Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Senate panel advances bipartisan package on health costs | Grassley, Wyden in talks on deal to limit drug price increases | Court asks if blue states have standing in ObamaCare suit

Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Senate panel advances bipartisan package on health costs | Grassley, Wyden in talks on deal to limit drug price increases | Court asks if blue states have standing in ObamaCare suit
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.

The Senate health committee advanced a massive bill to lower health costs. And on another panel, the Senate Finance Committee, leaders are working on a plan to limit drug price increases. Also, a filing from a federal appeals court is opening new questions about the Texas ObamaCare lawsuit. 

We'll start with drug pricing news...



Senate Finance leaders in talks on deal to limit drug price increases

There are some highly consequential changes to drug pricing under discussion in the Senate Finance Committee. 

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: FCC chief proposes 0M telehealth program | Twitter takes down posts promoting anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus| Whole Foods workers plan Tuesday strike Trump says election proposals in coronavirus stimulus bill would hurt Republican chances States should plan now for November voting options MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel, is pushing to make drug companies pay back rebates to Medicare's prescription drug program, called Part D, if their prices rise faster than inflation. Another measure would force drug companies to pay money back to Medicare if they launch a new drug with a high price. 

Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Lobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions MORE (R-Iowa) has not ruled the idea out. Asked specifically about the paybacks for price increases that outpace inflation, he confirmed he was involved in the discussions.

"I'm not going to answer your question for this reason, that we're negotiating on that," Grassley told The Hill.

GOP pushback: Some GOP senators are pushing back on the far-reaching proposal, arguing it comes too close to price controls for drugs, which Republicans have long opposed.


Read more here


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Meanwhile, the HELP Committee is moving along

The Senate health committee on Wednesday voted to advance a bipartisan package aimed at lowering health care costs to the full Senate.

The measure from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus Stimulus plan hinges on McConnell, Schumer repairing toxic relationship MORE (D-Wash.), who are known as two of the best bipartisan dealmakers in the Senate, marks a rare area of cooperation on the highly divisive issue of health care. 

What's in it: The measure protects patients from getting massive "surprise" medical bills when they get care from out-of-network doctors and restricts anti-competitive provisions in insurance contracts with hospitals that can drive up costs.

From the presidential candidates: Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTop Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points GE employees urge company to use laid-off workers to make ventilators MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Seth Meyers returning to late-night TV with 'hybrid episodes' Biden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll MORE (D-Mass.), who are in Florida for the first Democratic primary debate, voted "no" in absentia. Sanders's office said he opposed the bill because it lacked enough funding for community health centers. Warren said that while the bill had "important provisions" it failed to address GOP "sabotage" of ObamaCare or soaring drug costs.  

Read more here.


An ominous sign for ObamaCare in court?


A statement from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued Wednesday asks whether a coalition of blue states and the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives have standing to appeal a lower court ruling that struck down ObamaCare as unconstitutional.

In order to bring a lawsuit, a party has to have legal standing, meaning they are sufficiently affected by the issue at hand in order to seek relief from a court.

Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote on Twitter that the statement from the court is an "ominous sign" for ObamaCare.

What it means: If neither the blue states, led by California, nor the U.S. House have standing to appeal, then it is possible no one could appeal the lower court ruling from a conservative judge in Texas that struck down the entire Affordable Care Act. 

The blue states and the House could then take their case to the Supreme Court, but they would have to argue the standing issue there as well.

Read more here



Manchin on 'Medicare for All': 'We can't even pay for Medicare for some'

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Senate fails to advance coronavirus stimulus bill for second time in two days MORE (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday embraced the GOP's line of attack on "Medicare for All" proposals, arguing that the government can't even pay for the program it has now. 

"We can't even pay for Medicare for some and to go Medicare for All, we can't take care of those who are depending on it right now," Manchin said at The Hill's Future of Healthcare Summit. 

"That's an inspirational novel idea," Manchin said of the proposal that is sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for president. 

Why it matters: Manchin's comments come on the day of the Democratic Party's first presidential debate, where Medicare for All is expected to be a major talking point. It shows that Democrats are far from united on the issue of single-payer. 

Read more here.



Changes to Cornyn-Blumenthal drug pricing bill ahead of markup

A bill from Sens. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic Twitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus MORE (R-Texas) and Richard Blumnthal (D-Conn.) to crack down on drug companies gaming the patent system to ward off competition is getting some updates before markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. 

From a Cornyn aide:

"The bill will empower courts to limit the number of patents that branded drug manufacturers can use to prevent more affordable alternatives from coming to market. Under the revised version, branded drug manufacturers would be able to assert no more than 20 patents during litigation that are unrelated to the efficacy of the drug or its use."


Congresswoman opens up on House floor about partner's suicide

Rep. Susan WildSusan WildDemocratic congresswomen wear white to Trump's address in honor of suffrage movement Democrats gear up for State of the Union protests as impeachment lingers Giffords gun reform group backs eight 'strong women' in House reelection bids MORE (D-Pa.) opened up about the death of her life partner Monday evening on the House floor to draw attention to the "national emergency" of suicide. 

Monday was the one-month anniversary of Kerry Acker's death, Wild said. 

"What most people don't know is that Kerry's death was a suicide," she said in a tearful floor speech. 

Acker, who was 63, "shouldn't have had a care in the world," she said, adding that he was financially secure, with a loving family and dozens of friends. 

"He loved them all, and yet, incomprehensibly, he seemingly did not grasp the toll his absence would have on those who loved him," she said. 

Context: Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The suicide rate increased by 33 percent between 1999 and 2017, the CDC reported last week. 

Read more here



Million-dollar drugs pose new challenge for Congress

How much should a "miracle" drug cost? A wave of innovation is bringing on new breakthrough treatments for terrible diseases, but also record highs in the prices of those medicines. The challenge will only mount as more drugs are developed. 

One recent example: Zolgensma, which was just approved in May. It provides a crucial functioning gene for people with spinal muscular atrophy who otherwise would have their muscles break down. With a one-time treatment, the drug has the potential to treat patients for a lifetime. But it costs $2.1 million, making it the world's most expensive drug.

To patients with a fatal disease, almost any price could seem worth it for a cure. But the health care system as a whole would strain to afford massive sums for a whole range of drugs. 

Lawmakers are confronting these questions as they craft legislation aimed at lowering drug prices, a rare area of possible bipartisan cooperation this year. Lawmakers have floated different ideas, including allowing Medicaid to pay for expensive drugs over time, rather than all at once. House Democrats, meanwhile, want Medicare to directly negotiate prescription drug prices. 

Read more on the issue here.


What we're reading

Overdose deaths likely to fall for first time since 1990 (The Wall Street Journal

No, transparency will not cause health care prices to rise (Washington Examiner opinion

When electric scooters crash, who pays the bills? (Associated Press)


State by state

In a nationwide first, New Jersey authorizes paramedics to start addiction treatment at the scene of an overdose (Stat)

Early abortion bans: which states have passed them? (Kaiser Health News)

Mental health commissioner rips Johnson & Johnson for its role in state opioid epidemic (Tulsa World)