Trump administration proposes rule to loosen curbs on short-term health plans

Insurers will again be able to sell short-term health insurance good for up to 12 months under a proposed rule released Tuesday by the Trump administration that could further roil the marketplace. “We want to open up affordable alternatives to unaffordable Affordable Care Act policies,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “This is one step in the direction of providing Americans health insurance options that are more affordable and more suitable to individual and family circumstances.”

The proposed rule said short-term plans could add more choices to the market at lower cost and may offer broader provider networks than Affordable Care Act plans in rural areas. But most short-term coverage requires answering a string of medical questions, and insurers can reject applicants with preexisting medical problems, which ACA plans cannot do. As a result, the proposed rule also noted that some people who switch to them from ACA coverage may see “reduced access to some services,” and “increased out of pocket costs, possibly leading to financial hardship.”

The directive follows an executive order issued in October to roll back restrictions put in place during the Obama administration that limited these plans to three months.

Pharmacists slow to dispense lifesaving overdose drug

Gale Dunham, a pharmacist in Calistoga, Calif., knows the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought, and she is glad the anti-overdose drug naloxone is becoming more accessible. But so far, Dunham said, she has not taken advantage of a California law that allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to patients without a doctor’s prescription. She said she plans to take the training required at some point but has not yet seen much demand for the drug. “I don’t think people who are heroin addicts or taking a lot of opioids think that they need it,” Dunham said. “Here, nobody comes and asks for it.”

In the three years since the California law took effect, pharmacists have been slow to dispense naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose.

Trump administration relaxes financial penalties against nursing homes

The Trump administration — reversing guidelines put in place under President Barack Obama — is scaling back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents or place them in grave risk of injury. The shift in the Medicare program’s penalty protocols was requested by the nursing home industry. The American Health Care Association, the industry’s main trade group, has complained that under Obama inspectors focused excessively on catching wrongdoing rather than helping nursing homes improve. “It is critical that we have relief,” Mark Parkinson, the group’s president, wrote in a letter to then-President-elect Donald Trump in December 2016. Since 2013, nearly 6,500 nursing homes — 4 of every 10 — have been cited at least once for a serious violation, federal records show.

Stopping opioid addiction at one key source: The hospital

It may not be rocket science, but a group of surgeons at the University of Michigan’s Michigan Medicine have devised a strategy to curb the nation’s opioid epidemic — starting at their own hospital. Their findings appeared online Wednesday in the journal JAMA Surgery. Opioid addiction has been deemed a “national emergency.” It’s estimated to have claimed 64,000 lives in 2016 alone. And research shows that post-surgical patients are at an increased risk of addiction because of the medication they receive to help manage pain during recovery. This story originally appeared at Kaiser Health News.

States — And 9M kids — ‘In a bind’ as Congress dawdles on CHIP funding

Last week, Colorado became the first state to notify families that children who receive health insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program are in danger of losing their coverage. Nearly 9 million children are insured through CHIP, which covers mostly working-class families. The program has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, but Congress let federal funding for CHIP expire in September. The National Governors Association weighed in Wednesday, urging Congress to reauthorize the program this year because states are starting to run out of money. In Virginia, Linda Nablo, an official with the Department of Medical Assistance Services, is drafting a letter for parents of the 66,000 Virginia children enrolled in CHIP.

Medicaid expansion takes a bite out of medical debt

As the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress look to scale back Medicaid, many voters and state lawmakers across the country are moving to make it bigger. On Nov. 7, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Advocates are looking to follow suit with ballot measures in Utah, Missouri and Idaho in 2018. Virginia may also have another go at expansion after the Legislature thwarted Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s attempt to expand Medicaid.

The power of #MeToo: Why hashtag sparks ‘groundswell’ of sharing — and healing

As a Ph.D. candidate in the social sciences more than 20 years ago, Duana Welch, 49, had done enough research to know the consequences she’d face by reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. “When women came forward with allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, the woman was the person blamed and the woman was not believed,” she said. “I was very angry that I would pay the price for coming forward. I knew what would happen.”

Like most who’ve had similar experiences, Welch, a relationship expert in Eugene, Ore., kept quiet. She wanted to bury the inappropriate encounters initiated by men who outranked her in the workplace.

Stunner on birth control: Trump’s moral exemption is geared to just 2 groups

Few people were surprised last week when the Trump administration issued a rule to make it easier for some religious employers to opt out of offering no-cost prescription birth control to their female employees under the Affordable Care Act. But a separate regulation issued at the same time raised eyebrows. It creates a new exemption from the requirement that most employers offer contraceptive coverage. This one is for “non-religious organizations with sincerely held moral convictions inconsistent with providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services.”

So what’s the difference between religious beliefs and moral convictions? This story originally appeared on Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Senate Democrats delay HHS nominee over women’s health funding

Last week, 65 administration nominees — including four to Health and Human Services — sailed through the Senate confirmation process by unanimous vote without any debate. One candidate left out was Dr. Brett Giroir, a Texas physician, who is the president’s choice for assistant secretary of health. Now, shedding light on their reservations, Senate Democrats are saying that Giroir’s testimony before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee left them skeptical that he would support women’s health programs, which they say are under threat. The Democrats are insisting on a roll call vote on the Senate floor — after the Senate reconvenes Sept. 5. The position for which Giroir is nominated includes oversight of the Office of Population Affairs, which administers Title X grants, and the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversees the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Taking a U-Turn on benefits, big employers vow to continue offering health insurance

The shrinking unemployment rate has been a healthy turn for people with job-based benefits. Eager to attract help in a tight labor market and unsure of Obamacare’s future, large employers are newly committed to maintaining coverage for workers and often their families, according to new research and interviews with analysts. Two surveys of large employers — one released Aug. 2 by consultancy Willis Towers Watson and the other out Tuesday from the National Business Group on Health, show companies continue to try to control costs while backing away from shrinking or dropping health benefits. NBGH is a coalition of large employers.