Overnight Health Care: HHS issues rule requiring drug prices in TV ads | Grassley, Wyden working on plan to cap drug costs in Medicare | Warren to donate money from family behind opioid giant

Overnight Health Care: HHS issues rule requiring drug prices in TV ads | Grassley, Wyden working on plan to cap drug costs in Medicare | Warren to donate money from family behind opioid giant
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Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

Drug companies will have to start listing prices in television ads as soon as this summer, after a new rule issued today. Also, a bipartisan pair of senators are working on ways to cap Medicare drug prices, Walmart is raising its minimum age to buy tobacco, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument MORE (D-Mass.) is dealing with a controversy over past donations.  

We'll start with drug pricing...


Trump administration will require drug companies to disclose prices in TV ads

Coming this summer: drug companies will be required to show prices in television ads.

Under the new policy, which was announced by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, drug manufacturers will have to state the list price of a 30-day supply of any drug that is covered through Medicare and Medicaid and costs at least $35 a month.

Under the rule, companies will be required to post that information in clear, legible text onscreen at the end of the ad.


Will this actually make a difference? That's not totally clear. Most experts seem to think the rule isn't so much about the administration wanting policies that lower drug prices, so much as it is about shaming drug companies that charge thousands of dollars for medicines. Also, most consumers won't pay the full list price if they have health insurance.

Go boldly: Regardless, the new rule is one of the boldest steps the administration has taken in its efforts to bring transparency to the drug-pricing system. And it puts Trump officials squarely at odds with the drug industry lobby, as well as television and advertising industry groups.

Key quote: "We are telling drug companies today: You've got to level with people [about] what your drugs cost," Azar told reporters. "Put it in the TV ads. Patients have a right to know, and if you're ashamed of your drug prices, change your drug prices. It's that simple."

Who will enforce this? According to Azar, industry will essentially self-regulate, because HHS can't force companies to follow the rule. If a company doesn't comply, it will open itself to lawsuits from competitors.

Expect a fight: The drug industry is likely to mount a court fight, arguing the rule violates the First Amendment. But HHS thinks it's on pretty firm legal ground.

Read more on the rule and what's ahead here.


Grassley, Wyden working on plan to cap seniors' drug costs in Medicare

Bipartisanship alert: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks MORE (R-Iowa) is working on a bipartisan plan to cap seniors' expenses for prescription drugs in Medicare as part of a broader effort to lower drug prices.

Grassley told The Hill on Wednesday that one idea he is working on with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Lobbying groups ask Congress for help on Trump tariffs MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel, is "some sort of maximum amount that one person would have to pay" for drugs.

A source familiar with the talks said the lawmakers are discussing drug pricing changes in Medicare Part D, Medicare Part B and Medicaid.

Watch for action next month: Grassley hopes to mark up the legislation in June.

Why it matters: Drug pricing is seen as a rare area where bipartisan action could occur this year, and Grassley and Wyden are in prime position to move a deal forward.

Read more here.


Warren to donate money from family behind opioid giant

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will donate $4,500 to charity in order to offset past contributions to her Senate campaign from members of the powerful family at the helm of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin widely accused of fueling the opioid crisis in the U.S.

Beverly Sackler, the wife of the late Raymond Sackler who ran Purdue Pharma with his brother, gave $1,000 to Warren's Senate campaign in 2017, according to Federal Election Commission records.

A Warren aide told The Wall Street Journal that the Massachusetts Democrat received campaign contributions from other Sackler family members going back to her first Senate bid in 2012.

An aide for Warren's campaign confirmed the plan to offset those donations to The Hill, while a spokesperson for the Sackler family said they "would welcome a genuine dialogue" with Warren on the opioid crisis.

The announcement comes the same day that Warren, a 2020 presidential contender, announced her plans to reintroduce legislation that would provide $100 billion over the next 10 years to help combat the opioid crisis.

Read more here.


Schatz calls on McConnell to endorse bipartisan 'Tobacco 21' legislation

The lead Democratic sponsor of legislation to raise the legal purchasing age of tobacco to 21 on Wednesday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet MORE (R-Ky.) to co-sponsor the bipartisan bill, rather than introducing his own.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' State probes of Google, Facebook to test century-old antitrust laws MORE (D-Hawaii) said the bill, which is supported by many major public health groups, is the best way to ensure minors are protected from the harms of tobacco. The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (R-Ind.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi Senate Democrats block government spending bill Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw MORE (D-Ill.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFormer Bush staffer urges 'fellow Latinos' to vote Trump 'out of office' Lobbying World Republicans wary of US action on Iran MORE (R-Mass.).

"We have all of the major tobacco cessation advocacy organizations supporting this legislation, and for one simple reason; it has no loopholes, it has no exceptions, there are no tricks. It is a clean piece of legislation," Schatz said during a press conference.

"If Leader McConnell is interested in joining our effort, I think the cleanest way for him to do that would be for him to co-sponsor our bill. We look forward to seeing what he proposes, if he proposes something," Schatz said, adding he thinks the bipartisan bill has the most momentum.

Backstory: McConnell last month said he was planning to introduce a bill that would raise the minimum age for people buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, but it hasn't happened yet. 

The announcement was praised by industry giant Altria. The company also endorsed the bipartisan legislation from Schatz.

Skepticism: Public health groups are suspicious of any legislation endorsed by the tobacco industry. Schatz said he is too and will be on the lookout for any "loopholes" inserted in the bill. 

More on the issue here.


In a related move: 


Walmart raises age to buy tobacco to 21

Walmart announced Wednesday that it will cease selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to customers under the age of 21.

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the change will go into effect at all of its U.S. locations on July 1.

The company will also discontinue the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored nicotine products, which have become popular among teenagers and younger users.

Enforcement: The retailer said it would double down on disciplinary action against employees who fail to verify customers' ages, including possible termination. Walmart also said it would employ virtual reality technology in its age-verification training to allow employees to train under a variety of possible scenarios on the job.

National trend: The move follows similar announcements from Walgreens and Rite Aid and comes as more states debate raising the minimum purchasing age to 21. However, only CVS has instituted a complete ban on all tobacco products.

Read more on Walmart's move here.


House committee clears HHS appropriations bill

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the fiscal year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill on a vote of 30 to 23.

The legislation includes $50 million for federal agencies to study gun violence, the first time in more than 20 years that the spending bill has included funding for this type of research.

It also includes provisions that would block two key Trump administration priorities:


What we're reading

Health insurers learn how to make ObamaCare work -- for themselves and their customers (Los Angeless Times column)

Facing pressure across Washington, drug industry courts pro-business Democrats (Stat News)

Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall MORE calls for expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant women (Philly.com)


State by state

Health care advocates continue push for Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin (Associated Press)

Texas Senate removes exception that allows abortion after 20 weeks if the pregnancy is unviable (Texas Tribune)

Trump official open to increased funding for Georgia Medicaid waiver (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)