Andrew Siddons

Congress is Trump’s best hope for drug pricing action
But divisions remain between Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate

An upcoming Senate bill is the Trump administration’s best hope for a significant achievement before next year’s election to lower prescription drug prices, but a lot still needs to go right for anything to become law.

Despite the overwhelming desire for action, there are still policy gulfs between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and another gap between the Senate and the House. And the politics of the moment might derail potential policy agreements. Some Democrats might balk at settling for a drug pricing compromise that President Donald Trump endorsed.

Papaya outbreak highlights FDA’s food safety challenge
‘Inability to track and trace foods with speed or precision’ is agency’s ‘Achilles’ heel’

Salmonella infections caused by contaminated papayas highlight the challenges federal officials face in fighting foodborne illness, as a law from nearly a decade ago meant to modernize the food safety system is starting to show its age. 

The Food and Drug Administration is trying to bring its efforts to track and prevent outbreaks in line with the technology now at its disposal. But because spending for next year is uncertain, Congress could make it difficult for the agency.

Trump order to make medical service costs more transparent
The order will require hospitals and insurers to provide more information on costs of medical services before patients receive them

President Donald Trump on Monday will issue an executive order directing his administration to put rules in place requiring hospitals and insurers to provide more information about the costs of medical services before a patient receives them.

The order will kick off a process at the Health and Human Services Department to develop rules for the transparency requirements. The new rules will be meant to require hospitals to publicly post charges for common items and services in a consumer-friendly manner, and to require insurers to inform patients about the amounts they must pay before services are actually provided.

Odd bedfellows share concerns over Pelosi drug plan
Conservatives and progressives wary of drug price arbitration, but for different reasons

Debate on e-cigarettes lights up 10 years after FDA tobacco law
Calls grow for agency, Congress to do more after spike in teen use

A decade after Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products, there is a growing sense that the law should be revisited to address a product that lawmakers barely knew about in June 2009: electronic cigarettes.

The tension lies in how to balance e-cigarettes’ potential benefits with their clear risks. While e-cigarettes may offer a less harmful alternative for adults who smoke combustible cigarettes, they can appeal to young people who never would have smoked.

McConnell introduces bill making the legal smoking age 21
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” Kentucky Republican says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday introduced a bill to raise the federal age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21, increasing the chances that Congress will clear a significant smoking-related bill for the first time since a major tobacco control law was enacted a decade ago.

The bill comes amid growing concerns about the youth use of e-cigarettes, which reached record levels in 2018. That marked a troubling reversal of declines in smoking traditional cigarettes.

House health care bill puts generic drug industry in bind
Low-cost generic drug makers expected a floor vote on a signature bill, but the law is being packaged with two measures industry opposes

This was supposed to be a good week for the makers of low-cost generic drugs, as a bill that is one of their top priorities gets a House floor vote. Instead, the industry finds itself clouded by allegations of price fixing, and its signature bill is being packaged with two measures they oppose.

The bill that the House will take up Thursday combines three drug pricing measures with bills to strengthen the individual health insurance market.

Mental health clinics wait on Congress
If federal lawmakers don’t renew a promising program before the end of June, it will be up to the states to find the money

The promise of higher federal Medicaid payments is giving eight states the chance to show that one-stop mental health clinics with 24-hour crisis care could offer patients a better option than the de facto safety net of police departments and emergency rooms.

But the two-year experiment is drawing to a close now, leaving the program with an uncertain future if Congress doesn’t extend it.

‘Medicare for all’ doesn’t just rival Canada’s system. It goes further
An insurance system proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal takes cues from other countries, but is unique in other ways

Supporters of “Medicare for All” often cite systems in other industrialized countries to illustrate how putting health care funding in government hands could work in the United States.

Some of the benefits are clear. Besides expanding access to health insurance, the system could eliminate many complexities for patients, doctors and hospitals.

Ebola outbreak response slowed by security fears, distrust
The current outbreak is posing problems that might not be solved by investments alone

Congress in recent years has pumped billions of dollars into health preparedness to handle infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola, but the current outbreak in an unstable part of Africa is posing problems that might not be solved by investments alone.

Top Trump administration health officials on Thursday told the Senate appropriations panel overseeing discretionary health funding that the biggest challenges to controlling the Ebola outbreak underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a lack of security and a lack of trust for health care workers and government within the local population.

