OVERNIGHT HEALTHCARE: Dems question $1,000 pill

House Democrats are calling for a hearing into the price of a new $1,000-a-pill drug and the potential costs for the Medicare Part D program.

Drug company Gilead has come under heavy scrutiny over the price tag for its Hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year. The drug must be taken once a day and total costs for treatment can top $84,000.

ADVERTISEMENT
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), ranking member of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, wrote to full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Thursday, urging him to hold a hearing on the drug’s cost.

They said the drugmaker gives substantial discounts for Sovaldi to Medicaid programs and the Veterans Affairs Department but not Medicare Part D. Read more: http://bit.ly/1pNd0b6

 

URBAN UNINSURED: A new study projects that large cities could see the number of uninsured drop almost 60 percent under ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion.

The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute looked at numbers for 14 major cities and estimated the percentage of uninsured would drop by an average of 57 percent by 2016 in states that have adopted the Medicaid expansion.

By comparison, cities in states that have not adopted the provision are still likely to see a drop in the uninsured, but only by an average of 30 percent.

The report says if Medicaid was expanded to the non-participating cities in their analysis, the drop in uninsured would average 52 percent. Read more: http://bit.ly/1lDexys

 

GOP LAWMAKERS SUPPORTS BIRTH CONTROL: A Republican congressman running for Senate is voicing support for making birth control pills available over the counter after fielding attacks over his past support for "personhood" measures.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is hoping to unseat Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in a tight race that will help determine control of the Senate, penned an op-ed Thursday saying that the change would help rural women.

The bid for women's support may be an attempt at damage control after Gardner faced two attack ads criticizing his previous support for "personhood" ballot measures.

The measures, which say fertilized human eggs deserve legal rights, would outlaw abortion and several commonly used forms of birth control. Gardner said he's changed his mind about the issue after conversations with voters. Read more: http://bit.ly/SWO1U3

 

SENATE CHANGES ABORTION POLICY: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to lift a ban on emergency abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers and to permanently repeal restrictions on foreign aid for family-planning groups.

The amendments are now reflected in a 2015 spending bill for the State Department. One was offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection in November.

The bill won praise from advocates who argued that current rules discriminate against women serving in the Peace Corps and, when Republicans control the White House, national governmental organizations (NGOs) that support abortion rights abroad.

If signed into law, one provision would allow women in the Peace Corps to receive abortion coverage for pregnancies arising from rape or incest or that endanger the woman's life. Other federal employees currently benefit from these rules.

The spending bill would also permanently repeal a rule barring NGOs that receive U.S. aid from providing abortion counseling, referrals or services or advocating for abortion access, even with separate funds. Read more: http://bit.ly/SWMZYa

 

CHILDREN CROSSING: Members of Congress are demanding federal health officials disclose how they plan to care for nearly 50,000 unaccompanied child immigrants who have been apprehended at the southern border.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the agencies designated to maintain custody of the children, a little-known responsibility that could prove arduous as the number of unaccompanied kids continues to surge.

Lawmakers asked HHS for its plans to house the children in two separate letters this week.

The situation is one of the first challenges facing the newly appointed HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who replaced Kathleen Sebelius as head of the department this month. Read more: http://bit.ly/1vZFXkl

 

GOP, HHS SPAR OVER INSURER ‘BAILOUT’: Congressional Republicans are clashing with the Obama administration over whether it has the authority to distribute money to health insurance companies in what they are calling a “taxpayer bailout” under ObamaCare. 

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell sent a letter this week to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asserting that she has the legal authority to redistribute the money in the “risk corridors” program, which was created by the healthcare law.

The “risk corridors” program, which was modeled after a provision in the Medicare prescription drug benefit passed in 2003, is meant to ease the transition for insurers into ObamaCare. It would achieve that by redistributing money from insurers with healthier, less expensive consumers to those with sicker, more costly enrollees.

Republicans have denounced the program as an effort by the government to bail out insurers. Last week, Upton and Sessions wrote to Burwell stating that the program is unlawful because there is no statute giving her the legal authority to hand out the funds.

