THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Jan. 29th – Friday, Feb. 2nd
When President Trump delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, he made sure to carve out some time for musings on American health care. He celebrated the end of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, touted the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) record number of new drug approvals, and proclaimed the goal of reducing prescription drug prices as one of the top priorities for the year. The President added a little extra punctuation, however, when he declared his support for the controversial concept of “right to try”—calling on Congress to craft legislation allowing Americans access to experimental, potentially life-saving medicines that are as-yet unapproved FDA. While receptions to President Trump’s SOTU remarks on health care were expectedly mixed, he did receive an A+ from at least one observer—new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar.
Even though President Trump’s SOTU address to a joint session of Congress grabbed most of the headlines, it wasn’t the only action on Capitol Hill this week. On Monday, the Senate blocked a bill backed by the Trump Administration to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, in a 51-46 vote that broke along partisan lines. Despite the President’s enthusiasm about the end of the individual mandate, House Republicans expressed some hesitancy to pursue another attempt at repealing and replacing the ACA. With only a slim majority and an ailing Sen. McCain (R-AZ), GOP leaders are less than optimistic about their ability to rewrite healthcare laws any time soon. Still, some House Republican leaders are interested in funding reinsurance—one of the infamous “3 R’s” of health insurance. As proposed, this funding would help insurers cover the costs of severely ill patients and help stabilize premiums for enrollees. To pass muster, though, GOP leaders would still restrict the use of these funds for certain services, like abortion. Through all of this week’s viewpoints and sustained dialogue on health reform, it is clear that the issue remains top of mind for citizens and policymakers alike.
On Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed changes to the Medicare insurance and drug benefit programs for 2019. Beyond expanding the definition of health-related supplemental benefits, these rules also would place new limits on opioid prescriptions for beneficiaries. In a move that mirrors the actions of several states, the proposed rule would limit an initial opioid prescription to seven days for patients with acute pain, and even create warnings for pharmacists when opioid prescriptions exceed recommended guidelines. Given the abundant, strong opinions on the proper role of government in curbing the opioid crisis, comments on this proposed rule are invited from industry, seniors, consumer advocates, and the public and must be submitted by March 5, 2018.
In other news from CMS, more states have taken steps to add work requirements to their Medicaid programs this week. Indiana became the second state to receive approval for Medicaid work requirements after HHS Secretary made an appearance in the state earlier today. Mississippi and Kansas have filed work requirement proposals to the agency, while the governors of South Dakota, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina have been working on guidelines the past few weeks. With the Trump administration signaling strong support, the wave of work requirements continues to roll onward.
Indiana’s Medicaid program made news for other reasons this week as well. The state’s unique Medicaid program—dubbed the Healthy Indiana Program—has often been cited as an example of great innovation by its creators, then-Governor (and current Vice President) Mike Pence and then-Indiana health care consultant (and current CMS Administrator) Seema Verma. This week, though, reports emerged that the program has dropped 25,000 people for failing to pay premiums consistent with the monthly fees and a lockout program. With Indiana’s Medicaid program up for renewal in February, we’ll see how the Verma-led CMS reacts to this reality of the Healthy Indiana Program’s execution.
Finally, in case you missed it, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director, Brenda Fitzgerald, resigned Wednesday amidst the controversial discovery that she purchased stock in a major tobacco company. This shake up at the top and the agency’s significant budget cuts have put the CDC in a particularly tough spot—especially in the midst of this year’s deadly flu outbreak. We’re all rooting for Dr. Anne Schuchat, the acting CDC Director, to steady the ship in this critical agency for the health of the American people!
So, with that said, have a great weekend, don’t smoke cigarettes, and be sure to get your flu shot! We’ll see you next time!
Student Contributors on this Article:
Marissa Alvarez, Chad Fletcher, Shaina Haque, Virginia Wright