Human Services

House Dems move forward with drug pricing bill
Committee approved a new plan that would limit drug prices — a top priority for the party

Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks with reporters in June. The Washington Democrat proposed an amendment during a markup of a bill designed to limit drug prices Thursday.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A House committee on Thursday approved a Democratic bill designed to limit drug prices, a top priority for the party, as another panel’s debate on the measure was poised to last for hours.

House leaders produced the 141-page bill after months of deliberations among various party factions, as progressives urged their colleagues to be bold despite GOP criticisms that the measure could hamper research into future cures. The bill, numbered HR 3, includes requirements for the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate Medicare prices for the most expensive drugs, with commercial health plans also having the option of adopting those prices.

Democrats bow to critics, expand scope of drug price bill
The changes by House Democratic leaders were made to appease progressives who pushed for more aggressive action

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., points to sign that reads “lower drug costs now” as she departs from a press conference at the Capitol in Washington on September 19, 2019. Democratic leaders unveiled changes to Pelosi’s drug pricing bill ahead of markups Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic leaders unveiled changes to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill ahead of markups Thursday, seeking to appease progressives who pushed for more aggressive action.

The chamber is expected to vote on the bill this month.

Federal health officials propose loosening anti-kickback laws
Both proposals will have a 75-day comment period after they are published in the Federal Register

Supporters hold up Save Medicaid signs in September of 2017. The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled plans to loosen two anti-corruption laws for doctors. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled plans to loosen two anti-corruption laws for doctors, in a bid to promote new ways of delivering coordinated health care while attempting to preserve the laws’ core aim of combating fraud and abuse.

Physician groups have long sought changes to the anti-kickback law and the Stark self-referral law, saying the cumbersome rules impede the close provider relationships necessary to pay for health outcomes rather than the volume of services. The laws restrict doctors from accepting payments that induce business under Medicare and from referring patients to other businesses in which they have a financial interest, respectively.

Trump executive order to focus on modernizing Medicare
Rulemaking designed to contrast with Democrats’ ‘Medicare for All’

Executive order is expected to focus on increasing Medicare access to telehealth and innovative therapies. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

An executive order President Donald Trump will sign this afternoon will focus on modernizing Medicare by increasing access to telehealth and innovative therapies, according to senior officials.

The administration is also positioning the order as a contrast to Democratic presidential candidates campaigning on “Medicare for All” government-run health care, in part by strengthening private insurance plans that operate as part of the giant health program for seniors under the Medicare Advantage system. Seniors are a major voting bloc and health care is a significant part of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Air ambulance services face scrutiny over surprise billing issues
Outrage over surprise medical bills has pushed issue near top of political health care agenda

More than two-thirds of air ambulance rides in 2017 were out of the patient’s insurance network, according to a March General Accounting Office report. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images file photo)

Patients whisked or transferred to hospitals by air ambulances face time-sensitive emergencies — from strokes to traumatic accidents — so whether the helicopter carrying them is in their insurance network isn’t usually a top-priority question.

Weeks later, many of these patients receive an unpleasant surprise: a bill demanding tens of thousands of dollars.

‘We’re trying to protect children’: Donna Shalala on e-cigarettes
Florida Democrat touts bill that would raise the age to buy e-cigarettes from 18 to 21

Florida Rep. Donna E. Shalala is sponsoring a bill that would raise the age to buy e-cigarettes, and any tobacco product, from 18 to 21. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Hundreds of Americans have become sick and eight have died after using electronic cigarettes, prompting a bipartisan response in Washington. President Donald Trump last month called for a ban on the flavorings believed to attract young people to the devices.

But Florida freshman Rep. Donna E. Shalala says Congress needs to do more. Shalala, who was Health and Human Services secretary under President Bill Clinton, has teamed with a fellow House Democrat, Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, on a bill that would raise the age to buy e-cigarettes, and any tobacco product, from 18 to 21, and add other restrictions aimed at keeping young people from getting hooked on nicotine.

NIH could do more to address foreign threats, reports say
Reports stem from congressional fears that NIH-backed researchers could share taxpayer-funded research with foreign governments

HHS auditors urge research institutions like the National Institutes of Health to follow requirements to disclose foreign funding and consider national security in the peer-review vetting system. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The National Institutes of Health should do more to ensure that investigators and grant reviewers aren’t susceptible to foreign influence, according to a trio of reports from the Health and Human Services inspector general released Friday.

The inspector general recommended that the NIH enhance its vetting processes for the independent researchers who review grant applications. The agency could also do more to ensure that research institutions comply with requirements to ensure that investigators disclose all of their funding sources.

White House plans to cut refugee admittance to all-time low

The Statue of Liberty in New York City is seen through fencing on Aug. 14, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images file photo)

The Trump administration announced on Thursday plans to slash its refugee admittance program by almost half next year, the lowest cap since the refugee system was created in 1980.

The White House said it would admit no more than 18,000 refugees for the next fiscal year, a drop from its current limit of 30,000 and a plunge from the 110,000 admitted in 2016 under President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

Political tensions escalate as drug pricing bills move forward
Rift began when Pelosi called for Medicare to negotiate prices for a set of high-cost drugs

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa unveiled the text of his committee's drug pricing bill on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The discord between the parties over plans to bring down drug costs deepened this week as Democrats insisted on allowing Medicare to negotiate prices and launched an impeachment inquiry that threatens to consume Congress.

Still, members of key committees said Wednesday they wanted to continue bipartisan work to lower costs, a major concern of voters, and lawmakers in both chambers took steps toward advancing their proposals. The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held the first hearing on legislation unveiled last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Democrats leaving a caucus meeting on drug legislation late Wednesday said markups are expected soon after a two-week recess in October. Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa and ranking Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon unveiled the text of their bill on Wednesday.

As abortion ‘gag rule’ lands in court, states seek funding fix
Six states pull out of Title X program rather than comply with new regulations

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks at an abortion rights rally at Supreme Court in Washington earlier this year. States face a decision on continuing to participate in the federal Title X family planning services program. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the federal government defends a rule in appeals court Monday prohibiting health care providers who take federal money for family planning services from referring patients to abortion providers, some states that haven’t complied are making plans for continuing without the program.

An 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit will hear arguments in San Francisco on Monday about whether the rule should be in effect during court challenges brought by 22 states and family planning providers like Planned Parenthood.