Week ahead: Lawmakers push big health care decisions to 2018

Week ahead: Lawmakers push big health care decisions to 2018
© Getty

Lawmakers passed a short-term spending bill Thursday to avoid a shutdown and wrap up their year. But there will be many big health care decisions for lawmakers in 2018. Here are some of the big questions and looming fights in the year ahead.

 

Will the GOP turn a corner on ObamaCare?

Republicans are showing some signs they are backing off the push for repeal, although some lawmakers are keeping up the effort. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) says the Senate will probably move on to other issues, though he adds that if Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTrump allies see 's---hole' controversy as overblown GOP senator: Leaking Trump’s alleged Oval Office comments ‘undermines trust’ Dems quiz Trump HHS nominee on drug pricing MORE (R-La.) can find a way to get the votes on their ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, the Senate could take it up.

ADVERTISEMENT

McConnell and other Senate Republicans are also talking about taking steps to help stabilize ObamaCare, including a pair of bipartisan bills aimed at lowering premiums. Those bills are being pushed by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine), who received promises from McConnell that they would come up for a vote in exchange for her support on the Republican tax bill.

But whether House Republicans will go along is an open question.

The GOP tax bill, signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE on Friday, also included a repeal of the individual insurance mandate.

The effects of the repeal, though, are unclear and the health care world will be watching closely to see how insurers react.

 

When will Congress provide more permanent funding for children's health insurance?

Children's advocates had hoped for a worry-free new year.

For months, they pressed lawmakers to pass a five-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), so they didn't have to worry about millions of low-and-middle income children losing health insurance. And those who run community health centers — which provide comprehensive care to roughly 27 million of the nation's most vulnerable — also urged long-term funding. Congress let federal funding for both programs lapse Sept. 30.

The stop-gap spending bill lawmakers passed before leaving Washington for the holidays provided $2.85 billion for CHIP and $550 million for community health centers through March 31. But there is still uncertainty over full funding.

 

Will Congress defund Planned Parenthood?

After failing to defund Planned Parenthood in 2017, anti-abortion groups are likely to make a push for Congress to do it next year. Anti-abortion groups want the defunding language to be attached to whatever reconciliation bill Congress hopes to pass in 2018 whether it's for welfare reform or another attempt at repealing ObamaCare.

Anti-abortion groups say they're also looking into regulatory and administrative options to defund the women's health care provider.

The Senate is expected to vote in January on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The House passed the bill earlier this year, but it's unlikely to clear the Senate, where it needs 60 votes and Republicans only have a slim majority.

Anti-abortion groups, though, hope the vote will put vulnerable Democrats in red states on record as they head toward the midterm election.

 

Will Congress or Trump act on drug pricing?

Democrats are likely to keep trying to hold President Trump's feet to the fire on drug pricing, but it's unlikely they will get major policy changes.

Trump has blasted the pharmaceutical industry, accusing it of "getting away with murder" with steep drug prices, but his administration has done little to force the industry to change its ways, and hasn't acted on most of the pricing promises he made during the election.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to continue its work on the regulatory side, bringing lower-cost generics to the market quicker to trying to promote more competition. But legislatively, action on drug prices will be a tough sell.

 

Will the GOP act on entitlement reform?

House Republicans and the Trump administration seem anxious to tackle welfare reform next year. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) said he wants to use the fast-track reconciliation process next year for entitlement reform, with a focus on promoting work and career-based education.

But it's not clear that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shares Ryan's views. Any changes will have to be bipartisan, McConnell said last week, noting that the lack of Democratic support for entitlement reform makes it highly unlikely it will move through the Senate in an election year.

McConnell understands the political tightrope that Republicans are walking. There's broad support in the Republican conference for changing the federal safety net to impose stricter work requirements on programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

But if the reform expands to changing Medicare and Social Security, there will likely be resistance from within the GOP.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

McConnell encourages Graham, Cassidy to continue ObamaCare repeal push

States say short-term funding not enough for children's health

McConnell: Entitlement reform would have to be bipartisan

Second judge halts Trump rollback of ObamaCare birth control rule

8.8 million sign up for ObamaCare, nearly matching last year

ObamaCare taxes won't be delayed until next year

GOP includes $2.8B for children's health-care funding in stopgap bill

WH: Trump wants Congress to pass bipartisan ObamaCare fixes in January

Senate GOP pushes off ObamaCare bills until January

Congress repeals ObamaCare mandate, fulfilling longtime GOP goal

Dems fuel uproar over 'banned' CDC words