Overnight Health Care: Trump calls for crackdown on surprise medical bills | Trump officials give religious exemption to foster care program | Uninsured rate at highest level since 2014 | Juul hires former Harry Reid chief of staff

Overnight Health Care: Trump calls for crackdown on surprise medical bills | Trump officials give religious exemption to foster care program | Uninsured rate at highest level since 2014 | Juul hires former Harry Reid chief of staff
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Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

The State of our Union is still shut down. Day 33.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE today hosted an event to discuss surprise medical bills, HHS will allow federally-funded foster care providers in South Carolina exemptions from an Obama-era non-discrimination regulation, and a new poll shows the complicated nature of Medicare for all.

We'll start with news from the White House:


Trump with one for the health care wonks: surprise medical bills

President Trump spoke out on Wednesday on an area that could get bipartisan support, and has a lot of experts concerned: surprise medical bills.


"The health care system too often harms people with some unfair surprises ... medical bills and the like," Trump said at a roundtable at the White House.

What's the problem? Patients often get massive bills from hospitals unexpectedly because certain doctors were outside their insurance network. NPR reported on a teacher in Texas who got a bill for $108,951 from the hospital for care for his heart attack, even after his insurer had paid $55,840.

Possible path forward: Lawmakers in both parties have expressed interest in tackling the issue. Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyBottom Line I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Washington takes historic step forward on paid parental leave MORE (R-La.) unveiled bipartisan legislation to end surprise medical bills in September, and Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanTrump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Empower the VA with the tools to help our veterans Schumer to Trump: Demand McConnell hold vote on background check bill MORE (D-N.H.) has legislation on the topic as well.

Read more here.


HHS allows foster care group in South Carolina religious exemption from discrimination rules   

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will allow a ministry in South Carolina that only works with heterosexual Christian families to participate in a federally funded foster care program.

That means Miracle Hill Ministries can still receive federal funding even though it won't allow anyone who isn't Christian, or with anyone who identifies as LGBT, to serve as foster parents through its program.

The organization was in violation of a regulation issued by the Obama administration that says organizations receiving funds from the Department of Health and Human Services can't discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.

But Trump's HHS issued an exemption for the ministry to participate in the program, writing that to force it out would be a violation of its religious freedom.

Reactions: Democrats argue the exemption allows faith-based foster care organizations in the state to discriminate against anyone who isn't Christian, or is gay.

"There are foster kids sleeping in hotels and living in temporary shelters," said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (D-Ore.). "To turn away qualified parents because of their religion, sexual orientation or gender identity and deny these kids a secure home is immoral."

According to the ACLU, eight states have already passed laws allowing state-contracted child welfare agencies to exclude prospective families based on agencies' religious beliefs. But this is the first such action by the federal government -- and it could soon be replicated in Texas, where the state government has made a similar request to HHS.

Read more here.


Juul hires Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE's former chief of staff

Vaping company Juul is bringing in the big guns as it steps up its congressional lobbying campaign.

The company spent $750,000 on lobbying during the last three months of 2018, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress on Tuesday, about $200,000 more than the previous quarter.

This was the first quarter Juul said it supported legislation to prohibit the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21.

It also hired Drew Willison, who served as chief of staff to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). Willison is a partner at Oldaker & Willison LLP.

Juul boasts several high-profile former federal officials and regulators among its internal lobbyists, including Jim Esquea, who was assistant secretary for legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, and Ted McCann, who was assistant to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSoaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington MORE (R-Wis.) from November 2015 through August 2018.

Juul accounts for about 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, and in December, tobacco giant Altria invested $12.8 billion into the company. The lobbying has been ramping up as the vaping industry has suddenly faced an uncertain future.

The federal government has been grappling with a massive surge in teen vaping, and Juul has come under intense criticism for its role in what the U.S. surgeon general this week declared an "epidemic."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a crackdown on e-cigarette products. The agency launched a major push to stop e-cigarette sales to minors, accusing manufacturers and retailers of contributing to an "epidemic" of use among kids and teenagers.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently said he could see the entire category of e-cigarette and vaping products removed from store shelves if companies don't stop marketing such products to youth.


Poll: 56 percent of public supports 'Medicare for all'... but there are caveats

A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds 56 percent of the public supports Medicare for All. 

But...: The answers change depending on how the question is asked.

  • When people are told that the proposal would "require most Americans to pay more in taxes," support plummets to just 37 percent.
  • When people are told that Medicare for all would "guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans," support shoots up to 71 percent.

Lack of understanding could pose a problem for supporters: The poll finds that most people (77 percent) are aware that they would have to pay more in taxes to fund a Medicare for all system, but that a majority of people (55 percent) erroneously believe they would be able to keep their current health insurance under a full-scale Medicare for all proposal. Opponents could latch onto that.

Read more here.


Uninsured rate reaches highest level since 2014

The percentage of Americans without health insurance has reached its highest point since 2014, when ObamaCare was still in its early years of implementation.

The uninsured rate was 13.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, well above the record-low rate of 10.9 seen in 2016, the last year of President Obama's second term, according to a survey released by Gallup Wednesday.

That represents about 7 million people losing or dropping insurance between 2016 and 2018, Gallup said.


The uninsured rate has risen steadily since President Trump took office, Gallup notes.

Gallup says ObamaCare's premium increases in recent years could contribute to a higher uninsured rate.

Why it matters: Democrats have accused Trump of sabotaging ObamaCare since he took office, and this provides more fodder for their case.

Proof: "Trump's relentless campaign to undermine the Affordable Care Act has made health care less accessible and less affordable for millions of Americans across the country," the Democratic National Committee blasted out in an email this morning.

Read more here.


What we're reading

Medicare-for-all is a classic primary-season conundrum (The Washington Post)

Migrant children in U.S. are being held in unlicensed shelters, lawyers say (CBS)

Trump plan to force drug makers to advertise prices might work, but not if pharma gets its way (Stat News)


State by state

Wisconsin governor vows to withdraw from Obamacare lawsuit in Eau Claire visit (Leader-Telegram)

Iowa's 'fetal heartbeat' abortion restriction declared unconstitutional (CNN.com)

Massachusetts Gov. Baker backs rate-setting for high-cost drugs (Commonwealth Magazine)


From The Hill's opinion page:

Proposed drug importation bill would expose Americans to counterfeit meds