Miners, fearing retaliation, may skip black lung screenings
The consensus among health advocates is that miners are afraid to take advantage of the program

Federal officials are examining potential barriers, such as a fear of retaliation from employers, that may explain why only about one-third of coal miners participate in a program to screen for black lung disease even as the number of workers suffering from the deadly condition is rising.

The lack of participation concerns lawmakers and the federal agency that administers the program, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The institute, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plans to issue a congressionally-mandated report on the issue by the end of March.

Senator compares drugmakers to Gollum from Lord of the Rings
As several industry executives testify, lawmakers turn up the heat

Seven drug industry executives appearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday blamed a large part of the drug price problem on the way health insurance is designed, even though lawmakers warned the industry to focus on its own actions rather than those of other companies.

“We’ve all seen the finger pointing,” said Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa. “Like most Americans, I’m sick and tired of the blame game.”

High school e-cigarette use is exploding and reversing prevention gains
Monthly e-cigarette usage among high schoolers nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018, a new CDC report finds

The number of young people using tobacco products has reached its highest level in years, as e-cigarette popularity is reversing recent progress on other products that contain nicotine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.

In recent years, the overall proportion of high school students using any tobacco products fell, mainly due to fewer students smoking cigarettes and cigars, the CDC said. But from 2017 to 2018, the number of high school students reporting e-cigarette use within the past month nearly doubled from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent. That pushed their overall tobacco use rate from 19.6 percent to 27.1 percent in 2018.

2020 Democratic contenders largely align on drug price bills
Candidates may strain to stand out on drugs in crowded primary field

A bold stance on drug pricing will be a prerequisite for any candidate who wants to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, but one challenge will be differentiating the contenders from each other.

The main distinction among candidates could be between those pushing bipartisan policies and those promoting more liberal ideas that currently stand little chance of enactment. But in most cases, the bills have a list of co-sponsors that could resemble a future primary debate stage.

Democrats kick off push for Medicare drug price negotiations
The measure includes tactics to urge drugmakers to reach an agreement with Medicare on a price

The leader of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee on Thursday offered a proposal to require the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices for drugs covered by the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, is set to formally introduce the bill later Thursday with more than 100 House co-sponsors. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate backed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

Trump could be his own biggest obstacle on HIV/AIDS plan
Administration’s broader policies are at odds with increasing access to drugs and other steps

President Donald Trump’s plan to eliminate HIV transmission in the United States by 2030, which he announced Tuesday night, would be an ambitious goal that would require his administration to reverse course on a number of policies that potentially hinder access to HIV/AIDS care.

“Together, we will defeat AIDS in America,” Trump said in his State of the Union address. He said that his budget will “ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.”

House, Senate panels begin hearings seeking drug cost solutions
Future hearings will likely focus more on legislative proposals, and at some point members hope that drug companies will share their ideas

Lawmakers emphasized the steep cost of the diabetes treatment insulin and ways to use Medicare and Medicaid to discourage companies from setting high prices as Congress kicked off a series of drug price hearings Tuesday.

Hearings before the Senate Finance and the House Oversight and Reform committees featured academics and patient advocates as lawmakers in both chambers investigate why drug prices are high and what Congress can do about it.

Grassley’s Move to Finance Committee Could Bolster Drug Price Efforts
Advocates anticipate bipartisan cooperation on lower prices

Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s return to the helm of the Finance Committee could put him in a position to address high prescription prices, although former aides say his biggest initial contribution to the drug debate will be his zeal for accountability.

Mark Hayes, a former Finance chief health counsel under Grassley, said the Iowa Republican’s well-earned reputation for oversight can be a catalyst for action.

FDA Plans Crackdown on Flavored E-Cigarettes
Move aimed at preventing nicotine addiction in young people

The Food and Drug Administration, seeking to prevent nicotine addiction in young people, plans to ban flavored e-cigarette sales in gas stations and convenience stores and will propose banning menthol flavoring in traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and their liquid nicotine flavors would continue to be sold in dedicated vape stores, where the FDA believes age verification procedures are more reliable. Gas stations and convenience stores will be able to keep selling e-cigarettes and liquid nicotines flavored like tobacco and menthol.

HHS At Odds With Its Workers, Including Doctors
Employees plan to picket at HHS headquarters

The Health and Human Services Department is in a dispute with a union representing 14,000 employees, which risks exacerbating staff shortages among doctors and scientists involved in prescription drug reviews, food safety and other public health responses.

The labor spat is drawing attention from lawmakers as some employees plan to picket at HHS headquarters briefly Thursday afternoon.