Overnight Health Care: Oversight Republicans accuse Dems of partisan drug pricing probe | Democrats struggle to unite behind drug price plan | CDC investigating E. coli outbreak

Welcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care.

Democrats are struggling to unite behind one comprehensive plan to lower drug prices. The top Republican on the House Oversight Committee accused Democrats of a partisan drug pricing investigation, and the HHS inspector general is opening a probe into CMS Administrator Seema Verma's use of contractors. 

We'll start with drug pricing:

 

Oversight Republicans accuse Cummings of partisan drug pricing probe

One of the first actions taken by the House Oversight Committee this year was to launch a sweeping investigation into drug company pricing practices. Now, on the heels of contentious showdown over a White House whistleblower, the committee's top Republican says the probe is one more example of partisanship.

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (R-Ohio), the committee's ranking member, said he is concerned Chairman 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.) is solely out to hurt the companies' bottom lines.

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Jordan and Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsBen Shapiro: No prominent GOP figure ever questioned Obama's legitimacy Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Gun store billboard going after the 'Squad' being removed following backlash MORE (R-N.C.) sent letters alerting a dozen different pharmaceutical companies about their concerns.

Jordan and Meadows said they were concerned by recent comments Cummings made about the committee's investigation impacting the stock prices of drug companies.

"While we cannot speculate about Chairman Cummings's motives, we believe the Committee should not pursue an investigation to 'impact ... stock prices with regard to drugs' -- especially when there is bipartisan interest in real oversight of rising prescription drug prices," Jordan and Meadows wrote.

The investigation: In January, Cummings asked 12 companies for detailed information and documents on price increases, investments in research and development and corporate strategies to preserve market share and pricing power.

More than just drug prices: Jordan and Meadows indicated they were worried Cummings might decide to publicly release that proprietary business information. The two specifically cited what they said was Cummings's unilateral decision earlier this month to release excerpts of closed-door testimony from Tricia Newbold, a White House whistleblower who told the committee about alleged failures in the current security clearance process.

Cummings' response: "Rep. Jordan is on the absolute wrong side here -- he would rather protect drug company 'stock prices' than the interests of the American people," Cummings said in a statement to The Hill. "I don't know why on earth House Republicans keep going to the mat to protect drug company profits instead of the families in their own districts who are getting hammered every single day."

More on the committee's infighting here.

 

HHS watchdog launches probe of Trump official's spending on GOP consultants

The Department of Health and Human Services inspector general on Friday said it is investigating the actions of a top Trump administration health care official who reportedly directed taxpayer dollars to GOP communications consultants.

The agency told House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost House Democratic chairman launches probe of e-cigarette makers Lawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits MORE (D-N.J.) that it has taken preliminary steps to determine whether Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma complied with federal ethics rules.

Pallone asked for the investigation last week after Politico reported that Verma pushed to use millions of federal dollars on Republican media consultants to boost news coverage of the agency's work, as well as her own image.

Read the full story here.

 

Dems struggle to unite behind drug price plan

Democrats are encountering some divisions as they seek to work on one of their signature health care priorities: lowering drug prices.

Progressive House lawmakers met this week with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCutting tariffs is better than cutting payroll taxes to boost the economy Pelosi speaks with Israeli president after Trump controversy In debate over internet speech law, pay attention to whose voices are ignored MORE's (D-Calif.) top health care staffer, Wendell Primus, to push for a drug pricing bill authored by Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Speaker Pelosi, seize the moment to make history on drug pricing House Democrats sue Treasury to turn over Trump tax returns MORE (D-Texas) that would impose severe punishments on pharmaceutical companies that refuse to negotiate prices with the federal government.

The concern among liberals is that a competing measure being crafted by Pelosi's office will go easy on drug companies. They're also wary of Pelosi's staff holding talks with the White House about drug price reforms.

In an effort to allay those concerns, Primus has been on a reassurance tour of sorts over the past couple of weeks, meeting with progressive lawmakers and outside groups, according to a source familiar with the conversations.

What to watch for: Can Pelosi's office reach a deal with the White House? And how will progressives react?

Read more on the Dem divide here.

 

CDC investigating E. coli outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it is investigating an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 72 people in five states since Thursday.

The CDC has not identified the cause of the outbreak, which has been reported in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. Half of the cases are in Kentucky.

No deaths have been reported, but eight people have been hospitalized, the CDC said. The most recent reported illness was March 29, and the first was March 2.

The CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid any particular foods at this point. The agency said the source could be a specific food item, grocery store or restaurant chain.

An E. coli outbreak last year that stemmed from romaine lettuce grown in California sickened 62 people in 16 states.

 

Florida businessman convicted in $1 billion Medicare scheme

A Florida businessman was convicted Friday in what prosecutors called one of the largest ever Medicare fraud cases in U.S. history.

Philip Esformes was found guilty on 20 charges, including paying bribes and kickbacks to doctors to get referrals to his nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as obstruction of justice for plotting to help a co-conspirator escape the country, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors say Esformes billed nearly $1 billion to Medicare for "questionable services" that patients didn't need or receive.

More on the case here.

 

What we're reading

Trump is being vague about what he wants to replace ObamaCare. But there are clues (The New York Times)

'I'm agnostic': Pelosi questions whether Medicare-for-all can deliver benefits of ObamaCare (The Washington Post)

Scott Gottlieb's last word as FDA chief: Juul drove a youth addiction crisis (Vox)

Villanova professor contracted sepsis and needed an amputation -- and her health plan wouldn't pay (Philadelphia Inquirer)

 

State by state

Idaho House sticks with Medicaid work requirements (Lewiston Tribune)

Alaska is OK funding Medicaid through grants, governor says (Associated Press)

Number of Maine families opting out of childhood vaccinations hits all-time high (Portland Press Herald)