Andrew Siddons

HHS Pick Grilled on Drug Prices
Azar pledges to lower cost of prescriptions, but Paul has “doubts”

The nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department, Alex M. Azar, told a Senate panel that his top priority would be addressing the high price of prescription drugs. But there was skepticism from both sides of the dais at Wednesday’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing that Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, would live up to that promise.

While it was mostly Democrats who took aim at Azar’s tenure working for and running the U.S. affiliate of Eli Lilly & Co., Sen. Rand Paul said he would also need to be convinced. The Kentucky Republican pressed Azar on whether he would work on a system to safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from places with comparable systems, like Canada and Europe.

Tax Cut for Booze Could Lead to More Drinking Deaths
Researcher estimates increase in disease, accidents as result of reduction in taxes

Tax cuts for alcohol producers in the Senate’s tax code overhaul could result in around 1,500 more alcohol-related deaths each year, according to a researcher at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

The tax bill, which the Senate could vote on later this week, would provide a $4.2 billion tax break over two years for the makers of beer, wine and spirits. While lawmakers have framed the change as a benefit for smaller producers of craft beverages, large global conglomerates that dominate the industry would likely get the bulk of the savings.

Lawmakers Push Alcohol Tax Cut Despite Rising Drinking Rates
The tax break would save alcohol producers $4.2 billion

HHS Pick at Odds With Trump’s Rhetoric on Drug Prices
Alex Azar previously led Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations

President Donald Trump’s tweet Monday announcing former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as his choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services boasted that Azar “will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!”

But Azar, who led drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co.’s United States operations from 2012 until earlier this year, has contributed significantly to the pharmaceutical industry political spending that the president has decried.

Trump: Marino Withdrew From Drug Czar Consideration
Pennsylvania Republican out of Office of National Drug Control Policy consideration

Rep. Tom Marino, the Pennsylvania Republican tapped by President Donald Trump as the administration’s “drug czar,” withdrew his name from consideration, Trump said in a Twitter message Tuesday.

“Rep. Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!” Trump said in the tweet.

House Begins Work on Over-the-Counter Drug Fees
FDA director: Consumers unprotected and manufacturers open to liability

The House began public deliberations Wednesday on a bill that would boost the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of over-the-counter drugs in exchange for industry-paid fees.

A bipartisan draft bill released earlier this week has support from the FDA and the over-the-counter drug industry. Under the new proposal, drug manufacturers would pay an annual fee for their facilities and an extra fee each time they submit a request to review proposed changes related to their product.

‘Right to Try’ Bill Could Face Slower Action in House
Changes to measure possible during Energy and Commerce markup

A Senate-passed bill intended to help dying patients access experimental drugs will likely face lengthier deliberations in the House. While the Senate fast-tracked the bill on Aug. 3, the House will likely subject it to a hearing and markup before bringing it up to a vote, according to congressional aides and a lobbyist.

The bill would reduce some of the paperwork involved in getting access to experimental treatments, and would offer protections to the drug companies who choose to make drugs available outside of a clinical trial. It’s the federal version of “Right to Try” measures that have been passed in 37 states with support from libertarian-leaning Republicans who say the Food and Drug Administration prevents dying patients from getting treatments.

White House Opioid Panel Pushes Access to Treatment

An advisory commission is urging President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency with regard to opioid abuse and addiction, among other recommendations to address a crisis that is claiming upward of 30,000 lives every year.

An emergency declaration “would empower your Cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding,” said a new draft report from the White House circulated on Monday.

Senate Moderates Say They Are Closer on Health Care
Medicaid expansion is still major sticking point

By Andrew Siddons and Sandhya Raman, CQ Roll Call

Moderate Republicans on Thursday said they were getting closer to supporting an emerging Senate health package but are continuing to press for a slower phaseout of the Medicaid expansion than the House-passed bill set out.

Policymakers Face Pressure to Act on Drug Pricing
Some proposals appear likely to gain traction

A proposal that would open the door for the import of low-cost prescription drugs from Canada was defeated at a Senate markup Thursday, but the proposal is unlikely to be gone for good. Lawmakers from both parties seem to want to demonstrate concern about drug prices to voters.

The administration also appears interested in addressing the issue, with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price holding listening sessions with patient groups and think tanks in recent weeks.

Crucial Health Bills Have a Fraught Path Amid Partisan Blowups
Bickering could delay progress on changes to 2010 health care law

A highly anticipated markup of a must-pass Food and Drug Administration bill was postponed Wednesday because of partisan sparring over the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. The delay comes after the Senate Finance Committee last week indefinitely postponed a hearing on the Children’s Health Insurance Program because of the toxic politics of the Republican health care bill. The cancellations raise questions about whether a deluge of drama consuming the Capitol could push lower-profile but important health care legislation off the rails.

