Following a widespread backlash including the threat of lawsuits, Michigan Republicans are walking back their proposal for a Medicaid work-requirement policy that would have exempted several rural white counties while falling disproportionately on urban residents of color. The authors of the policy insist they’re scrapping the plan because it would have been too hard and expensive for the state to implement, not because it would have run afoul of federal laws barring racial discrimination. Similar policies, however, are still moving forward in Ohio and Kentucky.
Meanwhile, with rising insurance premiums and other health-care woes threatening the GOP in this fall’s midterm elections, the Trump administration is moving aggressively on two fronts to shore up support and ward off electoral disaster.
On the one hand, the administration is throwing red meat to their conservative base with new rule designed to restrict federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics that provide abortions. On the other, they are trying to appeal to voters across the political spectrum with a package of policies to lower soaring drug prices.
But the two-pronged health-care effort is not yet getting the political payoff the administration hoped for.
The former move, dubbed a domestic “gag rule” for threatening to cut off funding to any organization that even refers women to an abortion provider, has riled up progressive groups, who have already filed lawsuits challenging the new policy. Millions of people receive health care through the federally-funded Title X family planning program — the vast majority of them low-income women under 30 years old. But the policy will be cheered by the deep-pocketed, politically active conservative groups whose support the administration desperately needs — a dynamic that will be apparent on Tuesday when Trump and several members of his administration address the Susan B. Anthony List annual gala.
The recently unveiled drug-cost initiative is also falling flat. Capitol Hill Republicans running for reelection have been largely silent on the plan, afraid to publicly stand up to either Trump or the pharmaceutical industry, whose donations pad many of their campaign war chests. As Democrats slam the proposal as too industry-friendly — it avoids taking the bolder step of empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices — and the industry itself is shrugging at its impact, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has been on an aggressive press tour touting it. “Smart individuals” such as stock analysts “totally missed the boat here,” Azar told Politico. “People need to do a bit more reading and looking, listening and understanding.”
Meanwhile, a few states are responding to the Trump administration’s tepid drug pricing plan by pushing their own agendas. Last week, Vermont became the first state in the nation to allow cheaper prescription drugs to be imported from Canada. But in order for the law to take effect, Vermont would need to get federal certification, and it’s not clear the Trump administration is willing to play ball. Azar has previously dismissed the importation of cheaper drugs as a “gimmick” and implied the medications may not be safe.
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