Overnight Health Care: Trump officials urging Alaska to apply for Medicaid block grant | Court upholds Kentucky ultrasound abortion law | Departing FDA chief headed to think tank

Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.

The Trump administration wants Alaska to block grant Medicaid, Scott Gottlieb is returning to a conservative think tank, and an appeals court has upheld a Kentucky abortion law.

We'll start in Alaska:

 

Trump administration urging Alaska to be first to apply for Medicaid block grant

The Trump administration wants Alaska to be the first state to block grant its Medicaid program, and the state is open to the idea.

"Your Medicaid administrator, Seema Verma, has urged us to be the first state to receive Medicaid dollars as a block grant," Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) wrote in a letter to President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE. "We are eager to do this, but your support of her on this 'first' will keep the proper focus and speed on this application."

Imposing block grants in Medicaid has long been a major conservative goal, and the controversial idea was included in many of the ObamaCare repeal and replace debates. Republicans say policies such as block grants allow for more state flexibility and are more fiscally sustainable.

There are no details yet on how the block grant would be designed, or when the state might apply. No state has applied for block grants, but administration officials are quietly working on guidance or a regulation that would streamline the process and encourage more states to sign up. The move would come through an existing program that allows states to make changes, known as 1115 waivers, to the Medicaid program.

Read more on the plan here.

 

Democrats grilled Health Secretary Alex Azar Thursday during a hearing on the agency's budget request.

Azar repeatedly stated that the Justice Department's decision to back a lower court ruling finding ObamaCare unconstitutional is not a policy position on pre-existing conditions protections.

"A legal judgement filed by the Justice Department is different from a policy position to work with you to protect people with pre-ex," Azar said, under questioning from Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Wash.), adding that the Department of Health and Human Services

would work with Congress on a health plan should the law be struck down.

Azar also acknowledged that some of his work on prescription drug pricing would be derailed if ObamaCare is struck down in court because the ACA gives HHS the authority to test these ideas.

"We would have to find additional authority," Azar said.

On the issue of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border, Azar repeated his past claims that the agency is facing a crisis.

He said there are between 300 and 350 children crossing every day, and HHS is struggling to house and care for them all.

Children who cross the border without parents or family are often referred to HHS for shelter, food and other services until sponsors are found in the U.S.

But HHS's shelters are nearly full, and they have been forced to use temporary "influx" shelters, Azar said.

Azar said the current funding levels, including the recent funding transfer, won't cover the costs. In March, HHS told lawmakers that it will reallocate up to $385 million from other programs, including those that fund cancer prevention efforts, to house the increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children in its care.

Other tidbits:

 

Senate health bill coming soon?

Senate health Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Higher Education Act must protect free speech Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback MORE (R-Tenn.) said he hopes to have a vote on legislation to lower health care costs early this summer.

He said Thursday the committee has received more than 400 recommendations on ways to give Americans "better outcomes and better experiences at a lower cost."

The recommendations include increasing transparency, lowering drug costs, eliminating surprise billing, expanding primary care, improving electronic health records and addressing consolidation, he said.

He said he'll compile the proposals into a package of legislation that the committee can vote on this summer.

"We can then combine that with what the Senate Finance Committee passes, ask the Leader to put it on the Senate floor, and work with the House to send legislation to the president's desk," he said.

 

Gottlieb heading back to AEI

Today is Scott Gottlieb's last day as Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

He told The Washington Post he'll return to the American Enterprise Institute, where he worked before joining the agency, to work on drug pricing issues. The new/old position will have him in Washington for about six days a month, he said.

One of his biggest reasons for leaving the FDA was the commute he made every week from Connecticut (where his wife and children live) to Washington.

More on the move here.

 

Appeals court upholds Kentucky ultrasound abortion law

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a Kentucky law requiring doctors to show and describe a fetal ultrasound to patients before performing an abortion.

In a 2-1 decision, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law does not infringe on the First Amendment rights of physicians.

A lower court had issued an injunction blocking the law last year, with a federal judge citing the psychological harm it could cause a patient.

But the decision was appealed by the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin (R).

Read more on the ruling here.

 

What we're reading

ObamaCare fight obscures America's real health care crisis: Money (Politico)  

House committee passes bills to strengthen ObamaCare and lower drug prices (CNN.com)

Four ways for Republicans to fix health care (New York Times opinion)

NIH police yank Iranian graduate student from lab as agency clamps down on security (The Washington Post)

U.S. forces health company to ditch Chinese investor, in sign of heightened concern over foreign influence (Stat)

 

State by state

Kentucky's Medicaid expansion boosts colon cancer screenings, study says (Louisville Courier-Journal)

Illinois weighs parental notification of abortion law again (Tri-States Public Radio)

Philadelphia plans to open supervised opioid injection facility despite federal lawsuit (Whe Washington Post)

 

From The Hill's opinion page

Patients in VA nursing homes are suffering -- Wilkie needs to take responsibility

Trump is right: Healthcare should be handled by the states