Mary Ellen McIntire

Large employers question ‘Medicare for All’ plans, survey shows
Business group poll shows concerns about costs, taxes still loom large

Most large employers say a “Medicare for All” system would lower the number of uninsured people in the United States, but they are concerned it could increase health care costs and taxes while stifling innovation and quality, a new survey shows.

The concerns come as health industry groups seek to block momentum for plans from Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers to expand Medicare through a single-payer program or to allow people under age 65 to enroll in the program.

Obamacare takes another hit, this time from Democrats
CQ on Congress, Episode 164

Democrats were nearly unanimous in voting to end the so-called "Cadillac tax" on high cost health insurance plans that was the principal mechanism in the Affordable Care Act aimed at reducing health care costs. Josh Gordon, policy director for the Concord Coalition, a group that seeks to restrain budget deficits, says that's regrettable. And CQ Roll Call health care reporter Mary Ellen McIntire explains why Democrats are willing to weaken the financing of the 2010 law.

Harris introduces health care plan building on Medicare with 10-year transition
During the transition, employers could continue to offer private coverage to employees, but could also shift to paying for a Medicare plan

Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris on Monday unveiled her plan to broaden health care coverage, creating a contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden that could play out during their debate Wednesday night.

The California senator’s plan comes after months of hedging her support for a single-payer, government-run system. Harris is staking out a position on the hot political issue between Biden, who wants to set up a voluntary public insurance option, and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the leading advocate for a single-payer system known as “Medicare for All.”

Health care law supporters launch August tour
Route will include states where Republican senators face competitive reelection races

 An advocacy group that supports the 2010 health law will launch a national tour next month with the hope of carrying its success from last year’s campaigns into the 2020 election cycle.

Protect Our Care, a group formed to defend the law, plans at least 22 events in August across the country, according to information first shared exclusively with CQ Roll Call.

House passes repeal of Obamacare tax on high-cost plans
‘Cadillac tax’ never took effect under intense lobbying against it by employers and unions

The House passed, 419-6, legislation Wednesday to repeal the so-called Cadillac tax, pleasing health insurers, unions and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who have long pushed to scrap the levy.

The measure would permanently repeal the 40 percent excise tax on high-cost employer-provided health insurance, which was envisioned as a key way to pay for the 2010 health care law. The tax, which Congress twice delayed from taking effect, is set to go into effect in 2022.

Health care continues to define, divide 2020 Democratic field
As candidates debate plans and GOP preps attacks, some early voters just tuning in

Declaring that “starting over makes no sense,” former Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that he would build on Democrats’ signature 2010 health insurance overhaul and that plans offered by rivals for the presidential nomination would reverse gains made under President Barack Obama.

Biden released his plan ahead of a speech that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is to give Wednesday to promote a government-run “Medicare for All” system. It is the first of several forums hosted by AARP in Iowa, where 2020 hopefuls will talk about how to lower prescription drug prices.

House to vote on health care ‘Cadillac tax’ repeal
Surcharge on certain high-cost employer health plans was envisioned as a way to pay for Obamacare law

The House plans to vote Wednesday on legislation that would roll back the so-called “Cadillac tax” under the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare.

The 40 percent surcharge tax applies to certain high-cost employer health care plans (hence the “Cadillac tax” nickname). It isn’t set to take effect until 2022, and Congress has twice delayed its implementation.

Federal appeals court questions legality of Obamacare insurance mandate
Case has high stakes for health care law’s future

A three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suggested during a Tuesday hearing it might uphold at least part of a lower court ruling to strike down the 2010 health care law.

Two judges, both appointed by Republican presidents, questioned the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that most Americans get health care coverage. A third, appointed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, stayed silent throughout the nearly two-hour oral argument hearing in New Orleans, which follows a December decision by federal Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas calling for the law to be struck down.

High-stakes lawsuit makes health care law a 2020 issue
Court hearing comes as Democrats have been debating their next steps beyond the 2010 law

For all their differences on “Medicare for All,” Democrats will have a chance to rally around the 2010 health care law this week.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the high-profile Texas v. Azar lawsuit on Tuesday, which could spell the future of the health care law and become a major issue in the 2020 election cycle.

Kamala Harris backtracks on eliminating private health insurance
Raised hand in Democratic presidential debate after question about elimination

California Sen. Kamala Harris  walked back her support for eliminating private health insurance Friday, a day after she raised her hand during a Democratic presidential primary debate to indicate she supported getting rid of it.

Harris said Friday on MSNBC that she raised her hand with the intention of saying she personally would get rid of her private insurance plan in favor of a “Medicare for All” plan, but does not support eliminating private insurance. People could keep private insurance coverage for supplemental coverage, she said.

Senate panel approves health cost bill but plans changes
Sanders, Warren vote ‘no’ by proxy as they head to Democratic presidential debates

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday approved, 20-3, legislation meant to lower health care costs, although senators suggested that more changes are likely before the floor debate next month.

Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee hopes to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote in mid-to-late July, which will likely set up a flurry of lobbying and debate among lawmakers over changes to it.

Democrats face pressure in debates on overhauling health care
But candidates will likely have little time to offer up new details about their plans

When 20 of the Democratic presidential candidates take the debate stage Wednesday and Thursday, one key difference that could emerge is whether candidates say they would seek another overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system.

The debate will be an opportunity for the White House aspirants to outline their health care plans — an issue that polls consistently show is a priority for Democratic voters. Most of the party’s 24 candidates have yet to release their own comprehensive plans explaining their priorities on an issue that contrasts significantly with President Donald Trump’s approach.

Repeal of abortion funding ban won’t be part of spending debate, sponsor says
Longstanding Hyde amendment unlikely to be addressed on House floor this week

An amendment to repeal a 42-year-old prohibition on using federal public health funds for abortions won’t be part of the debate on a nearly $1 trillion appropriations bill covering the Department of Health and Human Services and several other agencies.

That was the view Monday night of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, who co-sponsored a proposal to repeal the Hyde amendment, which the appropriations package headed to the House floor this week would continue. The language is named for its author, the late Illinois Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde.

Trump proposal would roll back transgender, abortion protections
HHS says new regulation would save $3.6 billion in the first five years

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday proposed to roll back protections under the 2010 health care law related to sex discrimination, which some advocates worry could affect health care access for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The proposal would reverse an Obama-era policy that protected gender identity and termination of pregnancy under non-discrimination protections.

Alexander, Murray outline plan to lower health costs
Alexander he hopes it will get a committee mark up next month and the Senate will debate a bill in July

Two influential senators released draft health care legislation Thursday, a package of narrowly tailored proposals that will likely be part of a measure to lower health care costs that lawmakers hope to pass this year.

The draft bill, from Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash., targets five areas: banning surprise medical bills; speeding low-cost generic drugs to market; increasing transparency; improving public health; and enhancing health information technology, according to a summary.

House vote combining drug, health law bills irks Republicans
Combining the two bills sets up a political minefield for Republicans who are torn between the two issues

The House is set to vote Thursday on legislation meant to lower prescription drug prices and strengthen the individual health insurance exchanges, setting up a political minefield for Republicans who are torn between the two issues.

Democratic leaders’ decision to combine legislation that would make it easier to bring generic drugs to market with bills that would bolster the 2010 health care law does not damage the prospects of passage for the package of bills. But that does make it certain that most Republicans will vote against the bipartisan drug pricing legislation.

Trump calls for end to surprise out-of-network medical bills

President Donald Trump on Thursday called on Congress to pass legislation intended to curb surprise medical bills, an issue with bipartisan interest on Capitol Hill but one that has stalled under intense industry lobbying.

Trump laid out core principles the White House wants in legislation, which officials hope Congress will send to the president later this year. Trump’s remarks came after lawmakers focused on the issue asked the White House to get involved to secure more support, a senior White House official said.

House Democrats kick off wonky ‘Medicare for All’ debate
Initial hearing exemplifies party’s balancing act on divisive issue

House Democrats’ first formal foray into debating a national “Medicare for All” system, with a rare initial hearing in the Rules Committee on Tuesday, demonstrates how carefully the party is trying to present a united image on a divisive election-year issue.

Like the broader party, the committee’s Democrats are split over a bill that would shift most Americans into a government-paid health care system. Five of the nine Democrats on the panel, commonly referred to as the “Speaker’s committee,” have endorsed the bill, while four have not.

First quarter drug lobbying outpaces other health care sectors
Big spending comes amid bipartisan support for legislation to lower drug prices

Several health care trade groups and businesses upped their lobbying expenditures in the opening stretch of 2019, with the pharmaceutical industry reporting the highest expenditures as lawmakers focus on rising drug prices.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents the pharmacy benefit managers that have emerged as a bogeyman in the drug pricing debate, more than doubled its lobbying expenditures in the first quarter of the year compared to the equivalent period in 2018. So far this year, the group has spent $1.49 million on lobbying, compared to last year’s first quarter sum of $741,557.

‘Medicare for All’ keeps defining 2020 political landscape
Progressive health care plan could become point of contention as campaign heats up

The “Medicare for All” bill that presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders released Wednesday is more likely to be litigated on the campaign trail than in the halls of Congress. And it highlights a rare political divide among Democrats on one of their marquee issues even as the party seeks to appear unified.

Supporters of the Vermont independent are vying with Democrats who prefer to expand and protect the 2010 health care law. Those differences have recently been overshadowed by larger fights between the two parties after the Trump administration broadened its position in a high-profile lawsuit by calling to strike down the entire 2010 law.