HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Drug Cost Ad Fight Pulls In GOP-Tied Group

A nonprofit group allied with House Republican leaders is launching a $4 million advertising campaign urging the party to push its own drug pricing bill this year.

The American Action Network ad buys put the group into a crowded space that is normally dominated by Democrats. The biggest five spenders on health care-related ads this year, so far, are either aligned with congressional Democrats or were purchased by campaigns seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Advertising Analytics data show.

Both parties want to seize on the public appetite to bring down drug prices, but Republicans, unlike Democrats, are wary of imposing strict price ceilings, saying that would risk harming pharmaceutical development. House Republicans last year rolled out legislation (H.R. 19) as an alternative to House Democrats’ efforts to direct the government to demand lower prices from drug companies and penalize companies that refuse to do so.

“Liberals are trying to impose a socialist-system that would kill innovation,” Zach Hunter, vice president at AAN, said. “Congress should instead pass H.R. 19, and we encourage these members to keep fighting to promote innovation while also lowering the cost of prescription drugs.”

The ads from AAN will air in 16 districts, all held by Republicans, and both praise them for backing the measure and urge them to continue supporting it. Some of the districts targeted are home to members of the House in competitive races this year, including Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

House Republicans’ measure would cap yearly out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries to $3,100 and limit the costs of insulin for seniors in Medicare Part D. The 350-page bill also contains dozens of proposals to overhaul the U.S. drug rebate system. But Democratic leaders have said the Republican bill doesn’t go far enough to lower the cost of common medicines. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Congressional Virus Efforts

Senate GOP Aid Plan to Continue Some CARES Act Provisions: Senate Republicans plan to unveil their plan next week, and will continue providing unemployment insurance subsidies, tax incentives for employers to avoid layoffs and encourage rehiring, and a new round of checks and direct payments sent by the IRS.

Additional funds for testing and healthcare are also likely to be included, though Republicans may keep the initial line items low to keep the overall price tag under $1 trillion.

The proposal will resemble much of the historically large aid package passed in March (Public Law 116-136). But it isn’t likely to include a new round of direct aid to state and local governments, or the full $600 per week unemployment subsidy provided by that law, according to multiple sources familiar with internal deliberations of Senate Republicans. Read more from Colin Wilhelm.

GOP Plan Would Put Virus Liability Suits in Federal Court:Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to give federal courts jurisdiction over liability claims arising from coronavirus infections to limit the legal exposure of businesses, schools and other organizations as they reopen, according to a summary of legislation he plans to offer. McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are working on a measure to be included in a GOP-only virus relief package that could be released next week.

The proposal, which would extend through 2024, would move to federal courts medical liability claims against caregivers that arise from care provided for the virus by licensed health care facilities and medical workers. Like employers generally, they could only be successfully sued if they engaged in gross negligence and intentional misconduct. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Democrats Want Aid for Minorities: Democratic senators said they want $350 billion for minority communities in the nation’s next pandemic stimulus package to tackle needs ranging from child care to infrastructure, adding a new demand as lawmakers prepare to start crafting their next pandemic relief package. That would add to the $3.5 trillion plan (H.R. 6800) recently passed by the House, which has the backing of Senate Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said predominantly minority communities need the assistance because they have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus. Laura Litvan has more.

Republicans Split on Mask-Wearing on Hill, Vaccines: McConnell said lawmakers will be back at work Monday wearing their masks and taking other precautions while waiting for a vaccine to be developed to combat Covid-19. McConnell said that strategy, employed since May when the Senate returned from a long spring break, allowed lawmakers to get legislation through committee and the floor this summer despite the threat posed by the virus, Nancy Ognanovich reports.

“We’ve been in session, wearing masks, social distancing and with good results,” McConnell said during a recent series of stops at Kentucky hospitals. McConnell said wearing masks is the best strategy for now to combat the virus.

“How this ends up becoming a factor in American politics is a little astonishing to me,” McConnell said.

Senators of both parties have mostly followed McConnell’s lead on wearing face coverings on the floor. But the leader still hasn’t convinced all of his Republican colleagues. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have circulated among other lawmakers on the floor without them. Paul tested positive for the coronavirus in March.

“It ends ultimately when we get a vaccine,” said McConnell, who suffered polio as a child and has been an advocate for widespread use of vaccines to combat disease. But Paul said vaccines should be subject to long study and may not be needed for the young. “I’m kind of pro-vaccine, but I’m also pro-freedom,” said Paul. “Are they going to hold me down, stick a needle in my arm?”

Bill to Penalize Russia Covid Hacks: House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said on Twitter that he plans to introduce a bill to ensure “Russian hackers are held accountable,” following reports that Russian state intelligence is hacking international research centers developing a Covid-19 vaccine, Kasia Klimasinska reports.

Related:

U.S.-Gilead Remdesivir Deal Scrutinized: Senate Democrats yesterday sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar blasting the White House’s deal with Gilead, the manufacturer of Covid-19 treatment drug remdesivir, saying it requires American buyers to pay more for remdesivir than in other countries. Victoria Hodge has more.

