Lax state ethics rules leave health agencies vulnerable to conflicts

When Surgeon General Jerome Adams was the top health official in Indiana, he owned thousands of dollars in tobacco and pharmaceutical stocks which potentially conflicted with his state responsibilities.

Those stocks were never revealed under lax Indiana disclosure laws. His investments became public only when he was required to divest them to serve as the nation’s top doctor — and HHS says he is in full compliance with federal ethics laws.

The fact that a public health official invested in companies that many would argue harm public health, or whose business might be affected by his decisions, underscores a significant gap in Indiana ethics requirements — a gap that is all too common in other states, a POLITICO investigation found. That lack of transparency prevents the public from having visibility into conflicts by officials who may oversee millions in spending and make decisions that affect thousands of people.

A monthslong Continue reading “Lax state ethics rules leave health agencies vulnerable to conflicts”

Is There Room to Be Anti-Abortion in Today’s Democratic Party?

AURORA, Colorado—The anti-abortion movement is riding high in the age of Donald Trump. A fifth conservative justice is likely heading to the Supreme Court with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. The White House has rolled back a requirement for employers to provide contraception in health plans. And the president is trying to defund the chief nemesis of abortion opponents, Planned Parenthood.

But not all anti-abortion voters are celebrating. A small slice of the electorate can’t stomach Trump even when he enacts policies they support, and can’t get behind the Republican Party’s positions on other issues like health care and voting rights. At the same time, they feel increasingly unwelcome in a Democratic Party that is moving left on abortion, as it did in 2016, when the party’s platform called, for the first time, for the elimination of the ban on federal funding of abortion.

During a hot July Continue reading “Is There Room to Be Anti-Abortion in Today’s Democratic Party?”

Pence’s anti-abortion law could upend Roe v. Wade

An anti-abortion law Vice President Mike Pence signed as governor of Indiana could become the case that lets the Supreme Court reshape abortion rights as soon as next year.

The Indiana law — which prohibited abortion because of the gender, race or disability of the fetus, such as Down syndrome — was blocked by lower courts and is one of three significant anti-abortion state statutes that are sitting one level below the Supreme Court. If Indiana appeals this fall, and the justices accept the case, it could be the opening for a broader ruling on Roe v. Wade that could redefine abortion rights nationwide.

Pence could then take double credit for the anti-abortion movement’s ascendancy: The politician whose evangelical credentials helped carry conservative religious voters to President Donald Trump also helped deliver the high court case that could scale back access to abortion 45 years after Roe.

Throwing Roe into Continue reading “Pence’s anti-abortion law could upend Roe v. Wade”

Kennedy’s exit could upend abortion rights and end affirmative action

When it comes to issues like abortion and affirmative action, it has seemed for years that Justice Anthony Kennedy was holding back the tide. Now, his retirement may unleash a crashing wave.

The departure of the relatively moderate Kennedy from an ideologically polarized court has the potential to upend legal precedent on a slew of hot-button issues, but the most significant impact is likely on abortion rights, where Kennedy stood squarely with the court’s liberals to defend Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that upheld a woman’s right to choose.

If the court picks up a new vote hostile to abortion rights, Roe probably won’t be overturned right away, but the court could be given an opportunity to consider a reversal within years. Kennedy’s exit also seems certain to accelerate the erosion of access to abortion by blessing a series of state laws limiting when and where women can terminate Continue reading “Kennedy’s exit could upend abortion rights and end affirmative action”

Tough reelection? Sponsor an opioid bill

Everybody wants their name on a bill addressing the opioid crisis — especially Republicans facing tough reelection battles.

That’s why House leadership will bring more than 70 such bills to the floor by the end of the month, many sponsored by the most vulnerable members of the GOP conference. The schedule allows lawmakers to show they’re trying to combat a public health emergency that claims 115 lives per day and is a top concern of midterm voters. But it’s a cumbersome, piecemeal approach involving hours of votes on narrow bills that Democrats complain don’t go far enough and are being rushed through the legislative mill.

