Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care — Biden touts drug price push

Associated Press / Evan Vucci

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

Want to understand the criticisms over vaccine inequities? Watch this short clip, where a comedian explains it all in layman’s terms.

President Biden called on the Senate to pass his Build Back Better plan in order to lower drug prices.

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.

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Biden urges Senate vote on drug prices

President Biden on Monday touted the Build Back Better Act’s provisions to lower prescription drug prices in his latest call on the Senate to act on the House-passed legislation.

Biden called prescription drugs “outrageously expensive in this country,” saying, “It doesn’t need to be that way.”

“To really solve this problem, we need the Senate to follow the House of Representatives’ lead and pass my Build Back Better bill,” he said.

Lowering drug prices is one of the most popular parts of Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending measure, and Democrats are looking to tout the changes and hammer Republicans for opposing them. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 83 percent of the public supports allowing the government to lower drug prices.

Biden did acknowledge the innovation coming out of drug companies, particularly the development of COVID-19 vaccines, but said there is a distinction between that genuine breakthrough and “jacking up prices” on older medications.

Insulin: Biden met on Monday with patients with diabetes who had to ration their insulin because they could not afford it and noted that his legislation would impose a $35 per month cap on patients’ copays for insulin, one of its most concrete changes. The provision would apply to people on Medicare and those with private insurance, but it would not impact how much the uninsured would pay— something progressives are pushing to change.  

Timing: Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a Monday letter to senators that his goal is to have the measure approved by Christmas. But negotiations with centrists, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have put that timeline in danger.

Read more here.

NEW YORK TO MANDATE VACCINE FOR PRIVATE EMPLOYERS

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced on Monday that New York City is implementing a vaccine mandate for private-sector employers after omicron cases surfaced in the city.

De Blasio said the mandate, which is scheduled to take effect on Dec. 27, is a “preemptive strike” the city is taking to stop the “further growth” of COVID-19 as the weather gets colder, people start gathering for the holidays and more information emerges regarding the new omicron variant.

“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the danger it’s causing to all of us,” de Blasio said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

New York City already requires vaccines for all city employees. 

De Blasio also announced that starting Dec. 14 children ages 5-11 will have to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors and enter fitness and entertainment facilities, expanding the already existing rules for those aged 12 and older.

Additionally, de Blasio on Monday announced that proof of vaccination for adults will require two shots, and not just one. That policy change will take effect on Dec. 27.

Read more here

Businesses brace for omicron 

 

The omicron variant poses a new threat to businesses that were already struggling to recover from the economic damage done by previous strains of the virus. 

Gyms, concert venues, restaurants, airlines and other industries that have been battered by the pandemic are bracing for another COVID-19 wave that could curb demand and prompt renewed government restrictions.

Thanks to the prevalence of vaccines, U.S. officials don’t foresee a return to the early days of the pandemic, when entire sectors of the economy were forced to shut down. But experts still worry that many businesses that barely overcame the delta variant might not survive another outbreak.

“We’re all on our toes right now, thinking, ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next,’” said Brett Ewer, head of government affairs at CrossFit. “The uncertainty really does not help, especially when so many gym owners are almost entirely bled out.”

Fitness facilities have taken a huge hit from customers staying home and COVID-19 restrictions that limit capacity or require masks. If omicron spreads rapidly, the wave would likely run into January and February, when gyms typically get a substantial revenue bump from short-lived New Year’s resolutions.

Another COVID-19 outbreak could also spell trouble for restaurants, which lost customers in droves at the peak of the delta variant wave. Restaurant owners say that they still haven’t recovered, and their operations are continually being disrupted by the ongoing supply chain crunch, worker shortages and rising food prices. 

Read more here

ABORTION ACTIVISTS PREPARE FOR MIDTERMS

Activists and political candidates in key swing states are preparing for midterm elections that could take place just months after the biggest overhaul to abortion rights the U.S. has seen in almost 50 years.

If the Supreme Court does overturn or limit Roe, critical swing states including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan would be among the dozens where experts say a woman’s ability to get an abortion would be in immediate danger. 

While legislative debates over abortion have for decades taken place with Roe as a backstop, pro-abortion rights activists say the concrete threat the Mississippi case poses to abortion rights will hit close to home for millions of women — and say that’s an argument they plan to make. 

Anti-abortion proponents agree that the Mississippi case poses the greatest challenge to Roe v. Wade, making it a more tangible issue for voters going to the polls.  

“The decision of the court will define the future of the movement for both sides,” said Doreen Denny, senior adviser at the conservative Concerned Women for America.  

Timing: Last week several Supreme Court justices expressed sympathy for arguments made by attorneys for the state of Mississippi, which enacted a law barring almost all abortions after 15 weeks, in direct opposition to Roe v. Wade.

And the now-conservative-leaning Supreme Court is likely to have a decision on the matter by June 2022, five months before the midterm contests. 

Read more here.

 

Biden plan for free at-home tests faces hurdles

The Biden administration is touting a key part of its plan for the winter COVID surge: have insurance companies reimburse at-home COVID tests, making them essentially free.

But the catch is that people will still have to pay the cost up front for the tests, which can be over $20 for a pack of two at the local CVS, and then submit receipts to their health insurer to get reimbursed. 

That process has raised concerns among experts that the upfront cost and added hassle of reimbursement will still cause barriers to testing, a contrast to European countries where tests are free or just a couple of dollars up front. 

Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Biden’s announcement would “certainly make at-home testing more accessible,” but added that “it’s still going to be cumbersome for people.”

Advocates have been pushing for greater access to rapid at-home tests for over a year, saying that frequent and cheap rapid tests can help limit spread of the virus without resorting to business closures by giving people the ability to know when they are infectious and need to isolate, and when they are not. 

Some progress has been made, as the administration says the supply of at-home tests is set to quadruple compared to late summer. 

But the upfront costs are going to be a barrier.

Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said it could cause people to think twice before buying a test.

“The most preferable option would be to make these goddamn things free or close to free and make them widely available so people can just pick them up,” she said. 

Read more here.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates. Misinformation is to blame (NPR)
  • We’re not at endemicity yet (The Atlantic)
  • Pfizer and Merck Covid-19 pills are coming soon in the U.S., but other countries will have to wait (The Wall Street Journal)

 

STATE BY STATE

  • Texas toughens ban on medication-by-mail abortions with jail time and hefty fine (Kaiser Health News)
  • New York religious schools face a vaccine mandate. Will they fight it? (The New York Times)
  • Alaska saw a major increase in overall deaths across the state after introduction of delta variant (Anchorage Daily News)

 

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

 

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

Tags Bill de Blasio Charles Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin

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