Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 24, 2014

Posts in "Health Care"

April 17, 2014

Obama Boasts Health Care Enrollment Hits 8 Million, Talks Immigration, Highways (Updated)

476987813 445x316 Obama Boasts Health Care Enrollment Hits 8 Million, Talks Immigration, Highways (Updated)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File Photo)

Updated 4:38 p.m. | President Barack Obama said Thursday that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance coverage in the marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act, and whacked Republicans for “endless, fruitless repeal efforts.”

We are “now covering more people at less cost,” Obama told reporters gathered for an impromptu statement in the Brady Briefing Room. “The bottom line is … this thing is working.”

The president also said the data show 35 percent of people who signed up are under the age of 35, a critical factor to the exchanges working and keeping costs down.

Obama went after Republicans, saying “they were wrong” to try and get rid of his signature domestic achievement and that they “have no alternative answer for millions of Americans.”

Full story

April 11, 2014

Burwell Should Expect Tough Questions, Easy Confirmation

484062777 445x304 Burwell Should Expect Tough Questions, Easy Confirmation

(Via AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama said Friday he assumes the Senate will easily confirm Sylvia Matthews Burwell to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services — and he’s almost certainly right.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t relishing the idea of re-litigating the health care law once again under the bright lights of a nomination hearing.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, promised a “fair and thorough vetting process” and already signaled the Affordable Care Act will be his target, calling it “an unmitigated disaster.” Full story

April 10, 2014

Sebelius Resigning; Burwell to Take Place

Senate Finance Committee 25 110613 223x335 Sebelius Resigning; Burwell to Take Place

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:37 p.m. | Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning and President Barack Obama will replace her with OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell.

Sebelius’s resignation comes on a relatively high note, with the White House trumpeting a late surge in initial signups for the Affordable Care Act exchanges — topping 7.5 million just today. But she was deeply damaged by the disastrous initial rollout of the Healthcare.gov website last year, and there had been speculation on how long she would last as a result.

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Sebelius was cheered during a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 30, 2013, the day before the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Health and Human Services released a statement on her decision to resign:

From her work on Head Start, to expanding mental health coverage, to advancing cutting-edge health care research and, of course, her unwavering leadership in implementing the Affordable Care Act, Secretary Sebelius often calls her work here the most meaningful of her life. As she closes this chapter, Secretary Sebelius is extremely thankful to President Obama and very proud of the historic accomplishments of this Administration.

Burwell, who has already cleared one Senate confirmation process, will have to clear another, although in a post-nuclear-option Senate, Republicans do not have the ability to block her nomination. That might have been different if Sebelius had waited until next year, should Republicans take back control of the chamber. Full story

April 7, 2014

White House, on Obamacare High, Ranks POTUS With LBJ

sotu tw010 012814 445x292 White House, on Obamacare High, Ranks POTUS With LBJ

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House’s self-congratulations on Obamacare don’t appear to be slowing down any after last-week’s victory lap, judging by a background briefing with a senior administration official Monday.

Republicans bet big that the Affordable Care Act was going to be a failure, and they were wrong, said the official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that no direct quotes would be used. The GOP may think the health care law is going to sink Democrats, but that is not going to happen, the official said.

Instead, the Affordable Care Act would go down as one of the greatest achievements by any president in history, the official predicted, comparing President Barack Obama’s legislative achievements in his first two years in office favorably to President Lyndon Johnson’s accomplishments. (For those keeping track, LBJ’s achievements include civil rights, voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid, to name a few). The president will speak at an event later this week at the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 8:50 p.m.
Health Care

March 31, 2014

CBO Calls Baloney on Using War Money to Pay Medicare Docs (Updated)

Updated 3:54 p.m. | Congressional budget scorekeepers don’t sound impressed with using projected savings from not fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent slashing paychecks for doctors.

In a cost estimate released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office explained that $601 billion in projected savings from limits on the Overseas Contingency Operations account might never be spent anyway, and noted there’s no funding currently provided for the OCO funding.

“As a result, reductions relative to the baseline might simply reflect policy decisions that have already been made and that would be realized even without such funding constraints. Moreover, if future policymakers believed that national security required appropriations above the capped amounts, they would almost certainly provide emergency appropriations that would not, under current law, be counted against either the existing caps on discretionary funding or the proposed new caps on funding for overseas contingency operations.”

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In First Tests as Finance Chairman, Wyden Pushes Against Patches

wyden 200 032514 445x296 In First Tests as Finance Chairman, Wyden Pushes Against Patches

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In his first major tests as Senate Finance chairman, Ron Wyden is waging war against the congressional penchant for patches and punting. It’s not proving to be an easy fight.

The Oregon Democrat is pushing his colleagues to enact a permanent overhaul of the “sustainable growth rate” formula that requires cuts in doctor pay under Medicare — and on March 31 he plans to unveil a permanent, bipartisan tax extender package, eschewing the yearly fixes that have long been the norm.