“We know we’ll have to pull them together at some point, but they put a lot of work into them,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), whose panel originated most of the measures. “Everybody has their own idea and their own Continue reading “Tough reelection? Sponsor an opioid bill”

Dozens of abortion curbs challenged in lawsuit by Texas clinic

AUSTIN, Texas — A group of Texas abortion clinics and nonprofits filed a sweeping lawsuit against the state Thursday challenging dozens of abortion laws, some of which were passed at least two decades ago.

The move led by the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance comes two years after the abortion provider successfully challenged two provisions of a Texas abortion law at the Supreme Court. The decision marked the most significant abortion rights ruling in a generation and paved the way for groups to challenge abortion laws in other states.

The latest lawsuit argues that other Texas abortion limits, such as specific licensing standards for abortion clinics and waiting periods for patients, pose an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion and threaten access to the procedure in the state.

"We were able to leverage that new standard and use it to take a look historically at all of Continue reading “Dozens of abortion curbs challenged in lawsuit by Texas clinic”

McConnell: ‘Everybody’ in Senate likes pre-existing condition safeguards

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “everybody” in the Senate wants to preserve consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions, an Obamacare provision that the Trump administration last week said is unconstitutional and should be struck down in court.

“Everybody I know in the Senate — everybody — is in favor of maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions,” McConnell told reporters in the Capitol. “There is no difference in opinion about that whatsoever.”

Obamacare’s prohibition on insurance companies canceling or denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is among the most popular provisions of the 2010 law. Congressional Republicans opted to preserve the idea of having a requirement last year even as they laid plans to repeal the law. Several GOP health plans last year would have barred insurance companies from denying coverage over pre-existing conditions but would have done so by requiring people to maintain continuous coverage or face Continue reading “McConnell: ‘Everybody’ in Senate likes pre-existing condition safeguards”

The 2 words you can’t say in a Democratic ad: ‘Single payer’

Democratic voters want single payer health care. But don’t expect to hear Democratic candidates talk about it — at least not in those words.

To avoid divisive intraparty fights that drive candidates left — only to be attacked by Republicans for favoring socialized medicine — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee warned aspirants last year about the political liabilities of endorsing “single payer,” according to sources familiar with the advice. An influential progressive group even urged candidates to discard the often-misunderstood phrase and embrace “Medicare for all” to draw strong connections with the popular seniors’ health program.

A third of the way through the 2018 primaries, Democrats have largely prevented the Bernie Sanders-led groundswell of single payer support from swamping the contests. And they’re fine tuning their messaging to build support for the idea. Kara Eastman, a progressive Democrat hoping to knock out incumbent Republican Don Bacon in Nebraska’s second congressional Continue reading “The 2 words you can’t say in a Democratic ad: ‘Single payer’”

House passes Trump-backed drug bill, letting sick patients bypass FDA

The House on Tuesday approved a right-to-try drug bill that would allow terminally ill patients nationwide to directly request experimental treatments from drugmakers, a libertarian-inspired effort that captured the personal interest of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The bill which would allow patients to bypass the FDA to make the request for drugs, now goes to the White House, where Trump is expected to sign it.

The bill passed 250-169, largely along party lines.

Critics fear there are not enough patient safeguards in the legislation. House Democrats on Tuesday warned that without FDA oversight, bad actors — such as drug industry whipping boy Martin Shkreli — would peddle “snake oil” to extremely vulnerable patients with the promise of a cure.

Trump was a prominent supporter of the right-to-try effort, and his State of the Union call for the legislation propelled the once-stalled bill to his desk. In Continue reading “House passes Trump-backed drug bill, letting sick patients bypass FDA”

Trump to target Planned Parenthood with new abortion curbs

The Trump administration is expected to announce Friday that it will dramatically change the federal family planning program to prohibit health care providers who accept the funds from mentioning abortion and defund Planned Parenthood.

The changes to the Title X program —which are expected to be announced in new regulations — would mark the Trump administration’s latest win for social conservatives who are looking to prohibit access to abortion.

Health care providers who accept Title X funding would be banned from mentioning abortion to their patients and would not be allowed to perform abortions — regardless of the funding source — at the same facilities that provide Title X services.

Conservatives hail the changes as the "defunding" of Planned Parenthood because the organization is a prominent recipient of Title X money, receiving $50 million to $60 million in annual funding through the $286 million program.

