Overnight Health Care: Teen pregnancy program to focus on abstinence | Insurers warn against short-term health plan proposal | Trump VA pick faces tough sell

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Health Care. Lawmakers will markup two opioid packages this week, and the confirmation hearing for Trump's Veterans Affairs pick promises to be rocky.


But first:

If you cut out of work early for the weekend, you missed this: the Trump administration announced an abstinence-focused overhaul of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, an initiative created by former President Obama that funded projects and organizations working to cut teen pregnancy rates.

But while the Obama administration focused on comprehensive sex education, which can include a focus on contraception and abstinence, the Trump administration will gear millions in federal funds to organizations that teach teens how to avoid or delay sexual activity. From the funding announcement released late Friday:


"Projects will clearly communicate that teen sex is a risk behavior for both the physical consequences of pregnancy and sexual transmitted infections; as well as sociological, economic and other related risks. Both risk avoidance and risk reduction approaches can and should include skills associated with helping youth delay sex as well as skills to help those youth already engaged in sexual risk to return toward risk-free choices in the future."

Why it matters: It's part of a broad attempt on the part of the Trump administration to inject abstinence back into federal programing. With Valerie Huber, a former abstinence education advocate, in a senior role at HHS, more changes are likely to come.

Read more here.


Happening this week:

It's a busy week on the hill for opioids. 

  • Tuesday: The Senate Health Committee will mark up the bipartisan bill the panel's leaders introduced, called the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. Details here.
  • Wednesday afternoon: The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will mark up a slew of opioid bills from a variety of the panel's members. Lawmakers considered over 60 bills in three legislative hearings, and a GOP committee spokesperson told The Hill last week that the vast majority would be included in the mark up.


Trump's White House doctor is working hard to convince senators he's qualified to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ronny Jackson goes before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday afternoon for a confirmation hearing. Past secretaries have typically won bipartisan support in confirmation votes, but it's not clear that will happen this time.

Jackson has been meeting privately with senators from both parties in the past week, but senators are worried that he doesn't have the experience necessary to run the agency. The VA is the second-largest bureaucracy in the federal government; it has a $180 billion annual budget, with a staff of more than 370,000 employees.


What senators on the committee from both parties are saying:  

Get the full rundown of what's ahead for Jackson here


If you're seeing a lot of complaints today about the Trump administration's short-term insurance proposal, it's because today is the deadline for public comment. The proposal would allow people to buy short-term health insurance for up to 12 months, lifting an Obama-era restriction that limited coverage to three months. Here's a quick wrap up:


Supporters argue the plans would fill a role in the market, serving consumers who don't have complex health needs and wish to buy cheaper insurance.

  • "These plans offer much-needed choice to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who continue to feel trapped between paying skyrocketing costs and dropping health insurance coverage altogether." -- Nathan Nascimento, executive vice president of Freedom Partners.


An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation of 24 short-term plans marketed in 45 different states found:

  • 43 percent do not cover mental health services
  • 62 percent don't cover substance abuse treatment
  • 71 percent don't cover outpatient prescription drugs
  • None cover maternity care.
  • However, the plans are about 20 percent cheaper than the lowest cost ObamaCare plan in each location.


If you were looking forward to hearing Trump's drug pricing speech, you'll have to wait. The speech, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed, the White House announced. The White House has been hedging on the final date ever since they confirmed it was happening, and the rescheduled date is now TBA.


Speaking of drug prices, pharma spent big on lobbying in the first quarter of 2018, disclosure documents show. Highlights:

  • As we noted Friday, PhRMA spent $10 million in Q1, topping its own record for the most spent on lobbying in a single quarter.
  • Pfizer spent $4.7 million on lobbying in the first three months of this year, an increase of about $1 million compared to the same time last year, and an increase of nearly $3 million compared to the last quarter of 2017.
  • Merck spent $3 million on lobbying, an increase of $1.6 million over last year's first quarter, and an increase of $2.5 million compared to Q4 of 2017.


Alex Azar update: The HHS secretary has been resting at home after being hospitalized twice in less than a week for a bout of diverticulitis, an intestinal infection. HHS said he continues to be in touch with senior administration officials, and is expected back in D.C. later this week. He's been forced to reschedule several events because of his illness.


ObamaCare call center contractor accused of wage theft

The people answering phone calls from confused ObamaCare customers are not getting paid properly, according to a complaint filed with the Department of Labor.

The Communications Workers of America say the company, General Dynamics Information Technology, is misclassifying workers into a lower pay category.

"These complaints provide further evidence that thousands of workers at a majority of GDIT call centers across the nation are systemically underpaid," CWA President Chris Shelton said in a statement.

Read more here.


New CDC chief makes double predecessor's salary: report

According to an Associated Press report, Robert Redfield Jr. is being paid $375,000 a year to run the CDC. Redfield's predecessor Brenda FitzgeraldBrenda FitzgeraldThe hollowing out of the CDC Overnight Health Care: Drug company under scrutiny for Michael Cohen payments | New Ebola outbreak | FDA addresses EpiPen shortage CDC director to take pay cut of more than 5k MORE made $197,300 annually.

Redfield's salary also eclipses his boss's, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar's, earnings. Azar's salary is set by law, but Redfield is being paid under a program called Title 42 -- a program that was created to draw in health scientists with rare and critical skills to government work.

Read more here.


What we're reading

Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyJust five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional Senate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback Press: The case against Citizen Trump MORE calls for ObamaCare repeal at Utah convention (Washington Examiner)

Work requirements give Republicans cover to expand Medicaid (U.S. News and World Report)

Centene and Humana have a good prognosis now that Amazon is backing out of health care (Forbes)


State by state

Planned Parenthood sues Indiana over new abortion rules (Associated Press)

$5 billion Iowa Medicaid negotiations were supposed to be done by now, but they haven't started (Des Moines Register)


From The Hill's opinion pages:

AARP, AHA: Let's talk about drug costs