Overnight Health Care: Five takeaways from Trump health pick's hearing | DOJ takes new steps to fight opioid epidemic | ObamaCare enrollment slows

Overnight Health Care: Five takeaways from Trump health pick's hearing | DOJ takes new steps to fight opioid epidemic | ObamaCare enrollment slows
© Camille Fine

Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department took his first step forward Wednesday at a relatively quiet confirmation hearing by the Senate Health Committee.

If confirmed, the former HHS general counsel and deputy secretary would replace former Rep. Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceIndustrial food system is at the heart of biodiversity degradation and climate change Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight poses risks to both Trump, Dems MORE (R-Ga.), who resigned after reports that he'd repeatedly used private jets to fly around the country at taxpayer expense.

Here are five takeaways from the hearing:

Azar is almost certain to be confirmed.
Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump's sanctions MORE may be the only GOP vote in play.
Democrats are focused on Azar's pharmaceutical background.
Azar says administration isn't sabotaging ObamaCare.
Azar supports rolling back birth control requirements

Click here for more on each.


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Collins gets promise to pass ObamaCare funding this year

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE (R-Maine) said Wednesday that she has received a commitment from Senate GOP leadership to include ObamaCare funding in a must-pass bill.

Collins said she got a promise from Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatient advocates launch drug pricing ad campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House MORE (R-Ky.) that the deal crafted by Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP braces for impeachment brawl McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows GOP senator: 'Inappropriate' to discuss opponents, but impeachment a 'mistake' MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Biz groups say Warren labor plan would be disaster Freedom of the press under fire in Colorado MORE (D-Wash.) would be included in legislation this year.

"I do from the majority leader, and so we're working out the details of that," Collins told reporters after a closed-door caucus lunch when asked if she had a deal to pass Alexander-Murray.

Leaders made the offer to Collins in hopes of securing her vote on a massive tax reform package.

Read more here.


But Freedom Caucus chair opposes the ObamaCare funding

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats eye Pompeo testimony Ex-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony GOP seeks to gain more control of impeachment narrative MORE (R-N.C.) said Wednesday that he opposes ObamaCare funding known as "reinsurance" that was part of a commitment given to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to help gain her vote for tax reform.

"That's a totally different thing because that actually puts more money into a failing system where the money will not actually lower premiums and reduce costs in a substantial way," Meadows told The Hill. "I think that's a bigger problem."

Read more here.


Justice Department announces new steps to combat opioid epidemic

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE announced Wednesday that the Justice Department will award $12 million in grants to help law enforcement agencies combat the opioid crisis and create a new office in the Appalachian region to crack down on illicit drug trafficking.

Sessions is also ordering all U.S. attorneys' offices to designate an opioid coordinator to work with prosecutors and other federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officials to coordinate opioid prosecutions.

"Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes," Sessions said at a press conference. "We need to use every lawful tool we have -- and we will."

The $12 million in grant funding will assistant law enforcement in combating illegal manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine, heroin and prescription opioids.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will also establish a new division on Jan. 1 to focus on illicit drug trafficking in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. The division, based in Louisville, Ky., will have 90 special agents and 130 task force officers.

Read more here.


More on opioids: GOP bill would limit prescriptions for first-time users

Two Republican lawmakers are proposing to restrict the prescriptions of opioids for first-time users, calling it a necessary step to combat abuse.

A new bill introduced Wednesday by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciDemocrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Medicare for All won't deliver what Democrats promise GOP rep: If Mueller had found collusion, 'investigation would have wrapped up very quickly' MORE (R-Ohio) would limit a patient's first opioid prescription for acute pain to seven days, except in cases of traumatic injury, chronic conditions, cancer care, end-of-life care, palliative care, or based on a physician's recommendation.

"This is a bill that we believe will go a long way in helping our nation get on the road to recovery from the opioid devastation by placing common-sense parameters around prescription medication," the lawmakers wrote in an op-ed for Fox News.

Read more here.


CBO: ObamaCare fix would not make up for mandate repeal

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that a bipartisan ObamaCare fix would not do much to make up for the premium increases or coverage losses from repealing the health-care law's individual mandate.

In a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Wednesday, CBO Director Keith Hall wrote that the estimate of premiums rising 10 percent and 13 million fewer people with coverage over 10 years would remain roughly the same even if the bipartisan fix from Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) were added in.

Even with the bipartisan legislation "the effects on premiums and the number of people with health insurance coverage would be similar to those referenced above," Hall wrote, referring to the CBO's previous estimates on mandate repeal.

Read more here.


ObamaCare enrollment slows in fourth week

Nearly 2.8 million people signed up for ObamaCare plans during the first 25 days of open enrollment, but the rate of sign-ups has slowed, the Trump administration announced.

The fourth week resulted in just over 504,000 people selecting plans, compared with just under 800,000 people during the third week.

That number was also down from the 876,788 who signed up during week two, and the 601,462 who signed up during the first week of open enrollment.

Still, the total number of people signing up has exceeded the first 25 days of last year, when about 2.1 million people selected coverage.

Read more here.


From The Hill's opinion pages

Get ready to pay when one company dominates the eyeglass market by David Balto, an antitrust attorney based in Washington, D.C.


What we're reading

A hospital charged $1,877 to pierce a 5-year-old's ears. This is why health care costs so much. (ProPublica)

Former DEA officials call for repeal of law that weakened enforcement (The Washington Post)

'Value' is medicine's favorite buzzword. But whose definition are we using? (Stat)


State by state

Arizona makes contingency plan as KidsCare funds run out (Arizona Daily Sun)

Court tie means Louisiana Planned Parenthood keeps funding (Associated Press)

Brooklyn hospital violated state law on rape kits (The Wall Street Journal)