But critics say it will Continue reading “Trump to target Planned Parenthood with new abortion curbs”

Democrats ready to run on health care in 2018

Democrats are confidently running on Obamacare for the first time in a decade.

They’ve got a unified message blaming Republicans for “sabotaging” the health law, leading to a cascade of sky-high insurance premiums that will come just before the November midterm elections. They’re rolling out ads featuring people helped by the law. And Tuesday, they’re starting a campaign to amplify each state’s premium increases — and tie those to GOP decisions.

That’s a big change from four election cycles of reluctance to talk about Obamacare on the stump. During those campaigns, red-state Democrats were often on the defensive, dodging accusations they imposed government-run health care on unwilling Americans, made it impossible for people to keep their doctors and health plans, and caused double-digit premium increases every year.

Now, even those Democrats see Obamacare as a political advantage. The Affordable Care Act has grown significantly more popular. And as Republicans learned Continue reading “Democrats ready to run on health care in 2018”

The Baby Boom in Congress

The typical member of Congress is a man about 60 years old — often with a tuft of salt-and-pepper hair, or maybe none at all. He’s decades past having babies at home: Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma mused recently, and inexplicably, that the invention of disposable diapers means parents don’t have to carry diaper bags anymore. The 229-year history of the United States Congress is the history of the nation’s most prominent and enduring boys’ club, a bastion of grandfathers and — in Paul Ryan’s phrase — weekend dads.

Young mothers, weekend or otherwise, in Congress are like a good night’s sleep for new parents: highly unusual, and yet, more and more common with the passage of time. Only 10 women in history have given birth while serving in Congress: one in the 1970s, three in the 1990s, and six in the past 11 years.

Forty-five years before Tammy Duckworth Continue reading “The Baby Boom in Congress”

The Baby Boom in Congress

The typical member of Congress is a man about 60 years old — often with a tuft of salt-and-pepper hair, or maybe none at all. He’s decades past having babies at home: Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma mused recently, and inexplicably, that the invention of disposable diapers means parents don’t have to carry diaper bags anymore. The 229-year history of the United States Congress is the history of the nation’s most prominent and enduring boys’ club, a bastion of grandfathers and — in Paul Ryan’s phrase — weekend dads.

Young mothers, weekend or otherwise, in Congress are like a good night’s sleep for new parents: highly unusual, and yet, more and more common with the passage of time. Only 10 women in history have given birth while serving in Congress: one in the 1970s, three in the 1990s, and six in the past 11 years.

Forty-five years before Tammy Duckworth Continue reading “The Baby Boom in Congress”

Senate poised to allow Duckworth’s newborn on the floor

The hidebound U.S. Senate is expected to soon change its rules for a member who just made history as a new mom.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who this month became the first sitting senator to have a baby while in office, has submitted a resolution that would allow senators to bring a child under one year old onto the Senate floor during votes. Senate leaders appear poised to approve the request, according to Senate sources.

The Illinois Democrat has been on a campaign to change the chamber’s rules, which prohibit children from the floor, arguing that the archaic ban doesn’t support working parents and would make it difficult for her to vote.

The Senate sometimes stacks several votes in a row or gets sidelined by delays, requiring lawmakers to be on the floor for an extended period of time.

“I can’t be away from a newborn infant in Continue reading “Senate poised to allow Duckworth’s newborn on the floor”

Abortion foes seize on chance to overturn Roe

The anti-abortion movement believes it’s one Donald Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice away from a shot at overturning Roe v. Wade, and advocates are teeing up what they hope will be the winning challenge.

From Iowa to South Carolina, lawmakers are proposing some of the most far-reaching abortion restrictions in a generation, hoping their legislation triggers the lawsuit that eventually makes it to the high court.

Mississippi just approved the earliest abortion ban in the country — at 15 weeks of pregnancy — and Kentucky last week banned the procedure used in most abortions after 11 weeks. Legislatures in Ohio and South Carolina are weighing total prohibitions of the procedure, while Iowa is considering a ban as soon as a heartbeat is detected — all bills that if signed into law would violate Roe and prompt lawsuits.

