THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 22nd – Friday, Jan. 26th

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 22nd – Friday, Jan. 26th

After shutting down over last weekend, the United States government got back to work on Monday night when Congress adopted a short term spending bill. Beyond funding the government for another month, the measure also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), ending a monthslong stalemate over funding the hugely popular program. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) lauded the extension, noting that the six years of funding is the longest in the program’s history. The extension came just in time, as many states were on the verge of completely exhausting their existing CHIP funding.

With the shutdown averted (for now), Congress jumped right back into action. On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed former drug industry executive Alex Azar as the newest Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Having previously served as Deputy Secretary of HHS under George W. Bush, Azar returns to an agency in the throes of regulating an American healthcare system somewhere between Obamacare and Trumpcare.

Within the Trump Administration, several actions were taken over the past week reinvigorating the abortion debate. First, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rescinded Obama-era guidance that restricted states’ ability to take actions against family-planning providers. Additionally—in the name of protecting conscience and religious freedom—the HHS Office for Civil Rights announced a new rule to enforce 25 existing statutory conscience protections for Americans in HHS-funded programs. All signs point to continued debate on abortion in the coming weeks, especially with Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) planning a 20-week abortion ban vote for this coming Monday.

In Sen. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, the blowback was swift from the recently-approved waiver that would allow the commonwealth to impose new work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Several groups joined in filing suit against HHS on behalf of Medicaid beneficiaries to stop the state from imposing these new requirements as early as July 2018. Meanwhile, Kentucky announced plans to add health and financial literacy courses as a requirement for some beneficiaries to continue receiving benefits. Residents who are unable to work but still desire coverage through Medicaid would be required to take trainings on household budgeting, opening a checking account, weight management and chronic disease management. It is clear that Kentucky’s Medicaid will followed closely by folks all around the country—especially with several states considering Medicaid work requirements of their own.

There has been quite a bit of speculation regarding Virginia’s Medicaid program after the election of Gov. Ralph Northam, and the state Senate finally began considering expansion this week. in the Education and Health Committee. While Gov. Northam and other Democrats look to expand the Medicaid program consistent with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republican legislators proposed an expansion measure that would add work requirements to the program. While the Medicaid work requirements bill was rejected by the Education and Health Committee, this discussion is just getting started in Virginia.

Finally, states around the country were pretty active on the health policy front, as well. Gov. Butch Otto (R) of Idaho revealed new “state-based” guidelines for selling health insurance plans on Wednesday. These guidelines disregard some ACA regulations that were meant as patient protections, instead allowing insurers to deny coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions for 12 months, as well as no longer requiring pediatric dental and vision care coverage. In contrast, California, Connecticut, D.C., and Maryland are all considering their own versions of an individual mandate, requiring residents to either enroll in a health plan or pay a fee. Looking ahead, Massachusetts already has an individual mandate prepared that they are looking to institute soon. With state legislative sessions across the country kicking off this month, we expect plenty more creative state-led approaches to health reform in the weeks to come.

Student Contributors on this Article:
Marissa Alvarez, Chad Fletcher, Shaina Haque, Virginia Wright