This Week in Washington

Washington logoCongress moved at the 11th hour to avert a government shutdown, but it’s only a short-term fix — with a new budget deadline of Dec. 11. Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh defended the operations of Connecticut’s health exchange to skeptical GOP lawmakers. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini’s plans to merge with Humana were also scrutinized by a House panel this week. The Pentagon blasted Lockheed Martin’s proposed purchase of Sikorsky Aircraft and Congress ended the nation’s oldest student aid program.

• House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to retire from Congress at the end of the year made it much easier for him to turn to House Democrats to help pass a short-term spending bill that will fund the government until Dec. 11. Every single House Democrat— including all five Connecticut House members — complied. Ninety-one Republicans, about 40 percent of the House GOP caucus, also voted for the short-term spending bill, which had been easily approved in the Senate.

• Access Health CEO James Wadleigh deftly defended the operations of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange at a hearing where he was questioned by GOP lawmakers critical of how taxpayer money has been spent on the exchanges.Wadleigh had one tough moment, though, when he was asked by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., whether premiums for all Connecticut health insurance policies “remained flat” this year. Wadleigh testified “the most affordable plans” had no substantive premium increases but conceded “there are always going to be plans …that are much richer.”

• While the Justice Department has given Lockheed Martin’s proposal to purchase Sikorsky Aircraft the thumbs up, the Pentagon this week frowned on the deal, saying it would lead to too much consolidation in the defense industry.

• For the second time in a week, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini and Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish defended their plans to merge with Humana and Cigna, respectively, to skeptical lawmakers, this time members of the House Judiciary Committee. Bertolini and Swedish said the mergers, under review by the Justice Department, would result in efficiencies and savings but still allow for robust competition in the marketplace. Opponents of the deal, including the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, disagree.

• The Senate failed to act to reauthorize the nation’s oldest student loan program. So authority for the Perkins loan program expired on Sept. 30 and Connecticut colleges – and schools across the nation – can no longer accept applications for the program, aimed at helping  low-income students when grants and other loans did not cover the cost of their education.

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