Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: Drug price fight heats up | Skepticism over drug companies' pledges | Ads target HHS secretary over child separations | Senate confirms VA pick

Welcome to the soggy Monday edition of Overnight Health Care.  This is the last week the House is in session before the August recess, and they'll be voting on a few health care bills, including a repeal of the medical device tax. Over in the Senate, lawmakers voted to confirm Robert Wilkie as the new Veterans Affairs Secretary. 

Also in today's newsletter: A liberal group that focuses on reproductive rights is launching an attack over family separations, and in the drug pricing world, experts, and a new poll, are questioning the effectiveness of Trump's newest policy moves.


Poll: Majority think Trump's drug plan won't lower prices they pay

Despite the chatter in the health-care world around President Trump's drug pricing plan, the public is skeptical that their prices will be coming down anytime soon.

A new poll from Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that 57 percent of adults think the plan will make "no difference" in the prices they pay for drugs, while 22 percent said they would pay less and 13 percent said they thought they would pay more.

Not a huge amount of awareness: Just 27 percent of adults said they had heard or read about Trump's drug pricing plan, though, the poll finds.

Still, key elements of the plan received favorable ratings in the poll, such as requiring TV ads for drugs to disclose their prices, which 63 percent of adults said they favor.

The poll comes as the administration has been trying to step up its actions on drug pricing, frustrated by media coverage that questions how much is actually happening.

As a refresher, here are some recent steps:

  • The FDA is forming a working group to explore the idea of allowing importation of drugs to increase competition and address price spikes on old, off-patent drugs. (This could be one of the most consequential actions, but only affects a narrow segment of drugs, not new drugs).
  • A notice was posted of a new regulation possibly banning rebates and simplifying the pricing system.

Read about the poll here.


Also on drug pricing, experts question how much pledges from drug companies actually matter:

Last week, we saw several pledges from drug companies to hold off on raising prices or in some cases lower them, but experts say the moves might not be much more than PR.

Key quotes:

  • Rachel Sachs, a drug pricing policy expert and associate professor of law at Washington University: "The president in May promised there would be massive, voluntary price decreases in a couple of weeks, and we haven't seen those... All we've seen so far is a couple of companies choosing to delay planned price increases, which is unlikely to have much of an impact on patients or on prices more generally."
  • Ian Spatz, a former Merck lobbyist and current senior adviser at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, a health-care consulting firm in D.C: "It's clearly a time when there's a lot of scrutiny on drug companies and pricing decisions. It makes sense that each company is thinking about the potential public relations and political implications of price increases."

Read more here.


Liberal group launches ads targeting HHS secretary over child separations:

A reproductive rights group is launching an ad campaign targeting Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar for his role in enforcing the Trump administration's policy of family separations at the country's southern border.

Equity Forward said it spent more than $1 million on a television ad in the Washington, D.C., metro area, encouraging people to call Congress and tell lawmakers to hold Azar and the administration accountable for the separation policy.

What the ad says: The ad opens with audio of detained children crying, and juxtaposes it with an interview Azar gave to CNN earlier this month where he said: "It is one of the great acts of American generosity and charity, what we are doing for these unaccompanied kids who are smuggled into our country or come across illegally."

A voiceover then says: "Generosity? No Secretary Azar, this is a disgrace."

Why it's important: The fact that a reproductive rights group is getting involved in the migrant children crisis, especially in the middle of a Supreme Court fight, shows a major escalation in Democratic priorities of for the midterms. Democrats are trying to make Azar the face of the administration's confusing retreat from the divisive policy, and they're hoping the public will make the same connection.

You can view the ad here and read more about the campaign here.


On the topic of family separations, ICYMI from Friday:

A federal judge, who has criticized the Trump administration's tardiness in reuniting families separated at the border, offered praise during a status hearing after the administration said 450 children between the ages of 5 and 17 were reunited with their parents.

"The reunifications are happening very rapidly, which is good. A big block will be reunified in a timely manner," U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said. "It really does appear there's been great progress."

But even with the progress, the administration must still work to reunite 1,150 children with their parents just days before a court-mandated deadline. And as of Friday, there were 37 children whose parents were "unaccounted for" and could not be identified.

The next status update is Tuesday. The deadline for reuniting the children is Thursday.

Read about Friday's proceedings here.


Senate confirms VA pick:

The Senate easily cleared President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday.

Senators voted 86-9 on Robert Wilkie's nomination to be the VA secretary.

The nine "no" votes make Wilkie the first VA secretary to have senators vote against their nomination since the post was elevated to a cabinet-level position in 1989.

Who voted no? Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against the nomination.

Flashback: Wilkie's confirmation gives the VA its first Senate-confirmed secretary since Trump fired David Shulkin in March amid months of controversy over allegations of misusing taypayer funds. Trump tapped White House physician Ronny Jackson to be his successor. But Jackson withdrew his nomination in April amid a firestorm of accusations of professional misconduct

Jordain Carney has more on the vote here.


Tomorrow: Groups march on HHS to protest family planning changes:

Democrats will be protesting tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. outside HHS against the Trump administration's proposed changes to the Title X family planning program, which they say will harmfully restrict the ability for doctors to give patients information about abortions.

Speakers include: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.).


What we're reading

Yale law professor Abbe Gluck looks at Judge Kavanaugh's potential impact on health care (Vox.com)

Pence's anti-abortion law could upend Roe v. Wade (Politico)

Trump's Medicaid work rules hit states with costs and bureaucracy (Forbes)


State by state

Funding for Obamacare navigators in Florida cut by 81 percent (WUSF)

Is there renewed hope for Medicaid expansion in Missouri? (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Massachusetts passes repeal of 173-year-old abortion ban amid fears for future of Roe v. Wade (Time.com)

N.J. Republican who tried to kill ObamaCare faces heat for claiming his plan wouldn't hurt patients (Nj.com)

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