Overnight Health Care: House to begin hearings on bills to fight opioids | Groups rally against cuts to anti-drug office | Departures test insurance lobby's clout | Amazon teaming up to cut health care costs

Overnight Health Care: House to begin hearings on bills to fight opioids | Groups rally against cuts to anti-drug office | Departures test insurance lobby's clout | Amazon teaming up to cut health care costs
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House panel to begin hearings on bills to fight opioid crisis

The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Tuesday that it will begin holding legislative hearings on measures to fight the opioid crisis the week of Feb. 26, a step forward in addressing the epidemic.

The panel said that there will be multiple hearings to consider legislation aimed at fighting opioid abuse, an issue that has received bipartisan attention amid a rising number of deaths.


Opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than any other year on record.

"Energy and Commerce has been at the tip of the spear when it comes to combating the nation's opioid epidemic, and we aren't letting up now," committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHere are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act Lobbying world Bottom line MORE (R-Ore.) said in a statement to The Hill.

The specific list of legislation the panel will consider has not yet been released, but some ideas from a previous hearing in October are under consideration.

The panel said measures will include "modernizing federal laws to adapt for new treatments and technologies, like how drugs are taken or administered, as well as how to dispose of unused opioids."

Read more here.


Departures test clout of insurance lobby


America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has been the voice of the health insurance industry for years, but questions have been swirling about whether the association carries the same political clout it once did.

Three of the country's five largest insurance companies have left the group, and the industry has lost some key policy battles with the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress.

"If I market myself as the leading trade association representing insurers, the departure of some of your key companies probably puts a ding in that," an industry lobbyist said.

UnitedHealth left AHIP in June 2015, followed by Aetna a little over six months later, in early 2016. Earlier this month, Humana also announced it was leaving the group, followed by CareFirst.

UnitedHealth said it felt AHIP no longer represented the company's best interests, but AHIP noted that Aetna and Humana said their respective departures were business decisions, rather than due to disagreements over policy.

Health care sources told The Hill the departures stemmed from concerns among some of the large, for-profit companies that AHIP's focus had moved too heavily toward smaller, regional insurers and nonprofit carriers.

Read more here


More than 150 groups oppose cuts to anti-drug office

More than 150 organizations are strongly opposing the Trump administration's reported proposed changes and cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), arguing it would "create an unnecessary distraction" from efforts to save lives.

Earlier this month, Politico reported that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was considering slashing the anti-drug office's budget by nearly 95 percent and moving the two grants it administers to the purview of other departments.

Advocates of the office have rallied against the proposal, sending a letter Monday addressed to White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway calls for thorough Lincoln Project probe: 'The lying has to stop' Claudia Conway advances on 'American Idol,' parents Kellyanne, George appear The swift death of the media darlings known as the Lincoln Project MORE, who has been leading the administration's response to the opioid epidemic. The groups signing on to the letter represent a wide swath of those working to curb the drug crisis, such as those in prevention, treatment, recovery and criminal justice communities, and more.

Read more here.



Oversight chairman threatens to subpoena HHS for withholding information

Oversight Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyPompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy The Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election MORE (R-S.C.) said Monday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) failed to fully cooperate with requests for information from his committee, threatening to subpoena the agency.

Gowdy wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar Monday that his agency has taken a "posture of nonchalance" to requests from his Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The committee has requested a number of documents from the agency, including information on cost-sharing reduction payments and the agency's response to the opioid epidemic.  

Gowdy said the department hasn't provided any compelling reason for why it's withholding documents from the committee.

Read more here.



Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase join to tackle health care costs

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase announced on Tuesday that they're working together to create a new health-care venture for their own staff aimed at "improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs."

The three say that they will create a new, independent company "free from profit-making incentives and constraints" to reduce health-care costs for their employees, according to a statement they released on Tuesday.

"The health care system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty," said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

The companies didn't give many details about the project but said that the new company would initially focus on unspecified "technology solutions" to reduce costs and provide better health care.

Read more here.



FDA faces new lawsuits over e-cigarette rule

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is facing a new wave of legal challenges over its rules for electronic cigarettes.

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed lawsuits on behalf of vaping businesses in district courts in the District of Columbia, Minnesota and Texas on Tuesday.

In the lawsuits, the foundation argues the FDA's so-called deeming rule, which brings e-cigarettes under the same regulatory scheme as traditional cigarettes, violates the First Amendment by allowing the agency to treat many nontobacco vaping products as if they were tobacco products regulated by the Tobacco Control Act.

"Thanks to the Deeming Rule, anyone who manufactures or sells a vaping product must obtain FDA's preapproval before engaging in truthful speech concerning that product's health and related effects," attorneys for the legal group argue in court documents.

Read more here.


Tough flu season could kill tens of thousands

Millions of Americans are suffering from the influenza virus in what public health experts say is an unusually active and dangerous flu season, the result of several distinct strains of a disease that are likely to kill tens of thousands in the United States.

Influenza activity is widespread in 49 states -- all but Hawaii -- and flu rates are at high levels in 40 states and in Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 6.6 percent of all hospital and doctor visits so far this year are for flu-like illnesses.

"For the past three weeks, the entire country has been experiencing lots of flu all at the same time," said Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases' Influenza Division.

Read more here.


Sessions: DOJ to target pharmacies, prescribers in crackdown

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) plans to target the nation's pharmacies and prescribers in a nationwide crackdown against opioid abuse, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE announced Tuesday.

Sessions told agents in Louisville, Ky., that over the next six weeks the DEA will begin a nationwide investigation of pharmacies and drug prescribers that are issuing "unusual or disproportionate" numbers of opioid prescriptions.

"DEA collects some 80 million transaction reports every year from manufacturers and distributors of prescription drugs. These reports contain information like distribution figures and inventory. DEA will aggregate these numbers to find patterns, trends, statistical outliers--and put them into targeting packages," Sessions said, according to a transcript of the speech.

"That will help us make more arrests, secure more convictions--and ultimately help us reduce the number of prescription drugs available for Americans to get addicted to or overdose from these dangerous drugs."

Read more here.


Pfizer plans investments, bonuses in wake of tax law

Pfizer on Tuesday announced plans for new investments and bonuses following the enactment of the GOP tax law.

The pharmaceutical giant said it is going to make about $5 billion in capital investments in the U.S. over the next five years. The company also said it has set aside $100 million for one-time bonuses to be paid to nonexecutive employees in the first quarter of this year.

Additionally, the company made a $200 million contribution to its charitable foundation following the law's passage, and said that it plans to make a $500 million contribution to its pension plan this year.

Read more here.


From The Hill's op-ed page:

Trump and the GOP need to keep their hands off our communities

New drugs, but slow access -- here's how to speed breakthroughs to patients

How the GOP's latest abortion ban hurts families like mine


What we're reading

ObamaCare will survive (Vox)

Chemotherapy, a trusty weapon against cancer, falls out of favor (The Wall Street Journal)

Amazon, two other giants are promising to 'disrupt' the health care industry. Health care experts doubt it (Stat)


State by state

Drug firms shipped 20.8 million pain pills to West Virginia town with 2,900 people (Charleston Gazette-Mail)

Indiana gets Medicaid waiver extension as review continues (Modern Healthcare)

Virginia House panel adopts work rule for Medicaid, dismisses state fiscal analysis (Richmond Times-Dispatch)


The Hill Events: Join The Hill on February 14 to explore the role recovery support services can play in combating the nation’s opioid crisis at America’s Opioid Epidemic: Supporting Recovery. RSVP Here.