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.

States have tried versions of ‘skinny repeal.’ It didn’t go well.

Betting that thin is in — and might be the only way forward — Senate Republicans are eyeing a “skinny repeal” that rolls back an unpopular portion of the federal health law. But experts warn that the idea has been tried before, and with little success. Senators are reportedly considering a narrow bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate,” which assesses a tax on Americans who don’t have insurance, along with penalties for employers with 50 or more workers who fail to offer health coverage. Details aren’t clear, but it appears that — at least initially — the rest of the 2010 health law would remain, including the rule that says insurers must cover people with preexisting medical problems.

In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “we just heard from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that under such a plan … 16 million Americans would lose their health insurance, and millions more would pay a 20 percent increase in their premiums.” A bipartisan group of 10 governors – including Ohio’s John Kasich and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval – signed a letter echoing these concerns and urging the Senate to reject it. But earlier in the day, some Republicans saw this concept as a means to advance the debate.

‘Extreme’ use of painkillers and doctor shopping plague Medicare, new report says

In Washington, D.C., a Medicare beneficiary filled prescriptions for 2,330 pills of oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine in a single month last year — written by just one of the 42 health providers who prescribed the person such drugs. In Illinois, a different Medicare enrollee received 73 prescriptions for opioid drugs from 11 prescribers and filled them at 20 different pharmacies. He sometimes filled prescriptions at multiple pharmacies on the same day. These are among the examples cited in a sobering new report released today by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IG found that heavy painkiller use and abuse remains a serious problem in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D, which serves more than 43 million seniors and disabled people.

Former ‘Border Czar’ gives real facts about immigration

It’s hard to find anyone in Washington who knows border issues better than Alan Bersin. His unique perspective combines years of frontline law enforcement experience with academic knowledge and intellectual interest in the historical, economic and social forces that are at work at the borders of the United States, especially the U.S.-Mexico line. Bersin became U.S. attorney in San Diego in 1993 and subsequently spent almost five years as President Clinton’s “border czar,” overseeing a border-wide crackdown on illegal immigration and drug smuggling. During the Obama administration, he served in several key posts in the Department of Homeland Security, including as acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the force of 58,000 employees that includes the U.S. Border Patrol as well as CBP officers guarding air, land and sea ports of entry. He later served as assistant secretary for international affairs and chief diplomatic officer at DHS, a job he left last month.

House bill calling for $2M in tuition aid for preschool teachers advances

A measure that would provide $2 million in tuition assistance for preschool teachers to further their education advanced in the state House on Wednesday, with unanimous approval from lawmakers on the Education Committee. The money, which would come from the state’s general fund, would help retain early childhood educators and allow them to command higher wages, said the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences. “This is directly tied to the quality of [the early childhood education] staff,” Dow said during Wednesday’s hearing on House Bill 135. She said the vast majority of educators who would benefit from the bill are women and minorities. A 2016 report by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services said preschool teachers in the U.S. earn an average of $28,570, far less than the average salary of a kindergarten teacher — over $51,000 — and less than the wages of waiters, janitors and pest-control workers.

Delegation wants federal investigation into behavioral health situation

Democratic members of New Mexico congressional delegation announced they are calling on the federal government to investigate the behavioral health shakeup from two years ago. The call came in the form of a letter from two U.S. Senators and two of the three members of Congress. All four are Democrats. The letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell cites Attorney General Hector Balderas’ investigation that cleared 13 of 15 providers; the investigation into the final two providers is still ongoing. Last week, Balderas announced ten more providers were cleared, in addition to the three who had been cleared the year before.