Democrats Urge WH to Reconsider Flavored Nicotine Policy

More than 50 House lawmakers have signed a letter calling on the Trump administration to ban the sale of all flavored nicotine products. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and colleagues request that the newly released guidance regarding e-cigarettes be revised “to ban the sale of the often kid-friendly flavored nicotine products that have attracted an increased number of adolescents to begin vaping.” Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) is asserting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is unprepared to determine whether teenagers are switching to menthol e-cigarettes in response to the Administration’s flavored vape ban. In a letter to FDA Administrator Stephen Hahn, Krishnamoorthi asks how the administration plans to monitor rates of youth vaping. He also asks for a commitment that the FDA remove menthol e-cigarettes from the market if teen use begins to increase.

Supreme Court Will Not Hear Expedited ACA Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a request from the House of Representatives and a group of mostly Democratic states to consider their petition for an expedited review of the current Affordable Care Act (ACA) lawsuit. A federal appeals court struck down the ACA’s individual mandate last month, while skirting the question of the law’s overall constitutionality. The decision keeps the ACA in effect for the time being, while remanding the case back to a federal judge in Texas to determine how much of the rest of the law, if any, is also unconstitutional. The high court’s latest decision most likely means that the fate of the 2010 health care law will not be decided until after the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats File Amicus Brief in Public Charge Case

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led House Democrats in the filing of an amicus brief with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond asserting that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have the authority to redefine who is considered a public charge. The Trump administration recently issued a regulation that would link an immigrant’s legal status to the chance of them using public benefits, like the Medicaid program. Any immigrant who receives at least one designated public program for more than 12 months within any three-year period would be considered a public charge and be more likely to be denied a green card. The brief urges the court to uphold a nationwide injunction blocking the rule.

CMS to Announce Medicaid Changes This Week

The White House is expected to announce an overhaul of the Medicaid program this week. The administration’s proposed changes would provide states with additional flexibility to shift some program funding to block grants. The plan would encourage states to apply for Section 1115 waivers to allow them to cap spending on Medicaid patients who joined the program under the ACA’s coverage expansion. The changes will be unveiled during a HHS event scheduled for Thursday titled “Transforming Medicaid: A New Opportunity for Better Health.” While Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma has previously discussed the potential for block grants to restrain Medicaid spending and improve program outcomes, administration officials have acknowledged that they expect the block grant policy to be challenged in court.

FDA Working to Address Agency Workforce Shortages

The FDA is trying to appeal to prospective employees’ sense of mission to improve the agency’s chronic staffing problems. In a recent interview with Politico, Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy explained that the FDA wants young physicians and scientists to know that their time spent at the agency will be an important contribution to the country, and that they can expect to learn new skills on the job. The FDA saw a net gain of 135 employees in fiscal year (FY) 2019 – hiring 1,637 individuals while losing 1,502. This is a slight improvement over FY 2018, when 1,685 people joined the FDA and 1,586 left. The time it takes to bring a new hire on board has also improved thanks to authorities contained in the 21st Century Cures Act – onboarding now takes an average of 42 days, down from the previous length of more than a year.

Former CA Congressman Pete Stark Dies at 88

Former Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has passed away at the age of 88. During his 40-year career in Congress, Stark served as the chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health. He was involved in drafting numerous major health care laws, including the ACA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). Also, he was a key supporter of repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Rep. Stark sponsored the initial antikick-back legislation now known as the Stark Law, which prohibits physician self-referral.

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