Both bills — which congressional leaders hoped to pass without major controversies — need to be addressed well before their Sept. 30 deadlines so the FDA employees and children’s health providers who rely on funding affected by the bills can keep working.

GOP Lawmakers Blast HHS Restrictions on Contact with Congress
Members: Memo ‘potentially illegal and unconstitutional’

A pair of prominent Republican committee chairmen are criticizing an apparent effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to stifle communication between its employees and congressional staff.

A memo sent to HHS staff last week said any communication with Congress must go through the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation. The chairmen of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee blasted the restrictions Tuesday.

FDA Nominee Addresses Conflicts as Panel Sets Hearing
“I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter”

The Trump administration’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, will resign from positions with drug industry clients and divest himself of stock holdings. Gottlieb said in a letter about his plans to avoid conflicts of interest that he would also recuse himself from decisions affecting firms he is linked to for a year after his confirmation. Gottlieb has ties of some sort to 38 companies.

Gottlieb was an FDA deputy commissioner during the George W. Bush administration. Before and after his government tenure, he worked or consulted for a variety of pharmaceutical interests.

Bipartisan Group Pushes Opioid Help Amid Obamacare Debate
Lawmakers concerned over potential effects of GOP health care overhaul

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is fighting to keep attention focused on last session’s top health issue — abuse of prescription opioids, heroin and other drugs —  although the 2010 health care law now dominates the health policy discourse.

The group hopes to pressure Congress to provide financial support to states for prevention and treatment, even as Republicans pursue an overhaul of the Medicaid system that could make it harder for states to pay for those services.

Effort to End D.C. Assisted-Death Law Appears Over

The congressional effort to overturn a District of Columbia law allowing doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients with life-ending drugs appears likely to fail, two of the lawmakers involved in the effort said Tuesday.

On Monday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved a resolution to overturn the law, potentially setting it up for a House floor vote later this week. However, under the laws governing congressional involvement in D.C. lawmaking, Congress only has 30 days from the time the District submits its bills to pass disapproval resolution with a simple majority of votes. In this case, the Senate deadline is this Friday.

House Poised to Block D.C. Suicide Law but Senate May Not Act
Oversight committee approves resolution overturning the law

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday approved a resolution to overturn a District of Columbia law that would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who request them. The 22-14 vote was the culmination of an emotional markup that pitted Democratic support for local governance against the Republican majority’s assertion of congressional power over D.C. law.

The D.C. law is similar to those in five other states and requires the physician to assert that the patient is mentally competent, along with other safeguards, before the drugs are administered. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed it into law in December after an 11-2 council vote.

Republicans Not So Sure About Trump's Call for Drug “Bidding”

Congressional Republicans are downplaying or dismissing President-elect Donald Trump’s call Wednesday for the government to start “bidding” for prescription drugs.

Addressing the high price of prescription drugs is a popular bipartisan issue, but Republicans tend to favor an approach that would stimulate competition that could help bring prices down. Under the Medicare drug program, price negotiation does occur between drug companies and the insurers who administer the coverage, but the federal government is forbidden from leveraging the bargaining power of Medicare as a whole.

Obamacare Markets See Growth Despite Premium Hikes
Report refutes GOP predictions of ’death spiral’ for exchanges

More than 11.5 million people have signed up for individual health insurance coverage using the marketplaces established by the health care overhaul during the current enrollment period, an increase of 286,000 people compared to the same time last year, the Obama administration reported on Tuesday.

The total includes 8.7 million who signed up through HealthCare.gov and 2.8 million who enrolled through state-based marketplaces. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill congressional Republicans cleared last year that would have repealed the health care law would have eliminated coverage for about 22 million people who receive coverage either through the marketplaces or Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor. President Barack Obama vetoed that measure, which is now serving as a starting point in the current discussions about repealing the law.

Kaiser Poll Shows Split on Health Law Repeal but Consensus on Costs
Most polled don’t think the changes will affect them personally

The American public is split on how Congress should address the future of health care, according to a new poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Forty-seven percent of people who were polled don’t think that Congress should repeal the 2010 health care overhaul. Another 28 percent of people responding do want it repealed but want to see a replacement plan before a repeal vote is taken, while 20 percent favor an immediate repeal vote with plan details to be worked out later.

Obamacare Repeal Could Undercut Mental Health Effort
Rollback of Medicaid expansion could limit care envisioned in ’Cures’ package

A bill to improve the country’s mental health care system could be undermined by more widespread changes to health coverage that will likely occur next year, supporters of the effort fear.

The Senate is expected this week to clear the “21st Century Cures” package, a medical innovation bill that also includes provisions designed to make it easier for patients to access mental health treatment.