Overnight Health Care: House Dems launch major drug pricing investigation | Judge blocks Trump contraception rule rollback | Booker tries to shake doubts about pharmaceutical ties ahead of 2020 | FDA to resume high-risk food inspections

Overnight Health Care: House Dems launch major drug pricing investigation | Judge blocks Trump contraception rule rollback | Booker tries to shake doubts about pharmaceutical ties ahead of 2020 | FDA to resume high-risk food inspections
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Monday's Overnight Health Care.  

The government shutdown is now entering its fourth week. But it's not stopping House Democrats from kicking off an investigation into the pricing practices of the prescription drug industry.

Also on the topic of drug makers, Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (D-N.J.) is trying to shake off doubts that he's too close to the pharmaceutical industry and has taken too much pharma money, ahead of a potential 2020 presidential run.

We'll start with the new drug pricing probe...


House Dems launch major drug pricing investigation

The House Oversight Committee is launching a sweeping investigation into the prescription drug industry's pricing practices, a major priority of the committee's new chairman Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNikki Haley voices 'complete support' for Pence House committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations Can the Democrats unseat Trump? MORE (D-Md.).


Cummings sent letters to a dozen different companies, seeking detailed information and documents about how the companies price their drugs. He is billing it as one of the broadest drug pricing investigations in decades.

"For years, drug companies have been aggressively increasing prices on existing drugs and setting higher launch prices for new drugs while recording windfall profits," Cummings said in a statement.

"The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices," he added.

Who got letters: The full list is here but it includes some of the names most often associated with alleged price gouging; Abbvie's cholesterol drug Humira, and cancer drug Revlimid, manufactured by Celgene.

Insulin too: Cummings is also joining a growing chorus of lawmakers questioning the soaring price of insulin. Insulin was first discovered nearly 100 years ago, and as newer forms of the drug have been introduced, the price has climbed.

Three companies -- Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk -- control 99 percent of the world's insulin, and Cummings wants them to explain their pricing.

Read more on the investigation here.


Judge blocks Trump administration's contraception rule roll back in nationwide injunction

A district court judge in Pennsylvania on Monday issued a nationwide injunction blocking a rule that would allow most employers to opt out of providing birth control in their insurance plans.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone, an Obama appointee, temporarily blocked the rule issued by the Trump administration from taking effect while it is challenged in court by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Numerous citizens could lose contraception coverage if the rule were enforced, Beetlestone wrote in her ruling, causing "significant, direct and proprietary harm" to the states through increased use of state-funded contraception services.

Context: A similar ruling issued Sunday night by a judge in California only blocked the rule from taking effect in the 13 states that filed suit in his court.

What this means: The rule was supposed to take effect Monday but will be put on hold while the issue plays out in the courts.

Reaction: From Planned Parenthood, which supported and lobbied for the inclusion of the contraception mandate in ObamaCare:

"This is a win for women across our country -- as a doctor, I cannot believe that we are still debating birth control in 2019, something that nine in 10 women will use in our lifetimes," Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said in a statement.

Read more on the ruling here.


Booker tries to shake doubts about pharmaceutical ties ahead of 2020

Ahead of a possible presidential run, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is trying to overcome doubts that he is too close to the pharmaceutical industry.

The backstory: The progressive criticism of Booker reached a crescendo in early 2017 when he voted against a budget amendment calling for importing drugs from abroad.

The line of attack played into broader fears from progressives that Booker is not tough enough on corporations in general, including Wall Street.

"Cory Booker And A Bunch Of Democrats Prove Trump Right On Big Pharma," read a headline in HuffPost.

Booker argued at the time that he supports importing drugs but that the measure lacked standards to ensure the drugs being brought into the country are safe. He later helped draft a revised importation bill with more safety standards.

On Thursday, he appeared alongside democratic socialist Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona MORE (I-Vt.), a potential presidential rival, at a press conference on lowering drug prices.

Booker spoke out in strong terms against drug companies and the "outrageous and unjustifiably high cost of prescription drugs."

Booker has signed onto other drug pricing legislation over the last two years as well, including a sweeping bill from then-Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Al Franken urges Trump to give new speech after shootings: 'Try to make it sound like you're sincere, even if you're not' MORE (D-Minn.) in 2017.

Read more on Booker here.


Blue states buck Trump to expand health coverage

Democratic governors are experimenting with new ways to expand health care, testing out progressive ideas that could go national if their party wins the Senate or White House in 2020.

The policies run counter to the Trump administration's ideas and are only now possible after a Democratic wave in the House helped secure the future of ObamaCare.

What are they planning: Prominent Democratic governors in California and Washington last week rolled out plans to extend government-run health coverage to more people.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing a "public option" -- a government-run plan that will compete with private insurers. In California, newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking the Trump administration to allow the state to create a single-payer system.

Why it's important: On Capitol Hill, progressive lawmakers are pushing for a form of single-payer legislation in the House, but those ideas won't even be considered by Republicans who still control the Senate. That means for now, the state level is likely the only arena for Democrats to test progressive health ideas for expanding coverage.

Democrats argue that it only takes one state to implement an innovative approach that, if successful, can be scaled up nationwide.

In the most prominent example, former President Obama used the insurance exchange in Massachusetts as a model for the Affordable Care Act.

More on what the states are doing here.


FDA to resume food inspections despite shutdown

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is going to restart high-risk food inspections this week despite the partial government shutdown, which has forced the FDA to suspend most routine domestic food facility inspections. 

"We are re-starting high risk food inspections as early as tomorrow," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted on Monday, noting that the inspections will be performed by employees who have agreed to come back to work unpaid. 


More on the FDA here.


Pence to speak at anti-abortion fundraiser

Vice President Pence will speak at a fundraiser commemorating the country's largest anti-abortion march, organizers said Monday.

The Rose Dinner, taking place Friday night, follows the March for Life, the annual march against abortion in Washington.


"The Vice President made history in 2017 when he addressed the March for Life just one week after the inauguration, and we are delighted to have him return to speak in a more intimate setting," March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said in a statement.

Context: Anti-abortion groups consider Pence one of their strongest allies. While Trump once called himself "pro-choice," Pence has long opposed abortion, while in Congress and while serving as Indiana's governor.

Read more here.


What we're reading

Analysis: CVS makes dubious case for rebates' impact on drug prices (Columbus Dispatch)

Medicaid block grants invite legal firestorm (Axios)

Supreme Court gears up to review Medicare hospital payment formula (Modern Healthcare)


State by state

Mississippi could see push-pull on Medicaid expansion (Associated Press)

Health care advocates urge new Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to keep word on coverage (Columbus Dispatch)