Health Secretary Alex Azar is returning to Capitol Hill in the coming week to defend his agency’s fiscal 2019 budget request before the House Appropriations Committee.
Azar is scheduled to testify Thursday before the panel’s health subcommittee.
He can expect to face tough questions from lawmakers about the administration’s proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. But he’ll also likely get a grilling from Democrats over how he is dealing with ObamaCare.
The administration is charging ahead with two proposals to expand access to insurance plans that don’t comply with ObamaCare requirements.
Republicans say those changes will help make health plans affordable, but Democrats see it as an effort to undercut the health law and warn it could increase premiums for those stuck in the individual markets.
Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), on Friday defended the proposal to expand the duration of short-term insurance plans from three months to 12. She said it would create affordable options for consumers while having a minimal impact on the ObamaCare markets.
“We believe this is far better than forcing people to buy coverage they don’t want and can’t afford,” Verma tweeted.
Lawmakers will also likely question Azar about the administration’s response to Idaho’s proposal to sell plans not compliant with ObamaCare. And in this case he can expect scrutiny from both sides of the aisle.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) had proposed allowing insurers to sell plans that circumvent some ObamaCare rules, arguing it would help younger, healthier people get affordable plans.
Democrats had blasted the move and pressured the administration to block Idaho.
On Thursday, Verma wrote to Otter that the proposal wouldn’t comply with current law.
“[The Affordable Care Act] remains the law and we have a duty to enforce and uphold the law,” she wrote.
The decision was particularly noteworthy because it put a Republican administration at odds with a GOP governor.
But the controversy may not be over yet.
On Friday, Otter said his state is not backing down from trying to offer new insurance plans. He said he did not take Verma’s letter to mean the administration was rejecting the proposal and said talks were still ongoing.
“Contrary to news media interpretations, the letter from CMS Administrator Verma was not a rejection of our approach to providing affordable health insurance options for the people of Idaho,” he said in a statement.
Azar will also likely face questions about Scott Lloyd, the HHS official who has tried to block unaccompanied minors from receiving abortions. Calls for him to step down or be fired have intensified among top Democrats.
Azar on Thursday, though, indicated that he intends to stick by Lloyd and his office.
“The Office of Refugee Resettlement has a very difficult task,” Azar said in a briefing with reporters Thursday.
“We are charged with these young women and young men who are minors. They are put into our charge and custody and we have to take care of them and have to ensure and look out for their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as for… the wellbeing of their unborn children, and so we’re dong the best we can there.”
The administration’s recent changes to a federal family planning program and approval of state Medicaid work requirements are also likely to be key topics.
Hearings & events
The American Enterprise Institute will hold an event with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on the opioid crisis at 2 p.m. at 189 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of Animal Drug User Fees at 10:15 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2125.
The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education budget request at 10 a.m. at Rayburn room 2632-C.
The Senate health committee with hold a hearing on the Medicare 340B discount drug program at 10 a.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 430.
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