Overnight Healthcare: Calls for stiffer ObamaCare penalties | GOP seizes on premium spike | Another delay for cures bill?

Overnight Healthcare: Calls for stiffer ObamaCare penalties | GOP seizes on premium spike | Another delay for cures bill?

The panic over ObamaCare premiums is putting new focus on the individual mandate and how much people should pay when they don't obey it.

Under current law, the penalty for being uninsured is 2.5 percent of a person's taxable income or $695 -- whichever is greater.

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Jonathan Gruber, a key ObamaCare adviser, declared Wednesday that he thinks that penalty needs to be greater. In an interview with CNN, Gruber pointed directly to the penalties when asked what part of the law he would change if he could go back.

"I think probably the most important thing experts would agree is we need a larger mandate penalty," Gruber said. "That's something I think, ideally, we would fix," he added.

The MIT economist is giving voice to a growing number of ObamaCare observers who say a more onerous penalty would help alleviate some of the law's struggles with attracting enough enrollees.

But not everyone who helped shape ObamaCare agrees – including John McDonough, who was senior adviser to the Democrats writing the law in 2010.

"I think that's baloney," McDonough said in an interview Wednesday. He said the healthcare law's current struggles have prompted people to start "screaming" about the individual mandate, but says attention should instead focus on Republicans refusing to address the broader issues that are making premiums pricier. He specifically mentioned cost-sharing subsidies, which help people with out-of-pocket costs.

On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has talked only about a bigger "carrot" – not "stick." She has called for larger tax credits to help people pay their premiums as well as a new program to cover more out-of-pocket costs.  

But Gruber, as well as other Democratic health policy experts, say the penalty would also need to rise. The amount is now capped at the yearly cost that someone would pay for ObamaCare's bronze plan, the minimum coverage under the law. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2dLyUHH

Republicans feeling pressure to run on ObamaCare

The 25-percent spike in ObamaCare premiums announced this week could deliver a boost to Republicans ahead of Election Day – if they decide to talk about it.

GOP candidates have mostly avoided the topic of healthcare on the campaign trail, but that is expected to change in the wake of the latest series of painful headlines about ObamaCare this week.

With nearly every state facing double-digit premium hikes or insurer exits -- or both -- GOP strategists say healthcare-focused attacks against Democrats are now a must.

"If you're a Republican candidate, it would be malpractice not to talk about it, highlight it or advertise on it," said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.

While public opposition to the healthcare law remains strong, GOP lawmakers running for election this year have largely focused on local issues, in part to create distance from their controversial presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Trump himself has struggled to talk about the law, even as it faces one of its weakest points yet.   

As Trump tried to highlight this week's bad news for ObamaCare, he stumbled as he talked about his own employees' treatment under the law.

Speaking at one of his resorts on Monday, Trump said "all" of the employees there were struggling under the law, implying that they were directly enrolled in the exchanges. But the general manager of that resort later clarified that "95 percent" of the workers had health insurance through their jobs, which means they would not be enrolled under the law at all. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2dJw1wd   

Calls to delay cures bill

A coalition of liberal groups is calling for a medical cures bill to be delayed until next year so that solutions for high drug prices can be added into it, a major obstacle for a bill that leadership hoped to pass in the lame-duck session after the election.

Thirteen groups, including the Center for American Progress, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers, wrote to Democratic leaders in both chambers on Wednesday calling on them to delay the 21st Century Cures Act until next year.

The measure is aimed at speeding up the Food and Drug Administration's approval of new drugs and investing new funds in medical research. But the liberal groups argue the measure would be benefiting the drug industry while doing nothing to address uproar over high drug prices -- for example, the recent outrage over price spikes on EpiPens. 

"Moving forward with this legislation now would be a missed opportunity to address unaffordable prescription drug prices," the letter states. "There is no justification for moving forward with legislation that provides substantial benefits to the drug industry without asking for something in return."

The groups call for the measure to be dealt with next year, when drug prices could also be addressed as part of it. 

The coalition's position could be a roadblock for lawmakers who had hoped to pass the legislation in the lame-duck session after the election this year. http://bit.ly/2ewG5rx

The Hill's top lobbyists of 2016 is here

This year's crop of K Street influencers includes many from AHIP, AHA, AMA, BIO, PhRMA, Pfizer and more.  

Check out the leaders among the hired guns: http://bit.ly/2dXPhUR and those on top in the corporate world: http://bit.ly/2ewqnwm.  

 

ON TAP TOMORROW

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) continues its national conference on Medicare and Medicaid.

WHAT WE'RE READING

The individual mandate penalty has not worked as well as the drafters of ObamaCare had hoped, and is partly responsible for the soaring premiums in some states next year. (New York Times)

An epinephrine product rivaling the EpiPen will return to the U.S. market in 2017 amid national furor over pricing. (Reuters)

Cigarettes are linked to one-quarter of U.S. cancer deaths, and a full 40 percent in men, according to a new study by the American Cancer Society. (Associated Press)  

U.S. health researchers are teaming up with several nonprofits to test whether infecting mosquitoes with a type of bacteria can prevent them from spreading the Zika virus in several Latin American countries. (Associated Press)

IN THE STATES

Health officials in Maine announced a new rule Tuesday to ban food stamps for major lottery and gambling winners. (WMUR)

Iowa is collecting little data about some of Gov. Terry Branstad's most-touted benefits under the state's new Medicaid program, such as waived gym membership fees, prenatal services and free cellphones.  (KCCI Des Moines)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is cracking down on narcotic painkiller prescriptions under the state's Medicaid program amid a national overdose epidemic. (Arizona Republic)

ICYMI FROM THE HILL DOT COM

Trump said Obama was 'looking like a hero' at the time ObamaCare passed http://bit.ly/2dJwONw

Clinton promises to 'tackle' rising ObamaCare premiums http://bit.ly/2dXRH6f  

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