OVERNIGHT HEALTH: McConnell consults with GOP governors on ObamaCare alternatives

The Republican effort to produce a conservative alternative to ObamaCare is ramping up.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThough flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance Sanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' MORE (R-Ky.) is asking GOP governors for ideas on how to replace ObamaCare and its "worst rules, regulations and mandates." In a letter Thursday, McConnell and two colleagues asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to solicit healthcare policy ideas from his peers. Haslam is the policy chairman of the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee.

The letter is a sign of Republicans' new emphasis on proposing a comprehensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act. The GOP has vowed to "repeal and replace" the law since 2010, but proposals were scarce until this week, when three other Republican senators floated their own plan. Elise Viebeck at The Hill reports.

Legacy: House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) received praise from public health advocates Thursday after announcing that he will retire at the end of this Congress.

Waxman has served 20 terms in the lower chamber and played a leading role in nearly every Democratic healthcare achievement during that period, including the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act. A major force behind food safety, nutrition labeling and anti-tobacco laws, Waxman was also responsible for a program expanding access to HIV/AIDS treatment for low-income patients and for a memorable 1994 hearing in which tobacco executives said cigarettes are not addictive. Elise Viebeck at The Hill reports.

SHOP: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is expecting only modest enrollment figures in the ObamaCare small-business program for 2014. A CMS official told The Hill the figures would likely be depressed until the website is fully functional later this year.

Companies with fewer than 50 employees were slated to begin buying coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), an online ObamaCare exchange, in December. But in late November, the White House pushed back the launch date for the exchange by one year, so it could focus on getting the online exchange for individuals up and running.

HealthCare.gov is now running smoothly and logging impressive enrollment figures, but the CMS doesn’t have an update on when SHOP might be available to small businesses and their employees. Republicans are getting antsy. Jonathan Easley at The Hill reports.

Alternative: An analysis from a think tank formed by conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin finds the Senate GOP alternative to ObamaCare would lower premium prices and save $1.4 trillion while covering roughly the same number of people.

The Center for Health & Economy (H&E) formed by Holtz-Eakin, who served as GOP 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCainJohn McCainDrug importation won't save dollars or lives Dem rep Charlie Crist files for divorce Why the GOP cannot sweep its Milo scandal under the rug MORE's (R-Ariz.) economist, looked at the legislative blueprint put forth Tuesday by Republican Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrTrump's pick for intel chief to get hearing next week A guide to the committees: Senate Juan Williams: Senate GOP begins to push Trump away MORE (N.C.), Tom CoburnTom CoburnCoburn: Trump's tweets aren't presidential The road ahead for America’s highways Rethinking taxation MORE (Okla.) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchHow to marry housing policy and tax reform for millions of Americans Though flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Utah). Their plan, which has not been turned into legislative language, would eliminate all of the healthcare law’s federal mandates in favor of a voluntary system led by the states.

H&E assumes the full repeal of ObamaCare, and that the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment (CARE) Act would be implemented in 2017. It found that the GOP proposal would lower premiums by 2 percent to 11 percent for single policies by 2023, primarily because of its pledges to end “junk lawsuits” and “defensive medicine.” It also said the government would spend less because of the fewer number of people covered by Medicaid.

Jonathan Easley at The Hill reports.


State by State:

Maryland Medicaid enrollment surges past projections.

Democrats propose Medicaid expansion in Alaska.

Kansas says HHS approves last piece of Medicaid overhaul

Reading List:

Rumors of ObamaCare’s death greatly exaggerated, by Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic.

Four words may doom ObamaCare, by George Will at The Washington Post.

What you may have missed at HealthWatch:

HHS touts savings from ObamaCare program.

Public tired of ObamaCare repeal efforts.

More uninsured plan to get health insurance through exchanges.

ObamaCare, other health premiums roughly equal.