With Daniel Lippman
BIDEN AND THE BUDGET CUTS — President Joe Biden will speak in Virginia Beach today, where he plans to slam Republicans for what the White House insists are continuing threats to cut federal health programs.
In a statement put out this morning before the speech, the White House called on Republicans to release their budget plan, including any cuts to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare, so voters can compare it to Biden’s plan, set to be released March 9.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said that cuts to Social Security and Medicare were “off the table,” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the same. Everything else is up for negotiation, House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said earlier this month.
Biden’s line of attack that Republicans intend to cut health care spending programs in debt talks has been going strong since his State of the Union speech and is expected to continue through the campaign season, administration officials told our colleagues at West Wing Playbook earlier this month.
“Congressional Republicans have yet to disclose to the American people where these cuts will come from,” the White House said. “But past Republican legislation, budgets, and litigation, along with recent statements, proposals, and budget plans, provide clear evidence that health care will be on the chopping block for severe cuts.”
The White House statement includes a long list of what the administration is worried about if the GOP plan includes repealing the ACA or cutting Medicaid, which could result in tens of millions of people at risk for losing their health insurance coverage, worsening conditions at nursing homes and millions losing access to mental health and substance use treatment.
WELCOME TO TUESDAY PULSE — Do you know what’s in the GOP’s much-anticipated budget plan? Send it on over, along with other tips and news, to [email protected] and [email protected].
TODAY ON OUR PULSE CHECK PODCAST, Megan Messerly talks with host Alice Miranda Ollstein about the yearlong deadline for states to assess whether their residents on Medicaid are still eligible for the program — and Arkansas’ plans to finish its assessment in half the time. Megan previews what could be in store for Medicaid there and in other states.
REVIEWING CHILD MIGRANT PROTOCOLS — HHS said Monday it’s reviewing its processes for vetting potential sponsors of unaccompanied child migrants to ensure the children are released to safe guardians, according to POLITICO’s Nick Niedzwiadek.
The audit, expected to wrap up in the coming weeks, is part of a broader announcement on Monday that HHS and the Department of Labor are forming an interagency task force dedicated to addressing child labor exploitation, with an emphasis on the “health, education and well-being” of this vulnerable population, according to a senior administration official.
The announcement comes two days after a New York Times investigation into child migrant labor across the United States reported that HHS routinely loses track of children they’re responsible for keeping safe from trafficking and exploitation.
A senior administration official denied that Monday’s announcement was in response to that reporting or other recent media investigations into reports of child labor in the U.S.
HHS also said it’s rolling out additional training for case managers and bolstering the materials it provides to sponsors to ensure they’re aware of labor laws and their responsibilities to the children in their custody.
“At HHS, we will continue to do our part to protect the safety and wellbeing of unaccompanied children by providing them appropriate care while they are in our custody, placing them in the custody of parents, relatives, and other appropriate sponsors after vetting, and conducting post-release services including safety and wellbeing calls,” Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
AND MORE HHS CHANGES — HHS is also forming new divisions within the Office for Civil Rights to address rapidly increasing health information privacy and cybersecurity breaches, POLITICO’s Erin Schumaker reports.
The office was poorly positioned to investigate the breaches or ensure that health care organizations were fulfilling their responsibilities to protect patient data, as Ben Leonard had previously reported.
Why it matters: The Office for Civil Rights’ caseload has ballooned. It received 51,000 complaints in 2022, up 69 percent from 2017, its director, Melanie Fontes Rainer, said in a statement. Sixty-six percent of those cases were alleged violations of health information privacy and security law.
Reports of large breaches of unsecured protected health information have also risen in recent years. In 2021, there were 714 breaches affecting 500 or more people, compared to 663 large breaches in 2020. That trend is expected to continue, according to HHS.
NO ‘DEFINITIVE CONCLUSION’ — The U.S. government still hasn’t reached a consensus on how the coronavirus pandemic started, despite reports that the Energy Department has concluded the virus most likely leaked from a lab in China, POLITICO’s Mia McCarthy reports.
“The intelligence community and the rest of the government is still looking at this,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday. “There’s not been a definitive conclusion, so it’s difficult for me to say — nor should I feel like I should have to defend press reporting about a possible preliminary indication here. What the president wants is facts.”
MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN LIMBO — Patients who use medical marijuana in states where it’s legal do so almost entirely outside the traditional medical system, leading to a variety of problems in their treatment, POLITICO’s Natalie Fertig reports.
Health insurance doesn’t cover medical marijuana, leaving some patients with monthly bills of $1,000. Only nine states and the District of Columbia recognize medical marijuana cards issued by other states, meaning patients must either refrain from travel, forgo relief for their symptoms or risk arrest by bringing marijuana across state lines.
Many medical professionals also lack the knowledge to comfortably discuss marijuana’s use for treating many conditions that patients already use it for.
That leaves patients to rely on anecdotes to choose the type of cannabis to use and how to consume it. As patients trial and error their way to finding the right cannabis treatment, some report that cannabis worsens their symptoms or makes them feel ill in new ways.
A NEW TRACKER FOR HEALTH LITIGATION — Georgetown University Law Center’s O’Neill Institute has rolled out a new public health litigation tracker.
The tool tracks health policy litigation cases in real-time, focusing on health care access, coverage, affordability, transparency and equity.
It includes, for instance, challenges to the ACA and the No Surprises Act and regulatory authority and decisions affecting federal programs like Medicare and the 340B program.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she’ll appoint Kay Chandler as the state’s surgeon general. Chandler has worked as an OB-GYN at the Cornerstone Clinic for Women in Little Rock since 1997.
Margie Almanza is now labor policy director for the Senate HELP Committee. She previously was a professional staff member at the Senate Aging Committee and is a Trump DOL alum.
The New Yorker reports on how AI plans to get inside our heads.
The Cut reports on the up and downs of the startup company trying to sell DIY rape kits.
ProPublica reports how deforestation patterns prevalent in countries with Ebola outbreaks have contributed to animal spillover events and threaten to do so again.
Doctors treating more than 8,000 people injured in northwest Syria after the region’s deadly earthquake have exactly one MRI machine, Nature reports.