Sandhya Raman

Senate Panel Unveils Draft Bill to Combat Opioid Addiction
HELP Committee expected to discuss legislation next week

The Senate health panel on Wednesday released a discussion draft intended to curb opioid addiction. The development comes as other House and Senate committees also prepare legislation.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans to discuss this legislation at an upcoming hearing on April 11. The panel has already held six hearings on the opioid crisis so far this Congress featuring representatives from agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as governors from states affected by the crisis.

Governors Press for More Funds to Fight Opioid Addiction
Larry Hogan and Kate Brown testify before Senate HELP Committee

Governors emphasized the need for additional federal funding and flexibility in the fight against the opioid crisis during the sixth hearing held by the Senate health committee this Congress.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, each noted in their testimony Thursday the importance of funding to their states.

Legislators, Advocates Prepare Ahead of Abortion Case
California law on crisis pregnancy centers stirs free speech debate

Lawmakers and advocacy groups are readying themselves for a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court case that will determine whether a California law violates free speech for so-called crisis pregnancy centers.

On March 20, the nation’s highest court will begin oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. At issue is the constitutionality of a California state law that requires crisis pregnancy centers to post signs explaining that the state offers subsidized family planning services including abortion.

Administration Pushes Abstinence Promotion
Latest moves alarm reproductive rights advocates

Recent administrative actions signal a shift from promoting comprehensive sexual health information to abstinence-only education, which concerns reproductive rights advocates who question abstinence promotion’s efficacy at preventing teen pregnancy.

The administration already announced last year the discontinuation of a teen pregnancy prevention, or TPP, program that funded grants to communities that study ways to prevent teens from getting pregnant and run prevention programs. The Department of Health and Human Services has promoted more abstinence-only alternatives and increasingly uses the phrase “sexual risk avoidance,” another term for abstinence, in materials.

The Retirement at the Top of Planned Parenthood

The long-time president of abortion-rights advocacy organization Planned Parenthood announced on Friday she would be stepping down from her post.

Cecile Richards, who has been at the head of the organization since 2006, made the announcement in an interview with The New York Times, though reports of her leaving surfaced earlier this week.

Republicans Prepare for Upcoming Abortion Vote
Votes not likely there in Senate, but measure could be a midterm issue

Senate Republicans are readying for a vote next week on a late-term abortion bill. And while it’s unlikely they will have the votes to pass it, abortion opponents say the measure could play a role in the 2018 midterm elections.

The bill would ban abortions after the 20-week mark, while providing exceptions for rape, incest or the endangerment of a woman. It passed the House along party lines last year and has been waiting on a Senate vote.

Anti-Abortion Groups Look for Wins in 2018
Senate vote on a 20-week abortion ban is a top priority

Anti-abortion groups, pursuing a list of priorities, hope to further capitalize on the Republican control of both chambers and the presidency in 2018.

Groups that oppose abortion scored a series of wins last year, including the appointment of several conservatives to top Department of Health and Human Services positions, the House passage of a late-term abortion ban bill and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

States Alarmed by Delay in HHS Family Planning Money
Title X grant recipients play the waiting game, fearing revival of abortion gag rule

State officials are dismayed that the Trump administration has stalled the process for applying for new family planning money the states are counting on. Abortion advocacy groups worry that the delay may mean the administration is planning to target abortion providers or rewrite family planning policies. 

The funding announcement was expected by November, with states’ applications for 2018-19 due Jan. 3. But the announcement still isn’t out. The funding is provided by the Title X program, through the only federal grants focused on family planning.

CBO: Cost of CHIP Renewal Smaller Than Projected
News should ease Congress’ task to pass legislation

Lawmakers will have to come up with only less than $1 billion to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to a new Congressional Budget Office analysis released Friday. That estimate, far lower than previous projections, should ease lawmakers’ task of passing legislation this month.

In a four-page letter to Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, CBO Director Keith Hall said the Senate CHIP bill would cost $800 million over 10 years. Prior to this, the CHIP bill needed to be offset by about $8 billion over 10 years. The total cost of CHIP over 10 years would be $48.4 billion, but decreases in Medicaid and health care marketplace spending would offset much of that amount.

States Face Children’s Health Coverage Uncertainty
Federal funding could soon run out

About two months after federal funding lapsed for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, state officials still don’t know exactly when they’ll run out of money or when Congress will renew funding — leaving families that depend on the program increasingly anxious about their benefits.

At least a few states say that they could exhaust funds as soon as next month. States are growing more concerned about the program with just a few days left on the congressional calendar until December and no signs that lawmakers plan in the immediate future to renew funding. 

Trump to Nominate New HHS Secretary Alex Azar
Former pharmaceutical president vocal Obamacare opponent

President Trump announced on Twitter he plans to nominate Alex Azar to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Azar will be “a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices,” Trump wrote in his tweet announcing the coming nomination.

House Volleys CHIP Measure to Senate
Issue of offsets to cost are major sticking point

After months of disputes and delays, the House voted Friday to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, community health centers and other public health programs. The legislation passed easily, 242-174, although many Democrats opposed the measure due to disagreements over the offsets.

“Three times at the request of the Democrats, we delayed committee action,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon. “These delays meant Congress went past the deadline of Sept. 30. We cannot wait any longer. Patients cannot wait any longer.”

House GOP Leaders Announce Children’s Health Insurance Vote

Arguments erupted on the House floor Thursday between Republican and Democratic leaders over the prospect of a vote next week on a GOP-only bill to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced the bill would be debated next week — a plan opposed by Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. Democrats have pushed to delay the House bill until an agreement is reached on a bipartisan solution to pay for it.

Senate Committee Advances Children’s Health Care Bill
Only Sen. Toomey spoke out against

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved by voice vote its bipartisan bill to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Senators withheld amendments in an effort to speed up passage. During the voice vote, only Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., spoke out against the measure.

Rural Areas Brace for Health Care Bill Impact
Senate GOP bill could undermine health insurance coverage

The Senate historically has paid special attention to the needs of rural areas, but as the chamber readies its health care bill, there are concerns that the bill would undermine coverage in those places more than anywhere else.

While the exact text of the Senate bill is not yet posted publicly, all signs point to somewhat similar language to the House bill (HR 1628), which would reduce funding for Medicaid compared to current law and impose caps on Medicaid funding. Under the House bill, older people also would face higher premiums — and rural areas tend to be home to a large number of older Americans.

Schumer Wants All-Senate Gathering on Health Care

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is making public his “dismay” at Republicans’ closed-door negotiations on the health care bill by inviting all senators to an open meeting on health care in the Old Senate Chamber next week.

“We believe we all owe it to our constituents to meet to discuss your potential legislation that would profoundly impact so many American lives,” the New York Democrat said in a letter sent to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Friday.

CBO Estimate of Revised House Health Care Bill Changes Little
Senate GOP leaders say the votes still are not there for passage

BY KERRY YOUNG AND SANDHYA RAMAN

A House-passed health care bill would reduce federal spending by $119 billion over a decade, compared to a previous estimate of $150 billion over a decade. And it would cause the number of Americans lacking medical insurance to rise by 23 million by 2026, which is 1 million less than under previous iterations of the measure, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

Sparring Over Women’s Health in Georgia’s 6th District
Handel, Ossoff trade jabs over Planned Parenthood

As the June 20 runoff election in Georgia’s 6th district approaches, Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are facing off with competing ads on women’s health and anti-abortion groups have joined in the fight.

Ossoff’s broadcast cable ad, released Tuesday, features an ob-gyn doctor criticizing Handel for her move to “cut off funding for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings when she was an executive at Susan G. Komen.”