Health Brief: Senate GOP Plans to Unveil Revised Health Bill Today

Washington Brief

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing mounting pressure from President Donald Trump to pass a bill overhauling the Affordable Care Act. But the revised bill he plans to unveil today is unlikely to win over most of the 10 conservative and moderate holdouts who publicly oppose the first iteration of the measure. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Senate GOP leaders’ updated health overhaul bill is not expected to include any major changes to satisfy centrist Republicans’ concerns about rolling back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and Medicaid cuts. (Politico)
  • House appropriators proposed a $1.1 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, defying the Trump administration’s call for $5.8 billion in cuts to the nation’s medical research agency. (The Hill)

Business Brief

  • A Food and Drug Administration panel unanimously recommended the approval of a gene-altering treatment to fight leukemia. If approved, it will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market. (The New York Times)
  • In recent weeks, health care groups representing hospitals, doctors and patients have upped their opposition against the GOP’s Obamacare repeal push, generating tremendous public pressure on the senators who will decide over the next week whether their health care bill will succeed or fail. (The Washington Post)
  • Health insurers are pushing back against a proposal from GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) that would let health insurers sell plans that don’t adhere to the consumer protections created under the Affordable Care Act. (Roll Call)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Bipartisan Policy Center event on state flexibility 10 a.m.
American Enterprise Institute event on Medicare 9:15 a.m.



McConnell Faces Increasing Pressure Over Health Bill as Timetable Tightens
Stephanie Armour, et al., The Wall Street Journal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) faced intensifying pressure Wednesday from President Donald Trump, conservative lawmakers and outside groups to push through a health-care overhaul next week, but he appeared to make little progress in bridging the deep divides imperiling his party’s seven-year quest to topple the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans plan to unveil Thursday the text of their latest version of the bill to repeal most of the ACA and set up a new system based on steep cuts to Medicaid, expanded use of health-savings accounts, and tax credits to consumers who buy insurance on their own.

Senate moderates sidelined in new Obamacare repeal bill
Burgess Everett and Rachana Pradhan, Politico

In a closed-door meeting of Senate Republican chairmen Wednesday, Lisa Murkowski ripped GOP leaders’ attempt to scale back Medicaid spending in their Obamacare repeal bill. The two matters were unrelated, she argued, because the Affordable Care Act did not change Medicaid spending levels across the entire program.

Democrats to Exploit Senate Rules to Challenge Health Care Bill
Robert Pear, The New York Times

Democrats may not have the votes to stop the Republican push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they do have the Senate rules. In the Senate, the rules are often seen as sacrosanct and members of both parties are quick to exploit them for partisan advantage.

Senators Grill Top Indian Health Officials About Trump Budget
Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

Leaders of the Indian Health Service struggled Wednesday at a Senate hearing to defend the Trump administration’s plans to slash funding to the agency, which is reeling from quality of care problems at several of its hospitals, a doctor shortage and facilities showing their age. The lack of answers infuriated both Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations subcommittee.

U.S. Futures Signal More Gains for U.S. Stocks on Dovish Yellen
Gabriella Lovas, Bloomberg

Futures on the S&P 500 Index and Nasdaq 100 Index signaled further gains after Janet Yellen indicated the Federal Reserve won’t rush to tighten monetary policy, a scenario that fund managers continue to digest a day afterward. S&P 500 contracts expiring in September rose 0.2 percent at 6:15 a.m. in New York as the benchmark on Wednesday advanced to within 0.5 percent of its record close reached in June.


Insurance Lobby Warns Against Cruz Amendment
Mary Ellen McIntire, Roll Call

Health insurance lobbying groups are raising concerns about a proposed amendment to the Senate health care bill, warning that a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz would destabilize and fracture the individual insurance market. The Texas Republican is pushing to allow insurers to sell policies on the federal exchanges that don’t meet the regulations laid out in the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), so long as an insurer offers one plan that does comply with the law.

Despite doomsday rhetoric, Obamacare markets are stabilizing
Paul Demko, Politico

“Obamacare is dead,” President Donald Trump frequently declares. But reports of its demise appear to be premature.

GOP Drops Insurance Executive Tax Break in Health Bill, Aide Says
Laura Litvan, Bloomberg

Senate Republicans have dropped plans to provide a tax break for health-insurance executives’ pay in a revised health-care bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sent to the Congressional Budget Office, according to a Republican aide familiar with the plan. An earlier version of the broad measure, designed to help the party keep its promise to replace Obamacare, scrapped a limitation for insurers on how much executive pay is tax deductible.

Sessions to Unveil Health-Care Fraud Crackdown This Week, Sources Say
Michael Smith, et al., Bloomberg

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is poised to announce a major law enforcement action this week targeting health-care fraud, focusing on opioid treatment programs exploiting Obamacare insurance plans, according to two people familiar with the matter. In what is described as a nationwide sweep with hundreds of arrests being carried out across the U.S., the Justice Department is cracking down on fraudulent claims made to some of the nation’s biggest insurers, said one of the people.

