By Peter Sullivan - 03/10/16 07:00 PM EST
Lawmakers are pressing forward to find a deal on NIH funding, and a larger package of FDA reforms in the Senate, in the face of skepticism from many that an agreement can be reached.
Democrats say they will block passage of any bill that does not include new mandatory funding for the NIH, meaning it would be guaranteed and not subject to the annual appropriations process. They want Republicans to commit to a specific dollar amount before the bill reaches the Senate floor.
An important development came Wednesday, when Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Overnight Healthcare: Mysterious new Zika case | Mental health bill in doubt | Teletraining to fight opioids Hopes dim for mental health deal MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health Committee, said he is willing to work with the ranking member, Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayOur children, our future – bridging the partisan divide Overnight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal NBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law MORE (D-Wash.), to reach an agreement on the bill's funding.
Republicans are divided on the issue. While Alexander says he is open to mandatory funding if it is targeted to specific areas like the cancer moonshot and precision medicine, Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrThe Trail 2016: Putting the past behind them The Hill's 12:30 Report Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term MORE (R-N.C.), another member of the committee and a leading Republican voice on healthcare, told The Hill that he opposes making the funding mandatory.
"I don't see a real pathway to passage of an innovation bill," he said. Read more here. http://bit.ly/1Ujm19p
NIH, CDC GETTING ANXIOUS ON ZIKA FUNDING: Top federal health officials want Congress to know exactly how urgently they need more money to fight the Zika virus.
In media interviews and briefings on Thursday, Drs. Tom Frieden and Anthony Fauci warned that the development of at least three vaccines would have to slow down or stop without the finding. And if the U.S. doesn't act, they argued thousands of pregnant women could give birth to infants with microcephaly, which can each cost $10 million in healthcare.
"If we don't get the money that the president asked for, it's going to slow down a number of things, not just vaccines," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of infectious diseases for NIH, told reporters Thursday.
"We are scraping together every dime we can. It's not easy to do that, and it makes the response much more complex and much less smooth," added CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who normally shies away from politics during his briefings.
The head of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), said Thursday he remains opposed to approving new funding to fight the Zika virus. Read more here: http://bit.ly/24Tn19p
ALL BUT ONE SUPPORT SENATE DRUG BILL: After weeks of back-and-forth, the Senate almost unanimously approved a major bill to fight drug addiction.
The legislation -- from Sens. Rob PortmanRob PortmanPortman secures another union endorsement over Democratic challenger in Ohio Union group backs GOP Sen. Portman in Ohio race Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security MORE (R-Ohio) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseWhy Kaine is the right choice for Clinton Report: More, stronger cyber attacks to flood networks Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency MORE (D-R.I.), authorizes but doesn't appropriate funding for programs to combat prescription opioid abuse. It also increases the availability of naloxone, a drug to treat overdose.
While House lawmakers have introduced their own bills, Portman suggested Thursday he was hopeful they would be able to avoid a conference committee. Interesting tidbit -- Portman said he texted Paul RyanPaul RyanBiden should have been the clear choice for vice president Trump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE about the bill, but hasn't yet heard back. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1pzPsIZ
WHITE HOUSE HAS FUNDING PLAN: About three seconds after the bill's passage, HHS said Burwell will be announcing a "significant" investment in fighting opioid abuse on Friday during a visit to Baltimore. Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiEmphasis on diversity in Democratic convention lineup Senate confirms first black female librarian of Congress Clinton pens tribute to feminist website The Toast MORE (D-Md.) and Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) will also attend. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1TPjZj4
ALSO, HOUSE GOP MAY HAVE BUDGET PLAN: And it involves ObamaCare subsidies, sort of. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyFroman: Too early to start trade talks with the UK Advisers: Trump's revised tax plan will resemble Ryan's Overnight Healthcare: Health mergers in trouble? | Norovirus in Cleveland | GOP chairman rejects Trump Medicare pricing plan MORE (R-Texas) released a "budget savings package" on Thursday that would save $19 billion over two years, in part by cutting "improper Obamacare subsidy overpayments." Read more here. http://bit.ly/1nAmIyg
SLAVITT ADMITS CO-OP SHOULD HAVE SHUT DOWN SOONER Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said at a Senate hearing Thursday that CoOportunity, the nonprofit "co-op" for Iowa and Nebraska, should have been shut down before beginning the 2015 coverage year. That could have helped prevent customers from being inconvenienced in the middle of their coverage year.
He made the admission at a hearing of the Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations, which is looking into the larger issue of the co-op failures. Read more here. http://bit.ly/1MaaR0g
The House Oversight Committee is prodding Valeant Pharmaceuticals to release more documents related to the company's drug pricing controversy. The company previously declined to do so, arguing the information was "highly proprietary and confidential." Read the letter here.
Valeant said in a statement in response that following "standard procedure" it has "declined to produce documents covered by the attorney-client privilege." It added it has already produced 78,000 pages of documents. Read the full statement here.
WHAT WE'RE READING:
New procedure allows kidney transplants from any donor (New York Times)
CVS to spend $50M on anti-smoking program aimed at young people (Wall Street Journal)
Groups scrutinize White House plan to cut drug costs in Medicare (New York Times)
Study: Teens who live near a Planned Parenthood are less likely to drop out of high school (Vox)
IN THE STATES:
West Virginia governor vetoes curb on abortion method (Associated Press)
Even some abortion foes balking at tough Indiana bill (Associated Press)
Florida reports six new cases of Zika virus (Miami Herald)
ICYMI FROM THE HILL:
White House uses bully pulpit to help poor with diapers