HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Democrats Pitch Drug Price Cuts for ACA

An influential House committee will soon advance Democrats’ signature drug pricing legislation while extending health coverage to more people, according to an outline of the legislation released yesterday.

Read the text of the legislation.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is proposing to include H.R. 3, which would force drugmakers to negotiate some of the highest priced medicines and insulin, in the massive domestic policy package Democrats are assembling. The legislation would also require drugmakers to repay the government their profits if they raise the price of a drug above inflation.

The more than $400 billion generated by those changes would help fund the largest expansion of the Affordable Care Act since the health law was created in 2010.

The provisions, if successfully enacted, would achieve two of Democrats’ most lofty and long-held health policy goals: to lower drug prices — including under employer-sponsored insurance, which would also get the negotiated rates — while also moving the U.S. closer to universal health coverage.

An estimated 15.5 million adults under 65 and 2.3 million seniors were unable to pay for at least one medication in their household, according to a new study from West Health and Gallup analyzing the impact of high drug prices on consumers.

Democrats plan to use budget reconciliation to pass these proposals by a simple majority in both the House and Senate. The party must remain almost entirely unified to enact the package, but some Democrats have opposed the drug-pricing proposal in the past, and it also faces strong opposition from pharmaceutical companies. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Read more about the budget measure’s progress: Biden’s Remaking of Safety Net Moves Ahead in House Committees

Related:

House Panels Approve Paid Family Leave: President Joe Biden’s economic agenda took a step forward yesterday as House Democrats advanced several major expansions of the safetynet, with tougher battles ahead on how to pay for the new benefits.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted to approve 12 weeks of paid family leave for American workers and a mandate to enroll employees in tax-deferred retirement accounts. The committee also approved child care grants to states to expand access to child care by improving buildings and raising wages.

In addition, the Education and Labor Committee is on track to approve today $761 billion in benefits, including $450 billion for child care and universal pre-K education and $111 billion to provide two free years of community college. Read more from Erik Wasson, Kaustuv Basu and Alexander Ruoff.

  • Meanwhile, House Republicans questioned whether the U.S. Treasury Department could handle “the size and scope” of a paid family and medical leave program. Democrats including Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) countered that the concept is no different than existing benefits such as Social Security or Medicare. Read more from Paige Smith.

Happening on the Hill

Langevin to Back Abortion Rights Bill: Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), one of the few anti-abortion Democrats in Congress, wrote an op-ed yesterday saying he’ll support codifying abortion rights when the House votes on the issue in coming weeks. Langevin, a Catholic, said he has reconsidered his position on reproductive rights in light of passage of a Texas law severely restricting access to abortion in the state and the possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the legal precedent protecting the right to abortion access. “In light of this inaction by the Court — and as the conservative majority seems increasingly likely to take the extraordinary step of overturning Roe v. Wade — I have reconsidered my position on reproductive rights,” Langevin wrote, Alex Ruoff reports.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said recently that the House will vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755) in coming weeks.

Groups Press Lawmakers Over Prescription Drugs: The Alliance for Aging Research and 131 other organizations sent a letter to House and Senate committee leaders calling for changes to out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. The groups are pushing to cap out-of-pocket costs at $2,400.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden Sweeps Federal Workers, Large Employers Under Shot Mandate: Biden said he’d order all executive branch employees, federal contractors and millions of health-care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and that his administration would issue rules requiring large private employers to mandate shots or testing.

Federal employees who don’t comply could be dismissed, the administration said, and private employers might be fined.

  • Biden will also require vaccinations for more than 17 million health-care workers at Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals and in other health-care settings, a significant expansion of an existing requirement aimed at nursing homes.
  • The U.S. will spend nearly $2 billion to buy 280 million rapid tests as part of an effort to expand testing, and use the wartime Defense Production Act to expand manufacturing of tests. The administration will also send 25 million tests to community health centers and food banks.
  • The president is proceeding with a plan to start booster shots as soon as Sept. 20, subject to approval from health officials.
  • Biden will call on states to require vaccines in all schools and on large entertainment venues to require patrons to prove vaccination or a negative test. He said he’d boost weekly shipments of monoclonal antibodies to states by 50% this month.

The federal government will also require vaccinations for staff at Head Start and Early Head Start programs and other federal schools. Josh Wingrove and Jenny Leonard have more.

  • School districts financially penalized by states for carrying out pandemic mitigation measures can apply for grants under a new Education Department program announced yesterday by the Biden administration. School districts would be able to apply for the grants if they lose funding or if salaries are withheld because of measures such as universal masking requirements on campuses. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Related:

Medical Care, Public Health Need to Be ‘Welded’ for Next Crisis: The U.S. must better integrate the public health system into the delivery of medical care as the nation looks to overhaul its response to future outbreaks in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, former HHS emergency preparedness chiefs said. “Medical service and public health interventions have to be welded together if you’re going to make improvements in the health of the people that you serve, and you’re going to be ready for the disaster that comes your way,” W. Craig Vanderwagen, who was the founding assistant secretary for preparedness and response within the Department of Health and Human Services, said yesterday. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Contact Tracing App Hindered by Privacy Concerns, GAO Finds: People may not be confident their privacy is being protected when they use applications to notify them when they’ve been in close contact with others who could be infected with a disease, a new Government Accountability Office report said. The lack of confidence is in part due to few independent privacy and security assessments as well as insufficient federal legal protections, according to the report. Read more from Maria Curi.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know

U.S. Sues Texas to Block State’s Abortion Law: The Justice Department sought to put a quick stop to a restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas after the Supreme Court refused to do so, seeking an emergency injunction to block it long enough for a court to rule it unconstitutional. The 27-page complaint, filed yesterday in federal court in Austin, seeks both an immediate and permanent injunction against the law, which bars almost all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. Read more from Chris Strohm and Greg Stohr.

Texas Ban Sends Women Out of State, Draining Aid Funds: Nonprofits that aid women seeking abortions plan to steer more of their funds to sending women out of state to get the procedure in the face of new Republican restrictions across the South, but the list of destinations is shrinking. The added time and expense will drain resources from the abortion funds, which help women who can’t afford the procedure on their own. The new restrictions will hit low-income Black women, who are a significant portion of their clientele, the hardest. Texas’s new restrictions, which ban abortions after six weeks and allow anyone to sue providers suspected of violating the measure, only ratchet up the pressure on abortion funds as more Republican-led states watch to see if the law survives legal scrutiny. Read more from Ayanna Alexander.

Texas Law Creates Ethical Quandary for Doctors: The Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy could present a profound ethical dilemma for doctors, who have an obligation to counsel pregnant patients on all their available options even if they don’t perform abortion procedures themselves. Anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets” an abortion can be held liable under the novel law, which relies on private parties to bring civil lawsuits against violators. It’s a provision that could have a chilling effect on primary care doctors who are ethically and legally required to educate their patients so they can make an informed decision about their own medical care, health lawyers say. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

Almost 1 Million Flavored Vaping Products to See Market Removal: More than 946,000 flavored e-cigarette products, including flavors like Apple Crumble and Dr. Cola, will need to be removed from the market after the Food and Drug Administration denied premarket authorization, the agency announced yesterday. Read more from Shira Stein, Tiffany Kary and Corinne Gretler.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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