Does anybody want to be HHS secretary?

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Does anybody want to be HHS secretary? Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and John Barrasso are dismissing chatter that they are interested in becoming the next secretary of Health and Human Services. The two senators’ names have been mentioned in several news reports as potential picks to replace Tom Price, who resigned Friday in response to a scandal over his private jet use. Barrasso told reporters Monday that the “honor of my life is serving as the senator from Wyoming. I feel privileged to do that and that is what I am going to continue.” He added that he doesn’t have any interest in the HHS job, but he did give the White House some suggestions. Johnson, who co-sponsored the latest Obamacare repeal bill that collapsed last week, also brushed off any speculation that he is up for the post. “I’m in the confirmation business, not the nomination business,” he told reporters. “I don’t even know where that one came from. I heard somebody mentioned my name. I have no idea why it was ever floated.”  Other names being suggested include Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who played a role in writing the Obamacare repeal bill sponsored by Johnson and three other senators, also has been suggested.

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GOP lawmakers want Puerto Rico funding to accompany children’s healthcare bill. Republicans from the House Energy and Commerce Committee have a plan to send $1 billion in additional Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico and tie that funding to a federal health insurance program for children. The money for the hurricane-ravaged territory would be part of a funding package for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, community health centers and other healthcare extenders, according to the Washington Post. The deadline to extend the funding of these programs was Oct. 1, but Congress did not act in time. Most states have enough funding for several more months, though. Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., outlined a plan to pay for the package, including charging higher Medicare premiums to seniors earning more than $500,000, shortening the grace period for Obamacare enrollees who don’t pay their premiums, and channeling money from the Affordable Care Act’s prevention and public health fund to community health centers, among other moves, according to the report. The committee intends to mark up the bill Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing on the CHIP bill the same day. Both pieces of legislation would provide additional CHIP funding for the next two years under Obamacare before rolling it back. Puerto Rico has been experiencing a Medicaid funding emergency, because extra funding to the program under Obamacare will expire at the end of the year. Like other U.S. territories, Puerto Rico receives substantially less federal Medicaid reimbursement than states.

White House backs 20-week abortion ban. The White House on Monday said President Trump would sign a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks, if Congress passes the legislation. The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday evening on the bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. If the bill were to become law, people who perform abortions after 20 weeks would face a fine, up to five years in prison or both. The bill contains limited exceptions, including when a woman’s pregnancy puts her life at risk and in cases of rape or incest. A similar piece of legislation passed the House in 2015 but was blocked by Senate Democrats. It is expected to be blocked again in the Senate, where Republicans hold a thin 52-seat majority. The bill needs 60 Senate votes to pass.

Sponsor of abortion ban wants to ditch filibuster. Franks told the Washington Examiner that it is time for the Senate to get rid of the legislative filibuster after it appears likely his bill will be blocked in the Senate. “There is a growing recognition that Democrats intend to change the rule as soon as they are in full power again, anyways,” Franks said. He pointed to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as evidence that senators are open to changing it, as that confirmation required Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to nuke the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. “Those who said they would never change the rule voted to a person to do exactly that,” Franks said. “I think the senators are realizing that this rule has protected them from a long time from taking tough votes.”

Nevada Obamacare rates to rise by nearly 37 percent. Nevada’s average Obamacare rate is expected to increase by nearly 37 percent next year. Nevada is the latest state to finalize its rates for 2018, with some states seeing decreases in some plans and others seeing double-digit increases. The average increase for rates sold on the exchange will be 36.8 percent above this year’s rate, the state said. However, the increase is slightly lower, 31.6 percent, when taking into account plans sold off the exchange on the individual market.

But some Minnesota rates could drop. The final rates, agreed to by the state and by insurers, range from a 3 percent increase to a 38 percent decrease. Mike Rothman, the state’s Department of Commerce Commissioner, credited the decrease with a $549 million reinsurance program paid for by the state that will help cover costs during the next two years. The program helps pay for the medical costs of sicker customers so that the costs for others do not rise. “While recent state actions helped to stabilize the individual market, too many Minnesotans are still paying too much for the coverage they need,” Rothman said. “The individual market survived a near-fatal crisis last year, but its recovery is still very tentative.” Minnesota officials have filed a waiver with the Trump administration to be reimbursed for the reinsurance fund and plan to use rainy day dollars if the waiver isn’t granted.

Medical groups call for gun control after Vegas massacre. Medical groups on Monday called for restrictions on firearms following the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed at least 59 people and wounded 515 others. “This terrible tragedy is another reminder that we still need to address the role of gun violence in our country,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Various medical groups for years have tried to tackle gun violence, which includes injuries, suicides and homicides, through approaches they say are similar to those used in public health campaigns such as those aimed at smoking or car crashes. Gun rights groups, however, see the position as a thinly veiled attempt to restrict gun ownership or to provide new grounds for seizing firearms. The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest doctor group, on Monday renewed its call for background checks and wait periods for gun ownership. The group first adopted a policy in 2016 calling gun violence a public health issue, shortly after the mass shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

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Calendar

TUESDAY | Oct. 3

Oct. 2-6. National Health IT Week. Details.

Oct. 2-3. Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave. NW. Behavioral Health Hill Days. Details.

House to vote on 20-week abortion ban, Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

WEDNESDAY | Oct. 4

8 a.m. Westin New York. S&P Global Ratings’ Health Care Conference. Agenda.

8 a.m. Newseum. 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Event with the Hill on “Innovating to improve patient health.” Details.

9:30 a.m. 215 Dirksen. Senate Finance Committee markup on CHIP reauthorization. Details.

10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Brookings Institution event on “What does 21st century medicine look like?” Details.

THURSDAY | Oct. 5

10 a.m. 430 Dirksen. Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the “Federal Response to the Opioid Crisis.” Details.

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Does anybody want to be HHS secretary?

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