Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access

Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care.

It was a bipartisan kind of day in health care. The Senate's top health care leaders introduced their package aimed at lowering health care costs, while over in the House, Republicans and Democrats released drug pricing reforms.

We'll start with the Senate's bipartisan plan...



Alexander and Murray reveal sweeping health care package

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump restores funding for Texas program that bars Planned Parenthood | Trump to attend March for Life | PhRMA spent record on 2019 lobbying Coalition of conservative groups to air ads against bipartisan proposal to end 'surprise' medical bills Senate braces for bitter fight over impeachment rules MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Democrats request briefing on intel behind Trump's embassy threat claim Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin MORE (D-Wash.) released their long-awaited package to lower health care costs on Thursday. And there's a lot in it:

Some of its major provisions would:

  • End surprise medical bills. The proposal lays out various options, but all would protect patients from getting massive medical bills when they go to the emergency room and get care from an out-of-network doctor.
  • Create more transparency around pharmacy benefit managers, sometimes known as drug "middlemen" to ensure they are passing along discounts on drugs to customers.
  • Prevent certain anti-competitive clauses in contracts between medical providers and insurance companies that can drive prices up.

The path forward: Alexander is hoping for committee action in June and a Senate vote in July. The package could be combined with another bipartisan health care package, on drug prices, that Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Grassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk | Union membership falls to record low | Manufacturers want Trump tax provision made permanent | Warren presses banks on climate plans PhRMA spent record-high million on lobbying in 2019 Grassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — UN calls for probe into alleged Saudi hack of Bezos | Experts see effort to 'silence' Washington Post | Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi in wake of reports of Saudi phone hacking MORE (D-Ore.) are working on in the Finance Committee.

"These are common sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket. We hope to move it through the health committee in June, put it on the Senate floor in July and make it law," Alexander said.

Read more on the package here.




Bipartisan House members unveil surprise billing legislation

Momentum is building for a legislative solution to surprise medical bills ... but so far, we have only seen disparate pieces of legislation. The latest bill introduced on Thursday was led by Reps. Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeGOP Rep. Phil Roe won't seek reelection Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project Mark Takano keeps using partisan tactics when legislating veterans issues MORE (R-Tenn.) and Raul RuizRaul RuizHispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants Private equity-funded doctors coalition spends million lobbying on 'surprise' medical billing CBO: Fix backed by doctors for surprise medical bills would cost billions MORE (D-Calif.). The lawmakers called it an "outline" of a bill, with a final version to follow in the coming weeks.  

The legislation is more in line with the Cassidy/Hassan legislation in the Senate than it is with the other bipartisan House bill introduced less than two weeks ago by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Republicans offer details on environmental proposals after Democrats roll out plan MORE (R-Ore.).

The differences: Not surprisingly for legislation sponsored by two doctors, the Roe/Ruiz bill calls for arbitration between an insurer and provider when parties can't agree on what the in-network rate should be.

Meanwhile, the Walden/Pallone legislation would require insurers to pay based on the price paid to nearby in-network providers.

The fact that there are now multiple versions of surprise billing legislation shows that there's a definite desire to solve the problem. But it also means lawmakers have issues to work out. The legislation from the leaders of committees with jurisdiction over health care will likely carry more weight, though President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE is likely to sign anything that makes it through both chambers in order to declare victory.  


And in other bipartisan health care action….


House committee leaders release Medicare drug pricing reforms

The drug pricing action is heating up, with more movement on Thursday in the House.


The chairmen and ranking members of the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees jointly requested feedback on a bill to reform how Medicare Part D pays for drugs.

The bill would:

  • Cap seniors' out of pocket costs for drugs in Medicare
  • Change the incentives in the program by reducing the share of costs the government has to pick up for high-cost enrollees.

What's notably missing: Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which would lose the support of the Republican lawmakers. Instead, this bill focuses on changes to Medicare drug coverage that get bipartisan support.

Read the bill here.