“This is the time to do it,” Wyden said of putting a permanent end to the annual “doc fix” debate. Full story

March 27, 2014

Landrieu, Begich Among Moderates Pushing Obamacare Fixes

A day after Senate Democratic leaders played down possible election year blowback from Obamacare, a group of six moderate Democrats, including two with tough reelection races, unveiled a package of proposals for improving the law.

Senior Senate Republicans aides argued that the timing belies that Democrats are worried that the troubled roll out of the health care law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, could hurt them in the November election.

“They see the writing on the wall just like everybody else,” one GOP aide said.

The aides’ comments come after Democrats unveiled their middle-class-focused their agenda Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was peppered with questions about whether Democrats were concerned about electoral fallout from the health care law.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., dismissed the GOP criticism and said she has been committed to improving the law since it became law. She also stressed not to read anything into the timing.

“First of all, don’t try to put those things together because they have nothing to do with each other,” said Landrieu, who is in a tossup race, according to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings.

“There have been several of us who have said from the beginning, since we voted for the Affordable Care Act, that it could be improved, that it was not perfect,” Landrieu continued. “We have been talking about it for literally a year and a half. We’ve all filed a variety of different bills to improve it. This work that our group has been doing has been going on for months and months and months.”

“So what this is is just an ongoing effort … to improve the Affordable Care Act, and that is all it is,” Landrieu said.

She reiterated her support for the law and stressed that it will insure millions who would otherwise not have it.

“My position has been the same from the beginning,” Landrieu said. “I think it still holds a tremendous amount of promise for middle class families, small business and companies that have never really offered affordable coverage. [But] there are some problems with it and I believe with some fixes and improvements it can be stronger.”

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who is also a member of the group, agreed that the bill could be improved. Begich is up for reelection and Republicans see his seat as a possible pick up — though at the moment the race tilts Democratic, according to Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

“Whether it’s an issue [in the election] or not, there are fixes that are necessary,” Begich said. “I’ve proposed fixes literally not long after the bill passed — some that have become law.”

Begich, as did Landrieu, helped champion a bill passed in 2011 that repealed a requirement under the law that companies file a 1099 form with the IRS every time they conduct $600 worth of business with a vendor.

“I am going to continue to push forward, as I have on my own, but now as a larger group maybe will have more push.”

A senior Senate Democratic aide said the efforts of the moderate Democrats are in tune with the agenda they unveiled yesterday, which is focused on middle class, pocketbook issues affecting most Americans rather than the subset of people affected by the health care law given that most people get their health insurance through their jobs.

“It’s important to do both, answer attacks on the Affordable Care Act, but also push to make it better, in addition to promoting a positive agenda that affects the entirety of the America people,” the aide said.

But Republicans contend that the agenda is merely an effort to change the subject from the health care law ahead of the November election.

The Democrat’s “so-called agenda is actually a political gambit … [which] basically has one intent: to bail out imperiled Democrats — Democrats desperate to distract from how Obamacare is devastating the middle class,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday morning.

Along with Landrieu and Begich, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote an op-ed in Politico proposing nine improvements to the law.

The proposed fixes are aimed at offering more convenient and greater access to coverage, greater choice and affordability, and improved flexibility for workers and businesses.

The bills include one that would provide a permanent path for consumers to enroll directly through insurers or certified web-based entities in addition to enrolling through healthcare.gov. Another, championed by Begich, would create a “copper” plan that would offer lower deductibles but higher out-of-pocket costs than the health law’s gold, silver and bronze plans.

Senate to Vote on ‘Doc Fix’ Monday, Wyden Looking Ahead (Updated)

wyden 126 062513 264x335 Senate to Vote on Doc Fix Monday, Wyden Looking Ahead (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:18 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hoped to send a yearlong patch for payments to doctors treating Medicare patients to President Barack Obama’s desk today, but it was not to be. A vote on the “doc fix” bill was postponed until Monday evening.

The Nevada Democrat’s comments on the floor backing the patch came not long after a surprise House voice vote to pass the measure, which represents a compromise between Reid and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

“I personally am not overjoyed about what’s in the bill, but I’m satisfied with what’s in the bill, and I would hope that we could expeditiously move and get this done today,” Reid said.

He praised the efforts of Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to develop a long-term solution for the ongoing Medicare payment rate debacle that’s led to the recurring “doc fix” patches. Wyden said he would keep his focus on that longer-term solution.

“The patches do not meet the needs of seniors and doctors and what our country deserves,” Wyden said. “The cost of these past patches really is about the same cost as repeal, so I intend to work very closely with Leader Reid and Republicans.

“The patch, guys, is Medicare make-believe. It’s a fake. You have this target which is always exceeded,” Wyden said. “There have been 16 of them.”

Reid’s office previously indicated that Wyden would be able to get a floor vote on the broader bill, but it became clear that the patch was the only way forward by March 31.

March 26, 2014

On Obamacare, Harry Reid Says the Joke Is on Boehner

reid 198 032514 445x296 On Obamacare, Harry Reid Says the Joke Is on Boehner

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats unveiled an agenda Wednesday focused on the middle class and designed to help them keep the majority, but spent part of their press conference parrying questions about whether the Affordable Care Act would be a liability for Democrats in the November election.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ripped Republicans for attacking the White House’s latest deadline extension aimed at giving people more time to sign up for health insurance beyond March 31.

