Overnight Health Care: Drug exec apologizes for large opioid shipments | Schumer vows to be 'relentless' in tying GOP to premium hikes | House panel advances VA reform bill

Overnight Health Care: Drug exec apologizes for large opioid shipments | Schumer vows to be 'relentless' in tying GOP to premium hikes | House panel advances VA reform bill
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Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Health Care. The big news: Trump is pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. In the health care world, Senate Democrats gave a preview of their midterm attacks on Republicans, an opioid distributor made a surprising admission, and the Senate's former Republican champion of a bipartisan ObamaCare fix has declared the effort completely dead.

Leading off, executives from opioid distributors faced a grilling from both sides of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Do opioid distributors think their companies contributed to the crisis ravaging the country?

That's what Rep. Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperGOP lawmakers urge improvements to cyber vulnerabilities resource Bipartisan leaders of House panel press drug companies on opioid crisis Republican chairman wants FTC to review mergers of drug price negotiators MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, wanted to know.

One company executive -- Joseph Mastandrea, the chairman of the board of Miami-Luken -- responded "yes." The others said they believed their companies had not contributed.

Why it matters: For about a year, the subcommittee has been investigating the distribution of prescription opioids, particularly focusing on areas of West Virginia, where millions of pills were sent to areas with small populations.

One executive apologized. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish we had moved faster and asked a different set of questions. I am deeply sorry we did not," said George Barrett, Cardinal Health's executive chairman.


The other four distributors testifying before the subcommittee stopped short of a formal apology. Some said they would have done things differently in hindsight and highlighted recent measures they've taken to address the opioid epidemic.

One of the more memorable moments came at the end of the three-hour hearing.

Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleySuper PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE took the microphone, his voice full of frustration and anger.

"I'm from West Virginia," the Republican said.

"The fury inside me right now is bubbling over with how we're going to address this problem, and for several of you to say you had no role whatsoever in this, I find particularly offensive."

Read more here.


On tap tomorrow 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will vote on 26 bills Wednesday and will hold a second mark up next week. Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHouse GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill GOP turns its fire on Google Hillicon Valley: Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias | DOJ convenes meeting on bias claims | Rubio clashes with Alex Jones | DHS chief urges lawmakers to pass cyber bill | Sanders bill takes aim at Amazon MORE (R-Ore.) hopes to put opioid legislation on the House floor by Memorial Day weekend.


Schumer previews midterm message on premium hikes

Look for Democrats to ramp up their attacks on Republicans for ObamaCare premium hikes during campaigns this year.

"We Democrats are going to be relentless in making sure the American people exactly understand who is to blame for the rates," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote MORE (N.Y.) said at a press conference to highlight the rate increases.

"Republicans control the House, the Senate, the presidency," he added. "The rates go up, especially after all their actions, it's on their back and they know it."

Democrats (and insurers) have pointed to repeal of ObamaCare's individual mandate as driving up premiums.

Read more here.


Alexander says bipartisan ObamaCare work is dead, points to Trump

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.) writes in a letter we obtained that bipartisan ObamaCare talks are dead, and he's now focused on more actions from the Trump administration.

Key quote: "Given Democrats' attitude, I know of nothing that Republicans and Democrats can agree on to stabilize the individual health insurance market," Alexander wrote.

"So now efforts to help Americans paying skyrocketing premiums will turn to the Trump Administration and the states," he added.

Dems say they still want to try: "It's disappointing that instead, [Republicans] are digging in their heels, doubling down on partisanship, and forcing families to pay the price by allowing insurers to skirt patient protections--but as I've said before, Democrats are not walking away from the table even if Republicans are," said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayJudiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh Kavanaugh allegations set stage for Anita Hill sequel Time for action to improve government data analysis MORE (D-Wash.).

Read more here.


VA reform bill clears first hurdle

A far-reaching bill that seeks to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system cleared a House panel on Tuesday. The House VA Committee advanced the VA Mission Act on a 20-2 vote, but it's a long way from becoming law.

What's next? President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE said he wants to sign the bill by Memorial Day. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Pelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor MORE (D-Calif.) didn't respond when asked if she supports the updated version of the legislation. House Democrats blocked a previous version of the bill from being included in the omnibus spending bill.

Key provisions: It would expand the number of veterans who are eligible to see private sector health specialists, as well as allow veterans enrolled in the VA system to see a private doctor twice a year without a copay. It also contains $5.2 billion to keep the Veterans Choice Program funded until the new system can be implemented.

Deadline: The Choice Program will run out funding May 31.

Read more here.


Update on Trump's drug pricing speech

It will be on Friday. A White House spokesperson finally confirmed that President Trump's speech, which has already been postponed once, will happen Friday at the White House.  

ICYMI: Read up on what we're expecting here.


Ebola flashback

How did the Ebola epidemic and fears that it could spread enter the American consciousness? Obama officials believed it was due to a tweet from Donald Trump, according to an excerpt from "Epidemic: Ebola and the global scramble to prevent the next killer outbreak," by The Hill's Reid Wilson.

"An analysis by the White House's Office of Digital Strategy later found that Trump's tweets represented a turning point, the moment when fear of the deadly virus began to infect the American public.

"'It was that tweet that created a level of anxiety in the country,' said Amy Pope, a senior Obama administration counterterrorism official who worked on the outbreak. 'That was a crystallizing moment.'"

Read more from Reid's book here.


What we're reading

The U.S. is facing an EpiPen shortage (Bloomberg)

How the farm bill could erode part of the Affordable Care Act (Kaiser Health News)

Are Republicans really proposing to cut funding for poor kids' health insurance? (The Washington Post)


State by state  

Louisiana is set to warn 37,000 elderly and disabled residents that they could lose their Medicaid benefits as state budget cuts target four programs. (The Hill)

Bill that keeps health services for 130K Maine veterans moves forward (Maine Public)

North Dakota insurance agency studying health care options (The Associated Press)

Use of psychiatric drugs soars in California jails (Kaiser Health News)

Louisiana will put 37,000 Medicaid recipients on notice that they could lose benefits (Times-Picayune)