Democrats introduce bill to guarantee abortion access

Bills introduced in the House and Senate Thursday would ban states from passing abortion restrictions that are "medically unnecessary" and interfere with a woman's ability to get an abortion.


The state laws that would become illegal under the "Women's Health Protection Act" include bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, measures requiring ultrasounds before abortions and law requiring multiple trips to the clinic before obtaining an abortion.

"As extremist lawmakers viciously attack women's reproductive rights in statehouses across the nation, the Women's Health Protection Act has never been more urgent or more necessary," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill.

Reps. Judy ChuJudy May ChuHillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes Dems call out Oracle for lack of diversity on its board Bicameral group of Democrats introduces bill to protect immigrant laborers MORE (D-Calif.), Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeOwning up to the failures of welfare reform US Virgin Islands delegate vies for impeachment manager position With holidays approaching, new SNAP rule hurts families and fails businesses MORE (D-Ohio) and Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelUS must lead the charge on global reproductive rights — not stand in the way Charlize Theron: We didn't want the politics to overshadow 'Bombshell' Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort MORE (D-Fla.) introduced the House version of the bill, which has 171 co-sponsors. The Senate version has 42 co-sponsors.

Why it matters: This bill is specifically aimed at states like Alabama and Georgia that recently passed bills restricting access to abortions.


CMS maintains navigator funding at $10 million

The Trump administration on Thursday announced that it was keeping the funding for ObamaCare "navigators" at $10 million for next year, the same amount as this year.


The amount is a significant decrease from the Obama administration; compared to 2016, it's an 84 percent reduction.

Navigator programs provide outreach, education, and enrollment assistance to consumers eligible for ObamaCare and Medicaid coverage.

The total available funding will be allocated among the 34 states that use federal exchanges, with a minimum of $100,000 available to each state.

Democrats have seized on the cuts to navigators as proof of the administration's "sabotage" of ObamaCare and have passed legislation in the House to restore the funding to its original levels.

In the funding opportunity announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it doesn't need to spend as much money as in the early years of ObamaCare because more people know about it now.

"When Exchanges were in their infancy, and public awareness and understanding of coverage options was low, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encouraged Navigators to cast a wide net and to provide intensive face-to-face assistance to consumers," CMS said. The [exchanges] have been in operation since 2013 for the 2014 open enrollment period, and the public is more aware of the options for private coverage available through them."


What we're reading

A new Senate health package includes surprisingly aggressive drug pricing reforms (Stat News)

Fact-checking Donald Trump's claim that drug prices are going down (PolitiFact)

Senators look for bipartisan path on health care amid House squabbles (CNN.com)

Here are the GOP's secret talking points defending Alabama's abortion law (Vice News)



PBMs serve as the check against drugmakers' pricing strategies by negotiating for consumers and clients to ensure prescription drugs are affordable. Learn how PBMs advocate for patients and payers at OnYourRxSide.org.


Also at The Hill

Colorado on Wednesday became the first state in the country to limit how much someone could be required to pay out-of-pocket for insulin.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this week to impose a one-year restriction on travel to the state of Alabama for official county business after a new law in the southern state banned abortion in nearly all cases.

The Alabama House on Wednesday passed a bill requiring doctors to try to save the life of a baby born after an attempted abortion or face up to 20 years in prison.

Arizona legislative committees on Wednesday pushed forward a bill that seeks to prevent abortions by directing $7.5 million over the next three years to adoption services and apparently funding controversial crisis pregnancy centers. 

JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States by assets, will reportedly no longer offer its services to OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma over the company’s alleged role in the country’s opioid crisis.


State by state

Hollywood invested big in Georgia. A new abortion law is causing some tensions. (The New York Times)

Pregnancy-related deaths are rising in Utah. Experts say extending Medicaid could help those at risk (KUER)

Pennsylvania woman was convinced she bought ObamaCare insurance. She got scammed by a look-alike website (Philadelphia Inquirer)