on their agenda. "In these talks, Leader Schumer and I will continue to insist on parity in the CAPS," Pelosi said. "We are fighting for funding for the opioid epidemic, veterans, pensions, disaster relief, National Institutes of Health, Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers." Congressional leaders are meeting at 3 p.m. with White House Legislative Director Marc Short and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Orrin Hatch to leave a major legacy in healthcare. The Utah Republican announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in 2018, leaving after seven terms in the Senate. He leaves a lasting mark on healthcare, having spearheaded major legislation that has affected all facets of the healthcare industry. Chief among them is the Hatch-Waxman Act that helped to push the use of cheaper generic drug alongside former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Hatch also worked to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is still lacking full funding, back in 1997. He also pushed for legislation to create the “orphan” drug program, which allows for faster development of drugs to treat rare diseases. "Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves," Hatch said in a video released Tuesday afternoon, referring to his boxing days. "For me, that is soon approaching. That’s why, after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I've decided to retire at the end of this term. Although I will miss serving you in the Senate, I look forward to spending more time with family, especially my sweet wife Elaine, whose unwavering love and support made all of this possible."

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Senate Finance announces hearing for Trump’s HHS pick. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing next Tuesday on the confirmation of Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services. The announcement came Tuesday from committee Chairman Hatch, who said questions would center on Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare. Azar is a former deputy secretary for Health and Human Services and an executive at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. He vowed to tackle drug prices during his November hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee if confirmed as health secretary.

Tina Smith sworn in to Minnesota Senate seat. Democrat Tina Smith, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor and former Planned Parenthood executive, was sworn in to replace Sen. Al Franken today, bringing the number of women in the upper chamber to a record 22. Smith told Minnesota Public Radio this morning that she intends to tackle healthcare issues in her new role. “As lieutenant governor I spent a lot of time working on the issues that are important to Minnesotans, especially healthcare and healthcare costs, rural broadband, child care, paid family leave and agricultural issues,” she said. “My goal is to bring those issues here and to be a fierce advocate for Minnesotans as I step into this new job.” Franken submitted an official letter of resignation on Tuesday, cutting short his tenure in the Senate after several of his colleagues urged him to resign late last year amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. “I am grateful to Minnesotans for giving me the chance to serve our state and our nation, and I am proud to have worked on their behalf,” Franken said in his letter to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. A special election will be held in November for the seat, and Smith has indicated she plans on running to fill the remaining two years of Franken’s term.

Republican majority in the Senate falls to 51. After the swearing in of Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate seat from Alabama today, the Republican majority in the upper chamber fell to 51. Jones is replacing Republican Luther Strange, who supported every bill that his party put forth to repeal portions of Obamacare in the summer. That means that if Republicans take another stab at repealing parts of Obamacare through reconciliation, they can afford only one defection for passage.

Steve Scalise wants to try to repeal Obamacare again. The House majority whip wants Congress to make another run at repealing Obamacare this year, despite trepidation in the Senate. Scalise said on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday that one of the best actions by Congress last year was repealing the law’s individual mandate that requires everyone to get health insurance or pay a fine, which was included in the tax reform legislation. “Now we need to go fix the things that are broken and jacking up costs,” he said. While the House has been keen to go after Obamacare again, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he thinks the Senate will “move on” to other issues.

Next tally of Obamacare enrollment expected in March. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will not release another snapshot about Obamacare enrollment this week, although Florida, Georgia and Texas had special enrollment periods on healthcare.gov because of hurricanes, an official from the agency confirmed. The next snapshot, the official said, would come in March and will include tallies from the District of Columbia and 11 states that have their own exchanges. As of Dec. 23, 8.7 million people had signed up for plans on healthcare.gov.

Britain cancels 50,000 surgeries as NHS hospitals face winter crisis. U.S. liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders like to tout socialized healthcare systems such as Britain's for spending less and covering everybody, but here's something you shouldn't expect to hear in any of his fiery speeches: Britain’s government-run National Health Service has abruptly canceled 50,000 nonemergency surgeries due to overcrowding at hospitals this winter. Sanders, I-Vt., has lamented that the United States "ends up spending almost three times per capita what they do in the UK," which is "guaranteeing healthcare to all people." Yet, the Telegraph reports: “Every hospital in the country has been ordered to cancel all non-urgent surgery until at least February in an unprecedented step by NHS officials. The instructions on Tuesday night — which will see result in around 50,000 operations being axed — followed claims by senior doctors that patients were being treated in ‘third world’ conditions, as hospital chief executives warned of the worst winter crisis for three decades. Hospitals are reporting growing chaos, with a spike in winter flu leaving frail patients facing 12-hour waits, and some units running out of corridor space.”

SAMHSA finalizes clarification of health privacy rules for people who seek addiction treatment. In a final rule published Tuesday, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that it is making it easier for medical providers and insurance companies to share information with other parties that are involved in care, with a patient’s permission. The rule also would allow more disclosure for audits and evaluations involving Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP. “This final rule underscores our commitment to ensuring persons with substance use disorders receive integrated and coordinated care,” Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, said in a statement. “This rule will permit healthcare providers, with patients’ consent, to more easily conduct such activities as quality improvement, claims management, patient safety, training and program integrity efforts.” The rule would help combat opioid misuse, the agency said.

Tim Jost stepping away from Health Affairs. Tim Jost, a health policy expert and strong supporter of Obamacare who journalists turn to to dissect the details of healthcare laws, will be stepping down from his 8.5-year role blogging at Health Affairs. During his time there, he contributed more than 600 blog posts. “Writing for Health Affairs Blog has been for me the culmination of a 40-year career in health law and policy. It has been the most satisfying and enjoyable work I have ever done. I will miss it very much,” Jost wrote in his farewell column. “But following developments for the Health Affairs Blog has also required constant effort and undivided attention. It has regularly required long days and sometimes very short nights. I have not had a vacation in years that has not been interrupted by work on the Health Affairs Blog. I am getting older and believe it is time to slow down. And I do, literally, want to spend more time with my family.”

RUNDOWN

New York Times Care suffers as more nursing homes feed money into corporate webs

Axios It’s unclear what gets done this month on healthcare

The Hill Conservative groups push for 2018 repeal of Obamacare

STAT News Spark prices its gene therapy as the most expensive U.S. medicine, but has plans to ease cost concerns

Kaiser Health News Pharmacists slow to dispense life-saving opioid drug

Wall Street Journal Congress faces long to-do-list, short deadlines

Los Angeles Times Autism spectrum disorders appear to have stabilized among U.S. kids and teens

Washington Post Pharma, under attack for high drug prices, started an industry war



Calendar

WEDNESDAY | Jan. 3

Senate back in session. House not in session.

3 p.m. Congressional leaders and White House officials to meet over government funding.


THURSDAY | Jan. 4

9:45 a.m. American Enterprise Institute event on “Reconnecting health care policy with economics: Finding and fixing distortive incentives.”
Details.

TUESDAY | Jan. 9

9 a.m. 215 Dirksen. Senate Finance Committee to hold a confirmation hearing for Alex Azar, President Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary.
Details.

10 a.m. 430 Dirksen. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on “The Opioid Crisis: An Examination of How We Got Here and How We Move Forward.”
Details.