Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Drug industry braces for Trump action on prices

Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Drug industry braces for Trump action on prices
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association


It's Wednesday, where we are walking back our claim that it finally feels like spring. It already feels like summer in D.C. Today, former HHS Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceIndustrial food system is at the heart of biodiversity degradation and climate change Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight poses risks to both Trump, Dems MORE walked back his remarks on ObamaCare's individual mandate, saying they were taken out of context; the CDC reported the first death from an E. coli outbreak tied to romaine lettuce; and Planned Parenthood sued the administration over changes to a family planning program.


But first, The Hill sat down with PhRMA CEO Steve Ubl to talk about President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE's big drug pricing speech next week, and where things stand in the debate over drug costs.

--Ubl on Trump's comments that drugmakers are "getting away with murder":

"His comments are reflecting this very real populist impulse which is patients are paying more for their health care, they are paying more for their medicine, and what we're doing is trying to open the aperture on this discussion and really look at all the factors that bear on what patients pay out of pocket."

--On PhRMA's loss in the budget deal this year, that resulted in more costs beinbg shifted on to drugmakers:

"I think we were surprised by the magnitude of the policy change initially... We remain concerned about the policy."

--On PhRMA's influence:

"I'm certainly proud of our team; I think that we are an effective advocacy organization... But again, I think the influence comes from coming to the table with real reforms."

About Trump's expected speech next week: We'll have to keep watching. Ubl wouldn't speculate about what Trump will announce, unfortunately!

Read more from our interview with Ubl here.



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Drugmakers set prices like any other company – according to whatever the market will bear, regardless of underlying costs or the rebates they negotiate with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and health plans.



Speaking of drug prices, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services offered a few hints about the administration's coming plan to tackle high drug prices.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the plan will go "much further" than President Trump's budget proposals, during an address at the annual World Health Care Congress on Wednesday.

He laid out four areas the president's "comprehensive strategy" will address:

  • High list prices
  • Seniors and government programs paying too much for drugs
  • Rising out-of-pocket costs
  • Foreign governments "free-riding off of American investment in innovation."

To watch: Azar's remarks built up expectations for the president's speech on drug pricing next week. Trump has often said drug companies are "getting away with murder," yet the administration hasn't taken much action yet to address the sky-high cost of some drugs.
Read more here.


Planned Parenthood is suing the administration over changes to a family planning program.

The lawsuit seeks to block conservative changes to a program known as Title X.

The changes: Groups taking part in the program must comply with new criteria to receive funds. Those new criteria put a focus on abstinence education.

Planned Parenthood's stance: Planned Parenthood argues the changes violate the purpose of the law setting up the program, which they say is to provide contraception.

Key quote: "Our bodies are our own and shouldn't be at the mercy of the Trump-Pence administration. We are going to court to fight for our patients' health and rights -- and for the millions of people in this country who need to access quality reproductive health care," said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood's executive vice president.

Read more here.


HHS declines to fire employee who promoted Pizzagate.

HHS confirmed Wednesday that an official who once promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and called Islam a "cult" has been reassigned within the agency after a review of her social media accounts.

Ximena Barreto-Rice, who was hired as a deputy director of communications by HHS in December, was placed on leave early last month while the department reviewed online posts uncovered by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters.

What she did:

  • Barreto-Rice repeatedly pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which revolves around false claims about a nonexistent pedophilia ring run out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

The apology: "In the heated and hyper-passionate political campaign environment, I made generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam. I fully understand that these emotionally-charged comments were hurtful, and I deeply apologize to members of both communities," Barreto-Rice said in a note shared with The Hill.

Read more here.



Tom Price walks back ObamaCare remarks. 

Remember when former Trump HHS Secretary Tom Price said that because Republicans repealed ObamCare's individual mandate, insurance costs would rise? That was yesterday. Today, he took it all back, and said his comments were taken out of context.

What he said today: "Repealing the individual mandate was exactly the right thing to do. Forcing Americans to buy something they don't want undermines individual liberty as well as free markets," Price said in a statement. "The only fair and effective way to bring down healthcare costs is to allow markets to create more choices for consumers and small businesses. Additional reforms are vitally necessary, such as the expansion of Association Health Plans for small businesses."

Worth noting: Price is now a fellow at the Job Creators Network, a free-market oriented group of small businesses. One of their primary goals: advocating for association health plans. His new statement echoes Republicans who say policies being enacted by the Trump administration like association health plans and short-term plans will increase competition and lower costs.

Read more here


Update on E. coli outbreak.

The first death has been reported in connection to an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an update Wednesday:

  • One person in California has died.
  • 23 more people have been reported ill since Friday's update, bringing the total number to 121
  • Illness have been reported in three additional states, bringing the total to 25 states
  • CDC continues to warn consumers against eating romaine lettuce unless they are sure it's not from the Yuma, Ariz., growing region

Read more here.


A longtime doctor to former President Obama says President Trump's ex-physician Harold Bornstein "disgraced himself."

Dr. David Scheiner, who treated Obama for more than two decades, called Bornstein's conduct "extraordinarily unethical" after Bornstein said that a letter he provided vouching for Trump's health had been dictated to him.

The 2015 letter claimed Trump would be the "healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

Read more here.

And click here for more on Bornstein's claims about the letter and what he characterized as a "raid" over Trump's medical records. The Trump organization pushed back on Wednesday, claiming Bornstein had "voluntarily" handed over Trump's medical records to the White House.



Sponsored content - Pharmaceutical Care Management Association

Drugmakers set prices like any other company – according to whatever the market will bear, regardless of underlying costs or the rebates they negotiate with PBMs and health plans. Although drugmakers are lobbying for new mandates forcing Medicare Part D plans to use rebates to reduce point-of-sale costs instead of premiums, CMS has noted that this would raise premiums by up to $28 billion and taxpayer costs by up to $82 billion over the next decade.




--An estimated 7 million people face an early death each year from air pollution, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

--Iowa lawmakers on Wednesday passed the strictest abortion legislation in the U.S., sending the legislation to Gov. Kim Reynolds's (R) desk. The so-called heartbeat bill aims to block abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which would essentially ban the procedure by the sixth week of pregnancy in most cases.

-- A Kenyan clinic that provides sexual and reproductive health services has lost more than $2 million in U.S. funding after President Trump reinstated a ban on aid to organizations that provide, discuss or support abortions. Family Health Options Kenya is that country's oldest family-planning clinic.

--A Southern California Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital was forced to close operating rooms for 22 days between 2016 and 2018 due to a persistent infestation of insects, according to an investigation from local station CBS 2 Los Angeles.


What we're reading

Democratic candidates running on health care after GOP attempts to repeal Obamacare (USA Today)

Seniors are the health care industry's gold rush (Axios)

The uninsured rate is rising -- but only for Republicans (Vox)


State by state   

Ohio to enforce 'safety checkpoints' on prescription opioid use (Columbus Dispatch)

Alaska state analysts say requiring Medicaid recipients to work won't save money (Alaska Public Media)

Medicaid recipients 'will be cut off,' says opponent of Michigan work requirements (MLive)

Meet the immigrant doctor who's solving West Virginia's opioids crisis (Politico


From The Hill's opinion pages

People need fair insurance coverage in a medical emergency

Trump has quietly saved millions from ObamaCare's individual mandate