Trump plans first major speech on drug prices next week

President Donald Trump is set to deliver his first major speech on drug prices on April 26, revisiting an issue he campaigned on but that is unlikely to yield major legislative changes.

The strategy is unlikely to call for actions of the sort Trump touted on the campaign trail like allowing the government to negotiate the cost of drugs for Medicare, but based on the president’s fiscal 2019 budget request could advocate for Medicare and Medicaid demonstrations to test new ways of paying for drugs on a smaller scale, like allowing some states to try negotiating drug costs in Medicaid.

Trump’s remarks are expected to coincide with a formal request for information from HHS on various drug pricing ideas, according to White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.

The cost of prescription drugs has been a top concern of Republican and Democratic voters since before Trump was elected. Recent polling Continue reading “Trump plans first major speech on drug prices next week”

Trump’s new health chief backs CDC research on gun violence

HHS Secretary Alex Azar today opened the door to expanding federal gun violence research, waving off concerns about congressional restrictions on studying the issue.

Azar told an Energy and Commerce subcommittee that a provision passed two decades ago limiting the CDC’s work on gun violence only prevents it from taking an advocacy position — not from doing research.

"My understanding is that the rider does not in any way impede our ability to conduct our research mission," he said. "We’re in the science business and the evidence-generating business, and so I will have our agency certainly working in this field, as they do across the broad spectrum of disease control and prevention."

Pressed by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to be "proactive" on the issue, Azar committed to encouraging the study of gun violence within the department.

"We believe we’ve got a very important mission with our work with Continue reading “Trump’s new health chief backs CDC research on gun violence”

Trump administration approves second Medicaid work requirement, for Indiana

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Friday granted Indiana permission to add work requirements to its Medicaid program, making it the second state to tie health coverage to employment for certain low-income enrollees.

Azar, days after being sworn in, touted the work requirement plan as an innovative approach to boosting employment and lifting poor adults out of poverty.

"Indiana’s vision and ours goes beyond the provision of quality health care," Azar said during a press conference alongside Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and state officials. "It recognizes that Medicaid can become a pathway out of poverty."

The approval comes just weeks after President Donald Trump’s health department issued guidelines encouraging states to impose the first-ever employment-based restrictions in the Medicaid program’s 53-year history.

HHS in mid-January signed off on Kentucky’s work requirements plan and is considering similar requests from several more predominantly red states. The Kentucky plan is Continue reading “Trump administration approves second Medicaid work requirement, for Indiana”

Trump’s new health chief takes over battered agency

The Senate confirmed Alex Azar as secretary of Health and Human Services, installing him atop a department seeking a fresh start after a turbulent first year under the Trump administration.

Azar cruised to confirmation today in a 55-43 vote, with six Senate Democrats — largely from red states — and Independent Angus King joining nearly all Republicans to back his candidacy.

A former pharmaceutical executive and twice-confirmed veteran of George W. Bush’s HHS, the 50-year-old nominee earned bipartisan respect in recent weeks for his familiarity with the sprawling agency and a stated desire to reset relations with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper, Chris Coons, Joe Donnelly, Doug Jones, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin voted in favor of President Donald Trump’s HHS pick. Rand Paul , who has disagreed with Azar over the merits of drug reimportation, was the only Republican present to oppose Azar.

Continue reading “Trump’s new health chief takes over battered agency”

HHS nominee’s mission is to finish the job on Obamacare

President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary is on the verge of taking control of the department with a clear mandate: Take down Obamacare from the inside.

With Republicans stalled on repeal, the GOP is looking to Alex Azar to put a conservative stamp on the health care system through shrewd rulemaking and the use of expansive regulatory powers — and all without the help of a Congress that’s failed to scrap the 2010 health care law.

That makes Azar the point person responsible for leading the revival of a health policy agenda that floundered through the first year of the Trump administration, hampered by high-profile legislative failures and the scandal-shortened tenure of former HHS Secretary Tom Price.

