Overnight Healthcare: Watchdog says ObamaCare program made illegal payments

A nonpartisan government watchdog said on Thursday that the Obama administration is violating the law by directing funds in an ObamaCare program to insurers instead of to the U.S. Treasury.

Republicans, who had argued that the payments were illegal, hailed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) opinion.

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At issue is ObamaCare's so-called reinsurance program, which is designed to stabilize the market and protect against premium hikes in the early years of the healthcare law. Under the program, the government collects money from insurers and then gives it to plans with high-cost enrollees.

The reinsurance program was designed to collect $10 billion in 2014, its first year of existence, and another $2 billion that would be deposited into the Treasury. But the program didn't bring in nearly enough money to cover those amounts. So the administration, through regulations in 2014, prioritized giving money to insurers. None of the money was given to Treasury for the first year.

The GAO ruled on Thursday that this move violated the text of the law.

"This prioritization of collections for payments to issuers over payments to the Treasury is not authorized," the agency said. Read more here. http://bit.ly/2dhymf1

Cures and mental health bills coming in lame duck

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday that a medical cures bill will be a "top priority" in the lame-duck session after the election.  

"We've got about three weeks back here after the election," McConnell said at a press conference. "My own personal priorities are funding the government and the 21st Century Cures bill, which I think could end up being the most significant piece of legislation we pass in the whole Congress."

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGaetz tells CPAC he won't take PAC money Paul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? MORE (R-Wis.) also mentioned the Cures bill on Thursday as a priority for the lame duck session, in addition to mental health legislation, a version of which has passed the House but is waiting for action in the Senate. Read more here. http://bit.ly/2dDk5bL

Campaign drama over opioids

One of the GOP's best hopes for keeping the Senate is incumbent Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way GOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law MORE from Ohio – a vocal advocate calling for more resources to fight opioid abuse this year.

But one of Portman's Senate colleagues – Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Schiff presses top intel official to declassify part of report on Khashoggi killing Top Trump advisers discuss GOP need to act on health care at retreat with senators MORE (D-Ore.) – has accused him of doing so for political purposes, and convinced their boss Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock MORE to side with him on at least one issue.

Earlier this month, Portman requested authority to hold a Finance Committee field hearing in Ohio on the state's opioid crisis. Wyden raised concerns that Portman had scheduled the hearing for political purposes and convinced Hatch to withhold permission. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2dxXelL

How Congress averted a shutdown

As the marathon to fund the government this year turned into a sprint on Tuesday, a bipartisan deal to get funding for Flint, Michigan proved crucial to getting it done.

At 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Pelosi gathered her entire Democratic leadership team in her office after a day of talks with the GOP leadership office; she also invited two-term Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), whose district includes Flint.

Pelosi dispatched Kildee to Ryan's office, where for several hours he, Ryan and leadership staffers negotiated the wording of the amendment. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) phoned freshman Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) and urged him to team up with Kildee. To further pressure Ryan, Pelosi also reached out to McConnell, who agreed to talk to the Speaker about taking concrete action on the floor this week, aides said.

The final product was a bipartisan amendment, authored by Kildee and Moolenaar, that authorized $170 million for Flint – just short of the $220 million that was previously agreed to by the Senate. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2ddnakT

Obama to talk up ObamaCare next week

The President will travel to Tampa on Oct. 5 to tout his healthcare law. Read about it in the Tampa Bay Times here. http://bit.ly/2dhCZ90

 

ON TAP TOMORROW:

Comment period closes for HHS's proposed guidelines on women's preventive services.

WHAT WE'RE READING

CMS issued a rule Wednesday barring any nursing home that receives federal funding from requiring that its residents resolve any disputes in arbitration, instead of court. (New York Times)

CDC officials said they're worried that the agency's recommendation earlier this year to avoid using a nasal spray version of the annual flu vaccine will result in fewer people getting protection. (Washington Post)

AHIP leader says Medicaid expansion will drive affordability. (Bloomberg BNA)

Clinton and Trump have vastly different plans to tackle opioid abuse. (Mother Jones)

IN THE STATES

Denver announced Thursday that opioid-dependent detainees at a local jail will have the option to seek treatment. (ABC 7)

Wait times improving for Zika test results from Florida labs, physician says. (Miami Herald)

Utah man may have contracted Zika through father's tears in unique case. (Fox News)

ICYMI FROM THE HILL DOT COM

HHS chief: EpiPen cost surge shows need for negotiating power http://bit.ly/2dv5umE

Obama signs stopgap funding bill http://bit.ly/2cZvrWs

Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP http://bit.ly/2domYPY

 

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