Congressional work on health care legislation took a back seat last week to President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.  Nonetheless, there was some health care activity.

As previously reported, on May 4 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act of 2017 (H.R. 1628) (AHCA) by a vote of 217-213.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has created a 13-person Republican working group on health care that is taking an initial cut at a Senate health care bill.  The working group consists of Senator McConnell, John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), John Thune (South Dakota), John Barrasso (Wyoming), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Michael Enzi (Wyoming), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania).  There has been some criticism that moderate Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Bill Cassidy (Louisiana) and more junior women Republicans such as Deb Fischer (Nebraska) and Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia) were not included in the working group.   Several members of the working group have reported that they are essentially starting from scratch on the Senate health care bill.  Conservative members of the working group, including Senator Lee, reportedly are strongly advocating for cuts to the Medicaid program that would be larger and implemented sooner than the House legislation.  These conservative members explain that they want to give states more flexibility in how they use federal Medicaid dollars.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced that it will release its score of the AHCA, as passed by the House, during the week of May 22.  In its March 13 score, the CBO estimated that the AHCA would reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion over ten years and result in an additional 24 million uninsured by 2026.  The CBO updated its score on March 23 to consider House revisions to the legislation pending at that time.  This updated score estimated $186 billion less in savings with the additional 24 million uninsured unchanged.  The upcoming CBO score will consider late amendments to the House bill before its passage.          

On May 10, Aetna announced that it will not participate in the Affordable Care Act exchanges in Delaware and Nebraska in 2018.  These are the only two state exchanges in which Aetna sells plans in 2017.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Dr. Scott Gottlieb as the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration by a vote of 57-42.