“Alex recognizes immediately the power of the department and the ability to get things done," said Tommy Thompson, a former HHS secretary and one of Azar’s informal advisers. “They Continue reading “HHS nominee’s mission is to finish the job on Obamacare”

Is Trump mentally fit? Don’t count on his physical to tell you

If President Donald Trump were any other 71-year-old — covered by Medicare and having his annual wellness visit — he’d be checked on his cognitive functions and possible safety risks. But when the president goes for his physical exam Friday, the White House said his mental fitness won’t be tested. And there’s no guarantee that the public would find out the results of cognitive tests if Trump were to take them.

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said such tests are not part of the president’s planned physical. "He’s sharp as a tack. He’s a workhorse, and he demands his staff be the same way," he told reporters aboard Air Force One.

That decision concerns physicians and public health experts who say Trump should be assessed the same way as other elderly Americans, particularly given his globe-shaping job and his control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"A physical Continue reading “Is Trump mentally fit? Don’t count on his physical to tell you”

Top 10 health care surprises from Year One of Trump

President Donald Trump stormed into office last January confident that he could knock off Obamacare in a nanosecond. It didn’t turn out that way — and from drug prices to the Tom Price travel scandal a lot of health policy didn’t go according to plan. Here’s a look at 10 health care surprises from 2017.

1. Obamacare survives its seventh year

In control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Republicans had their best shot ever at Obamacare repeal — and even thought they could have it on Trump’s desk on Inauguration Day. The grand ambitions quickly met roadblocks. Members rebelled over policy details, GOP leaders struggled to find consensus, moderates mutinied, and virtually the entire health care industry — along with Democrats and Obamacare advocates — lined up against every plan that Republicans put forward.

Even so, the GOP eventually squeaked a bill through the House and Continue reading “Top 10 health care surprises from Year One of Trump”

Collins decries coverage of her tax bill support as ‘unbelievably sexist’

Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday blasted coverage of her support for the GOP tax bill as “extremely discouraging” and “unbelievably sexist."

The Maine Republican, a key swing vote on the tax package, accused reporters of ignoring her influence over the final legislation and unfairly criticizing her efforts to pass a pair of Obamacare stabilization bills.

“I believe that the coverage has been unbelievably sexist, and I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped. How am I duped when all your amendments get accepted?”

Collins, whom Obamacare supporters earlier this year hailed as a hero for blocking GOP repeal legislation, has faced intense criticism from those same voices for supporting the repeal of the law’s Continue reading “Collins decries coverage of her tax bill support as ‘unbelievably sexist’”

Collins’ Obamacare deal faces moment of truth

Sen. Susan Collins is barreling toward yet another health care showdown with her own party. But this time, she might not have the leverage to get what she wants.

Republicans who watched Collins lead the rebellion over the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort just three months ago are playing tough on yet another high-stakes bill, wagering they can do without the Maine moderate’s swing vote and still claim a narrow year-end legislative win on tax reform.

Collins went along with the tax bill that repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to pass a pair of bills propping up Obamacare’s shaky insurance markets, including a bipartisan deal resuming payments on key subsidies that President Donald Trump halted in October.

But Speaker Paul Ryan has made clear he’s not bound by the deal, and there’s little urgency among House Republicans to do much of anything on health care Continue reading “Collins’ Obamacare deal faces moment of truth”

Trump’s pick for health secretary messages he’s no Tom Price

To Republicans, President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary is competence personified — an able manager who can get the agency back on track after the tumult of Tom Price’s brief tenure and forced resignation.

To Democrats, Alex Azar is a pharmaceutical industry shill who knows a lot more about raising drug prices than lowering them.

But even those planning to grill Azar at his first confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate HELP Committee have kept their criticism to a minimum, compared with their outcry over other Trump nominees.

They may not vote for him, but Democrats recognize Azar as a pragmatic conservative with a long track record at HHS, including on public health — and, perhaps, a willingness to work across the aisle on some issues.

“He’s a different type of person. He’s got a different experience set than Tom Price,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran Continue reading “Trump’s pick for health secretary messages he’s no Tom Price”

Azar received millions from Eli Lilly in last year, disclosures show

President Donald Trump’s pick for HHS secretary collected nearly $2 million in compensation during his final year as president of drug giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, new public financial disclosures show.

