Federal Judges Strike Down Trump’s Conscience Rule for Health Providers
On Wednesday, a federal judge voided the Trump administration’s “conscience rule” that would have allowed health care providers to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or other types of care they disagree with on religious or moral grounds. HHS issued the conscience rule in May, and it had been scheduled to take effect November 22. Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled in favor of the 26 plaintiff states, municipalities, providers and advocacy groups, like Planned Parenthood, agreeing that the policy could threaten funding long relied on and drastically disrupt the health care system.
Following suit, a second federal judge struck down the rule on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian of Washington issued an oral ruling against the conscience rule and stated he would release a written opinion soon. These rulings are part of an ongoing series of legal battles spotlighting the administration’s socially conservative policies in federally funded health programs. There is also a third case pending related to the conscience rule in a federal district court in California in which the judge has already showed skepticism on the rule during oral arguments. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup signaled he doesn’t think HHS has the authority to expand health workers’ ability to refuse to provide care on religious or moral grounds.
No Movement Yet for Pelosi Plan, Senate Finance Committee Drug Legislation
The White House top domestic policy aide, Joe Grogan, called the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan drug pricing bill the most likely path this year to lowering prescription drug prices. According to Grogan, prescription drug pricing legislation is one of the Trump administration’s top three congressional priorities for the end of the year. The committee approved the measure (19-9) in July, but only six out of the fifteen Republicans joined all of the committee’s Democrats supporting the bill. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he is still working on changes to the legislation to garner more support. Sen. Grassley did not indicate when the final version of his legislation will be released. Despite bipartisan and bicameral motivation, senators have indicated that prescription drug legislative bills are unlikely to go anywhere until after an impeachment trial of President Trump.
The House vote on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sweeping drug pricing bill, H.R. 3, will not take place until the first week of December. Initially, House leadership wanted to have a vote on the package by next week. However, the full Congressional Budget Office score of the bill will not be ready for two more weeks. The legislation is estimated to save hundreds of billions of dollars. Lawmakers still need to combine three distinct versions of the bill that emerged from markups by the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor committees, then send it through a Rules Committee meeting and work out a process for floor amendments.
Health-Related Bills Introduced This Week
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced S. 2817 to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish an annual reference price for insulin products for purposes of federal health programs and for other purposes.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced S. 2812 to amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to establish a Medicare payment option for patients and eligible professionals to freely contract, without penalty, for Medicare fee-for-service items and services, while allowing Medicare beneficiaries to use their Medicare benefits.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced S. 2807 to amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to improve the quality of care furnished by hospice programs under the Medicare program.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced S. 2785 to set forth a method of determining maximum out-of-pocket limits and annual updates to premium tax credit eligibility under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced S. 2772 to amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for treatment of clinical psychologists as physicians for purposes of furnishing clinical psychologist services under the Medicare program.
Next Week in Washington
Both the House and Senate are back to work next week. The impeachment process will continue to take up most of the attention on Capitol Hill, with public hearings set to begin on Wednesday. Current stopgap funding for the government expires on November 21, which is less than two weeks away. Congress will continue to negotiate spending bills and will likely land on extending stopgap funding at least until mid-December.
On November 13, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing on “Examining the Response to Lung Illnesses and Rising Youth Electronic Cigarette Use.” On November 14, the House Ways & Means Committee will hold a hearing on caring for aging Americans. The committee said the hearing will likely cover a wide range of issues, including care in the home, hospice, nursing homes, antipsychotic use in nursing homes and other long-term care issues. Also on November 14, the House Oversight and Reform Committee holds a hearing on “Examining State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care.”
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