Overnight Health Care: Sanders rolls out drug pricing bill | Klobuchar, Grassley unveil bill targeting 'pay for delay' drug tactics | Dems probe Trump use of ObamaCare fees

Overnight Health Care: Sanders rolls out drug pricing bill | Klobuchar, Grassley unveil bill targeting 'pay for delay' drug tactics | Dems probe Trump use of ObamaCare fees
© Stefani Reynolds

Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.

The government shutdown hit Day 20 on Thursday as President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE gave his strongest sign yet that he may declare a national emergency to build the border wall and an effort to secure a broader immigration deal fell apart.

Meanwhile, the new Democratic House is slowly but surely getting started on their health care agenda, and Maine is officially enrolling people in its expanded Medicaid program following the departure of former Gov. Paul LePage (R).


But first... Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Dem chairman Cummings meets with Trump health chief to discuss drug prices MORE and Democrats rolled out a package of bills to lower drug prices

With Democrats now in control of the House, progressives are raising the pressure to act on drug pricing. 


On Thursday some of the biggest progressive names rolled out not one but three bills to target drug prices.

The bills:

  • Allowing importation of cheaper drugs from Canada
  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices
  • Stripping monopolies from drug companies if their prices are above the average price for the drug in other wealthy countries.

The politics: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other Democrats challenged President Trump to live up to his rhetoric on drug prices.

"Today I say to President Trump: If you're serious about lowering prescription drug costs in this country, support our legislation and get your Republican colleagues on board," Sanders said.

2020 intrigue: Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Booker presses Barr on impact of mass incarceration on black Americans Barr: I wouldn't go after businesses relying on Obama-era marijuana policy MORE (D-N.J.) joined Sanders, along with other Democrats, at the press conference. Both Booker and Sanders are potential 2020 presidential contenders.

Booker has previously come under criticism from some progressives for not being strong enough on drug pricing, but on Thursday Booker spoke in strong language, attacking the "outrageous and unjustifiably high cost of prescription drugs."

Read more on the bills here.


Cummings to meet Trump health chief on drug pricing next week

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions Dem chairman Cummings meets with Trump health chief to discuss drug prices The Hill's Morning Report — No new negotiations as shutdown hits 25 days MORE (D-Md.), who was at the press conference with Sanders on the drug pricing legislation Thursday, said he will meet with Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar about ways to lower drug prices next week.

And the first hearing from his Oversight Committee this month will focus on drug pricing. According to a notice from Cummings, the hearing on Jan. 29 will serve to launch a "broad review of the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs." No witnesses have been announced yet, but the fact this is the first hearing of the year shows how much of a priority drug pricing will be for the committee.


Also in drug pricing, Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Klobuchar dismisses mock campaign logo as something from 'very enthusiastic supporter' Grandson's note to Barr during confirmation hearing goes viral MORE (D-Minn.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing McConnell rebukes Steve King over white nationalist comments MORE (R-Iowa) introduced a bill to crack down on 'pay for delay' tactics

Sometimes branded drug companies pay generic drug makers not to bring their lower cost alternatives to the market.

"Our bill will curb the anti-competitive pay-for-delay tactics that artificially inflate prices for patients and prevent access to more affordable alternatives," Grassley said in a statement.

Why it matters: The Federal Trade Commission says such agreements cost consumers and taxpayers $3.5 billion in higher drug costs every year.

Context: It's a bipartisan bill, so it might have a shot at passing Congress. Klobuchar and Grassley also paired up to introduce a bill Wednesday that would allow Americans to import prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies.


Dems probe Trump administration on use of ObamaCare fees

House and Senate Democratic health leaders are asking HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma how they're spending user fees generated by the ObamaCare marketplace exchanges.

Democrats say since the administration has cut funding for marketing and outreach, it "raises questions about whether the dedicated funding is being spent effectively, legally, and appropriately."

States that use healthcare.gov are charged a 3.5 percent user fee, which is used to cover the costs of running the exchanges for open enrollment.

"Congress and the American public are entitled to understand how CMS is spending these funds, which likely represent billions of dollars in federal spending, and whether the agency is using them solely for the purpose of supporting the functions of the Federal Marketplace," the Dems said.

Read their letter here.


Advocacy group launches ads backing Trump's drug pricing move

Patients for Affordable Drugs Now on Thursday launched a $1 million ad campaign calling on people to tell lawmakers to support Trump's plan to lower drug prices, with a link to a petition.

The ads are backing Trump's plan announced in October to tie certain Medicare drug prices to lower prices in other countries.


Chamber of Commerce CEO vows to 'use all our resources' to fight single-payer

Thomas Donohue, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday vowed to use all of the Chamber's resources to fight single-payer health care proposals.


"We also have to respond to calls for government-run, single-payer health care, because it just doesn't work," Donohue said during his annual "State of American Business" address.

"We'll use all our resources to make sure that we're careful there," he said, though his previously released prepared remarks had said the Chamber would use all of its resources to "combat it."

Read more on his remarks here.


In Maine, the new Democratic governor's administration has started enrolling people in the expanded Medicaid program

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion in 2017, but it was blocked by then-Gov. Paul LePage.

Gov. Janet Mills has said she would make implementing the expansion a priority.

On Thursday, her administration announced 529 people have been granted coverage in the last week.

Mill issued an executive order earlier this month directing Maine's Department of Health and Human Services to implement the expansion as "smoothy, efficiently and aggressively as possible."


What we're reading

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Republicans move to repeal ObamaCare tax on insurers (Washington Times)

Sen. Collins presses HHS to reform drug rebate system (The Wall Street Journal)

Her insurer's price tool estimated less than $1,375 for a breast MRI. Then she got a bill for $3,200. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Three trends that could change health care for consumers in 2019 (The Tennessean)

From Amgen to Gilead, drugmakers are sitting on billions of cash -- and top pharma executives are hinting about big M&A to come in 2019 (Business Insider)


State by state

Utah voters approved Medicaid expansion, but lawmakers may delay it or impose work requirements (Salt Lake Tribune)

Mills says Medicaid applications top 6,000 since July in Maine (Centralmaine.com)