Overnight Health Care: House Democrats slam pharma CEOs for price hikes driven by revenue, executive bonuses | Ex-FDA employees express worries to Congress over politicization of vaccines | Fauci said his mask stance was ‘taken out of context’ by Trump
Welcome to Wednesday night’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re waiting to see if there’s going to be a deal on a new COVID-19 relief package.
Top House Democrat: Parties ‘much closer’ to a COVID deal ‘than we’ve ever been’
The head of the House Democratic Caucus said Wednesday that the negotiators seeking an emergency coronavirus deal are “much closer” to a deal than they have been at any point during the long weeks of on-again-off-again talks.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) pointed to comments by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicating a willingness to embrace $1.5 trillion in new stimulus spending — a number on par with the bipartisan relief package offered last week by the Problem Solvers Caucus — noting that that figure is far closer to the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion package than Republicans have previously backed.
After almost two months of stalled talks, Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have resumed the negotiations this week by phone. In some sign that progress is being made, Mnuchin met with Pelosi in the Speaker’s office on Wednesday afternoon.
House Democrats slam pharma CEOs for price hikes driven by revenue, executive bonuses
An explosive staff report from the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee found that the CEOs of Teva and Celgene raised drug prices exponentially for no reason other than to boost profits and inflate executives’ bonuses.
Oversight Democrats at a hearing on Wednesday pressed those CEOs, and put them on the defensive.
Highlights: Internal documents obtained by the committee found Celgene raised the price of the cancer drug Revlimid 22 times.
The drug, approved to treat the blood cancer multiple myeloma, more than tripled in price since its launch in 2005, driven almost exclusively by the need to meet company revenue targets and shareholder earnings goals.
In 2005, a monthly supply of Revlimid was priced at $4,515. Today, the same monthly supply is priced at $16,023, a cost of $719 per pill.
Easy target: The report found that executives at Celgene and Teva specifically targeted the U.S. market for massive increases because Medicare is not allowed to negotiate drug prices.
Context: The Democratic-led report comes just weeks before Election Day, and follows a flurry of mostly empty last-ditch efforts by President Trump aimed at showing he is taking action on drug pricing. Trump has made lowering drug prices a key part of his messaging for years, dating back to the 2016 campaign, but has little to show for all his bluster.
Atlas, health officials feuds add to Trump coronavirus turmoil
The feuds between White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas and top public health officials are raising more questions about President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Atlas, a Stanford University neuroradiologist without experience in public health, first joined the White House coronavirus task force this summer after appearing frequently on Fox News. He has come under fire from public health experts inside and outside the administration who accuse him of feeding Trump misinformation.
They argue public health agencies are already facing a public confidence crisis and that Atlas’s influence is undermining those agencies even further.
Atlas has seen his role in the administration grow, while Trump has seemingly sidelined Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield and Deborah Birx.
Key quote: “Scott Atlas is pushing away the good advice of people like Tony Fauci and replacing it with absolutely baseless and misguided bad advice that will result in more people dying,” said Mark Rosenberg, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control from 1994 to 1999.
White House take: The White House said Trump is not playing favorites.
“President Trump relies on the advice and counsel of all of his top health officials every day and then makes policy decisions based on all of the information. Any suggestion that their role is being diminished is just false,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said.
Ex-FDA employees express worries to Congress over politicization of vaccines
Experts and former Food and Drug Administration officials say they worry President Trump is undermining public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine approval process, potentially leading people to reject the vaccine when one is available.
The experts, appearing before a Congressional panel Tuesday, said they still have faith in the government’s career officials and scientists responsible for determining whether a potential COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, but that Trump and his political appointees are making it harder to gain public trust.
“This is a very robust process that’s hard for any political influence to disrupt,” Mark McClellan, a former FDA commissioner under former President George W. Bush, told the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Tuesday. “What we are more concerned about is the impact of political influence on confidence.”
Polls show Americans are increasingly skeptical about taking a COVID-19 vaccine, citing worries about political interference.
The solution? “If the career scientists at the FDA or the ones at the CDC get to do their job, and we hear from them directly, that they believe that the process has had high integrity, I think that would be enormously helpful and would go a long way to offering assurance to the American people that this is a process with integrity,” Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, told the committee.
The reality: We don’t see that happening anytime soon. This administration prefers tightly controlled messages that come from the White House and political appointees — and nothing that could be seen as potentially damaging to the president.
Fauci said his recommendations were “taken out of context”
In an interview that will air Thursday on ABC News’s “Start Here” podcast, Fauci said public health officials did not recommend people wear masks early in the pandemic because there was a shortage of personal protective equipment for health professionals.
“So the feeling was that people who were wanting to have masks in the community, namely just people out in the street, might be hoarding masks and making the shortage of masks even greater. In that context, we said that we did not recommend masks,” Fauci said.
Fauci said scientists quickly changed their recommendation after realizing the extent to which asymptomatic spread was contributing to COVID-19 infections.
“At that point, which is now months and months ago, I have been on the airways, on the radio, on TV, begging people to wear masks. And I keep talking in the context of wear a mask, keep physical distance, avoid crowds, wash your hands and do things more outdoors versus indoors,” Fauci said.
What we’re reading
Mnuchin says he is ‘hopeful’ White House and Democrats can strike a coronavirus stimulus deal (CNBC)
CDC director overruled on cruise ship ban (Axios)
All eyes are on Pfizer as Trump pushes for vaccine by October (New York Times)
HHS ad blitz sputters as celebrities back away (Politico)
State by state
Missouri governor announces he and wife have recovered from coronavirus (Fox 4 KC)
Trump plans big Wisconsin rallies despite White House task force calls for ‘maximal’ social distancing in the state (Washington Post)
11 schools report coronavirus outbreaks in New Jersey (ABC 7)
San Francisco moves to ‘orange tier,’ indoor dining opening today with restrictions (ABC 7)
Op-eds in The Hill
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