GB's Weekly Governmental Briefing
Through our Governmental Affairs practice, GB is helping to shape the laws and regulations that will define the times ahead. Acting on behalf of the best interests of our clients and our industry.
Each week, we bring it all into focus.
Round Two - HHS SecretaryNov. 15, 2017
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to be Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HSS). The position has been vacant since Dr. Tom Price resigned in September.
WHAT'S HIS BACKGROUND?
Until last January, Azar served as President of Lilly USA, the American arm of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company. However, Azar is very familiar with HHS. He previously served as General Counsel and then as Deputy Secretary of HHS in the President George W. Bush administration. During his six years at HHS, he helped with the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and rolling out the Medicare Part D prescription program.
REMIND ME - WHAT'S UNDER HHS?
A lot. HHS has the biggest budget of any single agency in the federal government - over $1 trillion. Not only does it encompass the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which provides health insurance coverage to almost 130 million people, but it also includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and more. Azar would also oversee the Affordable Care Act, which provides coverage for more than 20 million people.
Although there is some concern about his previous work in the pharmaceutical industry, others argue his background makes him particularly suited to figuring out how to make drugs more affordable. Overall, he's seen as well-versed in healthcare policy and shown he has a lot of respect for the people in HHS. Let the hearings begin.
In the Land of Lincoln
Illinois wrapped up the final week of the two-week fall veto session. There were a number of bills that attempted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's previous vetoes but failed. These included H.B. 2462, which would have limited what employers screening job applicants can ask, including salary history, and S.B. 81, which would have raised the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Life insurance companies will not be required to cross-match lapsed or expired policies against the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to find potential beneficiaries of unclaimed life insurance benefits. Depending on if insurers have electronically-searchable records, they could be required to go back to Jan. 1, 2000. Finally, under H.B. 3419, the state can prohibit "expatriated entities" who have engaged in corporate inversions from bidding on state contracts and prohibits the state's pension system from investing in the stock of those companies. The House and Senate will be back in session for the beginning of the spring session, which starts Jan. 23, 2018.
Making Our Way Around the Country
A workers' compensation case, which resulted in a circuit court striking down Alabama's workers' compensation law earlier this year, has been settled. In the earlier ruling, the court found two provisions in the state's workers' compensation act unconstitutional - the $220-a-week cap on permanent partial disability compensation and the 15% cap on attorney fees. However, under state law, since one or more provisions were found unconstitutional, the entire act was nullified. The court stayed the order indefinitely to give the legislature time to act. Back to square one.
The Texas Department of Insurance (DOI) published its proposed maintenance fees and assessments for 2018. The proposal is seeking to increase fees and assessments for workers' compensation insurers from 1.96% to 2.54%. Self-insurers will also see an increase to 2.54%. The DOI is accepting written comments on the proposal until 5 p.m. Dec. 11.
With just over a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, a quick reminder that if you're driving in the coming weeks to be safe out there. Zonar shared the top 10 most dangerous roads in the U.S. for truck drivers. Last year, the National Safety Council estimated more than 400 people may be killed and over 50,000 seriously injured in a motor-vehicle accident during the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll be heading to Ohio with my crew (with Star Wars and Big Hero Six on in the background). Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Next week's edition will be a look back on the big stories of 2017.