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Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal

Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

It's Day 26 of the government shutdown.

 

Drug pricing continues to be a prominent topic of discussion with Democrats and Republicans in Congress. On the industry side, the CEO of PhRMA is holding out hope the administration will back down from a controversial proposal to lower drug prices.

We'll start with an update on Medicare for all:

 

The latest in the ongoing Medicare for All drama: Dem chairwoman plans hearing on proposals

Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHow to expand rural broadband, fast and affordably Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses MORE (D-Calif.), the new chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said she plans to hold a hearing to discuss Medicare for all proposals.

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"There are several Medicare for all bills that are out there, but they all have a different interpretation," Eshoo said. "I think that it would be interesting to have the authors of these bills come to testify and explain what their bill does and have the members ask them questions."

Possible tension: Eshoo's comments go farther than those made by the chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse Democrats urge Amazon to investigate, recall 'defective' products Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight Pharma execs say FDA will not lower standards for coronavirus vaccine MORE (D-N.J.).

Pallone has not expressed interest in holding Medicare for all hearings, saying the proposal does not have the votes to pass.

Read more here on Eshoo's plans.

 

More from Eshoo: She doesn't want to 'punish' drug companies

Eshoo has received criticism from some drug pricing advocates that she is too close to the pharmaceutical industry.  

Asked about the criticism on Wednesday and if she would be tough on drug companies, Eshoo told reporters, "I'm going to be fair. I'm not out to punish or to do things out of vengeance."

"I want the best policy that we can come up with that's really terrific for the American people; that's my goal," she added.

Maybe don't hold your breath on legislation coming soon: While some other House Democrats are pushing for sweeping legislation to attack drug prices, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, Eshoo is treading more carefully.  

Asked if she wanted to move legislation to address drug prices, Eshoo said, "I think we need to examine it first."

Read more here.

 

House Dems fire first salvo in drug pricing fight

Drug prices are dominating the agenda this week. House Democrats fired a shot across the bow of the nation's pharmaceutical companies as they begin a long-anticipated effort to cut down on high drug prices.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee launched a sweeping investigation into how the industry sets its prices, in what is being seen as one of the broadest drug pricing investigations in decades.

Rising drug prices have been a central concern for Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsVoters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? 'Kamala' and 'Kobe' surge in popularity among baby names MORE (D-Md.), who has also vowed to bring pharmaceutical industry executives to testify in front of the committee.

Democrats have long vowed to target higher drug prices, but the letters sent the clearest signal yet about where the committee intends to move in its investigation.

The scope of Cummings's probe is broad. In his sights are some of the largest branded drug companies, as well as the three primary insulin manufacturers in the world.

Prescription drug companies know the letters are just the first step as Democrats use the power of their new House majority to tackle rising drug prices.

"It was not unexpected," one industry lobbyist said of Cummings's action. "He's casting a wide net. It was more when, rather than if."

More on the investigation here.

 

DeGette lays out oversight agenda

Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteBipartisan lawmakers call for expedited diabetes research The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Dems push McConnell on COVID-19 relief; Grassley contracts COVID-19 Overnight Health Care: Schumer, Pelosi want Heroes Act as 'starting point' in new COVID-19 relief talks | Labs warn of possible delays in test results amid surge in demand | Federal government partners with pharmacies for coronavirus vaccine distribution MORE (D-Colo.), the new chairwoman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee under Energy & Commerce, said she plans to haul in drug company executives to testify about rising costs.

She said she's also interested in introducing separate bills requiring that drug companies justify price increases and directing Medicare Part D to negotiate directly with those companies.

"There seems to be some generalized, bipartisan support for trying to curb the cost of prescription drugs in this country," DeGette said Wednesday at a briefing with health care reporters.

DeGette's other priorities:

  • Stabilizing ObamaCare's marketplaces through short-term fixes to bring down premiums.
  • "Robustly" debating the various proposals to expand health care, ranging from 'Medicare for All' to a Medicare buy in for those over 50.
  • Investigating the Trump administration's rulemaking related to ObamaCare's contraception mandate and the Title X family planning program.
  • Considering a hearing on the Trump administration's decisions surrounding fetal tissue research funding.
  • Reducing tobacco use among young adults, including e-cigarettes.
  • Investigating maternal mortality rates and its racial disparities.

