Good morning … and welcome to the last Vitals of 2017. We'll be taking a break next week, and I hope you can, too. Thank you for reading, and for all the feedback that makes writing this newsletter so much fun. See you back here on Jan. 2.
Congress is heading home, and ACA enrollment is mostly over, but health care never stops: The Trump administration is expected to release regulations as soon as today that will expand access to inexpensive, relatively skimpy short-term health plans — a move that could further destabilize the Affordable Care Act's insurance markets, even on top of the pending repeal of the individual mandate.
The details: Right now, consumers can only keep a short-term plan for three months. The new rule is expected to extend that to a year.
Yes, but: The risk with short-term health plans is that they'll pull healthy people out of the risk pool for ACA coverage. But, Caitlin notes, this might be a bigger deal if the individual mandate were stronger. Short-term plans can only pull healthy people out of the market if they're in the market to begin with.
Go deeper: Read Caitlin’s full story in the Axios stream.
Y'know how it was going to take an enormous deadline-driven surge for ACA enrollment to catch up to last year's totals? Well, that's exactly what happened. More than 8.8 million people signed up for coverage during open enrollment, and almost half of that total — 4.1 million — came from sign-ups and auto-renewals in the last week.
Between the lines: Obviously, this is a very good number.
Yes, but: Between the loss of the individual mandate and the return of short-term plans, there's still a lot of reason for insurers to be skeptical about the exchanges next year.
Or at least, Senate Republicans aren't likely to make another attempt to kill it, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told NPR yesterday. Here's what he said:
Notable: McConnell also told Axios' Mike Allen yesterday that he doesn't see cuts to welfare or entitlement programs on the agenda for 2018, despite House Speaker Paul Ryan's desire to take another crack at his plans for overhauling Medicare and Medicaid.
Highmark Health, a powerful Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer that also owns a hospital network in Pennsylvania, and academic system Penn State Health signed an agreement last week to build a health care network in central Pennsylvania.
The deal sounds like a merger, but it's not. My colleague Bob Herman spoke with executives from Highmark and Penn State to explain what their deal is and why it matters.
Go deeper: Read the full interview.
Medscape does lists of best and worst physicians every year, and the 2017 lists are out now. If you're wondering how your doctor compares to the extremes on both ends, here are the highlights, via Becker's Hospital Review:
See you in 2018!