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Overnight Health Care: Initial Senate tax bill doesn't repeal ObamaCare mandate | 600K sign up for ObamaCare in first four days | Feds crack down on opioid trafficking

Overnight Health Care: Initial Senate tax bill doesn't repeal ObamaCare mandate | 600K sign up for ObamaCare in first four days | Feds crack down on opioid trafficking

The tax-reform bill that Senate Republicans are releasing Thursday does not repeal ObamaCare's individual insurance mandate, though the provision could be added down the line, GOP senators said. 

Senators leaving a briefing about the legislation said repealing the mandate is not in the initial text of the legislation, but cautioned that the issue is still under discussion. 

"There's been a lot of discussion on that and we're looking at it very seriously," Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenTrump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate 74 protesters charged at Capitol in protest of Kavanaugh MORE (R-N.D.) said, adding that the issue was discussed at Thursday's meeting.

Hoeven said he personally supports repeal of the mandate.

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An updated House tax-reform bill unveiled Thursday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Some ObamaCare premiums to decrease next year | Sanders hits back at Trump over 'Medicare for all' | Panel to investigate rising maternal mortality rates House committee to investigate rising maternal mortality rates How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch MORE (R-Texas) also does not repeal the mandate.

Senate Republican leaders have been doing a whip count on repealing the ObamaCare penalty to see where support stands. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said lawmakers are taking a "hard look" at the issue.

Proponents of nixing the mandate say it is a way to save money that could help pay for tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says mandate repeal would save $338 billion over 10 years.

But moderates like Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: Palin unpopular in Alaska following jab at Murkowski Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Ex-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party MORE (R-Alaska) have expressed reluctance to repeal the mandate. Introducing the volatile issue of health care into the tax debate could made it harder to pass the bill.

Read more here.

 

Senate keeps medical expenses deduction in break with House

The Senate GOP tax bill will retain a key deduction for qualified medical expenses that was excluded from the House version, according to a Republican senator on the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTrump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Dem ad accuses Heller of 'lying' about record on pre-existing conditions GOP senator suggests criminal referral for third Kavanaugh accuser's 'apparently false affidavit' MORE (R-La.) told reporters that the deduction will remain in the initial version of legislation the Senate is set to unveil today.

"I think there's always a sense that it's a good thing to continue," Cassidy said.

Under current law, the IRS allows individuals to deduct qualified medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of a person's adjusted gross income for the year.

The House bill would have repealed that deduction effective in 2018.

Read more here.

 

About 600,000 sign up for ObamaCare in first four days 

About 600,000 people signed up for ObamaCare plans in the first four days of enrollment, the Trump administration announced Thursday.

Sign-ups are running at a faster pace than at this time last year. In fact, about twice as many people signed up on the first day, Nov. 1, this year compared to last year. 

There were about 150,000 sign-ups per day on average for the first four days this year, compared to 84,000 sign-ups per day for the first 12 days last year. There is no data for just the first four days of last year.

Still, the results have energized Democrats, who have been worried about low enrollment due to Trump administration cutbacks in outreach.

Read more here.

 

Feds move to crack down on opioid trafficking 

The Trump administration is taking steps to make it easier to prosecute traffickers of potent synthetic opioids that have lead to an uptick in overdose deaths.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intends to temporarily schedule all fentanyl-related substances on an emergency basis, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

That classification will let prosecutors charge people trafficking substances similar to fentanyl with the same charges as fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

"Fentanyl -- and its analogues -- are a growing part of a growing problem in the United States," a DEA official said in a call with reporters, adding that the department is seeing "new fentanyl-related substances crop up at alarming rates."

At issue are overseas chemical manufacturers who try to alter the chemical structure of fentanyl sent to the United States to evade the Controlled Substances Act. This also makes it harder for prosecutors to convict drug traffickers.

Read more here.

 

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What we're reading

Trump punted to Congress on opioids funding. Congress has no plan. (Stat)

Democrats, GOP spar over who is to blame for rising health-insurance premiums (The Wall Street Journal)

Gene therapy creates new skin to save a dying child (The New York Times)

 

State by state 

Planned Parenthood advocates take aim at NC ultrasound law (Citizen Times)

Trial wraps up on Texas abortion procedures (chron.com)

Health care for 200,000 Ohio children waits for funding, caught in political web (cleveland.com)