Trump administration to announce changes to anti-kickback rules for healthcare providers

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The Trump administration will announce plans to change healthcare regulations on Wednesday to loosen anti-kickback provisions that restrict the kinds of outside services providers can refer patients to, administration officials said.

President Donald Trump on Thursday will explain how the new rules advance his broader healthcare agenda, which includes reducing regulatory burdens and promoting innovative ways to reimburse healthcare providers, in a speech in Minnesota, the officials said.

The plan will change how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enforces the Physician Self Referral Law, also known as the Stark law, which penalizes healthcare providers for referring patients to outside services that the provider could stand to benefit from financially.

HHS will create exceptions for healthcare providers that enter into agreements with other parties if they are aimed at cutting costs and improving patient health, the officials said.

Trump issued an executive order last week that sought to woo seniors by strengthening the Medicare health program.

The order was the Republican president’s answer to Democrats like Bernie Sanders, who is running to become the party’s nominee in the 2020 presidential election and is promoting the idea of Medicare for all Americans.

The Trump administration has also rolled out measures in recent months designed to curtail drug prices and address other problems in the U.S. healthcare system.

Policy experts say the efforts are unlikely to slow the rise of drug prices in a meaningful way, however.

(This story corrects lead to show Trump administration officials, not President Trump, announcing plans on Wednesday)

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

White House deregulation push clears out hundreds of proposed rules

U.S. President Donald trump speaks during a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans to discuss healthcare at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By David Shepardson and Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said Thursday it had withdrawn or removed from active consideration more than 800 proposed regulations that were never finalized during the Obama administration as it works to shrink the federal government’s regulatory footprint.

In a report, the Trump administration said it had withdrawn 469 planned regulatory actions that had been part of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda published last fall. Officials also reconsidered 391 active regulatory proceedings actions by reclassifying them as long-term or inactive “allowing for further careful review,” the White House said.

The administration’s move to eliminate regulations makes good on a much-repeated Trump campaign promise to promote business-friendly policies. Investors have also anticipated the action, helping to push share prices higher on hopes fewer regulations will unfetter business growth and lead to higher corporate profits.

The Trump administration has identified nearly 300 regulations related to energy production and environmental protection it plans to rescind, review or delay across three agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior and Energy Departments.

Trump had already identified several of the regulations as targets in his March executive orders on energy, but they will now undergo a formal rulemaking process to be rescinded or revised.

In February, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to place “regulatory reform” task forces and officers within federal agencies in what may be the most far reaching effort to pare back U.S. red tape in recent decades.

Trump has vowed a sweeping cut in U.S. regulations and previously ordered agencies to repeal two rules for every new one adopted.

The Interior Department is reviewing an Obama-era rule that directed companies to reduce venting and flaring and methane leaks from oil and gas production on federal and tribal land, according to a White House semi-annual government wide regulation report.

Representatives of the oil and gas industry cheered.

“We just got through eight years of a regulatory onslaught, aimed at curtailing oil and gas production. So we are very supportive of the administration’s efforts to roll back regulation,” said Kathleen Sgamma, head of the Western Energy Alliance representing oil and gas drillers in Western states.

She said membership was particularly pleased about the effort to repeal the methane rule, which the industry estimated would have cost about $50,000 per well. Methane is one of the gases scientists say is driving global climate change.

The U.S. Transportation Department said it would review a number of Obama administration proposals that were close to being finalized including making automobile event data recorders mandatory, requiring sounds for electric cars and updating some crash test dummy standards.

The Energy Department listed dozens of energy efficiency standards for commercial and household appliances that it would review.

Much of the effort is aimed at rolling back or blocking regulations proposed during the Obama administration.

The White House said the regulatory agenda “represents the beginning of fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burden on the American people.”

The plan drew condemnation.

“Six months into the administration, the only accomplishments the president has had is to rollback, delay, and rescind science-based safeguards,” said Yogin Kothari of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Today’s release of the regulatory agenda confirms just as much. It continues to perpetuate a false narrative that regulations only have costs and no benefits.”

The regulatory agenda calls for the U.S. Labor Department to rescind an Obama-era rule that prohibits restaurants and bars from forcing servers to share their tips with untipped employees such as cooks and dishwashers. That 2011 tip-pooling regulation is also the subject of a legal challenge by the National Restaurant Association, which has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the rule.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Valerie Volcovici and Robert Iafolla in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Nick Zieminski)

FAA to Allow Drones to Fly over Public

Airplane flies over a drone during the Polar Bear Plunge on Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel on Wednesday recommended that regulators set new rules allowing drones to fly over members of the public if the aircraft meet new standards to minimize the danger of physical injuries from collisions.

A report issued by the 27-member panel, which included representatives from the drone, aviation and technology industries, recommended that the FAA limit the risk of serious injury to less than 1 percent but allow drone makers to determine whether their products meet the standard.

An FAA official said the agency will consider the panel’s recommendations as it crafts new regulations that could eventually allow commercial drone flights over people, an option that is vital to plans for package delivery services being pursued by online commerce companies and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Commercial drone flights are largely banned in the United States. But the FAA is expected to issue final regulations later this year that would allow limited commercial drone operations. The first proposed rules allowing flights over people would emerge much later, said the FAA official, who declined to provide a timeline.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Court Upholds Texas Abortion Regulations

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas law H.B. 2 is constitutional because the law’s intent is increasing the safety for women who are seeking to end their child’s life via abortion.

“The State truly intends that women only receive an abortion in facilities that can provide the highest quality of care and safety—the stated legitimate purpose of H.B. 2,” the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans wrote. “Plaintiffs bore the burden of proving that H.B. 2 was enacted with an improper purpose. …  They failed to proffer competent evidence contradicting the legislature’s statement of a legitimate purpose for H.B. 2.”

The ruling means that abortion clinics in the state must meet the same standards as a surgical center and that doctors at any abortion clinic must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the decision was a “victory for life and women’s health.”

“H.B. 2 both protects the unborn and ensures Texas women are not subjected to unsafe and unhealthy conditions,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement. “Today’s decision by the Fifth Circuit validates that the people of Texas have authority to establish safe, common-sense standards of care necessary to ensure the health of women.”

Abortion providers and women’s rights groups will try to appeal the decision.