HealthCare Roundtable e-News – November 20, 2018

Pallone Touts Drug Pricing Legislation as Top Priority for Democrat-Led House

Last week, incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) discussed health care priorities for the coming year and his position on passing drug pricing legislation, including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and speed the approval process for cheaper generic drugs. Other House Democrats have voiced their support for bipartisan options to address the soaring cost of prescription drugs, according to The Hill.

Rep. Pallone has been an advocate for negotiated prices under Medicare, a policy that has also previously been supported by President Trump.

“I think you need negotiated prices under Medicare, and I think you need the CREATES Act and other initiatives that will aggressively bring generics to market,” Pallone said. “There’s an area where the president agrees with me and the Democrats, so why not?”

With potential support from the President, House Democrats will look to persuade a Republican Senate and pass legislation in 2019.

Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Off to Slow Start Compared to 2017 Period

A slight dip in Obamacare enrollment numbers has some experts concerned as the open enrollment period continues through the month of November. Close to 1.2 million people have signed up for plans in the first ten days of the period, compared to last year’s 1.5 million enrollments in the first nine days, according to the Hill.

Some are attributing the slow start to this year’s midterm elections, which took place during the beginning of the enrollment period and could have distracted those who might have planned on enrolling sooner. Some experts suggest that Congress’ repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate last year, which imposes tax penalties on the uninsured, could have an influence over the number of younger, healthier individuals who might have otherwise signed up.

Larry Levitt, a health care expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, suspects that it is too early to tell whether enrollment will decline this year over last.

“As always, I would expect a surge in ACA signups as the December 15 deadline approaches, so it’s way too early to conclude that enrollment will drop this year,” said Levitt.

From a positive perspective, Obamacare exchanges are currently seeing more stability in enrollments after years of regulatory uncertainty and price hikes on plans. Insurers are also beginning to turn a profit for their Obamacare products, according to CNBC.

House Republicans Likely to Skip Employer Relief Package, Focus on Other Priorities During Lame Duck Session

After a turbulent election cycle, the House returned to Washington last week with Republicans aiming to push must-pass bills during the lame duck session.

Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) suggested late last week that the package could be lost once Democrats take over the House in January.

“I think certainly employers, especially small businesses, are still struggling over some of these taxes. And the health insurance tax, Cadillac tax, are really hurting workers and families whose health care costs are getting way out of control. So, I’d love to see both parties work together to do that before the end of the year,” said Brady.

Advocates and lobbyists of the employer relief package suggest that House Democrats could adopt pieces of employer relief legislation as part of a market stabilization package during the next Congress. According to one key stakeholder, bipartisan priorities, including the elimination of the Cadillac tax, are more likely to receive attention in a Democratic Congress. (InsideHealthPolicy).

Democrats May Put Single-Payer Healthcare Bill to a Vote in the New Year

House Democrats will look to push a vote on “Medicare for All” legislation early next year, despite some division between the party and those who are not completely sold on the concept of government-run universal health insurance. Proponents of “Medicare for all,” also known as single-payer healthcare, claim that now is the time to use the Democrats’ House majority; however, it’s likely that without full support from the party, any measure for single-payer healthcare could fail against Republican (and some Democrat) opposition.

“I think we need to be pragmatic in our legislative ambitions around here with a divided Congress and with Trump down at the White House,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI). Kind had voiced his concerns in putting single-payer healthcare to a vote, noting that a Republican-controlled Senate would certainly never pass such a bill.

Attacking Democrats’ positions on single-payer healthcare was a primary tactic for many Republicans during midterms, touting that costs would far outweigh the benefits. A recent cost estimate by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University estimates the bill’s price tag could reach $32 trillion over 10 years.