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This Week in Health Care Reform - March 31st, 2017

Republican leaders change course on health care reform; states move forward with Medicaid expansion; and, a powerful swath of potential voters weighs in on rising drug prices.

Week in Review

Next Steps: Last Friday, House Republicans pulled their health care bill from the docket just prior to its going to the floor for a vote.  The move followed several days of intense lobbying within the party, specifically between the White House and Congress.  Despite these efforts, though, enough opposition remained that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), in consultation with the President, made the decision to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA) moments before the full chamber was scheduled to vote on it.  While to some the move signaled a transition to other legislative priorities, others interpreted the decision to cancel the vote as more a recalibration of sorts ahead of the GOP’s next push to reshape the contours of our health care system.  For their part, Republican leaders in the Senate have made known their intent to capitalize on the lessons learned from their House counterparts’ thwarted attempts by pushing to find a bipartisan way forward – which isn’t to say that everyone in the House is ready to cede control of the legislative momentum just yet.  On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have also recognized their opportunity to move the political rhetoric beyond ‘repeal and replace’ and towards ‘repair’ of the existing health care law.  As lawmakers turn their attention to mapping out next steps, stakeholders now find themselves having to navigate the increasingly troubled waters of a system in flux.  Unresolved issues – particularly those surrounding the cost-sharing reductions, which have surfaced as an instrumental lever in stabilizing the markets – continue to shroud the future of those markets in uncertainty.  Meanwhile, other issues, like the risk mitigation programs and the individual mandate, continue to contribute to consumers’ growing exposure to disruption.  In the wake of last week’s derailed legislative efforts, experts are urging lawmakers to lock arms and commit to sensible market policies.  And, should they need further incentive, polls indicate that voters are now watching closely, with those on the right side of the aisle wanting Congress to continue to pursue health care reform.
As the dust settles around Republicans’ latest attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, attention now shifts to one of that law’s major provisions – Medicaid expansion.  On Tuesday, Senators in the Kansas state legislature voted to expand its Medicaid program, a week after state lawmakers in the House passed the measure.  While they failed to secure enough votes to overcome a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback (R), their efforts foreshadow similar moves by the remaining states that have yet to expand their Medicaid programs, such as Maine, Virginia, and North Carolina.  With approximately 74 million Americans (20 percent of the entire population) currently served by Medicaid, it’s no surprise that federal lawmakers continue to approach next steps for the program with caution
AARP Poll:
A new poll points to another large patient population increasingly frustrated with the runaway price of prescription drugs.  Released last week by AARP, their latest survey found that 76 percent of older Americans blame big drug company monopolies for the high prices of their medicines.  Additionally, 78 percent thought that allowing Medicare to negotiate with those manufacturers would lower prices and save the program money.  Those findings build on similar ones gathered last year, in which the vast majority (81 percent) of the 2,000, age 50-plus adults surveyed said they thought that drug prices were too high.  Pointedly, 9-in-10 wanted politicians to do something about it.      

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Looking Ahead

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is expected to finalize their latest recommendations modifying the underlying funding structure for the Medicare Advantage program on Monday.  For the latest, be sure to follow the Health Action Network on Facebook and Twitter.

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