"That could ultimately be a bill that revisits Roe v. Wade," Ohio Continue reading “Abortion foes seize on chance to overturn Roe”

Inside the collapse of a bipartisan Obamacare deal

Everybody on Capitol Hill agreed: If anyone could break the deep-rooted partisan logjam over Obamacare in Congress, it was that deal-making duo Patty and Lamar.

But in the end, it was Obamacare that broke their alliance.

Just seven months after Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) heralded the beginning of a new bipartisan era on health care following the collapse of Obamacare repeal efforts, their lofty ambitions ended in much the same way as every Obamacare-related negotiation over the last eight years — with claims of betrayal, warnings of political fallout and no progress toward bridging the deep divide over the nation’s health care system. When Congress put its finishing touches on a $1.3 trillion spending bill late last week, there was one glaring omission: a proposal to head off huge premium spikes just before the November midterm elections.

“I’m no magician,” Alexander said in Continue reading “Inside the collapse of a bipartisan Obamacare deal”

Abstinence advocate gets final say on family planning dollars

A senior Trump health official who has promoted abstinence will be the final arbiter of which groups receive federal family planning funds — a change from prior years, when a group of officials made the decision, POLITICO has learned.

Conservatives have long criticized the $286 million Title X program, which funds family planning services, mostly for low-income women, because it gives money to Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions, even though there is a prohibition on using those dollars for abortions.

Now, for the first time, the final decision of who gets the funding will be in the hands of one person — Valerie Huber, the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, a longtime advocate of abstinence.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Huber was president and CEO of Ascend, a national organization that promoted “sexual risk avoidance” — a term she used instead of Continue reading “Abstinence advocate gets final say on family planning dollars”

Trump IRS seeks millions in Obamacare fines even though law is ‘dead’

Hundreds of companies face prospective fines for violating Obamacare’s employer mandate by the same Trump administration that has done virtually everything in its power to abolish the federal health care law.

The Internal Revenue Service notices recently began arriving in corporate mailboxes, in some cases demanding millions of dollars in fines — an awkward development as the White House touts its business-friendly tax package. The notices will likely spur another legal fight over the health law — this time featuring the administration defending a statute that President Donald Trump has repeatedly declared dead.

“Litigation is in the works,” said Alden Bianchi, an attorney who represents several businesses facing potential penalties for failing to provide adequate insurance coverage to workers. “There is a challenge out there and it’s brewing and the players are serious.”

The enforcement actions cover potential violations in 2015, the first year the mandate was supposed to Continue reading “Trump IRS seeks millions in Obamacare fines even though law is ‘dead’”

Spending deals signal end of unpopular Obamacare cost checks

Republicans and Democrats finally found something they can agree on about Obamacare: killing unpopular policies that were supposed to pay for the law or reduce health costs.

The recent congressional spending deals repealed or delayed several Obamacare taxes, as well as a Medicare cost-cutting board. Removing those powerful levers, which terrified health providers and unions, is not a good omen for efforts to control health spending, which is expected to surge in the next few years.

“This was a skillful effort by the groups that would have faced the sharp end of these measures,” said John McDonough, a former Senate HELP Committee aide who helped draft the law, who is now a Harvard professor of public health practice. “The reason people got so exercised … is not because they wouldn’t have been effective. They would have been effective.”

What’s left are the expensive pieces of the law that are liked Continue reading “Spending deals signal end of unpopular Obamacare cost checks”

Trump’s HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy

A conservative legal organization worked with the Trump administration to make it easier for states to defund Planned Parenthood, according to documents obtained by congressional Democrats and shared with POLITICO.

HHS last month told states they no longer have to comply with Obama administration policy that made it difficult for states to exclude the women’s health group from their Medicaid programs — an announcement timed to the March of Life anti-abortion rally. HHS received a draft legal analysis from the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom a week before the announcement, according to House Oversight Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings.

Cummings cited a whistleblower who shared emails and documents.

“The documents provided by the whistleblower raise serious concerns about whether the Trump administration is now taking orders from an extreme right-wing interest group that is trying to deny American citizens the ability to exercise their right to obtain family planning services from Continue reading “Trump’s HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy”