This week in Washington – New Legislation on Pre-Existing Conditions, and Trump Appointees for CMS and Labor


Confirmation Updates

The Senate Finance Committee held it’s hearing on Seema Verma’s nomination to become Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Verma has deep ties to Indiana, Vice President Pence’s home state, where she worked with his predecessor (Gov. Mitch Daniels) to transform the state’s Medicaid program into the current Healthy Indiana Plan that emphasizes health savings accounts.  The more contentious moments of her hearing focused around conflict of interest issues. Verma, who until recently ran a consulting firm (SVC), worked to reform Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion program to include a work requirement for beneficiaries. Disclosures also showed that Verma was consulting on healthcare reforms with nine other states, while also having health industry clients that would in turn be impacted by state reforms. Verma is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks.

Following Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal from consideration to run the Department of Labor, President Trump nominated Alexander Acosta to become Secretary of Labor. Acosta is currently a Florida law school dean, and was previously a National Labor Relations Board member and Assistant Attorney General for civil rights under the President George W. Bush. Though Puzder’s nomination was plagued with scandals over allegations of domestic violence and a failure to pay taxes after employing an undocumented nanny, Acosta’s nomination is expected to win swift confirmation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee set March 20th as the hearing date for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that hearings will last three to four days, which is in-line with past Supreme Court confirmations.

Legislative Update

On Thursday, Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced the Pre-Existing Conditions Protection Act of 2017. The bill aims to preserve the popular provision memorialized in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which protects Americans with pre-existing conditions from discrimination when seeking health insurance coverage. The Chairman’s bill seeks to temper growing fears over ACA repeal efforts Congressional Republicans are hoping to repeal the ACA sometime later this year.

Congressional Recess

Next week, Congress will be in recess for a week-long district work period. If you plan on attending a town hall or want to engage with your member, check out our ANA Advocacy Toolkit. You can also learn more about the Republican’s ACA repeal plan with this factsheet.

HHS Guidance Recognizes Contributions of Nursing


During today’s White House press conference, President Trump highlighted some of his Administration’s early executive actions, including a government-wide hiring freeze. Late last week we learned that nurses would be exempt from the order.

Inside Health Policy obtained a copy of the guidance issued by HHS Acting Deputy Secretary Coleen Barros, which detailed the agency’s intentions for implementing the President’s January 23rd Executive Order.

The memo identifies occupations related to public health and medical emergencies under statute, including the Public Health Service Act, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Social Security Act, as well as initiatives related to the opioid epidemic, pandemic influenza, Ebola and Zika.

A Divided Senate Confirms Cabinet Nominees


Earlier this week, we recapped the flurry of confirmation activity we expected during the week of February 6th-10th.  Congress barnstormed through a series of contentious confirmation votes.

On Tuesday, the Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed by a slim 51-50 vote in the Senate with Vice President Pence casting the tie breaking vote. The following day, Senator Sessions was confirmed almost entirely along party lines with a 52-47 vote to have him lead the Justice Department as Attorney General. In a procedural move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) from reading a letter opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship written by civil rights icon Coretta Scott King to the U.S. Senate back in 1986; McConnell invoked Rule 19 of the Senate Rules. The rule, which states that ‘No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator,’ is rarely invoked and thus drew widespread criticism. Unsurprisingly, the procedural silencing only drew wider attention to the now famous letter.

On Wednesday, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, told Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that he found the President’s comments on the judiciary both “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” Senate Democrats, however, continue to cast doubt over Gorsuch’s ability to be an independent judicial check on the President’s authority.

Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), on Friday, was confirmed by a vote of 52-47 to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. Following extensive debates over ethics and Price’s investments in healthcare companies he had jurisdiction over as a member of Congress, Republicans called the early morning roll-call vote at about 2:00 AM. He was sworn in later that morning by Vice President Mike Pence.

Lastly, the ninth circuit federal court of appeals unanimously ruled to uphold a lower court’s ruling blocking President Trump’s travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries. The lawsuit was filed by the Washington state Attorney General, and is a significant setback for a Presidency that’s only three weeks old.