Alex Azar, who left the company in January, also pocketed $1.6 million in severance connected to his departure — and more recently made as much as $1 million from his sale of Eli Lilly stock.

Those combined earnings don’t include the more than $700,000 that Azar received in assorted payouts at the end of his tenure, ranging from compensation for unused vacation time to an employer match for his savings plan.

That represents a substantial slice of Azar’s overall financial portfolio, which ranges in value from $9.5 million to more than $20 million, based on estimates in filings with the Office of Government Ethics. And it’s likely to ratchet up scrutiny of Azar’s ties to the Continue reading “Azar received millions from Eli Lilly in last year, disclosures show”

Pence’s health care power play

Vice President Mike Pence is exerting growing influence over the American health care system, overseeing the appointments of more than a half-dozen allies and former aides to positions driving the White House’s health agenda.

On Monday President Donald Trump nominated Alex Azar, a former Indianapolis-based drug executive and longtime Pence supporter as HHS secretary. If confirmed, Azar would join an Indiana brain trust that already includes CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Two of Verma’s top deputies — Medicaid director Brian Neale and deputy chief of staff Brady Brookes — are former Pence hands as well, as is HHS’ top spokesman, Matt Lloyd.

Yet another Pence ally — Indiana state Sen. Jim Merritt — is in the running to be White House drug czar.

Pence’s sway with the policymakers controlling Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid comes at a time when Trump and Congress continue to struggle with the Continue reading “Pence’s health care power play”

Pence’s health care power play

Vice President Mike Pence is exerting growing influence over the American health care system, overseeing the appointments of more than a half-dozen allies and former aides to positions driving the White House’s health agenda.

On Monday President Donald Trump nominated Alex Azar, a former Indianapolis-based drug executive and longtime Pence supporter as HHS secretary. If confirmed, Azar would join an Indiana brain trust that already includes CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Two of Verma’s top deputies — Medicaid director Brian Neale and deputy chief of staff Brady Brookes — are former Pence hands as well, as is HHS’ top spokesman, Matt Lloyd.

Yet another Pence ally — Indiana state Sen. Jim Merritt — is in the running to be White House drug czar.

Pence’s sway with the policymakers controlling Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid comes at a time when Trump and Congress continue to struggle with the Continue reading “Pence’s health care power play”

Confusion clouds open enrollment with Republicans still eager to dismantle Obamacare

Obamacare is about to have its worst open-enrollment season ever — and that’s no accident.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress still aim to dismantle the 2010 law. Making it look bad helps their cause, even as they’ve failed repeatedly to repeal or replace Obamacare. The new theory for Republicans: If fewer people enroll in Obamacare, there will be less of a constituency to save it.

"I think it’s going to implode on its own,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a strong ally of the president on the Hill. But with Trump undoing his predecessor’s rules and policies, “to some extent, perhaps he’s expediting the implosion."

When the fifth open enrollment season opens on Wednesday, it will look a lot different than when Barack Obama was in office. Trump won’t be going on TV comedy shows to urge people to sign up. His chief of staff Continue reading “Confusion clouds open enrollment with Republicans still eager to dismantle Obamacare”

CBO: Bipartisan Obamacare bill would cut deficit, keep coverage stable

A bipartisan bill to stabilize Obamacare would cut the federal deficit by $3.8 billion but wouldn’t do much to change health insurance premiums for 2018, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. It would not substantially change the number of people who are covered.

The report is about the bipartisan bill negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) which has broad support in the Senate but is unlikely to get a swift vote given opposition from President Donald Trump as well as from House Republicans.

CBO said Wednesday the savings calculated over a decade would stem in part from letting states offer so-called copper plans — or lower-cost policies that appeal to healthier enrollees in the Obamacare markets. Those plans would attract younger people into the market starting in 2019, the agency projected, prompting insurers to slightly lower their premiums over Continue reading “CBO: Bipartisan Obamacare bill would cut deficit, keep coverage stable”

Trump tells Senate to fix taxes — not Obamacare

President Donald Trump on Tuesday steered Senate Republicans toward tax reform and away from health care, pushing off any deal to fund controversial Obamacare subsidies to the end of the year at best.

