Azar Floats Renewable Short-term Health Plans

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on Thursday that the Administration wants to make renewable certain plans that do not comply with ACA rules. Currently, short term insurance plans can only be offered for a maximum of 3 months, while the administration has proposed expanding that time to a full year. Azar argues that allowing for the renewal of the so call “skinny plans” would increase affordability for healthy patients in the market that do not need as extensive of coverage required by the ACA. These plans would not be required to cover those with pre-existing conditions. This shift by the administration follows an Executive Order signed by President Trump in October 2017 directing federal agencies to examine ways to expand and extend short term health plans, increase those enrolled in association health plans, and scale back rules around employer health plan reimbursement. Opponents of this approach, including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, argue that increased availability of skinny plans creates a parallel insurance market that will lead to higher costs for those with ACA compliant plans.

In related news, the Trump Administration rejected a plan by Idaho’s insurance regulators to offer health insurance policies that removed a number of consumer protections mandated under Obamacare. These included the elimination of provisions that do not allow insurers to charge higher premiums based on age, and guaranteed coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions. In a letter to Idaho’s Governor Butch Otter (R), CMS Administrator Seema Verma expressed her thanks for the state’s “efforts to address the damage caused” by the ACA. While the letter states that this action is not the administration’s preference, the move by Idaho’s regulators would undermine current law, and therefore must to be blocked by CMS. This put the administration in the new and uncomfortable position of upholding a law they do not support. Verma also stated that, with certain modifications, the scaled down insurance plans may be legally offered as short-term policies.

Upcoming Congressional Meetings and Markups

House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health field hearing “VA Healthcare: Maximizing Resources in Puerto Rico;” 10:00 a.m., San Juan, PR; March 12

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing “National Laboratories: World-Leading Innovation in Science;” 10:00 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Bldg.; March 14

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing “Reauthorization of Animal Drug User Fees: ADUFA and AGDUFA;” 10:15 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.; March 14

Senate Indian Affairs Committee oversight hearing “Opioids in Indian Country: Beyond the Crisis to Healing the Community”; 2:30 p.m., 628 Dirksen Bldg.; March 14

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing “Perspectives on the 340B Drug Discount Program;” 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.; March 15

House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing “FY 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for the Veterans Health Administration;” 10:00 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.; March 15

House Appropriations Labor/HHS/Education Subcommittee hearing “FY19 Budget Hearing – Department of Health and Human Services;” 10:00 a.m., 2358-C Rayburn Bldg. The only witness will be HHS Secretary Azar; March 15

House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing “FY19 Budget Hearing - Veterans Affairs;” 10:00 a.m., 2362-A Rayburn Bldg. The only witness will be VA Secretary Shulkin; March 15

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on >20 bills relating to public health and prevention efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Time and location TBA; March 21-22

Recently Introduced Health Legislation

H.R.5160 (introduced by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier): A bill to provide for coverage of cancer care planning and coordination under the Medicare program; Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means

H.R.5155 (introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone): A bill to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to improve affordability of, undo sabotage with respect to, and increase access to health insurance coverage, and for other purposes; Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, Education and the Workforce

H.R.5176 (introduced by Rep. David McKinley): A bill to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide coordinated care to patients who have experienced a non-fatal overdose after emergency room discharge; Energy and Commerce

H.R.5202 (introduced by Rep. Ryan Costello): A bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for the delivery of a controlled substance by a pharmacy to an administering practitioner; Energy and Commerce, Judiciary

H.R.5197 (introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell): A bill to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a demonstration program to test alternative pain management protocols to limit the use of opioids in emergency departments; Energy and Commerce

H.R.5191 (introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman): A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish Alzheimer’s Disease research, education, and clinical centers; Veterans’ Affairs H.R.5228 (introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone): A bill to strengthen the authorities of the Food and Drug Administration to address counterfeit drugs, illegal and synthetic opioids, and opioid-like substances; Energy and Commerce, Budget

H.R.5219 (introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis): A bill to require sellers of opioids at retail to verify the identity of the prospective purchaser and enter certain information about the purchase into the respective State’s prescription drug monitoring system; Energy and Commerce

S.2496 (introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi): A bill amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish Small Business Health Accounts; Finance

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 -  2018