Overnight Healthcare: 12.7M sign up for ObamaCare, hitting expectations

About 12.7 million people signed up for ObamaCare this year, a number that met the administration's goal but was not a huge increase over last year.

The number meets the administration's goal of between 11 million and 14.1 million sign-ups, up from the 11.7 million people who signed up in 2015.

Andy Slavitt, the Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the sign-up period was "very successful" and showed that the ObamaCare marketplace is "strong, growing and it's here to stay."

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The closely watched percentage of 18 to 34 year-olds in the 38 states using the federal HealthCare.gov system did not grow from last year, remaining at 28 percent of enrollees.  

However, CMS officials pointed to the 4 million new enrollees this year as evidence that the sign-up pool is being refreshed. They said those new enrollees are more likely to be young and healthy, especially because many of them seemed to respond to the threat of the $695 or more penalty for lacking insurance.

Larry Levitt, an expert on the health law at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter: "12.7 million ACA enrollees and modest growth won't quiet critics. But it's hardly a disaster they can point to on the campaign trail." Read more here: http://bit.ly/1KsYy3z

SHKRELI DOESN'T DISAPPOINT ON DRAMA: Pharma bad boy Martin Shkreli taunted lawmakers on Thursday with 45 minutes of smirking, pencil-twirling, doodling and photo-posing. And then he called them "imbeciles" on Twitter. (More on that here: http://bit.ly/1UOHoxC)

Shkreli made good on his promise to plead the Fifth Amendment during the House Oversight Committee's hearing on drug pricing. But his lively facial expressions prompted rebuke from lawmakers ranging from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to John Mica (R-Fla.).

"It's not funny Mr. Shkreli. People are dying, and they are getting sicker and sicker," Cummings said to Shkreli on the stand.

After Shkreli was escorted out of the hearing, his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, delivered a sharply worded statement calling the panel a "hostile forum."

"He's not the villain, he's not the bad boy. I think at the end of this story, he's a hero," his lawyer said. "I think the only regrets he has are the unfair treatment he has received." Read more here: http://bit.ly/1PVpntk

FDA NOMINEE TRYING TO REMOVE HOLD: Dr. Robert Califf is trying to lift the last major roadblock to his nomination by pledging to take a closer look at how the agency prevents prescription painkiller abuse.

Califf has waited weeks to be confirmed as FDA head. His nomination has been most recently blocked by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has demanded a new approach to the agency fight against opioid abuse. Markey, though, said he will continue his hold on Califf until the FDA agrees to an even wider review of its process of approving prescription painkillers, which are fueling an opioid epidemic in his state and many others.

The FDA announced Thursday that it would create "a far-reaching action plan to reassess the agency's approach to opioid medications" that will convene a number of expert panels while also taking small steps to refocus attention on the public health dangers of prescription painkillers.

It's unclear if the agency's plans for a "sweeping review" will appease Markey, who has called for a complete overhaul of the FDA's process for approving painkillers. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1QJdQQY

WHITE HOUSE WILLING TO SCALE BACK CADILLAC TAX: President Obama's 2017 budget will propose a tweak to the so-called "Cadillac" tax, intended to alleviate some of the cost burden in regions with particularly high health costs.

"The goal here is to start a conversation about ways the Cadillac tax can be improved and be made even better," a senior administration official said Thursday.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities praised the change, arguing it would "preserve most of its revenues," though long-time opponents of the tax in the Alliance to Fight the 40 said they would be satisfied with nothing short of full repeal. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1PVqo4A

AGENCY UPDATES:

The Food and Drug Administration is taking a victory lap on its approval of generic drugs the same day the House Oversight Committee holds its high-profile hearing on rising drug prices: http://1.usa.gov/1PDPYiT

WHAT WE'RE READING:

Tweak to Cadillac tax hated by business wins Obama no friends (Bloomberg)

The real reason Medicare is a lousy drug negotiator: It can't say no (New York Times Upshot)

Why insurance companies are complaining about ObamaCare (Talking Points Memo)

IN THE STATES:

Michigan emails show officials knew of Flint water disease risk (Reuters)

Alaska judge hears arguments in Medicaid expansion case (AP)

How abortion opponents secretly bought a Va. abortion clinic to deceive women (Washington Post)

ICYMI FROM THE HILL:

Zika spreads into politics http://bit.ly/1PVqo4A

Activist behind Planned Parenthood videos surrenders to authorities http://bit.ly/1UOIPfF

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