Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan

Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

It's almost Halloween, which means lawmakers can get together for the annual "Bipawtisan" tradition of dressing their dogs up in costumes.

Today, we're keeping our focus on Democrats' negotiations over their social spending package, including how Democratic lawmakers in competitive districts are calling on their colleagues not to drop drug pricing provisions.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com), Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com) and Justine Coleman (jcoleman@thehill.com). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

Let’s get started.

A campaign to keep drug pricing in package 


It’s not entirely clear exactly what health care provisions will end up in Democrats’ package as negotiations intensify. But House Democrats in competitive districts are warning not to drop or water down one of their top priorities: allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. 

On a call with reporters, Reps. Susan WildSusan WildOn The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House Democrats call on leaders to pass supply chain legislation The Philippines is a frontline of another cold war MORE (D-Pa.) and Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsAbortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan Vulnerable House Democrats warn not to drop drug pricing from package MORE (D-Kan.), both from competitive 2022 districts, noted that Democrats have made lowering drug prices one of the centerpieces of their campaigns.

"All of us would love to be able to go back to our districts and say, 'Hey this is something we campaigned on that we delivered,'" Wild said on a call organized by the group Protect Our Care, speaking about "front-line" members from competitive districts.  

Democratic strategists note that the issue is extremely popular with voters. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll this month found 83 percent of the public supports allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices.   

The drug pricing provisions are one of the final issues being negotiated as lawmakers seek to close in on a deal on President BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE's Build Back Better package. 

Where things stand: Advocates have been alarmed in recent days that the provisions could be watered down significantly as leaders seek to win over Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaIRS data proves Trump tax cuts benefited middle, working-class Americans most Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Green groups spend big to promote climate policy MORE (D-Ariz.), who has been a major question mark on the issue.

A handful of moderate House Democrats also previously voted "no" on the sweeping House drug pricing legislation. One of those lawmakers, Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Pfizer, US strike COVID-19 pill deal CBO: Democrats' package saves about 0B on drug prices Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (D-Calif.), told reporters on Tuesday that he still had not seen language that he could support. 

Peters has been pushing alternative legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices only in much narrower instances, for older drugs that no longer have patent protection. He said he is opposed to negotiation provisions broader than that over fears it would harm innovation from drug companies to develop new treatments.  

Read more here.


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Administration urged to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate

The Biden administration’s looming vaccine-or-test mandate has unsettled several business groups, which are calling for the rule to be postponed until after the holidays.  

These business groups, representing sectors ranging from retail to trucking, scheduled meetings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this week to discuss their concerns about the federal requirements. 

Groups worry that the mandate will lead to bulk resignations and add to industries’ struggles. Businesses are already experiencing a shortage of workers in the lead-up to the holiday season. 

Background: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was tasked with drafting the rule announced by President Biden last month that requires employers with at least 100 employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing.

One group: The National Retail Federation has “serious questions” about the forthcoming rule, particularly its “one size fits all” approach, Edwin Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development, said.  

“We’re really concerned how that’s going to impact us,” Egee said. “There’re already over a million vacant positions in the retail industry, and this is not going to help that, especially as we’re going to try to hire up more as we move into the holiday season.” 

Egee said he is urging the White House to “pump the brakes a little” with an at least 90-day implementation period. The longer timeline would allow officials to see how COVID-19 trends go and to address “the complexities” of the requirements, including mapping out the logistics of weekly testing for unvaccinated employees, he said.

Read more here.



Merck announced on Wednesday that it will share its antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 with developing countries in a move to broaden access to the promising treatment.

Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said they had entered a licensing agreement for the treatment with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), a United Nations-backed organization, that will allow the pill to be shared with 105 low- and middle-income countries.

Merck, Ridgeback and Emory University, where it was invented, will not receive royalties from the license as long as COVID-19 is still a public health emergency of international concern, as designated by the World Health Organization.

Pressure on vaccine makers to follow: The move by Merck and its partners could be an important precedent, given that advocates are pushing other companies, including COVID-19 vaccine makers, to also share their formulas and know-how with developing countries. 

"Important step by Merck, which will further highlight the need for measures needed to convince and to enable more COVID vaccine manufacturers to take similar steps," tweeted Tom Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Read more here.


Walensky: 'Right direction' but must be 'vigilant'

R Walensky

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyNIH director says it's 'possible' omicron will not be last emerging variant CDC director confirms FDA in talks to streamline authorization of omicron-specific vaccine Sunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant MORE said Wednesday the U.S. is "heading in the right direction" but must stay "vigilant" as the winter approaches.

Walensky reported during a briefing that the seven-day daily average of COVID-19 cases has declined to about 65,900 per day as of Tuesday, a 16 percent reduction from last week.

“Down from our peak in early September, we are now heading in the right direction,” she said. “But with cases still high, we must remain vigilant heading into the colder, drier winter months.”

Hospitalizations and deaths have also dropped from peaks in recent months, with COVID-19 hospital admissions falling 54 percent since the last week of August when the highly transmissible delta variant was pummeling the country.

The seven-day average for hospitalizations reached about 5,500 per day this week in a 12 percent decrease from the previous week.

While the death rate has dropped, Walensky noted that the average for daily deaths still remains higher than 1,000 fatalities, with a 1,100 average reported Tuesday.

Read more here.


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The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically worsened a nationwide staffing shortage for emergency medical technicians and paramedics, bringing longstanding issues — including low federal reimbursement rates and salary constraints — to a head in an industry already dealing with extremely high turnover.

The shortages have led to response time delays and longer waits offloading patients in hospitals.

According to a survey conducted by the American Ambulance Association, the turnover among paramedics and EMTs ranges from 20 to 30 percent annually, resulting in an unsustainable 100 percent turnover every four years. 

Staffing has long been a problem, but COVID made things worse, hitting the pipeline of new recruits hard. Training programs paused or shut down entirely, and the National Registry of EMTs stopped its certification testing.

Another issue: The pandemic has opened up opportunities for paramedics to work in other health environments, because wages are better.

Entry-level paramedics and EMTs at some private companies are only making $14 to $15 an hour, which is considered high. 

Companies can't charge insurers more because so many patients are on Medicare and Medicaid, which are reimbursed at a fixed rate, so there's a ceiling.  Agencies rely on payments from commercial insurance and patients to make up the difference.

Read more here.


  • Pharma campaign cash delivered to key lawmakers with surgical precision (Kaiser Health News)
  • Another struggle for long Covid patients: disability benefits (The New York Times)
  • Income inequity persists in COVID-19 vaccination rates (Roll Call)



  • Why Puerto Rico leads the U.S. in COVID vaccine rate — and what states can learn (NPR)
  • Florida COVID taskforce express 'disappointment' in state leadership on handling COVID-19 (WTXL)
  • Arkansas sues medical supplier for failed supplies delivery (The Associated Press)

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Thursday.