 

In the other chamber... Senate Finance Republicans met with HHS Secretary Alex Azar

The committee's new chairman, Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus MORE (R-Iowa), said the senators and Azar discussed the administration's controversial proposal to base what Medicare pays for prescription drugs on prices in other countries.

Some Republicans aren't ready to back the proposal, claiming that it the proposal imports foreign price controls.

"There was some Republican interest for it, and some against it, but I can't quantify it," Grassley told reporters.

From HHS spox Caitlin Oakley: They discussed many aspects of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE's Drug Pricing Blueprint, including increasing negotiation in Part D, reforming Part B so that American patients pay similar prices to what Europeans pay, and addressing the perverse incentives behind rebates and rising list prices."

Read more on the meeting here.

 

PhRMA chief hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing plan

The head of the pharmaceutical industry's main lobbying group said Wednesday that he remains "hopeful" the Trump administration will back down on its controversial proposal to lower drug prices.

Steve Ubl, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told reporters he is "heartened" by a "broad coalition of folks that have raised concerns about this model, not only us."

His remarks were in response to a question about how he expected to get President Trump and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to reconsider the proposal.

"I remain hopeful that the secretary is open to better alternatives and, again, I think we want to be responsive to their concerns," Ubl added.

What Trump proposed: Trump has railed against drug companies for their prices, and the plan he announced in October was his most aggressive action yet, proposing to lower certain drug prices in Medicare by linking the prices to those in other wealthy countries.

The pharmaceutical industry is fighting back hard against the proposal.

More on the PhRMA chief's comments here.

 

The Senate will vote soon on a bill to make the Hyde Amendment permanent 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Republicans start turning the page on Trump era The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states MORE (R-Miss.), would permanently ban the use of federal funding for abortions. The Hyde Amendment was first approved in the 1970s, shortly after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. It's not permanent but is reenacted every year through appropriations.

The vote coincides with the March for Life, the annual march against abortion in Washington. Republicans tend to hold symbolic votes on abortion bills around the time of the March for Life and the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Even if the bill passes the Senate, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases House Democrats urge congressional leaders to support .1B budget for IRS Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE would never bring it for a vote in the lower chamber.

"No, I don't think Nancy Pelosi is going to pass this through the House of Representatives, but we'll continue to make the case every year," Wicker told The Hill Wednesday.

He's right. In fact, the Democratic Pro-Choice Caucus vowed this week to "end" the Hyde Amendment.

What Democrats are saying: They're mad Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department 'improperly presented' jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary MORE will put Wicker's bill on the floor but won't take up several House-passed bills to end the shutdown.

"All it would take is a vote--we know it would pass--and we can move it through the House and send it to the President. But what have Republican leaders done instead?" Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayNational reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition DOJ investigation into Epstein deal ends without recommended action MORE (D-Wash.) said on the floor Wednesday.

"They have done what they've always done when they don't know what else to do! They've scheduled a vote to attack women and their health care."

 

169 House Republicans and 49 Senate Republicans urge the administration to veto bills that would 'weaken existing pro-life policies'

The letters to President Trump primarily focus on riders in appropriations bill, like the Hyde Amendment.

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"As the Democrat House attempts to weaken existing pro-life policies or forge new ground by eliminating long-standing Hyde protections, we urge you to join us in telling the House and Senate Democrats that bills to weaken or eliminate pro-life policies will be soundly and unequivocally rejected both in the Senate and the White House," reads the Senate letter, led by Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (R-Mont.)

Read the House letter here.

 

What we're reading

Can states fix the disaster of American health care? (New York Times opinion)

Doctor says shutdown may force him to turn away patients addicted to opioids (WBUR)

Purdue cemented ties with universities and hospitals to expand opioid sales, documents contend (Stat)

 

State by state

18,164 off Medicaid in 6 months of work requirements in Arkansas (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Kansas governor expected to make pitch on schools, Medicaid (Associated Press)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom made a big move on drug pricing. Will it save you money? (Sacramento Bee)