Burwell responded Wednesday by referring the Republican lawmakers to an earlier HHS letter to the GAO where the agency argues the funds can be collected and redistributed under the department’s authority to manage “user fees.”

User fees are charges various government agencies require of industries to pay for services such as those made by drugmakers to expedite their drug application process by the Food and Drug Administration. Read more: http://bit.ly/1qwDu0k

 

ANTHRAX SCARE: As many as 75 scientists may have been accidentally exposed to live anthrax bacteria after failing to follow proper procedures at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab.

The CDC on Thursday said the Atlanta-based staffers are being monitored or provided antibiotics but added the “risk of infection is very low.”

The agency said a preliminary investigation on June 6 found its scientists had taken samples of live anthrax to three low-level biosecurity labs without first killing the bacteria.

CDC workers believing the samples were properly inactivated did not wear adequate personal protective equipment while experimenting on the bacteria.

The labs they were working in were not equipped to handle live anthrax, and between June 6 to 13 two of the labs may have used procedures that spread the spores into the air.

The CDC discovered the mistake on June 13 when plates with the original bacteria gathered to be disposed were found to have live anthrax. The agency immediately locked down the labs and began emergency procedures to track down how far the bacteria had spread.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, inhaled anthrax has a mortality rate of 80 percent or higher. Read more: http://bit.ly/1nlIKh5

 

INSIDER-TRADING INVESTIGATION: Federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas for the House Ways and Means Committee and a top healthcare aide as part of an investigation into an alleged leak of sensitive Medicare policy news.

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are probing whether government officials illegally passed on information that led to a surge in insurance stocks before a major Medicare policy announcement last spring.

The subpoenas are part of a developing grand-jury probe, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. Prosecutors are seeking documents from Ways and Means and testimony from the staff director of its Health subcommittee, Brian Sutter.

The subpoenas are the first formal requests for information from Congress related to alleged insider-trading in nearly a decade, and a sign that the investigation has taken a more serious turn, the Journal reported. Read more: http://bit.ly/1iMfnmK

 

ON TAP FOR FRIDAY:

The House Oversight subcommittee on Government Operations will hold a hearing to talk about the Obama administration’s policies on marijuana and the potential health risks associated with the drug.

The administration has been taking a hands-off approach to state enforcement of marijuana laws as many states have legalized medical as well as recreational use of the drug.

The panel will include Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who has voiced concerns over health risks associated with marijuana in previous hearings.

Volkow also recently authored a study that found marijuana can be addictive, harmful and a gateway drug, and said the drug could stunt brain development in teenagers. http://bit.ly/1p085TN

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing to talk about bonuses for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The department has come under heavy scrutiny after allegations surfaced that VA hospitals around the country were hiding patients on secret wait lists, which may have led to their deaths due to lack of or delayed treatments.

The scandal has already led to the resignation of top VA officials, including former Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In the House, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has already introduced legislation to prevent senior VA officials from receiving bonuses until there is no longer a claims backlog. http://bit.ly/1pNEsFr

 

STATE BY STATE: 

Medicaid initiative won't be on Montana ballot: http://bit.ly/1srFDMP

Uncertainty over Virginia Medicaid expansion: http://wapo.st/1pNHUzU

Alleged ringleader in NJ Medicaid fraud scheme arrested again: http://bit.ly/1nnFqTY

 

READING LIST:

Senators offer bill to ease some hospital readmission penalties: http://bit.ly/1poAgu7

As sequencing moves into clinical use, insurers balk: http://reut.rs/1oLvSrm

How your state rates in terms of long-term care: http://n.pr/SW4at3

FDA to approve Sivextro in fight against drug-resistant bugs: http://bit.ly/1nnaKCk

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED AT THE HILL:

Report: Large insurers will raise premiums: http://bit.ly/1kT5unk

Carney: ObamaCare most difficult challenge: http://bit.ly/1l8i7zJ

Poll: Majority of O-Care enrollees lacked prior health insurance: http://bit.ly/SWdM6X

More in Overnight Healthcare

OVERNIGHT HEALTH: HealthCare.gov sees record traffic

Read more »