Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices

Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices
© Getty Images

Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care. It's "Congress Friday" as lawmakers head out of town and most of the news is coming from the administration.

We've got some moves on drug pricing, as well as a couple potential major regulations under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. In Congress, Senate Democrats want to intervene in a lawsuit targeting the legality of ObamaCare.  

We'll start with drug pricing:


Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs to lower prices

The Trump administration is stepping up its efforts to fight high drug prices, frustrated with media coverage saying their proposals so far have not had much effect.


The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday said it is exploring allowing importation of drugs to create competition when there is a price spike for an off-patent drug. That would be one of the most significant steps yet to target high prices.

The details: The Food and Drug Administration is forming a working group to examine how the U.S. could import pharmaceuticals from abroad "in the event of a dramatic price increase for a drug produced by one manufacturer and not protected by patents or exclusivities," the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Thursday.

During the campaign, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE broke from his party and backed expanded importation of cheaper medicine. Most Republicans, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, have traditionally opposed the idea.

Read more here.


Other drug pricing moves to watch:

HHS also sent a cryptic notice on a proposed regulation to OMB Thursday, which sent the health-care world scrambling to figure out what it could mean.

The notice says there is a regulation coming about restricting the rebates that drug companies pay to Pharmacy Benefit Managers, perhaps moving to a simpler system where there is a single, fixed price for a drug. The administration has said it wants to move in this direction before, but the details of the proposal are not yet known.

The regulation is deemed "economically significant," which means it will have an impact of at least $100 million.


Merck to lower prices on some drugs

The pharmaceutical company Merck on Thursday announced it would lower the costs of some drugs in its portfolio.

The company will drop the price of Zepatier, a Hepatitis C drug, by 60 percent, and decrease the costs of "several other" drugs by 10 percent.

It also said it would not increase the average net price of drugs in its portfolio by more than inflation annually.

Reaction: The news was met with praise by the Trump administration, which took credit for the decreases by citing the president's tough talk on drug prices.

Context: Merck is the first drug company to announce price decreases since the administration released its blueprint, though two other companies -- Pfizer and Novartis -- have said it would not increase the prices of drugs for the rest of 2018.

Read more on that here.


Also coming soon: ObamaCare regs

There was more speculation over another notice about a coming regulation. This time it involves an HHS regulation on risk adjustment, the ObamaCare payments between insurers that the administration abruptly cut off earlier this month.

The new regulation could be a step toward restarting the payments, but officials said they are still considering their options.

Also landing at OMB: a final rule on short-term health plans. Critics say the short term plans are an attempt to undermine the ObamaCare market by allowing health plans to be sold for up to a year that don't offer ObamaCare's full range of coverage protections. If past rules, like on association health plans, are an indication, except the review to be expedited.


GOP looks to blunt Dem attacks on rising premiums

Democrats have put a spotlight on premium hikes to try to get a campaign advantage over Republicans. Now, Republicans are trying to hit back.

The House will vote next week on a series of GOP health-care measures that can be cast as helping with health-care costs:

  • Delaying the Health Insurance Tax for two years.
  • Repealing the medical device tax.
  • Expanding Health Savings Accounts.

Reality check: Joe Antos, a health-care expert at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said of the bills: "They're all little adjustments; there's really not much to them."

Quote: "At least we're taking some action, and rightfully so, because to do nothing I think is just, one, it's not the right thing to do," said Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Reed thanks well wishers, will return to work Monday after collapse GOP Rep. Tom Reed collapses just before television appearance MORE (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which advanced many of the health-care bills last week. "And second, politically to do nothing is not a [good idea]."

Read more here.


Dems press GOP to take action supporting pre-existing conditions

Democrats are trying to keep up the pressure on Republicans over ObamaCare's pre-existing condition protections, a key issue for the midterm campaign.

Details: A resolution, introduced Thursday, would allow the Office of Senate Legal Counsel to intervene in a case brought by Republican attorneys general that argues ObamaCare is now unconstitutional because Congress repealed the 2010 law's individual mandate last year.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided not to defend ObamaCare, writing in a June brief that the court should overturn provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions.

That move angered both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats argue the Senate can do something about it.

Politically notable: Several vulnerable red-state Democrats were at the press conference announcing the resolution, including Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Mo.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Trump walks tightrope on gun control O'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats MORE (W.Va.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyEx-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Democrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines MORE (Pa.), indicating that Democrats in states President Trump won are also eager to talk about pre-existing conditions.

Read more here.


House Dems press administration on Navigator funding

A pair of House Democrats want answers from the Trump administration about the decision to significantly slash funding for outreach groups that help people enroll in ObamaCare coverage.

The funding will be cut from $36 million this year to $10 million in 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said last week.

In a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse reaches deal on continuing resolution, vote expected Thursday Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns MORE (N.J.) and Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorClimate activist Greta Thunberg implores lawmakers to 'listen to the best available science' House approves two bills to block Trump drilling Pelosi, Schumer invite US women's soccer team to Capitol MORE (Fla.) asked the agencies to explain how they arrived at the $10 million funding level. They also asked Verma and Azar how the agencies expect the groups, knows as navigators, to fulfill all the responsibilities legally required of them with only $10 million in funding.

Pallone and Castor are the ranking Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Read more on the letter here.


What we're reading

Merck to lower some drug prices after President Trump bashed pharmaceutical industry (USA Today)

Trump's drug-price push butts into two megadeals (Bloomberg)


State by state

Kentucky governor to reverse cuts to Medicaid dental, vision services, sources say (Louisville Courier-Journal)

ObamaCare in Texas faces massive cuts to outreach funds by Trump administration (Dallas Morning News)

California 'ObamaCare' premiums to rise 8.7 percent in 2019 (Associated Press)