Good morning … Many thanks for all of your warm welcomes yesterday! For any of you who might have missed the memo, I'll be your new host for Vitals, while David Nather takes on a new role overseeing a much broader swath of Axios' policy coverage. Again, please don't hesitate to reach out with your tips, feedback, questions, or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Senate HELP Committee kicks off a series of hearings today about how best to stabilize the Affordable Care Act's most fragile insurance markets. Yet, before the process has even begun, it seems like almost everyone — Hill staff, industry, K Street, and even some lawmakers — is on the same bleak page: Some sort of stabilization effort is necessary but it's hard to see Congress actually doing it.
What we're hearing:
Even so, among more moderate Republicans, there's at least some willingness to buckle down and try to make something work.
We kinda already know how this would have to shake out in order for something to pass. Alexander's opening statement today will sum it up pretty well:
Some combination of those two recommendations is the common refrain we can expect to hear from witnesses, too, over the course of these hearings. But it seems like it'll take lawmakers a while to get there, if they get there at all.
What we're seeing already:
While we're all watching the HELP Committee's hearing this morning, the Finance Committee will be making some big moves of its own. It's expected to advance a slate of nominees that includes Robert Charrow, President Trump's choice for general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The general counsel is one of those officials who generally stays out of the spotlight but wields enormous power behind the scenes. Charrow, if he's ultimately confirmed, would have a hand in every HHS regulation, and in guiding the department's biggest policy choices — no small tasks for a department that seems to be looking for ways to chip away at a system it oversees.
Flashback: "I am a firm believer in applying the law as written and passed by Congress. And if an action is inconsistent with the law, I will not approve it," Charrow told the committee during his confirmation hearing last month.
People who get their insurance through the ACA's exchanges, and who need mental health care services, don't have many options to choose from.
A new study in this month's Health Affairs journal looked at more than 500 provider networks, all for insurance plans sold through the exchanges. The upshot: There are very few mental health professionals in those networks.
Some of the study findings:
Why it matters: Congress has tried several times to equalize insurers' coverage of mental health and physical health services. But the rules for how certain services are covered only make a difference if patients can find a doctor in the first place.
Another nugget from the new Health Affairs: One study that caught my colleague Bob Herman's eye explains how hospitals have been able to get away with buying so many doctors' practices.
Kaiser Health News
has a deeper dive.
Bob also dove into the latest infant mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and noticed some eye-opening results.
What we're watching today: HELP Committee stabilization hearing, 10 am Eastern. Livestream here. Finance Committee nominations hearing, 10 am Eastern. Livestream here. Senate Appropriations Committee's health subcommittee marks up its annual HHS spending bill, 11 am Eastern. Livestream here.
What we're watching this week: HELP Committee hearings continue Thursday with governors. Finance Committee hearing Thursday on CHIP. MedPAC meeting Thursday and Friday.