Trump joined Senate Republicans at their weekly policy lunch, but gave no direction on what he wants to see in a health care bill. He praised Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) work on a bipartisan deal meant to stabilize the Obamacare markets but his emphasis on taxes led senators in the room to believe Trump doesn’t want a stand-alone Obamacare vote any time soon.

"There isn’t anything else other than taxes," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

A filibuster-proof majority backs the bipartisan deal Alexander brokered with Sen. Patty Murray, but conservatives and the White House oppose it, meaning it won’t even come up for a vote in the Senate.

Without a clear directive from the president, Republicans Continue reading “Trump tells Senate to fix taxes — not Obamacare”

Senate seeking clarity from Trump on Obamacare deal

Republicans on Capitol Hill can’t seem to tell if the White House wants an Obamacare stabilization bill, leaving their path forward murky.

Conflicting statements from President Donald Trump and a list of White House-requested changes circulated over the weekend have given GOP leaders no clarity on whether they should force a controversial vote on the proposed bipartisan Obamacare fix, or set it aside for now and then try to roll it into a far-reaching year-end spending bill.

"It’s safe to say the president’s been unclear," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

Like other Republicans, Capito is hoping Trump takes a clearer position when he makes his first-ever visit to the Senate GOP’s closed-door lunch on Tuesday. "I’m certain that’ll be one of the topics we discuss,” she said.

Mounting pressure from conservatives makes it all but impossible the Alexander-Murray bill will get a stand-alone vote in the Senate Continue reading “Senate seeking clarity from Trump on Obamacare deal”

New bipartisan Obamacare push faces steep climb

There’s never been a major bipartisan Obamacare bill, and the path to passing one now — after the death of Senate Republicans’ repeal effort — is steep.

Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking Democrat Patty Murray of Washington are up against both time and history in their race to stabilize the shaky Obamacare markets and solidify their status as the chamber’s top dealmakers.

The pair has just a few weeks before a self-imposed deadline to bridge deep partisan divisions over the health care law and pass a bill by the end of September, when insurance companies make their final decisions on 2018 Obamacare plans. And that’s assuming they can first unite their own committee — a patchwork of political interests that includes iconoclastic conservative Rand Paul, moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and liberal firebrands Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray shepherded Continue reading “New bipartisan Obamacare push faces steep climb”

Alexander, Murray plan bipartisan hearings to shore up Obamacare

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray plan a series of hearings aimed at crafting bipartisan legislation to shore up Obamacare markets by mid-September, in the wake of the GOP’s failed repeal efforts.

The pair said this afternoon that the Senate HELP Committee will hold sessions beginning the week of Sept. 4, in a bid to “stabilize and strengthen” the individual health insurance markets.

Alexander, the chairman of the committee, emphasized that the work will be bipartisan and that the hearings will feature a range of health policy experts, including state insurance commissioners, patients and insurance industry representatives.

He added that he’s urged President Donald Trump to continue paying for Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies through September, to give Congress time to craft a stabilization plan that would include one year of funding for the payments.

“Without payment of these cost-sharing reductions, Americans will be hurt,” Alexander said, adding that any bipartisan stabilization Continue reading “Alexander, Murray plan bipartisan hearings to shore up Obamacare”

Alexander, Murray plan bipartisan hearings to shore up Obamacare

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray plan a series of hearings aimed at crafting bipartisan legislation to shore up Obamacare markets by mid-September, in the wake of the GOP’s failed repeal efforts.

The pair said this afternoon that the Senate HELP Committee will hold sessions beginning the week of Sept. 4, in a bid to “stabilize and strengthen” the individual health insurance markets.

Alexander, the chairman of the committee, emphasized that the work will be bipartisan and that the hearings will feature a range of health policy experts, including state insurance commissioners, patients and insurance industry representatives.

He added that he’s urged President Donald Trump to continue paying for Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies through September, to give Congress time to craft a stabilization plan that would include one year of funding for the payments.

“Without payment of these cost-sharing reductions, Americans will be hurt,” Alexander said, adding that any bipartisan stabilization Continue reading “Alexander, Murray plan bipartisan hearings to shore up Obamacare”