The Senate confirmed Alex Azar as secretary of Health and Human Services, installing him atop a department seeking a fresh start after a turbulent first year under the Trump administration. Azar cruised to confirmation Wednesday in a 55-43 vote, with six Senate Democrats — largely from red states — and Independent Angus King joining nearly all Republicans to back his candidacy.
A former pharmaceutical executive and twice-confirmed veteran of George W. Bush’s HHS, the 50-year-old nominee earned bipartisan respect in recent weeks for his familiarity with the sprawling agency and a stated desire to reset relations with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
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Congressional House leaders plan legislation this year to tackle deficits by curbing entitlements, just weeks after digging a deeper deficit hole with a tax plan that will add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.
Entitlement reform is certainly needed. Even before the tax legislation, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast a major rise in federal deficits, from 2.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 to nearly 10% within 30 years. Over that period, says the CBO, health spending, and in particular Medicare, will be one of the largest drivers of spending.
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Congressional Republicans were elected to repeal Obamacare. They may run this year as the politicians who saved it. Since late last year, GOP leaders have been planning to pump tens of billions of dollars’ worth of new federal spending into the veins of insurance companies that are hemorrhaging red ink on the Obamacare exchanges.
The transfusion is expected to be a concoction of two bills. The first, championed by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D., Wash.), would appropriate cost-sharing-reduction payments to insurers. The second, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), would give insurers an additional $10 billion (and perhaps more) in federal cash.
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Americans are among the most generous people in the world. While this nation was founded on the pursuit of a shared dream, the moral pledge of the American people has been to never leave behind our most vulnerable fellow citizens.
When we created Medicaid in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, we formalized that commitment and wove a fabric of care that has provided health services for seniors in need, pregnant mothers, low-income children and parents, and people with disabilities. Johnson affirmed the nation’s safety net, saying, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”
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Key House Republicans are warming to a proposal aimed at bringing down ObamaCare premiums, raising the chances of legislative action this year to stabilize the health-care law.
House GOP aides and lobbyists say that top House Republicans are interested in funding what is known as reinsurance. The money could be included in a coming bipartisan government funding deal or in another legislative vehicle.
Any action from Republicans to stabilize ObamaCare would be a major departure from the party’s long crusade against the law, but after having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, the discussion is shifting.
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Amazon announced Tuesday that it will join with J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to wade into the jungle of U.S. health care, and the news slashed billions in stock-market value from health-care companies in mere hours. American health care could benefit from creative destruction, though this would be Amazon’s toughest fixer upper to date.
The announcement offered no details—nothing on if the companies will set up provider networks or walk-in clinics or what. But an early red flag: The press release says the group will form an “independent company that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”
The problem with U.S. health care is not an incentive for profit, which has driven innovation and cures for diseases like hepatitis C. The fundamental problem is that the cost of a service is disconnected from underlying value. Patients don’t know the price of services and consume health care as if it’s free since government or employers are the third-party payers for most Americans.
A growing number of mostly Republican-led states are rushing to follow Kentucky’s lead in requiring thousands of people on Medicaid to work or lose health coverage.
The governors of South Dakota, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina have said in recent weeks that they plan to pursue work requirements for their Medicaid programs, following the Trump administration’s release of guidelines for the concept in January.
“Whenever possible, we should always endeavor to help South Carolinians in need find their path to gainful employment and away from temporary assistance of government,” South Carolina GOP Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted Jan. 11, the same day federal officials announced the new guidance.
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Obamacare’s insurance rules represent the beating heart of the law, necessitating a massive system of subsidies and tax increases to make this newly expensive coverage “affordable.” Because Democrats used the “Biden precedent” to impose some of those rules through budget reconciliation, Republicans have every opportunity to repeal these requirements outright through a reconciliation bill. They should take that opportunity, for removing the regulatory regime would effectively repeal Obamacare—and permanently restore health care freedom to the American people.
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Oregon voters recently upheld a myriad of new taxes that were passed as part of a major health-care law last summer. The state government is planning to use the estimated $320 million in revenue to cover hundreds of thousands of residents who have enrolled through the Affordable Care Act. The outcome of this vote has serious implications anyone enrolled in a health-care plan in Oregon.
The referendum was on sections of House Bill 2391, which imposes a 0.7 percent tax on small hospitals as well as a 1.5 percent on individual and family health-care premiums. These revenue raisers are intended to generate more tax dollars for the state. But they also allow Oregon to receive $630 million to $960 million in federal Medicaid matching funds.
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President Donald Trump vowed Monday that his new health-care chief Alex Azar — a former top drug-company executive who raised prescription prices — is “going to get those prescription drug prices way down” as Azar was sworn in for his job.
“It’s doing to come rocketing down,” Trump said as Azar, 50, stood at his side in the White House before taking his oath as secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department from Vice President Mike Pence.
“We have to get the prices of prescription drugs way down, and unravel the tangled web of special interests that are driving prices up for medicine, and are really hurting patients,” Trump said.
“And nobody knows that process better than Alex.”