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Trump administration green lights Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today approved Arkansas' plan to add work, volunteer or education requirements on certain Medicaid enrollees as a condition of allowing people to stay enrolled in the program. Arkansas joins Kentucky and Indiana in implementing such a program, and several other states are seeking similar approvals, though legal challenges by advocacy groups are ongoing. CMS Administrator Seema Verma joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson for the announcement. The state's Department of Human Services estimates $49.9 million in savings. Though the state is the third to receive approval, its program is expected to begin earlier than others, on June 1. "I expect we'll we the first state to implement the work requirement," Hutchinson said. "That is because we are ready with our systems." CMS did not rule on another change Arkansas had asked for, called partial expansion, which would have moved the expansion population to include only people who make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, rather than the current 138 percent of the federal poverty. Hutchinson said the state wanted to move ahead with the work requirement as officials continue to discuss that aspect with CMS. Under that plan, people making more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level would have been moved to receive private coverage from Obamacare’s exchange. Taken together, the changes to the Medicaid in the state were projected to take more than 62,000 people off the program.
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Azar stresses quality-based care: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said this morning that value-based healthcare "needs to accelerate dramatically" in the U.S., calling for a range of changes to the healthcare system that he said would provide more tools to give consumers more control over their care. “This is no time to be timid — today’s healthcare system is simply not delivering outcomes commensurate with its cost," said Azar, speaking at the public policy conference for the Federation of American Hospitals in Washington.
Azar's speech focused on value-based care, an approach in which doctors and hospitals are reimbursed by private health insurance and the government for how well patients emerge after a medical procedure versus the amount of care provided. Azar laid out areas the Trump administration plans to emphasize, promising to deliver "disruptive" changes in healthcare, including giving consumers more control over their health information, encouraging more transparency from healthcare providers and payers, using experimental models in Medicare and Medicaid, and removing government burdens.
Manchin looks to restore DEA’s power: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced legislation today to restore enforcement power to the Drug Enforcement Administration to target suspicious drug distributors. The powers were stripped in a 2016 bill after heavy influence from the pharmaceutical industry, according to a report in the Washington Post. The scandal surrounding the bill, which passed Congress nearly unanimously and was signed into law by former President Barack Obama, caused Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., who led the legislation, to withdraw his nomination to serve as President Trump’s drug czar. Manchin’s bill would restore the DEA’s authority to go after suspicious drug distributors that divert powerful painkillers to corrupt doctors who distribute them.
Orrin Hatch: 'Dumbass' comment on Obamacare was a 'poorly worded joke.’ Sen. Orrin Hatch on Friday said he made a "poorly worded joke" when he described Obamacare supporters as "the stupidest, dumbass people I've ever met." The Utah Republican's office issued a tweet Friday alongside the message: "Senator Hatch has just issued an apology for an off-color joke he made yesterday about supporters of the Affordable Care Act," referring to the formal name for Obamacare. Hatch's office didn't explicitly apologize for the comment, but he said it was a "poorly worded joke about Obamacare supporters — a joke that was not reflective of my actual feelings toward my friends on the other side." He pointed to his legislative record as a better reflection of his "commitment to bipartisanship and civility much more than my flippant, off-the-cuff comment." Hatch had criticized Obamacare supporters while speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, after boasting about the Republican-backed tax law, which beginning in 2019 will repeal the penalty for going uninsured under Obamacare.
Actuaries say Idaho plans could demolish markets. Idaho’s effort to sell non-compliant plans on Obamacare’s insurer marketplaces would cause premiums to soar, according to an actuary group. The American Academy of Actuaries said the plan by Idaho would deteriorate the state’s Obamacare marketplace. Idaho wants to allow insurers to sell plans on the individual market, which include Obamacare’s marketplaces, which do not meet quality requirements under the law. Idaho would have state-based plans that don’t meet the law’s requirements as well as Obamacare-compliant plans on the state’s Obamacare marketplace. “Under this structure, plans competing to enroll the same participants will not be competing under the same rules,” the academy said in a March 2 letter to the state’s insurance regulator. It added that premiums for Obamacare plans would increase, threatening the sustainability of the marketplace and its plans that offer protection for people with pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration has not decided whether it would squash the effort. Idaho insurance director Dean Cameron recently told the Washington Examiner that if the Trump administration blocks its plans then it could go to court.
CDC links more salmonella illnesses to kratom. A dozen more people have been infected with salmonella that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is a result of ingesting tainted kratom products. That brings the total to 40 sickened people in 27 states. Nearly half of those sickened were hospitalized, and no one has died. CDC has not found a common brand or supplier of kratom responsible for the salmonella infections. It detected salmonella in leftover kratom powder from people who got sick in North Dakota and Utah, bought on the websites soapkorner.com and kratoma.com. Not all people who were sickened have admitted to taking kratom.
Flu on the way down from peak. Flu illnesses have peaked after a particular dire season, the CDC announced Friday. The peak appears to have occurred at the beginning of February. The way the CDC measures that is by looking at the number of doctor visits associated with the flu, noticing that number fell beginning during the second and third week of February. The virus is still circulating, however, and the flu season that began in October has been one of the most severe seen in roughly a decade. The latest available data, which run through Feb. 24, show that 23,324 people this season have been hospitalized for the flu. Of those who were hospitalized, 67 percent had another illness, such as heart disease or obesity.
Congress opens new front on war against opioids. The House and Senate are targeting opioid abuse through a raft of legislation, but their pushes diverge when it comes to more money. In the House, eight bills have been introduced, with the aim of expanding treatment options and clamping down on illegal and potent fentanyl. The Senate, however, is focused more on funding and reining in doctors' prescriptions. Both chambers would give more power to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The legislation comes a few weeks after Congress passed a budget deal to add $6 billion over two years to fight opioid abuse. Congress is expected to pass the funding in a long-term, two-year spending deal later this month.
Kaiser Health News While talking about opioids continues in D.C., addiction treatment is in peril in the states
Associated Press Amid mental health conversation, school counselor jobs drop
New York Times As Trump pushes Medicaid testing, the grading falls short
NPR U.S. immigration policy threatens shakeup in home health business
STAT News Despite push for a universal flu vaccine, the ‘holy grail’ stays out of reach
The Hill Washington state legislature votes to require insurers to cover abortion
Axios Tax cuts will save healthcare companies billions, but not patients
CNN E-cigarettes: Where do we stand?
MONDAY | March 5
March 5-9. Las Vegas. HIMSS 2018 Conference and Business Exposition. Details.
March 4-6. Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. Federation of American Hospitals Public Policy Conference. Details.
TUESDAY | March 6
9:30 a.m. Brookings Institution event on “What’s Ahead for the Individual Health Insurance Market?” Details.
WEDNESDAY | March 7
March 7-8. Ritz Carlton. America’s Health Insurance Plans Health Policy Conference. Details.
9:30 a.m. 1333 H St. NW. Center for American Progress event on “How Cities and States Are Leading the Way on Mental Health.” Details.
THURSDAY | March 8
10 a.m. 430 Dirksen. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on opioids. Details.