Oscar Health to Join Humana in a Small Business Venture
Michael J. de la Merced, The New York Times

For the last five years, Oscar Health has sought to portray itself as a new kind of health insurer, taking an approach that set it apart from its more traditional competitors. Now, Oscar plans to work with one of those rivals on a new venture.

Nursing Homes Move Into The Insurance Business
Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News

Around the country, a handful of nursing home companies have begun selling their own private Medicare insurance policies, pledging close coordination and promising to give clinicians more authority to decide what treatments they will cover for each patient. These plans are recent additions to the Medicare Advantage market, where private plans have become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional fee-for-service coverage.


From hospitals, doctors and patients, a last gasp of opposition to the Senate health-care bill
Juliet Eilperin and Paige Winfield Cunningham, The Washington Post

Just four days after Senate GOP leaders revealed their health-care bill this summer, Tucson Medical Center hosted a town hall thousands of miles away drawing roughly 700 people in person and 1,900 online. In its aftermath, hospital employees, doctors and members of the public sent nearly 2,900 emails to the state’s two senators, Republicans John ­McCain and Jeff Flake, urging them to reject any legislation that would jeopardize patient health care.

Pharma, Biotech and Devices

Lawmakers propose $1.1B boost to NIH, defying Trump budget
Rachel Roubein, The Hill

The House subcommittee controlling the purse strings of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday proposed a $1.1 billion boost for the agency, defying the Trump administration’s push for cuts. The White House had proposed slashing the nation’s medical research agency by $5.8 billion.

F.D.A. Panel Recommends Approval for Gene-Altering Leukemia Treatment
Denise Grady, The New York Times

A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease. If the F.D.A. accepts the recommendation, which is likely, the treatment will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market.

Buried in Trump’s executive order on drug pricing is a windfall clause for pharma
Emily Kopp, Kaiser Health News

The pharmaceutical industry could see windfall profits from a little-noticed tweak to the insurance market tucked into the Trump administration’s draft executive order on drug prices, experts say. The short, technical paragraph calls for the Internal Revenue Service to allow patients with high-deductible health plans to receive care for chronic diseases, including drugs, before meeting their deductibles.

House advances FDA funding bill
Robert King, Washington Examiner

The House passed through a unanimous voice vote legislation aimed at revamping the approval process for the Food and Drug Administration. Lawmakers passed a bill that would let the FDA continue to collect user fees from drug and device makers, with the agency using that revenue to speed up approval of new products.

Health IT

Researchers use CRISPR to store a movie in living bacteria
Hyacinth Empinado, Stat News

Forget iTunes or your old zipper case of DVDs. How about storing movies in a Petri dish of E. coli?

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Charity Assistance for Nation’s Most Vulnerable Patients Must Be Protected
Dana A. Kuhn, Morning Consult 

For more than 100 years, charitable organizations — and the American capacity for charitable giving — have formed a critical part of this country’s backbone. Charities help shift onerous social and healthcare costs away from taxpayers while improving, and often saving, lives — a service that is even more critical now that Congress is proposing deep cuts to government-funded health care programs.

ObamaCare Freedom and Failure Options
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

Senate Republicans will roll out a revised health-care bill as soon as Thursday, and then begin a final drive to a vote this month. So this is a moment to take stock of some of the larger political dimensions of the ObamaCare debate.

Don’t Assume That Private Insurance Is Better Than Medicaid
Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt, The New York Times

As we recently wrote, it’s better for patients to have Medicaid than to be uninsured, contrary to critics of the program. But is having Medicaid, as those critics also say, much worse than having private insurance?

What a good conservative health care plan would look like
Ed Dolan, Vox

Senate Republicans have fallen short in their first attempt to attract 50 votes for their health care bill. Small wonder. The Better Care Reconciliation Act, as it is called, is remarkable in many ways, but perhaps most remarkably of all, it fails to draw on a large body of constructive conservative ideas about what real health care reform should look like.

There’s no way to replace Planned Parenthood
The Editorial Board, The Washington Post

OF ALL the magical thinking that has gone into Republican proposals to replace Obamacare, none has been more fanciful than the argument accompanying efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. The yarn that has been spun is that other health-care providers would easily absorb the patients left adrift if Planned Parenthood could no longer receive Medicaid reimbursements.

Research Reports

Getting to the Root of High Prescription Drug Prices: Drivers and Potential Solutions
Henry Waxman et al., The Commonwealth Fund

Historic increases in prescription drug prices and spending are contributing to unsustainable health care costs in the United States. There is widespread public support for elected officials to address the problem.