Congress Approves Six Year CHIP Authorization, Re-opens Government for Three Weeks
After a three-day government shutdown, the House and Senate passed a stopgap spending bill Monday to keep the government running through Feb. 8. The deal also provided a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and delayed certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes. With a new Feb. 8 funding deadline, lawmakers will once again start negotiating on a long-term FY 2018 budget deal and a potential immigration package, among some remaining health care measures that have been logjammed in the government funding process.
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ONDCP Could See 95% Budget Cut
The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) faces a second threat of losing 95 percent of its budget under President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 proposal, according to Politico. Defunding ONDCP would directly contradict the Administration’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, as the office is responsible for coordinating the federal response to the crisis. The National Council opposes this proposal, and will continue to work to ensure proper funding for this important office.
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Senate Approves Azar as HHS Secretary
The Senate voted to confirm former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday. Six Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined all but one Republican Senator in supporting Azar. As the nation’s top health official, Azar will oversee critical health programs like Medicaid and Medicare and take over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Azar’s confirmation gives HHS its first permanent leader since September, when former Secretary Tom Price resigned due to a scandal regarding his use of public funds for travel.
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CMS Approves First-Ever Medicaid Work Requirements in Kentucky
In a historic first, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Kentucky’s Section 1115 waiver request that imposes work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries to maintain coverage. The National Council for Behavioral Health strongly opposes work requirements and believes that work requirements not only prevent individuals with mental health or substance use disorders from receiving the treatment they need, but are in opposition to the core mission of Medicaid. Nine other states have pending work requirement waivers; however, any approvals will likely be challenged in court delaying their implementation.
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Congress Set to Pass Another Funding Extension To Avoid Shutdown
For the fourth time in as many months, Congress is faced with another government funding deadline. With a potential shutdown looming, Congress is expected to pass another short-term spending bill today that would keep the government open until mid-February. On the health care front, the spending deal would renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years and delay some Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes. The stopgap spending bill has passed the House, but faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
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Leaked Memo Details Trump Administration’s ACA Plans
A Trump Administration memo detailing plans to dismantle provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through executive action was made public last week. Released by Senate Democrats, the one-page document lists ten possible points of action to follow up on the President’s 2017 Executive Order to reduce the “economic burden” of the ACA. A number of the initiatives have already been enacted, while others, including weakening the essential health benefits requirement, are currently being considered.
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Trump Administration Aims to Expand Association and Short-Term Health Plans
Last week, the Trump Administration proposed new rules that would allow small businesses and trade groups to band together to purchase health insurance. This move would open the door to limited coverage health plans, including plans that lack mental health and substance use disorder benefits. The proposed rules come from an executive order President Trump signed earlier this year that directed federal agencies to loosen restrictions on short-term health insurance and association plans to create less comprehensive coverage options.
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CMS Issues Guidance Allowing Medicaid Work Requirements
On Thursday, the Trump Administration released guidelines for states to create the first-ever work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The guidance targets “able-bodied adults” with some exemptions. While details are still emerging, the National Council has grave concerns that the policy’s exemptions will not be broad enough to protect all individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. Ten states have asked the federal government for approval to institute Medicaid work requirements. With this new guidance, the Administration is expected to begin approving these requests.
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Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing on Opioid Crisis
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) hosted a hearing titled “The Opioid Crisis: An Examination of How We Got Here and How We Move Forward.” Discussion amongst committee members and the single witness centered heavily on supporting community-based solutions to quell the opioid epidemic beginning at the local level.
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HHS Nominee Appears Before Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing on Monday on the nomination of Alex Azar as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is the second hearing on his nomination Mr. Azar has participated in. In late 2017, he appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Finance Committee will vote on his nomination in the coming weeks.
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What to Watch for in Health Care in 2018
Members of Congress returned to Capitol Hill this week following a holiday break. Neither chamber starts the new year with a clean slate, however, as Congress faces deadlines on government funding and a host of individual programs after voting to delay those decisions at the end of last month. Congress has less than three weeks to avert another government shutdown as well as sort through several competing health care priorities. Here is a preview of what to watch for in early 2018.
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CHIP Families Still at Risk Despite Temporary Funding Extension
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which currently provides comprehensive health coverage to roughly 9 million children and pregnant women across the United States, is still in danger following Congress’ inability to pass a long-term funding solution. On Dec. 22nd, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) that extended funding for the program through the end of March 2018. The National Council is deeply concerned for the future of this critical program, and urges Congress to act swiftly to extend CHIP for the millions of children and families who rely on it.
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Arizona Waiver Proposal Imposes Medicaid Work Requirements and Lifetime Limits
Arizona has submitted a Section 1115 Medicaid waiver request that would institute a lifetime cap on Medicaid coverage and impose work requirements on enrollees. If approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Arizona’s Medicaid program will have the ability to deny or disenroll eligible individuals who fail to meet criteria to work or take educational courses and limit Medicaid coverage to five years for “able-bodied adults.” Each of these measures could significantly harm individuals with mental health and/or addiction disorders who receive care for these conditions through Medicaid.
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