THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Feb. 5th – Friday, Feb. 9th

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Feb. 5th – Friday, Feb. 9th


We’ll begin at the end this week, with the federal government shutting down for eight hours overnight into Friday morning. This shutdown—the second of 2018—was attributed solely to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who used procedural prerogatives to delay a vote until about 1:30 AM on Friday morning, all in an effort to highlight his party’s hypocrisy on authorizing the largest increase in federal spending since the Great Recession of 2009. After the Senate was finally able to vote, the House of Representatives also agreed to the deal by early morning, and President Trump signed it into law shortly after 8 o’clock. Now that it’s on the books, we figured it’s a good time to unpack the series of health policy implications of today’s budget deal.

While this measure only funds the government for six additional weeks (through March 23), it notably addressed a wide range of important health policy issues. This includes $90 billion for disaster relief, a four-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—beyond the six years approved last month, and over $7 billion for community health centers. It also included a range of healthcare measures championed by Senate Finance Committee Chair, Orrin Hatch. These range from special programs for Medicare beneficiaries with chronic diseases to funding for the National Health Service Corps and delaying Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payment reductions.

Notably, today’s budget deal also included $6 billion for opioid addiction and mental health, funding new grants, prevention programs, and law enforcement efforts in vulnerable communities. With overdose deaths in both urban and rural communities up nearly 28 percent over the last two years, this funding was regarded by both parties as a necessary investment to help stem the tide in the ongoing crisis.

Picking up on an ongoing situation that has not consistently received the coverage it warrants, the budget deal also included $4.9 billion to fully fund Puerto Rico’s Medicaid Program over the next two years. This funding will benefit nearly one million residents who depend on the program for coverage and, importantly, help Puerto Rico as it recovers from the destruction of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

While it seemed to include a little bit of everything in health policy, a few measures were notably missing from the final budget agreement. Beyond failing to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—arguably its most glaring omission—the Senate also decided not to include a bipartisan bill to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs. There was some movement in the drug pricing effort, though, with a Trump administration official leaking a plan to lower prescription drug costs for beneficiaries of Medicare Part D through new rebates for drugs purchased at the pharmacy.

Since we spent all of our time on news from the Hill this week, we might as well round it out with another piece of legislation under consideration. Lawmakers in the House are hard at work attempting to tweak the Right to Try bill proposed by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Though the sponsors of the bill are wary of “watering it down”, others in the House are looking to balance the bill with safeguards against causing unintended harm. With patient advocacy groups and mega-donors lining up on different sides of the debate, there seems to be plenty of ground to cover in the road ahead before a final bill lands on the President’s desk.

Looking ahead to next week, expect lots of activity on the drug pricing front after the Trump administration’s release of a 28-page drug pricing white paper earlier today. More details should come with the release of President Trump’s 2019 budget plan next week. Also, with the final reports in from the states showing that ACA enrollment was relatively stable from last year, stay tuned for a Viewpoints Spotlight next week on the outlook for Obamacare moving forward! Until then, have a fantastic weekend!

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