“They should be trying to help people get health care,” Reid said, adding that the criticism is “a bunch of drivel.” Full story

March 25, 2014

Durbin, Democrats Rip E-Cigarettes as ‘Candy-Flavored Poisons,’ Want Ban on Sale to Children

durbin 114 021114 445x302 Durbin, Democrats Rip E Cigarettes as Candy Flavored Poisons, Want Ban on Sale to Children

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Seven Senate Democrats are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate electronic cigarettes, citing a new report on nicotine poisoning.

The senators, led by Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, asked FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg in a new letter to regulate newly-developed nicotine products.

“The emerging market of new nicotine delivery products raises serious public health and consumer protection concerns. It’s time for the FDA to stop the sale of these candy-flavored poisons to our children,” Durbin and his colleagues wrote in Tuesday’s letter.

The latest in a series of missives about so-called e-cigs comes in response to a New York Times report on hazards associated with the nicotine liquids that are used in filling e-cigarettes. The New York Times referred to them as “powerful neurotoxins.”

Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barbara Boxer of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Jeff Merkley of Oregon joined in the new letter.

“Over the years we have seen the emergence of new nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, hookah pens, dissolvable nicotine orbs and strips, and liquid nicotine products, also called e-liquids, which are marketed to appeal to children with bright colors and flavors like cherry and bubble gum,” the senators wrote. “Unlike traditional cigarettes and tobacco products, these novel nicotine products are not subject to federal regulations that prohibit sale to minors, restrict marketing to youth, ban products in candy and fruit flavors, and regulate manufacturing practices and ingredients.”

March 13, 2014

GOP Could Force Vote to Negate Obamacare Carve-Out for Unions

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Thune signed on to a letter criticizing what the GOP is calling an Obamacare “carve-out” for labor unions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Republicans have at least one arrow in their quiver to force an uncomfortable Obamacare vote for Democrats seeking re-election in 2014.

That’s one takeaway from a new letter signed by 25 GOP senators led by John Thune of South Dakota, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The letter sent to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell criticized an exemption from a re-insurance fee for self-insured health plans, calling the maneuver a carve-out for labor unions that run such plans.

“We demand that the rule be immediately rescinded or we will consider using options such as the Congressional Review Act … to stop the rule from going into effect. The CRA is an important backstop against executive branch excess and overreach,” the senators wrote. “It is regulations such as this one that demonstrate why a Republican-led Congress enacted this law in 1996.”

Full story

February 26, 2014

Democrats: Obamacare ‘Horror Stories’ Will Be Disproved

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Stabenow is helping lead a Democratic defense of Obamacare. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats are pushing back against “horror stories” from individuals who contend they’ve faced dire consequences from the implementation of Obamacare, saying they’ll be revealed as untrue.

“All of them are untrue. But they’re being told all over America,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., during a floor speech, criticizing the Koch brothers for what he considers false attacks.

Full story

February 25, 2014

Senate Democrats Plan Obamacare PR Counteroffensive

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A group of Senate Democrats is expected to launch a counteroffensive in favor of Obamacare on Wednesday, a response to the persistent attacks on the law from their Republican counterparts.

Democrats discussed the new endeavor touting benefits of the Affordable Care Act during Tuesday’s weekly caucus lunch to a warm reception, according to Connecticut’s Christopher S. Murphy, who is one of the senators leading the effort. A Senate Democratic aide said the formal rollout will come Wednesday.

“This is about making sure that the Republicans … aren’t trashing the ACA in a vacuum, that there is a real public perception that Democrats still believe in this law, because we do,” Murphy said. “I think when Democrats are silent, people have a right to wonder whether we still believe in the ACA, and the answer is we absolutely do, but we can show that in our conduct on the floor, in social media and in front of the press.”

Full story

February 21, 2014

Manchin Still Opposes Repealing Obamacare

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III is making clear he would oppose an immediate repeal of Obamacare.

“I have never supported repealing the Affordable Care Act because I came to Washington to find solutions to our country’s problems,” the West Virginia senator said Friday. “We cannot go back to the days when millions of Americans were uninsured and nearly twenty percent of our GDP was spent on healthcare, while only being ranked 43rd in the world in health and wellness outcomes.”

Full story

February 10, 2014

One Obamacare Mandate Delay Announced as GOP Senators Question Another

Smaller employers will have another year to comply with the requirement to provide health care to employees under Obamacare’s new requirements, even as Republican senators question how the administration will enforce the individual mandate at all.

The employer mandate had already been delayed for one year, but the Treasury Department announced Monday afternoon that the final rule for implementation provides a further phase-in for smaller employers.

“While the employer responsibility provisions will generally apply starting in 2015, they will not apply until 2016 to employers with at least 50 but fewer than 100 full-time employees if the employer provides an appropriate certification described in the rules,” the Treasury Department wrote in a fact sheet announcing the final rules.

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