Overnight Health Care: Trump official slams 'Medicare for All' | House votes to delay ObamaCare health insurance tax | Senate panel advances bill banning drug 'gag clauses'

Overnight Health Care: Trump official slams 'Medicare for All' | House votes to delay ObamaCare health insurance tax | Senate panel advances bill banning drug 'gag clauses'
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Happy Wednesday, and welcome to Overnight Health Care.

It's been a busy health news day. The Senate health committee approved a bill that would ban "gag clauses" in contracts with pharmacies, while the Trump administration has restarted key ObamaCare payments.

But first:


CMS chief slams "Medicare for All"

The idea is gaining steam among Democrats, so it's not so surprising that a top Trump health official, thinks it's terrible. In a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said "Medicare for all" would really be "Medicare for none." Verma took pains to use the words "socialized health care" when describing the idea.

Her quotes: "By choosing a socialized system, you are giving the government complete control over the decisions pertaining to your care, or whether you receive care at all. It would be the furthest thing from patient-centric care."


The focus of Medicare should be on seniors and disabled individuals, and expanding the program to cover younger, healthier people will drain the program of funding and deprive seniors of the coverage they need, Verma said.

Context: "Medicare for all" has become increasingly popular among Democrats, and is now favored by many of the potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Still, the head of Medicare--a massive, government run health program-- saying government-run health would be bad for patients struck some critics as a bit hypocritical.

Read more on Verma's speech here.


House votes to delay ObamaCare health insurance tax

The House voted to delay ObamaCare's health insurance tax for two years, and expand Health Savings Accounts, but Democrats say it's just a political stunt.

What the bill does:

  • Suspend the health insurance tax for 2020 and 2021.
  • Expand Health Savings Accounts, a tax-free way for people to save for medical expenses.
  • Allow people over 30 to buy "catastrophic" ObamaCare plans with low premiums and high deductibles, which they are currently banned from buying.

What Republicans say: It's a way to lower premiums.

What Democrats say: The bill won't actually do anything much to lower premiums but is a good political message for the GOP.

"It's a political exercise, it's aimed to help people who are in a vulnerable political position," said Rep. Sander LevinSander (Sandy) Martin LevinFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Here are Kamala Harris's K Street connections Warren gets endorsements from 45 Michigan officeholders, activists MORE (D-Mich.).

Read more here.


The Senate Health Committee on Wednesday approved a bill banning "gag clauses." The clauses prevent pharmacists from telling customers when they can save money on prescriptions by paying with cash instead of insurance.

Such clauses are sometimes inserted into contracts pharmacies have with insurers or pharmacy benefit managers -- the middlemen that manage pharmacy benefits for insurance companies and employers.

The clauses prevent a pharmacist from telling a customer if, for example, their $20 co-pay is higher than the pharmacy's cash price for a drug. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: Minimum wage increase should be separate from COVID-19 relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel Moderates vow to 'be a force' under Biden MORE (R-Maine), would ban them.

What's next: It's not clear if the bill will get a Senate floor vote, and a similar bill in the House has not been heard in committee.

Why it matters: It's a small bill, but it's one of the few drug pricing bills that have advanced in the Senate this year. The Trump administration supports banning similar clauses in Part D contracts.

Read more here.


Risk adjustment is back - ICMYI late last night, the Trump administration said it will restart ObamaCare's risk adjustment program. In a statement, CMS said that "taking immediate action to allow for the continued operation of the risk adjustment program is imperative to maintain stability and predictability in the individual and small group health insurance markets."

The administration's surprise suspension of the risk adjustment payments earlier this month set off a round of warnings of rising premiums and condemnation from Democrats who said it was further GOP "sabotage" of the health-care law.

This final rule makes no changes to the program, and essentially just restarts it after a short pause.

Praise from Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyCapitol Police tribute turns political K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege MORE (R-Texas): "I applaud the work of the Trump Administration to resume these payments. The recent ruling in the New Mexico court on the risk adjustment methodology and implementation that began under the Obama Administration would have had a devastating impact and increased health care costs on millions of hardworking Americans. This action by CMS allows the continuation of risk adjustment payments and collections, private dollars that are transferred from one insurer to another, ensuring certainty in the individual and small group markets."

Read more on the decision here.


A majority of the public says they hold the Trump administration and Congress accountable for any problems with ObamaCare, according to a poll released Wednesday.

  • 58 percent say they hold the administration and Republicans in Congress responsible for future problems with the ACA, since they have made changes to the law.
  • 56 percent say the administration is trying to make the law fail, while 36 percent say they think it's trying to make it work.
  • Of those who say the administration is trying to make the law fail, 47 percent say that it's a "bad thing" while 7 percent say it is a "good thing.".

Why it matters: While still commonly referred to as "ObamaCare," polls have shown recently the public considers the law the responsibility of the Trump administration now.

Read more here.


House Dems introduce bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices

House Democrats are laying the groundwork for a major priority if they win back the House next year, introducing a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE previously supported the idea, which is usually associated with Democrats, but did not propose it as part of the drug pricing plan he released in May.

Democrats have attacked Trump for not going far enough to reduce soaring medication costs.

"This bill calls the President's bluff on his drug pricing promises," said Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettAn attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation Capitol Police say reports of officer's death are wrong Congress must repeal tax breaks for the wealthy passed in CARES Act MORE (D-Texas), who is a lead sponsor of the bill along with Reps. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary MORE (D-Vt.) and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Democrats reintroduce bill to reduce lobbyist influence Trump voters and progressives have a lot in common — and Biden can unite them We must act on lowering cost of prescription drugs MORE (D-Md.).

Watch for action next year: Doggett said in an interview that lawmakers are introducing the bill now so that it can be fine-tuned and ready for a push next year if Democrats win back the House in November.

"We're trying to lay the groundwork for the next session," he said, saying that Democrats want to be "ready to go with something" to vote on next year.

Read more here.


Thursday is the deadline to reunite migrant children that the Trump administration separated from their parents, and the government is making progress.

Administration officials told a court last night they were on track to meet the deadline. The government said in court Tuesday evening that it has identified 1,637 parents who are eligible for reunification, and of those 1,012 have been reunited.

Federal District Court Judge Dana Sabraw Sabraw called the efforts a remarkable achievement and said Commander Jonathan White, who works in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, should be commended.

"He's done yeoman's work in accomplishing that," he said.

It's not all rosy: There are close to 1,000 parents who likely won't be reunited with their children. The government has also lost track of the parents of 37 kids the government has not been able to match with a parent, and 463 parents who were possibly deported without their children.

Mass confusion: Lee Gelernt, deputy director of ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said he was planning to file affidavits from people working to help counsel families. Gelernt said it's a mess on the ground and that parents have no idea what's happening.

Read about the hearing here.


What we're reading:

Déjà voodoo: Pharma's promises to curb drug prices have been heard before (Kaiser Health News)

How Catholic bishops are shaping health care in rural America (Five Thirty Eight)

Experimental Alzheimer's drug significantly slowed patients' cognitive decline, buoying hopes for treatment (Stat)


State by state:

Dem gubernatorial candidate Cordray lays out health care plan that keeps Medicaid expansion in Ohio (WOSU)

Federal appeals court deals another setback to Maryland drug price-gouging law (Baltimore Sun)


From The Hill's opinion page:

Congress is preventing people with mitochondrial diseases from having healthy babies