Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Medicare trust fund to run short years earlier than expected

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

It's Tuesday in Washington. Summer might just be starting, but we're already bracing ourselves for a long August. At least we have the Caps this week to distract us. Now on to the latest health care news...

 

A Medicare Trustees report released Tuesday finds that Medicare's trust fund will be depleted in 2026, three years earlier than last year's report found.

"The Trustees recommend that Congress and the executive branch work closely together with a sense of urgency to address the depletion of the [trust fund] and the projected growth [in spending]," the trustees report states.

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What it means: Benefits don't disappear in those years, but beneficiaries will see decreases in their benefits if the problem isn't fixed.

However: The Social Security Trust Fund is projected to remain solvent until 2034, no change from last year's projection.

 

Democrats used the new information to attack Republicans and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE for their tax law.

 

Republicans, meanwhile, used the report to highlight the need for reforms.

We've got more on the day's big story here.

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Drugmakers set and raise the price of prescription drugs unrelated to the rebates they negotiate with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).  The most direct way for drugmakers to reduce costs and improve access is to simply cut their own prices.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon vote on a controversial bill aimed at lowering drug prices.

The bill, known as the CREATES Act, seeks to crack down on drug companies using tactics to delay the introduction of cheaper generic drugs onto the market. It has been stalled for months amid intense opposition from pharmaceutical companies, despite being sponsored by members of both parties.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled for the panel to consider the bill on Thursday. A committee aide said that under the panel's procedures, consideration of the bill will likely not actually happen until next week.

Why it matters: The CREATES Act was supposed to be included in a government spending deal earlier this year, but was met by opposition from the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

But Grassley said last month that he was talking with the industry about a possible deal where they would relent on their opposition in exchange for a fix to a Medicare provision that is costly to drug companies.

More on what's next here.

 

The Food and Drug Administration sent a strong warning Tuesday to 53 websites marketing unapproved opioids, which could be dangerous to consumers who take them.

"The internet is virtually awash in illegal narcotics and we're going to be taking new steps to work with legitimate internet firms to voluntarily crack down on these sales," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Why it matters: These drugs, while marketed as authentic, can be counterfeit, contaminated or expired. It's a particular concern given the fact that counterfeit opioids can be laced with Fentanyl, a drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine and has led to overdose deaths in the U.S.

Read more about the crackdown here.

The White House on Tuesday walked back its proposal to rescind $252 million in unspent funding from the 2015 Ebola outbreak.

The proposal was part of a broader "rescissions" package the Trump administration sent to Congress last month aimed at clawing back $15 billion in unspent funding Congress appropriated years ago.

Why it matters: The fight against Ebola isn't over. An ongoing Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo has left 27 dead. Public health experts note that Congress was slow to react to the 2015 outbreak, and argue the funds should be left untouched in case it comes to the U.S.

"We cannot afford another situation where it takes months for the United States to respond to a global outbreak of a deadly nature," the American Society for Microbiology wrote in a letter last month to House leadership.

We've got the details here.

 

A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers are raising concerns about how HHS is implementing a cyber law that aims to boost security by providing digital threat data.

In a letter on Tuesday, the top lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee pressed HHS Secretary Alex Azar to provide more information about executing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA).

"As cyber threats to the health care sector increase in frequency and severity, it is imperative that HHS provide clear and consistent leadership and direction to the sector regarding cyber threats," the lawmakers wrote.

We explain the controversy here.

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Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have outlined several policy solutions to ensure patients receive opioid prescriptions when safe and medically appropriate. One important solution would be requiring e-prescribing of controlled substances in Medicare (2460 / H.R. 3528, the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely Act). A study by the Opioid Safety Alliance finds this could save taxpayers $13 billion over 10 years.

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What we're reading

7 surveys that say a lot about US health care (Forbes)

She paid nothing for opioid painkillers. Her addiction treatment costs more than $200 a month. (Vox)

'This is huge': Breast cancer survivors welcome breakthrough in treatment that skips chemotherapy (Greenville News)

 

State by state

Hundreds of Illinois children languish in psychiatric hospitals after they're cleared for release (ProPublica)

Patients got more MRSA infections at Jackson Health than at any other U.S. hospital (Miami Herald)

New York health insurers seek whopping increase for 2019 (Democrat & Chronicle)

Emily Birnbaum contributed.