Overnight Health Care: Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare plans | GOP fails to block DC individual mandate | Ebola returns to Congo

Overnight Health Care: Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare plans | GOP fails to block DC individual mandate | Ebola returns to Congo
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care. Remember when the Senate was working through August? They finished voting today and won't be back until Aug. 15. But we're still here to bring you all the day's health news.


Confused about why an insurance plan that lasts for a full year, and can be renewed for up to three years, is considered "short term?" We are too. But that's what the Trump administration is calling those plans, and where we'll start today.


Trump move to expand non-ObamaCare short-term plans sparks debate.

The Trump administration on Wednesday made its long-awaited move to expand non-ObamaCare, short term plans.

The details: The plans will now be allowed to last up to 12 months, lifting limits of three months imposed under President Obama. They can also be renewed for up to 36 months.

The pro: The administration touts the plans as giving a cheaper option to people currently priced of ObamaCare coverage.


The con: The plans don't have to cover people with pre-existing conditions or certain health services, and could drive up ObamaCare premiums by siphoning off healthy people.

Reaction: Reaction in Congress fell along partisan lines, though many health groups also objected to the administration's move. A sampling:

The cost: Aviva Aron-Dine at the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the administration projects the rule will cost about $30 billion over 10 years in increased ObamaCare subsidies after premiums rise. She argues that money could be better spent on expanding the number of people eligible for subsidies.

Read more here.


GOP fails to block D.C. individual mandate.

Washington, D.C.'s individual mandate lives on.

A Republican amendment that would have blocked the District from using federal money to implement its own individual health-care mandate failed on Wednesday. The amendment was tied to a spending bill that includes money for the departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and financial services.

House Republicans got a similar provision into their funding bill earlier this month, but with a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, there was little chance of the amendment being included if Republicans wanted Democratic support. The two bills will need to be worked out in a conference committee.

D.C. passed its individual health insurance requirement earlier this year. Similar to the federal mandate, most individuals will either have to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Read more about the vote here.


Secretary Azar says he is not sabotaging ObamaCare

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar spoke to reporters Wednesday, mainly to tout the new short-term plans rule.

But he was also asked more broadly about Democratic attacks that he is "sabotaging" ObamaCare and destabilizing markets.

Azar said that not only is he not trying to destabilize markets, he doesn't think the short-term plans rule will have that effect. He said people who get subsidies will stay in ObamaCare plans, and the new plans will mainly appeal to people who are currently priced out.

"The Affordable Care Act is sabotaging itself by its own structure," he said.

He noted that premium increases for next year have not been as high so far as some people were "worriedly pontificating" that they would be.


Ebola hits Congo days after last outbreak ended.

We thought we had some good news on the Ebola outbreak in Congo ending, but it looks like it's back.

At least 20 people are dead amid a new outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just days after the country's Ministry of Health declared the last outbreak officially over.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that local officials in North Kivu Province had sounded warnings over the weekend when they discovered 26 cases of what appeared to be a hemorrhagic fever.

Health officials flew six blood samples to the capital of Kinshasa, where four tested positive for the Ebola virus.

The ministry said a team of 12 virus hunters would arrive in Beni, a city of about a quarter-million residents near the epicenter of the outbreak, by Thursday.

They said the fact that they had caught the virus so early showed that preparations for combatting the deadly disease had been effective.

Read more here.


California insurance commissioner urges DOJ to block Aetna-CVS merger

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is urging the Justice Department to block a proposed merger between CVS and Aetna.

The $68 billion merger "would have significant anti-competitive impacts on American consumers and health care and health insurance markets," Jones said in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMueller's investigation ends, but divisive political circus will continue Mueller delivers report to Justice, ending investigation Trump says 'people will not stand' for Mueller report MORE.

Aetna isn't based in California, so Jones doesn't have any direct authority over the deal. However, his opinion could influence other state regulators.

Jones found that the proposed merger poses competitive concerns in the Medicare Part D market, where both companies currently compete, as well as in the highly concentrated market for pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) services, and in the retail pharmacy market.

The DOJ is examining the merger, and there were reports earlier this month that the agency would not intervene to block it. However, DOJ has not confirmed what it will do.

CVS response: The company strongly disagreed with Jones, and a spokeswoman touted the benefits of what the merger could do for consumers.

"We believe that competition within each of the business segments in which we operate – pharmacy benefit management, pharmacies and insurers – is fierce and will remain so," CVS said in a statement. "Further, the combination of our two companies would allow us to explore new benefit designs with $0 co-pays or reduced cost-sharing, passing on additional savings to consumers, including employers."


What we're reading

Letting Medicare negotiate drug prices could save nearly $3 billion: Democratic report (Washington Examiner)

Justice Department investigating claims that drug companies funded terrorism in Iraq (The New York Times)

To tame prescription prices, HHS dips a toe into drug importation stream (Kaiser Health News)

Medicare for All comes with a price tag -- and hard choices (The Washington Post -opinion)


State by state

Obamacare premiums to drop in Louisiana in 2019 after years of rate hikes (The Advocate)

Puerto Rico's wounded Medicaid program faces even deeper cuts (NPR)


From The Hill's opinion page

Opioid epidemic policies must be geared toward protecting children