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KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Legislate-A-Palooza

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The House overwhelmingly passed a 2020 National Defense Authorization that included a provision that would give 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers. The measure is expected to pass the Senate, and President Donald Trump has said he would sign the measure ― a priority for his daughter and special adviser Ivanka Trump ― into law.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan leadership of key health care committees on Capitol Hill announced compromise legislation to address “surprise” medical bills, but a deal on a final package is far from clear. The House passed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s package to lower prescription drug costs, but the measure is dead on arrival in the Senate, where a bipartisan proposal from leaders of the Senate Finance Committee is pending.

This week’s panelists are Mary Agnes Carey from Kaiser Health News, Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Emmarie Huetteman of Kaiser Health News.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The House passed a defense measure that includes 12 weeks of paid parental leave — which represents the biggest change to family leave policy since the Clinton administration. It also highlights a rare case of bipartisanship. The measure is on track to clear the Senate, and Trump has said he would sign it into law. The legislation would put parental leave benefits for federal employees more in line with those for military personnel. Federal employees’ benefits are more narrow, though.
  • There has been lots of talk and now maybe some Capitol Hill movement on the topic of surprise medical bill legislation. Earlier this week, the bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Republican leader of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) announced a compromise measure to curb these often-high unexpected bills. Midweek, the House Ways and Means Committee also announced that it had come to terms on an approach. These are clear signs of progress. What is not clear is when all the parties will coalesce. Key players, such as HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have yet to sign on. If a plan doesn’t crystallize in the immediate future, Congress will likely tackle it during the first few months of 2020.
  • Even as the podcast was being taped, the House was taking up H.R. 3, the drug-pricing bill backed by Pelosi. The measure is expected to pass the House easily with Democratic support. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it will not get a vote on the Senate floor. This is an interesting issue because the problem of the high cost of prescription drugs has the attention of Democrats, Republicans and the White House. House passage could create momentum in the Senate to address the issue through another measure, this one drafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
  • The feud between Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar continues. The two officials were called this week for White House meetings, but the battle has been open, public and vituperative, and policy areas ― such as the administration’s plan for an Affordable Care Act replacement as well as for high drug costs ― have been affected.
  • Open enrollment for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, expires Sunday. So far this year, enrollment is a bit behind last year’s pace. Important reminders: There is automatic enrollment for people who don’t opt for another plan and, if history holds, there will be a last-minute enrollment rush before the deadline.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Mary Agnes Carey: The Washington Post’s “A Stunning Indictment of the U.S. Health-Care System, in One Chart,” by Christopher Ingraham

Joanne Kenen: Politico’s “Impeachment Committee’s Rancor Forged by Decades of Abortion Battles,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein

Kimberly Leonard: Undark’s “Wheelchairs on Planes: Why Can’t Passengers Use Their Own Onboard?” by Michael Schulson. The story appeared on NPR Shots.

Emmarie Huetteman: The New York Times’ “The I.R.S. Sent a Letter to 3.9 Million People. It Saved Some of Their Lives.” by Sarah Kliff

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This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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