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 PriceCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Chris Christie Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet Tom Price: Here's how we can obtain more affordable care 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 PaulGOP lawmakers push amendment to rescind authority for troops in Afghanistan House GOP lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 Top White House aide shares cartoon mocking Fauci 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 CollinsSara Gideon wins Democratic race to challenge Susan Collins The Hill's Campaign Report: Key races take shape in Alabama, Texas, Maine Illinois House Republican leader won't attend GOP convention in Florida: 'It's not going to be a safe environment' 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 McConnellSara Gideon wins Democratic race to challenge Susan Collins Schumer pushes for elimination of SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus relief bill Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Ky.) that the deal crafted by Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderIllinois House Republican leader won't attend GOP convention in Florida: 'It's not going to be a safe environment' Conservative group launches ad campaign for Rep. Roger Marshall in Kansas Senate race Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayLong waits for test results spark new COVID-19 fears Overnight Health Care: White House goes public with attacks on Fauci | Newsom orders California to shut down indoor activities, all bar operations | Federal judges block abortion ban laws in Tennessee, Georgia Senate Democrats call for B for vaccine production, distribution in next package 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 MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - California a coronavirus cautionary tale as it retrenches to stave off infections The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Signs of a Trump, Fauci rift on display Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios 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 SessionsSessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Trump takes victory lap after Tuberville defeats Sessions Jeff Sessions loses comeback bid in Alabama runoff 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. RenacciOhio is suddenly a 2020 battleground Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Medicare for All won't deliver what Democrats promise 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)