Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump HHS chief on defensive over drug plan | Why a new Ebola outbreak is terrifying officials

Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump HHS chief on defensive over drug plan | Why a new Ebola outbreak is terrifying officials
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Welcome to Overnight Health Care, sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.

Happy Monday! Today, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE and the Justice Department reached a deal on how to investigate conservative claims of wrongdoing in the Russia probe and Washington whipped itself into a frenzy over whether Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, will call it quits.

And on the health care front...



Azar on the defensive over drug plan.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has been doing the media rounds to sell his plan to lower drug prices, but that is not tamping down many of the critics who say the plan is largely toothless.

Azar is hitting back: "They can't read and they can't listen and they're not understanding," Azar said of critics on CNN.

Some observers noted that Azar ramped up his rhetoric after drug companies were relieved by the initial plan.

"The initial reaction was tepid because you couldn't find specific actions, but the rhetoric this week certainly has called attention," said Rodney Whitlock, a former GOP congressional staffer who is now a lobbyist for the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing.

"The reaction to Friday's announcement was not what they were looking for, and therefore there has been a desire to ramp up the rhetoric to demonstrate the commitment they have to making changes," said Ian Spatz, a senior adviser at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.


What to watch: Azar is stressing that he is going to follow through on taking on drug companies. But how far will he go? For example, how many drugs will he move from Medicare Part B to Part D, a move that could hurt drugmakers. Will the administration follow through on requiring drug companies to disclose prices in ads?

Read more here on Azar's tough spot.



Sponsored content - Pharmaceutical Care Management Association

Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are hired by employers, unions, and government programs to negotiate aggressive discounts from drug companies and drugstores.  PBMs continue to keep overall spending and out-of-pocket costs down despite massive price hikes by drugmakers. Learn how PBMs are part of the solution to reducing Rx costs at DrugBenefitSolutions.com.



Happening this week:

  • Azar will attend the 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland as the head of the U.S. delegation Tuesday. He will deliver remarks on the U.S. commitment to global health security, attend official events focused on key public health challenges, and participate in multiple bilateral meetings with health ministers and officials from other nations, according to HHS. Read more here.
  • The Senate Special Committee on Aging announced it will hold a hearing Wednesday on preventing seniors from developing an opioid addiction, and treating those who have one.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet Thursday to consider a slate of bills related to the opioid epidemic.


"Right to Try" update: The House Rules Committee met at 5 p.m. Monday on the Senate's version of a "Right to Try" bill to let patients bypass the Food and Drug Administration when requesting access to experimental drugs.

There were bipartisan, bicameral talks on Right to Try, but they failed to produce anything new, according to a Senate Democratic aide. So there isn't any expectation that a compromise bill would be moving Monday. The House is instead slated to take up the Senate's bill tomorrow. 

How we got here: The House passed its own bill two months ago. That version didn't seem like it was going to pass the Senate, and now the House is finally taking up a bill the upper chamber passed by unanimous consent in August.

Why the stakes are high: "Right to Try" is a big priority for President Trump, Vice President Pence and groups backed by conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch.



Poll finds voters will blame GOP for premium increases

The Pro-ObamaCare group Protect Our Care is out with new polling from the left-learning firm Public Policy Polling finding that voters in battleground states will largely blame Republicans for premium increases.

For example in Nevada, home to one of the most competitive Senate races, 56 percent of voters in the PPP poll said they would blame Republicans for rising premiums, compared to 32 percent who said they would not.

Democrats are seeking to make the premium increases a major issue in the midterms and pin the blame on Republicans.

Check out the numbers from PPP's polling here.




41 public health groups are urging the Trump administration to quickly act on a plan to reduce the nicotine level in cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The groups, led by Tobacco Free Kids, praised the Food and Drug Administration's plan to reduce to nicotine level in cigarettes to non-addictive or minimally addictive levels, writing in a letter to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that it would have "massive public health benefits."

"There are few actions FDA could take that would prevent more young people from smoking and save lives," the groups wrote.

"We urge you to move forward with this proposal as quickly as possible."

Where we stand: Gottlieb has said the FDA is considering such action, but has not offered a timeline.



A new outbreak of the Ebola virus that has killed at least two-dozen people has sent public health officials scrambling to contain the epidemic. It now threatens to spread far beyond the remote jungles of the Congo River Basin -- and raises new questions about the World Health Organization's (WHO) preparations for the next killer virus.

The U.S. government is preparing its most direct response yet to the outbreak that appears to have begun in April, readying staffers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to deploy to multiple communities in Congo.

Ministry of Health officials first identified cases of viral hemorrhagic fever when it reached the town of Bikoro earlier this month. On Thursday, officials said a new case had been identified in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million.

The new case in Mbandaka has raised the alarm among public health officials because it is the first time the virus has ever landed in a city that sits directly on the Congo River.

More here on why public health officials are so worried.


Latest: Vaccine reaches Congo as death count grows. On Monday, officials began a massive new vaccination campaign in Congo in an effort to stem the Ebola outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and a nongovernmental organization that delivers vaccines, Gavi, said Monday that more than 7,500 doses of a new vaccine had been deployed to the Equator Province.

More on the vaccination campaign here.



Sponsored content - Pharmaceutical Care Management Association

A drug company’s decision to increase the price of a forty-year-old drug by 1400% – despite no change in the supply chain – undermines drugmakers’ attempt to blame their prices on the insurers, pharmacies, PBMs, and wholesalers through which patients access medicines. 



What we're reading:

Drug users got exploited. Disabled patients got hurt. One woman benefited from it all. (Revealnews.org)

ALS patients losing time as they wait for insurers to cover pricey new drug (STAT)

As an insurer resists paying for 'avoidable' E.R. visits, patients and doctors push back (The New York Times


State by state

California rebukes Trump with health care push for immigrants (Politico)

California lawsuit to protect abortion services suggested (Sacramento Bee)  

The Health 202: States are targeting a key middleman in the drug-pricing chain (The Washington Post's Health 202 newsletter)