Overnight Healthcare

Health Care — GOP targets Democratic drug pricing law

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The National Gallery of Art is now down to three paintings by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer — of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” fame — though it turns out they never had four to begin with.

In health news, Senate Republicans are eyeing a repeal of Democrats’ drug pricing law, citing potential high drug costs.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Subscribe here.

Senate Republican bill would repeal drug pricing law

Senate Republicans on Friday introduced a bill that would roll back the drug pricing reforms included in the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act, including the measures allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and capping annual drug expenses for many seniors.

  • Republican Sens. James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) introduced the “Protecting Drug Innovation Act” on Friday, saying they wanted to pull back government authority over the prices of drugs covered by Medicare.
  • “Prescription drug prices are too high for many critical drugs, which demonstrates the need for more competition and more options for consumers,” Lankford, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement

Refresher: The bill allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time in the program’s history. It placed a $2,000 out-of-pocket cap on annual drug costs for seniors on Medicare, as well as a $35 monthly copay for insulin.

If passed, Lankford’s bill states it would make it so that the drug pricing measures in the Inflation Reduction Act “had never been enacted.” 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre lambasted the bill on Twitter, saying it puts “special interests before working families.” 

“Their new bill is a giveaway to Big Pharma at the expense of seniors by ending Medicare’s new ability to negotiate lower drug prices,” Jean-Pierre said. “Their vision for the country is extreme and out of touch with working families across the country.” 

Read more here.

Democrats look to keep abortion front and center

Democrats are seeking to keep abortion in the headlines ahead of the midterm elections in an effort to make it top of mind for voters as they seek to retain control of the House and Senate.

Their strategy comes as Republicans have tried to steer the focus to crime, the economy and immigration, all topics Democrats would like to avoid ahead of November.

But it’s also playing out as Republicans continue to generate news about the issue themselves.  

  • Most recently, a bombshell report alleged that Georgia GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker paid for a woman’s abortion.
  • That followed tensions spilling out into public after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation for a 15-week abortion ban, raising concerns among some Republicans that he was shooting his own party in the foot ahead of November.  

Winning issue: Abortion is an issue Democrats believe will play well with suburban women, a key voting demographic in a number of swing states. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed the group favoring Democrats over Republicans on the issue 40 percent to 24 percent.  

Meanwhile, the White House and Democrats continue to bash Graham’s legislation, highlighting Republicans’ messaging challenges on the issue.

  • At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser late last month, President Biden called out Graham’s bill for not having exceptions for rape or incest.
  • “I happen to be a practicing Roman Catholic,” Biden said. “My church doesn’t even make that argument.” 

Read more here. 

HOW THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS COULD AFFECT THE COVID RESPONSE 

The national status of public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic may expire, and the White House Covid team could get phased out as early as mid-2023.  

By then, there may be new governors in office from the midterm elections. State legislatures may also see a wave of change as seats open and get filled. All of this could have significant implications on the COVID response and surveillance of the coronavirus, experts warn, potentially putting the public at risk.  

  • The public health emergency status gives the federal government and certain agencies the funding and authority to take action. For example, it gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the authority to require all the states and territories to report COVID-19 data.
  • In addition, federal funding paid for the coronavirus vaccines and made the shots accessible to everyone regardless of insurance coverage. All of that could be at risk pending the results of the midterms. 

New state representatives and governors will have the power to enact laws around data sharing and privacy that might limit COVID reporting.  

There’s already been cases of state laws limiting health departments’ ability to require vaccination.  

Read more here

GRASSLEY A ‘NO’ ON GRAHAM’S 15-WEEK ABORTION BAN

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the most senior member of the Senate GOP conference, says he would vote against a national 15-week abortion ban sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that has caused a political headache for fellow Republicans.   

“I would vote ‘no,’” Grassley said at a televised debate Thursday night with his Democratic election opponent, Mike Franken.

  • Grassley previously co-sponsored Graham’s bill, introduced last year, to ban abortion after 20 weeks.
  • Now, however, Grassley says abortion is an issue that should be handled at the state level, after the Supreme Court in June struck down Roe v. Wade’s federal right to an abortion and left decisions to individual states.  

A Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa poll conducted in July showed Grassley leading Franken, a retired Navy admiral, by 8 points, 47 percent to 39 percent.   

Read more here. 

White House touts vaccine amid faltering booster rollout 

The White House is pushing newly released data on the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccinations as uptake for the updated bivalent booster shot remains low one month after it was authorized. 

  • A new study from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, estimated that coronavirus vaccines were linked to roughly 670,000 to 680,000 fewer hospitalizations as well as 330,000 to 370,000 fewer related deaths from September 2020 to December 2021.
  • According to HHS, these estimates represented between 39 and 47 percent fewer deaths than in a possible scenario in which vaccines were not available. The research did not include potential cases that were averted, with HHS citing the rise in at-home testing that isn’t reported to officials.
  • On top of these potentially averted deaths and hospitalizations, the HHS study estimated more than $16 billion in direct hospitalization costs were saved due to immunization. 

In a press briefing on Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said this research “doubles down on the work that we’re doing on vaccination.” 

“We’ve been trying to make sure that we stay ahead of this virus and keep America not only healthy but strong and keep our economy healthy and strong,” said Becerra. 

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said almost every death due to COVID-19 in the U.S. is now preventable, adding that the administration was “laser focused” on reducing illnesses and deaths in the country, though he declined to give an exact numerical goal when asked. 

Part of achieving the administration’s goal begins with “making sure that every American gets an updated COVID vaccine,” according to Jha. 

Read more here

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Why childbirth is so dangerous for many young teens (Kaiser Health News
  • Adderall supply delays likely to continue for 2-3 months, Teva says (Bloomberg
  • COVID wave looms in Europe as booster campaign makes slow start (Reuters

STATE BY STATE

  • A Johns Hopkins Hospital cook complained about broken appliances, unsanitary conditions. Then he was fired. (Baltimore Banner
  • Disabled Florida veteran struggled to get essential medicine for days after Hurricane Ian (NBC News
  • Some nursing home residents are still displaced after Hurricane Ian (WUSF

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you next week.

Tags abortion access Biden boosters COVID-19 pandemic drug pricing James Lankford Karine Jean-Pierre Lindsey Graham midterms 2022
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