More on the Pandemic

Childhood Covid-19 Infections Mount: As the school year draws near, children and teens represent a ballooning percentage of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. as the youngest Americans increasingly venture outside their homes and are able to get tested.

While the CDC has long maintained on its website that those younger than 18 make up only 2% of cases, state data paints a much less rosy picture. California and Mississippi, for instance, are recording rates nearing 10% of overall cases. Florida has found that about a third of all children tested there are infected. Read more from Anna Edney.

Meadows Calls Fauci’s 1918 Comparison ‘Irresponsible’: President Donald Trump’s chief of staff criticized Anthony Fauci for comparing the current coronavirus outbreak to the 1918 flu pandemic, after reprimanding another top White House adviser for publicly attacking Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. “He suggested that this virus was worse than, or as bad as, the 1918 flu epidemic,” Mark Meadows said during a Fox News interview yesterday. “I can tell you that not only is that false, it’s irresponsible to suggest so.”

Fauci said Tuesday at an event sponsored by Georgetown University that the coronavirus is a “pandemic of historic proportions” and “when history looks back on it, will be comparable to what we saw in 1918,” when influenza killed tens of millions of people worldwide. Covid-19 has so far killed more than 588,000 people worldwide, and more than 138,000 in the U.S., according to statistics compiled by Bloomberg. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

Georgia Massaged Virus Data to Reopen, Then Voided Mask Orders: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s edict expressly voiding coronavirus mask orders by local governments capped a week of turmoil in a state once touted as proof that reopening in a pandemic could work. For six weeks, Georgia had been a model, especially for those eager to end shutdowns. Among the last U.S. states to lock down, Georgia in April was first to widely reopen, after just three weeks. Critics said the state misrepresented its data to justify the move, and they predicted disaster.

It didn’t happen: Covid-19 case numbers bumped along, neither rising nor falling significantly. Pandemic skeptics crowed. That ended last month. Although still lagging behind Florida, Texas and Arizona, Georgia’s Covid-19 cases are surging. As of Thursday, the state’s seven-day rolling average of newly reported cases was 3,507 — quadruple its April pre-shutdown peak. Last week, Georgia joined states whose citizens have to quarantine if they visit the Northeast or Chicago. It also reopened a makeshift hospital overflow ward in an Atlanta convention center as local governments tried to contain the surge themselves. Read more from Margaret Newkirk.

Drug Hoarding Stirs Calls for Accessible Data: Protecting existing patients in the next rush to buy up a promising Covid-19 treatment may require a national database of drug supplies and more reporting standards to stop hoarding. The fractured federal response to the coronavirus has pitted facilities against each other for medications and supplies, supply chain specialists, doctors, and policy analysts say. Read more from Jacquie Lee.

U.S. to Put Out Guidance to Cut Unnecessary Tests: People who previously tested positive for Covid-19 but are now asymptomatic don’t need retesting to prove they’re not contagious, the CDC will recommend in new guidance meant to conserve tests. “We need to decrease unnecessary testing,” Brett Giroir, the federal czar of nationwide testing, told reporters yesterday. People are getting tested four or five times, which is “clogging up the system,” Giroir said. Jacquie Lee has more.

Most Americans Support More Hospital Relief: Americans support the idea of giving hospitals another big injection of public funds, according to public polling released yesterday by hospital groups. The Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care, whose members include the two largest hospital lobbying organizations in the U.S., found 75% of those polled would support giving hospitals an additional $100 billion in emergency funds, Alex Ruoff reports. Read the poll findings here.

Millions of Seniors Live With Children: More than three million people over 65 live with school-age children, possibly putting them at risk of exposure to Covid-19 if schools reopen this fall. Americans of color are also more likely than their White peers to live with school-age children. Minority groups are already seeing higher rates of infection and fatality due to the coronavirus, Ruoff reports. Read the Kaiser Family Foundation analysis here.

Research & Treatment Efforts:

Reopenings & State Situations:

What Else to Know Today

Medicare Chief Broke Contract Rules, IG Finds: The head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services violated federal contracting regulations when she awarded $6.4 million for public relations services, the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general said in a report yesterday. Both CMS and Administrator Seema Verma permitted contractors to make management decisions, improperly treated them as employees, and paid out questionable costs, the report says. Read more from Shira Stein.

  • House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders say they’re about to wrap up their own investigation of Verma’s communications strategy. The panel, led by Democrats, will likely have harsher criticisms than the IG analysis. The report “will build upon” the IG report and provide additional details on Verma’s “inappropriate use of private consultants for her personal benefit,” the panel said in a statement.

Majority in Largest Cities Report Depression: A majority of Americans in the largest metropolitan areas in the country felt down, depressed or hopeless last week, according to Bloomberg calculations from a new U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, which collects data on how people’s lives have been impacted by the pandemic. Some of the sunniest cities were the saddest, with high levels of depression reported in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Miami. Alex Tanzi has more.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich and Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

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

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