Overnight Health Care: Pence says GOP will try again on ObamaCare repeal if elections go well | Hospital slashes $109K bill after media coverage | House panel probes drug price 'middlemen'

Overnight Health Care: Pence says GOP will try again on ObamaCare repeal if elections go well | Hospital slashes $109K bill after media coverage | House panel probes drug price 'middlemen'
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Welcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care. We hope you enjoy the long weekend. Get ready for a lot of health-care action next week with hearings for Brett Kavanaugh and ObamaCare court arguments in Texas.


Pence: GOP will try again to repeal ObamaCare if elections go well

If you're feeling nostalgic for last year's effort to repeal ObamaCare, you might have something to look forward to in 2019.

Vice President Pence said Thursday that Republicans plan to give repealing and replacing ObamaCare another try if they do well enough in November's elections.


Pence made the remarks to reporters while in Wisconsin to campaign for GOP Senate candidate Leah Vukmir, saying that if she wins, it would help Republicans with their goal of eventually repealing the health-care law.

"We made an effort to fully repeal and replace ObamaCare and we'll continue, with Leah Vukmir in the Senate, we'll continue to go back to that," Pence told reporters.

Democrats jumped on the comments, warning that Republican victories in the election would threaten health-care protections.

"VP Pence admits GOP's hidden plan - win more Senate seats so they can pass health care repeal that raises costs and eliminates protections," wrote Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson.


It all depends on the election results, though. Many observers think Democrats will win the House. If they do, that would put a stop to the ObamaCare repeal effort next year. Regardless, Republicans would likely also need to gain seats in the Senate, given that several GOP senators opposed last year's repeal effort.

Read more here.


What to watch next week:

Kavanaugh hearings

Several days of hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court begin Tuesday. Health care will be at the center, with sharp questions sure to come about Kavanaugh's thinking on abortion and Roe v. Wade, as well as his views on an ObamaCare lawsuit making its way through the lower courts.

Speaking of that ObamaCare case...

The Republican lawsuit challenging ObamaCare's constitutionality will have arguments in a federal district court in Texas on Wednesday. Look for Democrats to step up their attacks on Republicans for undermining the health law's pre-existing condition protections. Democrats are making that a key issue in this year's midterms.


Hospital slashes $109K bill for heart attack to $332 after media coverage

Today's reminder that there are a lot of complexities and controversies in our health-care system: A man was charged $109,000 by a hospital for his heart attack care. The bill was then slashed to $332 after an article caused an outcry.

NPR and Kaiser Health News published a story earlier this week reporting that a high school teacher in Austin, Texas, named Drew Calver had received a $108,951 bill for his care after his heart attack, even after his insurance paid the hospital $56,000.

After a flurry of attention on the case following the story's publication, the hospital, St. David's Medical Center, drastically lowered Calver's bill down to $782.29. The hospital then lowered the bill even more, to $332.29, an amount which Calver has now paid, NPR reported.

The case has drawn attention to a practice known as "balance billing" where hospitals go after patients for additional payments beyond what their insurance was willing to pay.


The hospital's view (from a leaked memo): David Huffstutler, the CEO of the hospital, wrote in a memo obtained by Kaiser Health News that the charges were "reasonable and customary and in line with this type of procedure."

He blamed Calver's insurer, Aetna, for the high charges, because under Calver's narrow network plan, St. David's Medical Center was not in-network.

He wrote that the structure of the insurance plan "placed a large portion of the financial responsibility directly on the patient."

Read more here.


House panel seeks answers from drug pricing 'middlemen'

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a key panel overseeing drug prices, are keeping up their questioning of different players in the system.

We haven't seen much sweeping action yet from Congress, but lawmakers are looking into the issue.

The latest action includes letters from Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Former Ryan aide moves to K street Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Lawmakers pay tribute to John Dingell's legacy on health care | White House denies officials are sabotaging ObamaCare | FDA wants meeting with Juul, Altria execs on youth vaping MORE (R-Ore.) and other GOP lawmakers on the panel to the largest pharmacy benefit managers, often referred to as "middlemen," who help negotiate drug prices with drug companies.

Drug companies and to some extent the Trump administration have blamed PBMs for actually driving up prices.

"We request your assistance in order to better understand the relationship of a drug's list price with the price negotiated and the different incentives that are offered to encourage reductions in list price," the lawmakers wrote.  

Read the letters here.


The Hill event

Join us Wednesday, Sept. 12 for "A Healthy Start: Infant and Early Childhood Nutrition," featuring Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottTop Dems blast administration's proposed ObamaCare changes Virginia congressional delegation says it's 'devastated by’ Richmond Turmoil The Hill's 12:30 Report: AOC unveils Green New Deal measure | Trump hits Virginia Dems | Dems begin hearings to get Trump tax returns MORE (D-Va.), and Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service Brandon Lipps. Editor in Chief Bob Cusack will sit down with the headliners to discuss maternal, infant, and early childhood nutrition, and what steps can be taken to establish healthier eating patterns across all communities. RSVP here.


What we're reading

Voters will decide whether to expand Medicaid in these red states (CNN.com)

Yes, there's hope for health care reform: A bipartisan consensus is focused on reducing the system's chronic waste and inefficiency. (The New York Times opinion)


State by state

A private Medicaid company that pulled out of Iowa has yet to pay thousands of medical bills (Des Moines Register)

Judge tosses lawsuit against California drug price law (Associated Press)