The religious activists on the rise inside Trump’s health department

A small cadre of politically prominent evangelicals inside the Department of Health and Human Services have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care — a strategy that’s taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.

Those officials include Roger Severino, an anti-abortion lawyer who now runs the Office of Civil Rights and last week laid out new protections allowing health care workers with religious or moral objections to abortion and other procedures to opt out. Shannon Royce, the agency’s key liaison with religious and grass-roots organizations, has also emerged as a pivotal player.

"To have leaders like Roger, like Shannon, it’s so important," said Deanna Wallace of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that was frequently at odds with the Obama administration. "It’s extremely encouraging to have HHS on our side this time."

Continue reading “The religious activists on the rise inside Trump’s health department”

First There Was Prince. Now Tom Petty. When Will America Finally Wake Up to the Opioid Crisis?

When pop star Prince died in April 2016, a gaggle of health care researchers and reporters—including me—tried to see the silver lining in his surprising, opioid-linked death. If even Prince, a famous teetotaler with access to the best medical care, could end up addicted to painkillers, surely that would show that the opioid epidemic was reaching every corner of America. Maybe in death, his celebrity could illuminate the high stakes of the crisis and force a reckoning.

We were very wrong. More than 55,000 Americans—rich, poor, famous and not—have since died from their own opioid overdoses. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the death rate in 2018 could be even worse. And Friday night’s news that rock star Tom Petty died from his own preventable painkiller overdose, more than a year after Prince, underscores how far there is to go.

In Continue reading “First There Was Prince. Now Tom Petty. When Will America Finally Wake Up to the Opioid Crisis?”

Anti-birth control official who led Title X departs HHS

Teresa Manning, the controversial official in charge of the Title X federal family planning program, was escorted from HHS premises on Friday.

Two sources with knowledge of Manning’s departure tell POLITICO that she was fired by HHS. An HHS spokesperson disputed that account, saying that Manning resigned.

"HHS is very grateful for her service," the spokesperson said. "Her departure after resignation was not unusual in any way."

Manning could not be reached for comment.

Manning, who previously worked for anti-abortion groups including the Family Research Council and National Right to Life, had been serving as deputy assistant secretary for HHS’ Office of Population Affairs. In that role, she was responsible for helping set national policy around family planning, contraception and teen pregnancy — a development that alarmed abortion-rights groups worried about Manning’s history of statements and actions opposing birth control and abortion.

Manning stated in a 2003 public radio Continue reading “Anti-birth control official who led Title X departs HHS”

A tarnished hospital tries to win back trust

NEW HAVEN, Conn.. — Fifteen years ago, this city’s flagship hospital became a national punching bag.

Yale New Haven Hospital — a teaching hospital that got big tax breaks because it was supposed to be serving the community — was found to be hounding low-income patients, suing them for unpaid bills, even putting liens on their houses and hoarding money meant to help them. The hospital’s nearly two-century-old reputation as a charitable organization was ruined overnight. What followed instead: embarrassing billboards, vocal protests and a wave of angry lawmakers, as hospital leaders worked to survive the mushrooming scandal.

"We learned a lot about ourselves," said Marna Borgstrom, who took over as CEO in 2005 and worked to repair the hospital’s broken reputation.

Today, both the hospital and its community partners see a remarkable success story, one that’s helping revitalize New Haven’s dilapidated neighborhoods. The hospital has poured millions of dollars Continue reading “A tarnished hospital tries to win back trust”

GOP fails to pressure hospitals on community benefits

Despite Republicans’ boasts about closing tax loopholes, there’s one sector that the sweeping tax reform bill mostly leaves alone: The tax-exempt hospital sector, which enjoys billions of dollars in tax breaks even as big hospitals raise prices and perform less free care.

Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit health system, cleared more than $1 billion in profit between 2015 and 2016. Cleveland Clinic, another nonprofit hospital, topped more than $715 million in profits in that span.

Congress’ most significant overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years — finalized on Wednesday — protects those hospitals’ multibillion-dollar tax exemptions, an outcome that frustrates consumer advocates, officials and researchers who say that hospitals are taking advantage of rules that fail to adequately define the benefits they must provide to their communities in order to remain tax-exempt.

“It was, in my view, a missed opportunity,” said Daniel Skinner, an Ohio University political scientist Continue reading “GOP fails to pressure hospitals on community benefits”

HHS holds back critical comments on faith-based rule

HHS is refusing to make public more than 10,000 comments on a Trump administration proposal to reduce federal regulations for religious and faith-based groups that could affect access to abortion and care for transgender patients, according to sources with knowledge of the decision.

The agency has instead posted 80 comments — less than 1 percent of all submissions — that overwhemingly back the administration’s anti-abortion policies or attack regulations advanced by the Obama administration, such as a rule forcing health care providers that accept federal funding to provide services to transgender patients.

HHS’ selective disclosure could lead to legal challenges, particularly under the Administrative Procedure Act, and is raising new questions at a time when the agency’s transparency is already under scrutiny. If HHS doesn’t post and address comments on the rule, “there may be grounds for an APA challenge for whatever rule comes out of the process,” said Alison Continue reading “HHS holds back critical comments on faith-based rule”

How to reboot the FDA

In the United States, there’s just one way to sell a medical drug or device: Get it approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a century-old institution with thousands of reviewers who rigorously check evidence to ensure drugs and devices are effective and safe. That sounds like a good thing, but a growing number of people and institutions — including the Defense Department — aren’t so sure. They argue that there are too many drugs and products bound up in regulatory review that could save lives, if only the government’s health care agency wasn’t so hidebound and slow.

That argument swayed some congressional Republicans, who last month attempted to go around the FDA and give the Defense Department authority to approve its own medical products. The move was beaten back in a joint assault from congressional health staff and the FDA itself.

While the Pentagon’s insurgency has ended, calls for Continue reading “How to reboot the FDA”