Overnight Health Care: Senate Dems block 20-week abortion ban | Azar sworn in as HHS chief | Dems demand answers on family planning funds | GOP takes sting out of ObamaCare

Overnight Health Care: Senate Dems block 20-week abortion ban | Azar sworn in as HHS chief | Dems demand answers on family planning funds | GOP takes sting out of ObamaCare
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Democrats blocked a bill on Monday that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, a blow to anti-abortion groups that considered its passage a top priority for Congress in 2018.

The bill, authored by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week Press: Judge Kavanaugh must withdraw Kavanaugh: 'I will not be intimidated into withdrawing' MORE (R-S.C.), was unable to get the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster and proceed to a vote, meaning the bill is effectively dead in the upper chamber.

Graham's bill had little chance of passing the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority. It sailed through the House on a party-line vote, 237-189, in October.

Most Democrats voted against the bill Monday, except for Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThis week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos Doug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh MORE (Ind.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThis week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos GOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions Doug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh MORE (W.Va.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyMalnutrition Awareness Week spotlights the importance of national nutrition programs Poll: Democrats hold big leads in Pennsylvania Senate, governor races The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify MORE (Pa.), all who are facing tough reelection bids in November.

The legislation would make it illegal for any person to perform or attempt an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with the possible penalty of five years in prison, fines or both. A woman seeking an abortion would not be penalized.

About 20 states already have similar bans. Republicans and anti-abortion activists argue the bill is necessary because advances in science and medicine make it possible for babies born prematurely to survive earlier than in previous years.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE, speaking at the March for Life earlier this month, had urged the Senate to pass the bill, telling the "pro-life" movement "we are with you all the way."

Read more here.


GOP goes on offense with 20-week abortion vote

Anti-abortion activists celebrated when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks would be brought to the floor for a vote, even though they knew it was unlikely to pass.  

Activists think the 20-week abortion ban is a potent election issue for 2018, particularly against Democrats hailing from red-leaning states who are expected to vote against the bill.

"There will be consequences for senators in vulnerable Senate seats in 2018 when the grass roots lets itself be heard at the ballot box," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group in Washington.

Read more about the politics here.


Azar takes over at HHS

President Trump said prescription drug prices will come "rocketing down" under the leadership of Alex Azar, who was sworn in on Monday as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have to get the prices of prescription drugs way down and unravel the tangled web of special interest that are driving prices up for medicine and for really hurting patients," Trump said at a ceremony honoring Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and HHS official.

Azar replaces former HHS Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE, who resigned in September after coming under fire for traveling on chartered and military aircraft.

"As our new secretary, Alex will continue to implement the administrative and regulatory changes needed to ensure that our citizens get the affordable high quality care that they deserve," Trump said at the White House.

Azar will also be charged with curbing the opioid crisis, Trump added.

"I think we're going to be very tough on the drug companies in that regard and very tough on doctors in that regard," he said.

Read more here.


Dems demand answers on family planning funds

Top Democrats on the House's Energy & Commerce committee are demanding the Trump administration explain why it's running months behind in a process to fund organizations that supply reproductive health services to low-income women.

There are about 60 days before Title X family planning grants expire for some recipients, and in the past, they've typically been given 60 to 90 days to apply for more funding. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also needs time to review and approve applications.

As of Monday, the administration still hasn't released a funding announcement that would detail requirements for receiving the funding.

The delays come as the administration is expected to make significant changes to the program to align with its stances on abortion and birth control.

Read more here.


Diabetes research at risk due to funding lapse, groups warn

Several groups are pleading with Congress to permanently fund diabetes programs, arguing the absence of long-term funding could delay promising new research and harm prevention efforts in vulnerable populations.   

So far, lawmakers have provided a funding patch for the two diabetes programs that will last through March 31. But these short-term fixes come at a cost because they "do not provide the sustained ability for these programs to keep moving forward," said Meghan Riley of the American Diabetes Association.

"We're relentlessly working to get Congress to come up with a viable strategy to move it forward and finalize it," added Riley, who is the association's vice president of federal government affairs.

At issue are two diabetes programs that have received scant attention as lawmakers work to reauthorize other key health-care programs they let expire last year.

Read more here.


Congress takes the sting out of ObamaCare

Congress is steadily taking the sting out of ObamaCare, removing the most unpopular parts of the law while leaving the most popular elements in place.

Lawmakers in the last two months have repealed the law's insurance mandate and delayed a slew of controversial taxes, including the Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans, which is reviled by unions and businesses alike.

But other central provisions of the law, including subsidies to help people buy coverage, the expansion of Medicaid and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, remain in place. And those parts appear likely to stick around for the foreseeable future, given that the GOP repeal push is on hold indefinitely.

Former staffers who helped write the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are optimistic that the law can still function without the mandate and the taxes, even if they would have preferred for those policies to stay in place.

Some argued the removal of some of the most unpopular parts of the law actually strengthens the political standing of ObamaCare, making it harder to repeal.

"The ACA is like an overachieving child with parents who got divorced that's still on track to go to a good college," said Bob Kocher, a former Obama White House health-care staffer who helped write the ACA.

Read more here.


Poll: Majority want Trump to focus on health care in State of the Union

Most voters think President Trump's first State of the Union address should focus on improving the health-care system, according to a new Morning Consult–Politico poll.

According to the poll, 82 percent of voters say it's important for Trump to address improving the health-care system in the speech, followed closely by the 81 percent who said it's important for him to talk about the economy and creating jobs.

Read more here.


Pro-ObamaCare groups launch new ads ahead of State of the Union

Ahead of President Trump's State of the Union, a pro-ObamaCare group is launching a months-long, six-figure television ad buy that slams last year's Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare, saying the bills would have lead to higher premiums and millions more without health insurance.

The ads from Save My Care seek to "strengthen the Congressional firewall against repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing Medicaid and sabotaging the health care system," Leslie Dach, Save My Care campaign chairman, said in a press release.

The 30-second ad begins with Trump saying his administration is "probably in that position where we'll just let ObamaCare fail" and ends with the words: "Enough is enough. Stop the Republican war on health care."

Read more here.


What we're reading

Strong sign-ups under ObamaCare encourage Democrats (Associated Press)

Koch network moving on from ACA repeal (Axios)

How Trump may end up expanding Medicaid, whether he means to or not (Washington Post)


State by state

In Utah, an unlikely crusader fights the generic-drug industry (STAT)

Medicaid transport program faces cuts in some states (Kaiser Health News)

Idaho 'pushing envelope' with health insurance plan: how far can it go? (Kaiser Health News)


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