Overnight Health Care: Conservative groups push for 2018 ObamaCare repeal | Credit rater predicts stable year for ObamaCare markets | Price of new therapy for blindness set at $850K

Overnight Health Care: Conservative groups push for 2018 ObamaCare repeal | Credit rater predicts stable year for ObamaCare markets | Price of new therapy for blindness set at $850K
© Hill Photo Illustration/Garrett Evans

Conservative groups are pushing President Trump to make ObamaCare repeal a priority in 2018, even as some Republicans signal a desire to move on from the issue.

letter to Trump signed by 43 right-leaning groups calls for health-care reform to be the focus of the fast-track process known as reconciliation this year. Using that process would allow Republicans to repeal ObamaCare in the Senate without Democratic votes, but it would also preclude them from using the tool for other priorities like welfare reform.

"Now that tax reform legislation is signed into law, it is time to deliver on the rest of the promises made to the American people to free them from the shackles of ObamaCare," states the letter, which was led by Independent Women's Voice.


Other groups on the letter included Heritage Action, Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform and Susan B. Anthony List.

Republicans already failed to repeal ObamaCare after a months-long struggle in 2017, and nothing significant has changed since then that would now make the path easier. In fact, the obstacles appear even greater now that Democrat Doug Jones has been elected to the Senate from Alabama, cutting the GOP majority to a single seat, 51-49.

Asked about ObamaCare repeal last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told NPR, "we'll probably move on to other issues."

Conservative groups don't want to move on, however, and are appealing to Trump for help persuading GOP leaders.

Read more here.


White House: Trump hasn't shifted on not cutting entitlements

President Trump has not changed his position on protecting entitlement programs from funding cuts, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

After last month's GOP victory on tax reform, many Republicans are calling for changes to the social safety net as a way to cut government spending. But, asked about Trump's repeated campaign pledge to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Huckabee Sanders said he doesn't support cuts to the programs.

"The president hasn't changed his position at this point," she said at a White House briefing, adding that conversations with lawmakers are ongoing.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has set his sights on entitlement reform for 2018. 

"We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," he said in an interview last month. 

Medicare and Medicaid "are the big drivers of debt," Ryan said, "so we spend more time on the health-care entitlements, because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking."

Ryan has claimed Trump is beginning to warm to the idea of slowing the spending growth in entitlements. 

Read more here.


Credit rater predicts stable year for ObamaCare markets

The ObamaCare insurance markets will be relatively stable through 2018, analysts are predicting.

Insurers have adapted to the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration's handling of the law, A.M. Best, a global credit rating organization, wrote in a briefing released Wednesday. It said insurers should have a stable 2018.

The analysts had previously predicted a negative outlook for insurers in 2018.

Insurers benefited from high rate increases, limited competition and narrow provider networks in 2016 and 2017, the analysts note, as well as a stabilizing exchange population between sick and healthy customers.

The analysts said while issues could arise if Republicans try to repeal and replace ObamaCare again, they believe Congress will focus on other issues this year.

"Negative factors continue to impact the industry, but A.M. Best believes that insurers overall have been able to adapt and as a result, does not expect any significant deterioration in market conditions over the next year," the analysts wrote in their briefing. 

Read more here.


Price of new genetic therapy for blindness set at $850K

A breakthrough genetic therapy for a rare form of blindness will cost $850,000 per patient, its maker announced on Wednesday.

Luxturna's price is less than what many analysts and outside investors expected, and commercially insured patients likely won't have to pay for the treatment.

Still, the price tag is higher than any other such treatments on the market.

Spark Therapeutics, its maker, said that Luxturna is priced fairly, noting it is a one-time treatment and that treatments for rare diseases are usually expensive because of small patient populations. The company is also offering new ways for patients and insurers to pay for the drug.

Read more here.


Confirmation hearing for Trump's health secretary pick scheduled for next week

President Trump's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will face his confirmation hearing next week, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced Tuesday.

Alex Azar, a former HHS official and pharmaceutical executive, will go before the Finance Committee 10 a.m. Jan. 9.

"Mr. Azar has demonstrated that he has what it takes to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and that he will tackle the challenges facing the American healthcare system head-on," Hatch said in a statement.

Read more here.


What we're reading

Care suffers as more nursing homes feed money Into corporate webs (The New York Times)

Drugmakers raise 2018 U.S. prices, stick to self-imposed limits (Reuters)

Lawyers seek to ease doctor's sentence for Medicare fraud (Associated Press)

Hatch's retirement means the Senate could get even less bipartisan on health care (The Washington Post)


State by state

If Virginia history stands, 2018 could be the year Democrats expand Medicaid (The Virginian-Pilot)

Delaware Medicaid program to cover obesity treatment visits in 2019 (The News Journal)

Mental health and substance-use disorders are growing problems in Colorado. Pairing police with mental health professionals could help. (The Denver Post)