Overnight Healthcare: First major opioids bill heads to Obama

The Senate voted late Wednesday to send a broadly bipartisan bill on opioid abuse to President Obama's desk, two days before Congress leaves town for a seven-week break.

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The bill's 90 to 2 passage – making it nearly unanimous in both chambers – narrowly avoids what would have been an embarrassing blow to the GOP. Republican leaders moved opioids to the top of their legislative to-do list in January, but a major fight over funding has stalled the measure for months.

President Obama is likely to sign the bill, though he has not yet signaled his position. Even after its passage, Democrats slammed the legislation as a "half measure" because it does not add new funding. http://bit.ly/29E7LKM

House clears 'right of conscience' abortion bill

Anti-abortion lawmakers scored a win Wednesday with a bill that they say further protects healthcare providers from being forced into performing abortions.

The controversial bill would bar state or local governments from penalizing healthcare providers that decline to offer abortions – a direct rebuttal to California's recent policy requiring health plans to cover elective abortions. Anti-abortion groups say California's policy violates decade-old budgetary language known as the Weldon Amendment, which offers protection to healthcare providers opposed to abortion because of their religion.

Democrats blasted the bill as "unnecessary" and a "destructive" attack against the long-established right to an abortion. One senior Democrat, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), said the bill would allow doctors to withhold medical information if they believe it could potentially lead to an abortion. Read more here: http://bit.ly/29E14Zj

#TBT: Two Trump VP finalists on opposite sides of Medicare battle

Back in 2003, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) faced off as President Bush tried to expand Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit.

Amid a heated debate over prescription drug coverage, Gingrich said the bill was essential to reform the Medicare system. Pence, who is now governor of Indiana, noted the legislation wasn't paid for and was far too costly. Read the throwback from our EIC Bob Cusack here: http://bit.ly/29OTpFP

Seven amendments left in Labor-HHS markup

The House Appropriations Committee muscled through about 25 amendments in a marathon, seven-hour markup on Wednesday. But stay tuned: the committee will need to return at 9 a.m. tomorrow for (at least) seven more votes.  

So far, we've had debate over Zika funding, cancer research, Headstart programs, family planning, year-round Pell grants, anti-tobacco programs and the "Dickey amendment" on gun research. More on the cancer research amendment here: http://bit.ly/29P3ti2. And the Zika funding here: http://bit.ly/29QHCZf.

Healthcare spending rises to $3.2 trillion 

U.S. spending on healthcare rose to $3.2 trillion in 2015, an increase of 5.5 percent from the year before, the Obama administration announced in a report Wednesday.

The spending growth is an increase from recent years like 2013, when health spending growth achieved record lows of around 4 percent. Still, the growth is lower than recent historical averages before the recession.

One question that is still being debated is how much ObamaCare has contributed to a slowdown in the growth of health spending. The health law set in motion a range of programs aiming to change how healthcare is paid for, toward rewarding quality over simply the number of services provided. Read more here. http://bit.ly/29FnIhh

ON TAP TOMORROW

The House Appropriations Committee kicks off the second day (!) of marking up its Labor-HHS spending bill.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a markup of multiple bills, including the Strengthening Public Health Emergency Response Act.

WHAT WE'RE READING

CMS chief Andy Slavitt told senators Wednesday he would be open to delaying the landmark Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act beyond Jan. 1, 2017. (Healthcare IT News)

Scientists have found a second U.S. patient with an antibiotic-resistant superbug infection. (CNN)

Black doctors call on CDC to break nearly two decades of silence on gun violence. (CNN)

IN THE STATES

More than 40 governors have agreed to sign a pact that vows they will take steps to halt the nation's scourge of opioid deaths, modeled after policy measures already implemented in Massachusetts. (WBUR)

Illinois braces for nearly 50,000 people to lose healthcare coverage as it begins to shut down the state Obamacare insurer. (Chicago Tribune)

Looking to control health costs, a state-hired firm in Connecticut is calling for the largest reorganization and consolidation of health-related state agencies in two decades. (CT Mirror)

The overdose deaths reported in Pennsylvania soared by 23 percent over the last year. (The Morning Call)

ICYMI FROM THE HILL

Gilead avoided almost $10 billion in U.S. taxes by shifting profits to offshore tax havens, according to a new report. http://bit.ly/29FcYiD

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSchumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters MORE (D-Nev.) is accusing Republicans of putting their support for Trump above working out a deal on Zika funding. http://bit.ly/29z7rrd

Long-time health lawyers are casting doubt on insurers' ObamaCare lawsuits. http://bit.ly/29wlFxr

CMS chief Andy Slavitt got an earful from senators who want him to move quicker to offer relief from MACRA. http://bit.ly/29IoHhL

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