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Overnight Healthcare: HHS rejects Dems' push on high drug prices

More than 50 House Democrats wrote to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in January calling for a wonky policy change that would allow certain companies to break drug patents. Her response: No. 

Burwell's letter, dated March 2, shows she isn't willing to be as aggressive in using this tactic against high-drug prices as some House Democrats want.

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Under a 1980 law, when federally-funded research was involved in creating a new drug, HHS can assert "march-in rights" to break a drug patent when the drug is not "available to the public on reasonable terms," a definition the lawmakers argued could be used to fight high drug prices.

The lawmakers say that simply by issuing guidance on the use of the "march-in" tactic, HHS would be sending a warning to drug companies about their prices.

But Burwell's letter declines to issue this guidance, which would have come from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"After consulting with the NIH, we believe the statutory criteria are sufficiently clear and additional guidance is not needed," Burwell wrote.

Still, the administration is not completely ruling out exercising march-in rights down the road, with Burwell writing that the department is "prepared to use its authority when presented with a case where the statutory criteria are met." Read more here. http://bit.ly/21X6MWo

ZIKA PROMPTS HHS TO SHIP BLOOD TO PUERTO RICO The Obama administration is now shipping blood products to Puerto Rico while the island fights off an outbreak of the Zika virus, which federal scientists say is likely spread through blood transfusions.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday that it shipped its first batch of blood products this past weekend to ensure the island has an "adequate supply" of blood.

U.S. health officials have not yet found a way to screen blood donations for the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in pregnant women. The government said last week it would no longer accept blood donations from people who have been exposed to the virus. Read more here. http://bit.ly/1QyD4Sr

GRASSLEY SCHEDULES ABORTION HEARING: The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing for March 15 entitled "Late-Term Abortion: Protecting Babies Born Alive and Capable of Feeling Pain." 

COMMITTEE UPDATES:

About 120 Republicans wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) demanding to know how Planned Parenthood and two other women's health centers that perform abortions have used taxpayer funding over the last year. The lawmakers last received an update in March 2015. That update included federal funds for fiscal years 2010-2012. The letter was led by Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (R-La.) and Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackBottom line Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee MORE (R-Tenn.)

ON TAP TOMORROW:

CMS head Andy Slavitt kicks off AHIP's health exchanges conference at 9 a.m. Kevin Counihan, CEO of the HealthCare.gov marketplace, will give an address at noon. 

The World Health Organization's team of international health regulators holds an emergency meeting on the Zika virus. 

WHAT WE'RE READING:

Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden's policies are playing into Trump's hands Hillicon Valley: Amazon wins union election — says 'our employees made the choice' On The Money: Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs | GOP bashes border, policing provisions MORE' long history with alternative medicine (Time)

Heroin epidemic increasingly seeps into public view (New York Times)

Zika virus would pose special risks to pregnant women (Wall Street Journal

Onslaught of Obamacare spots is waiting in the wings (Modern HealthCare)

IN THE STATES:

Consultants to Arkansas task force: Dropping Medicaid plan would cost $757M (Arkansas Online)

Columbus Planned Parenthood clinic vandalized (Columbus Dispatch)

Zika virus cases rise to 50 in Florida (Miami Herald)  

ICYMI FROM THE HILL:

Flint residents file class action lawsuit over lead crisis http://bit.ly/21TWQAm

Bipartisan House pair proposes tax credit for family caregivers http://bit.ly/1QCKxkE

Send tips and comments to Sarah Ferris, sferris@thehill.com, and Peter Sullivan, psullivan@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @thehill, @sarahnferris, @PeterSullivan4